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International Socialism, Spring 2003


Colin Sparks

Inside the media


From International Socialism 2:98, Spring 2003.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


There is an old and honourable tradition in the labour movement that, if you want some applause, you attack the capitalist media. That is guaranteed to get your audience clapping. Left wing activists of all stripes, even very moderate ones, hate the media. Every night they sit in front of the TV news boiling with rage as, one after another, strikers are pilloried, Muslims demonised, asylum seekers witch-hunted, and Blair and Bush go unchallenged in their most outrageous lies.

The mass media are so loathed because they occupy a central place in political life in any contemporary bourgeois democracy. They are central to ‘official’ politics. They are the main mechanisms through which powerful groups in society – capitalists, politicians and even trade union bureaucrats – are able to reach the mass of the population. The information they provide and the opinions they promote are the ones that are most readily available to everyone. You have to hunt out socialist viewpoints while the capitalist way of looking at the world is marketed relentlessly. Nevertheless, the mass media are also important to left wing politics. Quite apart from driving socialists into a rage, the media provide a great deal of the information and many of the opinions that we seek to counter in the course of our political activity. If people know about Saddam Hussein, and if they have opinions about whether or not he has weapons of mass destruction and what they think should be done about them, this is seldom taken directly off the television or out of the newspapers, but the contents of the media are a powerful contributor to popular knowledge and opinion. To tell the truth, our relative poverty of resources means that we often have to rely on the bourgeois media for the facts upon which we base our counter-arguments. We can’t afford a network of full time journalists around the world. We can’t afford the costly specialised information services that are available to big capitalist media. Instead, we very often have to sift through the deluge of propaganda in their newspapers and magazines in order to sort out truth from lies.

The reaction of generations of socialists to all of this has been the simple but firm conviction that the bourgeois media are all capitalist propaganda, designed to keep the queen on her throne, the prime minister in Downing Street and the boss on his yacht in St Tropez. We see the media as relentlessly anti-union, racist, sexist and warmongering. We are disposed not to believe a word we read in the papers or hear on the telly. Our ideas of what is ‘just a bit of fun’ most certainly do not include Page Three, or many of the things that pass for popular entertainment on television. We are disgusted at the nationalist hysteria that helps to send young men and women off to the hazards and horrors of war. All in all, we much prefer Socialist Worker.

This seems very obvious to us, and it is certainly at bottom entirely correct to say that the bourgeois media do all they can to reproduce the capitalist order. Thinking of the mass media as one reactionary mass will not, however, quite do. There are a number of problems that need to be taken into account. For one thing, there are a few dissenting voices that are allowed into the media. We come across people who are unquestionably not interested in propping up capitalism in the most unlikely places: Tariq Ali or Paul Foot on Any Questions? on Radio 4; a documentary about Palestine by John Pilger on ITV; the same author writing in the Daily Mirror; or Bremner, Bird and Fortune campaigning against the war on Channel 4, are all recent examples. While it is certainly the case that the vast majority of people who are licensed to sound off in the mass media are more or less consciously committed to capitalism, there are occasional voices that contradict them.

The media in a contemporary bourgeois democracy are remarkable not for their crushing uniformity but their limited diversity. The broadcasters religiously maintain a balance between the representatives of the main political parties, and while The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail speak with the authentic Tory voice of capitalist reaction, the ‘real’ bosses’ paper, the Financial Times, has supported the Labour Party at the last three general elections. What is more, there are times, like the present, when some sections of the media seem to launch outright offensives against government policy. Since its relaunch a year or so ago, the Daily Mirror has adopted a range of radically critical positions, culminating in its long campaign against a war in Iraq, that set it apart from the rest of the media.

These real complexities are seized upon by capitalist apologists to argue that the mass media are free and independent, that what they report is the truth and the whole truth, and that the rest of their content is just giving the public what it wants. There is a whole branch of academia, Media Studies, which is, with a few honourable exceptions, devoted to the proposition that Marxism is much too crude an instrument to explain the mass media, and that the reality is so complex that it is almost impossible to reach any definite conclusions. So, for example, any discussion of the press in the US that suggests that it is universally supportive of the existing system will certainly encounter the question ‘Well, what about Watergate, then?’ While not as enthusiastic as the open apologists for the mass media, much of Media Studies is devoted to the study of various minutiae, while ignoring the nature of the totality, and in doing so naturally emphasises the independence and autonomy of whatever it is that is being studied. Alongside the sorts of confusions, mistakes and arguments in downright bad faith that all critics of Marxism seem unable to avoid employing, much of the problem with academic writing about the mass media is an overwhelming inability to see the wood for the trees.

In that context, any Marxist study of the mass media has to do at least two things. It has on the one hand to demonstrate that the media are integral parts of the system of class rule and, on the other, it has to account for the apparent anomalies of conflicting voices that are present in the immediately observable output of newspapers and broadcasting. To do these things we need to go into some detail about the ways in which the media work, and here the findings of bourgeois scholars can indeed be quite useful.

What kind of society and what kinds of media?

Marx was right when he observed that the ideas of an age are the ideas of its ruling class, but there is a big difference between how these ideas were produced and disseminated in his day (the pulpit was at least as important as the press) and in a contemporary, developed imperialist society, where social life is saturated by vast quantities of words and images conveyed by the mass media. We need to be able to explain the mechanisms by which the dominant ideas are produced and disseminated in contemporary society, and what the strengths and limits of those ideas are.

There are some aspects of communication that are very widespread in human societies: Marx saw language as one universal characteristic that enabled human beings to identify and differentiate themselves from other species. The mass media, on the other hand, are relatively recent phenomena, and have historically been very closely linked to capitalism and the development of the state system. The way that they produce and embody the dominant ideas of the age is a function of the kinds of social organisations that they are, and of the society within which they operate. As capitalism has developed and changed, so too have the media.

