Across the world, the mainstream media are dying a death. Here are the latest newspaper circulation figures from the United Kingdom.
Daily Mail: 944,981 (1.13million)
Express: 234,373 (289,393)
Mirror: 363,082 (442,610)
Star: 219,275 (276,453)
i paper: 134,553 (215,640)
Guardian: 106,003 (129,961)
Financial Times: 88,756 (146,373)
Neither the Telegraph nor the Times group will disclose their latest figures but we can safely assume they are grim. It’s the same story in the U.S. where, even a month ago, newspapers were reporting an “extinction-level crisis” as advertising began to dry up.
So why, having spent a large part of my journalistic career writing for national newspapers, am I so strangely reluctant to give a damn?
Simple. I believe the newspapers — and all those TV news channels suffering similar collapse — have brought about their own destruction. The mainstream media have failed in their most basic duty to report on the news. Instead, what they have served up increasingly is politically-driven advertorial and propaganda.
Never has this been more painfully obvious than during the coronavirus crisis.
Cummings Hits Back at Mainstream Media: If People Are Upset, It’s Your Fault https://t.co/8hfopmg3Qd
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 25, 2020
One day, I believe, in the not too distant future, some very hard questions are going to be asked about the evidence on which governments across the world elected to shut down their economies and put their people under house arrest in what may well turn out to be the most catastrophic collective political misjudgement in history.
Traditionally, you might have hoped, the media would have been on hand to query those governments’ decisions at every stage of the process. But they have done nothing of the kind. On the contrary, instead of attempting to sift the available evidence with cool reason, the MSM have done little else but ramp up the hysteria; and instead of holding the political Establishment’s lockdown policies to account, the media have instead acted like its cheerleaders.
In the United Kingdom, the media’s performance has been dismal. There was a time, really not so long ago, when British newspapers — tabloids especially — were famed for their fearlessness, robustness, and cussed untameability. But throughout the pandemic, the entirety of Britain’s print media — both left-leaning and right-leaning — has not just pandered to Project Coronavirus Fear but stoked it with such demented enthusiasm it has managed to frighten almost the whole country into a state of abject, bed-wetting terror, spiked with a nasty hint of Stasi-style snitching, handwringing disapproval and nervy paranoia.
Sure, there’s a case to be made that lockdown policies are proportionate and sensible a response to an unfamiliar virus.
What has been all but absent from the MSM is the increasingly plausible counter-argument: that it has all been a massive overreaction which has done far more damage than the supposed problem.
Yes, sometimes, it’s true, various maverick commentators in the op-ed sections have been permitted to make the case for liberty, rationalism, and prosperity. But almost invariably the actual news stories — the main body of the paper, in other words — have a) relentlessly promoted the scare narrative that Covid-19 is an almost unprecedentedly serious threat, and b) relentlessly promoted the official government line that the lockdown is necessary, important and scientifically justified — and also a great national moral endeavour akin to World War II.
Stories that contradict the official narratives have either been played down, ignored, or reported very late in the day. Stories that promote the official narrative have been hammered home.
One example of this is hydroxychloroquine, which is invariably reported in the MSM as something scary, maverick, hazardous — and which President Trump was quite irresponsible to promote as a potential solution. There are few if any countervailing stories about medics who claim to be using it successfully, and if these run they are always heavily caveated.
UK Follows Trump’s Lead, 10,000 Health Workers to Trial Hydroxychloroquine as Preventative https://t.co/YUdcybwZHh
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 21, 2020
The same is true of the reporting on Sweden. There’s an argument that Sweden’s laissez-faire policy towards lockdown — with people left largely free to make up their own minds whether they want to self-isolate or not — will ultimately prove the most sensible and least economically damaging.
Yet while you’ll read columnists saying this in the comment sections you’ll almost never see it reported in the news pages. Instead what you get is heavily biased reports like this recent one in the Telegraph:
Sweden has now overtaken the UK, Italy and Belgium to have the highest coronavirus per capita death rate in the world, throwing its decision to avoid a strict lockdown into further doubt.
According to figures collated by the Our World in Data website, Sweden had 6.08 deaths per million inhabitants per day on a rolling seven-day average between May 13 and May 20.
This is the highest in the world, above the UK, Belgium and the US, which have 5.57, 4.28 and 4.11 respectively.
However, Sweden has only had the highest death rate over the past week, with Belgium, Spain, Italy, the UK and France, still ahead over the entire course of the pandemic.
You’d almost think that the mainstream media do not want Sweden to be proved a success because then it would embarrass those governments which have adopted more draconian policies. And you’d be right, too.
The British MSM’s relentless propagandising on behalf to the official government line initially puzzled me. Normally, after all, as happened with Brexit, you might have expected a range of views — some newspapers pro-, some anti-. So why the unanimity on coronavirus?
Part of the answer can be found in this government strategy document from March 22nd. It was put together by the behaviour experts who advise the government on how to nudge the public in a particular direction.
Perceived threat: A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened; it could be that they are reassured by the low death rate in their demographic group (8), although levels of concern may be rising (9). Having a good understanding of the risk has been found to be positively associated with adoption of COVID-19 social distancing measures in Hong Kong (10). The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.
But how could the government recruit Britain’s diverse and — hitherto — famously intractable media into pushing its propaganda message?
Here is a report from April 20th in the publishing trade press:
The UK government has aired a coronavirus public information campaign across print, TV, radio, digital and outdoor since March. The latest iteration of the campaign, which was created by the National Health Service’s ad agency MullenLowe, features frontline health workers and the tagline, “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” Wavemaker is the media agency leading the push.
“We recognize the vital role that media organizations, including local newspapers, play in ensuring the provision of reliable, high-quality information during this time,” said a U.K. government spokeswoman. “We also understand the acute pressures newspapers are facing financially due to the steep drop in advertising revenues and the implications of the lockdown on print circulation.”
Total government spend? £35 million.
Admittedly this is dwarfed by the estimated losses expected to be borne by the British print media this year:
Analysts at Enders analysis predict the pandemic will cause the UK newspaper and magazine sector to lose £750 million ($933 million) in ad revenue and £150 million ($187 million) in print sales this year.
But in desperate times you’ll accept any lifeline, however flimsy, and it would seem that the flailing, drowning MSM has grabbed it with both hands. The supposedly independent MSM is in fact bought and paid for by the government. (And by other vested interests. Let’s not overlook the many millions the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given to the BBC.)
The British public, it’s true, are still largely in favour of the lockdown and fearful of the coronavirus — so it’s arguable that the MSM is doing no more than being led by its market. But it’s equally arguable that the reason the public remains so cowed and compliant is that the MSM so terrified them with its one-sided reporting that propaganda ended up being mistaken for real news — with devastating consequences for the economy.
Could the reason for the collapse in the MSM’s sales partly be that the public are finally waking up to the fact that what they’ve been hearing from the MSM cannot be trusted?
And if the result of this failure of trust is the destruction of the MSM, it would be a kind of poetic justice, would it not?