The mainstream media: conspiracy or culture?

dianeabbott1

I don’t think it’s useful for us, as socialists, to see the mainstream media as some kind of conspiracy (e.g in league with the Government or directly “doing their bidding”). Ironically, if anything, that might underestimate the problem, while also allowing people who work in those institutions to avoid responsibility – because they will not recognise this labelling. This seems to me strategically wrong. I want to explain why.

In fact, the situation with our major media sources (the surviving press, our public broadcasters and our private media corporations) is both more serious and more entrenched than this. It’s partly about class and partly about a centrist, unquestioning culture that has developed within national institutions like the BBC (but also other big media institutions) over decades and under successive Governments.

The class dimension has been well documented, but bears restating: the mainstream media overwhelmingly recruits from privileged group – whether they be middle or upper class – mainly, but not exclusively Oxbridge. Naturally, their politics will be right of centre / centrist. Of course there are exceptions, sometimes quite visible, but these are the norms.

What that well trodden recruitment route (and the cultures it reproduces) excludes are radical, dissenting and working class voices. Certainly very few left wing socialists will be in a position to take jobs within those media hierarchies, even if they wanted to, because the structures are deeply entrenched. They have evolved over decades. That exclusion of different, questioning voices, then dictates a culture and ideology within these media institutions. Naturally, those who share the ideology are rewarded, those who don’t are not. We don’t need to be conspiracy theorists to understand this: it’s the way most big institutions work. Media is no different.

What this has done, over decades now, is to entrench a centrist ideology (either of the centre right or centre left) at the heart of our media institutions. Apart from the odd token exception, this has become the entitled and intolerant modus operandi, seemingly unshakeable. Undoubtedly, within the BBC, some of the changes David Cameron made to BBC governance around 2016 will also have had an impact at a senior level – I don’t deny that – but I think the deeper, cultural forces at play are even more instrumental.

What Corbyn’s election and the rise of socialism has done however, is to (a) introduce a lot of ideas which this centrism doesn’t understand or recognise as legitimate and (b) project individuals into the political “mainstream” that the media establishment thought they’d long since dispatched and isolated. These people and ideas, though mainstream to us on the left, seem weirdly anachronistic to the media class.

Having to deal with these interlopers and what they think as ‘outdated’ ideas, clearly annoys them. You can see the overt manifestations of this annoyance in the way presenters talk to the likes of Owen Jones, Diane Abbott or even Jeremy Corbyn. This is not necessarily a conscious thing, but works at deeper level, running through the organisation. A big clue is when the language used to question or interrogate Corbyn’s team, supportive MPs or socialist members is designed to marginalise: that, despite overwhelming leadership election wins, and the best election result since 1997, this is still an isolated, freakish occurrence.

So, in many ways the BBC (and Sky, Channel 4 etc) can be said to be institutionally centrist. In my view, this isn’t a conspiracy, in the sense of an overt, deliberate strategy, but an evolving culture. This is important distinction because it dictates the way we, as leftists, understand and deal with it. To change this is generational thing more important than exposing a “conspiracy”. It’s about democratising media, challenging entrenched values, empowering working class voices and changing the cultures which exclude them. And building alternatives where this can’t be achieved.

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That joke isn’t funny anymore: from #Tories4Corbyn to a Very British Coup

corbyn2One day, someone like the Glasgow Media Group, will do an analysis of this leadership election and how the attitude of the right-wing press has changed towards Jeremy Corbyn. It will be fascinating. 

Stage 1: Laughter

It seems like an age ago when it was all jolly larks and #Tories4Corbyn. Smugly and patronisingly, they laughed into their sleeves, safe in the knowledge that Corbyn even being on the ballot would show that the loony left (guffaw) was very much alive and kicking and the Labour Party at large hadn’t changed. By not having changed, of course, they mean not accepting all the tenets of the disgustingly unequal and brutal society that their chums in the city had created. That self-satisfied superiority complex, which seemingly couldn’t be shifted, had been aided and abetted by the Labour Party in Parliament, filled with New Labourites who did just that – who had “changed” and had accepted the rules of the club.

Stage 2: Confusion

Then came the period of incredulity, as the madness of “Corbynmania” seemed to be sweeping the country. What on earth was going on, they wondered? Hadn’t this stuff – like collective values, solidarity, compassion – been left behind in the 80s where it belonged? Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall they understood: they too played by the rules. The deal was, they would let us keep the fundamentals of the Thatcherite settlement in place as long as they could play with the ball occasionally. The “fun” being had at the Labour Party’s expense became a little less sure footed. #Tories4Corbyn faded and turned into “Shock! Horror! Look what the oiks are up to!” They actually believe this crap? Rent controls? Public ownership? Democracy in our education system? Whatever next? Fake indignation and incredulity ruled, but now with a frown.

Stage 3: Anger

Latterly, the terms of reference have turned around completely. As arrogant bullies do, no public acknowledgement of this volte face was to be allowed. But to anyone who has been paying attention, it’s obvious that things have shifted dramatically as the election campaign has gone on and Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has gathered real momentum, not just in the Labour heartlands, but in the Tories’ own backyards. The chuckles have been swallowed back and been replaced with anger. What the hell? As the movement around Jeremy Corbyn has become a “thing”, evidenced by the enormous crowds turning up all over the country and the rapturous welcome that Corbynite policies were receiving, things have taken a nasty turn. Quietly at first, but then gathering momentum, the word was put out that “this has to be stopped”. As that lad from Manchester once said:

“That joke isn’t funny anymore. It’s too close to home and it’s too near the bone.”

At the time of writing, this latest phenomenon has morphed into an almost a pathological obsession for many in the right wing press. Whereas previously, the writings on Corbyn positively oozed condescension, now you can smell the fear and a strange lack of confidence. It’s starting to resemble something out of a Very British Coup, but every smear story, every outright lie and every petty, personalised attack on Corbyn, his family, or his army of supporters betrays how petrified they are at the thought that, for the first time in three decades, they might actually face a real opposition to their project – not just to this detail, or that policy, but to their whole individualist, consumer-orientated, callous ideology.

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