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Grant Shapps: His threat to cut the BBC licence fee means “show respect or you’ll suffer”

The new web journalism allows you to discover what readers want by seeing how many hits an article attracts — and I wish it didn't. I now know that if I want to impress my editor at the Observer — and what journalist does not want to impress his or her editor? — the easiest way to make my piece the most-read article on the Guardian and Observer's comment site is to launch an attack on the Tory press in general and the Daily Mail in particular. The more vitriolic I am, the more filled with hate my prose becomes, the more, in short, that I write like the very tabloid journalists I am condemning, the more the readers will like it.

To make sure my piece is a success, I will imply or state outright that the Mail brainwashes its readers, reinforcing their sexism, racism, homophobia and contempt for the poor. When you assign that level of malevolent power to a newspaper the only logical conclusion is that it should be censored or banned. For how can you fight prejudice while allowing the propaganda that creates it to continue unchecked?

Equally if I were a columnist on the Mail or the Telegraph, I would tear into the BBC. I would say that it was a nest of moneyed hypocrites, whose managers spouted leftist opinions, while pocketing the taxes of hard-working licence-fee payers. The phrases "Hampstead liberal", "fashionable views", "poll tax licence fee", "dumbed-down" and, above all, "bias" would dot my piece like parmesan shavings on pasta. I'd be clear that the reason why so many in Britain did not agree with the views of Mail or Telegraph readers was not because their views were doltish or incoherent in any way — for that can never be admitted on the Right as much as the Left. Rather, large sections of the public failed to endorse traditional morality because their minds had been poisoned by relentless BBC propaganda. Again, the logic of my argument would lead to censorship. A corporation that is so corrupt and corrupting must be constrained or closed.

I once believed that no one read journalists who wrote about other journalists. I assumed the wider public was bored by the self-reference and self-aggrandisement. But the hit counters don't lie. They show that readers love journalists condemning other journalists in the most violent terms, and will join in with the condemnations online.

You might say that I am missing the point. Liberals rage against the brutishness of the tabloids because the tabloids are indeed brutal. More than that, they were allegedly a home for criminal behaviour. Conservatives, meanwhile, denounce BBC bias for the same reason footballers denounce bent referees. The law requires the BBC to be impartial and it is scandalous that it rigs debates. In any case, you could go on to say arguments about journalism are a part of an open society. Today's media culture wars are nothing more than the modern version of the pamphlet wars of the 18th century.

But there's the rub. Britain's culture wars are no longer a part of democratic debate but a threat to democratic debate. On the Left and Right, media criticism attacks the fundamental liberties of this country.

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Anonymousrkelly72
December 16th, 2013
6:12 PM
I accept the author's point. I need clarification: Am I correct in remembering that a few journalists were caught hacking private accounts? If so, I say these few should be held to law. Again, though, I agree with the author.

Frau Katze
December 12th, 2013
3:12 AM
I'm Canadian, and our state broadcaster is paid from general tax revenues. I simply see no reason for state TV. We don't have state newspapers. The old argument about limited bandwidth is now irrelevant. State broadcasters should not exist. I prefer the American model. I can't even get rid of my TV to stop funding CBC, and I don't like it. Your other points make sense, society has become bitterly polarized. The situation with the newspapers in the UK seems very ominous to me. Still, in the Internet age, online publications can simply base their servers outside the country. Paper newspapers are falling out of use, at least in North America.

hegel`s advocate
December 10th, 2013
5:12 PM
I no longer have a tv. The last one conked out over 12 months ago. I hardly ever buy newspapers either. There`s more truth and culture on the internet 24/7. Feminist Times,Glasstire Texas Arts,Standpoint are good examples of good journalism today. Julie Burchill and Zizek excell in` mainstream` media but nearly everyone else verges on craven conformism. All the fawning gibberish from `world leaders` about Nelson M is refuted in Zizek`s "I think he died a bitter man" (and Zizek explains why) A functioning capitalist mafia economy doesn`t function on truth. It`s `experts` have no decisional capability anymore. The people of Uraguay and Chile have radical ideas in operation not the ruling mafia capitalists of Russia,China,Arabia or Europe. The latter lead to the production of more lies, gruel-propaganda and war business - the real religion of Mecca,the Kremlin and their global business partners in crime. viva Pussy Riot artists and philosphers!

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