All human life

When I was a young boy and living in Mullingar, Ireland, my mother often took me with her when she went on a shopping or other trip to Dublin. I don’t now remember exactly where this was, but for a while a large advertisement on a billboard poster could be seen as you approached Dublin, probably around Leixlip or Palmerstown. It simply read: ‘All human life is there’.

As some readers may know, this poster will have been advertising the Sunday newspaper, the News of the World. It was (and is) a British paper focusing on the somewhat seedier and sillier aspects of life, and it has a populist tone. But actually, I had never seen a copy of this paper, and so for me this billboard advertisement was wholly mysterious. What did ‘news of the world’ mean, and what on earth was being suggested in relation to human life?

As it happens a few years ago the late Auberon Waugh, journalist and commentator, mused in an article what it must be like to get one’s news solely from the News of the World. You would have access to prurient stories about royalty and other celebrities, lots and lots of sport, and, er, that’s it. Political news only ever make it if truly seismic,  So if that’s the world you inhabit, you will not have your blood pressure raised by accounts of distant wars or global or national injustices. Instead you could turn your attention to the football results and to photos of topless women. In a recent issue of the News of the World, these were the top stories:

TERRY: Toni falls for JT whopper on fishing hols
VERNON: Tess mauls horny hubby over txts
CHERYL: Star bans husband Ashley from Brits
JACKSON: Hear the tape that could clear doc
CASH: Trade in your old mobiles for money

So if this is the ‘news’ as revealed to you, your world might be very strange, but perhaps rather comforting.

Most of us are where we are, and our direct experiences are formed in a limited geographical area. And so we rely on good news coverage to keep us in touch with the wider world, and where necessary and appropriate to engage with it. But once we restrict ourselves to the coverage and the values of the tabloid media, the great debates about politics, the arts and other subjects will pass us by, and will form no part of our world. But newspapers are rarely politically neutral, and so their readers may be fed a drip-drip of hints and insinuations that are ultimately designed to express a political view at the ballot box, which their readers are reluctant to argue with because, frankly, they have no idea what it’s about.

To thrive as a society, we need a news-savvy population. We need newspapers that really do have a concept of  ‘all human life’ and that are prepared to defend it. We need a population that doesn’t turn to newspapers to be titillated but to be informed and to learn. The Irish newspapers and broadcast media have on the whole been responsible about their role, but the News of the World and other British tabloids are readily available here, and their approach has been more questionable. And while people must be allowed to make their choices, I would hope that most will in the end want to be better informed rather than more excitingly titillated. I really do hope that.

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3 Comments on “All human life”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    I grew up beside Palmerstown and my impression was that there was no human life there, a terribly dull place. So I would have been astonished to see that sign.
    When I was a student in Oxford, in a post-graduate college, my recollection was that the most popular newspaper in the JCR (the student’s common room) was the Daily Mirror. There was a certain guilty pleasure about it & a vaguely left-wing hint to the paper, it was owned by Robert Maxwell at the time.
    After a hard day modelling structural social mobility, deriving the Nash Equilibrium in infinite horizon games and analysing party cleavages in federal systems [and this was on one of our days off], otherwise terribly nerdy and/or intellectual people liked a bit of mindlessness. So newspapers fulfill a number of roles even for the same people. Increasingly though, people get their news from the Internet, likewise their topless models, so the prospects for newspapers are not good. In the US, where I am currently living, local newspapers are in dire straits.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Drawing a World view from any one source in England is a bit fraught. They tend to absolutes, but I don’t think this is as a response to the newspapers.
    Are you sure thought about Waugh, I would have put him with Sir John Betjeman in hankering for some Elizabethan middle England ideal. And you have to say that the NotW readership see themselves as independent merry-outlaw types going a wassailing an’ a wenching, where any foray over the channel being little more than a latter day cattle reiving operation. So all in all, if I had a fist of coin in my pocket to match English society, I would put the NotW and Waugh on one for they really are the same coin all be it head an’ tail of it.
    These days, for the newly arrived alien from Sirius, I would hand him ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’.


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