Exchanging stories is fundamental to human existence. Especially when civil rights movements are underway at home and abroad as the effects of unnecessary cuts start to hit home. We can see this in the all too many links to interesting stories posted by friends via social networking sites. With the speed and ease of communication between distant people journalism remains important in stimulating dialogue, exchanging stories and planting thoughts for change. It is just much of this ‘change’ isn’t significant and, in the face of an unforgiving neo-liberal agenda, seems more like weak reform. So why do so many stories get presented in such a uniform way, suited to particular tastes, and why is this detrimental style so easily accepted? It’s not simply a matter of sound bites and airtime; these tools can fit any agenda. Similarly it’s hard to single out any particular group, whether it is the BBC, the Daily Mail or the Guardian, what one does openly the other does meticulously. While consumers should be aware of the differences perhaps they shouldn’t split hairs. Despite massive marketing budgets the mainstream media rarely seems to want to speak to anyone apart from the middle classes.
A few years ago Alan Milburn hypocritically stimulated debate on journalism within Parliament meanwhile the industry continues to be named ‘one of the most exclusive middle-class professions’. A concern echoed again on Question Time when a number of the panel agreed that the mainstream media is pooled from a more exclusive selection than the notorious Houses of Parliament. Calls to provide financial support to interns from less wealthy backgrounds will amount to little in the current climate of cuts. At the moment media organisations can demand year-long unpaid interns and it is hard to see the Guardian’s recent piece on the elitism of internships as anything but long overdue. Charlie Beckett, director of the journalism think tank Polis, says a glass/class roof has been in operation within the industry for over twenty years. Beckett suggests that middle class women are to ‘blame’, but does he really believe that if women were not in these positions a different spectrum of people would be? It’s hypocrisy for all these people to speak about needing greater diversity, why don’t they provide a space for the type of people they are thinking of to say this? Perhaps you first have to be schooled in how to say things and what to say.
The National Union of Journalists general secretary, Jeremy Dear has stated that this has undermined diversity within the profession. However the type ‘diversity’ he seems to be speaking of is greatly diminished as many internships are aimed at university students at the very least and typically the more prestigious organisations will demand students from more elite universities. The field of vision for recruitment is indeed very narrow. A report by the Sutton Trust revealed that half of editors attended private schools again this indicates that those doing the recruiting, even if they had the best of intentions, couldn’t possibly represent wider cultural and linguistic tastes. So as journalists and politicians are schooled together, and later in life they pat each other on the back in an exchange of stories and publicity, what can we expect? The collaboration between the media and politicians is witnessed everyday but most overtly when the BBC’s Nick Robinson was chairing a debate between riled students and the Conservative’s Nick Clegg; Robinson was actively defending the notorious minister, sometimes before Clegg could open his mouth with his own response… or perhaps to protect him.
All this is even more evident in the articles that are produced in the mainstream press. Most things are a direct reaction to mainstream politricks, of interest if you’re from middle or upper England, but only distantly and pretentiously related to you if living on a council estate in want of work. Further to this, the mass-media works against those that have opportunities blocked in life. If I am being unclear take the example of recent coverage of events in Egypt, how many BBC correspondents that were rushed over to Cairo speak Arabic? Indeed I got the impression that they were happier in their journalistic green zone than waltzing the streets getting stories. Whose stories can they (re)present from a roof top? An undercurrent is the assumption by editors and producers is that the most powerful force in the world is violence, whether to fight in Afghanistan or to cover protests at home. Where alternative voices are permitted they are often actively marginalised or talked down to. In no roundabout way this suits Parliament and business interests just fine.
As easily revealed with happenings in North Africa and the Middle East at the moment, contributions from the media and journalism have the potential to be extraordinary. Journalism shouldn’t rely on mass protest and violent state reaction to release stories of abuse and corruption. Media organisations have been sitting on these stories for years and decades; none of them had the respectability to report with any diversity or intensity on the flaws in regimes. They speak to middle and upper England in the belief that change occurs in London. They don’t need diversity because their idea of diversity doesn’t bring about the kind of reform they seek. I have time for John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Wikileaks but they speak of big politricks. I want stories and projects involving people that can really change the world; those from council estates and working in shops, those fed up with the bullshit of being a teacher, a mental health worker, or a social worker. Another graduate from Cambridge or Oxford just won’t cut it; we need to think beyond the certificates of NCJT and ‘higher’ education.
In a very easy to follow example the mass media doesn’t seek to reflect the creativity of explosive everyday language. This belies reality. The media is all about the establishment. The possibility is there and we don’t have to look too far back to see the potential with examples like The Black Panther or punk zines. The current media only seeks to maintain the current establishment. With the number of organisations that are being set up in the wake of Wikileaks it seems that end of politics is being opened up. Even though the information released so far has been largely obvious to anyone with more than a passing interest. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that we need a media outlet that relates more everyday lived realities, one that cannot rely on ‘information dumping’ and the internet, and asks others to participate and lead the way in an exchange of experience and skills. We cannot be reduced to simply communicating on somebody else’s terms instead we need a media that helps us connect.
Author: Martin Ruddock
After completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Southampton and an MA in Anthropology of Conflict, Violence & Conciliation at the University of Sussex, Martin has worked across Indonesia with a variety of community groups and NGOs. While in the UK, he has worked on a variety of issues including Israel/Palestine culminating in a visit to Gaza last year. He is also a talented photographer, his work being exhibited exhibitions, including at a forthcoming Royal Anthropological Institute event. Martin’s interests lie primarily in the Israel/Palestine conflict, women’s issues, journalism and communication, Indonesia, Islam and international politics/development.