The debate over whether or not Britain should leave the EU has become the dominant issue in the mainstream British media. Week after week on the BBC’s Question Time, for example, ‘Brexit’ seems to be the only topic up for discussion. The elites and corporate media factions are busy warring over this issue, whereas it is hard to know whether the public even cares a great deal. In fact, numerous audience members on Question Time have expressed their frustration at not knowing which way to vote, due to the disinformation and misinformation disseminated by both sides of the debate.
What this demonstrates more than anything is the media’s power as agenda-setters. They choose which topics dominate public discourse, and thus which topics deserve attention and which topics do not. The reason why the EU debate seems to be the only topic being discussed these days is because the corporate media has been endlessly clamouring over it, as have the dominant elites in society. What we have ended up with is warring establishment factions with vested interests in the outcome of this debate, using the influence they have in the media and in public discourse to try and manipulate the public into making a vote which will ultimately end up benefitting one elite faction over another. When debate is vigorously occurring within the establishment framework, the value and significance of this debate should automatically be treated with great skepticism. It is highly unlikely that the outcome of this debate will end up changing the lives of ordinary citizens for the better; what is more likely is that whatever benefits result from the outcome will be for those at the top, rather than for those at the bottom.
This is not to say that the debate over leaving the EU is entirely worthless. It is an important issue. But the supreme status it has been afforded in public discourse has come at a cost to other stories and issues of equal, if not greater, significance. For example, two weeks ago a VICE News investigation revealed that Britain has been secretly colluding with American drone strikes in Yemen by providing crucial intelligence support, which have killed up to 1,651 people, including up to 261 civilians. This should have been a national scandal, given the fact that the natural conclusion of these revelations is that the British government has been systematically lying about its role in America’s covert war in Yemen; in 2014, UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hugh Robertson stated: “Drone strikes against terrorist targets in Yemen are a matter for the Yemeni and US governments”. The fact that hardly a whisper of any of this was made in the mainstream press should surprise no one who has been paying attention to the state of national public discourse for the past few years, but it is no less disturbing.
A mural depicting a US drone in Sanaa, Yemen. (Source: Khaled Abdullah, Reuters).
Similarly, the London-based group Privacy International recently obtained previously confidential files from the British government as part of an ongoing legal case challenging British spies’ bulk collection of data. The files reveal an incredibly invasive regime of mass surveillance aimed at ordinary British citizens, whom the security services themselves recognise are not a threat to national security or even suspected of a crime. The documents reveal that the security services are able to scoop up and store extremely intimate and personal details about people’s private lives, such as their “political opinions, religious beliefs, union affiliation, physical or mental health status, sexual preferences, biometric data, and financial records”. For anyone remotely interested in not living in an Orwellian dystopia, this should be of particular concern. However, yet again, the mainstream press has excluded this story from the headlines, in favour of obsequious, fawning displays of reverence and awe for the Queen’s birthday.
There is nothing inherently wrong with covering stories that are more trivial in nature. But when these come at a cost to real issues which would horrify the British public if they were aware of them, then this is inexcusable. Similarly, the debate over the EU is beginning to seriously overshadow stories of real significance that reveal the immorality and corruption with which the government exercises its power in secret; in other words, stories that should be the first to hit the headlines in a democratic society with a free press. But such a society was only ever an illusion.