Thanks to the Broom for an excellent fisk of Vincent Browne’s thoughts on a new Press Council for the Republic. Perhaps too much Irish media criticism amounts to little other than political angst about the ‘means of production’ belonging to the ‘wrong’ people, Browne does not disappoint. He does not to want anyone from Fianna Fail, or the Independent Newspaper group on board. Instead he wants civil society to be the ultimate arbiters of what is good and bad in newspapers. And he wants them to have power:
Furthermore, it should have the power to exert real control, including the power to impose massive fines and, where appropriate, suspension of publication (or of transmissions, in the case of broadcasting media organisations).
It is questionable whether this kind of body should be exercising any political decisions at all. Indeed it can be argued that throwing all the blame at either politicians or media conglomerates is entirely besides the point. Too often there is a cynical collusion between press and media in the worst confrontational practices, that block out any sense of the public’s interest in politics.
That cannot be subvented by cohersion. Indeed, it is the journalist as celebrity – whose mandate somehow outperforms the more legitimate democratic mandate of an elected politician – that is possibly the most corrosive influence on the media’s capacity to serve a genuine public good.
As John Lloyd concludes in his essay on the media and politics:
Can we imagine a journalism which is civic? One which acts as an adjunct to activity and reflection; which presents to its audience first drafts of history which are absorbing and subtle, strong on narrative but attentive to complexity and context of every story; which is not struggling with political power, but struggling together with that power’s best instincts, to make the contemporary world at once comprehensible to its citizens.
Browne as always is combative and entertaining. And his struggle with power is not entirely misplaced. But journalism is notoriously shy at examining its own generic failures. If it can’t or won’t, there is a growing Irish blogosphere that may be only to willing to fill the void with narrative, complexity (in numbers and choice at least), and plenty of context.