Media is the message
Lest anyone gets too excited about the impending closure of the News of the World in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, it’s as well to remember the role and power of the media in society.
From the most liberal to the most reactionary of newspapers, the media is ultimately part of the relay mechanism for the dominant outlook, ideology, philosophy, culture or whatever term you care to use, of the ruling political and economic elites.
How could it be otherwise? Media empires like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp are run for profit and will never ever challenge the capitalist system and what it stands for.
This conveyor belt assumes many forms but it all adds up to the same thing: the notion of a “free press” is so conditional and restricted that its carries no real meaning for the mass of ordinary people. The media may not be formally part of the state but it sings from the same hymn sheet.
The News of the World, for example, dates back to the Victorian period when scandal-monging dominated the discourse of the landed aristocracy and other idle beings. Gossip and tittle-tattle are among the lowest forms of social intercourse.
Papers like the News of the World took aspects of the frail and vulnerable sides of human behaviour and blow them up to ruin people’s lives and titillate their readers. It won’t be missed.
The use of lies, distortions, omissions, witch-hunts and sensationalism is the stock-in-trade of all the tabloid newspapers as many an activist or striking trade unionist will readily acknowledge. Notoriously, the Daily Mirror launched a ferocious attack on miners’ leader Arthur Scargill in the wake of the 1984-5 strike.
In the recent public sector strikes, virtually all the media slavishly followed the government’s line about the “unaffordability” of existing pensions. This helped to create the impression – and that’s all it is – of a public that was in general against the strike.
This is how “public opinion” is shaped or, more accurately, concocted.
Journalists often try their best to buck the trend but as any hack will tell you, proprietors have editorial control through their appointees who have absolute power over what gets published. If they want to work, journalists have little choice but to comply.
Other newspapers and media outlets are perhaps more subtle, but ultimately the message is the same: the status quo is alright, even if it does need cleaning up a little to make it more presentable.
The “serious” papers swallow official propaganda without too many qualms. Take the invasion of Iraq in 2003. None of them seriously challenged the lies and distortions and the notorious “dodgy dossier” put out by New Labour about so-called weapons of mass destruction. This proved the justification for an invasion with far worse consequences than a bit of phone hacking. Patriotism overcame questioning as normal.
As for the BBC, it sounds more and more like an official state broadcaster every day. ConDem statements are repeated ad nauseam as if they were the gospel, while the language used over Palestine, for example, ensures that Israel’s line predominates.
If there is a rush to purge the “excesses” of the tabloids through tougher regulatory control, it is because the general public – who are denied access to the media – somehow need to be reconnected with the conveyor belt of images, distortions, half-truths and support for the status quo.
The breakdown of this relationship is significant because it runs alongside the cracks in the edifice of the state itself, embracing the police, Parliament and legal system. There is an opening here for susbstantial, revolutionary change and we should seize it.
8 July 2011