In the post-Brexit hysteria, the media has been accused of following a biased and one-sided agenda, and failing to consider many of the deeper issues of Brexit. Leading up to the EU referendum, the media gave extensive coverage of the hot-button topics of immigration, the economy, and the conduct of the campaign itself; however, technical questions and consideration for the relationship between the UK and the rest of the world were widely ignored.
Different newspapers loyally backed either the Leave or Remain campaign; the Daily Mail had the most pro-Brexit articles followed by the Daily Express, Daily Star, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Mirror, the Guardian, and the Financial Times had the most pro-remain articles. On both sides, however, these papers gave far too little detail until it was too late, and now that Brexit has become a reality, papers which backed Leave are now changing their tune. The Daily Mail was not only gloating after the results came in but also warning about the economic problems that now lie ahead. Similarly, The Express began to discuss the affect of Brexit on the pound after the vote, but had never discussed the topic during the campaigning.
Additionally, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, press coverage of the EU referendum campaign was “heavily skewed in favour of Brexit in the first two months of the campaign.” This study took two sample days of coverage per week for the first two months after David Cameron’s February 20 Cabinet meeting. Of 928 articles about the referendum, 45% were in favour of Brexit while 27% were in favour of remain. The remainder were ‘mixed or undecided’ or did not adopt a position. The study also looked at the specific arguments made on each side. After removing articles about the campaigns themselves, 33% of arguments were about the economy and business followed by 29% about sovereignty, 18% about migration, 14% about regulations, and 6% about terrorism and security.
The bias of the media towards Leave is not particularly surprising since according to Al-Jazeera, UK papers set the agenda for broadcast journalism. About 70% of these papers are conservative, and they echoed Leave’s message about fear of immigrants. The BBC attempted to reject this trend and remain impartial for fear of being accused of biases, which was frustrating to Remain supporters who wanted the BBC to endorse their side and make up for the lack of media coverage for their campaign.
It is not only the media that should be criticised for false statements, however, but the politicians themselves. Now that they have succeeded, the Leave campaigners appear to be backtracking on some of the statements and promises they made leading up to the vote. Ukip leader Nigel Farage distanced himself from the statement that £350m spent on EU contributions could be allocated to the NHS. The Guardian reports that Daniel Hannan, Tory MEP, said that Brexit voters will be “disappointed” if they think that there will no longer be any immigration from the EU.
While a completely impartial media would be the ideal, a biased media is only a problem because of our complete reliance upon it. Politics and government are currently largely in the hands of a small group of elites who control the media’s agenda. This agenda controls public opinion because our education system has not successfully taught us to dig deeper and think for ourselves.
As Damian Tambini of the London School of Economics Media Policy Project puts it, “The urgent question is how media policy needs to adapt: not to maintain blind trust in the system but to establish due trust: the sense that democracy genuinely and demonstrably is a fair fight, and one in which the search for truth and the common interest is paramount.”
To deserve a democracy where our voices carry weight, we need to stop blaming the media for its information and lack thereof and think for ourselves. It is our responsibility to have a full understanding of what we are voting for, as we can blame the media all we want but we will still have to live with the consequences of our decisions.