Thursday, 24 November 2011

Do we get the media we deserve?

This week I have been glued to the Leveson inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media. The website for the inquiry is if you're interested in a bit of background.

Sienna Miller described how, as a 21 year old, she was chased down a dark street by 10-15 male photographers. JK Rowling talked about finding a letter addressed to her in her primary-school child's school bag. Telephoto lenses, hacking of mobile phones, 'blagging' information, rifled bins - I could go on. The point is that our media seem to believe that nothing is out of bounds provided that it provides a story. The story doesn't have to be true: Kelvin Mackenzie said on TV recently that when he was Editor of The Sun he would publish a story if it looked as if it might be true.

We are duly horrified when we hear of these excesses. Who could not have been moved and outraged hearing the McCanns tell how they first read a story alleging that they had sold their daughter Madeleine into slavery because they were short of money.

But while we're tutting in disapproval and rightly condemning what we describe as the gutter press, we might pause briefly to consider our responsibility for what has been happening, and continues to happen.

Firstly, we have created the celebrity culture. People would not be celebrities unless we treated them as such. Sports 'personalities' (who often lack that very characteristic), actors who are famed for their ability to pretend to be someone else, participants in reality television shows and talent (I use the word loosely) competitions, all take on a god-like status which seems to be commensurate with their disproportionate wealth.

This wouldn't matter, if we didn't then want to crawl over every aspect of their lives - desperate to find a flaw or imperfection that somehow makes us feel better about our own humdrum lives. "I may not be rich or famous, but I wouldn't do that" . The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude.

And perhaps our major contribution to this sad story: we buy the newspapers that carry the scandal, expose, covert photograph, gossip etc. If we didn't buy it, they wouldn't print it. Simple as that.

Lord Leveson has a hard job on his hands. We don't want a press so constrained that we never get to find out about corrupt cricketers, moat-cleaning MPs and child-abusing priests. But a balance has to be struck where we recognise that not everything that interests the public is in the public interest.


  1. Yes of course we get the press we deserve. Murdoch never overestimated the taste or intelligence of the red top readership. Don't give the poorly educated masses them a horizon of sunny uplands; give them scandal, celebrity, tits, racing tips and pander to the basest prejudices and they'll lap it up. All shored up by a spineless parliament and government. Is Britain poorer for the loss of NOTW? Not at all and good riddance. Freedom of the press is very dear to those who own newspapers. Open the Sun tomorrow at any page and just see what we have done to ourselves as a nation. We bought it to enjoy lives being trashed so we deserve all we get.