Muzzling the Internet

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Is Leveson about democracy? Does it or will it address online media?

“The news media has a material impact on the direction of public policy, as well as the profile of companies and the confidence of markets. The gaze of the news media also has the effect of holding governments, individuals and organizations to account—or at least to scrutiny,” 

writes Andrew Currah in his ‘investigation into the likely impact of the digital revolution on the economics of news publishing in the UK’ titled ‘What’s Happening to Our News’. Basically, the news media have sat themselves on a pretty big throne – one that, however, seems to have a wobbly leg that can tip power off the side instantly. With traditional and social responsibility on the line, as it always is when truth is the promise of journalism, we seem almost dumbfounded at the changes of the digital revolution – a weapon for success or one to topple the throne forever? “The digital revolution would appear to empower citizens and strengthen democratic engagement,” says Currah, and it’s hard to deny when technology gives rise to so many possibilities for whomever chooses to use it, but what is making everyone sweat at the moment isn’t democratic choices made by the audience, but controlling choices made by the press and its negative repercussions. “In certain quarters, the news media is not only failing in its civic function, but is also exposing citizens to sensationalist coverage, loaded with misleading and harmful information,” Currah’s chapter on ‘A democratic deficit’ concludes, a failure which gravely complicates working with political establishments and public figures, something which brought us Leveson.

In Emily Bell‘s article on the Guardian ‘The Leveson inquiry is irrelevant to 21st-century journalism’, she brings up major limitations to the very reccommendations which are meant to set limits themselves: “The relevance of the Leveson report in protecting privacy and curtailing the excesses of press behaviour has to be questionable from the outset, as its remit is both narrow and historic … Leveson deals with the nefarious ways of publishing personal information; it deals with the fallout of incestuous relationships run from the heart of government; and it deals with the personal cost of people crushed by journalism-as-showbusiness. What it cannot deal with is the regulation of the press in the 21st century.” The article mentions an exchange between lawyer Graham Shear and Lord Justice Leveson wherein the web of social media (Twitter and Google in particular) are “described as ‘an extension’ of existing media,” to which Bell has to say: “this is not true now and cannot be true in the future.” A comment on the article mirrors the difficulty of properly monitoring the biggest, most problematic presence there has ever been in the media: “I’m pretty sure that the internet is still impossible to control without resorting to China-level restrictions on it.”

Privacy and reputation seem to carry a price higher than gold (high enough for Lord McAlpine to sue almost half of Twitter), so with the internet and its boundless reputation-trashing power, will the UK eventually follow China’s tight-grip example? Will Leveson’s reccommendations have any effect when there’s still the world wide web to tackle? In any case, it’s safe to say I won’t be retweeting much until I know for sure.

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The future is upon us

Is new technology an advocator of democracy? How much power do we have?

“The current crisis of journalism is weakening public understanding, and poses a threat to democracy” writes James Curran in his article ‘The Future of Journalism’, in regards to a widespread view among journalists. Is that the case, or is journalism misrepresenting democratic choices by “defending businesses and the police” for example, and in local papers’ case – “local elites”? It’s no mystery that old and new media alike are influential on many levels, but what is uncertain is how we should look at the increasingly large presence of new media technologies.

Curran mentions the view of a journalism Renaissance; believers would say the rise of web-based journalism compensates for the decline of the traditional, providing more content, information, analysis, and precision – hardly hurtful to democracy. He also gives attention to the term ‘journalism’ transforming entirely to become ‘journalistic activity,’ a professional-amateur network that gives the public more power than ever before.

Public power is a red thread in another of Curran’s texts, ‘Technology Foretold’, wherein he discusses the history of television whilst disproving technological hype, and how journalists produced misinformation about new media. The arrival of interactive television was no less than a promise broken, suffering from “underinvestment, lost money and was a consumer flop”. In the 1980s, “cable TV did not inaugurate an economic and social revolution,” he writes, but do different mediums of new technology have the chance to now?

Future Publishing‘s Mike Goldsmith puts his efforts toward ensuring app success, maybe the social revolution TV did not bring, on iPads and tablets (arguably the very attribution of new media) and said in an interview that to “extend the life of a brand”, especially outside the UK, it was beneficial not to go with print media, rather allowing publications to grow digitally, incorporating even ‘second screen’ applications that involve interaction and tutorials.

In retrospect, as is the frequent conclusion when discussing technological development in journalism, new technology gives birth to much more content and public cooperation than the exaggerated promises of television’s beginnings, and the future may well hold endless possibilities for democratic action.