The Tories are fixating on meaningless slogans, the Lib Dems are obsessive on reversing Brexit, the SNP – yet again – are focused almost singularly on independence, and Labour are trying to regain ground lost, as always, in the tabloids. Yet whilst many issues get thrown around on TV, no party seems interested in fixing the biggest issue in this, or arguably any, election in the last few decades.
Look at any developing country, and the biggest political struggle – and indeed the most effective way toward economic and social success – is moving toward a democratic system. Moving away from authoritarian, maniacal leaders and toward votes where the civilians get to decide who rules the country. Before any other issues – whether it be state independence, healthcare, social welfare, defence, etc – first a country must struggle to ensure it’s leaders are held accountable and thus are acting in the national interest. Otherwise countries get run into the ground by people who have dodgy intentions and dishonest opinions.
A big part of that journey toward democracy – arguably the biggest part – is not in normal people being allowed a vote, but in the media holding politicians accountable and reporting independent, neutral news on their policies and actions in the first place. Indeed, the first thing a dictator, or anyone else opposing democracy does, is to take control of the media. To take control of the armed forces is to cause violent rebellion, but to take control of the media is to quietly hide your actions and create a culture of ignorance which removes a person’s democratic right to be informed. It’s the easiest way to destroy democracy, and the most famous dictators in history – the likes of Hitler – did it exactly like this. He was voted in, he did not suppress ‘democracy’ as his voters understood it because he had the media tell them he was acting in the national interest.
Yet, the tabloids in Britain, which constitute some of the most read forms of ‘media’, are controlled and owned by people with ideological interests in maintaining governments with certain policies, exactly in the manner that history would show as problematic. Similarly, they are not held to account by the truthfulness, or helpfulness, of their stories, but rather they are guided by principles of profit, like a normal company. A free press is vital in democracy, but it must be free of both governmental and individual bias, otherwise it’s worthless.
It is not only the tabloids, with their ideological bias, which are important to mention though. News channels and audio-visual media are just as bad. Far from providing balanced, neutral and rational analysis of policies and intentions, they run a ‘we reported what blue politician says, so we must report what red politician says’ farce. This is not investigative or useful democratic journalism, it is providing a balance of propaganda, so as whoever has the best PR campaigns can win. Again, this happens in every long-term authoritarian state Hence why Theresa May is avoiding all chance to debate altogether, in favour of carefully managed press appearances and massive slogan-filled posters – she knows how it works, and she doesn’t need to defend her position because the press do it for her.
This problem has been persistent in British politics for at least the last few decades. Even the most neutral of our media sources – the likes of the BBC – are duty bound not by rational, democratic journalism which should neutrally lead them to oppose some politicians more than others, but by a desperate attempt not to point out errors on one side more than any other. Thus, even if the Prime Minister were to completely lie about holding an election for months on end (which she did), it will get only the same treatment as the opposition cabinet member who forgot a couple of numbers on early morning TV. Forgetting figures and consistently lying to the population are not equally bad political actions, but if you judge the BBC’s brands of journalism as neutral then they are equal.
Arguably these problems in British media have become less problematic as social media has begun to take more control of what news we actually see. However, far from create a more level playing field, companies like Facebook have made it even worse. Your Facebook account allows sponsors and those same rich ideological interests to be the primary articles you see, even above posts your friends or pages you follow have made. Which causes problems further still when people end up liking these erroneous pages, and their opinions become more and more entrenched in what are essentially bold, basic lies, being told to affect a person’s vote.
Whereas the ideological obsessions in the tabloid press are open for all to see and extremely problematic for democracy, the bias and control of your political opinions through social media is far less open. Fake news here can even give the impression of being reputable – with official sounding site names, newspaper names, and even professional, non-tabloid styles of writing – whilst being completely false. Elton John has died more times than I care to remember on my Facebook feed, which tells me we are now even more likely to see biased, unchecked news than we were before – even the bias of tabloids would generally not print such a basic lie. Our lives are less free and fair than even they used to be due to social media.
The press – whether it be tabloids, the BBC or Facebook – continue to act in such an ideological manner because it remains free of state control. Indeed, those running the press believe that this is what ‘free press’ means. It really isn’t. Free press is about being free from all bias and control, and that means you have to run newspapers, news broadcasts and news channels very differently to how a company is run. It can’t be run for profit, feeding the electorate what they want to hear, or what the director of ITV or the Sun wants you to hear. Democracy only ever works when the press is completely neutral and free from that control. And actually, yes, that means regulation. A government must pass laws that means the press is regulated independently from government, and independently from the people who own it. And that regulator must have the sharp, pointed ability to close down newspapers who do not act in a way which is neutral, rationally informed and useful to the electorate. It must act to obliterate institutional bias in a newspaper, whether left-wing or right-wing, in favour of truth.
Until we do this, every other issue in the country is largely meaningless. It doesn’t matter if we care about the NHS, or social care, or old people or young people, or foreign affairs or poverty. So long as the press isn’t neutral, you and I will have no idea whether we are moving backwards, forwards or staying completely stationary on these issues, so our votes are useless. So long as controlling interests run the tabloids, or control your social media feeds, you will only hear about the Labour party being ‘communists’ or Theresa May being ‘a pound shop Thatcher’. A democracy can not possibly be free if you are not given the free and independent assessment, by experts in their field, of how the government is performing, and that doesn’t currently happen.
There’s no two ways about it: we don’t currently live in a democratic society, because democracy is about having more than a free vote, it’s about having a trusted, informed media to give you that free and useful vote. A democracy without a free and independent media in the interests of it’s citizens is absolutely not a democracy. You should be angry that none of the political parties are talking about it, because every other issue in this election is absolutely meaningless unless we are informed about it.