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@Tbarls

Thomas Barlow

An Ipsos Mori poll recently showed that, yet again, the British are wrong about almost everything.  We think there are three times more immigrants in the UK than there actually are and that 31 times more benefit fraud is committed than actually occurs.

Teen pregnancy is thought to be 25 times higher than it actually is, and everyone believes there is more crime than ever, even though crime rates have been falling for over a decade.

We have no idea about how our taxes are spent, and we seem to believe that it disproportionately goes to marginal groups like the jobless, the disabled and ethnic minorities.

Is this an accident?

Clearly we are factually completely incorrect in relation to the reality of our own country.  We are largely informed about the state of our country through the mass media.

It would be fair to say that our perceptions of the UK accurately reflects the mass media’s coverage of topics like immigration and benefit fraud, even if this is not the reality.

Take for example the Daily Mail, who last week reported numbers of immigrants in the tens of millions, then published a tiny apology stating that what they meant was actually percentages of immigrants.

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This is the kind of thing that is going to give you a skewed perception of reality.

The same with our political process.

Last week The Express reported that UKIP were ahead of Labour in opinion polls.  This is manifestly false, as the other papers reported the real statistics.

Image:Mirror

Image:Mirror

We have pointed out time and again that UKIP have been given 25 times more coverage on the BBC than the Greens, yet 73% of UKIP supporters would vote for Green policies.  This week, despite being ahead of Lib Dems in the Polls with 8%, the Greens were once again absent from BBC reporting!

Image: Media Lens

Image: Media Lens

It is simply because UKIP have presented as the only voice of dissent when respect for Parliament is at all time low.

UKIP fact

It is also worth noting that the species threatening catastrophe that is man made climate change has been presented as mere academic debate between two reasonably evenly matched sides.  In fact, it is an independently verified human caused phenomenon, only opposed by fossil fuel industry paid scientists, and PR (propoganda) shills.  Even BP’s scientists and CEO’s agree climate change is man caused and is dangerous.

84d09848-b7e0-48a0-b600-fe3d5acd04d6-bestSizeAvailable

Whilst we are presenting only the most egregious examples, this pattern can be seen widely throughout the mass media.

Over representation and exaggeration of certain subjects, (usually highly emotive ones, around marginal and defenceless groups) and complete avoidance of groups that actually challenge the  the governing elite is standard practice for the mass media.

This is not only skewing our perceptions of reality, but it is also changing social attitudes.

“Data released by the Guardian in May 2014 reveals there is more self-reported racial prejudice in Britain than there was a decade ago.”

A recent report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation pointed out that the public expects levels of poverty to get worse, while at the same time “support for welfare spending… is at an historical low”.

A change in social attitudes like this changes our interactions with each other.  We are more likely to find open abuse and oppression of marginal groups – such as the disabled or ethnic minorities – acceptable.

We even find this oppression desirable from our political leaders, as we clammer more for harsher punishments to be levelled at those least able to defend themselves.

These groups are not responsible for the problems we face as a society, but we are misdirected, and our anger becomes misplaced.  Then we feel aggrieved when anyone opposes that misplaced aggression.

“It’s political correctness gone mad” “How dare they tell us how many black people should be on T.V.”  “It’s not racist to be CONCERNED about immigration” “Cultural Marxists are fascists” (a favoured online argument of neo nazis and other racist groups like the EDL).

There is no hope for a progressive, rational and positive set of solutions to take hold in contemporary society unless we first take hold of the mass media, and make it act in the public interest, rather than the private interests of the establishment.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Last week, renowned journalist John Pilger spoke at a Q&A on media power with Des Freedman from the Media Reform Coalition who released his new book ‘The Contradictions of Media Power.’

We have picked some of our favourite quotes from John Pilger during the talk, which give us an insight of his experience and understanding of media power, which is something we can all learn from. And he definitely puts it best.

john-pilger

 

“The whole essence of media is not about information. It’s about power.”

 

“Today the media is, as the father of propaganda, Edward Bernays described, ‘an invisible government.’ It’s in the government. It’s in the government’s vested interests. The Prime Minister is a PR man by trade, and not a very good one. That’s all he is. He shouldn’t be taken seriously, he just has the position. That position allows him certain aspects of power. But the real power resides in propaganda and the media. That’s true now all over the world.”

 

“In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the journalism played a very, very critical role in ensuring that invasion took place. Especially in the United States, which has constitutionally the freest press in the world.

“Now, when discussing this with a number of distinguished colleagues in the US and in this country, following the invasion, they were unanimous in saying, had journalists in responsible positions, both in television and in newspapers (especially television because of it’s power), had they questioned the deceptions, had they challenged them, had they done their jobs as journalists, had they as Dan Rather of CBS said – asked the critical second question, instead of amplifying and echoing the lies told as pantomime. Had they done their job, they believe that invasion might not have taken place. The fact that they were saying that, and these are people from well inside the media establishment on both sides of the Atlantic, saying that had those journalists done their job, that invasion might not have taken place, and hundreds of thousands of people would be alive today. That’s the power of the media.”

 

“You’re working within a system that is inherently hostile to truth telling. And I don’t say that as satire, I mean that. It is hostile to truth telling. One only has to see the media reaction to the truth tellers Edward Snowden, Julian Assange. The bitter reaction of people who shamed much of the media, almost at a stroke.”

 

“There is something called censorship by omission. You don’t really discuss what you leave out but it’s left out.”

