Over the last few weeks I’ve been wondering whether writing this post is a good idea. After all, most of you are here to read about which country I’m visiting, not to engage with a political debate. But as time goes on, I’ve had a restless feeling that I need to do something and this felt like the only way I can put my voice out there from abroad.
Basically I feel compelled to address bias in the mainstream media, particularly in the upcoming UK general election. This won’t be an impartial piece, although that was my intention at first. I feel that my views as a Labour voter will come across pretty clearly so it’s best to set them out from the start. This article focuses on the Labour and Conservative parties, purely because that’s where I feel the majority of the mainstream press attention is focused. I’m also obviously not writing this as an expert but simply as a member of the public who wants to figure out what’s true and what isn’t. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into it…
Over the last few months I’ve been reading a lot about mainstream media bias and honestly, I’m constantly shocked how deep it goes. We, the general public, read it and because that’s what we’re told, that’s what we believe. Maybe we know that some organisations lean slightly to the left or right sides of the spectrum but we still believe that we can separate it in our minds. But it’s actually a hell of a lot more entrenched than I realised and as we get closer to the general election, it’s more apparent than ever.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. I wasn’t confident in his ability to lead the party but I didn’t know why. I’d never even looked into his background or his policies. So when I started reading about media and public perception, a lot of things fell into place. Reading articles about how Labour was falling apart under Corbyn, the vote of no confidence and second leadership contest had swayed me to believing that he wasn’t a good leader. It’s not to say that those are completely irrelevant. The Labour Party clearly has some work to do and there’s no way that I’d argue that they’re perfect. But Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is a very different party to how it has been in recent years so in reality, it’s almost natural that it will cause ructions. More than anything though, I was genuinely surprised at how much I’d been influenced without even realising it.
Now we move forward to the last month, when Theresa May announced a snap General Election. Surely questions should have immediately been asked about the strength of her leadership? After all, on multiple occasions she had outwardly denied that she would be calling a snap election and then did just that after seeing her position in the polls climbing higher. But press didn’t seem to question it and here began the ‘strong and stable’ message that we’ve all had seared into our brains over the last few weeks. And the majority of media reporting seems to have been skewed in the Conservatives’ favour ever since.
There’s an ongoing theme among the mass media and general public that Labour governments are fiscally weak. That they can’t be trusted with the economy and that the Conservatives are still ‘cleaning up Labour’s mess’. Did we forget the fact that Labour’s mess was actually a global economic crisis? But I’m not a numbers gal so let’s turn to the people who know what they’re talking about. Prime Economics, both in 2015 and earlier this month, taking an unbiased look at the figures.
Yep, it turns out that, over the last 26 years, Labour’s overall budget deficit is half that of the Conservative governments. So WHY are we still being fed the message daily that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy? Particularly when they have released a costed manifesto unlike the Conservative party. It doesn’t make sense.
Jeremy Corbyn has been vilified in the media over the past few months like no other politician I’ve ever seen. Back in November, the BBC Trust judged that journalist Laura Kuenssberg breached impartiality and accuracy rules by misrepresenting Corbyn’s views in an interview about the Paris attacks. He has faced an onslaught about past connections with the IRA and it was an interview on Sky News that actually pushed me to write this article. The headline? Jeremy Corbyn refuses five times to directly condemn IRA. Yet if you watch the full video, it’s quite clear that he does condemn their violent actions along with violence by any other groups. He has done exactly as anybody who believed that a military solution was the WRONG solution would do. But in the comments section, there are people absolutely tearing him to pieces for refusing to back down from his principles. Surely we want a leader with good morals not one who wants to bring back fox hunting?
His leadership abilities have been challenged over and over again. Why is Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to be a charismatic, influential leader in question when he attracts thousands to his appearances, in contrast to Theresa May’s highly controlled visits? I mean, she had resort to warming the nation’s hearts talking about her taste in shoes on The One Show: is this really what we’re basing this hugely important election on? Ironically, even as I was writing this post, news broke of Theresa May backtracking on her unpopular social care manifesto promise. How many more U-turns will there be – from Brexit to the election and now this – before the tide begins to turn?
So why do the majority of the mainstream media outlets appear biased towards a Conservative victory?
The majority of our media is owned by a small number of billionaires including the Barclay Brothers (The Telegraph) and Rupert Murdoch (The Times, The Sun and Sky News). These are the people who control what we hear and how we hear it. So, for politicians to have a chance of getting good coverage, their policies should make these people happy. Looking at the Conservative policies and manifesto, it’s clear how this is the case:
- The industry giants who own the majority of our mainstream media directly benefit from Conservative policies such as lowering corporation tax. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn would reverse cuts in corporation tax and bring in a levy on massive salaries (2.5% on over £330,000, 5% on over £500,000 annually). So the owners of these huge corporations are looking out for their own interests, rather than genuinely thinking about what’s right for the millions of worse-off people across the U.K. Note: that’s almost everyone.
- Two policies in the 2017 Conservative manifesto are to cancel the second Leveson enquiry and to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014 which would force newspapers to pay their opponents’ legal costs linked to libel and privacy actions, even if they win in court, if they are not signed up to an official regulator. Phew, long sentence. Basically, these policies would highly benefit the media and stop them from being held accountable for unethical practices.
In the midst of this corruption, how can we protect ourselves from media bias to make a genuinely informed choice about who we vote for? It starts with reading. Read the party manifestos or at the very least, find summaries of them online. Don’t just get your news from your usual paper or news site – and no, the BBC is not as impartial as it should be. Check out a variety to get a fully rounded opinion, including alternate, lesser-known sites. Respected social critic and linguist Noam Chomsky often recommends the business press as being one of the most honest news sources out there as they don’t feel the need to lie to their audience. I’ve included a couple in the resources section. Take quizzes to find out which party best represents your views. Basically, just use everything that you can to cast your vote with the most knowledge behind you possible.
Personally, I want to support a party that I believe in. For the first time, despite previously voting Labour, I feel genuinely inspired by a leader who will stand up for what they believe in. I do think that Jeremy Corbyn is a principled man and his voting record over his years as an MP reflects that. But even if I was still uncertain about him as a leader, I do know that the Labour manifesto of a fairer society is one that I can get behind. We’ve been conditioned to think that positive policies are too good to be true, that austerity is the only way forward, but I’ll be voting for the possibility that there is a better way.
‘Who should I vote for’ quizzes: these are great, policy based ways to get your head around which party suits your priorities. I recommend I Side With as the most detailed option!