Saturday, July 22, 2006

Suez, the media and its aftermath

I can just about remember Suez, but only as a few images in a Sunday newspaper as I was only a small child at the time. I guess that for my parents it was a very worrying time as they knew that my brother would be called up for National Service in the next couple of years (he was actually in one of the last intakes of National Service in 1958 and went to Aden which, fortunately, did not become violent until 1962/3). My cousin was a few years older and he was in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising of 1953-4. In 1956 virtually every family in the UK would know somebody who had been close to danger in the 1939-45 war, either at home or overseas, or in any of the subsequent conflicts to which UK National Servicemen were sent such as Palestine, Indian Partition, Korea, Malaya etc. One of my other childhood memories is of the man next door, who I never saw but knew would never recover from his experiences in a Japanese POW camp.

I mention these memories simply because they emphasise the difference between 1956 and 2006, in terms of a general direct connection/experience with war and access to media representations. I'm not sure how my parents discussed how they felt (and they always kept any overtly 'political' views to themselves) but they were certainly not exposed to the kinds of 'personalised' human interest stories delivered as 'news' that we get today. Perhaps the major example of this was the 'streaming' list of missing people running underneath the main image of Sky News during the tsunami disaster in 2004/5 (which is covered in more detail in The Media Student's Book, 4th edition). Sky were criticised for much of their coverage, but the general use of 'personal statements' by people faced with the terrible news of the loss of loved ones is now so common that perhaps it is acceptable to most of the audience?

The other big difference between 1956 and 2006 is the role of the press, including the range of titles available and the impact they have on readers. Suez was a crazy act of folly which was nevertheless supported by the Times and the Telegraph. The principal objectors were the Manchester Guardian and the Observer (now both controlled by the Scott Trust, but then separate entities). The Guardian celebrated its principled stand with several articles in July, but I was struck by a letter which appeared in response to a reference to the death of the News Chronicle. This Liberal paper was our daily paper up until its demise in 1960 when it was taken over by the Daily Mail. We were forced to switch to the Daily Express (we already took the Sunday Express). I was miffed mainly because I lost a daily dose of the I-Spy column then very popular with children.

In retrospect, I wonder what damage I sustained by seven years of Empire Loyalism from Lord Beaverbrook. Would I have had a better popular education if the News Chronicle had survived? With the demise of the Daily Herald (after it had changed its name to The Sun and then been sold Rupert Murdoch in 1964) the UK lost a middle market paper with anything other than a right wing perspective. Media studies often queries whether the press has a significant affect on public opinion, but it's an interesting question. How would the Falklands and the Gulf War have gone down without the Sun and with two leftish papers in the middle market to contradict the Mail and Express?

No comments: