I have always believed that a journalist’s main job is to hold power to account. So whenever I read an article praising a minister or an MP, I patiently wait for someone to comment, putting forward the journalist in question for a career as a government press officer. Press bias is, of course, inherent to press freedom. But is it really freedom when the majority of a country’s media institutions supports the party in power?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this malaise can be attributed only to laziness, incompetence or cynical commercial interests on the behalf of Britain’s press. Newsrooms are becoming more and more squeezed for staff and journalists are often overworked and underpaid; the Tories know the situation and are ready to exploit it by filling newspapers with their supposed achievements. After all, the majority of voters are behind them, and they know they’ve got an army already criticising or harassing journalists on a daily basis.
Across the country, it’s seen as normality to have newspaper columns from MPs, where they can spin their PR, reassuring voters that they have made the right choice. No one seems to mind or call that out.
Hold to account
But when a journalist actually does their job of holding power to account, the curtain has been pulled back and we’ve seen a government less keen to share their views in a similarly professional and positive manner.
Earlier this year, former HuffPost UK journalist Nadine White was forced to make her Twitter profile private after the equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, posted screenshots of the reporter’s – very polite, completely normal – request for comment.
White had followed the standard right-of-reply procedure, but the minister put a spin on it and – leveraging her considerably public platform – performatively accused the journalist of spreading disinformation.
Those defamatory accusations came despite the fact that no publication was made without Badenoch’s comments. The journalist was doing her job – holding power to account by checking facts and approaching a politician for comment.
White received abuse from enraged online users – even though journalists are not paid from the public purse, whereas the Tories are, and they are in charge of it.
But if some of that public anger was instead directed at the fact that a journalist shouldn’t be prevented from doing their job just because a politician can’t stand being held to account, perhaps the government wouldn’t have waited for weeks to issue a stance – which was, basically, no stance.
This comes after, at the beginning of 2020, the same government prevented selected journalists from attending a press briefing, on the basis that they weren’t “invited”.
In February this year, Boris Johnson told schoolchildren that journalists are “always abusing people” – a nice way of influencing young, malleable minds into looking down on journalists who hold politicians to account.
And a month later, the government’s race report was released to a select number of journalists – which gave them a head start on how the issue would be framed in readers’ minds.
It does make me wonder how much of this political bullying goes on behind the scenes, with politicians choosing the comfortable journalists and news outlets, whilst refusing to answer to the others, and threatening them each time an article is not a big Tory advert.
There are many things I love about Britain, but its exceptionalism is slowly eroding it from within.
The very exceptionalism which makes government ministers believe they shouldn’t be held to account, and lashing out at journalists who are trying to do their jobs on behalf of the people.
The very exceptionalism which makes many Tory voters unwilling to read and try to understand anything that could challenge their own bias. The exceptionalism which results in 11 years of Conservative government.
Tory voters need to ask themselves: do they want to know the truth and choose the best option for Britain – based on transparent, changing political facts – or do they want to feel they were right and stick to their tribes?