CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says recent research showing negative coverage of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will damage trust in mainstream media
AFTER spending the last few weeks as guest editor at my local newspaper I've been immersed in the traditions around the annual Callant Festival held in the Scottish Borders.
There's nothing like covering the rough and tumble of Westminster politics, although there's still been an election to report and a great deal of excitement and all-night-long celebrations with the emergence of a new leader.
The election of the Callant, or local youth, chosen to lead the festivities is kept a closely guarded secret until declaration night and, once chosen, his task is to lead a cavalcade of horses, or rideouts, to several of the outlying districts of Jedburgh – the images are truly spectacular as young and old alike charge across the countryside behind their leader, usually on horseback although there were a few mountain bikers and joggers in evidence.
The old Fleet Street titles are haemorrhaging sales and within a few years they will be less in number because economically they cannot survive.
One of the most significant rideouts is to Redeswire which leads to an ancient battle field. These centuries old traditions are symbolic and remind people of the importance of keeping territory safe from outside marauders. No need for Trident here!
The whole experience has taught me two things: the importance of our traditional customs and the value with which the local newspaper is held by communities, something I had almost forgotten in a 40-year career of journalism.
And as I vacate the editor's chair, leaving behind local planning issues and other hot topics such as dog fouling and the forthcoming Border Union Show in Kelso, the view from here to Westminster has changed little … still infighting, disunity and bickering from a Labour party which once valued its socialist traditions and those who supported the party.
The role of the London-based media has changed little, too. The old Fleet Street titles are haemorrhaging sales and within a few years they will be less in number because economically they cannot survive. Like many of the 172 plotters within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party, their demise is linked to a loss of trust by ordinary readers.
The press barons and their editors are out of touch and the hoi polloi is no longer prepared to be led by a political elite nor are they willing to be duped into doing so by the newspapers that support them.
The London School of Economics' media and communications department has forensically analysed the media's treatment and handling of Corbyn, and the results are quite shocking.
Some people blame Tony Blair for the demise of both. The lies about the war in iraq certainly did untold damage both at home and abroad and, despite the denial of the Blairites, it is still very much an issue today.
Every now and again something happens which forces the media to follow the public instead of the public following the newspapers and the handling of the Chilcot Report illustrated that. Previously we saw extraordinary outpourings of hysteria and grief over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales which forced the media to follow the public lead which in turn forced the out-of-touch Windsors to act in a manner out of step with royal protocol.
It doesn't happen very often and after the death of Diana the London-based media soon regained control, manipulating public opinion and working hand-in-glove with the political elite, thus maintaining a very cosy relationship.
All was working well until Jeremy Corbyn emerged as the new Labour leader. The media went into overdrive to hound him out and destroy him but all they have succeeded in doing is increasing his popularity and diminishing their own influence with a public that is demanding something more.
Corbyn's lead on anti-austerity has fired the imagination of many … it is quite clear by now that this is not a "protest movement" as the majority of the Westminster PLP lemmings still claim. It is they who are out of touch with what voters want, not Corbyn.
The findings expose "a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy".
And despite the best efforts of a hostile, aggressive media which has sought to destroy Corbyn he is becoming more popular by the day. He has been blasted and monstered outside his north London home by agency journalists paid peanuts by the mainstream media to scream: "When are you going to resign?"
If ever there was a case of aggressiveness and bullying this is it. Day in and day out he is being given the treatment normally reserved for a criminal or rogue politician.
Now, the London School of Economics' media and communications department has forensically analysed the media's treatment and handling of Corbyn from between September and November last year. It identified and separated critical and antagonistic reporting while deconstructing how the media has systematically set out to delegitimise the Labour leader.
The results are quite shocking and expose "a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy", according to the findings.
Of course, this is nothing new to Corbyn or the growing army of Corbynistas (of which I am not one). I wonder if his increase in popularity says more about the growing resentment towards the English media and the political elite who've done their best to destroy him?
More alarmingly the British press has, says the report, repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK. "The result has been a failure to give the newspaper-reading public a fair opportunity to form their own judgements about the leader of the country’s main opposition," according to the report.
In short, the reading public is being lied to, manipulated and treated like fools by the mainstream media – and more importantly they know it.
In short, the reading public is being lied to, manipulated and treated like fools by the mainstream media – and more importantly they know it. This is why the emergence of alternative media like CommonSpace is more vital than ever and that is why some of the great Fleet Street titles of the last century will not survive another decade.
Even now, some sections of the media are still in denial over the growing popularity of Corbyn. What we are witnessing is a peoples' revolution where Labour voters are sick of being dictated to and patronised by the political elite and being advised by the media who they should vote for.
To put into context the Corbyn phenomena I point to Channel 4's political editor, Michael Crick, who tweeted earlier this week of Labour's extraordinary rise in membership by those who want to take part in voting for the next political leader.
Of all amazing political news in past month, today's 183,000+ people playing £25 in last 48 hours to be Lab supporters is most astonishing
— Michael Crick (@MichaelLCrick) July 20, 2016
I doubt whether, in whole of British history, any political party has recruited 183,000 paid supporters in just 48 hours. It's an astounding fact. This tweet alone illustrates more than anything else the growing irrelevance of those inhabiting the Westminster Bubble. When the people lead the leaders must follow or become irrelevant.
Political journalists and their sneering friends ignore the rise of the Corbynistas at their peril – like many of the 172 plotters of the failed coup, they too are looking more like dinosaurs staring into the abyss of extinction.
Meanwhile, I'm off to the printers to watch the next edition of the Jed Eye roll off the presses. Editing it has been a humbling experience and a sharp reminder that as journalists we are here merely to serve, inform, educate and entertain and not to patronise, manipulate or distort the news.
Picture courtesy of UK Parliament
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