The pot and the kettle

In and out of print, Meejit has been known to berate ideological foes, esteemed colleagues and shy students alike for over-reliance on the internet. Surfing so often results in lazy, lousy, lifeless journalism, not to mention the sort of junk that takes the odd posting to some web forum and turns it into, eg, a conspiracy to burn Dublin.


All this berating is emitted in the full knowledge that over the last year or so a broadband connection has gone from being useful-when-available to virtually sine-qua-non in the preparation of this column, along with much of my other work (and play, for that matter). Broadband has replaced the mobile phone as the object of Meejit's boring “what did we ever do without…” chit-chat, and the new incumbent comes with far more conviction.

This technological dependence is a source neither of pride nor of shame. For all that the internet is a time-pit and inertia-generator for consumers, and a vector of viral misinformation for producers, the proliferation and dissemination of a variety of views and angles on public events is a real gain, though the political consequences are as yet unknown.

In Ireland, 25 February may ultimately be regarded as something of a breakthrough: even as “professional journalists” were making meejits of themselves surfing for the origins of the Dublin riot, amateurs (mostly) were online doing tremendous, superior work recording and analysing the event.

Competition authority

Print media are obviously on the run. We feel the pressure in this magazine: certainly many people in Village's target audience(s) may already feel themselves well served less by other local publications than by their worldwide internet reading, and stay away from print accordingly. Would it be entirely and ridiculously conspiratorial to suggest that Eircom's poor and grudging roll-out of broadband had something to do with the newspaper proprietor who got his hands on the infrastructure? (Yes, it probably would.)

Actually, the nature of the development of the web – complete with the meltdown of its '90s economic model and the millions of daily proofs that people like to share ideas and information without concern for profit – is in itself compelling evidence that corporate motives have not been guiding it.

Of course such motives have played their part, and things could still take a turn for the worse. While at the moment service providers compete for subscribers at fairly reasonable prices, with differentiation simply in download and upload speeds and limits, some providers are beginning to push for a model that would see them able to charge content-makers to carry particular content, and/or to meter users depending on what they download.

Broadcasting was able to maintain some public-service ethos through the decades because the airwaves were regarded as a public asset, with their use to be either controlled or licensed by states. But the internet runs through privately owned “pipes”, and those companies may ultimately be able to squeeze the content.

What public service?

Meanwhile, there is a corporate and bureaucratic push to ensure that content-provision isn't infected with traditional public-service practice. Last week the Guardian reported that “the BBC may charge for access to its website”; reading down the story it was clear the reason is not simply Auntie's greed.

The BBC's extraordinary web presence is the most popular non-American news-reporting website and of course the biggest one in “public” hands. Its popularity discommodes not merely its private competitors but the regulators who are more concerned with corporate “freedom” than users' freedom to benefit from the Beeb's digitised treasures. The likes of Rupert Murdoch have long complained they should be able to compete with the BBC on the proverbial level playing pitch.

According to the Guardian, “European Commission competition commissioner Neelie Kroes announced a review of the way public service broadcasters like the BBC use new platforms.” Kroes is quoted as saying “the broadcaster must behave according to normal market conditions in any commercial activities”. Which sounds like a formula for tolling some of the best lanes on the information superhighway.