By Alfie van den Bos
One of the many ways to judge a modern society is via its media, be it newspapers, television or even the internet. For instance totalitarian societies have always had illiberal approaches to expression and thus the Soviet and Nazi publications, though promoting different ideals, were greatly akin in how they suppressed alternate fashions of opinion and maintained a dull oneness in practically every realm of information. In contrast, the USA, founded by classical liberals, has always enjoyed one of the most heterogeneous appetites for opinion within its media, in line with its love of democracy, with over 500,000 elected posts nationwide. A nation’s media, as a pool of ideas and opinions, can thus be seen to reflect, at least partially, the values and norms of the citizens that interact with it. Therefore, it seems that the ongoing débâcle concerning the alleged misdeeds of certain News International journalists is but a microcosm of a wider malaise that raises crucial questions about the very state of our media as a whole, including all newspaper owners, if not the nation itself. Beyond debates over what constitutes correct media practice and ethical standards, one feels that the ways we perceive information, along with the philosophies that guide such attitudes are rendered increasingly uncertain. When we look into the by now muddied puddle of tabloid or red-top journalism, the pride of our intellects is drowned in the stark realisation that we can only see ourselves.
Of course the individuals in question deserve blame, if proved guilty of wrongdoing, but more widely, I cannot escape the thought that everyone is somehow linked to this concoction of immorality welling up from the corridors of power, that have essentially been found for many years, not in Westminster or Whitehall but in Wapping. Indeed these problems relate to both the irregular methodology of selected journalists at the sacrificed News of the World and the general approach to reportage adopted by the Murdoch Empire, as well as the excess concentrations of political capital and power in the hands of the News International cabal.
The reason I feel this is an issue that affects everyone is that which I argued in the opening paragraph, media is reflective of social values regardless of how much we may wish to blind ourselves to these reflections. All UK newspapers are private enterprises, as should be in a democracy, and so all have to sell themselves by appealing to the popular interest of their targeted audience. Ergo one cannot purely show disdain towards the irregular lengths some tabloids will go to acquire stories on public figures and celebrities, as they are merely surviving the fickle waves of the economy by publishing what the average Briton is interested in; tits, gossip, reality shows etc. As the national majority becomes more and more addicted to this type of news its sources dry up, as public figures close off their private lives, yet the continual demand pressurises these publications to seek increasingly questionable solutions. No doubt that some of those mourning Princess Diana’s death would have been the ones devouring pictures of her, had she survived and the press photographers got their images. Consequently the solution to this must lie not in external regulation of the media, which would be detrimental when combined with our outdated libel laws, but a new-found maturity in terms of the information we seek to consume. I am not saying that I know what information people should consume, but that if we our discontented with the current state of affairs, as recent outrage suggests most people are, the pursuit of resolution solely against the press, would be an exercise in mass hypocrisy and vanity.
We can also see links between the descent of tabloid writing and the slow creep of power into the arsenal of ‘Murdocracy’. The national obsession with celebrity and gossip stories masked a political ignorance. Obviously, not everyone finds politics interesting, but in a successful democracy, a minimum of political awareness, far above that, in my opinion, of the average UK citizen, is required. It is no coincidence, for example, that only the more elitist Guardian newspaper has given the News International scandals the attention they deserve or that the issue of super-injunctions as an affront to liberty were not popularised by the affairs of Carter Ruck and Trafigura but the affair of a famous footballer. As a result as a nation we are collectively numbed to politics, especially as the newspaper barons, eager to promote a pro-business electoral ideology try to portray politics as an irrelevant and corrupt art, as well as hindering the progress selected by the Murdochs of this world. Such an opinion is correct in many ways but one must contest the idea that all politics is malign and that the way of the economic weathermen is the only alternative. Haplessly, politicians were forced to see the views of the popular press and the electorate as one and the same and governed to suit the News International agenda. But mere months ago, the Labour leadership, now trying to champion themselves as the noble knights to slay the Murdoch dragon, chose to attack Vince Cable for daring to even consider clipping its wings.
In this way tabloid rulers shifted the political agenda not to the left or the right but to themselves. By this I mean that they supported policy to further their own ends, on a selfish basis rather than for ideological or technocratic reasons, so that it is regardless what political doctrine such policy is usually associated with, because ultimately political classifications should be based on ends not means. It is grossly wrong and childish for us to say that the tabloids somehow deceived people into voting for the ‘wrong’ party. Nonetheless, the scarce amounts of political coverage in the News International tabloids and similar examples, were highly selective. I shall not offend the general electorate by doubting their capacity to decide who to vote for, but rather the bias atmospheres in which many voters made these decisions. People can control what they think, but the media, increasingly, controls what we think about, and he who chooses the battlefield often wins the day.
A vicious circle forms where public disregard for politics feeds the growth of political power for certain media oligarchs, who in turn encourage said apathy. The steely irony here is thus; the readers who care least for politics indirectly affect it to a much greater extent than the keener spectators.
As the next generation we must, all of us, revive a wider interest in politics and a diversity of opinion. And as Young Greens, we enjoy a radical heritage that makes us best placed to do so. In this way our democracy will be enriched as opinions are given a wider basis, and Britain can enter a Spring of superior compromise and consensus.