Dare to blame the media for Labour’s failure to win elections in recent years and you’ll find yourself immediately shut down. You’ll be dismissed as the ‘loony left’, an unhinged whinger who’s always blaming outside forces for his own shortcomings. And indeed, to blame the media entirely for Labour’s losses in recent years is completely foolish; Ed Miliband was a weak leader, and the party failed dramatically to establish a connection with the electorate on immigration and the economy.
But that does not mean the media’s influence in all of this should be dismissed completely. There are obvious signs of widespread bias that need to be addressed – and, it turns out, the British public think so, too.
According to new research carried out by YouGov, the British media is perceived as the most ‘right-wing’ and ‘biased’ in Europe. The polling was carried out in seven major European countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, and included questions about how the press in respective countries should be regarded.
According to the poll, 26 per cent of Britons viewed their newspapers, TV and radio as "too right-wing", more than in any other nation surveyed. On the contrary, only 17 per cent of Brits polled felt their media was “too left-wing”.
The results from Britain raise serious questions as to how our media is regarded and why so many people feel the press has a right-wing bias.
‘Left Foot Forward’, a left-wing blog, released a post in 2013 demonstrating the scale of the problem facing the media when it comes to bias. According to their figures, calculated according to newspaper circulation at the time, just two individuals - Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere - controlled a staggering 52.2 per cent of online and print national news publications in the UK. Rupert Murdoch owns the Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Times and the Sunday Times, while Lord Rothermere owns the Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Metro.
Meanwhile, Richard Desmond, who owns the Daily Express and the Sunday Express as well as the Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, accounted for 8.2 per cent of combined online and print news readership, while David and Frederick Barclay (owning the Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph) accounted for 6.8 per cent. Finally, Pearson plc, which owns the Financial Times, accounts for 1.8 per cent.
All of these newspapers either backed the Conservatives or Ukip in the most recent election and are all considered traditional right-wing publications. If you add up the readership of these right-wing newspapers, they account for a staggering 69 per cent of national newspaper readership in Britain in 2013. Left Foot Forward concluded their analysis by stating that “over three quarters (77.8 per cent) of the press is owned by a handful of billionaires.”
No reasonable individual would argue that such distorted press ownership is healthy for democracy or fair to those on the left of the spectrum. It’s worth remembering that only when Labour moved to the centre ground did it receive sufficient media backing.
It's worth pointing out, however, that the BBC and other more neutral outlets are the main source of information for many (the BBC wasn't covered by the Left Foot Forward research, as it only covered newspapers). And while there is an abundance of left wing options out there, we still overwhelmingly choose to read right-wing papers - all the while complaining that our news is biased.
Commentators rightfully pinned much of the blame for Labour’s election losses in 2010 and 2015 on the faults of the party itself. But it is evident, from the aforementioned figures, that there is indeed also an aggravating factor: the problem of right-wing bias in the British press, and the readership who migrate so willingly toward those right-wing publications. It’s a problem that people ought to know more about, both for the sake of democracy and fairness in Britain – and a problem that, increasingly, we’ve worked out for ourselves.