Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Media: a free press? In your dreams, Melanie

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It was Humbert Wolfe who said, "You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to".

Wolfe was born in Milan, Italy, in 1885, of a Jewish family, but was brought up in Bradford, West Yorkshire and was a pupil at Bradford Grammar School. He was one of the most popular authors of the 1920s. The quote comes from the Uncelestial City published in 1930.

And now, in the wake of Leveson and in anticipation of a Commons vote tonight, Melanie Phillipspitches in on behalf of her employer, to plead for the continued privileges of this multi-million business sector.

Interestingly, the press is never so voluble as when it is defending its own privileges, to which effect it will always call in aid the higher cause of defending democracy. However, as we have observed earlier, so much of that is self-serving cant.

Not least, as we said then, while the press bleats about its "vital role in a democracy", it has presided over – and largely supported – the steady transfer of power to the anti-democratic European Union. The Daily Mail , which now so assiduously champions press freedom is one of those newspapers which supports the UK's continued membership of the EU.

The press wants it "freedom" only to preserve its license to maintain the status quo. It is not, and never has been interested in the needs and aspirations of its readers. It is concerned only to shape opinion and to contain dissident thought, protecting the establishment of which it is part.

Thus, while we would not wish to see the press hampered even more than it is – for anything which gives the executive more power is a bad thing – the special pleading we are hearing is unconvincing.

The only sensible response to the current furore is to wish them a plague on all their houses. The interests of the press are not our interests, and the likelihood of the press ever going out on a limb to protect our interests, over and above their own, is nil.  

Rather than freedom of the press, our own interests might be best served by freedom from the press.  Until we, not they, are setting the agenda, we will always be in their thrall.