Two Important Media Initiatives

Left Strategy, Media Sep 13, 2012 Add a comment

The new issue of the Scottish Left Review is now online. In it are two articles about two different media initiatives in Scotland. Here are the articles

There’s no point complaining about the bias in the British media if you don’t support the one socialist daily newspaper. Malcolm Burns explains the background to the laucnch of the Scottish edition of the Morning Star

These are hard times for the media. Newspaper circulations are dropping, advertising revenues falling and titles closing. Jobs have been lost across the industry. The BBC faces huge cuts and damaging reforms. Meanwhile the reputation of journalism has been further challenged by the revelations of the Leveson inquiry.

Yet the Morning Star – the only socialist daily newspaper in the English language anywhere – has been busy investing in print and journalism capacity and relaunching itself in Scotland.

Why is this necessary, how is it possible – and what can you do to support it?

Over the last few years, editor Richard Bagley admitted to a meeting of Morning Star supporters and MSPs in the Scottish Parliament at the start of the new session on 4 September, the paper has not served its Scottish readers well enough. One main reason for this has been the difficulty in actually getting physical copies of the paper into the hands of readers on the day of publication. Another reason has been a lack of resources to actually cover Scotland.

Both of these issues are being addressed with the investment in capacity. A combination of issues including lack of access to the distribution networks for the so-called ‘small titles’ plus sheer geography and traffic meant that Scotland and parts of the North of England would only receive the paper the day after publication. And all too often, not at all.

The Morning Star has faced that problem in Scotland for a decade. But no more. With a new print deal secured from Trinity Mirror, the Star is now being printed in Oldham and Watford. The two site operation means the paper can be delivered into the distribution network for the north of England and for Scotland much earlier. In turn this means a Morning Star is in a Scottish newsagent or Co-op store near you, right there with all the big daily papers – on the day, every day. Well, six days out of seven, as there is a bumper weekend edition covering Saturday and Sunday.

And the Star is increasing its journalistic resource devoted to Scottish coverage with a dedicated Scotland desk in the newsroom supported by increased reporting on the ground. The aim is to develop this into a full-time Scottish operation.

Of course, all these developments need to be funded and depend crucially on building Scottish and other sales of the paper. And that’s where you can help! For six quid a week – the price of a couple of pints or cappuccinos – you can buy, read and support the Morning Star on a daily basis.

This is an ideal moment to relaunch the Morning Star in Scotland. On the one hand we have a great debate going on about the future of the nation, with the election of a majority SNP government last year and the independence referendum in 2014. On the other hand capitalism is in a crisis with banks failing, currencies imploding and the whole financial system teetering all around us.

The rich lists show that the financial architects of the disaster are by and large doing very nicely out of it. The unemployment and poverty figures show that those least able to afford it are paying the price for the austerity measures imposed by right-wing treasuries around the world. Economic orthodoxy – tax cuts for the rich, public service cuts for the rest of us – is the order of the day. There is no money, we can’t afford to spend our way out of recession… the right-wing slogans are boomed out by the mogul-owned media monopolies and are echoed by the increasingly craven BBC.

The Morning Star is the only daily newspaper on these shores which puts a clear left alternative. ‘For peace and socialism’ is the masthead slogan, which gives a fairly clear idea of its political response to the warmongering financiers who currently grasp the levers of power.

And the Morning Star is the only daily newspaper where the left can debate the issues around what kind of Scotland we want and how we can get it – a debate which is also the substance of the Scottish Left Review.

You’re a reader of the Scottish Left Review. Me too. Have you seen the Morning Star recently? What do you think of it? Do you buy, read and support the Morning Star? I’m thinking a fair number of SLR readers do.

But it could be you just haven’t got round to buying it… whether occasionally or every day. If so I’d like to try and persuade you that you should. If it’s the price – I can sympathise. £1 is pretty steep for most people to get just one paper a day.

