Eurosceptic London press may hesitate to back Brexit

Media coverage of referendum criticised for ‘rabid nationalism’ but stance remains unclear

The anger at the mainstream press peaked last week when Buckingham Palace made a complaint to the press watchdog over claims in a front page story by ‘the Sun’ that the queen had expressed Eurosceptic views during a lunch in 2011. Photograph:  Andy Rain/EPA

The anger at the mainstream press peaked last week when Buckingham Palace made a complaint to the press watchdog over claims in a front page story by ‘the Sun’ that the queen had expressed Eurosceptic views during a lunch in 2011. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

In between the many battles lines drawn in the run-up to the referendum on Britain staying or leaving the European Union – among them immigration, trade and sovereignty – the coverage of the debate by the mainstream press in London has sparked anger.

This peaked last week when Buckingham Palace made a complaint to the press watchdog over claims in a front page story by the Sun that Queen Elizabeth had expressed Eurosceptic views during a lunch in 2011.

Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special representative for international migration, tweeted that “the rabid nationalism and imbalance in the print media coverage of the Brexit debate is astounding” while Tony Blair’s former communications director Alastair Campbell claims the right-wing press has reduced the debate to “fresh depths of dishonesty”.

Rupert Murdoch

Roy GreensladeGuardian GuardianFinancial Times MirrorIndependentExpressSunTrevor Kavanagh

Charlie Beckett, professor of media at the London School of Economics, said the nature of the coverage is both a reflection of how sections of the British press operate and also their history of Euroscepticism but may not result in calls to their readers to vote for a Brexit.

“In some ways it is predictable because most of the London-based newspapers have been Eurosceptic for some time,” he said. “In a sense this is partly them going into not just their standard mode in terms of their particular world view but also their standard mode in terms of their attack mode.

Ambiguous

Daily Telegraph

“I think there is a difference between the relentlessly critical coverage if you like, or sceptical coverage, and how they might end up advising the readers.”

On BBC’s Newsnight this week, Mr Kavanagh defended the Sun’s positioning, against criticism from Campbell, saying the paper was entitled to have a sceptical view on the European Union. Murdoch himself has a history of Euroscepticism, and has called for borders to be controlled and has said the EU has more to lose than the UK with a Brexit.

What effect negative coverage will have on the vote, at a time when mainstream press influence is being eroded by rival media forms, is unclear. The number of undecideds hovers at just under 20 per cent.

“I’m not saying that [the coverage] will put off swing voters but I don’t think it will necessarily convince them,” said Mr Beckett.