Journalism in Times of Crisis – University of Limerick April 7 2016

Journalism Times Crisis - Option 1

 

As the world continues to face the upheavals of war, migration and economic crises, it is pertinent to discuss the role of journalism and the media as a whole in the structures of contemporary society. Such a discussion is given added urgency at a time when the media continues to concentrate into privately owned monopolies with worsening conditions for media workers, more stringent editorial controls and a retreat from so-called ‘fourth estate’ ideologies into market driven strategies.

Likewise journalism as a profession is threatened by falling circulation figures, cuts in funding and the advent of click-bait pseudo journalism, churnalism and an ever greater reliance on public relations subsidies. Distribution too has been disrupted by the algorithms of Facebook and news-aggregators, that some argue is narrowing rather than widening readers perspectives.

Journalism’s independence from social and political forces has again come into question as seen with the cosy relationship between journalism and the financial and property sectors; while recently both newspapers and broadcasters are increasingly coming under accusations of bias in their reportage of social and political events.

This conference will bring together journalists, media workers and media theorists to discuss the role of journalism in the 21st century, conditions for journalists in the contemporary newsroom and prospects for the future of the media industry.

twitter: #crisisjournalism

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1050038358370802/

Programme

09:45 Opening Address plus main keynote:

Location: Millstream Common room

Gemma O’Doherty, Investigative Journalist: ‘Media Concentration and Power’

Features Writer Gemma O'Doherty. Pic Frank Mc Grath

10:45AM coffee break

11:00 Panel Discussion
Location: Millstream Common room

Media Concentration and Power Chair: Bryan Dobson. Speakers Seamus Dooley (NUJ), Henry Silke (UL), more speakers to be added.

12:30 pm Lunch

1:30 Pm – 3-00 pm Parallel Sessions 1&2

3:00 – 3:15 Coffee

3:15 – 4:45 Parallel Sessions 3,4&5

5:00 – 6:00 Panel Discussion/ Debate
Location: Millstream Common Room

Talking about Water: Is the Media Biased? Chair: Mary Dundon. Speakers: Eoin Devereux, Paul Murphy TD, more speakers to be added

8:00 pm social event
Location: Millstream Common Room

Parallel Sessions

1: Journalism and the Economic Crisis
Julien Mercille (UCD)
Henry Silke UL (UL)
Fergal Quinn UL (UL)
Ciara Graham (IT Tallaght)
Aileen Marron (UL)

2: Journalism and Politics
Mary Dundon (UL)
Harry Browne (DIT)
Tom Clonan, (DIT)
Mark Cullinan (UCC)

3: Representation in times of Crisis
Gavan Titley (NUIM)
Angela Nagle (DCU)
Martin Power, Amanda Haynes (UL)
Kate Butler (Sunday Times)

4: Disruptions in Journalism
Eugenia Siapera (DCU)
Kathryn Hayes (UL)
John O Sullivan DCU
Tom Felle (UL)
Helena Sheehan (DCU)

5: New Journalism and the Radical Press (Panel Discussion)
Chair: Seamus Farrell (DCU)
James Redmond (Rabble)
Ronan Burtenshaw – (Village Magazine)
Dara McHugh (Look Left)
Dave Lordan – (Bogman’s Cannoon)
Lois Kapila (Dublin Inquirer)
Dara Quigley – (degreeofuncertainty)

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.

Once more, Irish media silence and elision as Minister’s Gaza visit deemed barely newsworthy

Kevin Squires in the first of a three part series on the coverage of the Irish foreign affairs minister to Gaza. Kevin Squires is a Palestine solidarity and political activist based in Ireland. A frequent contributor to various Irish leftist publications, he blogs about music, comedy, comics and politics at Citizen Partridge.

Citizen Partridge

unrwa-flan-gaza Charlie Flanagan in Gaza (Photo: UNRWA)

Of the three Irish media outlets that deemed it newsworthy to mention the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan’s, visit to Gaza yesterday, none of them deemed it necessary to go beyond reporting what was in the government press release on the matter.

Well that’s not entirely true, while the Irish Examiner managed to omit entirely that he was in Gaza, and just reported the €4.7m blood money thrown at UNRWA, the Irish Times gave a little bit of background, noting that:

“[Last summer] Seven weeks of Israeli bombardment from air and sea, and rocket attacks on Israel, left more than 2,200 people dead – the great majority of them Palestinians in Gaza. More than 10,000 Gazans and some 700 Israelis were wounded while some 20,000 homes in the strip were estimated to have been left uninhabitable by shelling and air strikes.”

Let’s…

View original post 941 more words

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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The Construction of News and the Framing of Dissent

The common perception of news production is that news reports events as or after they happen; a newsworthy event takes place and teams of journalists go out and report the case. This is of course true in some cases such as accidents and other unexpected events. However if a news team had to simply ‘wait’ for news to happen they might find that reality may not fit deadlines in a neat manner. Rather the reality is that news is often as not constructed by the news production team and then published or broadcast. A common version of this can be heard every morning on ‘Morning Ireland’ and most other radio stations. Minister X is interviewed at 8.45 on issue Y and the Nine O’Clock news follows with ‘Mister X stated Y’, this will then be followed up throughout the day with reactions to what Minister X said by opposition politician Z and so on. Minister X may have gone on the radio specifically to state Y, therefore being very much part of the news construction process. Teams of PR agencies and state communication departments spend their days constructing pre-prepared news items for the mainstream media (which are never marked as such); which leads to the direct subsidisation of news by powerful interests. This leads to the very obvious advantages of elites over the rest of society with an ability to shape news agendas and interpretations to suit their own interests.

The 1970s saw an upsurge in institutional studies of media companies often drawing from the sociology of work. These studies have shown how the ‘reality’ constructed by journalists may be what is more easily available or accessible to journalists (or important to journalists) rather than a reflection or mirror of reality (for example see Tuchman 1974, 1978). The construction of news is not a neutral event, work practices, access to sources and overarching ideologies influence how this news is constructed. The ‘news values’ or what is deemed newsworthy is intrinsically ideological as is the interpretation and framing of those events. As Roger Fowler (1991 p.2) succinctly puts it

What events are reported is not a reflection of the intrinsic importance of those events, but reveals the operation of a complex and artificial set of criteria for selection. Then the news that is thus selected is subject to processes of transformation as it is encoded for publication; the technical properties of the medium – television or newsprint, for example and the ways in which they are used, are strongly effective in transformation. Both ‘selection’ and ‘transformation’ are guided by reference, generally unconscious to ideas and beliefs.

The ideological nature of news construction has been clearly on show over the course of the water protests, the literally hundreds of water protests happening on a daily basis seem not to be deemed newsworthy; this clearly fits the mainstream frame of politics being something that happens in the corridors of power rather than on the streets.  Moreover when protests are covered there are common attempts to play them down or describe them as violent as witnessed by the so called ‘sinister fringe’ framing of the water protests. Violence by Irish Water staff, their security firms or police is not being reported in the Irish press. The protests and assorted violence is of course being watched via social media and has now been picked up by the UK based Vice.

framing

The examiner on Wednesday the 28th of January gave us a clear example of both news construction and framing. A protest the previous Friday (a full five days before) against President Michael D. Higgins had been held in a working class part of Dublin; during the protest some frankly childish insults had been thrown at the President and there had been evidence of pushing and shoving by the Police. The protest in itself however was not the story covered by the Examiner rather the newspaper interviewed Paul Murphy TD and asked him to denounce the protests. Murphy in a nuanced enough fashion said that he thought it was legitimate to protest the President as he had signed the Water Charges Bill and defended the right to protest but that he did not think it was tactically wise to do so, moreover he did not support personalised remarks against the President. The headline however was ‘TD defends Higgins Abusers’ which was misleading as it seems to imply Murphy had come out to defend all aspects of the protest rather than answer a question asked by the newspaper. Murphy was most likely targeted by the newspaper because of his role in a previous peaceful protest, which he had also refused to denounce.

examiner

The Examiner continued its construction of the story on Thursday the 28th with the front page headline; ‘Murphy Protest Remarks Spark Outrage’, this headline was even more insidious as one reading of it could imply that Murphy had a closer connection to the protest. The newspaper rather than Writing ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy Spark Outrage’ place the words Murphy and Protest together which means ‘Murphy’ could be read as an adjective or possessive implying a far closer connection, while this may be put down to simply poor style on the part of subeditors linguistically ‘Murphy Protest Remarks’ is a far stronger and more ideological statement than the ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy’ placing Murphy far closer to the protest than having simply answered a question that was put to him by the newspaper. Murphy himself has stated that he intends to officially complain to the Press Ombudsman about his treatment but the event in itself is extremely useful in reminding us about the role of the media as news factories rather than simply being objective reporters of daily life.

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Fowler, R. 1991. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London and New York: Routledge.

Tuchman, G. 1978. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality. New York: Free Press.

Tuchman, G. 1974. The TV Establishment: Programming for Power and Profit. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Delegitimising a Movement: Irish Water and the ‘Sinister Fringe’

Henry Silke (7/11/2014)

Today on the  ‘The Right Hook’, a drive time radio talk show broadcast on the Denis O’Brien owned Newstalk FM, the first forty minutes  discussed  the continued controversy around water charges. The main issue for broadcaster George Hook and his guests was around violence allegedly being perpetuated by so called ‘fringe elements’ in the anti-water charges movement. What was interesting for me was the immediate assumptions that this violence had taken place, that this violence was prevalent and that it was orchestrated by some sort of dark fringe element. There is of course actually no evidence for any of this – as none of it has happened. Firstly the movements two main manifestations, a march in Dublin of around 100,000 followed weeks later by the simultaneous holding 90 local marches nationwide (estimated to have contained somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 people) have been absolutely peaceful without any trouble of any kind. The resistance to the installing of water meters around the country has in fact been going on for weeks, most notably in North Dublin and Cork, and they too have also taken place without violence. There have been numerous arrests of protesters blockading the installations and some heavy handed police tactics but the protesters themselves have acted in a peaceful manner.

