Mar 192013

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):

United Kingdom

In Britain and IrelandRupert Murdoch owns best-selling tabloid The Sun as well as the broadsheet The Times and Sunday Times, and 39% of satellite broadcasting network BSkyBBSkyB in turn owns a significant part of ITV plc and 5% of Shine Limited.[49] In March 2011, the United Kingdom provisionally approved Murdoch to buy the remaining 61% of BSkyB,[50] 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 SundayIreland 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.

Richard Desmond owns OK! magazineChannel 5, the Daily Express and the Daily Star.

The Evening Standard[51] and The Independent[52] are both owned by Russian businessman and ex KGB agent Alexander Lebedev.

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.

Mar 182013

The Royal Charter deal hacked out by hacked off politicians, presumably fed up to the back teeth of the whole sorry mess, is currently being resisted by those it is designed either to channel or shackle – depending, that is, on your point of view.  Yes.  It’s true.  Such an intervention by Parliament in the doings of the free press could lead to a police state some way down the line.  Alternatively, in the light of so many recent and documented events in #hackgate land, it could just as easily lead us to a useful downsizing of the existing and perniciously cosy nexus of politicians, the media and/or police.

Some thoughts to be getting on with, in no order of importance:

  • Just because you’re “anti-press abuse” doesn’t mean you’re “anti-press”.  In fact, if you truly love a free press, you’d surely prefer it not to abuse its potential reach.
  • Wishing to prevent the abuse of the powerless by the powerful is compatible with wishing to hold the powerful to account.  The problem of giving or not the media free rein arises when powerful media and powerful politicians become, essentially, indistinguishable actors and actresses in our democracies.  This is lately more a case of an economically shackled press which, whilst acting as if it believes in freedom, really believes in corporate self-interest.  The free press they claim we’re on the point of losing has never been free in the way they would sell it us.
  • Self-regulation of newspapers clearly failed: it was the media players who once had the chance and the media players who cocked it convincingly up.  It’s clear that something really important needs to be done: if an independent regulator is the only way forward, then let it be so.  If there is another way, of course, then let disinterested parties with no conflicts of interest, either political or financial, decide.
  • A free press should exist to inform and illuminate our democracy, not to allow certain individuals to lever power on the backs of their media ownerships.  There is nothing in the least salubrious nor free about a society where monopolistic media units decide who speaks, on whose behalf and when.  Especially when fifty percent or more of all copy is (freely!) sourced from the same wire services or cut-and-paste press releases.
  • Finally, while we need the service efficient and effective journalism may once have managed to provide, the financial pressures on all media organisations – a haemorrhaging of resources in some cases these days – no longer guarantee in themselves the service a good democracy requires.  It’s a joke to say that a latterday Citizen Kane will hold power to account in the public interest.  It’s a bad joke; an irony of the toughest kind.  Yes.  He or she will hold power to account – but only in a very personal sense; only in terms of the interests of his or her shareholders, of his or her publishing corporations, of his or her global financial needs.

Where I do, however, agree with the newspaper professionals is here.  As per the Guardian article linked to above (the bold is mine):

Trevor Kavanagh, the associate editor of the Sun, said it was worrying “when three political parties get together and their final verdict is welcomed so enthusiastically by Hacked Off which is definitely seeking to shackle and gag the free press. We simply do not want politicians to have control whatsoever in what goes in or doesn’t go into newspapers.

This is fair enough.  We might go further, of course.  We, the public and sovereign voters, simply do not want newspapermen and women to have control whatsoever in who gets in or doesn’t get into power. 

But perhaps, in the circumstances, that’s a bit of cheap shot.  (On the other hand, perhaps it’s not.)  Which brings me to my final point tonight.  If self-regulation is clearly past its sell-by date for newspapers and other media, and the evidence thus far would seem to indicate this is singularly the case, perhaps self-regulation is also past its sell-by date for politicians and other professional leader-types.  We’ve had so many scandals in relation to MPs’ expenses, revolving doors and all kinds of self-enrichment scams subsidised on the ever-weakening backs of the taxpayers that, hardly surprisingly, the evidence would appear to bear out the assertion: leaving all the above, as well as salary increases and living and working conditions various, in the hands of interested parties like MPs is bound to lead to similarly systemic abuse.

Not to mention the conflicts of interest that lobbyists pay highly to take advantage of and which no one, but no one, is doing anything about.

Time for an independent regulator for MPs and other parliamentarians then?  It would be a good moment for the suggestion to gain traction.  As the “free” press lost some of its choking and often self-interested stranglehold over politicians via the introduction of truly independent regulation, so a counterbalancing institution would be slotted into place to control – in an equally systematic manner – potential abuse of a political nature which newspapers might formerly have dealt with and uncovered.

That it required the actions of the Telegraph and other papers for the abuse of MPs’ expenses to come to light should not be forgotten, of course.  But what equally must not be forgotten is that the system of oversight which should have brought it to light in the first place was more or less as self-regulated as the systems which the very same press subscribed to in their own industry before Leveson.

And look where that led us all.

In both cases, it is significant that a bacterial-like culture of self-enrichment and deception spread out as it did.  So if the only solution for a corrupt British press is a new independent regulator, perhaps we should demonstrate how competent and even-handed British democracy still can be by putting in place – as soon as is practicable – an exactly similar institution to channel – or shackle, depending on your point of view – these professional enablers and leaders of our sacred body politic.

Peopled by representative persons without political or financial interests in the matter, it could be a kind of supreme court of the citizens.

A democratic circle which would serve to satisfactorily complete a dirty undemocratic cycle in the most elegant and sustainable way possible.

Dec 122012

James summarised it thus (more than fully) on November 30th, in a piece clearly titled “#Leveson is excellent on internet free speech. He didn’t brush over it, he robustly defended it”:

Leveson [...] draws a clear distinction between a news outlet which claims to provide trusted reporting and the internet in general, where there is no implied trust (although Leveson uses the term ethical rather than trusted, which in this particular case I believe are interchangeable as trust in news output flows from ethical journalism).

Chapter 7, section 3.2:

“… the internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones. Some have called it a ‘wild west’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’. This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity.”

