Responding to Nicholas Jones

7 January, 2008

I had a piece in the Christmas double issue of Tribune responding to former BBC journalist Nicholas Jones’s tirade against bloggers. Anyway here it is ….

Recently in these pages former BBC correspondent Nicholas Jones lamented what he saw as the end of impartial political reporting and the unleashing of “unregulated attack adverts” due to the rise of internet TV and bloggers.
In a sense proponents of internet politics should please guilty to Jones’ charges. Undeniably most political content on the net is partisan if not directly linked into the party machines and it would be astounding come the next general election if political videos don’t play at least some role in the campaign.
This should not detract from the woeful holes in Jones’ analysis. Yes Ofcom might be an out of touch regulator but it’s a technological absurdity that it can regulate internet TV the same way it does terrestrial. If SunTV or whoever don’t like what Ofcom rulings they can broadcast from outside its jurisdiction and this is nothing as compared to the difficulties of regulating content uploaded to Youtube or foreign internet TV.
There is also a cultural paradigm that Jones doesn’t understand. The internet is committed to freedom of speech, indeed it is the central tenant of online media. The idea that you can post whatever you like is deeply embedded so stopwatch political journalism on the net has as much chance of becoming the widely accepted norm as a Gloucester Old Spot has of gaining a pilots license.
Jones contends that “Established broadcasters will be at an immediate competitive disadvantage” if new entrants don’t face restrictions on impartiality that the present broadcasters do. I would dispute this. In news coverage, impartiality is a virtue not an encumbrance. While some people may want to go down the Fox News route, there are far more who don’t.
We should also avoid the trap of believing  the hype. Blogs and internet TV are a relatively small part of the media. Most don’t even touch on politics. Of those that do an even smaller proportion actually break stories, most comment on news from the mainstream media or activities in the bloggers own life. Rather than being viewed as competition new media is more a companion where stories that people pick up from the mainstream can be delved into.
There is a sense journalists are just a bit peeved that what was once their exclusive preserve is opening up. The system that many journalists grew up with is falling down at what is a worrying pace. It used to be that journalists report the news to a grateful citizenry and now the citizenry is trying to muscle in. What about the professional ethics of the journalistic trade? What about accuracy? OK some blogs do play fast and loose but others that often specialise such as Arms Control Wonk contain far more detail than what is available in the broadsheet press.
What of the old media? The general trend of newspaper readership is down, the only significant exception are free newspapers. Traditional press barons are powerful and will remain so even with the advent of a much more diverse online media but their power is not what it once was. As life moves increasingly online some of the power of the old media will be brought over to the new but new entrants will distribute power more widely than at present.
There may be trials along the way but moving to a media that is more diversified with lower thresholds for entry will mean more voices are heard. Being part of a movement that seeks to empower those without power the benefits should be clear.

P.S Anyone who is not a subscriber to Tribune gets whipped by Tom.

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