Why The British Media Drives On the Wrong Side Of The Road

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JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 22, 2011

Why The British Media Drives On the Wrong Side Of The Road

I've never thought of it this way before, but Dan Balz pithily explains that the culture of newspapers versus television news in the U.K. is essentially the reverse of the American arrangement:

Unlike in the United States, newspapers in Britain still wield enormous power. Television networks are constrained by law in what they can do and say. The BBC is required by charter to ensure balance. There is no cable television culture, as there is here, that sorts out viewers by ideology and feeds red meat daily to the participants in the political dialogue.

Instead, that role is left to newspapers. British papers are national in scope and therefore central in setting the political agenda. Papers there, especially tabloids, are, as one British journalist put it gently, less “fastidious” in their ethics and reporting standards than are the best of the U.S. papers.

They are also noisily partisan, and news coverage follows a paper’s editorial slant in ways it does not here. The Labor Party has its backers, the tabloid Mirror and broadsheet Guardian among them. But many more British papers lean toward the Conservative Party, with Murdoch’s Sun the most powerful of them.

In other words, in Britain, the New York Times is a television station, and Fox News is a newspaper. I find that a little odd, because print is a medium much better adapted to high levels of discourse, and video is a medium better adapted to salaciousness and propaganda.

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posted in: jonathan chait, britain, united kingdom, united states, dan balz

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