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:
Media caught in headlights of official orthodoxy
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?
2 Reply to “Stop Press: Vincent Browne recants!”
To be fair to Browne, he doesn’t claim that press freedom is something bad or that we should do away with it. Based on the above, he just seems to state that he is a lot less enthusiastic about it compared to how he was several years ago.
The fact is that while a few personalities like Browne are given a voice in the media, they are placed in a safe little box. Look at Gene Kerrigan in the Sindo. Every week he writes a sensible article that usually seems to go against the paper’s line on an issue, but his impact is minimal because if some other journalist with similar opinions applied for a job at the Sindo, they’d be turned down because Kerrigan already fills the roll of token lefty while if some bright young thing who happens to agree with Eoghan Harris or Brendan O’Connor comes along, they’re going to be welcomed as a fresh new voice by editorial.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Browe’s latest column. On the one hand, he’s complaining that too few alternative voices are allowed in the Irish media market. Yet he himself has in his time edited published a national newspaper, Magill magazine, and latterly Village.
Is his complaint that alternative voices are excluded, or that there isn’t a market for them and they’re losing the argument?