After consistently pro-Brexit press coverage, 51.9% of the voters (37.4% of the electorate) have voted to leave the EU. The Prime Minister has resigned and the markets are in freefall. The pro-EU views of the leadership of all the main political parties, finance, industry and the TUC were rejected by the voters.
The country was curiously divided, with majorities the voters in London, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the big cities (save for Birmingham) favouring remain but the rest of the country voting leave. The West and East Midlands had the highest leave majorities, followed by Yorkshire and Humber.
The popular press has been relentessly anti-EU for many years. The Daily Mail – in its “5am referendum special” told its readers that “After 43 years UK has been freed from shackles of EU”. The Sun’s front page headline was “See EU later!”
The question as to whether this coverage in the popular press had a decisive influence on the result is not straightforward. In a piece written a month ago (where he took the view that Remain were likely to win) Roy Greenslade pointed out that
“the pro-Brexit papers are largely bought and read by people who are largely anti-EU anyway. Preaching to the converted won’t make much, if any, difference”.
He nevertheless went on to suggest that
“What is required is a sophisticated study into both the public response to the press coverage and a parallel study into the effects of such coverage on broadcasting output”.
In the absence of such a study, it is necessary to rely on more impressionistic analyses. The Press Gazette has today published “Brexitometer” scores for the main UK national daily newspapers. These newspapers reach 28 million readers a month. Over the past 28 days, the Express, Mail and Sun had front pages strongly favouring Leave.
Over the 28 days leading up to the referendum 250 million newspapers were published – with 90 million front pages favouring leave and 30 million remain. The rest were neutral or neither.
The Press Gazette suggests that
“The editors of the Sun, Telegraph, Express and Mail titles can reflect today that it was probably them ‘wot won it’ for the Leave campaign”.
These titles are, of course, owned by three very rich men – two of whom do not live in the UK. When the final analysis is done it will be necessary to consider whether these newspapers did, indeed, have a decisive influence on the outcome of the referendum and if so, whether it is desirable for a small group of unaccountable individuals to play such a role in a vital national decision.