THE BLOG

Is the Public Interested?

18/04/2016 13:46

We have faced news recently about the wealthy, including our political leaders, making use of tax havens, as well as about the private life of a single Cabinet minister - and there has been much discussion of what is in the public interest. I think the harsh reality of trying to sustain a successful media group is not so much about what is in the 'public interest' as what the public is interested in. What attracts readers, gets clicked on and beckons followers? This is the reality of running any business: what do my consumers want? And how do I attract more while sustaining this lot?

It would seem that we like a bit of grime and trivia with our cornflakes in the morning (or, as appears to be the case, fed to us throughout the day via social media and onto smartphones). But is that really the case?

I picked up a book, part one of a fairly hefty trilogy, historical fiction that would span the key events of the 20th century. I'd been looking forward to this but after the first chapter I realised that, somewhat like a soap-opera, infidelity was going to be the main engine of each storyline (a far cry from Leon Trotsky's statement "War is the locomotive of history"). It just feels like there is more to motivate people, even fictional people, than sex.

It reminded me of the TV series House of Cards: after the first season, I decided I needed to take a rest. I may well watch more at a later date, but not for the moment. I really enjoyed the way Kevin Spacey directly addressed the audience - a kind of Shakespearean element for the modern day - but it was all so dark! Every good thing seemed to be turned to bad. And when you find yourself willing on an anti-hero who is both abusive and a murderer, I think it can be time to put yourself in quarantine. What's more, I've met a good many politicians and none struck me as this evil. Plus they are all very busy, which begs the question: where do these fictional characters find the time?

So what is in the public interest? People are interested in a strange number of things: I have a young teenager, and what is not interesting for him seems to be anything I am interested in, unless I can sneak it up on him without declaring my interest first.

With the EU debate going on around us, there is much talk about our national interest. However, this leads me to a challenge. Aren't we best as a nation when we do things outside of our immediate interest, when we do things just because they are good? When the late Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary led an intervention in Sierra Leone's civil war, it was not to serve Britain's interest. It was the act of a 'good Samaritan'. There is something noble about not being self-seeking as a person or as a nation.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if Britain was to lead the way as a nation not solely concerned in self-interest? There is probably a role for all of us to aspire to more lofty and less grimy interests.

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