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Issue #1773      April 12, 2017

Culture & Life

Hurrah for the free press!

The capitalist media is at great pains always to portray itself as “free”, independent and definitely not a tool of the government. This state of affairs is constantly paraded before us as not only desirable but as an essential prerequisite for the smooth functioning of democracy, good and efficient governance and just about anything else that could be regarded as socially desirable.

It’s a load of baloney, of course. The capitalist mass media is big business, and whether it supports or opposes a specific government it will always support the interests of the capitalist ruling class. Different sectors of the ruling class have varying priorities, however, and this is reflected in the mass media each sector controls. Priorities aside, however, all the capitalist mass media have a fundamental commitment to sustaining capitalist class rule, so they will not support anything that actually threatens the dominance of capital or which might weaken its hold on government.

The effect of this is that, for all their talk of “independence” in the media, in reality capitalism tolerates only a narrow variation of viewpoints in the media, basically ranging from mild right-wing to extreme right-wing. They don’t usually go so far as to ban left wing publications (unless they feel their class rule is actually threatened). Instead, they tolerate them but ensure that they do not have the funds to compete with the capitalist media.

In this way, they are able to puff their chests out about the “freedom” of the media under capitalism, safe in the knowledge that the working class cannot hope to acquire the means to effectively inform, agitate and organise the masses with an alternative message.

The result, of course, is that the “news” is invariably biased: no matter what it is about, it is some form of ruling class presentation. Journalists working for capitalist media soon learn what their editors and owners will accept, and tailor their reporting accordingly. Or they find another job. The result is a uniformity of viewpoint on the “news” regardless of the particular mass media platform.

This uniformity of viewpoint should be an indication to the mass of the people that this source of information is suspect, at least. Instead, capitalism has cleverly turned it into a propaganda virtue: if every news outlet is saying the same thing, it must be true. Right?

Hardly. On March 22, Russia Today published a piece comparing the approach taken by the capitalist media covering the fighting in and around the city of Mosul with the approach those same media took when reporting on the liberation of Aleppo from Daesh/IS. Russia Today was particularly interested in why the Western mainstream media was downplaying the civilian casualties in Mosul, when similar casualties in Aleppo made strident headlines.

British journalist Michael Raddie, co-Editor of BSNews, made the pertinent comment: “In the West, the media have an ideology and it all boils down to worthy victims and unworthy victims. The victims of US bombs and British air-strikes are not worthy, because ‘we don’t do that kind of thing’. Our killing of civilians is ‘a mistake, collateral damage’. The Syrian air force’s killing of civilians – if it happens – even if it is alleged to have happened without evidence – or the Russian air strikes: that is ‘atrocities’. And that is the ideology that Western media portray all the time.

“You only have to look at the coverage of Aleppo. Aleppo was a tale of two cities: for six months, we didn’t hear anything of West Aleppo, we heard about the plight of those in East Aleppo. But we didn’t hear why they were suffering.

“They were suffering not because of Syrian Arab Army or Russian air-strikes. They were suffering because they were held captive by Al-Qaeda effectively – Al-Nusra Front and other armed groups – who were actually firing missiles [and] hell-fire cannon into West Aleppo. West Aleppo civilians were unworthy because the bombs that were being rained down were part of the regime-change program that we’ve instilled in Syria. It is not surprising to me that we have such distortion in the media in coverage of West Aleppo, East Aleppo and Aleppo in general and Mosul.

“Obviously in Mosul, we are not going to hear much about the civilian casualties, we are not going to hear much about their plight. We hear about the fleeing. But we are told that they are fleeing ISIS. But most of them are actually fleeing American air-strikes. They understand what is at stake here …Yes, if they stay they’ll probably fall under the captivity of ISIS, but if they stay they’ll probably be bombed by American B-52s as well, so they understand why they are fleeing.”

Max Abrahms, Professor at North Eastern University in the US added a comment on the attitude of Western media: “There is a selective outreach – not all civilians are equal. The plight of the civilians in Aleppo drew a huge amount of attention in the West. It forced one of the newscasters on CNN to cry and it was just a major news story. However, the plight of civilians elsewhere – in Mosul and Yemen – their plights don’t get nearly as much media attention. And the reason why is because attention is not dictated strictly in terms of the humanitarian basis for concern, but rather there is a politicised component.

“The Aleppo carnage was depicted at length in order to cast Assad and Putin in a negative light. The same is not true in Mosul and Yemen, and that’s why the Western media doesn’t have nearly as much interest.”

The carnage in Yemen is the work of the Saudi air-force, using US-supplied planes and bombs. But unlike the crocodile tears shed by on-the-spot Western correspondents about Aleppo, the smashing of Yemen by its very much bigger neighbour is largely ignored by our capitalist mass media.

Hurrah for a “free press” indeed.

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