“Journalists don't like WikiLeaks”, Hugo Rifkind notes in The Times, but “the people who comment online under articles do… Maybe you've noticed, and been wondering why. I certainly have.” (Hugo Rifkind Notebook, ‘Remind me. It's the red one I mustn't press, right?,’ The Times, October 26, 2010)
Rifkind is right. The internet has revealed a chasm separating the corporate media from readers and viewers. Previously, the divide was hidden by the simple fact that Rifkind’s journalists – described accurately by Peter Wilby as the “unskilled middle class” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/dec/10/comment.pressandpublishing) - monopolised the means of mass communication. Dissent was restricted to a few lonely lines on the letter’s page, if that. Readers were free to vote with their notes and coins, of course. But in reality, when it comes to the mainstream media, the public has always been free to choose any colour it likes, so long as it’s corporate ‘black’. The internet is beginning to offer some brighter colours.
If Rifkind is confused, answers can be found between the lines of his own analysis:
“With WikiLeaks, with the internet at large, power is democratised, but responsibility remains the preserve of professionals.”
This echoes Lord Castlereagh’s insistence that "persons exercising the power of the press" should be "men of some respectability and property". (Quoted, James Curran and Jean Seaton, Power Without Responsibility – The Press And Broadcasting in Britain, Routledge, 1991, p.13)
And it is with exactly this version of “responsibility” that non-corporate