Showing posts with label media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label media. Show all posts

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Fracking Media Silence

Professor John Robertson who accused the BBC of pro-No bias in its coverage of the referendum campaign has turned his attention to an apparent media silence on the subject of fracking in Scotland. In a survey of a recent 30-day period of news coverage of fracking he concluded that the Scottish national press and broadcasters have hardly covered the question at all, at a time when it is attracting headlines in the UK press and also in the frack-friendly US.

During the period. The Scotsman, Daily Record and Daily Express carried one story each, while the Daily Mail had seven, most of them critical of anti-fracking opposition and especially the decision of the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, to ban the industry in his state due to health and environmental concerns. The Herald news headlines and BBC’s Reporting Scotland made no mention of fracking, while STV’s Scotland Today reported fracking once.

“Scotland’s mainstream media, including of course our ‘Public Service Provider’ BBC Scotland, cannot be accused of distortion bias in their coverage of the debate on shale-fracking, because they just didn’t cover it at all,” writes Robertson. “Much more difficult to prove that distortion bias is bias by omission, where the electorate is kept ill-informed and where the media can insist that they don’t cover it because it’s not ‘newsworthy'; that no one is interested in it.” Prof Robertson points out that the event may have attracted a great deal of attention on social media, but very little in the mainstream media. Speaking to he made the point that Scottish TV news in particular is dominated by murders, violence, road accidents and sport.

The question is: why? Prof Robertson concedes that this brief study could not reach conclusions. However, his research does point out factors of interest to news desks and editors around the country. Fracking is raising serious concerns within central Scotland, and especially local communities such as Falkirk and Grangemouth, where the processing plant operator Ineos has announced significant investment plans related to the industry.

Robertson argues that there was ample reason to find fracking newsworthy. He cites the UK HM Chief Scientific Adviser’s annual report, which raised questions about fracking. During the last month there have also been significant reports about fracking and local health in the US, concerns that underpinned the New York Governor’s decision. A US survey of 400 peer-reviewed papers into shale gas found that 96 per cent of them drew conclusions on adverse health impact.

A group called Concerned Health Professionals of New York stated: “A significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are inherently dangerous to people and their communities. Risks include adverse impacts on water, air, agriculture, public health and safety, property values, climate stability and economic vitality.” In Ohio just before Christmas, families in Monroe County were evacuated and a “no-fly zone” instigated for more than a week because of an uncontrolled gas leak from a fracking well, one of several incidents reported in the US this year alone.
In the UK, concerns are being echoed either by local authorities such as North Lanarkshire Council – which has called for a moratorium – and community groups. Scotland’s public attitude to fracking is ill-defined. In Scotland, despite the existence of a thriving shale oil industry in West Lothian until the early 1960s, it has been assumed widely that the country’s geology means that the profitable extraction of onshore oil or gas is very unlikely.
Fracking had a lower political profile until 2014, when Ineos signalled great interest in the industry in two ways. Firstly, the company is investing £300m to create docking and handling facilities for tankers carrying US shale gas to the UK and European markets. This deal was at the root of a dispute with trade unions over planned changes to work practices at the company’s Grangemouth plant last year.
Next, Ineos – a rapidly growing player in the chemicals’ market – declared its intention to become a major player in shale in the UK, setting aside more than £500m for that purpose. Ineos bought the rights to explore fracking for shale gas in a 127 square mile area around Grangemouth and the Firth of Forth. This has made the company, and the area, the focal point of anti-fracking protests, and hundreds of people participated in a protest march from Falkirk to Grangemouth this month. Without being specific it appears to be willing to back, or even lead, fracking-based exploration. The company has embarked on a major propaganda campaign to promote its enthusiastic embrace of shale gas. That latter move is at the root of concerns about possible fracking in Scotland. Protestors are wary that Ineos may use its clout – as it did so successfully during that union dispute – to force through planning decisions. It is likely that outside of the environs of Grangemouth refinery , there will be little benefit but significant risks to communities in the Central Belt.

When fracking – or “hydraulic fracturing” – was first discussed in the UK, the media focus fell on communities in England, where companies are already involved in putative exploration of onshore oil and gas from shale. Protests at Cuadrilla’s test drilling in the Home Counties raised the profile significantly. Chancellor George Osborne proposed in his Autumn Statement to create a “sovereign investment fund” to benefit northern England if fracking is successful there and the Coalition government appears determined to issue licenses. The Scottish Government has kept its public response low-key to date. This may be on the assumption that the problem will go away because of Scotland’s geology, although some opponents suspect that Ministers may be swung by the emergence of some new oil or gas bonanza to be realised onshore. The crash in global coal and oil prices may delay this activity in Scotland.

