‘Simplistic and divisive’: Journalists’ perspectives on Brexit in the press
The representation of Brexit by the mainstream press was divisive, exclusive, simplistic, negative, sensationalist, and xenophobic. These adjectives sum up the feelings of the participants at a workshop hosted by the Media of Diaspora Research Group (MDRG) at the School of English and Journalism, University of Lincoln on 30 November, 2016.
The Head of School, Prof Jason Whittaker, welcomed the twelve participants comprising of academics from interdisciplinary backgrounds, non-academics and journalists from the mainstream, European and diasporic media.
Dr Ola Ogunyemi, the convener of MDRG, said post-Brexit debates have mainly focused on the political, economic and social effects with little attention devoted to its effects on journalists and journalistic practice. Hence, this workshop bridges the hiatus by bringing scholars and journalists together to reflect and share opinions about the impacts of Brexit on themselves and their profession.
The workshop began with paper presentations. Dr Ola Ogunyemi presented an analysis of the framing of Brexit in some national newspapers; Prof Mike Baynham spoke about ‘the rise of racist/xenophobic and homophobic hate crime post BREXIT and Trump’ and also read two poems he wrote ‘for the times’; and Nick Smyth spoke about ‘‘News Media: The post Brexit ‘Storm’ of xenophobia, anti-immigration and racism’’
The paper presentations were followed by a focus group session which enabled participants to deliberate and exchange ideas about the drivers of Brexit, its presentation in the press and its impact on their professional values and physical wellbeing. Some mainstream journalists argued that racism was not the driver of Brexit, but it was a backlash against the establishment and that ‘people want to leave on the basis of the information they got and on the gut feeling that EU is a mess, people are scared of globalisation and of losing their jobs’.
However, some diaspora journalists queried why the battle ground had to be immigration. As a result, they ‘found the post-election environment alarming and frightening’ and added that ‘Brexit is making millions of people who are resident in the UK feel less safe and at home’.
Nonetheless, they agreed that Brexit did not make them rethink their identity as journalists. But it made them reflect on the boundaries between information and advocacy roles of the press. Although they were aware that most newspapers are partisan, it was shocking the way this was played out in the run up to Brexit.
Brexit also made them reflect on professional ethics as some journalists were eager to engage in political activism while others were not because it may compromise their coverage. In such situations, some argued that the ethical thing to do is to be fair and accurate and to do what is in the best interest of readers and the community.
The participants discussed the objective reporting of Brexit and agreed that ‘it is impossible to be truly objective’. They said the true test of it is to see how many stories over the period presented both sides of the argument. Regarding access to information, some diaspora journalists were concerned that they struggle to get information from the center of political power or to interface with the government.
The discussion on the effects of Brexit on physical wellbeing was led Prof Roderick Orner and reveals that post-Brexit environment has affected some of the participants both emotionally and physically. Some of them described how they felt sick when the result was announced, how they have been robbed of their European identity and how they no longer feel welcome in the UK.
The workshop ended with an exhortation to journalists and media to ‘reinforce the ethical standards, to inform comprehensively, to be thoughtful, to be conscientious, not to distort news, and to do a thorough research’.
By Dr Ola Ogunyemi
08 December, 2016.