A speech I wrote for Anita Roddick in 1997, which discusses Princess Diana and media freedom.
Media & Democracy Congress II; New York October 16-19, 1997.
Theme: Presenting and promoting progressive ideas
As the only Brit on today’s panel today I doubt whether I can get away without mentioning the impact on the media of the death of Princess Diana. The tidal wave of emotion and criticism unleashed by the extraordinary event and her funeral caught the media offguard. It may even surprise you to know that, “Her greatest legacy may well turn out to be a permanent sea change in journalistic values and methodology around the world.” But the power of this sentiment voiced by the editor of the once-crusading Daily Mirror, is nothing compared to the insatiable demands of the corporate media machine. The flow of information to the public from a ethically-minded and motivated press has been replaced today with the flow of profits to the corporate media coffers. The increasing concentration of the media in the hands of a barely two dozen media corporations in the US, and the impact the profit-imperative has in forcing down journalistic standards, has no use for sentiment.
In Britain we have always prided ourselves on the strengthen of our public broadcast system and vibrant newspaper culture, but these are now just sentimental footnotes in the history books. We are all, all-American now, devouring the same junk media diet of celebrity-trivia-chat show culture. The crushing of the print unions in the mid-1980s Wapping dispute between Murdoch’s News International and the print unions delivered a catastrophic blow to the freedom of the press. As job security vanished and profits became paramount the relationship between the media and the people changed radically. When once British political journalism could inspire US radical journalists like the late Andrew Kopkind, who was US correspondent of the New Statesman, its soul has been sold to the highest bidder. In the words of Tim Gopsill, of the Campaign for Press and Broadcast Freedom, “There is no independence, no spark, no rebellion in newspaper journalism now. It might surprise all the wannabes doing media studies, so keen to join this wonderful creative world, that many journalists over 30, now hate their jobs.”
Journalists like you, courageous, passionate and committed, are vital to our free society. Faced with a corporate media increasingly deaf to the issues like poverty, the role of multi-nationals and the rise of the vigilante consumer, the alternative media with a progressive, empowering message must survive and flourish if democracy is to prosper. Leaving the debate about media and democracy in the hands of the media barons and our political masters is societal suicidal. We need to join together to fight for a media ‘for the people, by the people, and of the people’. This means journalists and grassroots activists making common cause as social entrepreneurs – searching out new opportunities to get our message across, such as the Internet, and in making alliances with social responsible businesses like the Body Shop.
2. Ethics and the British media following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales
Public discontent with the values of mainstream media has never been so public and intense than with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
· Her death has stimulated a desire for a return to more ethical journalism.
· Significant too in that even mainstream media recognised how distant they were from people, and the over-reliance on traditional ‘experts’.
· Despite the fine words of the Mirror editor the fact is that the newspaper proprietors have ensured the system of self-regulation has remained intact, whilst tightening the newspaper code of practice relating to privacy.
· And in fact for many people the issue which lost by ‘Diana Debate’ has been the often catastrophic impact of gross inaccuracy in reporting, not invasion of privacy.
· One way therefore to improve journalistic standards, if not by legislation, would be by giving editorial staff contractual independence from the owners.
· What has done is to strengthen the new Labour Government’s stated goal to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law; article 10 on freedom of expression, and article 8 on a right to privacy. What you might call a small step forward.
3. Ways of promoting progressive ideas
· Diana’s appealed to many women who identified with her struggle against low self esteem, which manifested itself in her bulimia.
· Was issue of self-esteem, and body shape, and way women treated in magazines which were inspiration for Full Voice 1. Said self-esteem was truly the route to revolution.
· It went prime time on Australian TV, was sent to thousands of British teenagers and is being used in prisons to educate rapists, such is the success of the half million of the first issue.
· This followed by Full Voice 2 which took theme of passivity and empowerment, linking with political activism. What common to both was use of powerful visual images, and direct language.
· Clear one obvious advantage Body Shop has in promoting such progressive ideas is resources, so can tap into consumer consciousness through use of advertorials, and a ready made distribution network through the Body Shop outlets.
· Getting the progressive message out is that direct. But also through support for the Big Issue in 1991 also supported independent project for a voice for the homeless. Plans afoot to launch the Big Issue in US in near future.
· And in backing ‘Undercurrents’, a videozine of grassroots issues which has been used in over TV 100 stations. Are now plans by the Undercurrents team to establish the first community TV station in Oxford, giving a voice to grassroots groups and information on issues that affect the lives of people in the city.
· Also with finance for Mother Jones and Project Censored.
So there are a diversity of mediums to promote the progressive, grassroots – its about giving a voice to dissent. Otherwise, as in case of the Ogoni people in Nigeria nothing done until hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa. And yet this issue is still ignored by the US corporate media.
4. Doing-it-for yourself
· Alternative journalism needs to make use of all the resources available – from the community to socially responsible businesses.
· To facilitate the expansion of a community-based media journalists need to look at new media like the Internet.
· But whatever the medium, alternative journalism needs to maximise use of resources.
This means training groups like trade unions and community groups with DIY media skills, which also empowering, so they come to you with stories. And it means linking up with local businesses so can create alternative media which keeps the corporates out.
Faced with an ever more powerful corporate media which frames the political agenda, we have to work together to strengthen alternatives and challenge the mainstream. And never has there been such a feeling of alienation and boredom fostered by a corporate media more concerned with securing passive consumers, than stimulating active citizens. We have to get smart about the way the corporate media shuts down dissent, shuts down controversy and only pays lip service to their role as informers of the people. We need to fight for the freedom of the press, by getting the progressive message out by any means necessary, whether through newsletters, video, advertorials, internet magazines, digital tv – never has there been so much opportunity to get our voice heard. We have the passion, the resources, and the demand for fearless news gathering in our communities. We can do it.
At a European level the demands of the global market have been restricted through the implementation of the Protocol in Public Service Broadcasting, and Television Without Frontiers directive, despite lobbying from the Motion Picture Association of America., and complete lack of reporting of these steps in the UK media.