THE Sun’s infamous claim following the 1992 general election that “It’s the Sun Wot Won it” is widely known.
And in almost half of all general elections since 1918 one newspaper or another has claimed to have swung the result.
So has June’s General Election already been decided by the opinion formers within our national newspapers?
And if so, who has made these decisions?
Former newspaper editor Roy Greenslade says: “Sadly, one key question not asked of people interviewed by the opinion pollsters, is their prime news provider. It would be fascinating to know whether they read a daily national newspaper and, if so, which title.”
It is easy to see without looking too far that most of our press supports Theresa May’s Tory Government, and also backed Brexit in last year’s referendum.
The big sellers, for example, all backed the Leave campaign and in doing so defined what Mrs May is determined to make the banner for this General Election.
Their power to shape opinion is both sinister and immense.
The Daily Mail (circulation: 1,544,084) has been rabid right wing Tory rag since it supported Hitler and Oswald Moseley’s Black Shirts back in the 1930s. Since the EU sceptic argument began to surface in the late 1980s, it consistently urged Britons to “Believe in Britain” and vote to leave the EU.
Last year The Sun (circulation: 1,450,523) told readers to “beleave in Britain” and back Brexit, arguing that a vote to Leave would allow voters to “reclaim our country”. It now tells us we must vote for a “strong leader” in Theresa May.
Its stablemate The Sunday Times (circulation: 777,834) also wanted Britain to leave. And today, along with its daily sister title The Times is backing the Conservatives in the General Election campaign.
Similar right wing newspapers: The Daily Express (circulation: 415,023), The Daily Telegraph (circulation: 490,800), and The Sunday Telegraph (circulation: 370,976), all supported a long-standing “crusade” to “get Britain out of Europe”.
And all now support Theresa May’s right wing Hard Brexit agenda.
Only the more left-wing British press backed the Remain campaign last year – The Guardian (circulation: 165,702), The Observer (circulation 189,091) and The Daily Mirror (circulation: 778,650).
They are likely to back Labour in the General Election, but all have been lukewarm to leader Jeremy Corbyn and sometimes have been downright hostile to his alternative policies.
But who is making these General Election opinion-forming decisions, and why?
Almost 80% of our press is owned by a handful of mostly foreign-based billionaires.
And the political position of a paper is set by its owner. Our press barons wield far more power and influence than all but a very few MPs and have, unsurprisingly, used it to further their own interests.
Rupert Murdoch’s candour at the Leveson Inquiry was revealing. He said that if someone wanted to know his opinion on a subject they should just read The Sun.
So who owns what and why do they favour the capitalist status quo?
The Sun, Sun on Sunday, Times and Sunday Times are all owned by Rupert Murdoch, a US-based billionaire who owns 24.9% of the British press and has supported the Tories since 2010, after a brief cosy-toes with Tony Blair and his New Labour brand.
Journalist Anthony Hilton once asked Murdoch why he opposed the European Union. He replied:
“That’s easy, when I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”
Small wonder that David Cameron, George Osborne and latterly Theresa May are the first invitees to his swanky Park Lane cocktail parties.
The Daily Express, Sunday Express and Star newspapers are owned by billionaire pornographer Richard Desmond who has also supported the Tories since 2010.
“Richard Desmond was furious when, after a decade of greasing palms in Labour and the Tories, both decided not to grant him either a knighthood or a peerage”, writes media pundit Gavin Haynes.
The fallout from that colossal sulk was partly why he ended up giving a million pounds to UKIP just before the 2015 General Election. With May now in charge, he is set to revert back to the Conservatives.
The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Metro are all owned by Lord Rothermere (owner of 27.3% of the British press) who lives in France and is non-domiciled for tax reasons. He too is a strong supporter of the Tories.
Lord Rothermere is usually hands-off, preferring to let editor Paul Dacre run things, in his own cavalier way – remember his vicious attack on Ed Miliband’s late father, during the 2015 General Election.
The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph are owned by reclusive property billionaires David and Frederick Barclay – former close friends of Margaret Thatcher – who live on a private island near Sark.
The Barclay brothers certainly have enough experience in electoral manipulation. In 2008, the 600 people who live on Sark voted against the Barclays’ chosen candidates for the island’s governing council. As a result, the Barclays sacked vast numbers of workers at the hotels on Sark they owned.
As Bob Dylan once wrote: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”
I believe we are witnessing a complete bankruptcy of freedom within our Fourth Estate.
And within that bankruptcy comes the manipulation of the electorate.
For the uninitiated, the Fourth Estate commonly refers to the news media, especially print journalism or “the press”.
Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons.
He described the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.
The Fourth Estate was a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power, and provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.
But this position has now been hi-jacked by corrupt big business ownership of our media and the aforementioned media moguls.
If we accept the premise of the Fourth Estate, we also have to ask ourselves if the “national” and the “public” interest are the same thing.
But in today’s capitalist world both are divided along class lines.
In this context, the national interest is about state secrecy and keeping things from us. On the other hand, the public interest is about disclosure and our right to know.
For instance, if we look at who trained and funded the ISIS terrorists and which countries now sustain them to carry out attacks, such as those on Paris and Beirut, the press has not been forthcoming in its reporting. Instead it focuses on Muslims, refugees, border controls, divisions within the Labour Party and the “need” to keep bombing Syria.
Sounds like Conservative Party rhetoric to you?
Well it is… formed and shaped by the same billionaires who own our media.
This separation between the people and the state becomes more important when the economic interests of the powerful so frequently dominate society.
The same interests being challenged so forcefully by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.
Today, the state is the executive branch of the ruling class and its big business paymasters.
Our newspapers like to paint their own role as heroic – they are the brave defenders of democracy who hold our elected representatives to account.
But too often, far from protecting our democracy, our papers subvert it.
Since 2010, the press barons pushed the highly contentious argument that there is no alternative to Austerity and largely ignored the stories of the widening social divisions and the swelling numbers at food banks – the 21st century’s soup kitchens.
And editorial independence is a sham. Proprietors choose editors who they know share their views.
Likewise, the mechanisms through which owners can, and do, interfere with or shape content to promote particular viewpoints are not difficult to identify; they range from directly dictating the line a newspaper should follow on particular issues, to appointing senior staff with a shared political outlook, as well as forms of indirect influence over the ethos of the organisation which may prompt journalists to engage in ‘self-censorship’.
The Fourth Estate is now more powerful than ever, but it is no longer the once heralded “civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power”.
It is now fake news and spin to maintain the capitalist status quo and the power of the super rich.
Trust has broken down threefold, between people and politicians, media and people, journalists and politicians, with the latter now observing each other with deep distrust and mutual antipathy.
A vicious circle has established itself.
Do we want these people deciding out future?
We need real media democracy in this country to allow a diversity of voices to be heard.
We must help generate that informed consent by providing the public with high-quality, well-researched and incisive journalism…. by the people and for the people!
So get involved… support the work of new media organisations such as: Media Diversified, Novara Media, Corporate Watch, Common Space, Media Lens, Bella Caledonia, Vox Political, Evolve Politics, Real Media, Reel News, Manchester Mule, Salford Star and many more.
The right wing British press will do all they can to ensure a Conservative victory at the General Election… only we can stop them!
- You may find these other blog postings interesting:
Paris, Isis, Syria and The Bankruptcy of the Fourth Estate
The Loaded Language of the British Press
The Crippled Estate of BBC Spin
So Who is Frying the BBC Fish?