Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

The role of the British press in campaigning to swing the Brexit vote – and the failure of broadcasters to hold either Remain or Leave to account – dominated a conference in London organised by the Association of European Journalists.

An array of tabloid front pages – including the Daily Mail’s “Enemies of the People” and more recently, the Sun’s “EU Dirty Rats” headline after the disastrous Salzburg summit – were cited as examples of biased press coverage in support of Brexit.

In the view of most of those taking part in the conference (28.9.2018), the unleashing of a continuing tide of headlines about Remain “traitors”, and a torrent of stories about “ambushes” and “bullying” by the Brussels establishment, will have the effect of reinforcing a false prospectus.

There were dire predictions for the tone and content future coverage by the Brexiteer newspapers in a “diminished Brexit Britain”.

Nicholas Jones reflected on almost sixty years in journalism in a lecture for the Old Tettenhallians (27.9.2018). He left school in the summer of 1959 at the age of sixteen. He admitted being a slow learner, having secured only four GCE ‘O’ level passes, insufficient to get into the sixth form to do ‘A’ levels. Back in the 1960s, in the post-war boom years, there were plenty of jobs for young people. He went straight in as a trainee and took up newspaper reporting:

“I have now spent my entire adult life as a journalist – even in retirement. You could say, that’s only to be expected once I tell you about my family. We can’t be helped. My grandfather was a journalist; my father was a journalist – and he became editor of the Wolverhampton evening paper, the Express and Star; my brother George was political editor of the Daily Telegraph; my son is a journalist on The Guardian newspaper; my daughter in law is another journalist, a programme editor at the BBC.  Even my mother loved journalism: here is one of the many book reviews she wrote for Express and Star.

A unanimous vote by the trustees to close our care home was a gut-wrenching moment, given my 17-year association with the admirable work of the Journalists’ Charity in housing and assisting retired and needy journalists.

For generations of reporters and sub-editors, in newsrooms up and down the country, there was always the re-assurance that if they fell off their perch and hit hard times in old age, there would be a place for them at the Newspaper Press Fund’s residential home in Dorking.

Sadly, that particular safety net is no more. Pickering House, opened by the Countess of Wessex in September 2007 –  as a replacement for the charity’s original care home, Sandy Cross – closed its doors in June when the last of the residents moved out to alternative homes. The buildings and spacious gardens are up for sale.

Just a short walk away is the charity’s estate of 23 bungalows and flats at Ribblesdale, which is unaffected by closure, and continues to offer retirement homes, but the days when veterans of the trade lived together as a community in a care home, sat around yarning, having the odd drink, are just a memory.

Broadcasters – and especially those at the BBC – are being urged by the campaigner Gina Miller to refrain from harking back to the Leave and Remain arguments of two years ago and to focus instead on the process of the UK exiting the European Union.

In her view, there was still much too much reporting of a sterile Brexit debate that was still dominated by lies and untruths and too little reporting of the facts and figures surrounding the UK’s departure.

Ms Miller delivered a passionate plea for more analysis on future UK-EU arrangements in a speech after the presentation of the annual Charles Wheeler award to the Channel 4 News presenter Michael Crick at the University of Westminster.  (19.6.2018) where she was the guest of the British Journalism Review.

“This harking back to the arguments of two years ago is not helpful. We need to be hearing about the position today, hearing from the experts, and the broadcasters should be asking questions to see what is happening, to see if we are we are exiting the EU in a way without hurting this country.

When Theresa May finally acknowledged in the House of Commons that the UK would be worse off economically after Brexit, she posed questions the British news media should attempt to answer:

“How many jobs are being threatened by Brexit?”

“And, more importantly, how many have been lost already?”

No answers are likely from Brexit-supporting newspapers that command 70 per cent of national sales and readership.

Not only will there be no attempt to explain or justify the loss of output and employment, but the Brextremist press will carry on their cover-up, continuing to totally ignore news stories that point to halted investments, declining job opportunities and a damaging exodus of talented staff.

Unrelenting pro-Brexit propaganda – exaggerating positive forecasts but ignoring harsh facts – represents a massive challenge to the multiplicity of groups and factions fighting to reverse the UK’s departure from the EU single market and customs union.

The only way to counter the Brexiteers’ falsehoods is to fight them with factual data and analysis, but what is so lacking is a co-ordinated media strategy to counter misrepresentation.