October & November 2023 Update
Hello and welcome to a slightly delayed update from Better Media. Rowan Gavin here, Better Media Campaign Co-ordinator. Between illness and travel I didn’t work very many hours for Better Media in October, so rather than produce a very short update last month we decided to roll two months together. You can read the last update here.
This update, I’m going to be focusing on three of the main strands of our work, as well as asking for members’ input on our continued use of the platform formerly known as Twitter. Those three strands are:
- Collating and platforming resources relating to media reform
- Amplifying and participating in campaigns around media policy
- Acting as a link between trade unions and the media reform movement
Platforming media reform resources
To start off, I’d like to highlight a particularly salient resource that I came across this month.
“The notion of achieving balance in news reporting has been tested to the limit during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.”
Many media commentators have been making statements very similar to this over the past several weeks, as Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza has once again broken out into large-scale violence. But the above quote is actually from a podcast published by our predecessors the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) almost a decade ago, in August 2014.
On behalf of the CPBF, Nicholas Jones brought together activists and journalists to examine the pro-Israel bias in UK media coverage during Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza. The panellists note a lack of Palestinian representation in coverage of the time and raise concerns about the proliferation of misinformation on social media, while emphasising the almost-total failure of major media outlets to provide their audiences with any substantive historical context about the region. Sound familiar? It’s very much worth revisiting as a corollary to ongoing arguments about the failure of mainstream media to treat the current violence with accuracy or accountability. Listen to the podcast here.
Amplifying policy campaigns
This month saw the Media Bill feature in the King’s Speech before being promptly introduced to Parliament, while the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill passed the Commons with some important amendments.
Unfortunately, few of the concerns we raised during the consultations around the first draft of the Media Bill have been addressed. The Bill still falls short in a number of areas, especially in ensuring that the public service broadcasters are probably supported and obliged to properly fulfil their public service remit, and in its provisions for the deregulation of local radio in favour of corporate ‘cookie-cutter’ stations. This month we were proud to join the newly-formed Citizen’s Forum for Public Service Media, alongside the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, the Media Reform Coalition and others, and to support calls for changes to the Bill.
Meanwhile, Better Media member and host of Forum partner Decentered Media Dr Rob Watson produced an excellent summary of the provisions on local radio and their potential effects on his podcast. Highly recommended listening.
Things are looking a little more positive in the case of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. Most notable was an amendment to the Bill which will allow for smaller media organisations to engage in collective bargaining with tech giants if, as intended, the legislation brings those companies to the table to agree funding mechanisms with the news providers whose content they profit from. As Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) Campaign Manager Hani Barghouthi pointed out in a recent blog, this is a big boon for independent media in particular. It will hopefully prevent the independent sector of being shut out of this potential source of funding, an outcome that is looking increasingly likely in Canada in the wake of similar legislation being passed there.
Lastly on the campaigning front, I am excited to share that I will be travelling to Parliament on behalf of Better Media next week to attend a reception organised by the Broadcast2040+ Campaign. I am looking forward to putting some real faces to virtual ones and strengthening our connections with some fellow campaigning organisations. My travel expenses are covered by Better Media, thanks to the generous support of our members and affiliates. If you’d like to support the work we do, you can become a Better Media member here, or contact us about your organisation or union branch becoming an affiliate.
Linking with trade unions
In recent weeks there have been major staff cuts at Reach PLC, publisher of over 200 regional and national newspapers. Hundreds of staff are being let go, resulting in the closure of 13 of Reach’s ‘Live’ branded local news websites, and the near-total dismantling of its women’s sports coverage. It’s a clear case study of how cuts motivated by short-term profit not only endanger the livelihoods of good journalists, but also exacerbate existing societal inequalities.
Just this week we also heard about major cuts to the BBC’s flagship Newsnight team, which look set to gut the program’s capacity for investigative and original reporting. In light of this ongoing deterioration of workers’ security in the media sector, we are continuing to build connections with the NUJ and other trade unions. It is clearer than ever that the UK media ecosystem is on the brink of disaster, and we believe that collaboration between media reform campaigns and trade unions is essential to protect the rights of both workers and audiences.
Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, many people and organisations have raised ethical objections to the platform, and many users have chosen to abandon it. Recently, several independent media outlets and media campaigning organisations have chosen to leave the platform. Better Media’s coordinators have been considering the possibility of leaving the platform ourselves for some time, and with others in our sector now making moves in that direction, we believe it is time to give the matter some serious consideration. If you are a Better Media member and you have thoughts on this matter, please respond to the post on our forums or contact me – we’re keen to get some input on this decision.
With that said, I’ll be back in December with another update. As always you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org – my working hours are Thursdays, 8.45-4.30.
Better Media Campaign Co-ordinator