Magazine article The Spectator

The Press Will Always Seem Destructive to a Man Whose Intimate Pillow-Talk Has Been Revealed

Magazine article The Spectator

The Press Will Always Seem Destructive to a Man Whose Intimate Pillow-Talk Has Been Revealed

Article excerpt

MEDIA STUDIES

Prince Charles thinks that the press is too cynical. So he said in a speech on Monday marking the 300th anniversary of the first national daily newspaper, the Daily Courant. Cynicism is `the corrosive acid that eats away unseen'. According to him, important national organisations and institutions are undermined if individuals who represent them are continually criticised. I am sure he partly had the royal family in mind, though he did not say so. Prince Charles's point is that the press should recognise that many people do sterling work in all walks of life. To attack the tiny minority who don't is to detract from the very many who do. Newspapers represent the country as being dysfunctional when in truth it is brimming with decent, hardworking and self-sacrificing people.

There is something in what Prince Charles says, but I would like to enter two caveats. The first is that newspapers in general, and the tabloids in particular, make it their business almost to a fault to celebrate the virtues of ordinary people. They may lay into the royal family or the government, but the royal family and the government are not made up of ordinary people. It is different, for example, with the National Health Service or the police force. These organisations are frequently eviscerated as defective institutions while the people who work for them are constantly held up as shining examples. Tabloids are always running stories about sweet nurses, heroic ambulancemen and brave policemen. The reason is surely obvious. Newspapers may criticise the institutions but they don't want to alienate the people who work for them who are also their readers. Of course, they may have a go at a group not represented in great numbers among their readers the Daily Mail is not over-fond of social workers, or the Guardian of the landed aristocracy - but they will nearly always look after their own.

So the picture may be a bit more complicated than Prince Charles seems to think. He also looks at the press from a standpoint not shared by most of his fellow countrymen. He is part of the small minority of people who read several newspapers frequently, take what they say very seriously, and watch television news with more than a passing interest. You, gentle reader, may be one of their number. A few of us spend so much time scrutinising newspapers and magazines that the press begins to become the way in which we perceive reality. It is not like that for the majority. (Did you know that a quarter of the 1.4 million As - the top social class - never read newspapers?) For most people newspapers are simply one among several influences. If, like Prince Charles, you have had your intimate pillow-talk reproduced in the Sun, you are liable to be acutely aware of the potentially destructive power of the press. But for many millions of people newspapers inhabit the margins of their lives, and their 'corrosive' cynicism, which I believe is less pervasive than Prince Charles thinks, may have relatively little impact on them.

I recently mentioned that the Times is parting company with the polling organisation MORI. One contributing factor was the paper's feeling, particularly during the last election, that MORI had overestimated New Labour's lead over the Tories. Now I learn that, having experienced similar reservations, the Daily Telegraph has cut its links with Gallup. The average Labour lead during the last election campaign was 16 points in the case of Gallup, and 20 in the case of MORI. …

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