Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

A glasnost moment?

There is great potential for a real transformation in the British media and politics, writes Sarah-Jayne Clifton

August 20, 2011
4 min read

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.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced


2