It’s a question on the lips of many, as Thomas Mair begins a life sentence for the brutal murder of Jo Cox last June, who or what is able to inspire people to carry out such acts? Tyler McNally argues that we need our own media to combat the divisive propaganda carried out by many within the mainstream press.
When fan favourite Nadiya Hussain won the 2015 series of the ‘Great British Bake Off’, fans became enraged when the Daily Mail’s response to her victory was an attempt, in a style akin to a private eye on heroin, to connect her to the tragic 7/7 bombings in London through the bullshit assertion that like Hussain, some of the bombers were born in Leeds, leaving their readers to connect the falsely placed dots together themselves.
The Mail has a long history of pushing an agenda of xenophobic and racist opinions against minorities. Alongside its propagandic brothers in arms, The Sun and The Daily Express; the Mail has been quick to label Muslims as terrorists, violent, sexual deviants and scroungers.
Fast forward to a year after Hussain’s victory and the Mail found itself in a rather odd dilemna, a white fascist just murdered a Labour MP in broad daylight. As he attacked Jo Cox, he shouted “Britain First!”. Journalists were beginning to unravel Thomas Mair’s life; subscriptions to Fascist publications, connections to far right extremist organisations like Britain First and more, began to become public knowledge before reporting stopped to allow Mair’s trial to take place.
Mair, though some wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, was clearly a convinced Fascist. He infamously introduced himself in court as “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain” – now a slogan used by far right organisations across the UK. The Mail refused to label Mair a terrorist, long after other media organisations decided to rescind their benefit of the doubt.
With Mair’s conviction this week, and the Judge calling him a terrorist in his judgement, the cat was out of the bag and it would be assumed that every paper would carry this judgement on the front page, there would be editorials praising the decision of the court and pondering what it means in the labyrinth of the ‘post-truth’. The Mail decided that the story of Thomas Mair’s conviction was a page 30 affair, also deciding the issue didn’t warrant an editorial or any further investigation, maybe terrorism just becomes more boring and less newsworthy when committed by a balding white man.
This isn’t a terribly vanilla way to save face after Jo Cox’s murder and Mair’s subsequent arrest. The Mail ran with the ‘lone wolf’ angle, which like ‘history of mental health issues’ and ‘loner’, has become a sideways method of identifying white terrorists in western media reporting. The Mail also used an image of Mair tending to his garden in a communal garden, incredibly hypocritical when you remember how they cropped Mark Duggan’s photograph at a grave belonging to his daughter to ensure he looked like a gangster, a killer and not someone gunned down by police.
The Mail’s treatment of Muslims and the murder of Jo Cox amongst other issues, are just small examples of the sheer swamp of vitriolic hatred of migrants and Islam that is pushed by a majority of daily newspapers in the UK. The Mail’s online website receives around 15m unique views per day, dwarfing its monthly circulation. That means that millions have seen the shameful piece which suggests Jo Cox is to blame for her own murder, going on to call Mair a loner several times, stating that he was ‘afraid of the site of blood’ – all pointing towards a man who was on the edge of desperation, not a person of a committed ideology. A long shot from when the Beeb, the Mail and others declared that Lee Rigby was murdered to the cries of “Allahu Akbar” – a claim based on a “senior Whitehall source” that couldn’t be verified by a journalist working for Channel 4 News, who interviewed eyewitnesses in Woolwich.
Many people will be outraged by the Mail and others, rightfully asking what can be done to challenge the position such political views enjoy across the media landscape. The campaign ‘Stop Funding Hate‘ has been one high profile response to the views presented by the Mail as news, activists have enjoyed some success in contacting companies who advertise with the paper, asking them to withdraw their advertising and have enjoyed some success with companies such as Lego pulling all their advertising with the paper.
Whilst this is a positive development, we need a longer term solution if we are to challenge this dominance in a meaningful way. The Mail, Daily Express and the Sun are all owned by very rich, powerful barons who are interested in dividing people as a strategy to defend their own interests. Urging companies to divest advertising funds won’t work in the long term as right wing media outlets continue to enjoy a huge audience in the absence of an alternative. Even if divestment was a successful strategy, it just opens the door to initiatives like Infowars or Breitbart, which with their large viewer and subscriber base, could fundraise directly from their audience, many already do through merchandise or subscriptions.
We need our own media.
It’s not dishonest to say that after the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn during two leadership races and a coup, the calamity that greeted us after the shock Brexit result and with a Trump presidency on the horizon that no one seen coming, trust in mainstream media isn’t polling well. The inability to analyse the new political terrain that has been formed, coupled with the seismic changes in media production that came with technological advancement, means that the left is in an excellent position to build new media outlets that popularise a left wing alternative to Tory Brexit, austerity, high rents and low wages. Media outlets that can support the campaigns and ideas we need to champion to challenge the dangerous ideas that are coming from an emboldened right, a right that already has a place at the media table. There is no replacement for mass struggles and left wing ideas in the mission to change society, but there is a space for new media outlets to play their role in showing the Mairs and Murdochs for who they are, and what they really represent.