 

“If you look back to 2008, the stories on BBC News, all over the papers, the banks were suddenly crooks. When Northern Rock collapsed, the banks were crooks, they were all exposed. The Guardian was full of tombstones of copy about how the banks were rotten from the inside. It was the story.

A glimpse. That story ended after about three months and it was turned around, that it wasn’t really the bankers, but it all came down to a national debt and a controlled narrative was there and it’s called austerity and that debt had to be paid off. Why? Why did it have to be paid off? The people that you quote (46% of people believe that austerity has gone too far or is not needed) that’s a majority really. If you’re getting that in the poll, 46%, that’s a majority. Proving again that most people are ahead of the media. They usually are, they’re ahead of the media as far as going to war, they’re ahead of the media in terms of the economics of their lives, how they live.

So we saw this glimpse of the truth of this massive criminality……all the rotten architecture had collapsed…almost collapsed. Banks were nationalised. Banks were nationalised with no conditions. The consciousness of how this happened which was there, for I suppose about six months, was, thanks to a very effective propaganda system, was shifted. That it wasn’t the banks’ fault, it was our fault.”

 

“We’ve almost got to stop using the term mainstream. It’s a misnomer. We’re always drawn to look through this prism of something called the mainstream. It’s not. It’s actually an extreme. What could be more extreme than various institutions that propagate rapacious illegal war, deception about economic policies. What could be more extreme than that? There’s nothing mainstream about that.”

 

“The greatest propaganda institute in Britain is the BBC. It is that because it has the greatest reputation. It has the greatest credibility. It has a worldwide reputation. Some of it earned. In news and current affairs, almost none of it earned. And I don’t say that again satirically. So this idea that we concentrate on the demons, Murdoch , the Daily Mail (bad enough), because in a way the Mail and the BBC compliment each other and they all follow each other. …It’s about understanding that spectrum of propaganda and how it affects all of us.”

 

Should journalists represent the people? Yes of course but as Martha Gelhorn famously said; “All journalism should be from the ground up, not from the top down.” It almost never is. And that is something again that has to be taught to young journalists.  These basic things that you do, the most reliable sources of the truth, not all the truth, but of a way of finding the truth are to be found at ground level. That’s my experience as a reporter. And I had to find out that the people who were above ground level, especially up there, were not reliable sources.”

 

This is the name of the talk held by the High Pay Centre last week. We have previously shared their brilliant work and along with this event, they also released a booklet with insightful essays that we suggest you read – you can download them here. 

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The talk began with Professor John Kay highlighting the stark reality of how entrenched the heavy and unfair hand of business in our government has come to be accepted:

“Prof Kay cited a case in the US in the 1870’s where a lobbyist had been hired by a company that subsequently refused to pay him as they didn’t like the outcome. The lobbyist sued the company.The case went to the Supreme court that took the view that lobbying was so repugnant, the contract was unenforceable.

“He contrasted this with a decision by the US Supreme court in 2010 that took the view that lobbying was protected by free speech.”

We are given a mantra day in, day out that business interests are somehow the interests of us all. That paying bank managers more is what we must do to ‘keep the talent’ that has overseen the corrupt architechture of the banks, with full impunity. So much so, that further damage is allowed, further corrupt practice, further lives ruined by the allowance of these interests to oversee the ‘solutions.’

Business in Government 

Everyday we see our ‘leaders’ bowing to corporate interests. Blair is believed to have once said of his alliance with Murdoch “It is better to be riding the tiger’s back than let it rip your throat out.” Throughout changes in party colours and faces in government, Murdoch has remained a presence in 10 Downing Street. Blair is Godfather to Murdoch’s grandchild, The Chipping Norton Set describe a village of affluent, connected power which include David Cameron, Rebekah Brookes and more. Not forgetting Cameron’s PR man throughout the election and beyond was former editor of the now defunct News of The World, Andy Coulson, who presided as editor during the phone hacking scandal. Indeed, have we ever seen a more successful ‘solution’ for corporate interests than in Leveson? The public are sold the idea of the investigation like no other, that justice will be served, before revealing that Blair advised Brooks to hold a public inquiry as he had done with Chilcot to peter out, to make some noise, but of no real consequence. Blair walked free.  As did Brooks and Murdoch after plenaries of amnesia.

Government decisions are now always made with corporate interests in mind. Murdoch’s power to distort the news with a 40% hold on UK media, is more important than public interest, or indeed, the truth to our politicians. Those funding political parties have sway over our laws and policies. Corporate lobbying is an investment, not an expense – the power given to companies, businesses and billionaires is access to the society we live in, a proven, working system of manipulating laws and motions to the interest of profit – with no interest paid to public feeling or indeed lives.

In the booklet from the High Pay Centre, Luke Hildyard, Deputy Director, describes in the foreword how controlled our politicians have come to be:

“During one meeting with a leading politician we were told that though they found a particular policy convincing, they were not prepared to say so publicly until business leaders do likewise….

Our experience at the High Pay Centre is instructive. Our polling suggests that an overwhelming majority of people support proposals to cap executive pay at a fixed multiple of their lowest paid worker. When I discussed the idea on Sky news – owned by one of the UK’s biggest corporations – the interviewer suggested, probably correctly, that ‘it was never going to happen.’ The Spectator noted no mainstream politician ‘would embrace such a provocatively anti-capitalist measure.’

That the idea of capping executive pay, at say,  a mere 75 times that of their lowest-paid worker is seen as more provocative than pay gaps of that size and larger is perhaps worrying. But the issue with corporate power is less about whether big business is right or wrong about certain policies, than whether it is sustainable for them to exert such influence in the face of public opinion.”

