‘It’s the Media, Stupid’ – The Media, the 2019 Election and the Aftermath’ sounds like an accusation, it is in fact the title of a book skillfully edited by Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom [North], that looks into what’s happened to the media since the election and the run up to it.
Throughout the 2019 election CPBF produced Election Watch, some of the comments included in the book come from those and from a conference held in February. It includes chapters from journalists and luminaries such as the much respected former BBC Industrial and Political correspondent Nick Jones, and Tony Burke, former Deputy General Secretary of the GPMU and now Assistant General Secretary of Unite and former print worker using their experience to try and analyse what happened.
I have worked on both sides covering elections as a reporter for national/local papers and for national radio, and previously as a press officer for Labour during the 1970 election; later quietly working for Labour behind the scenes during campaigns I was reporting. I have also worked as a TUC press officer and represented journalists as a National Organiser for the NUJ so my feelings about the media have ranged from desperation to frustration. Many of those feelings are mirrored in the book, particularly those in relation to the BBC, formally seen as an independent defender of the truth but now looked on as having compromised its reportage in favour of the establishment.
The book also looks at how the Tory Government treats those critical of them since the election. The failure by the media to hold the Government to account for the way it has handled the pandemic is already coming under scrutiny.
In his foreword Professor James Curran of Goldsmith University, himself a writer of previous studies on press coverage of politics refers to the British public having lost their trust in the media: ‘Britain’s Trust in the British press,’ he writes ‘is now even lower than that of Serbians in their press, while trust in British broadcasting has fallen before the EU average’.
Certainly the Millie Dowling coverage which saw the closure of the News of The World did much to expose how the media, in particular red tops had given up any vestige of decency in attempts to get a quick headliner. Something that those of us who had ever dealt with Murdoch had known, but the public now had demonstrated to them.
The editor of the Soviet news outlet Pravda once said to me, ‘the problem is that you think you have press freedom, you don’t, your papers are owned by a few with their own interests; we know we haven’t, so we aren’t tricked’. He was right. The Mail’s publication of the Zinoviev letter in 1924 a few weeks before the General Election which produced the collapse of the Liberal Party and landslide victory of the Tories led to Labour taking steps to distance itself from left socialist leaning policies which could be likened to Communist tendencies. The letter was of course a forgery, but the public believed it.
It was an early indication as to how the right wing press, who would go on to support Mosley and the blackshirts, would treat Labour. And to what depths it would plunge and still will do as has been shown more recently.
Certainly coverage of the Labour Party, and in particular on Corbyn since the 2017 election was even more vicious than those previously conducted. Leaders of the Labour Party have always come under attack from the press. Neil Kinnock was portrayed as a joke Welshman in attacks that at times seemed racist, the attacks on Ed Miliband made by the Mail, were.
Harold Wilson was described as a Russian spy and Michael Foot as a tired out old eccentric. Clement Attlee, after whom the English section of the International Brigade was named was seen as fair game before the war, was accused in the 1945 General Election by Winston Churchill as having plans to set up a gestapo. Fortunately the British public knew Attlee and saw through the attempts at vilification.
The difference between Corbyn and his predecessors was that the general public didn’t know much about him, other than what they were told about him by the media. One thing was certain and that was that none of the proprietors were going to accept even the remotest possibility of someone like Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.
No other leader received the level of hits against them that Corbyn received, some 5,000. It was as Nicholas Jones rightly complains a ‘hatchet job that was the vilest I have witnessed in 50 years of political reporting.
‘Masterclass in character assassination’
‘Any semblance of trustworthiness he might have accrued as leader of the opposition was torpedoed in a sea of slurs and smears. A masterclass in character assassination was delivered with shameless superiority.’
As Jones writes, ‘Rarely have editors and columnists of Conservative supporting newspapers been so calculated or so co-ordinated in demolishing the credibility of a British politician.’
We have to deal with the media that we have got. It’s one that is being reduced as papers are cut back or closed, or go on line.
Particularly vulnerable have been local papers bought up by large paper groups, closed down as circulations fell. Independent voices covering local politics are being squeezed out. Unions are no longer in a position to shut down a paper for a story they disagree with. In the 70s as television and local radio took on the press; local and national, papers and groups passed into new ownerships.
Ownership is now becoming even more compressed. In 2019, 83 per cent of the market was owned by three groups, giving them more power and influence than they have had before making them even more difficult to make answerable for what they do.
To be continued….
Read part 2 of Peta Steel’s review tomorrow (June 26) here on unitelive.org
It’s the media stupid – The media, the 2019 election and the aftermath edited by Granville Williams and published by Campaign For Press And Broadcasting Freedom (North). Priced at £9.99
By Peta Steel