The press, we are told, is the exposer of hypocrisies, purveyor of the truth, defender of liberty and champion of justice. Rarely does a day go by when the media won’t claim victory for itself in the personal or professional ruination of Person X or Person Y, who has been found wanting in the cold stare of press indignation.
How hollow and shabby do those claims ring in 2011?
Well this week, we see that The Sun and The Mirror are charged with contempt of court for portraying an innocent man as “lewd” and “creepy” during the investigation of the disappearance of Joanna Yeates. He had been arrested for questioning at the time of the investigation but the courts found that the coverage of his arrest was so prejudicial as to potentially render a fair trial impossible. They were not alone: The Telegraph still carries a page rife with innuendo:
“However, another former pupil of Mr Jefferies, David Gawain, said: “He had a tendency of wanting to get his own way. If you had not done your prep or other things like learning poems, he used to shout at you. I went to his flat with my English class once and he began shouting at us because we were not behaving ourselves.”
We also now know that The News of the World were prepared to sanction the ‘hacking’ (although the phrase – popularised in the media – is also inaccurate) of the phone of missing Milly Dowler.
In the same case, 6 newspapers now face charges of contempt of court by their coverage of the case. which caused the collapse of a second prosecution of Levi Bellfield: again for the prejudicial nature of their coverage
Less seriously, but no less tellingly, the press rushed to cover the “beautiful people Shrek virus” story which was, of course, nothing more than a got-up piece of PR puff which they swallowed gladly and regurgitated over their front pages while the EU balances over the edge of a continuing economic precipice which could yet bring ruination to us all.
The ‘quality’ end of the press also finds its nose rubbed in its own do-do this week. Johann Hari has been exposed as a plagiarist. He might dance on the head of a pin with his explanations but outside the media circle, all we say was another liar exposed at the heart of our media.
So far from purveyors of the truth, the media stands exposed as peddlars of lies, corrupters of justice, destroyers of lives.
The press think that you are simple, manipulable and often vile. Sometimes, the expression of their contempt for you is very direct. Andrew Marr, now revealed to be a hypocrite of the first water, spoke publicly about bloggers last year:
“..so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night. It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism. A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting “
Even if not expressed so directly, the likes of The Sun, championing such constructs as ‘white van man’ is nothing more than contempt with another face. The people who write for the Sun are highly educated, highly trained and work in an intense, technological field. The very notion that they share anything in background and outlook with the man on the Clapham omnibus is laughable.
Need we even talk about the likes of Jan Moir or Richard Littlejohn?
The charge sheet lengthens daily.
Contra Marr, we see bloggers holding journalism to account. From all parts of the political spectrum, bloggers daily show up the media for what it is, exposing its lies and perversions. While no doubt personal ego plays a part, these people seek no power. They do not presume to be influencing policy or leading the country by the nose. It is they who are the truth seekers. They who fact check the media. They who act to express the discontent of people of all political persuasions.
I know and have known journalists. As individuals they are no more incorruptible or abnormal than you or I. They include good, honourable people as well as thieves and liars. Taken together, the form a terrifying cabal of untrammelled power and unwarranted influence.
We need a media with the power and the moral authority to speak truth to power and to question mercilessly the motivations of politicians and business in our interest.
In 2011, we don’t have one.