Blair: The Internet’s Too Mean For Me

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will leave office soon — and in one respect, perhaps not soon enough. Blair’s valediction to the press revealed a bitterness that his ten years in power hid behind politically-correct comity, and an endorsement for speech policing that will shock some of his ardent admirers:

Tony Blair hinted today at new restrictions on internet journalism, saying online news coverage had become “more pernicious and less balanced” than traditional political reporting.
In a farewell lecture on public life, he said that much of the British media behaved like a “feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits”.
But he had particularly harsh words for non-traditional media outlets, particularly the internet. … “In fact, the new forms can be even more pernicious, less balanced, more intent on the latest conspiracy theory multiplied by five.”

British journalism has more bite to it than its American counterpart. For the most part, American journalists at least act as though they want to cover a story rather than become a part of it. In Britain, thanks to the refreshingly honest manner in which publications approach their biases, reporters feel more free to use acerbic commentary and to act with less politesse when interacting with public officials.
Think of a press conference with three dozen David Gregorys and Keith Olbermanns, and you get the picture.
Blair has a point when he complains about the sometimes-savage nature of media coverage. The “feral beast” quote will live for a very long time, not just because of Blair’s delicious enunciation but also because it’s quite apt. As bad as it gets for politicians, it’s exponentially worse for celebrities. However, because both court the coverage, complaining about the “feral beast” becoming unleashed seems just a tad … whiney.
And if complaining is whiney, then imposing a “regulatory system” to intimidate journalists is very worrisome. Here is the part of the speech in which he talks about expanding regulatory activity:

It used to be thought – and I include myself in this – that help was on the horizon. New forms of communication would provide new outlets to by-pass the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media. In fact, the new forms can be even more pernicious, less balanced, more intent on the latest conspiracy theory multiplied by five. But here is also the opportunity. At present, we are all being dragged down by the way media and public life interact.
Trust in journalists is not much above that in politicians. There is a market in providing serious, balanced news. There is a desire for impartiality. The way that people get their news may be changing; but the thirst for the news being real news is not. The media will fear any retreat from impact will mean diminishing sales. But the opposite is the case. They need to re-assert their own selling point: the distinction between news and comment. And there is inevitably change on its way. The regulatory framework at some point will need revision.
The PCC is for traditional newspaper publishing. OFCOM regulate broadcasting, except for the BBC, which has its own system of regulation. But under the new European regulations all television streamed over the internet may be covered by OFCOM. As the technology blurs the distinction between papers and television, it becomes increasingly irrational to have different systems of accountability based on technology that no longer can be differentiated in the old way.

Perhaps the first step could be to end the state-run media in Britain, and end the tax that Briton pay for the privilege of one-sided BBC reporting. If the public hungers for unbiased reporting, then the government should quit distorting the market and allow entrepeneurs to compete openly with that kind of product. If the BBC is part of the problem — and Blair doesn’t differentiate — then ending its subsidy would force it to respond to those market conditions.
But here’s the rub. Everyone knows about the bias of the Independent, which Blair named specifically in his complaint. The same can be said about the Guardian and the Telegraph. As Americans can explain to Blair in great detail, the problem is that it’s much more difficult to tell when media organizations attempt objectivity — and especially when they make a pretense of it.
Here in the US, we just learn to be discerning consumers of the news. Too bad Blair can’t trust Britons to do the same. I’m sorry to see a staunch ally of the US like Blair retiring, but it’s disappointing that he doesn’t grasp the fundamental role that free speech plays in human liberty.

11 thoughts on “Blair: The Internet’s Too Mean For Me”

  1. It’s a pity that Blair made this speech at the end of his premiership. He played a dangerous game with the British press and his government spent more time trying to manage the news than any previous government. In the end, that manipulation was resented by both the public and the press. He admitted so much in his speech but he could have gone further to address that.

  2. Captaqin:
    Much as I may agree with your general observations about the press, it would be a mistake to see Tony Blair as anything beyond a staunch ally in war.
    Given his track record with social and anti-democratic legislation in Britain he is anything but a democrat, a friend of individual liberty. He is a socialist of the first order with oak leaf clusters — but then Europeans seem to have happily adopted that path. I think its anyone’s guess which will do in Britain first, socialism or the jihadis.

  3. This Blogosphere Thing

    I used to be kind of into it. I did things like read other blogs, and comment on them, and link to them, and stuff. And because I did those things I used to get a thing called "traffic." And sometimes other bloggers would link to me. I won…

