Most of the arguments flying around the Twittersphere today (where not the blogosphere), on the subject of parliamentary-induced regulation of the British “free” press, seem to centre on the aforementioned nature of its freedom: a freedom which existed in practice before yesterday, and will no longer exist again it would seem.
And the frame that most in the profession would seem to be pushing, perhaps sincerely, perhaps not (I’m really not sure), is that a question of press regulation via Parliament inevitably leads to a reduction in press freedoms. The freedom, for example, to decide who wins a sovereign general election campaign does come to my probably twisted and simplistic mind.
What’s absolutely clear, however, is that someone’s deliberately lost the plot. If instead of fighting for greater regulation, the drivers of the Royal Charter – and their, by now, almost certainly quite miserable political hangers-on – had decided to fight for a Royal Charter which would have established criteria of ownership, content sources and concentration and other key factors which affect the effectiveness of media to properly inform and communicate all parts of our political and socieoeconomic experiences, we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we’re clearly going to be in.
So why have our powerful press barons allowed the process to steamroller itself to a position of almost certainly unnecessarily ham-fisted state intervention (where not control)? Probably because it’s easier for them to gather their collective caravans in a circle and defend their media turfs. Turfs such as these (as per Wikipedia today):
In Britain and Ireland, Rupert Murdoch owns best-selling tabloid The Sun as well as the broadsheet The Times and Sunday Times, and 39% of satellite broadcasting network BSkyB. BSkyB in turn owns a significant part of ITV plc and 5% of Shine Limited. In March 2011, the United Kingdom provisionally approved Murdoch to buy the remaining 61% of BSkyB, however, subsequent events (News of the World hacking scandal and its closure in July 2011) leading to the Leveson Inquiry have halted this takeover.
Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) own The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, Ireland on Sunday, and free London daily Metro, and control a large proportion of regional media, including through subsidiary Northcliffe Media, in addition to large shares in ITN and GCap Media.
Easier, that is, to gather support than if the Royal Charter proposed to legislate transparently on factors which really defined a free press. Factors such as the already mentioned concentrations of ownership, for example.
No. The debate would be quite different if the focus wasn’t on ham-fisted soon-to-be-gone prime ministerial snoozers-on-the-job; if instead it was on the media organisations in question – organisations which so love to wrap themselves up in the globalising “freedoms” of electronic capital, transnational ownerships and multi-sectorial conglomerates. And that the debate isn’t concentrating itself on matters of such media plurality is surely evidence of – and a victory for – some very clever and cunning news management.
They are the experts in the business, after all.
We should hardly be surprised if, behind the tremendous kerfuffle that is Leveson’s legacy, these powerful global communicators should have managed to divert our attention from the real weaknesses in their positions.
Which brings me to my final point. There is another frame we can place on our politicians’ interest in a regulatory Royal Charter for the press. Some of them may quite honestly believe that, in a world where global capital has won the day, the laws of a country – even a neoliberal country and economy like the United Kingdom – should quite reasonably be used to recover some of what we could argue is a lost sovereignty. In a representative democracy which works (here the big caveat, obviously), the people find their voice in their representatives. Corporate communications organisations, meanwhile, represent only themselves; certainly, primarily; certainly, not disinterestedly.
Would it, then, be unfair to suggest that the instincts of this Royal Charter and this independent regulatory body for our press, however fumblingly and awkwardly manifested, are actually quite honourable in their attempt to recuperate a degree of home-grown control (whatever that might mean in practice) in the face of an evermore homogenising and colonising planetary culture? A mistaken instinct perhaps? Misdirected even? Maybe so. Maybe not.
Maybe it simply expresses a desire, in tandem with other One Nation impulses expressed throughout British political history, to salvage something from a massive patchwork of imposed change from without – a patchwork, especially in the context of concentrating and foreign-sourced media ownership, which hasn’t always served our politics or our society as well as it could have done.