Freedom and responsibility

The Daily Mail has launched its latest attack on the BBC – a row that they describe as ‘its biggest controversy since the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand ‘Sachsgate’ saga in 2008′ – this time the ‘storm’ surrounds the recent Eastenders’ storyline. It seems that some people – including the Daily Mail – cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, reality and drama. The Mail claims that the actress Samantha Womack has been verbally abused in the street as if she had actually swapped a dead baby in real life, rather than in a BBC1 soap. The BBC has received over 6,000 complaints according to the Daily Mail and the Mail provides a useful box of other disgruntled individuals.

Now, I am not going to defend Eastenders for its terrible storylines, its tragedy-porn obsession with despair and death because, quite simply, it is a drama that is best known for exactly that. It is a fiction created to appeal to viewers, it is not real; no-one has died and none of these events actually happened. Given the consistently high-ratings these type of storylines work and have worked for a huge number of years. If you don’t approve of the plot lines then stop watching it, considering how depressing Eastenders is you might feel a whole lot better if you do give it up.

Now, the real problem is that the Daily Mail criticises Eastenders for being sensationalist and controversial simply to pursue a larger audience share (which, as above, it is perfectly entitled to do because it isn’t real) but fails to reflect on the fact that the tabloid media behaves in exactly the same way, except they use real people and events instead of characters to increase audience share.

Recent events have demonstrated once again that the tabloid media have no morals, no integrity and absolutely no journalistic values between them. The treatment of Chris Jefferies was absolutely disgusting, he was thrown onto the front pages of tabloid newspapers alongside disgraceful slurs – largely based on gossip and the opinion of individuals – and innuendo merely because he happened to be near a story that the media was interested in. For a few days he became the story, which newspapers are trying to back away from now, as it seems he was completely innocent. What life will he lead now? What life can he lead after the tabloids have torn him to pieces in front of the nation for no justifiable reason?

The murder of Jo Yeates happened to a real person. That person had a family, friends and a boyfriend. That family had to watch as a man not proven guilty of anything had his life ruined, before watching the media ghouls swing back to Jo Yeates with more unjustifiable coverage. The Daily Mail decided to link her murder to Facebook as if to prove that they really are now a parody of themselves; whilst the Daily Star – becoming famous for never printing a true headline – decided that they knew who had actually killed her:

They claim that ‘new evidence’ had emerged. It was actually the claims of a self-publicising ‘psychic’. The tabloid’s aren’t even trying to pretend that they have any relationship with real journalism or news anymore. They are all too busy deviously scrabbling for the most sensational claim, the best bit of dirt dug up on innocent bystanders who are chewed-up and spat out by a relentless press before anyone has time to complain about it.

Eastenders may be ludicrously over the top, utterly sensationalist tragedy porn drivel, but its allowed to be, it is fiction, it can be whatever it wants. The tabloid media on the other hand mix their own blend of fictional, disgusting sensationalist tragedy porn and point-the-finger-innuendo with real people, real stories and real lives. Freedom of the press has always been an absolute in the United Kingdom, but just look at what they are doing with it. The sad truth is that the current press is not earning such a right – they are not even close to earning it. If all freedom currently mean is the right of tabloid newspapers to smear innocent people without a second’s thought, print untold amounts of pictures of celebrities without any journalistic value and lie about issues of science, race, culture and politics; then I think it is time to rethink whether it is a good thing.

There is no point in having a free press when journalism is so clearly dead.

17 Comments

  • Alex says:

    The sad truth is that the current press is not earning such a right – they are not even close to earning it.
    A free press is not a right if you have to earn it by printing/not printing the right stuff. A right doesn’t make sense unless it’s unconditional to how you use it.

    You could argue that a free press shouldn’t extend to this kind of reporting, because it’s dangerous, insensitive bollocks. But that’s not the same as saying the right to free speech should only be extended to those who say proper things.

    • Uponnothing says:

      @Alex

      The press are constantly arguing for tougher laws using the argument that people cannot be trusted with freedom but must be contained with sticks. Why, therefore, should the press set themselves apart from the rest of humanity and believe that they are fit to regulate themselves and that they require no sticks to keep them in check?

      I am not interested in printing the ‘right stuff’, but I am interested in facts and truth. The tabloids have abandoned journlalism and truth, but they still use the old press freedom defence when anyone tries to tackle them for their lies and agendas.

  • Dan Factor says:

    I hate Eastenders and the cack handed, over the top and often patronising (“us ever so better educated middle class writers need to tell working class TV viewers what real life is really like!”) way it handles serious social issues.
    The public is become more aware that the claims of writers and producers of soap operas that they are “raising awarness” about social issues is bunkum and that their motivated for including such subjects in their programmes is about raising audience viewing figres.
    Having said this though it’s obvious the outrage from the right-wing tabloids over the Eastenders cot death nonscence is motivated largely by their anti-BBC agenda.

  • Becky says:

    Just on the Eastenders issue, I read an article in Metro yesterday (sorry, can’t find link online) claiming that the writers responsible don’t have children, which has upset cast and other staff on the set who have reproduced as (obviously) anyone without children couldn’t possibly understand how upsetting it must be to lose a child. Another example of the media vilifying childless people (especially if they are women).

