Archive for the ‘power’ tag

The media and power

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The British news media has a terribly ambivalent view of its own power. When it runs a campaign and believes the campaign has been a success, it trumpets its power to influence change (see everything from the infamous ‘It’s the Sun wot won it‘ through to the Mirror’s Stop Knives Save Lives campaign and the Daily Mail on plastic bags).


But when anyone talks about calling its power to account, there is a loud chorus from the news media of ‘Not me guv, we didn’t have anything to do with it, we were just reflecting the public mood’. Suddenly our brazen press becomes bashful and demur.

Which makes 3 representations of media power from the last few weeks all the more interesting. Namely: the role of the media on government policy towards drugs; the resignation of the England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen; and the role of Robert Peston in the financial crisis (as told by Panorama).

Earlier this week Sir Simon Jenkins wrote that government drug policy is being determined not by scientific or professional policy advice but by fear of tabloid newspaper reaction. ‘Blair’s (and now Brown’s) press operation lives in holy terror of the tabloids’ Jenkins wrote (in ‘Who will cure Ministers of illiberal headline addiction‘). Gordon Brown, ‘eager for plaudits from the tabloid press’ has pledged to upgrade cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug, Jenkins says. Similarly, he suggests, Jacqui Smith will reject the recommendation that ecstasy be downgraded – for the same reason.

For his four mentions of the role the media played in his resignation, Kevin Pietersen’s statement is worth quoting at length (my italics):

Contrary to media speculation today, I wish to make it very clear that I did not resign as captain of the England cricket team this morning. However, in light of recent communications with the ECB, and the unfortunate media stories and speculation that have subsequently appeared, I now consider that it would be extremely difficult for me to continue in my current position with the England cricket team… At no time, contrary to press speculation, have I released any unauthorised information to the media regarding my relationships with the players, coaches and the ECB itself.”

And finally, the Panorama on Robert Peston and the financial crisis, which I missed over Christmas but caught up with via BBC iplayer. Anyone watching the programme could be forgiven for thinking Robert Peston was the only person reporting on the crisis. Not only that, but that Peston himself was the cause of the run on Northern Rock and might well have influenced the speed and direction of government intervention in the autumn of 2008 (Peston himself played down his role, unlike the programme).

In each of these cases you could take issue with the importance of the media. However, the fact that many people – including the participants – believe the media plays an important role is itself very telling (perception as truth and all that). The more you believe the media is powerful, the more that power becomes actual.

Yet, for those in these citadels of power? I’m sure most would say their power is vastly over rated…

Written by Martin Moore

January 13th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

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A glorious revolution

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The Independent continues to morph into a daily weekly. You can as easily imagine today’s front page (‘Power to the People’) on the cover of the Economist, New Statesman or Spectator. But this is more compliment than criticism. Today’s theme manages to be both newsworthy and insightful by bringing together 8 news events to point to a shift in the nature of our society. Hamish McRae offers further thoughts about that shift inside (‘The internet has shifted the balance of power’) and the paper then broadens the issue into its Big Question (‘Does the internet liberate or undermine democracy?‘).
But the shift is even more remarkable than they describe. Not only is power shifting (or at least the influences on power are shifting) but so are the people enabling it to shift. The developers who created and run the e-petitions software for No.10, for example, are a fantastically unassuming group of 20 & 30-something web developers, dotted about the country. They certainly aren’t in it for the money, they’re not in it for the power, they just genuinely want to enable more engaged democracy (see also theyworkforyou and writetothem). I’ve met a few of them and been bowled over by their civic-minded ethos for which, I think, we can partly thank the internet itself. The open, shared, constructive progessivism that characterised early internet developers has had a profound and beneficial influence on its subsequent development.
Like the Independent, we should occasionally cheer about the remarkable change technology has enabled and who enabled it.

Written by Martin Moore

February 23rd, 2007 at 1:21 pm

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