Arianna Does The UK
Arianna Huffington was in town last week. Not to view the newly unveiled statue of Ronald Reagan outside London's U.S. Embassy, you understand. She was here to launch a Brit version of the The Huffington Post. Great -- and thanks, America. Just what the UK needs: yet another "mainstream" hard-left media attack dog. Even Britain's resident pit bull The Guardian noted that the new HuffPost UK will be horning in on its share of that particular market.
But what prompts Arianna and Co. to think that Britain has a gap in the market for its particular brand of pro-socialist coverage? The fact is, the BBC/Guardian-led leftie UK news marketplace is already over-crowded.
The HuffPost UK has attempted to hit the ground running. Former PM Tony Blair; Sara Brown, wife of Blair's Labour successor Gordon Brown; and Alistair Campbell, New Labour's former media chief hatchet man have all been signed up as "unpaid bloggers." How long that market policy will keep the wheels on the road can only be guessed at.
Arianna's team has gone for big names, but not necessarily the best. Tony Blair is barely been in the UK media these days. His popularity ratings are somewhere around the George Galloway level. And Sara Brown will do well to shake off hubby Gordon's image -- about as welcome in UK homes as Bernie Madoff after being unceremoniously dumped and finally alerted to his disastrous handling of the British economy, including selling off the gold reserves at a eBay prices. Then there's former New Labour media "hatchet-man" Alistair Campbell. Now, he's at least entertaining -- if you count gout entertaining. They only need Labour leader Ed Milliband, though by all accounts he's not even popular with his own family. Not exactly a winning team, Arianna.
As far as the July 6 UK launch reveals, there's not then even the pretence of "fair and balanced." So how will The HuffPost UK fare? Well, given its niche market, it doesn't look good. If there is a gap in the market at all it is for a genuine conservative-leaning news site. I wrote a paper along those lines a few years ago. Having read the paper, one enterprising right-of-center magazine editor went as far to take me to meet a right-leaning millionaire at his private men's club in Mayfair. Sadly, nothing came of it. The Net was in its infancy back then, and this gentleman was somewhat fixated on effecting change in the existing mainstream media utilizing "names" who had already failed to influence change. Fat chance.
There have been a number of recent online news ventures attempting to brand themselves as "mainstream" -- code in the UK media for left-leaning -- but, in the wash, they look and sound like yet more BBC clones, which is precisely why Britain needs a self-consciously conservative alternative1. And not the woolly Cameron "liberal" conservative variety, either. Rather, one able to articulate a Thatcher-Reagan-style editorial self-confidence that is unafraid to engage in left vs. right debate.
Hopes for Rupert Murdoch's prospective takeover of BSkyB in Britain and make Sky "more like Fox" as he would wish were ultimately dashed when the price of UK government approval for the deal became a commitment to sell off BSkyB's Sky News arm. The News of the World hacking scandal has not put even the BSkyB move in jeopardy. The bald fact is when it comes to online news there is no serious contender for the online conservative news media mantle in Britain, especially online. Britain does not have any counterparts to American Thinker, Human Events, Breitbart/Big Government/Big Journalism, the Media Research Centre-sponsored CNS, or, due north, to the Canada Free Press. And unfortunately, British conservatism, unlike its well-organized US counterpart, remains a thoroughly fragmented beast that doesn't look like getting its things together to come up with one. One or two magazines have shown signs of life. But if you've got something to say that our leading columnists do not appear able to articulate, you try breaking the currently sewn up contract cartel that dominates UK national newspapers and magazines. One recent new UK political magazine failed to respond to a number of article suggestions -- including, finally, a letter -- at all, preferring to publish the usual "mainstream" suspects.
Sour grapes? Sure. Or it would be, if I didn't find that on every single count I got overseas versions of every suggestion published without any problems at all. As a freelance writer and journalist based just outside London I gave up the UK news media some time ago to concentrate on writing for more democratised US and -- unusually, for a mostly liberal country -- Canadian markets. I currently write three regular international columns -- none here in the UK where I still live -- on international affairs, media, and faith issues. The fear of offending anyone currently has the UK media in a vice-like grip -- except, of course, when it comes to America, Israel (Perez is right: there is a case here for my fellow Brits to answer), pro-lifers, and Christians. They're all fair game. In other words, "mainstream" UK is simply code for left-of-center. With just a few rare conservative exceptions, opinion columns are sewn up with job-for-boys long-term contracts, as one national newspaper comments editor told me years ago.
Which brings me full circle: to the arrival on British shores of the HuffPost. In stark contrast to the UK media climate, I recently published an article for one of my overseas columns that, coincidentally, ripped into the HuffPost. The piece focused on THP's collusion with a media watchdog funded from "dubious" sources and a front for a well-known PR agency. Not for the first time I identified the THP as colluding in poor journalism in pursuit of a leftwing agenda working, one that works against the public interest. That type of article would be virtually impossible to get published in the UK media as a freelance and on the timescale the Net is able to deliver. And that is, for the time being, the case in the UK. That is, unless, you write the loaded, rank left-wing rhetoric for which the HuffPost is famous -- or at least 'til a conservative entrepreneurial visionary sees the need to give a voice, and represent the values of, a disenfranchised conservative majority in Britain, especially England.
Rupert Murdoch already gets it -- not from an ideological perspective, as I have made clear elsewhere, but based on a plain business model. Whatever we may think of Fox News, the democratic "vote-with-the-remote" that has sent audience figures soaring cannot be despised, as Murdoch gave a formerly disenfranchised majority a "values" voice it shares. The Arianna Rag, on the other hand, is simply another voice for an already over-enfranchised UK minority.
1The allegedly "conservative" press, including the Telegraph, Mail, and Express, have never been consistent on issues like the need to debunk global warming alarmism. While all three do take up "conservative" issues and have one or two conservative columnists who have been consistent -- e.g., Chris Booker at the Telegraph -- editorial consistency has always been lacking on the subject.
Peter C Glover is an English writer specializing in international affairs, including media and energy issues. For more go to www.petercglover.com.