IB43_700

And this is part of the crux, if it can be assumed that all ‘mainstream politicians’ could not support anti-capitalist measures, or anything that bucks the trend of money flowing to the top, it means we have no real choice (Read 8 Reasons why the UK is not a democracy).

Further, as business controls the leaders who speak about policy, and the media that feeds us information, business has worked hard to instil us with an amnesia that there can be anything other than this system. But there are plenty of alternatives now and in history…

“By the 1940s high rates of taxation deterred people at the top from trying to secure excessive pay rises. What was the point? They would receive only a fraction of the extra money when top tax rates were taken into account. To imagine what it was like, think of what the re-introduction of higher taxation today might mean. A chief executive could receive as little as 10% today on earnings over £500,000 a year, if they could be taxed at 90%. There would therefore be little point in asking for pay rises once you were on £500,000. Double your pay after that, to a nominal £1million a year, and you would receive only an extra £50,000 for all your supposedly additional efforts.”

Danny Dorling, All That Is Solid

This kind of taxation was taking place not so long ago. The fact that we have come so far in the changes to wealth distribution, shows how destructive this path is. Take a look at the news to see the entrenched contradictions of punishment and reward. The week the bedroom tax came in, which of those it affected two thirds were disabled, 96% had nowhere to move to in order to escape the charge, and arrears increased after it’s implementation. Some £14 from a person on between £65-150 a week can mean the difference between eating or heating. That same week, there was a tax cut for the rich, that would in essence eat up any of that money saved through hammering the poor. This is how in favour of business our government and entire system is. The news is littered with these contradictions – particularly during austerity.

The protection of these interests as we have seen in Leveson, in Chilcot, in Teresa May’s inability to find someone to head a child sex abuse inquiry into government who does not have links to those in question, in Priti Patel’s ‘rebellion’ as Conservative MP against plain cigarette packaging when she was an ex-lobbyist for the tobacco industry, in ex-Sun editor Richard Caseby’s lash out at the Guardian for inaccuracies in welfare reporting when his current organisation (a senior communications position at the DWP!) have been publicly reprimanded for manipulation of welfare statistics to push through punishing policy, demonstrate how much a part of the fabric they have come to feel. But they still are working against the public interest.

Image: Shouldwe.org

Image: Shouldwe.org

Last night, BBC Panorama did an investigation into small businesses who were made bankrupt by their banks following the 2008 crash. They did this by manipulating house price valuations and cutting them in half in order to hurry on business owners to sell their assets (despite enjoying good business prior to this) and by bringing in administrators to ‘help’ who would then gain access to business information, and continue administrating for the bank when they demand the business sell up. This shows how free these companies are to manipulate our entire lives for their benefit. And this happens everyday.

Tamasin Cave, from Spinwatch, was also at this HIgh Pay Centre talk. She had worked to instate a lobbying register, to give transparency to the world of corporate lobbying. Unsurprisingly, there is always a way out. A register has been instated but it is shoddy, there is no obligation to record the meetings that would shed light on political affiliations and decisions, and therefore it is of no use.

What the real results of overbearing and insidious corporate interests really mean is a society where these interests are neither punished, nor questioned. They are above the law. As we are choked on the image of potential benefit fraudsters, our entire society is under a heist by the city. The Libor scandal, where the manipulation of inter-bank lending rates affected trillions of pounds of transactions has still seen no one jailed, but the government has introduced an increase to a 10 year maximum penalty for benefit fraudsters to keep us all safe.

“At the very lowest level of housing fraud is someone begging for money for a bed for the night or just for a cup of tea, only to use the money they are given to buy a can of beer…Whether it’s £20 of unwarranted housing benefit claimed, £2000 cash in hand to a builder or a £200,000 bonus secured because your Libor guesses were correct (after having manipulated them with your mates), it is still fraud. It is, however, fraud that increases by several orders of magnitude as you move up the spectrum. It would take millions of acts of homeless people all uttering the same lie to equate to a single lie of a single banker awarded a bonus.”

Danny Dorling, All That Is Solid

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Ranjan Kumaran  – @financialeyes 

The ongoing marketisation of the NHS made further progress in the Deregulation Bill at the House of Lords on Tuesday. 

Listen to the BBC’s Today In Parliament and you wouldn’t know. They chose to devote the full half hour to discussing various other aspects of the Deregulation Bill such as pub licensing and the sale of alcoholic ice cream to children.

Lady Williams, who spoke in favour of alcoholic chocolate consumption, is one of the peers who got the Health and Social Care Bill through the Lords for the Lib Dems.

There are other Lib Dem links to lobbying for private health – though few as prominent as that of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez (Miriam Clegg) and Tim Clement Jones.

According to Tuesday’s Hansard Transcript, the NHS was indeed debated as part of the Deregulation Bill.

Journalist and TTIP observer @glynmoody describes the Deregulation Bill as being like a mini-TTIP for the UK.

It’s scope to get rid of existing regulations seems unlimited. At a recent meeting on TTIP and the Deregulation Bill organised by the Stop TTIP campaign, Health Campaigner Lucy Reynolds of NHA party says, all known UK law is “up for grabs”.

Topics on Tuesday included the Transfer of Criminal and Financial Liability when NHS Trusts or Foundation Trusts are merged or transferred.

I can’t think why Sean Curran and the BBC thought this wouldn’t warrant a mention. Corporate capture by the City Lobby? Government Dictat, self censorship?

