Tony Blair today pronounced on the state of the “media”. I agree with a lot of what he says, but it is largely yesterday’s debate. He makes cursory comment on the new forms of media and not in any way that really talks to how they are democratising the news and editorial process. It’s the speech of an outgoing Prime Minister who does not spend much if any time on-line. It’s worth a read, but I was hoping for more.
Speed of News Agenda
When I fought the 1997 election – just ten years ago – we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening the agenda had already moved on. You have to respond to stories also in real time. Frequently the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. In the 1960s the government would sometimes, on a serious issue, have a Cabinet lasting two days.
Impact vs Accuracy
The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st Century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not the masters of this change but its victims. The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by “impact”. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.
…..the fear of missing out means today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no-one dares miss out . . . . rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself.
New Forms of Media
New forms of communication would provide new outlets to by-pass the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media. In fact, the new forms can be even more pernicious, less balanced, more intent on the latest conspiracy theory multiplied by five. But here is also the opportunity. At present, we are all being dragged down by the way media and public life interact.
Public Life Damaged
I do believe this relationship between public life and media is now damaged in a manner that requires repair.
The damage saps the country’s confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions, in the right spirit for our future.
I’ve made this speech after much hesitation. I know it will be rubbished in certain quarters. But I also know this has needed to be said.
[tags] Tony Blair, Feral Media [/tags]