The media moguls and billionaires behind Brexit.


How they influence democracy by shaping public opinion.

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Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail
Daily Express Richard Desmond EU Nigel Farage 277129 150x150 The media moguls and billionaires behind Brexit.
Billionaire Daily Express owner Richard Desmond and Brexiteer Nigel Farage
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Sir David Rowat Barclay and Sir Frederick Hugh Barclay, both billionairs, own the Daily Telegraph.
Rupert Murdoch 150x150 The media moguls and billionaires behind Brexit.
Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp.
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Billionaire Robert Mercer, owner of Cambridge Analytica

One of the main arguments for Brexit put forward by Brexiteers is that we must respect the will of the people. What exactly is the will of the people?

The will of the people is an expression of our public opinion. Whoever controls public opinion holds the real power in our democracy.

Brexit is an amazing roller-coaster ride that shows who influences and shapes public opinion:

  • Social background: friends and family have a strong influence on each one of us. What we discuss over dinner, in the pub and at home strongly influences our view of the world. Ask yourself: are you a conservative, liberal or socialist out of conviction? Or are you following family tradition?
  • Level of education: our ability to distinguish fact from fiction, hate speech from a real political campaign depends on critical thinking. Can you assess arguments put forward by politicians and critically assess all the pros and cons?
  • The Media: what we see and hear directly influences the way we understand the world we live in. How many hours a day are you online and watch TV? What kind of media are you exposed to?
  • State-owned media like the BBC in the UK, ARD in Germany or NOS in have a mandate is to educate, inform and serve the public and provide a more objective perspective. But state-owned media is not always objective.
  • For example, propaganda via state-owned media during times of war is a historical fact. The BBC was censored during the Gulf war and depicted the violence of war in a limited way to avoid a change in public opinion. Propaganda today is hard to spot. TV broadcaster Russia Today is a more obvious propaganda news service. The recent revelations on Cambridge Analytics and how social media influenced public opinion during Brexit shows how effective this kind of propaganda in the form of ‘fake news’ can be.
  • Privately owned media only answer to stakeholders of the company. They can deliver a more objective view of the world, but more often than not they present a very subjective perspective. Their goal is to attract as many viewers as possible to make money.

Media influences all of us. Friends, family, colleagues. We cannot escape media: we read, watch and listen to news on our smartwatch, mobile phones, pads, laptops, desktop computer and TV. Our public opinion is directly influenced by media.

The only defence we have against fake news and propaganda is our ability to critically examine what we are exposed to every minute of the day. For most of us, this is a challenge. How often do you have the time to do a little research on a news report you just saw on the BBC?

Media floods our brain every day out and most of us just absorb it without thinking too much about it. Too often we neglect how we are influenced in this way and how this shapes our opinion. Especially when content is emotional and provocative.

Foreigners are taking away our jobs! Refugees are flooding our countries like rats! The Daily Mail is a strong media force in the UK public xenophobic content to make money. Like this cartoon published during the refugee crisis in 2015:

%name The media moguls and billionaires behind Brexit.

Note the rats in the cartoon. Refugees compared to rats clearly dehumanizes them. It makes it ok to treat refugees like vermin.

But who owns the Daily Mail? Who is allowed to have this kind of power to manipulate public opinion? Are they elected? How are they accountable?

It is the 4th Viscount of Rothermere, Jonathan Harmsworth who holds controlling shares of the Daily Mail and General Trust. If Harmsworth wants to campaign against foreigners, for Brexit, or initiate a witch hunt against a political opponent – he can. But he is not elected. Yet his media empire influences the opinion of millions.

Billionaire Richard Desmond owns The Daily Express which has published a number of misleading anti-EU slogans like ‘75% of new jobs go to EU migrants’. The Express later corrected this, but the Pressgazette considers the Daily Express as ‘very misleading’ and so does the independent Press Standard Organisation (IPSO). More than 25 misleading anti-EU headlines resulted in a complaint to  IPSO.

The Daily Telegraph is owned by the billionaire Barclay brothers. It is another UK tabloid which spews out xenophobic propaganda. For example, the paper claimed that “More than 700 offences are being committed by EU migrants every week, official figures suggest”. According to the Pressgazette the story and others like it “were misleading because they did not make clear that they were not based on conviction data, but were ‘convictions and ‘updates’ to convictions such as appeals and breaches of court orders’.” The Telegraph later corrected these lies.

The Sunday Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. If Rupert Murdoch wants to push a political agenda to influence public opinion he can, via the Sunday Times and Fox News. Rupert Murdoch is not elected but his media empire influences public opinion around the world. While Sky news reports more friendly on the EU, Murdoch is an example of how media can be used to manipulate public opinion.

