Thursday, June 21, 2007

Politics And The Media

I'm not going spend a bunch of time explaining that I'm still really busy and lacking time to blog right now. The lack of posts is really self-explanatory. However, I did get an email from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Page, in which an op-ed by Tony Blair caught my eye, so I took the chance to read it, and definitely thought it was worth passing on to you. The Prime Minister (you know, of England) gave a speech on June 12 at Reuters headquarters in London, which the WSJ printed today (so, okay, I guess that's not really an op-ed by Tony Blair, but close enough for government work), in which he discusses the relationship between media and government in the changing communication environment in which we find ourselves, where news is instant and 24 hours a day, more up-to-date online than on the newspaper rack, and there are 70 million blogs and counting. Here's a key point:

The reality is that as a result of the changing context in which 21st-century communications operates, the media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not actually the masters of this change, they're in many ways the victims.

The result, however, is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact." Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is often secondary to impact.

It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unraveling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.

Mr. Blair goes on from there to explain the consequences in terms of how the news is reported, and how news ends up taking a back seat to "views." He is speaking to a British audience about British media, but other than a few cricket references, different government institutions, and different "size of audience" numbers for the media, he might as well be speaking to Americans. It's a fascinating and solid analysis of the state of the media/political world. By the way, he doesn't give politicians a pass here; he makes it clear that politicians have courted the sympathetic media spotlight, and they are living with the consequences. He also stresses the enormous importance of a free media for the flourishing of free societies, but he also believes that some things need to change. He himself will soon be leaving office, so this is less about personal frustration than a concern for the future of his country (which translates well to civilization as a whole):

I do believe this relationship between public life and media is now damaged in a manner that requires repair. The damage saps the country's confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions, in the right spirit for our future.

He's got a lot more to say. Have a look.