In the past few years there’s been widespread dissatisfaction with ‘traditional’ media outlets, both print and broadcast. It’s not an unreasonable feeling as most newspapers have been bought up or are owned by media barons who use them to push their own particular world view to further their own interests. The Broadcast media such as the BBC have also come under fire as their obsession with ‘balance’ has led then to give undue weight and prominence to people and groups selling snake-oil on subjects like the economy, politics or climate change. Then there’s the mystery of why right-wingers like Nigel Farage always featured on programmes like Question Time, despite him failing multiple times to ever get elected…
This dissatisfaction has fuelled the rise of the ‘alternative’ media. Sadly, much of that has been just as bad as many of the outlets are exactly the same as the print media. They’re exist solely to push one political view or ideology and damn the truth! Their function is to reinforce peoples prejudices and tell them what they want to hear. It’s not just the right-wing either, you have several left-wing outlets too. As always, the first casualty is the truth.
So, it felt like a new hope when Byline Media was established by one Peter Jukes back in 2019. The aims were laudable. It was to be impartial, report the truth and be a platform where ‘facts matter’. You can read more about its aims here in its manifesto.
Sadly, the reality has proved to be a real disappointment as the project has some major flaws. Here’s one. In it’s manifesto it says “Byline is a platform, not a paper. This means we don’t edit our journalists”. The reality is – this leaves them free to publish some complete crap! They also claim “Though we accept absolute truth isn’t reachable, aspiring to accuracy is still important” Really? How, when they don’t ‘edit’ their Journalists, or check their facts – or correct their errors? This smells like a cop-out. Then there’s the fact that Jukes himself isn’t averse to leaping in on social media to throw in fact-free assertions backed-up by nothing other than his own prejudices. Jukes talks of “holding power to account”, but who holds Byline to account?
Let me give you some examples. Regular readers will know I often write about railways and HS2, the new High-Speed railway in particular. Because of the fact I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade I’ve come to know a lot about it, which means I can tell fact from fiction – and there’s plenty of the latter around masquerading as the former!
Sadly, Byline have chosen to publish an awful lot of the latter too, which is ironic as in April they celebrated their second birthday and tweeted this.
Here’s a recent article on HS2 entitled “the runaway train”. It was written by Sam Bright and billed as an ‘exclusive’.
It hits the buffers straight away as there’s nothing ‘exclusive’ about it. It’s a rehash of old accusations made by two ex HS2Ltd employees (Andrew Bruce and Doug Thornton) dating from the mid 2010s and investigated by the Public Accounts Committee in 2018, which dismissed the claims. Despite Bright’s claims, there’s no new evidence in the article. Bright does say,
“Byline Times has seen a signed affidavit given by Bruce in August 2019, detailing his experiences working for HS2 Limited – the Government-funded private company that is tasked with delivering the railway.”
So, what’s the new revelations in this affidavit then? Bruce doesn’t say, probably because there aren’t any. But we do get this tidbit.
““I was advised that I had not passed my probation due to poor performance and that I was to leave the building immediately,” he states in the affidavit”
So, Bruce wasn’t ‘sacked’, he simply didn’t pass his probationary period. Hardly unique…
So, no new revelations in the article, but plenty of muddled conspiracies and factual errors – like this.
“The phase one HS2 hybrid bill was introduced for its third reading in the House of Commons in March 2016 and Royal Assent was granted in February 2017.”
“Nine months before the hybrid bill was put before Parliament for Royal Assent, HS2 – and therefore one would reasonably assume the DfT – knew the true cost, but I was fired and the true cost was concealed until after Royal Assent was granted”…
Eh? Royal Assent is a formality. The Queen cannot refuse it. Third reading of a Hybrid Bill is also a formality that just rubber stamps any amendments made during the petitioning process. The bill is regarded as being ‘established’ (ie passed) after its 2nd reading, which was in April 2014. So any extra costs there were on land purchases are a total Red Herring. The Hybrid Bill petitioning Ctte added 100s of millions to the cost of HS2 by agreeing to extra tunnels but that wasn’t an issue either as Parliament had agreed to build HS2 back in April 2014. It doesn’t then go back and say ‘hang on a minute – recall Parliament – we want to scrap this now the costs have changed’ so the idea that anyone was fired to conceal something that would have no impact is just stuff and nonsense. Oh, there’s also the small matter that the property costs of HS2 were reported every year (there’s now a report to Parliament every six months).
It’s worth noting that the land and properties acquired for the construction and operation of HS2 are purchased by HS2 Ltd as agent for the Secretary of State and are recognised as assets in the DfT’s financial statements. They are not included in HS2 Ltd’s financial statements. The DfT accounts are published annually and presented to Parliament annually, so any HS2 property figures would be known annually. They’re also scrutinized by the National Audit Office (NAO). Here’s their latest look at HS2. The idea that anything was being ‘hidden’ when HS2 has so much public and Parliamentary scrutiny is far-fetched to say the least – and it was dismissed by the NAO in this report in 2018 which specifically deals with the ‘whistleblowers’ claims.
“The National Audit Office received correspondence concerned about HS2 Ltd’s land and property programme. They raised concerns with us that:
• HS2 Ltd had understated the property cost estimate, including in information provided to Parliament with deposit of the hybrid Bill for Phase One”
No ‘conspiracy, no smoking gun – and still within budget…
So, what’s the point of Byline’s ‘exclusive’ other than to rehash old ground? There’s nothing new at all. It’s throwing old mud around in the hope it’ll stick second time around. The only interesting revelation is that Thornton (one of the two embittered ex-employees) is now driving delivery vans for Tesco!