Leveson doesn’t say this but there is also a jurisdiction issue online. It’s not strictly true that bloggers may act with impunity if based in the UK, as there’s always the possibility they will be traced using existing legal instruments and prosecuted or face civil proceedings for libel or privacy breach.


“The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct. Publishers of newspapers will be (or, at least, are far more likely to be) far more heavily resourced than most, if not all, bloggers and websites that report news (as opposed to search engines that direct those on line to different sites). Newspapers, through whichever medium they are delivered, purport to offer a quality product in all senses of that term.”

James also goes on to point out the difference between social media making content available and the very same content being “emblazoned” on the front page of a highly visible online newspaper.

So.  We have an ethically-driven industry versus an ethical vacuum such as the Internet.  And we have the industry of extreme visibility versus the amateur placing of content at a much lower level.  As I pointed out a couple of posts ago (the bold is mine today):

Some further thoughts, then, on where this might all be leading us:

  • We need to look beyond the tools and their physical manifestations – it’s always easy to notice the technology and think that content must inevitably follow suit.  What’s clearly missing in all kinds of media at the moment is the instinct to reflect and think behind the headlines before putting virtual pen to paper – the impulse to leave, for a few days as a draft, a piece of work usefully unpublished.  Blogging is as guilty of this as any newspaper columnist out there.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else.
  • I would also ask us to keep in mind that whilst the free press belongs to limited liability industry, free speech should belong to unlimited liability people.  And the rights and responsibilities, as well as the punishments for transgression and so forth, should be quite different in each case.  If we believe that international corporations are better guarantors of our free press than the laws of representative democracy, then the real problem doesn’t lie in statutory underpinning or not – it lies in a democracy which isn’t representative enough.  No amount of any social media under the evermore fierce gaze of Western governments is going to fix a system as broken as that.
  • A people’s press, then, perhaps?  A kind of Fifth or Sixth Estate?  We need statutory protection for free speech here in the UK at the very least if we are to propose such a model.
  • The ideal?  Maybe an osmotic world of information exchange where industry and people interface to their mutual benefit.  But not under the current weight of English and Welsh libel laws.

Leveson, then, as per the slant James places on him at the end of last month, seems clear that there is a substantial difference between, on the one hand, the Internet as it has grown up and is manifesting itself through blogging, tweeting and Facebooking and, on the other, the industry of highly visible newspapermen and women.

But today the Guardian publishes a report on a conference Leveson has just given.  An immediate observation: I thought at the time of the report’s launch, Leveson had assured us he would take no questions and make no further comments.  The second “public outing” in as many weeks would seem to give lie to such assurances.

Or maybe I misunderstood.

Or maybe I simply invented the moment.

Talk about picking and choosing your stage …


Anyhow.  At least according to the Guardian, Leveson is now in two minds about the Internet.  Whilst he still accepts that social media is the “electronic version of pub gossip”, and does seem to accept that this might actual inscribe a virtue for human thought (that is to say, the thinking of the unthinkable – the freedom to go anywhere with a train of thought), he doesn’t seem quite convinced any more that the implications in relation to law, and what and how we should apply it, should be followed through.

What’s more, he seems to recognise the ethical side of the newspaper industry isn’t quite as ethical or convincing as it might be, especially when he says:

[...] if journalists saw the law going unenforced against bloggers, it might “undermine media standards through encouraging them to adopt a casual approach to the law”.

“If we are to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained, we must meet these challenges, and ensure that the media … is not placed at a disadvantage where the enforcement of the law is concerned,” Leveson said.

I think, to be honest, and I’m happy to be corrected if you feel I’m being too cynical, that those who’d really be placed at a disadvantage would not be the media but, rather, the rich, powerful and/or well-connected who strive to manage the news which journalists are allowed to print.  If such things as described by Greenslade are happening already – and they have happened for a long time I am sure – just think what they could get away with under a regime where lawyerless and amateur communicators could be silenced and punished to the same degree as an industry.

Leveson is right to say:

[...] that it was a “pernicious and false belief” that bloggers were not subject to the same laws as print and broadcast journalists.

But he is wrong to argue that, in exactly the same way, both individual free speech and the industrial free press should be marshalled, controlled and punished by our justice system.

It’s just not fair, proportional or democratic.  If my yearly income is a minuscule percentage of what a media behemoth turns over globally, I can hardly be held equally responsible for errors of judgement.

Now can I?

So I come to my last question: what does Leveson really think about blogging?  Is it a force for good which often takes us to the wilder parts of human thought in a productive and constructive manner?  Or is it something which for the good of the status quo must now be progressively chilled into holding back its occurrences?

A sensibly policed state – or the anteroom of a police state?

Where is Leveson now?

Dec 102012

Ariel has an interesting article over at the Guardian which not only describes current behaviours in mainstream and social media but serves as an excellent repository of such behaviours – in this case, in relation to the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Whilst during the riots last year in Britain, social networks and social media served to put the authorities on the back foot, lessons since then have clearly been learned.  When Ariel headlines the article in question as “The first social media war between Israel and Gaza”, he could just as easily describe it as one of the first social media wars, full stop.  This, for example:

From the start, the Isreaeli Defence Force (IDF) and Hamas shared clips on YouTube, and posted messages and images on Facebook and Twitter (also here), which initiated heated debates on the platforms. Many reporters followed these and actively participated in the discussions, which made social media an important element of both reporting and criticism of the conflict.

This should hardly surprise us.  That manipulation of social-media news and its transmission takes place must be self-evident to anyone with any experience of how stories in such contexts surge.  Recent cases of sex-abuse allegations have generated claims and counter-claims which can hardly depend only on the dynamics of sheeply flocks.  But in the argument that Ariel develops, we get a further strand of behaviours that add a far more complex interest to the mix.  For he also describes and defines the following processes:

[...] Unlike any other war in the past, the Israeli-Gaza conflict has been characterised by the mass virtual participation of ordinary people via social media. [...]

And this has led to the more mainstream media feeling obliged to take onboard, and within their own frames, websites and even offline print, such popular – and, maybe, populist – content.  In a post-blogging Facebook generation, where the very fact you’re an amateur communicator adds weight, veracity and conviction to what you tell, it must be the case that, in order to be able to properly convince, latterday industrial media has had to acquire a journalistic equivalent of what film-makers learned to call cinéma vérité.  A kind of post-modern approach to communication, perhaps.  A veneer of “realistic” edginess to their product where once smooth and house-ridden styles were sub-editorially imposed as unquestioned – and unquestionable – good practice.

