Brexit Stories at Digitalis

Continuing with the British EU referendum coverage, we take a look at several aspects of media coverage of the referendum: Propaganda versus factual reporting, the BBC’s impartiality and the social media filter bubble.

The LSE Media Policy Project’s Damian Tambini discusses all three issues“It is surely the combination of propaganda and social selectivity bias that explains the media’s role in the outcome.”

Facts or propaganda?

As The Economist shows with a detailed infographic, the European Commission has debunked over 400 myths about the EU reported in the British media since the early 90s. However, rebuttals rarely have the same impact as an initial piece; The Economist states: “The average rebuttal is read about 1,000 times. The Daily Mail’s website, by contrast, garners 225m visitors each month.”

Open Democracy discusses the influence of newspapers and revisits Lord Justice Leveson’s 2012 proposals for press regulation, in the context of some of their recent survey results: “A majority of the public believe that news publications should be free to express an opinion. However, they do not believe that news publications should be free to ‘distort the facts’.”

Christiane Amanpour, writing for CNN, explores a number of statements made before the referendum that have since been retracted or changed, arguing “The wanton equating of facts with myths cannot be acceptable and is not journalistic objectivity. It may be neutrality, but it’s a false neutrality that does not lead to the truth.”


Touched on by the LSE Media Policy Project in its blog, the balancing act the BBC must perform between impartiality and fact-checking has been a topic of discussion for many. Though BBC News maintains a website that fact-checks statements made for both sides of the referendum, some felt this stance was not maintained on TV and Radio.

Commenting on the issue, BBC presenter Justin Webb has said the media needs to look again at how it covers politics, stating, “A discussion about holding people to account, a discussion about impartiality in the modern era, is one I suspect the broadcasters would rather welcome, if only to sort out their own thinking.”

Prior to the referendum, BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show hosted a debate about this very issue, discussing the question, “What can broadcasters do to ensure every fact is correct, in a situation where one side’s ‘fact’ may be the other side’s ‘lie’?”

The filter bubble

Emily Bell argues in The Guardian that Facebook’s recentnews feed tweaks have a greater effect as more and more people find their news from social media, explaining, “Remain supporters expressed astonishment (mostly to each other on Facebook) that they never heard from leave campaigners, posing again the perennial unanswered question of whether we are ever more living in a ‘filter bubble’.”

VICE’s Motherboard explores this issue in more detail, explaining that, as Facebook improves its user experience, the filter bubble gets worse. Richard MacManus also argues that “selfish media” is a problem, and suggests changes that Facebook and Twitter could make to reduce the impact of the filter bubble. But the Online Journalism Blog claims that, in time, people will come to terms with the biases of social media just as they have with the biases of journalism.

New publications

On a final positive note, the referendum has created new opportunities for growth within print – The Media Briefing describes Archant’s newest pop-up publication, The New European, and discusses the potential for extended print runs as well as short term success. 

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has sent ripples through the media and technology sectors, leaving no-one indifferent to the result. Here’s a roundup of “factual views” and some of the reactions…


London’s technology sector was overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit. According to a survey among members of Tech London Advocates, 70% were worried a vote to leave would damage London’s reputation as a technology hub.

Some of these concerns center on the issue of funding, with the Washington Post reporting that Britain may lose investment from the European Investment Fund, which backs an estimated 41 percent of venture capital investments in Europe.

Questions have also been raised regarding Britain’s role in the finalization of the data privacy agreement between the US and EU, which governs the flow of data between countries.

According to a statement from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, it seems that – for now – the status quo will remain: “The Data Protection Act remains the law of the land irrespective of the referendum result.” But he went on to add that the Brexit vote does mean the UK will not be subject to upcoming reforms the EU is planning to make around data protection.

Tudor Aw, head of technology at KPMG UK, has offered a relatively optimistic view of the future, claiming “Technology is a sector that will only increase in importance and works without borders. I therefore continue to see the UK tech sector as one that will not only withstand the immediate challenges of the referendum result, but one that will continue to grow and thrive.”


Jenny Biggam, co-founder of the7stars, has argued that the ad industry cannot disassociate itself from the economic turmoil brought about by the decision to leave the EU: “Our clients’ share prices have been hit and that won’t be good for advertising budgets. It’s the same for global businesses and the weakened pound. The ad market needs a stable economy because ad spend is fuelled by consumers’ spending power.”

CEO of Havas Media Group UK & Ireland has suggested that we’ll also see a shift in terms of where ad money is spent: “My instinct says we will see an acceleration of spend shifting towards digital advertising as British businesses act to ensure they have cross-border visibility and reach European and global audiences.”

Echoing the more positive sentiment towards the UK’s digital ad market, Yves Schwarzbart, acting head of regulatory affairs at the IAB, has pointed out that “after the financial crash in 2008, digital ad revenue was still growing 5.7 percent year-on-year. Overall, the industry is in good health. We shouldn’t forget that it is a vibrant market.”

TV & film

Before the vote, the British entertainment industry came out almost unanimously in favour of remaining in the EU, warning that a departure would threaten the export of British film and TV series, and would cut off British filmmakers from European subsidies such as The MEDIA Programme.

On the issue of investment, Forbes reports that “The MEDIA Programme, founded by the EU in 1991, has been a major source of funding to British productions over the last decade, pouring millions into projects like The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and others. Without such funding, it’s very likely that these films would have never made it to the big screen.”

In a statement, Michael Ryan, chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, has called Brexit a “major blow to the UK film and TV industry.” But The Creative Industries Federation (CIF) and the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) have pledged to support and safeguard the arts sector throughout exit negotiations.

The Federation said “it will be vital for all sides to work together to ensure that the interests of our sector on issues, including access to funding and talent, are safeguarded as the UK forges its new relationship with Europe. The importance of British culture in representing our country to the world will be greater than ever.”

E-commerce and Retail

 Speaking on the Today’s programme on John Lewis’ performance and Brexit effects, Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield said: “We should be under no illusions. Brexit is having an effect on the economy, no question. It’s the same for everybody and the main effects are sterling and confidence.”

Daniel Carnerero, CEO of the Ennovators Group said: “Trading in the UK slowed down drastically on the aftermath of the referendum, and concerns over a weakened pound, the cost of raw materials and possibly distribution across EU will impact us all very soon. There will be an unavoidable negative impact, and many unsettled executives looking at relocating their operations or weighting down their UK business. In the short term it will deteriorate our bottom line”, to further comment “Marketing budgets will shift to digital, and target stable markets, favouring those trading in €s trying to minimize the cost impact from suppliers.”

“Our financial performance reflects the current challenges of the UK furniture market,” said Ian Filby, DFS chief executive. “Big-ticket items like sofas tend to be the first things consumers cut back on when they are feeling the pinch,” said Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “DFS has been hit by a double whammy of slowing consumer demand and rising costs, stemming from a weaker pound. Ian Durant, chairman of DFS, said: “In the light of the market-wide downturn in demand, revenue growth in the existing store estate is likely to be harder to achieve over the financial year ahead than in the recent past.”

Justin King, who was in charge of Sainsbury’s supermarket chain for a decade until 2014, told BBC: “One can say very clearly what the direction will be: higher prices, less choice, and poorer quality because all of those dimensions have been improved by these open trading relationships that we’ve had over the last 40 years.”

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