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Entries in media (2)

Monday
Dec032012

The Leveson thing

So, the Leveson report has finally arrived. As far as I can make out, the noble Lord is proposing that newspapers sign up voluntarily to some sort of regulatory system that is technically overseen, albeit at arm's length, by the government. Doesn't sound madly frightening to me (and seems very similar to what has been going on for decades without issue in my home country, Ireland, via the Press Council of Ireland) but cue cries of outrage from the press barons and their lacky Trevor Kavanagh - it's the end of free speech as we know it, yada yada.

I'm not sure however that the lack of an effective regulator of media content is really why the British press is so awful. I think said awfulness has more to do with the issue of media ownership - too much of it is concentrated in too few hands (mainly those belonging to a certain Mr Murdoch), meaning that certain media groups have become so large and influential that they are in a position where they are, in real terms, above the law. As Jeremy Hunt's dalliances with News Corp's Frederic 'Papa' Michel highlighted rather too well, such groups can effectively dictate government policy (or certainly dissuade governments from taking actions or policy positions that are not to their liking); and when a media group like News Corp feels confident enough to interfere so extensively in government, it's no wonder it isn't that bothered about interfering in the lives - or with the voicemails - of ordinary people too (even dead schoolgirls).

My tuppenceworth - not that Lord Leveson is likely to ask for it - is that if politicians are serious about tackling abuse of power by the media (questionable), they should look at how and in whose hands that power is concentrated, rather than trying to tame a media beast with a state regulator (not that I have massive qualms about the latter, providing it's set up correctly). My feeling is that if there was greater plurality of ownership in the UK media, there would be less abuse of power, and potentially more free speech going on, due to editors of multiple newspapers, magazines and TV shows not all having to toe one proprietor's line. A few right-wing tycoons owning most of the media is as much of (if not more of) a threat to free speech as light-touch government regulation designed to protect individuals from inappropriate press intrusion.

But maybe this whole discussion about the press behaving badly is a distraction from what's really going on: printed newspapers, however naughty or nice they've been, are currently in their death throes. They are going online, and as we all know, a national government trying to regulate what goes on online is going to face one hell of a headache. Even if newspaper sites could be regulated to some extent, it would be incredibly difficult to lay down the law to the blogosphere and social media.

One thing is fairly certain however: in this new digital age, owners of heavily-visited sites will be in serious positions of power, and - just like their offline counterpart, ye olde newspaper proprietors - many will be happy to abuse it; again I feel that rather than all this being a question of regulation of content, it boils down to a question of regulation of ownership: how much of the internet's big news / entertainment sites should a government allow one individual or company to own? You'd need an even longer inquiry to begin to get to the bottom of that one...

More Chris Singleton content

Monday
Mar232009

Jade Goody dies

Anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer knows that the disease can be summarised in one word: horror. The horror of diagnosis. The horror of knowing that days are numbered. The horror of saying goodbye. The horror of the physical pain. The horror of losing hair during treatment. The horror of treatment failing. The horror of blindness. The horror of organs shutting down one by one. Morphine. Losing consciousness. Death.

However, for anyone who (thankfully) hasn't seen a cancer death first hand, this reality has - up until now - remained relatively hidden. Although the 'one in three of us will get cancer' statistic is regularly bandied around by the press, I've never seen anything in the papers that really conveys what cancer means - until now.

With Jade Goody's death, there has been a sea-change in how cancer is presented to us by the media. For the first time, every minute detail that families of cancer victims are all-too-painfully aware of has been put in front of people. From the morphine machine in the wedding dress to the onset of Jade's blindness, the horror of cancer has, arguably for the first time, been really laid out for all to see. On TV, on the front pages of tabloids, on the internet, in office conversations, everywhere.

For me (and I'm sorry if this sounds harsh) Jade Goody didn't really offer much when she was alive, but her public death - whilst sad - has had very positive ramifications. More people are going for smear tests, donations to cancer charities are up; cancer awareness has increased. But the most important outcome is this: we are too good at hiding realities, but for once, the horror of cancer has been revealed. It's sad (although probably fitting) that it took a reality TV star to give us a dose of real life.

Or real death.

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