I found myself in something of a dilemma while looking at the papers this week. I have this cherished mental image – perhaps foolishly – of being a generally reasonable and moderately self-aware individual. Moreover, I generally tend to have a default position of repugnance for the Daily Mail’s usual assault on women, minorities and the mentally ill – but I was shocked to suddenly find myself reading a headline early this week in the library, and quietly nodding to myself.
The headline, on the 25th November, was “Banks are destroying small firms”. It concerned an independent report by Lawrence Tomlinson, commissioned by the government, to look into the actions of banks during the economic downturn with regard to small business lending. The writer of the report initially took a wide view, accusing many banks of “heavy-handed profiteering and abhorrent behaviour”, but found himself becoming increasingly concerned in particular by the actions of Lloyds and RBS, the tax-payer backed banks saved from collapse by Government intervention at the height of the banking crisis. The allegation is that by withdrawing lines of credit to firms that were solvent, they were able to charge additional fees and penalties that often made those businesses fail so that assets could be seized and then sold off.
The Mail’s coverage dovetailed the story into their ongoing campaign to “Make the Banks Lend” and despite all my best mental preparations I found that, much to my dawning horror, I was in agreement – or at least not violent disagreement with the tone and direction of something written by a paper that I generally view with deep suspicion.
Certainly in the circles I generally move in, there is something of a love-hate relationship with this paper. It seems at times to embody the worst prurient instincts of British tabloid journalism, especially with the eye for the salacious that seems to dominate its online presence; but it can also then – as in the case of the Stephen Lawrence suspects – be an unflagging campaigner for justice.
The charge often levelled at the paper is that it panders to stereotypes and fuels the paranoia of its readers – riding on the casual xenophobia that we British are so easily sucked into. The truth is somewhat more complicated. By its own admission at the Leveson enquiry, the paper targets the concerns of its readerships to gain market share. In its own right, this may sound like a shockingly cynical approach, but at least it is honest about the business it is in.
As an observer of people, with a fascination with learning about what makes people tick, this suggests a use for the Daily Mail that I had previously denied. I have an open curiosity to explore what people believe so that I can more easily find common ground to communicate, which may seem to be at complete odds with the general approach of this paper. As much as I dislike the Daily Mail’s editorial leanings however, I can’t deny that their ability to target the issues that ring people’s bells is a useful set of signposts. I may not agree with everything they write, or how they write it, but they are as valid and useful a source of information as other viewpoints that I can easily find at alternatives such as The Guardian, Private Eye, Huffington Post, or the BBC.
Now if only I could get rid of this slightly dirty feeling for admitting it.