Very large claims have been made for the impact of the printing press: that it was responsible for the Reformation; that it transformed human psychology; that it was the key mechanism in the construction of a sense of national identity. [1] We do not have space to follow them in detail here, but it is clear that the development of printing, let alone the newspapers that depend upon it, is closely intertwined with the evolution of capitalism. A similar, and much more familiar, case can be made out for the development of the cinema, of radio and television, and of the internet. All of these are technologies that have been shaped by the nature of capitalism, and all of them have been used for forms of communication that are deeply marked by the kind of society in which they developed. As Raymond Williams remarked, even the very concept of ‘mass’ media carries with it very strong ideological connotations:

The conception of persons as masses springs not from an inability to know them, but from an interpretation of them according to a formula ... One formula can be that of the rational being speaking our language. It can be that of the interested being sharing our common experience. Or – and it is here that ‘masses’ will operate-it can be that of the mob: gullible, fickle, herd-like, low in taste and habit ... [If] our purpose is manipulation – the persuasion of a large number of people to act, feel, think, know, in certain ways – the convenient formula will be that of the masses. [2]

The ways in which these technologies are employed, and the kinds of symbolic material that they are used to distribute, are always deeply marked by the social relations in which they are embedded. There is nothing inherent in the nature of the printing press, or even in radio technology, that ties it indissolubly to minority rule, although in a capitalist society that is undoubtedly its predominant use. The needs of capitalist society are the forces that have turned the printing press, and after it the various uses of the radio spectrum and telecommunications technology, into instruments of propaganda and domination. What we have to say about the mass media only applies to the conditions prevailing in an advanced capitalist society in which market forces have penetrated more or less every field of human activity.

The nature and content of the media in such a society is likely to be markedly different to those of different epochs. Notably, discussions about freedom of the press, and the virtues of the First Amendment, have a different status today than when Benjamin Franklin personally owned, wrote, edited, printed and distributed The Universal Instructor in All Arts and Sciences and Pennsylvania Gazette. [3] While both his publication and today’s New York Times may be called ‘newspapers’, they are in reality radically different in form and content and each can only be understood with reference to its own historical context. There is almost a world of difference between the small capitalist who makes a business out of producing and circulating a publication among an audience predominantly made up other merchants, artisans and tradesmen, and the huge capitalist corporation that hires an army of journalists and print workers to produce a newspaper that sells to thousands of wage workers.

Broadcasting is a slightly different case: it was born in the imperialist epoch, and has always been predominantly conducted by large-scale organisations closely allied either to big capital or the state. [4] Reith’s famous defence of the BBC’s role in the 1926 General Strike could have been written yesterday, or be written tomorrow: ‘Since the BBC was a national institution, and since the government in this crisis were acting for the people ... the BBC was for the government in this crisis too.’ [5] There remain, however, important differences in the ways in which broadcasting is constructed, depending upon how it is related to capitalism and the state. For example, in Franco’s Spain television was a powerful instrument of the domination of Castilian speakers, but since the 1980s it has developed, notably in Catalonia and the Basque country, as an important site of bourgeois nationalist cultural life.

Media in a bourgeois democracy

One central consideration for any account of how the media works is the political order in the society under discussion. If the media of the 20th century are overwhelmingly the media of monopoly capitalism, they have operated in very different political environments. There are considerable differences between the way in which the mass media operate in a state capitalist society, a fascist society, a classical military dictatorship, and a bourgeois democracy. While it may be true that, in the end, in all of these examples the media are concerned with justifying the existing order, the ways in which they do so vary widely. In this article, we are concerned with the ways in which the mass media work in established and relatively stable bourgeois democracies.

It is a characteristic of capitalist society that the ruling class is divided among itself. One of the essential features of capitalism as a system is that the capitalists compete with each other – otherwise the system would lose its undoubted dynamism. While all capitalists have common interests, like keeping wages down and having the unrestricted right to manage, different capitalists have divergent individual interests – arms manufacturers want to make sure there is maximum expenditure on weapons, while educational publishers want maximum expenditure on school books. More generally, different sections of capital have different visions of the future of capitalism, which correspond to their different markets and the different productive techniques upon which they depend. [6] Debates and disputes between different capitalists and different sections of capital are a central and irremovable aspect of capitalist society. Even in the extreme case of state capitalism, where the interests of individual sections of capital are ruthlessly subordinated to the collective interests of the bureaucracy, there remain arguments about the exact policies to be pursued, which classically would be settled by a bloody purge. [7] In a bourgeois democracy, on the other hand, these differences are open and public, and form a great deal of the agenda of legitimate political life. Bourgeois parties, like the Republicans and Democrats in the US, are formed around these differences between sections of capital.

Newspapers and other media can in such circumstances adopt a wide range of positions, while remaining entirely within the framework of capitalism. Sometimes newspapers are directly linked to particular groups of capitalists, or to the political party they are held to favour, and carry material directly promoting their view of the situation. A good example of this phenomenon is the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra, which is owned by the Agnelli family, whose other holdings include Fiat. [8] In other cases the links are more informal, as with The Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail and the Conservative Party in Britain, or El País and the Socialist Party in Spain. Sometimes, newspapers are primarily commercial operations without formal political connections, and for which political coverage is a minor concern compared with the real estate advertisements and sports coverage. In this latter case, which is commonplace in the US, newspapers may represent the full range of capitalist opinion, all the way from Republican to Democrat, within their pages. Explaining why capitalist media adopt different positions in a bourgeois democracy is thus hardly difficult – the capitalist class is not united. The newspapers and other media reflect these differences and promote the interests of one group or another. Marxists would expect to find a diversity of views among the capitalist media, not uniformity.

Capitalist owners with a proletarian audience

The audience for the mass media, however, does not consist primarily of capitalists, so any theory of the media has to do more than explain that capitalists argue among themselves, and that the media is one of the places where they wash their dirty linen. Only the most rabid media outlets, or perhaps those that have a private rather than a public mass circulation, actually acknowledge that they are speaking in the interests of one small section of the capitalist class, or even of the capitalist class as a whole. Despite being the property of capitalists in particular, the content of the media addresses issues that are matters of concern for capitalism in general. A good example is the threatened war in Iraq. This is undoubtedly in the direct interests of sections of capital – arms manufacturers, oil companies, building firms with an eye on reconstruction contracts, and a host of other bourgeois vultures see easy profits to be made from a military conflict. Other capitalists have no direct interest in the conflict, or perhaps stand to lose out if state spending is directed away from the commodities they produce – more guns usually does mean less butter. This, however, is not the overt substance of the debate about war in mass media. On the surface at least, what the papers and broadcast media discuss are foreign policy, the national interest, the moral issues at stake, etc. The debate is framed in terms of the needs of society as a whole. What is more, the way in which they handle debates is different from one outlet to another, and some of them at least are prepared to give space to views that lie outside of anything that can be said to be in the interests either of capitalism as a whole or of individual capitalists.

In order to understand these factors we have to look in more detail at the ways in which different media operate. All the media we are considering are large-scale enterprises that are locked into the central structures of capitalism and its state, but there are important differences in their structure. Some media are dependent directly upon the market while others, mostly in broadcasting, are funded by indirect means like taxation. Again, while some media are owned by individual capitalists, others are owned by public corporations, and some, again mostly in broadcasting, are ultimately owned by the state. The structures of markets vary – some media operate in what are effectively monopoly circumstances, while others face very sharp competition.