But then Bright really goes off the factual rails, writing that
“A 2019 review of HS2 by the project’s former chairman Douglas Oakervee suggested that the total cost could amount to £106.6 billion – while others have claimed that it could cost as much as £170 billion.”
Eh? Oakervee never said any such thing! The only time the £106.6bn number was mentioned was to specifically REJECT it – as anyone who’s actually read the Oakervee review would know. Here it is in in black and white on page on page 60.
How Bright’s managed to claim this says “Oakervee suggested that the total cost could amount to £106.6 billion” is a mystery. Here’s what Oakervee actually says about the cost of HS2.
So, £62-69bn becomes £80.7 – £87.7bn. Not £106.6bn as Bright inexplicably claims! But where did that other £170 billion figure come from Bright mentions? It’s made up by a chap called Michael Byng. No-one but Byng recognises it, but it’s a nice big scary number, so Bright gives it an airing.
When Byline published this and Jukes promoted it on Twitter, the reaction from HS2 supporters was ‘oh, no – not that old rubbish again’? Jukes took a bit of a hammering. Instead of looking at the (valid criticisms) he doubled down with this tweet which put the made-up number on a par with official figures.
Doubling down again in the face of further criticism, he came out with this Linking HS2 to Tory cronyism on the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever – and yet again giving credibility to inaccurate and made up numbers!
Peter clearly forgets he’s meant to be ‘exposing lies’ not telling porkies…
A friend described Byline to me as “skwawkbox for centrist dads’. I’m beginning to see what he meant.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, one of Byline’s regional branches (East Anglia Bylines) also launched a hatchet job on HS2, and this one’s a doozy! Take a look at this!
No wonder the author (Wheeltapper) wanted to be anonymous! It’s utter rubbish. How about this ‘revelation’?
“So, the reason the NtP initially referred only to Phase 1 is that Phase 1 isn’t going to integrate: it’s all completely new. Larger, faster trains will need different track; they are being purchased from the continent, where the track gauge is wider, necessary to achieve the higher speeds.”
Wait? What? HS2 is going to be built to a different gauge? The ‘continent’ doesn’t use standard gauge? That’ll come as a shocker to Eurostar then, they’ve been running through services using standard gauge trains between London, Paris and Brussels since 1994 and now run to Amsterdam too – not to mention across France with ski specials and to Eurodisney!
The whole article is appalling there’s so many howlers and untruths I could spend a whole day blogging factual corrections but can’t be bothered. Any real media outlet with any semblance of quality control or standards would have binned this rubbish straight away. I tweeted East Anglia Bylines and pointed out some of these howlers but never received as much as an acknowledgement. This load of crap is still on their website (see update). But remember, according to Jukes and Byline “the truth matters”. Except when it doesn’t, obviously.
It’s a huge shame to see that Byline – despite all their claims – are just as bad as the media outlets that pander to people’s prejudices, because I have to ask, if they’re printing dishonest stuff like this I’ve spotted because I know about the subject, what else are they putting out? I’m not the only once to spot this conundrum.
So, remember as a well-known TV series once said, “the truth is out there” – just don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’ll fall into your lap on Byline media…
I’ve been told via back-channels that the awful East Anglia Bylines piece has been ‘pulled for review and correction’. Personally, I think the best thing they could do with it is file it in the bin, but we shall see….
Sadly, Byline have continued their trend of publishing fact-free, poorly researched and just plain wrong articles about HS2 and Peter Jukes continues to get very sniffy when people then criticize him for it – even when those people are Byline subscribers. The latest daft piece is this, titled “HS2 doesn’t know how many Oak trees it’s destroyed”. No-one seemed to have had the gumption to ask “well, why would it? Why does it need to know every single tree by species, what’s the point”? HS2 has responded with how many hectares of oerdinary and also ancient woodland have been felled, but count every single tree? Oh, please!
The article contains another classic snide remark that’s rather backfired. The author, one Jake Tacchi sniffily says
“It also involves the construction of four new stations, including the ill-thought-out name of Old Oak Common in West London”. The lad is clearly unaware that HS2 didn’t invent the name Old Oak Common, it’s a long established name of an area of London that’s been in use for centuries. You might as well complain there’s no Pachyderms or Battlements to be found at the Elephant and Castle!
The article trots out all the old trite claims about HS2 that feature on everyone’s Bingo Cards when it comes to canards. The Woodland Trusts supposed 108 woodlands ‘destroyed’? Check. HS2 not ‘carbon neutral for 120 years’? Tick. Then there’s another gem. Apparently, “Despite the felling of such ancient trees, the project first being proposed in 2009, and costs for the railway soaring, not a single mile of track has yet to be laid”. Really? Has no-one told this young man that HS2 only got Notice To Proceed in early 2020 and that before you lay any tracks you need to build tunnels, bridges, cuttings and embankments first (which the contractors, now mobilising, are doing at a rate of knots? Not exactly what you’d call a killer argument, is it? Here’s the reality this young man doesn’t seem to have noticed…
My criticisms of Bylines poor standards of Journalism and complete absence of fact-checking have met with this reaction. Frank and fearless journalism, or touchy and unable to accept and respond to criticism? You decide….
Needless to say, this silly act of pique won’t stop me critiquing any other nonsense Byline publish about HS2 as they can’t block me from their website! It’s entirely counter-productive and hasn’t done their reputation any favors either all it shows it they’re rather thin-skinned when it comes to valid criticisms of their content.
I’ve a favour to ask…
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