Will the calls for press reform during Britain’s Hackgate lead to action — or business as usual?

[D]iversity of ownership is an indelible liberal principle because a corporate media monopoly threatens a free press almost as much as a state monopoly does.

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, 14 July 2011

[W]hat could emerge from this [is] not a sensible attempt to redefine journalistic ethics but a cack-handed attempt to restructure an industry. 

Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, 19 July 2011

Should we let novelists govern us? I am thinking, specifically, of thriller-writers of genius with a well-developed social conscience. Not entirely laughable, if you consider that at least one writer of fiction – Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) – was a great British prime minister.

John le Carré was splashed all over the Guardian’s home page at the weekend in connection with the new film adaptation of his Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  The explanation for the adoring treatment he gets everywhere is not just his literary gifts but his bottomless suspicion of authority, and of unfettered capitalism. This part of his appeal overlaps with Stieg Larsson’s.

How sad that the outrage these writers tap and focus in us is so hard to convert into desperately needed social reform – if not a revolution.

Last Thursday, commenters on Dan Gillmor’s Guardian piece on the conflicts of interest in the media’s move online dismissed it with loud yawns. ‘Most of the sentient world attaches about 1% of the importance to what’s going on in the media as the media do,’ sniffed someone dressed up as @SoundMoney.

Irritation is an understandable reaction to 4th Estate preening. But the complaint by @SoundMoney – which echoed the protests of thousands of readers bored by Hackgate – missed Dan Gillmor’s point. He was arguing for the alternative to traditional media sources for news and information that the 5th Estate represents.

Unfortunately, there is no one engaging the public the way a Le Carré or Larsson story can to explain why press regulation in Britain needs to be altered. Ideally, the ownership of the media will be diversified, as Nick Clegg says it ought to be – and it would be interesting to know if he and his fellow Lib Dems would support a diversification that went as far as the partially reader-owned structure for online publishing that this site is advocating as an experiment.

A public too bored by the talk of media reform to get to grips with how much less puffed-up and untrustworthy the media could be if the changes go far and deep enough is making it easy for powerful columnists like Simon Jenkins — anxious for the 4th Estate to retain command of mass communication — to get what they want:

Has anyone been murdered? Has anyone been ruined?

[…]

That everyone knew journalists and the police were engaged in petty barter does not make it acceptable, let alone legal. Nor is it edifying to know how far politicians and editors are in and out of each other’s houses. But it is not the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Nuremberg trials.

… [T]oday’s stormcloud of hysteria is a poor prelude to what could emerge from this, not a sensible attempt to redefine journalistic ethics but a cack-handed attempt to restructure an industry. Perhaps instead the vast political and media resources currently on display might be redirected at the dire state of the nation, Europe and the world. They need it.

True enough. But doing anything about that ‘dire state’ means starting with the facts about it – from disseminators of facts we can trust.

If this sharp reader’s reaction is unjustified, Simon Jenkins has some explaining to do – not just to Britain but to the whole world, watching:

OpiumEater
19 July 2011 8:48PM

A truly pathetic analysis.

It’s not just the phone hacking; it’s the fact that the very fundamentals of our society have been undermined by undemocratic and authoritarian machinations, that we live – de facto – in a kind of hidden dictatorship in which the establishment of the police, media, and politicians have colluded and keep on colluding, beyond party lines.

Jenkins has missed the boat, or is defending something that is in his interest. Either way, he’s part of the problem.

Britain needs a period of proper ‘epuration’.

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