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Mass media, Culture and Democracy
Abstract: The aim of this article is threefold: first, to examine the ways in which the market economy framework and the elites condition culture and mass media; second, to discuss the relationship of the neoliberal consensus with the present intensification of cultural homogenisation;finally, to outline the nature of culture and the role of mass media in a democratic society, as well as to explore the strategies which could bring about a shift from the present cultural institutions to those of an inclusive democracy.
1.Culture, mass media and elites The dominant social paradigm and culture A fruitful way to start the discussion of the significance of culture and its relationship to the mass media would be to define carefully our terms. This would help to avoid the confusion, which is not rare in discussions on the matter. Culture is frequently defined as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour. This is a definition broad enough to include all major aspects of culture: language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies and so on. However, in what follows, I am not going to deal with all these aspects of culture unless they are related to what I call the dominant social paradigm. By this I mean the system of beliefs, ideas and the corresponding values which are dominant in a particular society at a particular moment of its history. It is clear that there is a significant degree of overlapping between these two terms although the meaning of culture is obviously broader than that of the social paradigm. But, let us see first the elements shared by both terms. Both culture and the social paradigm are time- and space-dependent, i.e. they refer to a specific type of society at a specific time. Therefore, they both change from place to place and from one historical period to another. This implies that there can be no ‘general theory’ of History, which could determine the relationship between the cultural with the
political or economic elements in society. In other words, our starting point is the rejection not only of the crude economistic versions of Marxism (the economic base determines the cultural superstructure) but also of the more sophisticated versions of it (the economic base determines ‘in the last instance’ which element is to be dominant in each social formation). In my view, which I expanded elsewhere, the dominant element in each social formation is not determined, for all time, by the economic base, or any other base. The dominant element is always determined by a creative act, i.e. it is the outcome of social praxis, of the activity of social individuals. Thus, the dominant element in theocratic societies was cultural, in the societies of ‘actually existing socialism’ political and so on. Similarly, the dominant element in market economies is economic, as a result of the fact that the introduction of new systems of production during the Industrial Revolution in a commercial society, where the means of production were under private ownership and control, inevitably led to the transformation of the socially- controlled economies of the past (in which the market played a marginal role in the economic process) into the present market economies (defined as the self-regulating systems in which the fundamental economic problems ―what,how, and for whom to produce― are solved `automatically', through the price mechanism, rather than through conscious social decisions). Still, the existence of a dominant element in a social formation does not mean that the relationship between this element and the other elements in it is one of heteronomy and dependence. Each element is autonomous and the relationship between the various elements is better described as one of interdependence. So, although it is the economic element which is the dominant one in the system of the market economy, this does not mean that culture is determined, even ‘in the last instance’ by this element. But, there are also some important differences between culture and the dominant social paradigm. Culture, exactly because of its greater scope, may express values and ideas, which are not necessarily consistent with the dominant institutions. In fact, this is usually the case characterising the arts and literature of a market economy, where, (unlike the case of ‘actually existing socialism’, or the case of feudal societies before), artists and writers have been given a significant degree of freedom to express their own views. But this is not the case with respect to the dominant social paradigm. In other words, the beliefs, ideas and the corresponding values which are
dominant in a market economy and the corresponding market society have to be consistent with the economic element in it, i.e. with the economic institutions which, in turn, determine that the dominant elites in this society are the economic elites (those owning and controlling the means of production). This has always been the case in History and will also be the case in the future. No particular type of society can reproduce itself unless the dominant beliefs, ideas and values are consistent with the existing institutional framework. For instance, in the societies of ‘actually existing socialism’ the dominant social paradigm had to be consistent with the dominant element in them, (which was the political), and the corresponding political institutions, which determined that the dominant elites in this society were the political elites (party bureaucracy). Similarly, in the democratic society of the future, the dominant social paradigm had to be consistent with the dominant element in them, which would