The Leveson Inquiry has long since ceased to be something worth watching carefully. The self righteous bleating of celebrities, whose currency is column inches and photo coverage, about the behaviour of the media; and the weasel words and distortions of the media editors and hacks themselves, is simply too gut churning to put up with.
However, the odd snippet of news worthy material does emerge now and again and one such item has been picked up by the Guardian and covered by FleetStreetBlues and the Press Gazette. It concerns the evidence yesterday of the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre.
The inquiry was always likely to give an opportunity for the government seize upon the British capacity for unthinking, emotionalised outrage. What was it Macaulay said? ‘We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality’. Leveson is the outcome of one of those spectacles. Well now we see the consequences, an agenda to impose regulation on the media in a way that would suit the media’s own interests. But it was always likely to provide the mainstream media with an opporunity to shore up its position and make journalism a closed shop – an exclusion zone. Dacre’s suggestions are merely the articulation of this self interest. This sycophantic cloak wrapped around vested interest needs to be seen for what it is.
Editors such as Dacre not only allowed, but encouraged their journalists to behave in an appalling manner to generate column hectares of tittle tattle. They have all but eliminated investigative, public interest journalism. That has been sacrificed at the altar of immediacy and servicing the 24 hour news cycle with showbusiness gossip and shallow circus politics that intentionally keeps people in ignorance of matters of governance and state control. It’s a cosy arrangement that suits the newspapers and the people they should be looking to hold to account.
These days, Dacre and his ilk simply preside over teams dedicated to churnalism – lifting copy from the wires of a small number of press agencies with largely anonymous and unaccountable staff, who provide the MSM with copy to cut and paste wholesale into print or digitial form as a ‘news’ – with no effort devoted to fact checking, looking into the sources and their motivations (which are primarily pubic relations companies working for clients), or providing essential context that shows the story in its true light.
Now, having helped dumb down the nation by flooding it with sub-literate huff and puff, Dacre is turning his eye to shutting the door on anyone who might upset the cosy arrangements that are in place. Self preservation is the key, keeping out the upstart citizen bloggers and young turks who would upset the apple cart of cosy co-existence with the nation’s political and corporate ‘elite’. That is the agenda. All that is required is for editors to enforce ethical behaviour among their journalists. But of course, no crisis must be allowed to pass without taking the opportunity to secure some kind of benefit for the tribe, so the excessive ‘solution’ to a very simple problem just so happens to suit the interests of the fourth estate.
Dacre is proposing to make official what was only custom; putting a protective shield around those who are ‘on message’ through a system of approval and certification, ensuring only the hand-picked and vetted can ever identify themselves as a journalist and – more crucially – access the mainstream channels to sell their stories. It is the last charge of the dead tree press.
In the United States, where regulation is a dirty word for many, there is less deference to the establishment and (rightly) less trust of official and semi-official sources. Citizen journalists are much more widely read and rewarded. It inspires more people to put quality news and analysis into the public domain, which in turn attracts more readers. However, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, people have become too reliant on the establishment and a kind of fear holds them back from questioning and challenging in the manner many Americans do. There is a deference to ‘prestige’ that makes people shun the unofficial and unsanctioned.
For reasons passing understanding, too many people in this country have accepted the establishment’s mantra that as it is ‘official’ and has ‘authority’, it alone can and should be trusted. That is why our citizen journalism is so far behind that in the US and why the media of which Paul Dacre is a part is so craven. The establishment has thus been afforded the space to build a security wall around itself to keep ordinary people at bay and Dacre is helping to man that wall in return for some titbits from the table that can be used to entertain the readership – and now working actively to ensure the journalist ‘guards’ he employs can be relied upon to do the same.
This will either further entrench the rancid ineffectiveness of the media, or finally wake more people from their slumber and encourage them to look away from the establishment and its lackeys and seek the information the MSM chooses to ignore or omit from its narrative. One can only hope it is the latter, but that hope is very small indeed.