No doubt one day it was always going to get to this, but for my first post of 2020 I have chosen to address issues of freedom of speech, control of the media (whether by state, narcissist billionaire, terrorist organisation, or indeed anyone else), that fashionable talking point “fake news” and just how the hell you create or develop a viable organisation capable of providing comprehensive news coverage of world events … and then pay for it.
(On the last of these, I abhor the increasing practice of UK newspapers to create pay walls and mandatory subscriptions before they will allow anyone to read stories on their websites. I do so because I buy three newspapers per day anyway and I object to paying twice for the same service).
Whether they be a free-spirited liberal intellectual political cynic – or, alternatively, a mission-driven strategist for a totalitarian state adhering to any set of beliefs on the spectrum from left-wing loony dictatorship to its right wing fascist equivalent – every man-jack (or woman) who thinks deeply upon these fundamental subjects soon comes to appreciate that the notion there is anywhere to which one can turn for an overall and “impartial” coverage of anything is fatuous.
The Romans had a Latin phrase cutting direct to for the key issue here – “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies” [strict English translation “Who will guard the guards themselves?”, sometimes reduced to “Who judges the judges?” in political or legal circles] – because, of course, for all and any brave words of intent or integrity spouted by a supplier of news and current affairs, the gold standard of true impartiality is virtually impossible to deliver.
Whether they be Goebbels or Himmler operating under the Nazi regime, the head of public affairs at any time during the dominance of Soviet Russia, Kim Jong-Un of North Korea, the editor of the UK’s Daily Mail, or even the ‘head of standards’ (if there ever was one) under the high-minded reign of Lord Reith at the BBC … also know both at home and around the world as “The Voice of the Nation” … everyone in history responsible for media output to be read or seen by the masses would have be acutely aware of both the power and control they could wield over public attitudes.
The key thing, of course, was to convince everyone that your version of the news was – if not truly impartial, then at least the nearest thing to it available anywhere.
This is how – from about 1927 to 1957 around the globe (and perhaps until 1977 at home) – the BBC, partly because of the historic pre-eminence of Britain’s over-inflated prestige generally and particularly in diplomatic circles, managed to enjoy influence way beyond its punching power, not least via its supposedly ‘impartial’ news as broadcast by the BBC World Service.
For – whether you were a maize farmer in Uganda, a worker in the paddy fields of southern Asia, or an Aussie larrikin sitting in an Adelaide bar – however cynical or jaded your attitude might be towards anything you were told by your own government or media broadcaster, somehow you could still feel that the version put out by “Auntie BBC” would be, if not the actual truth, as close to it as you were likely to get.
Because it was British – and, of course, you could always rely upon the Brits … [no irony intended] …
This is despite the fact that – during WW2, and for that matter both long before and after it – the BBC’s contemporary coverage of world events was as much propaganda as anything emanating from Soviet Russia or indeed current North Korea – cue here in evidence (albeit often slightly tongue-in-cheek?) innumerable references to the odd cultures and customs of Johnny Foreigners everywhere including the Huns and the Frogs.
So we return to the key point again – who judges the judges, or indeed whose “impartial news” can any anybody believe in?
And does it even matter?
In America, I wouldn’t have thought that many people – even among its fans or editors – would regard the output of Fox News as anything other than a one-eyed right-wing view of the world.
I suppose some might say that doesn’t matter – at least Fox News nails its colours to the mast and makes no secret of it viewpoint and allegiances.
Arguably, that’s a degree or two better (in an honesty sense) that an organisation like the BBC wallowing in its supposedly “always-impartial” reputation and then running news stories that peddle a left or right wind narrative of the world.
(Hmmnnn … just think of the power and influence you could exert if you could somehow burrow your way into the New and Current Affairs hierarchy of the BBC and then begin doing that!) …
But then again, there’s the worrying development that practicality any hare-brained lunatic can find others with similar views to his (or her) on the internet, the result of which only serves to confirm and/or perpetuate them.
These days – at the outset of another “vitally important” decade for the planet we all live on – it seems to me that the advent of the internet and the vast influence of social media etc. (amongst even toddlers) has effectively whipped the scales away from our collective eyes.
We now have a somewhat laissez faire attitude to ‘cookies’, data retention, Big Brother, social media comments of videos going viral … and so on.
But at the same time, we’re now conscious, in a way perhaps that we never used to be, that anything we get served by anyone online (or otherwise) almost certainly has a motive behind it that as yet we cannot – and indeed may never – identify.