Resistance or Violence?

Resistance or Violence?

What we are witnessing is a deliberate re-framing of the water issue as an issue of law and order with the twin bogeymen of armed republicanism and communism being called to the fore. Today in what has to be one of the most overtly political act of journalism in recent years the Irish Independent claimed that water meter installation in parts of Dublin were being post-phoned, not due to the mass mobilisation of communities, but because of the ‘infiltration of dissident republicans’ (i.e. terrorists) who had been ‘attacking’ the police, no evidence whatsoever was given for any of these allegations bar Garda sources who themselves provided absolutely no evidence (1). In the print edition the independent chose to accompany the article with a large photograph of a riot – in Belgium. Newspaper accusations of infiltration of dissident republicans of course is nothing new having been used  constantly against the community of Rossport in Co. Mayo who spent many years resisting the imposition  of a Shell pipeline and refinery upon them (to say nothing of the appropriation of a natural resource). When police sources ominously speak of such infiltration they deliberately include the connotations of masked gunmen and bombers in an overt attempt to scare people away from and smear what are legitimate political manifestations and campaigns. Moreover as pointed out by the Tánaiste Joan Burton, in her infamous smart phone speech, all of these protests have been captured on video, and while heavy handed police tactics have been recorded there has yet to be any evidence of protester violence. This plays into the media assumption that when there is any clash between the forces of law and order and the public, the public is always at fault and usually expressed as the public ‘attacking’ the police whatever the actual facts of the case are.

A second theme prevalent in the media is that this movement is an orchestrated ‘power grab’ by the hard left, a classic ‘red scare’ article appeared in the Irish Examiner (2) yesterday claiming that the entire movement was not about water but rather a Socialist Party and even Anarchist plot to gain power. An interesting side note to this is the notion that a radical working class party wanting to come to power is a problem, something that is evidently not the case for right wing parties of the elite. It is especially notable as the author of the piece Victoria White is a member of the Green Party; a party who did come to power and proceeded to stand over the greatest transfer of wealth from the working and middle classes to the elite in the history of the state (3).

This type of framing of politics of course is nothing new. In 1969 Ralph Miliband writing in his seminal book The State in Capitalist Society argued that the political and economic rule by dominant classes is underlined by a complex process of legitimation which allows for the consensus of the working classes.  This is expressed in politics by ‘political socialisation’ and the ‘engineering of consent’ which he terms as a type of indoctrination which exists across society.  The methods of such political socialisation takes place within the political sphere, the educational sphere, including the universities. But the major overt area where politics is discussed and debated is within the public sphere of the mass media.

Ralph Miliband

Ralph Miliband

Miliband argues that the pluralist notion of the freedom of expression and opportunity of expression in contemporary society are both superficial and misleading. While dissident thoughts may be held they may not be easily broadcast. And though there is a widespread pluralism within the press, that pluralism is very much set within the prevailing agenda. For example the media have at length discussed various problems of Irish Water, problems such as ‘communications’, bonuses and management, but the nub of the question that is the class nature of the act of the appropriation of a public good and the elimination of a heretofore and taken for granted human right is not up for discussion. Citizens become consumers and politics becomes public           relations techniques to ‘clarify’ the nature of the policy.

Party political impartiality for Miliband is easy to achieve in countries such as Ireland when there is a clear ideological consensus between the major parties, but more difficult in societies with mass radical political parties.  In this case impartiality is quickly forgotten.  In the case where there is a broad consensus impartiality is given within the political agenda.  But there will be a widespread bias for any thoughts coming from outside that agenda. For example Miliband maintains the press is a ‘deeply committed’ anti trade union force, which will almost always take an anti-union stance in economic conflict.  In other words (in the case of Ireland) while the press may represent pluralism between the major political parties, who effectively represent similar interests and policies, in a state of conflict the press will invariably come out for the establishment.  What we may be witnessing over the last number of weeks may well be the media’s reaction to the mainstreaming of class politics, the growth of small radical leftist parties and the continued development of Sinn Fein into a mass party with the potential to take power*. In other words as class politics becomes more prevalent the press may become more overtly ideological and party political.

Miliband maintains that the act of ideological legitimation and indoctrination is also formed within the overtly non-political entertainment section of media. Moreover for Miliband  the private ownership of ‘the means of mental production’ means a state of de-facto censorship exists, a ‘private’ censorship based more on a general framework than direct control and one that albeit offers much more room for dissent compared to totalitarian state censorship, but one that will still insist on the correct attitude to conflicts between capital and labour and political issues outside the consensus.  Miliband also maintains that the power of advertisers, generally capitalist, acts as another form of influence on ideology on the media. Miliband maintains that the majority of ‘cultural workers’ as he puts it will not ‘rock the boat’ as such or go against the ideological framework because their own ideological and political framework does not normally come up against these limitations. The leash on these workers for Miliband is sufficiently long enough as to allow enough freedom of movement and not to feel the strain.  Rather than overt censorship the issue of self-censorship for professional advancement reasons has more resonance. This process became quite clear in the process of ‘self-censorship’ during the Northern Irish conflict.  Moreover in the current regime of precarious work in the media industries the force of self-censorship is likely to be stronger. In Milibands own words:

‘There is nothing particularly surprising about the character and role of the mass media in advanced capitalist society.  Given the economic and political context in which they function, they cannot fail to be, predominantly, agencies for the dissemination of ideas and values which affirm rather than challenge existing patterns of power and privilege, and thus can be weapons in the arsenal of class domination. The notion that they can, for the most part be anything else is either a delusion or a mystification.  They can, and sometimes do, play a ‘dysfunctional’ role; and the fact that they are allowed to do so is not lightly to be dismissed.  But that quite emphatically, is not and indeed cannot, in the given context, be there main role.  They are intended to fulfil a conservative function; and do so’ (Miliband 1969 p. 211).

(1)  Water protests infiltrated by dissidents as meters on hold, Irish Independent (7/11/2014)

(2) Anti-water campaigners protest too much. Their real goal is power, Irish Examiner (5/11/2014)

(3) Andrew Flood of the Anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement wrote a reply ‘Water protests are an organic expression of the power of people’ which was published by the Examiner on the 7/11/2014

*Many on the left argue that Sinn Fein are in fact not a radical party in the Socialist sense, I will not develop this argument here however I would argue that within the mainstream press and among much of the bourgeois Sinn fein are perceived as a radical party and feared and an anti-Sinn Fein bias is certainly prevalent within mainstream media.

Balance in the Bin: The Irish Times’ Framing of the Greyhound Lockout

The Irish business media have not been known for their critical thought nor for their hard questioning of economic actors; on the contrary theirs is a history of sycophantry, poor reporting and little or no fact checking. ‘Entrepreneurial’ and ‘innovative’ businesses and business ‘leaders’ such as Anglo Irish Bank and various property speculators were unquestioned and lauded as paragons of a new dynamic Ireland. Since the crisis one might have reasonably expected a more thoughtful form of business reporting, more reflective, less obsequious  and maybe even slightly critical. Alas, the journalistic model of forelock tugging, arse licking is still with us.

greyhound

Friday’s Irish Times included a long interview with Michael Buckley, Executive Director of Greyhound Waste. Greyhound is in the news as they are currently locking out their workforce, demanding that they take a 35% pay cut. Elements of the media, true to form, are uncritically reporting statements from the company with little evidence of fact-checking and displaying all the usual fawning reserved for business leaders. Friday’s 2,500 word interview includes no counter statements from SIPTU (the union involved) and takes Buckley’s word on every aspect.

 Buckley himself is described as ‘conveying enthusiasm’ for what he does and his statement that the private sector is doing a ‘good job with domestic waste collection’ is unchallenged; something that would raise the eyebrows of any of Greyhound’s long suffering customers. The term lockout is not used, rather it is stated that workers refused a ‘proposal’ that has led them to being ‘replaced, for the time being anyhow’ by agency and contract workers. None of the locked out workers are given space for comment.  Buckley, again uncritically, is given space to show his ‘sympathy’ to the workers, but goes on to say a pay cut is better than nothing, and again the workers’ point of view is not given.  The article then goes into some sycophantic reminiscence of how Buckley’s parents used to run a waste operation, which he describes as a ‘hump and dump’ business which was collecting waste and ‘dumping in unlicensed landfills’. The Irish Times seems to have no issue with this and for this matter they do not mention the numerous environmental indictments that the current Greyhound operation has been involved in; neither does the article think to mention the fact that Greyhound is based in the Isle of Man for tax avoidance purposes. For the Irish Times, the Isle of Man ‘model’ is simply an innocent act of accounting.

 The key section of the interview is where Buckley describes the ‘regime’ Greyhound took over, after its privatisation, being in a terrible state, as:

The collection of rubbish had been seen for decades as a service and not an income stream for business. The workers were well paid and had attractive working conditions.

Indeed, for 150 years Dublin City Council ran what seemed to be a relatively well run waste service that was free to citizens at the point of use. The privatisation of the service is a good example of what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession, a feature of late capitalism that sees a rentier class taking over already existing services and charging for them, often supplying a far less quality service, costing more and paying their staff less. In the case of Greyhound, tax avoidance can also be added to the list. This process began over a decade ago by the commodification of the waste service which would pave the way for later privatisation; in an ironic and Orwellian twist the Labour Party has taken to blaming the opposition movement to the commodification and privatisation of waste and other services for the current mess.

 Throughout the article the process of the labour dispute is described solely from Buckley’s point of view without a single quote from a trade union source. Buckley is allowed to make an accusation of racism against workers, whom he claimed opposed a scab operator because that man was a foreign national. This allegation is not challenged, nor are workers or trade union representatives allowed to answer the accusation.

