Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Lord Puttnam on Leveson at Bangor University

Lord Puttnam, now a member of the Labour bench in the House of Lords, spoke this evening at Bangor University. Pulling no punches in his assessment of the news industry Puttnam painted a highly negative picture of the UK media industry.

While many will be familiar with the narratives of a self-serving media industry ruled by the few seeking to manipulate the masses for their own ends, this tends to be a feature of critical media studies – often with a highly left wing agenda. The language employed was not what I expected from someone who has been so closely involved with the British and international media industry. To provide a sense of the terms used, all of the following received an airing: ‘self-serving media as leech’, ‘the toxic triangle’ (police, media and government),  ‘ecology of malign intent’ and ‘corrupted ecology’.

Only a step away from labelling the contemporary press industry as cancerous, concern was targeted at the privileging of the few over the many. He questioned and remarked upon the depressing, dystopian and mean-world outlook that passes for news today (employing the term ‘tabloidisation of society’). Instead he called for a return to a more decent depiction of British society to reflect the fact that despite mean-world pictures, many areas of youth crime and paedophiliac crime is less than it was one hundred years ago. This involved a slightly surreal run of VE-day footage and 'Great Britain' – as a point of nostalgic recollection of better times

In general his call to arms was that public interest be protected, that there be a public interest test, greater media plurality and a shift away from the reach of ‘invisible empires’ (Puttnam’s expression for media power).

On Leveson and all that it involves, he argued that this is a case whose facts will only come out over time – if not in our lifetimes. That said, he underlined that this entailed highly undemocratic goings-on and unhealthy interrelationships between state, police and the media. Appealing to young people, he urged ‘do not accept the relationship between media and government’ but question what you see and change the way democracy works in regard to media and state. Greater media plurality was championed as a means of addressing this centralisation of influence and power.

He had words for journalists themselves although his critique was not aimed at them, but rather their editors and proprietors. Instead, he argued that journalists have little control because it does not serve proprietors’ and owners' interest. He concluded this section by remarking, ‘Who actually has press freedom? Not the journalists, but the editors and proprietors.’


Nick O'Hara Smith said...

I couldn't agree more with Lord Puttnam. The use of the term democracy to describe this country is loose at best. The oligarchs have us duped! The power structure is set up to maintain itself especially in government. It is structurally unfit for purpose as a reflection of the will of the people.

There is a solution involving the demolition of the party structure, free votes and direct links between MP and constituency so they can reflect its wishes, but it is perhaps too radical for even Habermas.

Vian said...

Puttnam mentioned 38 Degrees as a good example of citizens doing it for themselves ...

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I am director of the Media and Persuasive Communication (MPC) network at Bangor University where I also lecture on political-economy of the media. I am currently working on a book provisionally titled Deconstructing Privacy for Peter Lang and leading two empirical projects in connection with privacy perception and the use of new media for smoking cessation. I am author of Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process (Routledge, 2013); The Mood of Information: A Critique of Behavioural Advertising (Continuum, 2011); and Digital Advertising (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009). Please contact me at if you are interested in Ph.D supervision or consultancy services.