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The reaction to Boris Johnson's article about Ken Bigley and resulting implications for the media

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The reaction to Boris Johnson's article about Ken Bigley and resulting implications for the media. When Boris Johnson's article in The Spectator1 caused controversy a week ago, it raised questions not only about the ethical position of politicians involved in journalism, but also about the freedom of the media and its relationship with regulators and governmental bodies. Boris Johnson is a much- derided figure, often attacked for his looks and manner rather than his views and actions. In a radio interview for the BBC, for example, Paul Bigley (Ken's brother) accused him of being a "self- centred, pompous twit"2 and belittled him for his appearance and waffling manner despite the valid points in the article, and subsequent apology.3 This tact was followed by newspapers almost without exception; The Times, for example, started their article with a quote from Michael Howard denouncing Johnson's writing as "nonsense from beginning to end,"4 a comment in the Liverpool Daily Post recommended that he 'got life insurance,'5 and an article on the BBC website6 provided quotations only from those against the MP. This is in direct contrast to what the same website suggested was the general public opinion. On the 'Your Views'7 section, nineteen out of twenty- two comments support Johnson's opinion, ranging from those in general support to people from Liverpool criticising their fellow Liverpudlians; suggesting that the media was either being sensationalist or deliberately opposing a Conservative- who, it should be noted, did not even write the article. ...read more.


In the United Kingdom The Times is typically seen as a left- wing paper, The Telegraph as right- wing, and The Independent as the most unbiased paper. These stereotypes rarely hold true, however, with The Times' editorial often being more lenient towards the Conservatives. This may have more to do with the fact that the media often opposes whoever is in power, whoever they are, with no regards to traditional stance. Of the articles about Johnson, the most balanced viewpoint was from The Guardian Student. From the very start it offers views for and against the article; even the headline, "Boris is 'sorry' for tactless own goal"14 presents Johnson as apologetic whilst also implying he made a blunder. Throughout, it keeps this balanced viewpoint with quotations from those supporting him followed by those against; contrasting articles in The Times15 which present tirades of criticism. The Guardian Student article is an exception, however. Though often not as transparent as headlines in tabloids such as The Sun or The Daily Star, broadsheets in the Western world show clear bias without obvious governmental controls. This may be seen to affect politics. In a poll conducted in America in 1992, for example, 89% of 1400 members of the national media surveyed voted for Clinton in that same year.16 Though it is certain this would have influenced the journalists' articles, it is debateable whether the media dictated the public's mood or vice versa. In 1997 when The Sun declared "It's The Sun Wot Won It" due to its support of the Labour party, it was questionable whether they actually influenced the public or merely responded to what the public was urging them to print. ...read more.


Therefore though the media, in particular in Britain, is supposedly free from constraints, in reality there are numerous limits on what journalists are willing to write. 1 Bigley's Fate, The Leader in The Spectator, 16/10/04 2 [As quoted in] Midgley, Carol, ' "Where are you Boris?" "Erm, erm, I don't know where I am. I've got to go,"' The Times, 21/10/2004 3 Johnson, Boris, Statement of The Spectator article, www.boris-johnson.com, 19/10/2004 4 Charter, David, 'Boris Johnson falls foul of leader over Liverpudlians', The Times, 16/10/2004 5 'Editor promises Bigley apology,' Liverpool Daily Post, 16/10/2004 6 " 'Sorry' Johnson sent to Liverpool", BBC website, 16/10/2004 7 'Your Views,' BBC website, 20/10/2004 8 Woolcock, Nicola, 'Offending copy penned by Heffer,' The Times, 21/10/2004 9 Herbert, Ian, 'Why Boris Johnson is in hot water in Liverpool', The Independent, 16/10/2004 10 Shrimsley, Robert, 'Boris Bows Down', Financial Times, 19/10/2004 11 'Press Freedom on the Precipice,' New York Times, 16/10/2004 12 'Walk Alone: Boris bends knee to Liverpool', The Times, 17/10/2004 13 www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/media/mediaown.html 14 Carter, Wintour and Ward, 'Boris is "sorry" for own goal,' The Guardian Student, 21/10/2004 15 'Walk Alone: Boris bends knee to Liverpool', The Times, 17/10/2004 and Charter, David, 'Boris Johnson falls foul of leader over Liverpudlians', The Times, 16/10/2004 16 Freedom Forum sponsored poll, 1992 17 e.g. 'Huntley's Voodoo Rituals,' The Sun front page, 19/10/2004 18 Thacker, Amy, 'Sticks and Stones,' The Warwick Boar, 18/10/04 19 Karlekar, Karin, 'Press Freedom in 2003,' www.freedomhouse.org 20 Yurkovsky, Andrew, 'Russia: Freedom Gained,' World Press Review 21 Litovkin, Viktor, 'Russia Modernizes Nuclear Weapons,' Moscow News 20- 26 October 2004 22 e.g, 'MP backs guide dog users' pleas,' Maidenhead Advertiser, 15/10/2004 ?? ?? ?? ?? Introduction To Politics 1 ...read more.

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