Political Football

by • October 14, 2013 • Political footballComments (6)1015

A Free and Fair Press?


How many times have you read a story in the press about Newcastle United being linked with a top player and then absolutely nothing comes of it? Yeah, me too…..


It seems like nothing can sell newspapers quicker than groundless speculation and transfer gossip. Nothing that is perhaps except tapping into people’s prejudices and cynically exploiting them.


The past few weeks have seen a long row between Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Daily Mail. It is interesting that the Daily Mail has described Ralph Miliband, who fought for this country in the Second World War, as somebody who hated Britain, whilst that very same newspaper supported Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and appeasement with Hitler’s murderous regime. This is also the same Daily Mail which is owned by Lord Rothermere, who like so many other ‘patriots’ in positions of power in this country pays as little tax as he possibly can.

It is perhaps no wonder that figures from across the mainstream political spectrum have condemned the Daily Mail’s seemingly ill-informed vilification of a dead man. Even Tories such as Michael Hesltine and Francis Maude, expressed their disgust at the tenor of the piece from the Daily Mail. I even ended up reprising the cliché from the 2010 election debates, when ‘I agreed with Nick (Clegg)’, when he said “It seems to me that if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it’s the Daily Mail” Indeed.

We have also seen the return of the Leveson Inquiry into the public eye, with discussions about what kind of regulation the press should have, in wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

The right-wing tabloids have predictably cried out that any greater regulation will see an end to press freedom in this country. Lord Dacre of the Daily Mail has gone as far as saying, “Some have argued that last week’s brouhaha shows the need for statutory press regulation. I would argue the opposite. The febrile heat, hatred, irrationality and prejudice provoked by last week’s row reveals why politicians must not be allowed anywhere near press regulation.”

The right-wing press will no doubt fight any attempts at regulation. It has even been suggested that they will take it through the courts all the way to the European Courts in Strasbourg. I look forward to the Eurosceptic tabloids explaiining to their readers how wonderful the European Union is after all!

But is there real press freedom in Britain today and why are the right-wing pess so against regulation?  It seems to me that, for many of our national newspapers, it is only a free press, if you are rich and powerful and hold certain views.  What the likes of Lord Dacre and his boss Lord Rothermere really want to keep are property rights: the right of their newspapers to twist stories and to twist the political agenda to suit their class – the 1% of wealthiest people in this country, the vast majotity of whom make their money from…..other people’s hard work.

Where exactly is the free press for ordinary women and for trade unionists?  Where is the free press for gay people or asylum seekers? Where is the free press for the poor or the young in this country? Can it be fair that newspapers ignore these and many other groups of people except when they choose to attack them?

We should indeed have a free press; one which can reflect the views of all sections of society, dealing respectfully with each other. That way we can start to bring about a much-needed democratic renewal of our nation and hopefully usher in an era of fairer goverrnment policies, which can benefit all of our citizens and not just a priveleged ‘elite’.

Nobody in their right mind wants to see the British press become like the old Pravda propaganda machine of the Soviet Union. A genuinely free press could again become a cherished national institution. After all, Pravda in the Soviet Union regularly lied…

But then far too often the freedom of the British press in recent decades has meant nothing more than the freedom to lie, to twist information or at best to present half-truths and myths as the only  side of a story to be reported. Anything has been seen as reasonable, from printing lies and scurrilous gossip to hacking a dead girl’s mobile phone, as long as it helped to sell newspapers and make money for newspaper owners – and keep the views of the vast majority of British people out of the press.

And lie the tabloids certainly have.  To demonstrate this consider two examples, both from The Sun. In 2004, not long after Rebekah Brooks became editor, The Sun had the ‘witty’ headline Swan Bake accompanying a story of asylum seekers killing swans, royal swans no less, and barbecuing them. It was complete nonsense. Somebody had phoned The Sun with the story and the newspaper hadn’t bothered to get even one confirmation to back it up. It fitted their vilification of one of the groups in society they liked to pick on and who of course wouldf be very unlikely to fight back and it could sell them a few extra copies. Confronted with the truth that the story was a fabrication, eventually a tiny apology was printed in The Sun, hidden away inside the newspaper. But by then the damage had been done and an urban myth born….


Bui then it isn’t just groups like asylum seekers who have been denigrated by our ‘fair and free press’. Football fans have too. The worst example, again in The Sun, came the week after the Hillsborough Disaster, with the disgraceful headline: ‘Hillsborough: The Truth’. Except of course it was nothing of the sort. Perhaps when football fans today read some of the stories in the press today, stereotyping and denigrating this group or other, they would do well to cast their minds back to the 1980’s when we too were a group despised by the right-wing press.

Let us have no illusions.  What happened that dreadful afternoon in Sheffield could have happened to the supporters of any major club. It could have happened to Newcastle United supporters, if not for the fact that our team in 1989 was nowhere near good enough to get to an F.A. Cup semi-final….indeed on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster, we lost 1-0 away at Arsenal and were relegated a couple of weeks later. However I did myself witness what the South Yorkshire Police were like in the 1980’s, in November 1983 when Newcastle fans came close to being crushed to death on the same Leppings Lane End terraces, whilst the police failed to act in a reasonable manner.

If it had been Newcastle fans involved in the Hillsborough Disaster, then I have no doubt that the same sort of lies would have ended up in The Sun,edited at the time by the now thoroughly discredited Kelvin Mackenzie. Because of course, as we now know, the lies in the newspapers were part of the appalling cover-up about what really happened.

These are just two of the many examples of how the right-wing press have picked on groups in society, who they think are fair game and print whatever they like, no matter how untruthful it might be. And if you have tried to complain about one of these stories you come up against the Press Complaints Commission, run by….the very same newspaer editors. If teachers have to submit to government regulation from Ofsted, why are the newspapers allowed to regulate themseves?

