09 Jul Corporate Bias in the UK Media
Corporate Bias in the UK Media
Since journalists overwhelmingly rely on the voices of elites, elites have a disproportionate influence on the media agenda, acting as the ‘primary definers’ who set the framework of interpretation against which all subsequent voices are forced to insert themselves. While those on the right-wing of the political spectrum often claim that the media has an implicit left-wing agenda, it is corporations, not leftist academics, which enforce politically correct limits on speech. If the UK press had a left wing agenda, why would they not support Jeremy Corbyn? After all he embodies many left-wing ideas such as free university tuition fees and the public ownership of utilities. Ask yourself, who loses in Corbyn’s proposals? If the media really did have a left bias, they would surely promote left-wing ideology.
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Obviously, those who control the media don’t just convene and have a board meeting to decide the agenda. It’s not even that elite interests are always aligned. But where there is a unified elite consensus, the media will serve it uncompromisingly. This happens purely due to the economic model on which the system is based. There is no puppet master, only the invisible hand of the market driving the media; for example, the dependence on advertising and the pressure of news deadlines.
The journalists themselves are not censored and some do indeed try to change things. However, those that try often end up being fired or simply quitting. That’s not to say that such journalists always fail, for the system is not foolproof. However, there exists a major filter that controls journalist’s viewpoints; the class system. More than half of UK journalists were educated privately while “80% of its top editors went to either private or grammar schools”. The result is that, based on who is hired, it is possible “for politicians to rely on advisers to advise, civil servants to devise policy solutions and journalists to report on their actions having all studied the same courses at the same universities, having read the same books, heard the same lectures and even been taught by the same tutors”.
Even an entire news organisation may challenge state power, such as the Guardian’s coverage of the Snowden files, but the economic capitalist model will correct them. As a former Guardian executive stated, “while Snowden put us on the map, it makes corporate clients very nervous about wanting to get big into the Guardian”. In the long term, bias will be towards supporting elite interests, even if small blips of anti-elite press coverage may emerge for a brief while. It should be noted that the Guardian is now officially fully part of the Establishment via its collusion with the UK Ministry of Defence.
When we think of the UK media as being diverse, we should remember that they’re mostly getting their stories from the same press releases and the same PR companies. Research has shown that nearly half the stories in mainstream titles such as the Guardian or The Times originated from PR companies and “30% of those were copied verbatim and 19% were largely copied from the PR release”. The research found that much of the PR material found in print and broadcast media played “an agenda-setting role”. This isn’t because of any conspiracy, it is simply cheaper to rely on the PR industry. The UK media doesn’t exist to provide meaningful information to people, it exists purely to make a profit. That is the economic model in which it operates. And whilst the BBC doesn’t solely exist to make a profit, research has shown that it often promotes the view of the government, which is, of course, part of the elite. In 2012, more than half of source appearances on the BBC came from politicians whilst sources from trade unions amounted to less than 1%. Unsurprisingly, the same pattern was found for Channel 4 and ITV.
It is worth noting that just three companies dominate 71% of the national UK newspaper market—a market that may be shrinking but is still crucial when it comes to setting the agenda for the rest of the news media. When online readers are included, just five companies dominate some 80% of market share. Of course, the elite don’t always have a strong unified front. But elite consensus is likely to be strong when fundamental class interests are at stake. For example, it is unified in its attacks against socialist Corbyn. But since the composition of the elite can differ between CEOs of large multinationals, the aristocracy or owners of medium sized business, so too their internal interests will sometimes clash, and you won’t get a strong consensus. One such instance is Brexit.
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This is because, in the case of Brexit, the common elite consensus did not exist as both the EU and UK are neo-liberal, so their basic common interest, state capitalism, is maintained either way. In the case of Brexit, the elites were split as interests were in the eye of the beholder. Some, such as Rupert Murdoch clearly supported Brexit, stating “When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” Others, such as the Daily Express and Daily Star owner “Dirty” Desmond, were less fixed in their position but supported Brexit in the pursuit of personal benefit. But there was strong remain support amongst some sections of the elite, particularly amongst multinational corporations. It’s quite obvious why multinationals are against Brexit. The CEO of Bentley sees “Brexit as a “killer” threatening his firm’s profitability” whilst P&O warned that “cross-Channel ferries will be re-registered from the UK registry in Cyprus to keep EU tax benefits”. Either way, the elite will advocate for their own interests.
