It would be a mistake to believe that the power of the capitalist press has been irrevocably damaged by its failure to deliver the Tory vote at the last general election. Social media may have enabled the Left to function without national newspaper support on that occasion but it must not be forgotten that the Tories still gathered 42.4 % of the popular vote against 40.0% for Labour. In the event of a Labour victory next time, unless something is done popular discontent will soon be whipped up against it. If anyone doubts this, look what is happening in Venezuela.
As Rob Griffiths, our General Secretary, reminded readers of the Morning Star this weekend, there is an old aphorism that the Express is read by those who think the country should be run like it used to be run, the Telegraph by those who think the country still is run like it used to be run, the Mail by the wives of those who run the country, the Guardian by those who think they should run the country, the Times by those who do run the country and the Financial Times by those who own it. While this is merely an amusing adage, it retains a germ of truth. But as Bill Barnett pointed out in a letter published in the same edition of the Morning Star, in times of falling readership, the “power of the press” is now largely dependent on the status it is afforded by national broadcasters, especially the BBC. ‘What the papers say’ is still treated as something of consequence to be faithfully reported. The continuing decline in readership is ignored. Every attempt to get the BBC to extend coverage to the Morning Star, despite well supported Early Day Motions in Parliament, is ignored.
A lot of nonsense is talked about the value of a “free” press. If a Corbyn led government is not to be undermined from the start, it should be a matter of priority for it to improve press regulation, require balanced reporting, establish an equal prominence right of reply, dispossess expatriate owners and, if any newspapers are to remain in private ownership, to properly tax the benefit of such ownership. As was pointed out in the Communist Party pamphlet From Each According To Their Means, newspapers are not owned for any (modest) profits they may generate, they are owned for the political power they confer on the owner. This pamphlet called for a public debate on newspaper ownership and how it should be taxed. One possibility would a substantial per copy levy on the number of copies distributed (rather than actually sold) in the UK with an exemption for reader owned co-operatives. An extra levy could be charged on any free bottles of water accompanying the purchase!
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