In most developed countries today, newspapers operate as pretty straightforward capitalist enterprises. The workings of the market are restricted in a number of ways, notably by subsidies, which are more widespread than is sometimes acknowledged – the British newspaper press enjoys exemption from the 17.5 percent VAT levied on most commodities, for example. [9] Broadcasting, and television in particular, is often organised rather differently. The example of the BBC in the UK, which depends overwhelmingly on a tax for its revenues, and which is (indirectly) owned by the state, is the obvious example. Ensuring the conditions for the continuation of the ‘subsidy’ from the state is the central economic reality governing the organisation. These different media have different kinds of dynamics, and these differences are reflected in the ways in which they operate. They therefore need to be treated, in important respects, rather differently.

What they all have in common, however, is that they depend on reaching a wide audience, and in a capitalist society that means that, apart from a tiny number of very highly priced newsletters, they are obliged to address people who are not capitalists. This is true even of media like the Financial Times and The Economist, which are read by a much wider layer of people than those who are actually owners of capital. Most media that attempt to reach a mass audience are obliged to address a working class audience, because that is the largest class in a developed capitalist society. Unless they reach this audience they will fail as businesses. This is a very powerful reason why the mass media cannot simply reproduce the capitalists’ own view of the world. At the very least, they have to present the capitalists’ view of the world in a form that will be palatable to people whose entire life is spent in conditions of exploitation and oppression that are the direct result of capitalism. This is quite a trick, but the media have had more than a century of practice. One of the things that obviously help in this is if one acknowledges and confronts the problems and worries that the audience faces. Allowing a certain amount of room to expressions of discontent or dissent thus makes good economic sense.

The economics of competitive media

The fact that the mass media are primarily big businesses gives them many features in common with other large enterprises. This sector is marked by a strong tendency towards concentration of ownership. [10] This is sometimes restricted by government legislation, but to the extent that the logic of capitalism is allowed to proceed it takes place, if anything, more rapidly in the media than it does elsewhere, since the same factors operate at least as powerfully in this branch of production as in any other. If you are producing newspapers it makes good capitalist economic sense to own as many newspapers as possible. You will be buying paper and ink, and all of the other commodities that you need, in large quantities, and thus you will be able to negotiate bulk discounts that are not available to your smaller competitors. If you are producing a television programme, it makes good capitalist economic sense to show the same thing to as many people as possible, so it makes sense to own as many stations as possible. If you are producing a cartoon film aimed at children, it makes good capitalist economic sense to use the characters you have spent so much on creating as the basis for toys, T-shirts, computer games, drinks, follow-on videos, rides in theme parks, and all manner of other merchandise. None of these processes is a mystery – they are usually called vertical and horizontal integration, and they are the commonplace of the economics of capitalism. Their overall effect is a very strong tendency towards the concentration and centralisation of capital – one capital kills many with even more enthusiasm in the media industry than it does generally.

There are, however, several important aspects of the media business that set it aside from many other branches of industry. The first is that many of the media operate in two markets at the same time. One market is pretty obvious and straightforward – we pay directly for many of the media we consume. When we buy a newspaper, or pay a subscription to Sky, we purchase a commodity in exactly the same way as when we buy a packet of cigarettes or chocolate bar in the newsagent’s.

A newspaper is different in a very important respect from the other things you find in the same shop. If you buy a Bounty and eat it, no one else can eat it – consumption destroys the use value of the commodity. If you buy a newspaper and read it, someone else in your household can read it after you without any problem at all – consumption does not affect the use value of the commodity, or at least not to anything like the same extent. Even more oddly, if you are watching the TV news, it does not matter directly to you whether anyone else is watching it, and it costs the TV company just as much to produce and broadcast the news whether you watch it or not. But in order to produce any newspaper or news programme, it is necessary to make a very substantial investment. In both cases, you need journalists and editors and other technical personnel, together with their equipment, in order simply to gather and produce the ‘news’. In the case of a newspaper, you need paper, ink, presses, highly skilled print workers, lorries and vans, and an efficient distribution staff. You need all of these things just to print and sell one copy of the paper. In the case of television, you need studios, cameras, editing suites, a myriad of technical and creative staff, telecommunications links, transponders and all the technical staff just to get your programme on the air, no matter how large the audience is. In other words, you have to make a huge investment in capital and labour which remains constant irrespective of the size of the audience. What are sometimes called the ‘first copy costs’ are high in all of the mass media.

The cost of acquiring an additional reader or viewer, however, is very small indeed. The same news has to be gathered to sell 100 or 1 million copies. To produce the second and each subsequent copy of a newspaper, you need a tiny bit more paper and ink and human labour. [11] To reach additional viewers you need to have a network of transmitters and to use slightly more power, and a few more technical staff. The marginal cost of producing an additional copy of a newspaper, or providing a signal to another viewer, is very low. It therefore makes sense to design a product that sells as widely as possible, and if this was all there was to the business then things would be very simple indeed.

There is, however, a second market operating that has a different dynamic. In developed capitalist economies, one of the main ways that media raise revenue is through the sale of advertising space, or to put it another way, they sell the audience to the advertisers. When we watch Big Brother or Coronation Street, we are part of a mass audience that the TV companies involved sell to Procter & Gamble, or whoever. For many of the media – most local newspapers, UK national quality papers, free to air commercial TV – the second source of revenue is very much more important than the first. [12] The consequences of operating in this ‘dual product market’, although not unique to the mass media, have very important consequences for the sorts of things that get produced. Depending upon the market for which a product is designed, it will have very distinctive characteristics. In some cases, the desire to raise advertising revenue simply complements the audience maximising, logic of subscription revenue. In others, however, it operates directly contrary to it.

