Since the media is so effective in galvanising ‘togetherness’; a sense of community; of nationhood; the sharing of values; the expansion of knowledge, generating ideas, or just staying in communication, what would the world look like without it? How did we cope before the invention of the printing press, the consequence of mass communication? We’re accustomed to complaining about it in conspiratorial tones but once we’re away from the temptations of new information for what, a day? A few hours possibly? We know, even if reluctant to admit it, the urge for those habitual updates from the BBC, CNN, Channel Four or even ITV and worse, Fox News provides an inexplicable craving to know what’s going on or to reassure ourselves that we are still involved somehow? The reduction in phone calls, text and WhatsApp messages feel oddly undermining or at least, weirdly uncomfortable particularly when out of the country. How many of us stare harder at our screens waiting for activity to pick up? What if the internet fades or worse the battery drains to the last 3% without a charger insight? Who walks without their charger anyway these days? It might be an insecurity but is the UK worse than most western countries for providing public charging facilities?
Not that the phenomena of mobile phones and social media as I’m about to suggest, is the cause of this habitual behaviour. Rather, a closer look at mainstream news and entertainment makes clear that the capacity to extend its leviathan limbs has shaped other reactionary expressions of itself. Yes, social media allows us to be interactive, to make broader contributions ending decades of shouting or throwing things at the TV as well as to meet in silos to organise or stay in touch but still, we are not framed by it in the same way.
Frankly, mainstream media fears the freedom social media has and worries it might run away without its parental ‘guidance’ to leave it looking outdated, redundant or worse, completely irrelevant. Like the adolescent, it is faster has more energy and bathes in its apparent independence for it appears to do its own thing. Social media seemingly has the power to revolt against the established world order. Seemingly. Over the last few years with the resurgence of progressive politics, conservatives and moderates have obsessed for their apparently out of control young ones. Without meaning to undermine the excessive abuse that the likes of Diane Abbot MP is daily subjected to, complaints that politicians and other celebrities are suffering from attacks through social media has been disproportionate. According to mainstream media, acting in their laughable role as honest brokers, we are being morally corrupted by it though mainstream media fails to acknowledge its’ very own highly conflicted interest. Nor does mainstream media address where the origins of such corruption might come from which surely must be itself, or else from where? What we are experiencing is mainstream media flexing its grotesque elongated muscles over the angular development of social media by exerting a parental authority. Notably, on the 11th September 2018, counsellor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with Christiana Amanpour, that the President and the media were going to share ‘joint custody’ of the country.
Significantly, social media does not possess a homogenous voice to remotely dominate a national discourse as the mainstream does. After all, mainstream media can transmit one message repeatedly with relative ease. So, simply by omission, mainstream media can say almost nothing about the on-going nationwide French unrest resisting President Macron’s wish to increase the retirement age and to change workers’ pension schemes since the risk is to invoke ‘workers solidarity’ in the UK. Alternatively, by reinforcement and throughout our entire UK lives, indeed, across the world, HRH Queen Elizabeth (as leader of the Royal family) is portrayed through one constant message, that she is to be admired and will not be subject to critical analysis whether we like it or not. For example, she will never be asked about the conduct of her son, Prince Andrew. It is enough for the public to be told that he is stepping down because he has embarrassed his family, but does Her Royal Highness believe her son should give evidence in the investigation against Epstein, or does she hope his stepping down will help to avoid it?
Another constant is Africa as starving, poor and an unsophisticated jungle that cannot develop without western help. Few understand that Africa with colonialism constantly updating itself is being further impoverished by the raping of its resources by the West and Britain in particular. I doubt whether anyone has ever seen Africa’s thriving sophisticated side on the BBC, ever. Indeed, the use of the word ‘world’ is frequently without African consideration. That is the power of mainstream media, the ability to maintain a one-world story as ‘the norm’ because of the dominance of their platforms owned by a handful of people.
In contrast, some social media messages do go viral but these have a shallow impact, are invariably sporadic and short-lived such as in the case of comedian Dany Baker, sacked by the BBC after tweeting the image of royal baby Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor as a chimpanzee/ape in May 2019. The following month Baker got a standing ovation at the Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, described by him as one of the best nights in his career?
In recent times the notion of fake news has been much emphasised by President Trump and the use of ‘alternative facts’ by Kellyanne Conway. She was rightfully, much ridiculed for using such a term. President Trump’s use of Twitter to circumvent what he calls fake news by the likes of CNN, NBC and other mainstream reporters is also subject to much amusement. Because Trump, like PM Johnson, is a maverick egomaniac-type leader, his complaints are subject to less scrutiny since he is skilled in the undermining of his own credibility. Significantly, fake news is, instead, almost exclusively assigned to that of social media. Recently, CNN reported that Finland as a ranked top of the ‘post-truth’ world in 2018, is winning the war on ‘fake news’. In their video children talk about ‘liking’ and re-posting information in social media as ‘dangerous’ and spreading like ‘the plague’. Admittedly, it’s crucial to teach children to critically assess what they read first but the spread of disinformation is identified only as through Instagram, YouTube and SnapChat.
