Even some of the Remain voters I talk to realise that something has gone wrong with the media over Brexit. The revelations by John Humphrys about BBC bias have been taken seriously by those who were lucky enough to have read them.The fate of the Humphrys' revelations is typical of bias in the UK media. The revelations were almost entirely suppressed and have scarcely been mentioned by broadcasters since they were published. A leading journalist who is an insider, a Remain supporter and one of the highest paid people in the News Media exposes the BBC as a biased organisation and the revelation is entirely snuffed out.The UK broadcast media works by suppressing the news it does not want us to hear.The broadcast media are very powerful, so powerful that if they are attacked for bias we
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The fate of the Humphrys' revelations is typical of bias in the UK media. The revelations were almost entirely suppressed and have scarcely been mentioned by broadcasters since they were published. A leading journalist who is an insider, a Remain supporter and one of the highest paid people in the News Media exposes the BBC as a biased organisation and the revelation is entirely snuffed out.
The UK broadcast media works by suppressing the news it does not want us to hear.
The broadcast media are very powerful, so powerful that if they are attacked for bias we would, paradoxically, expect trust in them to increase as they defend themselves with propaganda about their trustworthiness.
Politicians treat the media with extreme care because they know that it has a massive effect on public opinion. This means that powerful business interests, especially advertising agencies like WPP, can set the agenda.
What hope is there for democracy when those who are supposed to be informing the public are working for big business or their own ideologies?
We might imagine that social media offers a counterbalance to the bias of the broadcasters. We would be wrong.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all been under pressure from governments to introduce political editing of posts. Ostensibly this is to stop terrorism and "fake news" but in practice it is being used to widely affect public discourse. The primary tool in this political editing is "Shadow Banning". Anyone who has used social media a lot to favour leaving the EU during the EU Referendum and afterwards is aware of shadow banning. If you search for your own posts using a different Twitter ID you will not find them easily. On Twitter, if you do find your tweets, they will be tucked away under "more replies". Twitter is particularly effective at shadow banning and has forced many supporters of Brexit off the network.
Lastly there is the law. Access to the law depends on money, especially when it comes to civil and constitutional cases. The use of the law to control the political debate depends heavily on who has the cash. The advantage of using the courts is that the simple fact of a case making it to court smears the opposition. Even if the case is found to be vexatious and false the broadcasters can suppress any coverage of the dismissal so that it seems that the case may still be under way or has even succeeded. (See Leavers are not my sort of people).
Public political discourse now consists of the broadcasters being told which side they support then suppressing any except negative coverage of the other side. The owners of social media will set their AIs to shadow ban or even eject supporters of the other side. A succession of court cases will be started to smear the reputation of financers and supporters of the other side so that even if the cases fail they inflict damage.
The common factor in all of this assault on democracy is Organised Big Business. It not only needs a great deal of money, it needs organised groups of the wealthy and powerful to inflict such a mortal blow to democratic debate.
The Power of the Broadcast Media
I could recount a litany of areas in which the BBC, Channel 4 etc. have suppressed news (See BBC News Suppression or even given prominence to fake news about Brexit but that is not the point of this article.
The broadcast media are very powerful. Advertisers pay millions to have a presence of just a minute or two on the broadcast media which shows that messages by broadcasters tend to work. The media are very powerful so that when they deny that advertising has any effect or say they can be trusted on politics they are believed.
The broadcast media are largely regulated by Ofcom, the communications business regulator. Anyone who has been trapped in unfair contracts for mobile phones or broadband will have experienced the way Ofcom is a lazy failure. Ofcom works on the principle of doing nothing unless it is ordered to do so by government, caught in a press outburst or the transgressions are so egregious that it will obviously be brought to book if it does nothing.
In the case of the BBC we are supposed to be protected by the BBC Charter but the policing of this has fallen into the hands of Ofcom, and Ofcom has conspicuously failed to regulate the communications industry.
The net effect of lack of regulation and control by big business advertisers is that the broadcasters are working for a narrow sector of society: corporations and themselves.