Archive for October, 2008
Suppose it had been two newspaper journalists who made the call to Mr Sachs, put the video on the newspaper’s website and published an article about it. How would the response have been different?
Well, it would have received very little coverage in the press because most papers still abide by the rule that they will not criticize one another’s behaviour – particularly on taste and decency issues (there are notable exceptions but these tend to be buried within the media sections of websites like the Guardian).
It is very unlikely it would have been picked up by the broadcasters since they too tend to avoid moralizing about members of the British press (note how little mention there has been on the BBC, for example, of the indictment of various newspapers for their McCann coverage).
Without the oxygen of publicity it is unlikely there would have been many complaints. As Martin Belam has pointed out, there were only two complaints after the original Ross-Brand broadcast on October 18th. The rest of the complaints (over 27,000 and rising) came after the broadcast was covered by the Mail on Sunday and other newspapers.
Even had people complained in their thousands, we would not have known. The Press Complaints Commission – the press equivalent of the BBC Trust or OFCOM – does not release figures about the number of complaints on a specific issue. It waits until the end of the year and then tots up the total number of complaints – and even then groups them by which clause of the editorial code they fall under (e.g. accuracy, privacy). And all complaints, excepting those from Mr Sachs and his granddaughter, would have been thrown out anyway because they would be counted as ‘third party complainants’ who are not directly affected.
And if Mr Sachs himself had complained? Or his granddaughter?
If they had complained to the newspaper there is little likelihood they would have received a response. The Federation of Poles in Great Britain wrote to the Daily Mail a few months back, complaining that the paper was deliberately encouraging discrimination against immigrants, in particular Poles and their families. It cited more than 50 Daily Mail articles that it argued contained anti-Polish sentiment (including: ‘Polish Borat claims groping women is normal in Eastern Europe’, ‘Polish immigrants take £1bn out of UK Economy’, and ‘Fears for NHS & Schools as 1,000 Polish children are born every month’). After the Daily Mail refused to respond the Polish community appealed to the PCC which arranged for a letter to be published in the paper.
And if they had complained to the Press Complaint Commission? Their complaint would have been rejected. The Commission explicity excludes taste and decency issues from its remit.
The result? If it had been two newspaper journalists there almost certainly would have been virtually no press criticism, few complaints, no apologies, no suspensions, no resignations, no inquiries, no fines.
But because it happened at the BBC? Blanket front page coverage in the national press, over 27,000 complaints, statements by the leaders of both main political parties, the suspension of both presenters (and resignation of one), an official inquiry, the potential of a significant fine for the broadcaster (to be paid out of the Licence Fee).
A bomb goes off in Kabul in the midst of an increasingly bloody conflict that looks likely we can’t win.
The country – the world – sinks deeper into global recession as governments scramble
to prevent meltdown.
The bloody murder of a British student in Italy convicts one
and sends two more to trial by jury.
And the entire news media is fixated by two ego driven presenters who acted in a grotesque and deeply unpleasant way towards an innocent grandfather.
A sense of perspective?
As circulations fall, advertising revenues decline and recruitment advertising plummets, there continues to be much talk about how newspapers will make money in future.
Many of them are, and have been for some time, looking for ways to ‘monetize’ their reading public (i.e. milk readers for more cash).
You can get a pretty good idea of what this means by reading todays Times. I counted 21 ads for ways in which the paper could make additional revenue (not including encouraging people to buy the paper tomorrow or Saturday or one just promoting the brand).
Times shopping for… boots (‘Put your best boot forward’), foldaway buffet tables, Swiss Army Saturn messenger bags, 37 Shakespeare plays on DVD, jumbo storage bags, the world’s smallest x18 magnification binoculars and sustainable beech wood coathangers
Times Travel to… Lake Garda, Venice, Verona, Prague, Rome, and other city breaks.
Times ticket packages to… the Royal Windsor Tattoo, Jersey boys
Times conferences / events like… the Times Bar conference or the London Film Festival in association with The Times,
Times offers for… half price books, magical evenings on ice, free hotel stays
Times subscriptions ‘freeze’
And, one of the strangest, an ad for a weekly Times online ‘streamlined’ series with Tony Hawks – sponsored by VW Passat C (see ‘A Life More Streamlined
‘). The remarkable thing about this is the deliberate melding of editorial and advertising – the tagline for the VW Passat is ‘See the new streamlined coupe’.
All of which presumably necessary to make up for the shortfall in revenue from circulation and advertising. And most done by other newspapers (although perhaps not quite so voluminously).
Still, should we be concerned about the melding of advertising and editorial? Imagine extending the Tony Hawks model to other journalists or parts of the paper. This is your domestic news section brought to you by XYZ Security Contractors? Or, Dr Thomas Stuttaford’s column, in association with AXA Healthcare? Wait, I’ve just had a look, and many of Dr Stuttaford’s columns
are in association with AXA! Conflict of interest anyone?
The last major period of contraction occurred between the two World Wars when, as the first Royal Commission on the Press found, just under 25% of daily and Sunday papers closed:
‘Between 31st December 1921, and 31st December 1948, the number of general daily and Sunday newspapers published in England, Wales, and Scotland fell from 169 to 128’ (1st Royal Commission on the Press, p.73).
The Commission decided this was not a serious cause for concern, nor was the 25% reduction in the national daily press. Only if it was part of a long term trend did they feel we should be worried:
‘We do not therefore see cause for alarm in the decrease of the number of national morning newspapers from 12 in 1921 to 9 in 1948 – [although any further decrease could be worrying]‘ (Royal Commission, p.88).
We still have 9 national dailies (not counting the Daily Star): The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror and The Sun.
If these now shrank by 25-30%, say to 6, then should we be worried? And what six would they be - Times, Telegraph, Guardian, FT, Daily Mail, The Sun?