The broadsheets have sold their souls to Murdoch
In June, it was announced that The Guardian and the Observer would be outsourcing their printing to Trinity Mirror, and be produced in tabloid format. At the time, Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, insisted that the new-look print editions would “still contain the agenda-setting journalism for which we’re renowned”. No-one attempted to deny however, that the move was anything short of a cost-saving manoeuvre – a fact which suggests the decision-makers at the paper are open to changes in their practices in order to save money.
The simple facts are that the Guardian’s print circulation has more than halved during the reign of the Berliner format which in 2005 made it the UK’s first full-colour newspaper. The unconvincing fundraising efforts from their readers, followed short-term fixes in the sale of AutoTrader, and the stock market flotation of Ascential (formerly Emap). Finally, the apparent inability to emphasise for profit their involvement in scoops as diverse as phone-hacking, Snowden, and the Panama Papers in recent years, alongside a shared Pulitzer prize with The Washington Post, means they are inevitably looking for ways to cut expenditure. It might be suggested that their transition to tabloid is overdue, but moreover that it isn’t necessarily a change in name only.
The often Islamophobic, and oftener still pitiable headlines (“Cor-bin”, or “Jezter” anyone?) which have thundered down the production lines of the Sun, the Mail, and the Times in recent years clearly dominate our ideas about modern tabloid journalism. And while “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” is not a line which would ever tarnish the front of the Guardian, their tactic over the last two years has been to bury the very idea of left-wing debate so far beneath the ground that their white, middle-aged, middle-class reader can’t tell the difference between Corbyn and Stalin. This piece is not a defence of Corbyn, but it is relevant that despite his clear knack for mobilising an electorate – proven not once but twice – his affiliation with populism was consistently branded as sensationalism at best, and communism at worst.
While Brexit, Sanders, Trump happened, the Guardian had a different opinion piece about Corbyn’s flaws every day. In itself, this is understandable – the paper’s writers now have a long-standing loyalty to New Labour policies – but what is unforgiveable is failing to combat the increasingly disgraceful journalism with which Murdoch and co have been exploiting the working classes. The Guardian’s justification for such sustained attacks on Corbyn was the desire to replace him with somebody capable of beating the Tories. However, by dominating their pages with Corbyn smears, rather than criticism of Tory austerity, they stood back and allowed the Sun, the Mail, and the Times to convince those hit worst by cuts that their problems were caused by immigrants and Muslims.
Fast-forward to the astonishing result in the 2017 general election. All of a sudden Corbyn has credibility. The relentless criticism from opinion pieces has vanished, but it has become clear that it dominated their editorial material so much, that the Guardian has been left at a loss as to how to fill the void. Return to criticising the Tories you might think? Somewhat so yes, and May certainly gets her fair share of grief, but the Guardian cannot quite seem to let go of the idea that the Labour party is in crisis (it has worked for them since Miliband lost). Just recently on Twitter, Labour MP Mike Gapes picked up on what he felt was a misleading headline by the Guardian, which decried “Labour MPs warn of a backlash if Jeremy Corbyn shifts Brexit stance”.
His response stated, “that will be 3 of the 8 vote leave Labour MPs. One named and two anonymous. Not the 220 of us who supported remain.” It cannot be contested that the one unanimous idea of the majority of Labour MPs – symbolically spearheaded by Chuka Umunna – is that membership of the single market must be maintained when we leave the EU. This is another example of the Guardian following Murdoch’s lead by pedalling headlines which they are conscious will peak the interest of a flagging readership. After almost two years of stirring Labour disunity, they cannot bare the potential monotony of a party largely united behind its leader.
This is not a criticism which I will isolate to the Guardian by any means. In fact, it seems that various ‘respectable’ papers have seen fit to relax moral reporting practices in recent years, and to a greater degree. After all, the vile and divisive behaviour of the Mail especially, along with the indefensible techniques of the News of the World which the Guardian itself uncovered, the broadsheets can be excused can they not, for diluting their upstanding identities? Not without consequence. A recent Telegraph headline (substitutable for numerous others) read “Exclusive: UK set to poach EU talent as 75% of staff don’t want to leave London”.
The hypocrisy on show here is sickening. After using immigrants as scapegoats of austerity and worse throughout the referendum campaign, to now call it a coup to have secured their loyalty is a double betrayal. The editorial aim of such a headline is clear. Now Brexit is solidly situated in the negotiating stage it is no longer a mobile strategy to target immigrants. The real object of our hatred must be the negotiators. And, just like that, the EU goes from being a cess-pool of Syrian soldiers demanding British blood, to a multi-seat conference room of brief-case-brandishing, Britain-bashing, bureaucrats.
As polls began to look rosier for Corbyn in the lead-up to the general election the Telegraph, more predictably than the Guardian, decided to make Labour Party disunity its own signature dish. A natural move by the ‘Torygraph’ you might think, who despite attracting criticism for being somewhat malleable at the whims of advertisers, is a publication the Conservatives generally feel they can rely on. Indeed the headline “Labour MPs reject Jeremy Corbyn's manifesto as Theresa May warns the party has 'abandoned' working class,” is one the Guardian would have been proud of. However, this seemingly policy-driven criticism soon descended into more gimmicky territory. The accompanying photo, captioned “Len McCluskey falls down the stairs outside a key meeting to thrash out the Labour manifesto,” showed they are as open to a caricatured metaphor as the Sun. Another attached video, told how Corbyn’s car had run over a BBC cameraman’s foot – “oh how we at the Telegraph weep for the BBC!”
The article itself was no more commendable. This article about “Labour MPs” quoted most frequently as evidence the words of that long-term union member Theresa May. Some of the more notable sources it managed to muster up were “one Labour candidate”, “one senior Labour candidate”, and “a number of northern Labour candidates.” The climax of this comic reporting came with the assertion that “one Labour MP said they and their colleagues are promising Labour voters they will remove Mr Corbyn after the election in a desperate bid to win support on the doorstep.” Finally giving up on both direct speech or any quote on the record, the Telegraph shamelessly printed an explicitly contrived statement. This is nothing short of tabloid journalism.
This behaviour can be explained by a brief submergence into the recent genealogies of the print news industry. Take, as an example, the current editor of the Sun, Tony Gallagher. In his post since 2015 he has overseen the Brexit referendum and the general election. Before this however, he was deputy editor of the Daily Mail, and before that the editor of – yes, you guessed it – the Telegraph. This is an example of one man who is connected with the billionaire Barclay Brothers, the notorious Dacre-Harmsworth partnership, and the Murdoch empire. There are countless examples of others who bridge similar gaps, and the incestuous nature of the right-wing press is difficult to ignore when considering whether the Telegraph’s ethical standards are indeed superior to those of their tabloid counterparts.
One organisation which is targeted more than others for its editorial conduct is the BBC. They are hit from left and right for shirking their non-partisan responsibility, but a protection of centrist politics in response to the interest of the masses, is different to knowingly massaging a readership’s prejudices for profit. The inexcusable treatment some of their employees have received, particularly the sexist vitriol directed towards Laura Kuenssberg, is not comparable to any criticism they would give platform to. The political allegiances of the Guardian and the Telegraph however, are beginning to provide justification for journalistic practices which they would have condemned in the past. Bias is essential for debate, but these two organisations must return to conveying their editorial wisdom honourably. It is sad to see once upstanding papers flex their institutional muscle so unflatteringly.