Newspapers in Britain do not exist to report the news, to act as watchdogs for the public or any other of the noble things we ascribe to the newspaper industry. They are first and foremost businesses. They exist to make money. One particular genre of the British press has over several decades been able to create great profits from the newspaper industry. The tabloid newspaper; together they account for approximately 60 percent of the readers of newspapers in the U. K. However, they only make up 35 percent of the total number of daily titles in circulation within Britain.
The oxford English dictionary describes a tabloid as: “a newspaper of small format giving the news in condensed form, usually with illustrated, often sensational material” Tabloid newspapers offer an alternative to the comprehensive, in-depth, analytical reporting of the broadsheet papers. Although tabloids are often referred to as the popular press they are frequently criticised by different quarters as being intrusive, sensationalised, bias, prejudiced, dumbed down and immoral. When I refer to the tabloid press, I’m referring primarily to the three popular (red top) papers; “The Sun”; “The Mirror”; and the “Daily Star”.
Also the two mid-market papers; the “Daily Mail”; and “The Express”. Throughout the 1980’s, the Princess of Wales had been a tabloid editors dream. From the day of her “fairytale” wedding, to the day of her tragic death and beyond she supplied the press with chances to build up her persona, whilst at the same time the ammunition they needed to shoot her down. Due to the perceived excess of the tabloid press in reporting the royals and particularly Diana, the government instituted the “Calcutt Review” of the newspaper industry.
Which in turn led to the formation of the “Press Complaints Commission” and it’s “Code of Practice”. As regards privacy, the code states: “Intrusions and enquiries into an individuals private life without his or her consent including the use of long lens photography to take pictures of people on private property without their consent are not generally acceptable and publication can only be justified when in the public interest” The tabloids failed to cease in their tactics when covering Diana, justifying their intrusions on the grounds of public interest, because of her special status as mother to the future king.
Since Diana’s death the Press Complaints Commission has tightened its Code of Practice, banning papers from buying and publishing photographs taken by “persistent pursuit”. They also set guidelines on the reporting of princes William and Harry while at school, which the tabloids have largely respected. However, the tabloids have not shown the same level of respect when covering the rich and famous. The main staple of tabloid reporting has been the coverage of celebrities’ marriages, divorces, sex lives and affairs, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and their rise and subsequent fall of fame.
Hardly a day passes when at least one female celebrity cannot fail to see her breasts on the pages of a tabloid paper. Pictures taken with long lenses, of celebs on holiday, sunbathing topless has been commonplace in the British tabloids. Some people choose to criticise the celebrities themselves for giving the paparazzi such a photo opportunity. However, many woman on holiday choose to sunbathe topless without hassle, the same respect should be accredited to celebrities. Tabloid intrusion doesn’t just stop on the beaches of the Med, it can try and infiltrate private and what should be special events.
When Victoria Adams (posh spice) married David Beckham, the exclusive rights were sold to “Hello” magazine for i?? 1 million. All other reporters and photographers were banned from the venue. Yet there are stories that one enterprising journalist, led in a ditch for six days to try and capture just one picture that he could then sell on to the tabloid papers. He was found just 20 minutes before the wedding. Despite all of the security surrounding the wedding, pictures were found in “The Sun” newspaper the following day.
In an interview with Victoria Beckham, for her channel 4 show “Victoria’s secrets”, Robert Maxwell, editor of “The Mirror” said: “It used to be that if in doubt, put the royals on the front page, today however, it’s the Beckhams” The Beckhams wedding cannot really be justified as a story of public interest. Rather, it is a story that entertains the public. If a newspapers primary function is of business and earning money, it’s second, as regards to the tabloid press, is to entertain its readers. This enables the tabloids to distort the term ” a story of public interest” into ” a story that is of public entertainment”.
A tabloid can then justify it’s reporting by saying that it’s contents is what the British public want to read. This is backed up by figures supplied by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. (Period January to June 2000) “The sun” has a circulation of 3,586,803 compared with “the telegraph” which has 722,642. This shows that the leading tabloid has almost a 5 times greater circulation figure than that of the leading broadsheet. “I see it (tabloids) as a branch of showbiz. It recognised for the first time the need to entertain the reading public.
The front pages even look entertaining, rather like the front of a theatre, all stars and bright lights beckoning you inside. There’s so much glitz and razzmatazz” (David banks, former employee of “the sun”) In pandering for the represented majority a tabloid can and often will exploit it’s readers prejudices; calling the French “frogs”, referring to the Germans as the “Hun” and talking about asylum seekers as “costing the BRITISH tax payer”. The greater percentage of the papers readers will support the dominant reading in any given report.
In 1999, the sun newspaper seemed to conflict with it’s own prejudices. They ran a series of articles and interviews with ” Stephen Gately”, former “Boyzone” member, about him coming out as being gay. Even putting the story on the front page, using such headlines as; “Boyzone star: “I’m gay and in love””. Stephen himself says that he chose to give the story to the sun because he knew it would reach the largest audience and the majority of his fan base, compared with the other titles. The sun also realised that the sales figures for these issues would increase compared with a normal news day.