Sky News commissioned a YouGov poll late last week around several topics, one of which was trust in the media. It came back with very low figures in favour of the mainstream media: 72% of respondents said they did not trust newspapers, 17% said they do. 64% said they do not trust television news, 24% said they did. Is trust in the media really this low in Britain?
Many in the press have described it as a push poll, which I think is harsh on it. The numbers definitely say something about the public’s trust in mainstream media outlets but also this needs unpacking. What I’m about to say is only my guess, but here goes. The polarisation of politics has got so bad that anyone trying to pursue a non-partisan line will struggle. And what I mean by partisan is not so much Conservative v Labour – although the lines are fitting onto those two main parties whether they like it or not – but what I suppose you might call Leaver v Remain, although Brexit is more an indicator here than the main driver of who fits into which camp.
Mainstream outlets in the UK try and be as “balanced” as possible, although I’ve put that word in quotations as it is hard to know what that means anymore, that’s how rough the seas have become. Every hardcore Remainer thinks the BBC is biased toward Brexit; every diehard Leaver thinks it is a Remoaner propaganda machine. They have tried to please everyone and no one feels satisfied. Yet, I don’t know what else these mainstream outlets could have done over the past five years. As an example, it would probably surprise Remainers how much Leavers attack Laura Kuenssberg, and vice versa. I would suggest that this might be an indication that she’s doing something right, but again, things are so muddled I’m not really sure what that means anymore.
I’ve covered television and radio but what about newspapers where everything is partisan already anyhow? Why is trust even lower in them? I have a theory on this. I think when people are asked this question in a poll, they think of newspapers they don’t read and journalists they don’t like. So, a rabidly right-wing Brexiter when asked about trust in print media will think of Owen Jones, and their political opposite will think of Rod Liddle. The point is, even going partisan doesn’t help because it just creates a more polarised media and in turn, an even more polarised audience. You can’t win, basically. Until further notice, we are divided.
Is there a way to fix this? I don’t know if there is. It’s just one of those things that has to play out. The introduction of social media has played with the dynamics of human interaction to such an extent that we can’t have even have basic truth anymore that people don’t think is unfairly slanted one way or another. If history is anything to go by, these phases of extreme polarisation usually play out and people come closer together again. Eventually, at least. Who knows how long this little era of partisan division might last.
In the meantime, I would suggest the following. Don’t bash the mainstream media. Its lazy, for a start. By all means, complain about individual journalists or programmes or whatever but remember that every news channel or newspaper is just trying to find an audience – and most are trying to stay as balanced and objectively truthful as they can while doing so. Imagine for a moment if the mainstream media really did collapse completely and social media was the only source of information. If you can’t imagine why this would be a disaster, you haven’t thought it through.
Also, take time to question the insanity that goes on within your own side for a change. If you’re a Remainer, think about the conspiracy theories about Boris faking his illness, or even worse, the idea that “herd immunity” was a ploy by Dominic Cummings to test eugenics theories. If you’re a Leaver, reflect on the 5G causes Covid thing awhile. There are loons on both sides and good people on both sides as well. The good people, deep down, have more in common with one another. Instead of thinking of the worst manifestation of the other side when you consider them, try and imagine your political foes as someone very much like yourself who just took a different path.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s available here: