Anti-tabloid snobbery was a recurring theme of 2016, and it seemed to take its strongest hold on university campuses.
I’m a student at City University, which is famous for its journalism programme. But in November, City’s students’ union made the headlines for all the wrong reasons when it voted to ban from our campus three tabloid newspapers – the Daily Express, the Sun and the Daily Mail. Queen Mary University’s students’ union, not wanting to be behind the times, voted to remove those same newspapers from its campus shop the following month.
Both bans were motivated by a disdain for the tabloids and the people who read them. The City motion caricatured these papers as mirrors of Nazi propaganda, before going on to say that popular columnists Richard Littlejohn and Katie Hopkins should have no place in the press. At Queen Mary, the authors of the motion said the papers are full of ‘hateful discourse’, and argued that the SU’s commitment to diversity would best be served by clamping down on the diversity of the press.
But this disdain for the popular press, and basically any political view to the right of Eddie Izzard, isn’t unique to ban-happy students’ unions. As the City and Queen Mary bans were hitting the headlines, state regulation of the press was once again rearing its head. Following on from the Leveson Inquiry, the government opened a public consultation at the end of last year on whether the next two new stages of Leveson – the implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and a second judge-led inquiry into the press – should go ahead. And pro-regulation groups were once again out arguing against the tabloids in much the same way a students’ union rep does.
Hacked Off, a campaign group bankrolled by wealthy celebrity donors, has backed Leveson from the start, taking umbrage at tabloid sexposés of celebrities, footballers and politicians that often make for the most entertaining tabloid journalism. It argues that such stories are invasions of privacy that in no way serve the public interest. Setting aside the fact that many of the best sexposés and stings have outed powerful hypocrites who pertained to uphold Victorian values, it is telling that the people at Hacked Off believe it is they, not the tabloid-reading public, who know what is in the public interest.