  • Paul says:

    The state of many aspects of our national life is the product of our free media.

    For example, the Murdoch driven media promoted football, for its own financial gain, to such an extent that it has seeped into all areas of the national psyche. Footballers, their wives, girlfriends and mistresses dominate the supermarket tabloids.

    This was then followed by the promotion of the soap opera. My first recollection of the soap opera drifting into the mainstream was the ‘Who shot JR?’ story from Dallas. I remember a scene on the TV news when they showed the actual film case arriving at Heathrow. But this has worsened. It will be a major topic of conversation around many a water cooler.

    To some extent the media is only catering to its audience. Over promotion by The Sun of X-Factor, Big Brother, I’m a celebrity, must mean there is some financial kick back to Murdoch.

    However, the fact that people cannot differentiate between reality, reality TV, and fiction is actually a national tragedy. But is to be expected. Most people are basically stupid, and believe what they see (or read) in the media. Our nation has lost its ability to think rationally about many things.

    We are just lucky we don’t live in the 1930′s, as the British public at the moment is prime meat for a politcal/dictatorial manipulator.

  • Aoife - USoB says:

    Excellent article, detailing yet more hypocrisy from the tabloid press. Thanks!

  • karlo says:

    um..you have read the BBC Royal Charter haven’t you? (you know the stuff about public interest, education, learning, creativity and excellence)

    Perhaps you could remind where I can find the non-existent bit that says the BBC is entitled to be ‘sensationalist and controversial simply to pursue a larger audience share’

    and er…Are you really suggesting there is a better alternative to a free press? I’d love to hear what it is.

    • Uponnothing says:

      @Karlo

      The BBC has a responsibility to provide a wide range of programmes. You can find plenty of world-class documentaries, educational programming and excellence on the BBC, whilst Eastenders caters for a different audience – who also happen to pay the TV licence.

      Still, you were purposely trying to miss the point as usual because you haven’t the brains to engage in anything other than false pedancy.

  • Laura Brown says:

    Let’s hope that the Mail and its readers never get hold of the Old Testament, or at least 1 Kings chapter 3. The shock might be too much for them.

  • The AuntyKarlo says:

    @Karlo

    Um, have you read the Charter? You know the bit that says:

    The BBC must display at least one of the following characteristics in all content: high quality, originality, innovation, to be challenging and to be engaging.

    Um, I’m thinking 6,000 complaints and the Daily Mail sobbing about how awful it is means its certainly challenging. I’m also guessing that audience figures are a good judge of whether something is engaging or not. Final point, can you name another prime time soap thats covered a cot death/baby swap story – oh my, there’s originality.

    So trot on dear boy and actually do the things you castigate others for not doing. You are aware the Charter changes aren’t you?

  • Ire says:

    ‘Pedantry’.

    Sincerely, a real pedant.

    PS great post!

  • karlo says:

    um yes…resorting to personal insults is a sure sign of intellectual superiority.

    Have you worked out how you are going to restrict the freedom of the press without also restricting your own rights as a blogger to say what you think.

    Remind me again why you have a right to freedom of speech but a tabloid newspaper does not. Why is there a PCC to keep the papers in line but no similar body to ensure that bloggers don’t overstep the mark. Is that fair?

    Tabloid newspapers have to act responsibly but blogs and bloggers can say what they like. (um..you do know that the tabloids get lots of their celebrity gossip off the internet don’t you)

    I also love the way you assume that audiences for a ‘world-class documentary’ and Eastenders are mutually exclusive. But anyway you should read the Charter – the BBC isn’t supposed to dumb down just to give the licence fee payers what they want.

    I don’t think you were purposely trying to miss the point but er..you have.

  • In other news, have you noticed LJs site domain has expired?

    http://www.richardlittlejohn.com/

    Anyway on topic, I do think the BBC had every right to air this story. Fiction is about pushing boundaries for what ever purpose. Part of a free society is the ability to offend whilst inspiring others.

  • Crispin says:

    Because the Daily Mail criticies everything that the BBC does after a while the criticism becomes fairly meaningless.

    Of the 6000 people who complained I wonder how many actually watched the show or did they simply jump on the Daily Mail band wagon and complain based on what the paper reported rather than the facts.

    Since the show was aired the Mail has printed various pictures of Samantha Womack to try and get extra milage out of the story.
    Having stirred up the contoversy in the first place the DM shows pictures of her looking tired and asked stupid questions like why is she looking so haggard?

    Newspaper stories about TV shows smack of laziness on the part of the journalists that write them, what could be easier than watching a 30 minute soap and then bashing out a string of well worn cliches?

  • Dom Stapleton says:

    Do you not thinking beginning most of your sentences with “um” and “er” is a little patronising? Can you not make your point in a more elegant and polite fashion?

    Aside from anything else, it makes you sound rather childish.

  • karlo says:

    @ the auntykarlo

    Yes I have read the charter. Yes I do know that bit, and where it’s from. It’s not in the charter and you’ve misquoted it.

    Now get back under the bridge

  • THANKYOU. Brilliant. This is a dead girl and her family, not some sensationalist cannon fodder. Shame on them all.

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