Image courtesy of flickr user Kevin Walsh

Ctl-Alt-Delete: why we need to reset what we know about the relationship between politics and press

The symbiotic relationship between the press and politicians is always fraught. Without each other they cannot survive, the media need to share stories and the political classes need to push forward their messages, but too close a relationship and the public views them both with mistrust. The rise of alternative news sources has also meant that politically polarised readers seek out content that reflects their own views and, often, become increasingly aggressive towards outlets that challenge or question their personal biases.

What began with the unprecedented action of President Trump of deriding reputable outlets, such as CNN and the BBC, appears to have spread east with particularly the hard left of British politics now taking a more sceptical view of relationships between politicians and the mainstream press.

Trump’s relationship with mainstream media (known as ‘MSM’ by those sceptical of ‘the establishment’) was tumultuous throughout the US Presidential Elections, with accusations directly from him, as well as the Republican Party machine and vociferous supporters, that the media was inherently biased against him as the political outsider.

Subsequently, the Trump administration has frequently blackballed media, refusing to answer questions from outlets considered hostile. While welcomed by some – albeit more extreme – supporters, the restrictions designed to counterbalance the perceived bias have left the majority of USA and international media confounded.

The other result of this charged political atmosphere has been the rise of right-leaning independent websites, such as World News Daily and Infowars, sharing stories they consider a panacea to the MSM. These outlets produce widely shared content on social media which purports to be independent and free from the influence of ‘the establishment’.

The parallels between the rise in the accusations across the right of the US and, paradoxically, both the right and left wings of the UK politics spectrum (as well as those campaigning for Scottish independence) of a bias by media towards the ‘establishment’ are notable. Accusations of ‘mainstream media’ (MSM) colluding with politicians to dominate the news agenda with fake stories to maintain the status quo are very much part of the narrative.

In the UK, this shift to highlight a separation from the mainstream press has become starker throughout the General Election campaign.

Last week Barry Gardiner, Labour Shadow Minister for Trade, condemned the BBC for reading out The Sun’s unflattering front page. In an unusual tirade on live radio, the shadow cabinet member accused Nick Robinson of revealing an inherent bias by reading out the headline, describing it as ‘beneath’ the veteran journalist and that he should have exercised “a degree of choice and discretion”.

As Robinson pointed out, he was reading the headline as part of the review of all the main papers “without backing them, endorsing them or criticising them” and left regular listeners reeling from a politician essentially telling journalists that they should not address issues unflattering to his party.

This mistrust is reflected in the actions of the party faithful – at the launch of Labour’s manifesto this week Channel 5 and BBC journalists were booed, while far-left daily tabloid Morning Star asked what “could be done about the shockingly biased media”.  Labour Leader Jeremey Corbyn acknowledged that “sometimes said to be the case” that “some of the media are slightly biased against the Labour Party” and while “…free journalism and free press are intrinsic to a democracy and a free society [it’s] important to ensure there is responsible journalism… and that there isn’t an abuse of monopoly power within it”. While tempered, it’s certainly not that far away from President Trump’s words on the press shortly after his inauguration.

Just like the alt-right in the US, alt-left sites such as The Canary, Another Angry Voice and Skwawkbox and alt-right sites such as Westmonster and vlogger Paul Joseph Watson, continually receive more social media shares than many mainstream political journalism pieces.

So what does that mean for the future relationship between media and politics? Certainly many were surprised that the alt-right’s predictions of a Trump Presidency came to fruition and this has raised the influence of that press. However, despite a similar strength of feeling about the inevitability of a Corbyn win within the alt-left bubble, it still looks highly unlikely that this will be the case. And in that instance, it may well be that avid readers will re-evaluate the validity of the alt-left analysis, and will be drawn back to the MSM which is so out of vogue right now.

Image courtesy of flickr user Kevin Walsh


Kate is a Senior Consultant specialising in crisis and reputation management, communications, and public affairs. Before moving into communications, she worked in UK Parliament as a researcher and speech writer. Her client portfolio has included the Holocaust Educational Trust, Forces in Mind Trust, and Kuang-Chi, a $10 billion global technology company dedicated to disruptive innovation.

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