On the 4th February the Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society hosted a debate on the question ‘Today’s media are destroying democracy?’
In true debating society style, who proposed or opposed was decided by the toss of a coin. Croydon Constitutionalist Mike Swadling argued in favour of the motion.
Mikes’ argument centred on the Medias inability to represent all fairly, and that this led directly to a coarsening of our politics and a corrosion of our democracy.
Those of us with unfashionable ideas, both on the left and right of politics and all too often shut out by today’s media. The text of Mikes’ speech is below.
Firstly thank-you to the Chair, to Richard for offering to oppose the motion and to all for attending tonight.
Today’s media are destroying democracy?
I intend to make the argument to you tonight that the Medias inability to represent all fairly and let a multitude of ideas have voice, has directly led to many seeking alternative often more extreme voices.
It has led to a lack of belief in any facts, because only some face challenge, and it has led directly to a coarsening of our politics and a corrosion of our democracy.
Ironically at one time the mass murderer Chairman Mao was more willing to “Let a hundred flowers blossom” than many are in todays forth estate.
I need to add some definition around the terms in tonight’s debate title.
If I may take democracy first, democracy is defined as “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state”. This definition really doesn’t go far enough. After all the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea holds elections for the Supreme People’s Assembly.
All seats, in what has been called the biggest prison camp in the world North Korea, are of course won by the Communists. A democracy that matters needs more than a vote. It needs to be a Liberal democracy. Where rights of the individual are enshrined in law. It needs to be a place where “elections have consequence” and are not simply ignored by those already in power.
Its needs a demos, a people who can get on with their daily lives, and live in a community, regardless of the side they were on in the last or for a future vote. A demos who choose to be together no matter their politics.
The Media are, “the main means of mass communication regarded collectively”. This is simply a means. A means isn’t capable of destroying or building anything. It needs further definition, so for this debate I will be referencing the Mainstream media.
This being conventional newspapers, television, and Radio. Organisations that are typically dedicated to journalism and where they acknowledge bias claim to separate comment from news.
These conventional sources are destroying using its dictionary definition of “to ruin emotionally or spiritually”, the belief we have in our fourth estate, and our trust that our views, whatever they may be will get a fair hearing from that mainstream media.
This lack of trusts between elections leads to a lack of trust in elections.
The Medias failure to represent all fairly as I have said has led to a growing set of news sources each targeted at only small communities.
In driving away so many the Mainstream media has destroyed faith in a collective set of news or facts that lay at the foundations of our democracy. This destruction doesn’t physically stop us voting, it doesn’t stop elections happening and it wouldn’t stop rights being enshrined in law.
However this destruction of credibility and faith does stop people believing in the outcome of a votes and in our democratic institutions. That outcome is undermined for instance by the constant questioning of the motives of why people voted a certain way. Failing to accept that maybe good people can differ.
It is also undermined when an underreported view, party or person from outside the mainstream set of ideas suddenly wins. We have recently examples of this with, Syriza in Greece, Five Star and Lega in Italy, Trump in US, Brexit in UK, and close results for the Freedom Party in Austria, Independence vote in Scotland, AFD in Germany, and Front National in France.
All and to be clear all results at best unexpected and often completely missed by the mainstream media. These votes created a shock to the democratic system and came as a shock to many individuals. Yet these instances are clearly failings of the Media to understand and report what many are feeling.
Too many in a media are openly disparaging of any views outside of the ‘acceptable’ set. Often referred to at the Overton window, also known as the window of discourse. These are the only publically tolerated ideas. Mainstream media reporting sits inside this window, even if the ideas outside hold considerable popularity. They only seriously report other views once elections have happened or where electoral law forces them.
This has not always been the case. In the 80s our media would report both Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher. Norman Tebbit and Tony Benn would feature in print and on screen. Indeed both the TUC and CBI conferences would be broadcast at times of mass redundancies, strikes and sadly often violent clashes. Despite a rather silly attempt to ban their actual voices members of Sinn Féin IRA were reported as they fought a war against our state.
Alas no more. The media would not consider giving prominence to such forthright advocates, for fear their views may offend.
And therein lies the problem. If your views are not covered in the mainstream in the period between elections, and large blocks of votes are constantly disparaged, why should anyone have faith in the democratic process?
When supposedly radical, yet often popular ideas aren’t being ignored they are being undermined. How is this being done?
In a News at Six report in 2015, Laura Kuenssberg said she had asked Jeremy Corbyn the following:
“If he were the resident here at Number 10 whether or not he would be happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”.
His answer was surprising:
“I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive”
This exchange was highlighted to embarrass Corbyn and the Labour party, to make his views seem odd and outside the mainstream. After all who wouldn’t expect an armed response to a Paris style attack that had killed many??
Now regardless of what you think of Jeremy Corbyn, love of loath, I hope we can all agree the exchange should be reported accurately. Except of course the actual question Kuenssberg had asked during the interview was:
“If you were prime minister, would you be happy to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”
No mention of Paris style account. No allowance for the nuance needed when talking about a general policy, as opposed to a distinct event.
