30 June, 2009


The first step is the hardest

I was a Guardian reader for nearly 40 years. Not that I didn't buy other newspapers from time to time, but the Guardian, together with the newspaper which the till software in my local newsagent's aptly names "The Sunday Guardian", were the default to which I would always return. By the mid 1990s, the practicalities of the daily commute had led me to abandon morning newspapers during the week, though I would usually buy an Evening Standard on weekday afternoons. But the weekend ritual of Guardian and Observer, preferably consumed to the accompaniment of a foaming tankard or two in a convivial hostelry, remained sancrosanct.

As the millennium turned and the unignorably accelerating demographic change in London led me to become more interested in — unkind readers might say obsessed with — matters of race and immigration, the obvious reporting lacunæ and blatant partisanship of the Guardian/Observer became ever more glaringly unsatisfactory. And yet I could not quite break the habit. By 2002, I actually found myself buying not only my habitual Guardian/Observer at weekends, but copies of the Telegraph as well, just to get a bit of political balance!

Ironically, it was the fabled intolerance of the Guardian Unlimited Talk moderators that provided the trigger which allowed me finally to kick the habit. In early 2003 I was banned from GUT. The precise nature of my offence against righteousness and liberal good taste remains ambiguous. You know how the GUT/CiF mods work: an email containing an unglossed quote of the offending words, followed by a selection of two or more of the forum rules. It is then left "as an exercise to the reader" to identify the rule which has been unforgivably transgressed.

"Sanctimonious gits", I thought, "I shall never buy your newspapers again."

And I didn't. I'll happily read copies left lying around, and visit their free website, but I have never since March 2003 forked out my own pennies for a copy of either rag or clicked through their on-line advertising.

Since then I have mostly bought the Times and Sunday Times for my weekend reading fodder, and on those weekdays when I venture into the heart of the Metrollops, the Standard. This too may now be coming to an end.

Over the months leading up to the recent European and county council elections, a sustained and intensive, nay relentless, smear campaign was conducted against the BNP by pretty well all British newspapers. It was quite clearly co-ordinated on behalf of the liberal elite and probably the government itself by the Searchlight organization, a body whose financial underpinning and whose relationship to the Establishment is not entirely clear. The smears were inventive, often clearly lies or creative misconstructions, and frequently rather desperate.

A certain amount of newspaper chauvinism and hype is to be expected during an election campaign. In more innocent times, for example, the Mirror might on polling day morning replace its usual front page with the simple two-word slogan "VOTE LABOUR". Or the News of the Screws might just happen to publish a juicy and remarkably well-timed rumourette about a Labour front-bencher who, it was alleged, was in the habit of using public funds to support his frequent forays into "specialist" brothels, where according to our undercover reporter he was regularly to be found pleasuring a nanny goat while drenched in elephant urine.

But in the 43 years I have been entitled to vote in this benighted country, I have never seen so universal, so relentless, so manifestly co-ordinated and deliberate a smear campaign by the media and the establishment as we have witnessed on this occasion against the BNP.

It is not acceptable. Whatever you may think, or indeed I may think, about the BNP and its policies, this is completely unacceptable. If the party is dangerous to public order or subversive to the point of criminality, then it should be proscribed. If its position is simply disagreed with, however vehemently, then reasoned debate focusing on respective policies is in order.

A sustained and centrally co-ordinated campaign of petty vilification is not in order. And where was the supposed professionalism of the massed journos then, when dripfed the incompetent Searchlght revelation du jour? Have we forgotten already those secret and damning BNP internal documents leaked to an intrepid Searchlight operative, which turned out to have been freely available on the BNP's website for years? Not much investigative fact-checking and professional journalism by the MSM hacks there, was there?

As the increasingly desperate smearing rose to a frenzy by mid May, I found that I could no longer bring myself to hand over money in exchange for newspapers. Accepting the rough with the smooth, a bit of partisanship in reporting, some corners cut here and there, was one thing. But all this was too much. I wanted no part of it.

And then of course there is the small matter of the Nightjack blog. The totally unnecessary outing of DC Horton's identity by the Times was a despicable act of petty, inept and unprofessional vindictiveness. I have not forgiven them.

Since mid May I have not bought a newspaper — any newspaper. Do I miss them and will I relent? Well on a practical level of course, printed newspapers, especially broadsheets, have secondary domestic uses for wrapping, etc. I thought that might be a drawback, but in practice I find that picking up the occasional freesheet fills that gap adequately.

No, I have a feeling this personal boycott is going to stick. It may be quite some time before I next fork out my own money for a mainstream British daily or weekly newspaper. My visits to the paper recycling "bank" will be rather less frequent in future.

The reason for the dearth of comments on this site is the technical difficulty of doing it. Check out the format on The Magistrates Blog (an excellent blog - which I've just been banned from for saying not very much). It's much easier to post and has hundreds on each subject - no 'Word Verification' or the confounded Google account etc.

Migrate (not literally, but that's the IT term I'm told) to that format/platform and make some waves.

Sorry for not responding sooner. I don't see that the existing comment form unduly discourages comments. After all, it is exactly the same Blogger comment configuration as used for example by Laban and by Julia, whose sites are hardly bereft of comments.

You can comment anonymously, or by using an on-the-fly moniker, or using one of various logged-in identities of which Google is just one.

As an experiment, I will remove the word verification. I wasn't unduly troubled by automated spam before I applied it, so we'll see how it goes.

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