Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002
12 Pages, Grade: 1,7
3. Early History
4.1 Code of Practice
4.2 Press Complaints Commission
4.3 Official Secrets Act
5.1 Circulation Figures
5.2 Individual Papers
5.3 Newspaper Ownership
6.1 On Politics
6.2 On Public Opinion
Despite the fact that the influence of TV and radio rose in recent years the press is still one of the most important media for information. In Britain more than 16 million national newspapers are sold every day (disregarding regional as well as international papers).
Thus the press reaches at least 40 million people and plays an important role in forming public and political opinion. Because of its considerable influence in public affairs it is considered to be an instrument for controlling the government. That is why the press is often called the "4th Estate".
In Britain the press can be divided into different groups: Dailies and Sundays, Regionals and Nationals, Qualities and Populars. The difference between the quality and popular newspapers is basically obvious in style and contents.
I will focus on the national, daily Populars in the following.
The popular press is also called yellow or tabloid press. The name "tabloid“ has its origin in the size of the pages, which are usually half the size of quality - or broadsheet – newspapers. They are more handy compared to the broadsheets.
The Populars use big headlines and big, coloured pictures to attract readers. Especially the layouts are designed as eye catchers, with only some oversized key words and slogans on them.
The language used in tabloids is characterised by use of colloquialisms, and superficiality of thought or reasoning. Journalists use short sentences and slangy phrases. They tend to dramatise the stories and make more of them than the facts will really bear.
[See appendix 3 as example: a journalist who was wearing the suit and the handcuffs of the US prisoners in Cuba for one hour is giving a report about those ‘terrifying’ 60 minutes. Language style, presentation and argumentation are typical for the popular press.]
There is a development called “tabloidisation” that means, that the popular press is going more and more tabloid. [Also obvious in the chance of the layout design.]
The news presented in the Populars is usually short, superficial and sensational stories. They also contain so called “human interest“ stories and scandals mostly about stars and politicians and of course about the Royal Family.
But this makes only the smaller part of the contents, more than half the volume of those papers is pure entertainment, such as sports, competitions, quizzes, horoscopes and comics. Most contain also a TV-Guide and a huge amount of advertisements.
Overall their style is more emotional and they have lower standards of journalism.
In 1896 Alfred Harmsworth, who started as journalist and later became the first “newspaper baron”, founded the first popular paper, the Daily Mail.
This was the point in history when the press began to reach the masses.
Using the most up-to-date printing methods and obtaining large revenue from advertising it was produced more cheaply than his competitors and sold as a “Penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny”. It was not the first “halfpenny” newspaper but by far the most successful and it replaced the Daily Telegraph as the most widely read daily paper in the world.
One of the reasons for its success (apart from the fact that it was just the cheaper choice) was that it was aimed, both in price and content, at the lower- middle and the working class. Since the 1870 Education Act had introduced universal literacy, the reading capacity among working class members - and thus the potential readership - grew.
Looking at the diversity of newspapers today, there are enormous differences between Qualities and Populars, which reflect the different readerships and their different educational level. The readership of the Populars is much larger and generally less well educated. Scientists call the division between quality and popular readers the "knowledge gap".
Due to the success emulators emerged soon. C. Arthur Pearson, a former colleague of Alfred Harmsworth, set up Pearson’s Weekly in 1890. Ten years later it was followed by Pearsons Daily Express, the first popular paper with news on its layout. There was almost as much text as the serious press had while the former Populars only had advertisements on their layouts.
Later on the Daily Mirror, founded in 1903 by Alfred Harmsworth, became the first daily paper to top the million mark in circulation in 1911.
There is no special law regarding the regulation of the press in Britain. But because of often unbearable working methods of the press a Code of Practice has been established. It was designed to protect the individual privacy as well as the public’s ’right to know’. Journalists must not overstep certain limits. E.g. the articles must be free from libel. To ensure that the press would follow this code the Press Complaints Commission was created.
The Press Complaints Commission was set up by the newspaper industry as an independent body in 1991. It resolves complaints about possible breaches of the Code of Practice and defends the freedom of the press.
Unfortunately complaints to the PCC are not very effective. If the PCC decides that a newspaper offended the code the paper has to pay a fine. But, very likely, it will go on publishing articles in the same style if they raise circulation figures.
The British press is unrestricted by censorship or state control except for matters that fall under the Official Secrets Act. The Act was originally issued in 1911, and reformed in 1989. Any newspaper (or any broadcasting station) can be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, if it publishes or disseminates information classified as 'official'. The term ’official’ designates everything that is thought to endanger national security. Since the government decides what actually is ’official’ the press fears that the public’s ‘right to know’ could be affected.
 See appendix 2
 See appendix 3 as example: a journalist who was wearing the suit and the handcuffs of the US prisoners in Cuba for one hour is giving a report about those ‘terrifying’ 60 minutes. Language style, presentation and argumentation are typical for the popular press.
 See appendix 1
 Brian Lake, British Newspapers – A History and Guide for Collectors, London: Sheppard Press 1984, Page 79,
 View Appendix 1
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