If you live in the UK, you may have followed the story of Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected rise.
Corbyn is the leader of the UK Labour Party – the party whose membership has grown to the biggest in Western Europe after long-time socialist Corbyn shocked the political establishment and won the leadership vote in 2015.
For many of the bigger media organisations, initial incredulity quickly turned into a series of criticisms organised around Corbyn’s ideas of leadership – qualities he was perceived to lack; of murky political associations (including Hamas, the Palestinian government of the Gaza Strip and Lebanon’s Hezbollah Party – both framed as terrorist organisations across much of the British media) and of naive economic policies that would, many journalists said, take the country back into the dark ages.
However, the most persistent story, one that has resisted news cycles’ attention deficits, has been around accusations of anti-semitism in the Labour Party and against Corbyn himself.
Some have argued that the story points to an endemic problem in the party, others have dismissed the scandal as a red herring: a weaponisation of the subject in order to undermine an anti-establishment leader, with the help of the media “establishment”.
What is at stake is not just an internal fight within the opposition party: it is the future of the country.
Amid political instability surrounding the Conservative government’s handling of Brexit, a general election could be on the horizon and judging from the tight election result last year, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Corbyn could win the next one.
Should he take power, the media story will not just be centred around how he is being covered, but the ideas he himself has about media reform in the UK.
Recently, Corbyn opened up a wider discussion on the political economy of the media; how to deal with the increasing power of tech giants; the future of public broadcasting; resuscitating local journalism; financing investigative journalism – and the cultural make-up of newsrooms themselves, in a country where diversity in the media continues to influence the way stories are covered and often fail to be understood.
Corbyn’s ideas have been derided by some as attempts to make of the mainstream media a useful enemy – an electorally popular story of David and Goliath. And certainly, for a politician like Corbyn who has long criticised the power of big conglomerates, the media is partly political.
But Corbyn’s opposition to the corporate media comes within the wider political context in the UK.
In 2011, a phone-hacking scandal hit the headlines and brought down a Rupert Murdoch newspaper: the News of the World, after it was revealed that journalists had hacked into a murdered schoolgirl’s phone.
The scandal spotlighted unholy alliances between political parties, the police and journalists – and raised questions about corruption and the unchecked power of big media conglomerates.
This is a story that moves away from the immediacy of mudslinging in the daily news cycle around Corbyn. That, as we say, is “inside baseball”.
Instead, we explore the proposals he has put forward on the media – their concrete viability, their rhetorical power and their resonance beyond the increasingly tight borders of the country from which they emanate.