Through the Leveson looking glass….
Jeremy Hunt has been a very bad lad; not only was he canoodling with News Corp prior to his ‘quasi-judicial’ decision on their interest in B Sky B but he had the affront to make his hapless SpAD carry the can when he was found out. In his statement to the Commons, Hunt pointed to all these decisions he alleged News Corp wouldn’t like, but neglected to mention he only took those because he was politically boxed into a corner by the phone hacking scandal. We all know that these decisions are not ones the aptly dubbed Minister for Murdoch wanted to take as a tranche of emails and communications show Hunt squirming and writhing, desperately trying to do the bidding of his puppeteer. Hunt has to go and will most likely do so at a moment that is opportune for the government, either when the storm dies down or when it has some other, more appalling news, to bury.
The whole Hunt saga and indeed the Leveson Inquiry is something of a ‘through the looking-glass’ experience though when it comes to the media and politics. It shows just how intimately they are connected and how they are both snug as a bug in an elitist rug. Wars between the mainstream media and politicians always have something of a phony air to them as they are both principally drawn from a similar social set. Most media big beasts graduate from Oxford or Cambridge and they have similar values to politicians of the same stripe, granted even they are distant from the Etonian jet-set that is currently in charge but if you look deeper in the Conservative Party and at the Labour front-bench then you start to find the things in common increase. This partially explains the influence and sway the media hold over our politicians; like always attracts and is more likely to listen to like. The other thing is more naked self-interest. Politicians even on a constituency MP level have tens of thousands of people they need to communicate with (on a national level you are talking into the millions) and they obviously want to give a favourable impression, so cordial relations with the ladies and gentlemen of the press are a must.
Furthermore, a good 90% of politics is dependent on people’s perceptions because they are not politically engaged enough to further investigate issues and therefore their surface estimation of a given politician or situation is what they make their decisions based upon. This further extends the influence of the media, and media barons like Mr Murdoch, over the political process; for while in theory all news is created equal, the way it is framed and reported creates rampant inequality. This is all singularly bad for democracy, because the alienation produced by the subservience of the political class disengages people even more and, somewhat paradoxically, extends the power of the media by making people more judgmental based on surface impressions.
Challenging this is a complex business. Yes, absolutely, the power of Mr Murdoch and his ilk needs to be forcibly diminished by the legislative torching of his over-mighty evil empire but also more democratically engaged, grassroots media needs to be also supported by the state. In the longer term, this will radically alter the composition of the media industry and a priori therefore change its culture entirely. Of course, there needs to be a change of our politics and political culture in tandem too. Many people are taking a look at this sordid world for the first time through the looking-glass of Leveson and not liking what they see however, they need to realise that it cannot be left to the politicians or the media itself to effect change because if it is, it will simply never happen. People themselves need to be the driving force for change by supporting more democratic, independent media as well as demanding the state intervene and break-up the likes of News Corp to truly free our press (and our politics) once and for all.