Britain’s ‘Free’ Press

Speaking of ‘corruption’, can anyone think of a more suitable word to describe the present state of Britain’s national press? ‘Free’ it is supposed to be; but it appears only 33rd in global ‘free press’ rankings, behind the Czech Republic and most of the West Indian islands, and way beneath the Nordics and the Netherlands, which head the list (see https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2021#).

It is difficult indeed to understand British newspaper proprietors’ claim that their press is ‘free’, except in commercial terms: that is, that anyone rich enough is free to buy it. That’s why they object so much to the ‘regulation’ they feared might be imposed on them at the time of the Leveson Enquiry, and why they managed to derail the second part of that Enquiry, which was to be on Press ownership. Phone-tapping and all the other dirty tricks their ‘freedom’ had allowed them to get up to pre-Leveson were easily surrendered, with crocodile-teared mea culpas from the likes of Rupert Murdoch – ‘the most humble day of my life’ (I imagine he meant ‘humbling’) – and the closure of his News of the World – perhaps the dirtiest paper of the lot, but not particularly political, and so less dangerous – in the wake of Leveson Part I.

Without Leveson II the tabloid press, plus the Daily Telegraph, remain ‘free’ to continue on their path of spewing out the vilest of right-wing and ‘populist’ lies and propaganda, in the interests of their billionaire and tax-avoiding owners, to the enormous benefit of our present undeniably corrupt government, and to the detriment, of course, of the Labour Party, and especially of Jeremy Corbyn: who has turned out to have been right about everything, but was never allowed a fair hearing. Remember all those libels against him: communist, anti-semite, Soviet spy, terrorist sympathiser; and the ‘Traitors!’ and ‘Enemies of the People!’ headlines (the latter directed at judges who were trying to uphold British constitutional law) in the Daily Mail? For people who don’t believe that ‘Fascism’ could ever take over in liberal Britain, I refer them to this clear proto-Fascist tendency on the part of the present Mail. (And of course to the same paper’s stand in the 1930s: ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ ‘Leopards’ and ‘spots’ come to mind.) If Johnson’s government, already showing authoritarian tendencies, ever does morph into a kind of middle-class Fascism, then we can expect the Daily Mail to be its cheerleader.

Which is why it was so extraordinary that the present government was so keen to have the Mail’s recently-retired chief editor, Paul Dacre, become head of Ofcom – the government agency tasked with regulating the media – in spite of the way he had run his newspapers before. Now we learn that Dacre has withdrawn from the competition, citing ‘political correctness’ and ‘wokery’ as responsible for this – which is a good indication of the way he might have run the office if his candidature had been successful. Thank God (or whomever) for that.

But on its own Dacre’s withdrawal doesn’t limit the harm that Britain’s ‘free’ press is still doing, and is likely to continue to do, to her political life; and in particular to her democracy, which in order to work properly really should be able to rely on genuine news, not blatant propaganda, and on a semblance of balance; rather than the sheer ‘corruption’ – yes, there is no other word for it – which afflicts it presently. Boris: Britain is a corrupt nation. And you – as a former Telegraph journalist – must bear some responsibility for this.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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