Review by John Bedwell
Maybe it’s because they never publish my letters. Perhaps it’s the obsession with the Liberal Democrats. It could be the red sans-serif masthead, or the front-page shock therapy, or the compulsive editorial rejigs. It could be the i, or the nauseating ‘Trending’ (whatever that is). Most likely it’s the never-ending debates around the Blairite/Thatcherite dynasties, and or that thick inky coating of pro-market goo. But whatever it is – I’m hacked off with The Independent (pun intended).
We’re not talking about The Daily Mail (like spending twenty minutes in a mental institution). This isn’t that royalist Telegraph rag I begged my grandfather to ditch after 60 years. My god, it’s not even The Guardian. Dear Indy has been the centre-left mouthpiece of good old-fashioned journalism since 1986. This is the newspaper that publishes opposing views ON THE SAME PAGE. The daily that opposed the invasion of Iraq, has called for the legalisation of soft drugs (whatever those are), went ‘compact’ first! The newspaper that continuously reports on stories even after they’ve gone out of fashion: social inequality, AIDS, Iraq, post-revolutionary fallout, that thing about all the ice melting. An honest voice in the mainstream wilderness, which until recently carried on its front page the banner, “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”.
Yet things have changed on Fleet Street, sorry, I mean in Canary Wharf. Read all about it: Economic Survival at Stake; Internet Gobbling up Sales; Trust in Press at All-Time Low. With all this happening everywhere to everyone all of the time, The Indy is feeling spooked, threatened, defensive, schizophrenic. The word ‘independent’ used to mean something – or was at least a badge of respectability on the train. On Saturday March 9th 2013, it means whatever you want it to mean so long as you’re not planning on thinking too much.
‘Proprietorial Influence and political bias’, let’s meditate on these expressions. Or, let’s meditate on the purchase of the newspaper by Russian billionaire, Alexander Lebedev, in 2010 (Oligarch Buys Newspaper Scandal!). Or, we could just flick through today’s edition and pick out some juicy tidbits. On page five here’s an article shaming The Sun, really. On page nine we’re told the world’s best restaurant has been poisoning cliental, scary. Moving on, here’s the J.K. Rowling page, the i-pad advert, and the announcement that tomorrow’s edition will feature an interview with ‘What-she-did-next-X-factor-judge-in-spiritual-journey’. Luckily, no Britons died yesterday, but a brutal human rights violating dictator did die of cancer during the week. Thank Amnesty he’s not free to brainwash his people or violate the sacred codes of unlimited consumption anymore. Hugo Chavez’s funeral was attended by, and I quote, ‘a strange cast’ (page 18). Maybe it’s the clichés that really drive me wild.
But this is news. Hot off the press, Kanian style, giving us what we want, how we want it: fear, aspiration, titillation, assurance. Visit Switzerland, Sri Lanka, The Serpentine. Those pesky Argentines should leave our islanders alone. When will the Kenyans learn how to vote properly? The PM’s had his knuckles rapped! Osborne’s got a headache! China’s shitting itself because its troublesome neighbor wants to blow the world to kingdom come! Oh no hang on, everything’s OK. Charlotte Church and Will Smith matter. There is no invisible hand at work here. No one’s being influenced one iota, especially not the independent minds writing and reading this self-declared ‘proudly liberal newspaper’.
How can a publication be free from political bias if it is of one political persuasion? Is ‘neo’ liberalism (you draw the line) not a political position? Has the sky fallen out of the sky? Doesn’t this newspaper have an editorial proudly publishing proudly liberal views, everyday? The freedom The Independent proclaims and revels in is the freedom to portray itself as above and outside the very system it supports. The freedom it professes is that of a business producing, distributing and selling itself as commodity. The independence of The Independent is that of any self-validating media to say what it wants within the bounds of law and political economy. Within the bounds.
You may find these boundaries roughly in-between Gorgeous George Galloway’s sermon on our bankrupted political class and the two-page spread profile on Home Secretary Theresa May, ‘The Iron Lady in Waiting’. Witness a symmetrical narrative; the remains of half-crazed socialism as the natural counterweight to staunch conservatism. The Independent nestles safely in the middle, on the wasteland, a crow on the shoulder, where the taxes are tweaked and the backs are scratched. In expending much space on Politics, Arts, Science and The World (wherever that is), cloaked in objective veneer, The Indy but reinforces the norms which justify our condition; a self-referential discourse that has no intention of breaking with dogma.
On close inspection dear old Indy is locked into the prevailing plotlines of our times. Perhaps it always has been but we just weren’t paying attention. That nasty residue is the taste of conformity. Maybe I’ll stop writing letters. Maybe I’ll stop buying it. If only I could resist the red sans-serif.