The great liberal economist Adam Smith was one of the first people to sound the alarm about the damage that occurs when vested interests get too big for their boots.
‘People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public,’ he warned.
Had he lived in the social media age, I wonder what he would have made of the BBC’s Nick Robinson encouraging people to lobby the media regulator Ofcom about two new efforts to launch current affairs TV stations in Britain to compete with his own dominant outlet.
In a tweet containing a link to a Guardian article about plans by Sir Robbie Gibb and the Murdoch empire to start the new channels, Robinson wrote: ‘Will a British “Fox News” channel improve debate, decision making and democracy in this country? Send your answers to @Ofcom.’
His implication was clear: we don’t want skewed coverage on our airwaves so let’s campaign to force Ofcom to revoke or withhold licences for these new channels. But his argument depends on a hugely complacent assumption – that what is already on offer is a gold standard and such bias does not currently exist.
In which case, I wonder if Robinson watched the BBC News at 10pm on Friday, when a BBC reporter covered a demonstration by US Black Lives Matter, in a segment that amounted to little more than crude sloganising in its favour.
Branding BLM ‘the civil rights movement of today’, the reporter began by telling viewers that nearly 60 years after Dr Martin Luther King’s iconic speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial ‘it is clear that not enough has changed’. In fact, I’d agree with this, but that’s a value judgment, not a piece of news reporting.