  4. I was never much impressed with Tony Baloney Blair.
    Of course, he LUVED Diana; and rubbing it into the queen. So, there’s a lot you can do when you’re mediocre, after all.
    And, I am reminded that in a political life, you’re always gonna have to deal with the “press.” The same way teachers have to deal with students who “participate.” The best ones thrive on these interactions.
    Like I said, I recently viewed the FDR “one man show.” And, you get the dialogue straight from stuff that acutally occurred. And, it dawns on ya how gifted FDR really was! Heck, he had 4 presidential races. And he won each one.
    So part of the FDR show deals with this. Alf Langdon? You wouldn’t believe how bad his campaign song was. (And, from the stage, you laugh when the FDR character pulls it off.)
    Towards the end, you hear FDR talking about how many press conferences he had had. More than one thousand. And, nobody ever bested him in an exchange!
    When you think of our crumby politicians, from Hillary, to Bush. What you recognize is that they’re not thinking on their feet. They’re not enjoying the interactions that come with dealing with the press. And, that’s our loss.
    By the way, Eleanor was no fan of Winston Churchill’s. And, Winston Churchill was trying to game the position England would get, when FDR moved to enter America into the Allied efforts.
    Winston Churchill never got what he wanted.
    Still, in the world of politics, when you go back and study history, its these facts that are just delightful to learn.
    By the way, the best docs at teaching hospitals KNOW that they’re best students are gonna challenge them. And, they thrive on this stuff!
    What is it about the media that it seems to reduce the talents?
    When you couldn’t be on Broadway without really having talent, not only did the theater thrive; but so, too, did our movies.
    Now? It’s not even paint by numbers! The people who are at the top, are INFERIOR.
    Which is also my point. Blair’s a very inferior product. History won’t be kind. He’s just a shorter version of Callahan.
    Do we have to fear the politicians?
    Well, yesterday, Glenn Reynolds mentioned a case, where the police confiscated a teenager’s camera. And, the kid is facing ten years in jail for “photographing police activity.” Did you know there’s a law that the cop has to sign a consent form?
    Politicians aren’t ahead of the curve. They’re doing everything they can to shade our freedoms. Tax us. And, take things away.
    But the Net’s a much bigger force. Even bigger than the lobbyists on K Street. And, government didn’t event the Net! It grew in spite of government, through private enterprise.
    Give this five more years; and you’ll see that the old way of doing business goes the way vaudeville went.
    Too bad Tony Baloney is getting such a production of leaving. He stunk. And, yes. He fades.

  5. Scratch any socialist, and you will find, under the surface, the beating heart of a totalitarian.

  6. Tony Blair is simply calling a spade a spade when few others will. And he worked on the side of freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq when most of his countrymen preferred the lazy, selfish “do nothing” approach — a position driven largely by the same media he criticizes. To call Tony Blair “whiney” at this point is a pot calling the fire tempered kettle black.
    The media wield significant power. Such power requires some level of accountability. Dan Rather still refuses to admit that the TANG documents were frauds. The New York Times still spins to the point of lies. How can one continue to ignore this and even belittle those who point it out?

  7. Most Americans like Blair because of his government’s support for us in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the domestic front, all of my British friends tell me he was a disaster. “Mendacious” is the most frequent adjective applied to him.
    Because of Tony Blair, no one in Britain believes a word that comes out of the mouth of any British minister. The British people are glad to be rid of him.

  8. In the real-estate business it’s called ‘staging’.
    You take a crackerbox house and tart it up with the Pottery Barn catalog and if all goes according to plan you pull an extra $20K or so when it sells.
    Blair staged the Labour Party, peeled off a few crusty layers of trade-unionism and put a new coat of paint on what was left, then sold it to the British public.
    Under that surface, however, I think there is still a generation of Labour functionaries whose formative political experience was a violent hatred of Thatcherism. This contingent believes as strongly as any Danton (or any Goebbels, for that matter) in the ruthless use of state power to further virtuous causes, and they’re also quite certain that it’s within their remit to determine what’s virtuous and what isn’t.

  9. MarkW beat me to it. Liberals are, at their core, totalitarians. They have no faith in government by the people and no interest in free speech. Democracy is an untidy process at best and might lead to people making the wrong decisions. Free speech can be very ugly. To a liberal / totalitarian, these facts are intolerable.
    George wrote (June 13, 2007 7:16 AM):
    The media wield significant power. Such power requires some level of accountability. Dan Rather still refuses to admit that the TANG documents were frauds. The New York Times still spins to the point of lies. How can one continue to ignore this and even belittle those who point it out?
    Accountability is provided by the marketplace. The CBS Evening News was tanking when Comrade Dan was at the helm, and is sinking even further with The Perky One behind the desk. The NYT’s circulation numbers aren’t exactly inspiring. People are voting with their pocketbooks.
    This is the ONLY kind of accountability I really care to see, aside from prosecutions for betraying official secrets. Otherwise, the last thing we need is for the government having ANY say in what is published. This is why the Brits are stuck with the BBC… and why the Soviets had nothing but Pravda and Izvestia. That was total accountability: print what the Party tells you to print or wind up in the gulag (or dead).
    Blair actually gets close to the truth in this regard:
    There is a market in providing serious, balanced news. There is a desire for impartiality. The way that people get their news may be changing; but the thirst for the news being real news is not. The media will fear any retreat from impact will mean diminishing sales. But the opposite is the case. They need to re-assert their own selling point: the distinction between news and comment.
    People DO want serious news. The MSM’s obsession with tabloid journalism, Paris, Anna Nicole, etc. masks this fact. If people can’t get it from one source, let them have lots of alternatives to search. In America, people turn to Fox News, talk radio, and a few conservative papers like the Washington Times because they feel that the other, traditional news outlets are NOT impartial, or at least don’t share their biases. What Blair – good socialist that he is – can’t quite grasp is that the free market is the answer, NOT government regulation.

  10. Speaking of Shrill Europeans Spouting Gibberish…

    I second Ed Morrissey’s response to Blair’s parting shots to the “feral beast” of mean media and internet coverage.

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