Some further thoughts, then, on where this might all be leading us:

  • We need to look beyond the tools and their physical manifestations – it’s always easy to notice the technology and think that content must inevitably follow suit.  What’s clearly missing in all kinds of media at the moment is the instinct to reflect and think behind the headlines before putting virtual pen to paper – the impulse to leave, for a few days as a draft, a piece of work usefully unpublished.  Blogging is as guilty of this as any newspaper columnist out there.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else.
  • I would also ask us to keep in mind that whilst the free press belongs to limited liability industry, free speech should belong to unlimited liability people.  And the rights and responsibilities, as well as the punishments for transgression and so forth, should be quite different in each case.  If we believe that international corporations are better guarantors of our free press than the laws of representative democracy, then the real problem doesn’t lie in statutory underpinning or not – it lies in a democracy which isn’t representative enough.  No amount of any social media under the evermore fierce gaze of Western governments is going to fix a system as broken as that.
  • A people’s press, then, perhaps?  A kind of Fifth or Sixth Estate?  We need statutory protection for free speech here in the UK at the very least if we are to propose such a model.
  • The ideal?  Maybe an osmotic world of information exchange where industry and people interface to their mutual benefit.  But not under the current weight of English and Welsh libel laws.

A couple of final thoughts.  First, in relation to these words from Ariel (the bold is mine):

Just as cyber-war and cyber-terrorism have become prevalent, social media warfare is here to stay. It seems that the fight for public opinion will keep growing in importance, and play a more central role in future conflicts. The fact that opposing parties can communicate directly with the public will increase the pressure on journalists to stay relevant.

To these words I would be inclined to add that the above-mentioned three battles will shortly form part of a new Holy Trinity of communication.  Just as industrial media was kept in the shadow and practice of the security services throughout the whole Cold War and its aftermath, leading to the corruption that recent phone-hacking scandals have uncovered here in Britain, so now social media will be in the eye of and form a target for such institutions.  It could hardly be any other way.  If amateur communicators are making more of the news their peers are wanting to read than the news outlets themselves, no veneer, however thick, will fool any member of the post-Leveson generation.  There is no way back.  And the security services probably know this well before the newspaper industry is able and prepared to take it on the chin.

Second, these are all matters which have interested a lot of us recently – both readers and writers, both amateurs and professionals.  Such a post-Leveson moment as this will surely serve to define at least the next fifty years of communication in Britain – and people really don’t realise what’s happening.

We’re sleepwalking into the future of so many unfreedoms.

Social media warfare being just one more sorry battleground they’ll fashion in order to restrict our ability not only, not primarily, to freely exchange our thoughts but also – far more importantly – to be able to evaluate their narratives.

Because if the future is going to work as I think Ariel believes, the ability to sift and determine where truth really lies will become far greater and relevant than it currently might be.

A world of multiple and simultaneous intertextualities?

Almost fit for a new generation of Johann Haris … and I mean that in as complimentary a fashion as you care to allow me.

Dec 082012

I just tweeted the following thought, confused of Chester as I am:

In order to properly defend our laws, we need our media to make its own? What does *that* then say about the quality of our laws? #leveson

I suppose the argument is not all that dissimilar from the one I was making a couple of posts ago: if it is better for our democracy and our free press to be left in the hands of self-regulating transnational corporations than to be under the direct control of government, parliamentary oversight and the justice system, then our democratic tools are in a parlous state indeed.


A couple of months ago now I attempted to evidence how Spanish intellectuals seemed to be ganging up on the Catalan independence movement – as well as, perhaps, the wider homegrown Occupy campaigners.  I said, then:

Big bad business is now getting tough and playing hardball with the aspirations of ordinary people – people who are suffering from fifty percent youth unemployment and from a twenty percent national average; who believe in that national self-determination Dan talks of, whether at a nationalist or simply Spanish-state kind of level; and are simply looking to recover their right to inhabit (where not occupy) their public and municipal spaces of democratic discourse.

I love the Spanish.  I love their ways of thinking.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the fear and baggage gathering around the idea of a truly representative democracy, which in some ways both relate to the still unresolved contradictions of dictatorship, don’t half make it difficult for their elites and their intellectuals to believe in the innate wisdom and savvy straightforwardness of all those citizens in the street.

Citizens who, precisely because of what those elites and intellectuals have engineered between them, might now have to end up living in the street.

I had, at the time, had recent experience of trying to sell a pertinent text on the economic and banking crises to Spanish intellectuals I have more than a glancing relationship with.  Without exception, they were initially interested in my proposal and then – when I described it in detail – quite critical, vigorously noncommittal or just plain downright rude.  When I wonder what my enemies might have said to me … well, I truly shudder to think.

The text would have given a logical bulwark to those who believe the way forward in Europe is the independence of the regions over the traditional nation-states.

This, it is clear, was not to be appreciated.  But don’t take my word for it.  Feast your eyes on this blogpost from yesterday’s El País (in Spanish, with a Google Translate version into English here).  It describes how a Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, launched on what became a very dirty election campaign a “police” report into the financial affairs of the Catalan governing party’s leaders – a report which three weeks later, and after the damage was clearly and irrevocably (even if uncertainly) done, has been recognised by the police authorities themselves as having nothing to do with them or anyone connected with their department.

The writer of the blogpost in question does make reference to Leveson as a result.  How is it possible that a newspaper can have the right to alter, in some way or another but – as I say – clearly for sure, the direction of an election campaign through the publication of a report which, after the event, but only after the event, is questioned, investigated and finally put to a factual sleep?  How can the newspaper in question run no risk of publishing such information?  How is it possible, even, that our laws, society and civilisation contemplate the virtues of such a system?

Is it, perhaps, because the kind of people who spread such tales are so powerful – and so in need of the continuance of such tools – that no one who really represents the people can ever have a hope in hell of changing how this apparently works?

This isn’t a simple question of news management, is it?  This is a cowardly lack of ownership by precisely those who own the most.


