Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Disruption - good and bad

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, but in response to Leveson, global media businesses that develop intimately close relationships with senior political figures with a view to advancing their commercial interests have largely successfully managed to cast themselves as insurgent outsiders. There's plenty of rhetoric out there about how the press must be free to stand up to the establishment, and how the proposals of the Leveson are a slippery slope to a state-controlled press.

In my opinion, there's something rather pathetic about representatives of the Mail, or News Corp, or whatever, presenting themselves as challenging 'the establishment' when they are so closely bound to it. Nonetheless, since they control their own content, the coverage of Leveson etc is institutionally biased, in the same way you wouldn't expect the British Bankers Association to produce reports on socially useless finance.

The line that is pumped out is that while they might occasionally get things wrong, our free press is unruly and disruptive, and this is a good thing (which of course it is). This means that we tamper with the existing model of self-regulation at our peril. What is more, it is a positive virtue of the industry that it is refusing to bow to Parliament's will. Again the contrast with, say, banking is interesting. Actually bankers also say regulators shouldn't meddle in what they don't/can't understand, but their lobbyists also know that they simply can't get away (for now) with openly defying the will of policymakers.

The press has gone as far as to set up a regulatory body that is designed from the outset to NOT comply with some of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry. Once more, this is characterised as a good thing. Once you start trying to make a judgement about how accountable the press should be you have already crossed the Rubicon, we are sternly warned.

Compare all this with what the Tories are looking at doing in terms of strike ballots. Again you will see the language of "disruption" employed. But here it is A Bad Thing with the explicit intention being to minimise needless disruption. Here it is perfectly OK for the state to curtail the ability of citizens to challenge power when it comes to threats to their pay or working conditions. What is more, this is usually argued in terms of the greater good of a successful economy. The freedom to withdraw your labour without punishment is something that can be traded off against GDP.

In a previous era, it was taken for granted that, whilst they could be disruptive, trade unions were important in balancing power in the workplace. What's more unions and their members were often in the forefront of democratic struggles - as they are today. In contrast, now disruption at work, regardless of what provokes it, is seen as inherently undesirable. 

Let's make no mistake where it leads your average punter. If their employer tries to push through unpleasant changes, like a pay freeze, it will be harder for union members to resist. But at least they will be able to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they can still read Fraser Nelson telling them that Rupert Murdoch is the real victim of overpowerful government.

Disruption - it's all about who is doing it, isn't it?

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