By Patrick Vickers on 29 July 2016
Is Jeremy Corbyn being savaged by an ‘attack dog’?
A report released recently by the LSE about media representations of Jeremy Corbyn has prompted a fair amount of contemplation and reaction in the press.
The report, titled ‘Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From Watchdog to Attackdog’, looked at articles from eight major newspapers from across the political spectrum, and concluded that coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has overstepped the role of the media in a healthy democracy. This conclusion was partially drawn from the following statistics:
• 22% denote him as dangerous and/or associate him with terrorism.
• 30% of the coverage they assessed either displayed ridicule or scorn.
• 13% contained personal attacks, the majority of which were to do with his clothing.
• 74% of the studied sample either wrongly presented Corbyn’s views, or did not mention his views at all.
But what explains this poor coverage? At times, Corbyn comes across as oblivious to the fact that the media will scrutinise his every move, arming them with a series of comms blunders to focus their fire on, such as his steadfast refusal to sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain memorial service last year.
So often he is pictured at rallies with Socialist Worker Party banners and signs just behind him. Now, this could be read as another sinister attempt by an ‘attack dog’ media to pollute the public’s image of him.
But can it simply be coincidence that Corbyn is often pictured at events predominantly populated by people on the outer-left fringes of the political spectrum? And can we really expect a media largely in the hands of the Murdochs and Rothermeres of this world to show impartiality when covering one of Labour’s most die-hard left wing luminaries?
Meanwhile, his challenger in the Labour leadership election, Owen Smith, has received his fair share of criticism and scrutiny since announcing his candidacy. However this probing has been within the expected boundaries of journalistic standards. He has also been given a fair chance to respond to questions about his background. Questions have been asked about his time as PR executive for Amgen, as well as lobbyist for Pfizer. However, explicit attacks, scorn and ridicule that the LSE report identified is not present outside the wilderness of social media. We may speculate that Smith’s PR background, as well as his 10 years spent working for the BBC, have enabled him to position himself more favourably with the media.
There is a lesson those interested in PR can take from all of this: Having policies (or products, or services) that people like is one thing (and indeed, evidence suggests that the British public are right behind some of Jeremy Corbyn’s more ‘left-wing’ proposals), but being able to effectively communicate them to an audience beyond your own echo chamber is quite another.
Developing a set of key messages that resonate with your audiences and forging a genuine narrative around your offer is absolutely essential. It’s a principle with applications well beyond politics, but one which politicians particularly ignore at their peril.
This is particularly true of Corbyn. Aided by his Guardian-columnist spin chief, Seamus Milne, he has succeeded in enthusing his core base among the 550,000 strong Labour membership, particularly those affiliated with Momentum (including a lot of younger people) – the so-called ‘Corbynistas’.
Unfortunately for him, there’s a much wider audience – the elecotorate at large – that he’s currently not reaching. Notwithstanding the barrier of an apparently biased media, he needs a strategy that effectively segments his audiences and adopts messaging that gives them confidence that Jeremy Corbyn can be trusted with their vote.