Monday, November 26, 2012

Awaiting Lord Leveson

I understand the principled arguments against press regulation. Really. I do. I probably agree with most of them as well, in all of their impoverished fiddling-while-Rome-burns glory.

 But can everybody else who opposes this please also acknowledge that British journalism has been a recurring car-crash for decades now? We don't have regulation already? Apart from the right journalists have to only print the prejudices of their proprietor that their advertisers don't object to?

It's not as if there is some beautiful crystal garden there that is about to be ruined by the heavy jackboot of the state, for f**k sake. We have Europe's most distrusted press corp. Our anti-regulation journalists have allowed their industry to turn into one where beating competitors is a sideshow. Beating regulators is the main event, and actually reporting what is going on with any accuracy or lack of bias is..... well.... just so analogue.

As a result, monopolies have thrived while the local press has been gutted. Journalists have allowed the perceived value of their work to be diminished almost to nothing, and then they wonder why no-one will invest in it. Reporting has been suffocated by an Oxbridge-dominated commentariat who imagine themselves to be experts about everything. Every public debate is reduced to a set of polar simplifications and competing groupthinks that get picked up, cab-rank style, by the appointed overpaid class of celeb mouthpieces.

I don't know about you, but if I never heard from Simon Jenkins, Matthew d'Ancona, Peter Oborne, Janet Daley, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Fraser Nelson, Andrew Rawnsley, Henry Porter, Seamus Milne, Benedict Brogan or (..... add your own in here) it wouldn't be a moment too soon. If any of us never saw another page of our infotainment tabloid sector, would we be stupider or wiser?

Don't get me wrong. There is a place for good commentary. I specifically left a few names out of that list because there are one or two of them that understand that there's more to being a columnist than simply playing the simplifying roles assigned to them. But it's the ubiquity of it all that is so unacceptable.

There is no reason to imagine that a regulatory ecology that has Parliament as a player is necessarily any worse than one that is only regulated by our self-serving metropolitan chattering classes, within the confines of an industry that has no notion of the public interest at all. We have norms and rules that regulate how our press works already. They are useless and counterproductive. The most convincing argument for press regulation is to spend a short period watching most of the most vociferous opponents making their case.

Democracies and markets rely upon wide access to reliable information and our press is not, currently, an asset to civil or commercial society. If anything, it's the opposite - and that needs fixing whatever else Leveson comes up with.