January 2016        

Alternative media

Tommy McKearney

The new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, recently told the Morning Star that he is exploring options for breaking up Britain’s media monopolies.
    That Corbyn and his supporters would consider doing so is hardly surprising in the light of the hysterical and vitriolic campaign waged against them by Britain’s press and broadcasters. Though Corbyn has a specific and almost personal reason for considering this option, there is an overwhelming case to be made for creating alternative media, and not only in Britain.
    The left has long been aware of the influence exerted by the capitalist-controlled media. Max Aitken (Beaverbrook) in Britain and William Randolph Hearst in the United States, among others, were powerful voices for capitalism and imperialism long before the wireless came on stream between the world wars. The medium may have changed, becoming more sophisticated in the intervening decades, but the message and pitch has remained essentially the same and every bit as biased.
    Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Denis O’Brien are all media magnates with daunting sway wherever they choose to operate. Their media tend to practise similar techniques, using populism, xenophobia and anti-labour rhetoric and all the while being obsessed with triviality as they reduce complex issues to reactionary absurdity or divert attention towards the irrelevant.
    Public broadcasting services are usually less obviously partisan than privately owned media corporations, but they too are far from impartial disseminators of information. It is almost unheard of for a national broadcaster to make fundamental criticism of its country’s police force, its military, or the prevailing free-market system. In 2013 academics at the Cardiff School of Journalism reported, for example, in a study of the BBC that throughout the corporation’s networks business representatives outnumbered trade union representatives by 19 to 1 during discussions on austerity measures. The study concluded that “the BBC tends to reproduce a conservative, Euro-sceptic, pro-business version of the world.”*
    Nor does Ireland’s national broadcaster concede anything to the British when it comes to tilting the scales in favour of the status quo. For years the state enforced its section 31 censorship with the willing co-operation of RTE journalists. And in case the reach of the Broadcasting Act is fading from memory, let’s remember that its provisions ensured that a legal political party was banned from the air waves for years, regardless of what it had to say and no matter what the subject.
    Nevertheless, and in spite of state-managed broadcasters’ loyalty to their employer, the masters of neo-liberalism are not content to allow them to continue among the leading delivery agents of information. In Britain the same BBC is under serious pressure from efforts by the Conservative government to diminish the corporation’s capacity.
    So concerned is the National Union of Journalists about the situation that it has organised a campaign to defend the BBC. Interestingly too, commercial interests outbidding the BBC for major sports attractions are being seen as the Trojan horse that will cause the public service to fall behind Sky and ITV in news reporting as well as sport and drama.
    A similar process, incidentally, is under way in Dublin as both the IRFU and GAA have sold broadcasting rights for prestigious events to commercial stations.
    All of which merely illustrates, of course, what we have always known. Both commercially owned and state-controlled media are biased against left-wing and working-class organisations. The reality, nevertheless, is that as progressive people we have to move beyond the present situation and organise an alternative source of information and analysis. Now, as always, we need a vehicle that is sufficiently powerful and dynamic to counteract the misinformation being poured out by and for the privileged few.
    Until relatively recently it would have required dauntingly large funds to challenge the ruling-class narrative. The old cliché that “freedom of the press is limited to those who own one” contained a lot of truth and could equally be applied to those owning television or radio stations. Heroic efforts have been made over the years to provide an alternative analysis, based on honestly reported fact, but the cost has always been prohibitive.
    No longer, though. With contemporary digital technology it is becoming increasingly feasible to consider the creation of effective alternative media to those that now serve the ruling class. The internet, with modestly priced applications, is offering an opportunity to communicate on a scale that would have been unimaginable even twenty years ago.
    However much we may deplore the unsociable impact of the smartphone around the dinner table, it (and related technologies) offers a valuable opportunity to those wishing to counter “the received wisdom of the 1 per cent.” Look at the impact the smartphone has had recently on brutal, racist and murderous police in the United States. Had it not been for the ubiquitous device, the callous shooting of an Afro-American man, Walter Scott, in South Carolina, for example, would hardly have been reported outside that community, and it is highly unlikely that the authorities would have charged the policeman responsible.
    This case is an extraordinary example. Nevertheless, progressive people in Ireland are regularly carrying out excellent work. Productions such as the fine documentary written and directed by Dónal Higgins to commemorate the Republican Congress, and the educational videos frequently filmed and distributed by the Connolly Media Group, are testimony to this fact.
    Accepting that the technological tools are readily available, the real task now is to put together a programme of action that facilitates the development of progressive alternative media. Clearly any such project will face difficulties but none so great that they cannot be overcome with a determined effort.
    Neo-liberalism is faltering, and any recovery will at best be temporary. There can be no excuse for failing to challenge the media apologists for this cruel system and in its place broadcast a clear explanation of the superior options offered by socialism.

*“Hard evidence: How biased is the BBC?” The Conversation, 23 August 2013 (http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-how-biased-is-the-bbc-17028).

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