28 June 2017

Do Media Influence Our Elections?

Guest post by Adam Brosnan:

Our democracy is illusory if we continue to allow a finite few to manufacture public opinion.

 To be able to fully appreciate the gravity of the content in this article, the reader needs to critically consider the election hacking and spreading of fake news in the US. Russia is the prime suspect for the dissemination of ‘fake news’ during the 2016 presidential campaign. Those implicated are, for the most part, nameless entities and their method of dissemination is largely social media based.

 This is obviously a huge problem because our political systems are polarised enough without the hysteria inciting ‘news’.

 The reason I framed this article with international interference in elections is because we are somehow turning a blind-eye to the profit-based US interference we as a country have been burdened with. I say this because our consumption of news is dictated by US corporate interests. The problem is that we have habituated to this foreign meddling and it has become cliché to discuss.

 The perfect example of this is found in Rupert Murdoch; a name that should evoke great concern if your political party is at all affiliated. For brevity, and because I truly believe it to be an impossible feat to convey the depths of this man’s influence, consider The Sun newspaper: owned and operated by News-Uk whose parent company is News Corp, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

 For years this paper has bounced from scandal to scandal and for the most part, escaped unscathed. The only major hiccup being the coverage of Hillsborough, in which The Sun reported that fans were picking pockets of the dead and beating up police.

 The Sun later admitted ‘the real truth’ and stopped covering up the negligence that led to the disaster.

This story resulted in the city of Liverpool boycotting the publication for the past 3 decades.

 This boycott of The Sun is unique to Liverpool, and thereby the city is not subject to the right-wing propaganda plastered over the front pages during elections. Due to the huge interest in politics and massive voter turnout, I wanted to investigate if the boycott of The Sun in Liverpool had any influence on Tory/Labour voter turnout. To my complete disbelief, over the 4 constituencies of Liverpool, the voter turnout was 10.05% for Conservatives; and 83.375% for Labour.

 This huge disparity in share of the vote is truly unique to Liverpool and when compared to other cities with similar socio-economic underpinnings such as Newcastle (62.63% Labour; 26.6% Conservative) and Manchester (75.13% Labour; 10.6% Conservative), Liverpool has the highest percentage of Labour support and lowest Conservative support.

  A further supporting argument is found by critically considering the zeitgeist of pre-election Manchester. For instance, after the attack at the Ariana Grande concert, 80000 people signed a petition to boycott The Sun over the tasteless coverage of the attack. Predictably, The Sun responded by donating £100k to help the victims and subsequently the support of the petition was muted. However, even though the petition did not manifest in a formal boycott, it is reasonable to assume that the anger remained. A highly suggestive statistic in support of this informal boycott is found when comparing Labour support between 2015 and 2017. As predicted by the theory of this article, all Manchester constituencies significantly increased their support for Labour, with the most striking change in voting behaviour is found in the constituency of Manchester Withington, which saw an increase of 18% in support of ‘Cor-bin’.

'The Sun has said it has “the utmost contempt” for false claims it chose to run a front-page story attacking Jeremy Corbyn on the morning after the Manchester bombing.

The paper’s front page carried an interview with ex IRA member Sean O’Callaghan on Tuesday, which hit out at the Labour leader’s alleged solidarity with the Irish terrorist group under the headline: “Blood on his hands.'
 This is certainly not a concrete conclusion and there are many other variables that will have had an impact, but it is at least a point of interest and worthy of national attention.

 Everything discussed, couple with the absolute necessity of political parties to pander to foreign national interests; Rupert Murdoch’s media empire begins to look a lot like outsourced state TV. Though there are many good reasons to vote Conservative, they are not used in publications like The Sun. Rather, such newspapers weaponise hyperboles to depose the opposition by taking advantage of public anxieties under the guise of populism.

 If we continue down the path Murdoch is taking us, our political environment runs the risk of following in the footsteps of the state TV seen on Fox News - also Murdoch-owned - which somehow escapes being labelled as propagandist.

As a closing remark, Rupert Murdoch is due to finalise his bid to buy a controlling share of Sky. If the reader has at all taken on board the message of this article, they should be justly concerned, and if it comes to fruition - we may have hit a critical point from which we cannot retreat.

*It should be noted that a couple outliers have been considered such as such as David Lammy securing 81.6% of the vote in Tottenham*