Media bias is putting democracy at risk

More damning evidence has emerged of the extent to which the media colluded to put Boris Johnson into Downing Street. Here’s how we fight back.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a car scrap yard in east London January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hackett/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a car scrap yard in east London January 25, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Hackett/File Photo
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As Boris Johnson divides the press into those who are four and against him, we have even more damning evidence showing how the media colluded to hand Boris Johnson the election. At every stage they did everything they could to stop Jeremy Corbyn and Labour from securing a socialist victory, and when the results were announced they also worked hard to exaggerate the scale of the victory. With Labour's vote share close to Blair in 2005, why is the media ignoring these key arguments and solely focusing on the negatives around Labour?

Indeed, to look at the media coverage you could be forgiven for thinking Boris Johnson is one of the most popular Prime Ministers ever. He has the biggest majority since Thatcher, he’s got Brexit done and he’s even become the unlikely champion of the working classes. There’s only one problem: none of that is true. Like all wannabe despots he works hard to create an alternate reality. Unfortunately, it’s one that the media has helped him create with selective reporting that handed the election to Boris Johnson. 

A stonking majority

Let’s talk about that majority in more detail. At first sight, 80 seats seem pretty cut and dried, but that’s a quirk of our eccentric electoral system and the way journalists report it. If we look at vote share, which the media almost universally does not, we get a very different picture. 

Labour’s vote share was 32.2%, just a few points below Tony Blair’s 2005 score of 35.2%. In terms of popular vote, Jeremy Corbyn attracted slightly more voters (10,265,912) as opposed to 9,552,436 for Blair. Both the Liberal Democrats (11.6% versus 7.4%) and the Greens (2.7% versus 1.6%) boosted their share considerably, without winning any more seats.  

Overall, just under 51% of people voted for parties who could be said to be progressive (Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Green or Plaid) and, while they did their best to hide it, these parties broadly wanted the same thing: higher taxes on the rich, an end to austerity, genuine action on climate change, a second EU referendum, more affordable homes and (to a greater or lesser extent) more public ownership. 

The ‘people’, therefore, were very clear about what they wanted. They were just divided about which party would best deliver it. The Conservatives, meanwhile, hoovered up almost every right-wing vote from your very slightly xenophobic Nan to the eye-popping fascist down the street who lives in perpetual fear of something he insists on calling ‘muslamism’. 

That’s not how the media wishes you to see things though. This is the same media which, as academic research demonstrated showed unprecedented levels of bias during the general election campaign. They are interested in one thing and one thing only, creating an image of the world that their paymasters demand. 

This is a serious threat to our democracy, because selective reporting such as this transforms the story completely and has a major impact on events. 

We saw another clear example in the Democratic caucus of Iowa where a bizarre electoral system and some myopic reporting from media outlets has been a major boost for Pete Buttigieg. 

While Bernie Sanders got the most votes, the media decided to focus on a third category which gives each precinct a weighting and assigns delegates to each candidate. This, for reasons nobody can entirely explain, declared Buttigieg the winner. 

Already this has had a material effect on the election as polling expert Nate Silver tweeted:

“I would guess, based on his polling in NH which is where we have the most data, that Buttigieg is gonna get a slightly bigger national surge than our model is assuming. That's because voters & the media seem to treat IA as a win for Buttigieg when our model thinks of it as a tie,” he wrote. 

Perception matters and time and time again selective reporting does enormous damage. For instance, let’s look at the public perceptions which swung this election towards the Tories. 

Most people believed Labour’s plans were not credible. That might be because the media selectively quoted from the IFS assessment while glossing over positive reports including a statement of support from leading economists and a study which showed Labour’s nationalisation plan would save billions

Equally, many people believe Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite, despite a strong track record as an anti-racism campaigner. That might be because the press obsessed over reports of antisemitism within the Labour party, even to the extent of whipping themselves into an uproar over how Jeremy Corbyn chose to pronounce the name ‘Epstein’. 

On the other hand, they seem entirely disinterested when Boris Johnson claims Jews are controlling the media, or when Daniel Kawczynski escaped suspension despite speaking at a far right rally, or when a string of Conservative candidates made hateful and antisemitic remarks during the election. 

And has Boris Johnson backtracked on a pledge to set up an independent investigation of islamophobia within the Tory party? You barely heard a murmur. Small wonder, Sayeeda Warsi feels compelled to say she feels as if she’s in an ‘abusive relationship.’

It is nothing less than an assault on democracy and one which some of the leading names in broadcast media are guilty of. Laura Kuensberg and Robert Peston may have congratulated them on their journalistic solidarity when they protested an attempt by Number 10 to ban certain journalists from official briefings but can’t avoid one telling fact. 

Their names were on the list of ‘approved’ names. Those people and outlets which are considered favourable to the current regime. So was the Guardian along with the likes of the Sun, Daily Mail and Sky News. The Huffington Post, Politics Home and Independent, on the other hand, were all considered hostile. 

In these times it must feel like a badge of honour to be on that excluded list. The opposite, of course, applies to those who were invited. Johnson is the host of a party to which no self-respecting journalist should want to be invited to. 

Fighting back

The good news is that there are things which can be done. When people hear directly from Labour, they are much more receptive to their message than when they hear it in the press. 

A good example came last week when Rebecca Long Bailey called in to Iain Dale’s LBC show. Dale, a committed Conservative, admitted to being impressed and surprised by what he’d heard, saying it was entirely different from everything he’d seen from her earlier in the campaign. 

For Dale this was a sign that RBL has discovered her mojo, but in fact it’s simply what happens when people hear directly from Labour rather than reading about them through the biased filter of the media. If Long Bailey, Lisa Nandy and other candidates can find their own voices and communicate directly with the voters, the illusion created by the media starts to crumble.

This shows the way forward for Labour and how they can counter the biased press. To do so, they need to challenge the mainstream media and get their message directly to the people. This is part of the reason why we’ve launched Labour Buzz. 

This is an outlet which is truly independent and decentralised which means it can’t be censored by hostile governments or corporate interests. It doesn’t collect any personal data and even pays people with cryptocurrency every time they read a news story. 

It’s an entirely new approach to journalism and one which will provide readers with a safe and honest place to get the real news about all things to do with Labour. It cuts through bias and does the job that the mainstream media has neglected to do: to hold the government of the day properly to account. 


(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)


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