Now this is a BIG question and of course with what is happening with all the accusations and counter accusations that are on the go in the UK it is surely a question that is going to go on being debated for a long time after the presses have run dry with News of The World ink.
But here is my take on it, for what it is worth.
The answer to this question is not just a straight yes or no. First I suppose I have to tell you my newspapers, well to be honest I don't buy papers anymore. When I was a kid growing up in Scotland until I left at 15 in 1971 it was the Sunday Mail and Sunday Post and I did read them, but the Post in particular was a great buy if for nothing else, the comic section, The Broons and Oor Wullie in particular. But it wasn't just for them that I read them, and anyway it wasn't me buying them. I was aware that there was other papers available, but I suppose like every other working class family in Britain you rarely picked up what is termed a broadsheet or 'quality' paper but stuck to what you knew.
When I left home in Coatbridge, located between Glasgow and Edinburgh, closer to the former than the latter, to join the Army, this was the first time I was away from home and you couldn't get much further, or so I thought at the time, arriving in Shornecliffe on the Kent Coast. Anyway I was suddenly in a dormitory with about 20 other guys and while there was still no sign of the broadsheets The Mirror and The Sun were my early staple diet as a young boy moving into manhood.
As my personal development grew this had to be matched by my interest in what was going on in not just the tabloids of the day but in a broader spectrum of newspapers if I wanted to know what was really going on in the world other than the staple diet of dross that was being fed to me by the 'red tops'. So I moved on but to no particular paper but rather would visit the WRVS lounge in barracks where they had all the daily papers, The Guardian, The Times, The Express, The Mail,The Observer, The Sunday Times, and much later on The European.
I like to think that this broader spectrum of reading has helped to shape me into a much more rounded and knowledgeable person on world events and occurrence, than I would be if I had stuck to 'Red Tops and Tits'. Surely you can not just live on another blaise headline proclaiming Brits drink another Spanish beach town dry or endless pages of naked women, and men, spread across what is essentially a terrible use of resources required to print these 'papers'. I wont call them 'newspapers' as the paucity and quality of news contained in them is of such a dubious nature and much less informative to the sum of knowledge found in a kids comic of today.
I have to confess that I stopped buying papers years ago, once the internet and broadband came along and I found I could get all I wanted from that. Ishbel on the other hand continued to read the Daily Mirror, and while it did not have a page 3 it is just as bad as the Sun for the diet of gossip and innuendo that it throws at you. I recall one day I picked it up to have a read and within a few moments I had put it down again. Ishbel said, 'That was quick, you can't possibly have read the paper that quickly...' Well, what can I say. I mean I can't remember what was in it as there was no news of note but I do recall replying that I had absolutely no interest in the fact the So and So was Seen snogging So and So or whether an 18 year woman had set up home with a 55 year old man. I was even less interested to know what was happening in the daily drudge of soapland or that an actor from one of these had been found in another compromising position, or that So and So was again signing in to the Priory.
Of what social importance do these items have to the nation or it's citizens, absolutely none. One of the most recent intrusions was that of Max Mosely outed for his sexual proclivities by the NOTW. I did not read the story in a newspaper and I did not read it on-line at the NOTW site but one could not fail to know about it because of the storm it created. And do you know what, I was still less than interested in it. I had heard of Mosley through my passing interest, not a complete died in the wool fan, but I am interested and occasionally follow motor sport and F1, so I knew who he was.
Was I interested in what he got up to in his or anyone else's bedroom, not in the least. Was I interested in the fact that he was a married man and getting up to these shenaigans, well about as interested then as I am now. In other words not one bit. If he had been in 'public office' and by that I mean local or national government I may well have been interested if evidence had been produced that he was giving away state secrets during his escapades, BUT he was a private fellow, working in a company with a public image, but that company or his running of it had nothing happening in it that would have impacted on the lives of the readers of the paper that exposed him, or anyone else for that matter. Apart from the damage to his personal relationships and family what purpose did it serve to run such a story other than to publicly damage and try to humiliate someone who was rich and successful? And who is to say that the guy had these urges and was in a relationship that did not return that interest but allowed him to wander.... who cares.
To then justify this and other stories of that ilk by saying that is what our readers want is a totally and completely disingenuous response. 'You' print it. 'You' publish it and I am not just referring to the defunct NOTW, I am referring to every newspaper and gloss magazine that exists in print with one aim and one aim only. And that is to make the vast sums of money from sales and advertising that YOU do make. It has nothing to do with the fact that your readers want it it has to do with the fact that that is what you want to print. The Sun was of course the leader in this daily offering of sleaze and they have been literally force feeding it down the public's throat now since November 1969 when it changed from, believe it or not, a 'broadsheet' to a tabloid and then a year later in November 1970 when it published its first topless photo!
The relentless march down the road of sleaze over news has been constant since then and the public read it because that is what is presented to them. Of courses 'editors' and owners will tell you if they did stop producing this tat and filled their columns with actual news, then their readers would stop buying, and of course the economics of that, not just to the paper alone but all of the associated jobs linked to the production of it, would be in jeopardy. Maybe so, but at least in the current economic situation they would be joining the rest of us on the breadline. Anyway it didn't seem to be a major concern for Mr Murdoch when pulling the plug on the NOTW earlier!
So the question was, Is an immoral press our fault? In a way then, it is. The public continue to purchase and devour it and while there is an unappealing appetite for this kind of dross I am sure that they will, regretfully continue to do so, BUT don't ever forget it was THE IMMORAL PUBLISHERS AND OWNERS of these rags that took the decision to produce them in the first place and to turn round and try and now justify that first decision is just as IMMORAL now as it was back then.