Friday, 29 January 2016

The dire state of mainstream media

Mainstream media in the UK is corrupt, bias, and ineffective. The newspapers and news websites have the power to draw attention to important issues but most of the time choose not to. Furthermore, their affiliations with political parties and history of tailoring reporting for the interests of their advertisers make them unreliable and subjective. This cannot continue.

Left or Right
Titles including The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph all endorsed the Conservative party in the 2015 general election. Whilst on the other side of the spectrum, The Guardian and The Observer endorsed the Labour party. In this current climate where political education is paramount for an understanding of current affairs (refugee crisis, EU referendum, junior doctors’ strikes, air strikes in Syria), completely balanced, open, and honest political journalism is necessary but some, if not all, of the papers mentioned above have taken an angle which distorts the truth to make one party appear better than another. How can people be expected to educate themselves about the world if their newspapers aren't trustworthy?

By all means, journalists should be allowed to express their own political opinion however they should be expressed in columns rather than in the news segment. The newspapers themselves should aim to remain politically neutral. Additionally, although I believe that scrutiny is good for democracy, when journalists are slandering a party or person simply to appease the readership and follow paper’s line it is unnecessary and unacceptable.

Powerful publishers also have concerning relationships with advertisers. Many news websites have been criticised in the past for not making it clear which articles are sponsored and Buzzfeed has been accused of removing content which is critical of their advertisers in the past - although they firmly deny this.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau showed mock adverts to 5000 people and learnt that 59% of the respondents thought it was “not very clear” or “not at all clear” that the content they were shown was sponsored. When content is curated with the primary purpose to advertise rather than inform and the reader is not able to easily identify this, there is something fundamentally wrong.

The most concerning example of advertiser intervention was in February 2015 when The Daily Telegraph omitted coverage of the HSBC scandal because they were advertisers with the paper. The chief political commentator for the newspaper, Peter Osborne, stood down after this happened. He later wrote "Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth."

So how can advertiser interference be eliminated altogether? Some news websites have a paywall on articles so after the first paragraph of an article, readers need to pay a subscription fee to unlock the rest. However, many readers are not willing to pay for news that they can read for free elsewhere.

The Spinach of News
The 'clickbait' nature of online headlines means that important issues are not read about. This problem can be blamed on the desire for fresh content and short attention span of the readers as much as it can be blamed on the writers.

The media was criticised extensively for apparently ignoring the Beirut bombings in November 2015 which occurred a day before the Paris attacks. However, in reality the coverage did exist however readers weren’t interested in it. Max Fisher (Foreign Editor for writes: "The media has, in fact, covered the Beirut bombings extensively. Yet these are stories that, like so many stories of previous bombings and mass acts of violence outside of the West, readers have largely ignored.”

Readers have been in this habit of only reading Western world news for so long, news websites have given up on trying to promote the content altogether. Kardashians, Katy Hopkins, and Celebrity Big Brother comprise the headlines more than stories of any real substance. However, from the publisher’s point of view, it's only rational to to publicise the popular material on their front page which will draw in the most traffic.

Making world news more attractive to read is an issue that needs addressing however I’m not sure if anyone has the answers. Attaching a misleading clickbait-esk headline to articles is definitely not the moral or respectful way to do this.

Political parties and advertisers should not be able to influence content whatsoever. And the problem of shining a light on the less popular but critical aspects of the news needs to be addressed so it is made popular but in a balanced, tasteful way.

Sources: BBC News (, The Wall Street Journal (, Open Democracy (, Vox (