Oh, what a wonderful MSM.
I’ve been following the various investigations into the hacking of voice mail and other criminal activities by elements of the mainstream media (MSM) in the UK. They longer they go on, the more varied and widespread the abuses are being found to be; email break ins, computer break ins and the routine bribing of law enforcement officers for information. I’ve no doubt that the investigations will uncover other more sophisticated practices, such as bugging people’s mobile phones, because if you can do all of those other things, it’s relatively easy to drop bugging software onto a person’s phone to turn it into a microphone, which is always on. People tend to trust their phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) but the reality is, the security on them is abysmal. You might as well write the details of your private life on the nearest billboard.
The big lie that they’re trying to pull off is that it was only happening in one country, at one down market newspaper and by a few rogue reporters using a few shady hackers but the truth is that the practices were widespread and not just confined to the gutter press of the UK. After all, the owner of the News of the World also owns both the Times newspapers as well as considerable media interests in America and I have little faith in Chinese walls when it comes to such a competitive industry. There’s nothing more vicious than a group of news hounds fighting for an exclusive. If you think it wasn’t happening in your country’s MSM, whatever its high moral tone or political stripe, then you’re living in a fool’s paradise.
The other bit of the big lie we’re supposed to swallow is nobody ever asked over the years, where all these wonderful scoops were coming from. Not the fellow journalists, sub-editors, editors, managers or even the owners. Well, I’m sorry but I simply don’t believe that. Journalism of all professions, depends totally on curiosity and ferreting out facts. Every one of them knew exactly the source of these scoops or they should never have been working in journalism in the first place.
Containment and minimisation of damage is now the name of the game but none of the hackers worked for free, so following the money trail would provide all the answers but that does not appear to be an avenue of investigation that’s being pursued very strongly. You can draw your own conclusions from that.
All these abuses are not the problem; they’re just the symptoms of a much bigger problem. We have an institution which has a lot of power that it exercises with little or no responsibility. Yes, there are a few complaints procedures and if you’ve got the patience of a saint and stubbornness of a mule, you might be lucky and get a retraction printed at the bottom of page fifty-eight, in a few year’s time. It’s only when they’ve been caught out doing something totally beyond the pale, like breaking into the mobile phones of a murdered girl and her grieving family for a story, that they seem to be held to account for anything.
They don’t appear to care about how a story was obtained, whether it’s accurate or not and the possible effect it might have on ordinary people. Sell the scare irrespective of whether it’s true or not because it’ll bump up the circulation.
I’ll give you a classic and disgusting example of this “publish and be damned” attitude that really harmed and continues to harm ordinary people. A few journalists started a scare story about the safety of the MMR inoculation, based on the work of a single doctor, who was subsequently struck off the medical register for fraudulent research. Because of the seed of doubt planted by it, a lot of parents decided not to run the risk of that injection or any other immunisation, so now some of their children are dead or permanently damaged or wobbling around on crutches, because things like measles, mumps and poliomyelitis are all doing the big comeback tour. Nearly all these scourges of childhood had become virtually extinct in the developed world but now they’re back. In any other profession, acting like that would be termed reckless endangerment or negligent homicide but no journalist has ever stood trial over it or ever will either. They got an up blip in the circulation and that’s all that counted.
They played on that understandable fear of every parent never to take a risk you don’t have to with your child and having introduced a perceived new risk, where there was none before, they got their circulation boost, so that was okay. Everyone was happy because their career and the circulation numbers were so important, much more important than any possible consideration of a few dead or damaged kids or a bunch of spastics with leg braces and those weirdly shaped aluminium crutches. Yes, the parents made a bad decision and yes, their children paid the price for it, but the responsibility lies with the MSM and those journalists.
The next lie that’s going to be foisted on us at the end of all these investigations, is that any new proposed restrictions on the MSM must be resisted. It is the notion that freedom of the press is something so vital that it must be defended at all costs but it’s the widespread abuses by the MSM itself that have placed it into that danger zone. The question I have to ask is, if restrictions are to be placed on it, so what? It no longer reports on anything of substance and its methods and practices are now on a par with the lowest of the low. If I’m going to fight for the freedom of anything, it won’t be the MSM but the freedom of the internet, especially as I know that particular fight is coming at us.
They simply won’t put their own house in order, even when the worst excesses are uncovered. A typical example of this is the treatment of the award-winning and high-profile journalist Johann Hari of the Independent newspaper, which prides itself on its high moral tone on pretty much every issue it covers. An internal investigation found him guilty of plagiarism and other, even more dubious practices but instead of firing him, he was sent on a journalism course, presumably to teach him good journalistic practise, if not some integrity. The day that he was not fired and frog marched out of that newspaper with his things in a cardboard box, was the same day that any integrity left the Independent newspaper. It didn’t come as any surprise that his plagiarism was discovered and broadcast by the blogosphere, rather than the MSM itself. The MSM no longer does any significant investigative reporting; that’s all moved online because that’s the only home left for it.
Every organ of the MSM is owned by someone and in this modern deregulated age, that someone tends to own whole swathes of it; newspaper groups, portfolios of magazines, chains of syndicated radio stations and whole TV networks. No matter what’s said about journalistic independence, that person or corporation exercises their influence when required to suit their own interests. Nobody owns or can own the internet, so all they can do is try to exercise control of it under various pretexts, all of which will be presented to us as being for our own interests or protection. This they will try to do. You can bet the house on that one.
There are journalists of integrity and independence in the MSM but they’re simply too few and far between. Even then, there is a vague sense that they’re only just tolerated because they provide an illusion of diverse opinion within it.
I do not think there was ever a golden age of unimpeachable journalism but I do know it used to be a damn sight better and by a long chalk. At some point, the MSM left behind the idea of reporting the news and instead moved into the area of presenting the news. The distinction, though subtle, is vital. The facts of a story are now sifted through and only the ones which support the particular desired spin are used, with the rest being ignored. Journalists are nowadays more about PR than news reporting.
If you doubt this, have an honest read through the climategate emails and then try to tell me they were acting as impartial reporters, rather than advocates. All too often, they’re hand in glove with what can only realistically be termed vested interests, because they share a certain approved worldview with those interests. Nobody ever goes near the business interests of the owners or big advertisers, which is why there are so many comfortable cartels and monopolies that nobody ever asks any awkward questions about. As an example, the next time you buy a new ink cartridge for your printer, ask yourself how much it actually cost to mass produce compared to the retail price and how come it’s impossible to buy its equivalent at any significant discount.
The MSM is in decline. I stopped reading newspapers and watching television some years ago and I notice most young people doing the same. I, like them, get my news from the internet, as well as my entertainment. Nobody, except the very young or the very old, bothers with it any more. All the numbers are going south and newsrooms are being relentlessly culled, as the advertising money moves online, where its target audience is or has decamped to.
It hasn’t moved with the times. Indeed, in an age where the internet provides unprecedented plurality of political and social opinion, it has become a monolith pushing a single and not too subtle viewpoint on any significant issue. It’s more about telling people how they should feel about an issue rather than reporting on what people actually think and dissent is simply not tolerated.
Increasingly, the MSM looks like a tired and broken down old dinosaur, limping towards extinction, while that new and nimble species, the internet, looks to be taking over its niche. You’re watching natural selection in action.
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