Just to weigh in with my tuppence on the UK attempt to regulate the media, which is proving to be grimly fascinating in the manner of a slow-motion car accident, this item by the Guardian newspaper points out that the local UK media, such as regional newspapers and the like, could be crippled by the prospect of “exemplary” damages and a cumbersome complaints procedure.
It is, I suppose, a bit late in the day for a leftist newspaper such as the Guardian to notice that heavy regulatory moves weigh particularly on smaller firms. That sometimes is the point – so that big firms can flourish. Notice how bigger firms tend to be more pro-European Union than smaller ones, for example.
In the UK’s financial sector, the wealth advisory industry has been put under what is called the “Retail Distribution Review”, which is designed to stamp out use of commission on sales and force up standards for advisors. A result has been that hundreds of advisors have gone out of business, or been forced to sell their firms to rivals, and so forth. The cost of purchasing financial advice has risen, putting it out of reach of often the very people who need it the most. Result!
There comes a point where one grows weary of fighting against this period of sustained lunacy. When an entire political establishment, such as the current one in the UK, feels determined to lash out, the results are terrible. Eventually, one hopes, this nonsense might get overturned, as may happen as court cases concerning the press regulation show it to be the pile of dog-mess that it is. Nick Cohen explains what a legal minefield this will be.
There appears to be no clear idea of what sort of internet-based publications will be affected. I suspect that those organisations that are not already hosted outside the UK will move, as will some of the people involved. The UK government has, along with the the opposition side, just given another reason for anyone with a love of liberty to get out of here while they still can. People overseas have noticed what a joke the UK is becoming on this issue. Let’s hope it doesn’t give Mr Obama ideas.
If asked which groups posed the greatest threat to individual liberty in modern Britain, I would unhesitatingly cite two groups. These groups are, broadly, the medical profession and those who are generally called ‘celebrities’ – pop stars, film stars and so on.
- “Whig”, at the Adam Smith Institute blog.
The three main parties are all deciding how they will kill off the last vestiges of freedom of the press in Britain.
Ed Miliband was hoping to sit down with David Cameron and Nick Clegg later on Tuesday or Wednesday to agree a historic new deal which would see newspapers regulated like the BBC.
We will know soon enough exactly how they will do this, but do it they will. And you can be sure they will present it as protecting freedom of the press.
I do certainly hope that Guido Fawkes is correct that Lord Leveson’s atrocious proposal for statutory regulation of the press gets no-where, particularly now that it seems some of the supporters of Leveson now realise what dangerous folly it is. Of course, I am not getting my hopes up too much, but it would be a relatively rare good piece of news from UK politics to see this idea shot down, hopefully for a long time.
Here are related thoughts of mine about the Leveson process.
From about 1990 until about 2005, I held speaker meetings at my home in London SW1, on the last Friday of each month. I began them because I was a libertarian and we wanted such meetings, and because, having acquired a settled home, I could. And I ended them because their main purpose for me had been to stir up writing for the Libertarian Alliance, which by 2005 I was no longer doing. When the internet arrived as a mass experience, available to anyone with a computer, a telephone line and a few quid a month to spare, around the year 2000, I ceased being an editor of paper writings for an organised group, and became instead a citizen of the blogosphere. Most especially, I became a regular contributor to Samizdata. Suddenly, the blogosphere was where the action was, where the big opportunity was, and it supplied more than enough food for thought and for writing.
But now, my Last Friday of the Month meetings are to resume. Partly, I have discovered that their incidental benefits to me personally were more real than I had realised. Basically, I felt that, very gradually, I was losing touch with people who were in that vital social hinterland between friends and strangers.
But there is also a more public – altruistic, you might say – reason for me to crank these meetings up again. In retrospect, I think we can now see that the arrival of blogging was a most unusual time for us libertarians. Libertarian notions had spread rapidly during the years just before the internet and then blogging arrived among us. But because the number of libertarian enthusiasts involved was small compared to the population at large, these ideas had found few outlets in the late twentieth century mass media, which meant that we libertarians reacted to blogging like drowning sailors encountering a lifeboat. Meanwhile, our statist adversaries, many of them comfortably ensconced in what were clearly now the old school media, could at first only grumble about how their seemingly God-given intellectual hegemony had been so insolently challenged. At first, these hegemons behaved as if enough bitching by them about the new media, in the printed pages and on the TV chat and comedy shows of the old media, would send us amateur upstarts back to the oblivion from which we had so rudely emerged. When that didn’t work, they tried linkless fulminating in their, at first, very clumsily electrified newspapers. Only when it became clear even to them that the “new media”, and the new voices enabled by them, were here to stay, that anyone could say to anyone whatever anyone wanted to say, did at least some of the old school journos and organs start seriously adapting.
