As I Please

in Tribune

22 November 1946

George Orwell

IN CURRENT discussions of the Royal Commission that is to inquire into the press, the talk is always of the debasing influence exerted by owners and advertisers. It is not said often enough that a nation gets the newspapers it deserves. Admittedly, this is not the whole of the truth. When the bulk of the press is owned by a handful of people, one has not much choice, and the fact that during the war the newspapers temporarily became more intelligent without losing circulation, suggests that the public taste is not quite so bad as it seems. Still, our newspapers are not all alike; some of them are more intelligent than others, and some are more popular than others. And when you study the relationship between intelligence and popularity, what do you find?

Below I list in two columns our nine leading national daily papers. In the first column these are ranged in order of intelligence, so far as I am able to judge it: in the other they are ranged in order of popularity, as measured by circulation, By intelligence I do not mean agreement with my own opinions. I mean a readiness to present news objectively, to give prominence to the things that really matter, to discuss serious questions even when they are dull, and to advocate policies which are at least coherent and intelligible. As to the circulation, I may have misplaced one or two papers, as I have no recent figures, but my list will not be far out. Here are the two lists

1. Manchester Guardian.        
2. The Times.
3. News Chronicle.
4. Telegraph.
5. Herald.
6. Mail.
7. Mirror.
8. Express.
9. Graphic.
1. Express.
2. Herald.
3. Mirror.
4. News Chronicle.
5. Mail.
6. Graphic.
7. Telegraph.
8. The Times.
9. Manchester Guardian.

It will be seen that the second list is very nearly—not quite, for life is never so neat as that—the first turned upside down. And even if I have not ranged these papers in quite the right order, the general relationship holds good. The paper that has the best reputation for truthfulness, the Manchester Guardian, is the one that is not read even by those who admire it. People complain that it is ‘so dull’. On the other hand countless people read the Daily—while saying frankly that they ‘don’t believe a word of it’.

In these circumstances it is difficult to foresee a radical change, even if the special kind of pressure exerted by owners and advertisers is removed. What matters is that in England we do possess juridical liberty of the press, which makes it possible to utter one’s true opinions fearlessly in papers of comparatively small circulation. It is vitally important to hang on to that. But no Royal Commission can make the big-circulation press much better than it is, however much it manipulates the methods of control. We shall have a serious and truthful popular press when public opinion actively demands it. Till then, if the news is not distorted by businessmen it will be distorted by bureaucrats, who are only one degree better.

As I Please - Index

Back    |    Words Home    |    Orwell Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback