On Monday the 25th of March, the Youth Media Agency in collaboration with Bite the Ballot campaign held a debate at the Houses of Parliament. Bite the Ballot, is a national campaign created by young people, which encourages fellow young people to use their democratic right to vote and Youth Media Agency (YMA) is a youth organisation that uses their social media website to promote youth media platforms including magazines, radio stations and television. For YMA, their ‘Press4change’ campaign has been at the forefront of their work, in which a call for a fair representation of young people within the national press, and a submission into the Leveson Inquiry was only the start.
The main issues of the debate revolved around how far the regulation of the media and the press should go, whilst discussing the issue of censorship and freedom of speech in the context of culture and ethics of the British Media.
First Part: Introduction
Highlights of the beginning of the evening included the reading of a poem called ‘Nowadays’, written by Deanna Rodger, a spoken-word artist, who raised crucial political and philosophical questions through her performance. Her passionate piece included the essence of politics, human interaction and communication, the lack of emotion and connection between individuals and the increased sense of ego and competition in today’s life. She claimed ‘who cares about politics nowadays? Who cares about truth?’ Deanna’s performance was emotional and powerful and made a difference to the whole evening, as she used her talent to get a very important message across, through the help of art and not through political arguments.
Shortly after Louis and Hiran from Youth Media Agency did a short presentation, offering an overview of the dominant issues of the debate. Hiran, 17, discussed his role as a project co-ordinator for the ‘Presschange4youth’ campaign has given him a platform to prove his capability as a young person. They explained about the Leveson Inquiry and the controversial phone hacking scandals that took place last year and how mainstream media representations of young people mainly focus on stereotypes and generalisations. It was clarified what free and regulated press meant; both included independency of politicians, however the latter included new laws for newspapers, which consequently initiated the main question of the debate: ‘How far do you think the press should be regulated?’
Second Part: Panel Presentations
The second part included two minute presentations on the issue of the press regulation from high profile journalists, editors, media consultants and politicians. John Leech MP of the Liberal Democratics, stressed that the press should be ‘fair and free at the same time’ and that ‘newspapers are set up to make fair comments and have a political agenda’. Within this context he meant that regulation would not stop free speech, but would permit the existence of a platform for people to make complaints.
Ben Hall, the founder of ‘the Hatch’ brought up the issue of race and power, by saying that certain categories of the society are always excluded from the process of regulation or non-regulation, because British media has always been dominated by the white, middle class and older demographic. He stated an important fact that the average age of the consumer of newspapers and television are 40 years old, which led him to ask the question ‘How relevant is Leveson to people here?’ Young people increasingly use the internet for informing themselves on current affairs, as newspaper circulation is dying, blogs and website regulation should become the main concern.
Will Moy, the director of the organisation ‘Full Factor’, held the view that newspapers should have their own system of regulation; ‘they should be independent and effective’ due to their inaccuracy especially on their depiction of young people.
The editor of ‘The Latest’, Marc Wadsworth gave a great speech that really touched the audience. His point was that above all, what the media should achieve is an outreach to the people, with news that includes them and reflects their needs. Many parts of society are often depicted wrongly, marked by stereotypes and false assumptions. His message can be summed up in his words: ‘We need to return to the People’s Press’.
The next few panellists talked about several relevant issues; the role of institutions and the government in shaping the media, the lack of trust of the people towards the truth and authenticity of the messages that are conveyed through the media, about the role of disadvantaged and marginalised groups and how these groups should raise their voices and make themselves heard. Franklyn Addo, a student, musician, and writer for The Guardian, used his own personal experience with the press, in which stereotypical language such as ‘ghetto’ was used to describe his rejection of Cambridge University, to emphasise that the mainstream media do not reflect reality accurately and stress the need of promoting an ‘independent, youth-led press’.
Third Part: the Open Debate
The open debate revolved around the issue of young people’s representation within and access to the media, the limits of regulation, freedom of speech, the role of blogs as a platform of free expression, the role of comment pieces and whether they should reflect both sides of an issue, impartiality, mainstream and independent media, the impact of social media to young people and many more.
Some very interesting opinions were expressed and deserve to be mentioned. Those opinions generally fitted into the following categories: the power, impact and regulation of social media, the role of blogs as means of genuine expression and opinion and the inclusion of diverse social groups in the media platforms.
Many people talked about the extreme and very often invisible power of the social media, meaning that the latter strongly shape and influence opinions and very often create and convey stereotypical messages that can be dangerous for certain groups of people, therefore a certain degree of regulation would reduce the risks associated with their power. Not everyone agreed with this as the opposite argument stressed the importance of the social media in giving a voice to so many people: ‘Social media is a massive step forward’, said Anthony Longden, one of the panellists.
Not only are social media a big invention, but blogs too. Blogs have increasingly become one of the main platforms of expression and participation of civil society. Any issue can be debated, covered, contested and most importantly, no one has to belong anywhere in order to be able to write. It is an open platform to everyone. The audience expressed their support to the existence of blogs and put emphasis on the importance of the development and reinforcement of blogs and platforms where all voices are heard.
Others raised the great need for inclusion of diversity in the media arena. They argued that as long as mainstream media remained as the dominant power over news ownership, alternative voices and marginalised groups will always be left out, leading to the perpetuation of injustices and distorted messages getting across to the public. Impartiality was added to the table, as it was mostly believed that impartiality is not possible, in a media landscape where the term mainly reflects the interests of the powerful. According to Marc Wadsworth, the key is a balance where different voices are heard.
Some other attendants raised the role of honesty in the media and journalism, which was defined as ‘the best available version of the truth’, by one of the panellists. The question is who is completely honest these days? And how easy is for someone to be honest and truthful without being at risk of being thrown out of the whole system?
Fourth Part: Solutions
After an extremely interesting dialogue and different views expressed, the debate had to come to a conclusion. The conclusion consisted of possible solutions to the problem, solutions that would clarify the points and disagreements expressed before. Again, both the panellists and the audience were free to suggest solutions and comment on other’s positions.
The main solutions that were heard varied. Some raised the importance of networking, so that young people from all backgrounds start developing contacts and are able to enter the world of media. Young people today need to be flexible, open and communicative, but at the same time the world of media, including media jobs, needs to be more accessible, more open to diversity and has to start changing the culture and the procedures that prevail within the media industry.
Ruby Mae Moore, editor-in-chief of Amor Magazine, stressed that ‘media platforms have to stop competing against each other’. If different platforms adopted a spirit of collaboration and encouragement, abuse of power would not be such a common habit and everyone would get more opportunities in a much more peaceful environment.
Almost everyone agreed that free media platforms for young people are a great tool for the expression of any possible view with freedom. This can be summed up in one speaker’s phrase: ‘We want balance. We need to have the infrastructure and free platforms for young people to bring the autonomy to write about what they want in the way they want to’.
Here is a video of the debate: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mL_TLvzb-s]