Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Chomsky: Magna Carter & Bewildered Herd

This gets fairly complex at points, and might be easier digested by students of politics, econmics or philosophy and ethics. Nonetheless, its a useful restatement of his theory of the propaganda model; of how (and why) major corporations and political forces seek to control and mould public opinion, to encourage individualisation and focus on trivia rather than meaningful matters of public policy - in short, to manufacture consent. The following excerpt comes from part one of a two-part Guardian article:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/24/magna-carta-minor-carta-noam-chomsky Controlling the Desire for Democracy That was 150 years ago – in England earlier. Huge efforts have been devoted since to inculcating the New Spirit of the Age. Major industries are devoted to the task: public relations, advertising, marketing generally, all of which add up to a very large component of the Gross Domestic Product. They are dedicated to what the great political economist Thorstein Veblen called "fabricating wants." In the words of business leaders themselves, the task is to direct people to "the superficial things" of life, like "fashionable consumption." That way people can be atomised, separated from one another, seeking personal gain alone, diverted from dangerous efforts to think for themselves and challenge authority. The process of shaping opinion, attitudes, and perceptions was termed the "engineering of consent" by one of the founders of the modern public relations industry, Edward Bernays. He was a respected Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy progressive, much like his contemporary, journalist Walter Lippmann, the most prominent public intellectual of 20th-century America, who praised "the manufacture of consent" as a "new art" in the practice of democracy. Both recognised that the public must be "put in its place," marginalised and controlled – for their own interests of course. They were too "stupid and ignorant" to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be left to the "intelligent minority," who must be protected from "the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd," the "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" – the "rascal multitude" as they were termed by their 17th century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be "spectators," not "participants in action," in a properly functioning democratic society. And the spectators must not be allowed to see too much. President Obama has set new standards in safeguarding this principle. He has, in fact, punished more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined, a real achievement for an administration that came to office promising transparency. WikiLeaks is only the most famous case, with British cooperation. Among the many topics that are not the business of the bewildered herd is foreign affairs. Anyone who has studied declassified secret documents will have discovered that, to a large extent, their classification was meant to protect public officials from public scrutiny. Domestically, the rabble should not hear the advice given by the courts to major corporations: that they should devote some highly visible efforts to good works, so that an "aroused public" will not discover the enormous benefits provided to them by the nanny state. More generally the US public should not learn that "state policies are overwhelmingly regressive, thus reinforcing and expanding social inequality," though designed in ways that lead "people to think that the government helps only the undeserving poor, allowing politicians to mobilise and exploit anti-government rhetoric and values even as they continue to funnel support to their better-off constituents" – I'm quoting from the main establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, not from some radical rag. Over time, as societies became freer and the resort to state violence more constrained, the urge to devise sophisticated methods of control of attitudes and opinion has only grown. It is natural that the immense PR industry should have been created in the most free of societies, the United States and Great Britain. The first modern propaganda agency was the British Ministry of Information a century ago, which secretly defined its task as "to direct the thought of most of the world" -- primarily progressive American intellectuals, who had to be mobilized to come to the aid of Britain during the first world war. Its US counterpart, the Committee on Public Information, was formed by Woodrow Wilson to drive a pacifist population to violent hatred of all things German – with remarkable success. American commercial advertising deeply impressed others. Goebbels admired it and adapted it to Nazi propaganda, all too successfully. The Bolshevik leaders tried as well, but their efforts were clumsy and ineffective. A primary domestic task has always been "to keep [the public] from our throats," as essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson described the concerns of political leaders when the threat of democracy was becoming harder to suppress in the mid-19th century. More recently, the activism of the 1960s elicited elite concerns about "excessive democracy," and calls for measures to impose "more moderation" in democracy. One particular concern was to introduce better controls over the institutions "responsible for the indoctrination of the young": the schools, the universities, the churches, which were seen as failing that essential task. I'm quoting reactions from the left-liberal end of the mainstream spectrum, the liberal internationalists who later staffed the Carter administration, and their counterparts in other industrial societies. The right wing was much harsher. One of many manifestations of this urge has been the sharp rise in college tuition, not on economic grounds, as is easily shown. The device does, however, trap and control young people by debt, often for the rest of their lives, thus contributing to more effective indoctrination.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Free press impedes freedom? Venezuela

The points raised by Curran and Seaton about the way in which right-wing bias was designed as a central feature of our press - by reforms which most historians today simplistically portray as creating freedom and a true democracy - can seem hard to grasp or apply to our seemingly sophisticated, advanced democracy. So, what about a Latin American nation previously dominated by business elites tied to the sort of low tax, free market, anti-union and pro-USA policies that define right-wing piticians and media barons in the UK? Read the article below for a useful argument that press freedom can be bad for democracy, a seeming contradiction in terms.

