A Nation Talking to Itself

I have been watching the Leveson Inquiry with interest. With each celebrity and high profile testimony comes even more unsettling insights into the workings of the national media. Only a few people will ever personally face the scrutiny of the media whether it is at a local, national or international level. So for many the details that are emerging make for uncomfortable viewing.

The phrase ‘a society gets the media it deserves’ has been in my mind in recent days, although I struggled to find the author of the quote. I did remember the words of playwright Arthur Miller who said “a good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself”. If that is the case then can we really sit back and tut at the revelations that are surfacing? If the behaviour of the press was so abhorrent why has it taken until 2011 for anyone to do anything about it?

We have all discussed those newspaper headlines with friends, family and work colleagues. We have considered the details in the media before deciding our own view of the information that had been put before us. Those conversations were taking place in offices, homes, pubs but no one questioned how, or why, those stories appeared in the newspapers. So have we been condoning the sort of behaviour that has been discussed at the Leveson Inquiry?

As a former journalist I feel quite strongly that the recent events are tarnishing the reputation of all that work in the industry from junior reporter through to tabloid hack. However, there are many journalists who use their position to uncover corruption and wrongdoing, and to give people the facts about the world around them. It is unclear whether the public are distinguishing between the two types of reporter or if they just see all journalists in the same light. My concern is that the actions of a few will damage the industry for many years to come.

If Miller is right then the fact that we have been discussing those cases and headlines in our daily lives makes us as guilty as those tabloid hacks who have been hunting for the stories. The reporters would argue they are giving people what they want, and are providing the stories people crave. If they didn’t then surely we would have stopped buying newspapers and some would have gone out of business. The testimony from the Inquiry being played out on 24-hour news channels is interesting but is it just providing us with more gossip in the best tradition of our tabloid press?

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