It has not been hard to list 10 trends that may lend 2013 a surprisingly optimistic cast—so much so that I’ll start with two that are the opposite.
One is the Leveson inquiry into regulation of the media. I used to make a point of defending Nick Clegg. A few marks for the pragmatism of coalition. A few more for resilience even if the day had brought only rebuff (often, it had). And most for being, it sometimes seemed, the only liberal in town. But after the response to the Leveson inquiry by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, I’ll give it a rest. Probing too little into the implications of statutory control of the media, he surrendered the claim to defending liberal values to David Cameron. Ed Miliband was worse; tangled in his opportunism, he conveyed nothing clear except his desire to link the prime minister with Rupert Murdoch.
The anger towards the media that the inquiry revealed was dispiriting; so was the ignorance. Critics took for granted the media’s role in exposing hypocrisy, contradiction and fraud, wanting investigation without intrusion, and were too casual about the necessary conditions for any of this to take place—not least, financial survival. Alexander Lebedev’s interjection that he could not on his own support the Independent’s losses any longer was pertinent. Most foolish, giving the 2000 page report instantly an antique air, Leveson overlooked the vast galaxies of the internet, describing only as “problematic” the distinction between tweets, blogs, online newspapers, and printed newspapers. If journalism is the exercise by occupation of the right to free speech, every citizen not only has that right, but now, through the web, the broadcasting capacity too. The global traffic triggered by Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, just days after Leveson’s report, made the point: his recommendations, while potentially destructive for printed newspapers, are irrelevant to the rest. His proposed regulators would be left gravely scrutinising an empty shell as its contents streamed away online.
A second cluster of dangers is represented by the themes of Ehud Barak’s article. It’s a loss to Israel’s politics that the defence minister is quitting the arena; he has largely been a temperate voice, particularly on the need for a deal with the Palestinians. That isn’t much…