Base, Superstructure and the Irish Property Crash: Henry Silke

The “Great Western Crisis” starting in 2008 has reinvigorated much debate on capitalist crises and causation, Marxist scholars have long debated crisis theory falling into a number of major theoretical positions, at a crude level they can be divided into three (sometimes overlapping) major positions: that is the theories of financialisation, overproduction/underconsumption, and the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. This paper discusses the role of communications and the media in capitalist crises drawing from the literature of both crisis theory and communications theory to investigate the relationship. The paper discusses the role of communications and the media on two levels, firstly on a functionalist level, that is how communication tools and channels play a role in the dissemination of information and secondly on an ideological level of how media can play a role in normalising market and class relations including support for elite political policies. The paper returns to the concept of base and superstructure noting a strong dialectical relationship between economic base and media and communications superstructure that can be found in trends of media concentration, media crisis and media work practices. The paper also discusses the dialectical relationship between media, markets and the wider economy….

…As discussed in Marxist literature, the broader economic base including the relations of production have a dialectical relationship with the various superstructures of society (including the state and the media). The tripartite relationships between the state, the media sphere and powerful economic interests may act to reinforce class relations and economic trends including periods of economic crisis. This is at least partially because the media—through ownership, institutional practice, alongside content, agenda setting, and overarching ideologies—tends to act to defend or at least defer critique of the economic and political system it is based on…

…The paper looks at the Irish economic crisis to explore these issues by briefly investigating the Irish Times and Irish Independent (two key political and economic papers in the Irish Republic) treatment of three key points in the downturn: The Irish property market on the run up to the 2007 general election (on the cusp of the crash); the blanket bank guarantee of 2008, where the state effectively guaranteed the debts of the entire Irish banking system in its totality, and finally the introduction of the National Asset Management Agency, a state sponsored bad bank aimed at cleaning up the (then) private banking industry…

…While media effects is a contentious issue amongst academic researchers, the empirical findings informing this paper point to the conclusion that that overall blanket positive coverage of the property market, the downplaying of the oncoming crisis and more fundamental deep seated ideology of housing being first and foremost a commodity has had some effect. In May 2007, the lack of critical analysis of either the residential or commercial property markets even on the cusp of a major crash meant that the newspapers at best failed in their normative watchdog role and left society and state ill prepared to deal with the outcomes. At worst, the papers could be considered to have been the ideological mouthpiece of the property industries, that is as uncritical “in-house” journals that privileged and pushed policies beneficial to the narrow economic interests of property developers, financiers, speculators, landlords and estate agents. The papers even if they were unaware of their obvious bias towards industry actors seem to have been so blinded by neo-liberal ideological assumptions that the concept of market “self-regulation” was above question.

The newspapers dependence on sourcing from the property industries coupled with a close economic relationship to the industry poses obvious questions around impartiality and independence, questions that neither newspaper group have sufficiently answered since the crash. Overall it is very likely that the coverage of housing in 2007 contributed to the housing bubble itself, the newspapers highly ideological defence of the market at a time of both heightened awareness and a critical juncture in the political cycle may have acted to reassure buyers and speculators, moreover the newspapers concentration of attention on stamp duty reform rather than key structural issues underlined assumptions of “market self-regulation” and that all would return to “normal” post political “interference” on the market; again acting to reassure market actors that the “normality” of bubble economics would continue. Moreover the newspapers framing and promotion of stamp duty reform in 2007 helped push the policy to the top of the agenda and see its eventual realisation. Stamp duty of course proved to be a red herring as the policy of abolition was enacted and did not prevent the crash. The view that the print media elongated the property bubble is supported by Julien Mercille’s (2013) research which also found a hugely favourable view of the property market before 2008 that he maintained sustained the rise in house prices…

…It could be argued that now with the onset of a severe housing crisis alongside the “tsunami of homelessness” (RTE News 2014) we are reaping the fruits of a non-critical media sphere. The coverage of housing throughout the crisis seems to have remained wedded to the market with the assumption that only private developers and private markets can supply housing leading therefore to discussion of how to best remove “market barriers” for the benefit of the aforementioned actors (much like 2007); the basic questions around how satisfactory housing policies may be achieved have rarely been discussed outside these parameters. Likewise, the newspapers treatment and framing of other political policies such as the blanket guarantee and NAMA most likely had some affect. There were some exceptions to this, in particular in some opinion pieces. However, the key trends and frames point to a “captured press”, that is, a press in service of a narrow class based interest. The Irish crisis with the fundamentally important role of the print media therefore acts as an exemplary case study of the base-superstructure relationship between the mass media and the market economy. The Irish experience concurs with much critical theory on the role of mass media in capitalist society in terms of economics, power and politics and seems to verify the long suspected role of the media as a structurally important part of the modern capitalist state rather than an objective “watchdog” holding truth to power…

…The links between super-structure and base are of long standing interest in Marxism; that is the dialectical and reflexive relationships between the economic base, economic actors, class relations and the superstructure of the state and various aspects of civil society. Two key elements of the superstructure are institutional political processes and institutional media processes. There are many other elements of the superstructure such as education, religion and various state and cultural organisations, however media and politics are two important elements of the superstructure coming from both state and civil society (Gramsci 1971/2003), and it would seem two of the more overtly political elements in the structures of power, and most importantly they represent two elements where cracks of agency may just exist.

