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How the British media helped Boris Johnson win – Al Jazeera English

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The mediation of messages plays a key part in the outcome of most elections and the United Kingdom’s December 12 general election was no exception.

Incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s Conservative Party took the single strapline “Get Brexit Done” and repeated it endlessly. The slogan was plastered on billboards and emboldened on every pamphlet. It was also Johnson’s preferred response to most questions, even when it made very little sense in context. But after three and a half years of political wrangling over whether the referendum vote to leave the European Union would be implemented or not, with parliamentary processes stuck in an endless mire of withdrawal agreements and with news broadcasts seemingly talking of nothing else, it is no surprise that this slogan resonated strongly with the British public.

Pretty much everyone was sick of anything “Brexit” and the Conservative message enabled those frustrations to be vented. As a result, the Conservative Party secured a comfortable majority, while its main rival, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which pledged to negotiate yet another withdrawal agreement with the EU and put it to a public vote, experienced its worst showing of seats since 1935. 

In those seats where more than 60 percent of voters voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, the increase in Conservative support on average was 6 percent. However, in seats where more than 60 percent opted for Remain, the party’s vote fell by three points.

Many of the additional seats won by the Conservatives came from what used to be called the “Red Wall” – a block of largely post-industrial areas in the Midlands and the North of England that have traditionally been Labour strongholds. 

Many people in these areas voted to leave in 2016 and supported the party that promised, above all else, a swift exit from the EU in the 2019 general election, for several reasons. 

These are also areas that have often faced long-term economic problems and where markers of deprivation are high. People in these areas suffered the sharp end of the global financial crash, with many of them losing all hope for secure employment. A government policy of debt reduction has left local authorities experiencing massive cuts, leading to greatly reduced social services. Moreover, welfare benefits were slashed, leaving the poorest and most vulnerable in these areas yet more impoverished. 

The Brexit referendum brought to the fore the economic dislocation that has taken place since the 1980s revealing deep class as well as generational and ethnic divisions. Marginalised voices voted Leave to kick back against a post-war party system that has failed them and a professional political elite that has largely ignored them. And in this election, they just wanted the job done, so they voted for the party that promised to do just that.

Getting Brexit “done”, however, is unlikely to resolve the deep-rooted social and economic problems facing many of the people who voted for it.

Some predictions estimate that leaving the EU will further exacerbate place-based inequality across the country, causing England’s regions to grow 13-16 percent less than they would have done if the UK had remained in the EU. Moreover, some regions like Cornwall are forecast to lose up to an additional £60m ($78.5m) per year in EU funding.

This was clearly not a message that the Conservatives wanted broadcast, so their rebuttal tactics were  robust. Any attempt by the media to get the Conservative candidates to talk about the risks and realities of leaving the EU, or anything else that shows them in a bad light, was side-stepped – sometimes literally. The approach was straightforward – dodge the detail, just repeat the mantra, “Get Brexit Done”.

This resulted in a series of tactics of evasion and misinformation. The Conservatives tried their best to avoid difficult debates, with Johnson refusing to be interviewed by BBC’s Andrew Neil, a veteran journalist known for his combative interview style. The prime minister also vetoed several other programmes during the election campaign, including a climate debate on Channel 4, where he was replaced with an ice sculpture.

When a reporter used his phone to show Johnson a picture of a boy with pneumonia lying on the floor of a Leeds Hospital due to lack of beds, the prime minister took the phone and hid it in his pocket to avoid answering questions. And then there was the time the prime minister hid in a large fridge at a dairy in order to avoid giving an interview to ITV’s Piers Morgan.

The Conservative pledge to “Get Brexit Done” was grossly misleading. With the large majority that Johnson now has, his withdrawal agreement will no doubt be ratified in Parliament. However, there will still be very many years of negotiations on multiple trade deals before Brexit is finally “done”. 

Misleading statements did not stop there, either. An investigation by First Draft, a nonprofit focusing on truth and trust in the digital age, found that 88 percent of Conservative campaign ads on Facebook were deemed by Full Fact, the UK’s leading fact-checking organisation, to be misleading. 

