The U.S. Presidential election late last year was mired by allegations of hacking and the spreading of fake news. Those implicated are, for the most part, nameless entities and their method of dissemination is largely social media based. This is obviously a huge problem because political systems both in America as well as in the U.K. are polarised enough without hysteria-inciting ‘news’. However, although we can accuse Russia of trying to manipulate our supposedly free and fair elections, we turn a blind-eye to the profit-based interference we as a country have been burdened with; where our consumption of news is dictated by corporate interests mainly from the U.S.
Pick up any paper from the ‘mainstream media’ and you are looking at the problem straight in the face. The Times, Sunday Times as well as The Sun are part of Rupert Murdoch’s international media conglomerate known as News Corp; a name that should evoke great concern to anyone interested in preserving democracy. Consider The Sun: for years this paper has bounced from scandal to scandal and for the most part, escaped unscathed. The only major hiccup being the coverage of Hillsborough, where it reported that fans were picking pockets of the dead and beating up police. The Sun later admitted ‘the real truth’ and stopped covering up the negligence that led to the disaster, resulting in the city of Liverpool boycotting the publication for the past three decades.
This boycott of The Sun is unique to Liverpool, and thereby the city is not subject to the right-wing propaganda plastered over the front pages during elections. The boycott has clearly influenced voting patterns in Liverpool even in the last general election, two weeks ago. In the four Liverpudlian constituencies, the Conservatives secured 10.05 percent with Labour on 83.375 percent. This huge disparity in the share of the vote is unique to Liverpool and when compared to other cities with similar socio-economic underpinnings such as Newcastle (62.63 percent Labour; 26.6 percent Conservative) and Manchester (75.13 percent Labour; 10.6 percent Conservative), Liverpool has by far the highest percentage of Labour support and lowest Conservative support.
After the attack at the Ariana Grande concert, 80000 people signed a petition to boycott The Sun over its tasteless coverage of the attack. Predictably, The Sun responded by donating £100k to help the victims and support for the petition was muted. Although the petition did not manifest in a formal boycott, anger remained. A highly suggestive statistic in support of this informal boycott is found when comparing Labour support between 2015 and 2017. As predicted by the theory of this article, all Manchester constituencies significantly increased their support for Labour, with the most striking change in voting behaviour found in the constituency of Manchester Withington, which saw an increase of 18 percent in support of ‘Cor-bin’. This is certainly not a concrete conclusion and there are many other variables that will have had an impact, but it is at least a point of interest and worthy of national attention.
Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has begun to look a lot like an outsourced state TV. Newspapers like The Sun deploy hyperboles to depose the opposition and take advantage of public anxieties. If we continue down this path, our political landscape risks being moulded in the image of U.S. TV stations like the vitriolic Fox News – the jewel of Murdoch’s empire.
Tomorrow, the culture secretary will finally determine whether Murdoch can buy the controlling share in Sky and will ultimately decide the fate of the British media- respectful, responsible journalism or manipulative toilet paper.