Should we believe everything we read in the press?

As individuals, we have been silent for too long; supporting the “Stop Funding Hate” campaign will help to have our voices heard.

The 1992 general election delivered one of the biggest shocks in political history. The Conservatives had been in power for 13 years and coming into the election the odds were stacked against them; rising unemployment, interest rates at over 10% and collapsing house prices. All predictions pointed towards a hung parliament, or narrow Labour victory.

On the day of the election the Sun printed the now famous headline “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain turn out the lights.”

Against the odds the Conservatives returned to power with a sizable majority. Many people (including the Sun) acknowledged that the press contributed to the result. There is some debate whether this is the case or not but there is little doubt that the press did have influence over their readership.

Fast forward 20 plus years

In 1992, what we read in the paper and heard on the radio was the only means of capturing information. We had no means of checking whether information was correct, and therefore we had to make decisions based on what was put in front of us; newspapers certainly had an influence on what we thought.

In the last few years everything has changed. The internet is a massive source of credible (and not so credible) information, and the speed with which we receive data has significantly changed. In 2003 53% of internet users believed most or all of the information online was reliable or accurate (Source: Forbes January 2003). By 2006 a survey split the data down and showed 74% of internet users believed most or all information on established media sites was accurate, 73% Government sites and 9% on blogs (Source: Pew Research Centre March 2006).

Today we have moved to a scenario where there are billions of different websites; anybody can set up a website and publish what they want. Clearly not everything we read is true, and yet it seems we are more likely to believe what we read online today than ever before.

If I Google research on how accurate data is online, there appears little research after 2006. Instead there are pages and pages telling us how to find accurate data.

The only clear test I can use is to ask people how they form their views; this is now very telling because the answer is often “I saw it on Twitter”, “I read it online” etc.

Don’t get me wrong, the internet is great and we can find almost anything we want, but it is becoming harder to distinguish between fact, fiction and something between the two. What is of greater concern is people are believing all of what they read online without question, or are being selective in choosing what they read to ensure it supports their views.

In 2003 there was less data and more scepticism on its accuracy; now we have billions of pieces of data but seem to be less sceptical. You would think it would be the other way around, it just doesn’t appear logical but that reflects where we are today.

The power of the papers

With the power of the internet there appears a strong argument that the press should be less influential. But the EU referendum showed that the press continues to have a lot of sway. A survey by Gorkana showed 82% of respondents believed the press had power and influence over their readers. The survey went further to suggest that 44% of respondents believed papers have more influence than a decade ago, and unsurprisingly the most influential paper is the Daily Mail.

On its own a newspaper (online or paper) cannot change the results of an election, or can they? There are other factors that play a part; TV debates, general mood of the country etc but it seems where influence is needed the go-to place is the press. Political spin doctors, especially in the referendum, could feed what they wanted to the press and know this would be printed irrespective of its accuracy.

The Trump

Watching Trump is no different to reading some of the mainstream papers. Donald Trump throughout his election campaign seemed to be able to say whatever he wanted and nothing seemed to stick. In fact, it is an old-fashioned marketing ploy of scatter gun; say enough and you will appeal to enough people. People will pick up on something he says and he becomes a hero, they laugh off the other stuff as a sign that he is only human; he is after all a man of the people, and not part of the establishment.

If we consider the recent EU Referendum, one of the key battle grounds was economics vs immigration. To be fair, economics is both dull and extremely difficult to understand. But was it much more like the Trump victory; was it about disenfranchised people wanting change? The spin doctors behind the Leave campaign were clever (manipulative) to feed journalists what they thought people wanted to hear. And journalists seemed too lazy to challenge this. Therefore, the battle ground centred around bureaucracy, immigration, jobs etc because those were real issues that people understood and related to. It didn’t matter if it was true!

It is the responsibility of a journalist to write stories which are both accurate and true, the reality is that pure truth rarely sells papers. Naturally they will embellish the truth with little care for the consequences. The run up to the EU referendum was a simple a case of sloppy, inaccurate journalism across many papers, and there is no doubt it crossed the line; fuelling racial hatred. This is where journalism becomes dangerous.

But the big difference with Trump and the EU Referendum, is that he didn’t seem to care what the papers said and in fact most papers didn’t like him. Trump effectively broke the power of the media.

We are just too big

Without naming specific papers it seems that post 23 June the gloves were off. Papers seemed to think that in the run up to the referendum they had pushed the boundaries of decency and got away with it. In their eyes, it gave them free rein to say what they wanted without any care for the consequences.

