TURNING THE TIDE ON THE “WORRY TREND” OF JOURNALISM IN BRITAIN

by Richard Worth

You might have seen the worrying news that Britain has slipped further down the World Press Freedom Index. This index, monitored by Reporters Sans Frontiéres, rates the freedoms (duh) of the press to report what they like without fear of governmental repercussions. For a breakdown of why Britain is doing so poorly, take a look at the RSF website.

A brief summary is that our governments (those loveable scamps) are trading off the freedom of the press for national security. What’s worse is that there is a potential new law on the horizon that would allow journalists to be treated and sentenced as spies in cases of leaked information.  After all, these are the “enemies of the people”. Though this absurd bit of legislation has been temporarily halted, there is serious concern that, much like Tony Blair, it could return and ruin everything.

As you have excellent taste in news and opinion sources, I don’t have to tell you the importance of a free press in a democracy, but let’s say you want to share this piece with a pal not quite as wonderful as yourself. I’ll quickly cover it so you don’t have to.

Britain has slipped further down the World Press Freedom Index.

A free press, when functioning properly, acts as a foil to the government in maintaining the democratic processes.  It allows the people to know the actions of their elected leaders. This keeps the people informed of the government’s behaviour as well as encourages transparency on the government’s side. At the same time, journalism informs the government of the opinions and attitudes of the people more frequently than once every five years. In short, it offers accountability. It doesn’t necessarily follow that without a free press, other freedoms will be removed, it just makes it so much easier.

So, a free press is a good thing and we can’t just sit by and let it be taken away from us in some vague notion of security. Some people will think this is fine, arguing that National security is worth it. But they do so unaware of how well they have it; they might confuse prison cells for fortresses. For some, Benjamin Franklin (science president) may spring to mind,

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.

Which is an old-timey and catty way of saying relinquishing freedom is accepting tyranny. To remove one’s own freedom is to accept one’s manacles. But I disagree with Ben’s point that such behaviour is undeserving of freedom.   As such we need to fight back against this slippery slope for everyone’s sake.

( World Press Freedom map 2017 © RSF )

The press isn’t perfect, but then again, not everything that is good for us is. There is a whole pile of it that is biased, false and tomorrow’s chippy paper.  These are an ugly result of capitalism and we fight against these every day by not purchasing them or visiting their websites. But we need to take it further and fight for the aspects of journalism we do hold dear.

The first thing we can do is support good sources of journalism financially. Capitalism has its downsides but supply and demand can keep the journalists holding the government’s feet to the flames. We need investigative journalists to expose corruption, duplicity and deceitfulness; in turn, investigative journalists need to eat and have homes to go to. Depending on where you live, there is a whole bunch of ways to promote and defend investigative journalism beyond buying good newspapers. If you have the means to do so it’s worthwhile donating to a legal defence fund that supports independent and freelance journalists. This buys decent legal protection for independent journalist battling rich and powerful governments or corporations. It keeps journalist solvent and investigating.

Further, independent journalism is inherently worthwhile. Not only because it will broaden the arguments that you are exposed to, but because independent and diverse journalism has unique goals outside of the mainstream. They aren’t controlled by billionaire right-wing Australians or pressured by strong and stable governments and as such, they can be more critical — or even just more neutral. Equally, diversity amongst journalist and editorial teams means more stories will be brought to the public’s attention. Their own personal outlooks and causes they hold dear give society a broader picture of what’s really happening in the halls of power and expose corruption we wouldn’t have otherwise looked for. Please note that diverse journalism doesn’t mean one group’s story instead of another, in means a group’s story in addition to others.

we need to take it further and fight for the aspects of journalism we do hold dear.

Showing support for free media demonstrates to governments that we value it as a staple of a working democracy. But if by some weird fluke – and this is purely hypothetical – the government acts in the interest of itself and its corporate sponsors – I know, sounds like some mad conspiracy, but let’s say it did, we need to condemn government in addition to supporting journalists.

We do this the same way we’ve shown support for women, refugees, and science.  We demonstrate, we petition, and we write to our MPs until we get a response (Hilary Benn continues to ignore my excellent housing proposal!). On top of that, it’s good practice to consume good sources of news and stay vigilant. Raise awareness and raise your voice in resistance. Whichever party wins at the next general election, their values and goals shouldn’t outweigh democracy, and without a free press, there is no democracy.

Featured image © Coffee Lover/Flickr


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