Periodically, the Media Lens editors debate UK Guardian (formerly UK Independent) columnist Owen Jones on Twitter. The Media Lens editors challenge Jones to mention the horrid editorial practices of his employer.
Their exchanges go something like this:
JONES: I’m reaching a large audience with socialist ideas they would not otherwise hear.
ML: But what are you really reaching them with when you can’t mention the rotten things your editors do? Look at the state of the planet.
JONES: Should I make myself irrelevant like you? How would that help?
ML: Is your approach new? Is it working?
JONES: Is yours?
They repeat this about a month later.
The Media Lens editors are right that leftists like Milne, Jones, Weisbrot who appear regularly in the Guardian must pay a non-trivial price of admission.
Is the price worth it? That question can’t be debated publicly by the writers who pay it. That certainly speaks to the non-trivial nature of the price, but, again, is the price worth it?
The answer must depend on realistic alternatives that are available.
What can a handful of leftists like Jones do?
1) Resign and write in outlets with no direct ties to very rich donors?
2) Do the above collectively in order to draw larger audience and source of donations?
Can anyone doubt that these options involve writing for a much smaller audience when even small progressive outlets like Democracy Now! have ties to billionaires like Patrick Lannan?
Pulling punches about your bosses to maintain access to a big audience hasn’t worked but neither has writing and speaking with total independence (and correspondingly meager resources) for tiny audiences. Neither approach is new. Neither has worked despite the second approach getting a big boost with the internet. Fifty nine percent of the UK public believes that fewer than 10,000 Iraqi died as a result of the Iraq War – a very extensively covered war. Professionally done polls have found the same stunning level of public ignorance in the USA (details here). Perhaps the results would be far worse if not for leftists like Jones who appear in the corporate media or, if you wish, if not for independent writers like the Media Lens editors and other bloggers. Does that matter given the level of ignorance found in these polls? I repeat: neither the Owen Jones approach nor the Media Lens approach has worked to a degree with which any decent person should be remotely pleased.
Quite simply, there should not be a tradeoff between independence and access to a large audience. The answer lies in drastically reformed public funding for media.
Robert McChesney has an excellent proposal: giving each voter control over a fixed amount of government money for non-profit, non-commercial media. All media consumers are thereby equally empowered to decide who deserves a large audience. Billionaire owners and corporate advertisers are cut out of the system. Government officials are kept at arm’s length.
I would add that in countries that have government media a real push should be made to have their governing bodies elected rather than appointed. My suggestion is that a third should be elected by the public, a third elected by media workers and a third selected randomly from the general public.
If writers like Owen Jones and the Media Lens editors were to debate proposals like these, I think they would find their exchanges far more worthwhile. I certainly would.