The most obvious example of the way in which the pursuit of advertising revenue influences the nature of the media is the UK national daily press market. [13] This is divided into three sectors that are clearly distinct in terms of their news values, their physical size, their visual appeal, and so on. The broadsheet newspapers are clearly differentiated from the tabloids, and there is a clear difference, albeit a rather smaller one, between the mid-market tabloids and the red top tabloids. These differences can easily be explained in terms of the economics of the press. First of all, this is a saturated market, which has been declining overall, admittedly rather slowly, for around the last 50 years. It is also one that is dominated by a small number of large companies, led by News International, which has more than 30 percent of national daily newspaper circulation. This is the sort of market that experiences what is known as ‘oligopolistic competition’, which characteristically takes the form of product differentiation rather than outright price cutting. [14]

In these conditions, it is not always the case that a company that owns a newspaper wants to maximise its audience. Whatever it may say in the US Constitution, so far as advertisers are concerned all men are very definitely not created equal. Some advertisers – supermarkets or the manufacturers of soap powder for example – are indeed interested in reaching the largest possible audience, and they will tend to advertise in media that provide the maximum reach-television and the popular press for example. Even the unemployed need to eat and wash their clothes, so they form a potential market for the advertised products. Other advertisers, those producing luxury cars, for example, are interested in reaching the relatively small number of people who are rich enough to buy their products. They have little or no interest in reaching the unemployed, who certainly can’t afford a brand new Mercedes.

The companies that own newspapers target different kinds of readers in order to sell their attention to different advertisers. The Guardian historically has a large audience among highly educated state employees like teachers and social workers, so their news values and coverage are angled to be attractive to this sort of audience, and they sell masses of job advertising to employers looking to hire people for these jobs. By contrast, The Daily Telegraph has historically had a large audience among privately employed managers, engineers, and so on, their editorial content is angled to keep this readership, and they carry large amounts of job advertising for them. Because The Daily Telegraph’s audience is also on average very much better paid than that of The Guardian, they have more advertising for luxury goods as well. Both of these papers have editorial content designed, not to attract as many readers as possible, but to attract particular kinds of readers. The popular papers, on the other hand, have editorial content designed to attract large numbers of readers, which in practice means working class readers.

The attempt to reach specific kinds of readers and, with the development of multichannel television, viewers, means that media products are highly differentiated according to what is known about the tastes and values of their target audiences. The content of Loaded is aimed at adolescent males, that of Cosmopolitan at rather more sophisticated adolescent and young adult females, and so on. Among the factors that differentiate media products is politics. The owners of different media properties know something about the political tastes and preferences of their target readers, and they produce news and commentary designed to be attractive to them. Owners and editors commission expensive research that tells them exactly what their audience, and perhaps even more importantly their potential audience, think. They are interested in all sorts of things about us, and one of them is our political views. They tailor their coverage of politics in the same way as that of sport, or holidays, or personal finance, in order to attract and hold particular kinds of readers. As Table 1 shows, in most cases newspapers and readers share their political views. There is a market for views that are critical of government policy, and even for views that are critical of capitalism. This is one very powerful reason why it is economically rational for media that are driven by the market to allow space to voices that are themselves very critical of the market. [15]

Table 1:






| 60%

| 40%

| 20%

20% |

40% |

60% |

The Daily Telegraph



Daily Mail



Daily Express



Financial Times



The Times



The Sun



The Herald (Glasgow)



Daily Star



The Scotsman



The Independent



Daily Mirror



The Guardian



Daily Record



[Source: MORI; Base: 11,664 GB adults 18+, April–June 2000]

Monopoly media

The other main situation confronting mass media in a capitalist society is when they have a degree of independence from market competition. This is the case today for the overwhelming majority of the US newspaper industry. There are hardly any cities in the US in which there is genuine competition between two different newspapers. It is also, historically, the position that British broadcasters enjoyed. Although there has been commercial television for nearly 50 years now, up until the mid-1990s the regulatory environment ensured that there was no economic competition. The BBC was funded by a licence fee, and the commercial companies had an effective monopoly on broadcast advertising. They might compete for audiences, but they did not compete for revenue. In neither US newspapers nor British television is competition the central driving reality of the media, as it is in the case of the British national press.

In these circumstances, a different logic prevails. Although it works out differently in newspapers and television, there is a similar interest in gaining a general, as opposed to a niche, audience. A newspaper in a monopoly or near-monopoly position will be interested in attracting the maximum number of wealthy customers, since they are the ones who are most attractive to advertisers. It will thus produce material that is attractive to elite groups within its market. But if this elite group is divided among itself, as it normally is in a capitalist society because of the conflicts built into the system, then it is sensible not to adopt polices that alienate any section of the elite. You want to produce a product that is attractive to as many elite groups as possible and that they feel addresses their concerns and reflects their values. Consequently, it makes sense to produce journalism that allows more or less equal representation to all sections of the elite audience – you quote the Democratic Senator but you also quote the Republican Representative. It is for this reason that the US press is so different from the British, and more generally the European, press. Both are capitalist, but the British press is habitually partisan because it is aimed at a fraction of the total audience, while the US press is impartial (between different groups of capitalists) because it is aimed at the whole of the (capitalist) elite. Where the capitalist class are united, against workers or foreign enemies, however, the monopoly press is just as partisan as its competitive cousin. The monopoly press comes closer to being partisan on behalf of the whole ruling class, while the competitive press is partisan on behalf of one section of the ruling class.

Broadcasting represents a slightly different version of the same situation. Up until the present, the big terrestrial broadcasters are essentially addressing mass audiences, so the room for market segmentation is much smaller. Cutting across this, however, is the fact that broadcasting is everywhere much more tightly under state control (either through ownership or regulation) than newspapers are. [16] This control takes a number of different forms. In the US, the FCC regulates broadcasting to ensure forms of economic competition, but has only a very limited say in content. In Europe, by contrast, control has often meant direct or indirect ownership by the state. This has ensured that political considerations have been much more direct in determining the political alignment of broadcasters than have simple market factors.

There have been three main options adopted by the ruling class. The first is to use the state to make the media the outright tool of government. This was the option favoured by De Gaulle in France, for example, and it continues to have a very considerable appeal to politicians in the former Communist countries. [17] The second is to partition broadcasting between the main political forces in society. Thus, up to the 1990s, the Italian state broadcaster had three TV channels: RAI Uno, controlled by the Christian Democrats; RAI Due, run by the Socialists; and RAI Tre, which was in practice the fiefdom of the Communist Party. The third version, adopted in the UK and a number of other northern European countries, involved finding ways of obliging the broadcaster to reflect all the main currents of opinion within bourgeois politics.

In the former two cases, the broadcasters are partisan and known to be partisan, and these solutions correspond to situations in which the bourgeoisie, although obliged to operate in at least partly democratic conditions, are united in their opposition to a party which they believe, rightly or wrongly, represents a fundamental threat to their class interests. The latter case is more appropriate to a situation in which the capitalist class is much more comfortable about allowing different parties to govern, since it believes, quite rightly, that forces like the Labour Party are no real threat to its interests. The BBC is therefore much more like the monopoly US newspapers – it reflects a variety opinion, but that variety is contained within the narrow consensus of politicians who accept capitalism.

