On Blair, the beast, and blogging. Yes, this is like three days late, but it’s not that stale. By the way, did I ever tell you what a great film Wag The Dog is? You’ve got to see it. What’s it like? Think the dodgy dossier with jokes. Dustin Hoffman’s character cracks me up.
Beauty and the “feral beast”
At an event organised by Reuters on Tuesday, outgoing British PM Tony Blair took the opportunity to criticise the media in a speech which described the news industry as a “feral beast” and called for tougher regulations to tackle “bias”.
This was widely seen as an attempt to hit back over criticisms over the Iraq invasion of 2003 and the propaganda disseminated by the government in lead up to the war, during the conflict, and in the four years of the occupation.
Parliament was deceived on the true picture on Iraq, as was the public and Blair has repeatedly displayed his contempt for both public opinion and parliamentary democracy.
In February, an announcement of troop withdrawals was made to the Murdoch press before parliament; unsurprisingly, there was nothing said of Murdoch’s media empire. Though the News of the World’s royal editor was jailed for hacking into the private mobile phones of members of the royal family, Blair did not mention News Corporation at all.
Blair instead singled out The Independent which no longer has a typical front page headline and instead leads with a comment piece on the cover.
Newspaper sales are dropping off as new media emerge to challenge corporate hegemony over news dissemination; newspapers are in trouble because they are heavily reliant upon advertising revenue and the internet is becoming more attractive to advertisers because of the precision with which consumers can be targeted. The Indie has responded by ditching the typical front cover and downsizing to tabloid format. The paper responded to Blair’s attack with a headline asking if it was because they do not support his position on Iraq above an article by the editor.
The Prime Minister is not truly interested in balance. If it were so, his government would have tried to break the stranglehold that bureaucrats and profit-seeking corporations and individuals have over print and broadcast media. Rather than challenge the media barons, New Labour did their best to help them. The only people who were disciplined were those who asked the wrong questions in the run up to the Iraq war and in its aftermath: Andrew Gilligan, Greg Dyke, and Piers Morgan being the most famous names.
It was not the media that broke Blair. Despite the deception over Iraq, the cash for honours inquiry, and all the rest, the press and broadcast media has been generous to Blair. He was, after all, the golden boy of the bourgeoisie. For one, New Labour in power could head off industrial disputes better than the Tories and this may well be the reason why the capitalist class continues to support the party when Gordon Brown takes over in two weeks.
Rule my world
Blair hinted in his speech about the possibility of universalising the regulations imposed on the media, but this is not to deal with monopolisation, rather the perceived “imbalance” – in other words, any intervention would be to maintain elite interests.
When they are not busy pushing the contentment theory – that we are all too content to bother with politics – politicians blame journalists for mass non-participation in elections and the lack of trust in political institutions, citing cynical and hostile reporting. Supposedly, we would otherwise swallow the lies.
A key admission from Blair was that his government was too reliant upon public relations – or spin – in the early years. He might have gone further and included the middle and latter years, for the practice of knowledge and perception management has continued unabated. For example, after the speech, Blair was asked questions by members of the audience, but Sky News claimed that television broadcasters were not permitted to show the footage.
Journalists similarly blame politicians, and since politicians are trusted less than used car salesmen, the opinion of journalists in this respect has more prestige. What neither politicians nor journalists ask is do other reasons exist for this disconnect between the people and official politics?
Since the government represents the class interests of the propertied ruling class and the majority of the population are working class, the government must convince workers that it is not a mere pawn of the capitalists. The ability of the mass media to express this truth is restricted by institutional and sectional constraints: media ownership, for a start.
Those journalists given the most power are those who are considered trustworthy. Radical journalists are in a minority to start with and are unlikely to be given space to air their views on issues of the class nature of politics.
A surfeit of spin
I doubt if any data exists on the increase in the amount of time the government dedicates to the preparation and dissemination of the official line, as compared to thirty years ago. Anecdotal evidence suggests a huge increase in the resources devoted to disinformation and knowledge management. Certainly, Blair complains about 24 hour news and the difficulty the government has in corralling support for its line.
It is not that the media poses a threat to the government’s stability in the short term, but who knows what effect the contempt for politicians will have on the ability of governments to dominate the news agenda in the long term, when there will be an even greater market share for new and participative media.
I would not be writing this if I did not believe that the internet offers a great opportunity to working class people. If not for the advent of the blog would not otherwise get the chance to air my views.
Since I lack journalistic credentials, I would not get a job writing a weekly column for a newspaper or a regular spot in a journal – which demonstrates that although the internet allows for gossip and conspiracy theorising, it has at least provided an arena for ordinary people to express their political views and develop their understanding of the world.