One of the most powerful means of relaying news to the public and influencing its opinion remains via the tabloid press. Its reputation has persisted as a Pandora’s box of controversy, shocking headlines, satire, tenuous half-truths, and a necessary microscope upon the workings of government and power. It is this deliberately insensitive style that has kept the tabloid press ahead of the rest of the pack, accounting for five of the six best-selling papers in the UK. However, the thorny, less sugar-coated side of the right-leaning papers, the Daily Express, Daily Mail, and Sun, has been all too much for a new campaign called Stop Funding Hate, which has grown enormously in the past few months. Its tactic has been to call upon companies that advertise in these tabloids to cease their business with them.
The central complaint of the campaign appears to the language in and tenacity with which the papers have reported upon the issue of immigration. The cover image of the campaign’s Facebook page is an assortment of headlines and articles, overwhelming from the Mail, reporting levels of immigration in often uncompromising language. ‘Migrants: How many more can we take?’ screams one headline; ‘Soft touch Britiain’ reads another. Rather than question the statistics used, which are usually difficult to refute in any case, or suggest that the problem is not of the magnitude implied, the campaign calls it ‘hate’ and argues for essentially attempted economic censorship of the papers.
In fairness, this is not actually censorship. There is no attempt on the part of the campaign to physically stop people buying the papers. However, if the object of discouraging advertisements within them is not to constrict their revenue sources, and therefore force their downsizing or closure, what else can it logically be concluded to be?
This is a cowardly way of dealing with a serious issue. Population growth is a major factor in the capability of capacity of public services and infrastructure, and is a function of both net births and deaths, and net immigration. Since totalitarian state birth control is not much in vogue nowadays, a spotlight will rightly be shone upon the latter. Net immigration into the UK consistently exceeds 300,000 annually. There are arguments to maintain this, and people are welcome to see the benefits, but add a city the size of Southampton to the population as a consequence of immigration each year and there will naturally be questions raised.
It is conventional in the US to question and probe the potential political partiality of Supreme Court justices, and it should not be beyond question here.
This does not change if you put it in more polite language or make the headlines less frequent. Instead, the continuous failures of politicians to rectify the issue has squeezed the patience of many and made politically correctly-worded objections seem obsolete. So it is irritating to see people blame tabloid newspapers, which often do not so much dictate as reflect and amplify people’s concerns, rather than the core of the issue. One wonders if such people have ever knocked on a door and listened to a voter relate concerns about the impact of immigration onto their local public services. The migrant crisis of late has provoked further emotions and questions, and a newspaper of any political leaning that reports frankly upon the situation on our doorstep in Calais, whose camp has recently been shut down, is a newspaper that is doing its job.
The answer, as always, lies in reasoned exchange of arguments. An example of the importance of debate has been the Article 50 tug-of-war between Theresa May and the courts in recent weeks. Stop Funding Hate furiously tweeted an image of the recently infamous Daily Mail headline portraying three High Court judges as ‘Enemies of the People’. This is obviously not a serious contribution, and was obviously aimed primarily at catching attention, but the editorial questioning the personal judgement of the justices was. It is conventional in the US to question and probe the potential political partiality of Supreme Court justices, and it should not be beyond question here. This is not to dispute the vital independence of the judiciary.
The role of the judiciary and the relevance of Parliament to the process of Brexit demand answers from all sides and the Mail contributes to this, however wildly. The upstart newspaper The New European, anathema though it is to Eurosceptics and conservatives, is an earnest attempt to champion a Parliament that waters down the Brexit process and loss of freedom of movement. It attempts to branch open new news sources, not suffocate existing ones. When it is not insulting those who voted to leave or whining pointlessly about the referendum outcome, it actually does this well.
There are occasional exceptions to this standard. When newspapers stretch beyond mere controversy and outlandish ways of portraying news, and practise outright slander, they deserve all that they get. Probably the most well-known newspaper controversy in this country’s history is the 1989 front page of the Sun alleging unspeakably slanderous actions on the part of innocent and grieving fans, with the perverse headline ‘The Truth’. Some things are so disgusting as to be beyond forgiveness, and this headline alone justifies the laudable Liverpool campaign ‘Total eclipse of the Sun’, which promotes businesses that refuse to stock the newspaper. The day the Sun dies will be a happy one.
Even if a moral case can be found for attempting to financially implode a newspaper, it is a curious way of taking on a paper when standoffish contempt is more deserved. The Daily Express, for example, has plummeted in circulation by more than 10% in the past year. With respect to the decent journalists and staff at the newspaper, it has been in decline since porn baron Richard Desmond altered the paper’s modus operandi into chasing frantic headlines about health non-miracles and weather sensationalism that would disgrace any reputable meteorologist. Let it go the way of the Independent in a few years. Exactly how feeding it more attention will kill it off is a mystery. These papers, particularly the Mail and Sun, will in any case have little trouble wooing new companies to buy advertising space seen by over a million and a half readers daily.
This decline is a symptom of the general winding down of physical newspapers. Whether there exists a lower bound to the falling circulation of some papers or they are converging to zero is yet to be seen. News, opinion, and argument are being transplanted increasingly to online sources, which are often no more formal than the most notorious tabloids. In the meantime, may the loud mouths of the Mail and Express (the Sun is omitted) continue to be a thorn in the side of screeching leftists desperate to shut down debate.