The media are not the enemy of free speech – but those that say they are might be

media

If you spend much time on social media, you will probably have noticed more and more the UK version of US politically motivated actors looking to damage the perception of “the media” or any stakeholder group that might have an opinion that does not converge with that of their own.

This has obviously this has been happening for some time. I’m not pretending to be some sort of sage spotting future trends. We saw how Trump used multiple owned channels to engage directly with his publics and then encourage sharing of content to control the narrative and gain traction by effectively bypassing the much of the traditional media whilst simultaneously looking to denigrate them so as to negate the effects of criticism.

You can see the same tactics used by the Corbynite left in the past few years. Bypass a largely hostile traditional media to focus on direct engagement, owned channels and using outriders on their social channels to create significant noise, including a lot of criticism of traditional media that sounded very like that leveled at the same media organisations by those a long way to the right of Momentum, Novara and the Canary.

Coming back to today (yesterday) in the UK, when you have actors as far apart as Frankie Boyle (https://twitter.com/frankieboyle/status/1254701518290399235) and Tim Montgomerie (https://twitter.com/montie/status/1254769786803765248) both biffing on about whether the media can be trusted, one could argue that the trolls have begun to win the war; the question of media bias / efficacy / fit for purpose is already well under way.

Spending too long trawling through social media feeds of various different political commentators and their public relations / affairs outriders, it doesn’t feel that they’ve started a debate about whether “the media is representative” because they care about objectivity. There is constant, clearly planned attack. They want to denigrate the media so that they can better “control the narrative” and persuade people to support their broad selection of causes. “Don’t listen to those out of touch metropolitan élite journalists. Listen to me instead. I understand you”.

There is a growing trend to avoid playing the ball and simply play the man. Take Guido Fawkes attack on the BBC tonight – https://twitter.com/MediaGuido/status/1255131746162507785. God knows I’ve had challenging engagements when dealing with the BBC and inherent bias which became even more apparent in private discussion with editorial staff. However there was also genuine attempts to engage with arguments and issues that they found unpleasant and I rarely felt personally judged. Unlike Guido who didn’t even both engaging with the argument or content of BBC Panorama program in a series of tweets. He’s running straight on the “you can’t believe what they say so don’t listen” argument.

It’s anecdotal but I’ve chatted to a couple of mates who are well and truly outside the media / politics bubble recently where they’ve repeated this standard rubric to a point where they sound like they’ve been groomed by extremists. “The media don’t know what they’re talking about” or “What right do they have to print that?”. The arguments are resonating outside of their immediate constituency.

So what are the media doing wrong – if anything? In a free society journos should be questioning, looking to better understand and therefore inform, educate and entertain their audience. This means that they will get things (honestly) wrong. Or they will publish legitimately argued opinion that will contradict what your tribe believes.

In general, good; publish and be damned. Unless it’s about my employer or client – for avoidance of doubt, this is a joke. I’d prefer this to “group think” of either ideological and / or state control. But those that wish to control all levels of communications and debate can’t stand it. They want to reach their audience directly; to control the emotional engagement with the news and therefore influence society’s decision making processes.

The constant criticism of “the media” has now reached a fever pitch. COVID has taken the safety catch of certain actors and they are in full on attack mode, stating that the media have “read the country wrong” or are “too negative”. The constant repetition is classic propaganda / comms / marketing theory. Take a simple phrase and repeat it constantly to create an impression, whether it’s objective or not. It is perhaps blackly humorous that that in this case it’s designed to discredit the audience society should rely on for objective commentary.

Of course “the media” aren’t blameless. The ultra competitive nature of the profession combined with governance and editorial systems that are manipulated by certain sorts of operators (some who you might of thought of as the goodies) can lead to surprising publication / broadcast decisions that a little while later, in the full light of day, might regretted. The system we have in place leaves media organisations and individual journalists open to a certain amount of manipulation by those that may look to align their interests with those of a newspaper or simply offer a scoop or titbit of information that meets the needs of the journo / news org and whomever provided the information. Or by those with expensive PR firms and legal advisors prepared to play chicken with relatively impoverished media organisations.

I also think that some journalists are overfond of the role of (appearing to) “speak the truth to power” – including their rather poorly educated understanding of how comms works in organisations beyond talking to them.

However, if one adds in the ongoing challenge of media p&l digital age and the average hack and media organisation is assailed on all sides. By those that wish to dismiss whatever they publish or broadcast because it doesn’t fit the narrative, by the balance sheet and by people like me trying to persuade them to look on my arguments favourably. Who’d be a journalist?

Some of the best and brightest one would hope. At least it means I can be informed and entertained when I consume news throughout the day.

So maybe we should all stand back and take a breath before we criticise “the media” again? Unless we want to live in a world where all government decisions are praised as “brave” and all corporate moves and to be welcomed as “innovative”

Who wants a newspaper that reads like a bloody press release?

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