A free press is a vital part of a functioning democracy, which is why it’s devastating the press isn’t free at all.


Media attacks on Corbyn were savage. A 2016 LSE study reported that: “More than 50% of news reporting about Corbyn is negative or blatantly antagonistic. That’s news coverage – the supposed bastion of journalistic neutrality”.

Whatever they might teach you at school, the UK press is not completely free and impartial writes Amy Smith, Halifax CLP.

In the existing media system, it is impossible for journalists to act as a true ‘fourth estate’ who advocate on behalf of the people. The dominance of billionaire owners’ interests is undeniable, but more subtle is the erosion of the “dividing line between politicians and journalists”. This ‘cosying up’ is reflected in shared political and media agendas and increasing cross over between the professionals.

In 2019 the Media Reform Coalition reported that: “just three companies (News UK, Daily Mail Group, and Reach) dominate[d] 83% of the national newspaper market”. This market dominance gives their billionaire owners, Lord Rothermere, the Barclay Brothers, and Rupert Murdoch, immense power to shape the national political agenda and to exert great influence through their relationships with the Government. These rich media moguls use their control of the UK media to promote right-wing ideology and to defend the status quo, protecting their economic status in the process.

Whilst their personal economic status has been protected, the industry’s business model has suffered from declines in print circulation, advertising revenue, and the challenges of new media. It is these changes which are partially responsible for closer ties between politicians and journalists. Diminishing resources have led journalists to rely heavily on their elite sources, a damaging move which has disproportionately benefitted the Tories in government. Print and broadcast journalists more regularly share lines from Government sources uncritically, as happened last week when several reporters shared similar tweets quoting criticisms of Starmer’s press conference from an unnamed Government source.

The overlap between professions has grown in recent years, strengthening tight-knit networks across politics and journalism. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are journalists by profession, and party communications staff are increasingly made up of former journalists. These trends are long-established, but pose greater problems for the left as they become more firmly entrenched in the system. The majority of the UK’s newspapers are right-wing and this has led to biased coverage against Labour. None of this is news to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, who saw their efforts to elect a socialist government demonised and ridiculed by a partisan press that was determined to vilify him.

The media’s attacks on Corbyn were savage. A study done by the London School of Economics in 2016 reported that: “More than 50 percent of news reporting about Corbyn is negative or blatantly antagonistic. That’s news coverage – the supposed bastion of journalistic neutrality”. Negative coverage continued in the 2019 General Election: a study done by Loughborough University revealed that while ‘the Conservative party received more positive than negative coverage across all newspapers […] In contrast, Labour had a substantial deficit of positive to negative news reports in the first formal week of the campaign.’

Compounding these problems is the fact that print media remains a professional refuge for privilege. A Government investigation into Elitism in Britain in 2019 found that 44% of newspaper columnists were privately educated, with 33% attending both an independent school and Oxbridge. The report also found that the most influential people across sport, politics, the media, and film and TV were five times as likely to have attended a fee-paying school. This does not make for fair and impartial media; it creates a network of privilege and wealth. That network reproduces narratives that promote its own interests, convinces ordinary people that they share those interests, and has access to the power needed to act on those interests.

In 1985, journalist Tom Baistow said: “The real freedom of the press in this country has long been the freedom of millionaires, whatever their backgrounds or countries of origin, to buy themselves newspapers that will propagate their views.” This must change. If we are to cultivate real political debate in the UK the close links between politicians and the press must be untangled, a robust and fair alternative media supported, and media ownership democratised.

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