sexta-feira, 20 de maio de 2016
Where the British press stands on Brexit
Where the British press stands on Brexit
Commercial interests, political expediency, and public opinion will play a role. There could be surprises.
By ALEX SPENCE 5/19/16, 5:30 AM CET Updated 5/20/16, 5:43 AM CET
LONDON — Five weeks to go before Britain votes on its membership in the European Union, there’s an almost daily avalanche of articles quoting politicians, foreign leaders, businesspeople, diplomats, retired generals, former spies, economists, actors, writers, academics, scientists, sports stars, religious figures and various other important types on whether Britain should vote to leave or remain.
Yet only a handful of newspapers have declared their own positions.
Newspaper endorsements may no longer carry the same weight they once did — it’s arguable whether they ever swayed many voters, even at the height of their powers — but that hasn’t stopped London’s media gazers, not to mention the newspapers’ own journalists, poring over recent editorials for signs of where they’ll come down in the days leading up to June 23.
You’d think it would be obvious, based on the newspapers’ readerships and the tenor of their day-to-day reporting on the campaign. But it’s not quite that simple. The views of readers, editors and proprietors aren’t always in alignment; commercial interests, political expediency, and whichever way editors sense the wind is blowing in the campaign’s final days will also play a part. There could be surprises.
Based on conversations with editors, journalists and executives at several newspapers and a sampling of recent editorials, here’s a (subjective) rundown of where the papers stand, and where they might end up:
This is the one everyone will be watching. Politicians have long coveted the endorsement of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid because it reaches so many people who don’t normally pay much attention to politics. Its influence has slipped in recent years but it’s still the biggest-selling newspaper in the country, with a circulation of 1.7 million. A strong declaration for a vote to leave could give the Brexiteers a boost in the final stretch of the campaign.
Its editorials are sharply, consistently critical of the EU (“in meltdown”) and the Remain campaign (“smug”). The newspaper’s columnist and former political editor Trevor Kavanagh told the BBC’s Newsnight program in March that the final position will be determined by Murdoch himself.
Murdoch has long been opposed to Britain’s EU membership, but that doesn’t mean the decision is predictable. Politics aside, there are business considerations. News Corp’s U.K. operations are already hurting from an advertising slowdown made worse by nervousness about the referendum; disruption for businesses could be much worse after a Brexit vote. Moreover, Murdoch’s other media companies, 21st Century Fox and Sky, have significant interests in Europe which could be damaged.
Last May, the Mail on Sunday claimed Murdoch would remain neutral because leaving would be too much of an economic risk. Lately he’s seemed to be leaning more toward out, according to one person close to News Corp. It’d be easier to gauge his current thinking if he hadn’t stopped tweeting 75 days ago, when he married Jerry Hall.
The last time Britain held a referendum, on Scottish independence in September 2014, the Sun didn’t make up its mind until the last minute — and went against what some inside News Corp were expecting. In the U.K. for the vote (as he is expected to be this time) Murdoch seemed to veer between romantically supporting a Scottish breakaway and skepticism about whether it could stand alone economically. In the end, the Sun’s English edition recommended Scotland staying and the Scottish edition remained neutral. David Dinsmore, the Sun’s editor at the time, was strongly in favor of Scotland staying in the union and “really dug in,” according to a senior source at the company.
Best bet: It’s hard to call which way will the Sun go this time. Maybe neutral.
If any of the leading newspapers makes a strong declaration for Brexit, it’ll be the Mail, Britain’s second biggest-selling paper (circulation 1.6 million).
Its Euroskeptic instincts are plain, both in its news pages and editorials. Day after day, it voices concerns about the costs of EU membership, the U.K.’s loss of sovereignty and laws being dictated by unaccountable foreigners. It blames the EU for unfettered migration that is causing “demographic upheaval,” routinely attacks the Remain camp for “wild scaremongering,” and bristles at any sign that foreign leaders such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel or Christine Lagarde are telling British voters what to think.
“This newspaper does not for one moment concede that Brexit would impoverish the U.K.,” the Mail said in a recent editorial. “On the contrary, there is good reason to think that regaining the right to run our own affairs would, on balance, be highly beneficial.”