→ Continue reading: A libertarian meeting at my home on the last Friday of this month
To me, one of the great mysteries of the American media is the New York Times op-ed page. How exactly is one recruited to write for it? Given that this Thomas Friedman op-ed generator managed to produce copy that makes at least as much sense as real Tom Friedman op-eds, when is the page going to be outsourced to computers?
Also, when is someone going to create an automated David Brooks? This will surely be at least as funny.
It is good that we have the fact checking, mainstream media to help us.
Incoming from Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home, flagging up a video he has recently put up at YouTube. It is a report of a UK Uncut demo, which includes interviews with UK Uncut people, and some arguments against their arguments.
To me, the most important thing about this is that a libertarian has taken a video camera out there and actually done some reporting. And some editing. And he has put the resulting video out there for us all to look at and listen to. (It lasts just six minutes.)
I strongly agree with Gibbs that listening carefully to the arguments of people like those who speak for UK Uncut is worthwhile. The idea that, because the minds of people saying things we don’t agree with are mostly made up and unalterable, arguing with them is pointless, is just plain wrong. Others listen to these arguments. If counter-arguments are put, this will have consequences. Insofar as we libertarians disagree with these UK Uncut arguments, our own arguments will get sharper, as arguments always do when you actually listen to what you are arguing against.
Here, for instance, is what Gibbs said later, in his LH retro-report (where the video can also be viewed):
The main problem I have, and what the video focuses on, is that the numbers don’t stack up. Their avoidance loopholes would save 15% of the deficit if they were closed, but it would take 115% cuts, relative to the deficit, to pay off the accumulated debt in 37 years. Thirty seven years of services being trimmed will not work, I appreciate why they fear that, but what we really need is radical pro-growth policies and alternative sources of funding wherever it can be done. Democracy has failed to run its bank account properly. We need to bail it out, pay off the debt, and cut the responsibilities which we entrust to its institutions.
The video itself might have been (even) better, in that Gibbs might have put that point rather more eloquently to the people he was talking to than he actually did. But such nitpicking misses what is crucial here, which is that there are times when the important thing is just to start doing it. How many libertarian videos did you stick up on YouTube last week? More than zero? That’s infinity percent more than most of us have managed. Sometimes load/fire/take aim is the way to go. Simon Gibbs has now loaded and fired. His aim, pretty good to start with, will go from good to even better. As a piece of reportage, about what UK Uncut demos are like, this video is already excellent.
In all the ways that truly matter this is a terrific piece of work, and I really hope Gibbs keeps at it.
Incoming from Alex Singleton:
I know you’ve described Noam Chomsky as “a monster” before now, so I thought you might be interested in a review that I have written of his book Manufacturing Consent.
Singleton’s review is entitled “Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky and Herman isn’t just wrong: it is ludicrous”. Chomsky argues that multinational corporations have it all their own way in the mainstream media. Singleton argues otherwise:
As Herb Schmertz, former VP at Mobil Oil, put it in a 1986 book: “[Many people are] under the false impression that the wealthier the organization, the more seriously its views are taken. I wish that were true! If anyone still believes that old canard, I invite them to spend a month working for a major oil company during the next fuel shortage.”
Having worked in the media himself, Alex Singleton now earns his living advising organisations, big and small, about how to handle the media. So, if you run a wealthy organisation, and you are facing some sort of crisis and consequently are liable to get a media beating, why not give Singleton a call? Maybe he could manufacture some consent for you.
For more coverage on The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive 2012, Kim Jong-Un, please visit our friends at the People’s Daily in China, a proud Communist subsidiary of The Onion, Inc. Exemplary reportage, comrades.
- The Onion adds an update to its story of November 14th. Mick Hartley explains.
I left the following comment (that I have expanded slightly) on Natalie’s earlier post, in response to reader Alisa’s surprise at my observation in passing that other British television stations are owned by the government, besides the BBC. I have written about the weird history of British television before, but it is so weird that it deserves a small repeat
Roughly: The BBC had some experimental pre-war broadcasts but launched its permanent service in 1946. This was and is government owned and supported by the licence fee.
In 1955, a second, advertising funded television network came into being called ITV. This was supposedly not owned by the government but had a highly complex ownership structure. Britain was divided into a large number of regions, and the local television station was franchised to a different private owner in each place. (In larger cities, different companies had the right to broadcast on different days of the week and later different times of day). Much programming was national, but a government body was set up to decide which programming was allowed to be broadcast on a national basis. Private companies’ licenses were for seven years only, after which the government held a review and could and sometimes did take their licenses away if they did not satisfy a government defined “quality” threshold. In essence, the private companies controlled the sale of advertising but did not control their own programming.
