Lord Leveson's (above) Inquiry threw up serious questions over Britain's media and
its role within the UK's historic institutional culture
Scottish News: Do we really want a state-regulated Scottish media?
by Jo Edwards
Currently being discussed within the Scottish parliament is the effect of the UK royal charter upon the Scottish media, and whether pending the outcomes – the Scottish press should have a Leveson-type regulatory system such as the one proposed by Lord McCluskey.
Already established, and stated by the first minister, is that the media have been deemed unable to voluntarily regulate themselves - unsurprisingly under what is widely perceived as the largely incestuous Press Complaints Commission.
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The alternative raised by Lord McCluskey's report recommends instead the creation of "an independent, non-statutory, regulatory body", alongside an independent body "with responsibility for ensuring that the independent regulatory body complies at all times with the Leveson principles". Essentially statutory controls underpinned by law.
Public fears should be automatically aroused at a proposal that is effectively suggesting a state-controlled media.
Lost in the media's now often pervasive negativity and huge capacity for propaganda is that its original role was to act as a fourth estate - separate from government, the judiciary and the legislature - to enable and facilitate the regulation of all the major institutions in society.
Its role remains essential in informing, educating and disclosing any actions within society's institutions which are being exercised outwith the public good; whilst disclosing all information which is in the public interest.
Certain conduct followed by newspapers and journalists were ostensibly 'in the public interest' but in reality were not - leading to the recent Leveson Inquiry. These issues are outwith the scope of this piece. However the result is a media that has long had its place as watchman eroded, instead becoming embroiled in an institutional quagmire.
The problem lies not with news content and journalists themselves, but with the traditional media model; a top down business model, which relies on wealthy owners, advertising and sales to make profits; with a hierarchical management structure that decides what is deemed newsworthy.
With dwindling sales and an increasingly dissatisfied readership – this model is struggling to sustain itself, let alone be equipped to facilitate democratisation.
Public subsidy has been suggested as a solution by certain academics and cultural commentator Pat Kane at the recent Scotsman Future of Media in Scotland Conference – where vouchers allow public donations to non-profit media organisations in order to achieve a democratic, varied and balanced news service.
This concept of public subsidy to the free press has proven to aid effective self-governance in certain forms across Scandinavia, and was extensively studied by Chomsky and Herman in their groundbreaking book Manufacturing Consent.
A media system and structure where it is severed from the very population it is informing – similar to the US – instead stifles democracy by creating dangerously low levels of educated and aware individuals.
But this model of public participation via state investment is highly unlikely to work in the UK, or an independent Scotland.
In Scandinavian nations such as Denmark and Iceland the government and judiciary remain distinctly separate. The people own the majority of their countries’ natural resources, the welfare system is established and sustainable, and the scope of big business is limited. Such systems have taken years to perfect, with societies that believe largely in their principles.
In Scotland; the people own few of the country's resources, the welfare system is being systematically destroyed by our elites, and more importantly the dividing line between government, judiciary and legislature have become increasingly blurred.
Add to that mix the extensive and highly questionable influence of big business – as evidenced by the furore over Better Together's Vitol donation – and the conclusion can quickly be reached that a media model with ties to the state is open to extensive misuse and adulteration.
An independent Scotland's media therefore has to be completely separate from all other institutions of society in order to retain its place as regulator – and why various recommendations being put forward - from statutory controls to state subsidies, detract from and even negate the fundamental principles of the press being an essential tool for democracy.
Joanna Edwards is the Law and Communications Editor of Scottish Times
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