There is only a day to go until the country goes to the polls and the British press is declaring its political allegiance loudly and a little too proudly.
“Save our bacon,” screamed The Sun next to the infamous picture of Ed Miliband struggling with a bacon sandwich. “Major fail,” said the Mirror over a close-up of David Cameron’s face, whilst the Daily Telegraph led with concerns of a “nightmare on Downing Street” in the event of a Labour-SNP pact.
On the one hand, it’s encouraging that the British press has enough freedom to put forward myriad political leanings. We live, thankfully, in a pluralist country where censorship of political views is not as much of a concern as it is elsewhere in the world.
However, given the power that the media wields in shaping public opinion, this kind of nakedly partisan, claws-out reporting paints a depressing picture.
There should be a division in the British press between news and opinion. News should be the realm of non-partisan impartiality, delivering facts to the people of the UK without slant or bias. In terms of opinion, however, papers and specific columnists must be free to express the variety of opinions that makes a free press such a vital institution in any democratic state.
Biased news reporting, with a nakedly political motive, in the British press is one of the reasons so many people are turned off from politics. The public wants to know what’s happening in their world – not which wealthy white man another wealthy white man has decided to support.
Comedian Robert Ince cut to the heart of the issue on Twitter.
Can’t wait for election to be over so that newspapers can return to being impartial observers of events & existence…
— Robin Ince (@robinince) May 6, 2015
It isn’t simply the fact that these political views are being expressed that is the big issue. More important is the way in which the British press delivers its political opinions. This is an arena of mud-slinging and schoolboy insults, with little regard for the nuance of the complex issues at play.
Bacon sandwiches are more important than social housing. Russell Brand gets more column inches than NHS privatisation. In this world, memes are bigger than manifestos.
The work of British newspapers – particularly those on the right of the political spectrum – often resembles the ramblings of a drunken spin doctor, desperate to emphasise their viewpoint at the expense of a rational debate.
They’re Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It after a bottle of strong whiskey, with the aid of a front page byline in a national tabloid.
The people of the UK deserve far better than that.