In the case of the BBC, this is a formal requirement written into the agreement with the government that grants it the permission to broadcast. [18] The legal requirement only reflects what is a structural reality of its position. In a bourgeois democracy, it is normal and natural for the main broadcasting institution to reflect the spectrum of bourgeois opinion. To defy the government is to court disaster, but to exclude the main opposition parties is only to store up trouble for the future, when they in turn might be the government, with their hand on the purse strings. The BBC does, obviously and genuinely, attempt to balance between government and opposition – not because Paxman, or whoever, is a nice fair guy who likes to allow both sides a fair hearing, but because to do otherwise is to endanger the whole basis of the organisation. Its guidelines on the war in Afghanistan said:

Enabling the national debate remains a vital task: the concept of impartiality still applies. All views should be reflected in due proportion to mirror the depth and spread of opinion. We must reflect any significant opposition in the UK (and elsewhere) to the military conflict and allow their arguments to be heard and tested. Those who speak and perhaps demonstrate against war are to be reported as part of the national and international reality. [19]

Of course, such a situation is not without problems. The institutional necessity to balance between bourgeois parties is interpreted and implemented by people who sometimes take it much too literally. There is a continual danger that the staff will take talk about balance, fairness and impartiality at face value and try to reflect the real range of opinion. The war in Ireland has been the most outstanding example of this, where there have been a series of well recorded struggles between journalists who thought that balance meant giving republicans a chance to state their case, and those who understood the limits to ‘fairness’. [20]

Overall, then, despite the differences between the situations of the various media in the distinct ways they are owned and the markets in which they operate, it is very much in the interests of their owners, and in the interests of bourgeois politics, for the mass media to reflect a diversity of opinions, even including some that are at least mildly critical of capitalism. When the ruling class is split, as it very often is to a greater or lesser extent, all factions want to make sure that their ideas get a hearing. In the case of those media that are dependent upon the market place, there are powerful forces that make them ready to allow diverse, and even dissident, voices a hearing. In the case of those that are much more directly dependent upon political favour, the norms of bourgeois democracy imply that they permit the main forces proportional hearing.

Who produces the media?

All of this is quite easy to understand, but it begs the question of how it happens. There are a large number of mediations between the simple fact that the mass media are owned by large corporations or the state and the precise ways in which they report and comment on current events. We cannot explain everything through ownership or the operations of the market. In order to get a better grasp of how the content of the media is worked out in practice, we need to look at who actually takes the daily decisions and produces the programmes and material.

Big media necessarily employ hundreds, if not thousands, of people. They are characterised by a high degree of both social and technical division of labour. A national newspaper in the UK will employ a couple of hundred journalists, and hundreds of other people. A big broadcaster will employ thousands – the BBC has around 25,000 staff on the books. Like all other large organisations in a capitalist society, the media are characterised by hierarchy. Those at the top decide policy and give orders, while those further down are supposed to carry out what has been decided by their bosses. If they have any worries or doubts about exactly what they should do, they are expected, in a phrase beloved of BBC policy documents, to ‘refer up’ for a decision.

Although power ultimately lies with the owners, for day to day running of such large organisations they habitually employ salaried managers, who have a great deal of operational power, provided they produce the audiences and the profits for which they are hired. These senior managers, and their immediate subordinates, are very closely tied to the capitalist class, and they may well have some access to capital themselves. On the other hand, there are those employed by the organisation who are undoubtedly proletarian in the most direct and obvious sense. Print workers in newspapers, for example, or set builders in television companies, are without question manual proletarians of the kind that would have been immediately recognisable to Karl Marx himself. Between the two extremes, there are any number of different groups and individuals who have a wide range of relationships to the means of production.

One obvious example of the contradictory way in which people fit into property relations is the ‘independent producer’ working for one of the main broadcasters. There are big independent production companies, like Endemol or Hat Trick, which are properly capitalist enterprises in their own right. On the other hand, there are large numbers of people who have a tiny production company of their own, which is often little more than letterheaded notepaper, and who scrabble around to get a contract to produce the occasional programme. If they get a commission, then they will hire other people to work on it, sometimes as workers and sometimes as subcontractors. If they don’t get a commission, they will make a living by working on other people’s commissions, or perhaps outside of the industry altogether. Sometimes these people are small capitalists, sometimes they are independent artisans, and sometimes they are wage workers.

There are similar complexities within groups that appear to be all doing the same sort of thing. Journalists are a good example. The vast majority of journalists, certainly those working on local papers and on most magazines, are rather poorly paid wage workers. At best, their status and income is about the same as schoolteachers, and we would regard them as white collar workers. On the other hand, journalists on national daily newspapers (i.e. what is still known as ‘Fleet Street’) are very much better paid – at the very least, their income is considerably greater than that of a Professor of Media Studies. But even these elite journalists are divided between those journalists undertaking routine tasks whose pace and content is determined by others – notably the ‘subs’ who actually produce the paper but also many of the more junior writers – and the senior staff, including particularly the most prominent writers, who will be very much better paid, have many other opportunities for earning more through various kinds of freelance employment, and who play a significant role in determining the editorial line of a newspaper.

Media organisations thus contain within them diverging interests and the potential of serious class conflict both over pay and conditions and over much wider issues such as editorial content. In extreme cases, notably social revolutions, the class differences inside media organisations come to the fore. During the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, for example, some of the bitterest struggles were over the editorial direction of newspapers and broadcast media, where the senior staff were lined up with the counter-revolution while the majority of the production staff supported the left. In more or less stable bourgeois democracies, however, the hierarchy is a powerful mechanism of control. In particular, the possibility of very substantial financial rewards for those who are professionally successful acts as a strong incentive on journalists and other creative staff to toe the management line.

A good example of this was the role of journalists in the struggles over the introduction of new technology into the British newspaper industry in the 1980s. This involved a series of extremely bitter confrontations between managers and print workers, whose strong union organisations the bosses were determined to break. In dispute after dispute, the management were able to bribe or intimidate the journalists to line up with them against the print workers. While senior journalists wrote paeans of praise to the new technology, which by breaking the power of the print unions would allow hundreds of new newspapers to flourish, ordinary journalists, notably on the News International titles, refused to follow the lead of their own union, caved in to management threats and took management bribes, and worked to produce scab newspapers. Of course, it did them little good. Once the management had broken the print workers, they turned on the journalists and inflicted serious defeats upon them, from which they are only just starting to recover.

