Beyond mere lies and distortion: the British Press

There’s nothing lazier in journalism than reporting on ‘perception’. This is, of course, generally unqualified with no attempt to separate reality from belief. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about Truth here. My issue is with the media’s predilection for reportage too inane to be muddied by controversy about Truthiness. Once upon a time it might’ve been worth arguing for factuality in the press. That’s proven to be a pipe dream. Editorial bias is unavoidable and spin, presumably, makes the articles more fun to write. My particular gripe is with the media’s shaky grasp of what’s happening in the real world, what’s happening in the fictional world of their imagination and how the two interact to produce articles so devoid of substance (yet so malign in effect) it makes me eager for the uncomplicated entertainment of sheer lies.

So, a lesson in reality…

Reality 101: A table

To you and me, the table I’m currently resting my feet on is real. It’s there, it’s solid. It’s a goddamn table regardless of who’s looking at it.

To a particular school of philosophers, the reality of the table (if it even exists), depends wholly on the perspective of the observer.

To the journalist, it’s a bit more complicated and borrows from both the above. The reality of the table in question is, in the first place, irrelevant. What’s important is if somebody believes that the table exists, or even recognises the possibility of belief in a table existing somewhere. When the perception of the table (or potential perception of the table) is reported on, its reality becomes self-evident and incontrovertible.

A case study of this in practice is the report showing a rising fear of crime (this was a while back). The finding was presented as a damning indictment of the police and government – despite the fact that actual crime was falling. So, does the perception of crime, in a way, have as much impact as the tangibility of crime? The answer, of course, is no. Not unless you’re a newspaper. Reporting of unreality leads to a false perception of reality which leads to stories like this perpetuating the fiction that there is a problem when there isn’t. All the while, the media maintain their external, purely observational and interpretive relationship with the real world by not mentioning that this proves how much the press, not the government, has failed by not letting their readers know what is actually happening in the country.

That would be the naturally inferred story behind the story, after all. “British public misled by media to fear non-existent crimes”. I can’t see that headline appearing in the pages of the Daily Mail somehow. With obvious self-congratulatory exceptions, the media can be notoriously (and wilfully) ignorant of it’s own effect on public thinking. After months of mercilessly tearing Gordon Brown to pieces at every opportunity, the papers innocently report that voters have lost faith in the Prime Minister. While failing to communicate Labour’s policies and principles to voters who might quite like to know what the residing party stand for, Fleet Street ingenuously tell us the government have a problem getting their message across.

Recent reporting of politics in this country has been about as useless as it’s ever been. The media is, for the vast majority of people, the only connection we have to what’s going on in and around Whitehall and an insight into the important decisions that have a considerable impact on our lives. When I read reports about more and more people becoming disinterested in politics, or look at so-called analysis about voters feeling disengaged enough to elect the far-right BNP, or when I see comments from people whose only reasons for wanting to vote Tory are vague claims that “Brown just isn’t up to the job” and “this country’s worse than ever”, I just want to stick my face through my monitor and bite at the jugular of the editors who are arrogantly pissing around with the future of this country.

All the above are symptoms of a media culture that considers itself above and beyond the petty concerns we call real life and that is blissfully ignorant of the negative consequences its fictitious narratives bring.


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