Free Newspapers, what else comes free with it?

London is synonymous with many elements, hacked again and again in fairytales, Novels, Classics and the list goes on. Red letter boxes and double deckers have been again and again been mentioned in Enid Blyton’s books, Madame Tussauds or the wax museum as it is commonly known is a must visit for anyone trotting about in this big old city. The Gherkin, Foster’s ugly cucumber is heralded as a great architectural innovation, but yet another thing is becoming (if not already) more and more synonymous with London, (and to a lesser degree other English cities), and they are…Free Newspapers.
The Metro, The London Paper, Lite and the list goes on in many names. But then, what’s in a name? That which we call Onion breath, by any other name would smell as bad.
Free newspapers are distributed in every London bus or underground station, and a paper boy or girl waves at a passing pedestrian to collect his or her free paper. Cometh end of office hours and almost every pedestrian would be walking with a free newspaper, some reading it, some just rolling it and tucking it away and some others using them as fans on a hot summer’s day. The tubes and busses are full of these papers, and if a tourist was to innocently venture around the city in London’s famous (and only) London underground, the passengers would be more often than not buried head first into a news paper, or dozing off, that is if they aren’t swinging their heads to the tune of what their Ipod plays or reading something else.
Now, what purpose do these papers serve, what does the city’s people achieve? Do these free papers contribute to the average Londoners’ intellect?
I used to accept these free papers when someone waves it at me, for a handful of reasons. I feel impolite to refuse, the paperboy / girl is almost always a student who distributes these papers to complement their university education buy earning a few pounds, or if I don’t have a book I may as well read something than spend the tube trip home befriended by the monotony of the dark underground, or even to use it as a companion when everyone in the tube is there by themselves in what I perceive (mind you its perception) as this rather exaggerated independence that repels even a semblance of human interaction.
I have effectively decided not to accept any of these free papers anymore. My politeness for the paperboy is transcended by my despise for these papers, which seem to have nothing but all sorts of different facets of graphic or wordly articulations that eventually culminates in something to do with celebrity life, someone giving advice on relationships and sex (what qualifies the writer to advice me on such, I really do not know), or something which bears no intellectual significance whatsoever. Sports has a few pages dedicated to it, and from that too a considerable amount is sacrificed to analyse as to how many Millions of pounds Real Madrid would spend to buy Ronaldo from Manchester United. Economics or Politics are included as “was also mentioned”‘s. A fatigued worker is bombarded every day with the idiosyncrasies of celebrity life, thus transferring a direct unconscious inclination to blindly emulate that lifestyle. Are free newspapers defining the present city dwellers mind?
Free distribution of newspapers could be used as a powerful tool to drive a society in a particular path, and it is effectively doing just that. But then, a newspaper doesn’t decide to whom it should expose its pages to, hence everyone has equal access to it. And its pictures and wordly connotations imbibe upon the reader a whole plethora of ideas and aspirations depending on the level of understanding of the reader. A little child, a teenager, a university student or any other mature adult would understand the “home truths” column in an infinite number of ways.
How might free newspaper be used in Colombo, if we ever crawl to that point, and if our economy allows it? , well for one thing I can imagine tuition masters using it to their fullest capacity, Brides and bridegrooms will be advertised more and more (something which you would never see in a London newspaper, who would bother having to pay for a divorce these days ??) , the “Raahu kaalaya” would be mentioned somewhere in a corner. And in the sports section, it may be discussed as to how much Jayasuriya would fetch in the IPL!! Who knows!
At least free newspapers conveniently negates a common perception about London… contrary to perception, there is something free in London after all!

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