Microsoft is now telling readers of the Daily Mail website that it’s a newspaper that’s just not to be trusted, it’s biased. And of course we’re all terribly surprised, aren’t we? What with coffee causing cancer one day, curing it the next. Except, except, we’ve got a couple of more serious problems here. One being if we’re to have truth telling and fact checking then it does rather matter who is doing the checking and what their biases are. The Mail is less reputable, does less fact checking than, say, The Guardian? The Morning Star? The Daily Star? More than that, there’s a failure to understand the UK newspaper market itself – bias is the distinguishing feature of it.
This thus is a larger problem than just a giggle:
Microsoft’s internet browser is warning users not to trust the Daily Mail’s journalism as part of its new feature designed to fight fake news. Visitors to Mail Online who use the Microsoft Edge browser can now see a statement asserting that “this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability” and “has been forced to pay damages in numerous high-profile cases”. The message, which is produced by a third-party startup called NewsGuard, tells readers to proceed carefully given that “the site regularly publishes content that has damaged reputations, caused widespread alarm, or constituted harassment or invasion of privacy”. It gives Mail Online, one of the world’s biggest news websites, one out of five on credibility – the same level as the Kremlin-backed RT news service.
The Mail is, of course, of a certain type of rightwingness which enrages those who don’t share it. Not all that keen on the prurient smallminded conservativeness of it ourselves – although we’d gladly take the best paycheques in the industry if only they’d have us. Which is one problem here. Any such system of factchecking is going to be open to that same application of bias on the part of the factcheckers.
But there’s that larger problem too. The UK newspaper market has been a national one for well over a century now ever since the completion of the rail network and delivery to everywhere overnight. Meaning that we’ve had for a century a market where we’ve a dozen or so (used to deliver the newspaper package for Cabinet Ministers and that’s about the number they’re expected to keep up with, think are nationally important. Even Brenda gets the same set which, yes, I have once delivered) national papers which distinguish themselves by their ideological bias.
This isn’t an error, this is the point and purpose. Newspapers chase the prejudices of their readers and those are the demographics which it’s worth chasing. Which is why they are chased.
To complain of bias in a British newspaper is to be missing that point entirely. They’re all at it – but the ideolology of the factcheckers is going to mean that only some get it in the neck as a result. If only we had a common phrase to describe such matters – Quis custodiet ipsos custodes perhaps?