One implication is that Finland must have it right given its high ranking on the Global Index for happiness, press freedom, gender equality and social justice. Yet, a migrant Finn’s view of Finland might very legitimately, think otherwise were it not for their obligation to feel submissively grateful for their lot. As a consequence, their voices lie dormant not entitled to mainstream media attention unless it relates to ‘their’ crime and dishonesty. Notably, discrimination is still widespread in Nordic schools, according to the JustEd research project (2018). Migrant Tales, reported in a survey that first-generation immigrants were more likely to experience bullying, physical threats and sexual harassment than white Finns. Despite Finland’s dedication to equality, its gender performance gap score continues to languish below the OECD average (2019). When the education standards in Finland began to drop in 2013, migrants were readily blamed for it. Unless Black Finns discuss these issues themselves ideally with the aid of social media to try and raise attention to their plight, they are devoid of any social platform at all because this certainly does not serve the wider interests of mainstream media.
Indeed, the unending string of police officers we have witnessed because of the many mobile recordings uploaded onto social media platforms to show the killing or brutalising of black people makes that clear in the following cases, to name a few, Antwon Rose, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Charlie Kinsey, Jerame Reid, Dylan Taylor, Michael Brown the Midland’s police, West Midlands Police, Romford Police and the Metropolitan Police. On the other hand, these videos have not yet lead to a successful conviction of those killed by the police – a story in and of itself worthy of mainstream media, surely?
The BBC as occupying the dominant mainstream media space in the UK has built up a relationship with the British nation over 97 years and that is fundamentally one of trust and habit. We listen to the BBC almost without thinking as one of the nation’s staple diets. If you care nothing for the news but do for the Match of the Day football programme on Saturday nights, you will receive the same narrative albeit through that sport. The language differs but otherwise, it won’t alter greatly from listening to Radio four or from watching the soap, EastEnders, or indeed the political debate, Question Time in the evening. The celebrity entertainment programme Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday nights will also be consistent with a common and consistent thread that tells us ad nauseam that it is better to be white, male and middle-class or else to be the closest to it. In football Harry Kane the England captain and Tottenham Hotspur player is virtually untouchable.
In contrast and until recently, Raheem Stirling guilty of having his own mind and being a successful talented black footballer for England and Manchester City was targeted relentlessly though he smartly responded to the Daily Mail by drawing a correlation between how the media treats black footballers and the level of racist abuse in the crowds.
Radio four is diverse only insofar as their guests reinforce either a middle-class position or things of middle-class interest. Nick Robinson, the Today programme presenter and former political editor of the BBC claim they are impartial. He may well believe that but his ‘impartiality’ should be measured against his background, the President of Oxford University Conservative Association, President of Conservative Party Youth Group, founder member Macclesfield young Conservatives, Cheshire Young Conservatives Chairman, and Chairman of National Young Conservatives? The Mitchel’s in EastEnders ensures a constant tough white working-class male character must prevail in the end and even in dancing, the programme is constrained through similar tropes. It is the equivalent to putting an orange lens in your glasses allowing your eyes and mind to adjust and then forgetting you have done so. Your orange world now looks ‘normal’ and you refuse to take your glasses off to see you are looking at the world through a colour bias. Better to keep the glasses on and plead denial just in case you really do have to face a racially bias truth, to say the very least.
The coloured lens of the BBC (as well as many other media outlets), works effectively because the BBC has become an additional relative in our homes, a part of the furniture, an extra person at the dinner table or the sofa and shamefully, someone we sometimes go to bed with. Because we trust the BBC, we listen objectively unaware of the inbuilt bias influencing us – entire Pavlovian conditioning. When we are without that diet of information, in fact, it’s not a diet so much as a foie gras – stuffing us endlessly and painfully with subliminal messages to distract us from hearing ourselves think.
These not uncommon suggestions I make, are met with the media up in arms. They declare this is typical of the ‘privileged few’ patronisingly looking down on others telling them they do not have their own minds. In a neat bit of projection, the elite accuse the accusers of being elite? See how that trickery works? Deflection is the art of mainstream media and yet parents know full well that values have to be reinforced at a very young age if they are to be instilled at all. For indoctrination to be secure, the principle is exactly the same. When our parents pass on ‘good’ values that is fine but what happens to a nation when our comfortable privileged elite groups determinedly convince you that the world is in fact orange even without the wearing of their glasses?
The point is it is difficult to break free of this conditioning because media bombardment is everywhere. It imbues a sense of helplessness. Compliance is easier for it avoids demonisation and rewards ‘success’.
