Corporate Media and Populist Convergence, What Could go Wrong?

Jake Rooke

The authoritarian and populist forces across the world have utilized media and economic structures, largely embedded in neoliberal market fundamentalist practices and/or corrupt state capture in authoritarian states. Freedman (2018) argues that “a cocktail of tabloid values, falling levels of trust in the media and unaccountable tech power (facilitating the spread of hyper-partisan and sometimes ‘fake’ news) is widely seen to be intimately linked to the rise in recent years both of a xenophobic populism and polarised media and political environments”. The political earthquake after the Brexit referendum vote shocked media correspondents, political analysts and the largely ‘Remainer’ elites in Westminster and Brussels. At closer level of analysis, the British tabloid media, such as the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express had been formulating a Eurosceptic narrative since the early 1990s. As Channel Four News, Jon Snow stated, the British media ‘failed, not only over the [Brexit] Referendum, but perhaps over reporting Europe at all down the 40 years of the UK’s membership’ (Freedman 2018). These Eurosceptic narratives focused on seemingly innocent misinformation such as supposed regulations on the shape bananas, but there was larger narratives that promoted harmful misinformation. These larger narratives largely focused on immigration, and in particular, ‘illegal’ immigration crossing the English Channel from the continent. Tabloid media and Eurosceptic print media, such as the Telegraph wedded to give a sense of legitimacy to the sensationalism. The conservative Eurosceptic media pandered to their base, putting commercial interests fundamentally ahead of journalistic integrity.

With the introduction of market neoliberal policies and ‘soft-touch’ self-regulatory structures, corporate hyper-commercialization enhanced the visibility of far-right politicians that use provocative speech and nativist pleas. These ‘shock’ slogans and campaigns boosted media ratings mainly from citizens that wanted to watch the circus. However the provocative rhetoric was also salient amongst receptive individuals. These individuals are largely either economically disadvantaged, (i.e., ‘left behind’)  as a result of neoliberal policies and/or those that believe their cultural construct is being challenged and changed by a mixture of cosmopolitan elite liberals and/or the ‘invasion’ of ‘others’, (i.e., immigrants). This resulted in an intertwined economic and cultural backlash. Thus, also neoliberal policymakers ‘cement commercial values in, and to minimise regulatory controls on, accumulations of media power is hardly without consequence’ (Freedman 2018).

The scariest aspect of this corporate media and populist convergence is that the government since the 9/11 terror attacks has given government security agencies enhance surveillance capabilities. This includes the Investigatory Powers Act (2017), that provides for unprecedented surveillance and hacking by security services but fails to guarantee sufficient protection for journalists’ sources. Thus, as Freedman (2018) indicates, if a populist far-right government did come to power, they would have the legislative mechanisms to increase their power.

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