It may, of course, backfire on those who engineered the information.  At least, that is, by the tenor of this report (well worth a read in full):

[...] while Mas, despite his shift, still hesitates in using the actual term ‘independence’, the ERC has had no such reservations. Alfred Bosch, leader of the ERC in the Spanish Parliament, displayed the Catalan secessionist flag with combative flair during a recent parliamentary speech in Madrid. So while Catalan nationalists have temporarily been denied a clear figurehead to drive their cause boldly forward, the wind is not entirely out of their sails. The ERC will continue to oppose CiU on economic grounds — it was a vociferous opponent of the three recent austerity packages pushed through by the Mas government, with close support of the Popular Party.

But it will unwaveringly push for a referendum process that is no longer controlled by Mas. The plebiscite, and a potential constitutional crisis in Spain, will if anything come sooner now than had Mas and the CiU triumphed. In a recent interview, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said: “People talk about Catalonia as if it was a limb that could be amputated and the rest of Spain would survive. But what the independence of Catalonia really means is the disappearance of Spain as a nation.”

Those who believe in the history of the masses will see a certain proof and vindication in the process as described above.  You may be able to fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time – but you can’t starve the majority of economic leverage, shelter and plain food without some kind of serious repercussions taking place.

And the latter, in certain ways, is what exactly is being currently practised in Spain, the United Kingdom and far too many other countries across the world.

As someone said the other day, it’s just too painful when the only banks both lending and expanding their business are food banks for the ever-growing poor.

The ever-growing poor more and more of us are beginning to metamorphose into.

We’re getting to the point where we’ll be a civilisation in dire need of some superhero help.  Anything else will just fall too radically short.

“Get your shit together, folks!”

Before it’s too late.

For the alternative is mayhem …

Dec 052012

We’ve been discussing quite a bit the subject of consumer boycotts these past few weeks.  First, there was the matter of tax avoidance on a massive and unheard-of scale.  More recently, we’ve finally got to the end of the long road which is the Leveson inquiry, where most of us seem to argue that a free press requires as little legislation from government as possible.

It has also been argued that the best way to regulate a wayward media is to just not purchase its products any more.  But both in the latter case as well as those related to tax avoidance, surely consumer boycotts would simply not be enough.

In a B2B world, where business confidentiality and poise and manners are absolutely everything in maintaining a relationship which leads to another contract, who on earth is going to make a fuss when, for example, a company which manufactures Internet cables – or drills for oil or mines diamonds from the ground or carries out any of the more basic and hidden activities of modern civilisation – contributes its carefully tax-havened dollars to a presidential candidate in favour of making the poor even poorer?

We’re even seeing it now, in fact, where we’re dealing with companies that do have consumer-facing relationships.  There are, it would seem, coffee-shop chains which dutifully pay their taxes to the British state, without entirely legal but nevertheless immoral avoidance.  Are they taking advantage of Starbucks’ current and self-inflicted predicament?  It would seem not.

Then there are high-street and out-of-town stores which sell the very same products that, for example, Amazon also sells – yet, it would seem, without the same complex tax arrangements.  Do they say anything to highlight the difference?  Right now, at this moment, not a peep.  That they must follow the marketplace and sell Amazon hardware such as the Kindle tablet and e-book reader is probably a simple coincidence.


It’s clear, then, isn’t it?

This is really not a moment for leaving it all to the free market.

You must accept that in order to guarantee certain freedoms for our citizens, government just has to intervene on occasions with legislation to redress the imbalances.  Not legislation to corrupt and enclose but – rather – legislation to open up and create the right kind of environment for a properly free-market economics to take hold once again.

For a properly free-market economics to do its wonders.

This is why Leveson needs to be listened to more carefully.  At least in its desire for statutory underpinnings of our freedoms.  And if, to date, such underpinnings have been based on a case law which only the rich can ever find the resource to lever, what kind of freedoms – in reality – are these?  What kind of rights – in truth – exist for us ordinary people to exert?

In a B2B world, where so much business is done away from the full gaze of the public, we need government to intervene more – that is to say, in a representative fashion and on our behalf – rather than less.

And we need to recover our belief in a legal system which can empower us all in the context of free business, communications and speech.

Government as oppressor or government as liberator?  I know which I would like to believe in.  And I know if the only alternative is transnational corporations, that we’ve already quite lost our battle to maintain democracy.


One final thought: if both the free press and freedom of speech are important but discrete concepts we must support, in a virtual world let us conceptualise them thus.  Let the free press exist as an industrial figure – anywhere, in fact, as someone suggested on Facebook yesterday, where money is involved and supports and results from a communication infrastructure.

And let freedom of speech, as a citizen-sourced idea, be what we do more and more via social networks of all kinds.  If money does not exchange hands before, whilst or after the communication takes place, let the criteria for libel and so forth be quite different.  Let that “ethical vacuum” Leveson so rightly identifies continue to facilitate a commons of thought.

Let us be intelligent about how we advance into the future.

Let us be fair.

And let us ensure the rights we enshrine in our societies are realistic, shared and egalitarian.

Dec 042012

This is one for the lawyerly folk amongst you.  I’m surprised, and a little disheartened, to conclude that, apparently, laws can only be oppressive; that, apparently, they can never liberate.  Why do I come to this conclusion?  Partly because of cogently argued posts from people such as David and Rodney (more from the latter here), as well as James who wrote his particularly thoughtful piece before the last month was even out.

I guess I’m coming from a completely different direction.  Whilst the above all fear the dangers of legislation creep once governments have got their dirty hands on the press, I fear even more – at least right now, at least in Britain – the dangers of behaviour creep once media empires realise they’ll be able to get away with it – whatever it will turn out to be.

The thing is, I still haven’t received a clear answer from anyone as to why we should put our trust in transnational corporations to sustain our press freedoms over any trust we might expect to deposit in our governments.  If you’re really telling me that this is the case – if you’re really telling me a corporation with its nominal headquarters located in a large US city, its tax exposure located in a neatly clever tax haven and its profits located in a foreign country via all kinds of ingenious internal royalty “agreements” … well, that after all of the aforementioned, it is still going to be a more reliable guarantor of our most fundamental rights than our own democratically-elected government – then surely we must agree that we have a serious issue with our government.

