When I think of Great Britain I think of the BBC and I think of the Natural History Units. I also think of radio programs like In Our Time, From Our Own Correspondent and Hard Talk. I also think of BBC World and the quality of their news coverage. I mention these current affairs programs because I believe that the British provide quality content. They also inform, educate and entertain us. That is their purpose.
In a healthy media environment the media should inform and educate their audiences. They should provide us with the facts and context for everything they write about. They should provide us with neutral and unbiased information. Radio and Television broadcasters were held to this standard until recently. With Video on demand services increasing in number and with the number of channels made available through satellite broadcasting and digital audio broadcasting opinion has found its way on air. This made it easier for satellite and television broadcasting to share opinions rather than facts.
“I think people in this country,” declared Vote Leave’s Michael Gove, “have had enough of experts.” His fellow Brexiteers were quick to back him up. “There is only one expert that matters,” said Labour MP Gisela Stuart, also of Vote Leave, “and that’s you, the voter.” Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, suggested that many independent experts were actually in the pay of the Government or the EU. All three reminded voters of occasions when “the so-called experts” had made mistakes.
The role of journalists and the Fourth Estate is to understand the questions that people are asking and to understand what information people need. In the case of BREXIT for example if the campaign focuses on Migration then the fourth estate should provide facts and information about migration. It should look at the push and pull factors. It should also look at the goals that the European Union has set itself and how those goals can either help reduce or encourage migration.
Newspapers and politicians should never say “I think that people in this country have had enough of experts”. The raison d’être of the Fourth estate, of newspapers, current affairs broadcasts and expert opinions is to provide people with facts so that when they go to vote they have all the facts.
BREXIT on one side of the Atlantic, and the rise of Trump on the other, show that the fourth estate has failed. It has failed to keep people informed and grounded in reality and it has failed to keep emotion out of the debate. The politics of emotion are being exploited and this is having a negative impact on how countries are run. Alastair Campbell spoke of this when live on ABC news Australia.
To illustrate the challenge faced by modern politicians watch how Obama has to pause and think as he responds to the question.
Newspapers such as The Sun, The Daily Mail and other newspapers can publish anything they want and people will believe it. The Sun said twice that the Queen endorsed Brexit and twice they were shown to be lying. In a post-fact media landscape the lies are easy to spread but very difficult to negate.
London, Ireland and Scotland were not subjected to the same propaganda machine and their vote reflects this. They voted Remain because they understood the implications of BREXIT and the benefits of Remain. Their familiarity with the topic made Remain so easy to justify that certain people said of my generation that we “should not take what we have for granted”. I would encourage the opposite, that a dismantling of the EU should be unthinkable.
The Fourth estate has failed to do its job and the British people will now suffer the consequences for months and years to come. The rest of Europe and the United States should do everything they can to encourage people to keep up to current affairs so that facts guide their decisions rather than rumours and emotions.