By Zoe Smith
The British press is possibly "the worst press in the democratic world", according to Polly Toynbee, columnist at The Guardian.
Speaking at a debate on the state of British political journalism hosted by Reuters and Editorial Intelligence, Toynbee’s comments were dismissed by fellow panellists John Lloyd of the Financial Times and Matthew Parris of The Times.
Toynbee argued that political leaders in Britain had to pay "obeisance" to Rupert Murdoch and that the press and broadcasters set the tone for the political agenda.
Toynbee also said that Britain had a "desperately uninformed citizenry" and wondered how it was possible to govern in a country that was so "massively under-informed".
Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times, dismissed Toynbee’s claims, saying the British press was less collusive in nature than the continental press. He cited Russia as a prime example of a political culture where the press was not politically important.
However, he admitted that the press had a part to play in the public’s apathy towards politics. Lloyd said: "We are responsible to an extent for turning the public off politics."
Times columnist Matthew Parris argued that the press fulfilled a role "vacated by an effective opposition", saying that he believed in an adversarial approach in newspapers in which journalism was about a "war of different voices".
Parris added: "It is patronising for individual journalists to think that they can approach truth and objectivity and that their readers are incapable of reaching a decision for themselves."