“We all more or less hate the media as countless polls about the trustworthiness of various professions show. Journalists always rank at the bottom between politicians and used cars salesmen. But we as a democratic society cannot function without news media.
Civic role of Media in a Democracy
Whenever you talk to a real journalist (not Mike Hosking) you will hear about their special privileges enshrined in law and obligations and standards drummed into them at journalism school. The main ethical standard is true and fair reporting based on facts. This for instance includes quoting correctly and completely and not out of context. Clearly separating factual reporting from (personal) opinion. Basically painting an accurate picture of events around the world for readers, listeners and viewers to be able to understand and make sense of.
Media are different from all other industries in their pivotal role informing citizens to enable them to exercise their democratic rights and duties. Without media we would know very little about the world we live in beyond the things we are able to personally witness. We as voters would have difficulties making informed choices if we are not informed completely and truthfully.
For this reason of being a crucial part of any democratic system most countries have state funded organisations in the most important part of the media i.e. television and radio.
When we talk about the media and it’s role in a pluralistic society and democratic political system – at least that is how we like to think of our western ‘democracies’ – we never must forget the Elephant in the room : Media Ownership.
There are two basic models.
Publicly owned state funded media like the BBC in the UK, Television and Radio NZ in New Zealand and the ABC in Australia for example.
Privately owned now mostly corporate media like newspapers and the increasing number of private television and radio stations. Neoliberal globalisation has led to a concentration of media ownership in the hands of very few corporations controlled by very few individuals. Rupert Murdoch is by far the leading example but there are others.
To own and control a crucial part of the democratic process gives you enormous power. No surprises really that the young Labour leader and aspiring Prime Minister Tony Blair had to go on a pilgrimage to Australia to seek the blessing (and probably embrace and secret handshake) from before mentioned media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Ironically Rupert had embraced a snake who allegedly contributed to to the breakup of Murdoch’s later marriage by having an affair with his wife.
Media editorial Independence
What we as media consumers really care about is not who owns what and pays or makes money but that we are reliably impartially informed to the highest journalistic standards.
The public model deals with the problem of potential political/government interference in these standards by (at least formally) granting their media editorial independence.
The private model on the other hand in the recent era of neoliberalism has not only lead to increased concentration of ownership but also control over editorial content.
You can call me naive that knowing all this I am still outraged about the latest low points in media performance. I am almost lost for word about what we witnessed recently in the UK media around Jeremy Corbyn, in the US around Bernie Sanders, in Canada leading up to this weeks elections and in New Zealand around reporting on PM John Key and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
These examples demonstrate that the media have morphed from reporting events into dispensing cutting edge propaganda for fellow corporations and attached governments.
Media promoting corporate/government agenda
In the UK during and after the election campaign for the Labour Party leadership the anti Jeremy Corbyn sentiment in most of the mainstream media was relentless. And the media were just clearing their throats for the campaign to destroy the new Labour leader who was just elected with overwhelming democratic mandate. Just watch the beginning Corbyn’s Labour Party conference speech.
There is only one conclusion that mainstream media have abandoned their primary function to enable and facilitate democracy and are now focused on destroying it.
And it is not only the print media owned by private corporations doing it but also the publicly owned BBC. They continuously label Corbyn if not worse “left-wing” as in bad and unelectable while refusing to balance that by labelling Cameron by the same token as “right-wing”. There was even a petition for the BBC to change this biased practice.
In the US just last week we witnessed the efforts of CNN to successfully re-write the history of the first Democratic Party presidential candidates debate staged by CNN. Against the overwhelming result of their own polling giving Sanders the win
they declared Clinton the winner pulling their own poll results from their website and spread the “news” widely with all the other mainstream media in hot pursuit.
And it worked as nationwide polls have picked up for Clinton on the back of the false news of her “winning” performance in the debate.
In Canada print media tried to stop the avalanche burying the incumbent Conservatives.
In the National Observer under the headline “YELLOW STAIN: The bystander bigotry of newspaper endorsements“Sandy Garossino writes :
“The stain of this shameful moment in Canadian journalism will never wash completely clean from the Globe and Mail and Postmedia. Not only did they tolerate the ugliest political episode in Canada’s post-war era, they signed their names to it.”
If you think in little New Zealand the media are still doing their job of reporting facts impartially think again. These are the latest examples of media bias in this case by state owned Television New Zealand.
Two examples, which at first might not look like much but in reality are in the same league as what we are seeing in the UK and US.
One is the relentless government spin repeated by Television New Zealand talking up the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) as a “free trade” agreement while in reality it is anything but. Only a very small number of the chapters are about trade. There is even less about freeing up trade rather more on enshrining tariffs on for instance our dairy exports. Most of it is about the right of corporations to sue our government in overseas Kangaroo courts, extending intellectual property rights adding billion to the balance sheets of big corporations, extending patents on new lifesaving drugs, regulating the internet restricting innovation by newcomers and the list goes on. Still our TV presenters insist on the term “free trade agreement” like Simon Dallow on Q&A : But ‘surely’ free trade is a good thing.
The other example was the “reporting” on Prime Minister Key’s recent visit to our soldiers in Iraq while ignoring that at the same time our sovereignty and land was sold out from under our feet. The “reporting” that our soldiers are appreciated for doing their job differently to our Australian and US allies because we are doing it “The Kiwi Way”(?). The images of Key in body amour among the troops not really telling us anything other than look at me not the TPPA. The whole exercise made us cringe by making us think of the immortal image of George W Bush on the aircraft carrier.
Media defending status quo
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act“. (George Orwell)
It is safe to say that the corporate and government media cannot be accused of being revolutionaries.
What is the reason that the media are freaking out now over Corbyn, Sanders and any other challenge to the status quo ?
“The permanent political class is freaking out because it knows it is under very real threat. They are going to use every weapon in their armory to neutralise that threat.” (Kerry-Anne Mendoza)
By doing what the media are doing in the above examples they just confirm for us that instead of fulfilling their civic journalistic duties they are just a Branch of the deep Corporate State.