be the political, and the corresponding democratic institutions, which would secure that there would be no formal elites in this kind of society (although, of course, if democracy does not function properly the emergence of informal elites could not be ruled out). So, culture and, in particular, the social dominant paradigm play a crucial role in the determination of individual and collective values. As long as individuals live in a society, they are not just individuals but social individuals, subject to a process, which socialises them and induces them to internalise the existing institutional framework as well as the dominant social paradigm. In this sense, people are not completely free to create their world but are conditioned by History, tradition and culture. Still, this socialisation process is broken, at almost all times —as far as a minority of the population is concerned — and in exceptional historical circumstances even with respect to the majority itself. In the latter case, a process is set in motion that usually ends with a change of the institutional structure of society and of the corresponding social paradigm. Societies therefore are not just “collections of individuals” but consist of social individuals, who are both free to create their world, (in the sense that they can give birth to a new set of institutions and a corresponding social paradigm), and are created by the world, (in the sense that they have to break with the dominant social paradigm in order to recreate the world). The values of the market economy As the dominant economic institutions in a market economy are those of markets and private ownership of the means of production, as well
as the corresponding hierarchical structures, the dominant social paradigm promoted by the mainstream mass media and other cultural institutions, (e.g. universities) has to consist of ideas, beliefs and values which are consistent with them. Thus, the kind of social ‘sciences’ which are taught at universities and the kind of articles which fill academic journals, explicitly, or usually implicitly, take for granted the existing economic institutions. Therefore, their search for ‘truth’ in the analysis of major economic or social problems is crucially conditioned by this fundamental characteristic. The causes of world-wide unemployment, for instance, or of massive inequality and concentration of economic power, will not be related to the system of the market economy itself; instead, the malfunctioning of the system or bad policies will be blamed, which supposedly can be tackled by the appropriate improvement of the system’s functioning, or the ‘right’ economic policies. In economics, in particular, the dominant theory/ideology since the emergence of the market economy has been economic liberalism, in its various versions: from the old classical and neo-classical schools up to the modern versions of it in the form of supply-side economics, new classical macro-economics etc. But, from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, the values adopted are the same: competition and individualism, which, supposedly, are the only values that could secure freedom. Thus, for Adam Smith, the individual pursuit of self-interest in a market economy will guarantee social harmony and, therefore, the main task of government is the defence of the rich against the poor. So, in Smith’s system, as Canterbery puts it, ‘individual self- interest is the motivating force, and the built-in regulator that keeps the economy from flying apart is competition’. Similarly, for Milton Friedman, the Nobel-prize winner in economics (note: the Nobel Prize in economics was never awarded to an economist who challenged the very system of the market economy) the capitalist market economy is identified with freedom: The kind of economic organisation that provides freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other (...) The two ideas of human freedom and economic freedom working together came to their greatest fruition in the United StatesIt is obvious that in this ideology, which passes as the ‘science’ of economics, the values of individualism and competition are preferred over the values of collectivism and solidarity/co-operation, since
freedom itself is identified with the former values as against the latter. But, it ‘happens’ also that the same values are the only ones, which could secure the production and reproduction of the market economy. No market economy can function properly unless those in control of it, (i.e., the economic elites), at least, and as many of the rest as possible, are motivated by individualism and competition. This is because the dynamic of a market economy crucially depends on competition and individual greed. Furthermore, the fact that often the economic elites resort to state protection against foreign competition, if the latter threatens their own position, does not in the least negate the fact that competition is the fundamental organising principle of the market economy. It is therefore no historical accident that, as Polanyi has persuasively shown, the establishment of the market economy implied sweeping aside traditional cultures and values and replacing the values of solidarity, altruism, sharing and co-operation (which usually marked community life) with the values of individualism and competition as the dominant values. As Ray Canterbery stresses: The capitalistic ethic leans toward the extreme of selfishness (fierce individualism) rather than toward altruism. There is little room for collective decision making in an ethic that argues that every individual should go his or her own way. As we have seen, the idea that capitalism protects ‘individual rights’ would have been rejected during the early Middle Ages. ‘Individual rights’ were set in advance by the structure of feudalism, governed by the pull of tradition and the push of authority. Economics was based upon mutual needs and obligations. A good example of the enthusiastic support for these values today is, again, the Nobel-prize winner in economics Milton Friedman. According to him: Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This (social responsibility) is a fundamentally subversive doctrine. Indeed, it is not Friedman who supports values which are inconsistent with the market economy system but the various social democrats and Green economists, who, taking for granted the market economy system, proceed to argue in favour of utopian economic institutions incorporating values which are inconsistent with this system (e.g.