Modern Media - Society Watchdogs or Poodles to Power?


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Questions of failed public accountability and governance lie at the heart of serial crises facing today's societies. Rolling economic breakdowns, rising inequality and looming environmental disasters all highlight the gulf between popular will and politicians' responses. Our media seem blind to this mismatch, unable to link the many problems to their common cause in the loss of people's influence over government.

Patrick Chalmers, an ex-Reuters reporter and author of Fraudcast News, lays out the charges against his chosen profession. He presents an insider's account of how mainstream media are far from being the watchdogs of power they like to pretend. Quite the opposite – the bulk of their output blinds people to their powerlessness in the face of modern politics, at every layer of government.

Yet his is a hopeful story. It includes a plan for how people can make their own media and lay claim to their political voices.

Patrick Chalmers is a journalist and author of Fraudcast News — How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. You can listen to him talking about Fraudcast News in a “pop-up” interview from last year’s Rebellious Media Conference.

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  • You may have guessed from the text announcing this webinar - I think our media are poodles of power not society watchdogs - and I say that as an ex-member of conventional media myself. My aim tonight is to take you beyond this bald claim with some evidence and anecdote to help the case I ’m making. It’s one that seems to get easier to make with each passing week. Nothing has helped more to force the point home over the last year in Britain than the phone hacking scandal. This story blew up, after years of persistent work by the Guardian journalist Nick Davies, with revelations the News of the World was involved in hacking into the voicemail account of murdered teenager Milly Dowler. The result was the Leveson Inquiry - an ongoing public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press. So far it ’s been quite a party…
  • These were the sorts of questions running around my head when I grabbed a redundancy cheque to leave the Reuters news agency in 2005. I didn ’t have some crystal ball that foresaw the phoning hacking scandal and all that ensued but I did have a whole load of questions about what journalism was meant to be about. I given up on Reuters have realised the impossibility of trying to change the global news organisation from inside. It was hacked phones that bothered me but journalism ’s apparent blindness to represent the governance failures behind stories on climate change, global financial crises and the second Iraq invasion. This was a process that led
  • So what can we do about it?
  • First met him in January 2006, wanted to know what it was that inspired someone to take to the streets in protest, why they ’d given up on what I understood as “democracy” Brian chose protest, legal challenge and civil disobedience over supine acceptance. Given the charade of a political process taking place across the road, his action was a classic counterpoint to failed governance
  • Civil disobedience the response chosen by a few in the face of their impotence. Own exposure to this as a reporter and as an experimenter. As a reporter in Malaysia As an experimenter in Copenhagen 2009 - the account of which I use in the opening of Fraudcast News, the book describing my own investigation into the failures of journalism and democracy. If people feel moved to commit acts of civil disobedience something isn ’t working in government.
  • With rare exceptions, the Guardian ’s Nick Davies being one of them, they are nowhere to be seen.
  • This was a project that germinated over the course of many years but which eventually took root In 2005. That was the year I was lucky to get a redundancy cheque to leave the Reuters news agency. I had grown resigned to the impossibility of changing the global news organisation from inside so I left to look elsewhere for the journalism I ’d dreamt of when I started out fresh from university.
  • Modern Media - Society Watchdogs or Poodles to Power?

    1. 1. Modern Media:Society watchdogs… …or poodles of power?
    2. 2. The Leveson Inquiry Ongoing since July 2011 Oops - that’s us
    3. 3. Rally for Media Reform Westminster, London 17th May 2012
    4. 4. The news so far…Leveson about more than phone hacking.Evidence points to:• corruption of police• corruption of public officials• intimidation of elected politicians• emasculation of five successive British governments• corruption of democracy here in Britain
    5. 5. Who the beneficiaries?• media owners• all those who profit from emasculated government, such as wealthy elites and under-regulated global financial markets and corporations In a nutshell… it’s not us
    6. 6. Deeper problem concerns governance• Media misdemeanours unquestionable• Impacts on individuals’ lives have been devastating• Far worse for society is this complicity between successive governments and powerful media groups and their clients
    7. 7. Modern governments more like what the Ancient Greeks called: Oligarchy (or rule by the few)
    8. 8. Brian Haw(7 January 1949 – 18 June 2011)
    9. 9. Multi-layered governance failures• Local government (Rotten boroughs…)• UK national government (Iraq…)• EU (Lisbon Treaty process…)• Global (Kyoto, financial markets…)
    10. 10. Where is the journalism that describes these multiple failures?We have to do it ourselves
    11. 11. Real journalism focused on real democracy• Regular, free local film screenings• Make on local media for screenings• Focus on local governance• Train local journalists• Share output• Collaborate with like-minded reporters
    12. 12. How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies
    13. 13. @patrickchalmers