Whenever there is a coup, or a dictator wants to establish a regime, the first thing they do, once they have consolidated a power base is not to take command of the military, the police, or any similar major player. That comes later. No, the first thing to be commandeered is the press. The means of communication.
Over the last few days, the UK Government has stated that the modern press is in an unsustainable condition. To this end, Prime Minister Theresa May has launched a review to preserve the quality in newspaper publishing:
The UK has always had a strong and well-established news sector. However, over the past decade the way news is consumed has changed.
This has been into the digital arena, and specifically using the likes of FaceBook, Google and Twitter.
The figures being bandied about for advertising revenue are £124 for conventional and just £15 for digital per person, so an obvious imbalance there. Added to which, the digital model can be targeted at individual consumers’ preferences. If you think back to when you signed up to these platforms, you can select what interests you want to be in your news feed, your location, demographics, household income and so on.
They also want to look at ‘clickbait,’ to see if it is in danger of undermining commercial output (read state-sanctioned content, but I’ll get to that later).
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports said, “Robust high quality journalism is important for public scrutiny and underpins democratic debate.” It all sounds very noble and laudable, until you start to look a little closer.
The review wants to look at not just national and international news, but also local and regional news generation too. A cynic might take the view that the UK Government wants to engineer a single information source on a multi-layer model. The kind that was employed during the Soviet bloc era during the Cold War. It was known as “Pravda,” and writers have long been mindful of this direction. Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 being just two prominent examples.
In Europe, the forthcoming elections are due to be held on 4th March, 2018. And a company called Press Resources are offering something called Presto!
My understanding is that Presto is offering to be a personal news assistant. This is being offered to news aggregators and overseas news agencies who want to cover the election. They offer, among other things, voter data, voting trends/intentions, analysis, breakdown of figures, in fact, anything you may want to offer your readers/listeners/viewers all curated via a central clearing house.
You don’t even need to think! Which begs the question: Is this what the UK Government has in mind?
The BBC, the UK state-sanctioned broadcaster, along with Channel 4, a public service broadcaster, have launched something called Doc Society.
This would make the BBC, the official broadcaster in the UK, the prime arbiter of news. Going back to the point earlier about the government review, local and regional news will also fall under the remit. There is a budget of £8m they have announced for just this purpose here on 2nd February, 2018.
The BBC has released details of where licence fee-funded local journalists will be based across the country, with jobs being phased in from the summer.
It has set aside £8m a year to pay for 150 reporters, who will work for local news organizations rather than the BBC. The journalists will cover council meetings and public services and share their stories with the BBC.
James Harding, director of BBC News and Current Affairs, said it would strengthen local news coverage.
As more power is devolved across the UK, it’s more important than ever that we cover, understand and hold to account local politicians and public services.
So far, the BBC has allocated 20 reporters in Scotland, three in Northern Ireland, 11 in Wales and 104 in England, with plans to place the full 150 journalists by late 2018.
How the scheme will work
The reporters, who must work for a “qualifying” regional publisher, will be responsible for local newsgathering and sharing their stories with the BBC. To qualify, local titles must demonstrate they have a “previous track record” of public service journalism, as well as the ability to employ staff.
But the “exact nature of the reporters’ duties in Northern Ireland is still under discussion”, the BBC said.
In addition, the BBC will share audio and video material, after it has been transmitted, with local publishers under its NewsBank service, launching later in 2017. It will also create a hub for data journalism, funded by the BBC with staff from local titles, with recruitment beginning in the spring.
All reporters will have to work for a “qualifying regional publisher,” or vetted in plain English. This means that all news, Global, National, Regional and Local will be filtered by the BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian. Local papers will not be local at all, but will deliver stories with a government-slanted bias.
Just like Pravda.