For as long as I can remember, Private Eye has been Britain’s leading satirical magazine. But, in the vein of many Playboy fans, I read it for the articles. Why? It’s also the best investigative news magazine in the UK by quite a distance.
It’s never been afraid to handle stories the rest of Fleet Street kept away from, and as a consequence has nearly always been first with the big stories. For example, Private Eye fingered the late Robert Maxwell well ahead of the otherwise cowed crowd. And it did a similar number on disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer. Its detailed report on Lockerbie should be required reading for anybody commenting on the episode. It loves to skewer politicians and has a good track record of getting most things right. (I recall it used to be unusual in having a provision in its accounts for libel awards!)
However, the Eye not only investigates and torments the rich and powerful, it canvases and campaigns for the downtrodden. Its achievements include, for example, exposing the treatment of NHS whistleblowers, campaigning for several individuals wrongly convicted of crimes, exposing police corruption and brutality, highlighting incompetence and worse in local authorities. And on it goes.
The other area in which the Eye has been a real pioneer is in its own back yard – the press, media and journalists. It has published many stories behind the scenes of Fleet Street, at all levels; from Murdoch down to hacks. The Eye has printed many informative leaks from the BBC, for example, showing the public face of that revered institution is a mask hiding some nasty, ugly warts. (No surprises there.)
The Eye is not without its own faults. Since its policy is to offend everyone equally, it occasionally crosses the ‘racist’ line. But that may be me being too sensitive. What is clear is that, thankfully, current editor Ian Hislop exhibits none of the overtly anti-semitic stances previous editor Richard Ingrams took and defended to the hilt. (Here’s an example.) And whatever criticism it doles out to Israel, is matched by pointed, pungent, and powerful pieces about many, many countries. There is no disproportionate focus on the Jewish State.
And if the serious side of the Eye doesn’t interest you, there are plenty satirical pieces, cartoons and bits of humor to justify the expenditure.
I’m glad the Eye exists, grateful for its investigative journalism, and entertained by its sense of humor. Long may it continue.