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Denis MacShane looks at the media’s role in the European referendum


Will the press deliver “


H


ow will the press and broadcasters line up and what line will they take in the referendum on whether Britain stays in Europe? After the 1992 election defeat for Labour, the Sun famously declared “It’s the Sun Wot Won It”.


Will the paper hope to re-run the headline the day after Mr Cameron’s plebiscite if voters opt for Brexit? In 1990 another legendary Sun headline “Up Yours Delors!” can be taken as the starting moment of non-stop propaganda against European integration promoted largely by the off- shore owned press with the mass circulations of the tabloid Sun, News of the World and Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, the Express and Star titles and the broadsheet weight of the Telegraph and The Times as well their Sunday sisters. According to Roy Greenslade, former Fleet Street editor,


now our principal commentator on the press, “For years Britain’s rightwing press has done everything in its formidable power to demean the European Union and all its works. Drip by drip by drip, the newspapers have heaped abuse on the EU, blaming every domestic ill on its policies and actions while giving it no credit whatsoever for its benefits. “The coverage of the issue has been marked by a mixture of misinformation and disinformation, replete with inaccuracy, innuendo and insincerity. But did the proprietors who encouraged their editors to campaign against the EU really want Brexit to occur? It strikes me that some, most notably Rupert Murdoch, may wish they had not and are wondering how they can do a U-turn. Hoist by their own petards, it’s going to be fascinating watching them doing a U-turn.” Greenslade may be right but there is no evidence so far of the Murdoch editors finding virtue in Europe. As Charles Bremner, the veteran Paris and Brussels correspondent of The Times noted two years ago “It’s impossible to write a news story about the EU that’s not negative anywhere these days.” The Times has appointed the energetic Bruno Waterfield as its Brussels correspondent. He was a columnist for the right- wing libertarian Spiked which regularly denounces Europe. Waterfield is an active journalist who hunts down stories that show the EU in a bad light. That’s not difficult but there’s lots of benefits for Brits


who can travel, live, work freely anywhere in the EU and do business with 500 million customers without the barriers, and visas, and permits needed to live or trade with other parts of the world. The anti-EU Brussels correspondent was invented by Boris


Johnson when the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent there 25 years ago. His fellow Old Etonian Brussels journalist at the time was James Landale who wrote a little ditty: “Boris told such dreadful lies It made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes” But editors in London have never questioned the flow of


12 | theJournalist


half-truths, exaggeration and often downright lies filed from Brussels since 1990. There is a lot of idle chatter comparing the 2016 Brexit


For years Britain’s right- wing press has done everything in its formidable power to demean the European Union and all its works





plebiscite with the 1975 referendum but in 1975 every newspaper other than the Stalinist Morning Star was in favour of Europe. The pro-Europeans outspent the No camp 12-1 compared to the millions flowing today from hedge funds and City spread betters to the Brexit camp in contrast to the underfunded In campaigns. In 2015 the combined circulation of the Eurosceptic press, dailies and Sundays, was 10,239,526. Assuming the Mirror, Guardian, Independent and I to be pro-European their circulation is 2,656,735 so in circulation terms the Europhobe press outnumber the pro-EU press 4-1. Circulation isn’t readership of course, still less on-line readership. Here the Daily Mail with 16 million on-line readers based on monthly aggregates far outweighs anyone else especially those papers behind paywalls. The Financial Times too falls into the category of off-shore


owned following its sale to Nikkei, the Japanese media giant in 2015. It is balanced on the EU thought its weekly European affairs columnist, Wolfgang Munchau, is quick to chastise and find fault and has not written anything positive about the EU for some time.


So will the Eurosceptic off-shore proprietors back Brexit? Bill Emmott, former editor of the Economist, argues that “In the case of Murdoch and Barclays papers, editors will likely try to get a sense once the campaign proper begins of which way their proprietor is leaning, and will lean that way themselves. The proprietor’s view will be the decisive one, certainly in Murdoch’s case. “The tricky ones to guess from the outside are the Mail


titles, where Paul Dacre is so powerful and entrenched that it could be that he basically will decide, regardless of what Lord


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