The mainstream and commercial media appears to have become obsessed with their own straw man. I call it ‘Schrödinger’s Corbynista’, which involves claiming supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are simultaneously both politically irrelevant and an existential threat to western civilisation. There is something sinister about this almost uniform character assassination from the media establishment.
There’s no shortage of evidence that Corbyn-related coverage has been subject to extreme levels of bias in the mainstream media. A recent report, published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, concluded that this bias amounted to the press serving as an “attackdog” against the opposition leader.
Shortly after, another major study produced yet starker findings. As James Wright reported for The Canary:
The research, carried out by the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London, analysed TV and online news over the “crucial 10 day period” following the first wave of resignations from Labour’s shadow cabinet, up until the release of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war.
In summary, the researchers said they’d found:
clear and consistent bias in favour of critics of Jeremy Corbyn.
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The study analysed 465 online news items from 8 outlets, along with 40 broadcasted news bulletins from the BBC and ITV. While our public service broadcaster gave twice the airtime to Corbyn’s critics at prime time, ITV was significantly more balanced.
Although these reports were published in some sections of the mainstream media, they seem to have had zero impact on their respective editorial processes or the strident efforts of their journalists to pillory and character-assassinate anyone associated with the Corbyn camp.
As a case in point, just take a look at what happened when Twitter users launched the #WeAreHisMedia hashtag over the weekend. Members of the public, infuriated by this failure of the mainstream media to report fairly on Corbyn’s Labour, rallied around a hashtag on the issue.
Did they think they were going to change the world in a day? No. But they wanted to speak out on this issue, identify those who shared their opinions, and share information about new media organisations which are doing things differently.
As journalists, we should be lit up by this. It should be a clarion call summoning the commentariat from slumber to reflect on how widely and badly they are failing in their role as the Fourth Estate. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the commentariat woke up alright, but like a bear poked with a big stick. Responses ranged from patronisation to outright hostility:
If Twitter was as effective as we'd like, Labour would have won a majority of 200 last time. Can we bear that in mind? #WeAreHisMedia
— Owen Jones🌹 (@OwenJones84) July 30, 2016
Does anyone know why I can't find any reports on #WeAreHisMedia on the BBC website?
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) July 30, 2016
What in the name of hell is this #WeAreHisMedia ?!!! Don't be so silly, and grow up
— Giles Dilnot (@reporterboy) July 30, 2016
It just went on and on. Those media outlets that bothered to report it focused solely on the fact that Owen Jones – a Guardian columnist – felt the need to provide some advice.
The entire commentariat had the opportunity to engage with readers and non-readers alike, but chose instead to pillory them. Which is basically exactly the same approach they’ve taken to the growing movement surrounding Corbyn. A Labour membership that’s surged to over 600,000 (larger than all the other political parties in the UK combined), Momentum, the size and scale of public rallies, and the rapid rise of new media organisations. The commentariat picks on each one in isolation, bemoans it and those involved, and never pieces all these actions and developments together to see an emerging labour movement with the potential to effect real change in Britain’s political, social, economic and media scene. Or perhaps they do, and the thought is so thoroughly repellent that they’d rather throw mud in the hope that some sticks and slows the thing down.
— Jeremy Corbyn for PM (@JeremyCorbyn4PM) July 30, 2016
To the commentariat, this is all wrong. New media outlets are full of radical lunatics, and everyone else is a Schrödinger’s Corbyista. End of debate, end of discussion, and if you disagree – you are part of the problem. Doesn’t this strike you as the most naked unveiling of the conservative role of the UK’s media representatives?
I wrote a piece recently on the state of the ownership of Britain’s media, so I won’t rehearse that whole story again here. The bottom line is that our mainstream media is owned by a handful of billionaires, and these billionaires have staffed their editorial boards and teams with establishment figures. Plus the odd token, non-threatening, dissenting voice so as to present a semblance of ‘balance’.
It is personally and professionally precarious for journalists within these institutions to present ideas contrary to that status quo. One of Britain’s finest investigative journalists, Nafeez Ahmed (now Editor for The Canary Global), was summarily dismissed from writing his Earth Insight blog at the Guardian for daring to speak out against Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. Another esteemed journalist, Paul Mason, took the courageous decision to go his own way. Mason stated that in order to do the kind of journalism he lives for, he would need to leave the mainstream and utilise new media.
The whole sorry situation was boiled down excellently in an exchange between Noam Chomsky and the BBC’s Andrew Marr during an interview on the issue. Chomsky was discussing the role of self-censorship by journalists, and Marr repudiated the claim, asking:
How can you know if I am self-censoring?
He argued that he had never been censored or told what to say.
Chomsky calmly responds, as if he were explaining the non-existence of Santa Claus to a child:
I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying, but what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.
This is why The Canary exists. We lay out our mission in our Values section for all to see. We believe a free, fair and fearless media is the bedrock of a functioning democracy because, for democracy to work, there must be informed consent from citizens. We intend to help generate that informed consent by providing our readers with high-quality, well-researched and incisive journalism.
We are as flawed and imperfect as any group of individuals. But someone needs to start this fight, and those who are fighting it right now have seen their work rewarded with millions of new, switched on and passionate readers. As I’ve said before, it has felt like – during the last decade – we’ve all been witnessing the demise of politics, the welfare state, the NHS and the media in gradually escalating horror. We’ve been looking over our shoulder to the hills, asking: ‘Where is the cavalry?’
But the cavalry isn’t coming. We are the cavalry. Parents, teachers, plumbers, engineers, scientists, junior doctors, sick and disabled people, people of colour, students, working and non-working people, activists – and it’s the responsibility of the new media to promote those voices where the established media has failed.
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