Will cin­ema play a star­ring role in de­fence of jour­nal­ism?

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Paul Chad­wick

Iasked a few cinephiles to name some pop­u­lar movies that had raised pub­lic aware­ness about an im­por­tant is­sue. Be­fore we come to their sug­ges­tions, some con­text. The stories of jour­nal­ism and of democ­racy are en­twined. Ag­i­ta­tion for uni­ver­sal suf­frage, pres­sure for bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion, cov­er­age of cam­paigns, scru­tiny of vote counts and a chronicle of the ac­tion and in­ac­tion of those who win elec­tions – all are threads in the devel­op­ment of jour­nal­ism, just as the de­tails form the fabric of demo­cratic gov­er­nance it­self, in ev­ery coun­try where it sur­vives.

At this time of chal­lenge to jour­nal­ism it might help for the story of jour­nal­ism/democ­racy to be told afresh, and in a way that re­minds us of the in­dis­pens­abil­ity of jour­nal­ism to democ­racy. Cul­tures are sup­ple.

They can in­form, per­suade, shift opin­ion by means other than head­lines and bul­letins. A new film, Peter­loo, made me won­der whether the links be­tween jour­nal­ism and democ­racy might be reaf­firmed for our times through a movie, a re­ally good and pop­u­larly ac­ces­si­ble movie or TV se­ries.

Peter­loo is not that, though it is in many re­spects fine film-mak­ing. It tells the story of how demo­cratic sen­ti­ments sim­mered in in­dus­tri­al­is­ing, post-French rev­o­lu­tion Eng­land, and it cli­maxes at a re­form rally at Manch­ester in 1819 that was bro­ken up with lethal vi­o­lence by the au­thor­i­ties. The film touches on the jour­nal­ism of the day, but it is not the focus. Near the end the re­porters dis­perse to spread their ac­counts of the re­pres­sion they have wit­nessed. We don’t see the out­come, but we can an­tic­i­pate the role news­pa­pers played in the years that led to the re­form acts of 1832, which ex­panded the fran­chise, though not to those with­out prop­erty, or to women.

John Ed­ward Tay­lor, who was among those to re­port Peter­loo, founded the Manch­ester Guardian in 1821. Along with other news­pa­per voices – in­clud­ing the Ob­server, es­tab­lished in 1791 – the Guardian helped to spread the in­for­ma­tion and ar­gu­ments that pressed re­luc­tant au­thor­i­ties to take im­por­tant demo­cratic steps. The paint­ings and prints of those days show the power and shared ex­cite­ment of news cir­cu­lat­ing. The il­lit­er­ate gather to hear oth­ers read aloud. Laugh­ing faces gaze to­gether through the win­dows of shops dis­play­ing the lat­est satir­i­cal prints. I hope a film or TV pro­ducer (the BBC? Net­flix?) will tap the tal­ent and tell some of that great story, mix­ing the love in­ter­est, over­reach, courage, ob­du­racy, wit, frailty, re­demp­tion and other in­gre­di­ents into a pop­u­lar suc­cess.

Asked for ex­am­ples of movies (and TV) that af­fected pub­lic opin­ion, film buffs men­tioned: To

Kill a Mock­ing­bird, con­fronting the US with its racial prej­u­dice; Cathy Come Home, home­less­ness in the UK; The China Syn­drome and Silk­wood, the nu­clear power in­dus­try; and Born Free, the en­vi­ron­ment.

Other nom­i­na­tions are wel­come. Send them to guardian.read­[email protected]­guardian.com

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