- Date published:
2:05 pm, November 10th, 2014 - 70 comments
Categories: broadcasting, capitalism, cartoons, democratic participation, film, greens, labour, Left, news, telecommunications, tv, workers' rights - Tags:
Many of us on the Standard, look back the the first Labour Government (1935-49) as the basis for locating core left wing values, and a political way forward for the left. In doing this we tend to focus on the policies and legislation that resulted in a massive restructuring of the NZ the economy, the workplace, welfare and housing. We tend to overlook the accompanying moves to intervene and reconstruct cultural production and its reception by the general public.
Wikipedia lays out the policies and legislation of the First NZ Labour Government. This includes measures aimed at improving industrial relations, wages, industrial relations, wage increases, working conditions and hours, introduction of state housing, public works, changes to the economy, health service, welfare and education.
Under “education” are listed these provisions, that focused on “culture” in the broadest sense: activities that influenced people’s understanding of every aspect of life, and that are necessary for an informed public to take an active part in democratic processes:
Alongside these initiatives from the Government, was a broader movement of left-wing intellectuals and activists. This informed and influenced the Labour Government of the time. In turn, the broader cultural left was informed by events and left wing activities in Britain, Europe and the US. [see the Introduction to Rachel Barrowman’s 1991 book, Popular Vision: The arts and the left in new Zealand 1930-1950]
The intellectuals and artists included literary people like R.A.K. Mason, Denis Glover, Alan Curnow, Frank Sargeson. There were lively contemporary analyses and debates in journals and periodicals like the left wing journal Tomorrow, and the Phoenix literary journal.
Both the Labour Government, and the broader left were aware of the impact of popular culture on the wider public. The popular culture of the time included popular music, movies and comics. The broader left tended to have a fairly patronising attitude to the working classes, and/or the “masses”. They tended to see the “masses” as being brainwashed with capitalist propaganda, particularly that coming from the US. The rising Hollywood movie system was seen as a degraded form of culture, peddling capitalist propaganda, and having particular appeal to the working classes.
The Government’s solution included state controlled radio (The New Zealand Broadcasting Service 1936-1962), as well as state intervention in the censorship of film, the setting up of the National Film Library (1942), and some of the other provisions included in education policies. PM Michael Savage considered the Broadcasting Service to be so important that he made himself Minister of Broadcasting.
The broader left in the 1930s were impressed by the state interventions by the German Government in popular culture, like film production and distribution. Prior to Second World War, many on the left were unaware of the dangers of government control of popular communications, media and culture.
The new right in the Western world, since the 1980s, have become increasingly sophisticated in its manipulative influences, which make maximum use of modern commercial systems of communication and media. They tend to use more covert manipulations, and Dirty (two-track) Politics, rather than direct state control.
The left of the 21st century, is pretty much aware of this, and thus tends to advocate for a reconfigured public service media, that is supported by, but not controlled by, the state. Such a public service media would contrast with the corporate media, be organised in the public interest, and have a direct engagement with communities at the flax roots. This should include the core public service aims to entertain, inform and educate.
Both Labour and the Greens have comprehensive broadcasting policies. These also need to be extended into the realms of digital media, on and offline, and include both factual content as well as more fictional popular culture. It would need to be done in such a way as to prevent the corrupting and undemocratic influence of the government, state authorities, and corporate or other powerful vested interests.