Tony Blair gave a great speech yesterday in which he began with "This speech is not a complaint. It is an argument." and "A free media is a vital part of a free society, you only need to look at where such a free media is absent to know this truth." But then proceeds to lay out the huge fundamental change in the media of today, and how it effects everyday life:
You have to respond to stories also in real time. Frequently the problem is as much assembling the facts as giving them. Make a mistake and you quickly transfer from drama into crisis. In the 1960s the government would sometimes, on a serious issue, have a Cabinet that would last two days. It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day.
Things also harden within minutes. I mean you can’t let speculation stay out there for longer than an instant.
I am going to say something that few people in public life will say, but most know is absolutely true: a vast aspect of our jobs today – outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else – is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms.
He spoke about how this change has forced the media to become so competitive, looking for the next big thing, that telling the news no longer matters…it’s the impact:
The result 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 clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.
A scandal will beat real news everytime now. And because they fear missing out on this story they now hunt in packs like….
the fear of missing out means that today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no-one dares miss out.
Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself. So – for example – there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustrating pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.
In turn, this leads to a fifth point which is the confusion of news and commentary. Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate. Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine.
A great commentary by Blair and so right on target.
Short 5 minute video of his speech below:
Rudy Giuliani and Tony Snow gave their opinions of this speech to Hugh Hewitt today, check it out here. And the Independent wasted no time answering his speech with a unsurprisingly inept editorial. They don’t look at the entire speech as a whole, and his absolutely correct assertion that the media has become sound bite driven but instead come to this conclusion:
Would you be saying this, Mr Blair, if we supported your war in Iraq?
Yup, that’s it. It’s all about the war. You see, they say they supported the invasion of Kosovo because those people were worth saving…but not the Iraqi’s. So how dare you insult us by saying we are a rabid pack of dogs.
That’s it in a nutshell.