A key lesson that we can take from the results of the EU referendum so far, is that there is a need for a stronger balanced media outlet in times of great national decision making. This failed to exist in a media landscape plagued by irresponsible, propagandist national newspaper reporting during the run up to Brexit in 2016.
The headlines of national newspapers backing Brexit before the day of the referendum included “BeLeave in Britain” (The Sun), “Queen Backs Brexit (The Sun), “If you believe in Britain vote Leave” (Daily Mail), “Vote Leave Today” (Daily Express) and “EU Exit Will Be Great Success” (Daily Express) to name a few.
Shortly after the results came in, The Sun published an article warning of the strains that people are likely to suffer upon leaving the EU. This list of course, as all predictions so far have done, took a tone of uncertainty and apprehensiveness, repeating the phrase “this depends on”, leading one to wonder how before the results came in, papers could assume such affirmative headlines with promises and guarantees for a Greater Britain if we voted to Leave? Instead of using its position as the UK’s biggest selling newspaper to correctly inform its readers, The Sun led the Brexit charge with a sensationalist drumbeat that would go unchallenged by a wilted establishment media before changing its tune to instil fear and unease amongst its readers.
The BBC is built on a foundation of impartiality, important when considering its position of power to inform the British public. Surely part of this impartiality includes a duty to expose clear falsehoods? Whilst the BBC did discuss the breach of press regulations made by The Sun with its “Queen Backs Brexit” headline, it didn’t draw attention to such falsehoods consistently during the run up to the referendum.
Another failing came as Andrea Leadsom falsely announced on the Today programme that the UK sends £350 million a week to the European Union. Instead of highlighting the inaccuracy of this claim, the BBC presented it as an opinion, and repeated the figure afterwards when Gisela Stuart used it, giving it undue credibility.
What with the surplus of misinformation and fake news online today, a public with an insatiable appetite for scandal and a click-through-rate-obsessed set of media outlets, the time for a balanced establishment media has never been more important. National newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail should consider their positions of authority in times such as the EU referendum and act responsibly. If the BBC does not lead by example though, and abide by its duty to acknowledge the dangers of propaganda and its reliance upon distorted facts and false claims, the democracy we live in and know will be seriously threatened.