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General Election 2017: Source Analysis

This election is one of the most crucial in the UK in recent history. Following the Brexit vote, terrorism attacks and the election of Trump there is a lot at stake. I want to address issues of media bias and how to decide who deserves your vote in this election. I also want to look at how different groups are trying to convince you to give your vote to their preferred candidate.

One of the key issues I want to address is that of media bias. There have been academic studies (LSE Report) demonstrating a strong bias against Jeremy Corbyn in most media outlets including the BBC (“BBC Trust says Laura Kuenssberg report on Corbyn was inaccurate”).

In the run up to this general election the Labour party seems to be less divided within itself, but has come under even more attack by the media, who have given consistent front page coverage to attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party in general. Even The Guardian has been accused of persistent anti-Corbyn bias, though this seems less prominent of late.

When trying to decide who to vote for, I believe it’s critical to analyse the sources of information we turn to. What agenda and personal interests do they have? We’ve seen a lot of dirty tricks and outright propaganda used, from planting audience members who are not declaring their position as a Tory Councillor on national television (AAV- Tory Counsillor) to purposeful misrepresentation of views (Laura Kuenssberg story). It is widely accepted that most of the major press barons use tax havens to avoid paying ‘their fair share’ even at current tax rates, this contributes towards the country losing £34 billion in uncollected tax a year. There is a clear conflict of interest between them and Jeremy Corbyn (or anyone left of centre) who poses a significant risk to their financial interests, and so their publications carry a strong bias. I believe that anyone writing in the media, appearing as a panellist or guest on BBC Question time and other such programs should provide a clear disclosure statement, and if they fail to do so appropriately be held accountable. For example this ex-Tory Councillor and former private health consultant (Evolve Politics piece) who was offering his views on the NHS and the so called ‘Dementia Tax’.

The issues with the impartiality of the BBC seem to have become worse following the conflict over funding with the Tory government. There were concerns over the appointment of the new BBC Trust Chairman with significant involvement by the Tory party in this selection process in 2014. The BBC News Chief since 2013, James Harding used to work at The Times, which was owned by Rupert Murdock (who is strongly opposed to the BBC)- though as is covered in the link the two are said to have had their differences regarding the Leveson Inquiry. It would seem that threats of funding cuts allow the government disproportionate influence over the BBC and its impartiality. The former Chancellor (George Osborne) is now editor of the London Evening Standard. There have been as many as 10 private meetings between Rupert Murdock and Theresa May (such as This flying visit in New York) which is an unprecedented level of access for someone in his position.

Often it isn’t only what is said, but what is unsaid. Who do they give a platform to: providing disproportionate airtime (such as the Green party complained about UKIP receiving) and positive media coverage of a party, or turning a blind eye to the actions of another can be as effective as peddling outright propaganda and lies. An absence of holding government to account is as much the responsibility of the media as it is the main opposition party, and the media have not by any means applied the same critical analysis to the current government as they have to its opposition. There has been a pattern of focusing on criticisms of the opposition party and leader while ignoring significant failing of the government and its leadership (This from The Independent).

Such bias also cuts the other way, though usually this comes from independent news sources such as The Canary, Another Angry Voice and Evolve Politics who tend to take partisan, anti-Tory positions. Buzzfeed coined these outlets the “Alt Left”. This does not necessarily make what they say inaccurate, however they are still fallible and have either made errors or been accused of peddling Fake News (such as The Canary here).

So with this being the case, what information can we trust?

There are different levels of source, so first of all it’s best to look at the primary source for yourself. Look at the parties, their manifestos, their representatives and leaders. Compare their words and their actions, look at their previous promises and pledges, their voting record. Are they consistent, have they done as they say, and said as they’ve done? One sets out to establish how trustworthy they are in what they say, but also what their agenda is and whose interests are they serving?

Tory Manifesto

Labour Manifesto

Then I look at secondary sources, and I try to identify any bias and assess credibility. Almost all sources will have some bias and it is important to take that into account (including this article!). Beyond bias, are they well researched and verifiable? The main way of establishing this is if they provide legitimate sources to their pieces. You can also check the legitimacy of the site or publication by knowing who made it, who pays for it and establishing any agenda. Many newspapers make a lot of their income from advertising revenue which is what the organisation Stop Funding Hate tries to address.

As more and more people become disillusioned with Main Stream Media (MSM) many turn to alternative sources, which sometimes are as guilty of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ (BBC take on Fake News). This was a major issue in the most recent presidential election in the USA. We have to be conscious of our own confirmation bias- our tendency to look for views and information which support our existing beliefs and prejudice. It is useful to look at sources which present contrary views to your own, more-so if they are well researched and verifiable. But most of all it is important to try to keep an open mind and apply critical thinking and analysis to all information we’re presented with, whether it aligns with what we believe or not.

Whether or not you vote as I will tomorrow, I hope that you vote based on careful consideration of the parties, their policies and what they are likely to do to this country. Think about what has happened over the last few years under the current government, and where we are likely to be under Jeremy Corbyn, or Theresa May in 5 years time.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, please feel free to share.

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