Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Press and politics and democracy

So the Murdoch Empire is facing its decline and, as many hope, fall. Many saw his influence as malign and corrupt to the body politic.

In many an authoritarian country, the fear is that those in power run the press. It seems that here, the reverse is true, this particular press baron pronounces and the government asks how high do you want us to jump.

Politicians paid homage to the Emperor Rupert not out of respect but out of fear. His thumb up or down was the difference between their party winning or losing in an election. Or did it.

There is much evidence to indicate that like the good businessman he undoubtedly is, Murdoch saw a trend and got onto the bandwagon to back the winner. But politicians failed to see that the Emperor had no clothes and clutched him or his underlings close not out of friendship but out of fear.

There is no doubt that his anti-European, pro-American agenda skewed politics in the UK. The populist causes that his press pushed became the discourse of parliament. His agenda was followed.

If politicians dared to argue the opposite they were targeted and made to look like fools or even worse as knaves. Not a healthy state of affairs for a Parliament that is supposedly to be a representative forum of the people.

Democracies need a varied and healthy press. Without doubt Murdoch’s money has kept a number of national newspapers afloat. Without his intervention there would have been a lot less newspapers for the great British public to read.

Let’s not forget that when the News of the World was up for sale the only other bidder was Robert Maxwell. Yes, enough said.

The old leftish Daily Herald had been sold by its trade union owners to become a new left of centre Sun, but was still losing dollops of cash and closure was imminent. Along came Murdoch dipped his hands in his pockets and re-launched it to become one of our most successful tabloids.

His intervention has also saved the Times and possibly the Sunday Times. So if a diverse press simply means lots of different papers Murdoch has certainly played his part. But if diversity means a range of views, then that’s a different story.

Murdoch’s media had but one purpose, to access and influence politicians in the commercial interest of News Corp.
There is little doubt that Cameron and his team would have delivered BSkyB to Murdoch if the phone hacking scandal hadn’t broken in its latest more virulent form.

There is now an opportunity to break up this evil empire. A judge led inquiry will look into the inner working of News International and News Corp. But the good judge will cast his inquiry wider to look at the role of newspapers and the media in a democracy.

Just as Britain has evolved to create a more devolved democracy the press have collectively failed to reflect these changes. All our National newspapers have one thing in common; they are all so heavily London centric. They concentrate almost exclusive on Metropolitan issues. London and the South East is the centre of their universe, if it happens outside, forget it.

These last few weeks the Westminster parliament has concerned itself with the malign influence Murdoch’s group has had on parliament and the Westminster government. But what about the distorting affect the London press has on Welsh democracy.

Can a Welsh reader of a national daily read about what is happening in the Welsh Assembly? Was there any coverage of the referendum on more powers? The answer is no, never, nothing. Our so-called ”national” press carry stories about education, health, housing but what they mean is English education, English health and English housing. It’s as if devolution has never happened.

Yes, every democracy needs a vibrant and free press.  Fleet street has taken Northern Ireland seriously over the years because of strife and the Irish question. Scotland is taken seriously because of prospect of independence.

But Wales? No, it never appears on the radar. The country is too small and unimportant for the Metro clique. Concern about newspapers and democracy are valid.  But surely the democratic deficit that exists in informing those living in Wales about their government should also be a concern.


  1. Again, you mix terms like 'Wales' and 'Welsh' and so it is hard to follow your thread.

    For the non-Welsh living in Wales the news coverage within country is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, it is excellent.

    There may well be a problem for the Welsh living in Wales. But surely this is par for the course. The Welsh living in Wales have always got problems; problems with this, problems with that, problems with everything.

    They are life's perennial victims. This is what they have been educated to believe. And educated to believe it very well I might add.

  2. KP.
    I think Gareth would agree that when he uses the term Welsh he means all the people living in Wales irrespective of their origin.

    Even if you yourself termed yourself non-welsh you will still use the NHS in Wales, Educate your children in Wales etc, How can you not want to be informed of what is going on?

    Or are you like some expat in the Costa del Sol who thinks they are living in some kind of bubble in which the politics of that country (or rather nations ) will not intrude?

  3. Well said Gareth (and Glyn). As someone who's spent almost exactly half his life in the London area and half in Wales, I thoroughly agree. In fact, I would argue that the London-centric press isn't even good for Londoners because it deludes them into a narrow, blinkered view of the world and sucks too many mega-rich into the city at the expense of ordinary people. Even the more enlightened papers (Independent/Guardian) are part of the problem. What we need is some healthy decentralisation and diversity. I'm not daft enough to think the demise of Murdoch will give us that but there's an outside chance it could open up a few possibilities.