Those that resist are, unsurprisingly some of the most courageous intelligent, people we know, yet are confined to the political margins identified as trouble makers. As political or community activists they dedicate their lives to resistance and justice hoping that one day Africans, ethnic minorities and all working-class groups will rise up. In many ways, they are simply holding the fort with exhaustion, conviction and humility to feed them. Occasionally, those with access to bigger platforms come along to challenge the chains that bind us. For the last 3-years, the charge within the Labour Party has been led by Jeremy Corbyn. The media attacks on him have been relentless. Observe how the media will favour those to the right of the Labour Party to reclaim it as theirs to control outright, again. Language used to describe ‘the right’ will be that of ‘moderate’ while moderates will be described as the ‘extreme left to scare you. So, the likes of Rebecca Long-Bailey, Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Salford and Eccles, will not be their preferred choice to Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham, Yardley, for example.
Stormzy in the media
Right now, because Stormzy has dared to use his platform to tell the truth, that we live in a racist Britain, he is currently under attack from the establishment while being accused of being a member of it. Of course, the attacks on Stormzy reinforces the very fact of racism in Britain. Nick Ferrari, a man who Prime Minister Cameron once encouraged to join the Conservative Party and stand as mayor in 2006, is a radio presenter for LBC with 1.3 million daily listeners. Two weeks ago he gave journalist and Marxist Libertarian Brendon O’Neil an editor of an online magazine (that does not have one black writer on its editorial board), a free-pass on his programme when he attempted to position Stormzy as not representing ordinary people. Clearly, O’Neil as a white, middle-class British man felt he was better suited to tell us Stormzy was “rather boring, patronising, pontificating figure. Who is constantly telling the rest of us what we ought to be thinking,” To whom is O’Neil seeking attention and approval? This is a typical example of the cultural elite projecting once more. Given the sheer audacity never mind the Afriphobic racist/colonial implications of doing so, his position went predictably unchallenged by Ferrari though it eschewed the very notion of who an ‘ordinary people’ might be. Did they truly believe they were more informed about black communities than Stormzy or were they only referring to white people as ordinary anyway? Mind you, LBC (Shelagh Fogarty) did previously suggest in 2017 that Stormzy (Grime) was responsible for glorifying knife crime and in response, was ‘dissed’ by him in First Things First from his album, ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’. Frankly, LBC though they have their good moments, are in the main, like O’Neill, so far from reality concerning poverty, the lives of black and working class people, that they are part of the propaganda of mainstream media. Despite their apparent differences both Ferrari and O’Neill are granted at the very least, white cultural privileges to speak on behalf of us without us. I don’t think they realise that their uncritical attacks on Stormzy served only to discredit themselves.
Piers Morgan (ardent supporter of Donald Trump), co-presenter of the ITV Breakfast programme Good Morning Britain, also criticised Stormzy for describing the Prime Minister as a ‘bad man’ to children yet hasn’t used the same enthusiasm to question Prime Minister Johnson’s references to ‘piccaninies’ (an offensive term used for black children), black people having ‘watermelon’ smiles and young people who “have an almost Nigerian interest in money and gadgets of all kinds” in October 1999, while editor of The Spectator magazine.
Stormzy bought attention to himself in two ways one, in an interview when he was asked by the La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper, whether he thought Britain was a racist country and in response, he dared to reply “definitely, 100 per cent”. I, along with the majority of our black communities, one hundred per cent agree with him and thank him wholeheartedly for using his platform in such a principled way. However, a number of British media outlets cynically misconstrued what he said as ‘Britain is 100 per cent racist’ to imply, ‘everyone in Britain is racist’ which is what he did not say. This cleverly turned the messenger into the accused again. Stormzy thinks it is for ‘clickbait’ though he knows this is also part of another mainstream narrative that says, ‘Boy, no your place, or we will destroy you’. Ferrari and O’Neill? After all cabinet minister Michael Gove tried to undermine Stormzy in the national election for highlighting Prime Minister Johnson as a man who tells lies. Plus he publicly lent his support to Jeremy Corbyn, his other apparent fatal error. Gove in rushing to his leader’s defence effectively warned Stormzy to know his ‘rapper’ place and to stay out of politics as if grime wasn’t about just that. Let’s face it. For a country that wants constantly to describe itself as remarkably tolerant and welcoming to a diverse group of communities, it is starkly aggressive when any of those diverse British citizens dares to tell Britain a friendly home truth.
So as we enter 2020, our warm cuddly mainstream media is not likely to fairly represent the lot of most African, Black and working-class communities here or in any part of the world. Why should they when we have just given this government a heavy majority to further trample all over us. The question is what we are going to do about what we already know. If we keep turning our backs away from these difficult predicaments because it’s simply much easier to go along with the status quo, we’re most certainly going to get more of the same. I don’t expect people to turn into socialist political activists but let us at the very least, start to take a bit more responsibility for our lives and stop waiting. The bare minimum is to stop caving into what we’re being told when we know through sheer instinct that it does not feel or sound right. The media will always be PM Johnson’s twelfth man and that won’t change unless we do. Indeed, why should they? Be more critical, more thinking and more demanding. Nobody is coming to rescue us because they are all waiting for you. I asked the question, where would we be without mass communication, the heir to the printing press? We would be meeting each other in person talking because we would need and want to. Nearly six-hundred years later, we can say our media systems though extremely important, remain a very poor substitute to that.