Chris Wright argues the right-wing media hold more power than our political leaders. He says they rely upon exaggeration and fake news to scare and mislead the public; it’s time to rein them in.
American and British media were at the centre of the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit, but they played drastically different roles. While America’s media, apart from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, continue to shun Trump and distance themselves from him, pro-Brexit newspapers are still calling the shots after scaring Britain into leaving the EU. Even the BBC now bends over backwards to avoid confronting them, their passivity even suggesting support for Brexit. After being misled into the biggest mistake in our history, we must start bringing these fear mongers to account.
It may seem understandable that the BBC and others have avoided confronting the pro-Brexit press. After all, newspapers like the Daily Mail not only hold a huge amount of sway with the public – Paul Dacre’s private meeting with Theresa May shows that he is also the one who controls the Conservative Party and its leaders. These papers can make the success of governments and break people’s careers. Just look at how they savaged Ed Miliband over his father’s alleged hatred of Britain. Finding yourself in their crosshairs can be a daunting prospect.
They can also decide the fate of referendums, but that doesn’t mean we should pander to them. Instead, we should have the strength to hold them to account. They frightened the public into voting for Brexit. It is not Theresa May, Nigel Farage or even Boris Johnson who led this decision, but right-wing press barons and their propaganda machines.
We all remember the bold claims made in the run up to the referendum. ‘We send the EU £350million a week’ was a popular one. Once Turkey gained EU membership, 12 million Turks would be coming to the UK was another. The Daily Mail upped the stakes by claiming that the EU could let 127 million Turks and Ukrainians in without tracking them.
Of course, pro-Brexit newspapers couldn’t help themselves. They happily ran these stories to frighten the public. All these claims turned out to be gross exaggerations, and when they were found out, the offenders tried to play it down.
The problem isn’t just that the EU has persistently been the right-wing’s favourite punch-bag (who remembers the Daily Express’ ludicrous claim in 2011 that the EU was hell-bent on merging the UK with France?). The issue is that scaremongering like this spreads faster than ever before.
The popularity of the Daily Mail and other pro-Brexit papers has certainly allowed its fearmongering to catch on; but social media has played a role too. While it’s great that people can broadcast their views to the world, it has also allowed controversial statements and falsehoods to go unchallenged and gather pace. Social media played an instrumental role in pushing us to Brexit.
In a world where lies go unopposed online, newspapers have competed to deliver the most provocative headlines. They scramble to capitalise on controversy, and pedal provocative headlines to attract more readers. Headlines bending the truth about the EU became increasingly scandalous as papers like the Daily Mail tried to secure Brexit.
It’s shameful that the media have reduced themselves to selling mistruths and fear, but it’s even more worrying that some people accept them as gospel. Rather than delving deeper, they gorge themselves on a juicy headline. Nowadays, it’s so much easier to sell controversy than truth.
We may not be able to police every tweet, but we should be more discerning when we open the papers. We should challenge lies when we see them. Of course, preserving freedom of the press is critical to protecting democracy; but having an ethical press is even more important. We must bring dishonest and scaremongering journalists to account.
‘Take back control’ was the moniker. ‘Deciding our own destiny’ was the ambition. But the fact is that even when we leave the EU, the people will not be in control. The government will continue to cosy up with the pro-Brexit press. They will hold power. It may be too late to change course on Brexit, but we can start cleaning up our press. We can stop them shoving fear and mistruths down our throats. Only then will we have taken back control. Only then will power truly lie with the people.