Do newspapers have any influence on what you think and read? Many people think so, after all, wasn’t it the ‘Sun Wot Won It’ for the Tories in the 90’s? Others, like one of the founders of propaganda, Walter Lippmann, were more sanguine and believed that newspapers did not tell you what to think, but what to think about.
Whichever way it is, the very carefully smuggled out news that the Daily Mail has now become partners with the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, should cause eyebrows to be raised in more ways that one.
Initially, there should be amusement. It reads like a joke. Here sits one of the most rabidly right wing, neo-conservative newspapers in the Western world sidling up to one of the most staunch puppet papers of a one party state. What next? Jeremy Corbyn making friends with Jacob Rees-Mogg, Donald Trump partnering Black Lives Matter and Vladimir Putin doing a double act with Amnesty International? Such strange partners are hard to imagine.
Then there should be shrewd appreciation for the business acumen of the Daily Mail owners, Associated Newspapers, in spotting a way to get the most read English news site to reach another billion consumers. Newspapers and traditional news is dying rapidly and many forecast that, like with the Independent ‘newspaper’, printed editions will be a thing of the past in the UK by 2020. Monetising online content has become a headscratcher for corporations across the world, particularly online papers. News International and the Financial Times still, for example, rely on paywall subscriptions for their revenue generation, while the Guardian and Independent hope that free access, but with advertising targeted at more affluent readers, is the key to success. Associated and the Mail have gone one step further – they just want clicks. Billions of clicks. And they bet that by being able to tell an advertiser that they get so many, regardless of who they are and where they come from, is an attractive offer – one that will be extremely lucrative in the long run and they don’t care who they do deals with in order to make this happen.
Your final feeling should be worry. A deep belly aching , fart inducing, pre-driving test nervous worry. We all know that newspapers have their own agendas and we all know that those agendas also often reinforce their readers prejudices and have been doing so since time immemorial. After all, no one buys a newspaper that disagrees with what they think, they only buy ones that agree with them. And many papers are owned by pretty unscrupulous characters. In the UK, papers are owned by Lords, former porn barons, tax evaders and tax avoiders who will get their papers to say anything that furthers their own greedy ambitions.
Yet, The Mail and Associated Newspapers, are going three steps further and are setting a terrifying precedent by allying itself in such a way. Papers have, appropriately, always decried any politicians who meddles with the freedom of the press or the fourth estate. But here, for financial reasons, a newspaper has deliberately chosen to get into bed with a propaganda sheet for a one party state political party. How will their editorials now be subtly be affected by this? Where once they poured scorn on China’s annexation of Tibet, demonstrated outrage about the Tienanmen Square massacre, gave voice to worries about the countries human rights records or denounced the foreign investment into Hinkley Point nuclear reactors will they, or can they, continue to do the same now they are best mates with the Chinese equivalent of Pravda? Can they afford to? At what point do they run editorials condemning something the Chinese government has done and risk upsetting the owners of their sister paper and put in jeopardy the deal which underlines their profit making strategy? Or have they signed some agreement already that ensured the Mail never gives airtime to grievances about Chinese policies – ever?
I am no lover of the Mail or its views. But at least they are their own and are transparent and unsubtle enough to be seen for what they are. However, having the Chinese government as your silent partner in your editorial commentary is a dangerous new world. One where authoritarian governments can start to control the freedom of the press and what you get to read solely on scaring the newspapers into fearing that their access to a market may be axed.
If you believe either that it was the Sun won it or that newspapers tell people what to think about then this new era opens up a whole new world of conspiracy theories about the relationships between the state and the so-called free press. One which becomes increasingly dark and dangerous the more you think about what sort of Pandora’s Box the Daily Mail has opened up.