Liberty of the press' in the 1990s

Summer 1989

Keane uses the trial in absentia of Tom Paine in the 1790s as the springboard for a discussion of freedom of the press two hundred years later. Although Paine was convicted, a large number of people turned out to support him and his barrister became a popular hero. In the present day, the projects of Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch are having a devastating impact on the free press, and the BBC is being Americanised under a neoliberal agenda. Deregulation has led to conglomeration, with the rise of media moguls such as Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi. Keane argues that market forces do not serve viewers well since they reduce everything to the level of the lowest common denominator, with channels funded by advertising requiring programmes to score high viewing figures at the expense of all other considerations. Freedom of expression is not guaranteed in such a system and is likely to suffer. Keane proposes a new model of public service broadcasting, in which the BBC would be entirely independent, no more tied to the government than to the market. He argues for anti-monopoly legislation and a broadcasting model that better serves minorities and is inclined to question the establishment.

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