Who are the feral beasts, then?

I was rather surprised to hear that Tony Blair, in a speech last Tuesday at Reuters’ HQ in London, had accused the media of behaving like “a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits”. I was unable to blog during the week because I was too exhausted to write much about anything after the work I’d been doing, but (sad but true) Polly Toynbee gave a great analysis of what was missing from his speech, namely any sense of reflection or self-doubt. He did not mention the issue of media ownership, and the only newspaper he criticised by name was the Independent.

This fact is, of course, something anybody could have pointed out at any point during his time in office or for decades before - at least during the Thatcher and Major years, when the usual victims of their vilification were Labour politicians. From where I stand, the worst offender has been the Daily Express, with its continual vilification of Gypsies and east European migrants in general, and then Muslims, and women in particular; it has been noted that the BNP have reproduced their reports with little or no comment added. However, if an over-mighty section of the media were to be singled out, one would have thought the PM would have chosen an organ to whose pressure they had bowed, rather than the Independent, whose continual (and tiresome, given its poor sales record) exposés of the carnage in Iraq has fallen on deaf political ears. The infamous “foreign prisoner scandal”, in which it suddenly became known that foreign prisoners were not automatically being kicked out after finishing their sentence - in a number of cases because it simply had never been the policy to do so - led to people who had been settled here for years, had been in trouble once and served their time, being imprisoned and threatened with deportation as if they were just people who had come here for criminal purposes. Blair did not mention any of the major corporate newspapers to whose loud opinions and demands his government have been sensitive. He criticised the Independent for mixing facts with opinion, but what do we call the big splash headlines on the front of the tabloids? They are often opinions embedded in facts, or at least purported facts.

He also alleged that the media did not accept that actions were mistakes or bad judgement; “it has to be venal, conspiratorial”. It is not clear whether he is talking about the events leading up to the Iraq war, but I don’t believe people can be blamed for not accepting that going to war in Iraq was just bad judgement: there was no reason for us to participate, it was not in our national interest and we have got nothing out of it. To take that as one example (although it appears that Blair does not regard participating as bad judgement in itself anyway), questioning his motives for involving us is quite appropriate.

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