Archives For media plurality

Following on from yesterday’s out-takes from the rally we hear some more from the remaining three speakers – Author and Columnist for The Independent Owen Jones, Natalie Bennett from the Green Party, and Helen Belcher from Trans Media Watch, who spoke about how the media coverage of the transgender community and its individuals has had a negative impact on the lives of many:

Helen Belcher at the Leveson inquiry Image: The Guardian

Helen Belcher at the Leveson inquiry Image: The Guardian

Poor media reporting has a direct impact on trans people’s lives. It can place us in danger. It creates incorrect stereotyping which can lead to loss of jobs, friends and family. My own father hasn’t spoken to me for ten years because of the media coverage of trans people and the impression it has given him. And the media coverage has been incessant.In February last year I gave evidence at the Leveson inquiry on trans media coverage. Robert Jay and Lord Justice Leveson kindly listened to me for an hour giving example after example of poor reporting and the impact it had. Most of the examples were from the preceding year, some from the preceding month, and one from the previous day. We included 10 case studies which we asked ot be kept completely confidential becaue the survivors of those events were terrified of being subjected to further ordeals.

Yet, just three weeks after the Leveson report the tabloids were at it again, and they outed Lucy Meadows who had the nerve to transition while being a primary school teacher. Despite the support of a vast majority of parents, teachers, pupils and governors, the press found one parent upon which they could pin outrage. The harassment by journalists and photographers went on for over two weeks, even though the articles were done within three days. Meadows took her own life….and the coroner at the inquest slammed the press and their coverage.

The tabloids leapt on the defence that Meadows made no explicit link between her suicide and the press coverage. But the evidence that surrounded her, including some that we as we as Trans Media Watch were able to provide to the coroner, indicated the press coverage had indeed, had a substantial effect upon her life and state of mind.

Her death has raised some serious questions for the press to answer. At the moment it’s not clear whether the press have decided to go quiet and play nice for a bit, or whether there is some serious soul searching going on…

Trans coverage is a microcosm of press behaviour. David Adam Green commented that it’s ‘how the corporate would exploit anyone if they could’.

We need effective regulation with teeth. And we need a change in culture in editorial offices. A culture that educates and informs rather than exploits for titilation. A culture that reports things in the public interest rather than the half baked notion of what the public might be interested in. A culture overall, of accuracy dignity and respect.

Helen Belcher, Trans Media Watch

Owen Jones Image: The Independent

Owen Jones Image: The Independent

We still see newspapers acting as outriders for the government, showing policies in a very critical light. And sidelining opponents of those policies. Now I can think of one too many senior journalists, who as well as having the roles as commentators, double-up as speechwriters for senior politicians. Just think it through, you have seen journalists who write articles talking about a government’s record and the policies they’re outlining, while at the same time preparing speeches in support of those policies. That, if anything just shows the incestuous relationship that exists between the political and the media elite.And also, as we’ve been discussing the attacks on entire groups of people in this country. We could go on all evening. We could talk about Muslims for example. How, there was one study in 2007, which just took one random sample – one week of newspapers, and it found, of the coverage of when Muslims appeared, 91% showed Muslim people in an entirely negative light. When they appear in the press it’s invariably as terrorists, extremists and it has consequences on public attitude.

Look at the polling, it’s pretty disturbing – 45% of people think there’s too many Muslims in this country. Imagine if 45% of people in a poll thought there were too many Jews in this country. If you look at the polling of people equating Muslims with extremists, it counts as millions of people across the country. That changes in generations. The younger you are, the less likely you are to believe it. Partly, because you’re more likely like myself, to grow up in schools where you’re likely to mix with fellow Muslims. But, if your only experience of people from that community is what you’ve been served up in the press, then no wonder those attitudes are so horrendous. And of course that has consequences for Muslims across the country. And we’ve seen a renewed wave of Islamophobia since the tragic death of Lee Rigby. You can see it as we’ve talked about it with benefit receipients.

Now since this government have come to power, we’ve seen a deliberate attempt to re-direct people’s anger away from those who caused this crisis – the people at the top, to people’s neighbours down the street. The working poor against the unemployed. Non disabled people against disabled people. Private sector workers against public sector workers. People living here against immigrants. And each time it’s the same argument: ‘You’ve been mugged, so your less deserving neighbour should be mugged as well.’ Now the media have facilitated that in the most overt way imaginable, by hunting the most extreme examples and passing them off as if they’re the tip of the iceberg. The scrounger living in a house made out of widescreen television sets with 50 feral kids running around. And of course the lowest point was two months ago, after a verdict about Philpott – a horrendous monster, a misogynist, who burned down his home and killed his six children, appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail as the ‘Vile Product of Welfare UK.’ As though this horrendous killer said anything about benefit recipients, in the way we can say Harold Shipman told us about GPs.

