IN 2005, the American novelist, essayist and university professor David Foster Wallace opened his commencement speech to graduates at Kenyon College in Ohio, with a now famous parable-ish story about two young fish swimming through the ocean.

As they glide amicably along beneath the waves, an older fish passes by and hails them with a greeting before asking “how’s the water?”. It isn’t until the two young fish have swum a little further that one turns to the other and asks “What the hell is water?”.

Some things are so intrinsic to our experience of the world, so all encompassing, that it can take a prompt from someone else – in this case a passing older fish – to help us see that there is something where we had previously thought there was nothing.

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And that’s why we need to talk about the British press.

There are few phrases that warn me of an incoming tirade of guff quite like the words “it’s just common sense”. Of course women don’t have the capacity to vote, that’s just common sense. Of course marriage is between a man and a woman, that’s just common sense. Of course white people are superior to others, that’s just common sense.

“Common sense” has been used as a justification to maintain unjust structures and the status quo for all time, in one form or another, ideas that were viewed – and are still viewed by some – as self-evident truths when clearly they are not.

But the concept of common, shared knowledge on the way things are doesn’t form in a vacuum in the UK. Much of it comes from the near-hegemonic reign of the British press, guided almost entirely by a tight group of billionaires who dominate political discourse with right-wing talking points.

Like the water does fish, it surrounds us on news stands and television screens until it becomes so ingrained as to become invisible.

The ideas we pick up growing up in the UK are so built into its structure that we don’t even necessarily realise we’ve taken a position on an issue until it is questioned – the perennial “huh, I hadn’t thought about it like that” flash that sparks a consciousness-raising moment and inspires us all to be a little better.

You say “common sense”, I hear “the status quo, defended without question”. And this isn’t something we haven’t all fallen for, or repeated without thinking.

God knows, I’ve held some garbage opinions in my lifetime that I’m glad to have grown up and moved on from. There was a regrettable dalliance with Ayn Rand well over a decade ago that, frankly, I’m mortified by now.

The UK has what is perceived to be the most right-wing media in Europe – and that’s only getting worse. Three billionaire families control an estimated 68% of national newspaper circulation – giving them the means to press any agenda they choose to.

Lord Rothermere alone controls more than one-third.

Beyond the newspapers, we have new talk shows and television platforms that not only amplify the talking points of their paper counterparts but are increasingly merging further and further into the political sphere.

Between Jacob Rees-Mogg being given his own show on GB News and links between Boris Johnson and BBC chairman Richard Sharp recently coming under scrutiny, it’s hard to see the Conservative government and the Conservative press as anything other than an increasingly amorphous organism where the line between publishing government talking points and actual journalism is increasingly blurred.

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There’s a lot of money to be made, and protected, when you control the means by which people discover the world outwith their immediate reach – and when you view it like that, the near-unanimous stances reflected in British newspapers over the past decades makes clear sense – the hostility toward trade unions from the miners’ strikes to contemporary action for better pay for nurses and posties; the social conservatism that makes gay men, or transgender people or refugees simultaneously something to oppose and also something to profit from with sensational headlines and hate clicks; and the near-universal opposition to Scotland’s independence that would threaten their empires.

One of the most sickening recent displays of this mishmash of motivations came in the form of The Telegraph’s front page last week, under the headline “The photo that ‘clears Duke’ over bath sex”. The photo in question is astounding for all the wrong reasons.

At first glance, it’s almost comical. To prove that Virginia Giuffre’s allegations against Prince Andrew are not true, Ghislaine Maxwell’s brother has taken a photo of two people sitting in a bath. Giuffre claims the prince sexually assaulted her in said bath. Andrew has denied all her allegations against him.

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The photo was taken to apparently show that could not be true due to the bath’s size. But it isn’t comical. Not when you take into account that the two people in the tub are wearing masks of the faces of Giuffre and the prince.

The Telegraph published, on its front page, a photograph that belittles an alleged survivor of abuse – and for what? To protect the royal family? To undermine the word of survivors?

It’s a sickening piece. But it’s also, in one form or another, pretty common for much of the British press. And that’s why we’re not really like those two fish, swimming through an ocean they do not yet comprehend without consequence. We’re drowning in it – and we’re all paying the price.