This arrangement of two channels led to a peculiar piece of British English, in which people will talk about “switching to the other side” when they mean change the channel. TV was perceived as akin to an LP record, with the BBC on one side and ITV on another.
In 1964, the BBC gained a second channel, which was funded by the licence fee just like the first.
In 1982, Channel 4 (and the Welsh version S4C) were created. This channel was and is owned by the government, but is funded by advertising. The channel had an ambit not to cater to the largest audiences but to cater to audiences that were not adequately served (as defined by the government) by existing services. In order to not upset the existing ITV companies, the ITV companies got to sell the advertising for Channel 4, and if Channel 4′s advertising revenues exceeded a certain point as defined by (you guessed it) the government, the ITV companies and not Channel 4 kept the money.
Thus Britain managed to find two largely different models by which advertising funded television networks could be created that did not compete with the BBC and which were controlled by the government.
Rupert Murdoch launched Sky in 1989 (and almost sent himself bankrupt doing it), but it only really became successful in about 1994-5 when it got going with television rights to the English Premier League soccer. This was the first genuine competition that the BBC had ever faced. This, ultimately, is why the establishment in Britain hate Rupert Murdoch so much. He had the audacity to compete with the BBC and to succeed. They will never forgive him this.
As a brief summary of British television since. A fifth analogue terrestrial channel (Channel 5) launched in 1995, after the relevant government bureaucracy expressed great reluctance to issue the licence (refusing to do so the first time it was theoretically put out to tender). This was the first genuinely national and privately owned terrestrial television network in the UK. The various mid 1990s ITV companies were gradually allowed more control over their own businesses and to merge with each other (and the finite life of franchises eventually went away too), a process that finished with the merger of Carlton and Granada in 2004. So as of 2004, Britain had two, privately owned, national television networks, but (for various reasons) neither of them had any money. In a normal market, you would have large, well funded commercial terrestrial television networks that could compete with other companies, but the companies in Britain were so emaciated (deliberately) by the history of regulation that the only real competitor to the BBC was Sky.
A digital terrestrial platform (OnDigital, subsequently ITV digital) was launched in 1998. This featured various channels from ITV, Sky, and other commercial providers, but it went bust in 2002, due to a combination of restrictive regulation – Sky had initially been a co-owner of the consortium, but was forced out from it on supposed competition grounds after the consortium won the licence but before it started broadcasting, and was subsequently required to provide certain programming for it without being able to profit from it in a serious way – and (to be fair) terrible management. This was subsequently replaced by Freeview, which is run and controlled by the BBC, who were refused the licence to run digital terrestrial in 1998, but were allowed to do so in 2003 due to the failure of the previous private option, which was largely caused by BBC friendly regulators.
So non-BBC television is either owned by Rupert Murdoch, owned by the government, or doesn’t have any capital. such as ITV, Channel 5, and various other organisations who broadcast on Freeview.
On top of that, one must observe that S4C is a very weird beast, even in a world of weird beasts. It was set up as the “Welsh” television channel at the time that Channel 4 was introduced in the rest of the UK, and is funded by a mixture of advertising revenue, Welsh specific cultural subsidy, and indirectly via the BBC licence fee. (The BBC has an ambit to produce some Welsh language programming, which it does and then provides to S4C without charge). For many years Wales received this channel instead of the Britain wide Channel 4, whether the Welsh liked it or not. In these days of digital, all of Wales received both channels.
And as for Murdoch, he became powerful because it took as ferocious a competitor as he to find a place within the ferociously anti-competition regulatory framework of the UK. He bet everything to do this and almost lost the bet – in the early 1990s his banks were at one point in the weeks away from calling in receivers. Having won a place inside that regulatory framework, he benefits from the way in which it repels further competitors. One can only console oneself with the thought that the BBC media establishment has the competitor that it deserves. One can also note that Sky’s customers pay a significantly larger sum in total subscription fees than do the BBCs licence fee holders.
Also Sky’s subscribers pay their subscription fees voluntarily, whereas the BBC’s have the money extracted from them by force. (Plus of course, one must pay the BBC’s fee as well before one is allowed to buy Sky’s channels). I won’t comment on which of these things may be more moral.
“And may I say that the exaggerated outrage over the “phone hacking” scandal is particularly hypocritical given the culture of pervasive surveillance of citizens that the British government — ahead even of our own — has established over the past decade or two. Those criticizing the press here are in no position to complain about invasions of privacy.”
Glenn Reynolds weighs in on the the Leveson Report’s recommendation to regulate the UK media. Being a good American living in a land that has a First Amendment – not always well observed – Reynolds is distinctly unimpressed by Leveson. And we Brits should well remember how, if the UK media – or bits of it – are subjected to control, how this will lend some encouragement to authortarians the world over. (This is a fact that some members of the present government, such as William Hague, the foreign secretary, have grasped).