Britain’s free press

One of the things we British often pride ourselves on is we have the right of free speech (although the reality is becoming increasingly a questionable matter) and that people within reasonable limitations can speak and write etc. exactly what it is that is on their mind and we have a free press. Given I can publish this blog is evidence of this. There are many countries where one will be penalized for doing so if it did not coincide with the views of the rulers of the country they lived in and it was not that long ago in Britain, when speaking something out of line with the rulers at the time, this might be regarded as treason, where the penalty may have been death.

I admire those who try to inform on what is happening in the world that is of any significance, however unpalatable this information is to some, within the framework of truth and balance, which I see as being of paramount importance since only by knowing of and correctly understanding a given situation can we do anything meaningful to make a difference, and especially when they go out of their way and put their lives on the line when they do so; these are among our true heroes. Too few succeed entirely, maybe none of us, given we all have opinions, perspectives and limited pre-requisite knowledge that has a bearing, even if we have all good intentions to be true and balanced when it comes to what we speak and write.

I don’t have confidence that the British press (or any country’s press comes to that) to fully provide accurate and balanced reporting giving the right level of detail. I take the view I need to read from several different sources and these may take quite different stands to each other, while reporting broadly on the same events. It is not that I do so having decided the truth somehow lies in the middle but having identified potentially reliable sources, albeit with a twist, I do well to take in the various perspectives on a particular subject in order to arrive at a view that may approach being the correct one. This is especially important in the lead up to tomorrow’s election when trying to come to a view who it is I ought to vote for.

One public institution admired the world over is the BBC. Often, many living in countries where access to reliable reporting is limited appreciate the BBC as a means of finding out what is going on with a degree of accuracy and impartiality. While the BBC has long been under the spotlight as to how fair its reporting is, e.g. both UKIP and the Greens have both recently complained they have not been treated fairly in the lead up to tomorrows elections, many would say that in the main it does a good job as a public service broadcaster and they would want it to continue if only to provide this service. I am of the view that an independent BBC providing this public service is akin to the important role played by public libraries – both are important for we need them because there is a need to access information that is non-beholden to vested interests.

People who know me will know I am an avid reader that reads widely on all sorts of subjects, from widely differing perspectives. Other than subscribe to my daily local newspaper, which I usually don’t get to read thoroughly, I do not regularly take any of the national dailies. However, whenever the opportunity arises I read whatever is available, especially if I have nothing better to do. Yesterday I got to read the Mail (the copy having been abandoned on the London underground) and today I got to read the Sun (offered to customers at my favorite breakfast café). These aren’t my newspapers of choice and, knowing the biases that do exist, I am extra cautious when coming to evaluate what I have read.

When I got home, I read an article posted by one of my Facebook friends, who I regard as a sensible, stable, strong Christian type with a social conscience. The title was: “All right-thinking people should now boycott The Daily Mail”. The reason given was: “Today, The Mail has descended further into the pit of the worst type of journalism with this incredible election headline:”Trust Labour, I would rather trust Jimmy Saville to babysit””. While I agreed the headline was in poor taste (although I found the article itself was less rabid than what I had expected from the title), and that newspapers who print such headlines should be challenged more by the public (but aren’t), I disagreed this was a boycott matter.

One of the articles shared today on my Facebook page had the title: “General Election Front Pages Show The British Press At ‘Partisan Worst‘”. It cited the headline in today’s Sun, to a story which I pondered on as I was eating my bacon, that was over an unflattering picture of Ed Milliband eating a bacon sandwich: “This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie. In 48 hours, he could be doing the same to Britain,” telling its readers to “save our bacon” and not to vote for Ed, which some might see as equally offensive. It should be added that different newspapers support different parties. The same source cites the Mirror newspaper, quoting ex Tory Prime Minister John Major’s criticism of the present Tory party: “It ran the headline ‘Major Fail’ next to a picture of David Cameron holding his face in his hands. The article’s intro began: “The Tory election campaign has suffered a hammer blow...””, although in this case the point made was not as rabid as the Sun’s.

While I accept the Mail’s hypocrisy, there can be nothing more hypocritical than the Sun telling its English readers to vote Tory and its Scottish readers to vote SNP or, worse still, continue to employ Katie Hopkins with her nasty tirades that just happens to help sell copies of the newspaper. So if we boycott the Sun as well as the Mail, why then stop there? In recent years, I have come to appreciate the Guardian as a newspaper that commentates well on social issues. But when I read its demonization of UKIP and the Christians that buy into its “Christian” manifesto, I find that offensive. And even the Telegraph, which I once regarded as the most truthful and balanced of all newspapers is not blameless on this score. When I read an article by a former editor that the paper failed to follow up leads on HSBC and other banks that they were dealing corruptly, the plug was pulled so not to upset vested interests, I was appalled.

I see the answer as at least two fold. We need to be able to recognize newspapers for what they are: while they will print stuff that it is helpful for us to know, it will often be with a particular slant and way too much extraneous excess baggage. We should be mature enough to recognize this and seek to find the balance elsewhere when needed, as it often is (recognising no single publication has all the truth and all the balance), which is my second point. And if the balance isn’t available on the same scale in mainstream media (for who can compete with powerful media interests) then look for it elsewhere and promote it when we can and, for some, plug that gap if something needs saying (one reason why I blog). Thank G*d for the Internet in this regard. But back to the title; we do have a free press in Britain, albeit in many guises. Let us cherish it and fight to preserve it even when vested interests would want it otherwise.

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