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Mystery, what mystery?

Original Source: BLACKSMITH: 18 JULY 2011
Monday, 18 July 2011

Ready for the vultures


First of all I had a few requests to comment on the News International stuff and its relevance to the McCann case. The affair has now mutated into a battle between the BBC/Guardian network,  the real establishment of the UK, sharing both outlook and personnel, on one side and the Tory government, which has cut  the BBC’s income and is willing to allow the insolvent Guardian to go into liquidation, on the other. The Murdoch  dynasty, that slowly dying creature, too weak to defend itself against vengeful enemies, is being bloodily dismembered in the greater struggle.  In this somewhat frenzied situation the participants are also the communicators so we aren’t going to get too much objective news, are we? And until events quieten down we won’t be able to draw long-term conclusions about the future of the politics/media/public sandwich. 



The fault lines in the UK media,  which the McCann affair highlighted so mercilessly in 2007, remain.  The newspaper industry of the last three decades with its flabby model of “serious” newspapers containing very little news but somehow running  to dozens of pages of opinion slotted in between the advertising  and the  thoroughly crooked motor, travel and fashion sections is still in terminal decline.  


The news agency feeds which the papers subscribe to and re-write/embroider according to their stance are now available, like hotel and airline booking pages, to all of us direct on our screens so we don’t need them any more than we need travel agents. We read them for diversion now, not real information, and with one exception they aren’t very entertaining. Only the cynical but brilliant Mail, something more than a tabloid in the strict sense, the first daily to make money from its increasingly integrated internet operation,  has realised this and is in good health. The classical tabloids are now lumpen comics, smelling of beer, bad breath and dirty laundry. It is a great pleasure to see over two hundred News of the World staff made unemployed: no, they are not innocent victims, they were the paper.



I do not believe that Murdoch or Murdoch’s papers in themselves have, in any way, protected the McCanns. That protection, as Kate McCann confirms, was sealed by the visits of the couple’s criminal lawyers to all the main UK media editors in late 2007 during which the latter were told, correctly, that the McCanns were bound to win every libel case they bothered to pursue since   the evidence did not exist for a defence based on truth. 



The “it was the Sun what won it”  consensus among all three parties that the media have to be continually cultivated, embraced and smooched because in a democracy it cannot  be controlled or ignored, is finally breaking down and that has to be a good thing, despite the inevitable disappointment that it will bring to those who believe the politics/media interface can one day be permanently squeaky clean. It can’t, but it can certainly be periodically washed down.



And the big question behind all the noise and fury remains. Are voters, consumers, readers and watchers a bovine herd who can be directed through the desired gate via a more subtle Sun and the techniques of news management, or not?   Despite the disturbing evidence of the last general election when, in the first televised debate between the party leaders, a man with nothing to offer except the childish, if not Hitlerian,  promise that “he would be different” was declared by the public the consistent winner, the question remains open.  


The politicians, at least the more thoughtful of them, see a glimmer ahead: the same technology which has broken the stranglehold of the overground media on shared opinion also offers the possibility  of a more direct link between Parliament and its debates and committees  – which we can now get on our screens as easily as blogs – and the public. 


Who knows where that one could lead? Would it weaken the industry of news management itself rather than the increasingly obsolescent power of the proprietors and channel owners? Would it change  the tight machinery of newsfeed and presentation, information as product placement, practised by the revolting Mitchell and his like in the McCann case, replacing, to revert to the metaphor, the dodgy travel agent world and its associated bribery and corruption via the newspaper travel pages, with the more anarchic and slightly less easily manipulated world of Trip Advisor? Here’s hoping.


Now what about this mystery? Ah yes, another post.


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