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Monbiot on state media and the corporate elite

Written By: - Date published: 8:29 am, January 26th, 2015 - 43 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Environment, journalism, making shit up, Media - Tags: ,

UK leftie intellectual and Guardian writer George Monbiot recently wrote this fascinating article (h/t phillip ure) on the media. Drawing on recent events in Canada but extrapolating the implications to the United Kingdom the message is just as relevant for New Zealand given that the same main media powers are in play throughout the Commonwealth and given that each country’s public broadcast systems are under the same pressure.

The theme is how supposedly impartial state broadcasters have become mouthpieces for the elite.

The article draws on recent Canadian experience and the treatment of reporters for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  In Monbiot’s words:

In 2013 reporters at CBC, Canada’s equivalent of the BBC, broke a major story. They discovered that RBC – Royal Bank of Canada – had done something cruel and unusual even by banking standards. It was obliging junior staff to train a group of temporary foreign workers, who would then be given the staff’s jobs. Just after the first report was aired, according to the website Canadaland, something odd happened: journalists preparing to expand on the investigation were summoned to a conference call with Amanda Lang, CBC’s senior business correspondent and a star presenter. The reporters she spoke to say she repeatedly attempted to scuttle the story, dismissing it as trivial and dull.

They were astonished. But not half as astonished as when they discovered the following, unpublished facts. First, that Lang had spoken at a series of events run or sponsored by RBC – for which she appears, on one occasion, to have been paid around 15,000 Canadian dollars. Second, that she was booked to speak at an event sponsored by the outsourcing company the bank had hired to implement the cruel practice exposed by her colleagues. Third, that her partner is a board member at RBC.

Get the feeling that Lang had a conflict of interest in the matter?  It only gets worse.

Lang then interviewed the bank’s chief executive on her own show. When he dismissed the story as unfair and misleading, she did not challenge him. That evening she uncritically repeated his talking points on CBC’s main current affairs programme. Her interests, again, were not revealed. Then she wrote a comment article for the Globe and Mail newspaper suggesting that her colleagues’ story arose from an outdated suspicion of business, was dangerous to Canada’s interests, and was nothing but “a sideshow”. Here’s what she said about the bank’s employment practices: “It’s called capitalism, and it isn’t a dirty word.”

Monbiot then drew comparisons with the situation in the United Kingdom.

This is grotesque. But it’s symptomatic of a much wider problem in journalism: those who are supposed to scrutinise the financial and political elite are embedded within it. Many belong to a service-sector aristocracy, wedded metaphorically (sometimes literally) to finance. Often unwittingly, they amplify the voices of the elite, while muffling those raised against it.

A study by academics at the Cardiff School of Journalism examined the BBC Today programme’s reporting of the bank bailouts in 2008. It discovered that the contributors it chose were “almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.” The financiers who had caused the crisis were asked to interpret it.

The same goes for discussions about the deficit and the perceived need for austerity. The debate has been dominated by political and economic elites, while alternative voices – arguing that the crisis has been exaggerated, or that instead of cuts, the government should respond with Keynesian spending programmes or taxes on financial transactions, wealth or land – have scarcely been heard. Those priorities have changed your life: the BBC helped to shape the political consensus under which so many are now suffering.

He also referred to trends in reporting on environmental issues and noted “a near total collapse of environmental coverage on ITV and BBC news: it declined from 2.5% (ITV) and 1.6% (BBC) of total airtime in 2007 to, respectively, 0.2% and 0.3% in 2014.”

It would be interesting to see a similar analysis conducted in New Zealand.  I suspect the results would be the same.  Amongst commentators on state media only Jim Parker and Rod Oram and occasionally Bernard Hickey are willing to challenge the corporate conventional wisdom.  And in terms of reporting on environmental issues you would have thought that the recent news that 2014 was the warmest on record and evidence of a potentially civilisation ending phenomenon would have attracted more attention.  Yet judging by the weekend papers the local media is more interested in a boxing match between an ex black cap and a supposed celebrity blogger.