From the point of view of determining the editorial line of a newspaper, the content of a news bulletin, or the overall strategies of a television station, matters are rather more complex than they were in the days before the division of labour. Of course it is true that owners exert a fundamental influence on the direction of their media – they can do what they like with their personal property. Some owners clearly use this power on a day to day basis. Murdoch, who intervenes regularly in the editorial direction of The Sun, is probably the best known contemporary example of this type. Others are more relaxed, particularly in the US. But the views of owners are not formed in a vacuum. These people mix regularly with other capitalists and their higher servants, at business conferences, social events and in their personal lives. They partly help to form the common sense of the capitalist class, and partly come to reflect it. Their formal and informal contacts and discussions help them define what issues are important and what should be ignored as much as possible. So the line of a newspaper is not usually the simple reflection of the eccentric views of an individual. To the extent that a proprietor determines the editorial line of a newspaper or TV station, he or she is speaking as a member of a class as well as an individual. Of course, there have historically been many cases where owners have been barking mad and their articulation of the interests of their class has been eccentric in the extreme. Maxwell is a well known recent case, but the Canadian/British press baron Lord Beaverbrook, who owned the Daily Express in the days when it was the largest-selling British newspaper, was also a case in point. He often launched campaigns, including ones designed to increase his own personal influence, which were extremely odd and often failed to achieve anything much at all. The point to remember, however, is that there was a connecting thread of extremely robust imperialism running through everything Beaverbrook did. He may have sounded mad, but his guiding idea was one that was common to the vast majority of the capitalist class-he stood for the British Empire, and so did they. [21] The fact that capitalists are social beings and thus do not form their views in a vacuum applies even more strongly to those large media organisations that are not owned by a single individual or family. The Daily Mirror is a good example. It is owned by a publicly traded corporation, Trinity Mirror, that is not the personal property of its chairman, Sir Victor Blank, nor of chief executive Sly Bailey. [22]

Even the most determined proprietor, whether individual or corporate, has to operate through other people. Sly Bailey does not edit the Daily Mirror – she relies on a handpicked editor, Piers Morgan, to do that job. (Editors, incidentally, usually fervently deny any proprietorial influence so long as they are in post, only to spill the beans in a pretty dramatic fashion once they have been fired.) The owners of media corporations do not necessarily agree with every last decision taken by the people they appoint to produce the content of their outlets. Indeed, they can sometimes be very critical of such decisions. A notable recent case was when Michael Green, the chairman of the TV company Carlton, expressed outrage at the John Pilger documentary on Palestine. It has never been a secret that Green is a supporter of Israel, nor that Pilger is a supporter of the Palestinians. Green, however, does not demand of his senior staff that they only produce programmes of which he personally approves. Even in his rage, he knows that the important issue is not his personal politics but the need to win an audience, and that his employees are better qualified to make judgements about this than he is.

Editors are not usually members of the capitalist class, merely its very highly paid servants. But they, too, do not form their views as individuals but as social beings, who meet regularly, both formally and informally, with real live capitalists, not to mention senior civil servants, lawyers and judges, military officers, politicians and other very senior journalists. They are less likely to display signs of incipient lunacy or criminality, as proprietors often do, since they can be disposed of very simply by firing them if they show any signs of deviance. They are much more likely than proprietors to give a faithful rendering of the views of the circles they move in, and they often move between different roles in the upper reaches of the governing elite. William Rees Mogg was a good example of this: not only did he edit The Times (in which capacity he published an editorial welcoming the Pinochet coup in Chile) but sat on a vast range of public bodies, including a stint as the Deputy Chair of the Board of Governors of the BBC.

The same is true of the senior journalists who produce the key opinion-forming pieces and who set the ‘common sense’ of the newspaper. They all have very close contacts with the people who run the country – these people after all are the sources of much of their material. Confident journalists working for elite outlets will often brag of this in their work. If one listens to Andrew Marr, BBC Political Editor and identikit respectable senior journo, one will hear him constantly refer to what ‘senior ministers’ have told him. So too Philip Stephens, political columnist for the Financial Times, editor of its UK edition, and Blairite lackey, whose writing is full of explicit references to his close and frequent relations with the people who run the country. While the rhetorical conventions of popular newspaper journalism forbid that sort of boasting, the fact is that the political editors of newspapers like The Sun and the Daily Mail will normally enjoy just as good relations with the political elite as those of the posh papers, and sometimes even better. The same is true for other prominent journalists – it is a condition for them doing their jobs well that they spend as much time hobnobbing with the people who run their neck of the woods as they possibly can, since that is one of the best and easiest ways for them to get the sort of material that can be used to produce a story.

For their part, politicians and officials are keen to court editors and senior journalists because they see them as important in presenting and interpreting their policies to a wide audience. One good recent example of this was that, on the day she was appointed, the new editor of The Sun, Rebekah Wade, was rung up, in succession, by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Blunkett, each of them keen to establish good relations with this powerful figure. As Tim Burt put it in the Financial Times, ‘The speedy reaction of the prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer and home secretary reflects how much the Labour Party has come to depend on the mass-market tabloid.’ [23]

One of the major advantages of such good relations is that it gives one the chance to present information selectively. An example of this process was the notorious ‘security correspondent’ Chapman Pincher, who worked for the Daily Express a few years ago. He was used so frequently as a contact for the spies to leak to that the Marxist historian Edward Thompson wrote memorably that ‘the columns of the Express may be seen as a kind of official urinal in which, side by side, high officials of MI5 and MI6 ... and others, stand patiently leaking in the public interest’. [24]

More substantially, this close relationship between journalists and their sources forms the basis for what is today trivialised as ‘spinning’. There exists today, in both the public and the private sector, a large-scale industry, public relations, whose main job is presenting information to the mass media in a manner designed to optimise the coverage of the organisation employing the spinner. Very often, this takes a crude and obvious form. All public relations officers have a scrapbook in which they paste their press releases on one page and, facing them, the article that finally appeared in a newspaper. These books are worth looking at: you will invariably find many printed news stories that appeared in legitimate newspapers, and which reproduce, word for word, the exact material in the press release, and almost always you can find a substantial part of the published article that is just a straight copy. If a student tried that sort of thing, they would be failed for plagiarism, but it is a normal and understood part of journalism.

The editors and senior journalists are the crucial group in understanding how the mass media relate to the capitalist order. They mix frequently with actual capitalists and their other higher servants, and they are rewarded in the same sort of way. Indeed, very often they are themselves the sons and daughters of the ruling class and its higher servants, with the standard badges of rank acquired at private schools and elite universities. They are therefore very well positioned to act as sounding boards for the capitalist class as a whole, since they share many of its ideas and beliefs. They are by profession a section of the organic intellectuals of the ruling class. They are supposed to take the half-articulated needs and desires of the ruling class and its political associates and translate it into a form that can be published to society.

