Almost every demonstrator has found that the press is against them, but what lies behind this in-built bias?
The media spreads the same old lies every time workers go on strike.
During strikes, like the recent ones at BA, the media constantly tell us that workers are powerless—yet at the same time that they are holding the country to ransom.
They act like unions are undemocratic, even though workers have voted to act collectively. The causes of a dispute are rarely explained.
Yet when bosses say we need cuts, they are rarely questioned. And when the police attack demonstrations, the media always reports their version of events.
This is because TV and newspaper reporting reflect the existing power set-up in society.
The mass media reproduces the ruling class’s view of what matters in the world. And quite often it deliberately sets out to paint a picture favourable to government and big business.
The revolutionaries Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the 19th century that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”.
Under capitalism a handful of rich and powerful people own the mass media. They form part of a ruling class—the tiny number of people at the top of society who own the factories, offices and other workplaces (see page 10).
Rupert Murdoch, for instance, owns over 175 print publications across the world, including the Sun, the Times and the News of the World in Britain. It is therefore not surprising they constantly reinforce the interests of the bosses.
The vast majority of the media is run for profit, so it’s not surprising it backs up a system based on profit.
They reflect the bias of normal capitalist life. So, they report it as “good news” if profits are up.
And, the media focus on what seems to matter in “official” politics in parliament, on the actions of celebrities, on crime and scandal.
Economics is reported separately from politics. Everything is put in different compartments. A picture of society as something that can be understood—and changed—as a whole is never presented.
Ordinary people’s lives—except as victims of crime or as things to be ridiculed—rarely appear. During a war much of the media often becomes a simple extension of the government propaganda machine.
According to Philip Knightley, the author of a book on war and the media, The First Casualty, “Every government wants to control the media in wartime to ensure public support for its war aims. If necessary it will lie in order to achieve this control. The media will usually go along with these lies because it considers it is in its best commercial interests in wartime to support the government of the day.”
This is at its most extreme during wars, but the coincidence of interests applies during peace time too.
People are rightly angry when a big demonstration gets little or no news coverage. But more than that, the recent anti-fascist demonstration in Bolton was repeatedly reported throughout the media as violent anti-fascist protesters attacking the police.
This was the exact opposite of what happened. The truth was readily available in video, photographs and accounts of police violence.
Does it matter? TV and newspapers are among the most important sources people have for gaining information about what’s going on in the world.
The media shapes our views of the world. But it does not control them.
As we are surrounded by messages that favour the bosses, we are still making judgments. For two decades the Sun newspaper told its readers to vote Tory.
Most carried on voting Labour. It now tells people to vote Tory again—but it won’t be the Sun that wins it. And the media is not a monolith.
The ruling class is not a homogenous group. There are divisions within it—and the media reflects these. This is partly because of their competing commercial interests. In order to sell advertising they need viewers and readers.
That forces the media to at least be relevant to what people think. That can produce critical coverage which goes against the establishment.
For example, the Mirror opposed the Iraq war in the run up to it.
It reflected the fact that the ruling class was divided—but it also knew that there was an audience for an anti-war newspaper. The majority of people that the mass media is sold and marketed to are working class.
There is a huge gulf between the reality of their lives and the dominant ideology of capitalism. That gap can open up a space for that ideology to be questioned or even rejected.
If left wing ideas become stronger, then the media will have to respond to them. After all, if the number of people backing a transport strike with solidarity is large enough then there is no point interviewing the grumbling business class passenger.