Who knows. I’d love to FOI the BBC about this but you can’t get any sense out of an unregulated regime broadcaster whose incomplete and therefore erroneous reporting is constantly defended as ‘editorial independence’.

Today, the Efford Bill gets it’s second reading and MPs will choose whether to back it.

Image: castrust.org

Clive Efford Image: castrust.org

You might think the Privatisation of the NHS, as a Neo-Liberal Project, would merit sensible discussion somewhere in the press. And you’d be right.  There was some coverage of the Efford Bill in the Guardian the other day.  However the comment section seems much closer to the mark than the article.

The Guardian seem pretty comfortable with this Efford Bill.

Today they promoted a 38 Degrees advert backing the Bill.

Not all campaigners agree with the Guardian’s position.

Given their support for War, Austerity, TTIP, Deregulation and PFI, many find it hard to see the Labour Party as anything other than a False Friend.

For anyone genuinely interested in this issue, I recommend reading this response. And this. These rebuttals points out the failings and inconsistencies in the Efford Bill.

A quick glance at the kinds of conversations taking place in the House of Lords this week makes for uncomfortable reading. I am disappointed at the lack of coverage the Bills are getting in the Mass Media. Even though this article only superficially points at the laws the UK government is currently passing, for some reason it seems to be one of only a few articles making any criticism of the Deregulation Bill at all.

State and Billionaire owned Media are preventing healthy discussion of politics in this country.

Please Share. Bring on the Real Media.

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Thomas Barlow

@tbarls

Over the past 18 months we have found that the bias in the media has become more and more pronounced.  Whilst there is expected to be party political affiliations and general theoretical leanings, the media has failed to ask fundamental questions and has omitted from reporting things that it could not criticise (such as numerous marches and movements against austerity).

Russell Brand asked the question (over the Scottish referendum), “how is a democracy supposed to function, without access to accurate and unbiased information?”  

The answer is, of course, that it isn’t supposed to.

“As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, the the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.”

Noam Chomsky
Image: critical-theory.com

Noam Chomsky Image: critical-theory.com

The focus of this Real Media Series is to highlight not only the day to day litany of offences against honesty and accuracy that the mass media commit, but to reveal the fundamental systemic purpose of distraction and indoctrination that the media fulfils.

As such there is no better place to start than the Propaganda Model as put forward by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

The model shows how the media operate on a very narrow range of topics, to give the impression of freedom of expression and public debate – whilst specific values are reinforced and other very fundamental questions are ignored.

“The Mass Media serves as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace.  It is their function to… inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of larger society.”

Manufacturing Consent

Those institutional structures are ones of work for others (wage slavery), obedience to the state (patriotism), and the general maintenance of a system that keeps a particular elite in power (rich, white men largely)

“… the media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly.”

Manufacturing Consent

CORPORATE POWER MAP

Image: abagond.wordpress.com

Image: abagond.wordpress.com

To put this more bluntly

“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the (U.S.) media.”

Manufacturing Consent

Whilst Chomsky’s analysis is of the US media, it can be easily transferred to any media system in the Global North, especially the UK, where so much of the media is either in the hands of Rupert Murdoch, or the Government (the BBC).

“The rascal multitude are the proper targets of the mass media and a public education system geared to obedience and training in needed skills, including the skill of repeating patriotic slogans on timely occasions.”

Manufacturing Consent

We can see this in the case of the war on ISIS, and in the case ‘English Rights for English citizens’ narratives post Scottish independence referendum.  The media repeat a story – often press released by a PR department – and have a very limited debate on it.

 

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

Manufacturing Consent

We are going to explore these false debates and the limited range of discussion over the course of this series – especially in relation to UK foreign policy, but also over the neoliberal compact (i.e. the programs austerity and the redistribution of wealth to the richest) and what that means for us.

We live in a society where division and greed are encouraged, where blame is laid at the door of the (largely) blameless poor rather than the rich, where violence is waged upon others in our name without our consent and without reason.

How is this achieved without widespread dissent?

 

“As long as people are marginalized and distracted [they] have no way to organize or articulate their sentiments, or even know that others have these sentiments. People assume that they are the only people with a crazy idea in their heads. They never hear it from anywhere else. Since there’s no way to get together with other people who share or reinforce that view and help you articulate it, you feel like an oddity, an oddball. So you just stay on the side and you don’t pay any attention to what’s going on. You look at something else, like the Superbowl.”

Manufacturing Consent

There are two important things to note, mind. One is that this doesn’t mean that situation is hopeless; there are many cracks in the system by which free thought and expression can find a voice.

“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, etc., then there’s a chance to contribute to the making of a better world. That’s your choice.”

Manufacturing Consent

Secondly, this system is not formed by a conspiracy.  There are not men in a back room with top hats and cigars planning to keep people as subdued as possible (though I am sure that goes on somewhere as well).

This is a system that we all buy into, to whatever extent, and repeat.  The theory states that there are 5 lenses that create this narrowed range of debate, and this focus on division, fear and hate.

THANKS CORPORATE NEWS

tboh3

 

THE FIVE FILTERS

 1. OWNERSHIP

“Corporate media firms share common interests with other sectors of the economy, and therefore have a real stake in maintaining an economic and political climate that is conducive to their profitability. They are unlikely to be critical of economic or political policies that directly benefit them.”

Manufacturing Consent

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In the case of the BBC (state owned media), they are highly unlikely to give exposure to anything that threatens the state’s existence or stability (such as serious social movements) – in this it’s interests are highly aligned with corporate media.  It is unlikely to be anything more than gently critical of the ruling party, or government in general.  That ruling party will staff it’s offices and control its’ funding.

