Ask any newspaper reporter, editor or proprietor what their purpose is and the answer will invariably be “to hold power to account”.
This is as it should be. When journalists are allowed to pursue that calling, then society benefits; politicians lie less and are more likely to act in the national interest than their own, they behave better and resign more quickly when they don’t. Civic life is enhanced.
If the press is not holding power to account, then what is the point? It becomes just another branch of the entertainment industry or the media arm of a political party.
The reason for these musing is because I’m a third of the way through James O’Brien’s new book, ‘How they broke Britain’.
It makes for extremely uncomfortable reading for anyone who believes in the value of a “free” press.
O’Brien’s premise is that Britain is in a pretty dire state and he blames dishonest, incompetent and unprincipled politicians aided and abetted by influential think tanks with hidden agendas and opaque funding. Critically, and the part of the book that most interested me, both these groups are shielded, supported and given succour by certain sections of the national press.
Elements of the press, as charged by O’Brien, have failed to hold power to account by:
- not calling out the inconsistencies, evasions and lies of those in power and denigrating those who do.
- actively colluding with people in power because they are pursuing a mutually agreed agenda.
- being hypocritical and inconsistent, espousing values and principles one day before jettisoning them the next.
- gaslighting their readers; distorting reality and distracting them with culture wars.
It’s a shocking chargesheet, but, despite some colourful prose, O’Brien’s book is not a rant; it’s analytical and well-researched.
For anyone who wants to see a vibrant, dynamic and effectual press, working for the common good, it’s definitely worth reading. To the extent that certain sections of the press might have lost sight of their true calling, hopefully this book will help them rediscover it.
PS. Happy new year!
You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.