43 comments on “Monbiot on state media and the corporate elite ”

  1. Gosman 1

    Hang on a minute. Isn’t the BBC and CBC the sort of State funded media many of you lefties wish NZ had?

    • mickysavage 1.1

      Properly State funded media offering an impartial view of issues with real rather than manufactured balance yes.

      • Gosman 1.1.1

        But that is your problem isn’t it. You can’t guarantee any media offering an impartial view of issues even if it is State funded. Indeed I would offer the view that a State funded media is more open to direct and indirect political manipulation because politicians ultimately control the funding and the organisation is responsible to them at some level.

        • BassGuy 1.1.1.1

          You appear to be suggesting that, given the choice between state-controlled media that sometimes goes against the public good in its masters’ interests, and privately-controlled media that always reflects the interests of its owner, we (the people) would benefit more from having no state-controlled media.

          Have I misunderstood?

          • Gosman 1.1.1.1.1

            Not at all. I have no problem with the principle of state funded media at some level. All I am pointing out is that it doesn’t really alter problems with media bias and in fact can increase potential for political interference. We live in an imperfect world and as such you are never going to get a single media source providing a complete unbalanced narrative. What you should encourage is a dynamic media environment with lots of competing news sources. This allows people to discover the facts about a topic and hopefully become better informed about it.

            • McFlock 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Apart from the fact that private interests are less obvious than national interests.

              For example, I used to largely ignore BBC interpretations on Northern Ireland, just like I take Russian media reports on the Crimea with a grain of salt. But Russia on NI was less skewed, and BBC on Ukraine isn’t so bad. Obviously both have agendas, but tend to skew rather than outright bullshit as the issue is farther removed from their national interests. BBC coverage on things like the tsunami was pretty good, as I recall.

              Now, fairfax on the other hand – I frequently can’t tell whether any random report is a paid ad, is part of the owners’ bias, serves some other interest, or is simply a disinterested report of facts as they seem on the ground.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1.2

              There are ways and means to ensure that a public funded news media doesn’t have the corporate bias that the private media have or the conflicts of interest that Monbiot shows about Lang in the CBC.

              A couple of suggestions:

              1. The editors do not get to say what the journalists write about. They’re there solely to do the proof reading
              2. A UBI. This allows the journalists to be independent and not beholden to the corporation
              3. Any conflict of interest between the journalist and what’s being reported on means that the journalist will have to recuse themselves from that news item or get charged.

              There’s probably more that other people can come with.

        • Murray Rawshark 1.1.1.2

          Politicians interfere in state-funded media. That is a problem that can be ameliorated in various ways.

          Privately owned media interferes with politicians. It’s far more difficult to ameliorate the effects of that. Here in Queensland, Murdoch’s rag runs bullshit stories against Labor every day.

    • ma rehemo 1.2

      Once again Gosman misses the point.

      Monbiot is saying that even BBC and CBC are no longer the type of media that we wish we had.

      Always diverting, Gosman. What a bore.

      • mickysavage 1.2.1

        Yep it is a given that the corporate media will have a right wing bias. When the State media shows the same bias there is clearly a problem.

  2. esoteric pineapples 2

    I understand CBC’s international radio broadcasting service was given the chop a while ago, replaced by a feeble internet service.

    • Kiwiri - Raided of the Last Shark 2.1

      The Greek public broadcaster was abruptly shut down last year by the then Prime Minister Samaras.

  3. Sacha 3

    Funding sources do not explain the dismal decline in professional ethics in media.

    • Gosman 3.1

      You are living in a fantasy world if you think there was ever a golden age of broadcasting where people acted to the highest standards of journalistic ethics. I’m not even sure you can say with any certainty that there has been a notable decline. Journalism has certainly changed in nature and journalists are expected to produce pieces much faster with less checks it is true. Then again there is also far more information available for them to check their stories and also far more sources for people consuming the output to gain that information from. In short we are in a vastly different environment now than we were in the past. Whether it is worse or not is a value judgement.

