"Freedom of the press"? as if there could be such a thing in this class society!

14 October 2013

The Leveson enquiry set up in July 2011 to investigate the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal, published its findings last November. But it's only now, 11 months later, that the government has finally produced a draft for regulation of the press. The length of the whole process and the fact that, unusually, Cameron chose to seek cross-party support over this issue, speaks volumes. This is how anxious politicians are, to avoid ruffling the feathers of media barons.

However, despite all these precautions and the many concessions to the media's demands, the government's draft has sparked off a storm over the past week, in which both sides have been quarrelling furiously, in the name of what they call the "freedom of the press". But what they are really defending has nothing to do with it.

All hypocrites!

For the politicians, the problem is that they need to be seen to be doing something after the phone-hacking scandal. But their main aim is to protect themselves - and their friends among the rich and powerful - against unwelcome press revelations.

No wonder: many MPs still have very sour memories of the long series of scandals caused by embarrassing exposures in the media - whether over cash-for-questions, cash-for-honours, or over their own expenses, among many others.

But this is just as far as any proposed "regulation" is meant to go. There's no question here of protecting all those who have been - and keep being - regularly targeted by slanderous campaigns waged by the media.

What about, for instance, the campaigns of the gutter press against the jobless, the disabled and migrant workers - and the insulting photos of innocent, anonymous victims which were used by these papers, allegedly to prove their "point"? And what about the strident headlines of the same papers and the lies they peddle - for instance, when they call benefit claimants "cheaters and skivers"?

What protection did those working class people who were singled out and humiliated in this way ever have? None, and they won't have any under the regulatory regimes which are under discussion, because this is not their purpose in the first place. They are only designed to help those who are familiar enough with the ropes of the legal system, or rich enough to afford the cost of a lawyer.

But then, should it be any surprise? Aren't these newspapers' slanderous campaigns meant to back up the anti-working class policies of the government of the day? Aren't they carried out by the same newspapers which, today, are clamouring their determination to fight any "political interference", in the name of defending the "freedom of the press"?

The reign of big money

Ultimately, though, what makes all this hot air about "freedom of the press" even more hypocritical is the fact that in this society, capitalist profit rules the media, just as it rules every other institution - and the rest of the economy.

What does the phrase "freedom of the press" mean, when tens of millions of pounds are required to print and distribute a newspaper or to run a TV channel? Only the capitalists have that sort of money. And with enough money, together with the income of advertising paid by other capitalists, they can publish millions of copies of any paper, even if it's full of rubbish.

In fact, the press is just another weapon in the class war waged by the capitalists against the working class majority of the population. During the General Strike, in 1926, the Tory government used the pages of the Daily Mail to call "on all law-abiding men and women to hold themselves at the service of King and country" - resulting in the recruitment of an army of strike-breakers among the ranks of the middle class. More recently, during the miners' strike of 1984-1985, it was the Sun which was at the forefront of the strike bashers.

By contrast, how many papers are reflecting the real preoccupations of the millions of workers who are at the receiving end of capitalist exploitation, especially at a time when the capitalist class is turning the screw as never before to make us pay for their crisis? Those papers which do express the preoccupations of the working class, are doomed to remain marginal, for lack of financial resources, because they can only rely on the pennies of their working class readers to survive.

Such is the reality of the "freedom of the press" in this society - the "freedom" for the capitalists to force their own lies down the throats of the working class!