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  October 7, 2017

Real Media: Challenging the Narrative with Grenfell MediaWatch


Toyin and Angie from Grenfell MediaWatch discuss the misleading stories and PR campaigns surrounding the Grenfell Tower disaster, and what justice would look like to them
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Toyin: When I think about misinformation that's going around this Grenfell campaign, and I say the Grenfell campaign, you’ve got to figure there's two sides to it. There's the family survivor side of it, but there's also the state side, the institutions, the governments, the corporations that are involved in profiteering and actually causing this massacre. There's been much misinformation. One of the biggest campaigns that was launched very early in was the buying of property by the Corporation of London for survivors, and so the public had this idea that, "Oh my God, these survivors have landed on their feet. They've got these penthouse apartments and they've got nothing to complain about." So, it kind of diminished the whole idea about the loss of life, loss of property because it looked like actually being burned in your home was actually leading to a windfall.

But of course, even if you take out the morality of asking that stupid argument, what we have is a situation where out of a hundred, over a hundred families only two or three of them have actually being permanently housed. So again, massive misinformation campaign and led from the top because Theresa May came out saying that people are going to be rehoused in I think it was three weeks. She's backtracked now so that there are gonna be temporary, no, offered housing. So again, more misinformation.

The one that's the most troubling at this particular moment in time, though, is the number count. And when I say the number count, of people who are victims, people who have died. Initially you had 8, then 15, then 20 and I think it was at Lily Allen, it was one of these musicians who made this comment about how they're micromanaging the grief of survivors, micromanaging the nation. So, there's been a lot of, I mean, those are just a couple of examples, but there's been a lot of drip, drip, misinformation deliberately trying to kind of kick this into a long curve, recognizing it's not working, so trying different techniques.

The resignations was a fantastic piece of PR. What happened what that the government recognized that the public was begging for blood, they wanted something. So, what they did was that they made calls and they made sure that the heads of these councils and that these DMOs stood down and even if they didn't want to stand down. That made great drama, that was better than a soap opera. But what's happened was that most of those people are still in full pay. Most of them, I mean Nick Paget-Brown is still actually a councilor. So, nothing's happened to his status, nothing's happened. He set up a consultancy firm. I'm not a person that likes to point fingers at individuals. I look at them as a collective body, look at the individuals on a prosecution level. But again, this is mismanagement, this is misinformation, misdirection. It's very frustrating. I can't talk on the misplacement, on the replacements without having more information. I don't have confidence in the replacements, I just don't by looking at their performance. But, I have to give them a chance to see how it works out.

The only way to solve this problem in my eye would be to actually get survivors or get people who have been appointed by survivors in those positions. They can work with others who have got the necessary skills to do all the administrative work, but the core leadership and the direction should come from the survivors and families and those who are affected understand it. Because, let's face it, we've seen nothing but incompetence up to now.

Angie: We have to ask ourselves, what kind of people are we where we are no longer caring about people who live in these communities which are very strong and resilient communities. We have to ask ourselves why we've allowed all the governments, the successive governments from Thatcher to allow us to get into this situation today. There's been all these sort of talks, these sort of hackney terms of lessons learned but will lessons really be learned? Will we be able to look inside ourselves, look inside our consciences and say, "We will genuinely put things in place so that there's better social housing for people who cannot afford to buy all the lots of massive in housing developments that nobody can afford to live in today." Or, are we going to just continue to allow ourselves to be distracted by all other really silly, inconsequential, petty things that we are being distracted by today.

So, we've got to ask ourselves how we can make, really genuinely make sure, that a situation like Grenfell does not happen. Grenfell was 30 years in the making and it's very much tied to the crisis in housing that we're experiencing today. We have this situation where the amount of social housing that's available has shrunk enormously. In addition to that, we've got a very little attention being paid to these buildings, okay? And when they do pay attention to these buildings they're fixing them, as in the case of Grenfell, to make them look more attractive in an area that is a social elite.

I think people are prejudice to a certain degree towards people who are on low incomes, who may not have a real stake, or choose to have a stake in the political process. So, those people, their voices aren't heard and they tend to be ignored. I do think it's cynicism. I think it is breathtaking cynicism on the part of Kensington and Chelsea, and the way that they tried to cover their tracks in terms of the threats that were made to the people who were making these, raising these alarm bells about what was going on in Grenfell. Rather than actually listen to the concerns of the people who lived in that building and in the surrounding buildings, rather than genuinely listen to their concerns, they chose to threaten them instead. To silence them. That is really, in my view, quite shocking.

Toyin: It would be wrong for me to say that survivors are being shut out of process. This government has recognized that the world is looking at them. And because of that, what they've done is try to operate in a level of pseudo-transparency. So, the survivors, families, even local residents are invited into meetings, invited into consultations. But then obviously, what they say is just chucked in the bin straight afterwards. But there is this kind of veneer of inclusiveness. I think we've got to understand that that's actually part of the PR campaign and it's not actually leading to any positive change, or else the families would have been housed by now.

Angie: Nobody could anticipate that this would come to this, but at the very least there would be some structures in place to be able to assist people in this type of situation. In my view, it's just another reminder that perhaps you can't rely on the government. You can't rely on local government or national government to help you in true times of crisis.

