At a time when media tycoons are the new villains of the Hollywood blockbuster and Britain’s long-loved BBC is facing a crisis of confidence, many have begun to question the intentions of the mainstream media and the trustworthiness of its messages.
It’s impossible to address this issue without first considering the current political landscape, which is tumultuous to say the least. In the UK, we’ve had Brexit, three prime ministers and a global pandemic in the last five years alone. All of which has been communicated to the general public through the lens of mass media.
Now consider the fact that media outlets often have differing agendas dependent on their political alignment and ownership. This can lead to the same story being delivered in a very different way. Take the reporting of Rishi Sunak’s new Job Support Scheme, for example. The traditionally conservative Daily Mail featured the headline “now it’s time to live without fear” and praised the chancellor for saying “what so many have been thinking”, whilst on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Daily Mirror declared the jobs package “too little too late”.
It could be argued that these publications are playing to the needs of their audiences. However, in the face of increasingly emotive topics concerning people’s livelihoods, health and national pride, the stakes seem higher than ever and such conflicting accounts have sparked anger and confusion amongst the general public. Not only is reporter bias divisive, but it throws into question the legitimacy of the story being told. Combine this with a news agenda often branded as unnecessarily negative and the media has become the scapegoat for many people’s frustrations with the current political climate.
The Hollywood effect
TV and film’s newfound fascination with the men and women behind the well-oiled media machine has fuelled this further. Take a look at some of the latest releases. Last year’s ‘Bombshell’ and ‘The Loudest Voice’ series lifted the lid on the inner workings of Fox News and the controversial career of the man once at the helm – Roger Ailes. Meanwhile, the recent Rupert Murdoch documentary revealed the incredible influence the media mogul and his global empire has had over world events.
The common thread between these biographical productions seems to be control and corruption in the hands of an all-powerful leader, leaving many concerned for the ethical and structural state of the news media and its ownership.
Looking more closely at the broadcast media in the UK, the BBC has come under fire from the public and politicians alike for alleged partisanship. Its coverage of the Brexit referendum and more recently the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has been placed under particular scrutiny, with accusations of impartiality from both the left and the right.
Despite the best efforts of new director general, Tim Davie, to crack down on BBC staff airing their political views in public, this latest bout of bad press has had a damaging impact on the broadcaster’s reputation. As well as sparking campaigns to defund the BBC, it has opened up the door to competition from the likes of soon-to-be-launched ‘GB News’. Expected on screens early next year, the 24-hour news channel promises to “champion robust, balanced debate” for those who feel “undeserved and unheard by their media”, according to broadcasting veteran, Andrew Neil.
If GB News delivers on its mission of impartiality, as opposed to becoming the home for right-wing commentary that some may fear, does it have the potential to lead the rest of the broadcast media by example? Many would argue this is an impossible task set by those whose opinions are at odds with the news they are consuming. After all, it’s human nature to defend our belief systems, regardless of information presented to the contrary.
So, the media’s image problem: a classic case of ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ or is there still work to be done? With fewer people trusting traditionally neutral news sources, there has been an uptick in sales for newer, ostensibly impartial brands (newspaper, i, recently topped national approval ratings). However, at a time when everyone is affected by the current global uncertainty, presenting what is perceived to be an objective account of news events is proving to be increasingly challenging – just ask the BBC.