Likewise in the wider base both media and communications play an indispensable role in the commodity circuit. This paper proposes a move towards a Marxist crisis theory of communications that would attempt to link the various aspects of the base-superstructure relationship in a holistic fashion. It is important to state that the relationship between ideological, institutional and material factors should not be considered as artificially separate spheres but rather as overlapping parts of a totality, which act to influence each other, moreover, all of which are “born into” particular historical and social structures. We make our own history but not in the circumstances of our own choosing. Likewise, while we have agency over our ideas they cannot be separated from pre-existing ideological structures. The base-superstructure concept is a tool, therefore, that allows us to attempt to deconstruct various elements of society at work and investigate their influences over other elements. The base or material factor generally is key as it is upon the material structures of society and economy that the political and ideological structures rest; however as discussed above there are periods when the superstructural elements can be more influential and this subjective element liberates us from an overly deterministic outlook and allows at least some political agency.

The full paper is available here

And we’re back!

The one on the left is 26 pages today. The one on the right is 28. #weareback! Hat Tip: eagle eyed Kitty Holland

A big day for the Irish Times as the property section has overtaken the news section for the first time since… well for the first time since that nasty business. As it stands rents are rising, evictions are increasing and journalism is thriving. Expect to see lots of articles on why landlords need tax incentives, why developers need to be forgiven and above all why rent control is impossible.

Drowning in its own Bias? Thoughts on Waning Media Power and Social Media as Organising Tool

In previous posts we have discussed the fact that the Irish Water protests and movement has continued to grow despite being written off numerous times by mainstream media. Moreover  the movement has sustained itself  against overwhelming media bias, sensationalism and negative framing, in what has seemed an almost overt  attempted to de-legitimise the movement.

Yesterday Rory Hearn of the Geography department of Maynooth University published a paper which sheds some light on this process by (in part) looking at attitudes towards media among water activists and the use of social media as an organising tool, something we previously discussed here. This gives some empirical evidence towards the suspicion of waning media power among at least a significant segment of the population. A survey was conducted with over 2,500 anti water charge activists on their reasons for becoming involved, their attitudes towards the current government, tactics and future political preferences. Here we will highlight the reports findings about the media. The full report can be found here.

The report highlighted the mistrust of the mainstream media by the activists, and their preference of social media as a source:

The issue of the media was repeated as a significant theme in the respondents’ answers throughout the survey. They referred to the media portrayal of protestors as ‘biased’ and that the media was acting as ‘government supporters’. They criticised the media for its ‘failure to be objective’. They expressed strong feelings of contempt and anger at the coverage of the protests by the mainstream media. 86% of respondents described the media portrayal of the anti-water movement as negative. This composed of 45% describing it as ‘undermining the campaign’ and 41% saying it was ‘unfair’. Significantly Q 14 shows that protestors’ principal source of information about the campaign is overwhelmingly coming from social media as opposed to the traditional media. 82.6% were most informed about the campaign from social media. Only 6.4% of respondents were most informed from traditional media outlets

This is hardly surprising given the sensationalist nature of the mainstream coverage that would have been very much at odds with the lived reality of activists.  Moreover the report states:

In particular it was noted that they have used social media very effectively as a way of providing information that the mainstream media has not covered. The movement has, according to respondents, overcome the ‘propaganda’ from the mainstream media, gained attention of foreign media, and ‘brought the issue to national attention’. It has done this through ‘the effective use of social media to discredit mainstream media’. Respondents are concerned that ‘lies in the media with the help of the Gardai about the real number of protesters is unjust and unfair and if others knew how many were really there they might get interested and get educated about it’.

The report highlights issues that have been debated over the last number of years as  traditional media (print, television, radio) has been challenged by newer forms of publishing, social network sites and blogs that allow alternative views to be broadcast at a fraction of the traditional cost.   Easy access to alternative or external (extra national) forms of media through the internet allows people to escape the dominant media of their country if they wish, and on rare occasions so called ‘citizen journalism’ on the internet may break through dominant frames or agenda. However some research suggests that most news sourced on the internet comes from the websites of mainstream media groups (Castells 2009 p. 196).  However looking at the number of hits on youtube from uploads on by Irish water activists (sometimes in the hundreds of thousands) this may not be the case, though further research is necessary to confirm this  one way or another.

