How Free is the UK Press?

A democracy needs press freedom, so what is the issue in the UK?

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Recent events have brought to attention the question of press freedom in the UK. The Extinction Rebellion blockade of national newspapers prevented some publications from going to print. It was an attempt to draw attention to the pressing issue of climate change, but it instead brought out politicians in droves talking about how the blockade was preventing press freedom in the UK. The problem arises when you ask, was the UK press free in the first place?

Freedom of the Press is defined as being able to publish newspapers and magazines without government interference or prior censorship. It is one of the pillars of a true democratic society, and something which the UK is said to hold dear. Yet the UK Press is not as free as some may like to think.

For starters, the majority of the UK’s national newspapers are owned by a small number of very wealthy men. Six billionaires own or at least partly own all of the major newspapers in the UK.

To them, their newspapers are a play thing in which they peddle out their often warped views on national politics and society. Most of them either don’t live in the UK or visit rarely, with the likelihood that none contribute tax.

Editorial independence is often lacking in these papers, with the Leveson Inquiry in 2011/12 revealing the evidence. The editor of The Sunday Times at the time of the inquiry, Harold Evans, pointed out how the papers owner, Rupert Murdoch, interfered with the content of the paper.

Evans was often rebuked for “not doing what he [Murdoch] wants in political terms,” including when reporting on the economy. Evans recounted how they almost came to “fisticuffs” because he allowed an economist to publish an article with differing viewpoints to Murdoch in the Sunday Times. According to Evans, Murdoch’s “determination to impose his will” destroyed the “editorial guarantees that he’d given.”

Evans would later go on to tell the inquiry that Murdoch would often ask for staff behind his back and tell them how the paper should be. It is hard to know how often this happened at national newspapers, but what can be said for certain is that the Sunday Times is not the only title where it happens.

The concept of the UK press being free is a myth. The newspapers are nothing more than the agenda of people out of touch with the real world. The owners of these papers have more money than sense and have no intention of using their papers for good.

When billionaires own all of the UK’s biggest newspapers, it is no wonder that most of them support the Conservatives. Reducing the top tax rate further, which the Tories have in mind, will give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest within UK society. With this relationship between the Conservatives and the billionaire newspaper owners set to continue indefinitely, the chances of the UK gaining true press freedom is minimal going on non existent for the foreseeable future.

An overhaul of the industry is needed, but with the power and wealth of those in charge at present, it simply will not happen.

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