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The media as well as politicians need to reflect before the referendum campaign resumes

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.

 

 

 

Nice to see The Observer airing its policy differences as publicly as Labour

To be a fly-on-the-wall at the Observer’s editorial meetings last week must have been a treat. Today, long-serving writer Ed Vulliamy is given space to say why he disagrees with the paper’s stance on Jeremy Corbyn. He writes:

I felt we let down many readers and others by not embracing at least the spirit of the result, propelled as it was by moral principles of equality, peace and justice. These are no longer tap-room dreams but belong to a mass movement in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe.

And on the business pages, William Keegan the veteran economics editor, writes, under the headline Modern capitalism needs an opponent. It needs Jeremy Corbyn:

But there is little doubt that Corbyn is there because his rivals in the leadership race failed to distinguish themselves sufficiently from the Tories: suddenly there has been a grassroots revolt against austerity, especially among the young. As Corbyn says, austerity was not inevitable: it was a political decision.

Andrew Rawnsley, the political editor, sticks by his anti-Corbyn line:

Jeremy Corbyn’s first week as Labour leader hasn’t gone as planned, because it wasn’t planned. It has been authentic, all right; authentically amateurish. For sure, even if his debut had been sparkling, he would never have got warm reviews from his many enemies at Westminster and in the media. What’s more interesting is that even sympathisers have been taken aback by the absence of preparation for the transition and the shambles that has ensued

He predicts there will a “crunch point between leader and parliamentary party”.  It will certainly be interesting.

I could come as early as the party conference at the end of the month when we will see how much support the majority of the parliamentary party has among the wider party. On the evidence of the ballot it is limited.

As a diversion it is good to see a newspaper airing its policy differences as widely as the Labour party has done in the past week.

Westminster journalists failed to grasp what was happening to Labour Party

Media commentator Roy Greenslade’s blog post this morning is as predictable as its headline: “Jeremy Corbyn’s first day and press coverage, predictably, is hostile.”

Writing in the Guardian, it is not surprising that he did not analyse the paper’s coverage beyond the editorial. But it is the handing over of two important comment slots to writers who are not part of the Westminster village that seems to be to be significant.

Gary Younge, freshly back in the UK after 12 years in the USA, is given a front page spot and it is clear why none of his parliamentary new colleagues could have written it. He says:

Party grandees thought his [Corbyn’s] presence would offer a debate about austerity; few assumed he would win it. His candidacy was supposed to be decorative but never viable.

From the moment it was clear that assumption was flawed, the political and media class shifted from disbelief to derision to panic, apparently unaware that his growing support was as much a repudiation of them as an embrace of him. Former Labour leaders and mainstream commentators belittled his supporters as immature, deluded, self-indulgent and unrealistic, only to express surprise when they could not win them over. As such this reckoning was a long time coming. For the past couple of decades the Labour leadership has looked upon the various nascent social movements that have emerged – against war, austerity, tuition fees, racism and inequality – with at best indifference and at times contempt. They saw its participants, many of whom were or had been committed Labour voters, not as potential allies but constant irritants.

Yes, Guardian and Observer writers must be included those who were unaware that they were being “repudiated”.

The main comment space inside the paper is handed over to Zoe Williams who writes under the headline: “By ripping up the rulebook, Corbyn is redefining our politics. Whether or not he can win power Labour’s leader has a chance to give opposition a new meaning.” I mentioned this article in my previous post, suggesting it reflected the views of many who voted for Corbyn.

It looks as if there was a rapid recognition among Guardian editorial chiefs that given their record in the past few weeks, these prominent comment spaces could not credibly be given to the Westminster reporters whose lack of understanding of what was happening has been apparent in recent weeks.

It has long been held by many journalists that their specialist colleagues get too close to their subjects to be reliable reporters. That has certainly happened in this case. On the other hand specialist reporters are needed for their understanding of their subjects and the Westminster reporters will recover quickly.

Is Guardian print edition loosing sight of its readers?

Today’s Guardian illustrates the way in which its drive to make itself the world-leading online news source is impacting on its UK print edition.

Guardian front page June 2, 2015It leads on a great story, the result of very good investigative journalism by Guardian America web journalists about the killing of unarmed black people by police. The problem is that it is essentially a US domestic story which is worthy of a place in the UK print edition but not as the lead.

Not only is it the lead but it takes the whole of the front page which has no reference to any UK news. It then turns inside to take the whole of one of the “National” news pages.

Editorial decision-making appears for have forgotten the old adage that news value diminishes with distance. For some time the Guardian news pages seem to be governed by a an editorial conference somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Decisions on comment pieces seem to still based in the UK.

I looked but could not find a story which emanated yesterday in the UK which is directly relevant to British readers – US defence secretary warns against UK armed forces cuts, which I heard on BBC Radio 4.

Nor could I find the story that plans to offer parents 30-hours free childcare have unravelled with David Cameron admitting the roll-out could take longer than planned. The link is to the Daily Mirror.

Another important story for UK readers, European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker saying Cameron’s UK referendum was designed to keep the UK in the EU, is in the print edition but buried in a story on human rights. The heading was: PM prepared to break with Europe over human rights.

Readers were much better served on this story by the Daily Telegraph under the heading: Britain will not vote to leave EU, says Junker.

I can understand why the Guardian want to make the most of what must have been a costly five-month investigation which led to today’s lead, but not why they gave it so much prominence.

The web editors seem to be more in tune with their readers. When I checked this morning the shoot to kill story was not mentioned on the UK or Australian home pages. It was prominent on the US home page and had a strong reference on the international site.

It is a confusing and difficult time for newspapers and their websites as Roy Grenslade, the Guardian media blogger, points  out today in a post headed, Global newspaper industry’s business model undergoes ‘seismic shift’.

Sun and Scottish Sun’s opposite views of SNP can serve Murdock’s commercial interests

Today’s revelation that The Sun in London and The Scottish Sun have radically different voting advice for readers presents Murdoch watchers with a difficult analysis to make.

The Sun says: Vote Tory to stop the SNP running the country.

The Scottish Sun says: May the 7th be with you: Why its time to vote SNP.

sun

Presuming that Rupert Murdoch is still taking an interest and talking to his editors regularly it is reasonable to assume that the hid not object to either of today’s front pages.

His Twitter account does not help much as he seems not to have tweeted since April 26 when he said, Tweet responses interesting. Maybe I guessed 10 too many Cons, but either way Scots probably will hold the balance.

Through this we know he is following the election.

Some years ago when Wordblog was dedicated to the media, I argued Murdoch did not influence election results but was very good at predicting what would happen. His business benefitted if leaders believed he had helped them win.

This would be an explanation of today’s divergent views from his papers in England and Scotland. Cameron is likely to have the most seats in England and Sturgeon in Scotland.

But like so many things in this election it does not make complete sense. Could he have bought the analysis that depriving Labour of seats in Scotland is increasing the chances of a Conservative UK government? He would have probably got that view from his people in London.

My guess is that the opposed views of the two papers is calculated to further his commercial interests in the UK.