The Brexit referendum held in June 2016 sealed the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.Brexit and subsequent referendum raise essential issues about the role of political movements and their far-reaching impacts in society. This paper critically analyzes Brexit using several academic perspectives and theories. It further discusses the political nature of Brexit before while analyzing and critiquing various news values. It examines the power relationships between the main parties involved and the role of the new media in how the story was gathered, disseminated, and received.
Brexit, which led to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (EU) in 2016, was a massive political event. Brexit involved political, geopolitical, and economic issues that affected both the UK and the EU. Withdrawal of the UK from the EU was a political decision that required the input of all British citizens. All British citizens had to participate in Brexit as their political rights such as the right to vote, the right to participate in governance, and freedom of speech were at the core of the event (Gamble, 2018). Withdrawal from the EU was a decision that could not be taken by the political elite without the direct participation of the average UK citizens (Gamble, 2018). The decision of the UK to withdraw from the EU required a democratic response and this was actualized by the UK government in the 2016 Brexit referendum (Gamble, 2018). Brexit also involved matters concerning both geopolitics and identity politics of the UK. It affected the geopolitical environment and standing of both the UK and the EU. The decision to either withdraw or remain in the EU raised the question of the relationship between the UK and other EU nations such as Germany and France who had been long-term European partners of the UK (Booth et al., 2015). Brexit also involved resource politics with most British citizens advocating for British withdrawal as a means of reducing taxes. The UK remitted to the EU 12 billion pounds in the year 2015 alone making UK withdrawal to the EU a political affair affecting the economy of the former (Begg, 2016; Matti & Zhou, 2017). Many advocates of Brexit argue that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU would result in tax cuts for the average British citizen.
Brexit and the subsequent referendum that marked the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is news for several reasons. Brexit and referendum fulfill various elements of Galtung and Ruge’s news criteria and values. News values are the numerous criteria that influence the selection and presentation of events and occurrences as news by media houses (Preston, 2015). The news values provide a conceptual framework utilized in the field of journalism to describe some of the gatekeeping practices of mainstream news media (Preston, 2015). Brexit involved elite individuals, nations, and regions and is an important news story. According to Harcup and O’neill (2017), events that involve elite individuals, nations, or regions are likely to be reported than other events as they tend to draw and hold the attention of many people. Brexit involved both the UK and the EU, which are elite regions in the world. Brexit and referendum were spearheaded by elite individuals in both the domestic and geopolitical environment of the UK and Europe. Brexit also became a major news item in the world due to its high threshold. The threshold of an event is determined by how many people the event is likely to affect (Harcup & O’neill, 2017). The larger the number of people, the more likely an event is to be reported as news. Brexit affected billions of people from the UK, EU, and Europe, among other countries around the world. It also affected business relations, domestic relations, and the economic livelihoods of millions of people across Europe. The high number of people affected by Brexit made the event a massive news item (Gavin, 2018). Continuity is another value that made Brexit a major news item among the world’s media houses. The ability of an event to generate future events related to that news event is a criterion for the selection of that event as a news item (Harcup & O’neill, 2017). Brexit resulted in a sequence of events that continuously generated news in the aftermath of Brexit referendum in 2016. Debates surrounding Brexit, especially the withdrawal agreement, continued until January 2020 when the UK officially withdrew from the EU. Brexit provided a series of newsworthy events way after the actual voting for the withdrawal of the UK from the EU by the British people.
Brexit and the ultimate withdrawal of the UK from the EU made the event a fine news item. If an event is deemed unexpected, it is most likely to become a news item and be reported (Harcup & O’neill, 2017). Brexit and the idea of UK withdrawal from the EU was an unexpected phenomenon that took many by surprise. The UK has tried breaking away from the EU several times. However, it has always ended up even being more involved in the affairs of the EU (Hall, Tinati, & Jennings, 2018). The key role played by the UK in the EU and its long history as a member of the EU made many people not to expect a possibility of the nation withdrawing from the EU community (Hall et al., 2018). However, the opposite happened in June 2016 when citizens of the UK voted to withdraw from the EU. The unexpected nature of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU made Brexit event to become a top news event and item as it captured the attention of many people who were surprised by the results of the Brexit referendum. Harcup and O’neill (2017) argue that the criteria of negativity are important in assessing the news value of a given event. Negative events attract massive attention and sell. Brexit made a huge news event as it was a negative event when considered from the perspective of those who wanted the UK to remain as part of the EU. The majority of individuals more so in the EU member states and Europe wanted the UK to remain as a member of the EU community (Gamble, 2018). The withdrawal of the UK from the EU painted Brexit negatively that made it a newsworthy event. Brexit became a major news event due to its lack of ambiguity. It was a simple political affair that involved either withdrawal or stay of the UK from the EU. Events that can be interpreted in a few ways without causing controversies are more likely to be reported compared to other events that are characterized by ambiguities and controversies (Harcup & O’neill, 2018). With only two options of withdrawal or stay, Brexit attracted many people who were keen on following the news event.
