Broadcasters should have been “far more robust with both the truths and the lies” of the Brexit debate, Channel Four news anchor Jon Snow has told the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
Snow, who opened the three-day industry event at the EICC, said he believed the British media had become too cosy with “the elite” in recent years.
He described the Brexit debate as a “ghastly period in which empty vessels and overloaded egos have been allowed to wallow about the stage too often unchallenged”.
Drawing comparison between the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US President, Snow said both had “overwhelmed the media’s ability to call out the lies of those on either side of the debate”.
Delivering the flagship MacTaggart Lecture as the three-day festival got under way, Snow told delegates the modern media in Britain was far too removed from those on the “wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present-day society.”
He also suggested broadcasters had “little awareness, contact or connection with those not of the elite” in a country he said was “more fractured than at any time I have known.”
Snow told his festival audience: “Never have we been more accessible to the public nor in some ways more disconnected from the lives of others.”
The presenter was following in the footsteps of Dennis Potter, Rupert Murdoch, Kevin Spacey, Janet Street-Porter and Armando Iannucci in delivering the MacTaggart Lecture.
Snow, who joined ITN in 1976 and has been anchor of Channel Four News since 1989, said the Grenfell Tower tragedy had taught him a “harrowing lesson” that he thought he had learned but had perhaps forgotten.
HE said: “We’d better accept we are all in this together, all of us in this room ARE, by definition, part of the elite.
“Yet I believe that we have, by the nature of our business, an obligation to be aware of, connect with, and understand the lives, concerns and needs of those who are not.
“I believe we are in breach of that obligation – that in increasingly fractured Britain, we are comfortably with the elite.
“In that moment (of the disaster) I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present day society and in which we are all in this hall, major players.
“We can accuse the political classes for their failures, and we do. But we are guilty of them ourselves. We are too far removed from those who lived their lives in Grenfell and who, across the country, now live on amid the combustible cladding, the lack of sprinklers, the absence of centralised fire alarms and more, revealed by the Grenfell Tower.”
He added: “I want to urge everyone and anyone in this room with the power to do it - give the individuals who work with and for you the space to do something, anything, in the wider community we are to communicate with.
“Some of us do plenty of this already but others do very little in this regard. It is one fertile route to discovering lives and issues about which we might never learn.
“We have to wide both our contact with, and awareness of, those who live outside and beyond our elite. Our elite is narrow and deep, but the throng of those who have born the brunt of austerity and not shared in the lives we have experienced is wide and even deeper.”
Addressing the growth of so-called fake news, Snow said Facebook as a “moral duty to prioritise veracity over reality.”
He described the social networking site’s prioritising of “fakery on a massive scale” was a threat to global democracy around the world and raised concerns about the way Facebook and Google now enjoy “a monopoly over the world’s information.”
He added: “Many news organisations, including my own, have asked too few questions about the apparent miracle of Facebook’s reach.
“For us at Channel Four News, it has been invaluable in helping us to deliver our remit to reach young viewers, to innovate, and to get attentioni for some of the world’s most important stories.
“But the other side of the issue - the dark, cancerous side - enabled the story: ‘Pope endorses Trump for President’ to engage more than a million people during the US elections.”