Why some control of the press does not mean Hitler

Boing Boing is one of the most enjoyable blogs around. It combines silly shit with genuinely interesting shit in a format that people like me have loved for years. From time to time, editors of Boing Boing, respected as they are as media experts, get a chance to comment on current affairs on newspaper websites like that of The Guardian. This is cool because new media arseholes like myself yearn for old media recognition. Well, I don’t. But the rest of them do.

So Cory Doctorow, the dude from Boing Boing, gets to write a column from time to time for The Guardian. Which is something I’d love to do (except for the rooting around in my private life, the tall poppy syndrome mentality and the likelihood of my words being twisted by some scumbag on a personal blog: kudos for avoiding comments on your column, Cory: that’s the best way to stop dissent).

In his column, Doctorow celebrates the downfall of the News of the World because of its revolting tactics [it’s the paper’s attitude which was even more revolting as far as I’m concerned], but warns that such a case ought not be used to “rein in the press”.

Doctorow, full of the fear of fascism, agonises:

For me, the phrase “the press is too powerful” is as chilling as “these elections are too time-consuming” or “this secret ballot is just a farce” or “due process is too expensive; we know who’s guilty and who isn’t.” It is a contradiction in terms: for while it’s possible for a particular company or cartel to be too powerful, the idea that the institution of the press is too powerful is Orwellian. If a media company grows too powerful, that generally means the press is not powerful enough: an all-eclipsing media empire blots out press freedom by monopolising distribution channels, distorting discourse and allying itself with this party or that in exchange for favours and (of course) more power. A powerful press is one built on vigorous, pluralistic debate, one that allows new voices to emerge and new points of view to be heard. The more diverse the press is, the more powerful it becomes.


Sadly, this is his response to suggestions that the press (that old dog we can’t quite bring ourselves to shoot) ought not regulate itself, but that someone else should take a look at the whole mess and… sort shit out.

When I say “the press is too powerful”, I do not mean, “there ought to be a commission what decides on what, how and why a newspaper reports a story”. No, I mean to say: “the press, outside of its service of information to the people, and reporting important news and suchlike, ought not exert such power over Government that said Government is rendered entirely at the mercy of a foreign man hellbent on a personal crusade whose ideology is exactly that by which he became the most powerful media magnate in our history”.

I hope the entire empire comes tumbling down.

Incidentally, England already has very attractive and lucrative libel laws. So Doctorow clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

2 thoughts on “Why some control of the press does not mean Hitler

  1. Can’t smoke me out unless you say you want to: for tone and content, this piece is brilliant! You just left them oldies far behind the curve. Even by their standards, which is telling.

  2. Howdy, Tom, been very busy recently with family issues and only just got the time to check in on you.

    A very well-written piece as always, squire.

    I think you are all too right to take Doctorow to task for exaggerating the issues – a non-Brit who doesn’t read the UK tabloid press frequently really is in no position to comment on press control there. Americans very often get severely exercised about “freedom of speech” and imagine dangers to it from all sides, when no danger as such really exists.

    The most important issues emerging from the NewsCorp-mess, given that we’re unlikely to be surprised by anything the Murdochites did, are as follows:

    1) How much did the Met Police collaborate in these illegal actions and subsequent cover-up? Who got the brown envelopes in Scotland Yard?

    2) To what extent did Murdochite tactics help Cameron win the election and exactly how much influence does ol’ Rupe have over the PM?

    On the plus side, at least these journalists were working hard, if only on a sleazy bunch of tabloid hack-pieces. Compare with the Spanish “journalists” who can never be bothered to investigate anything. Where are the journalistic inquiries into the Badajoz arms raid and Chacón’s successful cover-up of corruption in the ranks of her generals? Where are the news pieces identifying the police provocateurs among the 15-M demos? Notably the “Spanish Baby Factory” story lay dormant for decades because no journalist in Spain could be bothered to pick up a phone and talk to anyone involved.

    Given a choice between Murdochite press jackals and the Spanish journalist sitting next to a fax waiting for the next press release to copy and paste, I’d take the former any day. Don’t forget the NOTW scored one notable success by taking down Fergie, a minor triumph, but unquestionably in the public good. And they inspired Paul Weller and The Jam to write a great song.

    By absolute coincidence I’ve been in contact with Doctorow recently to get his advice on self-publishing. I think he’s one of the most gifted authors when it comes to using new media to generate $$$$.

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