The era in which British newspapers are dominated by barons such as Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch is coming to an end, according to former Downing Street Director of Communications Alastair Campbell.
In a series of lectures to be delivered at Cambridge University this week, Tony Blair’s former press secretary lambasts the Murdoch-Dacre generation, which he likens to the union bosses in the Thatcher era, "desperately clinging on to power and systems being overtaken by people demanding change."
Yet the change will happen, he adds, "in part because of public anger, campaigning by victims and activists, and also because a younger generation is better at reading the rhythms of change."
Campbell belittles as "self-serving bilge" current attempts by some newspapers to frame the debate against press regulation as the end of Britain's free press, arguing that "what Leveson proposed, and what the Royal Charter now says, does not even come close to establishing regulation of the press: it proposes a body to certify that any new self-regulator is independent. That is underpinning, not 'state control'."
He also states that self-regulation via the PCC model had been shown not to work, adding that "if any other walk of life had been exposed for so much wrongdoing, given rise to so much public disgust, and then still made a claim to be capable of a self-regulatory system authored by the likes of Paul Dacre and Guy Black, a Tory peer and one of the succession of press groupies who ran the PCC, they would be insulted, hounded, vilified."
On the issue of public responsibility, Campbell calls the debate surrounding the leaks disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden by The Guardian and the New York Times one of the "biggest questions facing contemporary journalism," suggesting that the two newspapers, alongside journalist Glen Greenwald, may have been wrong to publish the information.
"What Greenwald, the Guardian, the NYT and others have been close to saying is that journalists are as, if not more, able to decide on public interest and safety than the state and its security services," he says, adding: "That is a vast claim which cannot be made with confidence."
He goes on to assert that newspapers are in decline not just because of new sources of information, specifically social media, allied to falling print sales, but because of an increased level of public awareness of how newspapers operate.
"The negativity, overblown hype and lack of balance have helped turn people away from the press as a prime source of news," Campbell argues. "The rise in social networks is in part based on the concept of 'friends' – we do not believe politicians as we used to; we do not believe the media; we believe each other."
The former Mirror journalist also notes that the best known contemporary journalists, such as Piers Morgan, Polly Toynbee and Arianna Huffington, are better known than most cabinet ministers, a fact he argues "emphasises the extent to which in the never ending struggle between politics and media, it has tilted towards the journalists".