This so called ‘communication revolution’  may represent a paradigm shift in communications  as new forms of broadcasting through the internet have allowed for new forms of mass media and new forms of audiences and alternative forms of communication (Castells 2000, 2009). The contemporary media sphere sees numerous ‘entry points’ which can be utilised by producers/writers/reporters or political activists and has the potential of a mass audience.[1] The technological revolution for McChesney offers historical possibilities in other words the possibility that the internet might finally herald the advent of an open and inclusive ‘public sphere’ (Schuler and Day 2004 p. 3). And this has been certainly been the most extensive and  effective use of social media in Ireland to date. However it is important to remember that dominant groups have successfully usurped (or more commonly co-opted) such potentials many times before, and to date the traditional mass media still holds a vastly dominant position.  The success of the Irish movement’s use of social was made  possible by the mass dissemination of facebook in the Irish population with reports that up to half of the entire population have facebook accounts. This of course has inherent dangers as it gives a single company with little democratic oversight considerable powers.

It has also  been  argued that the online alternative media are at the core of (rather than simply reporting) the alternative social movements as they act as a force for organisation rather than simply reporting their actions and opinions (Coyer, Dowmunt and Fountain 2007).  This of course is nothing particularly new, as political newspapers were often seen firstly as organising tools and secondly as newspapers, or as Lenin (1901) expressed it the newspaper acted as the organisational ‘scaffolding’ for political movements or parties.[2]  The southern Mexican Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) movement were probably the first group to do so on an international scale in the mid-1990s. Since then many movements, most notably indymedia, have been able to use cheap production tools and cheap distribution on the internet to disseminate their views often breaking into the mainstream. However it is important not to confuse the dissemination of counter hegemonic views with counter hegemonic power, while sub-altern groups may be given a voice this does not guarantee political or economic power. For example the anarchist Worker’s Solidarity Movement (WSM), an organisation counted in the dozens, but with savvy programmers, is the second most popular political party on Facebook in Ireland with over 50,000 followers, this compares very well to Fine Gael (Ireland’s largest political party and major coalition partner) with only 10,000 followers. While the WSM is second only to a resurgent Sinn Fein (with 65,000 followers), nobody would argue that this popularity translates offline into political power.[3]

Others are  cautious around recent developments. For example theorists Chakravartty and Schiller (2010 p. 677) maintain that:

‘it would be at best naïve to assume that the authority of economic science that underpins digital capitalism and is reinforced across academic, policy and media fields can be simply undone through the transformative power of blogs, social networking and other user generated content’.

Moreover Blumler and Gurevitch (2001) also warn that the internet’s potential to facilitate more participatory political communication is dependent on considerable resources such as time and finance. David Simon in his testimony on the future of journalism discussed the need for a funded full time media workers:

But democratized and independent though they may be, you do not – in my city — run into bloggers or so-called citizen journalists at City Hall, or in the courthouse hallways or at the bars and union halls where police officers gather. You do not see them consistently nurturing and then pressing sources. You do not see them holding institutions accountable on a daily basis.

Eugenia Siapera (2013) warns that some of the windows of opportunity for citizens and political activists opened by the new forms of media production and distribution are closing. This is due to the development of the new online media ecosystem that sees an increased concentration of distributive power on internet platforms such as Facebook or Google (Siapera 2013 p. 14). The new powerful internet distributors operate by the logic of what Siapera defines as infomediation.  This can be defined as a process of bringing together information producers and information users to exchange contents and secondly to record as much data on users as possible to sell onto third parties – the process of immanent commodification. This leads to not only an introduction of new categories of news and information content but also the likelihood that the hierarchies will be related to how the infomederies may ‘value’ and monetise their readers; as  different audiences will be of different value to various advertisers. This according to Siapera is likely to impact on the actual distribution of news contents customised to fit the appropriate type of audience (Siapera 2013 p. 16). While on the one hand social media allows the easy dissemination for alternative views and politics it may be also argued that political activists must be cautioned against establishing isolated echo-chambers rather than engaging with wider society.

References:

Blumler, J.G. and Gurevitch, M. 2001. The new media and our political communications discontents. Information, Communication and Society, 4(3), pp.435-457.

Castells, M. 2000. The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd ed.  Oxford: Blackwell.

Castells, M. 2009. Communication Power. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Chakravartty, P. and Schiller, D. 2010. Neoliberal newspeak and digital capitalism in crisis. International Journal of Communication, (4), pp.670-692.

