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June 2021

How the role of the UK’s media is changing, is being rescued by the state but could be overthrown by social media.

By Tony Attwood

Following my little piece about how the Conservative Party manifesto speaks of taking the internet in the UK under government control, and how that part of the manifesto is not mentioned by the mainstream media (except for the Independent, which is no longer published in a print edition but just appears on line), I began to ponder the broader implications of what is happening – in terms of football and the media – and what we can learn in relation to the media in terms of the other subjects it covers.

And yes I know this is a football blog, not a political blog, but as I’ve tried to show, football is a tool of politicians (it earns £bn for the government in taxes), and government politicians are supported by the vast bulk of the newspaper industry in the UK.

A tiny spot of background…

The government ran an inquiry into press regulation (the Leveson Inquiry 2012) and it recommended – and parliament approved – a framework of genuinely independent self-regulation entirely free from state control.

The idea gained favour from the public, the NUJ – the journalists’ trade union – and from academics and commentators.   So a new body was set up, but the press didn’t like it, so instead set up their own regulator Ipso, and then the Conservative Party said they would abandon their whole commitment to Leveson. So we are back where we were with phone tapping, no serious right of reply, and a wholly lopsided array of politically motivated newspapers all of which except two (the Mirror and the Guardian) support the Conservative Party.

Football of course is not politics but it too has its own agenda – an agenda of covering a highly popular sport without spending money on journalism, and without upsetting the government (which funds the FA).  It does this by making up ideas, and writing in a way that generates controversy, and thus engagement with no relationship to the truth.

I’ve made it my business to try and expose how the media works in relation to football in the UK – you may have noticed the occasional piece on the subject.

But it seems that increasingly this is becoming less relevant.  The most commonly forwarded articles on Facebook in the UK at the moment are ones that are orientated to young voters by bloggers telling people the reality about the Conversatives, and their manifesto wish to take control of internet use in the UK.   It is a viable explanation that the reason that recent opinion polls in the UK have been very wrong is that they have not taken into account that avid internet users are not influenced by the ragings of newspapers like the Mail and Express, but rather by bloggers who appear to be more close to the world’s they know.  And these are the voters who tend to tell pollsters (who are seen as establishment figures) to bugger off.

So I have one of my occasional glimmers of hope – that the power of the media in politics – and ultimately in football –  is being overthrown in the UK.

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In football as in politics the media knows that negative stories play well, up to a point.  The mainstream media has to pay for access to football – the fixture list is copyright and the media pays to use it and through this contract is restrained in terms of any criticism of football.  Yes they have “debates” but only within certain specific agreed parameters.   Issues outside these parameters (that there is something amiss with PGMO for example) are ignored.

We can see this very clearly on occasion – as for example The Battle of Stamford Bridge on May 2016, between Chelsea and Tottenham which saw a record nine yellow cards for Tottenham.  It was thus named in reference to the original Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 which was a prelude to the defeat of the English to the Normans at the Battle of Hastings.

The point about that game was that the media covering it made no reference to earlier punishments to clubs for violent matches (Man Utd v Arsenal with two points deducted from Arsenal for example for a far smaller level of offence). Moussa Dembele was retrospectively banned for six games, and both Chelsea and Tottenham were charged with three counts of failing to control their players but the media universally accepted the matter and did not criticise the punishments as being unduly lenient, nor indeed Tottenham management for allowing its players to behave in such a way.

In short, if one accepts that mainstream news in the press is manipulated to reflect the political views of the owners (and if you doubt this you might like to read the Daily Mail story of 6 December 2013 which was headlined “Flights and busses full as Romanians head for the UK”) which although 100% untrue received no censure from the Press Complaints Commission, although it received numerous complaints.

The Sun “A tidal wave of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants is threatening to swamp Britain”, The Daily Express  “report” that “at least 385,000 Romanians and Bulgarians will flock to the UK,” and the Daily Star report that airlines were unable to cope with the demand from Romanians and Bulgarians trying to fly to Britain were all untrue and liable to raise tension.   But no action was taken.

Clearly it is out of a daily situation in which journalists are free to write and papers are free to publish items like this, that stories about football (which is, no matter how important to you and me, trivial by comparison) are just an invention – except when the media’s own interests are challenged.

I’ve quoted several times comments I found in newspapers in the 1970s about how TV was manipulating games and turning dull and boring games into exciting affairs – you’ll find references to the media of the era in my history of Arsenal in the 1970s on the Arsenal History Society site.   Basically the BBC and ITV were restricted by the League as to what they could show and how they should report it, but the papers felt they could say what they wanted.

Now it is not like this.  But, and this is the interesting bit,now things are changing.

