Can the “free” press be trusted to allow a debate on public ownership?

by on May 12, 2017 in society

This is an interview with Cat Hobbs who is the Director of “We Own It” – a campaign group based in Oxford which campaigns for public ownership.

What is striking about this interview is how entirely ideologically committed to privatisation the interviewer is. (His commitment to privatisation goes far beyond what might be regarded as asking challenging questions).

His ideological commitment is such that he makes the following questionable statement [2.37]:

“Since privatisation the railways are now more or less paying for themselves”. This is not true. The railway companies receive £ billions in public support and subsidy. [1]

This sort of interview is also relevant to the whole sham discourse about the “free press” in the West. Western media is usually presented as “free” in contrast to (typically) Russian state media. The Russian state media certainly tends to favour the line taken by the Russian government on most issues. But then, as we see here, the “free” press in the West does something similar and at the same time much more insidious. Sky, the broadcaster here, for example, is a publicly traded company. That is; it is owned by finance capital. Here we see it, in the guise of fulfilling the role of a “free press”, working as hard as it can including using factually questionable statements in order to promote the interests of its owners – finance capital. Who, we can be assured, love the idea of a publicly subsidised ‘free-market’ in the railways.

The interview does not deviate from the ideological free-market line. There is no sense here of “journalistic balance”. Even in terms of conventional classical economics there are arguments for and against privatisation but in this interview only one side is considered by the interviewer. For example note the way he argues as if it were an ideologically free point that privatisation is good because passengers pay for their travel rather than the taxpayer. This is in fact not the kind of neutral point the interviewer presents it as, but is one side of the argument. The other side of this argument is that a nationally owned rail network with prices maintained at an affordable level a) is fairer – which is a value in its own right which is simply discounted by market economics and b) also has economic benefits in that it allows more people to consider jobs which they cannot afford to travel to in a for-profit system – and this has wider benefits for the economy. We can see in the interviewer’s question a radical and ideological position masquerading as “common sense”. This is not an attempt to “stimulate democratic debate” but an attempt to close it off.

To be clear; it is one thing for a journalist to put the other side of the argument to an interviewee in order to challenge them. But what we see here is something somewhat different. Here one side of the argument is offered as straight fact. This is an ideological position.

Ms Hobbs does a fantastic job up against this example of the “free press”.

Notes

1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/16/rail-operators-200m-dividends-subsidy

 

 

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