Challenging media monopoly

Ellie Lakew reports from a talk on politics and the media given by President of the NUJ Donnacha DeLong and Weekly Worker writer James Turley

Donnacha DeLong, president of the National Union of Journalists, addressed a CPGB London Communist Forum on ‘Lies, Leveson and a progressive alternative’ on June 3. Also speaking was Weekly Worker writer James Turley.

Comrade DeLong argued that there has been an overload of information from the Leveson enquiry, but it has produced enough headlines to clearly illustrate the depths of corruption that not just News International, but the political establishment as a whole, is capable of. What is even more telling, said comrade DeLong, is the number of lies that have been told under oath - which only confirms the standard of depravity. One particularly huge whopper came from the lips of Rupert Murdoch, who told the enquiry that he has never asked a politician for anything.

The challenge for Leveson, thinks comrade DeLong, is how he is going to put together a coherent report from the plethora of lies and facts. However, even if it ends up as yet another whitewash, this enquiry will nevertheless serve as a catalyst for change, he thought. A case in point is the Press Complaints Commission, which comprises a “gang of editors”, which, despite the statement on the PCC website that it is “independent of the newspaper industry”, includes Ian Macgregor, editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Tina Weaver, editor of the Sunday Mirror until her abrupt sacking last week, and Peter Wright, editor emeritus of Associated Newspapers. The particularly insidious tactic by the PCC has been to disallow third party complaints about press articles, so that only the targeted individual can legitimately make representations. Comrade DeLong is of the opinion that an alternative system to regulate complaints will be rolled out soon.

The “vulture capitalism” of the big newsgroups has “sucked the local press dry”, he said, and there are fewer and fewer regional or local newspapers of any worth. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, since traditionally there has been a strong link between the national and local press that has sometimes helped to produce good journalism. The breaking of this chain of communication has led to such fiascos as the appalling reporting by the local press of the riots last August. A diminishing number of journalists are now expected to produce ‘news’ and the term ‘churnalism’ is used to describe the result. Comrade DeLong believes that in order to end the domination of the big media corporations and broaden the scope of journalism there must be “alternative business” and “community-based” models.

James Turley also talked about the rampant corruption involving interlocking power structures. The collusion between big business and the establishment is endemic and the Leveson enquiry has shed some light on this - the scandal of parliamentary lobbying is yet to be fully revealed, he predicted. The machinations of David Cameron prove once again that the establishment cannot be trusted to control and pass judgement on the media. That is why the CPGB is opposed to both the PCC and certainly to a more powerful alternative ‘with teeth’. We oppose nationalisation of the press for the same reason - it is madness to seek to hand yet more power and control to the state. Instead we need to look to the working class itself. We need to develop our own powerful, alternative media to end the monopoly of the capitalist class.

Comrades from the floor pointed to the abysmal state of the current working class media - left papers and trade union journals alike are mostly deadly dull. Others said it was an illusion to expect Leveson to come up with a solution to transform the media - surely the proposals that emerged would amount to no more than tinkering.

An experienced media worker told the meeting how he and his colleagues are forced to work in a highly pressurised and insidious ways. Far from being the noble profession that it was traditionally and romantically said to be, journalism is first and foremost about meeting targets. Young journalists soon have their idealistic aspirations destroyed and disillusion sets in. There is still a myth about the so-called ‘objectivity’ of the media, but decisions about ethics are contaminated by commercial interests. The internet with its unlimited space has not led to the blossoming of contending viewpoints as far as the mainstream media are concerned. Rather, word limits have been rigorously imposed, leading to the further curtailing of journalistic integrity (although comrade DeLong said that the compact size of articles online often results from presentational needs rather than a deliberate attempt to stifle good journalism)