Let’s look more at the remain side of things. The Guardian is traditionally seen as the mainstream left-wing paper of the UK and very much pro-remain. But even this so-called left-wing paper does not question how Brexit may impact the average person. The real left arguments are not even framed, and all discussion is based on what’s best for the elites. A case in point is their editorial, titled The Guardian view on the EU referendum: keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated. Leaving aside the biased suggestion that voting leave means you are angry and isolationist, their argument is based on the same neoliberal principles that have alienated large parts of the population. It does not mention that the EU promotes multinational corporations. Nor does it mention that the EU member states ‘bailed out’ by the troika have suffered the biggest fall in collective bargaining rights in the world. If this really were a left-leaning paper, it would have at least mentioned that what protects workers in Britain—and in other countries—is not the neoliberal EU but the people’s collective strength. If the trade unions had been interviewed and quoted, this would have been more of a left-leaning article. They are not even mentioned.
If it were a genuine left-wing paper, the Guardian perhaps would have mentioned alternative left-wing arguments for Brexit, known as Lexit. At no point does the Guardian editorial mention one left-wing ideal, it simply promotes the neo-liberal EU elite as better than the UK neo-liberal elites. It even explicitly states:
Those who vote to leave as a protest against the elite will, in truth, be handing the keys to the very worst of that very elite.
They’re basically asking us to choose which neo-liberal elite to be ruled by, arguing that the EU elite is preferable. Either way the elites maintain their class interests and the so called left-leaning Guardian promotes what is hardly a left-wing idea.
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Let us now turn to social media. Whilst platforms such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter cannot be classed as mainstream media, their biases are worth examining, especially with recent accusations of left-wing bias regarding the demonetisation and de-platforming of right-wing content. Just as with the mainstream media, these platforms operate by making money from advertisements. YouTube even instructs its uploaders on how to create advertiser-friendly content. Some of these guidelines fall into the realm of politics, in that the far-right will often fall foul of them. But the important point to note is that when censorship does occur it is not based on any left-wing bias, as is often alleged, but is based on the economic need to ensure advertising revenue is not lost. It is the economic system which pushes for censorship, i.e. it is corporate censorship. A few years ago, such content was allowed, and it has only been the increased pressure of advertisers that has seen YouTube and others take action. Furthermore, many ignore the fact that the left are also being banned. Many left-wing Twitter accounts related to the occupy movement were deleted with no explanation. On Wikipedia, many left wing British journalists and activists who challenged the state media narrative had their bios edited to make them look untrustworthy.
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Be it mainstream print or broadcast, or social media, any large media outlet which falls foul of the allowed spectrum of debate from the standpoint of the elite is liable for punishment. Examples of hypocrisy abound. Russian broadcaster RT is a case in point; there are calls for it to be banned in the UK because of bias yet the biases of the BBC, especially in times of war, are well established. Both fall foul of Ofcom regulations but only one is threatened with censure.
The so-called left mainstream media face economic pressure when they don’t tow the line: the Guardian, for instance was forced to change an article to avoid offending Apple. We don’t hear much about such instances since media owners/editors keep them quiet. According to the research, there is a dominance of elite, party-political voices in the UK mainstream media which is biased to align with elite interests and satisfy advertisers needs. Even just looking at who owns the media should give a clear indication that they’re not going to be pro-worker rights or pro-public ownership of common utilities. There is no left-wing bias but plenty of corporate censorship and corporate bias, of which we hear little.
The above article is an abridged version of UK Corporate Media Is Not Left Biased: It Serves Elite Interests by Mark Tweedy.