The Power of Words: The Role of Media in British Elections

Well, well, well. Who predicted that one then? I must admit, it was the best that any of us with left-leaning politics or sympathies could have hoped for under the circumstances. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May had a healthy lead in the polls when she called the election. The lead crumbled spectacularly over the next 6-7 weeks, resulting in a hung parliament with the Conservatives on the most seats.

From day one (in fact, even before that) the attack dogs in the largely right wing media vilified Jeremy Corbyn, an actual left-wing candidate leading a left-wing party after nearly two decades of right-wing rule. The ferocity of their attacks was met only with the calmness of a man determined to defend his policies while his opponent offered only political slogans. And the electorate gave the Tories the pasting we all expected Labour would receive. Neither party received an outright majority and this morning, Theresa May was looking anything but Strong and Stable. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour now looks as though it can only go from strength to strength. A second election later this year (possible) could see a Labour majority.

The Media Problem

I don’t really want to talk about the election result so much as the media’s part in the last few weeks. When the Exit Poll was released at just gone 10 pm last night, Rupert Murdoch is said to have stormed out of the room in a rage. He did this because he knows that Jeremy Corbyn is not a leader he can court, suck up to and extract favours from. This is the foreign billionaire who owns News International, one of the world’s largest media empires. Over here, they run The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times and The News of the World until that folded. He also owns Fox in the USA and various other media outlets. He and his right wing compatriots have led the narrative on political opinion in this country for a very long time. They’ve courted Prime Minister after Prime Minister on both sides of the Commons including David Cameron and Tony Blair. The Sun even proclaimed in 1997 after Blair’s election victory “It’s The Sun wot won it.” Compare the contrast with the election in 1992 when Neil Kinnock was Labour leader.

His media outlets have led the narrative on political opinion in this country and have arguably decided several elections, including the EU Referendum. I’ve believed for a while that we are no longer a functioning democracy. We have a situation where the newspapers vilify the leader of the opposition for everything he says and does while simultaneously ignoring or excusing the same actions by our Prime Minister. While the uninformed electorate must shoulder some of the responsibility for getting all of their information from a single source – these dangerous echo chambers have a freedom not afforded to television. In contrast, TV station must give equal weight and time to all parties in an election.

A Tale of Two Medias

The problem is not better explained than in this article from The Conversation titled The Election wot The Sun (and the rest of the UK tabloids) Never Won. At times, this election has really got me down. But now I’m feeling encouraged and positive for the future. There are many positives for people on the left. Firstly, true left-wing policies such as those on offer from Jeremy Corbyn are electable. The “champagne socialism” of Blair, Brown and in the US Hillary Clinton, has very little in the way of support. People respond to genuine solutions to problems.

Secondly, the most encouraging thing is that the power of the newspaper media finally seems broken. Circulation figures of all newspapers are declining and their readers are ageing and declining in numbers. Advertising revenues are dropping as advertising looks to other more effective ways of getting their message across. The younger generations don’t read the newspapers. I’m in my early 40s and I don’t know anyone in their 30s and 40s who read newspapers. This media is dying, yet the power of people like Rupert Murdoch is not. If we ever needed a rejection of the political elite without damaging the fabric of our democracy (as I strongly feel the election of Trump and the referendum to leave the EU were) we needed it now. That’s exactly what we got last night. Regardless of what you think of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, or of The Conservatives and Theresa May, this state of affairs where our elections were decided by newspapers in a post-truth world could no longer continue damaging our country. This election showed it can be done.

people don't read articles before sharing

In steps the new media: the internet. Preferred as news sources for young to middle-aged people who’ve grown up with the internet, analysts may later find that independent internet media was largely responsible for the upturn in Labour’s fortunes – although having a positive manifesto of fully-costed spending and a programme of investment would have spurred many people too. If you think that the portrayal of Jeremy Corbyn and his direction for Labour in the media has been fair and balanced, think again. Coverage was far lower than any other party despite being one of only two parties about to command enough support and MPs to form a government. Now, look at a comparison (from the same site, also linked and supported with evidence) of positive, negative and antagonistic news stories.

The internet and independent news sites such as AAV, Novara Media, OpenDemocracy and fact-checking charities such as Full Fact represent a future where we can all fight on a level playing field against the malevolent foreign and non-dom billionaire owned media outlets who fight for their own interests under the thinly disguised veneer of patriotism.

What Price Democracy?

No matter where we stand politically, left, right, centre or Monster Raving Loony (yes, we have a party by that name!) we should all be concerned with how media barons and their outlets manipulate the electorate. We should stand against the non-dom and foreign billionaires who manipulate us and our political system for their own nefarious gains (usually tax cuts, perks and nepotism). The government of any country is supposed to be for the people, not the billionaires and to use the Labour slogan from this election – for the many and not the few.

I feel we are at a real turning point. The electorate gave a massive two fingers to the media who’d spent the last couple of months vilifying the opposition to an apparently untouchable government with a Prime Minister who neither wanted to face her opponents nor the electorate. Dare I proclaim the age of the unaccountable political elite over? Perhaps but one thing is for sure – people are becoming aware of the role that the media plays and it never has our own best interests at heart.

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