That was the year that was
Ray Snoddy casts his pen over the media coverage and events of the past 12 months as he assesses progress, change and what's to come
It’s more than time to let the curtain fall on the year of Covid 2021 plus the effects of Covid on people, the economy, and within the overall economy, the hit the media industries suffered from the pandemic.
There was also a symbolic falling of the curtain on some of the most illustrious broadcasting big beasts, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, Adam Boulton of Sky News and Andrew Marr of the BBC.
Marr’s next steps, which include writing for the New Statesman, will at least make those who spent years denouncing him as a Tory lickspittle look a little foolish.
That leaves only one of the big male beats standing – sort of- Andrew Neil who rather foolishly took himself off for a while to GB News, the news channel where broadcasting careers go to die.
There are many women of substance in broadcasting not least Emily Maitlis of Newsnight, Kay Burley of Sky News and Susanna Reid of Good Morning Britain, who all know how to skewer a dissembling minister. But it still feels a bit like a changing of the guard, or at least the old male guard.
Luckily a new phalanx is already stepping forward to continue the public battle against a duplicitous government and many of them seem to be women – Beth Rigby and Sophy Ridge at Sky and Pippa Crerar at the Daily Mirror.
Special mention must also be made of Ros Atkins of the BBC who has almost singlehandedly saved the BBC’s reputation for true impartiality- ruthlessly separating the facts from the lies- as opposed to bogus impartiality.
This, which we saw far too much of over the past year, involved broadcasters repeating in main news bulletins government denials of stories that are obviously true, without substantiation or challenge.
It may be one for the media specialists but the evenements at the Daily Mail and General Trust were still wondrous to behold.
First Paul Dacre resigned from the Daily Mail to be a shoo-in for the chairing of Ofcom so the place could be sorted out. Unfortunately, an independent panel found him “unappointable” and another set-up to find the “right” answer. Dacre withdrew his candidacy, and returned to DMGT with promotion after a hissy fit letter to The Times.
The failed manoeuvre to fix the findings of an independent panel was almost a rehearsal for the attempt to overthrow a disciplinary finding against Owen Patterson, which led ultimately to the debacle in the North Shropshire by-election.
Meanwhile, the editor of the Daily Mail Geordie Greig disappeared, the paper took a further lurch to the right and DMGT became a private company again after 90 years on the Stock Market.
Monday’s splash was typical. As the new Omicron pandemic surged all over the country the Daily Mail went with: “Don’t Ruin Our Christmas again, Boris.” And of course the Daily Mail got its way.
It was the culmination of a year in which the right-wing press, with the Daily Mail in the vanguard, trumpeted the cause of individual freedom over social responsibility, attacked scientists as “doom-mongers” and prioritised the economy over the health and safety of its readers.
Another remarkable media development was the rapidly disappearing privatisation of Channel 4.
The then Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he was “minded to” privatise the channel while launching a supposedly neutral public consultation with embarrassingly loaded questions.
Dowden goes off to be chairman of the Conservative party and a life of lacklustre performances defending government policy in the broadcasting studios of the nation.
Successor Nadine Dorries, who did not know the Channel does not receive public funds, is now wading through 60,000 submissions, the vast majority against privatisation.
A silence has now broken out on the issue and two easy predictions can be made. If Boris Johnson were to survive – unlikely- the privatisation of Channel 4 will hardly be a priority.
The departure of Johnson would surely make the privatisation of Channel 4 even less likely, depending of course on who succeeds him.
Either way it will have been the actions of the media which will have, effectively, saved the channel by exposing the misdeeds of Johnson’s Government.
One of the most memorable events of the media year were the picture scoops – Hancock by the Sun, the performance of Allegra Stratton by ITV and the party-time revelations by the Daily Mirror and The Guardian- which have cut the ground from under Prime Minister Johnson.
They punched through to the public in a way that more complex stories on Brexit and the funding of the refurbishment of Johnson’s apartment never could.
There was also evidence of real innovation in the media despite the pandemic – Times Radio, and yes GB News with another television news channel to come from the Murdoch camp.
There was also the rise to prominence of the podcast, amounting to the creation of a new media sub species, underlining the importance of sound in all its great variety.
It may be happening at glacial speed but slowly the world’s legislators and regulators are coming to terms with the negative impacts of social media, even though the Online Safety Bill has been further delayed.
Once it was the press that was accused of exercising power without responsibility “the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”
Some will argue the charge still sticks but the mantle has now been inherited by the tech giants of California.
The real media story of the year may not seem dramatic but its real importance can hardly be overestimated – survival in the face of Covid.
At least in the first half of 2021 there was a continuation of the heroic production of remote newspapers from back bedrooms and the putting together of professional TV and radio programmes in a similar manner.
Above all the greatest achievement of the media was not just to survive but to bounce back with hopes of further growth in ad spend next year.
The Guardian hitting 1 million digital subscriptions was a lovely shiny bauble to put on the Christmas tree.
As the year ends there is only one small problem – all the projections, the models and the forecasts suggest the media will have to do it all over again in 2022– and that includes the right-wing press.