‘stakeholding’ capitalism, ‘social investment’ etc). As I
attempted to show elsewhere, the basic cause of the failure of both the ‘actually existing socialism’ in the East and social democracy in the West was exactly that they attempted to merge two fundamentally incompatible elements: the ‘growth’ element, (which implies the concentration of economic power and expresses the logic of the market economy), with the social justice element (which is inherently linked to equality and expresses socialist ethics). Chomsky and the values of the market economy However, quite apart from social democrats and reformist Greens, there is an alternative view about the values of the market economy proposed by Noam Chomsky, which, however, ends up with similar conclusions about the feasibility and desirability of state action with respect to controlling today’s market economy. Thus, for Chomsky, the values which motivate today’s elites in advanced capitalist countries are not individualism and competition; instead, these elites simply use such values as propaganda in their attempt to ‘persuade’ their own public and the countries in the periphery and semi-periphery to implement them whereas they themselves demand and enjoy the protection of their own states: For the general public, individualism and competition are the prescribed values. Not for elites, however. They demand and obtain the protection of a powerful state, and insist on arrangements that safeguard them from unfettered competition or the destructive consequences of individualism. The process of corporatization is a standard illustration, as is the reliance in every economy ―crucially, the US― on socialisation of risk and cost. The need to undermine the threat of competition constantly takes new forms: today, one major form, beyond corporatization, is the development of a rich network of "strategic alliances" among alleged competitors: IBM-Toshiba- Siemens, for example, or throughout the automotive industry. This has reached such extremes that prominent analysts of the business world now speak of a new form of "alliance capitalism" that is replacing the managerial/corporate capitalism that had largely displaced proprietary capitalism a century ago in advanced sectors of the economy. Chomsky has recently expanded on the same theme in a New Left Review article in which it is made clear that his views above about the values of the market economy are perfectly consistent with his views on the nature of today’s capitalism. In this article he first states that the word ‘capitalist’ does not mean capitalist but rather it refers
to state subsidised and protected private power centres, or ‘collectivist legal entities,’ which embody today’s corporatization of the market economy. He then goes on to describe corporatization and the role of the state as follows:
The corporatization process was largely a reaction to great market failures of the late nineteenth century, and it was a shift from something you might call proprietary capitalism to the administration of markets by collectivist legal entities—mergers, cartels, corporate alliances—in association with powerful states…the primary task of the states—and bear in mind that, with all the talk about minimising the state, in the OECD countries the state continues to grow relative to GNP, notably in the 1980s and 1990s—is essentially to socialise risk and cost, and to privatise power and profit. Furthermore, Chomsky’s views about the market economy’s values and the nature of present capitalism are, in turn, entirely consistent with his present views on the potential role of the state in controlling today’s market economy. Thus, as Chomsky stresses in the aforementioned article: The long-term goal of such initiatives (like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment-MAI) is clear enough to anyone with open eyes; an international political economy which is organised by powerful states and secret bureaucracies whose primary function is to serve the concentrations of private power which administer markers through their own internal operations, through networks of corporate alliances, including the intra-firm transactions that are mislabelled 'trade'. They rely on the public for subsidy, research and development, for innovation and for bailouts when things go wrong. They rely on the powerful states for protection from dangerous 'democracy openings'. In such ways, they seek to ensure that the 'prime beneficiaries' of the world's wealth are the right people: the smug and prosperous 'Americans'; the 'domestic constituencies and their counterparts elsewhere. The scale of all of this is nowhere near as great or, for that matter, as novel as claimed; in many ways it's a return to the early twentieth century. And there's no reason to doubt that it can be controlled even within existing formal institutions of parliamentary democracy.
