For years, our media set – newspaper, telly, radio, advertising, websites and PR – have denied they have any role either way in this process. It’s a silly and self-defeating denial, because not only is it palpably false, it is akin to being a soccer manager and saying goals make no difference to a game. If the media didn’t have an effect, they wouldn’t be able to sell spots and spaces to the advertising business; and if those ads didn’t have an influence, ad agencies wouldn’t have any clients.
The process by which the media collude in cultural decline is very easy to demonstrate. They all stand or fall based on results: did it get the readers going – or did it change the image and flog the product? If the answer is ever ‘no’, the purveyors of information change tack until they find something to which people will respond in a way that adds to the bottom line.
We have an excellent contemporary example. It has become clear of late that corruption and associated wide-boy behaviour among MPs has become ‘all a bit yesterday, love’ among national editors and TV news programmes. Give them yet another example of hopelessly tacky behaviour devoid of these moral compasses we seem to hear so much about, and their response is now “Er…and your point is?”
I don’t have any problem with maintaining a commercial perspective. But I do think that somewhere on HMS Fourth Estate (preferably the bridge) there should be an area in which people think ‘On some issues, I don’t care a jot if the readers are bored: it’s the job of my journalists to inspire and lead’. (As an ex adman, I’ve also never bought into the disingenuous line that ads ‘merely reflect public opinion, they don’t create it’. Without creating opinion, agencies would never successfully launch a single new product).
Without the desire to lead the vision and uphold the values, both disappear forever. Thus the idea that our MPs should be beyond reproach – and our Speaker above all free of even the hint of wrongdoing – is sacrificed in favour of the next sign of encroaching depravity. A politics dedicated to tactics, smears, briefing and bullying becomes another subject for the ubiquitous “Yeh…whatever”. And a magazine genre devoted to mindless cruelty fills the magazine racks of our retailers.
The very speed at which Net-news moves is exacerbating the process: ‘give it us in 400 words John, people lack the time/brain-power/wit/education to deal with anything more’ is wearing a tad thin with this correspondent. Such an attitude is, ultimately, a self-propelling slide towards a world of comic-strips and picture books.
If people lack the time, maybe they should plan, manage and balance their time better. If they lack the education, maybe we should stop denying there’s anything wrong with the education system.
Verbosity is a sin for any journalist – or essayist for that matter. But accuracy is the ultimate virtue: and a piece talking about one sensationalist aspect of a problem contributes nothing at all to its solution, and nothing to an efficacious debate on the reform required.
‘We have the politicians voters deserve’ wrote a journalist on one of the tabloids recently. Actually, what we have is the politicians created by the media who responded to the lowest common denominator of reader. And to all those people who have asked me endlessly over the years why I will not buy or work for any Murdoch product, you have the answer there in one sentence.