On Friday afternoon I attended a talk by David Yelland, a former Editor of The Sun, organised by the Media Standard Trust and Article 19.
There were various journalists in the auditorium but from what was said in the introduction there was not a single editor or sub editor in sight - even though the organisers went out of their way to extend their invitations to all of them!
What does this tell us?
Yelland admitted that if he were was still an editor he most likely would have not been in the room either! He commented that to speak openly as an Editor is a bad career move - a clue why perhaps none were present.
Yelland's delivery was refreshingly honesty. There was humility in his tone. "Humility is not a characteristic we see much in the mass market press" he said and added that it certainly pays to have a little humility.
He spoke of bullying and how very dangerous it is to have big newspapers in the wrong hands. They can make small men big and small ideas big too - they can make untruths almost seem truths so long as huge generalisations are repeated many times! According to Yelland, it appears that we have come to the place where facts don't' seem to matter anymore, a statement very hard to dispute.
He compared newspapers to pyramid like dictatorial structures where what the editor says goes. This applies even more to the proprietor of the paper.
But has history not shown us how dangerous it is to put immense power in one person's hands? According to Yelland, many newspapers remain dictatorships! In newsrooms anyone who challenges the editor does not remain on the payroll for long.
Is it not ironic as well as hypocritical that the press barons are rejecting the Royal Charter under the guise of a threat to freedom of speech, yet if an editor gets challenged, serious censorship occurs and the challenger gets ousted? What of Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Express here?
He gave a funny (yet chilling) example/story of how far journalists are prepared to go to please the proprietor and in the case of the Sun - Rupert Murdoch. For over 10 years every man at the Sun wore black leather shiny lace up shoes because there was a belief that Murdoch loved them. One day Yelland made some serious enquiries and found out that it was a myth and that somebody somewhere along the line misinterpreted what Murdcoh had said yet the 'sheep' mentality carried on for well over a decade.
He spoke of himself being influenced by the proprietor saying there were mornings when he would wake up pondering which side of the bed would Murdoch want him to get out of and at times wondering what his real view was and what his true thoughts were on various subjects!
Then a grand moment in Yelland's delivery. He vocalised something very profound - that the most potent weapon a newspaper has is to totally ignore a story. We often judge newspapers for the terrible and at times extremely damaging things they print, and think that's the worst they could do, but it is what they do not print that is often the bigger story.
What if not printing a story that DESERVES to be printed does much more harm?
Yelland posed a great question: How is it that journalism/journalists have become so hated and deviated so far away from a force for good to this sad state of affairs?
He mentioned fear a few times and in the context of being a way of controlling and often impulsing Editor's/Journalists' deeds and words. The editors get sucked into the culture of fear and doing what's raising the margins and figures rather than what's true!
Yelland put forward another question: How is it that journalism as an honest trade went from being a force for good to a force that inflicts suffering on the weak?
There is an awareness that this needs to change. However, we cannot have change without truth! As he suggested a solution to the mess created by the press' abuse of power might be simply for the current editors to accept a chink of light into the debate and a little chink (or even a chunk) of humility.
If journalism is to move on and thrive, journalists need to stop and ask themselves how it is that the industry has become so hated! The British press (and I feel this can be extended beyond British borders) has become the very thing it is there to attack: a vested interest! In Yelland's final words "What a total mess we have made of this and how badly have we failed the British people."
And how badly have they failed Humanity! As a very dear and close friend put it: "'They have robbed humanity of the right to truth."
At the very start of his talk Yelland said that when he left the Sun's office almost 11 years ago he began a long period of re-entry into the human race. Perhaps this is what's needed on prescription for each and every editor and sub-editor - an invitation to re-join their fellow human beings, to break ranks when that is needed, to deepen their self-awareness and to speak up about their own industry without playing it down or censoring what's printed and to come to terms with the fact that just because they shout something from the rooftops does not mean it is True!
Let us remind ourselves that the press and media are all about people and about being of true service to people. It is about the rights of ordinary folks and that the system we are attempting to set up has to serve All and not just a handful of men sitting behind Editorial desks in their black leather shiny lace up shoes.