Former American Vice President Spiro Agnew once derided
reporters as "nattering nabobs of negativism." Polls regularly
bemoan the media's lack of objectivity. Indeed, a favorite pastime
of people the world over, it seems, is slamming the press.
But Britain's Parliament has gone a step further. Led by senior
members of Parliament, the House of Commons set forth a resolution
last month criticizing London's most prestigious newspapers. It
said serious reporting and analysis of politics in their pages are
in "steep decline."
The attack on such entrenched broadsheets as The Times, The
Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian asserted that the papers are
focusing on "personalities rather than policies, and trivia rather
The Times has hit back, arguing that its coverage of House of
Commons affairs is less than it used to be because "authority has
seeped elsewhere" - a point generally conceded by many observers.
Furthermore, government announcements, said the paper once known as
"the Thunderer," now often take the form of statements made by
politicians on radio or TV "rather than in long speeches in
But the politicians were undeterred. Leading the attack on
Britain's so-called "quality press" is Tim Renton, a former
Conservative chief whip, who has the backing of several former
senior cabinet ministers.
Mr. Renton has accused editors of failing to provide the public
with serious coverage of important issues. He says The Times
editorial rejecting his complaints showed that "our dart has hit a
Using the crisis over British beef as an example of
"trivialization," Renton says it is easier to write, "Is Douglas
Hogg, the agriculture minister, going to get the chop?" than to
talk about the reasons why the crisis occurred in the first place.
Renton adds: "We want to put over the heartfelt message that we
think the serious stuff is being crowded out in the rush for
Indeed, overcrowding of the market could explain a shift in
coverage. Currently 11 nationally circulating daily newspapers are
available to British readers.
And this already intense competition is further exaggerated at
the "respectable" end of the market, where four papers are in a
savage battle for subscribers: The Times, The Independent, The
Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian.
This competition can send papers searching for the most
sensationally scintillating stories.
For instance, along with other British newspapers, during the
beef crisis the Times made great play with Douglas Hogg's sour
countenance and preference for fedora hats on his visits to