steel city scribblings
“A largely unnoticed and unreported consultation paper on changes to Britain’s Official Secrets Acts drawn up by the Home Office shows that the government is preparing far-reaching threats to the media and the public’s right to know.
It intends to abandon the existing distinction between spying and leaking, and between leakers, whistleblowers and journalists. “Both primary and onward disclosures have the potential to cause equal amounts of harm”, the paper states. “
Thanks Dave. I’ll try to find a way of promoting Norton-Taylor’s piece.
I’ve now done just that.
On the topic of the new media (the net) opening up channels not approved by the mainstream and delivering news that would never be allowed there:
Perhaps I am being grandiose, but I think that the internet may herald a revolution in communication to rival the printing press. Both had the effect of opening up lines of discourse previously unthinkable.
Before the printing press, the vast majority of the population could neither read nor write and texts had to be read to them by those who could set themselves up as the guardians of information. Questions regarding the great central text of the West i.e. The Bible could be interpreted by of local minister whose reading would then be taken as the “correct” one. But once the printing press arrived, resulting in a flood of easily accessible texts and the newfound need to have a literate mass, each member of the congregation could have direct access to the Bible and form interpretations which, from the point of view of the rulers, might prove troublingly insubordinate.
So in our time, news has been conveyed for the main part through the old channels of the printed media, radio and television – all of which required what was, from our new cyber point of view, a cumbersome array of devices naturally beyond the reach of the masses. It was therefore relatively easy to centralise the news.
But the net has blown all that open and for the first time, anyone with any access to a computer could expand on personal views way beyond what could be marginally glimpsed in those frankly insulting little soundbites from passers-by in the street.
I have no doubt that the ruling class would have tried to ensure as much muddying of the waters as possible on the net with any amount of dis- and mis-info. But when the label “fake news” hit the media, it was clear that a new frontal attack was now in progress: new self-appointed information guardians, new algorithms to effectively “disappear” certain sites.
And also movies like the 2020 “docudrama” called “The Social Dilemma” – a depiction (from supposedly renegade insiders) of the corrupting influence of the net. Jonathan Cook has written a piece on this:
I don’t entirely agree with him – but his main point is valid: the makers of this film are seizing on various baleful effects of the new media to demonise all of it. And the implication here is that we should go back to those tried and trusted old channels of print, radio and TV and their representatives on the net.
As so often, it is the fictionalised part of this film which reveals the propagandist element most clearly. We are presented with a family featuring, amongst its other moral directives, a “good” sister who valiantly resists the hypnotic malevolence of the net and a “bad” brother who gives in. The latter behaves like an extra from “The Walking Dead”, even during the climactic scene: a protest march. This is the only part of the film which features actual people acting together politically in real time in real life. And it predictably comes to a nasty end which is blamed on the demonic power of cyber space.
The “message” seems to be that information on the net can seriously damage your brain. Therefore, you should reject all of it and return to the bosom of the old channels. Least of all should you try to create a movement through the net.
In 1979, aged 27, I wrote an undergraduate essay on Britain’s radical press. Under titles like Reynold’s News this flourished between the slump following the Napoleonic Wars, and the 1840s when capitalism’s victory over feudalism (bloodless, unlike France’s, and achieved in no small part by marriages of old money with new) was assured.
Attempts to suppress it through draconian legislation – transportation, Combination Acts, and soaring of statutes carrying the death penalty (50 capital offences in 1700, 222 by 1830) – on the one hand, punitive taxation on the other, had been unable to crush it. But by mid century a newspaper business model had emerged, premised on larger capital-intensive printing presses, hence high entry barriers, and on income streams made up of roughly one third purchase price and two thirds advertising revenues.
I concluded with a quote from James Curran, one I can still cite, forty years on, verbatim:
Market forces succeeded where direct repression had failed in establishing the press as an instrument of social control, with lasting consequences for British society.
What I could not have known was that I’d live to see that business model on its death bed. With the high entry threshold of printing presses now obsolete, and media buyers finding new ways to sell us stuff, the situation you describe has arisen. A three tiered response is underway. One is to run media at a loss as a special case which cannot be allowed to go under. Two is to bring social media to heel under the flag of War on Fake News – i.e. information conflicting with the mainstream narratives you speak of. Three is to move as swiftly as prudence permits from the forms of liberal democracy you and I grew up with – see Dave’s comment, above.
We live in interesting times, no?
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