If you want or need to read the paper for nothing then you can. The Star is available online, more or less in full at www.morningstaronline.co.uk. It’s also available in public libraries – far fewer than it should be as a result of cutbacks, but you can always ask for it to be ordered.

But I believe the Morning Star is good value for readers of SLR.

One of the Star’s aims is that if it was the only paper you read, you would get everything in it that you needed – news, features, comment and analysis, arts and culture, and a sports section at the back.

The first half of the paper is straightforward reporting of the news – Scottish, British and international – clearly from a left perspective which is different to the mainstream media, and covering many stories which other papers don’t reach.

There is an editorial – like any other paper – which has the paper’s line on the big stories of the day. But the features and comment pages include a range of voices from across the left, which present many viewpoints and challenge each other and the Star position.

The Scottish Voices column features a roster of different viewpoints around the left. These include Colin Fox and Patrick Harvie, leaders of the Scottish Socialists and the Scottish Greens respectively, left Labour MSPs Elaine Smith and Neil Findlay and the SNP’s Bill Kidd, and left trade unionists such as PCS Scottish Secretary Lynn Henderson and Richard Leonard of GMB Scotland.

There is my own regular Around Scotland column, which modesty forbids me from describing – but you can discover it for yourself.

The battle of ideas rages further on the letters pages. There’s just been a barney over the Star’s use of space for Welsh language articles, self organisation of sex workers has been a hot topic, and SSP press officer Ken Ferguson is rarely far away with a pointed comment about something which has appeared – maybe even something I’ve written!

On the features pages for example – as well as pieces by political and trade union figures – I can read one of my boyhood punk-poet heroes, Attila the Stockbroker – still going strong and witty and irreverent as ever. In the sport section I like Alex Scott’s column – she’s a star of the England women’s football team.

Sport’s not really my thing but the Star’s coverage is excellent and wide-ranging. Similarly I’m not a jazz fan but I like reading Chris Searle’s cool, syncopated reviews and features in the arts and culture pages – which cover other forms of music, theatre, film and books. The paper even publishes poetry. Well, why not?

The Morning Star is more than just a newspaper (and website). It is owned and funded by its readers and it engages in grassroots through this structure. The Star operates as a co-operative – the People’s Press Printing Society. It’s unique ownership by its readers and supporters is a model which could provide some solutions to the problems ownership and control in the rest of the media, not least here in Scotland.

In Scotland there are Morning Star Readers and Supporters groups in Aberdeen, Ayrshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Stirlingshire, West Dunbartonshire – and I believe a new group is imminent in West Lothian anytime now.

There is a Scottish Morning Star Campaign Committee made up of reps from the Readers and Supporters groups plus shareholders such as trade unions. This group organises Morning Star Scottish conferences every March and October, bringing together many of the people who contribute to the paper as speakers to debate key issues in Scottish politics and frame left responses to the many challenges we face.

It also runs a series of public events on “Our Class – Our Culture”. The next Morning Star Scottish conference, on 7 October at STUC centre in Glasgow, is entitled ‘Winning Democracy for Scotland: The power to own, control, develop’.

You can find out more about the Star conferences, Our Class – Our Culture events and Readers and Supporters groups at the www.scottishmorningstarcampaign.com

The Morning Star’s finances are always on a knife-edge. It is not (yet!) the mass circulation paper it needs – and I believe deserves – to be. It needs you to buy it, read it and support it.

“Is that damned paper still coming out?” were the words of a detective involved in attempts to suppress publication of the Daily Worker for reporting and supporting the sailors in the Invergordon Mutiny in 1931.

Well, yes. And it’s still coming out every day, on the day, as the Morning Star in Scotland – reporting and supporting workers as they fight to build a decent, fair and just society here and around the world.

