Politics and the biases of media

There are various things about the phenomenon of Corbynism which reflect very badly on the quality of political thought on that part of the Left that likes to think of itself as new and shiny and alternative in a weirdly backward-looking, Bennite kind of way. From a personal but also professional point of view, the one thing that I find most amazing is the way in which this ‘movement’, from Jeremy Corbyn on down, thinks about “the media”. It is evident, and has been since last summer, that they really do believe in ‘media bias’, based on ideological grounds and intentionally reproduced, and that you can find evidence of it everywhere but especially in the BBC, personified in certain journalists.

There is no denying that Corbyn has had a bad press, but that of course is no evidence of media bias. To suppose that it is might just be a version of denial. And to think that there is such a thing as ‘media bias’ based on ideological grounds in the way in which the current Labour leadership and their supporters still, today, does is not only to display a basic misunderstanding of how journalism works, how news is made, how Party politics works (i.e. a misunderstanding of the world one is meant to have some grasp of as people working in Party politics), it is deeply troubling for two related reasons:

  • It indicates a failure to grasp the sorts of ‘bias’ that might well be at work in the conventions of news-making, biases towards things like narrative, good stories, arresting personalities, sincerity, and the like.
  • And following from this, what is really most troubling about the 1980s-style media studies view of ‘media bias’ circulating in strands of left commentary in the UK these last few months is not so much that it indicates a misunderstanding about dynamic world-making media practices, but what it reveals about how this sort of political perspective thinks about the interests of ordinary people.

If, as a politician, you keep publicly saying that your problems are due to the bias of ‘the media’, then you are demonstrating both a lack of self-awareness and a form of condescension towards people you think should really like you. And these are the sorts of dispositions that resonate quite powerfully in ‘the media’, irrespective of whether you are being reported on by Laura Kuenssberg or taking part in a fly-on-the-wall documentary on Vice, because they have little to do with ‘ideology’.

 

Book on Media and Democracy in Southern Africa

Here is an open access link to an edited collection of essays on Southern African media issues – it’s not a new book, it was published in 2001, but is now out of print, so one of the editors, Keyan Tomaselli, has made it available on the website of the Centre for Communication, Media and Society at the University of KwaZula-Natal.

Even though it’s now a decade old, and politics and media have both moved on somewhat, it’s still a valuable resource, not least as a model of a certain sort of scholarly experiment. It’s notable as a product of a genuine intellectual dialogue of scholars from across the Southern African region, not just SA, and indeed, of South-South dialogue, involving as it did scholars from Jamaica too – this is the sort of dialogue pioneered by the cultural studies centre in Durban going back to the 1980s at least.

It is the product of a workshop held in 2000 in Durban, at what I now remember as having been an interesting turning point in regional history: the Hansie Cronje affair had just broken, leaving South African public culture reeling it seemed, and the violent repression of opposition in Zimbabwe also kicked-off at just about this time – a number of those attending the workshop flew in from, or were deeply engaged with politics in Zimbabwe.

My piece in the collection is about broadcasting and telecoms policy in South Africa and the broader region, and issues of democracy and scale more abstractly. Those were the days.