Following Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the leadership contest, regular guest host on BBC Newsnight and LBC radio presenter James O’Brien has admitted that the mainstream media is stacked against the newly re-elected Labour leader.
Straight from the horse’s mouth
Coming clean about the commentariat’s negative inclinations about Corbyn, O’Brien called for the bias to end:
The media, myself included, now have to stop talking about Jeremy Corbyn like he is some sort of pimple on the backside of British politics and start talking about him as the only alternative Prime Minister to Theresa May.
In the interests of journalistic standards, he vowed to stop treating Corbyn more negatively than other politicians:
I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve made a conscious personal and professional decision to leave the scepticism at the door and will now treat this party and this man as I treat all politicians – with a degree of cynicism but not as some sort of aberration.
O’Brien then queried why there has been such a widespread negative reaction to what seem like common sense policies:
Try this on for size. We spend far too much money on war and weapons and we should be spending that money on the poor. What’s not to like about that? Why is that even controversial?
He went on to ground Corbyn’s scepticism over military interventionism within the context of the failings in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan:
Especially when we look at the mess that our military endeavours usually create. From Iraq, to Libya, to Afghanistan we all are pretty much agreed now that David Cameron dropped a huge clanger on Libya, Tony Blair dropped a huge clanger on Iraq. Afghanistan hasn’t really been left any better than it was before we piled in there.
Quite extraordinarily for the traditional media, he plainly called out the military industrial complex:
So those slightly shadowy conversations about industrial military complexes. And all the money that makes it’s way from Western taxpayers to Western businessmen to buy weapons that are used to kill Eastern civilians, looks relevant today – look at Syria.
The occasional BBC Newsnight presenter then appeared to suggest that the threat of terrorism is overplayed to maintain the flow of blood money:
And Jeremy Corbyn says, in a world where we’re probably not under existential threat from any enemy, why are we spending all that money on weapons when we could be spending it on poor people?
O’Brien then moved away from foreign policy and towards the negative language used to describe Corbyn by himself and others in the media. He condemned it as redundant:
I used to call it undergraduate, quasi-Marxist. Parking all that language, it’s over, it’s finished, it’s meaningless.
As the hangover from Cold War propaganda is still in the process of subsiding, ‘Marxist’ remains a dirty word in mainstream discourse. But studies show it is far from the worst language used in the media to smear Corbyn rather than engage in policy discussion.
Systemic media bias
Earlier this year, a report by the London School of Economics and Political Science analysed the media response to Corbyn. According to the findings, the press has turned into an “attackdog”, abandoning its supposed role as watchdog. A shocking 75% of press coverage misrepresents him. Another academic study by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) found that the BBC gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s opponents than what it gave to his allies during the mass cabinet resignations back in June.
Onto media language, political commentators often refer to Corbyn’s many supporters as a “cult”. In response to the incumbent winning the leadership election, The Independent wrote:
the Labour Party now resembles a cult of personality.
The language of “saviour“, “worshippers” and “cult” has been consistently invoked by the mainstream media to describe Corbyn supporters. This functions to convert something good (Corbyn has a lot of supporters) to something bad (they are hapless followers of a personality).
Why such bias?
David Graeber, a political activist and professor at the London School of Economics, offered his reason for the smears against Corbyn supporters in the editorial-free section of The Guardian:
If the opposition to Jeremy Corbyn for the past nine months has been so fierce, and so bitter, it is because his existence as head of a major political party is an assault on the very notion that politics should be primarily about the personal qualities of politicians. It’s an attempt to change the rules of the game, and those who object most violently to the Labour leadership are precisely those who would lose the most personal power were it to be successful: sitting politicians and political commentators.
Politicians and pundits smear the movement coalescing under Corbyn because it represents a shift of power from themselves (individuals and leaders) to ordinary people.
On LBC, listeners heard about media bias against Corbyn from the horse’s mouth. Respecting the result of a second election where Corbyn broke his own record mandate (an increase from 59.5%, to 61.8%), O’Brien called on his fellow commentators to end the negative reporting about the Labour leader. Let’s hope at least a few pundits take note.
Watch the speech on LBC radio here:
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