This is what we constantly see – the hunting down of these extreme stories and it has a political agenda. At the same time, they set the parameters of what we see as poltically possible, the neo-liberal idea of mass privatisation and deregulation seen as common sense, mainstream, moderate. While policies which are supported by a mass majority of the population are seen as wacky, out there, not to be discussed in any rational way. Re-nationalisation of railways, it’s even a third choice of conservative voters. There was a poll which was done a few months ago – yougov did it. It showed nearly 60% supported a 75% tax on people earning £1m or more, including 40% of tory voters. But these are policies which a journalist in the mainstream press would never give the time of day to. They’re seen as wacky, out there and extreme.

This is why a conscience clause is so important, to enable journalist to be able, without fear of dismissal, to stand up and not have to do reports or write pices which are false, or indeed got at through illegal means.

Owen Jones, Author – Chavs: The demonisation of the working class

Natalie Bennett Image: london24.co.uk

Natalie Bennett Image: london24.co.uk

Now maybe some of you professional readers, read the Daily Mail, unfortunately I have to for professional reasons, and you’ll be reading quite often about these families with 10 children or more on out-of-work benefits. What you might not know, I looked up the figures on this, is there is around 100 families in the whole of Britain that fit that criteria. And if you read the Daily Mail, you know practically all of them by name.

And lots of people reading the Daily Mail think that this is your typical benefit recipient. And that is one sign of the kind of damage the media we have now, does to our politics, and it’s unchallenged. And we have to challenge it.

We also have to encourage the good bits of our media.

Many of you might know about the group collectively known as the Barnet Bloggers who did a huge amount to expose the dreadful Brian Coleman, who’s just been expelled from the Tory party. And it was the bloggers, the independent media, the citizen’s journalists, who really created the situation that made that happen.

So what we need to do is not despair.

Of course, we need to tackle the ownership question. I was actually with some people in this room at a meeting in Bournemouth, and at that meeting I met a new word, it’s almost unpronounceable – the ‘berlusconi-lisation’ of the media in Europe. And that just sums it up perfectly for where we are now with ownership, and where we need to get away from.

I agree with Harriet Harman, that’s not something I say often, but a 15% ownership cap I think would be absolutely a brilliant place to start. And she’s preparing cross party talks on that.

We need to find a way to help fund a lot more of that kind of  [independent] journalism. I think the idea of some kind of tax, perhaps on online adverts, as a way of having a public service model or licence fee to fund independent journalism is an excellent idea.

Above all, what we absolutely must say is that good quality, independent journalism is absolutely essential for our democracy. I think looking at the turn-out in elections these days, you look at the state the public views their MPs, we have a big problem with our democracy, and one of the things we need to do is fix our media and our press to fix our democracy.

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Six speakers took but ten minutes to say their piece at the Media Reform Rally on Monday 17th June. Despite the time restraint, each of the speakers delivered a strong, individual assault on the changes that need to happen to restore faith, democracy and integrity to the British Press and take it out of the hands of an elite handful. So much was said, we’ll have to do this over two posts. Here’s some of what we heard: 

Image: Media Reform Coalition

Up first was Murat Akser from Kadir Has University in Istanbul, who spoke about the absence of media independence in Turkey:

Murat Akser Image: MySpace

Murat Akser Image: MySpace

Why isn’t the mainstream media reporting these events? First of all, because of big business interests integrated with the media. All big corporations who own banks and have big interests own the media outlets in Turkey at the moment. It’s not even horizontal integration anymore, because the same corporation can own the same type of media outlet in Turkey, like 5 TV channels, 4 national newspapers, 20 radios owned by the same company. Sometimes they have the very same news in the same order.

Editorial [begins] at the very top level. Which means the owners of big corporations that can cost billions of dollars, personally read editorials and sign what is to be printed and what is to be broadcast.

We are dealing with a media autocracy where the state and the government controls the news, with complacent media owners.

It’s happening right now. Editorials are being controlled everyday.

Turkey now has the most number of reporters arrested in the world. Now why is that important? Because we are not talking about a dictatorship or a terror state.  We are dealing with a place that prides itself on being a democracy for the last 67 years.

But, what I am trying to say is that this is changing. There are new ways of reporting incidents from the field. All these young people who are out there resisting are actually fighting against this conglomerate pressure.