      • Sacha 3.1.1

        Are you suggesting there is nothing new about the sustained conlfict of interest Monbiot discusses, or closer to home, editors and producers turning a blind eye to deals like Hosking and Henry’s with the casino?

        • Gosman 3.1.1.1

          Yes. There were plenty of cases of political interference in the editorial policy of the BBC prior to the last 20 odd years.

          • Sacha 3.1.1.1.1

            ‘Political interference’ sounds different to journos doing dodgy stuff on their own accord and their editors and producers allowing it. Or editors using as pundits highly-conflicted people without discosing their interests (Farrar, et al).

            Nobody is claiming media were ever pure as the driven snow, but they sure seem an order worse at handling the ethical dimensions of their job nowadays.

            • Gosman 3.1.1.1.1.1

              I’m not sure I agree. Certainly panel shows with representatives from both sides of the political spectrum are nothing new.

              • tricledrown

                Gooseman the corporate grovelar!
                The balance has swung completely to one sided yellow corporate propaganda now!
                Goose your cynical calculated and clinical spin,Is just Bullying kicking someone while their down!
                Always having the upperhand,controling what the public is allowed to read!
                Tyrannical controlling,tr*%lling in your case gooseman

                • Gosman

                  Who is controlling what you read tricledown? Certainly you seem to find enough fodder to feed your wacky conspiracy theories so it doesn’t seem to impact you at all.

                  • tricledrown

                    Gooseman anyone who has an opinion other than the neoliberal corporate speak is Bullied!
                    evidence proof from your above comment!…
                    it must be very boring not being able to have no original thought Goosy!
                    having to continually repeat prepared propaganda of yor handlers.
                    A corporate tool!

                    • Gosman

                      Bullied how? Have you got examples?

                    • tricledrown

                      The NZ Herald.
                      Media Works music stations continually belittle oposition parties and their leaders never ever have I heard one putdown of this govt on Media works!
                      Gareth Morgan’s opinion on Maori was made fun of by DJ’s but if key makes a mistake no put downs there.
                      Allowing Camoron Slater to belittle Nicky Hager on the sports segment on sky/Prime news.
                      The Gina Reinhart controlled Fairfax publications have become Tabloid gossip magazines under influence.
                      We are told that the West is trying to protect our freedom to speak.
                      While undermining that very right by allowing a few wealthy powerful individuals to control the News Media.
                      Allowing govt ministers to push propaganda unchallenged ie the BS by Nick Smith that cutting the RMA to schreads will solve the housing crisis.
                      Has gone largely unchallenged by most Media.
                      Gooseman you are just their lowest ranked apologist tryhard toiletroll!

                    • Gosman

                      I suggest most of those objections are just your personal opinion rather than facts. For example your view that Nick Smith wasn’t challenged on the proposed RMA reforms is at odds with what I heard on the Media where they interviewed both pro and con sides of the debate. I believe the Dom Post even had a very critical editorial against the proposed amendments.

                    • mickysavage

                      So Gosman what do you think about the Canadian incident that Monbiot refers to?

                    • Gosman

                      CBC I presume has a code of conduct for it’s staff as well as a complaints process. If there is something untoward here then she should be dealt with via those means I would expect. Unless you are stating the entire edifice of the CBC is corrupt in which case we go back to my original point.

              • Sacha

                “panel shows with representatives from both sides of the political spectrum are nothing new”

                You’re missing the point – not declaring conflicts of interest is the ethical dimension.

                Pretending the chief pollster for the governing party who met weekly to brief the PM is merely a ‘party member’ seems a new behaviour to me. Can’t recall an equivalent 10-20 years ago.