And if you’re telling me that the laws which such a government might make will inevitably be oppressive, what is this thing we call Western democracy?  Are you really assuring me that in this democracy we are now labouring under there are no examples of laws out there which serve to liberate and empower a people?  Are you really arguing that laws only serve to control, impose and homogenise?  Are the ideas of free speech, diversity of thought and imagination – of creativity and generosity of spirit – so contrary to the legal mindset and all its outputs?

At the foot of one of Rodney’s pieces, on the 2020UK website, an attempt in itself to re-engineer society through measured legislative change, I responded thus (the bold is mine today):

I can appreciate a lot of what is being said here, but I think the free press stopped in large part being free when it started breaking the law not to preserve our wider freedoms but, rather, simply to up its readership.

We need to correct what’s been going on: the distortions in our media ownership, the limited number of sources used to generate most copy, the churnalism that comes out of lack of revenues, the predominance of pulpits of power as opinion-makers impose their agendas undemocratically. If you can show me this can be done without legislation, I’ll be happy to go along with it. If not, then we’ve reached a point where legislation will be needed.

Perhaps one idea – which I mentioned on Facebook yesterday – would be to have an irrevocably time-limited set of new laws to re-establish a real free market in communication and media here in our nations. Once that time had passed, and it’s job was done, the laws would automatically lapse and the freedom of the press would be properly recreated. As I suggested in a post I published this week on my own site, without a free market you cannot have a free press. And you’re surely not suggesting that it is better to leave the future of the free press, and our wider rights to free speech, in the hands of transnational limited liability companies instead of democratically elected and supposedly representative governments.

Finally, we don’t *have* to see legislation as only limiting and controlling. We can surely contemplate some kinds of legislation as being liberating and in favour of diversity. This 2020UK project, for example, aims to devolve many responsibilities to localities. Such a step would be liberating – but would also be an example of an objective which required the tool of legislation. No?

So it is that I knock the ball back into the court of the lawyers.

Is law only a tool of oppression – or can it liberate too?  What do you think?  Do you feel your profession is exclusively impositional – or is there a lighter and more positive side to all you do?  And can we legislate for freer speech – or does any such kind of legislation only guarantee more restrictions?

I’d be interested in your observations.

A lot might ride on the conclusions you come to.

Dec 012012

Craig Murray has an interesting post up this morning which argues the following:

I am with David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch in one respect on the Leveson report. British mainstream politicians are still more repulsive and self-seeking than the British mainstream media, and state regulation of the media, however modulated, is not good.

But Leveson was answering the wrong question.

The real problem is the ownership structure of UK mainstream media. Newspapers and broadcasters function as the propaganda tool of vast and intertwined corporate interests, shaping public opinion to the benefit of those corporate interests and ensuring popular support for politicians prepared to be complicit with those interests.

And I think I have already argued something similar on these pages – though perhaps less succinctly.  He then goes on to suggest this solution:

The only answer to this is to break up the corporate structure of the UK mainstream media. The legislative framework to do this is not difficult. What needs to be changed are the criteria. I would propose something like this; no organisation, state or private, should be allowed effective control of more than 20% of the national or regional newspaper market or the television market, or more than 15% of those combined markets.

But here I’m inclined to believe that Craig is also answering the wrong question.

The problem of plurality across the globalised world of journalism is not only one of ownership – perhaps not even primarily one of ownership – but, rather, one of concentration of sources.

Churnalism, it’s called:

Too much of latterday journalism is actually churnalism:

The study, carried out by postgraduate students in 2010, found that between 11.6% and 21% of newspaper stories across eight major daily publications were mainly or entirely generated by public relations material, and that between 32% and 50% of all stories contained elements of public relations material. The worst offender was the Irish Times (21% of stories comprising all or mainly public relations material) with the Evening Herald scoring best (11.6% comprising all or mainly public relations material).The other newspapers examined were the Daily Mirror (12%), the Irish Examiner (16%), the Daily Mail (13%) and the Irish Sun (13.6%). All the figures for the Irish Independent are currently unavailable, but the students found that 46% of all stories in the Independent contained public relations material – a figure which is broadly in line with the other newspapers.

If we take the case of the Press Association (whose fault it can hardly be for the situation I am about to describe), we get this pretty terrifying situation:

The Press Association produces over 100 stories on weekdays.[1] The choice of stories by the Press Association has a large impact on coverage in UK media. A study to quantify this found that 70% of UK news articles in the five most notable quality London based newspapers were largely influenced by the Press Association’s copy (or the few other much smaller agencies in the UK). 30% of stories were simple copies.[2]

So whilst Leveson is right to focus on the content that actually gets generated, and Craig is right to point out the importance of concentrations of media ownership as a systemic block to plurality, in themselves intelligent answers to both questions posed would not sort out the apparently dismal state of the British press.  For even if we could control better the unnecessary invasions of privacy that have clearly taken place over the past couple of decades, and even if we could ensure more corporate organisations were viable players in our media landscape (whether straightforwardly capitalist or more innovatively mutualist in some way), we’d still have the problem of rising costs and falling revenues driving down the desire – or ability – to generate original content.

The tendency, trend and temptation to use something which a PR department of an interested institution – or wire-service organisations like the Press Association itself – had already created, prepared and angled would continue to lead to an effective concentration of opinion.  The real problem, then, isn’t Leveson’s wrong question or, indeed, Murray’s concentrations of media ownership – if either were resolved, we’d still have a serious issue.  No.  The real problem is that there seems, in a world of billowing data, to be little incentive – little potential bottom line, if you like – to create true and honest journalism which drives original investigation and plural communication.

And so to one final question we might care to pose: is it the industrial model which is falling apart here – or our desire as consumers to properly pay for and read the truth?

Is it, in fact, that we tend not to value the truth as much as we did?

Perhaps scandalous highs have replaced a closer approximation to reality.

Not an easy call, this one.

Not an easy call, at all.

Nov 302012

Maria Miller makes a useful point here:

“What we’re concerned about is creating amendable legislation that could in the future give parliament the opportunity of stopping reporting on certain areas.”

I’d be inclined to give our current government greater credit for such thoughts if they cared to apply it to other areas such as the so-called snoopers’ charter – as well as those bill-drafting processes and periods of utterly false consultation which drove the recently-enacted NHS and Legal Aid legislation.

