A trip to London can be a tonic to media critics like myself who at times despair that the last thing the media in this country discusses is itself. In contrast, the media in London sometimes treats media issues as a font page story even when there isn't a scandal involving a prominent journalist.
Last weekend, for example, the Guardian led with a report on a speech by a former BBC executive denouncing the "easy cruelty of tabloid Britain."
No doubt the story was played large because the speech was given at a Guardian sponsored conference on Television even though the speaker, former BBC director John Birt, was disliked by progressives and is an advisor to Tony Blair. In fact, the late British screen writer Dennis Potter--who just before he died said that he named his cancer "Rupert" after Rupert Murdoch --called Birt at the same conference years back a "croak-voiced dalek." who was killing the soul of the BBC.
As the BBC itself became more market driven, he seems to have become more critical.
"Lets not tabloidize our intellectual life," he said. "Public service journalism would serve the nation better if it shifted the balance of its political journalism towards depth of analysis; towards insight and substance; towards honest, patient inquiry."
The British media is hardly a paragon of righteousness when it comes to journalism. Many of its print journalists put style over substance and the BBC can be every bit as trivial and jingoistic as the worst of our TV news. After all, Murdoch still has a substantial presence and it is the country which along with its former colony Australia gave birth to the tabloid press. Many media outlets may have moved off of Fleet Street but its spirit remains.
In June when I was in Britain just before the G-8 meetings, I was impressed with all the news coverage of world poverty and Africa. But, on this trip, in the post-tube bombing period, I noticed more attention paid to government measures to harass foreigners and stories about growing threats from "yobs" (rude working class delinquents) and "Yardys," Jamaican immigrants accused of importing gun violence.
As we in America discovered, terror attacks are used to stoke fear of enemies and repression.
At the same time, these issues are at least being discussed widely in the widely as is the war in Iraq in ways that our media still avoids.
Example, while I saw President Bush's latest pro-war speech covered, it was only the Fox News Channel's sister station SKY News which took it the most seriously. Some in the media noted that as public opinion turns against the President his speeches are increasingly on military bases and remote locations like Nampa, Idaho.
Other newspapers like the Independent have been on the warpath against Bush's new UN ambassador John Bolton's plan to gut the UN millennium goals to reduce poverty.
There's been so much anger in the press over this that the British government may be forced finally to stand up the Busheviks who want to roll back initiatives that the while world has endorsed,
On Saturday, a columnist for the pro-war Telegraph, Vicki Woods, was openly calling for British troops to leave Iraq, "pretty damm quick."
"I think America will stay in Iraq, no matter how much Vietnamlike peaceniking goes on because they have poured too much concrete over there to leave behind. Well, let them.
"When Bush's Iraq adventure blows up in his face, I don't want British troops under the fallout ....There's nothing in it for UK plc. Troops out."
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