We live in democracies where we hold those in power to account using elections. To help us make informed choices about our society there are many kinds of media on the market whose job it is to tell us all the bad stuff and to suggest solutions to them. The idea is that this will build a public support base, which will propel a good representative to electoral victory and kick out bad representatives.
Now then, media channels (newspapers, magazines, radio, television, journals, etc.) compete with each other for customers; media that does well (at keeping us informed) will be rewarded with money and can expand. Media providers who do badly will decline in favour and be punished by bankruptcy. This competition keeps quality high, costs low and incompetent provides out of the system. This is how it works, right? Wrong.
What I’ve just described is the free market of media companies and a good rule of thumb for free markets is that people are not equal but those with the most money have the most power. Because of this, media operating in a free market will always bias against the interests of the political left and the lower classes. Let me explain why.
The argument commonly goes, “If people didn’t like this or that media they would stop buying it”. Apart from the fact that this could be used to justify the USSR totalitarian-controlled media (since back then Russians also bought and consumed it) it actually turns out the public have very little say in what the press offers to them because newspapers do not get most of their income from sales.
You may notice that the price you pay for each newspaper is minuscule. The cost of The Sun newspaper is 20 pence. This doesn’t even cover the ink! Same holds for television and radio where there is zero income from the consumer. Newspapers and other media actually get their money from corporate advertisers.
The media generally cannot run stories that offendcorporations because sponsors will threaten to pull their advertising money. In 1980, the liberal staff at the Mother Jones magazine debated over whether or not to publish a series of articles linking cigarettes to cancer. The editors knew that the tobacco industry would punish them by canceling their lucrative advertising contracts, which the young, struggling magazine desperately needed. Mother Jones stuck to its principles and printed the articles anyway; and, just as expected, the tobacco companies angrily pulled their ads.
The public has very little say in what the press offers them
A few months ago we saw anti-tax evading protests in Britain and America. The US Uncut group, for example, protested against the American company General Electric which hasn’t paid a single cent in taxes to the US government since 2006, despite making over $26 billion in profits. The same General Electric that also owns MSNBC, usually a center-left channel that would oppose corporate welfare, yet on this instance they were critical of US Uncut.
Advertisers also want their adverts to be viewed by people who havemoney to spend buying their products. This automatically discriminates against any media with a predominantly working class readership.
Between 1912 and 1964 there existed a British newspaper called The Daily Herald. At one point its politics were broadly syndicalist: it gave unconditional support to strikers and argued for a socialist revolution based on worker’s self-organisation in trade unions. It also gave strong support to suffragettes and to anti-colonial struggles, especially in Ireland. Early issues dealt with the loss of the RMS Titanic, emphasizing the disproportionate loss of life among crew members and poor third-class passengers. In 1933 the Herald became the world’s best-selling daily newspaper, with certified net sales of 2 million. Even when it closed down in 1964 it was probably among the 20 largest circulation dailies in the world, this meant it was selling far more than The Times, theGuardian and the Financial Times put together. It didn’t die because there wasn’t enough demand for it, it died because the paper’s predominantly poor readership was not a worthwhile target for advertisers.
It should not be surprising that these advertising and media companies, like most big businesses, are extremely conservative. They have certain agendas: they desire lower taxes, fewer lawsuits from the public, fewer environmental restraints, better public relations (a euphemism for less public exposure to scandals), higher profits and more effective lobbying power in government. Controlling public opinion would give them all these things.