The point, however, whether inconsistently sustained or not, is valid.  But it doesn’t go to the heart of the issue here.  The heart of the issue is that corporately-sourced decisions as to what to publish and what not to publish are conducted behind closed doors on CCTV-defended, and always high-walled, industrially-scaled communications institutions.  There is, as a result, nothing absolutely free about what someone who works for an international media empire does.

Nor, indeed, should we expect it to be otherwise.

Miller is both right and wrong, therefore, when she talks about governments stopping reporting on certain areas.  In fact, even with current legislation, too much evidence points to the fact that this is already happening – especially in relation to the BBC and that eternal overarching threat of the licence fee.  Nor has it only been this government which has committed the crime of wanting to spin itself into a better place, showing scant disregard for those who would pursue the truth.

But she is wrong to suggest that in our daily existences, public-sector governments are the only form of governance which seriously impinges on what happens to us, our knowledge of our democracy and the future development of our societies.  Private sector and corporately-sourced influences over what decisions get taken, that is to say, what taxpayer resources are spent and how, are just as impactful on our lives and our ways of understanding the world as any traditional government out there.

The real power, these days, lies in private wealth.  When we wish to increase press freedoms, therefore, we need to accept this reality and conceptualise our regulatory framework in its light.  For there do seem to exist a number of terrible contradictions in our publicly-located communications at the moment: in terms of social-media libel and that figure of “malicious” behaviour, for example, the authorities – and even the police – have not been backwards in coming forwards to charge, prosecute, sentence and on occasions imprison individual citizens who have said things which are not entirely reasonable.

Things that the vast majority of social-media users would, in fact, consider beyond the pale.

And yet also an example of a pretty fearsome – and external – regulation of what Emily Bell suggested, the other day, was simply one further aspect of 21st century journalism.

Curiously, however, when we come to what Leveson himself almost defined as “proper journalism”, we have this government saying that 24-hour live and rolling news should not be subjected to such explicit regulation; that corporate speech – with the protection of limited liability behind it – should be trusted implicitly to speak honestly, sincerely and judiciously; and that transnational organisations should be trusted with the due preservation of the freedoms surrounding this island’s ability to communicate publicly and democratically with itself.

So on the one hand we have professionals like Bell arguing, perhaps rightly (I don’t agree myself but plenty do), that the division between mainstream and social media is false – and yet, on the other, we have politicians like Miller and Cameron himself arguing that whilst civil and nationally-sourced social media does need to be externally regulated, even fiercely so (just remember the Coalition’s responses to social-media use during last year’s riots), its corporate – and often transnational – cousin in mainstream-media land should be left to look entirely after its lonesome.

So what have we got then?  Ordinary unlimited liability people, engaging in public discourse, will need to suffer the fear of massive libel fines imposed by external bodies on their imperfect and amateur conversations – whilst limited liability companies, also engaging in a parallel but far more nuanced public dialogue, can restrict the vast majority of external actions on their ability to communicate in what will surely end up being another cosy and fairly toothless body of self-regulation.

For if Miller fears – rightly enough – the dangers of “legislation creep” in the context of government control over the press, she should similarly fear the dangers of “behaviour creep” in a self-regulating group of corporate media organisations, under the control of an ultra-rich with clear and explicit policy agendas designed exclusively to benefit their own already deep pockets.

A 21st century governance doesn’t only involve government – it also involves the machinations, whether positive or negative, of private and entirely unelected concentrations of power too.

Which is why we should not only wish to maintain oversight over our publicly-elected representatives – we should also wish to exercise the age-old right to legislate over bodies which have chosen limited liability structures in order to function.

In fact, I think it’s time we crowdsourced our freedoms.  Time we used the very tools we’ve been recently lambasted for using in order to help our governance in both private and public sectors to better understand what we, the people, really want out of a free press, our own personal freedom of speech and our very own right to continue communicating conversationally.


Further reading: you can find an interesting post today on the 20-year-old Danish experience of legislating for a free press here.  Makes for fascinating reading – perhaps someone should point our own Prime Minister in its direction …


Nov 292012

Emily Bell argued yesterday in the Guardian that by making and sustaining a distinction between the press on the one hand and social media on the other the Leveson Inquiry had painted itself into the corner of irrelevance.  Her definition of the free press would, instead, be as follows:

The free press of the 21st century consists of the distributed social platforms, the WordPress blogging software and the “dark social” matter of the hidden web, as much as it is the venerable institutions that have local accountability to whatever regulator the UK government should seek to appoint.

Leveson is, however, quite undeterred.  He repeated his assertions today as he delivered his 2000-page report on press culture, its ethics and its possibly regulated future.  Try minute three of the video below:

He’s clear there is a difference, isn’t he?  No doubt in his mind at all.  The question is, whose instincts should we run with?  Those of a professional journalist such as Bell, seeped, as she is, in communication lore and its dynamics – or a man with the kind of regulatory instincts which only the professions of lawyer and judge can infuse?

I’m not sure, actually, that’s the real issue to hand.  I’ve always felt my blogging – and latterly my tweeting and Facebook output – was more along the lines of a global conversation than publishing.  Certainly, if anything tended to the latter, it would be this blog – but even there, the habit of hyperlinking and bouncing off other’s occurrences, the fact that the purpose of my blogging has always been to brainstorm ideas and follow them to their ultimate consequences, surely gives me the right to side more with Lord Justice Leveson than with Emily Bell’s almost catch-all attempt to include social media under her professionalising umbrellas.

And I really don’t think I’d be the only blogger or social-media fan to believe that we converse and dialogue more than publish.  Whilst Leveson attempts to see beyond the technology – to identify what makes institutional and industrial communication very particular to the health of a democracy, to that holding of power to account – it would appear that Bell seems to confuse means and aims.

That newspapers like the Guardian use social-media technologies – blogging software, tweeting and Facebooking facilities, even the chatty discourse of conversation – doesn’t mean that the original social media, the bloggers and tweeters and Facebookers galore, have suddenly become paid-up members of the official British press.  And it goes without saying it’s my firm belief that all attempts to make us so, by anyone who believes that’s the way forward, should be firmly resisted.

