Archive for January, 2009

Political blogging

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Still a week to go before entries close for this year’s special Orwell Prize for political blogging and we’ve already passed more than 50 entries.

[Point of information - we, the Media Standards Trust, run the Orwell Prize with Political Quarterly and the Orwell Trust, but have no connection to the judging. For details of the prize and how to enter go to www.theorwellprize.co.uk]

The eventual winner will be the blogger who best achieves George Orwell’s aim “to make political writing into an art”. And for anyone who still clings to the view that there is no such thing as a good blog, have a look at:

NightJack (http://nightjack.wordpress.com/) - a police detective who writes like a British Raymond Chandler. His entry for 3rd January (following a Bob Dylan quote) begins:

“You can but imagine my joy at the 9.30 call this morning that raised me from my first lie in for quite a while. “Sorry Jack”  said the boss but we need you back at the office. Mustn’t grumble, it’s a recall to duty but I am already pushing 80 hours overtime for two weeks.  I have become the family ghost who comes and goes whilst my house still sleeps. The evidence of my passing is a lonely trail of abandoned coffee cup rings and daily, a new crumpled shirt and socks on the washing pile”

Never Trust a Hippy (http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/exemplifies the blogger whose clearly considered political views gives his contemporary political critique a particular sharpness. As with:

“The cult of independence and impartiality – in the media, among market fetishists, in the way that politicians are regulated and circumscribed by litigious pressure groups, by journalists who prefer their adversaries to be suppine, by bureaucrats who prefer permanent managerialism, by the Edwardian establishment throwbacks to sit on six figure Quango salaries- is a curse on this country that has similar consequences to our political life that book-burning would have to our wider intellectual culture”

For great use of videos and graphics, have a look at Benedict Pringle’s Daily Election(http://dailyelection.wordpress.com/).

Lenin’s Tomb (which has a number of contributors) self-deprecatingly tells its readers that its ‘content is erratic, syncopated by the intrusions of daily life, random interests, monomania, narcissism and booz’. Well if it is, then it is also germane, pointed, scathing and often angry. Lenin himself (Richard Seymour) has recently been dissecting the reports from Gaza about Israel’s ground assault – see his searing attack on Israel’s defence of its bombing of Al-Fakhura school on 6th January.

The self-confessed ‘Geek in Oxfordshire‘ (http://dungeekin.blogspot.com/) does a good job of picking up on some of the inconsistencies and idiocies of politicians and mainstream media. As in his letter to the BBC about its over-the-top headline: ‘Warnings Issued Amid Arctic Chill‘.

“Let’s just put that into perspective. Last night saw 
a low in the UK of -10 Degrees Centigrade. Cold, surely – but right now in Svalbard, Norway (which is actually IN the Arctic) it’s -29 Degrees Centigrade.”

But for the best satire read the wonderful Quindley Fluff Frontiersman (subtitled ‘Bringing You The News In The Manner We See Fit’). Though sporadic, the entries manage to make irony on the web funny (not easy). See the editorial on the Ross Brand affair (‘Who breaks mosquitoes upon a wheel‘) that rails against proposed cuts to the BBC:

This former hyper-quadro-broadsheet also considers the calls for trimming the BBC farfetched  and extreme. After all, who can truly argue that shows such as ‘Dog Borstal’ and ‘Snog Marry Avoid’ do not meet the BBC pledge to ‘inform, educate & entertain’? It is also important to consider the BBC’s commitment to catering for audiences of all ages, young and old. They have gone to great lengths to target the youth audience and should be applauded for doing so. Indeed, these middle-aged men running the corporation have proved themselves time and again to have had their finger on the pulse of youth culture, and their conclusion that all those under the age of twenty-five in Britain are mentally deficient glue sniffers who want to watch programs called “Can Fat Teens Hunt? is both accurate and fair”.

I could go on. And this does not take into account, of course, all the bloggers in mainstream media, some of whom (Robert Peston please stand up) have not only led the media agenda but the political agenda too.

Written by Martin Moore

January 8th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

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How will the government judge if a media merger should go ahead?

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Many of the media forecasts for 2009 suggest it will be a year of consolidation. Buffeted by ever colder winds of economic woe – and an even harsher financial climate than 2008 – many media companies will, the forecasters suggest, look to merge with one another, try to piggy back off one anothers resources, and sometimes even ‘bunk up’ together (most notably in the case of the Independent and Daily Mail).

But, when mergers happen, how will the government decide when it ought to intervene? And how will it make a judgment on which mergers should go ahead and which shouldn’t?

Last year the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications thought long and hard about this question, and wrote up its studiously gathered evidence, its thoughts on implications, and its recommendations, in the excellent The Ownership of News report.

The Select Committee unfashionably emphasised the importance of owners and ownership structures on journalism. This was not, they said, necessarily in terms of proprietorial interference – though that can still be the case with respect to some owners. Rupert Murdoch, for example, told the Committee he was what one might call a ‘traditional proprietor’ – meaning that he determined the position taken by some of his publications on major political issues like elections and Europe.

But ownership structures could, the Committee suggested, have an even more important influence on journalism than owners themselves – particularly on the way in which news is collected and the type of news that is published. Publicly owned companies, for example, are under more pressure to show a regular return on investment, even if this meant cutting editorial resources like newsgathering.

It was for this reason that one of their recommendations was:

that the public interest considerations for newspaper mergers and broadcasting and cross-media mergers are amended to refer specifically to a need to establish whether a merger will impact adversely on news gathering

Though it is difficult to determine how this would be evaluated or policed, it’s still a laudable principle – especially if one believes that original newsgathering is important – particularly at a local level.

Other recommendations included giving Ofcom the power to initiate a public interest test, and getting Ofcom to investigate whether newspaper mergers are in the public interest. These recommendations were based on the – quite sensible – assumption that Ofcom is probably better placed to the assess threats to the public interest in the case of media mergers than the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

And how did the government react? Well, in response to the newsgathering recommendation it said:

we consider the current media public interest consideration, including the considerations relating to accurate presentation of news, free expression of opinion and sufficient plurality of views in newspapers, provides a sufficient basis for dealing with this issue to the extent that it may give rise to public interest concerns” (from Government Response to Ownership of News)

The equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders, let’s leave things as they are.

This response was similar to those made to the other Ownership of News recommendations – We think the current safeguards are fine thank you.

Such government responses have particular piquancy now that it looks as though local ownership rules are ‘likely to be relaxed’ (from Leigh Holmwood in Media Guardian).

If – when – they are, there will probably be a flurry of mergers and consolidation. The government, in its wisdom, will then have to make decisions without the benefit of suggestions from the House of Lords to deal with just this situation.

Written by Martin Moore

January 5th, 2009 at 4:58 pm

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