UK media’s referendum coverage is a disgrace

There is a widespread view across the UK that the referendum campaign is boring (and even pathetic) because people have neither facts nor reliable information. That is where the (broadcast) media are supposed to come in.

With the odd exception, however, the media’s coverage has been a disgrace. Focused as it is on personalities rather than on issues, and on the narrow interest of the political bubble rather than the very real social and economic consequences of the forthcoming vote, the media have failed us utterly.

BBC Newsnight last night was just the latest pathetic example. Who the hell cares what Chris Patten has to say about Boris Johnson?!

What a washed up politician who lost his seat a quarter of a century ago has to say about a buffoon who can’t even do his own shopping is totally and utterly irrelevant. It is not going to help pay the grocery bill if prices go up, or help young people’s education if they cannot move freely across the continent, or keep us safe if we cannot share intelligence! Nor does it speak to the EU’s great accomplishments of spreading democracy southward and eastward, clearing roaming charges or growing per capita income faster than anywhere else in the Western world; nor indeed to its unquestionable failings around the refugee crisis or even the pure unnecessary nonsense of maintaining institutions in Strasbourg.

The obsession with Conservative politicians is disgraceful because fundamentally it speaks to laziness. It is much easier to do a cheap interview for a cheap quip than it is to do proper research into the issues which really matter to people. Politics in general is covered like a soap opera of traded insults and mini-scandals, rather than the exchange of ideas and assessment of governmental competence that it is supposed to be. Worst of all, the media clearly has not considered that our future inside or outside the EU is not fundamentally a political issue at all, but a socio-economic one.

It is this failure to research the issues at stake properly which leads to the other nonsense of the campaign – namely that claims from each side are automatically afforded equal legitimacy. Actually, they should be assessed against the facts and anyone stating a blatant mistruth should be derided for so doing. Not all opinions are equally legitimate – some are informed by reason and evidence; others, well, aren’t.

And that is all to leave aside the fact that all the main players in the media’s soap opera are men. Is that not shameful?

All over the world now, from Trump to Hofer, we are seeing the rise of people who can manipulate the media easily because it refuses to be informed and refuses to tackle nonsense. The crisis in democracy across the world, in other words, is partly the responsibility of the media. The results could be very frightening.


6 thoughts on “UK media’s referendum coverage is a disgrace

  1. korhomme says:

    The obsession with the Tories? Surely this is because so many see the referendum not as being about the EU, but rather as being about the Tory party and its leadership. The ‘natural party of government’ is merrily eviscerating itself in what has become a very factional war.

    • Only people in a very small London political bubble see it that way.

      And, what is more, they’re wrong.

      • korhomme says:

        Is the referendum really about the UK’s continued membership of the EU? This is certainly the expressed view, yet there are many, some like me outside the bubble in the sticks of Tyrone, who prefer the espoused view, that the referendum was more about Tory unity and keeping the Kippers at bay.

        What then on June 24? A big majority for ‘remain’, and Call me Dave is secure; a narrow win, or even ‘leave’ makes him vulnerable. And even now, the knives are out for him.

  2. The Listener says:

    Well written, Ian. The problem with the press is not new. Bad news and sensationalism sells newspapers! It has been ever thus. Our knee jerk politics is another story!

    My preference is to remain with future pressure to make the system efficient. I am a stupid optimist! There is much more to consider and be pleased about than just the economy and cheap flights! However with the EU expanding I see chaos without movement controls applied to the citizens of poorer countries until with EU grants etc, their GDP can be ratcheted up to a situation when movement West is a deeply considered matter, vis a vi pleasures of home. As matters stand we can expect anyone with a brain and ambition to move west, and to aim for the British Isles, maybe after becoming an EU citizen elsewhere.

  3. edward mccamley says:

    I agree with everything in this post. Particularly egregious was the Paxman ‘Special’ on Britain and the EU. Classic late period Paxman: carefully cultivated irony, ironic detachment and a few questions lobbed at the usual suspects.

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