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Media memory-hole leaves us all suffering

If the the UK media is incapable of reporting today’s news in the light of what we learned yesterday, democracy is in trouble

Three different stories this morning all have me wondering if the media has learned much about the world in recent years. Let me suggest three lessons that seem to me to have been shown pretty conclusively:

  1. We elected a Cabinet of millionaires, many from aristocratic backgrounds. We have the lowest levels of social mobility since before the war. We have an ever-growing gap between the very rich and the rest of us (an even bigger gap opens up with the poor). Social class is hard-wired into contemporary Britain and now more than any point in a long time the people who are very successful have inherited it rather than having won it through their own efforts.
  2. The privatisation agenda is dismantling the public realm for private profit and the more we hand over monopoly access to corporate interests the more we pay the price. PFI, utilities pricing, rail pricing, the contracting-out of services; again and again we pay the price for someone else to come and take our assets and make enormous personal profit. This is preceded by a sweetener (low initial cost for PFI, sell-off cash and so on) but the sweetener never masks the overall bad flavour.
  3. When we send militarily trained young men into combat among civilians (especially overseas and especially in cultures markedly different from our own), the civilians pay the price.

These are some of the undeniable facts which have marked the neoliberal, neoconservative period but which were studiously covered up by rhetoric, borrowing and the media. So we see Dragon’s Den on TV and think that ordinary people have a chance of becoming millionaires, which is true only in vanishingly small statistical terms. Or there’s the X Factor and its ecosystem of persuading us that there are ways out of our social class through talent. Again, this is true of an insignificant minority of the population. Meanwhile our mouths were stuffed with credit to help us keep shopping and so kid ourselves on that we were benefiting from the GDP growth. And we are expected simultaneously to accept that market competition is good for us and still open our electricity bill.

At the same time we have a massive campaign to persuade us that no human is more saintly than the military ‘heroes’, their ranks swelled by judiciously-placed royals. The media does not print bad things about ‘our boys’ unless the thing ‘our boys’ have done is caught on film or is so horrendous that a cover-up is impossible (at which point it will almost certainly become the work of ‘bad apples’).

There is none of this that we shouldn’t have learned, and yet today I read:

  1. “Three Scottish universities are among the most successful in the UK when it comes to producing millionaires.” No they’re not. Three Scottish universities are among the best in the UK at recruiting millionaires. The function of the university is selection, not production.
  2. “The UK government is to plough a £28 billion windfall into paying off the national debt.” But it’s not a ‘windfall’ (an unexpected additional load of money), it’s the selling-off of future pension liability. We know the consequences.
  3. “Man accused of killing 16 ‘cracked after friend lost let in bomb blast’.” Sorry, no. There is no way that this guy saw one severed leg and went on a rampage. Even if it was a trigger he must clearly have been damaged before.

This is why we learn nothing – because we learn nothing. Social mobility and the rich are coincidental, privatisation is always good, soldiers never do bad things. Unless the media gains some critical faculties and reports things today in the light of what it learned yesterday, we have no chance of fixing anything.

Robin McAlpine