Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Why Would You Trust a Journalist?

Newsreader: Good Evening Scum. While you wash yourselves with rags I will be telling you what you may think of things you do not understand.

A man with a funny name was in the news yesterday!

Three people died. 

This is after another incident in Britain where a man with a gun killed some people. Despite numerous reports and warnings each time such an incident occurs, journalism continued unabated, saturating all media in images of a sad man's face. Raoul Moat was a poor person, from the Nooooorth of England. In other words, a textbook killer. 

Why he killed we will never know, but he once detuned his guitar to Drop D, and reached the semi finals on FIFA World Cup. It is likely that he has used the letters M, M and R in some of the words he has spoken or thought, and so is likely to cause autism in children. From this we also know that he dealt in dangerous subcultures. These facts will be iterated until it becomes hard to remember anything else.

We will also drop hint-like-facts such as 'The Police are being investigated for not stopping the man with a sad face and the funny name from killing some people, including himself'. With me now to discuss this and gang up on other areas of society is a newsreader from a rival network.

Newsreader #2: 

Newsreader #1:
What do you say to the accusations, backed up with facts, that providing wall to wall coverage of a murderer is actually likely to cause other people to commit similar crimes?

Newsreader #2:
Complete rubbish.

Newsreader #1:
And the presence of facts?

Newsreader #2:
I mean, we have a duty to report the news. 
Not the facts, the news. It's what people want. 
To paraphrase something I don't understand:
 'The news doesn't kill people. 
Computer games, 
horror films, 
heavy metal music 
kills people.'

Newsreader #1:

How do you know all this?

Newsreader #2:

It was on the news.

SEE? SEE? Hah! It wasn't us! In no way do we completely ignore our remit to present the facts in an objective and informative manner, and select the ones we need to support our agenda and turn it into scaremongering, knowing that getting our facts wrong will probably just result in a retraction.

The Modern Journalist is a hard working, dignified pillar of the community, rather than a complacent hack with a spurious mission to find truths that may or may not result in misery for others, or who doesn't think a story is a story unless it starts with them.

It isn't a terrifying thought that these people have power to shape your way of life (despite being unelected) to reinforce the worst in people. We don't shout on down from the boxes to the stalls, 'Off with their heads!', 'Don't elect this hypocrite!', and 'Ban this Sick Filth Now!' while our reporter stands outside the closed building in the rain telling you what has happened four hours ago, no!

We're providing a service.
That's what we do!
Provide a service.
Provide a service.
Repetition helps you memorise things, did you know?
Of course not, we know.
We're journalists!
If we didn't know any better than you the entire enterprise would be completely flawed!
Completely ridiculous! Completely flawed! Completely ridiculous!
Repetition. Mark E. Smith.
Gays Are To Get Asylum!
Muslims Are Changing the British Way of Life!
England Will Win the World Cup!
Raoul Moat.
Just in case you didn't catch his name it was RAOUL MOAT.

I'm paraphrasing of course.

Journalists make fraudulent expense claims too, by the way. Not as big a deal as MPs doing it but it would be nice if the self-appointed moral guardians of the nation practiced what they preached. It isn't exactly a damning indictment, but it's one of a long list of reasons why journalists are terrible, irresponsible monsters.

The main one is this: sure, MPs and politicians are fundamentally untrustworthy, but we sort of know that anyway (It's one of the unspoken truths that are inculcated into us at some unspecified point in our teenage years). But Journalism enacts a strange hold over millions of people every day, much more so than the words of John Prescott or William Hague. It's a daily occurrence, that pulls and twists people in different directions so that, when you have your once in every five years' opportunity to vote, you have had your opinion coerced, reinforced and then cemented into place for you.

The Press Complaints Commission is set up so that only the people directly affected by an article (ie. not someone who read it and had no involvement in the story but who - Hello - got angry anyway), which means that only Clare Balding's complaint against A.A Gill (who has managed to get away with being unpleasant to many people by having a name that sounds a bit like the name of the person who wrote Winnie the Pooh) will be considered. It does have a Code of Practice for journalists to adhere to, but as mentioned this is only enforced when a complaint is made by people directly affected. 

So when Jan Moir wrote a load of confused and factually dubious crap about Stephen Gately's death, the 22,000 complaints received by the P.C.C didn't actually have much of an effect on anything. It isn't as if the sheer volume of complaints in this case has led to any debate as to whether the system should be changed, or that newspapers have stopped or even slowed down in their printing of controversial and often factually inaccurate material since. Linkbait. Get your hit count high with artificial controversy. Everyone does it. Sometimes, though, there's a worrying ambiguity: are the journalists actually that cynical, or do they believe the guff they're peddling?

For example, recently The Daily Star published this article which stated that Rockstar Games were to use their popular Grand Theft Auto series to release a game called 'GTA Rothbury' in the wake of Raoul Moat's fatal standoff against the combined forces of the British Press and Media, and some very annoyed policemen, in the town of Rothbury in the North East of England. After protest the paper took down the article from its website, and was forced to pay compensation to Rockstar (who gave it to charity) and publish a retraction that stated it had caused undue distress to the grandmother of Moat's girlfriend by asking her about the fictional game, and also not checked any of its facts whatsoever before going ahead with the story. Interestingly, this is what the author of the article posted on Facebook in between these events:

"Baffled by the fury of adult gamers. These are grown (?!?) men who sit around all day playing computer games with one another who've today chosen to enter the real world just long enough to complain about my story slamming a Raoul Moat version of Grand Theft Auto! You would think I'd denied the Holocaust!!! Think I'll challenge them to a virtual reality duel....stab....I win!!!"

The author's name is Jerry Lawton and I think all the evidence we need about him is contained in the above paragraph. Considering the owner of the Star made his name in porn, which is probably more dangerous to young people than any computer game, it seems a little bit hypocritical of the paper to complain about a media where what's on screen is not a video of something that actually happened. If porn is your main exposure to sex while growing up, it's possible that you're going to have very misplaced notions about sex in real life. I don't recall seeing any socially responsible pornography where a man stops prior to entry and asks 'You're are on the pill aren't you?' 

Also these people are working to a script. Gentlemen, if you were to withdraw and then promptly ejaculate on someone's chest, mouth or anus without mentioning it beforehand, would you not admit that there is a risk that you may well receive a somewhat confused reaction? Porn is a very misleading portrayal of sex for people who haven't reached sexual maturity. Grand Theft Auto on the other hand, isn't real.

Having digressed, the main point that I hope I was making is that journalists aren't held to as rigorous inspection as politicians, despite arguably having just as much influence over our lives. They can get away with agenda-influenced lies, defamation and gossip. They can influence the mood of a nation. They are incredibly powerful bodies without the necessary regulatory authority in place to keep them in check, because if people get their knowledge from papers, and the papers are full of crap, we are kinda doomed are we not? 

Wouldn't it be better for the P.C.C to be able to act on papers that published factual inaccuracies more severely? Say, 1% of the paper's profit for that day per lie? Because it would be hypocritical of them to say that educational standards are falling if anything they print is utter bollocks with nothing remotely rooted in truth? And it's bad to be hypocritical. I know, because the paper's are always banging on about it. 

Since I started writing this article the News of the World phone hacking scandal has tentatively begun to emerge as a potential example of all of the above becoming public knowledge. Whether it will result in a major upheaval of the P.C.C. remains to be seen, but certainly something needs to be changed just so long as journalism results in genuine danger to the public, because this is a major problem that isn't widely acknowledged as such.

Which is hardly surprising. It's not as if anyone's going to read about it in the papers.

June 2010

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