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Tories spin Web 2.0 to out-Fox Ofcom

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Comment The internet has always offered a stage for dramatic reinvention. Corporate lobbyists have found it a suitable theatre for AstroTurfing, given the willingness of a net audience to suspend its disbelief. Now, internet television lets professional politicians play the role of citizen-reporter.

18DoughtyStreet Talk TV launched in October as Britain's first political internet TV channel. It describes itself as "an anti-establishment TV station on the internet" with "citizen journalist reporters" who will be "championing rebel opinions" and "constantly questioning authority". But its five directors are all former Conservative candidates or employees and it advertised for staff in America with the claim that it would be "Like Fox News".

18DoughtyStreet streams up to five hours a night of political chat (talk radio for the eyes) untroubled by Ofcom regulations that require "due impartiality" from broadcasters. And it is not subject to Ofcom's Broadcasting Code that states, "No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified. In that case, the political allegiance of that person must be made clear to the audience."

Which is fortunate for Iain Dale, formerly a Tory candidate and David Davis's chief-of-staff, who rebounded after the failure of Davis's leadership bid, first as blogger, then as pundit, to become 18DoughtyStreet's front man. And for Tim Montgomerie, presenter of "Up Front, the Doughty News Discussion" and founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. As Iain Duncan-Smith's political secretary in 2003 he urged Tories to "praise God" each Monday for IDS's work as Conservative leader.

Fortunate too for Donal Blaney, a graduate of Virginia's Leadership Institute. (Its mission: "to identify, recruit, train and place conservatives in politics, government and media". Its alumni: Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and a former Director of the Christian Coalition). He has appeared across 18DoughtyStreet's schedules and became a Director of the station after serving as a Conservative councillor and starting the Young Britons' Foundation to implement, "lessons learnt from a collection of American thinktanks, most notably The Young America's Foundation, The Leadership Institute, The Heritage Foundation, Accuracy in Academia and the American Conservative Union".

18DoughtyStreet was recruiting from a right-wing American think-tank back in September (a strategy previously favoured by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad). It was an advert for interns on the website of the Institute for Humane Studies ("assists.. students.. with an interest in individual liberty") that claimed that 18DoughtyStreet, "will challenge the liberal bias of the mainstream broadcast media, most notably the BBC." And, as well as emulating Fox News, that, "it will provide a voice for the silent majority."

This assumption of popular authority is continued by Alex Story, the Producer of programmes at 18DoughtyStreet. He writes that, "His view is that the working man... has consistently been taken for granted or ignored" and that he, "will endeavour to always take the working man's side and see the Nation through his eyes". Alex Story failed to win the seat of Denton and Reddish for the Conservatives in 2005.

Involvement in a failed Conservative campaign is something shared with his fellow directors by the man funding 18DoughtyStreet, Stephan Shakespeare. He was an unsuccessful Tory candidate in '97 and the campaign manager for Jeffrey Archer's mayoral bid, when he said, "I am not blind to Jeffrey Archer's weaknesses, but for me they simply underline his great strengths." In July, he made just under £3m selling shares in the online-polling company he founded, YouGov. He is reported to be not involved in the day-to-day running of the station but has appeared as a guest.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that a right-wing group can step from the wings wearing the costume of popular rebellion, playing to a common mythology of the net as a guerilla medium.

But, 18DoughtyStreet doesn't see itself as a false-flag operation or a ruse to evade and, perhaps fatally weaken, broadcasting regulation. It's TV 2.0.

"At the heart of the station will be a website of blogs and daily votes," says the channel. "Comments left on the blogs will shape the content of the programmes."

So, here's one from the 18DoughtyStreet blog:

Lagwolf left this Comment on December 9, 2006 at 1:27 pm:

On the subject of being "out" as right-of-centre (either Conservative or libertarian) in the arts - its a great way of complete buggering your career. Once you are very high-profile then you can come out as right-of-centre but before is suicide...

Internet TV, blogs, citizen-journalism websites, these are the "We Media" of the tech-evangelists. And all claim an advantage over the mainstream by virtue of their authenticity and sincerity. All of which reminds us of the old advice that, "sincerity is the key to success". Once you can fake that you've got it made.®

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