  Chávez's power hungry style could further radical change in Venezuela | Jonathan Glennie  Criticisms of human rights abuses under Hugo Chávez's regime in Venezuela may be valid, but complete press freedom can, sometimes, mitigate against social progress Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) published its latest damning assessment of the human rights situation in Venezuela . According to HRW "the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human rights protections have allowed the Chávez government to intimidate, censor and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media and civil society". Since its last report in 2008, "the human rights situation in the country has become even more precarious". I don't doubt the facts presented by HRW. Particularly alarming is the way the regime of President Hugo Chávez threw a judge in jail for making a decision it didn't like, and the chilling effect such arbitrary abuse of power has on the rest of the judiciary. HRW plays a vital role in bringing attention to such activities. However, it is important not to mistake a negative report of this nature with an overall analysis of the progress in, and challenges facing, Venezuela, for two main reasons: first, because the state of political freedom is more complex than the report implies, and second because restricting the actions of some can sometimes be necessary to further change in highly unequal and politically polarised contexts. The first of those reasons is probably less provocative than the second. The opening of political space in Venezuela to many parts of the citizenry who were previously excluded from what was supposedly a democracy is well-documented, particularly by Pablo Navarrete in Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela . The flowering of local political groups in poor communities is not an excuse for the abuses of power of the Chávez regime, nor is the fact that those abuses are minor compared with the vile murderers who used to run most of Latin America with strong support from the US and sometimes the UK, but it should be included in a balanced analysis of the state of democracy in Venezuela. It implies that real democracy requires not just a top-down legal covenant but also a bottom-up process of citizen engagement that itself may require political and economic support from the state, which in this case Chávez has offered. Second, and somewhat more awkwardly for liberals in established democracies, the complete freedom of the press is not always a sign of a functioning democracy – in some contexts it can actually mitigate against progress for the majority poor. The relationship between formal democratic freedoms and progress on poverty eradication and inequality is not an easy one. There are some who argue that democracy is important for poverty reduction, and others who suggest that democracy can actually throw up barriers to progress on social and economic rights. In reality it is unhelpful to generalise, in part because defining democracy proves very hard, and partly because country contexts are so incredibly different. There are many examples where more freedoms are indeed crucial to progress for the poorest, but there are also certainly examples where clamping down on media and other freedoms can be justified for development purposes. This is anathema to most westerners who don't understand the political complexities in countries very different from their own, but it was summarised well by Mark Weisbrot , of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research , in a recent article about the alleged crackdown on the freedom of the press in Rafael Correa's Ecuador. Rather than "a heroic battle for freedom of expression", argued Weisbrot, the situation would be better described as "a struggle between two political actors". Take the Murdoch empire, multiply it by about a thousand and you are somewhere close to how powerful the rightwing media is in Latin America. In Weisbrot's words the "unelected owners [of major media outlets] and their allies use their control of information to advance the interests of the wealth and power that used to rule the country". It is proven beyond doubt that the rightwing media was an active and key player in the 2002 coup that briefly removed Chávez from power (see the brilliant documentary The revolution will not be televised ). In such a context, reducing the rightwing media's room for manoeuvre may be a crucial element in any plan to radically transform a country. (In the run-up to elections in October, Chavez has accused Venezuela's privately owned media companies of bias towards the opposition and of ignoring his government's achievements.) "Where single-issue civil rights organisations see media crackdowns, what may be happening is an elected and popular government trying to implement the will of the people in the face of powerful business interests prepared to undermine democracy if need be. Perhaps it is not appropriate to expect HRW to discuss these complex issues in each report it publishes, although one might have thought that the political freedoms being experienced by poor communities for the first time under Chávez would merit a mention. But that just reinforces the importance of treating this valuable report as a crucial piece of evidence in analysing the pros and cons of the Chávez regime, just as we do any government, rather than wielding it as proof of Chávez's generalised infamy. Unfortunately there is little doubt that many important constituencies will wield it in precisely that way, preferring simplistic condemnations to a mature analysis of the complexities of political change after centuries of inequality and repression.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

PCC ad

Thought this was interesting, and should probably be viewed as propaganda ... the PCC, which, remember, announced its voluntary abolition months ago, is paying for advertising space just as Lord Leveson is in the process of drafting his policies for media regulation.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Guardian broke Hackgate...facing bankruptcy?

Interesting angle from GQ magazine, suggesting that The Guardian may not survive to see the final impact of the Hackgate revelations which they broke, in the face of opposition from their own press regulator. The story is in three parts at http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2012-07/03/interview-with-the-guardian-newspaper-editor-alan-rusbridger-on-hacking

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

BBC appoint new director general Entwistle

Whilst OfCom regulates the BBC's output on 'taste and decency' grounds, the BBC is also primarily self-regulated (though as the government sets its funding, its questionable how independent it really is). The Director General is the main executive running the BBC on a daily and strategic basis, although the Chair of the BBC Trust (used to be the Board of Governors), currently the Tory Lord Patten, is also a key figure.
OfCom chief Dave Richards was widely viewed as the strongest candidate for the dir gen post ... but senior Tories made it clear they were opposed to his appointment (he used to be a Labour advisor). Again, it seems questionable just how independent the BBC really is from government influence.

'The pay for the role has been hugely reduced by more than £200,000. Thompson – who has held the role since 2004 – is currently paid £671,000, giving an indication of the general belt-tightening for BBC executives.
Entwistle's chances were at one stage thought to have diminished in the wake of the much-criticised BBC coverage of the Diamond Jubilee pageant, which came under his responsibility.' - http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jul/04/george-entwistle-named-bbc-director-general

'There are no shortage of issues for the new leader to resolve – the most pressing is to ensure healthy relationships with the Conservatives and the coalition. In some right of centre quarters, there is still unhappiness that the BBC escaped with only a licence fee freeze, while the broadcaster is still easily Britain's biggest news provider, which is still reliant on what critics describe as a "television tax". BBC insiders also worry about the BBC's position versus rivals – increasingly small against Sky on one hand – but large compared to ITV and Channel 4.
There is a coda, though too. No way should a BBC director general be chosen like this with candidates met in a car and driven to different hotels to prevent leaks. Lord Patten, in trying to preserve secrecy, seems to think he owns the BBC. The chairman does not – and it would have been far better to have released the names of the final shortlisted candidates a couple of days before the interview so they can bear some public scrutiny. As it is we rely on the wisdom of the chairman and the handful of trustees he consulted; we shall have to see if that judgment is vindicated.' - http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jul/04/bbc-george-entwistle-succeed