Tuesday, 19 March 2013

New press regulation won't curtail liberal media deceit

Much proprietorial indignation and editorial concern has been expressed over new powers about to be granted to an 'independent' press regulator.

Yet while the post-Leveson deal struck by the three main parties and pressure group Hacked Off gives seeming protection against unreasonable or invasive reportage, it's a sideshow to the greater issue of liberal media distortion and the system-sustaining function of papers like the Guardian.

Indeed, it's darkly ironic of the liberal press's own sense of self-importance that, while welcoming the new regulator, it still considers any such scheme a worrying constraint on its own 'vanguard' role against powerful politicians and media owners. 

Typically, the Guardian's Polly Toynbee has been 'handing out' medals to Miliband for leading the charge against Cameron and the press barons, to Clegg for joining with him and to the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times for supporting their endeavours against the wrath of the Sun, Mail, Express and tabloid others.

Also commending Tory rebels and the campaigning Hugh Grant, Toynbee applauds this alliance for pushing Cameron, fearful of a Commons defeat on the issue, to drop his outright rejection of regulation.

Toynbee herself revels in the role of high liberal protector here, berating the hypocrisy of Sun editor Trevor Kavanagh and his associates who have been quoting lofty statements on the loss of core freedoms. In righteous denunciation, Toynbee asserts:
"They set a raucous rightwing news and opinion agenda that distorts the balance of public debate and warps the broadcasters' search for the centre ground."
Thus, we have Toynbee 'guiding us back' towards that 'balanced debate', a 'proper centre-grounded' discussion on press 'rights and responsibilities', proclaiming an outcome that all, Cameron included, can now say will protect the public from unwarranted intrusion.

So, who would reasonably deny that, championed by the likes of Toynbee, a victory of sorts has been realised for public protection from wilful hacking and other personal invasions?

Certainly, those for whom the price of such 'securities' come at the cost of serious free speech. And, as the shadow of state authoritarianism looms ever darker, this is a concern that can't be ignored. 

And yet, it's here we see crusading liberals not just chiding Kavanagh et al but pitching their own righteous roles as principled proponents of moderated freedoms.

While acknowledging the need for new press regulation after the hacking scandals, many liberal editorials have been asking readers if they really want a censored press, one that would, for example, have placed restrictions on reporting the Savile issue.

The Independent, thus, urged a week before the agreement:
"Britain needs a media watchdog that protects individuals and press freedoms alike. That means the industry building bridges and hammering out a compromise – and doing so in public."
And of the actual outcome:
"Given the behaviour of parts of the press over the past few years, and given the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint a judge to shine so unflinching a light on it, something akin to what was agreed yesterday was always the probable outcome. It is not perfect, from the press perspective. But it could have been worse. Now, all the press must put the posturing and face-saving behind it, accept the new system and move on. Most importantly, we must begin to rebuild public trust in journalism."
All seemingly noble, cathartic and cooperative words. Yet, like most of the liberal press, these are stunningly posturing reactions from an organ which has shown little interest in moral, accountable journalism.   

How many of these liberal papers have been seriously reporting the higher, hideous behaviour of this country's politicians and their darkest war crimes?  More particularly, how many are actually campaigning to have the perpetrators indicted? And, testing the real reach of a free and courageous press, how many journalists and editors are ready to discuss the media's complicity in these matters across their own 'freedom-serving' pages?

In a model discussion of Iraq and media servility, the latest Media Lens alert notes, in particular, how the Guardian, Independent and other liberal organs slavishly editorialised 10 years ago in favour or rationalisation of the war, and, even after all the deceit and carnage, still came to protect Blair and his circle.

While Murdoch covets freedom to print celebrity voyeurism, character stripping and other tittle-tattle, 'qualities' like the Guardian warn about the possible spiking of more critical news and comment. While the Guardian seem reconciled to the new regulatory arrangement, underpinned by Royal Charter rather than primary legislation, they maintain 'misgivings' over the potential curtailment of investigative journalism.

Again, all seemingly honourable. But consider that these warnings come from a paper that has launched every kind of personal slur against Julian Assange, that, through reporters like Rory Carroll, have demonised and caricatured Hugo Chavez  and, as noted, has used every opportunity to protect Blair and his coterie.

It's also the same newspaper's editor, Alan Rusbridger, who told how he had forewarned David Cameron about his involvement with Andy Coulson.

Is that the proper role of a 'vanguard, power-monitoring' newspaper? Or does it indicate the kind of political-media clubability that, like this new regulatory agreement, keeps the whole system of power smoothly functioning?

Good media, bad media? Good club, bad club? Good regulation, bad regulation?

The most subtle and effective propaganda is not that which proclaims the 'truth', but that which purports to set the 'choices'; to define the very terms of debate.

Thus, are we fed this narrative-setting 'dilemma' between personal privacy or press freedoms, a liberal tugging of 'morals' and 'rights' which, conveniently, never pulls towards any critical questioning of the corporate-driven media itself.  

Hence, we have Toynbee, in good-media persona, pitching the Miliband-Clegg-Guardian-Indy axis against that of Murdoch, the Mail and sleazy right wing others - a queasy, self-acclaiming posture we saw all throughout Leveson.    

And, in complementary form, Toynbee, Rusbridger, Miliband, Clegg and Hacked Off can all say that Leveson, a strangulated, gentlemanly 'inquiry', was ultimately successful in its remit, findings and recommendations. 

Thus, the liberal media 'debate' becomes a system-reinforcing exercise in itself: authenticating the 'consultative', 'reforming' capacities of token inquiries; praising the parliamentary class for navigating these 'difficult' negotiations; and back-slapping the liberal media for bringing all the 'essential' questions to public light.   

No more effective propaganda boost could the establishment wish for.

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