Updated: May 10, 2020
My three recent posts on the News International affair have been as much thoughts in progress as anything, and attempt to draw in discussion. So to round off, here are some more well-formed points.
Labour leader Ed Miliband is now calling for the Murdoch empire to be dismantled, arguing that it is wrong for one man or one company to have so much power over public life. He’s right. But that observation does not end with the media. The story of modern times is the story of the capture of the democratic mechanisms of the state by corporate interests. For further explanation of how I recommend reading The Corporation by Joel Bakan and Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson. Corporate interests have too much power, they have distorted our values and damaged our societies. The Coalition parties back those corporate interests. So too did New Labour. The ground has never been more fertile for anyone who wants to put forward an alternative.
The view that self-regulation of the press as it has existed does not work and that ownership of the media is too concentrated has been put forward years by the NUJ and by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. They were dismissed as extreme, unworkable and the product of vested interests. Now those same arguments are embraced as part of the new consensus. There’s a lesson there about how ideas are given legitimacy. Interesting, too, how little credit those two bodies are getting for saying alone what so many seem to be discovering is so obvious.
For the NUJ itself, there are also things to take stock of. There’s long been a tension between those who think the union should be the professional voice of journalists and those who think it should be ‘just’ a trade union. The events of the last fortnight surely prove beyond doubt that the two are inextricably connected, and I hope that one of the good things that comes out of all this is a renewed confidence in my union about operating on a wider basis. That may not be to the liking of those parts of the left which see the job as simply to ‘oppose the bosses’ and those parts of the right which use the false notion of impartiality to argue that the union should not worry its head about politics. But it is more evident now than it has ever been.
Finally, without sounding too high-falutin’, there’s a chance for a positive change in public discourse. From News of the Screws to more news about how we’re being screwed – that would be a change for the better. So would a toning down of the bile regularly pumped out by the Daily Mail. We don’t need to lose a sense of fun, or an appetite for seeing deserving targets cut down to size, but we can retain those and still move away from the crude lines that have come to define politics and value judgments.