JEREMY Corbyn addressing media matters is like a man sticking his head inside a lion’s mouth to check on a troublesome tooth.
Today, in a speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival Corbyn will outline his ideas for media reform. As a minor media head, I’d say there is good and bad here.
Two newspapers splash on different aspects of what Corbyn is suggesting. The Guardian leads with the idea that multinational digital behemoths such as Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook should be taxed to provide a new stream of income for the BBC.
Over at the Daily Telegraph – or the Tousled Blond Beast, as that paper should now be known, due to a weakness for promoting its ‘star’ columnist – another aspect of Labour’s plans catches the editor’s eye. “Corbyn says BBC should reveal class social class,” is the headline.
Labour thinks the digital giants should support public interest journalism. The party thinks this could be done by boosting the BBC and funding local news cooperatives.
How such ideas would work is another prickled matter. But the decline in local and regional newspapers is certainly kicking bricks out of the wall of local democracy.
Earlier this year, a study in the US suggested that when a local newspaper closes, the cost of government increases. Professor Paul Gao, of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, drew a direct line between a decline in government efficiency and the watchful eyes of local democracy. When those eyes aren’t watching, the costs rise.
Corbyn is said to believe that without greater investment in investigation, there is a risk “a few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swatches of our public space and debate”.
He is right about that, and he is right too to draw lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire.
At the time of the fire, observers including this blog said that the absence of local journalists due to newspaper cuts indirectly contributed to unsafe conditions in the tower block. Some residents believe the lack of a local newspaper meant there was no one to speak up for their concerns or to campaign on their behalf.
Although neighbourhood newspapers are described as ‘local’, all too often they are owned by media corporations. That makes them local only in what they report on, rather than being businesses with their feet in the community mud.
There are many suspects in the great newspaper murder. People’s habits change; newspapers started to give away for free what they previously charged for; the rise in smartphones makes skimming for news so much easier.
And newspaper bosses made poor decisions, too.
First, they panicked about the internet; then thought they’d make piles of money online, only to find Google and co had run off with the loot, leaving only pennies in the cash-box.
Then they started cutting. Now the cuts have done so deep, soon there’ll be nothing left.
In that gloomy scenario, Corbyn’s suggestions of something to replace what is being lost is encouraging, at least in theory.
Now to the BBC. Here, the ideas include that digital top-up fee and a survey of staff backgrounds.
According to the BBC’s own report on its website, Labour wants the corporation to publish the social class of “all creators of BBC content, whether in-house or external”.
Oh, what cumbersome bureaucracy is that!
And is that not sinister: some dead-eyed committee probing and prodding the social background of everyone at the BBC? And that “in-house or external” embraces many creators in many different organisations.
Perhaps the BBC does employ too many people of similar background. But laying down strict criteria is a dark road to head along.
Still, it is interesting that Jeremy Corbyn should at least be thinking about the media. For he is often hostile towards the media – as many members of the media are towards him.
Another starting point would be for Corbyn to point out that not all newspapers and all journalists are part of a mainstream media conspiracy, as some of his supporters suggest.