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June 15, 2007

Polly on the Press

All Hail hTe Grindaua!

The malevelovence of the media

At least she's entirely correct here:

The newspaper agenda, slavishly followed by the BBC, reflects a profoundly dystopic image of a society where nothing works, everything gets worse, public officials are inept, public services fail, tax is wasted, lethal dangers proliferate, and everyone conspires to lie about it.

Although it rather destroys her thesis that there's something wrong with the way that newspapers report. That is indeed an accurate picture of modern Britain, so what's to complain about?

If only the internet had become the promised antidote to the media, a better forum for unmediated exchange of ideas and information. But its prevailing tone is even wilder. Strident, mostly male rightwing cynics, haters and wild conspiracy theorists deter more reasonable participants.

Thanks for the name check there Poll, I do so enjoy being mentioned in the papers.

However, there's one huge thing that Ms. Toynbee has managed to miss. It's really a rather important thing too. Polly's assumption is that it is a right wing bias in the press which creates a right wing bias in the population. This is of course possible, although it's an odd view of how markets work. A more likely scenario, as with all other businesses, is that the press is chasing the already extant biases of the population. So which is it? As I've noted earlier elsewhere, it's actually the latter.

Contrary to the simple explanation that media bias is driven by the personal predilections of proprietors or journalists, they argue that media slant emerges mainly as a result of outlets trying to tailor their news reporting to consumers’ prior beliefs.

So, bang goes the central part of her thesis:

Here's an example of its influence: an overwhelmingly rightwing bias helps explain why Eurobarometer finds the British the least sympathetic of EU nations towards the poor, more likely to blame them for laziness.

It isn't because the press is right wing that we think the unemployed are workshy shiftless chavs, the press is right wing because we already think that the unemployed are workshy shiftless chavs.

I agree, something of a problem if you're the Columnist of the Year and want to move the country in a more social democratic direction but it's the populace that is the problem, not the press. Have to do a Brecht and elect a new people, eh?

June 15, 2007 in Media | Permalink


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Anyway, in my experience left-wing people bitch about the government even more than right-wing people.

Posted by: Blithering Bunny | Jun 15, 2007 10:28:44 AM

"That is indeed an accurate picture of modern Britain, so what's to complain about?"

That was my first thought.

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jun 15, 2007 10:29:36 AM

The point of Blair's recent attack on the media was to discredit or, at least, blunt the mounting criticism of Blair's leagcy.

It was followed a day or so after by a splash headline in the tabloids about: Castration for Paedos, which showed the obsession with spin remains undiminished - especially when it became clear on reading down that drug treatment to reduce libido is already used with sex offenders.

I recalled vividly a conversation I had with a then BBC correspondent at a book launch jolly in Westminster back in 1998 - he has long since retired. We were mulling over the ascendancy of government spin over substance and the way Parliament had been sidelined. His incisive assessment then: Governments who live by the media, die by the media.

That is what has happened and Blair has just come to realise that he has no remaining credibility.

He is not taken seriously. The instinctive reaction of most journos now to some claimed achievement of government policy is to wonder about all the parts to the story that have been deliberately buried - so they dig harder.

Remember that leaked email sent on 9-11, 2001, from Jo Moore, the special adviser of Stephen Byers, about it being a good day to bury bad news?

Posted by: Bob B | Jun 15, 2007 10:58:56 AM

This whole right-wing bloggie contention of Polly's may be correct - at the moment.

It is a fact that it's a lot easier to criticise than actually do. It's also a fact that people (generally speaking) find it harder to criticise something that is, even nominally, of their tribe. At least publicly.

The blog phenomenon has only come to prominence since King Tony took the throne. Therefore it is only natural that the blogophere is inherently anti-Labour and hence, from Polly's perspective, right-wing.

The real proof of her statement can only come with a survey of political blogging after ten years of Conservative government. Until then she is basing her conclusions on an incomplete set of results.

Posted by: The Remittance Man | Jun 15, 2007 11:34:17 AM

The whole "right-wing" versus "left-wing" thing is grossly overdone.

For a start, what's remotely "leftist" about Blair's governments?

On key issues, such as privatisation of business assets owned by the state and statutory curbs on trade unions, he has simply continued with policies started by Thatcher governments in the 1980s. The main complaints about Blair's governments relate to the recurring tendancy to mislead or lie, basic issues of competence in government coupled with grotesque waste of taxpayers' money in public spending on failed and failing policy nostrums, and the sidelining of Parliament to launch and relaunch policies without a platform for criticism. The really sad thing is that Blair and the Blairites evidently think that has all been rather smart.

Between the 1997 and 2005 elections, Blair lost nearly 4 million votes and half the membership of the Labour Party. At the 2005 election, more of the electorate didn't bother to vote than the number who voted for Labour candidates. On the evidence, Blair's credibility has finally run out.

Posted by: Bob B | Jun 15, 2007 12:05:39 PM

For a start, what's remotely "leftist" about Blair's governments?

How about increasing the size and reach of state.

Posted by: TDK | Jun 19, 2007 4:27:59 PM