In every modern country, regardless of the form of the government, the press, radio and television are political weapons of tremendous power, and few things are so indicative of the nature of a government as the way in which that power is exercised. While studying the politics of any country, it is important not only to understand the nature of the social, economic, political or any other divisions of the population but also to discover what organs of public and political opinion are available for the expression of the various interests.
Although the press in this or that country is legally free, the danger lies in the fact that the majority of people are not aware of the ownership. The press in fact is controlled by a comparatively small number of persons. Consequently, when the readers see different newspapers providing the same news and expressing similar opinions they are not sure that the news, and the evaluation of the news, are determined by a single group of people, perhaps even by one person. In democratic countries it has long been assumed that government ought, in general, to do what their people want them to do.
The growth of radio and particularly of television is as important in providing news as the press. They provide powerful means of capturing public attention. But while private enterprise predominates in the publishing fields in Great Britain, radio broadcasting monopoly, as was television until late in 1955. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a public organisation, still provides all radio programmes.
National Daily and Sunday Papers
In a democratic country like Great Britain the press, ideally, has three political functions: information, discussion and representation. It is supposed to give the voter reliable and complete information to base his judgement. It should let him know the arguments for and against any policy, and it should reflect and give voice to the desires of the people as a whole.
Naturally, there is no censorship in Great Britain, but in 1953 the Press Council was set up. It is not an official body but it is composed of the people nominated by journalists, and it receives complaints against particular newspapers. It may make reports, which criticise papers, but they have no direct effects. The British press means, primarily, a group of daily and Sunday newspapers published in London. They are most important and known as national in the sense of circulating throughout the British Isles. All the national newspapers have their central offices in London, but those with big circulations also print editions in Manchester (the second largest press center in Britain) and Glasgow in Scotland.
Probably in no other country there are such great differences between the various national daily newspapers – in the type of news they report and the way they report it.
All the newspapers whether daily or Sunday, totalling about twenty, can be divided into two groups: quality papers and popular papers. Quality papers include “The Times’, “The Guardian”, “The Daily Telegraph”, “The Financial Times”, “The Observer”, “The Sunday Times” and “The Sunday Telegraph”. Very thoroughly they report national and international news.
In addition to the daily and Sunday papers, there is an enormous number of weeklies, some devoted to specialised and professional subjects, others of more general interest. Three of them are of special importance and enjoy a large and influential readership. They are: the “Spectator” (which is non-party but with Conservative views), the “New Statesman” (a radical journal, inclining towards the left wing of the Labour Party) and the largest and most influential – the “Economist” (politically independent). These periodicals resemble one another in subject matter and layout. They contain articles on national and international affairs, current events, the arts, letters to the Editor, extensive book reviews. Their publications often exert a great influence on politics.
The distinction between the quality and the popular papers is one primarily of educational level. Quality papers are those newspapers which are intended for the well educate. All the rest are generally called popular newspapers. The most important of them are the “News of the World”, “The Sun”, the “Daily Mirror”, the “Daily Express”.