Dan Hinds position is straightforward: actually existing democracy, particularly in the neo-liberal era, is crippled by the lack of opportunity for an informed Public to emerge and take an active role in social, political and economic policy. The current dispensation in the world of the media has been remarkably deficient in delivering the facts about the contemporary world to Public notice.
The content of the modern media is for the most part a diet of celebrity slop, lifestyle trivia, mendacious advertisements, regurgitated PR releases, in short a plethora of pointlessness. Bad enough one might think, until one considers the treatment given to important issues in the social, political and economic spheres. Here Hind makes the salient point that a media that in large part connived with the Invasion of Iraq in 2003; has provided a more or less congenial climate for thirty odd years of neo-liberal political economy and signally failed to spot the 2007-8 Financial crisis coming; signally "forgot" that the ongoing economic crisis originated in the private sector and, with a unity that would impress the North Korean dictatorship, declared it to be a problem of government spending and debt (see Kushner & Kushner's Who Needs the Cuts?: Myths of the Economic Crisis); and finally act as cheerleaders for the coalitions assault on the remnants of Britain's monument to a civilised society: the post-1945 Welfare State, has ill served the British Public.
The reasons for these failings are structural. In brief - large corporations control the majority of the media, and the media reflects the interests of the owners. The formulation of policy is regarded as a decidedly elite sport, from which the plebs must be firmly excluded, though once policy has been decided they are subjected to the deception and distortions, fairy tales and fallacies that always go hand in hand with injustice. At the end of the process, our leaders hoped to have manufactured a degree of legitimacy, or more likely a mute and hardly enthusiastic acceptance, for policies that are frequently damaging to the Public at large.
Hind's solution to this impasse is to cut out the middlemen and make the Public the commissioning editor. In his hypothesis a relatively small sum of money would be put in the hands of the Public, who would consider proposals by journalists for investigations, then vote for the investigations they would like to see carried out. The resulting stories would be made available, including to the existing corporate media for a fee, or perhaps - after a further round of voting - they would be compelled to print them. As the process matured so the sum of money available for Public Commissioning would increase, and an alternative to a system of media production that has demonstrably and repeatedly failed the Public would emerge. The Public would begin, step by step, to collectively create a representation of the world that chimed with reality, and be empowered to move onto the political stage and have an informed say in the policies by which they are governed.
The strengths of "The Return of the Public" are considerably greater than my short summary of Hind's arguments allows. Beyond the wonderfully dry wit is a first-rate writer and thinker who writes a comfortable and coherent prose about Democracy and Power, the proper role of the Public, as well as the historical thinking behind concepts of a Public and its proper role in the affairs of state. It also provides a coherent blue print for a good part of any halfway decent progressive and democratic parties media policy. A thoroughly stimulating and utterly essential work.
In the wake of the Leveson Enquiry this book should be required reading for all politicians. It is quite brilliant and so good to find a book which tackles what is happening right now. It would be easy for this room to be 'up itself' but it is so well written that it is a joy to read. Buy it.