Brīvā prese kapitālismā

Posted on July 9, 2011

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There has been increasing public awareness that journalistic integrity and the capitalist press are uneasy bedfellows. We, the working class, know that the papers are powerful, that they are political, that they deal in distortions of the truth. Just ask anyone, they’ll tell you. “Of course the press lie.” And yet, the overwhelming majority of us read the tabloid press. The fact that so many workers are prepared to buy such newspapers reveals how big the task facing socialists is. The News of the World and its mobile phone hacking scandal is systematic of the problem.

In capitalist society the production of a successful newspaper means journalistic integrity and editorial objectiveness are subordinate to the institutional requirement of production for profit. Piers Morgan, ex-editor of the News of the World explained the situation very clearly: “I only judge a story on what sells and what doesn’t”(Guardian, 30 November 1996) The media is composed of capitalist businesses, selling their news, dependent on the markets; and—more specifically—they are dependent upon selling advertising (i.e. getting money from other capitalists) in order to keep operating. There can be no other way. Newspaper production is a profit-driven business it can never be free from the corrupt corrosive economic influence of capitalism. From the moment that a newspaper became a commodity and subject to advertising patronage and market forces, the genuine dissemination of information was always going to be the first casualty.

Newspapers must appeal to wealthy corporations as a platform for advertising and to a readership with sufficient purchasing power to satisfy the advertisers’ selling aspirations. The more readers a paper has the wider the audience of potential buyers it can offer advertisers. Making a newspaper attractive is achieved by altering content to suit the values and prejudices of those who read it and those who pay the advertising revenues. But besides advertising other, less obvious, factors have also worked to make newspapers a willing mouthpiece for corporations. Newspapers demand a constant flow of low-cost material from reliable sources that avoids expensive research. Government and business lobbies with press and PR offices feed the press with stories. Researching and gathering information requires lots of time, patience and diligence, something which adds to a media firm’s overheads—thus cutting into profits. The pressure to lower costs, to churn out copy on time, means that media firms cannot waste much time independently searching out and verifying information. Thus they are heavily dependent upon publicists (like Max Clifford) and public relations officers of both the state and other firms to provide them with newsworthy items. Capitalist institutions collectively spend billions of pounds per year on public relations and media management.

Yet the press must be seen as criticising the behaviour of a company or government, for no other reason than to maintain credibility.

Although it is not the newspapers’ job to tell the truth, they are not particularly there to tell lies either (though they do when the occasion demands). They exist, as does anything else in capitalism, to make profits for their owners. Although censorship occurs it would be wrong to assume that journalism, in Britain at least, is consciously censored or that a conspiracy amongst journalists exists to hide facts from public scrutiny. Instead self-censorship linked to the personal economic necessity to conform to institutional and company requirements make journalists drift inevitably towards the point of view held by the editors and the owners. To make a living all workers must sell their mental and physical energies to a capitalist. Like most workers newspaper editors and reporters has something to sell. But unlike most workers they can only sell their talents successfully by adopting and advocating the views and opinions of their employer. To refuse is to be removed. On this basis the socialist holds no animosity to individual newspaper editors, but it is our job nevertheless to show that the modern newspaper is a powerful institution dedicated to maintaining the supremacy of the ruling class in society. This is not in the interest of the majority. We therefore support the view that press editorial staff are capitalist hacks and lick-spittles.

Although censorship by omission occurs it would be wrong to assume that journalism, in Britain at least, is consciously censored or that a conspiracy amongst journalists exists to hide facts from public scrutiny. Instead self-censorship linked to the personal economic necessity to conform to institutional and company requirements make journalists drift inevitably towards the point of view held by the editors and the owners. As for the content of the paper, why pay for expensive foreign correspondents, when you can have an equal number of readers with a staff of gossip columnists and horoscope writers, such as in the News of the World? The media is very much a part of the indoctrination system, reinforcing the basic social values that ensures the survival of capitalism – passivity and sub-missiveness to authority, the virtue of greed and personal gain, lack of concern for others, fear of real or illusory enemies, a suspicion of anything outlandish or threatening to the status quo and national pride, etc.

The commercial newspapers, which proclaim themselves the “Fourth Estate” and trumpet that they are essential defenders of our “freedom”, are not a free press at all. What they mean by freedom of the press is the freedom for them as newspaper businesses to print what they like without government interference or any degree of democratic control. The only free press today is small-circulation magazines whose main concern is to get ideas across, not to make a profit. With the arrival and popularity of the internet and the consequent boom in computer use, opportunities for access to real information are now at an unprecedented high, giving anyone interested a chance to find out for themselves the real story behind news. The information revolution has placed a wonderful tool at the disposal of the working class. But a tool is only useful if used correctly. If we fail to use this tool to help us pursue our own class interests, then this “revolution” becomes just so much mind-numbing entertainment the masses will get addicted to and which the powers-that-be will eventually use to steer our thoughts away from the matters of the day. And in socialism all papers will be free to take and read – and free also of commercial advertising. We should organise to replace a society that debases everything it touches and build socialism where a free and equal people will enjoy a free and informative press.

ajohnstone

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Posted in: sociālisms