Dr Amelia Hadfield, Director of the Centre for European Studies, explores the key topics which she believes will arise after the UK Prime Minister triggers Article 50 today.
Peter Vujakovic, Professor of Geography in the School of Human and Life Sciences, explores the use of caricatures in media publications during the festive season.
T’is the season to be jolly! This December many news magazines have decked their covers with humorous caricatures and satirical graphics. The New Statesman has Donald Trump and Theresa May ski jumping …over the cliff edge? The Week has Boris Johnson in the ‘dog-house’. Even Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ cover seems to have been strategically arranged so the title letter ‘M’ provides a devilish touch to Trump’s profile. Time denies intent and notes that given the letter’s “location on the cover, many other subjects in the past have also appeared to sprout extra features. It’s happened to Hillary Clinton at least twice.”
What is clear, however, is the stinging intent in celebrated cartoonist Peter Brookes’ cover image for the Spectator. This features Trump and Putin literally carving-up the globe (in the form of a pudding), with Putin serving himself a large slice of the ‘Middle East’. Brookes’ cartoon is a direct pastiche of one of the most famous political graphics in history, James Gillray’s 1805 ‘The Plum Pudding in Danger’, in which the original protagonists were Pitt and Napoleon. This cartoon has been recycled many times; including Thatcher and Foot, Bush and Gorbachev, and recently Cameron and Sturgeon. Like an element of any great festive pantomime it’s an old joke with a contemporary twist. The globe or map in cartoons has always been subject to the power of the protagonists; to control, ‘cleansing’, fragmentation, or even destruction. Numerous examples abound, from Lenin sweeping the globe clear of capitalists, clergy and kings, to Putin ripping a map of Ukraine apart. But are these images under threat?
As Will Self has noted satire must ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’, and Brookes’ work does this. There is, however, a danger that true satire might be endangered by two contemporary processes, first a ‘scatter-gun’ approach in which, as Self has pointed out, the ‘afflicted’ have been made uncomfortable by some of the images produced by cartoonists; he cites cartoons of Mohammed. And secondly, the growing problem of ‘self-censorship’; a reaction to the threats of both violent extremists and the litigious tendencies of the rich and powerful. In the same month as Brookes’ cartoon, US artist Alison Jackson, who has recently published photographs with Trump ‘look-a-likes’, has claimed that she has to fight hard against ‘self-censorship’. “It makes you frightened, it makes you put the brakes on and that is very worrying.” She goes on to note, “Whether it’s artists or cartoonists or satirists, there has to be free and radical thinking. Without that we get into the realms of dictatorship.”
Dr Agnes Gulyas, Reader in Digital Transformations, looks at the role the media play in politics, focusing on the current US Presidential election.
In the current US Presidential race Donald Trump has accused the “disgusting and corrupt media” of representing him and his campaign dishonestly and falsely. He claimed that if “media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hilary by 20%”. Mr Trump arguably exemplifies post-truth politics which is based on reliance on assertions and feelings rather than facts and seems to be focusing on reinforcing rather than addressing prejudices. His political campaigning, style and communication marks a departure from practices of previous presidential candidates.
However, with blaming the media, Mr Trump is following a long held tradition among politicians who are trailing in the polls, or who have found themselves in the middle of an uncomfortable scandal. For these politicians, media are easy scapegoats and blaming them is a logical, if cynical, way to try to divert attention from themselves. These types of accusations are often vague with a hint of a conspiracy theory. Even their use of the word ‘media’ is ambiguous, as the term is so broad and all-encompassing it can refer to anyone who produces any type of media content. I suspect though Mr Trump’s criticism is really aimed at news media that have published unfavourable stories of him and his campaign.
From their point of view, however, these news outlets follow traditional functions of media and journalism in democratic societies: to provide information and analysis, hold politicians accountable and offer balanced news reporting. There can and certainly are issues with how news media report on and represent certain individuals, groups of people and events. There are examples of misrepresentations, especially of those societal groups who are in minority, lack power or underprivileged. There are also examples for lack of balanced news reporting. For example, several studies show that the coverage of the EU Referendum campaign earlier this year was heavily biased towards the Leave side in a large section of the UK print media.
However, the media are not a monolithic all-powerful institution. Political debate and public discourse agendas in democratic societies are shaped by the interdependent, hybrid relationships between politicians, media and the public. The debate about the effects of media, including the influence news coverage has on how people vote, has a long history and it is one of those questions that cannot be conclusively answered scientifically. The dominant view on the issue is that the news media do not tell people what to think but they have an influence on what people think about through framing and influencing public debate agendas.
This agenda-setting role, however, is arguably changing in our digital age where post-truth political culture is increasingly prevalent. Traditional ways of accessing news are shifting as news audiences are becoming more fragmented and news consumption on mobile and via social media platforms are rising. But the digital news environment does not automatically provide balanced news coverage for the audience, and relevant information and analysis could be difficult to find. On social media people tend to communicate in echo chambers with others who have similar views to themselves. Although we can access more information and analysis than ever before, there are indications that too much information can lead to greater confusion especially when facts, opinions and feelings are blurred, as they are in a post-truth political culture.
Instead of blaming the media, politicians should focus on ensuring that all of us continue to have access to news media that provide quality information and analysis, hold politicians accountable and offer balanced news reporting. The need for such news media and journalism is as important in the digital age as it was in the analogue epoch.
At 11.30am, MPs will begin debating whether the UK should join its allies in bombing ISIL targets in Syria in a torn House of Commons.