Trial by media
Georgia Shepherd explores the role of the media in today’s society.
There’s no doubt that the media has significant influence in society today. The media controls the agenda. The media disseminates the spread of information. The media holds political elites accountable. Some would argue that the media is far too powerful, but the fact remains that the media is an integral part of modern society.
The relationship between the media and the political elites has always been a fractious one. Government need the media on their side so they can get what they need, and want on the front pages. Many political elites despise the media, Trump is the perfect example, he sees the media as a barrier between him and the American people. He believes they distort the truth and spread ‘fake news’. But as we see time and time again, the press conferences provide him with a direct opportunity to showcase ‘his side to the story’.
But as always there are two sides to every coin, it is advantageous for media outlets to have functioning relationships with the political elites, so they can report on political developments and get the inside scoop. It is crucial that the media holds political elites to account, questioning them every step of the way and ensuring they deliver on their promises.
It is crucial that the media holds political elites to account, questioning them every step of the way and ensuring they deliver on their promises.
However there have been times where individuals have been held prisoner by the media, as witnessed when weapons expert and adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Dr David Kelly was subject to a media frenzy over claims he was a key source for the ‘sexed up’ dossier on Iraq’s weapons capability. After he was named in the newspapers, Dr Kelly gave evidence to a select committee in which he refuted allegations. Just two days after his testimony, he was found dead in woodland near his family home after reportedly committing suicide. This sent shock-waves through the media, and demonstrated that ‘overstepping the mark’ can have fatal consequences.
Lessons have been undoubtedly been learnt, but those who work behind the inner workings of Government often remain unaccountable. This was highlighted when the Prime Minister’s Chief Political Adviser Dominic Cummings broke the ‘spirit of lockdown’ by travelling 260 miles to isolate on the family estate. He then drove with his wife and young child 30 miles to the quintessential town of Barnard Castle to ‘test his eyesight’. After just three days of intense media pressure Dominic held an unprecedented press conference in Downing Street’s Rose Garden. The media forced him to explain and justify his actions. They may have failed in their attempts to sign the resignation letter, but they highlighted just how important it is to hold these un-elected back-door political elites to account.
The Dominic Cummings scandal has acted as a catalyst in the breakdown of trust in this Government. But the declining faith in the political elites started long before a trip to Barnard Castle.
The foundations of systemic mistrust in the elites started back in the 2000’s, kickstarted by Blair’s decision to invade Iraq, and followed by the MP’s expenses scandal.
But it’s not just the political elites whom have faced turbulence in trust. The media has long been tainted by The News of the World’s phone hacking scandal. Journalists’ invasions into the voicemail of missing girl Milly Dowler left a sour taste to say the least.
The decreasing trust in mainstream media and the dwindling of local news outlets has led many to utilise social media as their main news source. However the increased desire to get ‘news directly from the source’ and accompanying the echo-chamber commentary has led to individuals being subject to constant scrutiny and criticism. Political elites cannot ask Mark Zuckerberg to crush a story, as they would’ve done back in the day with late night calls to influential newspaper editors. Once the story has circulated on social media, they have little to no hope.
With fewer escape hatches available, the increased media sphere has led to political elites being increasingly held to account, or at least their actions are being more widely discussed. The mainstream media bears this significant responsibility, but as witnessed with Dominic Cummings, the proof of the media’s effectiveness is in the pudding.