Freedom of the Press

WHAT FREE PRESS?

Stand strong, Nick. Do not cave to Cameron over Leveson because if you do so, you go against your party’s wishes and, it appears, those of 86% of Daily Mail readers!

As a journalist, I have long defended the principle of a free press as a vital plank of democracy. The protests of journalists that we are facing the abyss are not unfounded. Yet there is a myth about the British press that is more fantastic than many of the stories it publishes; the myth that we have a “free” press, at all. The sheer quantity of coverage across the newsprint pages this week shows who is really in control of the press… and it isn’t journalists or even in the interests of journalism.

It is simply not possible to have a free press if the presses are owned by five or six people of enormous power and wealth… and in some cases, little connection with Britain.  The bastion of British journalism was long-since breached by far more mendacious enemies of democracy than Leveson. One of them even spawned the entire Leveson episode. Rupert Murdoch’s transformation of The Sun in the 1960s saved the newspaper business from the threat of television but it also sacrificed responsible news reporting to profit. Far from being a respectable facet of a free state, the tabloid press has become a tawdry part of the entertainment industry, pandering to the predilections of net curtain twitchers across the nation.

For decades, the lip service paid by editors to true investigative journalism has been largely sham outrage against the excesses of celebrities published a few thin sheets away from the papers’ own shabby titivation. What little challenge has been put up to our nations’ leaders has been manipulated and warped to suit the agenda of the rich men who pull the strings. It’s become a game but it’s our lives they are playing with.  It’s proved both fun and profitable for them.

Sadly, the success of this model has infected the entire media. The “owned” broadsheets have oft been abused as shrill mouthpieces of their millionaire masters – witness the rabid coverage over Leveson’s as yet unknown findings.

“Leveson – Disturbing Questions over Key Advisor” bleats Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail, in a pathetic attempt to disgrace him.

“State Regulation is ‘Greatest Threat to Newspapers in 300 Years’, say Conservative MPs!” wails the tax-haven dwelling Barclay Brothers’ Daily Telegraph, omitting the fact that less than 6% of Parliamentarians signed the offending letter and of them, many had benefitted from the Barclays’ largesse.

Leveson may be a threat to newspaper owners but good journalism? Not necessarily and certainly no more a threat than Murdoch, Barclays, Rothermere or the rest of the press puppeteers.  There is a chasm between the role of a great journalist and a power-crazed press magnate. If anything, the journalists need protecting from their employers. They need the right to investigate whatever is newsworthy and to challenge our so-called betters with vigour but they cannot do so if they are promoting the agenda of a few morally suspect men who gain pleasure from toying with our lives, our freedoms, our culture and our democracy.

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