It’s never been easier to be an armchair media critic.
For one thing, we’re collectively spending more time sat in our armchairs than ever before. And, for another, the government’s daily press briefings have given a face and a voice to journalists you might have only ever read in print or scrolled past on Twitter.
So when Robert Peston pops up on your screen to ask a rambling, two-and-a-half minute long question taking issue with the government’s coronavirus response, it’s easy to lash out at the self-serving, negative media.
And a quick social media search of ‘Peston’ during the daily briefing suggests many are doing just that (“Bobby Peston’s left his wank bunker” was a personal highlight from last week).
“We do not want or need blame”
It was therefore no surprise to see Lord Sugar – a man who truly affirms that you do not have to be clever to make a shedload of money – broadcasting to his 5.3 million Twitter followers “a message to all our Negative UK Press” yesterday.
The message – which was not written by Lord Sugar but, he reassures us, echoes his sentiments “entirely” – calls out the likes of Peston and Laura Kuenssberg for “missing the ‘mood’ in this great country of ours – the United Kingdom.”
Brits, it continues, “do not want or need blame. We do not want constant criticism of our Government who are doing their very best in a very difficult and unprecedented global emergency.”
All the pesky press want to do is “trip up our politicians instead of asking questions that will provide positive and reassuring answers for all of us.”
I agree with all this pic.twitter.com/p9omAH1Zlw— Lord Sugar (@Lord_Sugar) April 27, 2020
It is not a journalist’s job to act as a cheerleader for the government
It is a curiosity of journalism that, because its core purpose is to interact with the public, almost everyone who has ever read an article or watched a news bulletin has an opinion on what journalists do and how they do it.
Because journalism is a product a lot of people who buy it believe they should determine its purpose, in a way that would be unheard of in other professions. It’s like Beth Rigby texting a plumber to tell him how to repair a leaky u-bend.
Of course, the media’s role is not and should not be to pick fights with the government for the sake of it – although it may sometimes seem that way.
The genuine concern which couched press coverage of the prime minister’s stint in intensive care proves that journalists in no way have it in for the government. A more valid criticism would be that, if anything, the very opposite is true – and that journalists and politicians are closer than many would like to admit.
But, and this really should go without saying, nor is it a journalist’s job to act as a cheerleader for the government in an attempt to ‘reassure’ the public.
Why shouldn’t the media question why the UK has almost the same number of confirmed cases as Germany, but has seen over 15,000 more people on its shores killed by coronavirus?
Do we not want an explanation for why 32-in-every-100,000 people here dying, when in New Zealand that same figure is less than one?
Is it not worth asking why so many doctors and nurses do not have adequate PPE to treat people without getting infected themselves, or why it has taken so long for them to have the ability to get tested?
The blame does not lie entirely at the door of the government, but these are urgent questions, and the answers to them could go a long way in helping us figure out how we got here and how we move forward.
Indeed, the impact of the press in steering government policy during this crisis has already been significant.
Apocalyptic scenes in hospitals across northern Italy – hospitals overwhelmed, patients crowded together in hallways, mortuaries overflowing – were beamed into British living rooms by essential, brave reporting, showing what would happen here if more decisive action wasn’t taken.
Meanwhile without the public outcry caused by coverage of the government’s initial desire to pursue ‘herd immunity’, Downing Street might still be following a strategy which would result in Britain’s already painfully-high death toll ending up ten times higher.
The press has not been perfect during this crisis – it seldom is. However without it, we would arguably be much deeper in the mire. Its critics – Lord Sugar among them – would do well to remember that.