If Labour even comes close in this election to forming a government, perhaps with the tacit support of the Scottish National Party, then it will be because of the influence of social media in counter acting the papers and that could lead to legislation about invented stories in newspapers.

Of course invented stories about immigration used to support an extremist right wing agenda is a much more significant issue than football, but if the change starts, it might just discredit the way football is reported.  Since the thousands of bloggettas that exist, feed their pronoucements by cutting and pasting stories from the newspapers they could also be affected.

But also there is something else happening.

Very occasionally we do see stories that Untold runs appearing in modified form in the national press – and I am sure that other free thinking blogs that do their own research find the same thing.   From the explanation of why England does so badly at international football, through to the notion of having an index of players tipped to join Arsenal, the media tag along happy to rewrite our stories as their own.

Of course we’re not changing the prime agenda, and we haven’t got within a million miles of having the media ask a single, solitary meaningful question about PGMO and its antics, but if, just if, social media is pushing aside the fanatical extreme right wing propaganda of the bulk of England’s daily papers in the General Election, then maybe, just maybe, we might have an influence on football too.

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20 comments to How the role of the UK’s media is changing, is being rescued by the state but could be overthrown by social media.

  • Clockendrider

    It’s tiresome to be lectured on politics. We are not all children. Frankly if I want political reeducation I’m quite capable of getting it at considerably better informed venues. As for my football education, I thoroughly enjoy the discourse here. It would be a shame if cross contamination spoiled the experience.

  • Bobome

    “Political reeducation…”? Hardly saw Tony’s article as that. Perhaps an alert to the emerging influence of social media and its impact on mainstream media’s continuing domination on how people perceive events and act.

    That is a trend that will remain for a while. Will it completely negate the influence of mainstream media in the hearts and minds of the people? Time will tell.

  • Chis

    Yep, reading our story it transforms points I’ve read in the past months into a line….makes sense.
    I know very little about politics, but, @Clockendrider, if I were you I’d start reading what the Tories have in store as far as internet is concerned.
    Because, reading it, I’d say chances are that you’d have a fair chance, along with hundreds of thousands of internet users used to commenting, of getting a visit from some people with badges wanting to have a nice conversation with you.

    This proposed piece of policy/legislation is sh… scary.
    Add to that the US FSC’s decision (hope it is not final) to abandon net neutrality and you have a not very rosy picture of a connected future that is being painted.

    So, respectfully, Tony’s analysis is necessary and a wake up call. Better defend what you like (to use), and frankly, considering what is being reported by Tony is not a subject the mainstream media talk about, at least he is doing it.

    But then, who am I to comment, I’m just some foreigner.

  • Al

    I also believe mainstream media will be overtaken by social media eventually, i have had this precise discussion with a colleague not so long ago.

    I don’t know when I last went on a website, such as the BBC for news, I can easily find out what’s going on elsewhere just by checking Twitter; you usually get all the news and almost in real-time too. An example is when the Bastille day attacks occurred, I was on Twitter when a user posted a tweet about it. I quickly fired up periscope, zoomed in on the location in question, and sure enough a few users were broadcasting live from the scene. I had CNN on TV in the background, and a short while later they cut the story they were covering to announce “breaking news” of the attack, and a few minutes later started showing footage from the same broadcasts I had seen on periscope a few minutes earlier. I was wowed I had managed to hear and view footage of a major incident before it had even hit the TV screens. That’s just an example of where social media was quicker to break news, in uncensored format too for the user to reach their own conclusions. The power of social media.

    And there are also numerous examples of incidents beamed live on Facebook as they’re happening. Of course there’s the ethical argument of whether this is right, potential fallouts from unvetted news or graphic material being posted without any kind of censorship to protect viewers, etc., but in terms of users consuming raw information as it, and coming to their own conclusions, I can’t see anything getting better than this.

    I personally can’t wait for the death of these manipulating newspapers as we know them.

  • Al


  • Leon

    European referees eh!
    Doncha just love ’em!

  • Twoeyes

    Al, why on earth would you have on CNN even in the background? Please don’t contribute to their viewing figures. CNN fake news and propaganda will start to pollute your brain and you may not even know it’s happening.

  • Gord

    I think CNN is probably better than ESPN.

  • Polo

    First, my condolences and thoughts to the victims and their families who got caught up in the latest terror attack in London. I wish those injured a speedy recovery.

    Governments should spend all their resources concentrating on stopping terrorist attacks than trying to control Internet. Surely, the nations security agencies would have been given unlimited power already, I mean they already tap into head of states phones without consequences, so why put so much resources to control the Internet?

    Please stay safe everybody.

  • ron

    at least we know who runs the newspapers and pretty much what their affiliations are also there is wide variety of stuff in newspapers not confined to the limited output of social media sites

  • Ron: and you know who runs Untold Arsenal too.

