Free-market – Free-Press?

More power to your elbow!

People talk about free markets but there is no such thing. Honestly, if you are in business you may have done a PESTEL analysis to test your vulnerability to some well known effects. They are Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal. We have seen how social media is now very powerful and your business can be a beneficiary or a victim. Same with each of the others factors; ban cigarettes what are you going to do. Technology tends to pick its victims from the current market leaders. Remember when Nokia ruled before Apple’s iPhones?

The problem is that to the victor go the spoils. Look at Boeing and Airbus; as long as the competitors are closely matched the competition works. When there are many competitors, competition tends to work to keep prices honest and innovation working to the benefit of customers.

There are arguments for state control of crucial industries. Unfortunately, exactly like a monopoly created by a competitive market where someone crushingly beats everyone else. State control creates a monopoly but without the benefits which competition has already delivered. Coal, water, gas and electricity in the UK in times past, electricity in Cyprus today. The lead competitor has the biggest marketing budget. You need to ask why a state monopoly would need one, seeing as there is no alternative choice. There again, it could be to justify another unnecessary overhead?

So, the most successful have the biggest marketing budget and the most advertising; a nice positive feedback loop. But who are the beneficiaries of this spending on promotion? Go back to the earlier days of the Thunderer, better known as The Times, and the front page was all adverts. This only changed in 1966 when news was given prominence. Doesn’t seem that long ago to me. It was advertisers who funded the paper. Not that I recommend it but the Guardian is by subscription precisely to keep it unfettered from advertising revenues.

Anyway it’s advertising revenue that keeps the presses turning and there’s the rub. Advertisers will pick papers or periodical where the readers demographic match their target demographic. The difference between the The Times and The Sun so to speak. Each has its own style attracting a particular audience. But how much editorial slant, bias, should be applied to keep the readership? And how much to keep the advertising revenues? Like I said at the start, there is no such thing as a free market. Or as Bob Dylan put it, everybody is “gonna have to serve somebody”.

Interestingly, he included city councilmen taking bribes on the side (5th verse) which leads neatly to our Cyprus Auditor General, Dr Odysseus Ph. Michaelides. I have seen a number of press articles criticising him for exceeding his power which until now I did not understand. That is until he suggested that subsidies to the press did not serve freedom of the press. Now I understand. I would have thought that was what some would call “a statement of the bleeping obvious”? Apparently not. Certain elements of the press can be subsidised by the government but will remain uninhibited and quite naturally bite the hand that feeds them?

You believe that do you? I do, but I was reborn yesterday when I woke up.

Or it could be that he is starting to get too close to a putrid cesspool of corruption amongst top officials? Why else would his access to files be restricted if there was nothing to hide? At which point I should declare my own bias, he is an engineer, so am I, and we are used to dealing with a great leveling power called nature, physics if you like. Design it too weak it fails. Forget something in your calculations, nature will find you out. Not in the looking glass world of politics, things are what the public can be persuaded to believe, reality is a passing irrelevance.

So the challenge for a truly free press is to write the truth or challenge the received wisdom irrespective of whether our readers “like” it and let the advertisers who support us be those for whom the demographic of the readership matches their product or service offering. And don’t accept subsidies because, just as in farming, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

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More power to your elbow Dr Odysseus Ph. Michaelides.

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