Friday, 15 February 2019

The slow death of British media

Last night's vote in parliament couldn't be more inconsequential so I've sat for nearly two hours staring blankly at this page trying to think of something halfway original about Brexit. It's easy to see why the media creates its own parallel universe in politics. Unlike me, they can't take the day off on a slow news day. This causes them to create dramas that simply do not exist, very often seeking to manufacture a story from nothing. 

This, though, is what adds to the overall noise where much of what the media produces is actually a pollutant making it harder to decipher what is actually happening. Much of what the media produces is written by younglings with no subject knowledge and very little real world experience in order to contextualise events. Being that adult supervision is an expensive overhead we have seen it cut out of the process to the point where legacy media can no longer be relied upon to inform the debate. The prospect, then, of having informed public discourse are somewhere around nil.  

This goes double for Brexit. It's a difficult topic, it's easy to get wrong and what little expertise that does exist is highly partisan. The media has its go-to experts but many of them our far out of their lane speaking on subjects their expertise doesn't stretch to and wouldn't tell the truth even if they knew it. Being that the media has no expertise of its own they've lost the knack of spotting a bullshit artist.

Being that they haven't the budget to retain expertise they very often outsource it to free sources - taking whatever they can get on short notice. This is why every think tank now has its own well groomed media girlie. There was one on BBC Question Time last night; Grace Blakeley, yet another all purpose groomed-for-TV PR spiv with no business experience, no life experience or expertise and no political memory - spouting achingly unoriginal ideas. Hipster communism and Keynesianism peppered with run of the mill eco-dogma.

What worsens this dynamic is a peculiarly British demand that media should attempt neutrality. This leaves both Sky and ITN open to constant accusations of bias spurring them to seek a balance of chair fillers. This is not at all helped by diversity quotas. This is what creates the market for think tank spokesmen.

Part of the problem is that media has no real ability to spot expertise. As a society we are conditioned to believe that titles such as doctor, QC or professor imply a level of learned wisdom. Thankfully Brexit has driven a horse and cart through that, but still media is infatuated with prestige and title. This is partly why they get things so badly wrong. 

This is a common dynamic between media and politics. I've now sat through dozens of select committee meetings where the witnesses tend to be senior bods with no more idea of what's going on that the politicians themselves. Usually if you want to know how a system works you need to talk to a mid ranking official or practitioner - especially when regulation and administration is concerned.

What has been acutely apparent over the course of Brexit is how interchangable the political-media bubble is. Columnists and "researchers" rotate through the same handful of organisations, often crossing over into politics. This creates a political monoculture centred around London.

This is in part why politics is falling apart. The product of this monoculture is a class of arrogant know-nothing ambitious politicos with values that in no way resemble those of ordinary people. They rely almost entirely on opinion polls as a measure of what ordinary people think. The rest of the time they're deeply ensconced in their own parallel universe - much of which is informed by our non-informing media, excitedly carried away by whatever fiction they've managed to create between them.

What makes it all the more toxic is the massive sense of self-regard and belief in its own superiority. Bubble dwellers never look outside the bubble simply because it doesn't occur to them that there are answers to be found there. These supreme beings have no use for the lower orders except to serve them coffee. This is what contributes to their spectacular lack of self-awareness. Our media blob has no inclination of how utterly ignorant it is. It cannot be told anything and its errors become gospel.

When the story of Brexit is written it will be the story of Britain's institutional collapse. Academia, politics and media all failed. Central to this is a media establishment with zero attention span and no capacity to retain knowledge. Every branch of media failed to hold politics to account. What we needed was a capable and inquisitive media. What we have is a collection of propagandists and attention seekers degrading public discourse and eroding our trust.

Ultimately our politics will not improve until our media improves - which it won't. Ever. This corruption is the new normal. Our media gravitates toward power and prestige and for as long as the power is centred in London, our media culture will remain a Londoncentric bubble which fiercely guards its monopoly over the narrative. Only by breaking up politics and redistributing powers will we see a revitalisation of media. For as long as we are ruled by London we sustain this nest of parasites.

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