Europe IN 250 Words – The Last Gasp of Fleet Street

Today Michael White, all-seeing political commentator on The Guardian, writes about the last gasp of Fleet St as the old media try to influence the Europe debate.

Of the many things which have changed in Britain since the first European Referendum in 1975, cleaner beaches and ice cream not made from pig fat among them, none is more striking than the attitude of Fleet St.

When Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher (yes, that Thatcher) campaigned for Britain to stay in, all the big newspapers except the “Empire Loyalist” Express and the Moscow Loyalist Morning Star were behind them. I remember thinking the imbalance a bit unfair.

In 2016 most of the papers, still owned by foreigners and absent-for-tax-purposes types, have fallen in behind the Express and Morning Star, though they would not put it that way.

But one thing hasn’t changed: they are still unfair, more shrilly partisan nowadays I think, because fiercer commercial competition and the 24/7 hysteria which is social media, has coarsened the tone of public debate. As has the referendum clamour itself, things have been said by people who should know better that will not easily be forgotten by those who do. Is it a coincidence that so many Brexit captains are also hedge fund managers, gamblers, public school climate change sceptics and BBC bashers? I think not.

Yet all is not lost. Professor Google, who never goes to Greece for a fortnight, is there to enlighten the genuinely curious about finer points of EU fisheries policy or the acquis communautaire. Diligent websites – I single out InFacts – try to sort wheat from Brexit chaff. Conscientious reader can still test suspicious claims against other media.

So when the Mail thunders “Tories back Boris” over that silly Hitler row, the Times more accurately reports “Tories divided over Boris.” Along with the pro+EU Guardian and FT, the normally anti-EU Times has done its best to be fairly fair, despite You Know Who’s ownership. Murdoch himself is blamed for the Sun’s ludicrous “Brexit Queen” scam.

One other wrinkle. Whatever paper they write for I detect scant enthusiasm for Brexit among most City pundits. Try as they may to please Lord Copper, they also read balance sheets and know the people’s verdict on June 23 will be followed by the markets less forgiving one. If Brexit wins its divorce from the EU and finds it can’t “still have sex with the ex” (as one wit puts it), will Fleet St admit error and/or start the familiar hunt for scapegoats?

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