Our politicians understand the power of the media. And they fear it. Instead of working to restrict the power of unelected media moguls, politicians like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson rely on them for the political campaign.

Politicians who do not want to be Rothermere’s and Murdoch’s bedfellows are left out. The way labour leader Corbyn has been ignored on key issues by the mainstream media is a prime example.

Tabloids and TV are not the only media platform used to manipulate public opinion. Billionaire Robert Mercer was the owner of now dissolved Cambridge Analytica. Social media helped get Donald Trump become president and strongly influenced the Brexit outcome.

It is reasonable to argue that without tabloids like the Mail and without social media manipulation by Cambridge Analytica the Brexit referendum would have had a different outcome. The vote was already very narrow in favour of leave – and I am convinced that without unelected billionaires and media moguls influencing the referendum the outcome would have been to remain in the European Union.

The irony is that it is precisely the Brexiteers who argued against the ‘unelected Brussels bureaucrats’, yet the EU council consists of our elected heads of states, the EU commission is appointed by our governments and we elect our MEP’s. Brexiteers heavily relied on unelected media moguls to spread their fake news and win the Brexit referendum.

But the consequences are dire for the UK. Not just economically. Britain is seen differently already by the other 27: a less reliable and unpredictable partner. And even if Brexit was cancelled tomorrow – the cost to the other 27 is already mounting up:

The EU is preparing for a hard Brexit by seeking emergency powers. For example, UK qualifications are no longer recognised in Europe after Brexit and the EU is seeking to “give a grace period for lawyers or professionals based in Europe who rely on UK qualifications“.

The Netherlands is in the process of recruiting 930 additional customs officials needed to deal with Brexit after March 2019. German banks are preparing “for hard Brexit, in ‘advanced’ stages of relocating from London“. And “France’s northern ports fight to stop hard Brexit” because the president of the northern Hauts-de-France region understands the cost of Brexit to his region.

Unlike the UK, it seems, the EU is getting ready for the real possibility of a hard Brexit, while May’s government continues to sleepwalk towards leaving the union.

I have a great deal more confidence in the democratic process of the EU compared to what Mercer, Rothermere and Murdoch cook up behind closed doors.

The only defence we have against unelected media moguls and their all-to-willing crony-politicians is our ability to think critically about what we have been exposed to before we cast our vote during an election.

Doing this requires training in evaluating the short and long-term consequences when voting for a party during an election. What are the pros and cons? What does the party stand for? What are the goals of that party and how will that change the way we live?

But education is becoming more expensive in the UK. My first degree in the UK had a fee of 2,300 BPS. This has now soared to 9,250 BPS. Students end up with more debts after their studies – if they even go and study.

Fewer citizens trained in the art of critical thinking are more prone to be influenced by tabloids like the Daily Mail and social media propaganda a la Cambridge Analytics.

All of this combined presents a real risk to our democracy. Our democracy depends on public opinion rooted more on critical thinking and less on peer pressure, tabloids and fake news. If the will of the people is shaped by xenophobia and isolationist policies then our democracy is at a real risk.

As citizens, we need to fight back. We need to stand up for quality education – and we need to demand from our politicians to hold unelected media moguls responsible for their corrupt use of media.

Unelected billionaires and media moguls cannot be allowed to abuse the privilege of free speech and destroy our democracies as a consequence.



Is time travel possible?

Todays dinner discussion on time travel (with a 12 and 14 year old)

Fritzie (14 year old): we can only travel into the past as tourists. We cant change the past. The future does not exist because there are an infinite number of future time lines.

Diego (12): Time travel exists. Don’t know why.

Me (52): Nobody knows when now -the present- begins or ends. Because of that there cannot be any future or past.

What do you think? Can we travel in time?

I was the ‘Plus-1’ this year in Rotterdam

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The ‘Plus-1’

Once in a while I get to be the ‘Plus-1’ because of producer and teacher Arleen Cuevas, who is also my wife. Like this year at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam. Her partners in crime, Filipino filmmakers Shireen Seno and John Torres,  received the prestigious Netpac award at IFFR for their film ‘Nervous Translation‘.

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John Torres and Arleen Cuevas at the premiere of ‘Nervous Translation’

Shireen could not travel to Rotterdam because she is pregnant. And John wanted to get back to Manila quickly because of that. So Arleen represented ‘Team-Nervous’ at the festivals award ceremony. And I got to come along as the Plus-1. (Thank you Shireen and John!)

The moment ´Nervous Translation´ won the Netpac award

Industry, industry and more industry!

Thats the buzz word thrown at us teachers. To network. Be involved. Know whats happening in the industry. Thats the mantra and mandate.

