Monday, 28 August 2017

Jon Snow’s McTaggart Lecture: a valuable contribution, but sadly off target

On 23 August 2017, journalist Jon Snow presented the James McTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.  The lecture is the keynote speech of the event.  The full transcript of the speech is available here.

There are nexuses between:
  • The legacy media’s belated coverage of Grenfell (i.e. covering the story only when it was too late for the residents of Grenfell, but just in time to sensationalise the story);
  • The legacy media’s consistent, 50-year long campaign, of disinformation about the nature and purpose of the European Economic Community et seq;
  • The nature and scope of the legacy media’s negligence of European matters smells, and looks, like the same negligence of Grenfell.

Accordingly, the lecture falls within scope of this blog.

This blog post is 6,328 words long.


Summary of the lecture
Does the lecture stack up?
What major concepts did the lecture omit?
Burden of truth
The recent history of spin & soundbites
A definition of “fake news”
Widespread issue-illiteracy
0% interest rates, economic and financial literacy
Snobbery: keeping the people as uninformed as possible
Proper solutions to counter corruption between media and politicians
The economic function and viability of the legacy media

Summary of the lecture

Snow’s opening premise that those in the legacy media know nothing.  Snow’s primary example was the fire at Grenfell Tower.  The residents had themselves documented the issues of the tower’s management and related safety issues, but the legacy media had ignored it.  “Yet,” said Snow, “the Grenfell residents’ story was out there, published online and shocking in its accuracy.  It was hidden in plain sight, but we [the legacy media] had stopped looking.”

Snow attributes this dysfunctional outcome to two things.  First, the “decimation” of local journalism, who in the days before the internet, would have been the bloodhounds sniffing out local stories, for escalation to national journalists.  Second, a disconnection between legacy media people and “‘the left behind’, the disadvantaged, the excluded”, a disconnection which social media has not magically re-connected.

Grenfell Tower was the major, most emotional, issue for Snow.  But other issues also underlined the extent to which the legacy media demonstrated ignorance of the world around it.  Snow cited the Brexit referendum, Trump’s election, May’s bizarre snap election, the sudden relevance of the Democratic Unionist Party, the sudden ascendant popularity of Jeremy Corbyn.

From these observations, Snow jumps to the conclusion that one tributary factor is that the socio-economic composition of the legacy media’s senior editorial staff is unrepresentative of the wider British population at large.  Snow claims that the legacy media is part of the elite of British society.  He says, “Yet I believe that we have, by the nature of our business, an obligation to be aware of, connect with, and understand the lives, concerns, and needs of those who are not.  In short, I believe we are in breach of that obligation – that in increasingly fractured Britain, we are comfortably with the elite, with little awareness, contact, or connection with those not of the elite.”

Snow then revealed his elitist background - born to a bishop who attended Winchester College, to a grandfather who attended Eton - and his history as a student expelled from university and taking a job with a charity at the age of 22.  It was at this charity that Snow discovered real life experienced by the disadvantaged.

Snow’s added more detail to his story relating to Grenfell.  “Why didn’t we know [about the Grenfell blog]? Why didn’t we have contact? Why didn’t we enable the residents of Grenfell Tower -‐ and indeed the other hundreds of towers like it around Britain, to find pathways to talk to us and for us to expose their story?”  Snow suggested that a story like Grenfell should have taken priority over the story of, say, Brexit (“Stuff which we know from viewing figures – whether you are pro or anti-Brexit, bore and frustrate the viewer.”)

Snow analysed the election of President Trump, followed by the Brexit referendum.

Of Trump, Snow said:

“The America we never visit, the Americans that we do not know-‐ the alienated and the left out, elected Donald Trump their President. What they make of it now -‐ we don’t really know because they RESIDE in the America we never visit. The forgotten voices, not unheard, but ignored. The similarities with Grenfell are stark.”

Of Brexit, Snow said:

“Brexit is infinitely more complex -‐ it has been far harder. What is balance when the issue, as defined by the referendum result, splits the country down the middle? When the issues represent such a tangle of truths, lies, over-‐simplifications, and immense complexities.”

