In 1933 a number of high ranking, well regarded journalists met in the Ordenspalais, northern Berlin. They had been extended an invite as part of a new government scheme aimed at better involving the public in the workings of their political system. The new minister proclaimed of his new ministry:
I view the first task of the new ministry as being to establish co-ordination between the Government and the whole people.
The new minister in case you hadn’t already guessed was Josef Goebbels. The new ministry was The Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment & Propaganda. The Ministry was an attempt by the Nazi’s, under the loose guise of transparency, to control the availability of media and ensure that only its version of events ever saw the light of day. This success has been noted by numerous historians, including Geoff Layton, who noted;
Such conviction, combined with the undoubted intelligence of Gobbels, made the Propaganda Ministry a vital cog in the Nazi machine.
Why do I start with this high-stakes introduction? Primarily because the report undertaken by Leighton Andrews on behalf of the Welsh Assembly, dealing with the ‘creation of a digital dialogue’, has within it the recommendations which could quite easily, when in the wrong hands, lead to the same form of dangerous propaganda and state control of our media in Wales.
Now I’m not saying that Leighton Andrews is some sort of Nazi, nor am I saying his effort is anything other than a well intentioned attempt at opening the Welsh Assembly up to the public at large. However, the recommendations found within the report he chaired would create a situation where a new Reich Ministry of Propaganda could easily operate.
The objective of the Taskforce was to explore and recommend the most effective ways in which the Assembly can deliver engaging and accessible news and information about its work in order to increase levels of public understanding and engagement with audiences currently disengaged with politics and Welsh affairs.
I have long argued that the Welsh media has been inadequate at effectively covering the news of the Welsh Assembly. This can largely be attributed to two things; the lack of serious political power by the Welsh Assembly which makes its coverage somewhat boring, and the lack of interest by the Welsh people.
The Welsh Assembly employing journalists is a sinister move that should, and I have no doubt will be opposed by commentators and politicians from left to right. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and if the Welsh Assembly begins paying the wages of those who cover it, there will inevitably develop a culture of compliance as the fear of having your funding removed slowly weedles out the dissenters.
Leighton Andrews has responded to this accusation by making clear that the Welsh Assembly employing journalists will not mean the elected Welsh Assembly members but an independent body. This should fool nobody. Even if it is an independent body that makes the decisions, the Welsh Assembly could, and I have no doubt would if allowed, put pressure on this body in a number of underhand and subversive ways. Ultimately, the independent body will only exist while Welsh Assembly members want it to. It would be extremely easy for Assembly Members to conjure up a new menace which requires more direct control and just like that we’re back in 1933 and my introduction.
I seriously doubt whether if I were employed by the Welsh Assembly to write about what it was doing, they’d be best pleased with this current piece. In a time where more people voted on the regional list for the Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party than the Illiberal Undemocrats, much of what has been recommended by Leighton Andrews seems an attempt to use taxpayers money to promote its own legimitacy. A legitimate institution needn’t promote its own legitimacy. Legitimacy is exercised, not postulated.
I highly doubt that this body would ever employ somebody like myself, who is almost entirely critical of the Welsh Assembly and its members, nor do I believe it would ever employ somebody who, for example, didn’t believe in the institution it talks about. These are serious points that must be seriously considered. Do we really believe it more likely that the Welsh Assembly will employ a group of critical-thinking, sceptical people over a group of Labour yuppies not rocking the boat for fear of losing their jobs?
You may be reading this wondering whether or not what has been proposed is really as sinister as I am making out. I merely emphasise that it could be. If the Welsh Assembly wants the people of Wales more engaged, then it needs to look to the private media and encourage it to do more. The very last thing that anyone should find palatable is the Welsh Assembly employing journalists. It’s a backwards step for our liberty ironically advertised by the report as being ‘ahead of the curve’.