December 2023 & January 2024 Update
Hello! This is the first update from Better Media in 2024 – happy new year. Rowan Gavin here, Better Media Campaign Co-ordinator. I write with news of what we’ve been up to at Better Media since the start of December. You can read the last update here.
As usual, I’ll be splitting up the content of this update to match the four main strands of our work here at Better Media:
- Acting as a link between trade unions and the media reform movement
- Amplifying and participating in campaigns around media policy
- Supporting and promoting community media outlets
- Collating and platforming resources relating to media reform
Linking with trade unions
In early January we were very grateful to be given a platform to present to the sectoral conference of Unite’s Graphic, Print, Media & IT sector. The sector have previously been a big supporter of ours, and have worked with other media reform organisations including CPBF North. We presented them with an update on our work as well as our view on the media landscape as a whole, to a warm reception. We hope to be able to announce the outcomes of that meeting soon – it’s a significant step in our broader plan to build bridges between the trade unions and the media reform movement.
Amplifying policy campaigns
This month we have been working on a submission to the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) consultation on analogue community radio licensing. Our view is that the DCMS has not done its due diligence to establish a proper evidence base around the value of community radio and the need for new licensing. We’ll publish our submission in full once the consultation has closed. Capacity permitting, we may also be responding to Ofcom’s consultation on its 2024/25 Plan of Work. Thanks to our member Rob Watson for his work on these submissions.
We are also continuing to participate in conversations within the Citizens’ Forum for Public Service Media about the Media Bill, as it passes into the House of Lords. We and many of the other organisations that make up the forum still see significant problems in the proposed legislation, and will be working to introduce further amendments to shape legislation that more effectively regulates and enables a media which truly serves citizens, not corporations. More on this in the coming months as the Bill’s progress continues.
Supporting community media
In December, I took a full day to review and kickstart our work on a guide for local community media co-ops. Perhaps inevitably, the ambition of this project inflated its scope somewhat beyond our expectations, but we now have a new plan for continuing this work in an achievable time frame by dedicating one day of my time to it every two months.
In the wider world of independent media, we were interested to read predictions about the sector’s future over on journalism.co.uk, from independent journalists themselves – including Eliz Mizon of The Bristol Cable, who appeared on our panel on Climate Change in the Media last year – as well as the latest updates from the independent news network that was set up in 2023 by the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF). While 2023 was in many ways a bleak year for those of us working in or adjacent to news media, it’s encouraging to see independent players moving to fill the gaps that are increasingly appearing in the mainstream and corporate entities that purport to provide a useful news service.
Platforming media reform resources
On a more cheerful note, I recently uncovered an excellent story from the history of our predecessors the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. In the latest issue of Media North, Granville Williams related the strange tale of the Spycatcher debacle, which saw Thatcher’s government attempting to block the publication of the autobiography of a senior MI5 staffer. The book exposed several shocking secrets former MI5 leadership, and the UK government made an attempt to stop it being published in Australia, but were unsuccessful. The CPBF followed the whole affair with interest, covering it multiple times in their publication Free Press, and in 1987 they commissioned singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson to put the tale to music as the single Ballad of a Spycatcher – featuring none other than Billy Bragg on guitar!
After discovering the song I managed to obtain a copy of the 7″ single (thanks to Tapestry of Delights in Leeds), which features as a B-side Rosselson’s Song of the Free Press. A parody of the right-wing panic and privacy-invading tactics of the papers of the day, Rosselson’s lyrics are still impressively relevant in a world of phone-hacking scandals and rage-baiting ‘anti-woke’ headlines – as his imagined Fleet Street character exhorts his colleagues: “Do not be disheartened by what you cannot find / Embroider or invent if you’re inclined…”
It’s much rarer these days (though not unheard of) for a campaign group to get together with recording artists and get their message out on the airwaves through music. It’s not something Better Media are planning to do any time soon, but it would be very interesting to talk to Rosselson or Bragg about this particular slice of protest music history. If you happen to know any more about it, please do get in touch!
That’s all for this month! I’ll be back in Febraury 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