I think there is little doubt that many British newspapers, particularly the tabloids, had a significant effect on the EU Referendum vote. It has always been a mystery to me why papers like the Sun and the Daily Mail are so obviously pro-Brexit. According to an an article that was published before the referendum “The ideal that ties together Telegraph owners The Barclay Brothers; Express and Daily Star boss Richard Desmond; and Rupert Murdoch is a vision of themselves as ultimate renegades, who were able to take on the stuffed shirts precisely because they were leaner and hungrier and more ruthless. And that vision – underwritten by the Thatcherite core value that the barrow boys shall inherit the earth – is now wagging the political dog.”
The article paints Richard Desmond of the Express as a very bizarre character with a major chip on his shoulder about lack of recognition, despite courting the favour of both the Labour and Tory Parties. Murdoch, owner of the Sun, is said to be more ideological, with a dislike of the EU’s lack of accountability. His feelings might also be influenced by the increasing encroachment of EU legislation onto his business interests, however. Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail is said to let his editor Paul Dacre run things. Apparently, the latter “channels the target demographic like a particularly sour race-baiting medium.” The Barclay Brothers, who own the Spectator and The Telegraph, tend to keep an extremely low profile but “Like Desmond, they’re pugilists, hard-ballers from humble stock: Hammersmith boys done good; eight siblings, started out running a tobacconists, then painting and decorating, before converting old boarding houses into hotels, eventually working their way up to owning The Ritz.” Their exact views on Brexit are unclear, but they are presumed to be in favour.
Further light on the British press’s role in Brexit is provided by an excellent article in the New York Times by Katrin Bennhold entitled “To Understand ‘Brexit’, Look to Britain’s Tabloids”. Much of the article relates to an interview with Tony Gallagher, editor of the Sun and former editor of the Daily Telegraph. He was also the deputy editor of the Daily Mail. Reference is also made to Boris Johnson in his former role as a correspondent in Brussels for The Daily Telegraph, including a quote from Martin Fletcher stating “Boris invented fake news”.
The article mentions the relentless anti-immigration rhetoric of the EU Referendum campaign, and the two big lies: the one about the extra 350 million pounds per week for the NHS, and the one about the prospect of millions of Turks making their way to the UK when Turkey joined the EU.
The section on the interview with Gallagher really gives a flavour of the power that people like him wield when it comes to influencing public opinion. As regards Brexit, he states “Undoubtedly, we fed people’s enthusiasm,” But, he adds, “the idea that we can somehow drag otherwise unwilling readers to a point of view that they don’t otherwise have is delusional.” However, Roy Greenslade, a former features editor at The Sun and now a professor of journalism, is also quoted as saying “Every populist editor will tell you, ‘We are merely reflecting and articulating the public views,’”. Greenslade is also quoted as saying “But they are publishing inaccuracies and distortions which help people to feel the way they’re feeling.”
The final section makes reference to another interview with The Sun’s ex-editor Kelvin MacKenzie which reminds us just what an obnoxious excuse for a human being he is. Sadly, Mr McKenzie recently left the “newspaper” having being suspended for writing a column comparing the footballer Ross Barkley to a gorilla.
It really seems to me that the British tabloid press is a cancer eating away at the core of our democracy. The distorted, xenophobic views that it feeds to its impressionable leadership can undoubtedly have major consequences, especially in the context of an ill-conceived, badly designed referendum.