In an age of social media, honesty is not straightforward. Earlier this year Facebook confirmed that posts from political organisations and political adverts are exempt from fact-checking. The move to targeted messaging, and the inability for all citizens to see and adjudicate between information in a targeted online campaigning environment, raises critical questions about equality of information, open debate and transparency.

The Conservatives played on this and focused on messages that would be crowd-pleasing, circulate rapidly and feed off emotional responses rather than accuracy. During a TV debate between Corbyn and Johnson in November, they even rebranded one of their official party Twitter accounts to make it look like a fact-checking service. 

Labour tried desperately to broaden the agenda so that the election would be about more than just Brexit, attempting to focus on public services and the environment. Many of their plans were popular –  renationalisation of railways, water companies and the Royal Mail gained large support and a promise to increase public spending, particularly on the NHS and education, resonated strongly on the doorstep.

They put forward an ambitious manifesto with multiple new initiatives that promised widespread transformation. Different aspects of it were highlighted at regular intervals – free universal broadband one day, and a million climate jobs in every region of the UK, the next.

All this should have been seen as a gift by those seeking a better life after years of austerity. But as the days passed, rather than becoming more enthusiastic about Labour’s pledges, people started to query their economic viability. Years of rationalising austerity politics have clearly left their mark.

And although the Labour Party had settled on a Brexit strategy in support of holding a second Brexit referendum once the detail of a new deal was agreed, with “Remain” also on the ballot paper, it did not satisfy Leave voters and did not excite remainers.

Labour’s vote fell on average by more than 10 points in the most pro-Leave areas. Labour also had to battle the majority of the mainstream press which continuously pushed out anti-Corbyn and anti-Labour reports, analyses and opinion pieces.

Research by Loughborough University showed that the election coverage of the Labour Party by most national British newspapers was overwhelmingly negative. This was no surprise when just three companies – News UK, DMG and Reach – dominate 83 percent of the national newspaper market and hold the power to set the mood and the agenda for much of the mainstream media.

Traditionally, the British public relies on the broadcast media, which is subject to impartiality requirements, to make sense of the raucously biased reports they see in newspapers during election periods. This election, however, the adequacy of impartiality rules was also challenged.

Broadcasters were fastidious in ensuring that each of the main parties had the same amount of airtime. But counting minutes aired did not necessarily translate into fairness in content. News agendas were dominated by Brexit, the economy and taxation (all preferred issues for the Conservatives), with those that put Labour on the front foot such as health care and the environment distinctly lagging behind.

The BBC also suffered a series of gaffes that seriously dented its credibility. It was twice forced to apologise for misleading editing that showed Johnson in a good light; its leading journalists repeated Conservative Party spin on Twitter; and its programming highlighted allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn over those of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Amplification of the Conservative agenda was the news of the day.

Explaining election outcomes is never simple. While the media undoubtedly plays an important role, many other factors also influence the results. Nevertheless, if UK media organisations and journalists are guilty of even the slightest distortion of democracy, then we should be very worried.

In a complex and confusing digital age, the time has surely come for new regulations to ensure all elections are free and fair, and all forms of power, including the media, are held to account.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Western News – Work with Indigenous communities leads to media career for new grad – Western News

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CBC Radio had been a constant companion for Colm Cobb Howes during quiet, bitter-cold commutes to work as a teacher in Indigenous communities in northern Canada. Little did he know he would one day be working to tell those stories he enjoyed listening to since he was a child. 

Colm Cobb Howes

Colm Cobb Howes (Submitted photo)

A recent Master of Media in Journalism and Communication (MMJC) graduate, Cobb Howes is now associate producer at CBC News Toronto’s Metro Morning radio show.  

Cobb Howes is among Western students graduating this fall and will join 328,000 Western alumni from more than 160 countries during virtual Convocation celebrations on Oct 25.  

It’s the reason I came to MMJC, to get into CBC and share the stories of the people I met during my time working in Indigenous communities,” said Cobb Howes.  

Although Cobb Howes joined the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and missed many of the in-person learning experiences, he was able to participate in a six-week internship that opened the door for him to work at the CBC – first as an intern and eventually as a full-time associate producer.  

“I never assumed or thought that I would be able to work at CBC Toronto, right out of school,” he said. “I thought that perhaps I would get a good reference (from the CBC internship) and then it would help me get in somewhere like in a smaller market. And so I feel incredibly lucky to have that opportunity right now.” 

