Taming tabloid tittle-tattle

Sunday 21 October, 5.00pm until 6.15pm, Pit Theatre

From Page 3 girls to unsavoury sleb photos and lewd speculation into people’s private lives, hatred of the tabloids is about more than phone-hacking, as contributors to the Leveson Inquiry have proven beyond doubt. The visceral contempt for ‘tabloid culture’ is de rigueur for self-styled responsible citizens. It has been accused of generating a dumbed-down climate of public ignorance, dangerously objectifying women and warping the aspirations of celebrity-obsessed youth. But is ‘tabloid culture’ really code for the papers’ uncultured readers? When high-minded ‘ethical’ journalists demonise redtops, are they really deriding the millions who read and enjoy them? Are critics calling for the tabloids to be tamed really talking about the papers, or the public?

It is not hard to see why critics do despair at much tabloid journalism. From Heat magazine to Perez Hilton, E Television to the 3am girls, it seems that Angelina’s weight or Cheryl’s new hairstyle shift more papers than the Euro crisis or deaths in Syria. How do we account for the appetite for salacious, personal stories when such serious challenges face the world? Is it that people are really more interested in celebrity than politics or has the media prioritised the life of celebrities over reporting the news? And do tabloids themselves pander to the most backward instincts of readers, exploiting their fears, fuelling insecurities? What of tabloids that wilfully create panics about everything from Frankenstein foods to scrounging immigrants?

On the other hand, is indulging in gossip and gawping at celebrities really such a vice, or can it just be harmless fun? Should we be aspiring to a society in which people choose broadsheets over the Sun and the Star? Should we cheer if more tabloids go the way of the News of the World, or should we celebrate a diversity of newspaper styles and voices, and embrace tabloids as a valuable contribution, multiplying the views we have access to in a free society?

Mark Borkowski
agency head, Borkowski.do; author, The History of the Publicity Stunt and The Fame Formula

Roy Greenslade
professor of journalism, City University, London; blogger, Guardian; media columnist, Evening Standard

Patrick Hayes
director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)

Jo Phillips
award-winning journalist; former press secretary to Paddy Ashdown; co-author, Why Vote?

Nathalie Rothschild
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
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