We got a sneak preview on Wednesday of the underhand tactics UKIP intend to deploy in their attempts to whip up anti-European hysteria in the run-up to the planned referendum.
Here’s the opening of a press release issuing forth from the office of Jonathan Arnott, UKIP MEP from the North East:
ANGEL OF THE NORTH VICTIM OF EU MADNESS
Moves in the European Parliament which could mean iconic views such as the Angel of the North could no longer be photographed without permission have been slated by local MEP Jonathan Arnott.
The EU is threatening to restrict the long-established principle of “freedom of panorama” which would mean major landmarks being blocked from videos and photographs for fear of copyright infringement.
And so it goes on, complete with a hyperbolic closing quote from Arnott about how “art and photography are valuable because of their intrinsic freedom. Freedom is constantly undermined by the European Union as we have seen time and time again”.
The whole thing is, of course, utter fabrication, and five minutes of journalistic research would have established that beyond a shadow of a doubt. But that didn’t stop UKIP doing their best to whip up the eurosceptic press into a frenzy. Their MEPs up and down the UK simultaneously put out suspiciously similar press releases, cleverly swapping “Angel of the North” for whatever regional landmark was supposed to stir up patriotic indignation in other parts of Britain.
Of course, the right-wing press was delighted to play along, with the Telegraph screaming about how HOLIDAY SNAPS BREACH COPYRIGHT and the Times (£) imagining a world in which ABSURD EU COPYRIGHT LAW THREATENS TO CENSOR HOLIDAY SNAPS. There was similarly shrill coverage in the Mail, the Express and even the usually-diligent Independent — none of which had bothered to check their facts.
In case you’re wondering, Jonathan Arnott’s scaremongering claim was, let’s say, “inspired” by a discussion that recently took place in the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee. It does not relate to holiday snaps. It’s about copyright over commercial images. And, needless to say, it’s not an EU law, nor even a proposal for one. Parliament hasn’t even voted. It’s just one idea submitted as part of a general, non-legislative discussion about copyright, which is a million miles from becoming law even if MEPs wanted it to.
Quite how we get from “A few MEPs think you should get permission if you profit from commercial images of someone else’s artwork” to HOLIDAY SNAPS BREACH COPYRIGHT is beyond me. But this is UKIP’s dystopian worldview — where two and two make five, and any casual suggestion by any MEP, or indeed any foreign politician in any forum, is automatically an ABSURD attempt by EU BUREAUCRATS to deprive us of our ANCIENT FREEDOMS.
And so a new euromyth is born. There will probably be a quiet retraction (at least from the quality press) in a couple of weeks’ time, but nobody will notice. Then we can expect the same story to reappear somewhere in our national press every couple of years from now on: experience suggests that a leisurely two-yearly life cycle is just about long enough for a bored Fleet Street editor to judge that readers might have forgotten that they’ve seen it before and swallow it all over again.
Luckily, the North East has a couple of sensible MEPs too. One of them, the excellent Paul Brannen MEP, gave my personal favourite response to the proposal:
If Jonathan Arnott is at the Angel of the North taking photos, I do hope he gets the European flag in the shot. As I’m sure he is aware, the project, like so many others in the region, received money from the EU, in this case to the tune of £150,000. […] The region gets more money back from the EU than it pays in and UKIP have to remember that without our EU membership there would be an awful lot less to take photos of in our region.