Books: The fight for responsible journalism

Written By: Denis MacShane
Published: November 30, 2017 Last modified: December 4, 2017

The Power And The Story: The Global Battle for News and Information
by John Lloyd
Atlantic Books £25

This is a magisterial book by one of the Britain’s finest journalists. John Lloyd came out of Scotland’s 1968 generation of leftists via Time Out and LBC to become the Financial Times’ Labour (ie trade union) correspondent in the 1980s. It was the decade when militant trade unionism lost the power and presence in society it had gained after 1940.

Having reported on the end of one expression of Marxism, Lloyd then went to Moscow to report for the FT on the end of another expression of 20th century Marxism – the Soviet Union. Now he reports on the end of yet another 20th century institution – the printed newspaper produced by journalists striving for factual accuracy and balanced comment.

There is more “news” than ever available on the Net and more people than ever clicking to get information about celebrities and scandal or specialist areas. As a specialist in Brexit I cannot keep up with the range of on-line bulletins and blogs on Britain’s future in Europe.

The newspaper columns in favour of Brexit – the vast majority of papers by sales and circulation – remain largely propagandistic. The BBC’s coverage of the referendum and its fawning platforming of Nigel Farage was the worst examples of the tabloidization of the BBC in its history.

Lloyd discusses the problem of the accelerating end of print newspapers – how long can the Guardian survive and who actually reads the FT? – as he asks necessary questions about the nature of democracy when journalism ceases to be independent and rewarding as a profession.

This is separate from his broad and impressive examination of controlled media in an increasing number of countries – Russia, China, all Arab countries – or the triumph of media manipulation in Trump’s America or Berlusconi’s Italy.

Just as capitalism has fused with communism in China, or with authoritarianism in Russia, so too has money-power eroded the ethical rules that were once what made journalists and newspapers essential to 20th century democracy as we knew it.

Lloyd has a vivid reporting style and his many succinct interviews with victims or justifiers of Putin, or Egyptian or Indian style journalism, make his book a page-turner for those interested in question of who decides and writes the news we are permitted to read.

His masterly book is a lament not an obituary, but as we see the Brexit-Trump-Putin lie machine winning out the future of truth-telling, fact-checking, balanced reporting appears bleak indeed.

About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a former Europe Minister