Richard Ingrams' Week: Shackles that bind our free press

Share

Before we all get too worked up about the freedom of the press, now said to be jeopardised by Muslims extremists, it might be useful to spare a moment to work out exactly what it amounts to.

It was a famous journalist, Hannen Swaffer, who said: "Freedom of the press in Britain means freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to."

What a cynical view and how typical of a journalist, some of you may think. But is it not a better guide than the idea that readers may get from recent dewy-eyed commentaries of a brave band of editors devoted to the cause of truth, and free to express their views even when these are likely to offend important personages of religious minorities.

As so often, the reality is rather different. If you support the freedom of the press, that means nowadays supporting not just The Sun and the News Of The World, it means supporting the pornographer Richard Desmond, the owner of the Daily Express.

To suggest that the editors of these papers are free to print whatever they like is far-fetched. Rupert Murdoch may not dictate what goes into his papers but his editors know what is expected of them and act accordingly. George Bush must be supported, no unnecessary offence given to the Chinese.

In the same way under its former proprietor, the disgraced tycoon Conrad Black, the Telegraph's editor was obliged to print straightforward Israeli propaganda written by his wife, Barbara Amiel.

We are all in favour of freedom but if it just means the freedom of very rich men to propagate their reactionary views, is that necessarily something that we would be prepared to go to the stake for?

Anti-religion: the new orthodoxy of our age

The ballyhoo over those Danish cartoons and the riots and disturbances they provoke will only help to strengthen the hands of those who like to blame all the troubles of the world on religion.

How easy it is in the current climate to depict a world in which, on the one hand, there are civilised humanists going about their daily tasks in a calm and rational spirit, and, on the other, wild, excitable bigots fighting one another and general disturbing of the peace.

In this scenario, Christians, Muslims and Jews can all be bundled together as equally reprehensible wherever they may be found - in Northern Ireland, Iraq or Palestine.

Thus, in the absence of religion, a new orthodoxy of anti-religion gains ground. You can see it in the recent television programmes of Richard Dawkins, left, widely applauded in the media, in which all the troubles of the world were fairly and squarely blamed on religion and Christianity in particular.

The danger of thinking in this way is that it lets the politicians off the hook. As Adrian Hamilton pointed out in these pages earlier this week, the impetus behind the anti-cartoon protests is more political than religious.

The troubles of Ireland which linger on to the present day were caused not by religion but by unscrupulous British politicians who used the division of Ireland for their own purposes and ended up drawing an arbitrary line on the map. Other lines were drawn in the Middle East and it is these lines - mostly British ones - that have led to wars and revolutions.

How much easier, though, to blame it all on religion. In the same way, we can attribute the sufferings of Africa to the Pope who by outlawing contraception can be held responsible for all the squalor and suffering of that poor continent.

Nothing to do with the likes of Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe - both of them brought to power with the blessing of the British government.

* If you peer into the First Class compartments of the high-speed train as it enters the station you will see a number of young men peering into laptops, all in their shirt sleeves.

Does this mean that the temperature in those compartments has become so hot that they have all been forced to take their jackets off? Not so. What they are doing is to show to the outside world that they are working so hard that they have to be free from all possible encumbrances.

Tony Blair is another person who is always photographed in his shirt sleeves. The object here is to show the world not only that he is hard at it but that he is extremely fit.

Unfortunately for Blair, a sharp-eyed photographer recently observed and snapped a small segment of vest obtruding beneath the prime-ministerial shirt, thus proving that the only reason he was able to pose as a toughie was because he had a protective covering of wool next to the skin.

But all this creates a problem for young David Cameron. Were he too to take to appearing in his shirt sleeves he would be accused of imitating Blair, and he has had a bit too much of that already.

Cameron has therefore come up with his own gimmick. Where Blair appears in public without a jacket, Cameron will do so without a tie. Blair's aim is to show that he is fit and tough, Cameron's to show that he is unstuffy and classless. He will not wear the Old School Tie, he will wear no tie at all. Whether anyone is the least bit impressed remains to be seen.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per annum: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prim...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Ebola virus in the US: How did the disease ever spread this far?

Sophie Harman
 

The most common question I am asked is 'How do I become a YouTuber?' This is my reply

Jim Chapman
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?