It's exhausting being the Sixth Estate, isn't it? By Sixth Estate I mean the new guardians of the truth- us ordinary folks. I mean you and me - Twitter person A, Facebook person B, coming right behind the Fifth Estate of bloggers and citizen journalists. It has become our JOB to watch the folk who should be watching the folk who would get up to jiggery pokery as if no one were watching at all.
It's Saturday and I'm in a supermarket. The lady behind me in the till queue has one of the tabloids who blindly replicated the Telegraph led fact bereft smear campaign headline about Nicola Sturgeon's meeting with the French Ambassador. I see it sitting atop her four pack of beans and her dozen eggs on the conveyor belt and I think, "Should I say something?" As always in that kind of situation I think how I might react if a stranger comments on my choice of reading material. I decide to let it go. Not so much because I figure that it's none of my business what bilge the woman chooses to read, but that I really can't be bothered if she takes offence which she might, I suppose. I come away from the till feeling that I didn't do my duty as a member of the newly formed (in my head) Sixth Estate. I feel like the person who notices a flapping piece of gaffa tape on an aeroplane wing as they board and says nothing, and who must therefore share responsibility for the ensuing plane crash.
Across the Shire in a newsagent an older gentlemen buying a similar paper finds himself in a conversation with my altogether more forthright husband, who explains to the man that the headline of the paper he's buying has been debunked about five minutes after the ink has dried on it. The man isn't online that often, so he doesn't know. Mr M and him have a good chat about it. He still buys the paper. He and his wife like the crossword.
Throughout the indyref, like many of you I suspect, I became a guerilla shelf stacker in my local shop. I'd move the Sunday Herald from under a stack of other papers to a more prominent position on the rack. I'd shuffle Red Top scaremongering "Indy is the end of the World as we know it" headlines to a less damaging location under the Inverurie Herald or Farmers Weekly. The day the Vow appeared on the front page of the Daily Record I seriously thought about buying them all up and stashing them for a future papier mache project like the time I made Robin and Maurice Gibb heads which sat on each shoulder of a bearded Mr M as Barry, when he went as the Bee Gees for Halloween*. In the end I didn't. But only because I didn't want to add to their circulation figures. Oh, and I also thought no one would fall for it anyway....
Online it's become our duty to share and post the truth about the lies printed by newspapers, said by politicians in TV broadcasts and unchallenged by their interviewers, re-tweet posts by bloggers who unlike many paid journalists actually check their sources (many of them linking to those sources to put paid to that common sniffy claim journalists have about bloggers not having to adhere to the same standards and rules as them. Excuse me if I say "Ha!" to that....). It's becoming a full time job, this being a member of the Sixth Estate.
The thing is that once the lie is printed, it's out there and winging its way into public consciousness with a infection speed akin to the Ebola virus, so the newspapers and the politicians who feed them reckon it's a risk worth taking. We can complain to IPSO, which has replaced the Press Complaints Commission with its newspaper editor stacked board with er....another newspaper editor stacked board which promises to be slightly better and not hack folks' phones. Yes, we could complain and we do, but what happens if those complaints are upheld? The newspaper issues a small 8 point font sized retraction that is buried deep in the paper beside the Births Deaths and Marriages notices and it makes no difference to the traction of the original lie which rumbles on. In place of the toothless watch dog that newspapers are rightly not that scared of, it comes down to us, The Sixth Estate, to hold them to account and to damage their reputation, like they do to so many undeserving people with no right of reply. We must point, and mither, and retweet and share and yes, tell folks on supermarket queues who might give you a smack in the chops for your cheek.
It's a ridiculous state of affairs to find ourselves in, but as Estates go, the Sixth Estate is becoming the most powerful of them all. We need to keep on the backs of those of those who get paid to report but write party sponsored propaganda instead. We need to celebrate the journalists who actually have standards, like James Cook who had completely unjustified vitriol thrown his way this weekend, and challenge others like Alan Cochrane who actually ADMITS his political motivation outweighs any kind of journalistic integrity.
And, note to self, it's not enough to never buy the newspapers in question, or hide them under The Turriff Advertiser, it's also time to gently challenge those who do. If you like a good crossword, buy a Puzzler. Last time I looked that particular publication didn't try and subvert democracy.
*best Halloween costume ever. Fact.
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