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Media Alert 31 Jan

Media Alert

A round-up of the hottest takes from the best UK Indy Media.


In this week’s edition of Media Alert:

  • A word on the blurring lines between independent and establishment media,
  • Social media bots starting arguments,
  • And our Picks of The Week!

Media Alert is a weekly bulletin discussing issues impacting on the UK independent media and highlighting some of the best recent work from the sector.

It’s brought to you by The Media Fund, a co-operative of over 30 partners seeking to raise funds and advocate for quality independent journalism.


The Week’s Big Stories

Essential news from the frontlines of media politics

A Blur Between Independent and Establishment Sectors?

Independent and establishment media may differ greatly in funding structures, culture, and political framing. But as the independent scene grows and their establishment counterparts face huge problems, there’s a growing sense in which their function, and even their personnel, can overlap.

The Young Turks recently announced that they are to produce a weekly show with veteran news anchor Dan Rather. Rather, 86, has hosted CBS Evening News for nearly a quarter of a century. He cites Trump’s attacks on the press and major motivation. It’s a strange situation, as many things are in this era. Establishment media has had a crisis of credibility that Trump twists to his own advantage. When he was running for the Republican nomination, that media adored and fetishised him, giving him coverage worth billions of dollars.

But since becoming a Presidential candidate, and throughout his tenure, the liberal media have been horrified at the Frankenstein’s monster they helped to create. Trump, in turn, slams them as “fake news” on a near-daily basis. While his base is locked into skepticism of the liberal press from a hard-right position, The Young Turks and others have a large audience among those who often despise Trump, but who also strongly rejected Hillary Clinton’s corporatist economics and hawkish foreign policy record.

Dan Rather is a household a name in the US as The Dimblebys are in The UK. For him to now be working with The Young Turks demonstrates a step-change in the significance of independent media in the US, where a stronger patronage has enabled a much healthier scene in general.

Former Russia Today host Abby Martin has also been appearing on The Young Turks (people may like Russia Today for its constant jibes at the US and UK, but as a Russian state propaganda operation, any idea that it’s independent is the polar opposite of the truth.)

In the UK, the signs of such an overlap are fewer, but they exist. Paul Mason, formerly of the BBC and Chanel 4 has been writing for Novara Media. Owen Jones produces a lot of his own content outside of his regular post as a journalist for a liberal paper. Figures like Laurie Penny and Jack Monroe are often featured in the mainstream, having launched their careers on Twitter, and The Canary’s Kerry Anne Mendoza (formerly of Scriptonite) has appeared on “debate” game-show, Question Time.

With the probable inevitability of such a growth in overlap, sooner or later the old school will have to come to terms with the new kids on the block, despite current attitudes towards them that can be somewhat sneering.


Flame Wars or Bot Wars?

Anyone who’s spent much time in political debate on social media platforms can’t help but notice the deeply entrenched nature of the discourse. But how much of the bitterness is even instigated by human beings?

It’s recently been reported that nearly 700,000 Twitter users have actually been interacting with Russian bots, whose purpose may well be deliberate antagonism and division.

This 2014 Adam Curtis piece for Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe outlines the work of a Russian politician Vladislav Surkov, whose strategy (influenced by a background in avant-garde art) is based deliberate confusion, keeping populations constantly in a state of not knowing if we are coming or going. Ring any bells?

In such a way, bots can be programmed to pump out strong messages to wind people up on either side of a debate, for example, Black Lives Matter vs Blue Lives Matter (in defense of the police so often caught up in the shootings of black US citizens). It’s not just classic divide and rule, the confusion also makes it easier for governments to carry out their programs behind the fog of uncertainty.

Obviously, this may not just be a Russian phenomenon, and it might be said that some people are so predictable and cliche-ridden in their activity that they may as well be bots anyway.

Twitter and Facebook have come under a lot of fire for “allowing” this to happen, but quite how even they can police billions of accounts effectively remains a mystery.

Perhaps a more effective an less authoritarian long-term solution is to ensure that news consumers are better equipped to work out when we are being played, as recently proposed to MPs by Professor Stephen Lewandowsky of Bristol University.

Debate on social media is increasingly influential, but the medium is still in its relative infancy. It’s as well to acknowledge that we may not always effectively navigate the pitfalls, especially as those pits are often dug by full-time professional tech and propaganda experts.


Picks of The Week

Out hand-picked selections from some of the best independent journalism around

A Liberal Pillar of the Establishment – “New Look” Guardian, Old Style Orthodoxy – Media Lens

The print version of The Guardian recently became a tabloid. While this may invite us to imagine tawdry front-page headlines about Will Hutton’s love life. It’s also an opportunity to assess the role of the “liberal bastion” in shaping national discourse. Is it a gatekeeper for establishment values and a pressure valve protecting the elite? This great piece by Media Lens doesn’t flatter in its conclusion.

Find Media Lens on Twitter @medialens 


HSBC & The Revolving Door – Nicholas Wilson, Real Media

Real Media continue their conversations with Nick Wilson, the HSBC whistleblower who challenged Home Secretary Amber Rudd as an anti-corruption candidate at the last General Election. In this video, he discusses shadowy HSBC-related aspects of The Carillion scandal and much more. It’s another fine example of how independent media is investigating the areas often left untouched by the establishment for reasons that aren’t too difficult to fathom.

Find Real Media on Twitter @RealMediaGB


Coercion: the Disturbing Hidden Crim of Controlling a Partner – Lorna Stephenson, The Bristol Cable

In 2015, new laws came in to try and tackle the emotional coercive contingents of domestic abuse. In the light of recent revulsion at the everyday mistreatment of women in public life, it’s as well to check how this legislation is standing up in public. The Bristol Cable and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (the latter is a Media Fund partner) have worked together on this investigation, which sadly concludes that there is a very long way to go.

Find The Bristol Cable on Twitter @TheBristolCable

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