ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

International Socialism, September 1977


Aidan White

Trade Unions and the Media


From International Socialism (1st series), No.101, September 1977, pp.29-30.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Trade Unions and the Media
Edited by Peter Beharrell and Greg Philo
Macmillan Press £2.50

MILITANT union members and socialist have always been fair game for abuse by the media. Take a few recent examples; car workers at Leyland are billed as ‘production line wreckers’, solidarity on the Grunwick picket line earns the tag ‘mob rule’, and the Lewisham anti-fascist demonstration is written off as ‘red thugs on the rampage.’

The extreme bias of the Press and broadcasting against working people who organise industrially or politically is nothing new: every militant has a grim story to tell of distortion or news suppression. The pity is that not enough is written about the true extent prejudice at work in the media. This book, however, goes some way towards pinning the media down. It is an excellent exposition of various facets of media discrimination. In a series of well-researched essays various contributors show how the selection, suppression and distortion of news is organised to give the most negative picture of trades unionists and their values.

These is also an interesting insight into the way that the true nature of economic and industrial problems is presented in terms of simple prejudice rather than critical analysis. Altogether it is an interesting and stimulating study and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to the ugly world of Press and broadcasting.

For all that I found other sections of the book less commendable. Having made the point about media distortion very graphically, a couple of essays are devoted to looking for answers to the problems of media bias. The ideas in these sections are essentially bureaucratic: a tougher Press Council; a National Press Authority; greater controls on the growth of monopolies within the industry.

Such solutions may go some way to curbing the worst excesses of the media but they could not in themselves eradicate the overwhelming tendency of the Press and broadcasting to promote the interests of commerce at the expense of labour movement organisations. So long as the ownership and control of the Press and broadcasting remains in the hands of business, big or small, no amount of stronger Press Councils or worthy ‘watchdogs’ will create an impartial media which puts the interests of labour on the same footing as those of employers.

Even so, the mere substitution of ‘state’ enterprise for private enterprise is not in itself the answer – a comprehensive portion of the book is given over the analysis of the BBC’s inadequate coverage of trade union affairs, and there is nothing to suggest that a state-controlled Press would function very differently.

Here the book seriously falls down. There is a passing reference to workers’ control, but it is couched almost apologetically. There is very little analysis of the role of print workers and journalists and, apart from a reflection on some good works by ACTT on the broadcasting side, trades unionists within the media are generally ignored. Yet it is inconceivable that any real progress towards a genuinely free Press and broadcasting system will be made unless trades unionists inside and outside the industry are part of that movement.

The problems of the media are there for everyone to see and the solution might seem simple – the transfer of power from owners to workers and consumers – but I suspect that a lot more needs to be said and written to convince socialists, including some of the contributors to this book, that what is required is change far more fundamental than many are prepared to admit.

Top of page

ISJ Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 23.12.2007