Greyhound’s unpopularity with its long suffering customers is put down to ‘communication problems’ or Greyhound not being versed in public relations, nothing to do with its extremely poor service or its opportunistic charging for the collection of Green waste which had been free up to privatisation as an obvious and sensible environmental incentive.

 The most incredible piece of writing is that the private waste companies represent an ‘entrepreneurial, innovative sector’ – how is this so? By taking over an already existing, well-run service and operating it in a haphazard and amateurish manner? By doing down the pay and conditions of its staff?  By its numerous notices of repeat non-compliance by the Environmental Protection Agency or by their not-so-innovative use of the Isle of Man to escape financial regulation? A simple internet trawl would uncover actual innovative waste management practices across Europe that go beyond shipping waste overseas for landfill and incineration in even less-regulated parts of the world.

 The Irish Times might argue that this was an interview and that the opinion of the workers and their representatives can be found elsewhere, but this is not entirely true. While the Irish Times does have a much shorter article (500 words) in which a union representative is given some space to counter Buckley’s accusations, where is the 2,500 word soft focus interview of a shop steward conducted in the middle of a strike? Where are the articles describing the shop steward’s childhood and his or her vision for the future? Where is the article with interesting quotes from a striking worker and his fascinating outside interests and hobbies? Where is the article that takes the position of a shop steward without question, challenge and that doesn’t put forward the company’s view for balance? For that matter where is the ‘union’ section of the newspaper, to balance the ‘business’ section, which let’s face it should be really named the ‘elite interests section’.

 Or here’s a crazy thought, why not include an economics section that includes journalists that can see beyond the interests of a single élite class and past recycled neo-liberal clichés; a section that may even question failed economic policies such as the botched privatisation policy that has left our waste services in such a shambolic state.

Notes on Ideology, Power, the Media and the Irish Crisis:

An introduction to the study of ideological power structures and their relevance in the Irish economic crisis (Notes from a presentation to the Dublin Left Forum 10/05/2014)

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Introduction

Since the onset of the crisis that the Irish state thus far has not had to resort to coercion in any serious manner; a co-opted trade union movement alongside a generally homogeneous mainstream  polity has meant that all austerity measures, including direct cuts to pay, conditions and the social wage have been successfully introduced. While the Fianna Fail party was almost wiped out in the 2011 election, the Irish system of ‘two and a half parties’ has meant Fianna Fail’s twin party centre right party Fine Gael, backed up by the Irish Labour Party has been able to continue the austerity project without missing a beat.  While there have been many defensive protests on single issues such as individual hospital closures and the regressive household tax, some partially successful, the elite have been able to successfully implement a universal austerity programme of cuts and attacks to pay, conditions and the social wage.  It is the belief of this author that ideological processes expressed mainly but not exclusively through the media has had an important role in this process. The aim of this paper is to introduce the various concepts of ideology and their role in both economic and political power structures;  to apply those concepts to the media sphere and finally to apply the concepts to the role of ideology and specifically to mediated issues of economics and political policy in the Irish crisis.

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Power, Ideology and Ideologies

The concept of ideology and its relationship with power can be a difficult and abstract idea however it is an important issue in when thinking about politics and political power. In his seminal 1974 work ‘power, a radical view’, Stephen Lukes challenged methods of measuring power in the pluralistic and political science traditions. Briefly the pluralistic tradition effectively rejects the notion of an overall class rule seeing power divided up (albeit unequally) by various social groups with various elements of power.  Their method of measuring this power was by the empirical study of successful or unsuccessful attempts at passing legislation. Lukes termed this the 1st Dimension of power, and while it does illuminate one aspect of power it was far from complete and in many ways represents power already won. The method was rejected as being overly simplistic and behaviourist and later researchers became more concerned about how agendas and debates were set in the first place and how issues were successfully introduced to the legislature (this Lukes termed the second dimension of power). This too was rejected by Lukes as being incomplete as it assumed that all social groups were aware of the various intricacies of power and that social groups were assumed to be aware of where their interests lay, moreover the concept remained wedded to the study of behaviour only.  Lukes maintained that to understand power structures fully one needs to consider the third dimension, that of ideology. He maintained that the ultimate form of power is not force an individual or group into a position or to do something, but rather to make them unaware of the issue or even support it. In contemporary politics we might consider this in light of media representation of reality or the imagination of the possible, the question is not ‘if’ cuts on wages or services should happen, but rather on how the books ‘must’ be balanced by cuts to restore so called ‘competitiveness’. The study of ideology itself long preceded Lukes French philosopher Antoine Destutt de Tracy coined the term in his work Eléments d’idéologie (1817–1818) and since its inception the concept has been a controversial and often misunderstood subject, and in many cases seen as a pejorative term, that is  as a ‘blinkered’ set of views, rather than a scientific study of power and power relations. The current recession and the embedding of neo-liberal policy, even after the crash, has again underlined the need to understand the concept of ideology and its practice in political and social power.

Ideology: Some Definitions

The popular definition of ideology is that of a political ‘world view’ of ideological political practitioners or parties; such as socialists, anarchists, communists or sometimes liberals and conservatives. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, defines ideology as: ‘A system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy’. However, as we shall see, the ideological processes are far more complex, insidious and powerful than simple notions of political or economic self-identification. In fact ideological structures form the basis for various forms of power, including the reproduction of class domination. While the paper acknowledges that there are numerous forms of ideological power structures (for example, race, gender and national chauvinist) due to lack of space and time, this paper will be primarily focusing on issues of class and economics and economic and class power. The paper, drawing from Eagleton, Marx, Althusser, Miliband and Foucault offers nine key definitions for various forms of ideological structures and power:

  1. Ideology can be defined as ‘a set of ideas by which men [sic] posit, explain and justify ends and means of organised social action, and specifically political action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order’ (Seliger 1976 p. 11) .
  2. Ideology is the ‘general material process of production of ideas, values and beliefs in social life’ (Eagleton 1991 p. 28, 29).
  3. Ideology can be defined as the ideas and beliefs (whether true or false) which symbolises the conditions and life experiences of a specific socially significant group or class (ibid).
  4. Ideology is ‘the promotion and legitimation’ of the interests of specific socially significant group or class in the face of opposing interests (ibid).
  5. Ideology is the false or deceptive beliefs arising not from the interests of the ruling group but arising from the material structure of society as a whole (ibid).
  6. Ideology is closely related to the broad problematic of modern western Marxism, namely the attempt to understand how relations of domination and subordination are reproduced with only minimal resort to direct coercion (Purvis and Hunt 1993 p. 474).
  7. Ideology is the process of rule by consensus in the first instance, backed up by coercian when necessary (Gramsci 1974).
  8. Ideology acts as the mechanism for the internalisation of law where men and women can work without the need for constant coercive supervision, as the laws of society are internalised as their own (Althusser 1971)
  9. Ideology can also be seen in the micro power relationships between actors in various positions of power (Miliband 1969/Foucault).

Marx and Ideologies

Marx and Engels

Marx and Engels

Classical Marxism does not see a separation of the material aspects of society and the idealistic aspects of society; moreover it sees the ideas of society coming directly from the material base (Jakubowski 1976 p. 27).   For Marx and Engels ideas have no independent history but are products of specific historical conditions (Eagleton 1991 p. 121).  While Marx does not deny individual human agency but he maintains it is present within real and determined structures which is inherited from historical circumstance.

‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past’ (Marx and Engels 1852/1999).

However as will be discussed below ideology cannot simply be reduced to economics and history, as ideology in politics and culture can itself affect the material and economic processes.

Eagleton (1991 p. 83) describes four major definitions of ideology offered by Marx:

  1. Ideology is illusionary or socially disconnected beliefs which are seen as the grounds of history
  2. Ideology represents the interests of the dominant classes
  3. Ideology can ‘encompass all of the conceptual forms in which the class struggle as a whole is fought out’
  4. Ideology is the ‘actual social relations between human beings are governed by the apparently autonomous interactions of the commodities they produce’

In the first definition ideology represents the illusionary or socially disconnected beliefs which are disconnected from material reality.  This illusionary and idealistic view of the world can be best seen in religion. This form of ideology acts to distract men and women from their actual social conditions (including the social determinants of their ideas) and help sustain the oppressive class relations of an epoch.  An example of this may be seen in the feudal ‘divine right’ of the aristocracy to rule.

In opposition to the idealistic view of ideology Marx, turning Hegelian dialectical philosophy on its head, posited that philosophical ideas originate not in an autonomous idealistic manner but in the material conditions of life. In the Marxist paradigm the legal and political structures present, for example, after the American and French revolutions were necessities of the new capitalist mode of production rather than stand-alone metaphysical ideas. As the economic structures changed the old feudalistic political and legal structures could not accommodate them and the philosophies of the enlightenment then followed.  In Marx’s words, ‘the changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure’ (Marx  2010) . Marx keeps the dialectical structure of Hegelian philosophy but ‘turns it on its head’ in that it is the material conditions that precedes the idea or ideology. The ‘immense superstructure’ which Marx cites includes entirety of legal, political and social forces including in the contemporary sense religion, education and the mass media. To put it crudely it is the change in mode of production which leads to political change rather than political change which leads to changes in production.

The second Marxist definition of ideology is that it represents the material interests of the dominant social class, and which are useful in promoting its rule. The class which has the material means of production at its disposal generally has the means of mental production at its disposal. And those without means of mental production are subjected to it as he famously put it: ‘the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, grasped as ideas’ (Marx and Engels 1845/1970 p. 64). Marx posited that one of the major divisions of labour in a given society is that of material and mental labour (ibid p. 65). While the active members of a class do not have the time to form ideologies, this task is left to intellectuals who form the ideologies that are passed as natural or universal in a given epoch. Much of the framework of the modern mass media could arguably be put in this for example the mainstream mass media rarely, if ever, supports workers in conflict but often supports their employers, or at least opposes the ‘vested interests’ of the workers.

