30 January 2017 — Return of the Public
The Guardian could use its membership scheme to create reader-owned co-ops across the UK. The Guardian still has enormous communicative power and this could be put to work promoting democratic, accountable media. A working model for this exists already, in the shape of the Bristol Cable.
These reader-owned co-ops would become self-sufficient if they meet the pressing need for independent & combative regional journalism. Owner-readers would pay for these papers’ operations and would enjoy democratic oversight and, ultimately, control over them.
They would steer the papers to address the key issue – arbitrary power exercised by coalitions of politicians and economic magnates. Owner-readers would collectively enjoy the power currently exercised by a handful of billionaires. They would learn, through an improved understanding of local political economy, the truth of Andreotti’s remark:
Power is exhausting – to those who do not have it.
The regional co-ops would then feed original, investigative content back to the centre. The central website could remain free. But the centre would be forced into intelligent dialogue with the (paying and self-governing) periphery. The Guardian’s metropolitan bias would be tempered by a steady flow of news from elsewhere. Readers could trace how the same “development” strategy is being pursued in Liverpool and Lincolnshire as in London.
Instead, the Guardian is calling for no-strings funding from members so that it can continue to operate according to its own lights. Meanwhile it is losing vast sums & being scooped by Al Jazeera, Wikileaks etc.The current pitch to members has all the persuasiveness of a man burning £50 notes and demanding more because he is running out.
Top down liberalism doesn’t work. It is too vulnerable to its own preoccupations, too assured as to the correctness of its own perceptions. Too often simply wrong. Only democratic media can combat the fair-seeming myths of the right.
The Guardian could democratise itself from the outside in & prepare the ground for a new political and economic settlement. Or it could run out of money and close. Cocktails & glittering chat on a sinking luxury liner, or honest work on something scruffy but seaworthy, owned by the crew.
If we want to build collective power, then we need to direct money to organizations committed to the principles of informed self-government. If we cannot decide together how institutions use our resources, on the basis of adequate information, then we should move away from them and gravitate towards those that do.
On the media side this means disinvesting from unaccountable institutions and supporting, or creating, accountable ones.
Over time democratic media operations will displace their oligarchic competitors if they are better at finding out what is going on. That in turn depends upon our ability to design and run institutions that serve our shared interests.