A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

Posts Tagged ‘Media’

A cynical take on referendum campaigns

In Constitutional Spotlight, Events, The Media on February 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm

By Sean Wyer

Cross-posted from They Say it so Seriously…

Britain’s first referendum in a while is fast approaching. As you probably know, the one option is AV (alternative vote) as opposed to our current ‘first-past-the-post’ system. In the spirit of being a good citizen, I thought I would make sure I was making the right choice, so I didn’t ruin the country by accident.

I was aware that the referendum isn’t an issue contested by people, but by ideas, so maybe their websites would make me think.

The people campaigning against the alternative vote didn’t really have any ideas. They just talked about loads of irrelevant public-services-related items that people need, such as bullet proof vests and maternity units, which don’t have anything to do with voting systems, but some ‘PR expert’ in an office seems to think we’ll believe them if they say ‘vote yes in the referendum and loads of people will die’ (paraphrased). Which is probably a lie. They also said (also paraphrased) ‘it’s too complicated for normal people to understand’. Which isn’t actually an argument, and succeeds in condescendingly insulting the public’s intelligence.

AN APPALLING BLACKMAIL TECHNIQUE

I thought the other side might be less terrible at convincing me. If you look really hard, you can actually find some information on their site, but it’s obvious they’re pretty much the same as the other guys, just funded by people who will benefit in the future if their side wins, which means they’re basically an advertising campaign. Their website pulls the age old trick of having a war vet talking about democracy, which seems like a desperate move, using ‘selling stunts’ instead of actual politics.

AN EQUALLY CRUDE ADVERTISING CHOICE

Both sides essentially admit that they don’t have a convincing enough political argument. They make it obvious that the people funding their campaign will enjoy plenty of success (or maintain it) if they win, because both sites have an air of desperation and power-hungry marketing techniques about them.

Don’t know if either side deserves/will get my deciding vote.

Confused.

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Who would want to be a “Career politician”?

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2010 at 1:29 am

By David Weber

In today’s climate, it seems a question worth asking. In fact, forget that: in the climate of the last decade, or even longer, it seems like a question very much worth asking – not least because the press inundates is with stories of the inexorable rise of the “career politician”.

This is tied, inexplicably, with the fall in the power of the politician in reality. It really began with the economics crises of the 70s and 80s, when the shift of successful economies (yes, even Scandinavian welfare economies, despite their reputation among some as left-wing havens) towards a model of lower taxation and regulation. Global capitalism became increasingly to be seen as sensitive to fiscal policy, of greater importance than a government’s ideal social and economic outcomes.

Whether this is still the case is of course now fiercely debated, although I personally think that global capitalism is as likely to be dead as I am, at the time of writing this article (for the sake of clarity, I am — at least feel — in excellent condition). It is certain that the crash has challenged some of the stricter notions of neo-liberal economists, and fired the blood of closet Keynsians, but the general response of governments to the near-collapse of Banks strengthens the theory that there has been a trend of power away from national governments to international business.

Indeed, despite claims that Brown has run a high-tax economy over the last decade, he was careful to tailor income tax rates at least to the European average (if towards the higher side towards the end of New Labour’s decade and a bit in power) as an active policy. Neoliberalism had by this time become so entrenched in government that raising income tax on the lower paid was seen as a more acceptable adjustment than raising it on the higher-paid in 2007 (thankfully, with disastrous political consequences).

But if politicians have lost de facto power over tax rates, this is nothing compared to the extent to which they have lost power over persuasion, and promoting their own agenda. The rise of 24-hour media (which certainly has been inexorable), and the ever-improving science of electioneering, which I talked about in my previous article, have vastly squeezed the ability of politicians to act on their own conscience, far more than they improved their ability to win elections. In a recent article in the Times, Daniel Finkelstein backed up the view of my previous article that the Tories have a lot further to slide before they lose, whilst showing how devastating the effect of political science on elections really is. In 2005 — the election, incidentally, that the Tories lost — painstaking methods narrowed down an entire electorate to the 2000 voters who were judged as most crucial, who were then love-bombed — sent handwritten letters and a steady stream of propaganda. What room is there for genuine representation in a system where the crucial players are as few as these? More to the point, what room is there for genuine power? No minor politican would want to challenge the rules of the game in such a way, which means that “career politicians” are fighting an impossibly high-stakes game, with only a handful of positions where one could forsee actually setting an agenda — and that’s a generous estimate. And then, of course, upon having climbed to the top of the greasy pole, they would probably find what they suspected all along — that, in the words of Jim Hacker: “I was told I’d have power, and I find that all I have is influence!”*

Diss politicians all you like. Moan about how they waste your money, how they cheat on their (and your) principles and how they’re all the same. But just stop and think, before you deliver the ultimate judgement and condemn them all as money-grabbing, power-crazed cowards: who would actually be in it for money? Who would be in it for power? Only a deluded, uneducated fool**. Only those with no experience of reality. Only a tourist could possibly make the mistake of wanting to be a career politician. For it’d be a high-stress, no-gain career.

