Editorial – Lent 2013 Issue 1

18 January 2013

A newspaper should never knowingly suppress the facts in order to target a favourite scapegoat, no matter how good the story. Scapegoating – repeatedly criticising one group for the faults of many – is not news. It is propaganda.

Cambridge and Oxford both have a disproportionately high intake of public-school students, given that only 7% of UK students are privately educated. This is true. But it’s not the whole story. Two years ago, 40.7% of the students admitted to Cambridge came from private schools. But at Durham, it was higher: 40.8%. At Bristol, it was slightly lower: 39.1%. But how many stories have you read in the national press about ‘Bristol elitism’? Cambridge is no glaring exception, but part of a national trend. By restricting their focus to Oxbridge – a scapegoat known to sell copies – the media turn a blind eye to any problems in the university system found on a national level. To shackle together “Oxbridge and Elitism” (the title of an official section on The Guardian’s website) is to imply that the problem is limited to Oxbridge, to deliberately ignore the wider picture and to suppress the facts.

TCS saw a similar blinkered effect in the recent coverage of alleged vandalism at Mill Road Cemetery (see ‘Tomb raiders on Mill Road’, TCS, January 17, for a more balanced report). On December 31st, Cambridge News published an article entitled ‘Drunks and addicts sleeping in tombs’, based around a police statement which appears to suggest that any and all blame for local vandalism should be laid at the door of one Mr Patel, the owner of a small local independent newsagents.

In an article which does not contain even one single mention of homelessness, we are told that the police see Mr Patel’s shop as “a magnet for troublemakers”: “Officers said problems started at the store and spread out into the surrounding area, including to Mill Road cemetery, which is plagued by drunkenness, littering, defecating and drug abuse, and can be accessed via an alleyway opposite the newsagent.”

Not once does the article ask why “drunks” and “addicts” might be sleeping in tombs. Not once is it mentioned that we live in a city whose homeless population is three times larger than that it was twelve months ago. Instead, they go for the scapegoats, offering us unthinking prejudice against rough-sleepers and the lurking insinuation that these problems would cease, were it not for Mr & Mrs Patel. TCS does not intend to suggest any publication is consistently unreliable, only that they too often fail to ask ‘why.’