The UK press is dictating our democracy
Anybody who’s picked up a UK newspaper in the last few months will have no doubt read numerous scathing attacks on certain political parties, especially the “Monster Raving Labour Party”. Ed Miliband claimed he was far from bothered by the relentless Murdoch attacks on his election campaign, the most recent of which made The Sun’s front page: Ed chewing on a bacon sarnie.
On the eve of the election, research by The Guardian showcased this extreme bias in The Sun. The research identified 95 percent of The Sun’s election campaign editorials as being exclusively anti-Labour, with most demonising the former Labour leader either a clown unfit for Government, or a conman willing to worm his way into Downing Street at any cost.
Many may argue that these articles are unimportant and are of little significance. Yet with David Axelrod, formerly the brains behind Obama’s and Miliband’s election campaigns, stating the Conservative media in the UK is more powerful than Fox News in the US, something appears very wrong. It would be naïve to simply ignore the rogue and undemocratic media influence on our ‘democratic election.’
But why did we see such fierce opposition to the Oxford and LSE educated “Red Ed?” This pseudo-communist nickname is odd enough when we consider Ed’s stated favourite book, Varieties of Capitalism. But the question is, why have these media assaults flooded the right-wing press, more so than anywhere else, and with such little opposition?
It would be naïve to simply ignore the rogue and undemocratic media influence on our ‘democratic election.’
Well for starters, it’s easy to imagine the alarm bells that sounded at NewsCorp HQ when Labour’s manifesto announced the ‘abolition’ of the non-Dom tax status, and clampdowns on tax avoidance. Even with Murdoch’s NewsCorp primarily based in notorious tax havens like Cayman Islands, it seems he’ll stop at nothing to protect the 7% of tax he does pay on his UK profits.
It may come as a surprise to some, that around 80% of the UK’s mass-media is owned by a tiny and elite group of non-domiciled UK residents, who also happen to be billionaires. These billionaires consist of: Mr Murdoch (The Sun, The Times, Sky News), Lord Rothermere (the Daily Mail), the Barclay Brothers (The Telegraph), Richard Desmond (Express), and more recently Alexander Lebedev (Russian Oligarch owner of the Evening Standard, and The Independent). These moguls have enormous unelected political power.
The Sunday Times Rich List revealed a roaring number of UK billionaires, with the aforementioned circle of privileged individuals financially benefiting since the Tory-led coalition assumed power. The regular use of their media clout has since helped to prolong a Tory-dominated Government, all the while reducing Labour’s influence – evidence all the more abundant during campaign season.
Many of these media barons are even Tory party donors and therefore ‘earn’ the opportunity to dine periodically with the PM. Media support during the election run-up is offered in a bid to prolong financially favourable policies.
The Conservatives, wishing to appease their media backing, have also largely ignored the media regulations suggested in the Leveson Inquiry following the phone hacking scandal. On the other hand, Miliband threatened this wealthy media clique when he promised to legislate more of Lord Leveson’s proposals if elected.
I suppose one argument against heavy political bias in the media may come in the form of acknowledging the UK press’ independent regulatory body, if there was one. But in the UK, the print media is essentially self-regulating. There is no statutory Press Council, no statutory complaints body, and no requirements that journalists be registered or even belong to any particular association. There is, however, a body established by newspaper bodies themselves – the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
Amongst other tasks, the PCC facilitates changes to the advisory codes of practice, made by the industry’s Code of Practice Committee. This committee comprises of senior editors from across the newspaper and magazine publishing industry. Almost by coincidence, these senior editors just happen to be appointed by the billionaire owners of the mass-media outlets themselves.
We wouldn’t for 1 second allow Coca Cola to regulate the food we eat, to decide what ingredients should and shouldn’t be included in our food, so why do we permit media moguls to self-regulate their products? It’s easily possible to envisage an independent body tasked to maintain the integrity and freedom of the UK press. Currently there is no regulation over heavy bias, nor on a duty to ensure the reporting of stories in the public interest. This has to change.
We wouldn’t for one second allow Coca Cola to regulate the food we eat, so why do we permit media moguls to self-regulate their products?
With almost no immediate pressure for accurate coverage, and an absence of reprimands, we resultantly find deceiving front-page stories. One example being The Times’ front page from April 24th, “Labour’s £1000 tax on families.” This headline was in fact grade-A baloney, a figure achieved through dividing the total increase in Labour’s tax plans amongst only working families. In fact, The Times later admitted next to no families would actually confront this hefty tax burden. Over a week later, a small mid-paper paragraph, titled ‘*Corrections and Clarifications’ acknowledged this mistake, with a brief explanation towards the original calculations.
Then, exposed by Left Foot Forward, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun, the Express, and the Times failed to publish any analysis concerning the 1 million people (400,00 children) using food banks. Anything that they have published slams ‘scroungers’ and ‘fraudsters’, with the Telegraph even celebrating food banks as a sign of, Cameron’s “big society in action.”Not a word about why their use may have exploded in the last 5 years due to austerity measures.
How can anybody, students included, make informed choices come an election when cherry-picked information appears lavishly, often disguised as absolute fact?
The majority of the British public rely on the news as the only practical source of political information widely available. So we must advocate a duty for the press to act as a reliable medium between current affairs and the people. How can anybody, students included, make informed choices come an election when cherry-picked information appears lavishly, often disguised as absolute fact?
Yet hope lies with the brave keyboard warriors that live bountifully across independent blogs and social media. Allies to the political left have found ways to counter the barrage of media bias, most recently by wielding the #JeSuisEd hash tag; a bid to satirize superficial attacks on the former Labour leader. Identifying social media as an effective method to share ideas is a start, but far from a comprehensive solution.
We must now apply pressure to the Government to legislate, with caution, to ensure the British press operates with honest intentions. If we can show politicians that future votes lay with the independent regulation of the press, then our hope of genuinely informed democracy can survive.