02 October 2005


This article is about THE most important subject - political power, and it is much easier to achieve power if you can control or manipulate the media. Think of the constant vilificaton of immigrants, the poor, public services and ultimately the Labour party. This happens every day and is a drip drip of propaganda affecting all our thinking.

While the newspapers are unregulated and dictated to by commercial interests they will always be biased in favour of the right wing agenda of tax cuts and public service cuts. Our extreme press vilify the BBC as left wing for daring to give airtime to both sides of the argument. The reality is, even the BBC is affected by the press which skews its agenda to the right.

Yet there is something simple, proven and immediate we can do to remedy this. There are strict laws on impartiality which govern the broadcast media. While these laws are not perfect they prevent overt bias by putting the onus on broadcasters to cover all sides of the argument. All we have to do is extend this law to the press. The press will try their best to get around it and no doubt will still express bias BUT it will at least make it much more difficult for them to get away with their most overt bias.

Opponents may claim this as a restriction on free speech but of course it is nothing of the sort. The press would be free to print whatever they like as long as they give roughly equal coverage* to other points of view. You may say this would be difficult to enforce but of course it seems to work ok in the broadcast media, so why not the print media?

*Ben at Web of Contradictions has quite rightly pointed out that I have misrepresented the Communications Act, I should have put 'due impartiality' not 'roughly equal coverage'. He also goes on to state that perhaps 'due accuracy' might be a better term to use for the press. I ask you to follow the link to his excellent post which explains the Communicatons Act better than I could.


  1. As with any industry it is of couse the ownership of the organization that is the key issue.

    Britain really lacks a big Co-operative Newspaper. Thats why I admire with all my heart the Morning Star.

  2. James, I've been trying to post a comment about Ken Clarke on your site. It doesn't come up with a comment box when I click on it, don't know why?

    Anyway you don't need worry about Ken Clarke, he is too tainted by association with the Thatcher government and BAT. Flogging fags to poor people in SE Asia is not going to be a good selling point when trying to claim to be on the poor's side. He is certainly no Tony Blair! Clarke has already lost one leadership bid, if he can't even win amongst Tory MPs, he won't win amogst the public. Its between Davis and Fox and Davis will win.

  3. By having a free press - a staple of democracy - private newspaper/editors are able to publish what they like, as long as it's within the law and they're able to turn a profit. It's that same freedom that lets us blog off the top of our heads, and it follows directly from freedom of thought and expression.

    If you start regulating the content on political grounds or demanding that people cover both sides of every argument with equal vigour, then you're breaching freedom of press, duplicating effort, reducing the overall quality of journalism, and perhaps driving some publications out of business (through necessity or choice). The Morning Star would have the hardest job of all, having little money and being totally partisan. Besides, we've already got one state broadcaster which tries to cover all bases. Would we be happy if that came to be our only source of news, analysis, and opinion?

    The answer is to teach people to be smart, well-read, and independent-minded, rather than letting them keep their Daily Mail but read half-hearted pro-tolerance articles they should have read in a liberal paper or, even better, in a book.

  4. B4L, I know what you are saying, but remember the current laws cover all the broadcast media not just the BBC and I would argue it doesn't stop their free speech or distinctiveness, look at channel 4. It just means they have to be balanced in their coverage. Why can this not be extended to the press?

  5. But C4 developed in an environment in which TV broadcasters were expected to be non-partisan (that expectation may disappear when the TV market is liberalised and there are hundreds to choose from). Applying the same rules to privately-owned newspapers whose partisanship has been established over one or more centuries is going to be fiercely resisted. Isn't it better that people read widely and think critically, rather than work on the basis that they're idiots who'll believe anything put in front of them and therefore must be fed a homogenised product?

    Think about blogging: you don't need political censorship because there are thousands of bloggers at every point of the compass, and people are free to choose from amongst them. The greater the variety of sources, the less the need for some authority to ensure that each one itself offers a variety of views.

    Obviously there is a point at which concentration of media ownership begins to make it harder for people to encounter different opinions, but you have to assume that people won't just buy/read *anything*

  6. "TV broadcasters were expected to be non-partisan (that expectation may disappear when the TV market is liberalised and there are hundreds to choose from)."

    Well only if Labour caves in to Murdoch pressure and removes the laws governing broadcast media on balanced coverage.

    Of course there is going to be resistance, but if it works for the broadcast media it will work elsewhere, I can't see why you are defending the press barons? Murdoch alone controls 41% of circulation in this country. How can this be healthy for democracy?

    Research shows people buy papers for the trivia, crosswords, sport, but that does not mean they don't read the politics and get affected by what it says.

    Like advertising, if you say something often enough, however biased or misleading, people will believe it. This is dangerous, the media barons argue against taxation and public services because it suits their business interests and also boosts their influence on governments.

    Don't think people like Murdoch don't get favours off politicians, buying favourable coverage in his media in return. This is not something that is in anyway healthy for our democracy. It is this that is an 'homogenised product' as you claim. Blogging may be free and amateur now, but don't think this freedom will last forever, as commercial influence comes in, more and more right wing bloggers will come to dominate I'm sure. Of course blogging has been wonderful for freedom of speech and long may it continue. It is hopefully going to be much more difficult for concentration of ownership and control of opinion to take hold but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens in my lifetime.

    To have a law governing balanced coverage for the print media would be good for democracy. It works for TV and radio, it would work for the press too.

  7. I think it still boils down to you wanting to protecting people from views they're unable to deal with. Surely we should be equipping people to use their freedom wisely, rather than pile rule upon restriction. What about the opportunity for abuse by governments?

  8. It is a quick fix. I admit it would be better if education was so good everyone understood the motives of press barons, but sometimes regulation is needed to have a free press, a free market whatever. Its like saying we should have voluntary education for children. Unless you give the law some steel, a lot of people, whatever good intentions they have will ignore it, and this affects us all.

    What we have now is NOT a free press, by doing nothing we are accepting the status quo of rightwing propaganda pumped out for commercial interest not the public good.

    Look at the broadcast media in the US, its no accident our broadcast media is more informative and balanced, its regulation that got us there. I think its the deregulated model of the US that is most open to abuse by governments and corporations.

    If you really think regulation is to control people's minds, why are you not campaigning (along with Murdoch) for the demise of our current broadcast regulations on balance? Is it because you recognise the regulation has been a success?

  9. Interesting post, but:

    'The press would be free to print whatever they like as long as they give roughly equal coverage to other points of view.'

    I've argued over at my blog that this is a mischaracterisation of British Broadcast law, and in any case not something we want.

  10. Ben, you are quite right, thanks for correcting me.