The Abuse of Press Freedom

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The question of press freedom has been ironically splashed across the media in recent weeks following the Daily Mail’s distasteful article condemning Labour leader Ed Miliband’s late father as the ‘Man Who Hated Britain’ and the debate regarding the Royal Charter which requests independent self-regulation of the press. Whilst politicians argue that press freedom will be unaffected by the Royal Charter, members of the print media argue that such changes would be unconstitutional in countries such as the US. The issue has also come quite close to home for us at Lancaster University. Following the horrific incident of rape at the Sugarhouse, the Daily Mail decided to publish this rather tactless article which, at face value, suggests that the police were having fun whilst the incident was occurring.

Although many of us at SCAN are clearly interested in the press and are possibly looking at a future in the industry, it is only right that we question ourselves and our actions from time to time. A free press gives us the ability to expose scandals, interrogate the University’s and LUSU’s decisions, and express our opinions. Yet despite this, there is a line to draw when it comes to sensitive issues. Which ‘professional’, in their right mind, decided it would be a good idea to combine the humorous initiative of Inspector Morph with the terrible report of a rape? Not only is this insensitive and quite frankly appalling, it just goes to show that not all members of the press carry out their business professionally, morally or even compassionately.

The Daily Mail has clearly overstepped the mark. In addition to this, the paper has come under scrutiny after publishing this article entitled ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’, in reference to Ed Miliband’s late father. Yet again, the Daily Mail has foregone all compassion in dealing insensitively with a sensitive issue purely to sensationalise something from decades ago. The Mail argues that Miliband’s father was a Marxist, Britain-hating man who wrote as a seventeen year old: “The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world . . . you sometimes want them almost to lose (the war) to show them how things are. They have the greatest contempt for the Continent . . . To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation.”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the majority of us have said something we regret from when we were seventeen. At the time, Miliband’s father had just escaped the Nazi Holocaust and had fled to Britain, a new country with a new language and new culture to accept and assimilate. Even the best of us would be disillusioned at first.

This is where press freedom should be taken with a pinch of salt. If any leading politician had expressed similar views for the public domain to hear, they would have been media-lynched until they either resigned or were sacked. So why is it OK for the press to voice such views? Yes, Britain is a democratic society in which anyone can voice their opinions and be heard, but when the opinions that cause offence, could be seen as racist, sexist or homophobic, or are purported to be unethical, something has to be done. If press freedom allows such things to be published without consequences, then it needs to be reassessed. Independent self-regulation, as suggested by the Royal Charter, should hopefully bring press freedom into control without compromising our right to express our views in this democratic society.

It is inhumane of the Daily Mail to even consider writing such misleading sensationalism, let alone publishing it for the world to see. Press freedom is a gift in our society when so many countries are still suffering from dictatorship and a lack of stable democracy, and it is frustrating for aspiring journalists, who carry out their work diligently and ethically at student newspapers, to see professionals giving the industry a bad name. Anyone interested in joining the media knows just how much of a struggle it is to even get a foot in the door, and it is angering to see professionals misuse their power. Press freedom is not something to be taken lightly. Compassion, ethics and morality are still necessary to ensure that we never stoop to the Daily Mail’s level.

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