Monday, 13 July 2009

In with chaos, out with control

We are living in an era of cultural chaos. Traditional boundaries between journalists and readers are eroding, old certainties of left and right and control of the news agenda by elite groups have disappeared and technology makes communication, comment and dissent possible for anyone with a PC and a broadband connection. Not completely new territory for a journalism academic over the past few years but what makes Brian McNair's book entertaining as well as interesting is his obvious delight in attacking the traditional obsession of sociologists with the idea that the media are part of a ruling-class conspiracy to feed propaganda and dumbed-down pap to the downtrodden masses -what McNair calls the "control model".

This might have made sense when the world was divided into capitalist and communist spheres of influence and debate took place against an ideological backdrop of competing social and economic systems, says McNair, but no longer. The new era of cultural chaos opens the way for a new flourishing of democratic accountability and vigorous debate.

Hints that his bouncy enthusiasm isn't universally popular with his fellow-academics surface most clearly at the end of the book. What is left for scholars to critique, one academic asks, if his cultural optimism is justified? Or to put it more journalistically, what are we going to write about if bad news is no longer good news?

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