One, however, could object on several grounds this stand, as portrayed by the above extracts. First, the argument about the values of the economic elites, as I attempted to show above, is contestable; second, the nature of today’s market economy could be seen in a very
different analytical framework than the one suggested by Chomsky and, finally, it could be shown that the way out of the present multi- dimensional crisis and the related huge concentration of power can not be found in fragmented and usually ‘monothematic’ defensive battles with the elites. Such battles, even if sometimes victorious, are never going to win the war, as long as they are not an integral part of a new popular movement’s fight against the system of the market economy itself, which is the ultimate cause of the concentration of economic power. As regards the nature of the market economy today, I have attempted elsewhere to show how it evolved since it emerged, about two centuries ago, and how it took the form of the present growth economy. I will only add here that the shift from proprietary (or entrepreneurial) capitalism to the present internationalised market economy, where a few giant corporations control the world economy, did not happen, as Chomsky presents it, as the outcome of ‘a reaction to great market failures of the late nineteenth century.’ What Chomsky omits is that it was competition, which led from simple entrepreneurial firms to the present giant corporations. The market failures he mentions are not a God-given calamity. Excepting the case of monopolies, almost all market failures in history have been directly or indirectly related to competition. It is competition, which creates the need for expansion, so that the best (from the profit of view of profits) technologies and methods of organising production (economies of scale etc) are used. It is the same competition, which has led to the present explosion of mergers and take-overs in the advanced capitalist countries, as well as the various ‘strategic alliances’. For instance, the recently announced merger of giant oil companies, in a sense, is the result of a ‘market failure’ because of the fall in their profits. But, in a deeper sense, this merger, as well as the take-overs, strategic alliances etc going on at the moment, are simply the result of self-protective action taken by giant corporations, in order to survive the cut-throat competition launched by the present internationalisation of the market economy. Therefore, it is competition, which has led to the present corporate (or ‘alliance’) capitalism, not ‘market failures’ and/or the associated state activity, which just represent the effects of competition. Similarly, the present internationalisation of the market economy is not just the result of state action to liberalise financial and commodity markets. In fact, the states were following the de facto internationalisation of the market economy, which was intensified by
the activities of multinationals, when, (in the late seventies), under pressure from the latter, started the process of liberalising the financial markets and further deregulating the commodity markets (through the GATT rounds). Therefore, the present internationalisation is in fact the outcome of the grow-or-die dynamics, which characterises the market economy, a dynamics that is initiated by competition, the crucial fact neglected by Chomsky. It is also the same internationalisation of the market economy, which became incompatible with the degree of state control of the economy achieved by the mid seventies, that made necessary the present neoliberal consensus. The latter, therefore, is not just a policy change, as socialdemocrats and their fellow travellers suggest, but represents an important structural change. So, minimising the state is not just ‘talk’, as Chomsky assumes basing his argument on the assumption that ‘the state continues to grow relative to GNP, notably in the 1980s and 1990s’. However, not only the fall in the growth rate of government spending in OECD countries was higher than that of the other parts of aggregate demand in the period 1980-93 but, in fact, the (weighted average) general government consumption of high income economies was lower in 1995, at 15% of GNP, than in 1980 (17%). All this, not taking into account the drastic reduction in the overall public sectors in the last twenty years, as a result of the massive privatisation of state industries. Therefore, minimising the state, far from being ‘talk’ is a basic element of the present neoliberal consensus. Also, strategic alliances, mergers and take-overs do not represent a movement away from the market economy but a movement towards a new form of it. Away from a market economy, which was geared by the internal market and towards a market economy, which is geared by the world market. This means further and further concentration of economic power not only in terms of incomes and wealth but also in terms of concentration of the power to control world output, trade and investment in fewer and fewer hands. However, the oligopolisation of competition does not mean lack of competition. Furthermore, it will be wrong to assume that the main characteristic of the present period is an ‘assault against the markets’, as the purist neoliberal argument goes, which Chomsky accepts. The present period of neoliberal consensus can be characterised instead, as an assault against social controls on markets, particularly those I called social controls in the narrow sense, i.e. those aiming at the protection of humans and nature against the effects of marketization,
