The Question of Mass Media Freedom

The all-time debate about Media freedom and independence requires some critical input. It is often said that Media freedom is a sacred right and an important attribute of an open, free just and democratic society. This is accompanied by claims of Media independence. But a fundamental question is: Who is the Media? What does Media freedom means? Is the Media independent, impartial and unbiased? Is the Media divorced from contending societal interests? Only answers to these questions can shed light on the alleged sanctity of Media freedom and independence.

The Media is usually owned by powerful and wealthy corporations with the aim to condition and produce a public psyche that sympathizes, accepts and uphold the norms, values and ideas of the ruling class (owners of the means of production) and the ruling elite (political rulers). Media workers are also selected on the basis of their ability, consciously or unconsciously, to represent, promote and manipulate information in favour of the ruling class. This is the applied ‘merit’ criteria and if it happens that the Media worker disappoints or betrays this criterion such Media worker will be flushed out of the system.

However according to pundits of Media ‘freedom and independence’ the role of the Media is to inform the public in a fair, balanced, impartial and unbiased manner without undue interference, if at all, from outside forces. This is what Media ‘freedom and independence’ means but the nature, motive, reality and practice of Media corporations and practitioners paints a different picture.

The Media plays an important role in forming and shaping public views through news reports, opinion pieces and advertorials. As a result the Media is always a tool of propaganda in the hands of the ruling class and elite in any society. It interprets and package information in the manner that seeks to advance a partial and biased worldview on any issue of particular significance.

In any society, there is (so called public media) state media and the private media (so called independent media). The state Media always pander to the whims of the ruling elite whereas the private Media pander to those of private commercial interests of the shareholders. In most capitalist societies the state and private media represents ideas of the ruling class and elite. The reason is simple….the ruling elite ascend to power with propaganda and financial backing of the private media. The owners of the private media are the owners of the means of production, the ruling class that propels the ruling elite to political office as reward for protecting or at least obliging to protect the capitalist order through the state machinery.

In societies where the private Media is at odds with the ruling elite, such Media embarks on a campaign to replace members of such ruling elite with ones that will further the aims of the ruling class. They could even be a fall out between incumbent ruling elite and the state Media, in which case such Media go about discrediting the ruling elite with the sole aim of bringing down the government of the day or members of such government, the same way the private Media does.

The ruling class (capitalist class) owns the means of production and the ruling elite and therefore the ruling elite (political class in office) is merely an instrument of the ruling class. The Media is not independent form its funders whether it is the shareholders or dominant advertisers the same way media workers are not independent from their employer Media corporations. So reference to Media freedom and independence cannot take place outside this material context and therefore in abstract.

It is noteworthy that in pursuit of Media ‘freedom and ‘independence’, Media workers protects their funders, dominant advertisers and fellow Media workers and would hardly report negatively about any of these parties. Even a truly independent media holds particular class interests as would any individual in society.

It is true that the dominant ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class. The idea that there is an independent Media which reports objectively, fairly and impartially from a point of view of the media corporations or media worker is itself a propaganda exercise.

At a collective level the media is dictated to by private interests of a handful individuals or public interests of a dominant political majority or both. The Media is not a loud hailer which merely echoes the sound or a mirror which merely reflects the image but inherently a tool of propaganda, individual or institutional. The Media is not an innocent bystander who holds no particular class interests in society.

Hulisani Mmbara
Chief Editor