Jeremy Corbyn and the Media

JVL Introduction

This article appeared in the Independent on 19th July. But it was on 19th July three years ago!

What has changed?

This article was originally published by The Independent on Tue 19 Jul 2016. Read the original here.

Our report found that 75% of press coverage misrepresents Jeremy Corbyn – we can't ignore media bias anymore

We all want and need a strong and a critical media, but maybe we do not need an attack dog that kills off anyone who challenges the status quo

In many democracies across the world new political leaders get a so-called honeymoon period. As our analysis of the journalistic representation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first two months as party leader in eight national newspapers demonstrates, this did not apply to Corbyn. Our rigorous and statistically representative analysis concluded that when it comes to the coverage of Corbyn in his role as leader of the opposition, the majority of the press did not act as a critical watchdog of the powers that be, but rather more often as an antagonistic attackdog.

Over half of the news articles were critical or antagonistic in tone, compared to two thirds of all editorials and opinion pieces. Besides the almost total lack of support in the latter, especially in the rightwing media, the high level of negativity in the news reporting struck us as noteworthy here. According to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), newspapers are obliged to ‘make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact’ and this also did not apply to Corbyn. Furthermore, Corbyn’s voice is often absent in the reporting on him, and when it is present it is often presented in a highly distorted way. In terms of the news sources used in the articles, the civil war within Labour is very enthusiastically amplified. In most newspapers, including The Daily Mirror and The Independent, Labour voices that are anti-Corbyn outweigh those that are pro-Corbyn.

In addition to this, a prevalent way to deride Corbyn is through scorn and ridicule. Three in ten news stories, opinion pieces, or letters to the editor mock Corbyn or scoff at his ideas, his personal life, his looks and/or his lifestyle. Besides these character assassinations, some of the popular mantras repeated over and over again in connection with Corbyn are: that he is unelectable, that his ideas are unrealistic and loony, and that he is unpatriotic. Most problematic in this regard, according to us, is the persistent association of Corbyn with terrorism. In some newspapers, for example in The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express or The Sun, between 15 and 20 per cent of their Corbyn-related coverage associates him with IRA, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and/or terrorism. Linked to this, we see that over one fifth of all articles denote him as a danger or as dangerous, a frame that David Cameron was also keen to feed.

The rough treatment by the British newspapers of (Labour) politicians is, of course, not an entirely new phenomenon in the UK (think Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), but I would argue that this was nowhere near as destructive, as vicious and as antagonistic as is the case now with Corbyn. Many in our team of researchers are not British and compared to the media in our own countries we were also all quite astonished by the systematic and way in which Corbyn is being actively delegitimised by the media; this is unworthy of a democracy. We all want and need a strong and a critical media, a watchdog of the powers that be, but maybe we do not need an attack dog who kills off anyone who challenges the status quo and dares to suggest we need a different kind of politics.

In my view, this exposes some serious shortcomings and problematic tendencies in the reporting on Corbyn and of politics in general. Inevitably, all this brings into the fray the issue of concentrated media ownership in the UK, and intrinsically linked to this the undeniable fact that the British newspaper landscape is heavily skewed to the right (although it must be acknowledged that Corbyn has also received quite some flak from the left-leaning newspapers).

In this regard, it would be healthy and urgent, I think, to reflect more on how increased media power should be counter-balanced by a higher degree of democratic responsibility from the part of the media and journalists. Surveys consistently show that a very large majority of UK citizens (and by extension newspaper and TV audiences) do not trust politicians and journalists at all – a mere 20-25 per cent of people believe that journalists and politicians tell the truth. Journalists – and the media organisations they represent – have an ethical and dare I say democratic obligation to address this high degree of distrust.

What the majority of reactions to our report on social media and on the site of The Independent in the mean time show is many citizens – even those that do not support Corbyn – feel that the media in general is failing them in terms of correctly and fairly representing the elected leader of the opposition.

Bart Cammaerts is an Associate Professor and PhD Director at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Comments (6)

  • Janet Crosley says:

    And not a mention of antisemitism. ‘Normal’ smearing didn’t work then.
    Had to dream up somthing worse.

    Thanks for posting this article.

  • Paul Leach says:

    Pretty much borne out during the intervening 3 years- with the exception that the hostile media 3years back still thrashed around a bit before settling on the perfect subject on which to base the assassination strategy: -anti semitism of course. I trace this streak beginning in earnest when the slogan “enough is enough” (cuts/privatisation/austerity) from Jeremy Corbyn’s 22nd May 2018 local elections launch speech in Trafford was rendered unusable by its use in the Parliament Square demonstration against anti-semitism a few days later.

  • TP says:

    It’s so obviously apparent the hysterical media witch hunt and smear campaign was orchestrated as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was unexpectedly elected leader of the Labour Party and in position to help the poor forgotten massacred and ethnically cleansed Palestinians, investigate the billionaires whose cleaners pay more tax than they do, bring essential services profiteers under national control, redistribute the wealth to end the massive suffering of the poorest in Britain. Spare us the mock outrage of the anti Jeremy Corbyn gang who are really going after him because he became too popular and threatened their cushy establishment lifestyles. They care as much about racisim or anti semitism as the shambolic Boris Johnson, white supremacist Trump and Israel’s far right buddies in Hungary and Brasil do.

  • RLJ says:

    As a counterbalance, it would also be helpful if the Labour Party started thinking far more strategically about its reception in public and actively planning how to deal with attacks before they happen, rather than reacting reflexively or maintaining radio silence.

    The party must look to itself to close up gaping holes in internal democracy, way beyond the scope of the Democracy Review did so far. There are some easy own goals and controversies that the party has ignored or totally missed previously…

  • christina Evans says:

    It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Carrie Symonds father Matthew Symonds is a co-producer of the Independent newspaper ?

  • “Boozy” Williams says:

    I agree with RLJ in that we are so reactive it’s scary.
    Let’s become more proactive in exposing what’s going on in our fractured society.
    Jeremy must go on the offensive as must all Labour members

Comments are now closed.