A free press? | @davowillz

After a long break, Labour Teachers will be relaunched soon under new editorship. Before that happens we will be sharing some posts sent to us during the hiatus.

KINDLE_CAMERA_1425511765000David Williams is a former Literacy Coordinator who is now English KS 4 Coordinator at a bilingual comprehensive school in South Wales.

In reality the press have a number of constraints placed upon them. The first constraint a journalist faces is that of interest: you only get to write stories which are important enough or engaging enough to of interest to your readership. Without a readership interested enough to read your stories you don’t have a paper. In order to grow your readership the temptation is to write the most sensational stories and there are clearly newspapers who appeal to sensationalism in order to grow their readership. However the revenue necessary for keeping a paper going comes less and less from people paying for your stories and to a greater and greater extent from advertising revenue. This can create conflicts of interest. You may avoid writing stories which offend your revenue sources for fear that you will lose them. At this point I’d like to be clear that I don’t think this is the healthiest of situations for a free press; it is however the situation we are in.

There are also other constraints; there is for example the Independent Press Standards Organisation which has a code of conduct which the press are supposed to adhere to. However like all the codes which have come before it is voluntary. In the past much of the press have misunderstood or simply ignored codes of conduct like this, simply because they tend to lack teeth to force compliance. (They can get you to print a correction…after a while…in a tiny part of the paper)    http://www.editorscode.org.uk/downloads/codebook/codebook-2014.pdf

And the reason the organisation which created the code does lack teeth is a good one; quite simply we do not trust an independent press regulatory body would be truly independent. If it had too much power the worry would be that a government or indeed other interested powers could use it to silence the press about stories which portray them negatively.

The most important constraint upon the press is of course the law. And certainly the majority of the press would argue that this is enough. The recent Leveson inquiry gave voice to those who disagree; those who feel the press have become too intrusive, tyrannical and indeed corrupt and that more legal constraints should be placed upon them: the stories they choose to write; how they investigate those stories; how they portray their subjects.

There is also a constraint on the freedom of speech in our law. We are not allowed to say anything we like and just like any private citizen the press is not allowed to incite racial hatred. You may disagree with this law because you may feel it shuts down debate, or you may believe that such a law provides a reasonable constraint which benefits society at large.

There are also constraints of time, space and of course information. You can only write about what you know in the space your editor allows to meet a deadline. If one party is unwilling or unable to provide a journalist with information or a counter argument that journalist will write using what is available. Because schools have a duty to protect children very often they simply cannot make a comment and there is a reasonably regular supply of ridiculously one sided stories certain newspapers have published in which some schools have been vilified.

So a free press? – well it is quite free. In a capitalist western country this could be the best we can do. However many would and have argued that the press need further constraints; that certain newspapers are reporting the news in an incredibly misleading, wholly irresponsible and indeed dangerous manner.

The Daily Mail is clearly the most obvious example of this. This is a particularly notorious correction it was forced to make. Very recently the paper also vilified a group of judges for…well…doing their job. Most disturbingly this is the sort of language totalitarian dictators have used to discredit those they sought to scapegoat.

This all brings us very neatly to the question at hand and the reason I am writing this blog. There are those on the left who feel that action must be taken to force the Daily Mail in particular to report the news in a fairer manner. They feel that the newspaper misleads the public and fuels hatred in order to portray their own xenophobic view on the world. So they have started to try to pressure companies like Lego into withdrawing financial support for the paper by refusing to advertise in it. I would argue that there is little difference between a campaign like this and other consumer driven campaigns to pressure other companies to behave more ethically.

@oldandrewuk clearly disagrees with this course of action and has made the case that some on the left are trying to “silence the press” and shut down debate, and in a perfect world in which papers like the Daily Mail genuinely regulated themselves I might agree with him. However we don’t live in a perfect world. I don’t believe that the Daily Mail is a paper which regulates itself either in terms accuracy or journalistic integrity. They seem more than happy to produce a sensationalist and inaccurate headline and publish a correction after the fact, when the damage has already been done. In my opinion given this context activists are perfectly entitled to lobby companies to withdraw financial support. Essentially activists are trying to force the Daily Mail to regulate itself, because it doesn’t.  I don’t accept that this constitutes “shutting down the press”. It is, however a means of trying to make the Daily Mail more accountable for the stories it writes and the language it uses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *