Monday, 11 July 2011

The Fourth Council Estate

The News of the Screws has brought to public attention the long running cosy relationship between the media and politicians. It also highlights what happens when you are slightly "off-message" with the establishment and just how far they will try to squash you in order to keep their self-serving agendas on-track.
Resitance is futile!

I hold no brief for Andy Coulson. He is a Spurs fan responsible for some quite vile news stories. I have written several jokes about him whilst he was editor of the NotW but it is as clear as day that he has been thrown to the wolves by Murdoch in order to keep his Borg Queen in place.

In 2003 Rebekah Wade personally admitted during a Select Committee paying police for stories but so far she is only being called on to give evidence as a witness. Obviously it makes you proud to be British to know that we have the best police force money can buy.

The most damning revelation has been the hacking and deletion of messages from Milly Dowler's phone. It was the story that caused the tipping point in public perception. She ran the story yet is getting the full might of News International behind her. Why isn't she being hauled in to have a not innocent even if proven not-guilty DNA swab taken?

When Vince Cable "declared war" on News International, to their shame, we saw the Conservatives react by marginalising him.

Yet even more digracefully Ed 'The Hypocrite' Miliband demanded that he be sacked for daring to hint that Rupert Murdoch wasn't a fit and proper person to control so much of the national media. In the next few days his (in)actions will be in the spotlight.

Pre-Dowlergate the establishment tried to deal with him in the only way it knew how, to smear and trash. Labour, in contrast to their sudden revulsion with Murdoch, were some of their biggest cheerleaders. Now that The Times and Sunday Times are beginning to get caught up with the scandal as it is now revealed that someone from those papers tried to illegally obtain Gordon Brown's accounts, Miliband may regret his defense of Tom Baldwin on Andrew Marr's show when it seems he had done exactly the same as Cameron:  "Are you lying?" "No" "Well, that's all right then."

But the reaction to Vince is just typical of the politics and media in this country. Scare people until they are unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet and want to bring to account vested interests for their actions. It's why most people are turned off by politics when telling it like it is is something to be attacked by the media. The best advice I ever saw for a whistleblower was to have courage and be prepared to never work in your industry again. I might have to take that advice!

At national level you have a press whose direction is driven by owners' agendas rather than principles of good journalism, whilst at local level, financial pressures on journalists reduces them to regurgitating press releases. There is simply no longer the time available to properly research a story or dig. That's why nationally shortcuts were taken and locally we have seen the death of investigative news. We've seen one lie from the Labour administration communicated by the RBC press office and printed as fact with no checks by journalists [although it probably says more about RBC who have allowed council facilities to be abused for political purposes].

In Reading the council spent years denying that there was a problem over Section 106 receipts, despite knowing that there was an internal report suggesting that there was one and a quite serious one at that. The council gave incorrect information to councillors and Labour is now trying to bury the report. It has taken over a year to get this far and there is more to discover. Yet an ordinary journalist on local paper deadlines would never have been able to research the story and would have been fobbed off way before uncovering anything.

It is not a criticism of the local media, that's just telling it how it is and is especially true now that many local papers derive a considerable proportion on income from local authority publicity spending. What is in for them in biting the hand that feeds them?

Oscar Wilde wrote:

"In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism."

This is still true at both national and local levels. The national picture shows what happens when the press run the agenda and corrupt it to the purposes of their owners. The local picture shows what happens when the local press can no longer be called the custodians of enquiry and holding the elected to account. Different ends of the same spectrum but the same spectrum all the same.

There is something quite rotten at the heart of politics when power is involved. We saw what happened with the expenses scandal when the press failed for years to do their duty as they cosied up to smooth commercial takeovers and garner influence. We've also seen locally the same effect but for other reasons. There is a rotten heart at the centre of this town and that rotten heart is the local Labour party. But they wouldn't get away with it if they weren't aided and abetted in that by a willing host of partners keen to get their hands on council tax money or protect their own self-interest.

Like nationally where people failing to care got the tabloid journalism they deserve, locally the failure to engage with the political process has got us the self-serving council we all deserve. I saw a good analogy somewhere. People sit down on Sunday morning reading their paper, eating bacon and eggs and don't want to know what goes on in the abbatoir.

It's time for people to stand up and be counted and restore politics to the people. Give a damn!

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