The third definition is that ideology can ‘encompass all of the conceptual forms in which the class struggle as a whole is fought out, which would presumably include the valid consciousness of politically revolutionary forces’. In other words that ideology is a site of struggle. This form was developed further by Gramsci’s (1971/2003) theory of hegemony, which we will discuss later.

The fourth definition is tied up in the commodity market itself where the actual social relations between human beings are governed by the apparently autonomous interactions of the commodities they produce.  For Marx (1976) the commodity fetish disguises the real social nature of society.  In the contemporary world of the media we can think of expressions of how the market reacts to certain government policies. And whether the market ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ certain policies.  The ‘market’ is often expressed as a semi-deity entirely unconnected to the actual world of men and by definition unreformable.  This process also acts to hide the class and political nature of government policy.  For example the ‘market’ will almost always react badly to any redistribution of wealth across society because the market is in fact the investment class (for want of a better word).   While at the same time ‘the market’ generally reacts well to cuts in public spending which  acts either to protect or expand the profit base of the capitalist class. In this sense the capitalist class is entirely international in thought.   Political and economic terms such as the ‘consumer market’ and ‘labour market’, separate the issue of the working class and its spending power from the politics of pay cuts and rises.

Material Ideology: Base and Superstructure

Marx unifies the public (political) and private spheres of society into a totality of base and superstructure.  For Marx the economic relations of the mode of production are the base of society while everything else rests upon. It is the economic structure that is the foundation on which the legal, political and intellectual superstructure rests (Marx  2010). For Marx ‘The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life’ (ibid).  Therefore the ideology or ‘common sense’ in a society is derived from its economic base.  In simple terms this makes the material economic base the most important factor in political relations which is represented in class conflict.  In fact for Marx and Engels ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Marx and Engels 1848/1998). However, while Marx maintained that the economic base is at the root of society it does not follow that society is completely economically determined. The superstructure affects the base as much as the base affects the superstructure.  Engels in his letter to Bloch was at pains to point this out:

‘According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results… …  exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form… …We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one… …Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-à-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction’ (Engels  2010).

The point is to consider not that the political state is economically determined or that the economic structure is politically determined. But that both are two sides to a single process, one having an effect on the other. For example it could be argued that Irish economic, historical and social relations led to the adoption of quite extreme neo-liberal policies, and those polices in turn had a widespread affect on the economy itself. As Franz Jakubowski puts it:

‘The superstructure depends on its economic foundations.  But it is necessary to emphasise the fact that the superstructure operates retroactively on its base.  The retroactive superstructual influence in no less important than the influence of the base itself.  The historical process can only be explained by observing the interaction of the two.  They do not affect each other mechanically or as externally independent factors; they are inseparable moments of a unity’ (Jakubowski 1976 p. 57).

Jakubowski (ibid p. 40) divides the superstructure into two.  Above the economic base and forces of production lie the legal and political order above which lies a superstructure of ideology.  In terms of the current economic recession the implementation of Marxist theory is clear.  That is that the effects of the recession on the material base of society will be felt in civil society, this in turn will affect the economic base and so on.  The widely used concept of consumer confidence is an empirical expression of this phenomenon.  For Stuart Hall (1986b p. 43) Marxist materialism should be considered in terms of determination of the economic in the first instance, rather than economic determination in the last instance.  In other words while the economic structures may begin a social, political and economic process, it does not show exactly where that process will lead.

Ideology and the Reproduction of Power: The Materialist View of Individual Consciousness

Ideology is at once a collective and individual concept while we think at as individuals our ideas are still part of the structures of everyday life.  Much as human language cannot exist without other humans to converse with our very thoughts are socially constructed.   For Marx ‘man is a social animal in the most literal sense: he is not only a social animal, but an animal that can individualise himself only within society’ (Marx 1970 p. 125). For Marxists human beings therefore have a socially constructed epistemology rather than an individual one. For example, the developmental psychologist Vygotsky describes how children develop complex thought alongside the development of language, rather than develop complex thought and then language. For Vygotsky ‘the true direction of thinking is not from the individual to the socialised but from the socialised to the individual’ (2007).  Therefore it is the individual’s relationship to other individuals that is the most important aspect in human thought.  In fact ‘society’ itself for Marx is the ‘sum of interrelations’ of the individual.  It is this class structure for Marx which is at the base of individual thought.   As the mode of production is at the base of a collective society it therefore it follows that the mode of production will colour the collective though which in turn colours the individual thought.

‘The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.  It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness’ (Marx  2010).

Therefore individual ideas while having agency are developed from within the economic and social structures already existing in society. Here Marx sees the cultural structures of society as something which at once is determined by the nature of society (Marx and Engels 1845/1970 p. 47) and at the same time supports the very structures of the society (ibid p. 57).  As he put it the mode of production leads to the mode of life of the individual (ibid p. 42).

However as Jakubowski (1976 p. 59) points out that the social being does not simply mean economic relations. While economic relations ‘are the foundations of social life and prevail in the last instance’ it is social being as a whole that have to be taken into account.  This includes the ideological traditions including religion and previously established political or philosophical ideas and prejudices. For Larrain (1979 p. 14) this process begs the question of whether ideology is a primarily subjective and psychological character or is it subjected to the objective factors.  Is an individual’s thought process a matter of their subjective person or class or a matter of the material structures (economics) of society?

Louis Althusser: The Reproduction and Internalisation of Domination.

Louis Althusser is opposed to class reductionism in ideology that is the notion that there is a guarantee that the ideological position of a social class will always correspond to its position in social production (Hall 1985 p. 97). Ideology for Althusser is one of three regions of social formation (the other two regions being the economic and political). Therefore for Althusser ideology can be connected closer to either the economic sphere or the political sphere and may in fact be contradictory.

 One of Althusser’s major interests was with the consideration of the reproduction of domination (Purvis and Hunt 1993 p. 487). In other words the purpose of ideology is to reproduce the social relations of production, in effect class structures.  The social relations of production are reproduced in the superstructure in institutions like the family and the church and require cultural institutions that are not directly linked to production such as the media, trade unions and political parties (Hall 1985 p.98, Schmid 1981 p. 60).

A second concern for Althusser is the role of ideology in domination. For Althusser ideology acts as the mechanism for the internalisation of law where men and women can work without the need for constant coercive supervision, as the laws of society are internalised as their own (Eagleton 1991 p. 146). This works ‘in the vast majority of cases, with the exception of the “bad subjects” who on occasion provoke the intervention of one of the detachments of the (repressive) state apparatus’ (Althusser 1971 p. 181). Althusser sees the education system, the family, the church and the media as ‘ideological state apparatus’ which on the one hand act to socialise subjects into the social system and on the other hand are sites of class struggle.

The Repressive State Apparatus

The Repressive State Apparatus

For Eagleton (1991 p. 148) Althusser marks a break from classical Marxist theory which viewed Ideology as a distortion or false reflection between people and the structures of capitalist society; instead ideology for Althusser is a mechanism for the very production of human subjects. In this light David Harvey (1990 p. 123) reflecting Althusser and Gramsci, defines ideology as the historical disciplining of the labour force to capital accumulation which is renewed with every generation:

‘The socialisation of the worker to conditions of capitalist production entails the social product of physical and mental powers on a very broad basis.  Education, persuasion, the mobilisation of certain social sentiments (the work ethic, company loyalty, national or local pride) and psychological propensities (the search for identity through work, individual initiative, or social solidarity) all play a role and are plainly mixed in with the formation of dominant ideologies cultivated by the mass media, religious and educational institutions, the various arms of the state apparatus, and asserted by simple articulation of their experience on the part of those who do the work.’

Eagleton (1991 p. 148) and Hall (1986a p. 32, 1985 p. 99) critique Althusser for overemphasising the functionalist domination in such structures which does not allow for counter hegemonic ideological forces. It may be argued that he does not emphasise the dialectical nature of some of the cultural institutions. For example education while teaching students dominant values and the skills to work, in the same process, also arms students with potentially liberating skills such as reading and writing.  Althusser however does bring a useful functionalist and psychological side to Marxist theory. On the one hand ideology gives capitalist society the social norms which allow it to function and to preserve the domination of the ruling classes while at the same time being a site of class struggle itself.  Ralph Miliband (1969 p. 164) terms this process one of ‘political socialisation’ where the values, norms, cognitions and symbols are learned and internalised. The fact that the capitalist and class social norms are internalised means ideology acts to allow rule by consensus rather than direct domination.  For Marxists theorists this self-domination is a major concern reflected by the fact that a disunited working class constantly supports political and social groups arguably more representative of the ruling strata in society. This leads to one of the more controversial areas of ideological theory, that of ‘false consciousness’.

I

Antonio Gramsci and the theory of Hegemony

GramsciAntonio Gramsci was a leading Marxist theorist and was a founding member and leader of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) before his imprisonment in 1929 (Ginsborg 1990 p. 42, Hoare and Smith 1971/2003 p. xvii). Gramsci’s most important work was written while he was incarcerated, collectively known as the Quaderni del Carcere (Prison Notebooks), written between 1929 and 1935, (Gramsci 1971/2003). After witnessing decades of class struggle, strikes, and insurrections and finally the rise of Fascism Gramsci attempted to consider the problem of the Italian and Western European revolution and develop a future strategy.

Gramsci reconfigured the theory of the state to re-introduce the concept of civil society.  After the failure of the western European and specifically Italian revolution Gramsci concluded that at least in the West the ideological and hegemonic apparatus of ‘civil society’ played a more powerful role in the sustentation of the state than  dominant Marxist theory allowed.  As he famously put it even when the economic and coercive apparatus of the state is shaken a ‘sturdy structure’ of capitalist civil society is revealed. In comparing the Russian with the western European revolutions Gramsci commented that:

‘In the East the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed.  The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks’ (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 238).

