Thursday, 6 December 2012

Holding a mirror to newspaper readers - the truth about Leveson

One of the things that has amazed me of late has been the pious response of the general public with regards to the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. It was pretty clear that "celebrities" with hidden political agendas (not to mention a detachment from the real world) such as JK Rowling would immediately start complaining as soon as the recommendations were so much as questioned by David Cameron, but I actually thought that the Great British Public would have known better.
This is the same general public who, for many years, sprinted eagerly downstairs every Sunday morning to pluck their copy of The News of the World, keen to find out which ostensibly respectable politicians, actors, sportsmen and businessmen had slept with the latest runner up in X Factor, Big Brother or whatever nauseatingly and mindlessly inane reality show had just screened. Yes, they simply lapped it up - keen to feast on a double-page spread of journalistic dribble, glossy photos, micro sex-expert punditry columns and dubious-morality viewpoints. At no point did they question how the story had come about, whet here it was of any public consequence, whether they themselves (let alone the so-called journalists) were fit to judge the unfortunate subjects or whether they should have actually been focusing on digesting more important stories. Suddenly, due to the sudden revelation that a number of sensitive stories had been sourced using questionable means, the paper folded and the entire spectrum of British newspaper journalism is on its arse, waiting for a general enquiry to conclude before finding out if people are still willing to buy newspapers.
The point being, would they have cared if journalists had resorted to appalling measures to uncover Jimmy Saville's sex crimes ten years ago when he was still alive? Would they have cared if it had led to the arrest of terrorists and the prevention of mass murder? Of course not. It becomes a case of justifying the public interest in the story - or at least that is what we are led to believe. The real reason journalists push the boundaries of truth is to sell more newspapers - pure and simple. That being the case, it is down to the buying behaviour of the audience as to whether they are making a success of it. And that is the crux of the issue - British journalists have been using questionable measures for years and years to come up with tittle-tattle because newspaper buyers have bought into it and devoured their every word with relish. Never doubt the classic model of supply-demand.
This isn't about press ethics or an industry-wide standard of broadcast - it's bigger than that. It's about our appetite for "news" and how we define it to be. Our ridiculous appetite for tawdry reality shows demonstrates that we have no imagination and no ability to draw a line between worthwhile content and pointless drivel and trivia. No longer do we wish to know about great achievement or intelligent thought; about world-changing news or international developments. The sad truth is that we'd rather hear about how Ant N' Dec's live-in lover turned to cocaine after she found a cat stuck up her fucking tree.
Cameron is right to be nervous about imposing draconian regulations on the press. The press should be free to do their job. But what that job is needs to be dictated better by the British public and unfortunately I see no evidence of that changing just because some pampered celebrities deem it so...