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The Media Who gets to decide where the political ‘centre’ is?

We mustn't be constrained or defined by the powerful's narrow political perspectives, writes BEN COWLES

ACTIVATE, the Tories’ attempt to ape Momentum and attract the youth to “centre-right” politics launched last week only to explode in a cloud of ignominy after churning out a couple of crap, out-dated memes and jokes about “gassing chavs.”

Along with “Moggmentum” (the movement to portray uber-toff and Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg as some kind of debonair man of the people rather than a paleo-conservative with a heinous voting record) and the Ibiza tax, the Tories’ attempts to attract the youth have been a total farce so far.
 
And long may this calamity continue, though, you’d think the Tories would have a better understanding of young people after all the years they’ve shafted them.
 
Clearly, it is ludicrous for Activate (or any other Tory-front) to claim to stand for the political “centre” of anything. But the continued calls for and claims to represent either a centre-left or centre-right is rather irritating and, should people begin to buy into such an idea, quite concerning.
 
The whole idea of a political “centre” is a deliberately fallacious term the powerful band about to demonise anything that is even slightly to the left of neoliberal dogma — the privatisation of everything, the inane sadism of austerity, dangerous deregulation, and the replacement of democracy with corporate rulers.
 
But of course, the rich and the powerful have long used their institutions to shape people’s perceptions, rewarding those who adhere to their cultural hegemony — the accepted societal norms which serve the elite and maintain their worldview, structures of power and dominance.  
 
Religion was one of the most powerful tools the ruling class manipulated to mould public perception to justify its wars, appropriate wealth and convince people they deserved their place in society.
 
The mass media has pretty much taken over that role now, along with the false assertion that we live in a meritocratic society. It's hard to argue that things are equal when, according to Global Justice Now, just 10 corporations “have a combined revenue of more than the 180 ‘poorest’ countries combined.”
 
The US philosophers Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky explain how systematic biases and propaganda function in mass media to manufacture people’s consent through five filters. These are: 1) the owners, 2) the funders, 3) the sources, 4) flack and 5) fear.
 
The first two filters are rather self-explanatory. Owning a mass media organisation costs billions and vast advertisement revenue is essential in order sell it as cheaply as possible to consumers.
 
In the end, the consumers of media are products to be sold to advertisers. And therefore journalistic integrity comes after the interests of their customers (the advertisers, not consumers) — remember when the Telegraph refused to cover a HSBC tax dodging scandal back in 2015?
 
The other three filters are where the mass media has real power to influence people’s perceptions of what is sensible or what is radical.
 
The mass media usually gives more weight to the opinions of Establishment figures and corporations rather than grassroots organisations, trade unions, charities, activists, cultural others (women, children, migrants, black people, muslims, prisoners, socialists, pacifists, etc), the victims of neoliberalism, climate change or Western foreign policy, etc.
 
The mass media will often give the appearance of including the latter by quoting public relations companies, “think tanks” and pressure groups friendly to their interests or even straight up astroturf groups — politicians, lobbyists or corporations  masquerading as grassroots campaigns, like Activate.
 
The online investigative project Spinwatch UK says that Britain’s “PR and lobbying industry is the second biggest in the world” and estimates its worth at £7.5 billion. An industry with cash like that is certainly distorting the public’s perception on a whole host of issues in a seriously detrimental and utterly undemocratic way: talk about fake news.
 
The next filter, flack, can be seen in action whenever a journalist or organisation deviates too far from the Establishment consensus. For example, when the Morning Star used a quote to describe the Bearded Broz — a group of Birmingham men who undermined strike action — as a “scab army,” much of the media banded together to attack, ridicule and demonise the paper.
 
The last filter is also rather obvious: fear. There’s nothing like a boogie man to rally public opinion, especially when the enemy stands opposed to “our” very way of life and only a crackdown on civil rights will save us.
 
These days we’ve always been at war with muslims (though rarely the human-rights-abusing, absolute monarchies and tourist playgrounds of the 1% Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates or Oman), China, Iran, Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum, migrants from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia (never Canadians, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders or white South Africans) and benefits claimants.
 
How anyone with the powers to think critically can believe that our billionaire-owned media corporations or their Tory, Lib Dem and Blairite pals represent the “centre” is bewildering.
 
How is invading resource-rich and economically-poor countries, obtaining their natural resources on the cheap and selling weapons to their tyrannical governments the “centre” ground? How does everyone benefit from the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people while eroding workers’ rights?
 
What’s moderate about causing global climate change and leaving poor countries to deal with the consequence? What’s so great about leaving people to drown in the Mediterranean or freeze and starve in Calais?
 
Surely, free education, free healthcare, adequate housing, actual equal opportunities, human rights, environmental protections, a foreign policy based on equality are not wildly radical ideas. And if they are, isn't that a sign out society is fucked?
 
Journalism is sometimes called the first draft of history and, as it is often said, history is written by the winners — though this is not really true; there are plenty of popular lost causes out there.
 
As the US historian Howard Zinn says about the way history is taught: “We must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country ... conceals fierce conflicts of interest … between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex.”
 
The same is true with the mass media and the ruling class, which ignore, admonish, deride or simply aren't aware of a vast multitude of perspectives and attempt to convince society that their interests, norms, worldview and values are its own.
 
Whether this is deliberate or systematic doesn't matter. The point is that we must not be constrained by the narrow political definitions set by the powerful nor abide by what they construe to be moderate or the so-called “centre” ground, by which they mean the continuation of the status quo from which a smaller and smaller percentage of billionaires benefit.

Ben Cowles is the Morning Star’s deputy features editor.

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