Owen Jones is not one known for thinking through his plans for the world – not known for acknowledging extant reality in them in fact. So it is with this latest solution of his, the one that imposes censorship on the British media at a cost to the rest of us of £10 billion a year. It’s a nice enough bung for his mates of course but it does rather miss the target.
His first mistake is to think that capitalist organisations try to change the views of their audience. All the academic evidence points to exactly the opposite conclusion, that they chase it. Fox News does not exist because Rupert Murdoch thinks Middle America should be convinced of the merits of God, Guns and Mom’s Apple Pie. Rather, because he surveyed that media landscape and saw that Middle America’s prejudices were underserved. The extant media regarded guns with horror, sneered at God and intimated that Mom should be spreadsheeting at the credit bureau, not baking. Thus the channel that likes Jebus, the Second Amendment and will try to sell some cinnamon to go with that Pie.
That there are tens of millions out there who like this is shown by the existence of President Donald Trump. Or, indeed, the profitability of Fox News.
It’s the non-capitalist organisations – The Guardian say – who can propagandise, everyone else is too busy agreeing with the audience to do so – agreeing in the pursuit of their attention and thus their profit. Think it through for a moment, which will gain a little more of Owen Jones’ time? Telling him that capitalism is a bit of alright really, here’s the evidence, or agreeing that Britain is institutionally homophobic and won’t Jezza do something about that when the revolution comes? Quite, one will produce hours of heartfelt agreement, the other him looking over your shoulder for someone more amenable to waste time with.
But worse, obviously this is Jones, but worse:
Here’s another idea. The veteran US media reformer Robert McChesney has proposed that such a subsidy could be democratised. Every citizen would be given an allowance of $200 a year to donate to a single publication, or spread across multiple publications. It’s an idea that’s been further developed by British media activist Leo Watkins. The allowance could be funded by an annual tax on the advertising industry. To be eligible for funding, an outlet would need to be a not-for-profit cooperative – ensuring good terms and conditions for journalists – and would be forbidden from taking money from other sources, guaranteeing editorial independence. Media outlets would have to compete for support from citizens, incentivising them to listen to currently unrepresented voices. Such outlets could range from general news organisations at national or local level, to outlets catering for minorities, to sports or leisure pursuits. A thriving, diverse, genuinely independent media universe could be constructed from the bottom-up.
$200, or £200, per head? There are 50 million adults so that’s £10 billion a year. Which is, even at governmental level, serious money. And this is all to be spent upon journalists?
Quite why a not for profit cooperative should provide better terms and conditions for the workers is unknown. Does The Canary pay better than The Times? The Sun?
But yes, worse. For this is the perfect system in which to institute censorship. There are – as is already obvious given that economic structure – some conditions to being able to cash these vouchers. Who will decide those conditions? What will they be? Who thinks they won’t include no homophobia, no sexism, no transphobia, no classism and so on? All defined by the most committee minded among us of course.
Well, quite, such a “free press” would be gralloched from the outset wouldn’t it by the terms and conditions necessary for the receipt of those vouchers.
And yet, of course, worse.
For Owen is insisting that this £10 billion be spent upon his mates. Instead of £10 billion being spent upon what we want. You know, us out there, us whose money is being allocated. That we all have £200 more a year to allocate as we wish is a great idea. But what if our preferred allocation doesn’t include any form of media. Instead of a Pigeon Fanciers’ Monthly subscription, we’d prefer a few pigeon chicks? Instead of reams more of snowflake outpourings we’d prefer to Easyjet to the Alps for real snowflakes? What if, and perish the very thought of it of course, our desires for spending our money don’t conform to what Jones thinks it all should be spent upon?
Fortunately, we’ve a method of dealing with this. Jut cut taxes by £200 a head. Then we all go spend that on whatever it is that we want and not what Owen Jones thinks we should have. Everyone’s happy here – other than Owen and seriously folks, who gives a damn about that?