Even so, there’s still a tiny bit of doubt among senior figures at the newspaper about its final stance. The owner, Jonathan Harmsworth, the Fourth Viscount Rothermere, is thought to want Britain to remain. Unlike Murdoch, Rothermere doesn’t get involved with editorial decisions and insiders said it’s unlikely he would try to sway the editor, Paul Dacre (even less likely that Dacre, the most feared and formidable editor on Fleet Street, would be influenced).
If Dacre has any hesitation, one person said, it may be that he doesn’t want the Mail to appear inconsequential by forcefully backing Leave if it seems Remain will win by a decisive margin. On the other hand, the Mail would look weak if it does anything else. “Dacre has dug in so far it makes it hard not to back Brexit,” said one industry source.
Best bet: Leave. (Its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, seems likely to take the opposite stance, as it often does.)
This has been the most puzzling one to follow. In some ways the Telegraph has had a strong referendum campaign: Boris Johnson, the Leave campaign’s figurehead, is one of the newspaper’s star columnists, on around £250,000-a-year. The former mayor of London’s ruminations were always widely read and cited by rival media outlets, but are even more so now that his column is a platform for his case against the EU.
Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives’ election guru, has also recently joined as a columnist and his analysis of the polls is a must-read in the Westminster village. Its biggest coup was landing Obama’s op-ed urging a Remain vote on the eve of his visit to London last month.
The Telegraph’s editorials, however, have baffled rivals, politicians and its own journalists. Traditionally the newspaper of the Tory heartland, almost 60 percent of its readers are in favor of leaving the EU, according to the pollsters YouGov. Yet the newspaper seems conflicted about which side to back. There’s a clear dissatisfaction with Brussels, but not a strong sense of any conviction that Britain would be better off on its own.
A warning to the Remain camp this week that “This argument, far from being over, is still very much alive,” was about as punchy as its recent editorials got.
Best bet: Neutral or half-hearted Remain.
While the Telegraph’s readership leans towards Out, 62 percent of Times readers want Britain to stay in the EU, according to YouGov.
That’s to be expected for a paper that prides itself on being the paper of the political and financial elite. In that light, supporters of the Remain campaign have been surprised at how Euroskeptic the Murdoch-owned newspaper has seemed at times. The editor, John Witherow, shares some of his proprietor’s reservations about the EU and clearly finds some of the Brexit camp’s arguments intellectually appealing.
Then again, Witherow is a pragmatist. Recent editorials suggest he’s not persuaded by the Leave campaign’s arguments on the big questions of national and economic security. In one indicative recent editorial, the Times said that voters contemplating Brexit “should demand a more thoughtful and thorough national security case.”
Best bet: Remain.
The left-wing tabloid may be torn between its affiliation to the Labour Party, which is campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU, and skepticism among some of its working-class readers who see Brussels as beholden to unaccountable elites. In recent editorials, it’s stressed the importance of voting rather than indicating an allegiance. Yet it’s clearly far less hostile to Brussels than its right-wing competitors.
“Only a fool dismisses the role of the EU in sustaining peace,” it said recently. The Mirror also welcomed Obama’s intervention, saying: “The choice is ours, but it is well worth listening to others.”
Best bet: Remain.
The liberal broadsheet’s readers are by far the most supportive of Britain’s membership in the EU — nine out of 10 want the U.K. to stay, according to the pollsters. Its editorials have been unambiguous: “The Guardian will make no apology, between now and June 23, for making the case for Britain in Europe as clearly, as honestly and as insistently as possible,” it said on May 9.
Best bet: Already declared for Remain.
London’s free evening newspaper has been preoccupied recently by the mayoral contest between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith. When it did address the EU referendum in a recent editorial, it gave no sign of allegiance to either side, telling readers: “Let’s listen, learn and then vote.”
However, with Londoners overwhelmingly in favor of remaining it would be a surprise if the Standard didn’t eventually endorse a vote to stay in the bloc. Editor Sarah Sands raised eyebrows earlier this month when she backed Goldsmith for mayor and may not want to risk appearing out of touch with her readers on another important decision.
Best bet: Remain.
The tabloid owned by the billionaire Richard Desmond has championed Brexit regularly in its editorials. May 11: “We must take advantage of this opportunity and vote to leave the EU.” May 4: “If we stay in the EU we slide ever deeper into that political quicksand from which there will be no escape.” April 20: “Vote for Brexit.”
However, with circulation down to 415,000, a tenth of its peak last century, the Express’s influence these days is limited.
Best bet: Unapologetically out.