Brexit and the subsequent referendum involved numerous power relationships in both the UK and the EU. The major power players in Brexit were the UK citizens, the UK government and parliament, and the EU top leadership (Gamble, 2018). The UK citizens, the ones who determined the result of Brexit through the June 2016 referendum, were the ultimate power wielders behind Brexit. Led by various political leaders and agitators, a majority of the UK citizens voted for the nation to withdraw from the EU and their decision was final. The UK citizens applied coercive power vested in them by the UK laws to withdraw the UK from the EU (Wrong, 2017; Poggi, 2016). Though significant to Brexit, the UK citizens were informal actors in the event. The representatives of the UK citizens who occupy the House of Lords and the House of Commons being at the vanguard of Brexit held numerous forms of power and where the official actors in the event (Gamble, 2018). The elected leaders and representatives of the people advocated and represented the official views of the UK people and were the only individuals who could negotiate with the other leaders of the EU. The leaders of the EU community also were the main actors in Brexit as they engaged in negotiating the terms of withdrawal of the UK. The power relations between the actors in Brexit were unequal and more hierarchical in nature. Active and direct involvement of citizens of the UK on matters concerning Brexit was limited to the referendum (Gamble, 2018). The leaders and representatives of the UK and EU were the individuals actively involved in the actual negotiation, drafting, passing, and implementation of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The leaders of both EU and the UK were at the top of the power hierarchy with regard to Brexit while the UK citizens were at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Various actors involved in Brexit utilized various types of power to influence the media to their points of view. The leadership of both the EU and the UK utilized their access to power to move the press and media to their viewpoints concerning Brexit. The leaders of the UK and the EU utilized their access power to access influential government information and data that helped shape the outcome of Brexit (Hall et al., 2018). Leaders of Brexit also utilized resources power to ensure that the June 2016 referendum confirmed UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Brexit became a success due to the massive financial support most UK leaders provided for the withdrawal cause (Dowling, 2019). Millions of pounds were utilized by both camps of Brexit political divide to ensure the success of their cause. Current UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in January 2020, came under fire for using 100 million pounds to run a Brexit ad campaign (Dowling, 2019). Legitimate power was exercised by both the UK citizens and their representatives throughout Brexit. The UK citizens exercised their legitimate powers to vote for Brexit while their representatives exercised their legitimate powers to draft and pass a withdrawal agreement.
The development of modern forms of communication and technology has revolutionized the sphere of mass communication, news reporting, and dissemination. Contemporary society is characterized by the new media which plays an expansive and important role in shaping and defining public opinions. The new media is largely made up of social media which enables users to create and share content through the internet. Social media is based on the concept of social networking where individuals exist and interact within a virtual social community (Hall et al., 2018). Social media has revolutionized news broadcasting as media houses have been forced to come up with models that incorporate social media as a key element of their operations. According to a survey conducted by Hall et al. (2018), more than 87 percent of contemporary media houses have and manage an active social media presence. Social media has impacted how news is currently gathered, filtered, disseminated, and received.
Social media utilizes several media theories that facilitate the quick spread of news in the modern era. The Echo Chamber theory, the Hypodermic syringe model, and the Agenda Setting theories are the most common forms of theories utilized by social media (Bode, 2016). The Hypodermic Syringe model is an old theory expounded in the 1930s although it is still relevant in the era of social media. Using this theory, the news or message is collectively gathered and filtered according to the journalist’s preference and then disseminated whole to the receivers (Nwabueze & Okonkwo, 2018). The Hypodermic theory assumes people to uniformly controlled by their innate instincts and thus react more or less uniformly to whatever information they receive (Nwabueze & Okonkwo, 2018). Under the Hypodermic Syringe model, the receiver wholly accepts without challenge the message passed to them from the media houses.
The Echo Chamber theory is quite pertinent to the social media age of information where numerous individuals in society can easily access information. Under the Echo Chamber model, people’s beliefs are amplified and reinforced through numerous repetition of the intended message (Yusuf, Al-Banawi, & Al-Imam, 2014). Under the model, the news is selectively gathered and filtered in a manner that reinforces people’s beliefs and the disseminated using a closed system. The dissemination of the message is done repetitively to ensure that the message is received and reinforced in the recipient’s minds (Yusuf et al., 2014). This theory is used to create confirmation bias, political polarization, and extremism, especially in matters politics as the model only confirms what a person already knows (Conway, 2017). The Agenda Setting theory is one of the most used models in the social media age. The Agenda Setting theory holds that media can influence, shape, and define public agenda (Feezell, 2018). The model aims at making predictions on how people will react. Therefore, it focuses on how people should think rather than what they think (Feezell, 2018). Under the model, the news is gathered and filtered biasedly with an intended aim of influencing public opinion and then distributed frequently and prominently. The message being shared is received by the audience as important and will shape their political and economic decisions. The Agenda Setting theory and the Echo Chamber theory of social media were prominently used in Brexit to influence the decision of the UK electorates.
Brexit was a political event that massively highlighted the role of social media in contemporary society. Brexit, possessing all the qualities of a good news event, hit the deadlines of the world’s media houses in 2016. Various political actors and relationships from the UK and the EU were thrown into the balance by Brexit and the referendum. Leaders and political agitators of Brexit utilized social media to actively influence and shape social discourse and public opinion in the UK. Through the use of contemporary public influencing models of media reporting such as the Agenda Setting theory, Brexit was turned into a national and international news item that every other issue depended on. In June 2016, the results of Brexit social media campaign were realized when the UK citizens voted for withdrawal of the nation from the EU.
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