In this modern era of “fake news” – the blurring of lines between what is fact and what is not, even to the point of nakedly-apparent transparency of any incident that takes place being publicly described as an instance of either A … or indeed, e.g. by another supposed news source, as an instance of B (quite the opposite) … it becomes increasingly different for we ordinary punters to determine the actual truth of anything that happens.
Takes the recent “threat to tanker” incident in the straits of Hormuz in which – as we in Britain have been told – Iranian gunboats tried to impede a British tanker but were intercepted by a shadowing British frigate HMS Montrose. The way Iran’s state media reports it, nothing of the kind happened.
This followed another incident a week or so previously in waters off Gibraltar in which British marine commandos intercepted an Iranian tanker seemingly trying to breach EU sanctions by taking oil for sale to Syria.
Iran responded by summoning the British ambassador to receive a dressing down over this “illegal seizure”, to which apparently our official response was that said marines were simply responding to a quite proper request from the Gibraltarian authorities.
All of the above, of course, followed an even earlier incident in which the Iranian military motor torpedo-style boats were “caught red-handed” (even though they deny it) planting explosives or mines on the hull of tankers passing through international territorial waters.
Arguably, all this doubt and confusion is actually quite helpful in that it reminds us of the inevitable subjectivity that affects and indeed contaminates the human race’s view of the world, no matter how noble and high the supposed impartial and objective reporting of what is happening.
We in Britain used to regard “Auntie” (the BBC) as providing a balanced and impartial view of what was happening in the world – but perhaps it was never thus.
These days right-wingers complain that our ‘national broadcaster’ has been taken over by insurgent left-wing, possibly Hampstead-based champagne socialist, politically-correct, liberal-minded, idealists … whereas those of the latter persuasion respond with accusations that the Beeb has always been in the sway of right-wing “Establishment” elitists – a combination of unreconcilable complaints that allows its editorial teams to suggest that “they have probably got the balance between the two just about right”.
The probability is that most of us operate from a personal viewpoint that we feel comfortable with in our own lives. It’s the reason that generally we read the newspapers and websites that reflect our own views not least because they tend to reinforce them.
It’s not a stance I hold – I read both, as well as The Guardian and The Independent, partly because I like their design and partly because I ‘follow’ or enjoy the jottings of certain journalists irrespective of their views or indeed whom they work for.
For similar reasons I sometimes dip into the likes of the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Mail and The Sun.
Many in the circles I move in sneer at and avoid all of the above, dismissing them as “rags” and/or nothing more than the populist mouthpieces of elite cliques aimed at manipulating the views the hordes of supposed “great unwashed” simpletons that comprise the bulk of our and other Western democratic societies.
Others might view them as simply smart businesses aiming at reflecting – and exploiting for gain – the interests of average punters the world over.
The essayist H.C. Mencken (1880-1956) may have summed up far more than his own countrymen when he quipped “Nobody ever went broke under-estimating the taste of the American public”.
A legal mentor of mine once advised “Next after your own case, the most important thing to master is your opponent’s” and – in this vein – it could be posited that if you want to understand what the majority of the British public are thinking or interested in, the best place to find it is within the pages of the British tabloids.
Currently it seems to be the reality TV show Love Island (which I have never watched and never will), Wimbledon fortnight and the daily doings of the former Page Three model Katie Price.
A lesson from the past that has stayed with me was the sobering lecture given to a convention of student journalists – including your author – some forty years ago by a guest speaker from the Cardiff School of Journalism.
At one point during his memorable address he asked us which newspaper we should aim to write for if we wished to influence “the Establishment”.
He caused widespread shock and amazement when he dismissed our almost-universal response (The Times) out of hand by pointing out that at least ten times more of the nation’s supposed ‘top five percent’ read The Sun on a daily basis than ever glanced at the highly-respected Thunderer!
One regular feature of the British media that I regard as both entertaining and worthwhile are instances where it exposes hypocrisy in those who are – or should I say “rather ought to be” – beyond reproach in their public and personal lives.
Here below are some links to examples that I spotted in the British media overnight:
Tom Peck reviewing Andrew Neil’s interviews with the Tory Party leadership contenders – as appears today upon the website of – THE INDEPENDENT
Joel Adams reports upon a classic case of “Do as I say, not as I do” from the deputy leader of Brighton & Hove Council on the website of the – DAILY MAIL
Joseph Curtis reviews “How the world really works at Wimbledon” in a piece that appears today upon the website of the – DAILY MAIL
Marina Hyde skewers the second-rate nature of those who would rule over us – as appears today upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN
Arthur Martin reports upon an extraordinary legal tribunal case involving Southampton University, as appears today upon the website of the – DAILY MAIL