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Wednesday 20 March 2013

Emily Bell: Meet the ancient Interwebs

Emily Bell, the esteemed former leader of Guardian Online, attacks the proposed new press regulator:
This is all about restraining a notion of the press and journalists as some kind of easily identified pack which feeds into a neatly industrialised process, when in fact the forces are moving in the opposite direction: anyone can be a journalist, yet the institutional support for journalism has seldom been economically weaker.
She points out that what becomes 'news' can start from, and here is one example of hers, a tweet about a raid that turns out to be Osama Bin Laden's house:
The impact a story has now is as much dependent on the network it travels through as on the news brand that presents it.
Bell's point seems to be that the 'times they are a-changin'. But they're not really.

Of course I can blog here and you can tweet there. People have been stapling together pieces of paper and distributing them since whenever. You didn't then need Bell's "industrial publishing complex behind you," as Lord McAlpine - cited often in this context (Leveson and the oldies failure to understand t'internet) numerous times over Twitter - could tell you.

The trashing of McAlpine started in Scallywag in the early nineties (Google if you must, I'm not linking). More people can read it now but it still got wide enough circulation then for McAlpine to get that scandal sheet shut down.

Go further back and people would be distributing 'news' via things called 'leaflets'. I believe some of these may have been involved in starting revolutions? Much like the new fangled interwebs was tied to that 'Arab Spring'?

I distinctly recall something called a Roneo (illustrated above), which was an extremely messy but cheap printing method employed by activists and campaigners and cranks to 'get the word out'. Every so often something which had been ronoed would make it into the Daily Mail -- 'look what the loony left are saying now' kind-of thing -- much like the Mail cherry-picking the interwebs today.

The idea that because we now have new methods of distribution that we don't still have centres of power alongside them and won't have them in the shiny future is wrong. The people always need to have some way to control the powerful, which is what setting up independent regulation of the press is all about.

Self-regulation doesn't work (that big inquiry just proved that), government regulation is not desirable, so that leaves ...

Once the independent regulator is set up it can evolve and tweek and whatever else might need to done. The point is to win it first, which is why the press barons are going apeshit and throwing their toys out the pram.


One note on the beloved Ian Hislop, Editor, Private Eye.

His big point seems to be that you just need Lily Law because all the bad stuff which led to Leveson was illegal anyway and the law just needed applying. So why was there a press code? That wasn't law it was just the industry defining how it should practice. Leveson showed not just law breaches like hacking but constant code breaches, contempt for code, but alongside absence of remedy for the powerless.

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