Michael Parkinson, who was knighted some years ago for services to chat shows, was a guest on Radio Five Live’s turgid ‘Sportsweek’ this morning. I’ve always found Parky, as us showbiz types call him, to be a far better writer than chat show host, but that’s by the by. It was what he said about our ‘free press’ that once again raised my hackles.
The Sunday Times splashed today with a story about private doctor Mark Bonar who was secretly recorded saying he had prescribed banned performance-enhancing drugs to over 150 British athletes, including footballers. Tucked away in the small print, Rupert Murdoch’s ‘quality’ newspaper admitted that it had no independent verification of the story as such. They were repeating Bonar’s allegations. No names were named, either. Now, I don’t read the Sunday Times, mainly because as broadsheets go, I think it’s a fat tabloid and I can’t access the on-line version because Mr Murdoch charges for that, too. But even this is not relevant to Parky’s ‘free press’ comments, not really.
The bluff Yorkshireman, now 81, gushed about how this just went to show how important it was to have a ‘free press’. Well, I would agree with him, if only it was true.
I have no idea if the Sunday Times’ story has any legs. We’ll find out soon enough. But to suggest the story appeared in the ‘free press’ is laughable.
The Murdoch stable of papers is not part of a free press. They represent his master’s voice. It is Murdoch who dictates the editorial line, it is Murdoch who tells his editors who they should support at general elections, it was Murdoch who told the English Sun to instruct its readers to vote Tory and the Scottish Sun to tell them to vote SNP, the latter of which would make it all but impossible for Labour to win a general election. Those who contribute to the Sun will be carefully vetted and you will not find a genuinely left of centre writer on its pages. Only this week, the Sun attacked the EU for not putting tariffs on Chinese steel when it was the British government that blocked EU attempts to do just that. This is little short of political propaganda.
I pick out the Sun, but I could have chosen any crummy British newspaper except, perhaps, the Guardian. The Mail is foreign owned, edited by an anti-EU multimillionaire who has taken millions from the EU, and is as far from being a free newspaper as Pravda. We do not have a free press at all.
Our newspapers are not state owned or state controlled, so that’s where the similarity with Pravda ends, but only just. Our newspapers are the new establishment, who exercise thought control and manipulate the news just the same as they do in North Korea. You would be surprised by the number of people who read the red tops and accept every word. They believe that the country is overflowing with benefit spongers, that the EU really does ban straight bananas and that the politically correct, whoever they are, have banned christmas.
In Parkinson’s world, that is to say the media, he probably does believe we have a free press, separate and independent from interference from the very powerful. He’s wrong. The Murdochs, the tax dodging Rothermere and Barclay brothers at the Telegraph, former porn merchant Richard Desmond at the Express – these are the men who own the press and hardly any of them are even living in this country never mind pay tax here.
The internet has probably saved us and saved what’s left of free speech, which is becoming increasingly more difficult in our country. With a media controlled by a select few from the political right and a government that is consciously trying to castrate the main opposition party by slashing its income.
A free press this certainly isn’t and we need to be very careful about what we read.