Sunday, March 25, 2012

Feeble Newspapers

The main functions of  newspapers surely include that of  informing and to some extent even educating their  readers.

 Editorial bias of course then slants the information rightwards or leftwards; or   towards readers' supposed preferences as  was the case of page 3 of the Sun (possibly  page 3 photos are no more now?). Slants of the latter kind are clearly aimed at improving circulation and thus advertising income though editors have to be alert to changing fashions and avoid patronising their readers - a double pitfall which the editor of the  Sun's  old style page 3 was at risk of tripping into.

The Budget statements last week  seem to have resulted in a widespread malaise hitting newspaper editors. As yet  this malaise has not been diagnosed but an apt pithy description of its symptoms seems to me to be that of assuming that readers are all  so self centred that they are incapable of understanding or wanting to comprehend the concept of the common good. Mostly people agree that the UK has borrowed heavily in the past to pay for services and welfare  provided through government. Mostly too people recognise that the counterpart of borrowing is repaying.

In the absence of new wealth being created whether by taxation or otherwise, repaying entails reducing the benefits which have been supported by  government borrowings. Thus far is simple fact.

Controversy arises about how the government exercises it discretion to balance benefit reduction with  borrowing repayments with a further argument to the effect that the balancing exercise should be postponed for another generation to tackle. The democratic processes and elections have settled that (latter) aspect of the argument at least for the time being so let repayment begin.

 No one wants their own benefits to be cut and mostly we would prefer the hoards of very wealthy people that we assume exist, to pay. Newspaper editors  if they have had more than a rudimentary education would tend to know that  there is no such pain free method of balancing the government's financial books not least because there are insufficient numbers of  very rich people to pay the extra tax monies required.  Instead of  analysing the budget in those terms  newspaper editors seem to  patronise their readers by banding about silly slogans such as "granny tax" and "millionaires budget", as if the whole attempt by the Coalition at restoring a semblance of sense and balance to the nation's finances is based on supporting rich Tories. This malaise affects the supposedly right wing newspapers as much as the left leaning ones.

The "granny tax" epithet is applied to the freezing of  a tax allowance  currently enjoyed by the over 65s and precluding those just about to reach that age including yours truly, from enjoying that allowance at all. However as that age group has not really been asked to forgo any of their government provided benefits before (unlike the rest of the  population) the newspapers' moans on its behalf are contrived and unbalanced. I assume that the epithet is headlined in that way  mainly with a view to newspaper proprietors' profits.

Likewise the UK's millionaires will pay  far more tax   as a result of  extra stamp duty being levied on corporately held houses and on mansion houses than before whereas the reduction of the 50% income tax rate to 45% is unlikely to affect the tax take much one way or the other. Also the increase from 40% to 50% tax when imposed by the last government was emphasised at the time as being temporary and even 45% is higher than the 40% then prevailing. Again newspaper headlines on those aspects were more sensationalist than fair.

Overall my impression is that newspaper editors are pandering more to their readers' ignorance of matters fiscal now than they did even only a few years ago and that the concepts of   informing let alone educating their readerships is sadly  being relegated almost to the realm of the unimportant  as a consequence.


  1. The common good: an interesting theme.I don't
    know whether falling newspaper editorial standards are symptomatic of a general malaise
    in society, but it seems to me that there is far less integrity in public life than there used to be. The MP expense scandal and the excesses of some bankers make me wonder what happened to basic honesty.
    Many of those involved were well educated and frankly, should know better.
    There also seems to be a 'dumbing down ' in society and not just in 'A' level standards.
    I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would see cartoons in The Times. Evidently the quality newspapers must go downmarket to compete.
    All very depressing I find.

    1. Apropos The Times, I think you mean comics.

  2. Interesting comments anonymous - TX.

    I broadly agree with you though possibly not about cartoons as these can can make some trenchant points and with humour.

    The furore a while back about Danish cartoons and Islam brought to mind the old adage:

    "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt thee" which may be equally applicable to pictures.


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