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Tabloids are misleading their readers over Brexit at their own peril

Tabloids are misleading their readers over Brexit at their own peril

The commercial departments of Brexit-supporting newspapers know the damage being caused to the UK economy, and newspaper advertising revenues, by Brexit. Their editorial colleagues continue to support it anyway.

The page lead in last week’s Daily Express was dramatic and right up their street. The headline read: “Brexit victory as £6bn car engine deal proves leaving the EU hasn’t alienated business.”

Britain had scored a major Brexit victory as a new global company formed by the merger of Renault and Geely of China has decided to base itself in the UK.

The new company would invest £6bn to develop low-emission, hybrid and electric engines. More than 19,000 would be employed in 17 manufacturing plants and five research and development centres.

A Brexit victory indeed.

Former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox was ecstatic and commented: “Another international vote of confidence in the UK as Renault and Geely invest £6bn in a new HQ here. […] It comes on top of the £17bn investment from Japan. Let’s hear more good news.”

Former Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt and business minister Jesse Norman waxed lyrical in a similar vein.

Misleading readers

There is only one small problem with this deal, which the Daily Express unaccountably failed to mention: none of the 17 engine plants or five R&D centres spread across three continents are in the UK.

The only British connection is that a small corporate headquarters will be based in London to set strategy and pull together the threads of plants scattered across the globe. The new company did not say how many jobs will be based in London, but we can be sure the number of office jobs will be relatively small, and equally sure that only the tiniest fraction of the £6bn investment will be coming to the UK.

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The Daily Express did not actually specifically say that all the 17 plants and five research centres would be based in the UK or that all of the £6bn and 19,000 jobs would be based here. It was however heavily implied — so heavily implied that the coverage was downright misleading, well on the way to deceiving its readers.

It was enough to fool an experienced trade politician such as Liam Fox, and many of the aging, Brexit-supporting readers of the Daily Express would have been duped by the £6bn Brexit “victory.”

Hardly the greatest journalism, but alas all too common from the right-wing Brexit-supporting press which plays down the bad news about the impact of Brexit — of which there is no shortage — and hails minor deals as the greatest thing since sliced bread.

For example, the free trade agreement last year between the UK and New Zealand was portrayed as a triumph even though British farmers were hung out to dry to get a deal — any deal.

Much less, coverage for the EU reaching a much better deal with New Zealand than the UK managed and the EU held out to protect its farmers.

Yet anything that the Daily Express can do, the Sunday Express can do better — much better.

The costs of Brexit are outweighing the benefits, regardless of the tabloids’ spin

Whereas the Daily Express could manage only a mere £6bn Brexit boost, the Sunday soared away with a “£12tn Brexit Trade Boost” for Britain as a result of joining the 11-nation Indo-Pacific trade bloc (CPTPP).

Wow, £12tn is one serious trade boost.

Business secretary Kemi Badenoch said the agreement placed the UK at the “top table” of the Indo-Pacific group and greeted the step as “the clearest demonstration” yet of our new found freedoms outside the EU.

As you might have guessed by now, there are a few problems  with this extravagant example of pro-Brexit journalism.

The UK has already got trade agreements with no less than 10 of the 11 CPTPP countries, including the aforementioned member, New Zealand. The Indo-Pacific group may have a population of 500 million in a fast-growing part of the world economy, but the UK decided to turn its back on a much richer, if more mature, 500 million market in Europe — 600 million if you add in the EU’s subsequent trade deal with Japan.

The £12tn Brexit Trade Boost is, of course, also total nonsense. The Sunday Express has simply added together the GDPs of all 11 countries including Japan, Canada and Australia, and of course the number has nothing whatsoever to do with trade.

In fact, there is some dispute about what the impact on trade will be. According to one estimate it would add 0.08% to the UK’s GDP over 10 years but that is almost certainly an underestimate based on out-of-date numbers.

The BBC forecast of less than 1% is more realistic, yet the Corporation was once again accused of bias by the Daily Mail for setting the deal in a totally realistic context.

If the near-1% figure turns out to be even close to accurate it would compare badly with figures produced by the Centre For European Reform on what Brexit has cost the UK.

John Springford, deputy director of the Centre, says its model, which has been accurate so far, estimates that Brexit had cost the UK economy 5.5% of GDP growth up to the end of the second quarter of 2022.

You would never find numbers like that in either the Daily Express, the Sunday Express or the Daily Mail — or for that matter The Sun.

Mail Metro sales chief: Brexit ‘definitely having an effect on adspend’

Danger of reputational damage

The Daily and Sunday Express coverage is an affront to responsible journalism and should be an embarrassment to Reach, the company that owns both papers.

Reach may allow the editors of its various publications, which includes the Daily Mirror, the editorial freedom to address the very different political proclivities of its newspapers. But by pumping out such embarrassing rubbish, Reach faces the serious danger of corporate reputational damage by allowing its journalism to practice deception on its readers and indeed British society.

All those involved in such murky “journalism” should have a care about the latest polling from YouGov suggesting that only 31% of the population now want to remain outside the EU.

And for good measure the UK is still losing trade with the EU. In May, year-on-year trade between the UK and Ireland fell by 34% while Irish trade the other way increased by 19%.

I don’t suppose Express readers will get to hear about that either.

The irony is that the commercial departments of the Brexit-supporting newspapers know all too well the damage being caused to the UK economy, and newspaper advertising revenues, by Brexit.

In a Media Leader interview last week by Jack Benjamin, Dominic Williams, chief revenue officer at Mail Metro Media, admitted how tough it was out there because of the pandemic, Ukraine, the cost-of living crisis and Brexit.

Williams was asked how much Brexit had impacted business.

“That is definitely having an effect on advertising because of the UK economy,” replied Williams.

Perhaps he should have a word with some of his editorial colleagues.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

Nick Drew, CEO, Fuse Insights, on 19 Jul 2023
“Hurrah, and hear hear - this kind of blunt assessment of the (frankly quite astounding) doublethink within news publishers is long overdue. And the unravelling car crash of the last couple of weeks' events (most obviously the Sun's relentless bullying of what turned out to be Huw Edwards and the (if true) criminal actions of Dan Wootton) really only makes it more important that this kind of discussion is had. More broadly there's an interesting/ concerning question to be asked of just how far *can* news publishers' editorial teams push it before their reputations and ad businesses suffer? We have the Mail employing proven philandering liar Boris Johnson as a columnist to write more untruths; the Mail and Express's ongoing and unrepentant bullying of "people we don't like" (Meghan Markle just the most obvious and repeated example); the Mirror currently involved in a trial about an exec-approved strategy of phone hacking and so on. We keep hearing how established news publishers are just better and more trustworthy outlets than the internet, but based on what precisely - the accuracy of their information, their impartiality, their complete avoidance of any illegality, their transparency of ownership and lack of political bias? When do their various editorial chickens come home to roost in business terms?”
John Clifford, Retired, DET TV Service, on 19 Jul 2023
“These tired old right wing papers are clutching at "good brexit news" straws. What do they believe they have to gain?.....placating the older Brexit voters... they will all go down ,peacefully I hope...”

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