In my sortition thesis I argue that both elements of Athenian democracy — isonomia and isegoria — need to be representative when applied to large modern states. Representative isonomia is achieved via large randomly-selected juries, but isegoria requires different mechanisms — including competitive commercial media — to ensure the accurate representation of public opinion. This presupposes a bottom-up model in which commercial newspapers “refine and enlarge” the opinion of their readers (in order to increase subscription revenue). This has been much criticised by advocates of the Lasswell propaganda thesis — the critique specifically aimed at the concentrated ownership of the MSM — arguing that “the freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one”.
The top-down Lasswell thesis has been thrown into doubt by the Brexit referendum — the Daily Mail supported Brexit and the Mail On Sunday supported Remain. Both newspapers are owned by the strongly Remain supporting Lord Rothermere, whereas the position of the broadsheets owned by Brexit-supporting Rupert Murdoch was the other way round (Sunday Times for Brexit, The Times for Remain).
A recent episode of BBC Newsnight has thrown additional light on the hands-off stand of newspaper barons. Lord Rothermere, “a strong supporter of Britain remaining int the EU” was urged by David Cameron to sack Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, on account of his intemperate editorial line in favour of Brexit. Rothermere refused, only telling Dacre about Cameron’s intervention after the poll results were revealed. Paul Dacre issued the following statement:
For 25 years, I have been given the freedom to edit the Mail on behalf of its readers without interference from Jonathan Rothermere or his father. It has been a great joy and privilege.
The supposedly “impartial” BBC and most of the political and cultural establishment were on the Remain side of the debate, leaving the popular press as the only form of representative isegoria for what turned out to be a majority of UK voters. This being the case, the decline in the subscription base of newspapers, the growth in online media (dependent on advertising income) and the increasing role of social media and false news poses a far greater risk to democracy than the s0-called tyranny of the Press Barons. Bring back the bad old days!