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Could this be a glasnost moment for the British media and the politics it has corrupted? That is the question on the lips of many on the left in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and its domino effect across the establishment.To answer it, we have to ask another question – why did it take acts as extreme as hacking the phones of a murder victim and bereaved relatives of soldiers and terror victims by the UK’s largest media corporation before mainstream progressive political actors felt the need to seriously tackle issues of ethics, accountability and monopoly power in the British media?
More important than what triggered this upheaval, or ‘firestorm’ as David Cameron has called it, is what didn’t trigger it and why – how standards of ethics, accountability and basic humanity across large parts of the media were allowed, over decades, to sink to such depths.
The media exerts a constant influence on cultural norms and the moral and ethical landscape in which it operates. It shapes as well as reflects public values and opinion, and right-wing dominance breeds fear, prejudice, hatred, warmongering, sexism and xenophobia.
So where has the left been? To be fair, there has been a lot of brave, persistent campaigning. The NUJ has been taking on Murdoch since he purged the unions in Wapping, working with the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. Together with academics and backbench MPs such as Tom Watson, it has plugged away with research, analysis and proposals and kept issues of media ethics, ownership and accountability on the political radar. More recently, campaigning organisations such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz have taken up the issue – and of course it would still be lingering in political backwaters without determined pursuit by the Guardian.
It is striking, though, that many mainstream progressive figures and organisations have been slow to put their heads above the parapet. Ed Miliband appeared to face a choice between challenging News International or abandoning future hopes for his leadership before he was prepared to speak out. Elsewhere, myriad campaigning groups have by and large acted like media ethics and accountability is none of their business, even though a diverse and democratic, free and accountable media is fundamental to creating the bedrock of public understanding needed for action on progressive issues.
This reflects the enormous imbalance of power between politicians and civil society on one side, and Murdoch, the rest of the right-wing press, and the economic and commercial interests they represent on the other. Many a left-wing politician – from Tony Benn onwards – has learnt the hard way about the risks of going in alone against Murdoch and the right-wing media.
Anthony Barnett, in his analysis of the recent events, points to ‘a collusion of party power with Murdoch’s influence’ resulting from the cohabitation of politicians, journalists and media owners in the same close-knit, incestuous political class. Add to this the police collusion in protecting corporate media interests, and we start to see how Murdoch and other media moguls have been able to suppress criticism of the so-called ‘normal’ operation of a free press.
Of even greater concern is the growing dependence of interest groups on the media as a source of power. Putting out a press release and securing a story is, in the short-term, far easier than the long, hard slog of reaching out to people and communities and getting them on board with your campaign – or the even harder slog of running participative, democratic and deliberative processes that engage and empower people in a way that gives them a voice in and power over organisational strategies and priorities.
The widespread silence of the progressive ecosystem can therefore be seen as evidence of a wider failing on the part of our civil society to value empowerment and support the building of a real counter-power to prevailing economic and political forces.
Hopefully, if our interviews with Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka (page 16) are anything to go by, this could be starting to change. In these and other articles in this issue, we see evidence of the growth of a more involving, participative and movement-based politics, and a willingness to act outside narrow interest areas in solidarity with others, on issues across the whole spectrum of progressive concerns.
The discussion on media reform is already producing new proposals on ownership and plurality, on journalistic ethics and freedoms, and how to fund a diverse, plural and independent media. There is great potential for this to trigger real transformation in the British media and politics, rather than a return to business as usual as we have seen with the banks. But this can only be realised if civil society urgently comes together around a common agenda for media reform – and in active support of its vocal advocates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum