With first the Telegraph and now the Times launching substance-free wink-nudge coverage of the Media Reform Coalition, we can say with confidence: we’ve finally made it. We’re famous!
Hot on the heels of Andrew Gilligan’s confused precis of our policies for the Sunday Telegraph, the Times published an article on May 1, by investigations editor Dominic Kennedy, headlined “press reform campaigner Des Freedman praised protesters in riots.”
The article, which you can read here if you have a Times subscription, focuses on a statement by Freedman (our chair) in praise of 2010’s student demonstrations, and another by our member Natalie Fenton which attacked media coverage of the 2011 London riots for focusing on violence and not on its context. These statements, it says, could “cause fresh embarrassment” for an organisation which (it can also reveal) is partly funded by the American investor George Soros.
Firstly, we would like to congratulate the Times on still having an ‘investigations editor’. In these straitened times, when the print industry is in chaos, it’s heartwarming to see that Fleet Street can still devote resources to deep and proactive scrutiny. We’re just not sure this is the best use of their time – especially since Freedman’s statement was covered extensively in 2010.
We could respond further by explaining at length that neither Fenton nor Freedman’s statements condoned violence and that Media Reform’s platform is rather broader and more nuanced than a “campaign to impose state-backed regulation of the press.”
But such quibbles are beside the point. Freedman and Fenton said what they said and are who they are; the same goes for us. And yet for an organisation with 13 separate documents on our resources page and a pile of lengthy blog posts wonk-ier than a broken telephoto lens, there is surprisingly little mention in the Times of anything we actually propose.
That is to say that the substance of our policies is never attacked – nor the substance of our criticisms – nor our work, nor what we focus our resources on, nor how we campaign. Instead, we get innuendo about “where we’re coming from”, as acting editor John Witherow put it on Radio 4’s Media Show last week.
So the Times tells us that Dr Freedman called a ”student protest” – “which ended in the invasion of Millbank Tower” – “magnificent.” And we all know what that means. Natalie Fenton criticised the media for concentrating on “violence” and not “the issue of funding cuts”. And we all know what that means. Billionaire American progressive George Soros is among our funders; we all know what that means. And Freedman even said that the “real violence” was that of “cuts and privatisation”. That’s Trotskyite talk. We all know what that means.
It means we’re ‘left-wing’, and our proposals are a left-wing conspiracy, so therefore there’s no need to engage with their substance or even with the substance of the cross-party Royal Charter which we broadly back (but certainly didn’t write). Like the incessant sobriquet of “self-appointed” – without which no mainstream newspaper reference to Hacked Off is complete – the purpose of this kind of writing is to negate any requirement to consider our proposals by suggesting that the organisation behind them is unrepresentative (despite public support for our goals), or that it has (of all things!) an agenda.
As if the Daily Mail, the Times, the Telegraph Media Group, Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch, Tim Montgomerie, Paul Staines, and the Conservative life peer Lord Guy Black had no political position whatsoever.
At the end of the day, we are academics and analysts; some of us are even journalists. We would dearly love to have big vigorous debates about what the Royal Charter will actually do, what problems it might cause, what solutions it will provide, whether arbitration will work, whether media ownership is a problem, and what we can do to fix it. We invite anyone reading this post – no, we beg you – to look at what we say and tell us why we’re wrong; to confront us with genuine and specific objections to things we have actually proposed or to laws which we actually back. We dream of a world where this happens.
So, comrades in the press, arise! You have nothing to lose but your power to publish misleading or inaccurate attacks on anyone you like while a supine self-regulator controlled by your allies, editors or financial backers shields you from complaints and sanctions!
Oh, hang on…