Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Occasionally, I want to announce something from the rooftops. This is such a case.
In May 2021, the Guardian turns 200, and the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre is hosting an international conference bringing together key contributors to discuss the politics and history of this newspaper.
It is called “Liberalism Inc: 200 Years of the Guardian”, starts in the afternoon of Friday April 23rd and continues for the whole of Saturday.
So why is this so important?
The Guardian matters because so many “progressive” people, of centre-left persuasion rely on it for their news. Belonging to the Scott Trust, its ownership structure has distinguished from the profit maximization ethos of the media conglomerates that dominate Britain’s press.
The Guardian had a heroic record of investigative journalism during the late 20th and early 21st century:
It exposed the Al Yamamah bribery saga, involving the sale of British arms to Saudi Arabia, Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, and the torture and illegal rendition after the Iraq and Afgan wars.
It published the Wikileaks findings, working with the New York Times and the Washington Post from 2010, the Snowden disclosures of 2013.
Most importantly, it exposed the hacking scandal that came to mass public attention with the Milly Dowler revelations in 2011, and led to the prosecution of some key actors, the Leveson Inquiry and the humiliation of Rupert Murdoch. The Guardian achieved this through great persistence and in the face of the obstruction by the police and the hostility of the leading press magnates.
More recently (in 2018) it published Carole Cadwalladr’s findings about Cambridge Analytica’s acquisition of electorally sensitive information about Facebook subscribers.
However, there are indications that the Guardian has lost its way during recent years. This fascinating article by Mark Curtis and Matthew Kennard suggests that its editorial line has been seriously compromised by the British security services – which sprang into action after the Snowden disclosures. Most obviously, the Guardian has taken a leading role in the campaign of vilification against the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, pumping out evidence-lite allegations about ‘antisemitism’.
This is alarming for anyone concerned about the health of British democracy
The Guardian plays a crucial role in the formation of liberal and left opinion within the UK. While people of such persuasions often dismiss opinions expressed in the Tory press and tabloids as "right-wing" or "hopelessly biased", they generally trust the Guardian, based on its historical record. But when the Guardian fails to give voice to views that are not heard in the rest of the mainstream media, it gives the powers-that-be (Government, media conglomerates and powerful lobbies) a free hand to manipulate public opinion with a uniform media narrative. We have witnessed this in the chorus of denunciations about antisemitism in the Labour party.
The forthcoming event promises to throw light on these important issues. I am particularly pleased to see the involvement of Alan Rusbridger, the man who edited the Guardian from 1995 to 2015, the former editor-at-large Gary Younge, and weighty figures able to offer a critical perspective, like Mark Curtis, Ghada Karmi and Justin Schlosberg.
There are many other speakers, and a session on “Regulation and the State”, with Julian Petley, Brian Cathcart, Natalie Fenton, and Simon Dawes. This topic fits closely with the main conference theme, because the weakening of the centre-left newspapers obliges us to design a news media that is not the plaything of media magnates and other elite interests, and truly serves the national interest.