Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Independent Media.

On Saturday, I listed “quality journalism” as something we’d miss under a libertarian regime. Given the independence of the media is supposed to act as something of a foil to keep the government accountable, I felt the irony warranted an extended post on the subject.

An independent media is supposed to be a cornerstone of open government. I’m not saying there aren’t decent private journalistic enterprises — the Huffington Post has got quite a reputation, not to mention WikiLeaks, and the traditional great newspapers were all private enterprises — but there’s certainly no comparison on the television front. The BBC World Service, and more recently our own home-grown ABC News 24, put commercial TV news to shame, and are considerably more impartial than private news channels. Part of this is because both Aunties have a contractual requirement to be impartial, while there’s no such rule preventing corporate channels from being beholden to corporate interests. I read an article the other day which expressed this very succinctly:
“...the fundamental practice of so-called ‘professional’ journalism as a courtier of power”
Compare the Beeb’s news reputation to that of Fox News, whose slogan of “fair and balanced” infamously belies its rabidly conservative, corporate agenda, or MSNBC, which has a similar reputation for supporting the Democrats. Compare the ABC’s news channel to the tabloid current-affairs that passes for “news” on Nine and Seven (or in the Herald Sun), or the Greens-bashing that goes on in the pages of our only national broadsheet. Even The Daily, pioneering electronic newsmagazine, editorialised in its first issue claiming neutrality yet in the same paragraph making it perfectly clear that it would support economic libertarianism — Tea Party politics — which is considered extremist anywhere outside the USA. Is it any wonder that in America, with no significant public journalistic outlet, the most trusted newsman is one whose agenda is comedy?

As mentioned, I believe this is due to the fact that public news outlets, by virtue of being state-owned, are regulated specifically to avoid partisanship; and by virtue of being state-owned, nor are they beholden to corporate interests. If you owned a private newspaper, and would benefit from an economically libertarian government, wouldn’t it make sense (from a selfish point of view) to advocate such policies and agitate for the party that would give you them in its pages?

I don’t mean to advocate for the end of private journalism — far from it. My own blog carries ads, although they’ve not put a cent in my pocket yet and I’m not writing here to make money. But I believe that a strong tradition of public journalism, such as we see here and especially in Britain, is necessary — and maybe some official definitions and standards of what can be legally called “news” would be nice.

1 comment:

  1. I was actually thinking about something similar to this the other day, in regards to independent media vs state-controlled media. Now, while an independent state-owned media can remain quite free of bias, many people think that an independent news organisation is more reliable than a state owned one. Personally, I disagree.

    See, with a state controlled media, (e.g. Xinhua), the party controlling the media is a known factor. Xinhua's existence is to provide news in such a way as to ensure that the news released will improve the CCP's control over China. This being a relatively easy thing to predict, it can be taken into account when I interpret my news articles.

    A private news organisation, on the other hand, has several different factors at work, each contributing to bias:

    -the consumers, who will change news providers if they find their current one doesn't provide news that suits their existing biases (even if said news is actually accurate)
    -the advertisers, who want to put pressure to make sure the message in the content doesn't affect the message in the ads (I seem to recall that the episode of Buffy that caused the most havoc for the network was not the any of the so-called "controversial" ones, but rather the one where they dissed Fast Food)
    -the owners and senior editors, who try to make the organisation provide information to their benefit.

    Each of these factors is a relative unknown, with different ways in which they affect the bias presented by news organisations and with each factor having a different weight for different stories. It's much harder to judge than the bias present in State-controlled sources, and thus much harder to accommodate for when deciding how much of the news story is or isn't bullshit.