Coyer, K., Dowmunt, T. and Fountain, A. 2007. The Alternative Media Handbook. London: Routledge.

Lenin, V., I. 1901. Where to begin. Iskra,   

Preston, P. 2009. Making the News: Journalism and News Cultures in Contemporary Europe. New York, NY: Routledge.

Schuler, D. and Day, P. 2004. Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civil Society in Cyberspace. Cambridge, Ma ; London: MIT Press.

Siapera, E. 2013. Platform infomediation and journalism. Culture Machine, 13pp.1-29.

[1] Castells (2009 p. 55) calls these new form of communication mass self-communication, as they are potentially broadcast to a global audience and because the production of the message is self-directed and often the reception of the media is self-selected. These new forms of media hold a potential for subaltern groups and ideologies previously excluded from the mass media

[2] ‘The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. In this last respect it may be likened to the scaffolding round a building under construction, which marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, enabling them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised labour’ (Lenin 1901).

[3] Number of Facebook followers correct as of 22/04/2015.

The Press, Market Ideologies and the Irish Housing Crisis

Henry Silke, of this parish, wrote a short paper for the newly founded Political Economy Research Centre at Goldsmiths University, London. The paper looks at the links between the media and the property industries and looks at the coverage of housing and property in the run up to the 2007 general election:

The time period was chosen for two reasons. Firstly the drop in house prices first began in the second quarter of 2007 and secondly because this coincided with the general election that year which was held on the 24th of May. This election was probably the last major opportunity for debate in the ‘public sphere’ on the property bubble before the crash, and certainly it was the last opportunity for people to vote before the crash.

The report looks at where the Irish Independent and the Irish Times sourced their information on housing; sourcing is an important issue in media as journalists depend on sources for information which is then further mediated to the public, often as fact. The results are stark: 

 In the coverage of property in the Irish Times and Irish Independent a key finding was the dominance of elite sources connected with the property and finance industries as compared to ordinary sources such as home buyers and renters. In fact, out of 800 articles, only one reflected critically the views of tenants. This is especially the case in the property and business sections. The greatest total single overall source on the issue of housing is comprised of estate agents, accounting for some 28% of total sources and 29% of sources by frequency. This high skewing of estate agent sources is due to the large number of advertorial articles in the property sections but nonetheless the lack of critique within the property sections even from a consumer perspective (never mind a public interest, business or societal perspective), still leaves much to be desired.

In the news sections official sources, especially politicians are most prevalent with 69% of total sources. This can be broken down to 29% government parties’ representatives and manifestos; 34% opposition parties representatives and manifestos and 6% local government and government agency sources. 17% of articles also included sources from the finance and property industries…

 

…the parties with pro-market polices make up the vast majority of sources in the papers although it may be argued this reflected party political support at the time. When compared, the Irish Independent and Irish Times have a roughly similar ratio of party political representation. Economically right wing political sources make up the majority with approximately 65% of representatives being openly free market parties (Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats). If we include Labour who had a 2007 policy of subsidising the market by offering large grants to be used to buy private housing (the number would go up to approximately 77%). Representatives of parties that call for non-market solutions to housing make up just under 9% of sources (Sinn Fein, The Socialist Party and People Before Profit Alliance), while the Green Party, which called for stricter market regulation, come in at 10.5%.

The most striking figure is that of what we term use value sources, that is sources such as renters and home buyers who are interested in the property solely for its use, i.e. to live or work in it. Use value sources make up only 2% of total sources and appearing in only 2% of all articles. This compares to ‘exchange value’ sources (from the property and finance industries) making up 43% of total sources and appearing in 44% of all articles.

A key observation from this research is that statements from sources in private industry are generally reported as fact with little or no critique. There is an absence of critical engagement with the claims advanced by such manifestly partisan sources and the consequent lack of any independent or investigative journalism orientated to a wider public interest. This overly skewed sourcing could be described as a manifest ‘capturing’ of the press by property and finance sources and may help to explain the downplaying of the oncoming crisis, and the lack of critique of the massive inflation of the cost of housing as will be discussed below.

The report goes on to discuss some of the treatment and framing of the housing by the Irish Times and Irish Independent:

The key trends included an overall market-orientated frame: that is that housing was primarily looked at from the point of view of the market rather than society. Elements of this included the privileging of exchange value over use value, non-critical reporting of markets and market sources, and a ‘fragmented imagination’ – that is the artificial division of events. For example, while corruption on housing issues such as rezoning was heavily covered in the news sections on the political side, the industrial side of the corruption was completely ignored and corruption itself was not covered in business or property sections of the papers. The role of the state, following clear neo-liberal norms, is seen positively, as existing to serve the market, to return it to stability; or negatively as a malign force causing instability in the markets.

