Saving the Observer

Support Press Gazette's campaign and protect media pluralism

Thomas Jefferson once declared: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." Jefferson was right; newspapers are an essential, not an optional, part of a healthy public realm.

With this in mind, I'd urge you all to support Press Gazette's campaign to save the Observer after the title was threatened with closure by the Guardian Media Group.

The loss of the Observer would leave the Independent on Sunday, whose own future is far from secure, as the only quality liberal-left title in the Sunday market.

The Independent on Sunday's circulation was down 19.98 per cent year-on-year in the latest ABCs and its parent company, Independent News and Media, may buckle under the weight of an overdue £179.6m loan.

The Sunday Times (up 2.74 per cent year-on-year), which will shortly launch a stand-alone website, may be seen by some as a guarantee of quality journalism but it has shifted considerably to the right since the days of Harold Evans.

All newspapers are running to stand still as readers, particularly the youngest, migrate to the internet. In the UK the last recession claimed three papers: Rupert Murdoch's Today, the News on Sunday and the left-wing Sunday Correspondent. It is naive to believe that this recession could not sound the death knell for a similar number of titles.

I have long thought that the government should emulate a scheme planned by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. He has promised to introduce a programme that will offer every 18-year-old a free subscription to a newspaper of their choice, ensuring that some will catch the reading bug early on.

Labour ministers should view Sarkozy's intervention with more than mere curiosity. They more than most have an interest in guarding media pluralism.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.