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Legitimate government involvement in the media

by on November 15, 2013

Traditionally the democratic position of the press in society as a fourth estate is completely independent from government intervention. However, since the formation of this ideological position in society the industry, politics and social arena have changed dramatically. Information technology and globalisation have morphed the planet and now we live in a different world; new attitudes to the modern press and their relationship with government need to be taken. This change of environment means that now political parties and governments would be foolish not to take part in the media sphere in order to push their agendas. Having positions in their institution such as a communications director are, therefore, a necessary position in any modern political party but, the policing of their activities within the media must still remain in the hands of the media.

 

Progressive, pragmatic political ideals understand the mix of age old political dogma can achieve the best for everyone. Social Democratic approaches to the market appreciate that a mixed economy allows the state to work in conjunction with and operate as part of the market, allowing citizens to benifit from the best of both worlds. This pragmatic approach is surely the same with regard to the media. Currently the media is broad and omnipresent. Long gone is the time when the media consisted solely of a printed press and political parties were limited to simply putting up posters or printing leaflets to advertise their cause. Front line politicians such as Barak Obama use the internet in the shape of ‘myobama.com‘, Vladimir Putin has a Twitter account and Nick Clegg, a true front runner in the modern media, has a weekly program on the wireless. Politicians have a right to be part of the modern world and that includes the media. They still have a right to put up posters and put leaflets through doors, they can issue party political broadcasts on the TV, and, if possible, use influence in the media to promote themselves and their agenda. They do not however have the right to dictate content to the media and therefore controll what the public consume. The press must remain free and plural in ownership. The dangers inherent within press regulation are similar to the dangers involved with letting business men like Rupert Murdoch controll large areas of the media. Murdoch enjoyed barrels of undemocratic power throughout both Labour and Conservative governments due to his relationship with Prime Ministers, Thatcher and Blair. Arguably there was little difference between the politics of these two bastions of British Democracy and they both obviously saw a need to jump in bed with this charming Australian gent; after all, he had the power to make or break their premiership via his media empire.

 

Recently both Labour and Conservative governments have appointed communications directors in the shape of Alastair Campbell under Blair, and Andy Coulson under Cameron. Both men come from a background in the media and both were to fill legitimate political positions. The other similarity between the men is you wouldn’t have them in the house! Campbell has been accused in the past of ‘sexing up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ on the Iraq War by exaggerating the threat of weapons of mass distraction, making him, at worst, complicit in starting an illegal war. Coulson, like Campbell, would now also appear to be a crook. He is in court at the moment accused of various crimes such as phone hacking to mention just one. Along side him in the dock another one of the current Prime Minister’s chums Rebekah Brooks, also part of the Murdoch dream team. These venal relationships are a threat to society and democracy and need to be regulated, oddly the weak link in this network is, in fact, the media. Although they held legitimate positions, Coulson and Campbell enjoyed much more privilege than should ever have been allowed and the same can be said for Murdoch. The policing of their positions should have been in the hands of the media. Why the left wing press have not jumped on the trial of Andy Coulson is a mystery (a cynic might argue the close ties to government and the judiciary had a part to play) but they haven’t. Occasionally one might catch a mention of his relationship with the Tory’s in the Guardian or Private Eye might issue a piece on the criminal activities of corrupt associates of political parties but this should be an outrage, ditto Campbell with the Labour Party. The lack of plurality in ownership and motivation coming from the bottom line rather than as an integral part of democracy means that now the modern media is soaked in beige dross. Vile contributors like Simon Cowel in conjunction with odious proprietors such as Murdoch (not to mention pornographers like Richard Desmond) have aimed themselves at the lowest common denominator rather than holding the true position of the fourth estate; instead of educating, informing and entertaining they busy themselves with sedating. If they were to fulfil their unique and powerful roll in democratic society no government would dare employ nefarious characters like Coulson or Campbell from fear of being exposed.

 

 

In conclusion then it is clear that the environment in which the media and politics exist has changed. With this change must come pragmatism and modern politics now has a right to partake in the media but, the roll of the fourth estate remains. The media must continue to critique government and politicians, it must remain free from legislation and their must be plurality of ownership if it is to fulfil its democratic roll in British democracy. Contemporary issues with state/media relations have grown out of a dysfunctional media poisoned by lack of plural ownership allowing Murdoch to become a kingmaker. Unfortunately this democratic utopia of transparency, participation and plurality in both the media and politics is far from being a reality in today’s society. The power to change is in the hands of the public but, competing against teams of world class sales people, the probability of a move from the status quo is, unfortunately, slim. Maybe if someone were to dress Cameron, Clegg and Miliband in ballroom gowns and have them dance in front of a panel of judges the public might start to take interest in how their country is run.

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6 Comments
  1. you discuss the issue in very nice way .However the equation which always has been as debate issue for the society are media independence or not? the way that you link the inviromental change of media and politics is very interest, your phonograph is very easy to follow well done

  2. pms0049 permalink

    In general I agree with your sentiments on the dumbing-down of British politics in the last 20 years, and that that the media has significantly contributed to this. However, I think one must be careful saying that before Murdoch, Campbell and Coulson, the media was completely independent of government. If you look back at the history of newspaper ownership, there have often (if not always) been cases of collusion between the proprietors of newspapers and top level politicians. For example, in the early and mid part of the twentieth century, Press Barons such as Lord Beaverbrook (who owned the the Daily Express and the London Evening Standard) and Lord Rothermere (who owned the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror), used their papers to significant influence government policy and public opinion on the issues of the day. One incidence of this was when Beaverbrook used his newspaper to turn public opinion against the then reigning King Edward VIII, who was having an affair with an American divorcee. The King later went on to abdicate. It is also probably worth noting that these press Barons held various public political offices at various points in their careers, including being MPs and holding cabinet positions. Many would argue that both the politicians and the press barons were members of the same establishment which ran most aspects of British life at the time. Perhaps Murdoch, Coulson and Campbell are the new establishment figures in British political and media life. What we can say for sure is that your suggestion of dressing Cameron, Clegg and Miliband in ball gowns and have them dance in front of a panel of judges would be bloody entertaining!

  3. karo1990 permalink

    The idea of plural media ownership is very important. However, even if the media was not controlled by a view moguls it would be widely owned by capitalists. Truly socialist working class papers have been annihilated with the rise of income generation from advertising and the raising costs of producing a paper.

  4. The article covers a number of complicated issues and manages to bring them together very nicely. The press and the political establishment have always needed to each other to some extent and major parties know they cannot create a competitive edge except with the help of the press. With this as a backdrop it is not surprising that governments would want to influence and legislate in their favour, or in the favour of their allies in the media. This explains the close relationship which Murdoch had with many governments cited in the article.

  5. I think, as the author, that the media should keep distance from governmental control or any type of influence. Nevertheless, governments need to have accesses to the media to express their points of view. The relationship between governments and the media should be as independent as possible in order to guaranty the free flow of information. I agree that the media must be impartial and free to criticise governmental activities or perhaps government’s wrongdoings, and that the media should not be closely allied to governments to create bonds like Murdoch and certain governments. Overall, the article clearly states an important argument regarding the relationship between governments (In this case, the media in the UK) and the media.

  6. jonssonigul permalink

    Your piece of work started a nice academic discussion among people here. Well done! 🙂 However, before you add it to your portfolio it would be nice if you had some references and perhaps some images.

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