The report goes on the discuss the lack of critical engagement in the newspapers with issues such as house prices and the property markets:

The residential property supplement in both newspapers displayed an uncritical, aspirational and advertorial discourse when reporting individual properties. At times, advertorial type articles also find their way into the business and news sections. Not one article questioned whether an individual property may be overpriced, the minimum expected of even a consumerist publication. Overall in the newspapers, including the news sections, the key issue is of the market and ‘market stability’ rather than either consumer or social good. In the news sections there is an acknowledgement of a need for a second tier housing supply for those who cannot afford to purchase on the open market. But the third tier of private rental accommodation (beyond one article) remains invisible. In the property and commercial sections the rental property market is framed from the perspective of landlords and investors. Even second tier housing is framed on a market basis from the point of view of private companies or developers involved in the supply of public housing. In Op-Ed articles, market stability is the major issue again trumping the crisis of affordability or the social need for housing. The only questioning of rental prices is from the point of view of business focusing on the danger of wage demand inflation arising from higher rents.

On the role of the state:

The discussion around state policy played into the neoliberal trope of state ‘interference’ distorting a functioning market. Material issues such as overproduction and price inflation are ignored and assumptions of market self-regulation (without state interference) appear implied. This is an important finding as it reflects the neo-classical viewpoint that markets work and are self-regulating and that crisis came not from markets themselves but from behavioural, psychological and political interferences that cause irrational exuberance, crashes and crises. Again, given the non-critical sourcing of both papers from orthodox neoclassical economists and the lack of any evidence of independent fact checking or investigation, this is probably not surprising.

The report concludes:

There is ample evidence from the research to state that the role of newspapers when covering the property industry was not one of objective reporters or ‘watchdogs’ reporting on the issue of housing from the point of public interest. Rather, the newspapers’ key role was as advertisers for the industry, facilitating exchanges of uncritical information between industry players, and as an ideological apparatus. This apparatus acted to normalise the hyperinflation of housing, celebrate high property prices, downplay alternatives and, crucially, acted to play down the contradictions in the Irish system that were heading towards a crash.

And:

The newspapers did not act in accordance with the overall public interest in mind but rather narrow sectional and economistic interests. There were some exceptions to this, in particular in some opinion pieces. However, the main trends and frames point to a ‘captured press’; that is a press in the service of a narrow class-based interest. This does not represent an accusation of a ‘conspiracy’, as stated by Geraldine Kennedy (2015) in her evidence to the banking inquiry. Rather, this is evidence of key structural, institutional and ideological biases that were apparent in the analysis of the content. A key element to this process was the framing of housing not as a social need but as a commodity whose chief role was to create wealth rather than supply housing. This allowed for the celebration of the hyperinflation of housing and rental costs. The market-orientated framing also included the neo-classical and idealistic belief in market self-regulation, either denying or playing down the possibility of a crash. The lack of critique may well have helped to both build and prolong the bubble itself. That is not to say the media caused the crisis. There were long term material and political structural issues at its core. However, the newspapers did play the role of facilitator, supplying ideological and political cover to an economic elite who profiteered greatly from the hyperinflation of housing and the sale of financial products. This assisted in laying the grounds for the housing crash, the economic crisis and the subsequent financial bailout, alongside the severe austerity policies that then followed.

And finally:

There is little evidence that this framing of housing as a commodity rather than a social need has changed as most discourse continues to be around ‘fixing the market’ rather than thinking outside of it

The full paper can be found here.

Tom Murphy (CEO), and Tim Vaughan (Editor) of the Irish Examiner on the Role of Media during the Property Boom

Tom Murphy and Tim Vaughan, CEO and Editor of the Irish Examiner at the time of the housing bubble, spoke to the Dail Committee investigating the banking crisis on the role of their paper in the housing bubble.

In his evidence Tim Vaughan states:

If we were guilty of anything – and I believe we were – it is that we believed and accepted that institutions such as the financial regulatory authorities were doing their jobs and doing them competently, with due diligence, appropriate compliance policies and proper political and departmental oversight, all of which we believed were designed to ensure the stability of our economy. From what we know as a result of the Honohan, Regling-Watson and Nyberg reports and the contributions of others to this inquiry, it appears to be obvious that our trust in these various arms and agents of the State was, to say the least, misplaced.

