This case study will focus on the representation of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Media, focusing specifically on reports that thousands of Labour members ‘quit over Corbyn leadership' (The Times 2017). This comes after it was reported that Labour was ‘conducting secret succession planning' for his departure following disastrous internal polling (The Times 2017).
The Times reported that leaked data revealed that Labour are down nearly 26,000 members from the previous summer, with more resignations in one year than in the previous six-years combined – while more than 15,465 members left since December. Although Labour became the largest left-wing party in Europe following the 2015 election, senior party figures such as Lord Watts (the former chairman of PLP) have reported that the ‘tide is turning' as ‘Labour is not doing well'. Numbers of members leaving the party could be even greater as ‘lapsed memberships' only emerge in Labour's systems after six months.
This news followed the shock Conservative election win in Copeland, previously a seat held by Labour for more than 80 years. The victory for the Conservative party was the first time a governing party has taken a seat from the principal opposition since 1982, and the loss of the seat has placed more pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to resign. Senior party figures and Labour MPs are claiming that Labour are not providing a strong enough opposition, and are on track for a general election defeat.
In modern societies, discussion about democracy is impossible without exploring the role played by the media in broadcasting political messages to the public (Encyclopedia.com 2002). Popular press can affect voting behaviour, especially as the media can shape and reflect a wider political agenda. For example, following the 1992 general election, the Sun ran the headline ‘It's the Sun wot won it', claiming to have tipped the electorate to the Conservative party (McKee et. al 2016). This was mirrored in the 2015 election, where Tory papers ran an anti-Labour campaign and subjected Ed Miliband and the Labour party to a sustained attack, and it was claimed by Labour party leaders that the media was partly responsible for a Conservative election victory – 57% of the national newspaper market supported the Tories (electionanalyis.uk 2015)
Contemporary coverage gives “media corporations more power to communicate politics to people than democratically elected politicians' (Thomas 2005: 154). The media has increasing importance in political campaigns, with media barons such as Murdoch having a close relationship with those in power. Large media corporations are dependent on the government as information sources (Cromwell and Edwards 2005) and thus press neutrality can be compromised by these factors. it can be argued that the mass media is under corporate control shaped by a ‘guided market system' (Herman 2009).
The theoretical model that will be applied to the case study is Herman and Chomsky's ‘Proaganda Model'. It is a conceptual model that explains how propaganda and institutional bias function in mass media, and argues that the media serves as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general public (Chomsky and Herman 2012). They argue that it is the function of the media to convey the beliefs and values that will integrate them into institutional structures of society, but this requires “systematic propaganda” (2012: 204). Herman and Chomsky argue that the media serve the interests of the elite uncompromisingly, and illustrate the inequality of wealth and power through five-filters.
The first filter is Size, Ownership and Profit Orientation of the Mass Media. For example, the mainstream media is bound to provide biased information as large companies are profit-orientated corporations, controlled by wealthy-people (Chomsky and Herman 2012). They discuss plurality in the media, and argue that large media corporations are dependent on the government, and therefore the media protect themselves by lobbying with politicians. Bakan has warned that if governments and corporations are partners it could have an impact on the state of democracy, as it means “the government has effectively abdicated its sovereignty over the corporation” (2004: 62).
In relation to this case study, The Times and The Sun are owned by Murdoch's News Corp, a corporation that has changed its political support multiple times. In the 2015 general election, Murdoch supported the Conservatives. The Labour party vowed to protect media plurality in their manifesto, whilst the Conservatives only pledge on the media was to freeze the BBC's license fee – and this can be said to have influenced Murdoch's support for the Tories.
The second filter is Sourcing Mass-Media News. The media are under pressure to publish quickly and at minimum cost, and thus they need a constant flow of reliable news (Chomsky and Herman 2012). Governments have large marketing and PR departments, with budgets for releasing successful stories about themselves, and negative stories about their opponents. It is estimated that 80% of news media content is sourced from or directly influenced by PR, and thus media relations influence media content by placing stories and influencing journalists (Grimshaw 2007). Chomsky and Herman argue that in order not to offend their sources the media may feel ‘obligated' to report ‘dubious' stories (2012: 215).
In relation to the case study, editors of newspapers have to focus their time on news that sells – and if a media is serving the elite, criticising the leader of the opposition is likely to be popular coverage. Furthermore, the ‘leaked' reports suggesting that Labour is not doing well could have been revealed by the Conservative PR department to The Times, as the government knew it would be reported. By focusing on certain agendas, the media can help “influence and crystallise certain popular attitudes and feelings at the expense of other latent viewpoints potentially damaging to the other side” (Thomas 2005: 109).
The third filter is Flak and the Enforcers. “Flak” refers to negative response to a media statement or program, and can be costly to the media (Chomsky and Herman 2012: 217). If certain types of fact or programs are thought to elicit flak, it can be a deterrent for advertisers and therefore media organisations are under intense pressure from state-corporate flak (Cromwell and Edwards 2005). This filter is relevant when discussing the case study as on March 6th, amidst claims that Corbyn had ‘bungled' his tax returns, the Labour party said it “was a matter of concern that some media organisations made entirely false claims” (BBC 2017). This illustrates state-corporate flak attempting to reinforce political authority, attempting to contain deviations (Chomsky and Herman 2012: 219). If corporations such as News Corp did not have such a close relationship with the Conservative party, statements claiming they were reporting ‘false' stories could have a detrimental impact.
The fourth filter is Anticommunism as a Control Mechanism. As ‘A Propaganda Model' was written in 1988, communism was a large threat to capitalist society. Herman and Chomsky argued that the threat of communism was used a s a fear tactic, helping to ‘fragment labour movements', serving as a political-control mechanism (2012: 219). In today's society, it can be argued that anti-terrorism and the war on terror is a substitute for communism. This filter does not apply to this case study, however it could be said that in the 21st Century the ‘anti-communist control mechanism' refers to realistic fears like losing savings, jobs or homes. In relation to Corbyn and the loss of the seat in Copeland, it can be said that the Conservative party appealed to people's real fears of losing jobs, especially as the Labour party is anti-nuclear and many of Cumbria's jobs are within the nuclear industry. This also relates to the terror control mechanism, as there is a genuine fear of terrorism and the Conservative party have a harsher counter-terrorism policy. The control mechanism reaches the system through the mass media, so it can be argued that right-wing newspapers are helping to serve elite interests.
The filters ultimately limit what becomes ‘big news', and the media has a large part to play in what becomes ‘newsworthy'. The mass media allows any stories that are hurtful to large interest to peter out quickly – if they surface at all. If media barons and large corporations serve the majority or the elite population, positive stories about the Labour party will not be published in the media as the news is dominated by mainstream political sources representing similar establishment interests (Cromwell and Edwards 2005: 11).
To conclude, the ‘Propaganda Model' does help to explain the case study. Corporate organisations such as News Corp do serve the interests of the elite, and media performance is shaped by market forces. The media is largely influenced by what it is mediating, and thus if the majority of news comes from government PR machines or ‘spin-doctors' it becomes harder for the media to be neutral.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party are consistently under fire from newspapers like The Sun and The Times and this is partly due to the close relationship between Murdoch and the governing party, and the lobbying of the media within government. Newspapers both reflect and can change the opinion of their readers, as reading a paper that differs from your politics makes is “less likely that you would support a certain party” (Thomas 2005: 99).
This case study illustrates the wider issues of democratic society and its relationship with the media, as it reveals that the media and large corporations have a significant role to play in politics, and can be responsible for changing the opinion of the electorate. Mass media is utilised by the government as a method of reaching the population, helping to integrate them into institutional structures of propaganda.
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