'Reactionary, illiberal, venal tabloids have lost the plot'

Greenslade: condemned Sun’s reaction to Clare Short’s page three views

Roy Greenslade used his inaugural lecture as City University’s new Professor of Journalism to launch an unmitigated attack on the popular press.

The former Daily Mirror editor, who has also worked on The Sun, Daily Star and Daily Mail, told his audience of budding journalists that popular papers had “lost the plot” over the past 30 years.

He said: “They write stories based on preconceptions which coincide with their political and social prejudices.

They are illiberal, reactionary, negative, pessimistic and infected with a sentimentality which appeals to readers’ emotions rather than their intellect.

They play to the gallery. They whip up the mob. They appeal to the basest of human instincts. They reinforce people’s fears, particularly about crime and immigration.

“They claim to hold politicians to account but they do it in such a crass manner that they denigrate politics itself. While holding aloft the banner of press freedom to justify their unwarranted intrusions into people’s lives, they show no balancing sense of responsibility. The freedoms they exercise are the freedom to titillate, the freedom to terrify and to taunt.”

The Guardian media commentator condemned The Sun for attacking MP Clare Short last week over her antipage three stance.

He said: “Headlines referred to her as a fat, jealous, barmy killjoy, her head was superimposed on naked bodies, her home was staked out. Yet the editor of The Sun, Rebekah Wade, is a leading member of Women in Journalism, an organisation dedicated in part to highlighting the demeaning treatment of women by the media.

“Ms Wade was even chairing the organisation when it published a document which denounced the stereotypical newspaper images of women, one category of which was as a sex object.”

Of the Mail titles he said: “[Editors] Paul Dacre and Peter Wright want everyone to believe that their middlemarket titles are a cut above the redtops.

But much of their content is just as venal. Indeed, it’s often more so.

One of their recent specialities has been the ‘outing’ of gay women, who include a TV presenter, a radio presenter and a TV executive.”

He said the Press Complaints Commission had failed to keep papers in check and was “divorced from reality” for saying a 39 per cent increase in complaints last year was good news and down to its higher profile.

The Sun and the Daily Mail declined to respond to Greenslade’s remarks.

But Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright said: “I can’t understand why a liberal commentator like Roy Greenslade should take the view that same-sex relationships are sinful and should be kept from the public. I would have thought that in this day most gay people would expect their relationships to be treated by the press in the same way as heterosexual relationsips.”

Acting PCC director Tim Toulmin said the full breakdown of last year’s complaints figures, to which Greenslade did not have access, showed that although the number of complaints went up in 2003, the number upheld did not. He said: “This would seem to indicate that the increase was a result of our higher profile rather than inferring a large number of breaches of the code.”


By Dominic Ponsford

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