Toyin: When a mark's about to meet his role in this and whether it's covering up the situation, if it's pushing the idea after it's been sold, I have to pull back a little bit. Even though we are called Grenfell Media Watch, we're not a propaganda arm. I mean, perhaps we are, but we're down to for the community, for survivors but not in a sense of trying to mislead. One of the things we've got to be honest about is that the media is actually divided on this now. Initially, I would argue that it was all sensationalism, it was just kind of trying to put bums on seats, sell more newspapers, get more coverage, just people getting bigger audience share.

But right now something's happened and we sense that as a team. There are some organizations, independent organizations like yourself, that are coming out and actually are really sincere about getting justice. This isn't just about getting more views or getting more readers or listeners. There was some mainstream organization, Jon Snow's discussion at the annual conference, was another one. Channel 4, who is sometimes a little bit naughty in their reporting, they have been quite fearless on this. Even the BBC. The BBC, unfortunately, are owning the reputation as the state's broadcaster. I hate having to say that but they're being pretty poor on their approach and making documentaries of such. I think that they're crossing a very thin line of actually trying to whitewash this.

Some mainstream media is actually painting a story on the side government because they worry, maybe, because they're not gonna get their funding, or for commercial or political interests. While other media, I think we've talked about this, that it's pricking the conscience of some journalists, some editors. But we are in the minority, let's be clear about that. The Daily Mails of this world, the LBCs of this world, the Fox's, the Sky's, they are still leading the charge and they have the largest audiences, so hence, they are the most influential in actually turning the public against supporting Grenfell families.

When I'm asked how do I feel about the inquiry now that we've had the opening, quite strangely I'm actually quite pleased because I think that what Moore-Bick has done has actually been up front. He's made it very clear that he's not looking for any criminal prosecutions. He's made it very clear that he's gonna ask the suspects for the evidence. He's made it clear that his agenda isn't justice in the sense of how we would see justice, it's pretty much about collaborative, I think he used the word “cooperative” pursuit for truth amongst those who are responsible for one of the worse atrocities on mainland England.

It's quite refreshing, actually, that we know going in that it's not gonna deliver the results, so it lowers the expectations of most the people. So, when it's published and we see, and we hear those famous lines: "Lessons will be learned and lessons have to be learned," and we have a recommendation list which is a hundred strong, which means absolutely nothing, we knew this going in. I just worry about the waste of time and I worry about those people who don't have access to, maybe, I want to say competent political major, but more grassroots political major who may actually be sucked in by all the fancy words, the media coverage and actually might think that inquiry is actually an important instrument. For me, the inquiry actually obstructs the police investigation, and I don't actually have much confidence in the police investigation, but I have more so in that than I have in the inquiry. The fact that the inquiry actually defers key decisions being made, that's a problem for me.

I think there is a deliberate decision by government to make sure that the inquiry takes precedence over everything, just simply because they don't want themselves to be implicated in some of the decisions that are made because they are implicated in some of the housing bills that are made, that the deregulation that took place. But also, I think they also recognize that when you have an inquiry of this nature, of this size, it serves as a kind of a pseudo-truthful reconciliation exercise. What happens is that you drip, drip people, feed people sound bytes, their emotions dissipate over time. Then after a year or two, you release an interim report here or there, at least 90% of Moore-Bick’s team are ex-government officials that have either worked in the treasury or worked in one department as civil servants. There's no one, no one whatsoever from the community working at that level, and this claim about impartiality is complete and utter nonsense.

All the universities across the U.K. should be disbanded because obviously, the knowledge that they're producing is worthless because people know each other. How can we have impartiality in modern research? So, come on, let's be real.

Angie: The questions you should be asking of politicians and powerful people. I want to say, how can you sleep in your beds at night. I mean, if these individuals are truly, truly appalled and shocked by what has happened what do they really plan to do to alleviate the problems, the challenges, that the victims and the families of Grenfell currently face. They're saying a lot of things. For example, they talked about rehousing people in three weeks or finding them accommodation. That hasn't materialized. So, what steps do they plan to take as a consequence of this tragedy from a real, a human perspective? Not from a political perspective. I think that, in times like this, I think yes, it is very political, but sometimes you've got to be human. What would you do if these were people you knew? If you knew these people, if you knew these people and what they're currently facing and experiencing, how are you genuinely going to help them, to help to rebuild their lives?

To me, justice would look like the people responsible for the Grenfell tragedy facing criminal prosecution and going to prison. That's what justice would look like to me. Justice would look like a recognition, a true recognitions of the failings of the local government and the national government in terms of making these decisions not to have an adequate health and safety procedures in place, and to be honest about the true number of people who have lost their lives because I think there's a problem there when you don't say how many people, the true number, because now all kinds of assumptions will come out of that number. This is a true tragedy. People have died in the most horrific way possible and I think we need to keep the people in the people's center, should be centered in this. It's their story, it's their experience, and we should be sympathetic and empathetic of that experience.

Toyin: The people who are interested in Grenfell Media Watch, they can just go to our Facebook page. Log on, share. I think the biggest thing that we need is people. If you like what you see on there, share it. If you hear news or even if you disagree, say something. I think the biggest thing we need is debate comments. We need the topic kept alive and that comes from us exploring ideas, critiquing ourselves, we're not always right. What happens, if something that's online, what happens when we make a mistake? Is everyone gonna turn on us, or are they gonna recognize that we're humans and we're doing it with the right intentions. Get involved in this debate. Get involved in this topic. Don't let it become a Hillsborough, don't let it become something that's like a folk legend that everyone says oh... No, let's deal with it right this time.



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