Does there need to be more media responsibility?

It seems that powerful elements of media may have forgotten that speaking truth to power, while not easy, does not always have to be popular.

It is fair to say that a significant portion of (especially print) media are sometimes perceived to be on-side with the government. They can often appear to be towing a storyline in tandem, so logic dictates that if there is an element of corrupting rot in one, how could the other remain unaffected?

Somewhere along the line, it seems as though powerful elements of media, whilst perhaps still taking their duties to the public seriously, may have forgotten that speaking truth to power, while not easy, does not always also have to be popular. A news source cannot be voted out of existence, so why would a truly free press feel beholden to represent the viewpoints of the executive; at the expense of the people who keep them in circulation?

The biggest example of this is seen in pro-Brexit bias. Where, regardless of your personal beliefs about the merits of the idea, prominent members of the press were seen to produce vastly unbalanced amounts of heavily emotive arguments for potential positives, neglecting to mention, or dismissing as “moaning”, all available facts that informed of potential economic and diplomatic harm that would specifically befall those on the bottom of the social heap. Despite this, those very same people who would stand to lose the most were the most heavily bombarded with persuasions to vote a certain way. We should never be afraid of a free choice on equal grounds, so it is baffling to me why so many otherwise respectable professional journalists would all relentlessly back the same horse, to the extent that it arguably completely skews the race.

The UK is not in the top ten for world press freedom, so maybe we are not as above the fight for honesty in public discourse as we seem to think we are.

We see the importance of press freedom clearest in the places where the light of truth is not permitted to shine on the people. The oppression of journalists in China, for example, may have played a role in the loss of control over the Covid-19 pandemic. This demonstrates how the persecution of honest reporters can have extreme international consequences.

Rebecca Vincent from Reporters Without Borders said: ‘We can sit in the UK and think it’s mostly ok here – but actually what’s happening on the other side of the world can affect us…if the press had been freer in China then it’s possible a global pandemic could have been averted.’ If anyone is still wondering why they as a person unconnected with the press should care about its freedoms or lack thereof, they should take a look at China’s example in more detail.

Did China's suppression of reports contribute to the spread of Covid? Credit: Pixabay

Acknowledging the existence of issues in our media is clearly the most basic fundamental step towards correcting them, or so you would think. However, when the Duchess of Sussex called out the UK press for their prejudice against her by drawing on direct personal experience, the former Society of Editors chief, Ian Murray, denied that there were any elements of bigotry in the British press. It is undeniably in all of our interests to combat these issues, for we cannot fight something we claim to be blind to. He may have resigned but one must wonder whether his attitude of denial reflects a wider consensus in the higher echelons of media power - that declaring you don’t have a problem is equal to doing the work to tackle the issue.

A culture of leaking, under any government, could suggest that the relationship between government and press may have corroded or become too entwined in some places and that there may be forces seeking to use our free press to undermine truth and codes of conduct for those in public office. If a former Conservative government minister can call the circle of his peers ‘the most distrustful, awful environment I’ve ever worked in’ and declare that ‘almost nobody’ tells the truth within it; then surely a press that moves ever closer to protecting vested interests above all, is a press we should all be afraid of.

It is in everyone’s interest to examine closely the actions of those we are supposed to trust to handle things in society.

But it may be even worse than that, if some of the media are helping to distract society by over publicising non-important stories and saying precious little about issues that directly affect the lives of those they are supposed to act in the interests of, then the issue is really serious. And when a government fails to keep its own election promises or flies in the face of legislation that the vast majority of people believe to be necessary, as in the case of the bill to add serial stalkers and domestic abusers to the Violent and Sex Offender Register (VISOR). The Government stated support for this bill at election time, then voted down the amendments in practice. But where was the furore? Where was the media outrage, or the pointing finger of responsibility that is usually the duty of media?

I have lived under governments of both stripes besides this one in my lifetime. Yet I have never seen such a frequency and prevalence of questions and issues regarding the integrity of the behaviour of our leaders. On the one hand, it is absolutely a good thing that we can be made aware of these things at all, but when press coverage continues with an air of business-as-usual as crises litter our society, it becomes clear that consequences and accountability are somewhat missing from our responses.

It is in everyone’s interest to examine closely the actions of those we are supposed to trust to handle things in society. When the very people charged with holding government to account are complicit in brushing serious errors under the proverbial carpet, it falls ever more to laypeople and smaller independent media organisations to spread truth and good practice amongst themselves. This can only be a good thing - but I cannot be alone in sincerely wishing it wasn’t such a necessity.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

Cover Photo Credit: camilo jimenez / Pixabay

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