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Their media and ours

By: 
Faline Bobier

August 2, 2014

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”
 
This is a quote from a book called The German Ideology that Karl Marx wrote in 1845. Although it was written over 150 years ago it encapsulates a reality that is still very much with us today.
 
Corporate media
It is often said that it’s the victors who write history. Likewise the “news” is reported to us through the filters of those who own and control the corporate media.
 
So, for example, taking a “balanced” approach to the current bombing of Gaza means reporting as if the situation were actually a war with two roughly equal sides, rather than a complete slaughter of Palestinians by the state of Israel, armed to the teeth by their US backers. The US and Canadian governments will continue to support Israel, no matter what the cost to Palestinians because they see Israel as their watchdog in the Middle East, protecting their all important oil interests.
 
But of course this support for brutal murder cannot be reported as such, since most people would be sickened to realize that this is what their government is doing. The US government and their media lackeys learned this lesson during the Vietnam War when the sight of murder nightly on the news turned many Americans against the war. When the wars in the Gulf and Iraq were launched decades later mainstream media made these wars look as if they were light shows with bombs falling but no hint of casualties on the ground.
 
This ideological role of reinforcing the status quo is one of the most important functions of the media in capitalist society. In the same way that we are encouraged to see the state as a neutral body presiding over different interests in society (the ruling class, the bosses and the rest of us), the mantra of mainstream journalists is their pretense to “objectivity.” Strangely enough this “objectivity” most often seems to end up on the side of police, bosses and those in control. So reporting on strikes, protests, etc. often comments on the “violence” of the protestors, but never or very rarely on the violence of the state.
 
Contradiction
But in spite of the vast resources of corporate mainstream media and their tight control over the “information” that gets out to us, that’s happily not the end of the story.
 
Some left activists claim that ordinary people are lobotomized and simply accept without question the media’s take on events. This view can lead to passivity and despair about the possibility of ever changing the status quo or fighting injustice.
 
However, people are not simply sitting at home glued to their TVs and Fox News as their only source of information. People’s experience of reality can come up against the view of that reality peddled by the media.
 
So, for example, workers who go on strike are confronted by the fact that we don’t live in a society with a neutral state or media. When they see their strike reported on as a group of “greedy” workers who are using violent tactics (being attacked by police on their picket lines) they begin to see that maybe what they see on the evening news is not accurate on a whole number of fronts.
 
Alternative media
The role of alternative and progressive media is also extremely important. Even though left wing and progressive media have nowhere near the reach or influence of huge media corporations they are vital to the ability of the movements to project their struggles to a larger audience.
 
In the era of the Internet alternative media can also be sites, not just for disseminating information, but for organizing fightbacks—as in Egypt or Iran, for example, where many young activists use all tools available (including electronic ones) to build their movements against repressive states.
 
Here in Canada alternative media such as rabble.ca and RicochetMedia.ca—an ambitious bilingual online publication born of the experience of the Maple Spring in Quebec—are critical to all of those engaged in the fight for social justice, whether it be the fight against the Tar Sands here at home or building solidarity with Palestinians under attack in Gaza.
 
Alternative media brings together the views of individual columnists or activists who represent a range of debates within movements, and that is its strength. But it can also be a weakness, for the same site can feature articles arguing opposite conclusions, which can make it difficult for readers to translate ideas into action.
 
Socialist media
Socialist media is a complementary component of alternative media. It challenges the ruling class ideas represented in corporate media, reflects movements as does alternative media, and also intervenes to shape them—connected to socialist organization.
 
Writing for socialist media is not reserved for professional writers or activists but open to all—in order to better reflect the many struggles in which people are involved. At the same time, the production of socialist media is a collective task, organized through an editorial board that edits articles to promote clarity of ideas and to synthesize theory and practice.
 
Distributing socialist media has numerous objectives. First we’re trying to spread socialist politics, fighting for every reform as part of a revolutionary challenge to capitalism. Second, to be effective we need to understand the general mood of the working class, so we need to test our ideas by engaging with ordinary people and gauging their reactions. Third, we’re also trying to build movements, connecting articles to petitions, protests, strikes, solidarity appeals, etc. Fourth, we’re trying to draw others to our organization. Fifth, the process of engaging with people to build movements and draw people to socialist politics increases our own individual experience and confidence, and our own collective organization. And finally, this can generate resources for our organization.
 
For more than a century socialists have used newspapers not only to disseminate information but to build organizations. As Lenin wrote in Where to Begin?:  “A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer... With the aid of the newspaper, and through it, a permanent organization will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence those events. The mere technical task of regularly supplying the newspaper with copy and of promoting regular distribution will necessitate a network of local agents of the united party.”
 
We can also apply this method to the web, as Egyptian revolutionary Hossam El-Hamalawy wrote in What is to be done: the website as organizer: “The presence of revolutionary correspondents on the ground in every province, tasked with supplying the site round the clock with reports, means that there are activists on the ground, assigned round the clock to throw themselves into events that are happening, and under constant pressure to expand the network of revolutionary correspondents in their provinces, which means gains for the membership of the movement… The site will not be a substitute for the paper, and comrades must continue in the hard work of distributing the paper at events, to the network of members, and to sympathizers.”
 
As he has written, the 21st century socialist needs to have “one foot in cyberspace and one foot on the ground,” and with socialist media—online and in print form—we can build and shape resistance movements, connected to socialist organization.
 
If you agree with these ideas, join the International Socialists

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