(the historical process that has transformed the socially controlled economies of the past into the market economy of the present). Such controls have been introduced as a result of social struggles undertaken by those who are adversely affected by the market economy’s effects on them (social security legislation, welfare benefits, macro-economic controls to secure full employment etc). What is still debated within the economic elites is the fate of what I call social controls in the broad sense, i.e. those primarily aiming at the protection of those controlling the market economy against foreign competition (tariffs, import controls, exchange controls ― in the past, and non-tariff barriers, massive public subsidy for R&D, risk- protection (bailouts), administration of markets etc ― at present). Thus, pure neoliberal economists, bankers, some politicians and others are against any kind of social controls over markets (in the narrow or broad sense above). On the other hand, the more pragmatic governments of the neoliberal consensus, from Reagan to Clinton and from Thatcher to Blair, under the pressure of the most vulnerable to competition sections of their own economic elites, have kept many social controls in the broad sense and sometimes even expanded them (not hesitating to go to war to secure their energy supplies) giving rise to the pure neoliberal argument (adopted by Chomsky) about an assault on markets. In this context, one should not confuse liberalism/neoliberalism with laissez-faire. As I tried to show elsewhere, it was the state itself that created the system of self-regulating markets. Furthermore, some form of state intervention has always been necessary for the smooth functioning of the market economy system. The state, since the collapse of the socialdemocratic consensus, has seen a drastic reduction in its economic role as it is no longer involved in a process of directly intervening in the determination of income and employment through fiscal and monetary policies. However, even today, the state still plays an important role in securing, through its monopoly of violence, the stability of the market economy framework and in maintaining the infra-structure for the smooth functioning of it. It is within this role of maintaining the infra-structure that we may see the activities of the state in socialising risk and cost and in maintaining a safety net in place of the old welfare state. Furthermore, the state is called today to play a crucial role with respect to the supply-side of the economy and, in particular, to take measures to improve competitiveness and to train the working force to the requirements of the new technology, in supporting research and development and even in subsidising export industries wherever
required. Therefore, the type of state intervention which is compatible with the marketization process not only is not discouraged but, instead, is actively promoted by most of the professional politicians of the neoliberal consensus. It is true that the economic elites do not like the kind of competition which, as a result of the uneven development of the world market economy, threatens their own interests and this is why they have always attempted (and mostly succeeded) to protect themselves against it. But, it is equally true that it was the force of competition which has always fuelled the expansion of the market economy and that it was the values of competition and self-interest which have always characterised the value system of the elites which control the market economy. Chomsky, however, sometimes gives the impression that, barring some ‘accidents’ like the market failures he mentions, as well as the aggressive state support that economic elites have always enjoyed, the ‘corporatization’ of the market economy might have been avoided. But, of course, neither proprietary capitalism (or any other type of it) is desirable ---since it cannot secure covering the basic needs of all people--- nor can we deny all radical analysis of the past hundred and fifty years or so, from Marx to Bookchin, and all historical experience since then, which leads to one conclusion: the market economy is geared by a grow-or-die dynamic fuelled by competition, which is bound to lead to further and further concentration of economic power. Therefore, the problem is not the corporatization of the market economy which, supposedly, represents ‘an attack on markets and democracy’, and which was unavoidable anyway within the dynamic of the market economy. In other words, the problem is not corporate market economy/capitalism, as if some other kind of market economy/capitalism was feasible or desirable, but the market economy/capitalism itself. Otherwise, one may easily end up blaming the elites for violating the rules of the game, rather than blaming the rotten game itself! If the above analytical framework is valid then obviously it is not possible, within the existing institutional framework of parliamentary democracy and the market economy to check the process of increasing concentration of economic power. This is a process that is going since the emergence of the market economy system, some two centuries ago, and no socialdemocratic governments or grassroots movements were ever able to stop it, or even to retard it, apart from brief periods of time. In fact, even the grass root ‘victory’ hailed by Chomsky against the MAI proposals is doubtful whether it would have
been achieved had there been no serious divisions among the economic elites about it. Furthermore, the ‘victory’ itself has already started showing signs that it was hollow, as it is now clear that the MAI agreement was not, in fact, set aside, but it is simply implemented ‘by installments’, through the ‘back door’ of the IMF at present, and possibly the World Trade Organisation in the future. The basic reason why such battles are doomed is that they are not an integral part of a comprehensive political programto replace the institutional framework of the market economy itself and, as such, they can easily be marginalised or lead to simple (easily reversible) reforms. The inevitable conclusion is that only the struggle for the building of a new massive movement aiming at fighting ‘from without’ for the creation of a new institutional framework, (see last section of this article), and the development of the corresponding culture and social paradigm, might have any chances to lead to a new society characterised by the equal distribution of power. Cultural homogenisation As I mentioned above, the establishment of the market economy implied sweeping aside traditional cultures and values. This process was accelerated in the twentieth century with the spreading all over the world of the market economy and