If British newspapers represent public opinion fairly then you would think the public – or at least Telegraph readers – strongly supported the press’ own plan for self-regulation and would die in a ditch to prevent anything else being put in place.
This is certainly the impression you would get were you to read the Telegraph’s weekend editorial ‘The threat to our freepress is grave and foolish’. In it the Telegraph argues that anything beyond the changes to self-regulation recommended by parts of the press (in the plan put forward by the Telegraph Executive Director, Lord Black) would mean little less than the end of democracy as we know it.
But then start to read some of the comments underneath (641 to date) and you get a very different impression of public opinion. The majority of the comments take issue with the Telegraph view, arguing that the press is not free but controlled by a few powerful individuals, that the Telegraph editorial sounds a lot like special industry pleading, and that that the press have only themselves to blame for tighter regulation.
In the words of the commenters themselves -
The press is not free but controlled by a powerful few:
- When the press is run by a small oligarchy of press barons, how can it possibly be free? ‘Graham Milford-Scott’
- Is it ironic one man owns vast swathes of our “free press” ‘eighteen’
- I would be happy to have a free press! Free from editorials and free from political bias. This is supposed to be a free thinking democracy, too many proprietors are trying to influence public opinion. Money should not buy political influence. ‘hodsgod’
The Telegraph’s view sounds a lot like special industry pleading:
- This article remains me of early 80s Trade Union leaders bleating about Maggie’s reforms! ‘choppy’
- I think part of the problem is that the press itself does not understand the concept of freedom of the press as intended… To be frank, I am sick of the press and its special pleadings. ‘Peter_R’
- The press want laws to apply to everyone else except themselves of course. Statutory regulation is the only way as self regulation, like all other self-regulated areas, has failed over and over and over again. Quite why the media should be free to publish falsehoods for money is beyond me. ‘paulweighell’
The press have only themselves to blame:
- If the press become state-regulated they (and we) have only themselves to blame. They have been unscrupulous in their gathering of stories, lax in their adherrence to truth in what they publish, and inhumane in both for decades now…in the name of selling papers. ‘truthmatters’
- Simply put, Yes the independence of the press is a necessity however that independence and it’s attendant rights are now forfeit it having been determined that they are used to violate the rights of the people and gain power and influence over and manipulate the government. ‘exumab’
- This is the ‘free’ press that failed to investigate alleged criminality within its own industry. It doesn’t fill you with confidence. ‘Tom197482’
- self regulation has failed. the PCC is a joke. the press has brought us to this position, no one wants a press afraid to report the truth . and legal regulation does not preclude that, there is after all existing legislation. ‘journalists’ will just have to do proper checks on their stories. ‘Chris Kimberley’
Of course there are other comments, though only a small minority of these support the Telegraph view. Quite a number lament what they see as the press’ political correctness (particularly when it comes to Muslims), while others express their frustration and comment restrictions on the Telegraph site.
Clearly those that comment on the Telegraph website are only a subset of the general public, but one would have thought that, if anyone is going to show sympathy for the Telegraph’s view then some of their readers are. Yet many do not agree with the Telegraph’s views on the press.
This, it should be noted, is consistent with regular opinion polls which show how about 60% of the public are in favour of a stronger system of regulation. See, for example, this June poll by YouGov.
Unfortunately, parts of the press seem unable to represent the public view fairly, when it come to something that will affect their self-interest.