 

Jenna Gormal writes about the launch of Comunique, a new youth-led radical left media project, and explains how her generation of the left sees the independence referendum as our best chance to unite

“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power.” (Edward Bernays)

This month the International Socialist Group launched a new radical left wing media project Communiqué; a youth-led project based in Scotland that has been created by and for a generation failed by Capitalism, that consists of a monthly broadsheet, podcast, and a blog that is updated daily.

The project has been developed in reaction to the neoliberal consensus that dominates our society. The media is commonly known as the fourth pillar of democracy because of its ability to act as a bridge between the government and the population, but its intrinsic involvement with networks of power and influence – from corporate and financial to those of the state – has meant that the mainstream media has been allowed to proliferate ideas which ultimately benefit the elites. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is a perfect example of this. As a result, only certain news stories and ideas  are permitted to dominate in the public sphere – information involved in sustaining the power of both states and capital.

It is for this reason that Communiqué has been created; the general public is all too often unaware that the character of this infrastructure has a direct impact on the range of opportunities available to them. This problem is becoming even more acute in terms of the current economic crisis and the spread of austerity measures across Europe. We are being fed sensationalist stories of ‘welfare scroungers’ and ‘feral youths’ and told of the harsh sentences they deserve and at the same time live in a society that allows the wealthy elite to dodge their taxes, often without so much as a whisper from the press.

Real news should come from grassroots movements; it should involve people from working class communities and be talking about issues that affect them: the NHS, austerity, education, their job, their benefits, and new forms of resistance. Today more than ever, what defines working class and youth resistance is its international dimension. People are inspired by the Arab revolutions, they take confidence from the resistance movements against austerity in Europe.

The messages that we receive and the medium in which we receive them are inextricably linked, anti-capitalist ideas that challenge neoliberal hegemony must too challenge their domination of our audiovisual world. Communiqué – through its blog, podcast and broadsheet – presents the idea that whether you live in Drumchapel or Coatbridge, Detroit or Cairo, you are not alone in facing attacks from corporations and the state. We are all part of an international movement of resistance.

The next two years will decide the future of the British state – one of the most reactionary entities on the face of the planet. The positive associations that once existed – the NHS, social housing and other elements of a progressive welfare system – have been eroded by decades of neoliberal privatisation. We need to ask ourselves an important question: what does Britain represent for anyone under the age of thirty? What does it mean? The answer is all too clear. Young people are angry – and its not hard to see why. The media rarely report (with any degree of accuracy) the real reasons for the proliferation of anger and alienation. But this is what Communiqué aims to do.

Let’s remember that a thirty-year-old would have been fifteen when New Labour came back to power in the 1997 general election after a long spell in the political wilderness. There is no need to spell out the level of decimation inflicted upon working class communities by the preceding Thatcher and Major governments. But 1997 represents the last clear point in which people felt a sense of hope about what the British state might be able to achieve. This was Britain’s Obama moment. Finally the Thatcherite nightmare was over. But reality proved to be far removed from the expectation held by so many – Blair was more of a let down than the Senator from Illinois proved to be more than a decade later. Communities around the country hoped for a return to the politics of social justice, but instead they were met with a neoliberal assault more extensive than that of the Conservatives. So what has Britain achieved internally since then? What have consecutive governments (of all three of the major political parties) delivered for ordinary people in the UK? Extreme austerity; rising social inequality; poverty on a greater scale than seen for generations; exacerbation of the social housing crisis; the privatisation of nearly every remaining publicly owned utility… the list is endless. Needless to say, there is little (if anything) to celebrate.

And that is not all. The very institutions of supposed democracy in this country have been hollowed out to the extent that they are almost meaningless. Westminster is a sham, stumbling from one crisis to the next. If the expenses scandal wasn’t enough, the interconnection between News International and every major political party exposed the level of corruption at the heart of the political establishment and the extent to which politicians will do anything to curry favour with corporate interests. It is little wonder that more than half the population have very little or no confidence in parliament (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2009).