I acknowledge that there was insufficient critique of the frequent claims that there would be no crash and our so-called economic miracle would continue to be an example to the world. We should have more rigorously challenged the predictions of analysts and economists, including those who contributed to our newspaper and those who had direct or indirect associations with financial institutions. While this is an accusation that could be levelled at many editors and publishers throughout the world, much better resourced than my own organisation,

Video and transcript of the session can be found here 

 

 

 

Harry Browne: Opening statement to Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss with the committee the role of the media, as part of the ‘context’ phase of its inquiry into the banking crisis. I understand from your invitation that you wish to discuss the following: the role in mainstream media for scepticism about the sustainability of the housing boom or the strength of the broader economy; potential conflicts of interest among media organisations; the promotion of property ownership over other forms of tenure; and the prevailing view that there would be a soft landing. In my opening statement I will address these in broad terms and and am happy to explore them more specifically thereafter.

Print and broadcast media in Ireland played an immeasurable but almost-certainly significant role in the inflation of the property bubble and the legitimation of risky behaviour by the financial-services sector in the lead-up to the crisis of 2007-08, and did so partly by ignoring or marginalising scepticism about these phenomena. I will focus in my statement on the newspaper industry, and I will argue that this socially destructive role should be understood not as a ‘failing’ of Irish newspapers but as a feature, one that flows predictably from commercial media’s structural relationship with the corporate forces that benefited from the bubble. While this relationship is of very long standing and continues, to some extent, to this day, I will further argue that there were certain aspects of the development of newspapers in the 1990s and early 2000s – particularly acute in Ireland but also experienced elsewhere in the world – that made them especially vulnerable to domination by those forces, and weakened the capacity of journalists to play the critical, adversarial, investigative role that most of them undoubtedly value.

Continue reading

Joint Committee of Inquiry of the Banking Crisis – The Role of the Media

Dr Julien Mercille said that after the crash, the media also presented the Government's crisis resolution policies in a largely favourable manner

Today Julien Mercille and Harry Browne were called to give evidence at the banking inquiry on the role of the media in the housing bubble and crisis:

Julien Mercille’s testimony  can be found here:

Harry Browne’s testimony can be found here:

Comment to follow

THE ERT WE WANT – General Assembly of ERT Workers

(This article is taken from the Workers’ Solidarity Movement website which can be found here)

The capitalist crisis saw the closure of Greek Radio-Television (ERT) but workers not only resisted they took ERT into collective self management and continued broadcasting. 21 months after its closure the striking workers still ran 17 radio stations (15 regional, two national) and a single TV channel (ET3).

The translation of the texts below has been sent to us by Thanasis, a worker at the ERT and outline how the workers restructured ERT and what they want Syriza to respect if funding is returned. Thanasis writes:

Actually, and in simple words, they fired us but we never left the building and of course we never took an  advance to earn money (publicity etc) respecting the fact that all these buldings and technical stuff belong to the Greek people.  The new government after having recognized our struggle decided to re-open the Public Radio-television. Lets hope they will also incorporate our ideas, those we fought for over the last 2 years. What you will read is not a dream. Is what we already do everyday and we simply propose it for the future.

«THE ERT WE WANT»

TEXT–PROPOSAL issued by the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of the WORKERS of FREE SELF-MANAGED ERT3

On the occasion of the first anniversary since the government shut down the country’s public broadcaster Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) in a coup-like move on the night of June 11, 2013, we the workers of the Self-managed ERT3 who have persevered with our independent struggle to keep ERT3 open for over a year now in order to serve the people by providing regular and independent programming, we the workers who are convinced of our rights and the oncoming vindication, are preparing for the “day after” and are hereby presenting our text/proposal for “The ERT We Want”.

The following text has emanated through direct-democracy procedures, namely through the numerous general assemblies organized by the struggling workers of ERT3 in Thessaloniki. Written word by word by a nine-member working group which was voluntarily selected through our assembly, the proposal was returned to the general assembly for approval before it took its final form.

The proposed text outlines the key principles and aims, the means of financing, the sector of labor relations, the public’s participation and the model of «administration» during ERT’s new period of operation.

It is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of people who stood by us in solidarity during all these troubled months, as well as to all the Greeks and other peoples who have been profoundly affected by the brutal pro-memorandum government policy of recent years. Yet, it is particularly dedicated to those who refuse to bow their head and choose to carry on with dignity and unceasing efforts until the final victory for freedom and real democracy, instead of yielding in the face of a black regime.

We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 are publicizing this document today, calling on all of our struggling colleagues throughout the country, on our brothers and sisters in Athens, in other large cities and in the proud regional stations to embrace our effort so that we may all together press ahead with dignity.

We call upon the general public to support the Public Broadcaster we dream of; this dream is society’s offspring, society gave birth to this dream.

We the workers of Free Self-managed ERT3 declare: VICTORY IS NEAR, NOT BECAUSE VICTORY AWAITS US, BUT BECAUSE WE ARE MOVING TOWARDS VICTORY.