      • Skinny 3.1.2

        The tentacles of big business influencing editorial content has/is rising and it is concerning as it stifles democracy. Take the business herald failing to give wide coverage of Mega’s new encrypted service. Something that got major international coverage, but not even a mention by the NZH. Hmm anything to do you Dotcom and his attacks on Key. You bet ya it’s who pays the piper, National’s rich mates would like advertising alongside any positive coverage of Dotcom.

  4. Marty 4

    “Amongst commentators on state media only Jim Parker and Rod Oram and occasionally Bernard Hickey are willing to challenge the corporate conventional wisdom.”

    Rod Oram is in the pay of the Auckland Council and is reported to have been paid thousands for “facilitating” Council information sharing. I’m not sure your hero is as principled as you seem to think he is.

    • mickysavage 4.1

      He is used by Auckland Council to facilitate some meetings but he is very good at it. And his commentary is very nuanced and analytical. I wish we had more like him.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      The long Clinton boom that pushed unemployment down to 3.8 percent was good news for nearly all Americans, except economists, who saw their prominence plummet. Fortunately, the last financial crisis fixed that.

      😆

  5. saveNZ 6

    The point is, journalism used to be considered an ethical profession. Giving information to the people. Now they are more like copywriters, plying information to sell more newspapers and products and in many cases propaganda for the government. All the time decrying the Internet that has stolen their readers. They fling off readership by their own propaganda.

    MSM is mostly controlled by the 1% who are about to own 99% of the assets. Like entitled people, they just want more and more and more, can’t stop themselves it is like a disease. Media is the new tobacco. Look at Rupert Murdocks comments. Right out of last century. In fact we seem to be going backwards into inequality like last century.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      We’re heading backwards to feudalism and serfdom as the ever accumulating wealth of the 1% and the decreasing wealth of everyone else proves. The 99% are slowly becoming serfs of the 1%.

    • Sanctuary 6.2

      “… Now they are more like copywriters, plying information to sell more newspapers and products and in many cases propaganda for the government…”

      The first big problem is they have been made into celebrities, they now think they are part of the celebrity culture they report on and regard themselves as important members of the elite whose opinions act as filters on what the are public told to think, or more often these days, feel.

      The second big problem is all their “celebrity” (and most of their lifestyle and income) is contingent on their remaining famous and onside with their political and business patrons. Therefore they have a direct economic interest in being right wing shills.

      This idea of hopeless cynical, fatally compromised celebrity “journalist” living in fools paradise and both beholden to and identifying with an increasingly corrupt elite within a seriously economically and socially polarised society is constantly satirised in dystopian sci-fi (the preening Caesar Flickerman in the Hunger Games is basically Mike Hoskings) yet we’ve allowed it come to pass in the real world.

      The real purpose of public broadcasting is to ensure your journalists are paid enough and have a sufficiently attractive career path to be just that, not celebrities.

  6. disturbed 7

    Yes the State funded CBC staff members have often been threatened by powerful self interested parties I know personally some of those CBC staffers and met several in the H.Q. building.

    This has been also going on now within our state funded NZBC & TVNZ and all can see this now as a voice for the elite and Government only.

    Only way to escape this threatening of our civil servants within our State broadcaster is to have some brave souls within step out of the shadows finally and open up this can of NatZ worms.

    Or do we face the suppression of our public voice?

    Time for whistle blowers, and a court action against the Minister of Broadcasting to halve the asset and place half into opposition parties hands.

    Wake up Labour Greens NZ First unite and fight this!

    P.S. please ignore Gosman all of you he/she is a paid troll to disrupt you all so if you ignore him/her it will go away.

    • Sacha 7.1

      trolls do not go away if you ignore them, especially ‘paid’ ones

      • ma rohemo 7.1.1

        Feeding them is the problem.

        Giving them opposition lets them launch their false dialectic diatribes.

        zzzzz would be a more appropriate response.

    • sir pat 7.2

      @ disturbed…..well said but as i have mentioned before…..those days appear to be gone in N.Z…..all are puter protesters now…..that why govt gets away with what it does.

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