Giving a voice to the real world

First published in Ray Mallon The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

FOLLOWING the Leveson inquiry into media standards has been like watching a trial unfold.

First came the witnesses for the prosecution, people like the McCanns, the Dowlers, Hugh Grant, JK Rowling and Steve Coogan, who have experienced media sharp practice and intrusion.

They came across as credible and sympathetic.

They spoke with conviction and sincerity.

They were believable. Any barrister will say that is all you want from a witness.

Then the defendants went into the box.

First up were the owners and editors of the international and national media. They were quite a contrast. You couldn’t expect them to be comfortable. Leveson has been scrupulously fair, but the publicity about hacking had put them on the back foot.

But I was staggered by what bad communicators they turned out to be, these people, who are paid millions to influence who we vote for, what we buy, how we think.

Piers Morgan seemed nervous and edgy. He must have been glad he didn’t have to appear in person. Former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie put up a spirited show, but seemed to forget that the public’s mood and sensitivities have changed beyond recognition since his Eighties heyday.

The question I asked myself was how could they have got it so wrong.

The answer that came back is that like a lot of powerful people they spend too much time surrounded by people telling them they’re right. When they’re not with these hangers-on, they’re with business leaders, celebrities and political leaders – people who inhabit the same artificial world.

In other words, they’re out of touch with ordinary people.

But not all the media are like this. Tune into local radio any morning and you might very well catch the editor of this newspaper on a show. Read his column and you’ll see a lot of his time is spent at the grass roots, talking to local groups and organisations: real people who inhabit the real world.

You don’t need focus groups and marketing men to stay in tune with public opinion – you just need to get out more and be receptive to the views of others.

Fairness helps too. Sections of the national media are now biased beyond belief. The need to prove a point permeates everything they do, from their choice of stories and the language they use to their presentation and selection of facts. As a result they have forfeited a lot of their readers’ trust.

This newspaper takes a position on lots of issues. If you’re like me you’ll sometimes agree with its stance. At other times, you’ll want to rip the paper up.

But I bet you usually feel you’ve had an honest presentation of the facts, that the opposing arguments have been fairly aired.

In other words, you have been treated with respect, as someone who can use their own judgement. You know you’re reading a paper that knows the facts don’t get in the way of a good story; they actually make one.

This week, the editors of regional newspapers have been giving evidence to Leveson.

Predictably, what they’ve said has gone largely unreported.

This is a shame as they have a good story to tell, one of how with scant resources and for modest rewards, the local media is still doing a valuable job. In the clamour to condemn some pretty awful media excesses they deserve to be heard – because when it comes down to it they are often the only people speaking out for us.


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