Socialist Worker

Is the media all-powerful?

by Paul McGarr
Issue No. 1774

The media is playing a key role in the war. Almost all the mainstream media have churned out endless pro-war coverage, routinely repeating government propaganda. But how powerful is the media in persuading people to accept this message? Exactly that question was posed at a local anti-war meeting I attended last week.

The 20 people from a couple of local estates were there to view the anti-war video produced by Media Workers Against the War. The video and meetings are one way to challenge pro-war media coverage. In addition the media coverage of the war has been riddled with contradictions. When the bombing started, even papers which had expressed doubts about the war immediately swung behind the government.

As the war has gone on there have been cracks in the pro-war facade. The clearest example is the Mirror. Mirror editor Piers Morgan is engaged in a bitter circulation war with the Murdoch-owned Sun. The Mirror has gambled on a public thirst for serious news among ordinary people as the way to boost its circulation. 'I hear Mirror secretaries talking of anthrax not EastEnders, Bin Laden not Robbie Williams. There is a sudden and prolonged hunger for serious news and information,' the Mirror editor is reported to have said.

While the Sun has continued with typical tabloid fare of celebrity tittle tattle mixed with crude pro-war tales, the Mirror has led almost every day on serious coverage of the war. For now the gamble on the public mood has paid off for the Mirror, with its circulation up and that of the Sun down. The Mirror has been forced to react to the tangible mood of doubt or opposition to the war among many ordinary people.

A clear sign of the shift was the Mirror giving anti-war journalist John Pilger the front page and a double page spread inside last week. Of course the Mirror isn't about to come over wholeheartedly to the anti-war camp. In the very same issue it also ran pro-war pieces. Days later it had shifted to saying that, while it still had real questions about the war, it was backing Blair.

There are wider problems for the media in reporting the war. If they are to convince people even of a pro-war message they have to carry some material which at least partially reflects the reality of what is happening.

So even the worst of the pro-war media is forced to report something about the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. They mostly do this while still seeking to argue a pro-war position. But the reaction among many of their readers or viewers can be very different. People are not empty vessels into which the media pours its propaganda. They have their own memories and experiences which lay the basis for challenging the media line.

Many older people remember the way the media has reported previous wars, and how the pro-war propaganda was eventually shown to be lies. In the 1970s the media pumped out tales of the success of the US war against Vietnam. Some people remember how all that was proved rubbish as evidence of US atrocities and the reality of the war emerged.

More recently many people remember the same pattern with media coverage of the 1991 Gulf War. Those who remember these examples have families, friends and workmates who they discuss with, so creating a molecular grassroots process which can spread a feeling in opposition to the pro-war media.

The same molecular process is fuelled in other ways too. Many workers also know only too well the way the media has lied about protests and strikes they have been involved in. Many people know that, when the media tells us to trust George W Bush, this is the same man who stole the US presidential election, ripped up agreements on climate change and threatens the world with his Star Wars plan.

When the media says we should trust Tony Blair, there are huge numbers of people who think of Blair's broken promises on health, education, pensions and more. When people begin to organise protests, debates and a movement against the war it can reinforce and spread the challenge to the media picture of the world. Socialist Worker sees itself as playing a modest but important role in helping to challenge the mainstream media coverage of the war, and much else besides.

Many people do not have the time or resources to trawl through the mountain of reports, facts and the information available on countless internet sites which challenge the pro-war arguments.

We seek to pull together as much as possible of this information and the arguments against the war and so help better arm those engaged in building the struggle to stop this war.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

What Socialists Say
Sat 10 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1774
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.