Former Murdoch hack James Harding completed his disturbance at the BBC at the end of last year having successfully dumbed down news coverage and ensured the continuity of an establishment bias.
Free to roam untethered, he has followed the herd of experienced media professionals and created an ephemeral news platform, called Tortoise, to be used as a facilitator of more right-of-centre views hogging TV, radio and newspaper space.
It is a simple little con: A think-tank or equivalent is created and peopled with a bland mob of profession right-of-centre talking heads; broadcasters and newspapers are persuaded (easily) to invite the heads to contribute to “debates” as “independent” voices.
New type of media?
Think-tank hopper Tim Montgomerie created Unherd last year as a tool to acquire media space for characters like himself and Henry Jackson Society‘s Douglas Murray with the mission statement
“we aim to appeal to people who instinctively refuse to follow the herd and also want to investigate ‘unheard’ ideas, individuals and communities.”
Harding’s Tortoise declared
“we are building a different kind of journalism. One that opens up. Gives everyone a seat at the table. Creates a system of organised listening. News that reflects the way we really are and shapes the world we want to live in.”
The statements of intent above could have been written by the same marketing professional. Both are meaningless hogwash. A collection of concocted phrases juxtaposed eclectically.
Tortoise has a few gimmicks. There is a paywall protecting some of its content and, for a larger fee, members can have the pleasure of dinner with Tortoise founders. It launched itself via a Kickstarter fundraising page. Does this mean it will never receive any large donations from the usual sources of think-tank funding?
“All the money you pledge will fund open journalism directly – literally, it will pay the reporters’ salaries so they can do their investigative work.”
Even if the claim above is taken as sincere, how could Tortoise expect enough fans of journalism to agree to pay for a group of familiar faces to do their jobs? Does Tortoise think tired old ex-Murdoch hacks have big fanclubs? Are Harding and his colleagues so deep in the bubble that they are that deluded?
The answer to the last question above is ‘Yes.’ “There’s already a buzz about the project from other parts of the media.”
“We’re committed to organised listening.” Members of the public, who have paid the membership fee, will be able to join discussions, both online and at live events. “We’re opening it up to you.” This plan is mundanely similar, with a much smaller audience, to Victoria Derbyshire reading out viewers’ tweets on her BBC show in the mornings or phone-ins on Nigel Farage’s LBC radio show.
Tortoise presented the “organised listening” plan as providing opportunities for other voices to be heard.
“The more people that come on board, the wider the range of voices contributing, the better the chance we’ll have to make this amazing.”
“We want to open up journalism to understand the issues and work on the ideas that make for a better 21st century.”
There exist, of course, many, many websites, newsgroups and public events organised by a wide variety of activists where a huge range of issues are discussed and debated, often internationally. The world of political activism, organisation and sharing of ideas does not need to be led or patronised by characters like James Harding.
One of Tortoise’s upcoming events is ‘The State of Racism in the UK’ at the end of this month. What could the ex-editor of The Times contribute to such a debate? What could fee-paying members of Tortoise contribute?
The tone of the presentation of the “listening” theme is partly astroturfing, partly patronising and mainly an intent to stifle true debate by deliberately filling the debating chairs with detached ignorant bubble participants.
The essence of Tortoise is drab. Other than being yet another tool to grab media time for the same voices, Tortoise has no more usefulness than Matthew D’Ancona’s dreadful Drugstore Culture magazine.