Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Ever since he emerged as a serious contender for the Labour leadership Jeremy Corbyn was subjected to unprecedented vilification by the UK’s dominant Conservative-supporting, pro-Brexit press.

Some of the country’s highest-paid columnists and commentators succeeded in delivering a master class in the character assassination of a British politician.

Steps can be taken to challenge the agenda-setting impact of national newspapers, but that requires the news media at large to have the courage the flag up the heightened politicisation of UK newspapers.

Shameful and shameless – two words that best sum up the post-election reaction of political journalists to the relentless campaign that was pursued by most of the British press to demonise Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Some of my former colleagues were ashamed.

They were aghast at the extent of the vilification printed by newspapers that did all they could before polling day to terrify their readers about the prospect of a Labour government.

By contrast most correspondents and columnists employed by pro-Conservative newspapers were entirely shameless.

Laura Kuenssberg’s apology for her tweet reporting the fake news that a Conservative aide had been punched in the face by a Labour activist was yet another illustration of the erosion in editorial standards that has resulted from cut-throat competition among journalists to be first with the news on Twitter.

By placing her trust in the truthfulness of Boris Johnson’s propaganda machine she had endangered the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and reliability.

As a BBC correspondent for 30 years I can speak with first-hand experience of the inherent dangers – and frustrations – of having to deal with media advisers closest to the Prime Minister who tend increasingly to speak exclusively to a handful of trusted journalists.

A record surge in the registration of young voters has given added potency to scare stories appearing in the Sun and Daily Mail that allege university students across the UK are engaged in “voting scams and frauds” ahead of polling day.

Brexit-supporting newspapers failed to make any mention of widespread appeals to young people to ensure they registered to vote before the deadline of 26 November.

But despite a Conservative press boycott, the campaign to achieve the widest possible franchise for polling day on December 12 was backed by regular reminders by celebrities, broadcasters, and other media outlets and their combined efforts did have a dramatic effect.

By the deadline, an extra 3.8 million people had registered to vote since October 29 when the election was announced. On the last day there were 659,000 registrations – a new record for a final day.

Governments in difficulty frequently announce unpopular decisions when the news media is saturated with coverage of a headline-grabbing story.

Space is usually very limited on such occasions and astute information officers hope their troublesome announcements will merit no more than a few sentences tucked away on an inside page.

Across Whitehall this routine has been imbedded within ministerial offices but the true masters of “burying bad news” are Brexit-supporting newspapers which have become so partisan these manipulative tricks are now an everyday occurrence.

Slavish support for Boris Johnson’s general election mantra of “Get Brexit Done” has necessitated the same finessing of what the Tory press presents as news – or dismisses as unimportant or leaves out altogether.