Finding It Hard To Care

September 22, 2009

If, like me, you head for the sport section of the newspaper first, avoiding the puddle-deep ‘he-said, she-said’ gossip that passes for serious political journalism, you may have come across the howls of outrage from the likes of Mark Hughes over Manchester United’s very late winner against Manchester City on Sunday.

For those unfamiliar with the events that unfolded, after a thrilling 90 minutes with the local rivals locked at 3-3, the fourth official indicated that at least four minutes should be added on.  United’s Michael Owen scored the winner in the sixth minute of injury time.

Now, it is hardly an unusual event for Manchester United to be given a little more time than other teams to turn one point into three, and for their media apologists to come up with all sorts of contorted calculations to suggest why so long was added on.  What is unusual is the general sympathy towards Manchester City.

This wasn’t a plucky lower or non-league side that Manchester United scraped past, but a team owned by a billionaire who have spent, by my calculations, around £190 million on new players in 2009 alone.  I find it hard to care that a minor has been done to them, when the structural injustices and inequalities in football mean that clubs lower down the pyramid find it hard to survive, fans of the top clubs are priced out of games, and players outside the rarified echelons face a short career without riches to sustain them when it ends in their mid-thirties.

This doesn’t seem to be an isolated phenomenon.  In the mainstream media there are regular articles outlining the plight of women working in executive positions in corporations or the City, about how they don’t earn as much as their male counterparts or passed over for promotion to boardroom.  I find it hard to care.

You will rarely see an article about the fact that many women can only get part-time, very low paid, insecure work, and that they are subject to the bullying of management on a daily basis.  I even saw a female worker, who was only offered part-time hours, being berated by her manager for asking to swap shifts so she could go to the second job she was compelled to take to make ends meet.  Trade unionists, particularly in the retail sector, will be able to recall countless versions of the pattern of bullying that affects female workers in particular, not restricted to the sacking of pregnant women and victimisation for taking time off for health and family matters.

Of course, this is not restricted to women, and as a man I have experienced and seen oppressive, exploitative and unpleasant managers and employers.  It’s a class issue, us v them, and those women in the City who bleat about only getting £200 grand a year instead of £300 grand are the enemy, not an ally of working class feminists.

The mainstream media play a useful propaganda role without realising it.  They furnish us constantly with tales that invite us to sympathise with the difficult lot of the rich and powerful.  This is not down to any sinister conspiracy or overt cynicism on the part of journalists, but a reflection of their class background and current social status.

A revealing study conducted by the Sutton Trust, which aims to help working class children get into the leading universities:

“found that leading news and current affairs journalists – those figures who are so central in shaping public opinion and national debate – are more likely than not to have been to independent schools which educate just 7% of the population. Of the top 100 journalists in 2006, 54% were independently educated an increase from 49% in 1986…1986, and in 2006 just 14% of the leading figures in journalism had been to comprehensive schools, which now educate almost 90% of children.”

Is it any wonder that national newspapers, radio and television pump out so much class-biased nonsense?

But that isn’t entirely the picture.  The fact that the ’embedding’ of reporters in military units leads to overwhelmingly skewed coverage is generally realised (if not stated that often by the organisations that do it, or benefit from it).  The ’embedding’ of reporters in the Westminster Village and the City is less obvious, though the constant lunching with senior politicians, civil servants and financial sector detritus is clearly going to engender a sympathy and solidarity for the world views of those people.

We are constantly invited to swallow our objections to various measures because to not do them would make these masters of the universe unhappy.  Steve Richards of the Independent, a shameless New Labour propagandist, once advised us to accept the loss of civil liberties, lest the lack of authoritarian measures give the likes of Jack Straw sleepless nights, fearing they would be blamed for any terrorist attacks!

As ever, I try to look for answers.  An independent, pro-worker media is clearly essential, as is the constant harrying of the mainstream media.  Most left parties have their own newspapers and web presence, and some of their members have blogs.  The value of this is incalculable, but the idea of a general non-sectarian left media that has been proposed by many others on countless occasions would be an important addition.  While it would be obviously quite difficult to gain a hearing alongside the more established corporate and State media outlets, it would be worth trying.

This would mean pooling the resources not just of political parties, but unions and other campaign groups, to found a web portal, newspaper, radio station and TV channel.  Founding a radio station and TV channel may sound grand, but in the days of digital radio and multi-channel TV, is not nearly as expensive as it once was.  It would require a commitment to non-sectarian, democratic, open and collaborative ways of working, which is not something parts of the Left have been renowned for, but might have to learn to try.