Northern exposure 

Colm Cobb Howes with Indigenous youth

Cobb Howes worked with Indigenous youth in the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in Northern Quebec. (Submitted photo)

Before joining Western’s MMJC program, Cobb Howes worked for an educational not-for-profit organization as a teacher for Indigenous students, mostly in the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in Northern Quebec. His work entailed travelling through nine Cree communities as well as the Kuujuarapik Inuit community on Hudson Bay in Quebec. He also had the opportunity to work in a Maliseet Community in New Brunswick, and in an Anishinabek Community in Northern Ontario. 

It was during this two-year stint that Cobb Howes developed an interest in storytelling that led him to pursue a postgraduate program in journalism.  

“I did teach high school science and math, but at the same time, we also ran programming that was delivered outside of schools. One of the programs is called the cultural mapping program, that’s done in partnership with the community, where it’s like an internship for youth in the community. 

This program offered several workshops for the interns on things like camera operation and storytelling.  

“I really enjoyed being able to help facilitate it, being out in the community and talking to people and telling stories,” said Cobb Howes. “It was amazing to see how it empowered these kids as they realized they were doing all of this work.  And so that’s partly why I wanted to go into storytelling.” 

Writing is not a new-found passion for Cobb Howes, however, who completed his undergraduate degree in English literature at the University of Guelph. When considering his postgraduate program in journalism, Western was the only choice for him. 

“I really wanted to choose something I would enjoy and not just do it for the sake of getting a degree. I knew this is where I wanted to be. And that was how I chose Western,” said Cobb Howes, whose brother also attended Western for his undergraduate studies. 

Work of storytelling 

Working as an associate producer for CBC Toronto gives Cobb Howes the opportunity to talk to different people and share their “amazing stories.” 

“We had someone on who was an astrophysicist and he was getting ready to retire,” he recalled. “We were asking him things like, ‘Is the universe going to be swallowed by a black hole? What do we need to be worried about? Or, should we be worried about, you know, asteroid hitting earth?’ And it was incredible that I, as a citizen, get to interact with this person who is a leading academic in their field, and have these kinds of conversations. I find it amazing that I get to do that every day for work. 

Asked if he was given the opportunity to choose one story, any story, that can make an impact on listeners, what would it be – and his answer took him back to his experience working with Indigenous communities. 

“There’s a lot of stories that happen in the north, that people don’t know about, and oftentimes, they get segmented into categories… and it gets put in the Indigenous category of the news desk,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that those stories don’t just get told because they’re valid. Sometimes, something will happen in the north, and it doesn’t get told in Toronto, because it didn’t happen in Toronto. But people in Toronto need to know about that.  

“If we’re serious about making meaningful change in the way that we tell stories, then we need to start thinking outside of the box, because so often stories like that go under reported because they don’t fit into the way that we think they should appear in the news. 

*** 

Virtual Convocation details:  

  • Virtual fall convocation will be available to stream beginning at 7p.m. EST on Friday, October 22.  
  • There will be three ceremonies, which will be pre-recorded and posted online by navigating through the uwo.ca homepage, allowing graduates and their families and loved ones to choose the ceremony they wish to see when they want to see it.  
  • Each ceremony will include celebratory music by Convocation Brass, with administration and faculty on stage and with remarks by honorary degree recipients.  
  • Receiving honorary degrees are: lawyer and community philanthropist Janet Stewart; writer/visual artist Shani Mootoo; historian Natalie Zemon Davis; and medical researcher Tak Mak.  
  • An orator will read out each graduating student’s name, which will also be featured on individually displayed slides during the ceremony.  
  • Graduates will receive their parchments by mail. 

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UPS, Disney meet White House officials to discuss vaccine mandate

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Executives with United Parcel Service Inc, Walt Disney Co and other companies met with White House officials on Tuesday to discuss President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement plan for private-sector workers, amid concerns it could worsen labor shortages and supply chain woes.

The mandate would apply to businesses with 100 or more employees, and would affect about 80 million workers nationwide.