Gramsci therefore returned to early Marxist philosophy in unifying the sphere of the civil society and the political society in his conception of the state. In this theory he maintained that power and the state resides on two major super-structural levels: The first he termed civil society; which include institutions such as the church, schools, media and culture in general;  the second he termed the political society or the state; which include institutions such as the police, army, government and judicial system.  Gramsci therefore investigated the state in its inclusive sense (political society + civil society) and showed how state power in capitalist societies rested on ‘hegemony armed by coercion’ (Jessop 2001). That is society is ruled by consent backed up by the state which holds coercive power to enforce discipline on groups who refuse to consent (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 12).  Therefore the ruling class had a multi-faceted system of power with an underlying hegemony in popular culture (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 12, Germino 1986 p. 26).

Put simply, in the West the ruling class through its hegemonic system ruled by consensus as well as coercion.  Therefore to challenge the state effectively the issue of consensus would have to be considered.   A major part of the hegemonic edifice is what is termed as ‘common sense’.  For Gramsci (1971/2003) common sense is ‘the traditional popular conception of the world.’  This process can be seen in conformity of subservient groups to the overall ideology of the dominant group, and sees the consciousness of the subaltern groups divided into their own corporate interests (Howson and Smith 2008 p. 4).

While Marx and Engels (1845/1970) wrote about a new hegemonic ideology coming in a revolutionary period, Gramsci described hegemony as a constant battle between differing sections of society struggling for dominance (Traube 1996 p. 132). The dominant class therefore incorporates its interests into the state and exercises its power to maintain these interests by keeping the subaltern social groups divided and passive within civil society (Howson and Smith 2008 p. 5). Therefore while the state in the final analysis may represent the interests of the dominant groups, class struggle is a constant feature of civil society, whether consciously or unconsciously. For example Stuart Hall and others maintained that the ideology of Thatcherism was fought within civil society long before Thatcher won state power itself.  David Harvey (1990) maintains it represented the end rather than the beginning of the economic processes inherent in Thatcherism.  By 1985 it is argued Thatcher had established a new ‘common sense’ in favour of neo-liberalism and an authoritarian state articulated through ‘popular’ demands for the restoration of social order against crime and delinquency and the ‘selfish’ and partial interests of trade unions. This new ‘common sense’ according to Hall was based on traditional aspects of British popular culture (Davidson 2008 pp. 72-27, Purvis and Hunt 1993 p. 496).  The collapse of the hegemony of Keynesian social democracy and the birth of the hegemony of what would later be termed neo-liberalism led to a proliferation of research on politics and culture using the Gramscian framework of civil and political society (see Johnson 2007 p. 98). 

Civil Society and the State

The two super structural layers of the state correspond to civil society and to the direct or command domination of the state and judicial government. The consent given by the majority to the dominant group is caused by the historical prestige and confidence that the dominant group enjoys because of its position in relation to production. The second structure of society, the state, holds coercive power which enforces discipline on groups who refuse to consent. This apparatus is however, ‘constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed’ (Gramsci 1971/2003).  This is described by Howson and Smith (2008) as the process of consensus and coercion.  The contemporary conception of war time ‘embedded journalism’ might be considered a very real incarnation of this concept of ideology and force supporting one another. The state, therefore, equals political society plus civil society, or as Gramsci put it ‘hegemony protected by the armour of coercion’ (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 263, Matsuda and Ohara 2008 p. 57). The state therefore is not primarily the ‘armed bodies of men’ but the entire edifice used to justify and maintain the rule of the minority class:

‘The state is the entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules’(Gramsci and Gerratana 1975 Q15 S10).

Civil society itself is a very complex structure and is resistant to the ‘catastrophic “incursions” of the immediate economic element’ (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 235).  In other words the problems of recessions and depressions from the economic base can be defended in civil society without the need for state coercion. Therefore while concurring with the general Marxist thesis of economic base and superstructure Gramsci maintained that the civil part of the superstructure acts as a deep defence of capitalist domination. And even when the economic and political base falters civil society acts as a buttress. Therefore for Gramsci it is not only the policeman or soldier who underlines the authority of the state but also the intellectual in civil society represented in traditional sense by the priest or the teacher and in an organic sense by the entrepreneur or technician.  In the view of this project the media and its journalists are another important section of this intellectual force.

consensus with the armour of coercion

consensus with the armour of coercion

Perry Anderson maintains that Gramsci is mistaken in saying that hegemony exists in ‘civil society’ alone rather than with the state, because the political form of the state and its ‘illusion of democratic self rule’ (Eagleton 1991 p. 112) is in itself a vital organ for hegemonic power. Eagleton (1991 p. 113) also argues the supposed neutrality of the bourgeois state is in itself part of the hegemonic process.   Anderson (1976), describes the parliamentary system as ‘the hub of the ideological apparatus of capitalism’ and he maintains that the civil institutions such as education, the media churches and political parties play a critical but complementary role. However for Howson and Smith (2008 p. 5) ‘the vast resources that must be mobilised in civil society – such as the media, education, the family, religion, law communities, and markets – to ensure that the political economy can be maintained’ means that the focus of the state cannot be defined to political society alone.

The ‘War of Position’ and the Hegemony of the Proletariat

Because of the hegemonic nature of capitalism in the West Gramsci maintained that Communists would have to develop a different strategy to the Russian Bolsheviks. Gramsci maintained that in the west a “war of movement” (direct assault on the state) was doomed to failure.  A “war of position” within civil society would need to be completed before any direct assault could be successful.  He maintained that Lenin had originally come to this conclusion but did not have time to expand the formula (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 237, 238).

El Lissitzky; Red Wedge, 1919

El Lissitzky; Red Wedge, 1919

Gramsci maintained that the subordinate classes would need to create their own “organic intellectuals” to challenge capitalist hegemony, escape from defensive corporatism and advance toward a new workers hegemony (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 16). Gramsci saw the political party as a method of developing workers into intellectuals, and fighting the war of position (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 16, Ginsborg 1990 p. 45, Landy 1986 p. 53).  In this sense the role of the political party would have to develop beyond simple economic and political struggle and into all aspects of society. Gramsci underlined the necessity of taking widening political struggle from the economic and political sphere and into all areas of ‘civil society’.

In the prison notebooks Gramsci widens the process further describing how the passage from one social order to another is a slow sustainable qualitative social transformation characterized by the ‘war of position’ and a continuous dialectic between political and social society (Matsuda and Ohara 2008 p. 55). For Richard Howson (2008 p. 27) Gramsci’s theory of the ‘war of position’ moved the role of the workers party from being one of an ‘elite, centralised, and authoritarian vanguard’ existing externally to the proletarian mass, to being an organic ‘leader’ of the wider working class.  For Miliband a serious revolutionary party has to be the kind of hegemonic party that Gramsci spoke of.  It must be capable of creating a unity not only of political and economic aims, but an intellectual and moral unity, posing all the issues which arise, not on the corporative level, but on the universal level.  The creation of such a party for Miliband is only possible in conditions of free discussion and internal democracy and of flexible and responsive structures (Miliband 1969 p. 245).

Ideology and Micro Power

Ralph Miliband (1969 p. 163) maintains that hegemony is not something which happens as a mere superstructural derivative of economic and social conditions rather hegemony is in the main the result of a permanent and persuasive effort conducted through multiple agencies and deliberate.  He maintains that hegemony exists not only in the world of macro-politics but also in the world of micro-politics where members of the dominant classes by virtue of their various positions, for example as employers, can act to dissuade their subordinates from voicing radical viewpoints.  For Eagleton (1991 p. 113) hegemony is not just a successful form of ideology, but may be discriminated into its various ‘ideological, cultural, political and economic aspects.’ In the economic sphere, for example, outright ideology or coercion is not always necessary. Under capitalism it is the ‘dull compulsion of the economic’ (the need to survive) that keeps workers in work and subservient rather than any overt sense of national or religious duty.

Foucault is interested in the operation of power as a force throughout society rather than centred on the state (Finlayson 2006 p. 167). Foucault was a critic of a priori state theory and favoured a bottom up approach to the study of social power (Jessop 2007 pp. 34, 36). State and government activities for Foucault are not self-contained but derive from ‘a whole series of power networks that invest the body, sexuality, the family, kinship, knowledge, technology and so forth’ (Foucault 1980 p. 122). Foucault grounded his theory of power and control in the modern society in social norms and institutions rather than sovereign authority (Jessop 2007).  He called for a ‘political philosophy that isn’t erected around the problem of sovereignty, nor around the problems of law and prohibition’ (Foucault 1980, Collier 2009 p. 79).  Instead of sovereign power, power in contemporary society does not flow form a central point but ‘circulates through the capillaries of collective life’ (Collier 2009 p. 81). Something which Foucault termed the ‘micro-physics’ of disciplinary power relations which he explored in his work Discipline and Punish.(Foucault 1977)In later work he included a ‘macro level’ of power relations at a society level, he calls this technology of power the ‘biopolitics’ of the human race (Collier 2009 p. 83).  This power is applied through regulatory rather than disciplinary logic and includes issues such as health care, urban planning and the management of disease.  Foucault says that the two forms of power are distinct but dovetail into one another (Foucault et al. 2003 p. 242).

‘To say that power took possession of life in the nineteenth century is to say that it has, thanks to the play of technologies of discipline on the one hand and the technologies of regulation on the other, succeeded in covering the whole surface that lies between the organic and the biological, between body and population’ (Foucault et al. 2003 p. 253).

