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Stop the Presses?

March 26, 2013

Looks like the News is back in the news again, and for all the wrong reasons. UK newspapers are currently raising a hue and cry over the horrors of press regulation as MPs try to agree upon a way to implement the Leveson Recommendations, while in the background more tales of the tabloid’s nefarious doings emerge.  This isn’t the type of subject that I normally post about, but this situation has got my dander up to the point where I feel compelled to do so. I’ll try not to go on for too long as I don’t think I’ll be saying anything terribly clever or original, and I’m sure a quick go on the Google-o-tron will find a better written and cleverer piece by someone like Charlie Brooker or David Mitchell, but I’ll feel better for getting it off my chest. 

Let me make this clear from the get go – the censorship of the press is a bad thing. Political control over the news is a bad thing. But if the Leveson report results in either of those things happening (which, for the record, I don’t believe it will), then certain sections of press need to take a share of the blame. There’s a couple of things that have happened over the last few weeks that add some weight to that statement.  

Firstly, we have the fact that journalists from The Sun have admitted to accessing data from a mobile phone stolen from an MP. They don’t appear to have offered a valid explanation for why exactly they were handling stolen property just yet, which is something I’m quite interested to hear.  Furthermore one of their deputy editors has been accused of authorising the payment of bribes to a public official.  The Sun has been going on a lot lately about how the Leveson recommendations will lead to a ‘Ministry of Truth’ that will try to control newspapers.  Based on recent events I’d say the staff of this particular newspaper need to be more concerned about an actual government department more that one they’ve made up to use in clever headlines – The Crown Prosecution Service.

Also in the last week there’s been news of the tragic death of Lucy Meadows. Miss Meadows, a transgender person working as a teacher, was the subject of a lot of negative media coverage including a particularly brutal attack by Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn.  It seems Mr Littlejohn was outraged by the fact Miss Meadows intended to continue to teach at the same school after her gender reassignment surgery, and led his piece with a nasty headline that proclaimed not only was she in the wrong body, she was in ‘the wrong job’.  The early indications are that Miss Meadows took her own life, and some of her associates are stating the intrusive and hostile media attention she received was a factor in this.  It’s worth noting that it seems the newspapers weren’t really interested in printing positive or supporting statements from the parents at the school or those close to Miss Meadows, but were actively seeking negative ones.  It’s almost as if the opinions of the journalists and their editors were more important than the facts, isn’t it?

I think at this point it is wrong to try to pin the blame for Miss Meadows death solely on the words of Mr Littlejohn – it’s too early to tell what kind of affect his writings or the media really had in this sad affair.  It may or may not emerge that it was a major factor in her suicide, but what is clear at this point is that it was a thoroughly reprehensible personal attack on a potentially vulnerable member of our society.  I’d say Littlejohn should be ashamed of himself, but based on his previous writings I think that’s unlikely to ever happen.   By the way, I’m not going to link to the article in question as I don’t want to be responsible for driving any small amount of traffic to the Mail – if you want to read it for yourself, I’m sure you can turn it up via an internet search.

Lets not forget that these incidents have come to light after the Leveson enquiry ended.  And let’s not forget the stories that came out during said enquiry – invasions of privacy, hacking of phones and so on.  Not just against ‘celebrities’, mark you – we shouldn’t forget what innocent neighbours of murder victims or grieving parents were subjected to either.  Even aside from these criminal and borderline criminal activities, there are many other reasons to be wary of our press.  The excellent website Tabloid Watch does a good job of exposing how papers choose to misrepresent the facts of a story or outright lie to make it fit their agenda.  Whether it’s making benefits claimants or asylum seekers into villains or trying to whip up a cancer scare from some half-baked scientific research, our newspapers seem to be more keen on making a hoo-hah than on reporting the news. They may print corrections and amendments from time to time when challenged, but these are token gestures at best.  They seem to have no interest at all in changing their philosophy or practices to write accurate articles in the first place.

