The deep asymmetry in political space available to left and right views in the corporate media must condition left strategic thinking. I suggest two parallel lines of action are necessary: limited and careful engagement with the corporate media over short term issues (including elections), and a concerted expansion of alternative media, for genuine left debate.
The shaping of political opinion over “core” ideological themes - imperial intervention, privatisation and corporate prerogatives (“market forces”) - has become a central objective of the corporate media. These themes are critical to new and profitable opportunities for the dominant groups in our country - the tightly cross-linked finance, mining, media and investment management groups. Such ideological domination is arguably even more important, today, than the direct business operations of the corporate media.
The powerful commitment to these themes - and to the political processes that most effectively guarantee them - seriously constrains left voices. We can occasionally present a view, or a critique, because the Australian corporate media, in particular, pretends to be pluralistic: however, left voices are effectively marginalised on the “core” issues.
No serious public debate is possible, through these channels, on public institution building, or citizens’ and workers’ rights. They are organs deeply committed to privatisation and commodification, so as to extend investor group opportunities.
Worse than this, we distort our own ideas, straining for a voice in the corporate media. We compete, on ridiculously uneven terms, so as to be able to occasionally challenge their paid hacks who pump out reactionary and poisonous drivel, day after day.
For every article that expresses doubts about the invasion-driven slaughter of thousands in Iraq, five argue for imperial forces to remain and deliver “democracy”. For every article raising questions about worker contracts and the crushing of unions, ten argue the benefits of greater freedom and choice for workers. Balanced views.
Nevertheless, the corporate media are influential, and cannot be ignored in short term debates, including elections. So what types of intervention are possible?
In the short term, I suggest, access can be oppositional, creative or institutional. Voices of protest and dissent occasionally grab some space, where there is associated drama which contributes to an entertainment theme. But protest is institutionally marginalised and often ridiculed.
Creative actions, such as the Greenpeace stunts, occasionally grab the visual attention of press and TV. Substantial critical research may register a blip. The most sustained contradictions of “core” agendas arise when institutions of the state are engaged in undermining particular elite figures. State bodies, once engaged, cannot be marginalised in quite the same way as dissidents.
The AWB scandal, for example, presented a threat to the Howard regime, with a potent cocktail of “war for profit”, large scale corruption, breaches of international law, and even a Liberal politician hand delivering bags of money to Iraq. It should have destroyed Howard. Yet with a skilful fixing of the inquiry, a weak opposition and a “dream run” from the corporate media, even this threat was largely defused.
And why wouldn’t Howard get a dream run from the corporate media? His regime has delivered on multiple investor group agendas - taxes which shift the burden onto consumers, laws to cripple trade unions and a pragmatic neoliberalism which regularly shovels public subsidies to privileged groups, particularly exporters and agribusiness. If “the economy” is equated with corporate privilege, there is little doubt that Howard has been a champion at “managing the economy”.
In my view, any rupture in this dream run would require institutional moves, such as the investigation of major corruption or criminality. (Notice that criminal accusations are a tool Howard himself uses against Pacific governments.) If the quarantining of ministers from the AWB scandal were to be breached - or if Howard, Downer and their cronies were brought to the courts over their responsibility for the shocking war crimes in Iraq - the corporate media would find this hard to ignore.