MPs voted “Yes” to using airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. Who controls whether the media is “for” or “against” Syria airstrikes – and can the media influence us?
Syria has been divided by a civil war since 2011. Rebel groups are fighting against a government regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. As well as this, Islamist militant group Islamic State (ISIS) has taken control of large areas of Syria and is attempting to set up a caliphate – an Islamic state ruled by an extreme version of Islam. SoR produced a guide to the Syria crisis and a breakdown of 8 important things to consider before taking military action.
The debate in the House of Commons lasted over ten hours. 397 MPs voted in favour of military action, passing the motion for airstrikes with a majority of 174 MPs. 223 MPs voting against the motion. Though Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued against Syria airstrikes he did allow his MPs a free vote. Out of the 231 Labour MPs 67 voted with the government in favour of air strikes.
With many newspapers printing various contradictory opinions in their comment pages it can be hard to work out where each publication stands. Even so, we wanted to find out what the media thinks about the Syria airstrikes. Newspapers generally use their editorial sections to announce which parties they are backing during general elections (some remain neutral). Therefore we looked at the opinions given in the editorial pages of 15 major publications to find out where they stand;
Publications For Syria Airstrikes: 7
The Daily Express
London Evening Standard
*With some reservations
** Only when coupled with strong international diplomacy
Publications Against Syria Airstrikes: 5
The Daily Mail****
The Daily Mirror
The Morning Star
*** Sister paper to the Guardian
**** But would have supported a Western army occupation of Syria
Neutral/ Undeclared/ Unclear: 3
The Daily Star
If newspapers back a party or argument then obviously not everyone working for that publication will agree. Publications can often change their opinions on certain things over time. We still think it’s pretty interesting though. Especially as a YouGov poll suggests 82% of Brits think newspapers have power and influence over their readers. The position the editor backs could influence a lot of people. As you can see there wasn’t much difference between publications that supported airstrikes and those that didn’t. According to one poll, a slim majority of English people support airstrikes. Is there a link between these two facts? We couldn’t say, but it’s something to think about.
The media seized on David Cameron calling Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters “a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”. Oh, David you joker. Several MPs called for an apology. An ITV video lists the number of times Cameron ignored calls to apologise. The Guardian notes that the bitterest exchanges in the debate were when an “apparently unsettled” Prime Minister was repeatedly challenged. The Times agreed Cameron’s refusal to apologise soured efforts to come to an agreement. On social media the hashtag #terroristsympathiser topped UK trend lists. It was almost five times as popular as #SyriaVote. Though many found this funny, did it distract us from the actual issue of the debate?
Syria vote: David Cameron ignores repeated calls to apologiseWatch as David Cameron ignores repeated calls for him to apologise over his “terrorist sympathisers” comments ahead of the #SyriaVote.As Chris Ship reports, the Prime Minister “will wish he’d never used that phrase”: http://bit.ly/1XyfRGr
Posted by ITV News on Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Six out of the seven publications supporting the government’s proposal for military action also backed the Conservatives, or a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition at the 2015 general election. Four out of five publications arguing against military action backed Labour. Is this just about party politics? It would be easy to think so, but it’s not really.
The Daily Mail backed the Conservatives in 2015 yet was against military action. Even if a publication wanted to specifically back the Labour party’s view they would find a difference in opinion. Leader Jeremy Corbyn argued against Syria airstrikes. Yet his shadow defense secretary Hilary Benn stole the show with a widely praised speech calling for action. The Times Red Box email briefing called the speech one of those “rare performances that appeared to sway votes”.
As well as choosing sides like they did in the Syria airstrikes debate, newspapers often back political parties before general elections. If the media can influence your viewpoint on certain issues should we question who decides the line the media takes? In the run up to the 1992 general election The Sun ran a campaign against then-Labour leader Neil Kinnock. On Election Day The Sun’s headline was “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” The Conservatives won a surprise victory; The Sun’s headline the next day was “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”. Whether The Sun did win it is unclear. However these headlines are often referenced in debates on the media’s power over politics.
What if the media is just feeding us one side of the story – a side which fulfils their own needs? Scenes of Reason teamed up with Dr. Nafeez Ahmed to decode who runs the media;
READ MORE: Dr. Nafeez Ahmed’s article on How the Mainstream Media Became a Propaganda Regime for Wealthy Neocons. Nafeez explores how two billionaires control over half of Britain’s national newspapers.
Can the media actually influence what we think about issues like the Syria airstrikes? Do we need regulations stopping small groups of individuals controlling the information we receive? Are online “new” media outlets allowing alternative viewpoints to be heard?