“However it all turns out, we, the media, have little cause to celebrate the role we have played. We should have been far more robust with both the truths and the lies. In any case did we ever know any more than we now know the politicians knew – which was precious little?”

“We knew crudely about the CAP and farm subsidies -‐ but what did we say before the referendum about Euratom and the dependence of so much of our cancer treatment upon its work. What did we say about the Medicines Agency rooted here? Only now that the Italians are bidding to move the entire regulatory set-‐up to Milan do we begin to see what is unravelling before our eyes.

“Did we, the media, tell the Referendum voter that whilst our UK manufacturers are allowed to export their manufacturing to China, costing so many jobs at home, they are expressly forbidden from selling the products they make there? Did we tell them about India’s draconian new taxes to keep foreign manufacturers at bay?”

Snow points towards the relative lack of freedom of the British media:

“It [the Law Commission] has now proposed effectively to criminalise journalists and their sources, treating us like spies. It suggests anyone publishing or broadcasting leaked government information could land in jail for up to fourteen years … economic and financial data fall within this ‘national security’ legislation. Thus impacting upon our ability to report for example leaked BREXIT deal. No wonder in recent years that the World Press Freedom Index find UK journalists are now less free to hold power to account than those working in South Africa, Chile, or Ghana.”

Finally, Snow aims squarely at social media.  In particular, Snow attacks Google and Facebook for being cut-down legacy media operations, as if social media platforms originate content (like legacy media do) or should other moderate their users’ content (akin to the legacy media’s selective silencing of vox pop).

“Never, since the rise of the printing press, have two companies held such a monopoly over the world’s information. And never have such organisations taken so little responsibility for it. And no I’m not talking about Murdoch and Dacre. It is Facebook and Google to whom I refer.”

“Facebook enabled the story: “Pope endorses Trump for President” to engage more than a million people during the US Elections. That same algorithm that prioritised many amazing reports of ours, also prioritised fakery on a massive scale. Facebook has a moral duty to prioritise veracity over virality. It is fundamental to our democracy.”

But Snow appears not to understand the deep irony of his attack of Facebook and Google.  On the contrary, he seems keen to point out that Channel Four has gamed Facebook quite well:

“We were among the first to pioneer captioned news clips specifically designed to be consumed on a smartphone. It’s proved a leader in the market.  The clips normally run for some ninety seconds -‐ sometimes two minutes. The uptake by 16-34 year olds has been vast. The subjects aren’t skateboarding dogs – but the most serious stories of our times – Syria, Brexit, Trump, acid attacks, civil rights and Grenfell.”

And, of course, the issue is money.  Snow claims that Facebook doesn’t pay the going rate to cover the costs of proper investigative journalism.  Snow proposes a hybrid model:

“Hence -‐ user generated; professionally authenticated. That is Public Service Broadcasting at its best.”

Snow then reasonably forecasts a longer-term outcome of current trends:

“There are two possibilities: we could end up in a vicious circle – with ever more extreme and partisan sources of information reinforcing people’s prejudices and an ever more vitriolic news feed … where it is only the reliable dissemination of local news that dies, but national news too. Or we could make a real effort to provide news literacy, to create a society as concerned with what it reads and views as with what it eats.”

Does the lecture stack up?

As an argument goes, Snow’s attempt is a pretty good one from an insider.

Although there is a sort-of logic to his argument, the bulk of argument is one of socialisation, i.e. to get an emotional buy-in from his audience so that the unpalatable home-truths register.  It’s clear Snow knows his audience well.  And Snow does have to tread carefully if he is to retain a career in the legacy media and preserve his laudable legacy.

But, on balance, whilst the argument has its merits, it does not stack up.

