James Harding: What Next? #Techlash

James Harding, former editor of the Times of London and until recently the Head of News at the BBC, gave a provocative and bold speech at last night’s annual Hugh Cudlipp journalism lecture held in central London.

Coming on the back of the ongoing Facebook/Cambridge Analytica furore, Harding’s views on tech were prescient. Describing technology as a “force for love, laughter, progress and justice“, he also posed the question “whether technology is destroying democracy” before adding the rejoinder “we shouldn’t be surprised that technology is disrupting democracy. It’s disrupting everything else.”

Turning his focus squarely on tech, Harding reminded the packed audience that whilst, “Cambridge Analytica looks like a case study in the abuse of data for political ends” it shouldn’t be forgotten that “Facebook boasted of its help “triggering a landslide” for the SNP in the 2015 elections; at the same time, the Tories are said to have issued 2,000 versions of their campaign messaging, tailored for different profiles gleaned from personal data acquired from social media.”

Taking a swipe at Silicon Valley’s tech giants, Harding continued by stating, “the argument of our times is between the Valley and the Hill – Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill, a shorthand for technology and politics globally. It seems clear now that 2018 is seeing that battle come to life. A techlash has begun…and Peak Platform looks like a trend to watch.”

Ominously for someone so well connected in political and establishment circles, Harding continued,
“Politicians….are now limbering up to set the rules by which these (tech) companies operate – or break them up.”  He then added a thinly veiled warning, “Let’s not underestimate the power of the state. If it wants to require companies to behave in the public interest and sustain our system of democracy, it can.”

Reverting back to what could be done, Harding stated that, “Getting after the story means we need fewer people in Westminster and more on the US West Coast – one of my regrets at the BBC and The Times is that, in both, we’ve had great people covering technology, but too few of them.”

On the subject of fake news, Harding was more dismissive. Describing it as an “overstated problem” he added that the term has “been appropriated by everyone to cover news they don’t like. It’s become an excuse for politicians to rubbish journalism.

To view the lecture in full, please click here

Further Reading:

Mirror OnlineFormer BBC News boss James Harding launches blistering attack on tech giants such as Facebook for allowing ‘the weaponisation of the news

i News: Protect data by law – former BBC director of news James Harding