Foucault argues that the idea of government offers a ‘strategic codification’ of power relations and provides a bridge between the micro and the macro (Jessop 2007 p. 39).  He argued that “the state is nothing more than the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities” (Foucault et al. 2004 p. 79, Jessop 2007 p. 36).  For Foucault the contemporary state has ‘no essence, is not universal, is not an autonomous source of power’ instead it is an ‘emergent and changeable effect of incessant transactions, multiple governmentalities and perpetual stabilisation.  Therefore the modern state can be seen as a set of practices and strategies rather than a universal, fixed and unchanging phenomenon (Jessop 2007 p. 37).

Eagleton (1991 p. 8) maintains that if the Foucault’s concept of discourse power comes to cover every social action it ceases to hold any strength.  He concurs that Nietzsche and Foucault were correct to point out power is indeed everywhere but maintains they are found wanting in distinguishing between more and less central instances of it.  For Eagleton there are some issues which are more important than others of which he maintains to be self evident.   Stuart Hall (1985 p. 93) critiques that Foucault in his concentration on the ‘dispersed microphysics of power’ effectively ignores issues of state power.

A conceptual model of Ideology and Power

A conceptual model of ideological power structures

Figure 1: A conceptual model of ideological power structures

Figure 1 is a conceptual model of ideological power structures drawing from Marx, Gramsci, Althusser,  Miliband and Foucault.  The model shows the relationship, as discussed, between the base and superstructure and the division of superstructure into civil and political society (or the broader state). This is further developed into the concept of ideological state apparatuses and coercive state apparatuses as discussed by Althusser. Drawing from Miliband and Foucault’s observations of the ideological micro powers in class relations, for example between workers and employers in private enterprises, I have included a concept of ideological coercive power sphere that falls between ideological and coercive power. Class relations means in most cases employers have an unofficial coercive power over their employees as well as considerable ideological power. The ideological coercive sphere is however a site of struggle as workers will resist coercion and will not necessarily take on board the ideological assumptions of the employer. They may in fact offer oppositional ideologies to them, whether in a class conscious fashion or not.  The ideological coercive sphere linked to the economic sphere and issues such as the ability of the employer to compensate workers, workers ability to move between employers and extract wages, and therefore is vulnerable to capitalist crisis.

Figure 2. A conceptual model of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic power structures

Figure 2. shows a conceptual model of counter hegemony and power mirroring the model of ideology and power. This model considers the relationship between counter hegemonic ideological and coercive apparatuses and the economic and class relations.  Here for example sub-altern groups may enter into the struggles within civil society via ideological apparatuses such as alternative media and cultural institutions, or enter into struggles within political society via political organisations. The relationship between base and superstructure is more difficult as counter hegemonic organisations cannot depend on the surplus created in capitalist production. Therefore counter-hegemonic institutions must be either self-financing, or depend on subsidies from sources such as memberships or money raised from waged workers. Other options may be funding from a larger co-operative movement, or the co-option of state funding. Class conscious institutions such as media institutions, cultural institutions and educational institutions may challenge capitalist ideological norms and in turn effect class relations. This can also take place in the ideological coercive sphere via trade unions and in the political sphere with political organisations.

Media and Crisis – Base and Superstructure

A factor that has become apparent in communications and media research is the connection between issues of political economy in the wider economy and the literature on research in institutional issues in the field of journalism. One of the clear issues inherent in the literature is that crisis rather than being an unusual or infrequent event is an inherent condition of capitalist production and class relations (Marx 1967). What is interesting in terms of the political economy of the media is how the general trends of capitalist crisis seem to be replicated in the media industry (Schiller 1999) and this in turn has a direct effect on media practice and indeed may even impede critique of the overall economic system itself. This reflects Marxist theory on the dialectical connections between economic structures and class relations and the various superstructures of society (including the media) that go beyond simple issues of private ownership; and may act to explain why differing models of media ownership are being affected by similar institutional issues.

As discussed in the literature capitalism is beset by tendencies of crisis such as the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (Kliman 2012) and a tendency to overproduce (Clarke 1990b); inherent within this is a drive to innovate and a general tendency towards monopolisation (Shaikh 1978); likewise as seen in studies of the political economy of communications, the media too is beset by a squeeze on advertising revenue (and profits); tendencies towards overproduction, in terms of the number of competing media channels and content (Siapera 2013 p. 21), and a tendency towards monopolisation (Corcoran 2007, Davis 2007). There is a contradiction inherent in this process in that while we see growing number of media channels, especially online  ownership (of the more popular media channels) is concentrating in giant global media companies and as pointed out by Siapera (2013) the distribution of online content including news is being increasingly concentrated on major online platforms such as Facebook and Google.

reality tvIn television, for example, this has resulted in hundreds of low quality television channels showing repeats of the same shows and a proliferation of cheap to produce genres such as reality television, talent shows and cookery programs, with more quality television being produced on elite subscription services such as the Home Box Office network. While a recent study for the Rueters institute of journalism found that in the USA some 36% of news is accessed via social media (Newman 2012 in Siapera 2013). This commodification circuit is also challenged by the ability of users to download, upload and exchange digital products online for free, despite various attempts to close down the ‘digital commons’. Some have argued that the battle over audiences has also led to a ‘dumbing down’ of news itself and the development of a superficial and ideologically laden ‘infortainment’ television news service (McManus 1994).

The above processes in turn via technical innovation and a squeeze on the workforce has led to a generalised deterioration of working conditions for journalists and a lessening of resources for journalistic investigation (Preston 2009). While there has been much innovation in terms of technology some have argued that this has partly led to a deskilling (Braverman 1975) of journalism itself; with some of the basic skills such as fact checking falling by the wayside while many contemporary desk bound journalists are simply regurgitating both wire and online news stories (Davies 2009, Preston 2009, Simon  2011)  The process of the finacialisation of news organisations, that is news organisations taken over by larger (often heavily indebted) more overtly finance orientated organisations has also lead to a paring back of funding for news gathering and in worst case scenarios an asset stripping of resources. It is important not to be overly deterministic towards the role of technology and especially the internet in the process of financialisation and monopolisation of the media sphere, rather this process is a long term secular trend typical of capitalist industry.   In his testimony to the US Senate, David Simon, pointed out that key changes in the news industry long preceded the online revolution:

‘In fact, when newspaper chains began cutting personnel and content, their industry was one of the most profitable yet discovered by Wall Street money. We know now – because bankruptcy has opened the books – that the Baltimore Sun was eliminating its afternoon edition and trimming nearly 100 editors and reporters in an era when the paper was achieving 37 percent profits. In the years before the Internet deluge, the men and women who might have made The Sun a more essential vehicle for news and commentary – something so strong that it might have charged for its product online – they were being ushered out the door so that Wall Street could command short-term profits in the extreme’.

Much as neo-liberal ideology has become an apparent discursive superstructure in the ideological sphere, neo-liberal work practices are commonplace within the media and journalistic field. This represents a relationship between base and superstructure that is far more insidious than simple private ownership and reaches into every aspect of journalistic work practices and content. Moreover a precarious news production workforce is much less likely to publicly critique his or her workplace or the system it is based upon. As discussed above the economic and relations of production base and the various superstructures (including the state and the media) have a dialectical relationship with one another, which may in fact act to reinforce one another as the media through ownership, institutional practice and overarching ideologies tends to act to defend or at least defer critique the economic system it is based on.

Miliband on the Media and Ideology

Ralph Miliband (ibid p. 197) argues that the notion of freedom of expression and opportunity of expression in contemporary society are both superficial and misleading.  In other words while dissident views may be tolerated, freedom of expression depends on the economic and political context of society. While dissident thoughts may be held they may not be easily broadcast. On the whole for Miliband, the free expression of ideas and opinions are in the main the free expression of ideas and opinions which are helpful to the prevailing system of power and privilege.  While there is a widespread pluralism within the press, that pluralism is very much set within the prevailing agenda (ibid p. 200).

For Miliband (1969 p. 190) business itself is one of the most powerful interest groups of civil society.  It makes itself felt in civil society through financial support of political parties, influence on the mass media and through business promotional groups. Moreover Miliband (1969 p. 194) maintains that general advertising as well as promoting individual products also underlines a business hegemony, selling a ‘way of life’ as much as individual goods. For Miliband (1969 p. 165) the process of ‘political socialisation’ or the ‘engineering of consent’ in capitalist society is largely an unofficial private enterprise rather than an overt enterprise of the political state.  This he argues helps to hide the nature of the socialisation.  In other word in our highly mediated society the hegemony of the dominant classes is being sold at every turn without the need of overt state ideology.

tvsMedia impartiality for Miliband is easy to achieve in countries such as Ireland when there is a clear ideological consensus between the major parties, but more difficult in societies with mass radical political parties.  In this case impartiality is quickly forgotten.  In the case where there is a broad consensus impartiality is given within the political agenda.  But there will be a widespread bias for any thoughts coming from outside that agenda. For example Miliband maintains the press is a ‘deeply committed’ anti trade union force, which will almost always take an anti-union stance in economic conflict.  In other words (in the case of Ireland) while the press may represent pluralism between the major political parties, who effectively represent similar interests and polices, in a state of conflict the press will invariably come out for the establishment.

