>No need to know

The FT weekend magazine, picked up on the train last week and read as a break from work today, is a surprisingly intelligent read. John Lloyd (‘Need to know basis’, FTmagazine 20-21 May 2006, 10) reviews an inaugural lecture by City University Professor of Journalism Adrian Monckton on ‘Does the Public Does Deserve the News’


A free press giving extensive, accurate objective current affairs coverage Lloyd reflects is an effective and meaningful watchdog only in grimly semi-authoritarian ‘illiberal democracies’. In advanced democracies, any hard fought journalistic reporting of the truth – and let’s for the moment avoid the whole post-modern shtik about the world as fragmented, historically contingent set of shifting discursively constructed ‘truth regimes’ – neither morally transforms nor act as an agent of reform, as academically inclined journalists have long liked to think – except on occasion when a striking image cuts through the ether and makes the citizenry sit up on its sofas.

Otherwise, say Monckton, the democratic public, even the well educated public– as per the Stealth Democracy argument– does not systematically engage with politics but tunes in and tunes out as according to whether when it sees its interests affected or not (usually not). As Monckton argues, the public knows that electoral competition and a 24/7 current news media badgering politicians will keep the political class in check even if the public can’t bothered to follow the news or engage in the political process most of the time. As Monkton argues the ‘informed public’ is thus just another civic minded myth always somewhere over the rainbow, over the Atlantic or secreted away somewhere in the past.

In reality, the media spurred on a mixture of market forces and the illusions of thinking hacks that they are social critics or- like a milder, better paid version of East European dissent- tellers of truth to power descends into a mixture of infotainment, brute Fox TV style polemicmould or the carefully crafted nuggets of propaganda posing as news that we are familiar with in the UK.

But surely this can come as news only to a superior class hack like John Lloyd…

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