His view of the media as a corporate channel that publishes or broadcasts only corporate “news” is underlined in his research. He comments: “Those who lead the media are part of those inter-locking elites revealed long ago by people like Noam Chomsky, who work daily in their own interests which in turn are the interests of those same elites – employers, industry executives, senior civil servants, speculators, military chiefs, government ministers, lawyers and, uniquely in Scotland, the Labour Party leadership”. He adds: “Further closing off any opportunities for alternative voices is the reliance of hard-pressed reporters on press releases from the corporations that come to dominate the news.”

PS The BBC Scotland’s environment correspondent David Miller has confirmed via Twitter that he starts work on a fracking documentary January 5th. No transmission date given yet.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Free Speech - At what cost?

“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” I.F. Stone

We have all heard Lincoln’s dictum, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” But he failed to add the political truth “But you can fool enough of the people enough of the time.”

Without objective information, there can be no meaningful free choices.

Most people believe they have a range of choices in their daily lives and that they may choose among them freely. That is, they intuitively believe that their choices are made autonomously and without outside interference. How many individual daily decisions are determined by some degree of media manipulation? Well, for many they can include what we eat, what we wear, how we entertain ourselves, how we groom ourselves.  Those that use the media to try to sway our behavior declare that they are simply providing information that allows informed choices: “advertising ensures that we don’t have to settle for second best. It helps us exercise our right to choose.” However, this is problematic. Advertisers seek to restrict choice, not broaden it and ultimately they want to determine the choice for you. So, generally, what you see as a range of choices is really limited options within a predetermined context - the context of the marketplace. And your freedom of choice? Your choice may well be made on the basis of which product sponsor is most effective in manipulating your perceptions. This is media determinism in action and it has proven very successful. U.S. businesses spend some $70 billion a year on TV advertising alone. And, as one ad executive comments, “companies would not invest [that much money] in something they thought didn’t work.” This is discouraging news for those who believe in the everyday consumer’s freedom of choice. There are, however, other categories of our lives where media determines our thoughts.

You would think that when it comes to choosing political leaders and deciding between war and peace, the public would deserve information approaching objectivity. This is exactly what they never get. For instance, political campaign promises and party platforms are almost never scrutinized by the media, nor does the media point out that they are only rarely translated into post-election blueprints for action. Instead the media present manipulated information. Yet such is the power of the myth of democracy that the charade is ongoing

The mass media are quasi-governmental organs, predictably predictable and predictably dishonest. The truth is not in them. You don’t need to ban or censor newspapers or critical books, because the only people who read them already agree with them. You don’t need to kick in doors at three in the morning to seize forbidden computers or duplicators. People might revolt against that sort of thing. Better just to keep prohibited topics off the networks and out of the papers with a well-placed word, a hint that access to government spokespersons will be withdrawn or that advertisers will go elsewhere. It is enough.

The alliance between government and media can be seen in what soon followed. President Bush’s determination to attack Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, led to an orchestrated campaign of misinformation. In March of 2003, as the invasion took place, polls showed that between 72% and 76% of Americans supported the president’s war. In doing so, did they exercise free choice? Most of them would probably have told you that they did. Yet a strong argument can be made that because of the misinformation given them in the run-up to the war - for instance, misinformation about the Iraqi people’s desire to be rescued from Saddam Hussein and the notorious issue of weapons of mass destruction - they were in fact victims of the media.

This system is breaking down under the onslaught of the internet. Papers are losing both credibility and circulation. So are the television and radio networks. We now have a press of two tiers, the establishment media and the net, with sharply differing narratives. The internet is now primary. The bright get their news from around the web and then read the New York Times to see how the paper of record will prevaricate. People increasingly judge the media by the web, not the web by the media. Before the internet, people who wanted a high level of intellectual community had to move to a large city or live on the campus of a good university. Magazines of small circulation delivered by snail mail helped a bit, but not much. Today, email, specialized websites, and list serves put people of like mind in Canberra, Buenos Aires, Bali, and Toronto in the same living room, so to speak. There exists now a decreasing ability to control opinion. Because growing communication of voiceless groups to realize that they are numerous and have interests in common. It’s a new ball game.

The major media are not comfortable with intelligence. Television is worst, the medium of the illiterate, barely literate, stupid, uneducated, and uninterested. It cannot afford to air much that might puzzle these classes. They are dull because they have to be, bland because they must avoid offending anyone, controlled because they can be. They write to the least common denominator of their clientele because they have to be comprehensible to non-specialist readers.

A major component of the free press illusion is the notion that some media outlets are more liberal while others are more right wing. Widespread belief in this myth further limits the already limited parameters of accepted debate. The media are as liberal or conservative as the corporations that own them. Whether you label them liberal or conservative, most major media outlets are large corporations owned by or aligned with even larger corporations, and they share a common strategy: selling a product (an affluent audience) to a given market (advertisers).

Therefore, we shouldn’t find it too shocking that the image of the world being presented by a corporate-owned press very much reflects the biased interests of the elite. That’s why every major daily newspaper has a business section, but not a labour section.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Free speech for who?

