Catherine Chapman, Journalist seen in
NBC News, Vice, The New York Times and the Daily Mail
Years of political correctness drove me into the newsroom of the Daily Mail and thus the hands of those that I had once assumed were my enemy.
‘How can you live with yourself,’ someone, a so-called friend, had asked, propelling me into my usual rant of the current state of the media environment, one that’s heavily constrained by the demands of rolling news, digital revenue and political polarization, the latter of which, by no means new nor attributed to the conservative press alone.
We should first be honest – there is no perfect media outlet.
A report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism1 taken in November 2017 showed that distrust in the media was due to concern of bias, spin and hidden agendas for two thirds of the 18,000 people surveyed.
The study was taken of media consumers across nine different countries where the most poignant response from the UK, a country heavily tainted by a lack of confidence in journalists predominately due to the 2011 phone-hacking scandal2, was perhaps: ‘there are enough different voices that you can piece together what actually happened’.
This is true – the only way to form an opinion in this minefield of corporate or state sponsored propaganda is to read everything, trusting that, individually, journalists will do their jobs and adhere to the various codes of ethics that, while riddled with their own regulation problems, at least strive for neutrality in their implementation3.
The neutrality of regulators like IPSO, and the rise of alternative news sites, also help demonstrate that there are many sides to any given story – the Daily Mail reporting on asylum seekers accused of rape, for instance, is no less valid than the Guardian illustrating how sexual assault victims are being arrested under immigration charges.
The difference is audience.
In August 2017 another report by the Reuters Institute4 found that levels of audience polarization were shockingly profound in both the US and UK, meaning that individuals will consume news in line with their own political leaning or personal agenda with digital technologies making it easier to so do in something that we’ve come to know as a filter bubble.
The Guardian online, the report states, has 48 per cent left-wing readers and 12 per cent right-wing leaders, while The Daily Mail online has 30 per cent right-wing and 13 per cent left-wing with similar disparities allocated to American outlets like the New York Times and Fox News.
News outlets should, of course, practice opinion diversity and give voice to the alienated in order to defragment their self-confirming audiences - but the assumption that news consumers play an innocent role in this chicken and egg relationship is a gross, if not insulting, oversight.
In a time where internet censorship and no-platform policies, online and off, appear dangerously rife, complaining about media bias suddenly feels just a lot like disagreeing with a certain point of view that simply doesn’t suit your own.
Blaming the media, after all, or any form of popular culture really, is an easy scapegoat for the numerous ills present within our society. Pointing the finger at something, or banning extremist content, for example, does not make these problems magically disappear. You accomplish nothing – your daughter still has an eating disorder and there are still neo-Nazis in the British army.
Now, I implore you: be terrified.
For in this environment has entered an organisation deploying tactics akin to any state censorship law – that is the use of broad, inarguable terms defined only by them.
But while the British government, let’s say, will prosecute all those opposed to ‘fundamental British values,’ this organisation measures what is right and what is wrong through an ill-defined notion of ‘hate’.
Arguing against hate, as a general concept, is impossible, and therein lies the dubious way this group gets support for their agenda, which is neither neutral or well-researched.
We must ‘start spreading love!’ they claim, while actively segregating millions of people to whom they, seemingly, refuse any dialogue with. They instead, choose to attack the funding sources of the conservative media, reporting to have done so violently, numerous times.
This does not make those millions of opinions go away but it’s ‘democracy at its best,5’ according to one of their supporters, who, like them, has probably never actually read the Daily Mail.
Stop Funding Hate came onto the scene in August 2016 fresh off the Brexit vote, which we all know, the Daily Mail caused – or was it the Russians?
They want to save us all from media hate, and from their point of view, that equates to sensationalist headlines that some reports6 have linked to hate crimes – a multifaceted and disgusting type of prejudice where inaccurate portrayals of groups of people in the media are not just the fault of press on the right side of the political spectrum.
A bi-partisan media analysis into such a theory over time would be welcomed, but Stop Funding Hate appears to be doing nothing of the sort, making their efforts to change media rather pointless, particularly when all tabloid headlines seem to bring offensive to them – you need a methodology.
The group’s failure to recognise that sensationalist headlines can equally engage audiences with important but thought to be boring topics – or that balanced content matters more than sided presentation - is worrying, but their focus on advertisers even more so.
Stop Funding Hate attacks Daily Mail advertisers under the premise that sensationalist headlines entice more people to click on them and that this generates advertising revenue – it doesn’t.
Robert Picard, a media economics scholar and research fellow at the Reuters Institute, stated in a 2017 interview7 with the University of Navarra Faculty of Communication that clickbait ‘is not bringing in money, and it’s not bringing in audience’ and his view is generally shared across the industry.
A look into 2018 media trend predictions, another Reuters Institute study8, says that 62 per cent of digital media leaders believe that advertising will become less important over time and the move toward reader-supported business models will represent the future media environment alongside a stronger engagement with their readers – something that, evidently, Stop Funding Hate wants none of.
Last year, most notably, the group published a survey9, which found that 38 per cent of 1,682 participants across Britain believed that the Daily Mail has a negative impact on society, yet certain ignorable aspects appear missing – my point regarding reader bias above, and the fact that everyone, whether they want to admit it or not, loves to hate the Daily Mail. It is every UK resident’s right to do so.
Yet hate, funny enough, is not the Daily Mail’s wheelhouse – perhaps because it cannot be defined or that one must look to the publication’s majority of female readers10 to see that the publication pumps out, and profits on, sex.
And that, the unfortunate truth of all this is, will always find a buyer.
The Daily Mail will go back to being my enemy once Stop Funding Hate is gone - an inevitable fate when we consider that their tactics are all wrong and that their American equivalent Sleeping Giants11 has failed to remove the far-right site Breitbart from the online ether.
So speaking on behalf of all journalists who are in this business because we actually want to see change happen, or from those of us who never imagined to see free speech under such dire threat that we’d be forced to defend a publication like the Daily Mail, I ask you: do fucking better.