 2. INCOME

To remain profitable, most media rely on advertising dollars for the bulk of their revenue. It is therefore against the interests of the news media to produce content that might antagonize advertisers.

In the case of the BBC, it’s funding is controlled by the state.  If it steps out of line it’s funding is directly withdrawn (for example the BBC and it’s coverage of the invasion of Iraq cost them a share of the license fee and lost Greg Dyke – then Chairman – his job).

 3. CHURNALISM

“Elites have the resources to routinely “facilitate” the news-gathering process by providing photo-ops, news conferences, press releases, think-tank reports and canned news pieces that take advantage of the news media’s need for continuous and cheap news content”

Manufacturing Consent

The PR industry used to be called the propaganda industry.  It is this very industry that provides most content for news organisations.

It is seen as cheap, ready made and trusted.  Information that comes from the public has to be fact checked, investigated and, often, just isn’t seen as ‘newsworthy’.

So due to the pressures of the job, time limitations, and inherent trust of a particular industry (PR) the views of the elite are predominantly represented in the news, whilst those of the people get ignored.

 4. FLAK

If the media do ever become overly critical of the establishment (the police, courts, government, corporate entities, financiers, etc), they can be disciplined by those with huge resources.

Lawsuits, changes to the law (superinjunctions), sanctions and spin doctoring are all methods by which the establishment can police the boundaries of debate.

5. EXTERNAL THREAT

When originally written, ‘Anti Communism’ was the term given to this filter, but the mobilisation of fear can be readily applied to any threat seen as existential and external to the political community of the elite.

The ‘war of (sorry ‘on’) terror’ has been a useful alternative to Communism, but anti immigration rhetoric and contagious diseases have been more prominent tools of fear mongering since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“This filter mobilizes the population against a common enemy (terrorism, energy insecurity, Iran…) while demonizing opponents of state policy as insufficiently patriotic or in league with the enemy.”

Manufacturing Consent

This has the double benefit of keeping the populace divided and afraid, as well as demonising proponents of unity and rationality.

As mentioned before, the institutions of the media are far too large and complex for this to be organised in one great conspiracy.

Rather there are ideas of patriotism and ‘common sense’ with which the members of the media enter the profession, performed and supported by the previous generation.

Once within the institutions they rapidly become normalised to ideas of what is and isn’t ‘news’. Rarely will they need to be disciplined to know what subjects they should and shouldn’t be covering, even if they have the freedom to choose.

Even with this entire system of distraction and division arrayed against us, polls show routinely that both the government and the media are largely out of step with public opinion.

Usually they are seen to be far to the right of public opinion, which is usually largely anti war, pro nationalisation, anti corruption, egalitarian and libertarian.

Detractors of this model often mention how it pays no heed to how much worse the media is in, say, Russia, or China.

Our job, however, in challenging the system, is to challenge the institutions of our own power, to make them accountable to the people, and servants of the people.  If we as a global people bring our media under control of the people, we will be able to made decisions based on accurate information rather than the prejudice and will of an elite.

We must start with our own media to achieve that.

“I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.”

Noam Chomsky

Thomas Barlow

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Stand Up For Journalism

kamsandhu —  November 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

From ifj.org:

On 5 November, the European Federation of Journalists is organising its 7th anniversary of the action day “Stand Up For Journalism”. This year, the EFJ has chosen to spotlight the growing concentration of media in Europe and its impact on the quality of journalism and the working conditions of journalists.

“The EFJ Steering Committee is proposing to use the day to highlight the situation of journalists in an increasingly concentrated media environment. New actors including Google threaten not only media pluralism but increasingly the survival of many freelance journalists who often only face one media employer, especially at local level.  Media tycons have been buying media outlets and in many countries appear to exert media control. In virtually every country in eastern and southeast Europe, those involved in media are also involved in other businesses.  All of them influence editorial control or promote a political ideology.”

Media Ownership:

European_Media_Tycoons

“He is our generation’s Orwell and we must cherish him” is Russell Brand’s somewhat hyperbolic assessment of Owen Jones.  

I must admit that as an Orwell fan I find that a stretch of imagination – even if it is meant in the lighthearted, throwaway sense that Brand peppers the world with.

What is true to say is that Jones is a thoroughly decent human being and a capable political story teller.

Image: Independent

Image: Independent

“The Establishment” is a useful contemporary account of the ruling elite of the UK, with a clear narrative, bags of stats, and some interesting characters that even the most battle hardened leftie will find moving and curious by turns.

He has invited the derision of both the right and the left (though it might be overstating Ian Bone’s petulant stuntism by Class War as relevant), which at least shows the prominence he holds in the modern British political imagination.

There are flaws with the book, stemming from a political naivety that may be expected from someone trying to save the Labour Party from within, and occasionally from a style of writing that has been formed in the age of internet commentary.

Nonetheless it is, by and large, a compelling read, and necessary reading for anyone wanting to understand the makeup of an elite that runs the UK – and the affects they are having on all of our lives.

In the introduction Owen quickly dismisses certain aspects of ‘The Establishment’ as not hugely relevant, whilst pointing out what power they still have – the aristocracy, the church, the royal family all get this treatment.

Did you know over half of all rural land is owned by 35,000 aristocrats?  Or that the UK is one of only two states to appoint members of the state religion (the Church of England) directly into the legislature – the other being Iran?

