Monday, June 11, 2012

Class Consciousness

The debate over media regulation has reached an impasse: In the one corner, the unrepresentative left-liberal academic elitist swill seeking to silence free media with their jackbooted authoritarianism; in the other, the free spirited and unshackled mavericks of the Murdoch media bravely speaking the people's truth to power.

It's a debate made for the professional underdogs of News Ltd - the nominally working class warriors who find their capitalist cultural identity at News Ltd. These tribal folk love nothing more than to scratch their class itch by throwing bombs at bourgeois academics who have "no idea how real people live" out in the fabled suburbs.

If you want the base motivation for those who sign up for the Murdochracy it is this: Journalists come into the trade (and it IS a trade, not a profession), feeling a combination of regret and defiance;  regret that they were smart enough, but had little time or resource, to do PHDs; defiance in their self-assurance that they write better and with greater flair than the most earnest doctorate student.

That chip-on-the-shoulder curse of the generalist is what motivates many of them (the Joe Hildebrands of the world) to sell their capacity for professional smart-arsery to the highest bidder. And we know who that is. Joe lives and breathes pretending he is on the side of the 'unvarnished people' against the tut-tutting, cause-adopting latte set set with whom he most probably (and ironically) prefers to socialise.
In doing so, he represents a fine tradition.  His boss Rupert has built an empire by faking that he is on the side of the little people against the snooty agents of the cultural establishment. Murdoch succeeds in business by understanding that people feel cultural inferiority more keenly than they feel the economic and political kind. In other words, you are more inclined to feel a slight from someone casting aspersions on your lack of education than you are from someone implying they have greater wealth than you. (It's why his editors can so straight facedly go into bat for billionaire Gina, while accusing Daihatsu-driving academics of elitism).

So in this way Murdoch has managed to persuade the population that if he sells lots of newspapers, he speaks for 'the people'. The market has spoken, in other words. No matter that the consequences of the policies he champions trample the people he claims to represent. He can keep them quiet by pandering to their basest prejudices and fears, all the while feeding their inferiority complexes.

This is a tough paradigm to argue against; If you go in hard, you're just a latte-quaffing elitist out of touch with the Barnesian (as in Jimmy) concerns of real folks.  If you try to reason with them, you play into their hands.

And this is where we are now with media regulation. The Finkelstein inquiry and the Media Convergence Review have been shunted away by many in the mainstream media as shady attempts to shut down the voices of freedom in favour of meddling statists. And of course, the politicians are too scared to follow through, fearing the inevitable wedge of the real folks vs the elitists.

In the meantime, it probably won't make the paper, but this debate (or a more sophisticated version of it) is occurring outside Australia. I'd urge anyone with an interest in sensible media regulation to look at this report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, based at Oxford University.

The report compares press regulation in the case of Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland and Sweden. This is a serious attempt to negotiate the issues arising from the Leveson inquiry in the UK and raises a number of important questions - like the need for accuracy, fairness, trust and reliability - what what one might call class-agnostic issues (as boring as that might be).

But if this is just too tedious and practical and  procedural, you can go on playing the bait-and-switch game perpetuated by a media that prefers you to be permanently outraged than informed. It's one of the few media business models that still works, apparently.


  1. It's not just Murdoch. Over at Fairfax, if you object to objectification (as embodied in Lingerie Footy League) you're an elitist, probably from Brunswick, which is apparently the most elitist place you can be from, who just wants to take the simple pleasure of lingerie-clad American Football (and dakking) away from the honest workers.

  2. Once again a voice for sanity and reason

  3. At this late stage, there is a cure for Murdochism?
    The dying man will try anything.
    I suspect I know who Helen might be. If so, I'd say whatever else this person and I may diverge upon, that I, too, would love to see the back of the toxic mound of brain pulping sludge that comprises current tabloid TV, radio and press.
    but I think the system has its hooks into humanity far more deeply than we know, and that it's far later than we think.
    Paul Walter