As if Arleen Cuevas and I needed a reminder. We both work as teachers in media management. And I’d like to think that we both have a decent track record as filmmakers. We are passionate about what we do. And because of that we are involved as much as possible with the industry. At events, conferences, screenings and festivals. Regardless of any mandate.

We can be picky about the projects we work on. Our teachers salary allows us that luxury. We stay in touch with friends and professionals in the industry. And we can bring new industry knowledge to you the student.

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The NHTV IMEM team at IFFR 2018

IFFR is a great opportunity to network and get new knowledge. It is also great to spend a few days at the Hilton in Rotterdam courtesy of IFFR. You get to have dinner at the same table as the head of the Dutch Film Fund Doreen Boonekamp. Talk about the new artistic IDFA director Orwa Nyrabia,  catch up with the latest news from the Bertha Fund and chit-chat with Hubert-Bals Fund producers and directors.

And you get to watch great, unusual films you would not otherwise see. Like ‘Nervous Translation’. Or the Flemish documentary ‘Rabot‘, a film about the lives of people forced to move from their high-rise social housing in Ghent. And of course the thriller ‘The Guilty‘, a story about a Danish policeman who investigates a kidnapping.

But IFFR is not the only event in the Netherlands that matters if you are a filmmaker. We are regularly drawn to the International Broadcasting Conference (IBC) every September. And usually we take a few interested students along.

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The NHTV IMEM team with students at IBC 2017

At IBC we find out how the industry is changing. Recent speakers included James Cameron, Will-I-am, and the panel discussions on  audience trends in 2017 was an eye opener. IBC covers everything media, from production to storytelling. I learn something every time I go.

Come November we attend the International Documentary Film festival in Amsterdam (IDFA). IDFA is simply amazing.

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In my favourite IDFA cinema, the Tuschinski

It is THE international documentary festival in the world. Films are moving, shocking, touching and thought provoking. Like the 2017 premiere of Time Trial, a film about road racing cyclist David Millar on his last professional tour.

At IDFA you find out more about trends in documentary filmmaking. Like Impact Producing. Impact Producing is a buzzword right now. It has taken a foothold in the Netherlands with the Dutch Impact Academy, managed by Bernadette Kuijper. IDFA is the place where you can question filmmakers and producers about new ways of making films. Like Film and Campaign management and Impact Producing.

IBC, IDFA, IFFR – these are key events guiding us through the year. Not just as teachers who are mandated to stay in touch with the industry. But also as passionate filmmakers who are naturally driven to these events, to learn, network and then take that knowledge into the next project – and to you the student in our classroom. And doing this as a ‘plus-1’ is actually a lot of fun.

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Online Bullying, pornography and suicide.

All of these are serious threats to social media. And we know that social media giants like Facebook censor offending content. But unless you watch ‘The Cleaners’ you have no idea of how big this problem really is.

Facebooks membership alone exceeds the population of any single country on Earth. But despite their size social media networks face serious threats. Facebook, Twitter and Google are great when solving technical solutions to reach out to as many people as possible.

But they have not addressed the enormous responsibility that comes with the new global digital family. Instead they decided to keep the darker side of the Internet hidden from you.

The documentary ‘The Cleaners’ (IMDB, 2018), (IFFR, 2018) shows how social media giants deploy thousands of content moderators in the Philippines. Their task: to delete content that does not comply with their guidelines. The film claims that on average one moderator is tasked to delete 25.000 pictures and videos a day.

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Censored content includes child pornography, violence and suicides. Sometimes even streamed live. The film raises difficult ethical questions: are SNS the appropriate body to censor content in this way? Or should this be done by our governments? What kind of content should be censored? And who decides that?

We learn in the film that one moderator killed himself because he could no longer bear the emotional stress of reviewing violence, death and abuse thousands of times a day.

Pew research experts are evenly split on whether the problem will improve or get worse in the future. Critics say that social media systems amplify the worst of mankind and that this is polarising society. They say that “the dark side of human nature is aided more than stifled by technology” (Pew Research Center, 2017).

My view on this differs. Social media systems only show us who and what we really are. On social media we are confronted with the best – and the worst of us. Censoring offending content might solve the problem in the short term. But it is not Facebook posting disturbing content. We do. And sometimes disturbing content is also needed to achieve social change.

Moderators review 25,000 images and videos per day. They are given on average just 1 second to make difficult censorship decisions. One idea could be to classify disturbing content and make it available on special sites. This way moderators and users can discuss these images. Only extreme content should be deleted.

Discussing controversial content might even encourage us to do what we really should be doing: fight war, abolish poverty and create a more equal society. Then we solve the problem in the long term.

We need to demand more action from our governments to deliver peace and equality in the real world. Only then we will see less bullying, violence and pornography on social networks.