The old age adage of “No Press is Bad Press” is one that is repeated like a mantra by those trying to make it in the world. Aspiring celebrities or newbies to the game might privately hate the media treating them like pieces of meat, but will, begrudgingly, console themselves that while not ideal, it is better to be talked about than not at all.
This uneasy relationship between celebrities and the media has existed for a few decades – after all yellow journalism has been around since the 1890s. In some cases fabrication might even end up being beneficial, a clever marketing collaboration of the celebrity’s brand by journalists and management. Ethical considerations have been ignored and the Editor’s code of conduct firmly pushed aside in favour of sales and the public’s engagement; nowadays PR masquerades as journalism, framing narratives skewer events and influence what the public thinks, to the point that it has muddled the truth behind journalism – this has been going on for to long, and it should no longer be acceptable.
Fake news is rising, and while people should be allowed to write what they want, this becomes a problem when this is considered truth by the masses, and influences their opinions and actions. The emergence of UKIP and its sudden popularity a year ago is linked with a rise in xenophobic actions, speech and intolerant beliefs; it has now been discovered that claims by the party (such as the £350 mil NHS savings), were outright lies used as part of the politician’s rhetoric, however this truth has not stopped the propagation of thought caused by reporting it, thus has spread fake news as truth to a collective psyche.
So, why is this happening?
For one, the Internet has enabled the quantity of print journalism to more than tripled, which has broadened the amount of media outlets. While this is great in principle, it becomes harder to regulate every single one due to the sheer quantity. Additionally, since the abolishment of the Press Complaints Commission in 2014, print media has lost it’s regulator. Substituted by IPSO, the Organisation has little power to hold newspapers accountable; even then it can only interfere with media organisations that are subscribed to the organisation – which are, surprise surprise, not that many. Even when it manages to interfere, it can only advise newspapers on following guidelines, without being able to enforce any penalties. By contrast, the PCC held more power, and was able to fine and force newspapers that had done wrong to publish retractions.
Even so, for some newspapers, there is still greater profit to be made by publishing fake news and settling at court if necessary, and it is better business to risk being sued than not running a story. This is enforced through the tradition that journalists and editors found guilty of libel will only tend to be (substantially) fined at worst.
Additionally, sensationalist news will always generate greater sales; the Sun might be critiqued, but it is well known for its eye-catching (if albeit racist) headlines while tabloids like the Mail and the Express tow into the realms of propaganda, just enough to add spice to their papers, but not enough to be accused as liars. Through tabloids Britain’s population has become used to this style of reporting, and brushed it off as journalistic exaggeration. However this is what has caused newspaper’s credibility to become less of a fixed assumption: with no one regulating the media, we are starting to move into a dangerous time.
People might know that tabloids are racist, or exaggerate, or are coloured by certain political views, however this does not stop the seed of doubt at issues that have been sensationalised. As a woman, I might live in the safest neighbourhood, and know that there is no crime, yet a constant threat of gender attacks might see me worry and reticent to walk home alone when it’s dark; I might ignore it, however the worry and ‘what if’ will be making me walk slightly quicker, leave slightly earlier – that is the true power of media, and the reasons why it should be questioned.
Society’s lack of introspection against media outlets is worrying for the reasons listed above; more importantly, the easy acceptance of what is in the press as gospel is erroneous and one of the roots behind the problem. It is all well and good to condemn the propagation of fake news, however until citizens stop engaging, commenting on and financially supporting newspapers that do this, it will be unlikely to stop.
To quote Juvenal: ‘Who Watches the Watchmen?’
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Words by Rebeca Valls Moragas