Miliband (ibid p. 202) maintains that this act of ideological legitimation and indoctrination is also formed within the overtly non-political entertainment section of media. Moreover for Miliband (ibid p. 205) the private ownership of ‘the means of mental production’ means a state of de-facto censorship exists, a ‘private’ censorship based more on a general framework than direct control and one that albeit offers much more room for dissent compared to totalitarian state censorship, but one that will still insist on the correct attitude to conflicts between capital and labour and political issues outside the consensus.  Miliband also maintains that the power of advertisers, generally capitalist, acts as another form of influence on ideology on the media.  The media may also feel some pressure from government and political sources, though as the politicians themselves are dependent on the media and as the idea of an independent (from political influence) media has been established the media has some autonomy here. Rather than overt censorship the issue of self-censorship for professional advancement reasons has more resonance. This process became quite clear in the process of ‘self-censorship’ during the Northern Irish conflict (see Rolston and Miller 1996) Moreover  Miliband maintains that the majority of ‘cultural workers’ as he puts it will not ‘rock the boat’ as such or go against the ideological framework because their own ideological and political framework does not normally come up against these limitations. The leash on these workers for Miliband is sufficiently long enough as to allow enough freedom of movement and not to feel the strain (Miliband 1969 p. 211).  In conclusion Miliband maintains:

‘There is nothing particularly surprising about the character and role of the mass media in advanced capitalist society.  Given the economic and political context in which they function, they cannot fail to be, predominantly, agencies for the dissemination of ideas and values which affirm rather than challenge existing patterns of power and privilege, and thus can be weapons in the arsenal of class domination. The notion that they can, for the most part be anything else is either a delusion or a mystification.  They can, and sometimes do, play a ‘dysfunctional’ role; and the fact that they are allowed to do so is not lightly to be dismissed.  But that quite emphatically, is not and indeed cannot, in the given context, be there main role.  They are intended to fulfil a conservative function; and do so’ (Miliband 1969 p. 211).

Implications of Ideological Power: the case of Ireland

ATMS-Dublin-Ireland-econo-006

The role of the Irish state in the crisis has been very significant. The two major pro-active policies introduced since the 2007/2008 crisis have been the banking guarantee and the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency, both highly risky and expensive policies which serve to protect and bail out the private banking system.  Other sections of society have on the other hand faced negative policies such as cuts in pay, working conditions, social services,  the introduction of a local property tax, the privatisation of waste and the rolling out of water charges. Through these various cuts and working class tax rises (both direct and indirect) living standards across the board have fallen quite significantly. In short while bailing out the banks and financial industry the state (under two governments and including four political parties) has stood over a policy of severe austerity predicated on driving down wages and living standards discursively justified on the grounds of competitiveness, that is a policy of deflation based not on currency devaluation but rather on direct cuts to pay, conditions and the social wage.

The policies of austerity have acted to reinforce some of the tendencies of the crisis especially that of under consumption in the domestic economy. This process does seem to point towards the banking and financial industries to having a close relationship with the state. The consideration of such policy initiatives seem to resonate very well with the concept of the state being ‘captured’ by finance capitalism.

If anything the Irish crisis has seen the strengthening of some of the key trends of neo-liberalism; trends such as individualisation, atomisation of communities, deregulation, privatisation, managerialism, and workfare.  This has been met with a generally feeble, disunited (corporatised) and ineffective resistance, up to this point. This process also seems to include an embedding of aspects of what could be termed a neo-liberal ideology of anti-collectivism, alongside the unapologetic and aggressive stance of the Irish elite in demanding both pay restraint and austerity for the general population in the name of ‘competitiveness’ while continuing to enjoy some of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world, again justified by the ‘common sense’ of competitiveness and reified market demands. In Gramscian terms a united and hegemonic financial and business elite have seen numerous polices enacted in their short and long term interests while the working classes have been on a defensive and sectoral footing. Interestingly in terms of corporatism and partnership agreements post crisis both employers and the state (as employer) seem to have taken a much harsher stance.

The media too, have played an important role in this process. Empirical research by this author on the treatment of the Irish Times and Irish Independent of various aspects of the financial crisis (including coverage of the housing market, the blanket bank guarantee and the National Asset Management Agency) supports the Gramscian thesis of civil society acting as a bulwark against what he termed the ‘catastrophic “incursions” of the immediate economic element’ (Gramsci 1971/2003 p. 235). Here we can see one element of civil society, the press, acting in support of the existing system, or at best not questioning its various structural problems or inequities. This is apparent both before and after the crash itself.  In the research on the treatment of housing in the run up to the 2007 elections we can see both newspapers acting in a discursive defense of the property market, a market in which both newspapers had a vested interest. We see an overall playing down of a property crash privileging the frame of ‘slowdown’ or ‘soft landing’ (with few exceptions). This defensiveness also included a frame of a reflexive nature that called on commentators and politicians not to ‘talk down’ the economy. In other words not only were the newspapers failing in their normative ‘watchdog role’, they also overtly called on others not to call into question the market. Here the newspapers played a ‘loyal-facilitator’ role in relationship to elite classes. In the empirical research around the banking guarantee the newspapers were seen to don the ‘Green Jersey’ in substantial support for the policy (69% of articles in the first three weeks of the guarantee generally positive and only 13% were negative). This in fact mirrored quite closely the parliamentary party political support with all parties (except the Labour Party) and four out of five independents supporting the move. This may be incidental but could be another signal of the closeness between the media and the state. This closeness was also seen in the political sourcing of the two newspapers where over 80% of party political sources were pro-guarantee and nearly half of the party political sources (48%) came from the main government coalition party Fianna Fail. Overall 46% of all articles included at least one pro-guarantee political source compared with only 14% of all articles containing a political source opposed to the guarantee. Civil society outside of business and academia only represented a paltry 2% of all sources, while business and financial sources accounted for 23% of all sources. While the banking guarantee may have been framed as a business issue, the reality was and is that it was a societal wide and very much a class issue.

The treatment of NAMA was a little more complex with at least some oppositional voices being heard here with a 46% positive treatment of NAMA compared to a 19% negative treatment (this is in the coverage of NAMA in the month of April 2009), however, it should be noted that much of the oppositional coverage was on technical grounds, with the proposal by a number of academic economists that a very limited nationalisation would be cheaper than the ‘bad bank’ strategy. However it must be noted that this nationalisation was simply a method of cleaning up the banks rather than any form of economic development, and the banks would be re-privatised as quickly as possible.

Overall the two newspapers acted generally in defense of neo-liberal market ideology and government policy towards the crisis, that of the removal of stamp duty, the blanket bank guarantee and NAMA, this equates to a ‘captured’ press which failed in its watchdog role and generally acts in service to power.

The implications of this research are also important for wider society, as discussed above the role of the print media in providing an ideological cover to the property bubble and economic crisis has been clear, as has the uncritical treatment of the class led policies in solving the crisis. The newspapers via their close connection with key economic actors and their dependence on advertising acted as a cheerleader for  housing inflation and acted as defenders of the economic policies and power structures that led to the housing bubble.

The implication of a class biased media sphere is clear in terms of both politics and economics.  In economics the print media have proved rather than being an objective reporter of economics to be an uncritical conduit of elite economic agenda, and indeed being a key part of the commodity chain that ended in severe economic crisis. In terms of politics and particularly class politics, the entire framing of housing as a commodity acted to mystify class issues, something that has especially come home to roost as hundreds of thousands of people find themselves in a precarious situation of being unable to afford over-inflated mortgages in negative equity homes, with no solution outside of market norms being envisaged. This of course was not the case for the elites whose debts were dealt with early on in the crisis. The coverage also underlined the lack of coverage of forces outside of political and economic power bases as even mass organisations such as trade unions received little coverage (on issues not directly involving unions), while non-mainstream and extra-parliamentary political forces also get little or no treatment, this process also adds to the homogeneous and non-critical nature of the newspaper coverage.

Towards an Alternative Media Sphere?

The emphasis for those interested in working class and sub-altern politics the absolute need for popular critical media outlets not dependent on elite advertising or patronage; and the need for popular media outlets that can re-imagine and re-frame issues in terms of broader working class and subaltern interests; and a media that can challenge the ‘common sense’ narratives around the superiority of private markets over the public good. Some interesting projects are currently underway such as the crowd sourced ‘Rabble’ magazine, and the Workers’ Party sponsored ‘Look Left’  magazine, as well as a number of good quality blogs such as ‘Irish Left Review’ (which includes an annual journal), ‘Cedar Lounge Revolution’ and ‘Notes on the Front’, however, the above are primarily voluntary organisations and all writing and most work is unpaid. None of the above cover professional newsbeats or are regular enough to be compete against the mainstream print media outlets. The community radio sector is doing reasonably well however the closing down of Dublin City Television in 2014 was a blow to community broadcasting.   The problem of funding  alternative media institutions is one that continues to be the major problem in their realization; one possible solution may lie in state policy such as the Scandinavian funding models (Benson and Powers 2011) that subsidise funding to ‘secondary’ non-commercial newspapers however thus far no such policy has been proposed by any political group in Ireland

Henry Silke 10/05/2014

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Inside Bias – class representation in the Irish Times

blind_spot2A piece on the Irish Times new podcast series ‘Inside Politics’ on renting and property gives some revealing insights on continued class biases in the newspaper. The section included three guests, a TD from the Labour Party, a speaker from the Residential Landlord’s association and a representative from Mortgage Brokers Ireland (who is also  a landlord). Who’s missing from the picture? You guessed it a tenant.  The framing of rent reforms as unnecessary, counterproductive and politically impossible quickly follows:

Ragbags and Reactionaries: A comparative analysis of the treatment of the ULA and Reform Alliance in five newspapers – part one the ULA

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On January 25th 2014 coming, ex Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton, and the newly formed Reform Alliance are to hold a launch meeting in the RDS. The meeting is expected to draw 300 to 400 people and has been dubbed a ‘monster meeting’ (Sunday Independent 5 January 2014) and an ‘Ard Fheis’ style rally (RTE.ie 6th January 2014). The meeting has received quite a lot of media attention, including a long one-to-one interview with Lucinda Creighton on RTE’s flagship television current affairs programme Prime Time  to discuss the new formation (RTE 7th January 2014), a full three weeks ahead of the rally (see Broadsheet.ie for a transcript here). The alliance is made up of seven ex Fine Gael TDs and Senators who split with the Party in opposition to last years abortion reform. The Alliance can be described as socially conservative and economically liberal; some have dubbed it a Progressive Democrats mark II, (for example Rory Hearne here). A type of party that certain sections of the media, especially the Sunday Independent,  have been calling for for some time.

