Showing posts with label press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label press. Show all posts

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.