Former prime minister Tony Blair said the UK’s dominant “cartel” of right-wing newspapers “crossed a line” when it used “propaganda” to promote Brexit.
Speaking to his former PR spokesman Alastair Campbell, in a video interview for GQ, Blair spoke about the impact of biased pro Brexit newspaper coverage.
Press Gazette analysis of press coverage in the month leading up to the vote on Britain leaving the EU referendum last June found that front-page news coverage in the Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph was heavily biased in favour of leaving the EU.
This in turn meant that looking at the national newspaper market as a whole, front-page news was heavily biased in favour of stories which favoured leaving the EU.
Speaking about the currently weak political opposition for Prime Minister Theresa May, Blair said: “If you had a vibrant opposition then she would come under pressure from the centre and left as well as the right.
“At the moment she’s really only under pressure from the right, from the right-wing media cartel – the Mail, Telegraph, Sun and Express – who provided the ramp for pro-Brexit propaganda pre the campaign and post the campaign just ‘Brexit is good, it’s brilliant, it’s going to make the country great’ and no other news that might collide with that is published by them.”
Speaking about the influence of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, he said: “The politics that he drives through the Daily Mail is very damaging to Britain.”
Blair successfully courted the media during his ten years in power (which ended in 2007), winning the support of Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper.
But he said: “I’ve changed my view about the media because of Brexit.
“I think their activities in Brexit changed the dynamic of their relationship with politics. This is a decision that changed the whole course of our country’s history.
“Whatever issues I had with the media and the way that increasingly over time newspapers have become the playthings of a small group of very powerful individuals, my view is they crossed the line when they operated like a cartel in respect of Brexit.
“To have this smnll group of individuals who control the press on the right who provided that ramp for the propaganda and who provide the villification of anyone who dares oppose that now…
“It is not a decision of these newspapers as if they are instiutions, this is a decision of individuals – these individuals control these papers.”
Campbell interjected: “”Murdoch, Dacre, Barclays, Desmond.”
Blair continued: “They wouldn’t be taking these decisions at these papers unless they were instructed to do so. That’s a line that they’ve stepped over.
“For ages and ages I had not criticised them openly, but I’m sorry this is not on, you have put yourself in a different position in relation to the democracy of the country, especially given many of them don’t live and pay taxes in this country, and I think that has got to be an issue.”
Asked why he didn’t raise such concerns when he was in power, Blair responded: “When you go and fight them, when you’re in my position not in you’re position, it’s a full-on fight. These people will come after you with everything they’ve got, they are like a mafia.”