Monday, June 27 2016

Media, power and politics

 There’s some bluster surrounding The Sun’s declaration yesterday that it will rescind its support for the Labour Party and back the Conservatives at the next election.

The Sun’s decision has been exacerbated by claims of the PM’s speech, and policy proposals outlined therein, being sabotaged by a combative press determined to derail the Labour party’s bandwagon.

There is an important dimension to the debate beyond tempers flaring while cameras roll on. That is, the role of the media in politics and in shaping political opinion.

The Independent editorial today remarks on the myth of newspaper’s ‘winning’ elections for politicians. The editorial reads:

The real influence of newspapers lies not in their hold over the votes of their readers, but in their hold over elected politicians. The architects of New Labour bought into the myth that The Sun effectively decides the outcome of general elections after the surprise Conservative victory in 1992 and have spent immense effort on wooing the newspaper and its proprietor ever since. This grew into a general obsession with the media, with ministers governing with one eye, sometimes two, on the next day's headlines.'

‘The truth is that the media has as much power and influence as elected politicians allow it to have: yesterday's agonising over The Sun's editorial line is a clear indication of a government that has given it far too much in recent years.

The argument is repeated in The Telegraph which, appraising empirical evidence on the causal relationship between newspaper endorsement and electoral outcomes, argues that ‘The facts may suggest otherwise, as far as our leaders are concerned, the endorsements of major newspapers still matter.

For Muslims who, in some British newspapers, are at the receiving end of consistent demonisation, the courting of the press is rather disconcerting. Take, for example, the Sun’s political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, and his articles on British Muslims. Or more recently, the Sun's front page splash on Muslims allegedly targetting British Jews during the Gaza war, a story based on fabricated evidence for which the paper was forced to apologise.

The PM stated yesterday, ‘it is people who decide elections’. Indeed they do, but when the steady drip of newsprint carps on about unchecked immigration and the separatist Muslim ‘enemy within’, and these are reiterated in the BNP’s own vitriol, might not one reasonably conclude that newspapers do influence opinions even though they may not conclusively influence votes?

The Independent editorial is right to argue that in their relationship with the press, politicians should lead and not be led. They are, after all, elected representatives.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 October 2009 13:02

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