Several industry sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rulemaking process was moving with urgency and they expect the mandate to be formally announced as early as this week. It was not clear how much time employers will have to implement it.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been meeting with several influential business lobbying groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the Business Roundtable as part of its rulemaking process. The meetings were requested by the trade groups and companies and is part of the regular rulemaking process.

Tuesday’s meetings were disclosed in filings with the White House. Disney did not respond to requests for comment. A UPS spokesperson confirmed the meeting and said it is reviewing what a vaccine mandate means for the company and its employees.

Many of the industry groups have raised concerns such as labor shortages and how regulation by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) could worsen existing supply-chain problems facing U.S. companies ahead of the holiday shopping season. Other topics, such as testing requirements and who will bear the cost, also were raised.

Evan Armstrong, RILA vice president for workforce, said it will be tough for the retail industry to implement the rule in the middle of the U.S. holiday season and that pushing it to January would help. He said the group raised the topic with the White House during their meeting.

“The implementation period needs to push this out past the holiday season because obviously for retail that is the biggest time for us,” he said. RILA’s members include large U.S. employers such as Walmart Inc and the industry supports over 50 million U.S. jobs.

Biden’s plan has drawn a mixed reaction from industry trade groups and companies.

Several big employers including Procter & Gamble Co and 3M Co, along with airlines such as American Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp, have imposed vaccination mandates since Biden’s announcement last month. Others such as IBM have said they will require all U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, no matter how often they come into the office.

Some other large U.S. employers, such as Walmart, have yet to issue broad requirements.

The vaccine order has spurred pushback from many Republican governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott of Texas, who issued an executive order banning businesses in his state from requiring vaccinations for employees. Although some, such as American Airlines, have said they plan to proceed with vaccination rules.

The mandate will be implemented under a federal rule-making mechanism known as an emergency temporary standard.

 

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

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Elections Alberta launches formal review of social media policies after election day Twitter spat – Edmonton Journal

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Elections Alberta says it has launched a formal review into activities on its social media accounts after someone who was managing its Twitter profile on election day got into a snarky argument with users over sharing photos of a ballot online.

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In a statement Tuesday, acting deputy chief electoral officer Pamela Renwick said the review is being conducted internally by Election Alberta’s compliance and enforcement unit, which is the same unit that investigates complaints as directed by the election commissioner.

The review will look at the conduct of our personnel on our social media platforms and the policies and processes that are to be followed for social media engagement and message approval,” she said.

“As the review includes personnel matters, those results will not be made public. Following the review, however, we will determine if there are results that we can share publicly without breaching confidentiality. “

The  spat started on Monday when former conservative MLA Derek Fildebrandt posted a photo of his ballot voting in favour of the referendum on removing the principle of equalization from the Constitution.

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Users pointed out that posting a photo of a ballot is illegal, referencing a 2019 tweet from the Elections Alberta account that warned posting photos is an offence.

“Who would’ve expected a two-year-old tweet would apply the same to this event?” the Elections Alberta account replied.

In a further exchange, this time with University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach, who accused Elections Alberta of given false information on Twitter, someone behind the account appeared to suggest that it wasn’t Elections Alberta’s responsibility to enforce the rules of a municipal election.

“I’m sure you’re well aware of the federalist state, the three levels of government, and how extra veres (sic) and intra veres (sic) powers are assigned, just as much as an old tweet holds no value versus an up-to-date one. Move on, Andrew,” the account tweeted.

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Renwick confirmed that provincial elections, like the one in 2019, and municipal elections like Monday’s, are covered under different pieces of legislation but both make it illegal to publicly post photos of ballots.

In the case of municipal elections, she said, the responsibility of enforcing the rule falls to the local authority.

Elections Alberta, an independent, non-partisan office of the legislative assembly, initially apologized for the tweets, posting on Twitter that “Albertans have the right to expect Elections Alberta to always remain unbiased and respectful in the election process” and said that the staff member in question had been removed from its social media accounts. The staff member was not named.

The tweets in question have since been deleted.

“Elections Alberta is committed to rebuilding the trust of Albertans in the integrity of our office,” Elections Alberta tweeted.

Renwick said Elections Alberta doesn’t have a timeframe for when the review will be completed but that it has already started.

ajoannou@postmedia.com

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