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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.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
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