*Quote not guaranteed to be accurate
**I anticipate the snark before it comes. No, I don’t believe this applies to Gordon Brown, or any other politician you care to name. Sadly, I think the average understanding of reality is likely to be higher among politicians — at least, from glancing at the Tabloids from time to time.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

In Home Affairs, The Media on September 1, 2009 at 9:10 pm

“The only perpetual guarantor of independence is profit”,

claimed James Murdoch magnificently, as if stating something profound and enlightening for British debate, unaware perhaps that to most in Britain he would instead sound like the lunatic fringe of the right-wing of the 80s, let alone the 21st century. But his contributions to the debate, ill-timed and unconvincing though they mostly were (a friend judged it succinctly as “a rant”), did bring to light and interesting quandry the media is now in.

The private media is in an uncomfortable position in general (the BBC too, though for rather different reasons, having been embroiled in a seemingly never-ending series of scandals recently), of having a model of business bringing in insufficient cash to satisfy the demands of a market where content is expected by the consumer to be free at the point of access. This is partly as a result of the recession, but partly because of more fundamental problems. One of the interesting factors in the way that technology has been changing the marketplace is that a commonly understood and agreed set of rules has not yet been developed, and is difficult to when it is changing so rapidly. To cease prattling like a politician for a moment, the media is thus faced with a problem: trying to reconcile what might be unrealistic assumptions on the part of the consumer with the bare necessary demands for a private business.

We see this already in the shape of the piracy debate. I do not for a minute sympathise with the desires of those whispering in the ear of Lord Mandelson (well, as the press would have us believe), which would in this blogger’s humble opinion merely be an attempt to overbalance the market in the favour of the business rather than the consumer, and not work in any case. But contrary to what seems like a fashionable line among net bloggers at the moment, I do not believe concerns over piracy are unwarranted — not so much from the perspective of big business, but small providers. As a student of music, I do believe I have an interest in this matter, as the only alternative to a model of intellectual property is an equally unpalatable one, State sponsorship of all creative arts. And as with the debate Murdoch was commenting upon, there is clearly a need not just for compromise, but for drawing together the disunited parts of the equation, convincing consumer and provider of a common ground.

This is not easy. The media, partly because of the recession, and partly because neither the “freemium” or advertising models have so far worked as well as expected, is facing a problem of funding for free internet-hosted news. The Sunday Times editorial said that the media has breathed a “collective sigh of relief” at Murdoch’s decision to start charging for internet-hosted content, and  that others will quickly move to the same position, but I suspect that the sigh has one notable exception: News International itself. The first to make such a decision will most likely be the first to be punished for it, and worst. Private providers to not normally act collectively, not surprising given the level of competition. I would be surprised if they chose to here.

It is therefore understandable that News International chooses to gnash its teeth at the BBC, for it is difficult to tell how well a charging service of internet content will work in competition with a free at the point of access model that the BBC offers. It would require private providers to convince the consumer that what they are offering represents a special alternative to the State media, worth true value for the extra money invested. And unlike something like Healthcare or Education, this might prove more tricky: firstly, internet hosted content would be far harder to secure from “piracy”; secondly, as many have pointed out, it appears far harder to convince people of the extra value that comes with splashing out on the net, than with more measurable products sold outside. It is far easier to see the advantages of going private to purchase extra drugs, for example, than paying a subscription to read the Times when you can glean your news from the BBC and the host of independent free alternative sources such as blogs.

There are doubtless many ways of structuring a fee-charging online content model, from “adverts/no adverts” (cf. Spotify) to a subscription with a minimum amount of free access to content, such as the Financial Times uses. But ultimately, though Murdoch was wrong in most respects, I see his point in one: the size of State provision does matter. Make the BBC too big, and too generous, and ultimately it can not just compete but defeat: and the private sector in journalism will need a bailout of its own. As there is already talk  in government of “top-slicing” of the licence fee, it is clear that this is not merely a hypothetical danger; in a time of recession, it is one that needs careful evaluation. The BBC needs to be about provision, and increasing choice, not squeezing the private sector. It may turn out to be better to slim down the BBC a little than make the mainstream media reliant upon the taxpayer as well.

To claim the only guarantor of independence to be profit is madness. But neither is public provision an acceptable guarantor of independence on its own. Not only the public but also the private sector in journalism in Britain need cherishing; if, in the case of the latter, grudgingly, reluctantly and distastefully so.