When British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election in search of a fresh mandate before negotiating the UK's way out of the European Union, her lead in the polls made her look unbeatable.

She also knew that most of Britain's newspapers had her back since 70 percent of the papers sold in the UK are, like May, conservative. They're not shy with their opinions and they set an agenda that broadcast journalists often follow. Those papers were hammering opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed leftist.

May's campaign was showing signs of stumbling before the Manchester and London attacks which pushed domestic security to the top of the agenda. That's a scenario, when fear is in the air, in which conservative parties such as May's tend to do well.

But, for some reason, that didn't happen this time. Instead Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party surged, with him saying aloud what many believe but few western politicians dare to say, that it's time for a total rethink on the so-called "war on terror".

Despite coming under constant criticism in the conservative press, and although the state-funded broadcaster the BBC repeated some of the right-wing talking points from those papers depicting Corbyn as a security risk, his party won enough seats to shock the so-called experts and deny Theresa May the majority government and the mandate that she wanted, one that the papers tried and failed to deliver.

The [British] media very rarely talks about the underlying causes of terrorism, it's a very strong taboo within the media.

Tom Mills, author, The BBC: Myth of a Public Service

Just as Corbyn started to gain in the polls, "terror" forced its way into the election equation not once, but twice.

Given that May spent six years as home secretary responsible for national security, she had some explaining to do. But the British press went to great lengths to somehow make the "terror" story about Corbyn.

"You have outlets that are very definitely on the side of the government," says columnist Mary Dejevsky of The Independent. "The British press, unlike a lot of the media around the world, is very partisan so you're not really talking about neutrality, you're talking about taking a stand."

Tom Mills suggests the British press portrayed Corbyn as soft on or an apologist for terror. "The day before polling day we had a headline from The Sun, which was "Jezza's Jihadi Comrades" and we saw a similar front page from the Daily Mail, so they're trying to push these kinds of perspectives," explains Tom Mills, author of The BBC: Myth of a Public Service.

"The press can have this kind of agenda-setting function for the broadcasters. So, for example, in the BBC's Daily Politics Show, they Photoshopped a picture for this segment of Jeremy Corbyn alongside a picture of Osama bin Laden. I just can't see how this could be a defensible editorial position. But it shows how these kinds of tabloid-type common sense tend to feed into supposedly serious political conversations," says Mills. 

The complaints from the Corbyn camp went far beyond the British news media's preference for the sensational over the substantive or broadcasters, who are supposed to be balanced, taking their cues from newspapers that are clearly not.

Labour supporters have taken particular issue with the BBC and they point to the coverage the day after the London Bridge attacks, when the BBC covered Theresa May's speech live but not Corbyn's, suggesting the BBC showed a bias against the Labour leader that is more institutional than ideological.

When an attack happens , the news media get on the story and stay there. Coverage tends to be dominated by the effects of "terror" rather than its causes. Journalists will dig into the background of a Muslim attacker, which mosque he attended; where he grew up.

But when Jeremy Corbyn talked about possible underlying causes, as he did after the Manchester bombing, suggesting that Britain's foreign policy and its role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have played a role, British media outlets proved to be unwilling to follow him there.

"The media very rarely talks about the underlying causes of terrorism, it's a very strong taboo within the media. There's always been a strong consensus around security and defence for the last decade, and I think the media has essentially been following the politicians and the officials in this point," says Mills.

Yet a poll taken in the wake of Corbyn's speech showed that he is on the right side of public opinion: more than twice as many Britons agree with his view on the root causes of "terror" than oppose it.

So why is such a notion so foreign to the media? Why is the search for probable cause in an act of "terror" such a taboo?

Contributors:
Tom Mills, author, 'The BBC: Myth of a Public Service'
Afua Hirsch, journalist & broadcaster
Richard Seymour, founding editor, Salvage
Mary Dejevsky, columnist, The Independent

Source: Al Jazeera