Jeremy Corbyn has spent decades serving his parliamentary constituency and campaigning on issues like gay rights, anti-racism, anti-Apartheid and against acts of war such as the UK-US invasion of Iraq.
How this man came to be viewed as a “threat to national security”1 and “an existential threat to Jewish life”2 is a remarkable demonstration of the mainstream media’s ability to distort reality.
Corbyn has been an MP since 1983. In an era where faith in politicians has plunged to all time low – with policy disasters such as the 2008 financial crash and the parliamentary expenses scandal undermining trust – Corbyn built a reputation as a principled campaigner willing to vote with his conscience rather than the party whip.
The website theyworkforyou.com tracks politician’s voting records. Its findings highlight Corbyn’s independence as an MP:
“Jeremy Corbyn consistently voted against the Iraq war, while most Labour MPs generally voted for.”
“Jeremy Corbyn generally voted against requiring the mass retention of information about communications, while most Labour MPs generally voted for.”
“Jeremy Corbyn generally voted for a transparent Parliament, while most Labour MPs generally voted against.”3
Keep in mind that this is how Corbyn votes in comparison to his own party. His differences with the Tories are even starker, particularly on issues like welfare cuts (always opposed by Corbyn) and taxation on the wealthy.
The propaganda model (explained here) predicts that a politician like Corbyn – principled, committed to representing the poorest in society and opposing foreign policy interventions driven by vested interests – will not be favoured by the business-owned media.
To say that this conclusion is supported by the evidence is the understatement to end all understatements.
Press attacks on Corbyn began shortly after his surprise win in the Labour leadership election of 2015 and initially focussed on the “danger” posed by his pacifism.
“Corbyn’s ISIS Past Revealed”, “Corbyn: Abolish the Army” and “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades”4 were three of the more outlandish tabloid headlines.
The broadsheets showed only a little more restraint. A report by the London School of Economics, based on statistical analysis of newspaper coverage from September to November 2015, found that “UK journalism played an attackdog, rather than a watchdog, role” when it came to Corbyn, and “repeatedly associated (him) with terrorism and as a friend of the enemies of the UK.”
Despite “most newspapers systematically vilifying the leader of the biggest opposition party, assassinating his character, ridiculing his personality and delegitimising his ideas and politics”5 Corbyn performed well in the 2017 General Election. Labour’s share of the vote rose by 9.6% – the largest vote share increase at a single election since 19456.
Perhaps the press would now accept Corbyn as a credible political figure putting forth an alternative policy agenda to Tory austerity?
This is not what the propaganda model would predict.
Rather, the campaign against Corbyn intensified and discovered a new hook upon which to hang itself: anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
A number of members of the Labour party have been investigated for making anti-Semitic comments: 0.1%7.
A study by Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow Media Group found that, despite the extremely small proportion of party members under investigation (none of whom were Jeremy Corbyn), from “15 June 2015 to 31 March 2019, there had been 5497 stories on the subject of Corbyn, anti-Semitism and the Labour Party”7 in the mainstream press.
This avalanche of coverage produced predictable results: a poll carried out by Survation in 2019 found that “on average the public believes that 34% of Labour members have been reported for anti-Semitism.”8
Such a huge discrepancy between the true scale of the problem and the public perception of the problem can only be explained by the nature of the media coverage. As a number of studies show, this coverage once again went well beyond a “media watchdog” role.
Mediareform.org examined a sample of the articles on Labour and anti-Semitism and found that 95 out of 250 contained “misleading or inaccurate reporting” . This included “29 examples of false statements or claims…six of them on BBC television news programmes” and “overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labour’s code of conduct on antisemitism were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1”9.
The BBC, bound by law to impartial political coverage, devoted an hour-long Panorama special to anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The programme was presented by John Ware, a journalist so qualified in impartiality he’d previously written an article describing Jeremy Corbyn as a man “whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”10
The BBC produced no equivalent hour-long investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party – a far bigger issue in terms of the raw data (a YouGov survey commissioned by Channel 4 found that 56% of Conservative Party members felt that Islam was a threat to “the British way of life.”11), the current political climate and direct derogatory comments made by party leaders (Boris Johnston comparing Muslim women wearing burkas to letter boxes ).
Little wonder the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall felt obligated to release a post-election message defending the conduct of his news team. Lord Hall described accusations of unbalanced BBC news coverage as “conspiracy theories.”12
The 2019 election may or may not have been about Brexit, as most media commentators claim, but by enabling and advancing the presentation of a pacifist as a “threat” and a commited anti-racist as an anti-Semite (in stark contrast to their apathetic treatment of Tory Islamophobia), the media undoubtedly turned potential Corbyn voters away from a manifesto which contained policy ideas oriented around public need.
Instead Boris Johnston, a man educated at Eton and a long-time member of the corporate media courtesy of his work at the Spectator, continues to present a business-friendly agenda to parliament.
Readers can judge for themselves whether, in this case, the propaganda model predicted the performance of the media – and how much media coverage impaired the democratic process.
 David Cameron, source: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/13/tory-theme-corbyn-threat-national-security-criticised
4 All from the Sun newspaper
7 “Believe It or Not” essay, Greg Philo and Mike Berry (2019)
8 Source: http://www.glasgowmediagroup.org/