In particular:
  • Snow needed to have shown the causation between the social class of senior editorial staff and their  editorial choices.
  • Snow needed to have shown the incremental causation that a proportionally representative senior editorial staff would have resulted in less ignorance, less snobbery and less blinkeredness than the current “elitist” senior editorial staff.  Snow’s argument deploys the usual left-wing error of confusing correlation with causation.
  • Snow’s citation of the Sutton Trust report was weak, because the report in question was published eleven years ago, on 01 June 2006.  What, if anything, has changed in those eleven years?  As at 28Aug2017, the report is still available to download.
  • Snow takes no account of presentation.  Presentation is fundamental to communication.  So to take a vastly complex story - such as Brexit - and to press it into a two-minute soundbite means vast over-simplification on a Blairite scale of “soundbites”.  The net result could only ever be disinformation, because who picks which facts to omit, to save time, and who checks the context is still sound?  Snow accounted for neither for this outcome nor its consequences.  As a result, a key foundation of Snow’s argument is missing.
  • Snow’s reference to “such a monopoly over the world’s information” reveals a false dichotomy of a monopoly that also confuses “data” with “information”.  As a consequence, Snow’s comments about social media are misguided, so this element of the argument does not stack up.
  • Snow’s value-judgement that social media should “prioritise veracity over virality” comes out of mid-air, based on a false assumption that Facebook is a journalistic outlet, which, of course, it isn’t.  Snow’s implication is that Facebook ought to moderate and fact-check all content, effectively to adopt the function of a state censor, or perhaps of “Aunty BBC”.  The value-judgement undermines a substantial chunk of Snow’s argument, because Snow’s recommendations do not fit with the total range of provable facts available.
  • Moreover, Snow’s value-judgement about social media is contradictory.  Aside from Snow’s acknowledgement that legacy media uses social media for legacy media’s own content delivery and, therefore, advertising, the whole thrust of Snow’s lecture appears to be in favour of diversity and non-conformity, yet a consequence of seeking “veracity over virality” is to ask Facebook and Google to follow the leader of a media oligopoly… a development that would harm the very disconnected and disenfranchised that Snow claims he want to serve better.  A culture of complicity, approval and groupthink is all too easy to visualise from the phrase, “user generated; professionally authenticated.”
  • Snow appears not to have grasped a second, more fundamental, contradiction (or double-standard?) that if it is acceptable for a social media company to submit to an audit by a legacy media company (“user generated; professionally authenticated”), then it must also be OK for a state to do the same to all media companies in its jurisdiction (“professionally authenticated; officially approved”).  It seems unlikely that Snow would advocate the Chinese state’s approach to media freedom, but Snow appears to have done just that.  It’s the basis of a charter to protect corruption.
  • Finally, Snow appears not have grasped that perhaps the legacy media’s ostensible self-picked mission to mislead its viewership systematically might be the number one cause of the Law Commission’s anti-espionage consultation.  Far from intending to protect corruption (set aside unintended consequences momentarily), might the Law Commission genuinely want to protect the state from the consequences of systematic disinformation caused by leaks-out-of-context compounded by moronic-half-baked-spin from politicised journalists?  Sure, point to the danger of criminalising whistle-blowing, but don’t allow whistle-blowing to be a charter for disseminating the purest bullshit.  Accordingly, in this aspect, Snow’s argument does not stack up.

What major concepts did the lecture omit?

Burden of truth

The most fundamental omission from Snow’s speech is the burden of truth required to define “veracity over virality”.  Snow’s failure to define “veracity” undermined his speech, and failed to contribute usefully to the debate about the on-going financial viability of the legacy media.

The burden of a criminal court is “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” to establish a conviction “beyond reasonable doubt”.  It is unlikely that a retail media outlet would ever use this very high burden of truth, but a focussed media outlet - the scientific press, for example - might adopt equivalent burdens within their subject matter.

An appropriate lesser burden for a retail media outlet would be the “true and fair view” used by financial auditors delivering opinions asunder the Companies Act 2006.  This burden is highly regulated - every aspect of an auditor’s evidence, decision-making and wording on his report is defined in writing - but its principles include a “true and fair override” when compliance with regulation results in a misleading presentation of the story within a company’s financial statements.

This is a far cry from today, where legacy media engages in fake news (see below).

The recent history of spin & soundbites

I perceive that Blair et al et seq fundamentally and irreparably damaged the trust between legacy media and its retail consumers, i.e. us plebs.

