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Power Beyond Scrutiny

Power Beyond Scrutiny: Media, Justice and Accountability

Justin Schlosberg
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Power Beyond Scrutiny
    Book Description:

    Power Beyond Scrutiny uncovers the forces which distort and limit public debate in the media. From the misuse of politicians' expenses to recent phone hacking scandals, establishment corruption has never been more in the headlines. Yet amidst the din there have been seismic silences. Justin Schlosberg interrogates these silences - why did a plea bargain which allowed Britain’s biggest arms company to escape bribery prosecution go almost entirely unchallenged in television news? Why did journalists routinely endorse the official explanation of how intelligence analyst David Kelly died, whilst all but ignoring mounting evidence which undermined it? Why, in 2010, did broadcasters offer an unchallenged platform to critics of Wikileaks but not its supporters? These are some of the questions and imbalances that Schlosberg seeks to address as he explains the nature of public debate in the digital age. In doing so he uncovers a range of news blockages that are more than just accidents of a fragmented, chaotic mediascape. They are ultimately ideological forces which ensure that contestability and dissent remain within definable limits.

    eISBN: 978-1-84964-870-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Figures and Tables (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Preface (pp. x-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction (pp. 1-30)

    Starting from the notion that authority is legitimised power, Max Weber articulated three bases of legitimation: the personality of leaders, traditional deference and rational-legal bureaucracy (Weber 1993). Although legitimation historically consisted in some combination of these, it is rational-legal authority which is the primary source of legitimation in modern western states. Popular allegiance is not to individuals who hold power, but to the procedural framework and rules which both structure and contain it.

    When we consider what makes power and authority legitimate today, it is usually reducible to various formal or informal accountability institutions including government, regulatory authorities, legislative assemblies,...

    • 2 High Crimes (pp. 33-55)

      The Al Yamamah controversy has been a recurring news story in the UK for the best part of 25 years. Ever since the British and Saudi governments first signed a memorandum of understanding for the sale of UK fighter jets in 1985, allegations began to surface in the press of secret ‘kick back’ commissions to key agents and negotiators. However, the story acquired cross-media attention in December 2006. This followed a decision taken by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to terminate an investigation into British Aerospace Systems (BAe) with respect to the Al Yamamah deal. It was from then a...

    • 3 Framing Foundations (pp. 56-86)

      Having examined the scope and limits of the coverage, we now turn our attention to the forces which shaped and determined them. A starting point in respect of the scope is to focus on news values. In particular, there were several aspects of the story which struck a chord with journalists and editors alike. First, the story inherently lent itself to multiple framing angles as already observed. This enabled different journalists with various persuasions, and different editors with distinct perspectives of their audience interests, to cover the story in a variety of ways. Kaye Stearman, press officer for CAAT, summarised...

    • 4 Whispers in the Press Gallery (pp. 89-116)

      The Hutton Report was the outcome of an inquiry set up to examine ‘the circumstances surrounding and leading up to the death of Dr David Kelly’. Kelly, a government scientist and intelligence analyst, was the identified source for an allegation made on BBC Radio 4’sTodayprogramme that sparked one of the most vociferous and public attacks on the BBC from a sitting government in its 80-year history. The allegation, made by Andrew Gilligan, was that the government ‘probably knew’ that one of the claims on which it based its case for war with Iraq was inaccurate. The implicit charge...

    • 5 The Basis of Belief (pp. 117-142)

      The preceding analysis suggested a resounding failure of journalists to ‘uncover the cover-up’. We now need to determine why that failure occurred. Clearly this starting position is an antagonistic one, at least in respect of the core subjects of my research: broadcast journalists. But although the analysis is focused on and critical of journalism, it does not follow that the problem is rooted in journalism alone. It is perhaps significant on this point that the coverage has not attracted the attention of some of the most radical and outspoken media critics.

      Of course, just because the case has not attracted...

    • 6 The Biggest Story on the Planet (pp. 145-170)

      Wikileaks emerged in 2006 as an internet-based project aimed at exposing state-corporate secrecy. From the outset, the project has been explicitly articulated as an engine of accountability, in both radical and reformist contexts (Fenster 2011). Although the precise workings and self-described objectives of the model have varied over time, the essential connection between unauthorised disclosure, scrutiny and accountability has been consistent:

      Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media...

    • 7 Behind the Wall of Transparency (pp. 171-194)

      Having examined the contours of the coverage, it seems clear that the various limitations stemmed from a general perception of transparency overload. This is what underpinned official source frames which sought to de-legitimise Wikileaks, but it was also used to explain the lack of focus on particular ‘nuggets’ of public interest disclosure. For some interview respondents, even with the full weight of mainstream media resources, it was inevitable that important stories would get buried amidst the unimaginable scale of the leaks. According to Gavin MacFadyen:

      You’ve got to understand the sheer scale of it. It was like going into a...

    • 8 Conclusion (pp. 195-218)

      This book started from an assumption that news stories centring on suppression of accountability forces by powerful interests – obstructions, whitewashes, cover-ups – tend to attract acute attention from public service media. They offer a dramatic news narrative that conforms to the values of serious news and we might reasonably consider that uncovering, investigating and exposing such transgressions is at the heart of journalism’s social purpose. In other words, where formal mechanisms of accountability fail, journalists step into the front line of public defence.

      Not all journalists identify with this ideal type of ‘activist’ reporting. But it captures the liberal narrative which...

  10. Notes (pp. 219-224)
  11. Bibliography (pp. 225-232)
  12. Index (pp. 233-236)