Our fourth election blog by Alison Dilnutt
There is one thing Canterbury Conservative candidate Anna Firth has said that I (sort of) agree with. This election is a battle of the heart and soul, but not of our ‘country’, for us as a species.
This election isn’t about Brexit, or the NHS, or the environment, it’s about who holds the power and it’s the oldest story in the book. This election is about how information and communication – ‘news’ is used as a tool by the powerful to control ordinary people.
And guess what? It works.
It may seem like an exaggeration to say we are at risk as a species, but this election is pivotal in so many ways. Our identity, our free and precious health service, our hard-won democracy are in the balance. Our very planet is in peril and those who want to protect it are up against the most powerful forces on earth, hell-bent on maintaining their wealth and influence.
For a decade I taught Media Studies at Btec and A-Level in a local Further Education college. To start, the subject was mocked as ‘sociology-lite’. Later, as the subject grew in popularity and ordinary young people learnt tools to deconstruct the right-wing rhetoric in the newspapers and TV news, the government took notice.
Media Studies was derided mainly in the very newspapers we studied as a ‘soft’ subject, a ‘mickey mouse’ subject. A pointless, useless waste of time and effort when these young people could be learning something that would get them proper work. Pressure was applied to headteachers and FE principles to shelve it in favour of ‘harder’ subjects. Now those that study the media and criticise it are called ‘liberals’ and ‘snowflakes’.
In those pre-internet/social media days, analysing bias, misinformation and discrimination in the media now seems very straightforward, but the truth is nothing has really changed.
The Media Reform Coalition recently published a report which shows that ‘just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach) dominate 83% of the national newspaper market (up from 71% in 2015). When online readers are included, just five companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph) dominate nearly 80% of the market. In the area of local news, just five companies (Gannett, Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Tindle and Archant) account for 80% of titles (back in 2015, six companies had the same share). Two companies have 46% of all commercial local analogue radio stations and two-thirds of all commercial digital stations’.
In terms of the digital landscape, Google dominates, and Instagram and WhatsApp are of course owned by Facebook.
And if you think Twitter balances that out then think again. While it might seem like a safe space especially after Twitter came out to ban paid for political ads, political parties are using targeted Tweets and armies of digital ‘bots’ to push up damaging hashtags and convince swing or undecided voters that people and parties are toxic. There is no law on fact checking and no recourse bar Twitter itself taking down a Tweet or banning an account.
As for the BBC, its News service has come under increased criticism and allegations of favouritism, bias and poor balance, some saying it has broken the core principles of its public service remit throughout the election. But what would be worse is losing our public service broadcaster altogether – as with the NHS, our universal broadcaster must be protected and kept separate from political influence. I fear, as with the NHS that under a Tory government, the BBC too will be broken up in a piecemeal way, one station or service at a time in a method that the mainstream media will argue ‘makes sense’.
In this digital landscape, and with foreign powers intent on influencing our media and political system, our framework of media regulation is not fit for purpose and desperately needs reform. It could be argued that media malpractice, illegal influence and deliberate misinformation are putting the very legitimacy of the election result at risk.
The ability to deconstruct, analyse and properly scrutinise the media is not ‘soft’ nor is it ‘mickey mouse’, it is crucial for democracy. Without this scrutiny, powerful media owners are free to manipulate voters, distort the truth and destroy democracy as we know it.
There is a reason Media Studies has been rubbished, derided and ridiculed. There is a reason why right-wing governments have tried to get rid of subjects from the national curriculum that develop the skills to question, analyse and challenge dominant ideologies. It is because those in power – who own or use the media to control the way ordinary people think, behave and vote, are scared.
The old adage is true – knowledge is power. With the General Election only hours away it is crucial that each and every one of us makes a concerted effort to become better informed.
Here’s my checklist of what you can do to fight back against these media giants, stand up for democracy and stay sane on the countdown to the GE.
- Forget how many likes/followers/friends you have. It’s all meaningless
- Check the sources of stories you read and facts behind them – get better informed
- Challenge misinformed people with verified facts and evidence
- Don’t repeat, retweet or repost any stories that cannot be verified
- Beware the hashtag – Twitter bots are there to get damaging stories and misinformation trending. Don’t help them.
- Visit or call any family members or friends you know only get their ‘facts’ from traditional media (newspapers/radio/TV) and talk to them about the key issues armed with verified facts and evidence
- If you are being trolled on Twitter block and report
- If you come across a bot on Twitter (usually no profile pic and very few followers) block them
- Actively share/re-post/Tweet/talk about positive facts and stories about our candidate, our party and our manifesto
- Take a break – have a walk in the woods and turn everything off!
My parents are a good example. My dad (86) is a life-long socialist and was a TGWU branch secretary. My mum (79) a dedicated liberal thinker and a classic swing voter. They read the Daily Mail every day ‘for the crossword’ and the Sunday Times at the weekend ‘for the magazine’. Had my sister, myself and my eldest son not had conversations with them, I am convinced their view of Johnson would have been ‘silly harmless old buffoon’, that Brexit meant they ‘took back control’ and probably that dipping in and out of private health care ‘helped the NHS’. All narratives peddled by the dominant media. I’m pleased to say, uncomfortable as it was to challenge and unpick these adopted untruths, they have a more informed view now and are both going to vote for Labour on Thursday.
It might seem that standing up to billionaire run corporations is an insurmountable task and a battle we are not equipped to fight. I do believe, however that our people powered movement, fuelled as it is with compassion, a love of equality and the sense of duty to our communities will win ultimately. It’s down to us to do all we can to resist the tide of misinformation and seek out and highlight the truth whenever and wherever we can.