As 2010 comes to a close the topic that has most interested me has been the role of the press and ‘free’ media in politics.
Investigations of Andy Coulson, discussions about Wikileaks, and revelations about what Lib Dem’s say in private have all been covered in great detail with thorough analysis, but I am yet to see someone look at the importance of these three major stories and the intertwined relevance.
Coulson denied being party to illegal information gathering whilst editor at the NOTW, again and again and again. Assange’s Wikileaks brought the fury of World Governments with the release of very dull cables more akin to the diary of a young teenage girl “OMFG u wud nt bleev wot dat btch Sara woz warin [sic]”. Finally you have ‘honest Vince’ being caught, not literally, with his pants down. Though I’m sure on reflection he would rather it had been literal as oppose to the metaphorical.
But what do these stories have in common? They of course were all political (numerous politicians including John Prescott had their phones tapped by NOTW while in Government), and all highlighted the ways in which modern stories are created in the media.
In my mind two were utterly legitimate.
Despite the harsh international criticisms and the sex scandal involving the head and founder (which may or may not be a political conspiracy depending on which side you believe), the Wikileaks cables were, at best, rather disappointing. They revealed nothing, which is a shame given what Wikileaks in the past has revealed (the BNP list anyone?). That said, what Wikileaks does is truly important, it leaks withheld information (in this country we have the freedom of information act though Wikileaks acts as far superior conduit) and we can live in the hope that should the opportunity arise it would be the best outlet for a 21st century equivalent of the Pentagon Papers. Sites like Wikileaks are in fact vital for our political system as they provide a checks and balances system that could not exist without. It’s a shame that their credentials have been so damaged this year through their own poor decisions – hopefully in 2011 they will release something other than gossip.
The other legitimate media gathering was the Daily Telegraph’s sting. Despite Vince Cable’s assertions that the journalists acted improperly by ‘lying’ [NOTE FOR VINCE: they were journalists] about who they really were. Cable was still caught out by a couple of journalists smart enough to realise that both he and other Lib Dems would say very unpleasant things about their Conservative colleagues without needing to push too hard. Resentment by many liberals about the events of May 12th onward has been well known, getting them to speak publicly about it, or at least catching them speaking publicly about it has had to wait until now though.
Finally, Andy Coulson, the Conservatives head of communications, investigated numerous times (though of course for fair and unbiased writing I should note never indicted (despite overwhelming evidence)) over the phone hacking scandal at NOTW. Should Assange be called a hero in the New Year instead of a criminal, there is no doubt in my mind that Coulson would see this as a route by which to exonerate himself by comparison. The fact is though what the NOTW did wasn’t fair journalism and there is no justification for it, they hacked phones to create stories, not provide the scrutiny that only a free media allows for. It showed a genuine disregard for civil liberties, and real journalism.
The media is there to not just feed us information but to protect against injustices and corruption. It’s an idealistic view but a true one. The role of the press has been questioned over the three listed instances of the past year and rightly so. We should always be questioning the press in relation to their role in politics and the way they are acting, but they can, on occasion provide the real truth behind political rhetoric.
Finally, the most interesting point to come out of all the above, is the way the BBC have acted this year, firstly it’s director general Mark Thompson described publicly how there should be an equivalent of Fox News in the UK,for the uninitiated Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch and is a far-right news channel in America well known for lying and deceit. And secondly the Telegraph omitted in their Lib Dem expose the part where Cable declared war on Murdoch, the leaking of this,thereby allowing Murdoch to almost certainly take full control of Sky due to Cable’s removal from that political process, was by the BBC. One can only speculate about the BBC’s current motivations.
Undoubtedly there are three things to learn here: 1. 2011 will provide yet more interesting developments for this debate; 2.there must be both checks and balances in the Government and in the press; 3.good journalism is the most powerful weapon there is.