Original image: David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.
During the election campaign my co-editor Adam Ramsay and I reported on the newspapers' planned "coup", the extent to which the right wing press and Tory HQ worked in unison, and how the press decided what was news and what wasn't. A recent report by the Media Standards Trust tells a story that chimes closely with much of this, proving that the majority of the press were heavily anti-Labour, and pro-Tory.
Overall, the Conservatives dominated the positive stories from the press, while the vast bulk of negative stories were targeted at Labour.
Break this down newspaper by newspaper, it looks like this:
Six papers backed the Tories, two backed Labour. That's 75% of the press for the Tories, compared with 37% of those who voted. And 25% of the press for Labour, compared with 30% of those who voted. Then there's the 29% of voters who voted for neither of the big two parties.
Though the above chart is a picture of democratic health, compared with the standards of fairness evident in the UK election results themselves:
Graphic: The Daily Mail
It's worth noting that the Guardian, so pilloried on the right, carried markedly fewer negative leaders about the Tories than the Sun, Telegraph and Mail did about Labour. And that those three heavily Tory-supporting papers – with a combined readership of 4.2m readers – carried no positive editorials about Labour throughout the entire campaign. To put it in the words of the report's authors, the forces ranged behind the Conservatives were "far better disciplined and organised".
Flickr/Eva Rinaldi. Some rights reserved.The Conservatives were an incumbent party. The British press (still, somehow) like to think of themselves as a ruthless and dogged 'check on power'. Out of a combined 513 leader columns between the three papers, just 21 were negative towards the incumbent Conservatives.
It is all the more amazing to think that this overt, intense lobbying campaign is one of the few things exempted in the Conservatives "lobbying" bill (see here and here for details on this incredible legislation, the "gagging bill" as it became known). While charities were effectively barred from commentary, the press – the mouthpieces of various tycoons, billionaires and tax avoiders – did as they pleased.
Most of the press offered very limited critical examination of the last five years of Tory rule – and they wrote almost nothing on the shocking, historic weaknesses of Britain's economy (something they instead insisted was a picture of health and 'on the right track').
They were much more interested in Ed Miliband's kitchens and his sandwich eating abilities, Samantha Cameron's spring wardrobe, and banging the drum for their core interest groups: transnational business and the euphemistic 'wealth creators'.
While the banking crisis was frequently mentioned with regard to Labour 'maxing out the credit card' – and hence the need to slash public services – the coalition's failure to reform banking was mentioned just once during the campaign. By contrast, Miliband's kitchens were mentioned 17 times.
Flickr/Dads-deals.com. Some rights reserved.
All considered, it's not surprising that there is so much public support for media reform. Needless to say, the topic was not a hot one in the election campaign coverage. There were more important things to discuss. Like insulting Ed Miliband. 71 times.
You can read the full report from the Media Standards Trust here.
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