Having been in transit the last few days at a hectic pace, travelling from Germany to France to Luxembourg to Belgium to France again, I mostly heard about Corbyn’s speech in Edinburgh on the topic of the future of the British press through Twitter. Having proven an unreliable news source, I wanted to read the whole speech; I found the full text on Labour’s website this morning. Here’s what I think.
I’ll start with the positives. His pointing out of the fact that the British media is owned by too few people is one worth making. He’s also correct that there are more right of centre newspapers than left of centre ones, and that this can have an unbalancing effect on the body politic. He is also correct that too few people in the UK have faith in the British media.
But there is, as ever with Corbyn, a lot more negative ground to cover. He states that he wants the media in Britain to be “set free to do their best work, not held back by media bosses, billionaires or the state.” Except, then one of his core ideas is to use the state to prop up “not for profit” media outlets. How this will make journalism freer from the influence of the state is beyond me – while not being anything as drastic as “nationalising the news”, as some right of centre outlets branded it, the state funding supposedly independent outlets is a real step towards such a thing. There are numerous precedents for such an experiment going spectacularly wrong, and Corbyn of all people should be well aware of them already. Further, he wants to tax the big tech firms to do this, which compounds all of these problems.
Corbyn’s idea to have licence payers vote for BBC executives is a terrible one as well. The electorate for this would soon be taken over by a niche group of people who have the time and headspace to tune in to such a thing, and would thus result in at best a BBC executive board which was less than ideal, or even worse a completely dysfunctional board or at very worst, one with genuinely unpleasant intentions.
The poorest idea in Corbyn’s Edinburgh speech by miles, however, was to give journalists the power to elect their editors. This would effectively make editors redundant altogether, as they would serve at the behest of their supposed employees’ good graces. This would soon see print media completely unravel, and all journalism jobs becoming unpaid ones essentially, supposedly the thing Corbyn says he wants to avoid.
My main conclusion from reading Corbyn’s speech is that he isn’t a real fan of the free press. It’s never been all that kind to him or his pet causes, so I kind of get it. In his heart of hearts he would like the press to be run by left wing activists who ran around trying to uncover the world’s injustices, all of the costs of which to be covered by the state in one way or another. In Edinburgh, he mostly just tried to hide this in semantics.
The Guardian described what you describe as Corbyn’s worst idea thus to “allow journalists to elect their editors, based on an indicative ballot system in place at the Guardian.” It has worked well for the Guardian which has been a highly vibrant and profitable paper and is now finding a successful funding model on the internet. I am against the Government interfering in how companies make individual appointments but it is not as you say.
The BBC likes to describe its licence fee-payers as “shareholders”. As a shareholder in a company I get to elect the board. Either it should back the election or stop its pretence of describing licence fee-payers as shareholders. I appreciate that throughout history the masses have been told they are not to be trusted with democracy and voting but in my opinion more democracy is better than less.
The Government has always propped up not-for-profit – sorry for-profit media – through such devices as local public notices which have had by law to be advertised in local papers, Government advertising etc. etc.
There is already tax funded “public interest” journalism. The BBC funds 150 “local democracy” reporters through its “local news partnership” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/insidethebbc/howwework/partnerships/localnews and Google has already done such a thing in France and Belgium.
Every new media from the first penny post in the 1680s through to newspapers and television has been heavily criticised and wanted to be “controlled” by politicians. There is however a lot to be considered in Corbyn’s speech for those interested in a vibrant media ecosystem and free speech. May be some to be rejected, some to be modified and it was clearly some speculative “kite flying” and not definitive Labour party policy which leaders should be allowed from time to time. But we do need to consider seriously and on its actual merits what Corbyn is saying.