The media’s Mr Micawber

The media’s Mr Micawber

David Aaronovitch

One of the things I always loved about working for Ian Hargreaves – whether it was at the BBC, The Independentor the New Statesman– was the calmness of his intelligence. Just as everyone else was about to plunge furiously into the latest moral panic, Ian would be the one to wonder, gently, whether such agitation was really justified. Wasn’t there a case to be made for moral uncertainty? Were young people really any less idealistic than their parents’ generation? Were we all actually doomed? Usually (the rest of us eventually agreed), we probably weren’t. It is as Hargreavesian as “something will turn up” is Micawberist for the peroration at the end of his introduction to this book about modern journalism, to be entitled “Think Before You Kick”. The citizens and their representatives, Hargreaves recognises, are all pissed off with some aspect or other of the journalistic profession: its ethics, its accuracy, its priorities, and even its lifestyle. And, he concedes, there is much to criticise. But the big question is this. Are things so bad – so much worse than ever they were – that somebody governmental
should do something about it? Hargreaves’s answer is “no”. For example, by historical standards, is British journalism now dumbed down and impossibly celebritised? Hargreaves says not. One of the earliest newspapers aimed at the working man (and woman), he reminds us, was the politically radical and democratic Poor Man’s Guardian. But this admirable product was cross-financed by the Twopenny Dispatch, which gloried in mayhem, murder and rape. Today (Hargreaves doesn’t quite say) the two are now to be found stitched together inside the covers of the Daily Mirror, with politics made palatable by sex, and sex made acceptable by politics – the new Morganatic marriage. Plus ça change.

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