The broadsheets this morning have several articles discussing the fact that Lord Leveson is due to report the findings of his enquiry soon. There seems to be a little pre Leveson tension in the media, as his summation could shape the landscape of the national media for decades to come.
The main argument that people critical of the press use is that it should be regulated. There are standard arguments to and fro for this: on the one hand, the press argue that the media should not be regulated by a Government who might act in the interests of its powerful friends (people like Bernie Ecclestone and the Hinduja brothers) and stifle accountability in this country. The opposite argument used by people is that press self regulation is failing, and that intervention from an external regulatory body is necessary in order for the venal excesses of the press to be curbed. Another argument used is that the press is controlled by an oligarchy of media moguls such as Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, and their control over the media is just a large a threat to our democracy as Governmental control.
Without wanting to sound like Tony Blair, there is a third way; an independent Government body for regulating the press. But that is not widely regarded as a popular idea by any side.
My opinion is as follows – there is no glass ceiling to prevent people from arguing for their rights if they feel press intrusion or other media wrongdoing is adversely affecting them. The media sometimes rely upon other people’s media illiteracy and this is unfortunate, as people should be aware of their rights. Ultimately there already exists a very efficient and trusted form of regulation in public life – the law courts. Perhaps if people were more minded to sue at the drop of a hat if a paper said something they did not like, this would foster a culture in society of everyone being kept on their toes by the constant threat of a writ dropping on their doormat is they were perceived to be not doing their job correctly. Perhaps if the Government really wanted to help progress the debate about the media’s role in society and public life it could spend some money educating people about ways to hold the media to account by suing them if they feel the media have committed some wrongdoing against them.
If you ask one thousand people what the media is you would get one thousand distinct answers back. You probably won’t believe me, but I know for a fact that media illiteracy in this country is at a shockingly high level. We might look out of our newspaper office and TV studio windows and see thousands of people across the British Isles hearing us, but the fact is that most if not all of these people have not got a clue what the media is or what the social contract between themselves and it might be. You could practically replace the media with a talking raspberry pavlova and most people wouldn’t notice the difference. The media is viewed as conceptually on another plane of agency and accountability in the Universe altogether, far beyond the reach or reproach of the little people on the street. Perhaps with a little publicly funded media literacy work, this situation would change for the better.