The purpose of the press in this day and age is debatable. However, according to certain academics’ views, it is thought that the press functions to hold governments and big organisations to account. Carl Bernstein once described journalism as, ‘The best available version of the truth’. With the appointment of George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the editor of The Evening Standard, I would say that these two statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
While I accept that politicians, to some extent, have to expand their opportunities, it is unacceptable for a high-profile member of Parliament to, while still in office, take up such a role. Though all newspapers have at some point shown political bias and partisanship, I suggest that this is going one step too far. With calls for Osborne to resign coming in thick and fast, it is unsurprising that this has brought issues of press links with politics back into the limelight. However, a bigger issue is the massive conflict of interest. With regard to this, the ethics committee responsible for reviewing job offers to members of Parliament that may present a conflict of interest, were clearly not given sufficient time to consider this particular offer before Osborne announced his acceptance.
Having already taken up a position at BlackRock, an American investment management firm, as an adviser in early 2017, it is also questionable whether being an MP for Tatton he will still have time to continue representing the people he has represented for the last 16 years. While there are issues with bias and conflicts of interest, not to mention the hefty pay check that Osborne will receive, the overarching concern is to what extent he will still be able to represent his constituents free from other influences.
While I believe this is a step backwards for press freedom and partisanship, on the other hand, it could be seen as a way to promote the London Evening Standard as a view from the inside. Though this is more likely to be received as a politician infiltrating the British press.
Despite all the controversy, this is not the first example of such an issue. While not directly influencing editorial decisions, there have been many previous cases of politicians producing columns which, very loosely, could be seen as press partisanship. Despite this, none of them involved a former head of a major government department having editorial control over the content of a newspaper read by around 1.8 million people. This is a worrying turn in the road for journalism as a whole.
While I accept that there may be positives to Osborne taking up the role, there are unfortunately too many issues setting the alarm bells ringing in the heads of the British public as well as Parliament. This, in time, will shape relations between the press and the rest of the media for a while to come. Whether it signals the end of an era or just a worrying step for the British press who seem happy to share a bed with politicians, remains to be seen.