From the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is not an exaggeration to say that the media lives in a world of its own where reality is only reluctantly recognised, and only then when it has been distorted. This is especially true of its political content, such as there is, where its relationship with the realities of working class life is tenuous indeed. To achieve this miracle of deception, with the help of its great allies of family and school environments, the media employs the use of the intellectual straight jacket of “left, right and centre” political concepts. All political events and ideas are squeezed into these pigeonholes, where they fight for space with lesser political cliches. This cannot be explained only in terms of being capitalist propaganda since even the people actually responsible for the events and ideas also share this rigid dogma of left and right. Why is this?
To find the answer, let us first see if there is any relevance in this “media ideology”. They give us as examples of extreme left-wing and right-wing political regimes the countries of Poland and Chile. But are the lives of working people in these countries so radically different? Wage slavery, violent state discipline, poverty, industrial conflict, are common to both and, next to these shared realities, any differences so beloved by the media are indeed inconsequential. Then there are, they tell us, the “centre” or moderate countries such as England, Sweden, Australia and even the United States. But do these great democracies allow their working class to escape the economic and social realities of the so-called extremist countries? The “free” trade unions in these countries are emasculated when they enter into “economic arrangements" (wage freezes) with the state for “the good of the nation", as would state controlled unions.
All this media talk completely misses the real issues involved in an explanation of the world’s agony. It is the world system we call capitalism which dictates policy to all governments, left or right. Politics only become relevant to this reality when it is explained in terms of the class conflict which it engenders. There is no ideological difference between state or private ownership of the means of production; in both cases the workers are excluded from ownership.
So why does almost everyone abide by the media rules in political discussions? This is a testament to the power of television, radio and newspapers, but it goes much deeper than this. Most journalists seem actually to believe what they write. On his television chat show, after hearing Arthur Scargill’s confused criticism of the media by reference to its private ownership, Michael Parkinson declared that during all his journalistic career he had never experienced editorial censorship. This, of course, says everything about Parkinson and many like him. but nothing about the media since he is quite incapable of writing anything damaging to the owners.
A clue to the reason for this tenacious intellectual prejudice in journalists might be found in their educational background. Journalism, like politics, history and economics, is considered a trade which must be learnt academically from so-called experts in the profession. Those who go through this training quite often consider themselves qualified to comment on politics with the same authority. What they have in fact learnt is capitalist ideology with its attendant elitist attitudes which, as we have seen, are irrelevant to the real world. This may cause considerable confusion in new journalists when confronting the real world but they are reluctant to give up their newly acquired authority and may sink into cynicism rather than injure their ego by accepting their ignorance. This attitude applies to many professionals in all fields — politicians, civil servants, trade unionists, economists, historians and so on. Why their intellect becomes so rigid and unable to facilitate new ideas is a question which must be asked of humanity as a whole. That it has more than a little to do with the psychological effects of capitalist “education” and family life is undeniable.