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Thu 22 October 2020
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By failing to be transparent about themselves, it is difficult to trust most of the mainstream newspapers when it comes to the truth about others.

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You really have to laugh. And at the same time you have to wonder whether, with this, the UK corporate press has finally achieved Peak Denial. 

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a sharp acceleration in the decline of print newspaper sales, they have decided that they no longer have to tell the public how many – or rather how few – copies they are selling. This change, we are told magnificently, “addresses publisher concerns that monthly ABC circulation reports provide a stimulus to write a negative narrative of circulation decline”.

Go ahead and laugh. It’s true, UK newspaper publishers are allowing themselves to conceal the slump in their print sales because they hope it will prevent people writing about the slump in their print sales. Rupert Murdoch’s papers (who were the first to take advantage of this) are that afraid of reading a “negative narrative” about themselves.

Of all the things for them to be afraid of, you might think this has to be one of the most pointless because everybody has known for a while that print sales are in terminal decline. Though the Coronavirus crisis may have brought doomsday a bit nearer, it was already in sight. 

But then these organisations are so deeply mired in denial that they now don’t know what else to do. When it comes to the ugly truth about their own industry, lying and cover-up are second nature to them. 

For years – by way of example – they have refused to report on the surveys and polls that so consistently reveal the disastrous state of public trust in their products, as if hiding stuff is a way of making people trust you. This includes routinely ignoring the annual Eurobarometer polls across Europe, which just as routinely (nine times in 10 years) place the UK last out of 33 countries when it comes to ‘trust in written press’. 

It also includes failing to report the weekly surveys relating to trust in the media carried out by Ofcom during the pandemic. These indicate, remarkably, that even people who actually buy the Sun and the Mirror don’t tend to trust what they read in them.  


Just this Week…

As for other news about the industry, by coincidence, this week has seen most of the newspapers refuse to publish a word about some rather big stories. 

For one, the actor Kris Marshall – of Love Actually and Murder in Paradise fame – received an apology in court and a six-figure payout after he sued the Sun and the now defunct News of the World for hacking his phone. For most of the UK news media this was not a news story. 

In fact, alongside its plummeting print sales – it was losing 500 readers every day even before COVD-19 came along – the Sun is now haemorrhaging money to hacking claimants at a rate exceeding £2 million per month. Again, for most of the UK news media, the high price of criminality in journalism is somehow not a news story.

Here’s another. James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and another of Rupert Murdoch’s cronies, Les Hinton, have been accused in open court in London of participating in the deletion of millions of company emails as part of an attempt to cover-up phone-hacking and other illegal activities. That’s right: Rupert Murdoch’s own son, and his chief executive in the UK, and her predecessor. They have yet to respond. Yet for most of the UK news media, that’s just not newsworthy. 

And, as if those were not enough, a leading industry figure who had made it on to a shortlist of four candidates for the post of Director-General of the BBC, Will Lewis, was also named as a participant in the same alleged cover-up. He has denied it. Again, not news in the view of most papers. 


A Reflex of Denial

For the papers, this is a reflex. If it’s bad news about their own industry, the readers don’t get told. These people are supposed to be journalists, but they just deny, deny, deny. 

So they always refuse to report the shameless failures of IPSO, the sham press regulator they set up when the newspapers refused to accept the findings of the Leveson Inquiry. They refuse to report, let alone censure, gross journalistic abuses such as those perpetrated by The Times journalist Andrew Norfolk against Muslims or by the Mail on Sunday against Danielle Hindley.

They refuse to report honestly that the Government is providing public subsidies to help them through the COVID-19 crisis while it refuses to support independent news organisations. (This makes the concealment of their sales data doubly ironic, since the sales slump is the only justification for this huge transfer of taxpayers’ money). 

They refuse to challenge halfway adequately the clearly deliberate erosion of journalistic accountability being engineered by the Government, of their crony Boris Johnson. 

I could go on and on. There is so much that is far worse than the Sun and The Times covering up the slump in their own print sales that that particular exercise is simply laughable. That such purveyors of smears and lies should be terrified of a ‘negative narrative’ is beyond irony. 

No wonder almost nobody trusts these outfits. 


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