Navigating Controversy in the Media

In this newsletter, our marketing lead, Isaac, discusses how the media's implication in public controversy can complicate traditional debates over impartiality in a 'cancel culture' landscape.

‘I’m Gone Fishing’: Róisín Murphy announced her exit from public discourse via a screenshotted apology on X at the end of last month. As the frontwoman of electronic music duo Moloko and a successful solo artist, the singer was thrust into journalistic discussion after comments made on a private Facebook account emerged. Murphy’s claim that, ‘Puberty blockers are f*****, absolutely desolate, big pharma laughing all the way to the bank,’ made the artist the focal point of an ongoing debate surrounding transgender children. 

Whilst Murphy stated her intention to ‘completely bow out of this conversation within the public domain’ in her apology, the singer has now been brought to the centre of a polarised, binary discussion where ‘woke’ and ‘cancelled’ are key terms. Reading this coverage – from every side of the political spectrum – the uncomfortable space occupied by ‘cancel culture’ in the media has been made clear. 

The awkward inexpressibility of ‘cancellation’ has struck me. There appears to be real life ‘cancellation’ where one is penalised – with concerts being literally cancelled and opportunities lost – and the figurative act of ‘cancellation’ in the media. These two are of course correlated, but a dilemma arises where the constant narration and reportage of the penalties faced by Murphy outweighs their real-world implications. With publications like the Daily Mail quickly branding Murphy as ‘cancelled’, the focus of journalism shifts toward portraying the total, entire act of silencing and censorship by a mythical ‘woke’ mob. 

But this reportage is not unexpected from such outlets, and I’ve been more interested in the collision of the aArts and opinionated journalism. Awkwardly, album reviewers have had to disavow Murphy’s views – separate from her work – whilst simultaneously praising her music. Laura Snapes from The Guardian called ‘Hit Parade’ a ‘masterful album with an ugly stain’, describing the release as an ‘ignominious ending for one of the year’s most anticipated albums.’. With transgender children being the focus of such polarised discourse, the necessity to acknowledge the singer’s comments means that music reviews start to border on think pieces.

The actions of Murphy’s record label, Ninja Tune, and the BBC foreground these political uncertainties, straddling the line between noncommitment and proactivity. Although Ninja Tune didn’t issue a public statement, the label promptly halted all marketing and promotion of Murphy’s record a week before its release. Confusion also arose when BBC Radio 6 Music denied that removing Murphy from a scheduled broadcast this week was related to her puberty blockers controversy. 

Whilst music reviews become political and polarised, the actions of these organisations seem evasive and equivocal. As large establishments start to engage with the act of ‘cancelling’, the distinction between the renunciation, acknowledgement, and endorsement of Murphy’s words is blurred. Observing how each facet of the media negotiates public relations then highlights the difficulty of maintaining an impartial stance within the press. In particular, the BBC’s situation, as a publicly funded broadcaster, forces the act of politicised ‘cancellation’ in the media together with the cancelling of literal events. With Murphy’s absurd declaration of ‘Fishing’ in her apology, it seems that the singer anticipated these perplexing media reactions to her statements and promptly withdrew from the conversation which she inadvertently began. 

Isaac Mead, Marketing Director

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