One might question why the press chose to act in this manner, and the answer is simple. It makes money. Muck raking and causing controversy are great ways of selling papers or getting page hits on their websites. The Great British public simply love tittle-tattle and scandal about celebrities or those in power, so that stuff will always sell. And there’s plenty of nasty little bigots left in the country that are drawn to the kind of opinions spouted by columnists like Littlejohn like moths are drawn to a light bulb. Furthermore these controversial columns will draw plenty of hits from people who don’t agree but who feel the need to read it in order to rail against it. Whether the reader agreed with it or was outraged doesn’t matter – all these hits are still great for flogging advertising space.  And on other occasions the papers are simply mouthpieces for their owners. They’ll just dance to whatever tune moguls like Rupert Murdoch are choosing to play at the time, supporting the government if they’re doing things the way Mr Murdoch wants or sticking the boot in if they aren’t. A free and independent press free of political control is a good thing, yes. But do we actually have one of those at the moment? Not really. Our elected politicians might not have their sticky little mitts on the press directly, but they’re still just tools to serve a person’s agenda.

To reiterate – the censorship of the press is a bad thing. Political control over the news is a bad thing. And if either of these things come about then we must ensure the blame is apportioned correctly. It’s all well and good for The Sun to bleat on about ‘The Ministry of Truth’ but the simple fact is that if such a body comes ever actually comes into existence then they and their ilk will have played a significant part in its creation. The tabloids and the gutter press have been steadily eroding any good will they may have had for years, and recent events must surely have expedited that process considerably. There will always be people who read these papers.  Many, many people are still happy to hand over their money in exchange for their daily dose of gossip/football news/bile-filled hate/tits (delete as appropriate). But I’d wager when other sections of the general public see the alarmist headlines regarding press regulation their reaction is increasingly likely to be a cynical shake of the head along with a comment such as ‘Well, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.’ If you’ll allow me a favourite Northern colloquialism of mine, I think the press have well and truly pissed on their chips.

So if we ever get to the horrible situation where Westminster controls what the papers can and cannot say (and again, I do not think that the Leveson recommendations would lead to this in the slightest), make sure you’re angry with the right people. Be angry with the sections of the press that chose to act in such a corrupt, despicable manner. Blame the publishers and newspaper owners for pulling the press’s strings to serve their own ends. And make sure you blame the good old British public for not only condoning it but for effectively encouraging it by paying to read the trash that the tabloids served up.

Editors note – Monkey’s Blood would like to apologise for this interruption to our regularly scheduled programming.  We can assure you that our normal output of geeky nonsense, bad fiction and witterings about MMA will be restored as soon as possible. In fact we’re considering a Star Trek or Star Wars thing for next week just to get the Geek levels back up to normal.  Possibly something like ‘Kirk or Picard – Who’s the Better Captain?’  After all that’s a question no-one’s tried to discuss before on the internet, isn’t it? Well, as far as I know that is. 


From → Musings

  1. The Author permalink

    Here in America, the government doesn’t control the presses. But the people who control the government also control the presses. I don’t even know if that qualifies as a difference or not…. Afterall, when “they” want to invade a country for no reason, the entire public will go along with the reasons spelled out by the government and repeated, unquestioningly, by the media. Gotta love it.

  2. I’m pretty sure it’s the same characters behind the scenes in the US as in the UK. Murdoch certainly works in both arenas, being the chap behind Fox News over there.

  3. Ah the press – don’t get me started. . .

    • When people say that it just makes me want to get them started even more… it implies there’s an interesting story to be told.

  4. All good words and I agree with all of it. If the press can be trusted to behave responsibly then yes, they can regulate themselves. But if they do this sort of thing then how can they be trusted? Ben Goldacres comments about science journalism are especially interesting to read in Bad Science. He reveals some interesting situations around science reporting…

    • I do like Goldacre. We need more like him.

      • Yes, we do. I use him all the time in teaching as there are many great examples in Bad Science (and I really need to get the second book sometime…).

        Of course one thing I think is happening more and more (and Ed commented on this a while back) is that there are more amatuer journalists out there than there used to be. Any idiot can put together a blog *looks shifty* and report on whatever the hell they feel like for free and send it out for free. It will be interesting to see how this changes the way the media is handled.

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