In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, Vincent Browne (to coin a phrase, the éminence terrible of Irish journalism, pictured left) gives a guarded welcome to the Defamation Act, 2009, and pours cold water on the recent Supreme Court decision about journalist source privilege. But that’s all en passant to the main event, in which he recants his youthful enthusiasm for press freedom:
Twenty-three years ago, I was an enthusiast for press freedom. … But, in the meantime, perversely, I have become a good deal less ardent about press freedom, and I have dropped the conceit about the press being the defenders of the weak against corporate, political and other centres of power.
I have come to believe that the media is the problem – or a large part of it – and not the solution. The media is a centre of corporate power, and it is inextricably tied into the other centres of corporate power. … press freedom … essentially … is freedom for the owners and/or controllers of the media and freedom to propagate an ideology that, basically, is destructive of the ordinary person, or at least their chances of being equal members of society, aside from a formal legalistic sense.
Ever the controversialist, since the views he espoused twenty-seven years ago are on the way to becoming more orthodox, the restless Browne now feels the need to move on. But, characteristically, he overstates his case. It is ironic that he is taking advantage of the very freedom he denounces to make his point. Indeed, I agree that he has a point about the corporate power of the big media outlets. However, proper – and actively enforced – regulation about cross-ownership and pluralism would go a long way to meeting his objections, without having to recant his youthful enthusiasm for an important democratic right – after all, for all its structural flaws, if the media cannot seek to hold the powerful to account to to make the kinds of points Browne himself does on a regular basis, who will?