But their position is a contradictory one. They work for commercial undertakings that are interested in reaching an audience. This audience, however, is very far from being homogeneous. While the vast majority of it is, of necessity, working class, a significant proportion is not, being either capitalists or petty bourgeois. As we saw, not all of this audience is of equal interest to newspapers or other media because they depend in large part on advertising to make their money. The ways in which they articulate the views of the ruling class are thus shaped to fit the particular audiences they are addressing. If the research they so expensively commission tells them that a significant section of their readership has views that are critical of the existing order, then they are obliged to engage with those views. The capitalist media certainly put forward various views held within the ruling class, but they put them forward in such a way as to try to persuade (‘seduce’ is the fashionable term) their intended audience.

What do the audience make of all this?

There are two contradictory views of the influence of the capitalist media. One is expressed in the common saying ‘You can’t always believe what you read in the papers’. This view articulates a healthy popular scepticism of official discourses and a readiness to interpret the media according to the experiences of the audience. This view is the agreed orthodoxy of academic media studies, in both its positivist and critical variants. The other view was expressed in the famous headline after the 1992 general election It’s The Sun Wot Won It. According to this interpretation, the audience are indeed influenced by the content of the media, and that therefore anyone who seeks political office needs to be on the right side of them. This view, of course, is the accepted orthodoxy of all bourgeois politicians, and most notoriously of New Labour.

Both views rest on a partial truth. There is a mass of evidence that bears out common sense. People form their views of the world in complex ways. The mass media is one source of information and opinion, but there are many others including family, workmates, educational background, reading, and personal history. In particular, the media have to compete with personal experience. When the media are more or less the only source of information about some event or issue, then they have a much better chance of defining the way that people think than when they are addressing something about which people have other sources of information, most notably personal experience. A classic example of this was during the Great Miners’ Strike of the 1980s, when the ruling class were united in their desire to defeat the strike and the media overwhelmingly attacked the miners. [25] Studies of public opinion, for example about the role of the police, showed that there was a very sharp division in the country. People who lived in mining areas, which were more or less under paramilitary occupation by the police for nearly 12 months, tended to view the miners as victims of an assault by the state. People living outside mining areas tended to see the miners as aggressive and violent, and likely to attack the police. The difference in attitude, of course, was the result of the fact that the propaganda war was effective where people had no direct experience of the realities of the strike, but was completely ineffective when they did.


It is hardly surprising that the mass media in a bourgeois democracy reflect a variety of different viewpoints. In doing so, they reflect the diversity of opinion within the capitalist class, and they shape their contents to meet what they think are the needs and interests of their target audiences. When the capitalist class is divided, as it usually is about inessential matters, the media will reflect those divisions. When it is united, for example against a major strike, then the media will tend to speak with one voice. The media are able to reflect these differences so directly and subtly because the people who take decisions about what to print or broadcast are socially quite closely integrated with the ruling class and its upper servants. The media, however, are primarily businesses, so in the majority of cases they do not present the views of the capitalist class for capitalists but for their mass audience, which normally contains a very substantial number of wage workers. [26]

In order to do this, however, the media employ hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are neither capitalists nor closely tied to the capitalist class. Just like any other group of workers, the print workers, camera operators, journalists and producers who make the media have a variety of views, ranging from enthusiastic acceptance of capitalism through to outright rejection of the whole system. In ‘normal times’, when the rule of the bourgeoisie is unchallenged, these personal views are not of central concern to the owners of the media. No doubt they prefer their employees to love them, but the hierarchical division of labour means that workers either follow orders or are fired.

In abnormal times, when the ruling class is challenged, things are very different. It is a characteristic of revolutionary crises that the ruling class, while desperate to remain in control, is deeply divided among itself over how to go forward. At the same time, their control over newspapers and broadcasting outlets is challenged from below in just the same way as it is in other factories and offices. At that point, the fact that it is wage workers who produce the media becomes of central importance.


1. See, respectively: E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge 1979); W. Ong, Orality and Literacy (London 1988), and much more dubiously (not to mention famously) M. McLuhan The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (London 1962); B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins of Nationalism (London 1983).

2. R. Williams, Culture and Society 1780–1950 (London 1963), pp. 292–293.

3. On the social context of the newspaper press in the revolutionary period in America, see M. Schudson, The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life (Cambridge, Mass. 1998), pp. 32–40. The changed circumstances were noted by Chief Justice Berger in the US Supreme Court ruling in Miami Herald Publishing Co v. Tornillo (1974). He wrote, ‘Access advocates submit that although newspapers of the present are superficially similar to those of 1791, the press of today is in reality very different from that known in the early years of our national existence ... The result of these vast changes has been to place in a few hands the power to inform the American people and shape public opinion ... The First Amendment interest of the public in being informed is said to be in peril because the “marketplace of ideas” is today a monopoly controlled by the owners of the market.’ Despite recognising the truth of these claims, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment was an absolute guarantee of ‘editorial control and judgement’. See T. Eastland (ed.), Freedom of Expression in the Supreme Court: The Defining Cases (Lanham 2000). Tornillo was a teachers’ union leader who was running for state office in Florida. He used a state law to try to gain the right of reply when The Miami Herald printed an attack on him. It was this law that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.

4. Radio communication was, of course, originally a form of point to point communication, not only professionally but also among the public. Even after the development of the ‘broadcaster/receiver’ model, there were attempts to ensure that the listeners still played an active role. One of Brecht’s many experiments was a radio play, Lindbergh’s Flight, in which the audience for the broadcast were provided with a script and lines that they were supposed to speak at the appropriate moment in order to ‘realise’ the drama. How well this worked is not recorded. The potential of the internet to establish much more two-way (‘dialogic’) communication is at the root of much of the utopian enthusiasm for this technology.

5. Cited in P. Scannell and D. Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting: Volume One 1922–1939 (Oxford 1991), p. 33.

6. The German Marxist Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who for complex reasons found himself a trusted bourgeois journalist in the years during which the Nazis rose to power, detailed a particularly dramatic example of differences between bourgeois forces: ‘Most of Siemen’s workforce was organised in the Free Trade Unions and the management boasted a good relationship with them ... Here the Nazis’ efforts to introduce their special union were repudiated from the very beginning. The management would have nothing to do with them. It saw in them a harmful element of disturbance ... And it acted in agreement with the workers’ union representatives to try to prevent them from entering the works. This was successful until 1935.’ A. Sohn-Rethel, Economy and Class Structure of German Fascism (London 1978), p. 42.