The Reform Alliance, however, seems to have neither the intellectual grounding nor the popular appeal of the Progressive Democrats and its long term viability is not certain. Moreover, the PDs were first and foremost a neo-liberal party which allowed for social liberalism on issues such as divorce and contraception. The Reform Alliance seems to more be more akin to the US right, which combine social and religious conservatism with economic liberalism and it is yet to be seen how much popular appeal exists for such an ideology here, or if the alliance has legs. Already some prominent economists and independent politicians, most notably David McWilliams and Stephen Donnelly have declared that they will not support the Alliance as it is too socially conservative. (See Cedar Lounge Revolution here for more declines).

Two Alliances and Two Launch meetings

While watching some of the media coverage, it occurred to me that another alliance launched in 2010 didn’t seem to get anything like the coverage of the Reform Alliance: The United Left Alliance was launched on the 29th of November 2010 with a meeting of three to four hundred in the Gresham Hotel, but was not described anywhere as a ‘monster’ or ‘Ard Fheis’ style meeting. In fact, as memory serves, there wasn’t much coverage of it at all.

The ULA launch on the 29th of November 2010 - not a 'monster' rally.

The ULA launch on the 29th of November 2010 – not a ‘monster’ rally.

The ULA was an alliance between the already existing left groups: the Socialist Party; the Socialist Workers Party; the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Action Group; and the People Before Profit Alliance. The ULA had  a similar political weight to Lucinda Creighton’s Reform Alliance with one MEP, and numerous councillors , this was evident by the election of 5 TDs in the following election. The United Left Alliance didn’t last very long and split within two years, some details on this can be found here.   In 2010, however, the split was not a foregone conclusion and indeed there was serious potential  for the alliance to develop into a new party to the left of Labour.

This post is concerned with the print media treatment of the two political groups The Alliances are broadly similar in terms of  political representation and support, though the ULA probably had more activists and some  parts of the ULA have sunk roots into their communities. The launches too are similar in size and style as political rallies rather than voting conferences.

ULA potentialTo compare the two alliances we will look at the press coverage of both groups and launches in five newspapers: The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Sunday Independent and The Sunday Business Post. The period chosen is the month in the lead up to the two launches and two weeks thereafter (The launches were/will be held on 29th of November 2010 and on 25th of January for the ULA and RA respectively), we look primarily at the number size and position of the articles and secondly consider some of the treatment. To gather the data the Lexis Nexis newspaper database is being used with similar search criteria (see below). What we are interested in is whether the two Alliances get equal treatment or generally equal treatment both in terms of quantity and quality, and if either Alliance receives any support or opposition.

Politics and the Mainstream Media

This is of interest as the mainstream media, while not being the only source of political knowledge for the general population, is still a key. The print media remains an important part of the media sphere most especially in terms of agenda setting and the development of political themes and frames over time. In normative terms the media should offer equal access to various sides of the political and economic debate, however, as long pointed out by critical scholars, due to issues of ownership, institutional work practices, the class makeup of journalists, and sometimes target audiences, alongside wider ideological processes, there is less than equal access in the mainstream media between what can be termed conservative or mainstream voices and left or alternative  voices.

 In political terms the media may play an important role in developing support for or opposition to political parties or groupings by either publicising, supporting, opposing or ignoring their existence. This is not to be overly deterministic around the mainstream media as political movements can built through ‘boots on the ground’ and how they relate to various events and issues and ‘objective conditions’.  Also materially wealthy groups can bypass media by use of advertising, or develop a media presence by the use of public relations.  It is, however, important to recognise the role of the media in constructing political discourse, agenda and debate which is of particular importance in the media’s role in disseminating information about a new formation on a national level. In short the media remains both a key battleground and source of soft power in the political sphere and its treatment of various political groupings is important.

The ULA and the Reform Alliance, almost identical in terms of political support,  offer an opportunity to test the Irish media on this point.This first post will consider the treatment of the ULA, while a second later post will look at the treatment of the Reform Alliance.

UL who? – The Coverage of the United Left Alliance and launch meeting in five newspapers

A search was performed on the Lexis Nexis print media database between the first of November and the 13 of December 2010 using the search terms ‘United Left Alliance’ or ‘Richard Boyd Barrett ‘or ‘Joe Higgins’ or ‘ULA’ or ‘Seamus Healy’ to appear anywhere in articles of the five newspapers. This uncovered 12 articles of relevance. A further search using the words ‘Higgins,’ ‘Daly’,’ Collins’ uncovered a further 11 articles (3). 13 articles were found to non applicable; that was articles that may have named politicians such as Joe Higgins or Richard Boyd Barrett but didn’t mention the ULA or the formation of an alliance. In fact three articles that discuss a ‘surge’ to the left  managed to do so without any mention of the ULA or left regroupment at all (1). There was a total of 5 articles about the ULA itself (2), a further 2 articles where the ULA made up a considerable part and finally 3 articles where the ULA was mentioned in passing. The 5 articles solely on the United Left Alliance appeared in the The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times (twice), The Irish Independent and the Sunday Business Post. All of the articles were straight news stories and neutral in orientation. Each article was short and appeared deep inside the respective newspapers. (An exception is the Sunday Business Post where a page number was not found). The 5 articles on the ULA made up a total of only 1173 words. The launch meeting in the Gresham hotel on the 29th of November was not covered by any of the newspapers and no article appeared before the 26th of November, three days before the meeting. Of the five articles where the ULA made up a substantial part or were mentioned in passing 3 were neutral and 2 were negative, none of the articles expressed any support for the Alliance. The one article that seemed to take the ULA in any way seriously and offered any analysis was an article entitled ‘The Old Order Swept Away’ in the Sunday  Business Post on November 28th (1174 words) .This article was  primarily on the demise of Fianna Fail.  In the article acceptable  parameters  of political policy were quickly established, firmly placing the article in an orthodox frame:

The cacophony of voices which say that the individual measures of the plan are not necessary tend to be quieter in explaining where the money should otherwise come from – beyond infantile sloganeering.

The notion that most Irish people – who are, let us not forget, among the best-paid and most lightly-taxed in Europe – won’t have to pay anything if we can somehow get Dermot Desmond and Denis O’Brien to open their wallets is hardly worthy of serious debate.

The main issue of the article is that  political cultural change is underway:

The disregard for our established politics is spreading. Last week, the TEEU trade union promised a campaign of civil disobedience against the four-year plan. One senior and experienced politician reflected privately that ”there will be civil disorder”.

There has been a huge inflation in the incendiary language that is being used of late. In the Dáil last Thursday, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín O’Caoláin – actually following a speech by Eamon Ryan asking for some civility and calmness in the debate – accused the Greens of ”treason” and ”betrayal”, ”criminality” and ”treachery”

And on the ULA:

But Sinn Fein in are far from the only people using this language. A few minutes earlier, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins launched a new United Left Alliance across the road in Buswells Hotel.

Higgins is a sincere and committed politician and, unlike most of his colleagues in the last Dáil, chose to accept only the average industrial wage, devoting the rest of his salary to political activities.

That does not make him right or wrong about anything. But it is the language used at last week’s launch that was notable. He spoke of the government ”draining the lifeblood of the poor”; of the ”vultures in the markets”; he accused reporters present of accepting ”the dictatorship of the markets”. This is the language, not just of right or wrong policy choices, but of good and evil. And if you believe your political opponent is not just wrong, but evil, that adds a whole different dimension to politics

While the article was respectful of the Alliance and took it quite seriously its final sentence leaves no doubt to its view of the alliances political orientation:

The movement of economic forces is having a profound social and political effect. It always does – economic forces are the tectonic plates of the political landscape. Political change is certainly on the way. Not all of it may be welcome

And that we can say is it; a total of 10 articles with any mention of the Alliance in six weeks, and nothing before the 26th of November, one article of interest, and certainly no expressions of support in any article in any newspaper. One is reminded of the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde:

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about

We can conclude with certainty that the print media did little to inform the public of the processes taking place around the formation of the United Left Alliance nor publish  anything in the build up to the launch meeting; meaning that most people outside of the organised left probably knew little of either the launch meeting or of the Alliance’s existence. How this compares to the coverage of the Reform Alliance will be investigated in part two of this blog.

Notes

(1) Sinn Fein’s by-election win heralds surge to left  Sunday Independent (Ireland), November 28, 2010, POLITICS, 469 words; SF and left-wing Independents set to burst out of blocs  The Irish Times, December 11, 2010 Saturday, OPINION; Opinion; Pg. 16, 879 words; SF swing can make Gilmore Taoiseach  Sunday Independent (Ireland), December 5, 2010, POLITICS, 973 words) (2) United Left Alliance to run in 14 constituencies  The Irish Times, December 7, 2010 Tuesday, IRELAND; Other Stories; Pg. 8, 392 words; Left-wing groups call for 24-hour strike to reverse budget cutbacks  Irish Examiner, December 11, 2010 Saturday, IRELAND, 339 words; Higgins hopeful of progress of left-wing group  Sunday Business Post, November 28, 2010, IRELAND, 482 words; Socialists aim for six seats in next Dail  Irish Independent, November 26, 2010 Friday, NATIONAL NEWS, 91 words; Higgins and Boyd Barrett to contest election under left-wing alliance  The Irish Times, November 26, 2010 Friday, IRELAND; Pg. 10, 469 words

(3) Summary Analysis

TOTAL ARTICLES NOT APPLICABLE ABOUT LAUNCH MEETING ABOUT ULA ULA MAJOR PART OF ARTICLE MENTIONS ULA TOTAL WC OF ARTICLES ABOUT ULA NUETRAL TOWARDS ULA POSITIVE TOWARDS ULA NEGATIVE TOWARDS ULA
23 13 0 5 2 3 1773 8 0 2