Leading anti-Brexit figure Gina Miller has taken a swipe at news organisations for “putting the best interests of their owners first” as she delivered an award for broadcast journalism last night.
Miller rose to fame after issuing a legal challenge against the Government to give Parliament a vote on whether the Prime Minister could trigger Article 50 to take Britain out of the European Union.
She spoke at a ceremony for the Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcast Journalism, held at the University of Westminster in London, which was awarded to Channel 4’s Michael Crick.
Miller used her keynote speech to say that she believed the news media was “stifling” freedom of expression within its ranks.
She asked aloud whether every journalist working at the Daily Mail, the Sun or the Daily Telegraph – all Brexit supporting newspapers – believed in Brexit and suggested that any opponent to it was a “traitor”.
And she questioned whether BBC Radio 4 Today staff were “confident” they were giving all sides of the Brexit debate a fair hearing on the morning current affairs programme.
She said: “It appears to me an extraordinary thing that freedom of expression in the one business that should value this right above all others is all too often stifling it.
“It is an extraordinary thing, too, that, far from putting the best interests of the lives of their readers, viewers and listeners first, so many news organisations now appear to be putting the best interests of their owners first.”
Miller said the Government’s decision not to carry out the second part of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press showed even it “fears evoking the anger of these media moguls”.
In her speech she recalled walking through the Sun’s newsroom, after a meeting to resolve a complaint against the newspaper, which she said brought to mind a song from musical Bugsy Malone and the lyric “we could have been anything that we wanted to be”.
Said Miller: “I don’t doubt that the people in that newsroom – when they started out perhaps on local papers – did want to make the world a better place, they wanted to be on the side of the little guy or girl against the big strong rich and powerful guy.
“They certainly didn’t want to make the world a worse place. But on so many issues we have faced in recent years – Iraq, Islamophobia, and, yes, Brexit – they must know in their hearts that they have already – or are in the process of – making things worse.”
Miller, an investment manager, said her passion on this topic was because “at heart” she had always been a journalist herself and would ask tough questions about money within her own industry.
Later in her speech she broke off to praise women journalists who were “breaking important stories”.
She named the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman for her Windrush scandal coverage, Madison Marriage of the Financial Times for her report on the President’s Club dinner, and the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr for her work on the Cambridge Analytica files and Leave campaign funding.
“These are the sort of great stories that should be on the front pages and dominating the news items on the airwaves,” said Miller.
Then, in a clear reference to outgoing Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, she added: “What should not be there are shouty headlines telling you what the owners of these newspapers want us all to think.
“There is a place, of course, for comment in newspapers and on the airwaves, but the facts should come first – always. [US politician] Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it best when he said: ‘Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, but not to his/her own facts.’”
She added: “I believe journalists should keep in mind always what I consider to be the definition of a really great story: it’s what someone who is rich and powerful – or maybe a whole group of rich and powerful people – emphatically doesn’t want to see on the front page or leading a news bulletin.”
Miller said this was what BBC foreign correspondent Charles Wheeler, who died in 2008 and after whom the awards are named, “was about”. She added: “Great journalism almost always requires great courage.”
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay