By Gary Barker (www.garybarker.co.uk)
The press plays a vital role in any country. In corrupt and oppressive dictatorships it is used to manage the message and control the minds of the masses to the will of those in power. The role of the press in a free democracy is to protect us all from those who would seek to harm us or abuse our trust. Two extremes, but the latter I'm sure is how we would all like it to act, but does it?
If you ask people in this country where they lie on the political spectrum most would yawn, but if pressed they would probably say they were either middle of the road, or just either side of centre. The problem is this balance is not reflected in the UK media. The UK quite correctly prides itself in being politically moderate, the problem is our media does not reflect this balance.
A free press is an illusion, what is really meant by the term is a press which prints the truth as is dictated by the owner of the publication, be it right wing, left wing or chicken wing, whatever, no newspaper has ever just printed the facts as they are known, and what a boring publication it would be if they did.
The Daily Mirror is alone to in expressing a left of centre position and every other national is either stated right wing (numbering six) or politically neutral, indifferent or Liberal (whatever that means these days). Indeed one of the few voices of the left to remain pulled back from the brink of closure today, but not because they were saved by big business, but rather the staff are to form a co-operative and the current owner has agreed to release the title 'debt free'. Now some people may suggest this just shows the market for left wing newspapers is just not there, but is this really the case? The market share certainly doesn't reflect people's voting habits, because there would be more or less the same number of newspapers/magazines either side of the political centre if it did. The inconvenient truth is that newspapers are usually owned by very rich people who use newsprint as their tool to promote their own self-interests using the newspaper to push their personal agendas into the psyche of the nation as a whole. This then begs the question: how is that any different to how the despots in sham democracies use the press to control the message in their countries? The problem therefore is in a free democratic Capitalist society how are we to ensure that balance is maintained?
I have no time for anyone suggesting we curtail the freedoms of the Press, when it acts legally, nor would I suggest we set quotas (besides monopoly controls). But what we have seen in the past few months is a Press that doesn't act in the interests of the people, nor even in the interests of its own readership. Instead what we have seen is newspapers acting in the interests of the owners and their cronies in the Establishment, to the expense of the whole of society.
It is vital we take measures to cut the influence of the media barons on our politicians when they seek to influence and sometimes even dictate policy to what is supposed to be our government, acting in our influence. Just this last we week we have had scandalous revelations regarding Liam Fox and unregistered lobbyists acting against the interests of both good government and the people.
Ask yourself this question why was it up to one newspaper to break the phone-hacking and Liam Fox stories and reveal the truth behind the death of innocent bystander Ian Tomlinson during last years G20 protest? Are the others really so incompetent, or is there another reason?
In a healthy democracy all sides of the political divide have a right to be heard in equal measure so neither can dominate and drown out the other, and if we truly value fairness and accountability then we must demand change and a more fair and transparent press.