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XR's blockade against Murdoch supports a truly 'free press'

ANDREW NEIL is very upset that Extinction Rebellion protesters managed to block the distribution of the Murdoch titles with which he has such an intimate ideological affinity.

He dipped deep into a well of reactionary prejudice to compare today’s climate change protesters with the thousands of Wapping print workers who fought heroically to defend their livelihoods.

For the new and growing generation of Morning Star readers it is worth recounting how, decades ago, the sometime Australian, sometime American and always reptilian media magnate Rupert Murdoch conspired with the government and police to bulldozer through the new technology which gave newspaper owners a massive productivity and profit rise.

He refused negotiation with the unions and conspired with a scab union (subsequently expelled from the TUC) to replace print workers with a deskilled workforce. To win this industrial dispute Murdoch relied on a massively expensive taxpayer-funded phalanx of police — Maggie’s boot boys — to force delivery trucks through the picket lines.

Neil is angry that this time the government failed to defend the “freedom of the press” with sufficient police power.

Yet with this action XR have shown a keen sensibility to the popular mood that has sometimes deserted them over recent moths and in doing so have added something to the popular discussion about press freedom.

The abstract freedom to own and publish a newspaper is always limited by the availability of cash.

Capitalist advertisers are notoriously reluctant to advertise in newspapers whose purpose in publishing is to hasten the end capitalism. Thus the continued existence of this newspaper depends on the support its readers give over and above the cover price. That is why our recent appeal which raised almost £100,000 was such a triumph — but it also shows just how narrow is the margin for survival.

There is no other daily voice for socialism and working-class power in Britain and we live or die in a merciless market place. But for newspapers which favour the continuance of the capitalist system the rules of the capitalist market are suspended.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sun made a £68 million loss last year and has over recent years suffered a massive circulation drop from over three million in the early part of the century to something over a million today. And both the Sun and its stable mate The Times now reveal their real circulation figures only to advertisers and then only in confidence.

It is profits made across entire media empires, or the bottomless pockets of the super rich, that allow billionaire non-doms to exercise such a decisive dominance in the print media.

When Labour’s Emily Thornberry joined in the chorus of Tory ministers and MPs condemning the XR action she missed a great opportunity to make the case for a democratic and pluralist press freed from big business control.

The Prime Minister has threatened new laws to “protect freedom of the press” claiming, with boundless hypocrisy: “A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change.”

When the rich invoke the freedom of the press it is always shot through with cant.

We stand with Lenin who argued: “This freedom is a deception while the best printing presses and the biggest stocks of paper are appropriated by the capitalists and while capitalist rule over the press remains...”

He went on: “The first thing to do to win real equality and genuine democracy for the working people... is to deprive capital of the possibility of hiring writers, buying up publishing houses and hiring newspapers.”

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