EU Media Wars – it’s Ali v Frazier again

As we get nearer the Day of Reckoning on June 23rd I’m reminded of the classic,brutal fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, which have been gracing our screens again recently following Ali’s death.

But unlike those epic, bloody battles which so transfixed TV audiences back in the day, in 2016 there’s only going to be ONE long scrap to decide the outright, once-and-for-all winner in our Fight of the Century.

Like millions of others over the past few weeks, sorry, months, I’ve sat through the interviews,debates, vox pops ad nauseam and heard views about how the economy will shrink, how our public services will not be able to cope, how we need to curb immigration,how we need to take control of our lives – unless we make the right decision.

Then at last an issues we can really angry about. This week I’ve read how “a Brexit vote could send the price of European wine rocketing.” (The Tablet)

Is nothing sacred?

We’ve heard from politicians, former Prime Ministers, and businessmen (shock horror,even the occasional businessWOMAN) about the EU vote. Indeed,at times it seems as if the media is running out of people to quote or interview about Brexit or Remain.

Unchanging tactics

I was struck by something that the former Labour spin-doctor and veteran bruiser Alastair Campbell said on BBC Newsnight in yet another panel discussion about how the campaigns are going.

His main point was how important it is for campaigners to keep sticking to their key messages -“Politicians have got to keep going with the core arguments”.

Which is probably why we feel like we’re getting slugged with the same left hook and right uppercut every time the battered and bruised subject rears its ugly head in the media.

This ‘stay with the key message’ mantra (“Stay off the ropes,champ!”) is intrinsically linked to the brand-awareness mentality so beloved of marketers over the years. And boy,has the medium now become the message,as far as the EU referendum is concerned.

‘Coca-Cola – The Real Thing’, ‘Carlsberg – Probably the Best lager in the World’…even Muhammad ‘The Greatest’ Ali. The slogans have stuck, whatever the reality, whatever the truth and however hard the media tries to put the messages into perspective. Or not.

Ali’s fight against ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier provides a fitting analogy. Watching the TV archives I’m struck by how BOTH boxers in turn appeared powerful and vulnerable, sometimes within seconds.

I for one, feel a bit like that now about the protagonists in the EU debate.

And I don’t think I’m alone, certainly among other undecided or wavering voters.

Punch drunk?

Interestingly, after the infamous Thriller in Manilla, The Greatest is said to have told his manager that he wasn’t able to continue with the fight, due to exhaustion. He wanted to throw in the towel but Angelo Dundee told him to carry on : then within seconds, Frazier’s corner got their shout in first, Smokin’ Joe retired, and the rest as they say is history(and legend).

Watching the fight again I’m impressed as much by Frazier’s courage and strength as by Ali’s – far more so than I was at the time, when, like many Ali fans, I was carried away by the euphoria. It was a VERY close contest – but the depth of that perspective has effectively been lost. We only care about the positive results when looking back on the great man’s career; our selective memory kicks in, and we forget about Joe.

In sport,as in politics, nobody easily remembers the losers, even more so just a short time after one of our greatest ever sportsmen has just passed away. But Smokin’ Joe WAS a great boxer, as even a cursory glance at his record shows.

It’s just that Ali’s was ultimately better.

In the fight for our votes the media battle will continue to rage and it will get even bloodier as the contestants get more desperate for victory.

And despite the polls, the hourly hooks and uppercuts, it’s still not clear who the victor will be – so they’ll continue to battle it out from round to round until one side weakens.

For the voters, the longer we remain undecided the more we’ll become numbed to those same jabs and hooks.

Personally, I could do with a bit more craft and a bit less slugging and ducking and diving and maybe straight answers to straight questions. But it seems that’s not what most modern politicians are trained to do.

When the battle’s won and lost we’ll quickly forget about the nuances and concentrate on making the best out of what’s left.

That’s what Ali and Frazier eventually did after three long and bruising battles – let’s hope our politicians follow suit after this big fight that we’re all involved in.

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