its offspring the growth economy. As a result, today, there is an intensive process of culture homogenisation at work, which not only rules out any directionality towards more complexity, but in effect is making culture simpler, with cities becoming more and more alike, people all over the world listening to the same music, watching the same soap operas on TV, buying the same brands of consumer goods, etc. The establishment of the neoliberal consensus in the last twenty years or so, following the collapse of the socialdemocratic consensus, has further enhanced this process of cultural homogenisation. This is the inevitable outcome of the liberalisation and de-regulation of markets and the consequent intensification of commercialisation of culture. As a result, traditional communities and their cultures are disappearing all over the world and people are converted to consumers of a mass culture produced in the advanced capitalist countries and particularly the USA. In the film industry, for instance, even European countries with a strong cultural background and developed economies have to effectively give up their own film industries, unable to compete with the much more competitive US industry. Thus, in the early 1990s, US films' share amounted to 73% of the European market. Also, indicative
of the degree of concentration of cultural power in the hands of a few US corporations is the fact that, in 1991, a handful of US distributors controlled 66% of total cinema box office and 70% of the total number of video rentals in Britain. Thus, the recent emergence of a sort of “cultural” nationalism in many parts of the world expresses a desperate attempt to keep a cultural identity in the face of market homogenisation. But, cultural nationalism is devoid of any real meaning in an electronic environment, where 75 percent of the international communications flow is controlled by a small number of multinationals. In other words, cultural imperialism today does not need, as in the past, a gunboat diplomacy to integrate and absorb diverse cultures. The marketization of the communications flow has already established the preconditions for the downgrading of cultural diversity into a kind of superficial differentiation akin to a folklorist type. Furthermore, it is indicative that today’s `identity movements', like those in Western Europe (from the Flemish to the Lombard and from the Scots to the Catalans) which demand autonomy as the best way to preserve their cultural identity, in fact, express their demand for individual and social autonomy in a distorted way. The distortion arises from the fact that the marketization of society has undermined the community values of reciprocity, solidarity and co-operation in favour of the market values of competition and individualism. As a result, the demand for cultural autonomy is not founded today on community values which enhance co-operation with other cultural communities but, instead, on market values which encourage tensions and conflicts with them. In this connection, the current neoracist explosion in Europe is directly relevant to the effectual undermining of community values by neoliberalism, as well as to the growing inequality and poverty following the rise of the neoliberal consensus. Finally, one should not underestimate the political implications of the commercialisation and homogenisation of culture. The escapist role traditionally played by Hollywood films has now acquired a universal dimension, through the massive expansion of TV culture and its almost full monopolisation by Hollywood subculture. Every single TV viewer in Nigeria, India, China or Russia now dreams of the American way of life, as seen on TV serials (which, being relatively inexpensive and glamorous, fill the TV programmes of most TV channels all over the world) and thinks in terms of the competitive values imbued by them. The collapse of existing socialism has perhaps more to do with this cultural phenomenon, as anecdotal evidence indicates, than one
could imagine. As various TV documentaries have shown, people in Eastern European countries, in particular, thought of themselves as some kind of ‘abnormal’ compared with what western TV has established as the ‘normal’. In fact, many of the people participating in the demonstrations to bring down those regimes frequently referred to this ‘abnormality’, as their main incentive for their political action. In this problematique, one may criticise the kind of cultural relativism supported by some in the Left, according to which almost all cultural preferences could be declared as rational (on the basis of some sort of rationality criteria), and therefore all cultural choices deserve respect, if not admiration, given the constraints under which they are made. But, obviously, the issue is not whether our cultural choices are rational or not. Nor the issue is to assess ‘objectively’ our cultural preferences as right or wrong. The real issue is how to make a choice of values which we think is compatible with the kind of society we wish to live in and then make the cultural choices which are compatible with these values. This is because the transition to a future society based on alternative values presupposes that the effort to create an alternative culture should start now, in parallel with the effort to establish the new institutions compatible with the new values. On the basis of the criterion of consistency between our cultural choices and the values of a truly democratic society, one could delineate a way beyond post-modern relativism and distinguish between ‘preferable’ and ‘non-preferable’ cultural choices. So, all those cultural choices involving films, videos, theatrical plays etc, which promote the values of the market economy and particularly competition for money, individualism, consumerist greed, as well as violence, racism, sexism etc should be shown to be non-preferable and people should be encouraged to avoid them. On the other hand, all those cultural choices, which involve the promotion of the community values of mutual aid, solidarity, sharing and equality for all (irrespective of race, sex, ethnicity) should be promoted as preferable .
