Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Between the Lines: Whose Choice? (1988)

The Between the Lines column from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whose Choice?
Were it not for a few armed men taking some accurate shots at British troops in North America in 1776, there would have been no USA and no election for the American media to drone on about for the past year. It is interesting to speculate whether George Washington, were he alive today, would be banned from the media because he was a terrorist. However, Washington won and the battle between the two mega-mediocrities for access to the White House tennis courts has been in full swing. If you ask most workers who it is that chooses the President, they will tell you the electors do. Apart from the fact that about half of the American workers did not vote at all, it is a mistake to imagine that those who did made their own choice. Managing TV election campaigns, including millions of dollars of advertising time, is now one of the principle ingredients of any American Presidential election. Most political advertising conveys images of rivals rather than a candidate's policies, and the election is won on the basis of which millionaire most successfully destroys the credibility of the other. Thus it was that Dukakis lost, a victim of his own inability to show that Bush was a less competent and nastier individual than himself. Bush proved himself to be "the evil of two lessers" and so won the key to the door. Technically the key was handed to him by the workers of America. To be sure, if they wanted to they could use their votes to lock the door of the state to all future Bushes and Dukakises and other front men for the profit system. In reality, ABC, NBC and CBS had far more to do with the outcome of the 1988 Presidential election than the workers ever did. The TV screen did not reflect what the workers were thinking; it told them what to think We had good reason to make the same observation about the British general election last year. And as long as this is the case — as long as a small, unelected clique of politically conservative media controllers are allowed to set the electoral agenda — it is a matter of serious doubt whether the democratic claims of the electoral system can be treated as much more than a sham.

Whose Freedom?
The government has issued a new White Paper (7 November) on the future of broadcasting. They claim to be concerned to make the media freer. More channels, less regulation. greater local service — and of course, that favourite characteristic of capitalist freedom: if you want the extra goodies on offer you'll have to "pay as you watch". The claim of Mr Hurd and his fellow advocates of greater TV freedom is that more TV, with more market priorities governing it, will offer more opportunities for us to see what we want. This is not so. Firstly, the new channels will not open up new opportunities for independent TV production, but will be bought by current media monopolists, such as Rupert Murdoch, who is already making millions out of deregulated TV in Australia. These millionaires will not make exciting new programmes but provide the cheap, shoddy, and vulgar in order to please advertisers. Secondly, new TV stations will continue to cover the capitalist agenda. This is because the only people with a real incentive to produce TV which challenges the capitalists' interests are the working class and. as socialists never cease pointing out. the workers do not own or control the means of production. including means of mass communication. Greater media freedom will come about, not by flogging airwaves to multi-millionaires or by "relaxing" standards so that workers are able to watch dirty movies, but when the media is freed from the necessity of being a business.
Steve Coleman

No comments: