openDemocracyUK

'Ideas to enhance the UK's media ecology': Response to Media Reform recommendations

Eleftheria Lekakis
15 December 2011

This report beautifully unfolds a very simple story. This is the story of a broadcasting system, within the particular national broadcasting ecology of the United Kingdom. The story tells of a crisis in the media exemplified by the scandal of corruption in the case of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s recently resting-not-in-peace News of the World, as well as a decline of format and content exemplified by the waning of the local press and the detonation of freesheets and classified advertising in the offline and online realm respectively.

The story does not follow a linear and normative path, but elaborates on the riddle of the historic transformation of British broadcasting starting now. It does not follow a normative path predominantly because it questions the highly privatised forms of organisations and the values representing the public interest; among other reasons, this is because it rejects aggressive business practices and the free market's forceful assumptions around the notion of corporate personhood. It thus scrutinises the equation of freedom of the individual with the freedom of the company to pursue its best interests. The reaching of a financial cul-de-sac by sectors of the media industry is a hard reality, but the story is not about the death of an industry as we know it, but rather how it could be ameliorated with a boost from an innovative, strategic initiative.

There are specific troubles evident in the news-casting industry. There are strong pulling powers exercised online with the agenda of attracting and trading audiences through the monetary customisation of the environment in which they operate. Also, at the offline end, lie a sea of story-fixers and survival-minded professionals who succumb to the desperation of hard times and mindlessly push production, allow for the concentration of ownership and promote editing over production. And this creates a democratic deficit.

A populist interpretation of this zeitgeist can interpret these trends in relation to the desire of audiences and the market mentality of ‘if you build it, they will come’. This type of narrative favours the growth of a commercial broadcasting system, but cannot account for the lack of transparency and the moulding or distorting of 'truth' through the illegal attaining of private data. The report highlights the importance of the restructuring of the finances of public and private broadcasting and calls for the rise of accountability and upholding of the public interest. The defence of the public interest is centred in the safeguarding of public values, the allowance of fairness in news distribution and the revitalisation of public broadcasting. This report focuses on the reconfiguration of our acceptance of content, distribution and organisation through the reconfiguration of media funds.

The broad recommendations outlined concern non-market implementations of regulation on protecting the public interest to form new structures to deliver non-market public service content. It highlights ideal models of the news which foster the public interest and proposes three types of structures to realise these (trust ownership, charitable ownership, co-operative ownership), as well as specific proposals on how to enhance UK news provision (invest in community radio, develop local news hubs and fund data entry-level journalism jobs).

In a sophisticated and solid manner, this report aims to provide loose ends to the story narrated in order to keep the balance between demand and the funding of the essential broadcasting system to support it in times of financial ambivalence. The acceptance of the proposed guidelines for the developing of a not-for-profit broadcasting system can only help enhance the current media ecology.

Eleftheria Lekakis is a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Journalism. She received her doctorate in Media and Communications from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her past and present research addresses issues of politics and new media, while her interests primarily include corporate culture, cultural citizenship, political communication and alternative culture.

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