2.The role of mass media today Do mass media reflect reality? A basic issue in the discussion of the role of the mass media in today’s society is whether they do reflect social reality in a broad sense, or whether, instead, the elites which control them filter out the view of reality which they see fit to be made public. To my mind, the answer
to this question is that the media do both, depending on the way we define reality. To take, first, political reality, mass media, in one sense, do not provide a faked view of it. Taking into account what is considered as politics today, i.e. the activity of professional politicians ‘representing’ the people, one may argue that it is politics itself, which is faked, and mass media simply reproduce this reality. In this sense, the issue is not whether the mass media manipulate democracy, since it is democracy itself, which is faked, and not its mass media picture, which simply reflects the reality of present ‘democracy’. But, at the same time, if we give a different definition to political reality, mass media do provide, in general, a distorted picture of it. In other words, if we define as real politics the political activity of people themselves (for instance, the collective struggles of various sectors of the population around political, economic or social issues) rather than that of professional politicians, then, the mass media do distort the picture they present about political reality. They do so, by minimising the significance of this type of activity, by distorting its meaning, by marginalising it, or by simply ignoring it completely. Furthermore, mass media do provide a distorted picture of political reality when they come to report the causes of crises, or of the conflicts involving various sections of the elites. In such cases they faithfully reflect the picture that the sections of the elites controlling them wish to reproduce. The latest example of this was the way in which the Anglo-American media, in particular, distorted the real meaning of the criminal bombardment of the Iraqi people at the end of 1998. Thus, exactly, as in their reporting during the war in the Gulf, the real cause of the conflict, (i.e. who controls the world’s oil, irrespective of where the oil stocks are located -- the elites of the North versus those in the South), was distorted as a conflict between the peace loving regimes in the North versus the rogue regimes in the South, or, in more sophisticated versions supported by socialdemocrat intellectuals, as a conflict between the ‘democracies’ in the North versus the ‘despotic regimes’ in the South over the control of oil. Under these circumstances, it is obvious that the mass media usually offer a true glimpse of reality only when the elites are divided with respect to their conception of a particular aspect of political reality. From this point of view, concentration in the mass media industry is significant and whether the media are owned by 100 or 10 owners does indeed matter in the struggle for social change. It is for instance such divisions among the European elites over the issue of joining the
European Monetary Union which have allowed a relatively wide media discussion on the true meaning of European integration, particularly in countries like Britain where the elites were split. It was also similar divisions between the Anglo-American and the European elites over the latest war crime in the Gulf which made a bit clearer the directly criminal role of the former (support for the bombardments), as well as the indirectly criminal role of the latter (support for the embargo). It is not accidental that in the USA and UK, where the media played a particularly despicable role in distorting the truth and misinforming the public, the polls showed consistently vast majorities in favour of the criminal activities of their elites.Of course, this does not mean that decentralisation of power in the mass media industry (or anywhere else) represents by itself, even potentially, a radical social change leading to an authentic democracy. Still, the significance of decentralisation in the media industry with respect to raising consciousness should not be ignored. As regards economic reality, mass media, in one sense again, do provide a relatively accurate picture of what counts as economic reality today. This is when the media, taking for granted the system of the market economy, end up with a partial picture of economic reality where what matters is not whether the basic needs of the population are covered adequately but whether prices (in commodity and stock markets), interest rates, exchange rates and consequently profit rates are going up or down. Still, in another sense, the very fact that mass media take for granted the system of the market economy means that they cannot ‘see’ the ‘systemic’ nature of most of the real economic problems (unemployment, poverty and so on) and therefore inevitably end up with a faked image of economic reality. This way of seeing economic reality is not imposed on the media by their owners, important as their influence may otherwise be, or by their internal hierarchical structure etc. The media simply reflect the views of orthodox economists, bankers, businessmen and professional politicians, i.e. of all those who express the dominant social paradigm. But if the picture of political and economic reality offered by the media is mixed this is not the case with respect to ecological reality. As no meaningful reporting of the ecological crisis is possible unless it refers to the systemic causes of it, which by definition are excluded by the discourse in the mainstream media, the result is a complete misinformation, or just straightforward description of the symptoms of the crisis. The mass media are flooded by the ‘realist’ Greens who fill
