Press regulation – by whom and in whose interests?
It is not surprising that in the wake of the phone hacking scandal lots of people have called for tighter regulation of the press; I know I have received numerous emails on this subject. But the vital question is regulation by whom?
We have no end of regulatory bodies in the UK but they are appointed not elected and they are not held to democratic account. Appointed by the establishment, these bodies often represent the same powerful interests as the people they are supposed to regulate, meaning they are ineffectual and can offer little more than token gestures. OFGEM failed to stop the price-fixing scandal involving the big energy companies for example.
I wouldn't be in favour of adding another unelected and unaccountable regulatory body - one that would impose the views of its members on the rest of us. Such a body might also be used to further limit the ability of ordinary people to get our positions heard, while being unable or unwilling to tackle the sorts of abuses of media control that led to phone hacking in the first place.
Oversight that would be meaningful would need to be exercised democratically by the mass of ordinary people, including the workers in the media industry. That's not going to happen while the bulk of media is in the hands of the likes of Murdoch.
Control of the political agenda
This election has brought home starkly the influence of the media on politics and the 'democratic process', with such important issues as who looks best eating a bacon sandwich becoming talking points on the evening news. It has also illustrated how the UK media biases their coverage to the main parties of the establishment.
Despite being officially the 6th largest party in this election, contesting 135 seats and 30% of the seats in Wales, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is still for many, the largest political party that they've never heard of. We've faced a virtual media blackout. Even though we've surpassed the threshold where we should qualify for 'fair coverage' TUSC has received the bare minimum of exposure. The reason isn't hard to find; you only have to look at who owns and controls our press.
A handful of media moguls own the overwhelming majority of our press and exert an enormous influence on our political process. Just look at the way politicians over the last 2 decades have been desperate to court the favour of Rupert Murdoch. The photo accompanying this posting is an advert for my preferred choice of reading, the Socialist. It contrasts a workers' paper, written by, sold and read by working class people to images of the Sun being promoted by the leaders of the 3 main parties, including Labour, despite its union bashing, Page 3, lies about Hillsborough and its opposition to everything the labour movement has ever stood for.
For a genuine free press
No press baron is ever likely to give TUSC £1million to fight this election, like the owner of the Daily Express has just given to UKIP. Owners of mass media - TV channels, newspapers, etc use their positions to promote their own agenda and substantially define the political landscape on which parties compete.
Yet whenever newspapers have surveyed their readers in recent weeks on the issues that matter to them they've found, to their surprise, that many of the policies that TUSC stands for are incredibly popular: nationalisation of the railways and utilities, reversing privatisation in the NHS, rent control and council house building, scrapping of all the anti-trade union laws, a £10/hour minimum wage with no exceptions on grounds of age and an end to zero hours contracts. If the press reflected the views of the majority fairly then these issues would be to the fore in the media debate during this election.
We need to campaign for a genuinely free media that is not under big business control. In a socialist society it should be a means of communication for everyone, with its parameters discussed and decided democratically involving the widest possible number of people.
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition Candidate Swansea West