The media frenzy starts now

19 Apr 2017  |  Raymond Snoddy 
The media frenzy starts now

Broadcasters should have the guts to go ahead with leaders' debates and place an empty chair for Theresa May, writes Raymond Snoddy as he predicts how the wider media will handle the run-up to the general election

It’s officially called a general election but for the national newspapers it will be a continuation of the Brexit battle by other means.

As usual it’s the Daily Mail which strains the hardest to stoop the lowest.

The paper that disgracefully called judges doing their job implementing the law “enemies of the people,” has reached again for Soviet language to describe the general election as an opportunity to “Crush the Saboteurs.”

The “saboteurs” and “wreckers” are of course “the game-playing Remoaners” and the unelected Lords who just happen to represent 48 per cent of referendum voters.

Enemies of the people, saboteurs and wreckers were all favourite terms of Stalin.

At least those denounced as modern day saboteurs and “wreckers” - the word equally disgracefully used by Prime Minister May - do not end up in Soviet prison camps but it is still a curious form of discourse in a democracy.

The Sun
is not so far behind with its blood-curdling language. Labour will be killed off, Tory rebels will be smashed and it all adds up to “Blue Murder.”

In a sign that the election campaign is already under way for the Conservative-supporting press, the Daily Express opted for what could have been a Theresa May press release: “Vote for me and I’ll deliver EU exit.”

Overall, the analysis is divided on the Prime Minister’s motives for going to the polls now after saying 13 times she would do no such thing. They range from defeating Remain rebels, taking advantage of historic levels of Labour disarray and avoiding having to face a general election in 2020 when she might be saddled with a poor Brexit deal or even no deal at all.

In reality it’s probably a mixture of all of the above with Jeremy Corbyn a clear nose in front. But what is clear from the outset is that we will see a coming together of the overwhelming pro-Brexit national newspaper coalition to help push Brexit over the line at almost any cost.

It will be to an overwhelming degree a one-issue election, where the vast majority of serious issues facing the UK and its position in the world will either be overlooked or side-lined.

It is perfectly rational, aside from political allegiances, to argue that Labour is not in any state to form the next government however unlikely that is to happen in the real world anyway. The party has no clear united stand on Brexit.

Labour sympathisers might go further and say that an impending Tory landslide at the polls will at least mean that in two months it can start rebuilding for 2022 sans Corbyn.

Going through the papers it is difficult to see any title coming out for this present Labour opposition with the exception of half-hearted support from the Daily Mirror, largely for reasons of historic sentiment.

The Mirror will try to draw attention to serious social issues such as the future funding of social services and the NHS but will inevitably be swamped by the Brexit bandwagon.

Apart from likely support for the Lib Dems by The Guardian and possibly from the online Independent, the national newspapers will be a sea of blue.

It looks like being the most one-sided national newspaper general election since Michael Foot’s Labour in 1983.

Only the local and regional press in England can be expected to provide any sense of balance and fairness, even though it is unlikely that they will have the clout to make much of a difference.

The social media will almost certainly act as an accelerator for trends already running strongly.

While social media and press will largely be preaching to the faithful, the key role in any serious examination of the issues will, by default, fall to the broadcasters.

TV and radio will be Labour’s only chance to limit the damage. The broadcasters have made a good start - Nick Robinson’s interrogation of Theresa May on the Today programme was thorough and far from fawning.

For Labour, unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t really get television. On the day of May’s bombshell surprise there was Corbyn refusing to stop and engage with the cameras, instead showing his back and scuttling off into a meeting with a few dozen social and care workers. Looking shifty - and not for the first time.

Already broadcasters in the shape of Michael Crick of Channel 4 News have played a political blinder. For more than a year Crick, the ultimate one-man band and general Rottweiler, has doggedly pursued Conservative officials, and possibly MPs, for allegedly breaching electoral expenses rules and as many as 30 prosecutions are now believed to be pending.

How many bye-elections would that have caused; and Crick may be able to claim his place in electoral history for being a contributory factor in the background for Prime Minister’s dash for a larger majority now.

A few things to watch for from broadcasters in the coming six weeks of what could feel like an interminable campaign.

How will the broadcasters handle the Nigel Farage problem - and it really is a problem.

The former, former, leader of a party that has never had a Westminster MP elected under its own name - excluding defections - is routinely paraded on TV to “balance” Conservative and Labour front-bench spokespeople. He is there mainly because he is good TV, in the way that candidate Trump always was.

The other big issue for broadcasters is the leaders' debate - or at the moment absence of a live television debate.

The Prime Minister has refused to take part in such a debate and this issue is one where she will not change her mind.

She says she prefers getting out and about knocking on doors in her constituency where she is unlikely to face serious challenge.

With a 21 per cent lead over Labour in the polls you can see why she does not feel the need to take the risk. But there should be consequences. The UK’s broadcasters should have the guts to go ahead with a leaders' debate and to place an empty chair for Theresa May.

It might only be a gesture but it would be a necessary and pointed one against what is otherwise in danger of turning into an electoral coronation.

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VanessaClifford, CEO, Newsworks on 19 Apr 2017
“Hi Ray,
You say that the national press is incapable of providing a balanced view, but we all know that most newspapers have - and have always had - political leanings. It’s what sets them apart from a broadcaster like the BBC. It’s why different readers identify with different titles. Democracy is an outspoken, challenging and uncensored press.

Taken as a whole, I’d argue that our partisan press do represent the varying views of the public. From the Daily Mail and Sun’s conservative, pro-Brexit stance via The Times’ centre-right, remain outlook to the Guardian and Daily Mirror’s left-wing opinions, national newspapers are definitely not an amorphous mass, but cater for the spectrum of politics in this country. You may not agree with the views of every title – neither do I – but if we did there would be something very wrong. It’s also worth pointing out that the two titles you take umbrage with are the most read national newspapers in the UK, according to NRS PADD. Make of that what you will.”

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