Sunday, December 02, 2012

Making the same mistake twice

As I read through the Sunday news, I am struck with a sense of fatigue. The responses to the Leveson Report might have come straight from an episode of Yes, Minister. The self-serving posturing of the corporate press merely confirms all we feared most: they have a profit-driven agenda which is little or nothing to do with the national interest and which they will ruthlessly defend. The switch from open contempt of David Cameron to mild adulation, merely because the Prime Minister has essentially rejected the core recommendation of the report- that new arrangements should be underpinned by statute- reveals the Press at its cowardly, bullying, lick-spittle worst.

As it happens I am disappointed in Leveson. I think the report failed to address the rapidly changing nature of the media- the increasing diversity of media channels and the rise of citizen-journalism- and this is a critical failing. However the hysterical vituperation that has been delivered by the press, defending indefensible press intrusion on the bereaved, for example, as a matter of the "free press", makes me think that they, like so many other institutions in the United Kingdom, have long ago lost any kind of moral compass.

The fact that the Mail on Sunday felt free enough to launch yet another smear attack on Nick Clegg within a couple of days of the publication of the report is a measure of the limitless arrogance of Paul Dacre. Yet it could hardly have been a more compelling example of why the British Press has become an international by-word for immoderate hostility and corruption. In short it is not much of a step to describe the network of foreign ownership, powerful influence and the extremist venom of the so-called opinion-formers as a malevolent, evil influence on British public life.

Yet "the fault, Dear Brutus, lies not on our stars, but in ourselves". The fact is that the people of Britain allow themselves to be manipulated by the distortions, lies and special pleading that the Press serves up to them. The crisis that Britain now faces- economic, political and specifically national- needs to be addressed calmly and intelligently, and yet we continue to give ear to the barrage of greed and stupidity that passes for informed comment in Britain today. Facts are ignored or lost in a cacophony of bawling ignorance.

"My opinion is just as good as yours" is universally believed, even if some opinions are based on completely false premises. The Press does not seek out the truth between contending ideas, still less does it "speak truth to power", rather it allows people like Johann Hari to become respected columnists, even when it is clear that they are little more than fantasists. All the time, the concerned citizen seems to lack the discrimination that would filter out ideas that are not based on at least a nodding acquaintance with the facts. 

In the age of the Internet, it is a simple and immediate process to check facts. It is a measure of how twisted British journalism has become that even as the availability of facts has become easier, so ever greater errors are found in the Press. It should be a standing rebuke to every newspaper editor in the Kingdom that an organisation such as FullFact.Org can publish on a daily basis detailed analysis of claims made by scientists, politicians or the press- and can refute so easily many of the headlines.

I believe that the British Press is a major contributor to the current national crisis in Britain. The idea that these corporate entities, a large number of which are foreign owned, are the only thing keeping the British political world free of corruption is laughable. I do believe the public has a right to know. I do not think that protests by the Press we are seeing now are about the principle of right to know, I think they are about the far more limited principle of profit. I do not think that Leveson addressed the issue of the boundaries of the public domain- either a privacy law or a law on the free press. Most of all, I am sad and angry to see how easy it is for the corporate press to continue to manipulate the voters based on a false agenda. 

The rise of the blogosphere and such sites as Fullfact are a testament to the death roll of the newspaper industry- the corporate media, from Fox News and The Daily Mail, to the Guardian and the BBC, have a declining influence, yet it is still pervasive and still pernicious. In the end it is is a matter of public and personal responsibility that individuals must maintain a personal scepticism, and unless we do that, we will continue to be mislead by opinions which are private interests masquerading as the public good.

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