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War of words

By Bernie McAdam

21 March, 2015

“Sex Lessons at Five Under Labour”, “Sick Benefits – 75% are Faking”, “Immigrant Baby Boom” “Immigrant and Scrounging”… and so it goes on. Disgusting as it is predictable, this is a sign of what to expect from the Tory dominated press, as the election campaign gathers pace.

And we should not underestimate its scale. The Mail accounts for about a fifth of newspaper sales nationally. Together with the other right wing papers, around nearly three quarters of the market is safely in the same camp, with the mildly pro-Labour Daily Mirror and Daily Record, and the liberal Guardian and Independent accounting only for a quarter of the market between them.

So we can expect a continued barrage of attacks on “Red Ed”, “Mr Weirdo” and “Ed the Loser”. But the Tory press are not joking. Ludicrous as the “red” label is, it helps stir up the reactionary middle class fear of the left and presses the Tory Party to the right. It is noteworthy that Cameron is not exactly a favourite of these rags since he tried to play the liberal on social questions, like gay rights.

The “othering” of Miliband by the Mail started back in September 2013, when it targeted Ed’s father Ralph (a Jewish refugee who served three years in the Royal Navy in the Second World War) as “The man who hated Britain”. It went on to inform us that, “Red Ed’s pledge to bring back socialism is a homage to his Marxist father”.

Pulling Labour right

But there is another purpose to this red-baiting: to shape the political landscape and recast Labour’s campaign promises. The media barons and tabloid editors are past masters at manufacturing “public opinion”, whipping up a frenzy of hysteria over certain issues, while remaining utterly silent on others.

On the NHS, the Mail has been quick to point out the reservations that millionaire Labour donor John Mills has about Labour’s policies. Mills thinks it is wrong to fund the NHS from a “mansion tax”, preferring privatisation. His views go down well with the Mail and are given prominence, the better to pressure Labour into toning down its already timid opposition to Tory “reforms”.
On immigration and race, there is same old framing of public debate around smears and hysteria, with the Daily Express warning us that “more than a quarter of British Muslims” sympathise with the Charlie Hebdo killers. This from the paper that once informed us that, “Muslims tell us how to run our schools”.

All these papers warned us last year of tidal waves of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to Britain… something that never materialised, and was never corrected.

This paranoid focus reinforces pre-existing prejudices, sending the message that immigrants and asylum seekers are a threat to our social fabric. It deliberately fuels anger and resentment, thereby inciting racist hatred and violence. But it is also a call on politicians, a mechanism to bully apparently the “out of touch”.

How does Labour respond? By promising to “get tough” on immigration, as they had “got things wrong” in the past. Miliband even tried to berate Cameron in parliament this month for not meeting his own 2010 election pledge to cut net migration to below 100,000. Again we see Labour being pulled to the right, trying to pander to the racist UKIP vote, while the media hype up Farage.

Left wing BBC?

So where does that mighty champion of objectivity, the BBC, stand? The right wing press constantly accuse it of left wing bias. The Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, for example, says that the BBC is, “morally, socially and culturally biased against conservative ideas”.

But as Owen Jones has pointed out, the BBC “is stacked full of right wingers”, especially at the top, and this campaign by the privately-owned print media “allows the right to police the BBC: to make the corporation fearful of crossing certain lines, and to ensure that the right sets the political agenda”, while leaving liberal left journalists “reluctant to return fire for fear they will help to fatally undermine the BBC”.

Prominent Tories at the BBC have recently included recent Chairperson Chris Patten, a former Cabinet minister, political editor Nick Robinson, a former chairman of the Young Conservatives, plus George Osborne’s special advisor Thea Rogers and right wing journalist Andrew Neil, former editor of The Sunday Times. A Cardiff University report has found that Tory politicians appear on BBC news programmes far more often than their opponents.

Whose media?

The media moguls are of course part of the capitalist class; they own and control profit-making businesses. But they have an especially important role in the defence of capitalist society, as the purveyors of pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist ideology.

How then is it possible for some of the right wing press’s campaigns to appear to run against the real needs of the bourgeoisie?
For example, most of the tabloids run down the EU and are in favour of Britain getting out. But the bosses’ trade union, the CBI, says eight out of 10 employers support UK’s membership, and the City of London certainly wants Britain to stay in.
Similarly, the pro-Tory media is hysterically against mass immigration. Yet most serious capitalists understand that migrants play an important role, plugging gaps in the labour market which otherwise might lead to a skills shortage, and dampening down pay demands.

But here the media is deliberately scapegoating the Brussels bureaucracy and immigrants in order to divide the working class against itself and divert attention from the real causes of falling wages, the housing shortage or the creaking NHS: the capitalist crisis, caused by the system.

Even if The Sun’s owner Rupert Murdoch and Express Group proprietor Richard Desmond are toying with the idea of backing the “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” of UKIP, their real purpose is to bolster Nigel Farage’s credentials as some sort of spokesperson for the “white working class” and to damage Labour’s standing.

What the ruling class and its media always unite on though is their hostility to any expression of working class militancy and a common front on essential Western interests. Hence the unanimous backing – from the most rabid reactionary to the fuzziest liberal – on the war drive against Russia.

Our media

While the media remains under the ownership and control of the capitalists there is little chance of working class interests being advanced in it. That goes as much for the Daily Mirror as it does for the Tory press. The Daily Mirror may well appear pro-Labour, standing up for the NHS, but the Trinity Mirror Group is a capitalist corporation that stands in the tradition of union busting and censorship, not to mention phone hacking.

As media unions at ITV vote for strike action over pay, as Express Newspapers prepare for redundancies, it is clear that trade union organisation in the media must take a stance.
But this should also involve a fight for a veto over what is published. A good example of this happened in 2006, when the NUJ chapel at the Daily Star heroically pulled a page that mocked Islam, headlined the Daily Fatwa, replete with crude jokes and a “Burqa Babes” page 3.

The organised working class needs its own mass media, one that espouses an anti-capitalist and socialist alternative. It should be funded by the trade unions and run under the democratic control of elected rank and file members.

Only this way can working people’s struggles be represented and the bosses’ lies countered. A workers’ paper, alongside social media, would link up with international workers’ organisations and expose the role of our imperialist ruling class around the world.

But a crucial task is to take media ownership out of the hands of the billionaires and make their means of misinformation and manipulation serve the democratic interests of their readers, listeners and viewers. This will be a vital part of the socialist revolution and transformation of society.

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