We have been reduced to making contrasts between the speculator and the bureaucrat, and wondering which is the blacker devil. The real barrier, perhaps, is that we see these as the only alternatives … The systems have profited so far by each terrifying us with the other, and by the lack of any genuine and attractive alternative.
Raymond Williams, Communications, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968, p.152, 161
In Britain the BBC and News International – the bureaucrat and the speculator – dominate our debates about the structure of the media. We are still being invited to choose between two wrong answers. To the extent that politics take place in – and are shaped by – the media, both options lead to a democracy without substance. The road to freedom runs through a reformed media.
Williams rejected state and commercial control and argued, in favour of trusts run by journalists:
Where the means of communication cannot be personally owned, because of their expense and size, it is the duty of society to hold these means in trust for the actual contributors, who for all practical purposes will control their use. (p.153)
However, the audiences of the major media should have some considerable degree of control over the operations of the media on which they rely. Modern technology makes audience control a practical possibility, after all.
It is remarkable that a proposal that is practical and just – and that stands to improve the quality of public debate – can be ignored so thoroughly by the major media. I wonder why radicals are not more eager to pursue the implications. It is clear to me that the refusal even to entertain what are no more than minor administrative changes marks the critical point of conflict, the pivot on which social transformation can be made to turn.
(I have, it must be added, been drinking coffee.)