Within a week of the news that Oxford was to be graced with its very own student tabloid, Rupert Murdoch has released his very own addition to the already burgeoning News International stable. The News of the World’s demise last year has clearly not dampened his enthusiasm, nor that of the British public. Reportedly the print run for the Sun on Sunday was three million copies, with over two million sales expected.
With inquiries into the Sun’s senior staff ongoing, the claim that this resurrected News of the World is a force for good rings deeply hollow. But that’s exactly what Murdoch and his editorial staff maintain. In almost every way they are wrong. The Sun and papers of its kind trivialise real news in favour of gossip, speculation and simplistic dichotomies of complex, difficult issues.
Though we may tell ourselves we’re better off than the those who have to put up with the American media, it’s scant comfort. The celebrity obsessed sensationalism that puts a paragraph long article on a co-ordinated series of explosions in Iraq on a par with whoever’s had their tits done most recently is a grim indictment of our priorities. The revelations about improper and immoral practice – to which even the venerable broadsheets have not been entirely immune – have ceased to surprise. Like bankers and politicians, journalists now belong to a tainted profession.
Contrast that to the phenomenal bravery and sacrifice of correspondents reporting from some of the most desperate places on earth, two of whom were killed last week. These reporters believed in the importance of what they were doing. I have been told that there has never been a famine in a country with a reasonably free press. This is the good that Murdoch was referring to. And this is the small way in which he was right.
His newspapers commit the cardinal sin of mistaking gossip for what is really important. But they do also make a difference. I disagree with their politics, but they do take a stand and they do challenge the status quo. If they have corrupt politicians and dodgy City traders looking over their shoulders thinking “what if the press finds out?”, they are making a positive impact.
Information matters. Freedom of the press matters. Journalism matters. Not because we need to know about Max Mosely’s Nazi-themed orgies. But because investigative work is important in making a difference. Like getting news out of Homs. Like bringing famines and corruption and downright political lying to the world’s attention. Reporters take risks daily to bring this news to us, and we have a responsibility to listen. We are rich, privileged and empowered. Knowing what’s going on beyond your front door is the first step to changing the world.