For as long as we can remember, ‘pragmatists’ have insisted:
‘You have to play the media game. You have to work with the corporate press and broadcasters to achieve mass outreach, and hope that you can steer them in a more positive direction.’
The idea is that some arguments and policies just go ‘too far’, guaranteeing ‘mainstream’ rejection and attack, which results in fewer progressive voices being heard, benefiting precisely no-one. Bottom line: ‘You have to play the game.’
An alternative approach argues that analysis rooted in compassion that refuses to compromise in exposing the cruelty of state-corporate power can smoke out the corporate media. Alarmed by what they perceive as a class enemy, as a threatening sign that democratic forces might escape the carefully filtered tweedledum-tweedledee choices, elite media will indeed attack. But in the process of attacking, these media are forced to drop the pretence that they are independent and impartial, or even well-intentioned.
This is crucial because it is the illusion that ‘mainstream’ media are basically fair and benevolent that allows them to sell a fake version of democracy as the real thing. Uncompromised analysis does come at a cost, but it holds up a mirror to the corporate media system in a way that erodes its power to deceive. This is a very different game, one that is very much worth the candle. In fact, we believe it has the power to challenge state-corporate power’s system of ‘managed democracy’ favouring elite interests.
This is exactly what we have witnessed in the last two years with Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power within the Labour Party. For two years, Corbyn’s compassionate, people-centred policies were dismissed as a ‘loony left’ joke, a relic of the past. Corbyn would never be able to persuade the public, not least because his views would never be given a fair hearing by a press that would subject him to relentless attack. He didn’t stand a chance. At time of writing, Corbyn holds an eight-point lead over the Conservatives.
‘Mainstream’ pundits reckoned without the rise of social media.
Simple Advice For A Student Of Broadcast Journalism
A week before the election, a student of journalism tweeted a question to the excellent former BBC journalist and interviewer Afshin Rattansi, now host of RT’s Going Underground:
‘Hey Afshin, love Going Underground on RT, any advice for a broadcast Journalism major? Thanks so much!’
Rattansi replied linking to the 1992 documentary, ‘Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky and the Media’, adding:
‘Simple: Just watch [‘Manufacturing Consent’]… and follow @medialens :)’
As the election loomed, we started receiving many supportive messages of this kind. After we mentioned in a tweet that we had now been tilting at ‘mainstream’ media windmills for 16 years, one corporate journalist wrote to us privately:
‘Can’t believe its 16 years. Makes me feel very old. Time rushes past etc. But all the more credit to you guys for sticking at it.’
Another leading journalist wrote in:
‘I really value being kept honest by you guys.’
Also to our surprise, as the basic shape of the election result became clear on June 9, we began receiving numerous comments from readers on Twitter congratulating, not just Corbyn, but us on our work, as if we had been vindicated by his success. After so many years when we have been smeared as ‘apologising for’ this tyrant and ‘denying’ that mass murder, it felt like our Twitter timeline was positively smiling at us.
The reason is that people of course realised that social media – of which we are only one, minuscule part – had achieved an awesome result. Thousands of us had helped Corbyn hold up the mirror in which the public – huge numbers of them – were able to see the dishonesty, viciousness and blatant bias of a corporate media system that was supposed to hold the ring in a fair democratic contest.
The corporate media system – notably the BBC – is now subject to a level of public scepticism and challenge that we never thought possible when we started Media Lens in 2001. Many people, especially the young, are rejecting news and commentary peddled by a profit-oriented, billionaire-owned, advertiser-dependent, government-interest media system that is very far from ‘mainstream’.
It’s fair to say that something truly extraordinary happened in June: after years of Blairite cynicism, compassion once again attained ‘mainstream’ respectability – Corbyn’s views could no longer be dismissed as the ravings of an idiotic chancer who got lucky but who, of course, lacked a genuine democratic mandate.
Mark ‘Artist Taxi Driver’ McGowan senses that the country has woken up:
‘This General Election has changed the course of history. What this country wants is a fair wage, not poverty wages for working all week. This country wants housing [and] opportunity for all its children. […] This country wants change.’
‘What this country wants is to live in a world of peace, not war. What this country wants is equality. This country wants love and compassion. This country wants a chance. This country believes and trusts in people. Not the media. Not the corporations.’
All along, the salaried ‘pragmatists’ made famous by the corporate media – the Owen Joneses, the George Monbiots and Paul Masons – who naturally urge ‘tactical’ compromise, ‘strategic’ self-censorship and ‘caution’ – turned out to be key opponents of the only strategy able to undermine the corporate media monopoly: stubbornly uncompromising, completely non-violent dissent rooted in compassion for injustice, inequality and suffering that targets even the best corporate media.
The No-Model Business Model
Professionally-minded media activists often worry about ‘funding models’ for media activism. Here, also, ‘pragmatism’ tends to rear its ugly head: How to escape the advertiser-dependent ‘business model’ and yet generate revenue? How to emulate best-practice corporate website design and marketing to achieve a comparable mass audience without comparable funding? How to publish dissent that is effective in challenging, without overly alienating, the ‘mainstream’ in order to retain ‘respectability’ as part of the ‘national conversation’?
Our idea for funding draws inspiration from the way the public spontaneously rallied around Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Heaven knows, it was not slick marketing that persuaded people to give of their time, energy and money to them. The public was drawn to support a couple of people who were obviously sincere about offering a more compassionate politics.
Likewise, the public has immense power to divert resources from corporate media to non-corporate media challenging them. This challenge is no longer a pipe dream; it is very real and already making a big difference. There is no longer any need to pay or otherwise support media corporations selling corporate-owned politics, Perpetual War, unsustainable materialism and climate disaster. All we need to do is support honest, non-corporate media countering this horrifically irresponsible and violent system of disinformation – the public will do the rest.
With our media alerts and social media output on Twitter and Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, YouTube), Media Lens will continue to do what we can in the months and years ahead. But we need your support to do so. We are 100% reliant on crowdfunding from individuals; we have no other source of income and no wealthy funders making large donations. We are, of course, very grateful to all who donate, enabling both of us to work full-time on Media Lens. However, our funds are at their lowest ebb since the early years of our project and we are now appealing for your support.
If you do not already do so, please consider supporting us, ideally by sending regular monthly donations. Options for donating to Media Lens can be found on this page. Please donate only if it is financially comfortable for you to do so – if it is at all difficult, please support us in other ways (by emailing us useful information, challenging journalists, supporting us on Facebook, Twitter, and so on).
If you don’t support us and we eventually run out of funds, we will continue to do what we can in our spare time – there is no question of us stopping for lack of funds. We might stop for other reasons, but as long as we continue to enjoy what we’re doing as much as we do, we will continue doing the best we can.
We do this for the same reason people made Bernie dolls and shared Corbyn’s messages on Facebook – it is a sheer delight to support kindness and sanity against cruelty and greed.
Thank you for all your support.
DE and DC