The Freedom of the Press

Following on from the discussion of journalism in a communist society, it is fair to say that journalism in a democracy is far without its flaws. The freedom of the press in the UK has many benefits, and allows journalists the space to report on subjects that the public should know about.

However, this freedom, I believe, has led to a blurring of the term ‘news’, and now a fine line between organisations reporting on what the public needs to hear as opposed to what they want to hear, has been crossed.

Since there is no formal privacy law in the UK, journalists are free to report on anything they see fit within reason; hence the huge wealth of celebrity trivia seen in the press which is dressed up to look vaguely newsworthy.

Here is where journalism in a capitalist and democratic society falls down; many organisations are now focused on selling the news, and if celebrity trivia sells, they’ll report on it.

The freedom of the press, in my opinion, can lead to a dip in quality and lack of direction in the news. There are huge sections of news websites and magazines dedicated to ‘celeb gossip’, whilst some stories are even laughably pointless in some cases:

Obviously, it is not the fault of the celebrity figure involved in the story that these stories make it to the news, but by placing themselves under a media spotlight they unfortunately must be prepared for scrutiny.

Whilst injunctions exist to prevent the media reporting on certain issues, private information still has a tendency to leak into the news. In a society based so much on free speech, and handed social tools such as Twitter, it is no surprise that celebrity injunctions such as that of Ryan Giggs, do not prevent gossip from reaching the masses.

Some people would argue injunctions undermine the freedom of the press, but it is also fair that celebrities should not have to resign their private life as soon as they become famous. This is where journalism must pay extra care in reporting in the interest of the public, not reporting the public’s interests.

The freedom of the press has led to many journalistic breakthroughs. Invasions of privacy, in some cases may even be morally justified for the greater good, but this is highly unlikely when it comes to celebrity trivia. However, the Watergate scandal, whereby journalists attained information about Nixon’s corrupt methods of election in 1972, was ultimately serving the public whilst the source of the information, ‘Deep Throat’, had gained the information in a questionable manner.

In more recent years, a BBC film ‘Baby P, The Untold Story‘ is a work of investigative journalism that blows apart the misconception of Baby P’s story. The film undermines the story that social workers held a huge responsibility in Baby P’s death, and instead picks apart organisations such as The Met and even Great Ormond Street hospital, who all played a part in failing the child.

The film is a great public service as it brings to light the issues the public should know about. It can be argued that news to the masses is consumed passively, and we do not question what we are told, and this was clearly the case until investigative journalism uncovered the truth about Baby P.

We undoubtedly need the freedom of the press, but it must be used in the right and respectable way.


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