The problem of inaccurate reporting has been exacerbated in recent years as the tabloids have cut jobs, as a result of falls in circulation, due to the development of new media, especially the internet. If you ever watch the excellent film All The President’s Men, starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman and Woodward and Bernstein the two reporters on The Washington Post,  who uncovered the Watergate Scandal, you would be struck by the number of confirmations that editor Ben Bradlee demands before a story would go in the newspaper. With the cuts in staff, it is now more difficult for tabloids in this country to get two or three confirmations for a story. However, that cannot excuse simply printing lies, in the hope they are true, and destroying reputations and lives in the process. .

Yes. Let’s have a real free press. One that gives a voice to all scections of society who want to engage with others in reasonable, constructive national debate. And let’s have a press that tells the truth, or at least doesn’t tell the blatant lies it has in the past. And let’s have a press that does more than just spread hatred, usually of people they think are too weak or vulnerable to fight back.

Journalism has an honourable and vitally important role to play in any nation’s life – too important to be left to the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and Lord Dacre.

Peter Sagar

Related Posts

6 Responses to Political Football

  1. Stephen Cooper says:

    I notice no answer Peter from my previous request weeks ago, to substantiate your assertions that immigrants contribute positively to the economy, especially after yesterday’s revelations of the hundreds of thousands milking our NHS and benefits, due to your beloved shower in Labour who left this country on its knees and left the doors open to all and sundry.
    Alastair Campbell and the rest of the previous lying cabal are worse than the present clique, by the proverbial mile.

    • Steve P says:

      They are no worse than the current regime at all, if you are referring to the lying as the Iraq and Afghanistan charades, then if you cared to look back at the press over the last 3 years, you’ll see Cameron wanted to be part of the group that removed Gadaffi. Only reason he didn’t manage to do that was because the UN decided it wasn’t for them to interfere directly on one side.
      Cameron also, just this year, was itching to get into Syria, but his own people (ie us, you and me not the USA) said no.
      Our country was brought to its knees (as you say) by the deregulation of the banks, yes, admittedly Gordon Brown’s fault, but exacerbated and caused by those in the banking industry why gambled with money that wasn’t theirs. Those same greedy bankers blatantly offered 125% mortgages to people who in an ideal world would be listed as not a good credit investment, but lent the money anyway because they knew they’d be able to repossess the property when they defaulted.
      Yet now, WE, (again, that’s you and me) get to pay for those people’s mistakes and greed.
      Cameron complains that immigration is out of control in this country, yet just yesterday, his second in command goes to China and signs a treaty that allows Chinese nations even easier access to migrate to this country, which way do you want it? do you want to close our borders or do you want even more in?, you can’t have it both ways.

  2. Paul says:

    By Stephen Cooper October 14, 2013 – 5:45 pm

    “I notice no answer Peter from my previous request weeks ago, to substantiate your assertions that immigrants contribute positively to the economy, especially after yesterday’s revelations of the hundreds of thousands milking our NHS and benefits,”

    OK, I’ll do it. Firstly, the NHS was built on Doctors and Nurses from overseas from the Indian subcontinent, Africa etc.Without them it would have collapsed, or hardly even got started.

    Secondly, only around 6 – 7% of non-UK nationals receive benefits, as opposed to 16 – 17% per cent of British nationals. They come here to work, and contribute 40% more in taxes than they claim in benefits. They are the Governement’s own figures, which they wilfully distort in the way they present them to the public.

    “Most migrants have to wait for substantial periods of time before they get to claim benefits. Many have to wait for years for the privileged immigration status that entitles them to DWP payouts, making “tourism” is an unlikely scenario.” – Dr Scott Blinder from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.

    I would suggest you go back to your EDL meeting and tell them that. 😉


  3. David McAndrews says:

    “Nobody in their right mind wants to see the British press become like the old Pravda propaganda machine of the Soviet Union. A genuinely free press could again become a cherished national institution. After all, Pravda in the Soviet Union regularly lied…


    That’s the problem. That “But…” at the end of the quote. The Press is either totally free or it isn’t. There is no in-between. If you give some politicians an inch to cover their arses they’ll take a mile. Do you think that the expenses scandal, exposed by a paper using stolen discs, would have made it to print if the press knew that their regulator was subject to political interference?

    ALWAYS be suspicious when the political classes “come together” to make things happen. The last time they did this we went to war in Iraq and decided to spend £50-70bn on a train that will be out of date by the time it is built. Money that could be spent on people and services in desperate need of it.

    Lastly the papers themselves. Lots on the left seem to want to see right wing papers cut down to size. Yes, the Mail is unpleasant. I’m sorry they were horrible to Ed Miliband’s dad, and for the “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” in the 30s. No-one ever mentions The Daily Mirror, who also produced the not very fascist unfriendly “Give the Blackshirts a helping hand!” headline during the same period.

    True Faith is a left wing fanzine, so imagine if a future Tory government didn’t like it printing criticism of it’s policies, and decided to make complaints to a statutory regulator. The fanzine would be forced to close, because the legal fees required to stave off such vexatious complaints would be crushing. That would mean editors censoring journalists to avoid such financial punishment, and eventually journalists self censoring to get published.

    The press will always print things that rich celebrities, politicians and many regular people wish they didn’t. Taking away 300 years of Press freedom is not the answer to it.

  4. COOPS says:

    I am not in the edl, I am an academic, and you still haven’t addressed the question posed.
    Immigrants simply do NOT contribute to the nation’s wealth, contrary to your insipid and untrue claims.
    I admire your ignorance…

    • David G says:

      Coops – these figures come from a paper on the right of the political spectrum, so obviously those stats don’t matter and can’t possibly be true