Blair et al, frustrated by the media’s distortion of otherwise simple communication (“Would the last person in Britain please switch off the lights?”, history) embarked upon a communication strategy - or, more accurately, a media manipulation strategy - that sought to bundle as much as possible into short soundbites that the legacy media would find sensational enough to report, but too succinct to distort.

It didn’t take long for the legacy media to realise that it had been duped.  The prize, the entitlement to monopolise the systematic misleading of the masses, is too valuable to give up lightly.

The legacy media responded in a beautifully politicised way.  They presented soundbites as given, and distorted the context.  Newspapers avoided the tedious work required to unbundle soundbites.  That this strategy damaged the legacy media in the eyes of us plebs was irrelevant - who cares about plebs anyway? - but the important objective for the legacy media was to damage the political class.

Us plebs also discovered that the soundbites were designed to be attention-seeking (nowadays, we’d refer to it as click-bait).  Worse, taken at face value, soundbites would amount to fake news.  Us plebs began to realise that we simply couldn’t believe a word printed by a legacy media outlet or uttered by a politician.  The whole damned lot of them were liars.

The net result was that us ordinary plebs found ourselves paying money to buy newspapers which were basically full of bollocks.  When social media arrived, us plebs realised we could get the same bollocks for absolutely free.  Well, if bollocks is all that’s available, then free is a better deal than costly, isn’t it?

A definition of “fake news”

Snow did not define fake news directly, but he quoted one example (“Pope endorses Trump for President”).

Sure, any falsehood presented as a fact is “fake news”.  But “fake news” encompasses much more than simply falsehoods.  Any mis-representation presented to the public as truth qualifies as “fake news”, especially when it is mis-sold as the “full truth”.

A click-bait headline is normally itself a deed of “fake news”, because it offers a false promise and does not deliver, i.e. it actively misleads the reader.  And that point is both necessary and sufficient to qualify an item as “fake news”.

The definition matters, because it correctly explains the fakery regularly published by the so-called “broadsheets”, such as the Graudiad.  Here is one example relating to Grenfell and Brexit:

“Frankfurt’s fire chief, Reinhard Ries, said he was appalled at the fire at Grenfell Tower and said tighter fire-safety rules for tower blocks in Germany meant that a similar incident could not happen there.”

It might be the case that Mr Reis (note corrected spelling) did indeed say that Germany had tighter fire-safety rules.  But it is fake news to report it, because it is a false statement.  As at 14 June 2017, Germany had the same relevant fire-safety rules as Britain and as every other member nation, defined as EN 13501, mandated by the European Commission via Commission Decision 2000/367/EC.  The fakeness was compounded by an explicit lack of reference of the rules.  At the very least, the piece should have included the text “2000/367/EC” and a link to the Commission’s website.

Moreover, Mr Reis was instrumental in developing a national database of comparable fires in Germany.  By 29Jun2017, had received a copy of a PDF that summarised over 100 incidents that happened between 2001 and 2017.  The list even included Grenfell Tower.  So suggest that Mr Reis said that “a similar incident could not happen” in Germany was a simple, blatant lie.  It’s unlikely to have been Mr Reis who lied.  So presumably, it was the Graudiad who lied.  So why publish it?  Well, the Grauniad is a well-known Remainiac media outlet, so ultimately, the only reason to have chosen to publish the lie - and to refuse point blank to check, to double-check and to triple-check the source - would have been to falsify support for the editorial’s pre-ordained Remainic narrative.

So much for “veracity over virality”.  More like “professionally generated; whitewashed instead of authenticated”.

And this is just one example.  There are over 50 years of examples to unbundle, on both sides of the European issue. is a private, non-journalist blog.  It’s run by a former environmental health officer.  He finds data available on the internet and, for anything beyond that, seems to ask the person behind a website for more data.  Why do “professional” journalists think they are entitled not to do this really basic research method?

