The Media, the Left and Power

(or: Media Capitalism, the State and 21st Century Media Democracy Struggles)

Published on Cyrano’s Journal online, by Tanner Mirrlees, August 7, 2009.

Tanner Mirrlees (TM) interviews Robert McChesney (RM): TM: Why do you think it is important for progressives to understand the media and participate in media democracy struggles?

RM: The media is one of the key areas in society where power is exercised, reinforced and contested. It is hard to imagine a successful left political project that does not have a media platform. The media was not a major political issue for earlier generations of the Left. In the 19th century, a very different media system was in place. 19th century socialists wouldn’t be talking much about the need to criticize the New York Herald Tribune because they weren’t organizing people who read the New York Herald Tribune. It was much easier and more common for the Left to have its own media. The workers had worker papers. They weren’t consuming mass produced commercial media products.  

But this started changing in the first half of the 20th century. Capital accumulation colonized much more of popular culture and communications. Capitalism became the dominant mode of producing and distributing information in society. The media has since become central to politics; it is a central concern for anyone that wants to understand politics and intervene politically. The challenge for us is to understand, use and struggle to change the existing media …

… They certainly would be if they were forced to read everything I’ve written. Fortunately, for a free society and unfortunately, for my book sales, most people are not aware of this fact. Obviously, the last thing the phone and cable companies are going to do is publicize the fact that they are state-constructed monopolies and that their entire business model is based on owning politicians. They spread the myth that they are the victors of free-market competition. It is crucial that we expose and debunk this myth. We also need to reveal the price we pay for these state-created corporate monopolies, which exploit public subsidies.

The interests of the Left are identical with those of democracy. If we had a better media system, our ideas would win.

Nevertheless, we have had much success around the net neutrality struggle. I expect within the next twelve months, we will have a formal law passed by U.S. Congress, signed by President Obama, and backed up by orders from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Network neutrality is well on its way to becoming the new law of the land …

… RM: They certainly would be if they were forced to read everything I’ve written. Fortunately, for a free society and unfortunately, for my book sales, most people are not aware of this fact. Obviously, the last thing the phone and cable companies are going to do is publicize the fact that they are state-constructed monopolies and that their entire business model is based on owning politicians. They spread the myth that they are the victors of free-market competition. It is crucial that we expose and debunk this myth. We also need to reveal the price we pay for these state-created corporate monopolies, which exploit public subsidies.

“The interests of the Left are identical with those of democracy. If we had a better media system, our ideas would win.”

Nevertheless, we have had much success around the net neutrality struggle. I expect within the next twelve months, we will have a formal law passed by U.S. Congress, signed by President Obama, and backed up by orders from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Network neutrality is well on its way to becoming the new law of the land …

… I don’t have a specific proposal, but what I can say with certainty is that every country is dealing basically with the same fundamental issues, but as they are shaped by specific local conditions. The response to my work on the U.S. media has been as strong from people living in countries all over the world as it has been from people in the U.S. The media is a fundamental issue of our time and that is why we struggle around and through it. It is about human beings everywhere developing the capacities to control their own destinies. (full long text).

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