This is not a one off. In 2017 the BBCs Nick Robinson tweeted during the election campaign that:
“No-one should be surprised that Jeremy Corbyn is running v the ‘Establishment’ & is long on passion & short on details. Story of his life,”
Now you may agree or disagree with that sentiment, but this is from one of the leading correspondents from an organisation legally obliged to be neutral commenting during an election campaign.
I am sure most Labour members and many voters do not feel Corbyn is ‘short on detail’ and a neutral BBC reporter should not be offering this opinion.
Jeremy Corbyn has been constantly undermined;
- we were told he was about to lose power up to the 2017 election;
- we were told he would lose massively in the 2017 election;
- we are now told he is nowhere on Brexit.
At a time when the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart, Corbyn has stood back and as Oppositions should do, oppose. In doing this he has kept his party together, despite significant fault lines, you could say he has played a bit of a political blinder.
Of course this is not reported, as Corbyn politics sit outside the medias acceptable window of ideas.
These days many of us receive some of our news from across the globe and global events affect us all.
In the United States, the Centre for Responsive Politics found that 65% of journalist’s political financial contributions went to Democrats in the 2010 election cycle. MSNBC found that 87%, gave to Democrats or liberal causes.
The Media Research Centre found that 94 percent of donors affiliated with five major news outlets also contributed to Democrats between 2008 and 2016.
In 2016, not a single member of the White House press corps was a registered Republican. Whilst more than a quarter were registered Democrats and of course 86% percent said they expect Clinton to win the election.
Source Free Beacon
How did that pan out?
In the two party US system none supported one of the parties. These are a range of journalist’s from papers, radio and TV, none of whom supported the winning party for the Presidency and the party that at the time held the Senate, the House and the majority of Governorships.
Would you say this is a media that is likely to be trusted by a majority of voters?
It’s not just the US in 2013, the Ozzies BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, journalists were surveyed;
- 41% would vote Green;
- 32% Labor;
- and just 14.7% for the Liberal/Nationalist Coalition.
At the next Australian general election the Coalition received 45% of the vote, and the Greens just 8.6 percent. This is a media wildly out of step with the people.
If the reporters themselves are unbalanced from the populace maybe the reporting isn’t’, maybe those they invite on are more fairly balance?
A great bellwether is the BBCs Question Time, a show meant to have a panel representing all our political views.
As of September 2017 in the 42 Question Time shows there had been since the EU referendum, Remain panellists have outnumbered Leavers by 137-72.
Leavers have only outnumbered Remainers in 3 episodes whilst, Remainers dominated in 36.
Given the majority of the country backed Leave is this right?
Source Guido Fawkes
In all these examples I would ask again that you put aside your own views and instead focus on does this lack of balance foster trust in our media as a place we can democratically come together.
It’s not that the programme is biased per se. In the 2014-15 season it had 195 guest appearances. The left wing New Statesman judged these guest to be 53 for the right, 24 for the centre, and 58 for the left.
But over a similar period the SNP had only been on the Question Time panel six times in a year, in contrast to the LibDems who had been booked for 22 appearances when they were the third biggest Westminster party.
UKIP appeared on just one in four programmes, during a period they won the European elections, were trending between 10 to 20% in the polls and gain 4 million votes in a general election.
Source The National
Indeed in the same period just 5 guest came from the Green party and Respect combined.
It cannot seriously be said that this lack of coverage of parties outside the Medias allowable set of ideas truly represents the views of licence fee payers?
Question Time has non-political guests. During this time they had 38 Journalists, 10 Celebrities, 3 from Business, a Trade unionist, 3 Academics, 2 Religious guest, 2 Campaigners and 1 overseas guest.
Source The New Statesman
How do these numbers represent the:
- 6.23 million Trade union members in the country?
- 6 million regular churchgoers?
- 15 million people who volunteer regularly
- 4.8 million Self-employed, and 25 million private sector employees?
The broadest definition, gives all of these groups combined just 8 of 60 neutral guests, yet we have 38 journalists and 10 celebrities on the panels.
This is a media class talking to and representing a media class, and not talking to or representing you and me. Thereby failing to perform the democratic function of the fourth estate.
The media excludes so many, because in spending so much time talking to themselves, they develop a group think and their reporting falls into a pre-defined narrative.
Most weekends in London some thousands of people are marching for campaigns they believe in. Whether the protests be from Kurds, Tamils, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Environmentalists, Tommy Robinson supporters, Socialist Workers, Trade Unionists or many large faith celebrations. These often large marches get no mainstream media coverage.
Indeed this weekend I notices Croydon North MP Steve Reed had posted pictures from a General and Municipal Workers Union rally. Desperate for content for this speech I searched the internet for news on the rally. Despite decent attendance, and a reasonably senior opposition MP attending. I simply couldn’t find any. No one bothered to report it.
