It hasn’t had much publicity, but a government process is under way whose aim is to pave the way for the delivery of public subsidies to the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Mirror and the rest of the national and corporate press.
The Cairncross Review was set up to look at new ways of funding what the government called ‘high-quality journalism’, and since the review panel is packed with representatives of the newspaper industry it’s obvious they are meant to be the beneficiaries.
There are two possible sources of money: some kind of tax on (or contribution from) the big tech companies, or another raid on the BBC licence fee pot. Either way, the idea that any public money earmarked to support high-quality journalism might find its way into the pockets of Lord Rothermere, Rupert Murdoch and the publishers of the Mirror and Express is too repulsive to contemplate.
Overwhelming evidence shows that their products are associated by most people with low quality and that their journalism is held in public contempt. Moreover, they have refused to participate in independent regulation that meets the basic standards required to protect the public from abuse.
You can do something, now, to make clear your views on this matter because the review comes with a public consultation. It closes on 14 September. Here is the link.
You will see that various questions are asked. Unsurprisingly, they carefully avoid seeking opinions on where real high-quality journalism is to be found or how it should be defined for the purposes of any future distribution of public money, though questions 6 (a) and (b) may leave this door slightly ajar. In any case there is nothing to stop us from making points about the review’s business on our own terms. (Its formal remit is here.)
You don’t need to write a long essay decked with references. It should be enough, if you wish, to submit a polite letter of a few paragraphs explaining in reasonable terms why you think that, though it’s certainly true that journalism needs help, the idea of subsidising the journalism of the Mirror, the Sun and the Mail is unacceptable.
And if you are interested in or concerned about local and regional journalism, you might also offer your view on whether more public money should be allowed to find its way to the Mirror group, Newsquest and Johnston Press. These are the main proprietors of the local press and they are the companies that have overseen its devastation over the past couple of decades.
Is it worth the effort? The government’s contemptuous treatment of the consultation on part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry certainly gives grounds for doubt. My view is that, at the very least, we should not allow this handpicked panel to claim they speak for the majority, which they will surely do if we are silent. Since responses will be published ‘in full or summary form’, they can’t pretend they haven’t heard your opinion.
My response to the consultation will be fairly lengthy and I will post it here in a week or 10 days.