A Biased Media – Us vs Them?

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The tragic attack in Nice on Thursday 14th of June, Bastille Day, is one of utter heartbreak. Currently, 84 citizens are dead including 10 children, with 202 more civilians injured. Already the Western world is provoked and sympathetic towards the situation in France, with landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster to be lit up in the French colours to show the British people’s solidarity with the French, and the growing rise of Facebook’s “flagtivism’. This notion of solidarity is something which should be praised, as it highlights humanitarian support.

However, it must be noted that there was a considerable lack of solidarity, flagtivism and landmarks draped in national colours when just as horrendous bomb attacks occurred in places such as Turkey and Iraq. The most recent terrorist attacks in Iraq similarly happened on a national holiday, Eid, and during the holy month of Ramadan. Yet where was the media coverage? The bombings in the capital of Iraq killed over 200 people two weeks ago, but on the media it seemed to be less important than the terrorist attacks that happen here in the West. When media coverage has a greater focus and emphasis on what happens in the West it almost seems to suggest that the deaths of Westerners are far more significant than the deaths of those in Middle Eastern countries.

This is not to say that the tragic deaths of those in Nice are less important than those in the Middle East — they were equally as shocking and devastating. The media now needs to combat such acts of cowardly terror through pushing aside ancient orientalist notions of Us vs Them, and truly take up the belief of “#AllLivesMatter” by reporting with equal concern of those closer to home as well as further away. The only way we can fight such attacks is we support each other in solidarity — ethnicities aside.

The Media’s Role in Brexit

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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.

The Sun’s claims that ‘battle hardened’ jihadists are coming, and that Muslims will not integrate

The Sun (September 21, 2015)

Headline reads: “Border crisis shows EU dream is over”.

Trevor Kavanagh, a columnist for The Sun, argues that the EU ‘dream’ cannot continue in the wake of the immigration crisis. In so doing, he makes a number of unsubstantiated claims.

Firstly, he argues that ‘hundreds’ of ‘battle-hardened jihadists’ are accompanying refugees into Europe. He never cites a credible source (or indeed, any source at all) for this number. While there are legitimate questions to be asked concerning whether all those travelling are asylum seekers, by not verifying the claim, Kavanagh’s claim is little more than fear-mongering.

He later argues that, in cities across Europe, ‘the centuries-old Sunni-Shia split’ is being replayed across Europe. Again, no source is supplied and, such a claim is undermined by academic research which highlights how economic and social factors also play a role in the so-called Sunni-Shia split. Moreover, considering the vast majority of refugees are coming from Sunni-dominated societies, the point is irrelevant. He also argues that ‘sharia law’ is ‘taking root’ in cities across Europe, yet he fails to mention a single case study.

Kavanagh homogenises Islam, claiming that ‘the Koran decrees the world belongs to Allah, not to elected governments’. In so doing, he ignores the work of Islamic jurists who have interpreted the Quran for centuries.

Kavanagh’s column is filled with opinions not backed up with even one credible source. As a result, it contributes little to any discussion to be had on refugees.

The Sun’s article on British drone strike

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Headline reads: “Wham! Bam! Thank you Cam”

The announcement of Britain’s first drone strike against an IS militant in Syria has proven to be very popular among the press. The Sun’s article on the issue claims that “RAF blitz jihadi plotters after 3-month hunt, as Queen murder plan is foiled” insisting there was a direct threat to the British Monarch. Reading the House of Common’s transcript, where the drone strike was announced to the public, on September 7th, 2015 there was no mention of a direct threat to the British Monarch’s life as a justification for the strike. Using unsourced and misleading claims hints at the unsatisfactory standards of the organisation.

Sun Editorial on the Refugee Crisis

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The Sun (September 3, 2015)

Headline reads: “It’s life & death”

Several of the claims made in this editorial front-page article in the Sun is unsourced and untrue. The editorial begins with the statement “Britain has rightly held back the thousands massed at Calais – many of them merely economic migrants…”. This assumption that many of the migrants coming are economic migrants is factually incorrect. According to UN figures, 62% of those that have reached Europe this year by boats were from Syria (38%), Afghanistan (12%) and Eritrea (12%). All three of these countries are failing and have been torn apart by conflict and oppression. This 62% and a sizeable amount of the other 38% that are coming to Europe have a legal right to claim refuge in European Union countries. Even migrants from countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria have legitimate claims for refugee status under international law.

The Sun editorial goes on to make the point that those that are trying to illegally smuggle themselves into Britain are “not prosecuted [in their home countries], they are fleeing no one.” This statement is unsourced and false. As outlined earlier, a majority of Europe’s migrants this summer (50%) are from both Syria and Afghanistan. All of those migrants are refugees and are fleeing for their safety, not for economic gains.

Finally, the editorial claims that sorting “genuine asylum seekers from economic migrants is hard, especially when the latter pose as the former.” There is no credible evidence that there is a widespread deception being played by some economic migrants to pose as asylum seekers. A majority of the migrants that have reached Europe are genuine asylum seekers.

The Sun (September 2, 2015)

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Headline reads:

“Bad news: Migrants laying siege to Budapest..
Good news: They want to go to Germany not UK”

Chief Foreign Correspondent, Nick Parker, accuses refugees of breaking the law by entering Europe: “authorities sparked a stampede on Monday by breaking EU rules and allowing refugees and economic migrants who arrived without visas to board trains west.” In reality legitimate asylum seekers have a right, upheld by the Geneva Convention in 1951, to apply for safety from persecution. A false and provocative claim.