  • bjtgooner

    Following the horrible events of last night in London, it could well be the the Tories might be right about the internet – it is certainly used as a means of communication and recruitment by terrorists – and anything which saves even one life is worthwhile.

    As for Corbyn – sorry Tony – have to disagree about him. In his favour he is an Arsenal supporter – but he has a reputation of being sympathetic to the IRA – and having been rather too close to the detonation of an IRA bomb I have no time for anyone who sympathises with that organisation.

  • Jammy J

    @bjtgooner – ” it could well be the the Tories might be right about the internet – it is certainly used as a means of communication and recruitment by terrorists ” Do you honestly believe that if these restrictions on the internet were put into place, that the terrorist would just put up their hands and give up? “Okay, that’s us done for!. I guess since one method of communication is down, then that’s our holy war over; no more attacks!”. Don’t be so naive..

    There is a clear agenda behind these new proposed laws and if anyone believes that anything positive will come out of them, then they need to start thinking for themselves and try not be so easily manipulated by blatant propaganda.

    How anyone could be so willing to give up their personal freedoms, is absolutely absurd and they need to have a good long think about the real-life repercussions of a state-controlled internet.

  • bjtgooner

    @Jammy J

    Perhaps instead of trying to argue with me, you should make the same argument to those who lost loved ones last night – I think you would get the short shift which your illogical extrapolation deserves!

  • Nitram

    With the tories it’s all about total control and absolute power.

    For years now they’ve been trying to pass laws to curb the working mans right to strike. They’ve already oppressed Unionism to the point where most are almost totally impotent.

    I’m not ‘militant’ in any way shape or form, but in a very tough World the only weapon I have to protect my working conditions and pay is to withdraw my Labour. I have nothing else, and they want to take that away from me.

    They’ve changed the rules on ‘legal aid’ making it much tougher to take bad employers to task.

    This Government wants the working man dangling on a piece of string.

    Agency workers that can be hired and fired on a whim.

    Zero hour contracts.

    The Dementia tax.

    This Government is taking us back over 100 years.

    May is masquerading under the banner of a firm and steady hand to steer us through Brexit, simply as a way to push through some of the most anti working Class pieces of legislation you could imagine.

    And she claims to be on the working mans side.

    Yeah, right, I’m sure she is.

  • Menace

    No talk – no peace. There are some areas where freedom only comes with violence. The violence only comes as a last resort. Whereas all areas can attain peace with dialogue & an element of understanding. It is surprising how powerful bullshit is when it comes to swaying an electorate. There are some organisations that were found guilty of evil, yet they still have power of broadcast & media. I wrote about where the line is drawn – it is critical for democracy also. The line creates a boundary that encloses a volume of voters. Manipulate the boundary & democracy moves.

    The vote is all powerful but even that is being manipulated with electronic intervention & postal ballot. Manual Paper votes are the only way to ensure integrity.

  • Pat

    All that talk about Jeremy Corbyn and the IRA – it is now well known that the British government were secretly talking to the IRA all the way from the seventies to the nineties.

    I read a very good article which reminded readers about some of the things the British state did to Irish people which might have turned young Catholic men in particular into IRA supporters. Things like Bloody Sunday where unarmed demonstrators were shot dead by the British army. Internment without trial – that’s another one. Then there are the Brimingham Six and the Guidlford Four – completely innocent Irish people who were imprisoned for decades for crimes they never committed.

    This is not to excuse terrorist acts by the IRA, the UDA or anybody else. Not only are they unfair and cruel, they achieve nothing except more terror and more violence.

    The fact is, Jeremy Corbyn has supported people treated unjustly wherever they came from. That is one of his good qualities. He is not, and never has been, a supporter of terrorism. He has been a supporter of solving problems by negotiation.

  • Jammy J

    @ btjgooner – Is that honestly the best response you could come up with? What good would having this debate with someone that lost a loved one do? Does that suddenly make them an expert on social issues and civil liberties? Such as thing would cause someone to not think straight and bringing up the victims is nothing but emotional blackmail.

    You are clearly privy to all of the lies, bias and agendas that come from the media towards Arsenal, so how you have fallen hook-line and sinker, for one of the most blatant displays of trying to take away our person freedoms, I really do not know.

    You honestly need to have a good think about the repercussions of these proposed new laws. This is genuinely one of the first steps towards a completely totalitarian, draconian police state. To think that these laws would stop anyone from being killed, is utterly ludicrous.

  • Jammy J

    And this is why politics should be firmly left out of a blog about football.

  • Andy Mack

    Tony, it’s extremely naïve of you to think that any political party won’t look into taking aspects of the internet under government control when they are able to…
    All in the name of anti-terrorist of course…