Andrew Bridgen pens an exclusive OpEd for The Pavlovic Today on COVID-19, the legacy media and the polarisation of views.
Over the last few decades, we have seen a huge increase in the ways in which the public access their news and information and we have also seen the increased polarisation of political, social, and cultural views. Are these two phenomena linked and is it causal or effect?
With the rise of internet usage, we all now have access to a plethora of potential information sources available instantly on every topic we might desire to search. This has posed a threat to the established media and although they have responded by launching their own online presence, search engines tempt us with myriad options and views of the same topic. With the advance of Facebook, Twitter and others many people and organisations are actually bypassing the MSM altogether and make direct contact with their consumers, supporters and members, controlling their own media presence and message.
The former custodians of the “news”, suffering from the increased competition have also suffered a collective crisis of public confidence. Probably the most significant powers the legacy media (MSM) had was not only how they presented the news and their editorial line on it, but the ability to decide what is the news.
Unfortunately, large news organisations be they television, print or online, tend to be based in large urban areas. In the UK it is difficult to think of one which is not based in London and to many who live outside our metropolis they are seen as not representing my way of life or my views of the world.
In politics 25 years ago the public had a very limited choice of news and current affairs outlets which is why the then aspiring New Labour Party headed by Tony Blair with his much-acclaimed so-called “news spinners” Campbell and Mandelson invested so much time cultivating relationships with the media. This is why the middle or centre ground mattered so much in those days as they undoubtedly decided election results. Now people tend to just follow the media they agree with, often prompted and guided by an internet well aware of their historic selections, leading to polarisation.
The EU Referendum in 2016 was the biggest political exercise in the history of my country, demonstrated by the fact that at a Parliamentary General Election, the turnout of voters in my constituency (North West Leicestershire) is normally a healthy 70% plus, at the Referendum the turnout was almost 80%. Despite this level of voter engagement while campaigning around the country I met supporters on both sides who claimed that they “ didn’t know anyone who was voting Remain” or “ I don’t know anyone who is voting to Leave”. At a Referendum where the vote was split 52% to 48% that gives some indication of the silos or echo chambers that many of us now exist in.
My fear is that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing or in extremis social isolation we have all been subjected to for the last few months this trend will have only been exacerbated.
Indeed, during this crisis the frank exchange of different political views in what should be our bastions of democratic free speech have been sterilised into remote virtual forms, with the suspensions of the debating chambers in our Parliament and on Capitol Hill.
The fact is that we now seem to be even more socially isolated from those who hold different views to ourselves is unhealthy for our society, our communities and our democracy. This might turn out to be one of the worst and most long-lasting impacts of the Covid-19 crisis.
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