No? Well these are the kind of stats you are spattered with in the introduction before OJ really finds his feet.

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The chapter on ‘The Outriders’ is actually probably the most original piece in the book and the one I will devote most attention to. Whilst it is not particularly emotionally moving, it is fundamental to the rest of the book.

‘The Outriders’ are the political theorists who made the politics of individualism and greed – the politics of neoliberal economics – attractive, first to policy makers, and then the public at large.

The portraits of these semi psychopathic fundamentalists is OJ at his best.

The humanity of these people and their ideas makes them interesting subjects, and it is curious to see what motivated them to flood academia and policy making with their radical economic theory.

It is not necessarily greed – though as OJ points out their ideas and the desires of the avaricious naturally coincide – but it seems to be a misty eyed delusion, a nostalgia for the laissez faire imperialism of Victorian Britain and a need to rebel.

If anything I wish there had been more of the glimpses you get of these people, but OJ feels the need to pepper you with stats and then jump from character to character – almost as if aware that attention spans in the age of Facebook cannot handle an in-depth anthropological analysis.

It is a worthy consideration all the same, and points the left in a direction that they have not populated at all since the Fabian society became reformist – the arena of think-tanks.  Anyone who follows the New Economics Foundation will be aware of their utility, yet so much theorising is done by bedroom critics, rather than funded foundations.

Having said this, the chapter whiffs of nostalgia for the post war settlement, and refers back to the glory of consensus of Keynesianism as the ultimate elite consensus.  This is problematic for many reasons that we will return to later.

The following chapters patter through the fertile grounds of ‘The Westminster Cartel’, ‘Mediaocracy’, ‘The Boys in Blue’, ‘Tycoons and Tax Dodgers’ and so on with relative aplomb.

Given the wealth of scandals surrounding each element he is examining, there is a certain restlessness in his coverage.  We are assaulted with stats, a story, and then more evidence of the inherent corruption inherent in these institutions, before moving on.

The speed with which he goes over these subjects does not stop you from planning a violent coup in your head once or twice each chapter, as he moves you to rage by merely presenting the facts of a particular instance of venality or violence associated with these great institutions of ‘The Establishment’.

I was certainly moved by the chapter titled ‘Scrounging off the State’, comparing corporate scrounging with the so called scrounging of people on disability benefits, out of work and so on.  I was incandescently enraged by the mere fact that 1,100 people rated capable to work died in the first 8 months of the ATOS Work Assessment scheme.

If you are not ready to smash a few nearby objects after reading some of the stories associated with this then you should probably check your own pulse.

Image: Zero Hedge

Image: Zero Hedge

This chapter also does a really good run down of the arms industry, something that many modern commentators pass over.

By contrast the chapter on the City Of London and the US hold of UK policymaking, seem almost sanitized in comparison.  You are almost expecting Wolf Of Wall street insights into a grubby world of coked up crazies, or a ‘Thick Of It’ parody of children writing US policy.

Maybe because they have been done so well already OJ merely leaves us with the information that gives us insights into how we illegally invaded another country, and indebted our nation in perpetuity without a serious question being raised in the media or across the political elite.

Owen Jones is no great political theorist though, and this reveals itself in three key areas.

  • Nostalgia

There is a sentimental nostalgia for the post war settlement and Trade Unions, with no critical analysis of how that came about.  It is true that, economically, fortunes for the majority of British people rose during this period.

It is also true that the crises that made this settlement look shaky – and eventually collapse – were not in fact Trade Union greed, but the dropping of the gold standard, the OPEC oil embargo and other external factors.

Trade Unions were not the sole reason for this settlement originally though, and this is what he hints at.

There was the struggle of a lot of ordinary people within those Unions, a large and effective Communist party in the 20’s and 30’s – and prior to that, Anarcho Syndicalists leading up to and just after the First World War.  These were the people with radical ideas, determination and agency – and it was the, largely conservative, Labour party and Unions that reacted to them.  They didn’t lead them.

Also this settlement was possible due to the wealth of Britain’s large (though deteriorating) empire, and due to fear around Communism.  The working classes had to be bought off after the first world war – and the US was willing to fund that if we couldn’t (just as they spent third of their CIA budget on keeping the communists out of power in Italy).

Finally, his Nostalgia is problematic when imagining solutions to the problems we as a society face – we need to create a new way forward, not be misty eyed about a past that was never as perfect as you would like to paint it.

This post war settlement was still one created and controlled by an elite. It deprived many of fundamental freedoms, was still deeply unequal, patronising and fatally flawed.  It was obsessed with work, and the working man, producing things that were not needed in support of a largely patriarchal, homophobic, racist and controlled society.  The idea of a good elite is a dangerous one.

  • No reference to other authors

OJ does not explicitly cite any particular structural analysis, which short-changes the reader.

Whilst his ‘Mediaocracy’ chapter is really insightful, it clearly is based on the useful ideas of Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model, which would have been an handy underpinning for the chapter.

The entire book may be a modern re-writing of aspects of Gramsci’s ideas on hegemony, and the chapter on privatisation could have referenced Monbiot’s Captive state.

This is not just being picky.  It is fine to borrow and re-write ideas without referencing them in general contexts – like in the telling of a story – but it denies people the opportunity to read further and to understand the broader implications of the criticisms.

OJ also fails here to take the useful lessons these analyses provided to show a deeper structural inequity at the root of the system.

Whilst he shows an Establishment enthralled to a particular political creed, he fails to recognise the structural forces for this.  It is as if the City of London is some historical peculiarity, or the strength of corporatism is merely the result of a misguided ideology.