Take two recent examples:

  1. The lorry driver who killed a family – his crime was using his mobile phone whilst driving and not paying attention to the road ahead. In doing that, he drove into a line of stationary traffic and a car full of people. The press seemed keenest to point out his nationality when in fact he lived and worked in Britain; in all senses he was British. There was no need to do this unless you wanted to have another stab at immigration. In doing this you take away from the real issue which is you shouldn’t be on your mobile phone whilst driving.
  2. The recent court case which potentially forces the government to go to MPs to get agreement to enact Article 50. The papers seemed to think it was okay to say that the judges who made the decision were enemies of the people; pick up a paper from Nazi Germany in 1933 and you have a very similar headline. The judges’ “crime” was to uphold the letter of the law which the papers didn’t seem to like.

We are moving into a dangerous cycle. If some elements of the media feel they can write anything then people will start to believe half-truths; then we are in trouble. The EU referendum was bitter and clearly stirred up hatred fuelled by what was written in papers. Far from dampening that hate the media is adding more fuel to the fire and that is why campaigns like “Stop Funding Hate” are so important.

We are talking about ethics; we might not invest or buy something based on our ethical view, we need to apply this to the sources of media we read. The media has an ethical duty to write stories with moral integrity, and not use it as a means to stir up hate.

If they can’t do this, and we feel that both ethical and moral integrity is lacking then we have a duty to review whether we stop buying the papers, stop reading them on-line and companies need to review whether they wish to associate their brands with these media outlets. It is only if we do this that media moguls will start to listen. This is not about gagging the press; it is about telling the press that enough is enough, and that their responsibility is to report more accurately.

Conclusion

I don’t like Trump but he did something extraordinary. His victory didn’t come because the press was behind him in fact the opposite was true. The press printed what they thought people wanted to read and in the end people made their decisions on what he said and not what the press was saying. Donald Trump effectively ripped up the rule book. He was reaching out to the disenfranchised.

It made me think about Theresa May and whether she is doing the same; she has “saved” 7,000 jobs in Sunderland and the press want to know what was said and she is not talking to them. She is going for Hard BREXIT. She is placing herself away from the press and with the people. Again, whether we agree or not, it is very clever. This is what the disenfranchised want to hear, this is what the people who voted for BREXIT want.

It is interesting that in its infancy only about 53% of people thought information online was accurate, as the amount of data available has increased it seems that more and more people take as gospel truth what they see online. Online papers want people to read their publications and they will sensationalise stories for the best headline, but over the last 12 months they have pushed it too far. They know the power they have and how they can manipulate people, but once you turn to headlines reminiscent of 1930’s Germany, once you use race as a negative for a tragic accident you cross the line. Now is the time to turn around to the journalists and say we won’t take it.

Trump speaking is no different to that which some of the journalists write, but he has proved that politics is more powerful than papers; politicians don’t need the papers because that is not how they reach the people. I think Theresa May understands this.

But we need to go one step further in the UK as the papers have got away with it for too long. If we believe that both ethical and moral integrity has gone now is the time to stop buying the papers which espouse hate, to stop reading them online and for companies to refuse to advertise. Trump is interesting because what he said was wrong/inflammatory but he said enough to appeal to enough voters, and that made the difference. What I expected was a conciliatory message and that happened, whether he carries it through time will only tell.

As individuals, we have been silent for too long; supporting the “Stop Funding Hate” campaign will help to have our voices heard and we can make a difference. Lego has ended its association with the Mail, Co-op is reviewing its advertising etc.

Note: This is written in a personal capacity and reflects the view of the author. The post has been checked and approved to ensure that it is both accurate and not misleading. However, this is a blog and the reader should accept that by its very nature many of the points are subjective and opinions of the author. Individuals wishing to buy any product or service as a result of this blog must seek advice or carry out their own research before making any decision, the author will not be held liable for decisions made as a result of this blog (particularly where no advice has been sought). Investors should also note that past performance is not a guide to future performance and investments can fall as well as rise.

Please note...

Shininglights.co.uk is not regulated by the FCA. The information is purely a guide and it is the responsibility of the investor to carry out their own research before making any final decisions. We will ensure that the information is as accurate as possible but we cannot be held accountable for any errors or omissions. No products are sold on this site, nor do we endorse any particular product or investment.

Where there are links to third party sites this is not an endorsement of that site, and we cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information on that site.

Where there is reference to performance you should note that past performance is purely a guide and investments can fall as well as rise.

The information on the site belongs to shininglights.co.uk and cannot be replicated or copied without our permission.