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Issue #1533      1 February 2012

Culture & Life

Hurrah for a free press!

Were you as surprised as I was by the full page ad that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday January 6? This pretentious page of self-adulation contained few words, but left you gobsmacked none the less.

The short text, printed on a page that was coloured pale blue but was otherwise blank, comprised these memorable sentiments:

  • “IT’S MORE THAN A MISSION” followed by
  • It’s the ingredient that makes us stand out from the crowd.
  • It’s the freedom to do what we’re passionate about.
  • It’s impartiality, it’s fairness.
  • It’s the licence to pursue excellence, above all else.
  • It’s our independence. And we’re proud of it.

At the bottom of the page were the words “Integrity/independence/every day” followed by the name of the paper and its web address.

Now the only people likely to see this ad are people who have already bought a copy of the Herald. Preaching to the converted? Coals to Newcastle?

Or was the ad intended to impress advertisers? Is that really the sort of thing advertisers care about?

The Herald might pride itself on being our local journal of record, but as for “impartiality” and “fairness” one has to say that that is bullshit. The Herald is a capitalist newspaper that unashamedly serves the interests of the ruling class.

The owners of the corporations that control “free enterprise” news media make a big song and dance about their “independence and freedom” being a cornerstone of democracy, but the last thing they want is for the news media to be taken over by the people, no matter how democratic that might be.

No, monopoly control over access to news is in fact a cornerstone of monopoly class rule, and the ruling class has no intention of giving up that control. In fact, maintaining private, for-profit control over the mass media is fundamental to capitalism.

Of course, the ruling class cannot expect much support from the mass of the people for that argument, so they dress it up in high-sounding phrases about “free speech” and the benefits of a “free press”, meaning free of government or community control, not free of corporate control.

To genuinely democratise the mass media in this country would require some severe shaking up. To begin with, the government could establish a national newspaper commission rather like the ABC, to run say The Sydney Morning Herald and its stablemates, while The Telegraph and The Australian could be given to the trade union movement to run.

Since these papers could no longer fund themselves from advertising without compromising their independence from corporate control, they would have to have guaranteed funding from the state.

The nature of bourgeois democracy being what it is, the ruling class knows only too well that our much-vaunted “democracy” under capitalism is anything but democratic. It is a safety valve: by allowing the people to oust one ruling class political party from office and install another, it gives the people the illusion that they are in control of their destiny.

But this is democracy within strictly controlled parameters: in Australia, you can elect either Labor or the Liberals. Occasionally a coalition partner is admitted to vary the mix, but nothing of significance is allowed to change.

In the past, the bourgeoisie has found it expedient to provide the workers with their own political party to support, for those occasions when the policies of mainstream capitalist political parties were just so on the nose that the people would no longer tolerate them. Social democratic or labour parties traditionally fill this bill, parties that pose as workers’ parties but actually support the capitalist system and the rule of the exploiters.

In recent years however, beginning in the USA, the capitalists have realised that they no longer need these bogus workers’ parties: they can get by quite well offering people a “choice” between two overtly bourgeois parties, between two millionaire (or even billionaire) candidates. All it needs is control of the mass media, to put the proper “spin” on the party or candidate.

In the presidential election campaign that has just begun in the United States, millions and millions of dollars are going to be spent just to get nominated, many millions more to get elected. Of course, only the very wealthy can even try to be candidates these days.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney last week released figures showing that his income in 2010 was a cool US$21.7 million, which because of the tough economic climate fell to a mere US$20.9 million in 2011. Mitt and his wife Ann collected most of these millions in capital gains from “a profusion of investments” as well as stock dividends and interest payments.

The majority of Republican voters are industrial workers and hard-hat construction workers (stockbrokers also tend to vote Republican but there are not as many of them). Workers get their income from wages. None of Mitt Romney’s income is from wages.

Obama is already campaigning on a basically right-wing platform, dressed up with some “progressive” rhetoric. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will also campaign on a right-wing platform, perhaps slightly further to the right than Obama and the Democrats (but not much).

Globally, the capitalist world is in deep crisis. What the US government does will affect us all. The global economic crisis has caused a lot of soul-searching among bourgeois forecasters and financiers, and while none are advocating socialism outright, quite a few are flying kites about the possible advantages of “state capitalism”, government controls, regulation, etc. They are looking to socialism to bale them out.

But they want to bale out capitalism by shifting the burden to the backs of the workers, by making ordinary people carry the can the way they did when the big banks got into strife. Now, when the banks are once again staring at humongous bad debts, caused by the conniving of those same banks, they expect the people to pay the debts for them.

It’s time to tell the capitalists: “No more baleouts!” And let’s raise the issue of socialism for real.  

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