Or is it the case that journalists do ask, but find doors slammed in their faces precisely because they are journalists?  Do respondents go, “Oooh, a journalist is asking.  That’ll be another Mazher ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood.  I’m gonna get libelled, mis-quoted deliberately out of context, have my words twisted by a piece of work with an agenda, and/or pay a fortune restoring my reputation.  Sod ‘em.”

Widespread issue-illiteracy

Would we accept to undergo surgery when the surgeon tells us, “Well, I’m not trained in this procedure, but I’ve seen bits of it and read half a book about what it tries to do”?

Probably not.  The so-called surgeon is admitting to issue-illiteracy, also known as rank incompetence in the subject matter.

But when we read any journalistic piece, we are invariably reading a piece of issue-illiteracy, where the journalist proudly parades their ignorance.

One embarrassing recent example of was George Monbiot’s rant in the Grauniad of 25Jul2017 against microbially-washed chickens, where he chose not to use a dictionary to check the difference between Salmonella typhi, Salmonella paratyphi, Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteritidis.  Three days later, on 28Jul2017, the Grauniad edited the piece to take some of the crap out: having originally been based around a misreading of a report from the Adam Smith Institute, the re-edit resulted in the sole mention of the Adam Smith Institute being in the note at the bottom of the piece to explain its disappearance.  The end-result is just a rant.  Both before and after the edit, the piece wasn’t/isn’t worth paying money to read.  Did the Grauniad refund anybody who paid money to read Monbiot’s original piece?  (The historic analysis is available from

Arguably, a journalist is an artist on a deadline.  They have the give of the gab, but very few of them have anything like the issue-literacy (technical competence) required to report on their alleged subject matter.

Snow did not highlight this issue of issue-illiteracy.  I won’t say that Snow was issue-illiterate on the subject of issue-illiteracy (!), but had he commented directly on whether the legacy media’s widespread issue-illiteracy were a root cause of the decline of the legacy media’s grip on the minds of us ordinary plebs, then his lecture might have been much closer to a target to benefit wider society.

The nearest Snow got to it was his plea for “user generated; professionally authenticated”.  However, Snow’s proposal does not resolve the above examples of Monbiot or Reinhart Reis.


Grenfell provides many examples of issue-illiteracy.  Let’s take just two examples.

Example one: the legacy media, like the government, obsessed about cladding (Snow did in his lecture), but it took the legacy media far too long to realise that the cladding wasn’t the issue.  It was the combustible insulation underneath the cladding that was the real problem.

Example two: in 2010, when the European Union issued a directive to member nations to reduce the waste of heat from residential dwellings, it should have been blindingly obvious to everybody that sticking combustible material on the outside of a building, in blatant disregard of the building’s design specification, would compromise whatever fire safety (fire retarding) mechanisms existed in the design (if any).  Had journalists already forgotten the fire at Irvine, Ayrshire on 11Jun1999?  Whereabouts in 2010 were the screaming headlines, “What the flip are these idiots doing?!”

Simply put, the sort of hysterical fuss that typically accompanies anything uttered by Donald Trump was markedly absent for a matter that really matters: fire safety.  What better evidence could there be of widespread issue-illiteracy?


Politics is a rich seam of how the issue-illiteracy self-undermines journalism.  For all matters of politics, policy choice and joined-up thinking is and has always been the number one strategy to unbundle groupthink and corruption.  That takes expertise across multiple disciplines, often beyond the skillset of the typical Whitehall civil servant.

But instead, we get inane questioning about irrelevant “Westminster tittle-tattle.”  This is a grotesque waste of airtime, column inches and screen pixels.  And the legacy media wonders why us ordinarily plebs switch to social media!

The European issue gives us more than 50 years of evidence about the legacy media’s issue-illiteracy.  So much so, that it has formed the basis of an entire book (“The Great Deception”, Booker & North, 2003).

Andrew Marr provides us with an excellent example of irrelevance and issue-illiteracy.  When interviewing the then Prime Minister David Cameron about Brexit on 21Feb2016, Marr asked the right questions about the Canadian free-trade deal with the European Union.  A few months later, a different prime minister, in the same political position as her predecessor, facing the same policy choices, and even the same interviewer, got a variety of irrelevant questions about alternatives to failed negotiations.  So it seems that Marr asked the right questions of Cameron only as a fluke; there is no evidence of issue-literacy here.

