Monday, 3 August 2009

Woo Hoo! Finally, Power Without Responsibility, I Have Defeated You!

It's been a long time coming. First seen in a second-hand bookshop some years ago, I snatched it away from my closest friend, who had also seen it and was beginning to get the same look in his eye that Gollum would get in a branch of H. Samuel.

A big fan of Chomsky and Herman's Manufacturing Consent, I knew of the book's existence of course. And now I could have it, my precious!

So it lay on my reading pile for several years. Often started, always abandoned for some flirty little novel that would grab my attention with its characterisation, storyline, or sometimes just powerful collections of adjectives.

I'm very glad I've finally read it, because it is fascinating. Also dense, academic and lacking in explosions. What lessons can we draw from it? Well, Seaton and Curran have some specific prescriptions for how to fix the media, which I will have to have a bit of a think about before I decide what I agree with and what I don't, because it's complicated and my brane hertz.

The key takeaway so far is a point so obvious that I'd never seen it: the press, inevitably right wing because of the capital required to launch them and their primary function of delivering audiences to advertisers, have largely escaped any form of regulation apart from fig leaves like the PCC. In the world of broadcasting however we have a huge and tangled history of regulation: what we watch and hear is far more closely interfered with than what we read. Isn't that a curious thing?

Charlie Brooker, in one of his Newswipes a while back pointed out that newspapers emphasise comment and features more and more these days, as people use the internet* for their ackshul facts. Curran and Seaton point out that this was true long before the internet came along - people used TV and radio as the predominant source of news. Papers have been in a long-term decline for decades, as is well known. Interwebicals seems to have accelerated the process somewhat; and will probably supercede them in their few remaining functions quite shortly, seeing as how blogging can provide all the ill-informed, hastily written and unfair comentary you could possibly want at an infinitely small fraction of the cost.

And yet, as the pressures on the press force it to become ever more a vehicle for narratives ('news' cycles) based loosely on real life events** circulation of the press is still high - the Mail gets 2.2m, the Mirror 1.3m and the Star is the only national to actually show a year on year increase. And then there's the increasing web presence of these titles. I know, for example, that the Graun is a regular stop-off for me online.

The fact that the only watchdog of the press is the PCC is astonishing. Why doesn't Ofcom have anything to do with the press? Why is the head of the PCC's ethics committee Paul Dacre? Why, if there is at least one god, is their favourite song clearly Alanis Morissette's Ironic?

When I've had a chance to have a bit of a think about this, I think I'll try to come up with some actual answers. They will probably involve lots of quoting from Curran and Seaton. In the meantime, I'm going to start Rainer Ganahl's The Misery of Reading Karl Marx.

*in fact, rather sweetly, the book is so old that they call it 'the Internet'. Remember when people used to capitalise it? Those were the days. There was a heatwave every summer and you could buy a quarter of humbugs and still have change from sixpence....

**you know the sort of thing.

1 comment:

luna17 said...

Thanks for this. The press is definitely in decline, which is partly a symptom of the Net though also at least 3 other major factors: expansion of broadcast news (cable/satellite/digital, rolling news), free newspapers like Metro, and problems getting advertising revenue due to the recession.

Newspapers have depended on diversifying content - well beyond news - in order to survive. I'm not sure how long they can manage this for - perhaps things will stabilise at some point, but it could be a permanent decline.