Britain is in stasis. Ironically, for ‘leave’ voters who put a cross in the box out of a desire for change, progression is yet to take place. The general public are left confused and twiddling their thumbs as a leaked memo fuels concerns that Theresa May has ‘no plans’ for Brexit. We are forced to ‘make-do’ and accept the result of the referendum, despite no clear signs of moving forward, and whilst we must have hope, it’s likely that most people have sunk into a state of defeatism as the establishment remains in power and right-wing populism sweeps the western world.
The EU referendum vote started the politics of emotion. We were forced to prophesise; we couldn’t predict what would happen if we voted to leave or remain a member. Granted, there were some facts – a minimal amount, mostly from an economical standpoint – but soon politicians realised that the limited supply of facts, soundbites and trump cards were not enough. It was time to play with people’s feelings. Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave opted for scaremongering, with the latter also encouraging nationalism towards the end of the campaign period. Now, months after the result, both emotions are present in our society: a fear for the future overshadowed by false patriotism and anti-immigration sentiment. Anger and frustration are the feelings to harness in order to win votes – it was used by Vote Leave and Trump, and it will soon be adopted by other Western countries (take France’s Marine Le Pen, for example).
This change in the political climate was even noted by the Oxford English Dictionary when it came to their word of the year. ‘Post-truth’, which they defined as being when ‘objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’ is the perfect description of the strategy political parties are adopting at the moment. Yet, it cannot just be applied to Westminster, but also to the media outlets which manipulate the masses.
We only need to turn to The Daily Mail for an example of this. The outspoken right-wing newspaper wet themselves when the vote to leave the European Union came in and now, as nationalism sweeps the western world, they feel as though their over-the-top, emotive journalistic style is now justified – and can be exaggerated further.
Bound to the pessimism of journalism, and with a sense that their emotive opinions are verified after Brexit, The Daily Mail has adopted a narrative of hate and extreme nationalism. The Enemies of the People headline still continues to attract controversy to this day and demonstrates the pure vitriol fired at any news which veers away from said narrative.
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union left an anti-establishment rhetoric hanging in the air. A clear vote against the Brussels elite (amongst other things) worried right-wing politicians. Underneath the facade of warped patriotism came the concern that this vote would impact the establishment’s position. After realising that, they twisted the story. It was not the 1% responsible for most of our country’s problems, but immigrants. However, the anti-establishment sentiment in society hasn’t gone completely.
Labour still has a very large membership and more people are seeing the true definition of who and what the elite is. We’ve realised that Theresa May’s promise of being a party which works for the 99%, not ‘the privileged few’ was a broken one, as they couldn’t help but enact their right-wing policies. Whilst our say over these decisions are minimal, there’s other methods people have adopted in order to change the structure of our establishment. If we can’t change the politicians, we can change the media.
To go back to topic of The Daily Mail, a campaign called Stop Funding Hate attracted huge amounts of press coverage last week. Its aim, as described in its bio on Twitter, is to “take on the divisive hate campaigns of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express” and it received mass media attention after it encouraged toy manufacturer Lego to stop advertising with The Daily Mail.
More recently, students at the City University of London voted to ban The Sun, Daily Express and Mail newspapers from their campus because the newspapers “all actively scapegoat the working classes they so proudly claim to represent” and “publish stories that are inherently sexist”.
Whilst Lego’s withdrawal of advertising is an ‘indirect’ way of changing the media’s message, the ‘banning’ of the three papers at the university is more direct, which some have branded as censorship.
The motion itself argues that “freedom of speech should not be used as an excuse to attack the weakest and poorest members of society”, but others believe that it restricts discussion and debate. At what point does freedom of speech no longer apply? It’s a question which has lingered around in our society for a long time, but as unpopular and controversial opinions dominate politics and the right-wing media, it’s been brought to the forefront.
There’s no clear answer, but in an era of post-truth, journalists must make factual reporting their priority, rather than emotive sensationalism. If that’s what Stop Funding Hate aims to direct the far-right newspapers towards then so be it. One of the main influencers of public opinion is the media, and so if we can get rid of extensive and excessive emotive reporting, we may just see a return to the politics of fact which we desperately need.
The answer lies in change and challenge, rather than dismissal. As the spoof reporter Jonathan Pie argues in his video on Trump’s victory, the left cannot continue to shut down political debate by hurling insults at individuals with controversial or opposing opinions, as that then leads to bottling their views up until they reach the only safe place they have: the polling booth.
The Stop the Hate campaign is a wise move against tackling hatred in society, but whilst we can try to change the media outlets which influence public opinion (to an extent, a biased media does benefit a democracy), the one thing we cannot censor are the people with these opinions themselves. Otherwise, the silent voters will elect the right-wing candidate again and the sense of defeatism in society will become ever stronger.