In the United Kingdom, there is a spending cap for general elections. The cap means, the media have a greater role. The General Election 2015 revealed the intensity of that role. Unlike previous elections, the media displayed its support for the Conservative Party. Unlike previous elections, though, they were less effective. Their influence has diminished because the Leveson Inquiry revealed their behaviour and the public now have a voice. Social media though was not a decisive factor. The traditional media continue to occupy the strategic high ground in the UK political landscape. They have a particular niche with older voters who are less likely to use social media who get their views from traditional media through print, television, and radio. Their effect, though, is not limited to a demographic niche.
The traditional media guards the public domain
The media have a wide and deep presence in UK society. Even younger voters who use social media will be exposed to traditional media through newsstands in stores and on the high street. The various newspapers suggests a media diversity that does not exist. The press contain an institutional bias that becomes naked during national elections. Their bias threatens the UK political community. If the media companies can decide elections, they distort the democratic process. The wider political culture suffers. Democracy only works if the public have accurate information. The press are given great latitude to inform the public. Yet, the press no longer provide balanced information. They no longer serve a public interest. They serve a private interest.
The media bias that undermines democracy
Their bias distorts democracy and the idea of a free press. The press have not admitted their stake in the election and their effort to deliver their preferred outcome. In their zeal to a preferred outcome, they fail to inform public so they can decide. The press become an advocate for a private interest even as they claim they act in the public interest. Their behaviour reveals is that traditional media is not a free press. Their bias demonstrates they have an institutional role to suppress democracy. By contrast, social media offers the promise of a free press. Yet, it lacks the capacity to challenge the traditional media’s hold on the strategic high ground. They may never have that role as social media service providers can be captured are captured. As they develop, social media platforms will want to control public opinion which control over what the user accesses can deliver. Imagine Twitter controlled by Rupert Murdoch and he determines what information you can access or share during an election.
The press work for an establishment not the public
The election coverage showed us that the press represent an establishment view. They do not represent the people or the public interest. Their claim to act in the public interest is a convenient cover for their private interests. Even as a new public voice struggles to be heard the political reform it requires remains elusive. Without political reform to break up the political and media establishment, democracy remains a captive.