The most common misrepresentation by the legacy media throughout the Brexit referendum has been a refusal to learn the difference between the customs union, a customs union, the single market, a common market and - most devastating of all - “non-tariff barriers to trade.”  Snow nearly asked the right questions.  He asked:

“Did we, the media, tell the Referendum voter that whilst our UK manufacturers are allowed to export their manufacturing to China, costing so many jobs at home, they are expressly forbidden from selling the products they make there?”

This is a good question in itself, but is also prejudicial because it’s only half the story.  Snow should also have asked:

“Did we, the media, tell the Referendum voter that whilst our UK manufacturers might comply with European regulation today, that leaving both the EU and the EEA would result in the European Union physically inspecting all goods that the UK sought to export to the EU?  Did we, the media, tell the same voter that the overhead costs UK manufacturers need to pay to comply with EU traceability regulations puts us at a cost-disadvantage to non-EU competitors?  Did we, the media, tell the same voter that the trade policy choices of the EU were dressed up a quality control, but are primarily aimed at anti-trade protectionism?  Did we, the media, tell the same voter that whilst the EU screams abuse at China for the ‘social dumping’ of steel on world markets, the same EU was ‘socially dumping’ excess food production onto world markets, thus causing poverty in South America?”

All of these questions were answered in the Flexcit Plan, which has existed for years before the referendum.  Yet the legacy media has gone out of way to deny the existence of the plan.  Over the past twelve months, it seems that the legacy media might be plagiarising extracts of it, but doing so out of context, and thus still mis-presenting the issue of Brexit (in particular, how to Brexit with minimum pain).

0% interest rates, economic and financial literacy

I present one example outside of Grenfell and Brexit, and it’s a major example.  It’s pervasive.  It’s consequences have contaminated every economic choice that every single one of us makes today.

It’s the policy choice of 0% interest rates.

0% interest rates have been a most effective tool to re-distribute wealth and income.  Sounds great, no?  Well, no.  Actually, the wealth and income is taken from the honest, the meek, the modestly well-off, the poor and given to the reckless, feckless ultra-rich.  Yields lower than the underlying (and mis-reported) rate of inflation steal from the poor; extended borrowing at low interest rates transfer cash to the rich.  The rich then use that cheap debt to buy more assets, inflating the value of assets beyond economically objective values.  The gulf between rich and poor widens.

The net effect over time is that low interest rates have resulted in a significant protectionist barrier against social mobility.  The barrier inhibits wealth creation and therefore financial freedom, which is the key to social mobility.  Whilst the financing of risky ventures has never been cheaper, the expected rewards for taking risks have never been lower.  So there’s still no point in investing in risky ventures.  But we have to gamble with risky ventures, because we can’t afford not to.

0% interest rates are thus the greatest distortion - the greatest act of financial vandalism - of ordinary people’s lives that a state can do.  Worse, various states have colluded to ensure that they all perform the same financial vandalism.  The double-standard that anti-cartel law applies only to private companies, but not to agencies of states, is duly noted.

That the legacy media ignore this policy choice proves beyond any doubt whatsoever that journalists - as a class - are wholly illiterate in basic economics and finance.

The policy choice is a choice of unelected central bankers, encouraged by elected politicians who want “economic stimulus” to generate good headlines.  Journalists appear to have fallen for this, choosing not to realise the “responsibility avoidance” that it so clearly is.  Politicians also need their distance from central bankers to achieve “plausible deniability”.  Journalists appear to have fallen for this, too.  The relative silence of journalists about this policy choice since 1971, but especially since 1989, suggests that either journalists are grossly incompetent, or complicit in its performance.

That the Labour Government 1997-2010 so eagerly indulged in this policy is why I consider the Labour Party to be far better for the Sheriff of Nottingham than for Robin Hood.  Yet the legacy media goes out of its way to keep itself as ignorant as possible about this evil policy choice.  Thus the deep unspoken common vested interests between the legacy media and the Labour Party emits a foul stench of corruption.