They simply do not fit their narrative. Somehow rallies and even when thousands are marching are not as significant as a Tweet or Instagram post fellow member of the media.
Even locally we see a poor reporting of politics in Croydon. Now whilst I would clearly like to thank the wonderful dedicated journalists who have reported the press releases I have sent them. All too often the local papers will simply report the latest press release from the council and little else.
Their narrative does not extend to the non-partisan but often political activities of local residents associations, the large number of Socialist events emanating from Ruskin House, the press releases of opposition councillors or minor parties in the borough.
Indeed during the referendum only the sadly now defunct Croydon Citizen reported on either sides activities, nothing from the Croydon Advertiser or Croydon Guardian about large local dynamic local campaigns.
During that period I was interviewed by German, French, Korean, and Danish TV, Radio and Papers. Not once was I interviewed by someone from the mainstream Croydon press.
A photoshoot at a new venue with the sitting MP is possibly more newsworthy than the many local campaigns that drive democracy. Should this mean the other local campaigns should be excluded from all coverage?
Left or Right is an outdated way of viewing media bias it is now whether you are inside out outside their groupthink.
I started by saying I intended to make the argument to you that the Medias inability to represent all fairly and let a multitude of ideas have voice, has directly led to many seeking alternative often more extreme voices.
We see that many people receive their news via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sources. Momentum, Brietbart, The Canary, Al Jazeera, and Russia Today have for many replaced traditional media where, although our opinions may differ we coalesce around a basic set of events, news source and ideas needed for a functioning democracy.
The lack of us ever coming together enables us to more readily attack each other’s motives and attack each other as individuals rather than simply questioning each other ideas.
Not feeling represented between elections makes us less likely to participate in and trust in elections.
By this means the media are destroying our democracy.
I have been making the argument that if you sit outside the Medias acceptable narrative you are at first ignored then undermined. This leads to an alienation that undermines our democracy.
In the US they dismissed the chances of Trump winning, now attack anyone who supports him. No matter the truth or age of those involved.
You may have seen reports in the last couple of weeks of the standoff between students from Covington Catholic High School and Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memoria in Washington. I want to share this from CNN
“Videos of the confrontation show a smiling young man in a red Make America Great Again hat standing directly in front of the man, who was playing a drum and chanting.
“Nathan Phillips, an elder with the Omaha tribe, said the confrontation felt like “hate unbridled.” In the moment, he said he was scared for his safety and the safety of those with him.”
Except this simply did not happen. The entire report is and was at the time a provable lie. If Mr Phillips was scared, why then did he walk directly into the group of students who were simply waiting for a bus?
CNN and other news agencies including the BBC and Sky News here knew this, they had the extended video that shows what I have just described.
Of course they had a native, a set of acceptable ideas. Their narrative was MAGA hat bad, Christian’s bad, Native Americans good. Facts at no point were allowed to get in the way of this prejudiced view.
Incidentally I am not mentioning the name of the 16 year old involved, because I am simply unlike the mainstream media not attacking someone who is innocent and legally not an adult. Those so called reporters that did should be thoroughly ashamed.
You can understand why Donald Trump often refers to CNN as ‘fake news’. How much faith in CNN and the mainstream media do 63 million Trump voters or 70 million US Catholics attack now have?
Over here perhaps the most egregious example of the media narrative at play in the past year has been in the treatment of Jordan Peterson.
His book 12 rules for life is a UK Amazon Best Seller. Shows here were sold out and he is an internet sensation. In short he is popular, very popular.
But his beliefs in traditional values sit outside the mainstream media narrative.
His interviews on BBCs Hardtalk, The Today Programme and famously on Channel 4 with Cathy Newman’s showed the worst the media has to offer.
They hectored him;
- accused him of being angry, he was calm;
- accused him of being sexist, no evidence was given;
- accused him of saying things he has never said.
In the course of the interview Cathy Newman asked:
- ‘What gives you the right to say that?’ – a question that shouldn’t be asked in a free country.
- ‘I think I take issue with (that)’ – why is a journalist who role is to ask questions, taking issue, especially on a TV channel legally bound to be neutral?
He’s popular, very popular. His is most popular with younger men and women who are struggling with fitting in. Has the Mainstream media helped bring them in or deliberately pushed them out?
This is a media that won’t accept you if you don’t confirm to their views. They try to ignore ideas outside their agenda and then if they can’t ignore the ideas, attack those that support them. This alienates large portions of our society, often the majority, and undermines our democracy as we lack a common narrative of events.
I will finish by quoting Douglas Murray the Spectator columnist on the Cathy Newman interview. This nicely summarises so much wrong with the media.
“If yesterday’s interview is anything to go by, all she has is attitudes. And lazy attitudes at that.
That isn’t news. It isn’t even interviewing. It is grandstanding.
This nation’s broadcasters should feel ashamed.”
Source The Spectator