I DON’T have strong opinions about Extinction Rebellion blockading printworks to prevent the distribution of newspapers. These few thoughts aim to be nuanced. If you find no nuance here, that’s fine.
The protests last weekend halted the delivery of newspapers in parts of the country.
The inked part of my soul clings to newspapers in the spirit of foolish romanticism, and a belief that when done properly, a newspaper is a fine creation. Knowing the hard work that goes into producing a paper, I was to an extent sorry to see those newspapers stoppered like that. Then again, the Observer turned up just fine, so I was happy.
What Extinction Rebellion did was to cleverly remind everyone how our newspapers are owned and run. Nothing will change, but they did throw a spotlight on an industry that doesn’t appreciate being asked tough questions about its own conduct.
The Mail on Sunday, Sun on Sunday, the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times contained angry comment from those paid to write angry comment pieces by the press barons who own their newspapers.
For the Telegraph, Camilla Tominey called the protesters “eco-fascists” and said their the demonstration showed “how anti-democratic” Extinction Rebellion are as they only want a press “that always agrees with them”.
Much as the owners of the newspapers only want a press that always elides with their beliefs, politics and business interests. And a press that mostly supports the Conservative Party come what may – even if what may come is the chaotic and hopeless government we are now saddled with.
Boris Johnson, the columnist prime minister, tweeted that a free press was “vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change”.
As Johnson’s government has boycotted Channel 4 News, Good Morning Britain, and BBC2’s Newsnight, that seems a stretch. Oh, and don’t forget the “media freedom alert” issued to the government by the Council of Europe for threatening press freedom after it blacklisted a group of investigative journalists from Declassified UK.
As you may recall, not that it made any difference to the results, during the election campaign Johnson cravenly refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neil – and hid in a fridge to avoid questions from Piers Morgan, while ordering a ban on ministers appearing on Today on BBC Radio Four.
What Johnson and other ministers desire is a pliant press that reports the news in a way they find flattering.
The BBC2 documentary The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty (still on iPlayer) provides a sombre reminder that Murdoch has long leant on British life, with a case to be made that he swung the election for Tony Blair and ushered in the Brexit shitshow.
As I am aiming for nuance, it is only fair to point to Murdoch toadies such as Kelvin MacKenzie who dismiss the documentary as a put-up job.
To go again with the grain of that nuance, Murdoch deserves praise for investing in British newspapers; without him, the Times and Sunday Times would have sunk long ago. Those who hate newspapers, and they are numerous, will see his investment in papers as only a bad thing; those who believe in newspapers, whatever their faults, will see some good here.
I’d like to have read what Philip Collins of the Times had to say about all this, as he’s always an interesting read. Or he was. Sadly, the Times has pushed him out, apparently because he wasn’t supportive enough of the government.
Here’s what he said in a parting tweet:
“My last word on the subject. The Times is more right-wing than it was; my departure will make it more so. Its comment pages remain, even so, the most balanced around. It has some fine writers of all shades. That balance is the best thing about it and it’s stupid to threaten it.”
I have no inside knowledge at all, but is it fanciful to imagine Rupert Murdoch being displeased that one of the best writers on the Times had opinions of which he disapproved?
Newspapers should he painted in all shades of opinion – and not just in Owner’s Revenge Grey (a colour Farrow & Ball have not yet come up with).