Why?  Out of pure self-interest?  Out of a creeping set of double standards?  Out of a desire to be able to say without having to accept responsibility for one’s content?

I don’t think so.

Firstly, bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers do not have access to legions of lawyerly support.  Nor, in general, do they have the consistent and easily maintainable visibility which power of any real kind demands.  If they do have any power, it is the power of the crowd: a lent out, shared and circulated power.  Yes, in its negative manifestations, possibly similar to the power of the mob.  But in its positives, a glorious song to human collaboration.

Secondly, if we’re looking to have an area of reasonably public discourse which can follow trains of new and ground-breaking thought to their logical conclusions, which can imagine new worlds and which does offer our civilisation a route out of a pervasive group-think, surely anyone who cares at all about democratic communication will understand we need to encourage the ambiguity that social media has so eagerly generated and enabled.  The institutional press, in Leveson’s terms, is there to hold institutional power to account – and quite rightly so.  But social media should be reserved, equally rightly so, for the amateur citizen and interested voter to express their opinions as often and as freely as they like.

With certain limitations where the pale is gone so far beyond – but with a desire for “independent and effective self-regulation” whenever the free and open web is able to thus deliver.

As Peter on Twitter said today:

This is one of those days when its good to be mindful of the difference between “free speech” and “free press”

And he’s right.  Let us guarantee by all means the freedoms of the press, as Bell fairly pursues.  Let us also, however, consciously sustain the right of a virtualised base of evermore engaged citizens to use the very same technologies which the press is now appropriating as its own – but for purely individual, non-institutional, crowd-focussed and conversational purposes.

The difference between the press and social media is, therefore, after all, a useful distinction indeed: it is the clearly understandable difference between writing up and speaking up.

Keep that in mind, dear professional journalists – and it’ll be easier to comprehend why Leveson, in this at least, is absolutely spot-on.

Spot-on, that is to say, in his interestingly outsider’s perceptions of exactly where each of our duties really should lie in the future.


Update to this post: if you prefer reading to watching videos, you can now find a full transcript of Leveson’s statement this afternoon over at the Politics Home website.  The executive summary of the report itself can be found here (.pdf file); the report in its entirety here (.pdf file).

Nov 292012

I’ve written recently on how restrictive English and Welsh legislation (more here) really is, certainly to my gobsmacked surprise, in relation to what we have casually understood to date as the right to free speech in these nations.

I’m still cogitating on these matters, as I imagine you are too.

Today, meanwhile, Lord Leveson publishes a 2000-page report on the subject of the press, its culture and ethics – as well as, presumably, suggestions for its possible future regulation.  You can find more background to this report at its current website here.

I’m inclined to believe the best way forward to guarantee the plurality of viewpoints, which Paul mentioned the other day is quite lacking, would be to ensure media ownership was in some way mutualised or devolved to the people who actually did the work, as well as – potentially – to the readers themselves.  This may be a simple prejudice on my part, of course: a cognitive bias from an instinctive “worker”.  (You’re hardly going to see me on a board of directors any time soon, after all.)  But, even so, I’m still inclined to believe that a better transmission of a more representative understanding of what people across the nation think – when they truly think for themselves – would be achieved under such a regulatory framework than the current corporate capitalist version of “free market” communications.

And not that I’m knocking the idea of corporations themselves.  Personally, I feel the concept has been unreasonably hijacked by the very rich.  Corporations are a magnificent organisational tool we will surely need more and more, as society and a wider civilisation become even more complex and tenuously connected.

No.  This is not a diatribe against corporations but a measured and level-headed criticism against a certain implementation.  We don’t need to discard the concept in principle but, rather, should examine different models of corporate governance and structure.  As one of my Twitter friends pointed out:

@eiohel co-ops spring to mind. John Lewis Partnership. Anarcho-syndicalism. Mondragon?

These are still corporate bodies, after all; still massive organisational structures.

They could be used to create media empires that, nevertheless, could still serve to respond to society’s needs for plural and democratically-couched debate.

So I’d prefer a system whereby we regulate and control business structures rather than regulate and control concrete content.  I’m inclined to conclude that bad comes from dysfunctional framing and good comes from reasonable and sensible power relationships.  Concrete content, meanwhile, should be in the hands of moral individuals: people who work in good faith because of who they are and what they subscribe to.


One final thought – too late for Leveson, mind – on how we should deal with the subject of libel.  The recent Lord McAlpine case made it clear that a loose word or tweet can do a lot of damage.  But it is also true to say that in other cases it would appear that English and Welsh libel law has been used to muzzle matters of considerable public interest.  How about we tweak the law as well as the process that surrounds it?

In the following way, that is:

  1. If someone takes out libel action against another, a special legal figure invented for the purpose should automatically kick in and investigate the substance of the issue.
  2. If it is found to be true, the person who complained about the statement should then be obliged to justify why further public dissemination of the information should not take place.
  3. If they cannot justify why further dissemination should not take place, they pay all the costs of the investigation.
  4. If the statement under question is found to be false, the person who made the statement must pay the costs of the investigation and apologise for the statement.
  5. Under no circumstances will compensation be paid to either party.  All that is covered is the cost of the special legal figure and their investigations.  Neither would intentionality be a matter for debate.

Pros and cons?  Further tweaks?  What do you think?

Would the above introduce a more balanced set of dynamics – fit for a 21st century where we have all become potential public-domain communicators?

Or would it open the floodgates to even more dysfunctional discourse than we currently find ourselves witnessing?

Nov 262012

Dan makes a massively important point today when he underlines the following:

If journalists, editors and owners wish to speak with entire freedom then let them speak as human individuals, without the protection of the corporate form. They will stand full square behind what they say and will assume all the risks that necessarily accompany this freedom. The state will have no special interest in regulating them. But those who wish to contribute to the creation of corporate speech, and so enjoy the protections of limited liability, can raise no principled objection to the statutory regulation of their activities.

Essentially, you cannot enjoy the freedom and right to limit your liability without the corresponding duty to be inspected and regulated in everything you do.

