Accusations of media bias are nothing new. It is impossible to be totally objective, and to claim otherwise is simply misleading.
In a democracy, the role of the forth estate is critical. Media are one of the main ways people become informed about issues so they can make informed choices. Most people can see through editorial lines or declared bias. What is less excusable is when reporting deliberately misleads.
Jeremy Corbyn used the Labour Party’s election campaign launch to attack the Rupert Murdoch claiming he was a “billionaire media baron, whose empire pumps out propaganda to support a rigged system.” Many claim Corbyn has not received a fair hearing in the British media. Academic research has been produced highlighting ways in which the UK media has misrepresented or shown a negative bias towards Corbyn’s leadership of the UK Labour Party. Though one explanation for this could be the number of Labour MPs who openly criticise Mr Corbyn in the media.
General elections see heightened interest in politics. More than ever people turn to the media for information before they cast their ballot. So how are the UK media doing? It’s well known that UK newspapers have editorial lines. For example most people realise that the Sun is a right wing tabloid, and The Guardian is more liberal (small L). But are the UK media providing accurate coverage?
Much of the reporting of the election has focussed on polling. As mentioned in my first post about the UK election polls have been woefully inaccurate in the UK. Prior to the Brexit referendum in 2016, polls showed that Remain would win. In the 2017 election polls showed the Tories would increase their majority, when instead they lost it. In 2015 polls showed Labour and Conservative to be neck and neck – the Conservatives won a majority. In 2010 polls overstated the Liberal Democrats support by 10%. If we go even further back, in 1992 polls showed Labour would win that election, then on election day the Conservatives were returned to government.
Despite this, many in the media still seem to report on polling numbers as reliable and scientific. The polls may well be right this time, but given the history one should be dubious. Some polling companies continue to make the assumption that turnout for under 30s will be low, despite higher than usual youth turnout in 2017 and a large number of young people enrolling to vote after the election was called.
On Tuesday, the day the first leaders debate on ITV, two polls were released. The first was an online twitter poll where 30,000 people responded. This poll was not scientific. The second was a You Gov poll, one of the UK’s most established polling companies. The twitter poll results were that 78% thought Jeremy Corbyn won compared with Boris Johnson who got 22%. The You Gov poll had Boris Johnson winning 51% of the vote, and Corbyn 49%. The second poll was widely reported, and used by commentators in their analysis. The next morning, it came out on twitter that the You Gov poll was released at 6:50pm – 70 minutes prior the debate starting.
We can speculate as to what happened here and why. But needless to say, there are many who question whether the media coverage of this election has helped inform public debate.
Increasingly though, traditional media is no longer people’s main source of information. My next post will look at the role at social media is playing in the UK election and its contribution to media and society generally.