I was listening today to a journalist whom I rather like and do not agree with, Susan Delacourt. It was at a conference on digital governance. (Yes, cynics, I can see your eyes rolling). Susan is a decent sort of leftie, and in this case I use her to illustrate an issue about how the media have changed.
Her source of concern was a demonstration that occurred in Toronto recently where a bunch of Canadians were ranting about Islam, with the fear that some parliamentary motion was going to be the first step in the imposition of sharia law in Ontario.
Her comment on the issue of the media’s lack of control was this:
“We used to be the filter” and she added, sotto voce, “we have to go back to being the filter”. She said that, years ago, the racist rantings of a group of Ontarians upset about Islam, or anything else for that matter, would simply not receive wider circulation. Now everything is on YouTube. To find the clip above I simply entered “Toronto meeting Islam parliamentary motion”.
The upside of the digital revolution has been the changed media landscape; the downside has been the same. Nothing can be stopped any longer from being published. No locker room talk of 15 years ago can escape it. No picture of anyone with a dick in their mouth. No careless word, no angry remonstrance. No intemperate remark goes unpublished. There is no filter any more. You cannot “pull a story”. There is no central control, there is no fixed set of reporters, editors and news outlets. Google has sucked the revenues out of the newspaper business. Reporters are working faster to shorter deadlines for less money, with no time to develop a source, correct an error, or get it right.
As Blair Atholl once remarked, the printing press had a five hundred year run. The 19th century hot linotype machine defined the range and circulation of the news-paper. As an industrial structure it is passing out of existence.
The result has been the diminishment of the status of the reporter, the media outlet, and the editor, as well as the elimination of thousands of newspaper jobs. News gathering is much more do-it-yourself. Citizen empowerment means any bozo can upload something to YouTube, and does.
But the upside has been the lessening of thought and speech controls. People who are pissed off about Islam can say so now. The “facts” of global warming can be disputed. The people against the European Union can reach out to one another. Geert Wilders, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Pat Condell, Nigel Farage, Trump: people that the media would like to turn off, not record, not hear from: they cannot be censored any longer.
The interesting thing about today’s comment from Ms. Delacourt was her frank admission that they used to practice censorship and would like to do so again. For better or worse, the days are gone when the bien-pensant media class exercized censorship, try as they might to restore it.
The battle over Trump has been as much about the by-passing of media controls as it has been about Republican versus Democrat. As we have seen, those who hate Trump go ballistic at every mis-statement, such as for example, his reference to “trouble last night in Sweden”, and they miss the main point that everyone else seems able to understand, that Sweden is in dire straits because of too many uncivilized Islamic immigrants. They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.
Moreover, the long-term suppression by the bien-pensants of what they believed people simply should not hear or see, was the cause of the build-up of popular resentment of the media. The job of selection, analysis, and assessment has passed out of the hands of a clerisy into the hands of the people. For better or worse. I say: for the better.