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  • Published in Opinion
British newspapers. Photo: Wikipedia

British newspapers. Photo: Wikipedia

We take a look back at the media's worst moments throughout the election

10. KUENSSBERG PLAGIARISM?

The moment when the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, managed to ‘borrow’ a Tory slogan to head up her response to Labour’s manifesto: ‘More spending, more tax, more borrowing’. 

9. BBC IGNORES ITS OWN REGULATOR

The BBC refusing to take down Laura Kuenssberg’s story that claimed that ‘Jeremy Corbyn opposes “shoot to kill” policy.’ This was the subject of a complaint to the BBC Trust, the Corporation’s former regulator, because the clip had been misleadingly edited to suggest that Corbyn was against the right of the police to use necessary force in all circumstances. The BBC Trust upheld the complaint, noting that ‘the report had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract’ but management at BBC News simply ignored the ruling and continued to make the clip available. It then became one of the most popular stories on the BBC News website and, incredibly, it was not until 7 June, the day before the election, that the BBC added a small note on the page that even acknowledged that the clip was the subject of a complaint that had been upheld.

8. BBC BREACHES ITS OWN IMPARTIALITY RULES

The BBC, as with all broadcasters, is required to show ‘due impartiality’, in other words, not to favour one party over another. Yet research produced for the Media Reform Coalition shows that the BBC, in its regular press reviews across all platforms, was in breach of these guidelines because it regularly highlighted pro-Tory views from pro-Tory newspapers. According to the research, ‘the BBC gave between 69 and 95 per cent more attention to the Conservative Party compared to what would be considered a balanced proportion, using 2015 voting as a reference.’ The press reviews also gave twice as much airtime to guests identified with the Tories as compared to Labour.

7. THE PRESS: ATTACK DOGS NOT WATCHDOGS

A press that is owned by a small number of billionaire proprietors is always going to defend its interests and to attack its opponents. Press coverage of the election was dominated by its hostility towards Labour even though parts of the Tory press did, at times, criticise Theresa May’s U-turn on social policy and her poor performance throughout the campaign. Research from Loughborough University shows that, in proportion to circulation, Labour attracted much more negative coverage than any other party and that press coverage of the Tories was, despite their appalling performance, pretty neutral. In terms of endorsements, the Tories received support from 80% of the Sunday press (measured by circulation) and 57% of the daily press with Labour receiving 20% and 11% respectively. On the day before polling, the Daily Mail devoted 13 pages to attacks on Labour while the Sunand Evening Standard stepped into line as devoted Conservative cheerleaders.

6. FOCUS ONLY ON LABOUR ERRORS AND NEVER TORY ONES

Huge amounts of coverage were devoted to Jeremy Corbyn’s inability on Woman’s Hour to remember the precise cost of Labour’s plan to offer free childcare to two-year-olds. Even more vitriol has been poured on Diane Abbott and her 30 years service as an MP set aside for cheap digs at her ethnicity and gender. Philip Hammond, however, faced no such scrutiny when he managed to underestimate the cost of the HS2 rail link by £20 billion. And he’s the Chancellor. While Corbyn’s opposition to counter-terror laws has been poured over in countless interviews, the hypocrisy of leading Tories – including Theresa May and Boris Johnson, both of whom have also opposed similar measures – is not pursued endlessly but occasionally pointed out and then dropped. 

5. PAXMAN’S INTERVIEWS WITH THE PARTY LEADERS FOLLOWED A TORY AGENDA

The ‘Battle for Number 10’ on 30 May was supposed to be the decisive broadcast event of the election with the two main candidates doing a Q&A with a live audience and answering questions from Jeremy Paxman. Yes, Paxman was aggressive with both party leaders but 65% of airtime with the prime minister was devoted to immigration and Brexit where she is most comfortable while he quizzed Corbyn on his stance on a nuclear deterrent and his alleged intimacy with terrorists. Overall, 54% of airtime was devoted to issues pushed by the Tory campaign compared to 31% for issues pushed by Labour. The limits of ‘due impartiality’ could not have been more clear.

4. WHERE’S THE ECONOMY IN ALL THIS?

Reporting of the economic mess we’re in has hardly featured in this election. The Loughborough researchers report that issues concerning the economy, business and trade have featured much less prominently than those focused on the electoral process, defence, Brexit and health. This ignores the decline in real wages, a growth in inequality and what the economist Simon Wren-Lewis describes as the ‘dire’ economic record of the Tory government. Of course this reluctance to cover the impact of austerity in recent years simply plays into the hands of the Tories and marginalises one of the central planks of Labour policy: its commitment to reverse the austerity measures that have caused so much pain for millions of voters.

3. THE MEDIA ARE NOT IN TOUCH WITH THEIR AUDIENCES

The overt hostility of newspapers towards Corbyn’s policies (hardly corrected by the broadcast media’s formal responsibility to respect ‘due impartiality’, see point 5 above) is simply out of step with what their audiences believe. Following the terror attack in Manchester, 46 % of those polled agreed with the statement that the ‘UK’s military involvements abroad increase the risk of terror incidents in this country’ as opposed to only 14% who believe that military intervention abroad decreases this risk. And yet Corbyn is vilified for making this precise point. When you consider that 45% of voters support an anti-austerity platform compared to 13% who want to carry on with existing level of cuts; that 58% of people opposed any form of private sector involvement in the NHS and that 51% support some degree of public ownership of the railways, then you have to wonder just why so many journalists think Corbyn is the one out of step with public opinion. 

2. SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE HELPED BUT IT WORKS BOTH WAYS

Social media platforms have partly redressed the pro-Tory bias of the newspapers – for example the most widely shared news articles towards the final stages of the election were pro-Labour/anti-Tory. Interestingly, the single most shared story in the week up to 2 June was a Facebook comment that praised Corbyn and attacked his portrayal by ‘the media arm of the establishment’. Researchers at Enders Analysis have also found that ‘the total number of total shares tilted heavily towards content against May and for Jeremy Corbyn’. Yet social media are not benign nor intrinsically progressive platforms: the Tories have poured money into producing targeted ads on Facebook (the vast majority of them focused on Corbyn) and their attack ad that featured snippets of Corbyn speeches deliberately edited to present him as the ‘enemy within’ has been watched over 7 million times. 

1. THE MEDIA MISSED THE MAIN STORY: THE COLLAPSE OF THE TORY LEAD

By far the biggest story of the election itself is what even the Economist describes as a ‘Labour surge’ together with the virtual disappearance of the Tory lead in some opinion polls. Survation, for example, reported that a 17% poll lead for the Tories at the beginning of May had dropped to a single point just before election day and asked a good question: ‘What’s going on?’ Sadly, this is not a question that many commentators and journalists have prioritised – for example, the BBC’s Today programme in its final 30 minute analysis of the election completely ignored the huge rise in support for Labour. Whatever happens in the election, Corbyn’s energising of the whole election campaign should have been the lead story but that is not a ‘frame’ that our media were prepared to pursue with any interest.

Des Freedman

Des Freedman

Des Freedman is Professor of Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of 'The Contradictions of Media Power' (Bloomsbury 2014), co-editor of 'The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance' (Pluto 2011), chair of the Media Reform Coalition and secretary of Goldsmiths UCU.

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