by Granville Williams
It is always educative to get out and about a bit. I’ve certainly been doing that this month promoting my new book Settling Scores: The Media, the Police and the Miners’ Strike published for the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike.
One of my points, as I show images of the front pages of newspapers from the epic year-long industrial struggle, is to demonstrate the overwhelmingly hostile coverage by national newspapers (the Daily Mirror, taken over by Robert Maxwell during the strike, and The Guardian were, sometimes, the exceptions).
It was as if the papers were, like Pravda in the Soviet Union, under state control. The Thatcherite story-line with headlines and pictures high-lighting picket line violence, praising working miners and demonising NUM President Arthur Scargill dominated national newspapers.
The strike took place just as breakfast time television was introduced so that the same newspaper front pages would be given even greater impact in the review of the daily papers slot.
If these points seem rather extreme, take this view from a now extinct political species, the Tory ‘wet’ Ian Gilmour, who wrote in his book, Dancing With Dogma, that Mrs Thatcher was “spurred on by a right-wing press which could scarcely have been more fawning if it had been state controlled – and indeed a liberal use of the honour system produced much the same effect.”
The Sun editor in 1979, Larry Lamb, was given a knighthood by Thatcher because the former Labour supporting paper switched allegiance and supported the Tories in the May 1979 election. She believed the paper had swung sections of previously Labour supporting working class readers to vote for her.
That was then, this is now.
On Thursday 27 March I spoke in a Democracy In Crisis debate at Manchester University. It didn’t get the same publicity as the Clegg/Farage debate but it was very revealing. There were about 100 people there, mainly students, but about ten members of the general public. For the students my points about the miners’ strike were really a history lesson, but then I showed a sequence of front pages from the tabloid and broadsheet papers during 2013 on the topic of Europe and the hysteria about Bulgarians and Romanians rushing to Britain once entry restrictions were lifted in January 2014. I had a sense that as I showed them the front pages they were genuinely shocked at the hostile headlines and caricatured reporting. This sort of reporting wasn’t journalism – it was propaganda.
And then I paused from my presentation to ask them if they had seen these headlines and front pages before. And they hadn’t. They were in papers they didn’t read or access, as many young people do now, online.
I made the point that the four newspaper groups (Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail group, the Barclay Brothers Telegraph group and Richard Desmond’s Express group) have 75% of the market share of UK national newspapers. They also have a consistently hostile editorial stance towards the European Union and carry caricatured reporting of its activities.
I argued that such a state of affairs has profound democratic implications but it goes further than that. Such relentless bias and distortion forces other newspaper and politicians to respond and this in turn widens the impact as broadcast media pick up the stories too.
I ended my presentation with the deconstruction by Jon Danzig of the 890 word Mail Online story from 31 December 2013. Again the audience was unaware and genuinely shocked by the number of inaccurate statements.
I finished by explaining about the European Citizens’ Initiative to tackle the influence of big media over democracy and pointed out it was a bit more than clicktivism – but surely worth five minutes of their time if they cared about the issue.
I hope a good number of them went away and signed up in support. If you haven’t you should put five minutes aside to sign up too.
Republished with kind permission from the UK Coalition for Media Pluralism.