Back in the days when books had to be written, they were very precious objects, because a book like the bible would takes months, even years, to produce. In today’s money that’s of the order of £10,000 for a book. A book was as costly in the past as a motor car today. Even one book in a family was a luxury many could not afford.
Then came the printing revolution and the price for a single sheet of print became so low, that ordinary people of modest income could afford to buy it, not just once in a lifetime, but with the advent of the news-sheets, many could afford them daily. And as the populace became more involved with daily politics, they felt they had a right to have a say over government. So, printing naturally led to a political revolution ending in universal franchise.
However, whilst the cost of reading printed material was low – the cost of producing such material remained high. There was an imbalance. Almost everyone could afford to read a newspaper, but because the printing machinery was expensive only a few could afford to print the news (or broadcast on TV). As a result, the people who produced our “news” & provided the raw information (and through it spread their own views) were rich people and large organisations. These include:
- Newspaper “barons”
- Book publishers
- Government & other large organisations
By the 1990s, with the advent of electronic printing presses for newspapers, the power in the land clearly belonged to those who owned the newspapers to such a degree that in the 1992 election, the Sun owned by Rupert Murdoch boasted it had prevented the democratic election of Neil Kinnock with headline “IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT”.
The power and influence of the newspaper media (and likewise TV) was at its pinnacle. No politician could hope to get to power without the support of at least one newspaper baron. These barons were the king makers – and politicians lived in fear of their wrath.
Then along came the internet
In very simple terms, the internet massively reduced the cost of “printing” to such an extent that anyone with a PC and an internet connection could get their views printed, not just locally or nationally, but globally.
In economic terms the “cost barrier” to entry into the information market was almost eliminated. Before the internet, you needed to spend a huge amount of money on a printing press, you needed a massive delivery infrastructure as the media was difficult and costly to transport. The result was that “news” was often one or even more days late, it was heavily biased and largely self-indulgent focussing on the issues of interest to the media. But it did not matter, because all the newspapers were pretty much the same and with an effective cartel, the public could choose the political colour of the paper, but had no say over its content.
After the internet the cost of setting up as a publisher dropped to a few hundred pounds for a PC (something that many already had), and news through the internet became almost instantaneous in many instances. Anyone with an interest from knitting (so boring the media hated it) to S&M (so outrageous they just printed it as titillation) could set up a website, and many did. The cost barrier preventing people publishing their material and views were swept away by the internet and as anyone who has studied economic theory will understand, a monopoly or cartel can only exist in a market with large barriers to entry.
As the barriers to entry disappeared, the newspaper baron cartel disappeared, new outlets (like google ads) began to take away the traditional adverting, and with the loss of money and control of what was being published, the power of the barons to control political life ended.
Similar changes also occurred in TV broadcasting. From one BBC channel in 1956 to four in 1982 to 10s or 100s for everyone with the switch over to digital (2007-2012) the “mainstream” broadcasters slowly lost their audience so that none of the top watched programs have occurred in the last 15 years. Then, like print media, the internet brought down the cost of broadcasting video through channels like Youtube (started 2005)
MPs expenses and the Phone Hacking – a turning point in the power and influence of the media
For years, the question of MPs pay & expenses had been under scrutiny. Then in May 2009 a major political scandal erupted as the Daily Telegraph revealed that MPs from all parties had been on the fiddle with their expenses. MPs were furious that the press had intruded into what most appeared to see as a frivolous investigation into a situation that was caused by the “unfair” way the press hounded them about pay.
In 2002 the press practice of using private investigators to acquire confidential information was widespread and almost certainly known to MPs, but despite many reports and even some civil suits, the story rumbled on with little if any official action for many years. Then in July 2009, just two months after the MPs expenses scandal broke, the Guardian printed three damning articles alleging that Rupert Murdochs News Group Newspapers had been massively involved in criminal phone hacking.
The tables had turned, from being the self-proclaimed king makers mocking the electorate in 1992, a decade later, the Newspapers which had clearly seen themselves as beyond the reach of the law, were now under criminal investigation.
But it wasn’t just the press being challenged. In 2009 emails from the University of East Anglia showed that the academics who created (many say fabricated) the global temperature had conspired to prevent the release of information under FOI legislation. This led to a major scandal and investigations. The movement challenging this academic led view of “impending doom” through global warming came through various blogs on the internet. The end result, was that in 2010, Phil Jones who had been the focus of the climategate investigations admitted that there had been no significant warming recently showing that the view of many academics who believed the world was warming up quickly was wrong.
However, just as Trump has been attacked, likewise despite half of online “Climate sceptics” having a post graduate degree and most trained in relevant disciplines of hard science and engineering, the (almost universally scientifically illiterate) press engaged in a hate campaign against Climate sceptics who had so successfully brought to the public attention the failure of the academics predictions.
By 2009, Climategate showed the internet was proving an effective way for non-establishment causes to obtain public support even in the face of hostile commentary from an overwhelming number in the press.
Just as criticisms of the establishment failures in science were being heard, so in politics from rise of the internet, non-establishment parties having been growing in support.
In the first Scottish parliament in 1999 the SNP gained 35 MSPs. In 2003 the greens got 7 MSPs, the SNP 27. But in 2007 the SNP emerged as the largest party with 47 seats and in 2011 the SNP won a majority (69). Within just 12 years this “anti-British-establishment” party had taken control of government.