They are, of course, the product of system which materially supports the primacy of profit, of private property (i.e. property you can make money off) and the naked force of the state (the repressive, ‘core’ elements of the state- the police, judicial system, etc).

This is a system that rewards greed, naturally creates monopolies of power (whether through the state, or through large companies) and will always be rigged in favour of the haves over the have-nots.

  • A poorly thought out way forward

Because of this lack of fundamental criticism OJ’s final chapter is a tad disappointing.  Essentially he proposes a series of policies that would make Britain a fairer society.  Things like capital controls, oversight of the police, more protection for Unions, more accountability, control over tax avoidance and so on.

These are reasonable enough demands, but are doomed to failure because of their moderation, they are neither one thing nor the other.

They are not hugely inspiring, and are symptomatic of a technocratic Labour Party that has lost the ability for grand ideas (though his proposals are considerably more radical than any Labour will ever propose).  Yet despite being moderate they are never going to be implemented in a capitalist system, especially in this period of late capitalism.

The period that allowed these kinds of concessions to be won has long passed.  The ‘A nation state’ has no real control over it’s own economy.

We are unlikely to see a period where a state will ever be able to control it’s own economy again – and as such making these kind of demands is unrealistic.  We live in age of corporate global capitalism where (and the right are correct about this) money can just move.

We saw this with Scotland, and we cannot be making demands of a state that is both completely opposed to, and completely incapable of, giving us what we want.

We do have to fight to keep what concessions we have from the state, whilst creating our own alternatives. We can create banks, and buildings, and energy supplies and medical services, and all the rest ourselves.  It has been done before and it is being done now.

To come up with a wish list that is both implausible and uninspiring is Owen’s greatest flaw.

Regardless of all of this criticism I would highly recommend this book to any and all who are interested in contemporary Britain.  It is a nearly comprehensive account of the litany of offences that constitute our ‘Great’ nation’s actions in recent years, written by a decent, engaging and determined author.

Thomas Barlow

Reclaim The Media

kamsandhu —  August 12, 2014 — 2 Comments

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Martin Luther King Jr said that a riot is the voice of the unheard.  More and more we live in a country where the majority are unheard.

After 2 explosive years of mass demonstrations, riots and occupations, the end of the Occupy movement saw the end of coverage of the politics of dissent.

The media had tried to make these movements seem as petty and awful as possible, but public support was overwhelmingly on their side.

With a Royal Wedding, the Olympics and a hopeless national football team to support, the media ignored the silencing of activists and refused to cover the actions of anti government protestors.

When the Electricians strike crippled Balfour Beatty (the largest construction company in the world), we heard nothing.

When Manchester hosted the largest demonstration in it’s history to protect the NHS, we heard nothing.

When Disabled People Against Cuts occupied the BBC to protest the lack of coverage of their issues, we heard nothing.

TTIP, legal aid cuts, workfare, mental health care slashed, fracking, the bombing of Palestine, housing crisis, benefit sanctions, food poverty, fuel poverty, people’s assemblies, public sector cuts and many other issues have seen movements go beyond protest to direct action and have been routinely ignored.

The BBC have been uniquely biased.

It is now that we ask the question, when do the unheard riot?

Of course we feel there is still a voice of dissent.  

Increasingly aware of the continued anger and frustration of the majority of people in the country the media show us one man who is prepared to stand up to establishment.

That man is – former commodities trader – Nigel Farage!

During the last 12 months UKIP have received 5 times more media coverage on the BBC than any of the main parties and 25 times more than the Greens.  

Yet when polled, 73% of UKIP voters said they preferred Green policies.  We just never got to hear those policies.

This is a classic example of spectacular distraction, media divide and rule at it’s finest.

The corporate and state media will always be drawn to spectacular over substance – but even the spectacular protests of the recent years have been hidden.

media.tumblr.com

media.tumblr.com

It will always organise in the interests of the powerful and represent their interests whilst it is owned by them, funded by them, influenced by their lobbying and given all their ‘official’ news by them.

abagond.files.wordpress.com

abagond.files.wordpress.com

However we live in an age of immediate response, of the possibility for our own free press globally.

We can change the story. We can take action that can’t be ignored.

We can hound the media in huge numbers – on their forums and on their websites and at their offices.

We can create an alternative media, and get our news and information directly from those in the know.

We can Reclaim The Media.

Thomas Barlow

A little while back, we reported on the Citizen’s Initiative for Media Pluralism. It is a campaign that NEEDS your signature to demand a fairer and more democratic media. It has never been clearer that the reporting and standard of information in a lot of the media that most perforates our lives is driven whole-heartedly by the agenda of a few who are willing to mis-report and mis-inform, at the detriment of many, in order to protect their places of power.

media-initiative-400x283

Knowledge is power. The effects of this mis-reporting has lead to a huge skewing of perception, demonstrated by the recent Ipsos Mori report ‘Misconceptions’ which revealed that the British Public are wrong about pretty much everything. A large part of the responsibility for this lies with those that supply our information.

It’s time to take our media back. The examples of biased and agenda driven information by media are too many to count, but they infiltrate the largest and smallest of stories, and now, more than, ever there is need to act:

“Today attacks on Gaza‘s children and hospitals are still being reported from the point of view of Israeli military representatives.

“The phone hacking trial has exposed the cosy relationship between tabloid editors and government leaders. The Daily Mail admitted publishing completely false claims that ‘busloads’ of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria were en route to the UK for benefits. Ed Miliband posed for a photo with the Sun newspaper, before apologising to the families of Hillsborough disaster victims who were demonised by the same paper.”

