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1. Destroy the media

November 27, 2011

The question I always end up asking myself while sitting in my local social club is, ‘why are the working-class even more conservative than the Tories?’. I think part of the answer involves the mainstream media, especially newspapers and television. The average working class person will not use the internet to get an independent source of news, neither will he or she get a sample of papers to construct a balanced point of view. This isn’t a matter of individual blame, or even blaming ‘the masses’ for their ignorance. I personally have given up on the news because I don’t trust any of the mainstream media outlets, not even The Guardian, and I really haven’t got time to do a “bias analysis” every time I am interested in a story.

I personally came to realise the inadequacy of the mainstream press after the Millbank protest last year. I was there, I watched it all happen. Then I went home and watched the news (on all freeview channels), read the papers. It took at least two days before The Guardian started to question the immediately disseminated ‘hijacked by anarchists’ bullshit. People defend the BBC, perhaps out of some nostalgia for the golden age of public service broadcasting (an elitist institution anyway) but the BBC coverage was appalling. I struggled to watch their reporting of the London riots earlier this year, and ended up watching it on Sky News, purely because they had the resources to actually capture live footage, instead of endlessly repeating the same three or four scenes of a burning furniture shop, the poor guy getting mugged, etc. Ok, the BBC have to compete with privatised networks, and perhaps they have to be careful not to piss the government off. But fuck off, really. Everyone accepts this now? And their science programmes couldn’t be more patronising….

Looking at The Guradian’s timeline of the recent “media scandal”, it all begins with the Royal family and a couple of News of the World reporters who had managed to acquire information that only people within the inner circle of the Royal family could have known. Subsequently, the reporters are sacked and Andy Coulson resigns claiming not to have known anything about it (the independent Press Complaints Commission “cleared” him of any wrong doing). A couple of years later Coulson is employed by David Cameron as media advisor. In 2009, Nick Davies of The Guardian (now hero of liberal media democracy) re-opens the News of the World phone hacking case, revealing that ‘News Group paid more than £1 million to silence a legal case that would have revealed more incriminating evidence’. Davies also suggested that a whole range of society had been victim to phone hacking, from ‘celebrities to politicians to ordinary people’.

This kicked off a new round of defenses by everyone, including the MET commissioner John Yates and Rebekah Brooks from the House of Commons. And then in 2010 we have a turnaround by the House of Commons based on a “culture, media and sports committee” report saying that Goodman couldn’t have acted alone. The story explodes into a whole collection of damning evidence and spiraling investigations implicating many people, coming to a head with the story that the News of the World hacked into the voicemail of Milly Dowler in order to convince her parents she was still alive. 2011 saw the media scandal unfold fully, the News of the World closing after 168 years, and the Murdochs standing “trial”

However, the story isn’t finished yet, and it has faded to the background of media coverage (predictably). The most disturbing aspects of the scandal, which are touched on by the above timeline and missed by the majority of popular articles and reports, are the links between the media scandal, the government and the police. David Cameron employed Andy Coulson, allegedly not knowing anything about the Royal family media scandal and then letting him go as soon as the whole business came back into the public sphere. The police failed to re-open the phone hacking case two years ago, despite strong evidence and accusations that the News of the World bought the contact details of their phone hacking victims from the police, effectively assisting them in the crimes that they are now investigating people for.

These disturbing allegations represent the political core of this whole scandal. The reflexive mainstream media version of this scandal, on the other hand, is a carefully controlled de-fusing of a potential political crisis, which would strip bare the relationship between the government, media and repressive state apparatus of the police. This much seems obvious to us paranoid Marxists and left-wing political activists, but for this relationship to become apparent to the general public would perhaps create a totally irreparable shit storm for the hegemonic neo-liberal status-quo.

But what’s this got to do with revolution? Well, I think that this media-government-police hegemony is the most immediate thing preventing a popular revolution. I mean, before revolution we need a public that is able to think for themselves. We need an independent media that at least attempts to give the news free from Tory and capitalist ideology. Yes, I know this is a utopian fantasy, and there is the unavoidable function of the media as an ideological state apparatus (and the media needs money, etc). Therefore, if we are to have and help create a genuinely popular movement against neo-liberalism, then we will need to destroy the mainstream media first.

How do we do this? I don’t know. But I think the kind of investigative journalism that finally breaks these scandals is a good start. The problem is that the mainstream media, especially when criticising itself, can only take it so far.. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but if we extreme lefties are right, and there is a media-government hegemony, then this hegemonic power nexus will be able to close up any such an investigation if it remains in the hands of the mainstream media. But we have got the Internet, and it hasn’t quite been co-opted by censorship laws, intellectual property rights and capital. There has also been a resurgence of citizen reporting and independent online media initiatives. Radical people are doing their best, and there is widespread public involvement in non-hegemonic media. But the more of us that get involved, the more powerful this counter-movement will be.

Let’s push this media scandal all the way to the truth, expose David Cameron, Tony Blair, the police, the Murdochs, the whole fucking web of corruption and ideology. Then, when the mainstream media is broken, we have a chance creating an alternative, not even necessarily a socialist media network, even just a properly independent and “democratic” one would do. And not just a return to some kind of BBC golden age, because this was still based on an elitist idea of education, combined with what media theorists call a top-down distribution model of information (centralised, one-to-many). A radically democratic media would be de-centralised and yet funded through non-commercial means. I don’t know. The point is that the mainstream media-government hegemony is the iceberg to break any revolutionary cruise-ship romance, and also is what is preventing any critique in the public sphere of the status quo.

Prof. G Riddle

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2011 7:52 am

    This is a great new series, full of energy. My only doubt is that British tabloids have followed a familiar pattern of private chats with senior police and politician for decades, it’s often the origin of the scoop or the continuing need for well-connected commentator columns in newspapers. The moral nature of whether this is good or bad doesn’t apply when newspapers will continue to gear their copy around reactionary, violent and angry pieces, which are more popular and do sell more papers.

    An example in point is the collapse in circulation of The Daily Mirror following editor Piers Morgan’s decision to editorially oppose the war. He was forced to back-track. Maybe the working class aren’t just sheep persuaded by facile bad arguments to adopt the voices of their master. Instead perhaps we should ask why socially and psychologically scandal and violence are more popular and in demand? And can the Left offer something up similar? So I find the idea that the media can shape or enlighten the masses a bit tough to go on. This kind of media is popular – hacking delivered great scandal stories, and these sold many more papers. We need a leftie bawdy humour!


  2. November 28, 2011 6:28 pm

    All I’d say in defense is that I think we should get rid of the media’s represssive/ideological influence – I think the media complicity with hegemonic capitalism is part of the reason why we have so much apathy and conservativism. I wouldn’t replace it with another top-down distributed media, rather a radically democratised non-hegemonic media

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