Due to a bereavement in my family it has been a while since I have written anything. And much as I have wanted to remain focussed on my family, the community and the world we live in has a terrible habit of promoting mass-panic, which inevitably reaches into every family, friendship and community. Which is why I am back writing. In my opinion, one of the key reasons for this overwhelming feeling of panic and powerlessness is a direct symptom of how the mainstream media uses a ‘chicken-licken’ model for the reporting of the news.
I will of course deal with the elephant in the room at a later date. And by elephant I mean the suspension of the UK Parliament by an unelected far-right cabal that has seized control of the government without a general election. A cabal incidentally, that is being led by a man a senior civil servant allegedly called ‘a fucking moron’. But I digress.
If anyone is in any doubt as to my position on this, it is probably worth going through some of my older pieces. I did a piece in the Morning Star last May that I think sums up my position on the role of the UK Parliament in democracy in the UK. In 2013 I did piece for the New Left Project that is a nice foundation to the Morning Star piece, covering the historical framework for what we are currently witnessing. And if you want to go back even further, in 2003 I wrote a piece for Red Pepper which, for me at least, was very much the preamble to this more recent turn of events.
I will get back to that at a later date, but right now I want to look at the ‘chicken-licken’ style of reporting that is now so prevalent in the mainstream media. This trend is best exemplified by the constant looping of advert-length sound-bite-laden news-vignettes about the sky falling in on us, and how we are powerless to stop it. And as is so often the case in this model, there is never any time for a wider or historical context, for a more balanced and informed analysis, or even for comparisons to similar events that may well be related.
Put simply, the mainstream media appears to thrive on ill-informed drama. However, it also worth pointing out that the news rooms and editors are highly accommodating to their advertisers and owners within that framework. So when we do face a very real disaster that we can take steps to minimise, the mainstream media, if it is in the interests of the owners and advertisers, will largely remain silent about it. You only have to look at the response over the last three decades to the climate crisis that we as a civilisation have been well aware of and studying for all that time.
George Santayana famously warned, ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. I would argue that our problem is in fact compounded by the plutocratic ownership of the mainstream media, and therein the highly concentrated control over the reporting of news, and consequently the chance of informed debate occurring from that. By having information like context, history, vested interests, and active parties withheld from us we are simply condemned to blindly accept our oppression and exploitation. Those who do not understand their present are condemned to suffer.
Because I haven’t written anything in 2019, I thought it would be helpful to pick a couple of the most widely reported events in January of this year to demonstrate this idea. I was going to do every month, but as you can see it became quite unwieldy very quickly.
In Brazil in January 2019, a privately owned multinational company with the contract for maintaining a dam put personal financial gain ahead of the lives of the people. Now, while this is clearly both abhorent and shocking, it was not entirely unprecedented. In fact, it happens quite regularly. And not just on the other side of the world, it even happens here. However, trying to find an editorial that questioned certain overarching assumptions implicit in the model of ‘for-profit’ organisations being paid by governments for products and services that the safety and lives of millions of people rely on is largely absent from the majority of the coverage.
The PFI model of international development and national public works, or as it is called in the USA the PPP model, is now so prevalent in the neo-liberal framework that it has become, at least as far as the mainstream media is concerned, received wisdom and therefore beyond reproach. The fact that organisations are primarily focused on making a profit and therefore will always end up cutting costs to increase their profits, is more often than not left out of any mainstream analysis.
So for me the question really isn’t how did so many people die in that dam collapse and who is to blame for that disaster? The real question is how many more disasters of that kind have to occur, and how many more innocent people are going to have to die for the profits of the few while the rest of us stand by and watch.
Not long after the dam collapsed in Brazil, the government of the USA levelled charges of corporate espionage, wire fraud and obstruction of justice at the Chinese company Huawei. This came in the middle of an ongoing trade dispute between the extreme-right neo-liberal ultra-nationalist Trump administration in Washington and a Chinese ruling elite that practices a highly authoritarian form of bureaucratic capitalism.
And of course, desperate for a new story about the sky falling in on us chicken-licken duly jumped on board. And yet again, much was left out of the reporting. For instance Huawei are not the only company accused of corporate espionage. And if it is people’s privacy that is the issue, there are far worse patterns in the world of cyber-espionage. And of course if you are going to discuss invasions of privacy it would be wrong to leave out the Orwellian nightmare that is the GCHQ and NSA, or for that matter Cambridge Analytica from the debate.
But don’t stop there. If you want to discuss wire fraud, why not look at some really serious corporate criminality. And if it is obstruction of justice you are after, do we really need to look any further than the bankers? But of course, the fact that these aren’t discussed in the context of the Huawei story is because to do that would inevitably lead to questions being asked of the administration that itself had been accused of obstruction of justice. The overarching question that is never asked is can we trust the 1% to prioritise the health and welfare of the 99% over their own lavish lifestyles.
The fact is the corporate model, within the framework of neo-liberal global capitalism is on a daily basis demonstrating clear evidence of an establishment populated by sociopaths. And of course, if you are still in any doubt just look at some of the more recent headlines. You need to be a chronic amnesiac or purposely ignoring the patterns because they are now so obvious. Corporations, are often little more than the cloak behind which wealthy psychopaths hide. We all know that corporations buy legislators, and legislation. Does it require that much of a leap of faith to question if the fourth estate is also on the payroll.
When Trump goes all ‘groundhog day’ repeating partially coherent statements that are very often self-contradicting, we are urged not to take it too seriously as the journalists and late-night talk-show hosts will scrutinise his administration on our behalf. When Johnson attempts to cover up for his intellectual deficiencies and hate-filled prejudices with the contrived persona of a Bunter-like buffoon the news anchors assure us that our democracy is safe while they are acting as our oversight. What is seldom asked is who is going to protect us when the mainstream media are complicit.
I am still uploading previously published articles, and this post is no exception. Last year I had an article published by the Morning Star and then picked up by Counterpunch titled ‘The nuclear debate as a cover for sustaining exploitation’. In it I argued that by narrowly framing any debate about nuclear power as a solution to climate change, we run the risk of allowing certain wider implications or effects to go unscrutinised. Perhaps it is also relevant to this debate.