Red Pepper, July, 2014

The initiative has until mid-August to reach the target of 1 million signatures. Sign today by clicking here.

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“The European Citizens Initiative, (ECI), is an exciting new tool of transnational participatory democracy allowing at least one million European citizens to present directly to the European Commission a legislative proposal. The ECI is not another petition: it is a real bottom-up legislative process that allows you to set the European agenda!”

“WHAT WE DEMAND

A EU Directive indicating clearly:

  1. An effective legislation to prevent the concentration of media ownership and control of advertising;
  2. A guarantee of independence of supervisory bodies independent from political power;
  3. The definition of conflict of interest in order to avoid media moguls occupying high political office;
  4. A clear European monitoring systems to regularly check the health and independence of the media in the member States.
  5. Guidelines and best practice of new models of publishers sustainability to guarantee the quality of journalism and in support of those who work within the sector.”

 

1) Rebekah Brooks walks free, Andy Coulson faces jail, David Cameron desperate to limit reputation damage 

Astoundingly, Rebekah Brooks, former editor of the infamous News Of The World, walked free from court, escaping all charges, despite extensive evidence of industrial scale phone hacking across News International newspapers.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Andy Coulson on the other hand, faced jail for his part in the scandal, with evidence that Coulson continued to be paid by News Interational after his departure and during his employment by Cameron. PM David Cameron was forced to apologise for his appointment of Coulson as his spin doctor, despite the fact the PM was warned repeatedly against hiring Coulson. Cameron was reprimanded however, for speaking out against Coulson during the trial, which could have jeopardised the 8 month long case, costing millions of pounds.

Cameron called Coulson a liar before the decisions were handed down. On BBC Question Time, Conservative MP Anna Soubry claimed that Cameron had never called Coulson a friend, which is a complete lie. Cameron said Coulson was a ‘close friend’ and this attempt to remove himself from his actions should not be tolerated.

Read more about this story here.

2) Wonga sends out thousands of fake letters from fake law firms to threaten customers

Between October 2008 and November 2010, Wonga, a company with only a few dozen staff, sent out 45,000 threatening letters from fake law firms threatening to take action against customers.

Though reluctant at first, the Metropolitan police did a u-turn on committing a criminal investigation, following public outrage that the matter was not being taken seriously.

Image: Periscopix

Image: Periscopix

Wonga released a statement admitting they were a smaller company then, though refrained from mentioning whether the management knew anything about the letters. Though one could wonder how 45,000 letters could leave an office of 31 (excluding the IT dept) and it was all some sort of initiative taken on by workers which was not known by management. Maybe they had a rogue reporter letter writer, eh?

Read more about this story here.

3) ‘Cries for help’ found sewn into Primark clothing

Primark is beginning an investigation into it’s own stores and supply chains after three ‘cries for help’ were found by shoppers sewn into garments.

Two of the tags read ‘Forced to work exhausting hours’ and “Degrading sweatshop conditions.”

Image: Daily Star

Image: Daily Star

 

Primark has batted off allegations of bad working conditions for workers abroad, and say they have a strict code of ethics.

Though, it does not seem appropriate for Primark to investigate themselves, as they will want to limit reputation damage and their interests are in the profit of the business. They have also already said they believe the labels are a hoax.

Read more about this story here.

4) Protestors mock Tesco with fake price tags about the Living Wage

Living Wage protestors have targeted Tesco stores by changing price tags on shelves to read the below:

 

Image: The Mirror

Image: The Mirror

 

Tags end with “‘Wow! £1.39billion pre tax profits in the six months to August 24 2013.’

Stefan Baskerville, Citizens UK organiser, said

“Working with ShareAction we are calling on Tesco to consider how implementation of the Living Wage could help tackle in-work poverty for their lowest paid staff.

“The Living Wage is a robust calculation that reflects the real cost of living, rewarding a hard day’s work with a fair day’s pay.”

The protests come before the Tesco annual general meeting, and with the previous Primark story coming to light, it seems the issues to do with low pay and working conditions cannot be ignored.

Read more about this story here.

5) Tory MPs demand early break up of coalition

Senior Tory backbenchers have demanded the early break up of the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition following reports that Conservatives could lose up to 12 seats to UKIP at the next election, forcing them to fall short of winning a majority.

The Bow Group who put forward the estimates have pushed MPs to put forward proposals to break up before the 2015 Election, saying that the Conservative party needs to make drastic moves on policy of immigration and Europe if it is stand a chance next year, and these issues are where the coalition strongly differ.

It should also be noted that the Conservative party have won by a lesser and lesser majority at each election over the last 3 decades, with the election in 2010 forcing them into a coalition to gain any power. The membership of the Tory party has also halved since they came to power.

Read more about this story here.

6) Labour backs trespass laws on fracking, says Energy Minister

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said that the Labour Party has confirmed it will back new trespass laws on fracking which allow shale gas companies to frack under homes without permission, despite public feeling going against the laws.

“A recent YouGov survey of 1,898 people found that 74% opposed the controversial move, which underpins efforts to drive a “shale gas revolution” that could see fracking across swathes of the UK.

“More than 45,000 people around the country have already joined legal moves to block energy companies from fracking under their properties, but a change to the trespass laws could allow companies to explore for shale gas without needing their permission.”

Click Green, June 2014

Image: BBC - Gas test Well

Image: BBC – Gas test Well

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass