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There is no freedom of press

SOUFYAAN TIMOL

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In 2002, all 175 newspapers by Robert Murdoch, which include Australia’s major capital city press as well as prominent publications in the UK ran articles supporting the invasion of Iraq. (1) Their editorial stance was not coincidental, or the result of dullness of mind from journalists, but intentional, concerted. This pattern, whereby articles are not published to inform, but to indoctrinate, repeats itself all throughout the corporate media.

If freedom of press means the freedom to publish truth, without limitations whatsoever, for mainstream publishing, in Mauritius and elsewhere, there is no such thing. They are businesses, and operate as such. These papers publish within strict bounds, suppress dissident information, and present a distorted view of the world. Their job is to maintain and reinforce the economic, social, and political power structures under capitalism.

Business model

A newspaper makes no or very little money on the selling of its paper. The profits come in when corporations buy advertising space (2). The real field of the industry is not in the articles, but in the publicity between them. In this trade, media sell the readership (the product) to the advertiser (the consumer).

These advertisers, often part of conglomerates, or conglomerates themselves, rely on maintaining the status quo for their survival. Articles that challenge the amount of power and influence they wield — such as pieces painting in a good light an increase in corporate tax, or the nationalization of certain industries — cannot be published. The business class, the ultra-rich, know that the accumulation of wealth leads to economic inequality, which leads to social inequality (income gap, healthcare, education). The papers’ job is to shift the blame for those inequalities on others — the government or individuals — in doing so protecting the business class from being challenged.

Advertisers influence the media’s agenda by pulling ads out of the papers when an article that they do not like appears, resulting in drops in profits for the news firm. This happens rarely; reporters and editors know the limits of what they can publish, and so never cross this line. (An example: A reporter wants to run an article about how sugar oligarchs have exploited the land and the workers of a country for decades. The newspaper’s sponsor is one of those oligarchs. The article will never hit the pages. Most likely, that reporter would not even consider writing it, as the press would not hire someone who would write such articles.)

Over and above, the mainstream media is owned and run by the business class (3) who would not attempt to undermine themselves or their place in the power structure. Printing out articles that challenge the system is out of the question.

Framing discourse

The press acts as protection for the capitalist system by framing discourse around a narrow narrative that rules out critical thought and activism. It does not lie to our faces, most of the time. The newspapers mold the information, interpret history, select topics, distribute concerns, and cut out the parts that do not serve the narrative.

The first step is setting the rules of discourse. Capitalist society achieves this by establishing certain assumptions. Some examples: society’s issues are aberrations, problems caused by incompetent or corrupt or evil people (as opposed to structural problems); society is meritocratic; anyone who works hard enough can succeed; the government (as opposed to the state) controls all aspects of a country and is free to act as it wills. Those assumptions established, articles published will serve to reinforce them, to bring them to a state where it does not even enter one’s mind to challenge them.

Once the boundaries of acceptable thought are set, the press will work to create the illusion of debate. Sides to take. Political party A vs political party B, industry A vs industry B, arguments over how to solve symptoms. Within narrow limits, sides argue with vehemence, loudly enough that the points in question appear like once solved they will make life better. What we have is fiery debate within these frames, reinforcing the assumption that this is the complete political spectrum, brushing off legitimate critical discussion.

The Press’s great trick is appearing to rebel. Certain newspapers take every opportunity to bash on the government, and they love being called out on it. They love to be attacked, to be accused of being antagonistic, or rebellious, even of going out of their way to attack power, because then they can reply with, ‘well yes, we are doing it, because we believe in freedom of expression’.

(Corporations, and the media, are constantly in competition with each other, and will run articles that attack and expose one another. Critiques about corporate power that may appear unconventional will sometimes be published. Some businesses are also pro-government. This can make it difficult to see the propaganda pattern, but those critiques will be limited by nature, and will never attack the system itself.)

Once in a while, actual dissenting opinions are published from or about people who are usually framed as radicals and not worth listening to. This is another mechanism the press uses to maintain the idea that it is democratic. These opinions are kept at the margin, where they exist — and by acknowledging their presence the press demonstrates that it is not monolithic — but without enough or any real momentum to threaten the power structure.

*See Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky for a thorough investigation of how corporate media works.

1.Murdoch’s War │The Monthly – https://www.themonthly.com.au/node/62/wrap-xhr#mtr

2.World Press Trends 2020-2021 OUTLOOK – https://wan-ifra.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/WAN-IFRA-Report_WPT2020-21.pdf

3.Médias mauriciens: qui possède quoi? – L’Express – https://www.lexpress.mu/article/330829/medias-mauriciens-qui-possede-quoi

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