Snobbery: keeping the people as uninformed as possible

Snow did not explicitly assess the extent to which the legacy media educates or informs.  As a presenter of Channel 4 News, and widely known as such, Snow probably (reasonably) presumes that he fulfills the role of “inform”, and occasionally “educate”.

But there is a contradiction.  The more one educates, the lower a barrier to social mobility becomes (there is more than one barrier to social mobility!).  And that’s a problem for those legacy media people who enjoy the trappings of the middle classes, because, stupidly, they consider entrants to the middle-class as rivals, as threats, as another mouth to feed from a shrinking middle-class pie.

So, over the decades, the legacy media has moved away from “educate” and towards “entertain”.  Since the Blair era, the legacy media has accelerated away from “entertain” and towards “mislead” and “divert”.

The “divert” is a key behaviour of the legacy media.  It explains why the (largely Remainiac) media still today obsesses with the number £350 million pasted onto the side of a bus.  Sure, a few of the thickest voters in the country might have fallen for it, but the majority of us plebs didn’t fall for it, any more than we swept Ed Miliband into power with a landslide victory in 2015 because of his all-powerful Edstone.

The “divert” is the behaviour of the legacy media that most demonstrates Snow’s complaint of a “disconnect” between the media elite and us ordinary plebs.  Yet whilst Snow used Grenfell as the means to explain the point, Snow fell short of explicitly pointing out the contempt in which the legacy media elite hold ordinary plebs.

Far from realising the error of their ways, the legacy media - aided by their like-minded chums in academia - publicised a questionable “study” on 07Aug2017 that concluded only uneducated people voted for Brexit, even after the same legacy media outlet urged a more balanced outlook on 20Jun2016 and 03Jul2016.

Incredibly, in 2014, a Labour politician, Emily Thornberry, saw fit to take the piss out of the working man, supposedly the very type of man that the Labour Party sought to attract, by tweeting a pic of a white van on a gardenless driveway of a 1990s terraced house, festooned with England flags.  And she did this while canvassing in a by-election!!  Even members of the Labour Party criticised her act of snobbery.  The closeness of the North London Labour elite and the legacy media elite was proven by that one incident in the eyes of many of us ordinary plebs.  I don’t know what evidence we’d need to see to be sure that the legacy media elite have irrevocably distanced themselves from any political party elite.  The stench of corruption between the legacy media and the Labour Party simply worsens daily.

Oddly, in spite of his attention to Grenfell, Snow chose not to mention “Image from #Rochester”.  But, in substance, the snide, snobby tweet is just as offensive as ignoring the residents of Grenfell.

Proper solutions to counter corruption between media and politicians

Snow’s lecture was not the forum for a vision of a regulatory solution to the corruption between the media and those responsible for public policy choices, but even so, I’d have expected at least a small pointer in that direction as a “worst-case scenario”.

We need some sort of compulsory professional qualification for all participants in Westminster and Whitehall, along with a comparable qualification for journalists.  The qualification would be grounded in pure empiricism, perhaps measured by a standardised disciplinary code of conduct, enforced by a chartered institute, regulated entirely independently from Parliament and government departments (perhaps by the Privy Council, as some chartered institutes are?).

Moreover, there must be no common employments within any function of government (judiciary, executive, legislative) and of journalism, with a minimum exclusion of six years (one Parliament plus one year) for any individual who seeks to transfer employment from a function of government to journalism, and vice versa.

This solution is even more relevant if it turns out that “user generated; professionally authenticated” is a sub-set of “professionally authenticated; officially approved”.

Funding this business model of the legacy media shall be challenging.  The public sector could defensibly cover direct, incremental costs of production, but cannot defensibly cover the overheads of the industry, and certainly not the creation of the chartered institute.  The legacy media would need to fund the institute by means of its revenue, which means its production would need to be worth buying.  But even if the product is worth buying, the customer base would be a fraction of the current ratings of Channel 4 News or BBC News.

