Freedom and responsibility

The Daily Mail has launched its latest attack on the BBC – a row that they describe as ‘its biggest controversy since the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand ‘Sachsgate’ saga in 2008’ – this time the ‘storm’ surrounds the recent Eastenders’ storyline. It seems that some people – including the Daily Mail – cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, reality and drama. The Mail claims that the actress Samantha Womack has been verbally abused in the street as if she had actually swapped a dead baby in real life, rather than in a BBC1 soap. The BBC has received over 6,000 complaints according to the Daily Mail and the Mail provides a useful box of other disgruntled individuals.

Now, I am not going to defend Eastenders for its terrible storylines, its tragedy-porn obsession with despair and death because, quite simply, it is a drama that is best known for exactly that. It is a fiction created to appeal to viewers, it is not real; no-one has died and none of these events actually happened. Given the consistently high-ratings these type of storylines work and have worked for a huge number of years. If you don’t approve of the plot lines then stop watching it, considering how depressing Eastenders is you might feel a whole lot better if you do give it up.

Now, the real problem is that the Daily Mail criticises Eastenders for being sensationalist and controversial simply to pursue a larger audience share (which, as above, it is perfectly entitled to do because it isn’t real) but fails to reflect on the fact that the tabloid media behaves in exactly the same way, except they use real people and events instead of characters to increase audience share.

Recent events have demonstrated once again that the tabloid media have no morals, no integrity and absolutely no journalistic values between them. The treatment of Chris Jefferies was absolutely disgusting, he was thrown onto the front pages of tabloid newspapers alongside disgraceful slurs – largely based on gossip and the opinion of individuals – and innuendo merely because he happened to be near a story that the media was interested in. For a few days he became the story, which newspapers are trying to back away from now, as it seems he was completely innocent. What life will he lead now? What life can he lead after the tabloids have torn him to pieces in front of the nation for no justifiable reason?

The murder of Jo Yeates happened to a real person. That person had a family, friends and a boyfriend. That family had to watch as a man not proven guilty of anything had his life ruined, before watching the media ghouls swing back to Jo Yeates with more unjustifiable coverage. The Daily Mail decided to link her murder to Facebook as if to prove that they really are now a parody of themselves; whilst the Daily Star – becoming famous for never printing a true headline – decided that they knew who had actually killed her:

They claim that ‘new evidence’ had emerged. It was actually the claims of a self-publicising ‘psychic’. The tabloid’s aren’t even trying to pretend that they have any relationship with real journalism or news anymore. They are all too busy deviously scrabbling for the most sensational claim, the best bit of dirt dug up on innocent bystanders who are chewed-up and spat out by a relentless press before anyone has time to complain about it.

Eastenders may be ludicrously over the top, utterly sensationalist tragedy porn drivel, but its allowed to be, it is fiction, it can be whatever it wants. The tabloid media on the other hand mix their own blend of fictional, disgusting sensationalist tragedy porn and point-the-finger-innuendo with real people, real stories and real lives. Freedom of the press has always been an absolute in the United Kingdom, but just look at what they are doing with it. The sad truth is that the current press is not earning such a right – they are not even close to earning it. If all freedom currently mean is the right of tabloid newspapers to smear innocent people without a second’s thought, print untold amounts of pictures of celebrities without any journalistic value and lie about issues of science, race, culture and politics; then I think it is time to rethink whether it is a good thing.

There is no point in having a free press when journalism is so clearly dead.

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