«THE ERT WE WANT»

KEY PRINCIPLES AND AIMS
Independent information and quality-driven cultural/entertainment programming provided by a truly PUBLIC and DEMOCRATIC broadcasting organization constitutes a public good, not a commodity. Freedom of press, uncensored journalistic work, absence of “orders” from superiors, cultural creativity and promotion and the unimpeded conduct of investigative journalism for the good of the general public, especially for the weaker social groups and movements, all constitute a uniform and non-negotiable right and obligation.

The voice of ERT must be transmitted everywhere in Greece and anywhere Greeks reside in the world. The state has a duty to provide the appropriate and necessary infrastructure to fulfill this purpose.

Respect for human rights, both individual and social, is to be enforced by all workers without exception, for the citizens of the country and the world. ERT’s role is partly educational; it is to provide quality cultural material, offer an outlet of expression for the isolated social groups, as well as care for the advancement of the creative imagination of the younger age groups by encouraging interactive skills and critical thinking. ERT ensures in practice the protection of human dignity, while it highlights, denounces and rejects all expressions of racism, bigotry, sexism, nationalism, state authoritarianism or any form of discrimination against individuals or groups targeted for their political / social / trade union action.

ERT serves society and its needs while it also serves as an embankment to the phenomena of “social automation-fragmentation-cannibalism”, whenever the given political power attempt to cultivate these traits within the society based on the logic of “divide and rule”. ERT checks the political power and does not identify with said power, as it is neither a government body nor an institution at the service of parties and individual or business

The ERT has been serving the community and its needs, while simultaneously an embankment to the phenomena of “social automation-hash-cannibalism”, whenever the power of any attempts to cultivate the society based on the premise of “divide and rule”. ERT controls the power and not the same as it is neither a government body and its mechanisms, or institution of parties and organized individual or business «circles».

The general assemblies of workers and the active working folk remain vigilant in observing these principles and aims at all stages of ERT’s operation, in order to prevent any attempts at interference, may that be via censorship or other, regardless of which institution this attempt may stem from. FUNDING The licensing fee is ERT’s main source of funding; it is not to be utilized for any purpose unrelated to the public broadcaster’s needs and does not constitute in any way a funding opportunity for the given government (i.e. transferring a portion of the licensing fee to state investments in photovoltaics).

The compensation rate is determined in accordance to income / social criteria. Those living below the poverty line are exempted from paying the licensing fee.

ERT operates under a special economic state, i.e. a public utility that cannot be transferred or sold to private entities. ERT ceases to be a corporation. ERT, as a public broadcaster that actively exercises its role in providing quality information, producing programs that serve as public goods and not commodities, will not become involved in the advertisement genre. The additional financial needs that will arise, may they be for larger-scale productions or for the broadcast of breaking news shall be covered by the state.

Excluded from the no-advertisement clause will be the ERT channel assigned to broadcast an event that is accompanied by sponsorships.

LABOR RELATIONS

All of ERT employees will be hired under an open-ended work agreement, with full-time and exclusive employment and insurance rights, without exception. There will be no differentiation between regular and temporary staff.

All (de)regulatory rules (articles and clauses on contracts or staff regulations) that perpetuate the status of short-term contracted employees and instead conceal fixed and permanent needs in the operation of ERT will become null and void. “Outsourced program collaborators”, “special advisers” and “Special Staff Positions” have no place in the new operation of ERT. There will be no employees transferred from subcontracting companies.

Members of staff with specialized subject work (cleaning crews, security, cameramen, etc.) constitute an integral part of ERT’s human resources and they are individuals hired specifically for the said task, holding the same rights as all other workers. Any significant new need that may arise to cover “gaps” in programming shall be met either through the existing specialized staff and, if this is not feasible, then it shall be covered by staff that will be hired at ERT with exactly the same employment terms that apply to the other workers.

The actual emergencies for external ‘seasonal’ collaborator or employees with reduced working hours will be reviewed as special cases by the instituted bodies of program production, which will undertake to submit detailed proposals to the body of the General Assembly, which will make the final decisions after assessing all the facts of each case separately.

PARTICIPATION OF SOCIETY

ERT, as a broadscaster with a truly public service character, is behooved to pay close attention to the voice of the very society it addresses. To fulfill this objective, ERT will provide the conditions that enable a participatory formation of the overall philosophy of the transmitted program.

