Gove weighs in to defend the Mail

Janet Downs's picture
Newspapers have the right “to offend”. A “raucous” free press was “the price we pay for liberty.”

Michael Gove, statement to the BBC, 2 October, 2013

Education secretary, Michael Gove, whose wife Sarah Vine continues her toe-curling revelations about life at the Gove’s in the Daily Mail, was commenting on the row between Ed Miliband and the paper after it published an article attacking Ralph Miliband, Ed’s father, a well-known Marxist thinker.

Gove used the Daily Mail to launch a bellicose attack on “enemies of promise” in March 2013 when he invited Mail readers to join him in a battle against “politically motivated individuals, “Marxists” and the “Blob”. And it was in this same Mail article that Gove spoke of “surveys” supposedly proving that English teenagers were clueless when it came to history. These surveys, as revealed first on this site, turned out to be polls done by PR companies for the purpose of generating press coverage.

So how robust is our free press when it publishes pieces by politicians which contain dodgy data? How raucous is the free press when it churns press releases from Government departments without bothering to check the substance? How honest is the free press when it repeats information known to be flawed (eg the 2000 PISA results)?

If all the free press does is follow what Rory Bremner called Newton’s First Law of Public Relations – repeat something in as many media outlets as possible until it becomes accepted as truth – then is it really free or is it allowing politicians to pull strings? How free is the free press when much of the media is in the hands of a few massive corporations whose owners lean heavily on their editors? And how free are politicians when they have to suck up to owners and editors if they don’t want to be portrayed so negatively that their chances of being elected are severely diminished?

And that brings us neatly back to Ed Miliband. If the Mail has to resort to attacking his dead father with carefully chosen quotes to support its argument that Ed is Red in tooth and claw, then the paper must be really concerned that he’s in with a chance of being the next Prime Minister.

Or why bother with the hatchet job?

The Wednesday Quiz.

Who wrote these sentences? Does the writer hate England?

1 The English are hypocritical about their Empire.

2 The gentleness of English civilization is mixed up with barbarities and anachronisms.

3 Is the English press honest of dishonest? At normal times it is deeply dishonest.

4 In an England ruled by people whose chief asset was their stupidity, to be ‘clever’ was to be suspect.

Answers: George Orwell. It would appear so, but the answer is No. These quotes were deliberately chosen to show how careful selection of quotations can lead readers to a particular conclusion. To read Orwell’s nuanced summary of the English character see his essay “England Your England“ in Inside the Whale and Other Essays.

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