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Brexit: the media has lost it

2016-11-05 05:48:43

One should not generalise but, nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that yesterday was the day the media, as a whole, completely lost it over the Article 50 Judicial Review.

As the hearings started, we see in The Times of 14 October the comment that the legal "will drag on for months". The High Court's verdict will be challenged, the paper said, and: "The Supreme Court is poised to make its final decision in December".

Thus, it was always a given that the High Court was just going to be the warm-up, and the final word was going to rest with the Supreme Court. Thursday's judgement, therefore, was simply a holding statement.

Yet, from some of the headlines yesterday, you would have thought that the entire civil order had collapsed. Not a single newspaper nor any of the broadcast media gave any serious recognition to the fact that the High Court was effectively round one of a longer battle, with no practical consequences.

As long as an appeal is lodged, no executive action can stem from the High Court judgement, and nothing can be taken from it which gives any clues whatsoever as to the way the Supreme Court will jump. Thus, this judgement is simply a historical curiosity, a step towards a final destination.

A grown-up media would have recognised this, and thus given little prominence to Thursday's event. Of course, it should have reported the judgement but nothing at all justifies the torrent of coverage which in some instances was close to hysteria.

In behaving this way, though, the media does itself and us no favours. I've said it before but am not by any means the first to have said it that a healthy democracy requires a functional media. At the moment, democracy is going through a bad patch, and - to judge from the media's behaviour it must take its share of the blame.

Yet the problem is that there is no natural corrective to the excesses of the media. Mostly, their managers and staff think they are doing a good job, and excel in telling us and themselves how brilliant they are, while ruthlessly marginalising its critics.

Even declining circulation and lacklustre web performance does not bring the message home to the media. But its coverage of Brexit is now so bad as to be a travesty, and it can only be a matter of time before something gives. No industry can be as out of touch with reality as is the legacy media and survive for any length of time.

Eventually, so many people will have walked away from it that the industry will lose what little influence it has left. And in my view, this can't come soon enough. As with our politics, we need a revolution to make things better. The media needs its own Brexit-style shock, or it is doomed to oblivion.