How Free Is Our Press?
We are frequently told that the freedom of the press is to be compromised by any reform of press regulation. It is also regularly asserted that the press in the UK is a free one. But not everyone subscribes to this point of view, and the people at Reporters Without Borders, in compiling their 2014 Press Freedom Index, have devised a methodology that does not show our press in the best light.
Indeed, the UK has slipped down this year’s listing, from number 30 last year to 33 this time. So who is at the top of the pile? As for the last two years, Finland occupies first place, and the Netherlands and Norway in second and third. There is a preponderance of EU member states and other European countries in the top places, although New Zealand (9) and Iceland (8) are in there too.
So where is the United States? Regrettably, it has fallen several places this year, to number 46 in the list. It is separated from France at 39 by Samoa, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Papua New Guinea and Romania. Those recalling all the abuse hurled at the French for the lack of questions put to Monsieur le Shaggeur Hollande over his recent partner difficulties may allow themselves a smile.
The UK and USA have both slipped in the rankings for the same reason: For the USA, “the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power”. The UK “has followed in the US wake, distinguishing itself by its harassment of The Guardian”.
So it was no surprise that the deeply subversive Guardian was the only paper to report on this news, in Roy Greenslade’s blog on Wednesday last. Most of the rest of the Fourth Estate would rather like to have the Guardian harassed, and so keeps schtum. And most is rendered yet less free because of the lack of media plurality – the concentration of titles in very few hands.
What will also count against those titles in future Press Freedom Index releases is the move to establish a press self-regulator that is not independent of the industry. And, as Hacked Off has discovered, supposedly new regulator IPSO has had its articles of association altered so that its initial appointments panel could be appointed in secret – in a flagrant breach of its declaration of openness.
It should surprise no-one that Finland, which has just scored its third consecutive first place in the Press Freedom Index, has properly independent press self-regulation. That means proprietors, editors and politicians cannot interfere in its working – unlike the UK. What so many hacks and their bosses claim would end press freedom – adopting the Leveson recommendations – would do the opposite.
Is there a free press in the UK? Maybe for the few – certainly not for the many.
There are a hundred different reasons for despising and boycotting the billionaire press and the industrial journalism it disseminates; but, as it happens, the substance of many of the objections can actually be conveyed by just two quotations.
One is a famous line of Malcolm X (1925-1965), the great — and, of course, assassinated — African-American human rights activist:
If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. (Speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, 13 December 1964)
The other quotation is from someone whose name I’ve never learned — as the text simply showed up on the internet a couple of years ago in the form of the following unattributed photograph of an unsigned graffito:
To me, those two statements seem to contain a sizeable quantity of insight; anyone who feels inclined to doubt their truth or relevance is hereby enjoined to spend a few hours with a highlighter pen and a random pile of newspapers — yes, the ‘serious’ ones will do just as well as the comics — and do a little ‘media analysis’ on the reporting, comment and editorials. If you need a bit of help (and if you can overlook the grotesque immodesty of the juxtaposition), I can even offer you a further quotation in the form of Doran’s Third Law of Media:
The more ‘mainstream’ you aspire to be, the more assiduously will you cultivate your capacity for selective amnesia with regard to events that show Western power in an unfavourable light.
(No, I haven’t forgotten that this is a ‘classical music’ blog: if you’ll bear with me, the musical part of the topic will be along very shortly. What I’m doing here is — once again! — attempting to make sure that we’re all ‘on the same page’ in terms of understanding the real nature of the ‘newspaper’ element within our state-corporate media system. If you’ve the stomach for it, read on…)
I mean it: take literally any important issue you like, and work carefully and thoughtfully backwards — all the way back to the specific causative, precipitating or contributory factor that you and I are able to remember, but which your newspaper has unaccountably forgotten… Then work forwards again, and see where you’ve ended up…
You want a ‘worked example’? Here’s one from today…
Not so many summers ago, the US and various of its vassal states bombed and strafed resource-rich Libya and engineered ‘regime change’ — in the process destroying that society’s governance and degrading its infrastructure, and turning a functioning and prosperous North African nation into a collapsing and fragmenting failed state on the southern edge of Europe. Since then, refugees in their hundreds of thousands have been fleeing the spiralling chaos and violence within yet another country wrecked by what the imperial West calls its ‘humanitarian intervention’. And, faced with this spectacle of crime and horror, what does our billionaire press define as ‘the problem’, ‘the issue’, the thing about which ‘something must be done’…? Yes: migrants.
See how it all works? Leafing through those nicely printed pages, you will read countless smug condemnations of the ‘utter callousness’ of the traffickers who cram desperate Libyans into little boats and send them out to sea to drown or dehydrate en masse — but you will never see an editorial dickie-bird about the utter callousness of the Western micro-elite that cynically destroyed Libya itself in the expectation of corporate gain and geo-strategic advantage.
Similarly, as you negotiate your way past the corporate advertising (in forms both open and covert!) you will encounter news-like reports stressing ‘how important it is’ that what are called ‘real refugees’ are distinguished from ‘people simply looking for a better life’ — yet in none of these items will there be the slightest acknowledgement of the reason that the people of Libya now face an existence worse than any they would previously have imagined possible.
In each case, you will have noticed, the West’s role and culpability have simply been made to disappear — using a whitewash well known to the authors of those two quotations. There is no greater love for an oppressor than that which takes his catalogue of violence and atrocity and makes it vanish from view, officially unimportant, a cause of nothing at all. There is no more successful way of shifting blame away from the wealthy and powerful and onto the poor and desperate than to take a question about ‘how real’ or ‘how significant’ is their desperation, and to make that a central issue of the debate. And if you don’t want to see the final result, you should look away now. Because by the time this story is eventually put to bed, the perpetrators — us! — will have been turned into the victims; and the real victims — our victims! — will have become perpetrators…
That, dear reader, is the miracle of a proudly ‘free’ press which — when push comes to shove! — always turns out to be marching in lockstep with the political, military and corporate power it ostentatiously affects to be ‘holding to account’. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that, if you are someone who actually forks out for a newspaper (or, indeed, for a BBC TV license: it’s the very same brand of whitewash), you are that most tragic of creatures: the idiot who reaches into his own pocket and pays good cash money for his own ongoing stupidification. Saddam had to be stopped. Putin is a new Hitler. America wants freedom and democracy for all…
Now, having read all of that, you will be wondering four things. First, what does any of this have to do with music? Secondly, why is this piece of media-criticism presented as part of my ‘Game Over’ thread? Thirdly, why are you now faced with a photograph of a slightly guilty-looking cat? And, fourthly, what can possibly have induced me to spend half of my lunch-break standing at a photocopier, scanning 20 pages from that reeking outfall of elite-serving distortion that is the oligarch-owned Independent on Sunday…?
For the answers to these questions — and more besides! — you’ll need to read the next posting… Click that ‘Follow’ button to make sure that you see it!