Britain is more than two years into the painful process of negotiating its departure from the European Union. And the media angle to this story is no mere sideshow.

When the EU's Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said this past week that the news media can "sow divisions, spread disinformation and encourage exclusion" she said that the Brexit debate is the "best example."

Many of Britain's papers, especially tabloids like The Sun and The Daily Mail, are playing an outsized role by stoking the political flames and pushing their pro-Leave agendas.

The day after the EU rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit proposal, The Sun's frontpage proved this point and was another reminder of the role tabloids played in the 2016 referendum that landed Britain where it is today.

"The sort of language that talks about 'two-bit mobsters' of the European Union reflects a discourse that's been going on around coverage of the EU for the last two decades," explains Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths University. "It fits a discourse around this idea of the EU being a very bullying and nannying construct that is taking away powers from the UK."

People no longer know who to trust. And it's largely to do with media elites and political elites. And the entanglement of power between media elites and political elites makes them even more distrusted, because people know that they work together and that that's where power resides.

Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications, Goldsmiths University

For pro-Brexit political commentator Isabel Oakeshott, this is exactly what passionate readers want.

"Yes, this language is emotive, but this is a tabloid paper, it is a red-blooded tabloid designed for red-blooded readers who have strong views on where we are going with the Brexit negotiation... Sun readers look for that full throttle coverage."

Journalist Annalisa Piras, who campaigns for a more reasoned debate on issues pertaining to the EU, says the British media's attack on the EU is "a consequence of the transformation of the media, because there is no incentive, especially, in a landscape which is extremely competitive, in being the ones who foster dialogue and harmony. Dialogue and harmony doesn't pile up clicks on the net, but that's a fact."

The pro-Brexit press in the UK does not limit its antagonism to the EU. Two years ago when a British court ruled that parliament had the constitutional right to have the last say on Brexit, The Daily Mail declared the judges who made that ruling 'enemies of the people', and reported that one of them was openly gay. The Daily Mail is one of the country's biggest selling papers. It's a good deal more popular than it is trustworthy, which is not as contradictory as it may appear.

"Trust in all news organisations is dropping," says Fenton. "It's dropping most for the tabloid press, that's true. People no longer know who to trust. And it's largely to do with media elites and political elites. And the entanglement of power between media elites and political elites makes them even more distrusted, because people know that they work together and that that's where power resides."

Contributors

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen - director of research, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
Isabel Oakeshott - political journalist & commentator
Natalie Fenton - professor of media and communications, Goldsmiths University
Annalisa Piras - journalist, filmmaker & director, Wake Up Europe