Political Bias? Why Are We So Keen To Bash The Media?

It's bash-the-media season. Come on in -- everyone's welcome. Whether you're concerned about negative front pages fuelling Project Fear in last June's EU referendum or you think the two main parties are getting too much coverage ahead of this June's General Election, there is enough in today's marketing press to get anyone on their hobby horse. 

The fact is, if we look at this June's election, there are only two people that could possibly be Prime Minister -- Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. So is it any wonder that between them they are getting 70% of tv coverage and 84% of newspaper articles? Now, the research in the Press Gazette says that this is far more pronounced than in previous years. Theresa May is currently featuring in a third of all newspaper articles about the election, and Jeremy Corbyn is in just over a fifth. Lib Dems leader Tim Farron gets covered in 6% of articles while UK leader Paul Nuttall and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon only each get covered in 2.6%.

Why is this a surprise to anyone? And does it actually prove anything? To be frank, we have more of a Presidential election this June than ever before. Everybody knows this election is about whom we send in to bat for the UK in the negotiations to leave the EU. It's him or it's her. That's why it was always going to be a two-horse race. No matter what researchers with slide rules and calculators may think, it doesn't matter. It's a two-horse race in the media because it's a two-horse race in the voting booth. 

I'm sure we'll soon see a lot more about an anti-Labour bias, but the fact is that nearly every bullet The Telegraph (aka The Torygraph) and other newspapers have fired against Jeremy Corbyn could only have come from one source -- his own party. I'm active on social media pointing out that, in my experience on the nationals, there is a group within the Labour party plotting through the "right wing" media they are supposed to disavow to ensure that if the party is embarrassed in June, Corbyn and his supporters will carry the can.

Interestingly, all the pundits and commentators have been at pains to point out that the party made it clear that Corbyn and his allies were given a free reign over Labour's manifesto. It's early leaking followed by the leaking of union demands, which showed a similarity between what they wanted and what they got, can only have come from within the party or the union movement. Corbyn is being set up for a major fall by an element within his own party and the 'mainstream media' (as the left on social loves to refer to them) are lapping up the great headlines. 

As for the Project Fear story, clearly a lot of money went behind the Leave campaign in last June's Brexit vote. I have always maintained, however, that most newspapers leaned the way you would expect. More liberal titles were for Remain while The Sun, Daily Mail and The Express were vehement supporters of Leave. It's worth noting that The Times was a Remain supporter, which deals with the whole "Murdoch forced Brexit" argument at source.

It's unquestionable that there were some inflammatory arguments used, which were designed to inspire fear among some titles' readers. However, while accepting that, I think we have to also accept that papers usually are successful because they tap into a belief system and a demographic. That's how we can pretty much judge a person by the paper they buy (or at least what they used to buy). If there's one cliche that fits, it's that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Pushing Brexit on these titles' readers was pushing on an open door, or at least one that was fairly ajar.

Whenever I got off social media and talked with people last year, I was surprised at how many -- particularly away from the more affluent Home Counties -- were Leave voters. The papers didn't make them this way; it's what they already felt. 

So papers spoke to their readers last June and they're doing it again this June. Both were two horse races. Remain or Leave, May or Corbyn. It is these binary decisions that tv and newspaper coverage is aimed at, and so it's hardly a surprise that the two main candidates are getting the lion's share of media attention. It's not that the media is forcing a "two party squeeze" on the public -- more that they're dealing in a political landscape where that is already the reality.

Does the right-wing press have a case to answer to? Sure, it does -- but I'd point out in mitigation that our media doesn't just create our views. It mainly reflects them, with a little moulding, just for good measure. 

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