Socialist Worker

Who’s pulling the strings?

Alistair Farrow looks at the power of the media—and its limits

Issue No. 2554

Even to the most casual observer it’s clear that the bulk of the British media is out to get Jeremy Corbyn. Every week there are newspaper front pages devoted to smearing him.

Headlines such as “The evil monster haunting Corbyn’s past”, “Jeremy Corbyn will be cheered by racists and terrorists” and “Jeremy Corbyn insult to our heroes” scream out from both broadsheets and tabloids.

The BBC is little better.

So far during this election campaign its reporters have travelled the length and breadth of Britain rooting out former Labour voters who intend to vote Tory.

That takes a lot of work and resources which apparently aren’t available to find the people who are furious with Tory policies and enthused by Corbyn.

Senior BBC journalist Nick Robinson

Senior BBC journalist Nick Robinson (Pic: Flickr/Bob Bob)


Shadow energy minister Barry Gardiner accused the BBC of “fake news” last week. Even right wing journalist Nick Robinson acknowledged bias at the BBC against Corbyn in 2015.

In contrast Theresa May is given repeated opportunities to push her agenda.

So it’s no wonder that some 50,000 people signed a petition accusing the media, and specifically the BBC, of anti-Corbyn bias.

Part of the explanation is simple. The people who own media corporations, commission stories, edit newspapers and present TV bulletins have a vested interest in a divided, elitist society.

A 2006 report by the Sutton Trust found that 54 percent of the top 100 journalists had been privately educated—up from 49 percent two decades earlier.

In contrast just 7 percent of the general population is privately educated.

We’re told that we live in a society where hard work and talent can get anyone to the top.

But more often than not most people are barred from getting near the corridors of power without the “right” family and school connections.

BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier was called to ask Theresa May a question at an event where most journalists had to submit theirs in advance last week.

It probably didn’t hurt that her cousin Mark Garnier and her father Edward Garnier are both Tory MPs.

The media vs Jeremy Corbyn
The media vs Jeremy Corbyn
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The BBC’s chair David Clementi is the grandson of a former governor of Hong Kong.

He was educated at the private Winchester College, Oxford University then Harvard Business School, and was previously chair of finance firms Virgin Money and World First.

Nick Robinson also went to private school then Oxford before founding Macclesfield Young Conservatives. He was then chair of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

And whatever their background, anyone who gets to the top of the media becomes part of a well-paid elite with no interest in rocking the boat.

The BBC’s senior management wage bill stood at £47 million in 2016, with 98 managers on £150,000 or more. Its top journalists aren’t on much less.

Daily Mail newspaper editor Paul Dacre rakes in more than £2 million including perks most years.

David Pemsel, boss of Guardian Media Group (GMG) which publishes the Guardian and Observer, scrapes by on his £600,000 salary.

So it’s hardly surprising that Corbyn’s policy to increase income tax for those earning over £80,000 got a frosty reception.

Individuals with a stake in the system work for organisations with an even bigger stake in the system.

The BBC relies on some £1 billion of government funding annually. It’s no coincidence that it tends to take the side of whichever party is in office.

The private media is largely owned by billionaires—and much of its revenue comes from selling advertising space to other billionaires.

A journalist or editor who sets themselves at odds with the billionaires’ agenda will have a harder time than those who lick their boots.

This underlines the need for a revolutionary newspaper such as Socialist Worker. It unashamedly takes the side of workers and the oppressed over apologising or cheerleading for the rich.

But the establishment media doesn’t create the imbalance in society. It reflects it.

Newspapers need to sell copies and TV programmes need to attract viewers. That limits how far they can afford to offend their audiences.

To an extent they always have to adapt to the ideas in broader society. These are contested, but on an uneven playing field.

In a world where rivalries between states are settled by wars and untold resources are poured into armies and weapons, the idea of peace can seem unrealistic.

People are pitted into competition with each other to find jobs, homes and university places. So it seems more natural to see greed as human nature, and solidarity as utopian.

At work we have to do what the bosses tell us. This makes us seem powerless.

Meanwhile the rich seem to be doing something right, as more and more wealth is concentrated in their hands. So the idea of challenging their rule seems risky and radical.

Workers’ ideas—changing through struggle
How ideas change through struggle
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In general, as the revolutionary Karl Marx argued in 1845, the way in which a society is run at a given time comes to seem like the default. Those who rule it seem like they were destined to do so.

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas,” he wrote.

In other words, “the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

But in reality societies do change, and those who are exploited do have power to hit back at their exploiters. This creates a space for new ideas to get a hearing.

The Iraq War is an example of this. Much of the media—particularly liberal journalists close to New Labour—bought into the lies used to justify the invasion.

But millions of people didn’t, and the movement against the war came to include the biggest protests in British history so far.

The media, particularly those publications with a mass audience, couldn’t ignore this.

The Mirror ended up producing placards for anti-war marches and the BBC provoked a confrontation with the government over its “dodgy dossier”.

An attempt to create an alternative to the rule of the rich will meet with entrenched hostility from the establishment—including the media elite.

But protests, strikes and other forms of collective struggle can cut the ground out from under them.


Murdoch offers sacrifices in order to make Sky-high profits

Media baron Murdoch

Media baron Murdoch (Pic: David Shankbone)


Media baron Rupert Murdoch likes to present himself as a kingmaker in British politics.

Tony Gallagher, the editor of the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Sun, reportedly texted a Guardian newspaper journalist on the day of the EU referendum result.

“So much for the waning power of the print media,” he boasted.

But if Murdoch really had such a tight grip, Britain would look a lot different than it does.

For one, The Sun in Scotland would not have run a campaign to Remain in the EU. It did so largely because the newspaper couldn’t afford to cut off its circulation there.

The Sun knows how to back a winner and then take credit for their win. But it’s wrong to take its boasts at face value.

At the moment the giant is under pressure.

Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox wants to buy up 61 percent of Sky in a deal worth £11.7 billion. The firm currently controls 37 percent.

In order to do this it has been forced to make compromises to demonstrate its responsibility as a broadcaster.

And between the phone hacking scandal and the Hillsborough justice campaign, The Sun’s credibility has been badly damaged.

This is why it fired infamous former editor Kelvin MacKenzie as a columnist. He compared footballer Ross Barkley, whose grandfather was born in Nigeria, to a gorilla.

It’s vile, but so is most of what MacKenzie writes—why fire him now?

In the US Murdoch has ditched Fox news anchor Bill O’Reilly after repeated accusations of sexual assault from many women who have worked with him.

Murdoch effectively offered both “personalities” up as sacrifices.

One of O’Reilly’s victims is set to give evidence to the media regulator Ofcom’s investigation into Fox’s bid to take over Sky.


Sticking the knife into Corbyn

During Corbyn’s first leadership bid, two thirds of opinion pieces and 57 percent of news reports cast him in a negative light, researchers at the LSE university found.

Not one mainstream newspaper referred to him positively a majority of the time.

Once he became leader, a survey by Media Reform showed that the amount of negative mentions rose to 60 percent. Just 13 percent of mentions were positive.

Despite this onslaught Corbyn won, twice, and tens of thousands flocked to Labour to support him.


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