Sunday 10 July 2011

I worry about Twitter.

Not just Twitter I might add, but social media in general. The likes of Twitter have enjoyed, of late, what might be described as some success, with the super-injunction debacle, and this week playing their part in the attacks against Murdoch and the News of the World. Is this all good for democracy? I have mixed feelings.

Whilst it feels good when popular victories are won against the forces of evil, like Murdoch, and I must say I have a mild Twitter addiction, I do worry that there is a fine line between justified protest and a sort of herd/lynch mob mentality. My concern would be if the latter were to prevail.

A free press is important in a democracy (not that we necessarily live in a true democracy) but we don't really have a free press. We have a press owned by a small number of very rich and powerful individuals. Most of whom have a vested interest in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. If we really had a free press it would greater reflect society as a whole.

I have no love of the rich and famous or an interest in the cult of 'celebrity'. I really don't care who is shagging who and in what orientation or denomination. So from that point of view I think that I would possibly welcome privacy laws but on the other hand I fear that those same laws could be used to gag journals and journalists from reporting on matters that in my opinion would be matters of genuine public interest. It is all quite a dilemma. I do quite like the idea that Hugh Grant has been advocating. He feels that newspapers should be subject to the same rules as television in terms of impartiality etc. Would this work? Possibly. It surely would be better than what we have at the moment; where papers just print out and out lies that smear an individual or a party. Once a story is printed in a paper that story is treated by many as fact. It is very hard for innocent individuals to clear their name and refute allegations. It is the total opposite to our justice system where individuals should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. As far as newspapers are concerned if they think you are guilty or your face doesn't fit or they don't like your politics then they will condemn you. Newspapers are never going to let fairness or justice get in the way of a 'good' story. Yes we have libel laws. But justice is slow and expensive and really only open to the rich. Innocent people have their characters besmirched and destroyed just to sell newspapers. That really can't be fair. The press do need a regulatory body that is truly independent and with the power to fine, order prominent retractions and apologies and to suspend publication if necessary.

There is no doubt that the mass circulation newspaper is on the decline. Electronic media will take its place. The gutter press thrives on rumour and innuendo. My fear is that Twitter could well go the same way, if it has not done so already. I do hope that it doesn't become lowest common denominator saturated.

This last week's events have reminded me of a John Cooper Clarke poem 'Suspended Sentence'. No prizes for guessing why.

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