The death throes of the Steam Age Nation State

There are many agendas behind the current attacks on News International. Todays posting by Guido Fawkes neatly summarises some of them – from pots calling the kettle black (to divert attention from themselves) to those who wish to muzzle investigative journalism and have a French style media.

One factor that should not be forgotten is the threat that Sky was about to pose to the national media monopolies and oligopolies that help preserve centralised Nation States, like the UK and US. Their zenith was in the middle of the 20th century: when monopoly state broadcasters and communications networks reinforced the central control enabled by the railways. The sell-by date of most Nation State came with the privatisation and liberalisation of telecommunications, which enabled the rise of the Internet at the same time as that of mass market air travel.  

Today “The Empire Strikes Back”, from the Orwellian double-speak of the “Regulation of Investigatory Powers”, through attempts by Ofcom and Broadband UK to turn telecoms back into a centrally planned, controlled and monitored utility to the attacks on the worlds first truly multi-national mass-media organisation to have its own communications infrastructure.

Until the rise of the railways and nationally distributed newspapers the United Kingdom was united only by the Crown, the Royal Navy and the “season” – when the ruling classes gathered in London and the men attended Parliament while their wives dressed for the evening. For the rest of the year the placemen of the government of the day, those out of office and seeking a way back and the hacks of grub street could bitch and bicker without interfering with the national way of life. Then came Dickens, Trollope, WH Smith, the Thunderer and national “something must be done” campaigns.

The rise of the power of the Federal Government in Washington followed a similar trajectory, beginning with the ability of those who employed “voluntary immigrant european slaves” to raise and transport armies to impose their will on those who might be about to compete with them using “compulsory immigrant african slaves”. Then came the transcontinental railways and the ability to control the “frontier spirit.” 

Today national governments and their supporters are caught between “the new localism” and “the new internationalism” and the on-line world provides some of the prime battle-grounds between those who want to change the world and those who do not.

The witch hunt against the News International is unlikely to be the last, or even the most vicious of the battles for control over both networks and content. Technology is neutral,. It can be used to support central control and censorship or to expose corruption and hold governments and the chattering classes to account. Back in 1968 when the Russians marched into Prague the employees of the state computer industry were among their prime targets for “protective custody”. The experts of today are in “similar demand” from all sides. What is different is that so many of them do not appreciate the consequences of what happens “When politics meets IT.