John Cleese couldn’t keep a straight face after the BBC painted the UK press as truth-spreaders

John Cleese on the BBC
James Wright

On 10 July, John Cleese couldn’t keep a straight face after BBC Newsnight host Emily Maitlis tried to big up the UK press as spreading truth. Cleese sprung data on Maitlis that shows the UK has the least trusted press in Europe. Out of 33 countries, the UK has ranked rock bottom for the past four consecutive years.

Worse than rock bottom

In the 2018 report Cleese was referring to, the UK’s written press is not only bottom, but far behind its closest counterpart in terms of distrust:

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On Newsnight, Maitlis tried to defend the UK press against the findings, arguing:

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Perhaps there is a correlation between the kind of press which is robust, which creates a certain level of curiosity and cynicism…

But the Monty Python co-founder bellowed with laughter at her response, then said:

It’s the lying and the triviality that I object to… for four years we’ve had the least trusted press in Europe

While Maitlis tried to explain away the findings with social media, Cleese insisted that the views of readers reflect the reality:

They feel that because it’s true.

Indeed, every country in Europe has social media. But only people in the UK trust their press so little.

Government in “cahoots” with the press

Cleese has form here. During the 2017 general election, he accused Theresa May of being in “cahoots” with the press:

Cleese was on the money here too: newspapers are generally controlled by billionaires in the UK. A quick glance at media ownership shows how rich, vested interests monitor the information that millions of Britons see:

  • Billionaire Rupert Murdoch owns the Sun and the Times.
  • The Barclay brothers, worth $6.3bn, own the Telegraph.
  • With a fortune of $1.4bn, Richard Desmond owns the Star and the Express.
  • Viscount Rothermere, whose family is worth $1.3bn, runs the Daily Mail.
  • Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev owns the Independent with his son.

Powerful individuals control the media in Britain. And while Murdoch enjoys “astounding access” to Downing Street under the Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn has proposed breaking up media monopolies.

What’s certain is that a healthy democracy depends on a media free from vested interest. Cleese is spot-on to highlight the issue on the BBC.

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Featured image via BBC/YouTube

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