Thursday, 24 September 2015

A window into our soul

The Leveson Inquiry provided a high profile insight into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the phone hacking and other scandals involving Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News International. The biggest casualty of all this was the closure of the News of the World. The behaviour of journalists working for this company was clearly outrageous, disgraceful and unacceptable, but concentrating on these kind of activities has clouded consideration of the major sins of tabloid journalism for which this newspaper was one of the main culprits.

The News of the World was a British institution for as long as anyone can remember. It had a fine record of exposing the hypocrisy of those prominent in public life. However, it is impossible to lament the loss of this title due to the ever increasing degradation of its content. Back in the more staid and puritanical 1950s it enjoyed a huge circulation based primarily on the salacious details of court cases. It pandered to the prurient interests of its readership whilst at the same time taking a moralistic high ground in denouncing the depravity of the activities it reported. It was a double standard then shared by a large proportion of the readership.

With the coming of greater sexual permissiveness from the 1960s onwards the newspaper had to change tack since its default denunciation of 'smut' no longer struck such a responsive chord, particularly amongst its younger readers. It began to report sexual behaviour in a much less judgemental way, and quickly transformed itself into a mouthpiece for promoting unrestrained sexual activity as a quite normal recreational experience for which there were no adverse consequences.

The reporting of the sensationalised behaviour of footballers, show business celebrities and other dubious role models normalized casual promiscuity, a position which the newspaper had formerly condemned. This explicit sexual content was reflected in the lifestyle of its working class readership and has resulted in a huge increase in (unwed) teenage pregnancies, single parenthood and broken families.

There have been several reports recently on the sexualisation of children. Instead of the idiotic paranoia over padded bras the authorities would do far better to focus their minds on whether the impact of the daily exposure of children to the normalisation of sexual promiscuity, as promoted in the tabloids, is not a matter of much more concern in shaping young people’s attitudes on acceptable sexual behaviour.

The News of the World and other tabloid titles are very professionally run organisations. They know intimately the interests and mindset of their 'chav' readership, which is now an almost completely debased diet of celebrities, gossip and sex, with the odd dollop of politics thrown in to maintain respectability. The red top tabloids are thus a window into the soul of their readers, reflecting the extent to which the British working class has become increasing degraded over recent decades.

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