Whores with principles

IT WAS a damp February night, and the chill had seeped into Committee Room 10 at the House of Commons and into the debate itself. "I don't think this government will bite the bullet of controlling the [media] proprietors," said Anthony Bevins, Political Editor of the Express and before that of the Independent.

This was LFB's political debate on Media Ownership. It wasn't exactly producing a call to arms. What could or should be done to rein in the power of the monopolist press barons?

Clive Soley, Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, concurred with Tony: "The Government's reluctance to act against the media owners has to do with the power they have and the difficulty of taking them on." He was marginally more positive: "Most politicians do not know what to do about the press," he reported. "It is very difficult to see what to do and very easy to get it wrong and to do more damage than good." It would help if journalists were clearer, as a body, about what we want in the best interests of the profession. Tony was equally clearly not enamoured of the profession that evening. "Journalists are spineless because that is the atmosphere and the environment in which we work. Yes," he acknowledged, "there are many honest journalists who will work freelance and stick to principle. But in this place it's a whore's game."

So, the NUJ should probably enter into merger talks with a union of prostitutes. On the other hand, some of us do it for love, and are rather attached to our spines. Can we thrash out some principles and bind the union to them? The NUJ has always been, the Freelance thinks rightly, suspicious of state intervention in the media. But when such a large proportion of the media is in so few hands, what can be done?

If Whitehall is scared of the proprietors' power, should we encourage Brussels to examine their Dominant Position for Abuse? And the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law means that journalists here will have to be clear about the relationship between privacy and freedom of information. Clive Soley still believes that it is better to do this through legislation than to leave it to the judges. We need to be prepared for someone introducing another Bill, similar to Clive's last attempt.

Mar/Apr 1999
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