The economic function and viability of the legacy media

Simply thinking about how to fund the business model sketched above reveals another harsh truth that Snow omitted from his arguments.

As the UK’s population ages and therefore declines, with insufficient birth rates and questionable inward migration numbers to sustain the population number, the legacy media needs to adapt to an environment where there is less wealth created to fund the national overhead that the legacy media industry is.

The legacy media can generate small amounts of wealth by exporting some content or services, but the bulk of its economic effect is internal, domestic consumption (transfer of wealth rather than generation of wealth).

A failure to adapt would mean that the net overhead effect of the legacy media is too heavy.  The legacy media has no entitlement to exist in defiance of (the lack of) customer demand and/or economic gravity.

Therein lies a paradox.  To improve the quality of legacy media output such that it becomes worth buying, we need a strong independent regulatory framework to discipline careless, feckless, ignorant, issue-illiterate  journalists.  But the additional overhead cost required to build such regulation is likely beyond the capacity of the legacy media’s current revenues, let alone future declining revenues.  On the one hand, the legacy media cannot afford to improve the quality of its output.  On the other hand, the legacy media cannot afford not to improve the quality of its output.

The only way out for the legacy media is to drop the mentality of the 1950s/60s supervisory paternalism that Snow reveals throughout his lecture.  We might have to wait until the snowflake generation grows up - which might never happen - or hope that their children develop both a backbone and a usefully-long attention span before tomorrow’s customers are ready to receive, to read, to buy top-quality legacy media output.

Until then, we might have no choice to endure the race to the fakest bottom that unmoderated social media offers us.  And, frankly, that’s dangerous.  With social media users still raging tribally against eachother in a whole range of issues - from animal-rights to have-as-many-referenda-as-it-takes-to-join-the-Eurozone-remainiacism - it feels that us plebs could be on the course to a civil war.  Not something we should look forward to.


On balance, Snow’s contribution to the debate is a valuable contribution and should at least deprive the leaders of the legacy media the opportunity to deny a major business problem, largely of their own making.

But Snow missed his target.  He focussed on matters of socialisation (ie. that the stock of employees of the legacy media should be proportionally represent the same socio-economic groups of the UK population at large) as a lazy substitute for direct, cause-and-effect analysis of how the social class of an editor results in the editor’s particular kind of laziness, complacency and denial.

As a consequence, Snow took his eye off the ball.  Taking both Grenfell and Brexit as examples, he’s been in the game for long enough to realise that in the late 1990s the talk of fire safety was on enforcing a system-based fire test, yet by 2000 the European Union had mandated an unfit-for-purpose material-based fire test, and issued it using the regulation method asunder TFEU Article 2 paragraph 2.  He’ll also have seen how, in 2010, the same European Union would have mandated member nations to reduce the waste of heat energy from residential dwellings.  It doesn’t take a great deal of intelligence to ask, “Erm… hold on… do these two regulations stack up?  What happens at a national level if they don’t?”

The idea that national journalists needed a feed from local journalists, that only local residents in Grenfell would have had the nous to question the misguided direction of European and UKGov policy, is clearly absurd.  National journalists should have seen this coming long before Grenfell’s fire became even a credible risk.

But such is the sloppiness of journalism in the UK today - as it has been about the European issue for more than 50 years - that us plebs cannot afford to believe a thing that any journalist says.  Nothing available for sale in the legacy media today is worth buying.  Dross is better value-for-money from social media than it is from legacy media.

This poses a major business problem for the legacy media, in part because social media has denied the legacy media the opportunity to retreat to a protected, oligopolistic business model of the 1950s, and in part because the legacy media shall struggle to afford the vast overheads required to upgrade its output to be worthy of regular purchase by us ordinary plebs.

Perhaps Snow can address these points next time he is invited to give the McTaggart Lecture, to inject further honesty into the debate.

Then again, perhaps the organisers of the McTaggart Lecture will have realised what a can of worms Snow has just opened, and shall do whatever it takes to keep honesty well off the agenda.  In this endeavour, leaders of both Britain’s main political parties shall certainly assist.  After all, the enemy of the truth is their friend.

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