In order to avoid overriding the will of the people and the arbitrary representation of social groups of “factors” and vested interests of the political, social, economic, self-governing powers, the citizens’ society shall have first say in the subsidiary influencing of the overall program philosophy, through its the solidarity structures, social movements, collectives, or individuals who are experiencing racism and repression, neighborhood committees, direct democracy grassroots initiatives and the assemblies of the unions representing the struggling sectors of Greek society. R

epresentatives of these aforementioned living cells of society will undertake to convey the decisions of their general assemblies or the views that are shaped as a general sense of society and, in conjunction with the proposals that will be submitted to ERT (the program committees and ERT staff assemblies) by representatives of various scientific meetings / training / professional sectors, a largely unmediated hearing will have been achieved. This ensures ERT’s truly public nature, which is not merely addressing the public, but is mainly initiated by the people themselves.

ADMINISTRATION

Two of the main characteristics of the months-long struggle maintained by the workers ERT against the government-enforced “black screen”, the self-management of the produced programming and the self-administration of the struggle, are incorporated as non-negotiable conquests in the new operation of ERT. The overall philosophy of “administration” is based on direct democratic procedures, the rotation of the various departments supervisors and their direct recall, where the main decision-making body, that is the general assembly of workers, so decides.

The classic notion of directorship or the position of department “supervisor” acquires characteristics that have to do with the ability to exercise a coordinating role in order to improve internal operations and achieve a better result in the transmitted program. The so-called ‘managerial prerogative’ is abolished and is replaced by the principle of respect among equals. The department coordinators (supervisors) shall be elected by the employees of the department. They are accountable, reviewed and may be recalled by the General Assembly of the workers. The same stands for the individual administrations.

Similarly, the general coordinator (the classic position of general manager) is excluded from the above outline. The election of the general coordinator is made by the general assembly of the employees of ERT. In all, the position of the general coordinator / manager does not hold the power and imposition of a blanket authoritarian management / operation of ERT, but, instead aims to coordinate the departments in order to achieve the best quality results for the benefit of society and the potential for enlargement of the rights and the defense of the gains of the people, including the right to free and independent information and quality entertainment.

ADMINISTRATIVE AUTONOMY

ERT, regardless where it broadcasts from, constitutes a unified, public broadcasting organization, while, concurrently, each and every channel, radio or digital media of ERT (among them ERT3) maintains its administrative autonomy. ERT has the necessary human resources and the appropriate broadcasting infrastructure in every county of Greece, in order to assure that any local or breaking news in the given regions is covered on the spot.

Solidarity, mutual understanding, respect for autonomy and coordination among the members of this public broadcaster constitute prerequisites not only for the implementation and consolidation of internal direct democracy procedures, but also for the prevention of a centrally-controlled administration. Nationwide meetings of coordinators and committees of all broadcasting units in the country will be held at regular intervals, conveying the decisions of the general meetings of workers and civil society in order to exchange views, to address weaknesses and to continuously improve the broadcast program.

The Silence of the Liberals

On Monday morning the Gardai began a highly political series of dawn raids which have so far seen 17 people, including two minors, arrested in force. The raids began on Monday with the arrest of three politicians, two local and one national, Paul Murphy TD. The arrests are concerned with a protest last November at which the Minister of Social Protection Joan Burton was delayed for up to two hours. No arrests were made on the day of the protest itself.  So what has the Irish Times had to say about this affront on democracy and the right of protest, not much it seems, the print edition between Monday and Wednesday has produced a total of four articles (including a letter) with just over 1,000 words and no editorials. at the time of writing the arrests continue, it will be interesting to see if D’Olier St. has anything to say on the issue over the next number of days and if so what it is, watch this space.

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An Attack on Democracy

sindoThis Morning, at approximately  seven am, six Gardai arrested Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy, at the same time Gardai arrested two other Socialist Party/AAA Councillors from the Tallaght area, a member of Eirigi was also arrested.  This follows months of frankly hysterical media coverage around a minor protest in Jobstown, a working class suburb of Dublin, where a picket held up the Minister of Social Protection for two hours. This has included the demonisation of  Murphy himself and a campaign of vilification that has attempted to smear the campaign against water charges itself, though it seems with little effect. Critical Media Review has been following the media coverage over the last number of months with a discussion on the delegimisation of the movement  here, the coverage of the Jobstown protest  here, and the recent attacks on Paul Murphy TD from the Irish Examiner here. There has of course been much much more across all mediums. Overall we can point to evidence of utterly biased and hysterical reporting on what has been in the whole an entirely peaceful if disobedient movement. We can also suggest that the  recasting of entirely peaceful protestsas violent, dangerous and undemocratic leads to a certain atmosphere. This kind of atmosphere legitimises what can only be termed highly political policing where the arrest of no less than three democratically elected politicians from a single party on extremely spurious grounds can be permitted This alongside the comments by the Gardai top brass on the ‘tone’ of protests can only be taken as an attack on the democratic norms of free assembly and against effective forms of protesting such as picketing and boycotting.

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paul murphy arrest

Paul Murphy TD arrested this morning