7. And even here, the media often reflect different sections of the bureaucracy, for example on a regional basis. There was (perhaps there still is, in a small way) a quasi-academic industry sponsored by Cold War governments, devoted to content analysis of different periodicals in order to try to discover what the arguments were inside the various Politburos of state capitalist regimes.

8. They also own La Stampa. Such newspapers were a commonplace of the newspaper press in 19th century Britain, but from very early on money making was recognised as the prime motive for publication. By the end of the century, it was very difficult to run a major newspaper as primarily a political enterprise. The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie tried very hard in the 1880s to establish a press that would promote his own political views but experience taught him that ‘success bred power, and that commercial rather than political considerations were fundamental to the success of a newspaper’ (A. Lee, The Origins of the Popular Press 1855–1914 (London 1976), p. 169). The major historian of the political press in Britain, Stephen Koss, dated the final collapse of the such papers as the immediate post-1945 period (S. Koss, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain (London 1990), pp. 1095ff.).

9. Elsewhere, and notably in the Nordic countries, the subsidy system is more selective. In the Swedish case, for example, there has since the 1970s been in place a system designed to support weaker newspapers and to promote diversity of ownership. Its early history, and the economic rationale behind its adoption, can be found in K.E. Gustafsson and S. Hadenius, Swedish Press Policy (Stockholm 1976).

10. For details of the UK case, see G. Williams, Britain’s Media: How They Are Related (London 1996). For the US case, see B. Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly, 4th edn. (Boston 1992). The successive editions of Bagdikian’s book have charted the slowly growing concentration of capital in the US media industry. It has, of course, accelerated dramatically in the ten years since the publication of the most recent edition.

11. This is not the whole story. There are plateaux of investment in plant and machinery, during which the marginal cost of additional production is very low, but once circulation reaches the limits of existing equipment there is a sharp leap in costs in order to expand further. This consideration has important technical effects on the circulation patterns of newspapers.

12. Advertising revenue is estimated to account for about 80 percent of the revenue of the local press in the US and the UK. In the case of commercial broadcasting, of course, it is very nearly 100 percent.

13. I have written ad nauseam about this elsewhere. The easiest place to start is in The Press, in J. Stokes and A. Reading (eds.), The Media in Britain: Current Debates and Developments (Basingstoke, 1999), pp. 41–60.

14. Although this did occur in the 1990s, in a period of excess capacity. See C. Sparks, Are Newspapers Price-Inelastic? Lessons of The UK Price War, in R. Picard (ed.), Evolving Media Markets: Effects of Economic and Policy Changes (Turku 1998), pp. 212–238.

15. The importance of politics in determining choices between media is not as great as people may think. For much of the 1980s, polls showed that many readers of The Sun, then in its rabid Thatcherite phase, believed it to support the Labour Party. The reason for this kind of anomaly is that politics is not very prominent in tabloid newspapers, and readers in general do not rate political news very highly in their reasons for reading a newspaper: ‘A 1996 MORI study for the City University Graduate School of Journalism asked a representative sample of the British public what they thought they were “very interested” in reading in the national daily newspapers. Overall, the category (from a list of 59) selected by most respondents was “TV and radio listings” (42 percent). However, there were very distinct gender differences – the single most popular category among men was football reporting (50 percent of men but only 12 percent of women), while women were more likely to be interested in medical/health news, food and recipes and the letters page. But reporting of parliamentary news, analysis of current affairs and (sadly) opinion polls scored poorly with both men and women.’ See R. Mortimore, S. Atkinson and G. Skinner, What the Papers Say: Do Readers Believe What the Papers Say: Do Readers Believe What the Editors Want Them To?, MORI Political Research Unit, EPOP Conference, University of Edinburgh 8–10 September 2000, pp. 3–4.

16. The only time there has ever really been a free market in television in an advanced bourgeois democracy was in Italy, where in 1976 the Constitutional Court ruled that the broadcasting monopoly held by RAI, the state broadcaster, was against the constitution. This led to an extraordinary proliferation of television stations and the most intense competition between stations catering for every kind of taste. However, in an experimental proof of the fact that competition leads to monopoly, Italian television was, within 20 years, effectively dominated by one company: the Fininvest of Silvio Berlusconi. See C. Sartori, The Media in Italy, in T. Weymouth and B. Lamizet (eds.), Markets and Myths: Forces for Change in the European Media (London 1996), pp. 134–172.

17. See R. Kuhn, The Media in France (London 1995).

18. Section 3.2 (c) mandates that the BBC Home Services ‘contain comprehensive, authoritative and impartial coverage of news and current affairs in the United Kingdom and throughout the world to support fair and informed debate at local, regional and national levels’. See The BBC Agreement: Programme Content at [Note by ETOL: This link has not been checked.] There are similar provisions in the law governing the commercial companies.

19. Available at [Note by ETOL: This link has not been checked.]

20. See, among many studies, L. Curtis, Ireland: The Propaganda War (London 1984); D. Miller, Don’t Mention the War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media (London 1994).

21. James Curran, the major social democratic historian of the British press, identifies the period before the Second World War, when Beaverbrook and similar figures reigned, as the time when the archetypal ‘press baron’ flourished. He points out, though, that while these people exercise a great direct influence on every aspect of their papers, they ‘were forced by economic pressures to seek increasingly large circulation’. In the long run, therefore, their political eccentricities were subordinated to the logic of the market. J. Curran and J. Seaton, Power without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain, 3rd edn. (London 1988), p. 53.

22. Details of the company and its activities are available at [Note by ETOL: This link has not been checked.]

23. Tim Burt, A Riches from Rags Story of a Murdoch Cheerleader, Financial Times, 18–19 January 2003.

24. E.P. Thompson, Writing by Candlelight (London 1980), p. 116.

25. In the perception of most miners, the only real exception to this onslaught was Channel 4 News, and some took to attacking every television crew that did not have a Channel 4 sticker on their cameras. The camera operators, who were not fools and who mostly supported the miners, took to plastering their cameras with these stickers irrespective of the company they worked for.

26. Of course, there is an enormous amount of newspaper and television content about which the capitalist class as a class has no concern whatsoever. One somehow doubts whether the outcome of Big Brother was crucial to class rule, or whether the football results directly influence the FTSE 100. The diversionary content of the media is another matter that requires substantial separate consideration.

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