In the 1999 EU election (using PR) their vote was 7% gaining them three seats and placing them fourth. In 2004 UKIP came third in the EU parliament vote with 16% and 12 seats. In 2009 UKIP’s 16% gave them 13 seats placing them second. And in 2014 UKIP won 24 seats becoming the largest party with a massive 27% of the votes.
Whilst not as spectacular, we have also seen similar increases in votes for the Greens who now have an MP in the UK. And so called “anti-establishment” parties have been progressing worldwide, not only in the west.
In 2010 a wave of revolutionary demonstration, riots and protests began in Tunisia and spread to Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Somalia, major insurgences started in Iraq, Libya, Syria an Yemen. It is widely reported that social media place a significant part, if not THE significant part in this revolution.
For years, whenever any Tory politician dared to raise the subject, the press would describe them as “splitting the party” – a tactic that was intended to force the leadership to clamp down and prevent any discussion. It was not until UKIP started making progress (much to the mainstream media’s disgust – even hatred) that leaving the EU was given much if any serious discussion.
With the exception of a few Tory MPs, Brexit was overwhelmingly hated by the vast majority of establishment politicians and most mainstream media were either hostile or at the very best lukewarm. The behaviour of the BBC, being under a legal obligation to impartiality, was particularly reprehensible as they were incapable of broadcasting on Brexit without making it abundantly clear they thought the whole idea was as pleasant as tog turd.
Academia & other establishment “thinkers” or as the media like to call them “experts” were particularly hostile to Brexit produce report after report suggesting the economy would collapse every major company move abroad etc. etc.
It did not happen.
In sharp contrast to the overwhelming hostility from the establishment politicians, experts and news media, social media was hugely in support of Brexit. The people did not believe the establishment views of so called “experts” – and despite all the establishment threw at the referendum, Brexit & people power won.
So far whilst being significant, (except for the regional government in Scotland) non of these “anti-establishment” political movements had gained significant power.
But in June 2015 Donald Trump announced he was standing as a candidate in the US election. At first it was considered by many to be a publicity stunt, but within a few months the Economist was saying: “it would be a terrible thing if Mr Trump became the nominee for the party of Lincoln and Reagan”. Widely hated by the mainstream media, but adored by those using social media, Trump came from being a figure of fun to win the Republican nomination. Then after a relentless campaign by many in the media to prevent Trump winning the election, he went to leading the polls after the FBI re-opened their investigation of the Clinton email scandal – something widely reported on the internet but largely ignored by the “mainstream” media both in the US and abroad.
In 1992 the press could boast: “IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT”. In contrast, and highlighting the fall from power of the “mainstream” media, on the 3rd November 2016, US president hopeful, now leading in the polls came out on social media to say that he was “sentencing the media to death”.
This presidential hopeful was now so confident of his ability to win despite the mainstream media, that he felt attacking these once “king-makers” would either not affect his support, or indeed help propel him into the presidency.
The rise of politicians and parties opposed to the “establishment” is a worldwide phenomenon that has shocked the mainstream media and “establishment” to its core. With groups as diverse as the SNP, Trump and even ISIS, this revolution cannot in any shape of form be considered as a single political movement of any form or even a single set of aims. Instead it is a “people’s revolution” in the sense of changing the balance of power in society from the establishment to the people enabled by the technological change of the internet.
In 1436 the printing press was developed, and this technological change which created an alternative to the then Church controlled “Scriptoriums” which hitherto provided most religious books at huge cost. By 1517 the new printing was so widely available and so cheap, that it enabled those like Martin Luther to publish his radical views on religion, challenging the then ruling establishment of the Catholic church and starting the protestant revolution.
The internet is a revolution, is similarly not just of technology but a revolution that is and will affect and continue to change society and politics. And whilst no one can say where this revolution will take us, what the past tells us, is that those this revolution threatens the most are the establishment elites who thrived under the old system.
Today that means press, press barons and broadcasters that used to dominate public life. It means the “establishment” political parties that used to act as a cartel preventing political debate of “non-establishment” views and (once) small parties like the SNP. It means those like Universities and other publishers who used their dominance in their respective fields to prevent alternative publishers and thereby alternative “non-establishment” views.
The internet cannot be uninvented and therefore the “people’s revolution” will happen however much the current establishment squeal as they lose their strangle hold over power and influence. However, what no one can know, is where that revolution will take us or what kind of society or politics will develop.
We know the old politics where “mainstream” parties take their turn to lord it over us propped up by favours to powerful press barons is a thing of the past. But what will the new politics look like?
Will it be the EU Utopian “big government” views espoused by the SNP where we live in a kind of “facebook EU” with no power except to “like” everyone. Will it be the free-market views of Trump where no one gets healthcare unless they work their lives away for it. Will it be the anti-capitalist anti-industrial “hobbit land” of the Greens where there are no factories or anywhere to produce anything but magically everyone has every consumer good they desire. Or will this new society after the people’s revolution be like the hell hole of ISIS?
For in the end the last laugh may be with the “mainstream” media, for those who champion revolutions often end up by having their heads cut off.