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A ruthless masterclass in media control

I HAVE just finished editing six issues of ElectionWatch. This involved buying all the national daily and Sunday newspapers since the election was called on October 30 and reading their election coverage.  

We did a similar election monitoring exercise back in 1992 when Neil Kinnock was the Labour leader. One of the best political commentators back then was The Independent’s Anthony Bevins (he sadly died of pneumonia in 2001, aged 58). 

On February 3, 1992, he wrote: “Having worked for nine years as a political correspondent on The Sun and the Daily Mail, I count myself as something of an expert on the insidious nature of the process.

“To survive and rise in, or on, the ‘game’, you pander to the political prejudice of your paymasters, giving them the stories that you know will make them salivate.

“That means putting a sparkling gloss on anything to do with the Conservatives and their policies, whilst denigrating, or ‘ratting’, Labour.”

Press coverage of Labour and Kinnock was pretty vile back in 1992 but what we have witnessed in this election is far, far worse.

It has been a disturbing experience, especially after reading what can only be described as undiluted propaganda day after day in the bloc of avid Tory-supporting newspapers, which worked closely with the Tory HQ election campaign to maximise the assault on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s election policies.

The Sun front page (3.12.19) was typical. Interviewing Boris Johnson the paper’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, warns readers, “Red Jez’s threat to UK: Corbyn is a security risk” backed up by a double-page spread with the headline ENEMY OF THE STATE splashed across them.

The same message has been spread across the broadsheet papers, The Sunday Telegraph, and Daily Telegraph, owned by the billionaire Barclay brothers, and Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times.

His other papers The Sun on Sunday, The  Sun and The Times have also been “on message” in promoting this caricature of Jeremy Corbyn.

Finally we have the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, owned by another billionaire, Lord Rothermere. For my money the Mail on Sunday is the worst of the lot — a nasty, vindictive right-wing rag. The November 18 edition, for example, had 12 pages of relentless attack journalism.

These newspaper titles represent 80 per cent of UK newspaper circulation. Newspapers representing alternative and more balanced reporting and different perspectives on the election are the Daily Mirror, The Guardian and, of course, the Morning Star. 

But their impact and influence is put in the shade by the relentless assaults and smears of the Tory press.

These papers have had a malign influence on the flow of accurate information in this election. Indeed their lies make a mockery of democracy. Those who brush aside the impact of these papers, and say people can make their own minds up, ignore the evidence.

An LSE report, Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press, provides that evidence. It found that 75 per cent of stories about the opposition leader are either distorted or failed to represent his actual views on subjects. 

The authors assert, “Jeremy Corbyn was represented unfairly by the British press through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy.

“Corbyn was often denied his own voice in the reporting on him and sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him and his positions.

“He was also systematically treated with scorn and ridicule in both the broadsheet and tabloid press in a way that no other political leader is or has been.

“Even more problematic, the British press has repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.”

Back in 1992 Anthony Bevins gave another warning: “The partisan mendacity of papers like the Express and the Mail has a wider impact though.

Stories planted on their front pages about rifts in the Labour leadership are taken up by television and radio news editors.

“While the rat pack hacks are paid to dance to predominately Tory tunes, television and news editors should consider their influential role. They should remember that they are free agents, and that their first duty is to the voter at large.”

This process has been magnified in this election as the lies deliberately disseminated by the Tories seep through into the broadcast media. 

The most striking example was Jewish Voice for Labour’s (JVL) criticism of the BBC’s coverage of the relentless Tory newspaper coverage of charges of anti-semitism in the Labour Party.

JVL said: “Over recent months, and with no remission during the election campaign, coverage of allegations of Labour anti-semitism has featured repeatedly in the BBC News, and often as the lead item.

“In news programmes the allegations have been reported as quasi-factual, with no indication that they are fiercely contested. In more discursive formats, such as the Today programme or Newsnight, presenters have consistently adopted a negative, attacking stance towards anyone who questions the basis of the allegations.”

The Conservative’s 2019 election campaign was a ruthless masterclass in media control. It was also the most persuasive example of why we need media ownership reform and effective press regulation. 

That is why we are holding a national conference It’s The Media, Stupid! Post-Election Policies For Media Reform in Leeds in the Henry Moore Room, Leeds Art Gallery on Saturday February 8, 11.00-5.00pm. 

Contact Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) at cpbfnorth@outlook.com for further details and to book.

ElectionWatch was a CPBF (North) initiative. All the issues of ElectionWatch are available online at: mstar.link/MediaNorth.

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