Conversely, of course, this leads us to the following observation: ordinary people – the unlimited liability sort I mean: the sort who could currently lose absolutely everything out of a desire to actively participate in democratic discourse – should perhaps not be so much at the mercy of the same rigid and statutory overviews as described above, in relation to what they say and exchange in virtual-conversation environments such as those which latterday social-media networks create and sustain.

With such an understanding, you cannot seriously argue that the publication of corporately-created speech has the same legal quality – certainly the same moral position – as that which an unlimited liability person generates.

My argument in a nutshell?  If you want limited liability, be absolutely sure about what you say.  If you don’t demand such a freedom and right, as well as the opportunity to make a serious living out of your communications, your corresponding duty to be as precise as possible should be correspondingly reduced.

Legally as well as morally, let it be understood.

So anyone with the legal nous care to comment on such a potential future state of affairs?

Jun 152012

Paul is unhappy with Peter Watt’s top-down assumptionsHe (Paul) argues that:

Someone who acknowledges that he is in the “Westminster village: (he says ‘out there’, not ‘out here’) “suspects” the proletariat are not interested in the Leveson Inquiry, and therefore suggests that those in the Westminster village should stop covering it.

As someone most definitely outside the Westminster village but also interested in Leveson, I find pretty damn patronising Watt’s insinuation that I’m not really up to such intellectual demands.  So, I more-than-suspect, would plenty of my friends, who may not follow every minute of Leveson, but would object pretty strongly to the idea that the questions who controls the papers, and in whose interests, is nothing for them to worry their pretty, skint little heads about.

I can see why Paul took it the way he did.  I took it differently, though.  Reading less closely than he did, Leveson for me is an example of how a nit-picking democracy is good at navel-gazing but – when set alongside the euro crisis for example – very poor at the big issues in times of crisis.  And with Leveson and cases like those of the Murdochs more generally, our politicians seem to getting better at the former – but worse at the latter.  The very thing which is good about Leveson – slowly teasing out the truth month by month; that drip-feed journalism which takes its time – is what is leading our leaders and their institutional structures down a route of no-return in relation to the big stuff such as euro economics.

Of course, you may argue if more people had been more involved in running our institutions from the start, we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves.  My instinct would be to agree – problem is, right now, do we have the right to be that ambitious?  Or, indeed, the practical and realistic opportunity?

Jun 132012

Louise Mensch, the Tory MP who – as far as I can see – generally seems to support Rupert Murdoch’s lines of argument in almost everything he says, points out the following in the Telegraph today in relation to a case of cyberbullying she and her family has recently suffered from:

Writing in The Daily Telegraph Ms Mensch said: “I felt helpless and attacked. The nature of the internet is that you don’t know who is behind the screen.

“Is it Zimmerman, with his filthy house and his record of targeting women online? Or is it some demented teenager with a gun?”

Whilst I might argue with her choice of adjectives – and her laughably implicit stereotyping of our younger generation as mad gun-toting individuals – I can appreciate how she must have felt, and do sincerely sympathise.

I think we all can.  As she is also quoted as saying:

“Social networks have a duty to identify internet bullies who cower behind anonymity. As victims repeatedly fight back, we can hope to see a culture shift. “

And I’m pretty sure that most of us will agree with that.  Just as most of us would agree that bullies who don’t hide behind their anonymity but, instead, behind their utterly revolting wealth should also receive their just desserts.

No names provided.

As if we needed such information.  (More here.)

As Nick Clegg is quoted as saying this morning:

The point of good government is that you don’t allow yourself to be swayed by one vested interest or another: Nick Clegg #leveson

Question is, of course, what happens when the vested interests are the government itself?

May 102012

The Guardian‘s Comment is free section continues to surprise me.  Specifically, this evening, after Andy Coulson’s apparently masterful performance (though sturdyblog would beg to disagree most forcefully), we discover that whilst Roy Greenslade can say exactly what he likes about the matter, normal readers of the paper – who might care to freely leave their own comments – have had the lawyerly battalions imposing their will a priori.  Check out the screenshot below and you’ll see the following words:

• For legal reasons, this article will not be opened to comments

Not even a moderator in sight, it would appear.  Clearly, Comment was free before #Leveson hit our screens – but not so clearly afterwards (though some, of course, would argue it had never been as free as was claimed).

Is this, then, how censorship of social media really begins?  With those you’d least expect to kowtow to the establishment?  Under the guise of a lawyerly decorum, we randomly pick and choose when, where and whether our legions of page impression-generating readers can interact in public or not.

Mind you, it may be that I haven’t been paying too much attention to all of this.  It may be that they’ve been doing it for quite a while now.  It may be that all newspapers, from the Daily Mail to the Guardian itself, like to create a veneer of freedom and interactivity whilst – deep down and in their amoral innards – they are essentially looking to sustain a simple and coherent business model of advertiser and political interests.

Curious, at the very least, is all I can say, that one of the articles which shuts down the free interchange of comments on a matter of serious public issue should be one which praises a man who used to be at the centre of Cameron’s government – a man who clearly played an important role in Cameron getting quite as far as he did in his process of detoxifying the Tory Party brand, and therefore in his process of getting into power.

Now I’m not for a moment suggesting Greenslade himself is writing out of bad faith – nor offering up to the straitjacketed reader what might be interpreted as an outrageously political slant on the matter.  Rather, all I’m inclined to point out is that social media stuff as run and marshalled by mainstream media won’t always find itself able to deliver the freedoms it claims so wholesomely to support.

This article and the decision taken on preventing reader comments being one such case in point.

And if a first as I suggest might be the case, then a sad example of even more creeping establishment censorship.

Apr 242012

I’ve been watching, not religiously, just on and off between other things, the Leveson inquiry’s lines of questioning of Mr James Murdoch.  Did you know, by the way, that the ornithological namesake of the gentleman asking the questions – the jay – is apparently a natural planter of acorns?  I wonder what oaks will grow from the acorns planted this afternoon.

I’ve seen quite a bit flit past my eyes on Twitter too.  One of the ideas which caught my eye was the horror expressed by the tweeter in question when he realised he was living in a tin-pot monarchy.

And so it is that I wonder what it must be like for the future mental wellbeing of a society which to date has generally medicalised paranoia – and then suddenly stumbles across the kind of shitty conspiratorial reality which is being laid bare during these disgraceful sessions of media discovery.