When he explained yesterday why had had resigned from the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne wrote a few lines that could serve as a creed for every journalist:
‘A free press is essential to a healthy democracy. There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.’
There is one word there that you don’t see much in newspapers, but Oborne is not afraid to mention it: truth.
And he goes on to say:
‘It is not only the Telegraph that is at fault here. The past few years have seen the rise of shadowy executives who determine what truths can and what truths can’t be conveyed across the mainstream media.
‘The criminality of News International newspapers during the phone hacking years was a particularly grotesque example of this wholly malign phenomenon. All the newspaper groups, bar the magnificent exception of the Guardian, maintained a culture of omerta around phone-hacking, even if (like the Telegraph) they had not themselves been involved.
‘One of the consequences of this conspiracy of silence was the appointment of Andy Coulson, who has since been jailed and now faces further charges of perjury, as director of communications in 10 Downing Street.’
He is right. We live in a time when most of our leading newspapers think nothing of lying to their readers and concealing the truth from them.
When they get caught, as they have been time and time again, they pay up quietly (if there’s a bill) while their supposed rivals, instead of holding them up to public scrutiny, cover up for them. And then they lie again.
This is not exaggeration. Just watch how the Telegraph now treats Oborne. Truth won’t have much to do with it. And watch how the Telegraph’s so-called rivals behave.
Apply this simple test: do they actually reprint the three paragraphs above or give some sensible account of them?*
They are all challenged by those words. They go to the core of the work of newspapers. How many of them even acknowledge that to their readers?
The ‘shadowy executives’ care nothing for truth. Oborne is absolutely right: they have what amounts to a constitutional duty to tell the truth, but it is a duty they mock.
They libel, they pay and then they libel again. They breach their own so-called “Code of Conduct” on accuracy while operating a ‘self-regulator’ that by design can never enforce it. Even on the rare occasion when IPSO reprimands a paper that lies – and it did so with the Express this week – it how no power to insist or ensure that the paper makes any effort to tell the truth in future. And even in this week’s example the newspaper does not have to withdraw or amend the lie.
And when, as Hacked Off and others have done, people try to hold them to account for all this, they tell more lies about their critics – relentlessly and shamelessly – and they refuse to publish letters or correction. Lying to their readers is their way of life.
Oborne has broken many taboos and one of them is to mention the T word. Shockingly, the people he condemns don’t even know the meaning of it.
*The answer is clearly “No”. A Google search for “Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth “ the morning after Oborne’s article reveals them reported – other than where he wrote them –only on a 2 news websites, the New Statesman, the BBC and ironically in the China Digital Times.