The constitutional duty of the press: Peter Oborne’s resignation

by George Hatjoullis

Peter Oborne, former political editor of the Daily Telegraph, has resigned in protest against the alleged blurring of commercial and news interests. If true, and I have no reason to dispute Oborne’s allegations, this is a serious situation. Oborne has thus raised the thorny issue of press self-regulation. He suggests that the practice is more widespread than just the DT. All this is interesting and quite disturbing if not wholly surprising. However, Oborne includes a statement in his attack which for once literally made me laugh out loud and utter an expletive:

Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.

Perhaps he should have read my blog Dogma, Ideology and Truth and others published under the Democracy and Knowledge Construction categories before speaking. Newspapers at best tell their version of the truth, even when uninfluenced by commercial interests. Oborne implies that prior to some seminal change in the press world, there was a golden age in which journalists pursued some objective truth (it is here where I am once again muttering expletives). There was never an age in which journalists pursued the truth. They always pursue a story. The only issue is which story best suits the editorial (and commercial) policy of the paper. In pursuing a story, journalists use omission and innuendo with alarming skill. Truth, Peter Oborne, you are having a laugh.

Objective truth does not exist in my view. This is what my blog is about. Things are never what they seem and if you squint hard enough you can often see something different. Truth is relative and the best one can hope for is that newspapers and other purveyors of ‘news’ present the facts as they see them and make clear their prior beliefs, values and prejudices. The political commentary of the Daily Telegraph always had imbedded within it a specific political view as do all other papers. This does not matter so long as we know what it is and can adjust how we read the paper. The idea that they have a constitutional duty to peddle the ‘truth’ is sanctimonious clap trap. There is no objective truth to peddle, just a version.