Today is a time for reflection by everyone in the UK but particularly those involved in the referendum campaign. The media here today is quiet, rightly not rushing to conclusions, but in mainland Europe newspapers have been less reticent in linking the murder of Jo Cox to the referendum campaign.
Whatever the outcome of police investigations there is the perception of a link and that for the moment is what matters. As Alex Massie put in the Spectator blog yesterday:
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged.
The media as well as the politicians need to reflect. Have editorial decisions to concentrate on the nasty parts of the campaign, the playground shouts of “liar” and the racist undercurrents, contributed to polarisation?
News value is an assessment of what will interest the readers modified by the concept of “public interest”. The question is whether the interests of the readers were subjugated to the interests of journalists living and working in the Westminster bubble?
My impression is that the coverage has inhibited public debate. Where I live in rural Suffolk I have heard no-one talking about the referendum. Is as though everyone is avoiding the subject to avoid being drawn into the nasty debate and falling out with neighbours. There are some “leave” and “remain posters in the countryside but in the village itself few are prepared to declare their allegiance so publicly. There has been no real grassroots debate.
The coverage by political journalists has been so much more like a report of a playground squabble that I have found myself turning first to the financial pages for reasoned information.
Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to get away from the fighting mentality and have a more reasoned and politer political debate have been scorned by political journalists who would rather see blood on the floor. It is not just a tactic of the Labour leader: I sense there are many on both sides of the house, probably the majority, who would be much happier without tribal battles.
The media cannot get away from the fact that they have sustained the most unpleasant aspects of the referendum by providing the publicity which has sustained the nastiness.