Five reasons why we don’t have a free and independent press in the UK and what we can do about it

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Britain’s press is controlled by the same networks of people as run everything else. Is it really free?

1) The billionaires that own the press set the agenda

2) Corporate advertising revenue censors the content

3) Privately educated white men dominate the media

4) The political use of supposedly neutral sources

5) The intelligence services manipulate the press

What are the alternatives?

Our media system is deeply compromised. However there is some hope for the future as ideas not normally in the corporate media are increasingly being distributed through other channels – especially through the internet, alternative media and media co-operatives.

Alternative media such as openDemocracyIndymediaDemocracy Nowand Red Pepper have existed for years, while The Canary was launched online a year ago. There has also been a resurgence of co-operatively owned media after some failed experiments in the 1970s, with The New Internationalist (now apparently the UK’s oldest workers’ co-operative) still surviving from that period. These media co-operatives are either owned by their workers, their readers or both as multi-stakeholder co-operatives. Corporate Watch and Strike! Magazine – both workers’ co-operatives – have been running since 1996 and 2012 respectively. The Morning Star has been a reader owned co-operative for several years. Ethical Consumer converted into a multi-stakeholder co-operative in 2008. The Bristol Cable has recently been created by local residents as a co-operative. Positive News has recently been crowdfunded by its readers to be a co-operative. STIR magazine is planning to transition to a co-operative structure. In the UK the co-operative movement founded their own publication in 1871 to report on the co-operative movement – the Co-operative Press – which continues as Co-operative News to this day.

There has been a surge in Scottish alternative and co-operative media. The West Highland Free Press was bought out by its employees in 2009. Bella Caledonia emerged before the Scottish referendum, and after it The Ferret was crowdfunded to pursue investigative journalism as a co-operative owned by its subscribers and journalists, and Common Spacewas established as a crowd-funded rolling news service.

There have also been efforts to support investigative journalism. Websites such as Patreon enable readers to support investigative journalists directly. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism also funds and supports investigative journalism. Wikileaks has also provided a very valuable resource for journalists trying to investigate what is actually going on.

Globally, there are many more examples of alternative and co-operative media. The Media Co-op is a network of local multi-stakeholder media co-operatives providing grassroots, democratic coverage of Canadian communities. The Real News is a non-profit, viewer-supported daily video-news and documentary service based in the United States. ZNet is a viewer supported alternative media outlet based in the US.

Critical perspectives on the media appear with MediaLensSpinwatchOff Guardian and BS News in the UK as well as FAIR and many others in the US.

However, alternative media does vary in quality. As has been much discussed since Donald Trump’s election, alternative (as well as corporate) media can be fake, far-right and/or not sufficiently fact-checked. Only if alternative/co-operative/investigative journalism is financially supported by its readers will they be able to research and write high quality articles. Together we have immense resources and power to support non-corporate media if we choose to. The Media Fund – which itself will be a multi-stakeholder co-operative – recently crowdfunded £10,000 to support the UK’s media revolution, but much more is needed to ensure its success.

Other information sources (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) – which although are corporations themselves – provide access to different viewpoints, but they can also create bubbles where people with similar beliefs follow each other and they can be compromised and censored by the corporations themselves (censorship of TwitterFacebook and YouTube exists, including of large numbers of Palestinian posts, pages and accounts). There are also dangers with the idea that everything we say should be connected to a personal profile – there are real benefits to anonymity as shown by the countless people in prison or facing trial in the Middle East for their posts on corporate social media. Ideally, for alternative media to be truly successful, we need to create alternatives to Facebook and Twitter that are open source, collectively owned and which allow anonymity if desired.

As the internet generation gets older, and hopefully less exclusively reliant on the corporate media, maybe things will continue to change. Despite relentless aggressive attacks by the corporate media against Jeremy Corbyn, which unmasked supposedly left-wing newspapers likethe Guardian which three academic studies have recently confirmed, he managed to win two Labour leadership elections by a landslide. A poll of those eligible to vote for Jeremy Corbyn at the Labour leadership election a year ago found that for 57 per cent of them social media was a main source of news, as compared to around 40 per cent for the other candidates. Social and alternative media helped lead to the rise of Corbyn and changed the limits of ‘acceptable’ debate within the Labour party.

The fact that you’re reading this means that alternative viewpoints can be sought out, read and shared. Please check out the alternative media above, share it, support it financially and/or become a member if you can. Or consider writing for – or even setting up your own – media co-operative.

 

Further reading:

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media by Nick Davies

* Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media by David Edwards & David Cromwell

* Good News: A co-operative solution to the media crisis by Dave Boyle

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything by Joe Trippi

* How Thatcher and Murdoch made their secret deal by Harold Evans

Documentaries on the corporate media:

Outfoxed

Spin

Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky and the Media

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