A free press is regarded by many as one of the key characteristics of the Western World. It is however rarely questioned, especially by members of the mainstream media, just what it means to have a free press. For most people a free press and by extension a free media is one that is free from control by the state. In that sense most of the media in many parts of the world is indeed free and independent.
However there is more to the media than just freedom from state control. If not the state, then who does control the media? This would seem to be a pretty important question. But alas, one that the media itself rarely asks, or bothers about. For example is it not just as important that the media fairly represents the diversity of opinions and cultural background of the peoples who make up the readership?
This is particularly important for us in Scotland, where, though free of government control the mainstream media is anything but representative of the readers and viewers.
One aspect of this Scotland shares with just about all other countries. Namely the mainstream media routinely offers but one world view. And that one view is not just pro capatalilst, but increasingly neo-liberal in its economic and social prescriptions. It is also, at least in North America and Europe, very neo-colonialist in its treatment of other peoples. While alternative voices do get the occasional space in the media eg greens and left wing critiques, they are drowned out by the torrent of pro-establishment voices.
Where Scotand differs from this is that in addition the media here is completely unrepresentative of the views of Scots on what we might term the constitutional question. Thus all the mainstream media in Scotland is not just opposed to independence, but in the main ferociously hostile to the very notion of Scottish independence.
What makes the situation even worse is that in addition to the Scottish based media, we face a barrage of UK titles on the newstands. All the main UK, ie English papers are on sale in Scotland. Which of course takes away market share from Scottish papers, thus reducing their financial viability. It goes without saying that the English based papers are all totally opposed to Scottish independence. Now this is not an argument in favour of banning English papers in Scotland, but to point out how different the situation here is from other countries. In Denmark for example I am sure you can buy the main UK and German newspapers, but are all of them on sale in every town in Denmark?
And of course TV is dominated by the BBC which is supposed to be the British Broadcasting Corporation, but in most respects is really the English Broadcasting Corporation. What this means is practice is that the BBC is very strongly committed to maintaining the UK and therefore hostile to Scottish independence. BBC Scotland is very much a poor cousin with little in the way of resources to produce credible programmes on its own and would not be allowed to present independence as a viable option. The same is true for the independent network, which is in the main controlled from London. Scottish Televison (STV) does try to promote Scottish programmes, but again is underfinanced.
Thus we have the situation in which an important strand of opinion on a vital political issue – independence – is not just unrepresented, but is actively and often ferociously attacked by all parts of the mainstream media. This is surely not what is meant to happen with a free press? After all if the media is free from state control then you would expect some parts of the press at least, to reflect the views of what is a substantial part of the population.
Look at the numers for example. Opinion polls and actual voting in elections show that support for independence ranges from 25% to 40% of the electorate. Let us say that around a quarter of the population is strongly committed to independence and another 15% are quite favourable to the idea of independence but not as yet completely convinced. That is a lot of people, which in turn represents a huge marketing and money making opportunity. Why is it that nobody has made anything of this prospect.
This would seem to indicate some kind of market failure. Capitalists are supposed to meet the needs and wants of the people, especially if there is money to be made. Could it be that the main financial institutions are more ruled by their personal and institutional committment to the UK than to making (even more) money by exploiting a commercial opportunity. Again one would expect that some in the mainstream media would be analysing this, but no. It does seem that in the UK British nationalism triumphs over commerce, at least as regards Scottish independence.
It is clearly something similar with regard to the lack of any mainstream left wing newspapers or media outlets. Once again all studies show that large numbers of the population of all countries are much more left and progressive than the traditional media and the traditional political parties. So why are their views unrepresented in the media?
All of the above has a serious side to it. One of the main, if not the argument in favour of a free media is that without a free media, people are not in a position to make up their minds in relation to the key decisions that affect them. Such as whether to vote for independence or to vote for an alternative economic system. A media that is unrepresentative of the views of the people means that our political choices are diminished and devalued. Which of course suits our establishments just fine. Can it be changed?