The crisis of 21st Century Britain is acute. And this is before we even mention Iraq. This month William Hague told the London Evening Standard that it is time for Britain to end its feelings of “post colonial guilt”. “I think we should relax” he said, “it was a long time ago”. Tell that to the people of India, of Ireland, of Iraq. The history of the empire was not written in ink – it was written in blood, and it is still being written today.

Iraq represents the pinnacle of modern Britain’s crisis. Not only is it the case that its unpopularity lead to the biggest social movement in British history, its that the British state, under the leadership of a Labour Prime Minister, was in the vanguard of orchestrating this imperial misadventure. It cost nearly £10 billion, the lives of 179 British troops and, most importantly, the lives of more than a million Iraqis. Add to this the ongoing débâcle that is Afghanistan, the intervention of Gordon Brown during the crash of 2008, and the stalwart defence of American interests around the globe and it is plain to see that this country plays no progressive role on the world stage.

From Thatchers championing of the neoliberal economic model back in the late seventies to imperial intervention and international austerity today, Britain has been at the heart of an Anglo-American project to alter the contours of global politics. For decades (if not centuries) the UK has played a vanguard role in advancing the most reactionary set of politics both at home and abroad. The real axis of evil runs from Washington to London.

So it is little wonder that frustration, anger and alienation are breaking out into riots on the streets of the British capitol. Yet the establishment discourse is as undiscerning as it is naïve. The truth is that the vast majority of people in Scotland are fed up of the status quo. And how many people honestly believe that any form of serious challenge to the host of social ills previously mentioned will ever come from Westminster? The truth is it will not happen. And everyone knows it.

The 2014 referendum may have been triggered by an SNP electoral victory, but it provides massive opportunities for the left. The starting gun has fired, but the official Yes campaign is currently still stalling at the starting line. This is problematic, but it is also an opportunity – if the left choose to seize the moment. We could end the existence of one of the worlds most reactionary bodies: the British State. Of course there are those who say that this will break up the British working class: “Nationalism is, at it [sic] core, a deeply negative and regressive politics,” asserts Labour MP Willie Bain. “I care just as much about a child growing up in poverty in my constituency in Glasgow as I do a child in poverty in Liverpool, Cardiff, London, Aberdeen, Dundee or Edinburgh.” But presumably, if Willie Bain is opposed to “nationalism”, he favours “internationalism” instead. In which case, it is a highly peculiar internationalism that includes Cardiff and Liverpool but not Dublin, Athens or Baghdad.

Of course it is not the case that an independent Scotland will be automatically more progressive than Britain. Far from it. With the existence of the Brian Souters of this world there are clearly some supporters of independence who want to see a low-tax corporate haven, but that is not inevitable and is entirely dependent on the balance of forces in Scottish society.

It is no surprise that the people who are most likely to support Scottish independence are the youth and the working classes (Scottish Opinion Survey, Independence Poll, TNS, December 2010), the people most disenfranchised by the British establishment. These people are the true constituency of the left.

On an organisational and institutional level the left in Scotland is incredibly weak – fractured over the years by internal squabbling and splits. But the campaign for independence provides an opportunity to renew and unite. We need campaigns that articulate the transformative potential of independence, that put forward a vision of Scotland that workers and young people deserve, where social justice, environmentalism and opposition to nuclear weapons and militarism are placed firmly at the top of the agenda. It is young people from working class communities that will be the new left in years to come, that will have the biggest impact on the future, and they can be mobilised now, but only if we reach out to them.

As Scotland enters into the most important political period of its history, a break must be made with the past: empire, tradition and old methods of agitation. The days of the revolutionary paper are over. Communiqué seizes new technologies to unleash radical left-wing ideas for the new left, delivering an analysis of capitalist society in Scotland and beyond which rejects the consensus that austerity at home and war abroad is the best our generation can expect. Communique has been launched by the ISG, but it is a tool for everyone, for ordinary people affected by real issues to have a voice, and be heard.

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