Arrogant and power-hungry, how the right-wing press rules Britain 

 

In these febrile days when the American president-elect has repeatedly threatened the Fourth Estate, one might feel an instinctive urge to protect the hard-won freedom of the press.  It is the cornerstone of any functioning democracy.  When print is deployed to incite hatred, especially for financial gain, there are many who would be nervous.  But when it is utilised to assault the rule of law, objective observers would say it has gone too far.

In the wake of the phone hacking scandal, Hacked Off was formed comprising of those who had suffered unjustly at the hands of journalists. This includes the previously unknown Christopher Jefferies.  The response from print newsrooms of the right-wing though was to write these people off as a bunch of celebrity luvvie whingers.  The 38 Degrees group has launched a campaign to get the Daily Mail banned from airport departure lounges. This is so that foreign people will not think the worst of us as they go home.

Now, Stop Funding Hate, the organisation calling on corporations to withdraw their advertising (and hence money) from newspapers who vilify those who do not have a platform from which to respond (usually migrants), are the target of the right-wing’s ire. The Spectator calls the activists’ aim as a nasty, elitist campaign for press censorship, arguing that intolerance wears a progressive mask.  The irony that the Spectator is calling others nasty, intolerant and elitist is really beyond parody in these present times.

Like a mafia, unelected print journalists know that power isn’t given, it’s taken and they jealously guard the heights they command.  The current editor of the Spectator, Fraser Nelson, regularly attacked in the Daily Telegraph the police and prosecution services who were investigating possible wrongdoing by journalists.  He wasn’t the only one furiously denouncing the authorities when a journalist was acquitted, while conveniently ignoring those found guilty.  When Andy Coulson — who had been convicted of phone hacking — was acquitted of perjury, Nelson exalted the case as another example of the persecution of the press, even though Coulson was acquitted on a technicality (his false testimony wasn’t relevant to the outcome of the case).  Thus, by implication, Nelson says that lying under oath is not despicable in the slightest — arguably a major affront to the rule of law.

Even more grievously, right-wing newspapers were attacking British judges for saying Parliament must vote on the activation of Article 50.  Set aside the fact that the pro-Brexit newspapers were favouring the tyranny of the executive. They were deploying Blackshirt language in headlines like ‘enemies of the people‘ or ‘the judges versus the people‘.  Not content with this inflammatory and misleading language, they tried to undermine the ruling by focusing on the judges’ personal lives, calling into question their impartiality.  The strength of the pro-Brexit newspapers was illustrated in the cowardice of the Government’s response.  Justice Secretary Liz Truss is silent as regards their actions and Theresa May, in another example of her weakness, defends them.

In a cabal-like manner, print journalists flit between publications like some nomadic ‘old-school’ football manager, not being short of offers when let go from current employment.  Take Tony Gallagher who bragged about the power of the newspapers in the wake of the Brexit referendum.  He was the respected editor of the Daily Telegraph who moved to become Deputy Editor at the Daily Mail.  He currently edits the Sun.  One might say his trajectory of quality is certainly heading downwards, but the reach of his voice has steadily gone upwards.  Kelvin MacKenzie, Rod Liddle and Boris Johnson are other high-profile examples.

But for all the bemoaning and cries about the threat to freedom of the press, such as when the Leveson Report was published, freedom of expression is a one-way street, especially for the right-wing press.  When Gary Lineker complained, without naming names, of the print media’s reaction to bringing in child migrants from the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, the Sun called upon the BBC to sack him: an attempt to silence a voice of opposition.  Lineker doesn’t work in the BBC news department, but he is the popular anchor of football programmes.  The attack on the BBC is another example of the threat to freedom of expression, especially since the Sun didn’t ask BT Sport to do the sacking instead.

A few years ago, the Daily Mail published a piece calling the deceased father of then Labour leader Ed Miliband, ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.   Miliband Junior also hated Britain according to the Mail.  When it comes to fomenting hatred against the vulnerable, undermining the rule of law and trying to silence the freedom of expression of all those who disagree with them, I would suggest that it is the right-wing’s newspaper and magazine editorial departments who are packed with people who hate Britain.

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