The editorial of the August 2011 issue of The Commune looks at the meaning of the News International scandal.
July’s News International phone-hacking scandal focused attention on the links between big business, the media and government.
Millions were rightly angry at not only the hacking of mobile phones, but the clear signs of corruption cutting to the heart of the state. Police officers and journalists traded information for cash, all in the name of building the billionaire Murdoch family’s vast business empire. At the same time the media tycoons were wined and dined by the Prime Minister.
However, most left-wing analysis of the scandal stopped here: business and the Tories are in each others’ pockets. But this is not enough. Firstly, because the links between the corporate media and the state go far beyond ‘Hackgate’. The Murdochs are not just friends of Eton boys like David Cameron: they had a long incestuous relationship with the previous Labour government.
The behaviour of News International staff in hacking the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler is particularly obscene. This reflects not only particular ‘rotten egg’ employees or even a quest for profit, but a whole culture of journalism. Huge resources are poured into unearthing ‘revelations’ and manufacturing scandal.
With 24-hour news and the advent of papers such as the Metro, news has been reduced to bombarding the public with bite-sized chunks of information. News, politics, scandal and celebrity gossip are all mangled into one unwholesome whole. They mercilessly repeat the idea of an ever-changing world where working-class people can change nothing.
We can take great joy in mocking Tory papers like the Daily Mail. What they sell the reader is the warm glow of self-righteous fear, faced with the relentless march of the immigrant-politically correct bogeyman. But liberal papers like the Guardian simply invert this relationship on its head, cleverly pointing to the scandalous behaviour of the powerful but lamenting that nothing can be done to stop it.
From left to right the mass media does not provoke the reader to think, to challenge the world as it is. Rather it drowns out any such thought with the sheer volume of junk. There is therefore no space for ideas as to how society should be run. The coverage of the Murdoch scandal itself replicates this, focusing attention on a few rogue individuals rather than creating broader debate as to how ideas and information should be exchanged.
How the media is run is a very significant issue: as it is, very few people and very few media cartels absolutely dominate all circulation of news in the UK. Social media and blogs can go some way to counter this dynamic. But often they merely reinforce the trend towards breaking down ideas into shallow 140-character chunks.
Indeed, the problem is not only that the wealthy control the media and so use it to promote their own economic interests: although this is somewhat true. It is that the mass media is not a participatory, collective exchange of ideas , but a one-way delivery of information (whether from private companies or state-owned bodies like the BBC) from producer to ‘consumer’.
The Commune is not like this. Its primary purpose is to build the idea that we collectively have the power to radically change the world. It also seeks to develop ideas useful to this end. As such it also features debate between contributors.
It aims to be understandable but also a serious, in-depth engagement between reader and writer. We invite correspondence and comment on articles: email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Starting with this issue we are beginning to circulate the paper for free, and in greater numbers, to facilitate the exchange of ideas. You can contact us at the same address if you would like to help distribute The Commune among friends or colleagues.