Because the first reaction those people did was walk in front of these building or big media monopolies and shout ‘free the news’. And now they are freeing the news. There are people out there, everyone with a cell phone, iphone or screens – now they cannot control the news. The media is going to be ours once again. This is the way of the future. And I’m hoping that this media autocracy will end because there are not now many reporters left to be arrested.

Lets get our media back to our own hands. Each of us are reporters. Each of us can go out there, actively, and report on anything we see fit, and if those media outlets cannot do it. We will do it.

Murat Akser, Kadir Has University, Istanbul

Michelle Stanistreet Image: The Guardian

Michelle Stanistreet Image: The Guardian

A free media is essential to a democracy. It just doesn’t work without it. People need to hear a range of arguments, they need equal access to information and opinion. Evidence shows repeatedly, that countries with a large number of news anchors and an independent media are less susceptible to corruption by politicians and business. That’s why the question of who owns the press is so vital.

The NUJ was a core participant at the Leveson inquiry, and this investigation into the culture and practices of the press really lifted the lid on how widespread unethical and illegal practices had been in the industry. It also demonstrated how the relations of politicians, the press and the police were corrupted by the instance of one man owning 37% of the newspaper market. And with that power comes arrogance amongst his own newspaper executives, who had really, genuinely seemed to believe they had become untouchable.

It was really interesting to see politicians turn up at Leveson and unburden themselves, and by their own admission have become too craven to take on the Murdoch press. They feared that they’d be pursued personally or that their party’s policies would be savaged. Prime Minister after Prime Minister felt they had to pay homage at the court of Rupert.

They meet up in Mayfair clubs with promises of being backed by the Murdoch press at the next election. One of them even became godfather to the press’s own daughter. Likewise with the police, particularly the Metropolitan police, an unhealthy relationship developed between them and News International.

And Rupert Murdoch has long maintained that he doesn’t dictate any editorial line in his newspapers. And I’d ask just one question, if that’s the case then why did all but one of his 175 newspapers around the world have the same pro war line on Iraq.

John Major was told by the media mogul that he’d withdraw his support in his newspapers unless government changed their policy on the UK’s membership of the EU. This is the kind of practical way in which the power of one man influenced the decisions of our press here in the UK.

Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists 

Justin Schlosberg Image: bbk.co.uk

Justin Schlosberg Image: bbk.co.uk

Today, 6 out of the 7 biggest national newspapers in this country by circulation peddle a conservative, neo-liberal right-wing agenda.  For two decades, progressive politics has had no choice and no voice.

But it’s not just Murdoch and it’s not just about the tabloids. The Russian billionaire owner of The Independent and the Evening Standard wrote the following tweet after giving testimony at the Leveson inquiry:

“Forgot to tell Leveson that it’s unreasonable to expect individuals to spend millions of pounds on newspapers and not have access to politicians.”

Fascinating use of the word unreasonable here. Maybe Mr. Lebedev hasn’t quite mastered the British way of not being completely upfront about corruption in politics.

In particular though, this tweet reveals two things. First, the financial struggles in which all newspapers are embroiled is no reason not to regulate ownership. If anything, they have opened the door to a new class of media moguls who are quite willing to use newspapers not for their commercial value but for their political clap. Make no mistake, despite dwindling profits, newspapers are more relevant today than ever. Most of the biggest titles are reaching more audiences than they ever have before, courtesy of their online editions, and they still play a mean role in the news agenda.

The second insight revealed by this tweet is that newspaper owners have simply come to expect that their investment in news ought to pay off in political input. This is the type of sleaze culture that is far more insidious and far reaching than Cash For Questions or any of the networks of corruption that have undermined British democracy and faith in the three key P’s; politicians, police and press.

If you change the dynamics for ownership you may just change the culture that draws red lines for journalists as much as it does for politicians. In particular, ownership reform could ensure that the most powerful owners of the media are kept at arms-length from the content of their allies. A journalism that is less direct is surely one that is more searching, more questioning more scrutinising. And if accompanied by a new and effective means of funding, it could provide meaningful support for real journalism – safe from the trappings and pressures of corporate media.

We need ownership reform now because trust in the integrity of our most sacred institutions is at an all time low. Because the existing plurality regime has proved entirely unfit for purpose. In our increasingly mobile, technologically dependent and work centred lifestyle, the media, and indeed the mainstream media, have become essential ways to convene and converse as citizens in a democracy. For too long we’ve allowed that space to be annexed by narrow corporate interests serving shareholders and moguls over citizens and public. We ought to reclaim that space, we need to reclaim it and we need to do it now.

Justin Schlosberg, Media Reform Coalition

Catch more of what we heard at the Media Reform Rally tomorrow.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

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