Marx observed that the ideas of an age are the ideas of its ruling class. In to-day’s contemporary society, we are saturated by vast quantities of words and images conveyed by the mass media. Workers must always remember that the mainstream media (whatever its hue) is an instrument motivated by ideas and interests that are contrary to their interests. Everything that is published or broadcasted is influenced by one idea: that of serving the dominant class and of combating the working class. The ugly truth is this: that the media is owned by the capitalist class to support its pitiless work but the customers and subscribers are those they attack, members of the working class. Most media are obliged to address a working class audience, because that is the largest. Unless they reach this audience they will fail as businesses. To gain profits a newspaper or TV channel must get readers by the million. The media, by their nature, spread certain ideas and . and being such an important asset for making profits, must of necessity defend modern capitalism. This means, in short, that the press must spread those ideas which are opposed to the labour movement. We see here the explanation why capitalist news denounce labour activists and conversely, why they praise those who plead for an industrial truce and who advocate that the interests of capital and labour are identical. The capitalist media must defend the propertied interests for the simple reason that the capitalist mass media is, itself, one of the greatest of the modern propertied interests.

However, they have to present the capitalists’ view of the world in a form that will be palatable to people whose entire life is spent in conditions of exploitation and oppression that are the direct result of capitalism. This is quite a trick, but the media have had more than a century of practice.

Millions buy newspapers, millions watch cable and satellite TV contributing to the power of the rich to determine public opinion. It rarely enters the heads of many workers that what is presented as news and current affairs is artfully cooked up to steer the workers views so they reflect and replicate the media’s own politics. When you read your morning paper or watch the nightly news are you being offered facts or propaganda? Who furnishes the information for your thoughts about life? Regardless of indignant denials the press and TV were complicit and are accomplices with the government in the manufacture of misinformation.

Every day workers can see the fruits of this manipulation that the simplest of facts are presented in a way that favours the ruling class and damns the working class. Has a strike broken out? The workers are always wrong, they are being unreasonable in their demands. Is there a protest? The demonstrators are always wrong, they are always extremists. The government passes a law? It’s always for the best of intentions even if it’s not. And if there’s an electoral, political or administrative struggle? The best candidates are always those of the ruling parties. Facts are falsified in order to mislead, delude or maintain in ignorance the public. The gullibility of workers to the mass media appears limitless. We fall for the same lies and deceptions over and over again.

The media can adopt a wide range of positions, while remaining entirely within the framework of capitalism. Sometimes newspapers or TV channels are directly linked to particular groups of capitalists, and so to the political party they are held to favour, and carry material directly promoting their view of the situation. Explaining why capitalist media has different positions in a bourgeois democracy isn’t difficult – the capitalist class is not united. The media reflect these differences and promote the interests of one group or another. Socialists would expect to find a diversity of views among the capitalist media, not uniformity. But despite being the property of particular capitalists , the content of the media addresses issues that are matters of concern for capitalism in general. The news agenda and op-eds are framed in terms of the needs of society as a whole. It is necessary to remember that a free press is only “free” to a propertied class which has the economic wealth to subsidise and maintain their voice.
The labour movement has stumbled and fallen and risen again; been seized by courts, slandered and libeled by the media to be disowned by public opinion, deceived by politicians, threatened with brimstone and fire by priests, repudiated by renegades, preyed upon by opportunists, infested by spies, deserted by cowards, betrayed by traitors, bled by leeches, and sold out by officials, but, notwithstanding all this, it is today the most vital defence the worker has ever known and its mission is the emancipation of the workers of the world from the thraldom of wages. The most vital thing about the World Socialist Movement is its educational propaganda - its power to shed light and to develop the workers’ capacity for thinking, to teach them their economic class interests, to imbue them with a revolutionary spirit. Workers need a a media as formidable as our class enemy’s to act as a fearless and uncompromising advocate. The State currently control the TV and radio through legislation but it is for every member of the working class to buy and read the printed journals and visit the websites of the socialist movement. The expense and exertion of supporting the socialist media is but a trifle.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bad News

A study in America found that over a three-year period, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN aired just 141 stories in which unions and the labor movement were either the primary or secondary topic. That's out of an estimated 16,000 news stories aired on the four networks, so less than 0.3 percent of all news stories. Not only were just the unions not getting much attention in the news their view was being ignored. CBS did not use even one union source in 24 percent of its stories on labor; NBC omitted union voices from 19 percent of the stories.
The pattern of portrayal of unions was negative, with workers critical of unions more likely to be heard. The report found that news about labor and unions related to the field of education and the automobile industry included more governmental sources than labor sources. “The news treatment thus presents the government as the organized party willing to provide solutions, but not the labor/union negotiators”.

These findings resemble those of past studies, such as the Glasgow Media Group which have found that media coverage is often slanted against collective economic action and toward business and elite interests. Unions are portrayed as hurting competitiveness, and thus costing jobs. The media serve their masters well. It has turned worker against worker, and particularly against the unions.