the various ecological parties and who blame technology, consumerist values, legislation etc-- anything but the real cause of the crisis, i.e. the very system of the market economy. Similarly, the reporting of the present social crisis never links the explosion of crime and drug abuse, for instance, with their root cause, i.e. the increasing concentration of political, economic and social power in the hands of various elites. Instead, the symptoms of the social crisis are distortedly reported as its causes and the media blame, following the advice of the establishment ‘experts’, the breaking of the traditional family, or of the school, as the causes of crime. Similarly, various ‘progressive’ intellectuals (like the lamentable ex ‘revolutionary’ and now well promoted by the mainstream media Euro-parliamentarian Con Bendit) blame the prohibitive legislation on drugs for the massive explosion of drug abuse! However, there is another approach being promoted recently by system theorists, according to which mass media do not just either reflect or distort reality but also manufacture it. This is not said in the usual sense of manufacturing consent described by Chomsky and Herman or, alternatively, by Bourdieu, which is basically a one- way process whereby the elites controlling the mass media filter out the information, through various control mechanisms, in order to create consent around their agenda. Instead, system theorists talk about a two-way process whereby social reality and mass media are seen as two interdependent levels, the one intruding into the other. This is based on the valid hypothesis that reality is not just something external to the way it is conceived. TV watching is a constituent moment of reality since our information about reality consists of conceptions that constitute reality itself. At the same time, the conception of reality is conditioned by the media functioning, which is differentiated in relation to the other social systems (political, economic etc). In the systems analysis problematique, it is not the economic, or the political systems, which control the media functioning. What determines their functioning, as well as their communicative capability, is their ability to generate irritation -- a fact that could go a long way to explain the high ratings of exciting or irritating TV programs. The diversified functioning of mass media creates, in turn, the conditions for a social dynamic which, in a self-reflective and communicative way, reproduces, as well as institutes, society. Thus, whereas the early modern society is instituted through a transcendental subjectivity and a material mode of production, the
present post-modern society’s reproduction depends on the processes of communicative rationality. The mass media are an integral and functional part of the communicative processes of post-modern society. However, one may point out here that although it is true that social reality and mass media are interacting, i.e. that our conception of TV news is a constituent element of reality and at the same time our conception of reality is conditioned by TV functioning, this does not imply that the diversified functioning of mass media creates the conditions for a social dynamic which acts for the institution of society, although it does play this role as far as its reproduction is concerned. The meaning we assign to TV reporting is not determined exogenously but by our world view, our own paradigm, which in turn, as we have seen above, is the result of a process of socialisation that is conditioned by the dominant social paradigm. Furthermore, TV functioning plays a crucial role in the reproduction of the dominant social paradigm and the socialisation process generally. So, the diversified functioning of TV does indeed create the conditions for a social dynamic leading to the reproduction of the status quo, but in no way could be considered as doing the same for instituting society. Goals and Control mechanisms The goals of the mass media are determined by those owning and controlling them, who, usually, are members of the economic elites that control the market economy itself. Given the crucial role that the media could play in the internalisation of the dominant social paradigm and therefore the reproduction of the institutional framework which secures the concentration of power in the hands of the elites, it is obvious that those owning and controlling the mass media have broader ideological goals than the usual goals pursued by those owning and controlling other economic institutions, i.e. profit maximising. Therefore, an analysis that would attempt to draw conclusions on the nature and significance of media institutions on the basis of the profit dimension alone, (i.e. that they share a common goal and consequently a similar internal hierarchical structure with all other economic institutions and that they just sell a product, the only difference with other economic institutions being that the product is the audience,) is bound to be one-dimensional. Profit maximising is only one parameter, often not even the crucial one, which conditions the role of mass media in a market economy. In fact, one could mention several instances where capitalist owners chose even to incur significant losses (which they usually cover from other profitable
activities) in order to maintain the social influence (and prestige), which ownership of an influential daily offers to them (Murdoch and The Times of London is an obvious recent example). Given the ultimate ideological goal of mass media, the main ways in which they try to achieve it are:
• first, by assisting in the internalisation of the dominant social paradigm and,
• second, by marginalising, if not excluding altogether, conceptions of reality which do not conform with the dominant social paradigm.
But, what are the mechanisms through which the media can achieve their goals? To give an answer to this question we have to examine a series of mechanisms, most of them ‘automatic’ built-in mechanisms, which ensure effective achievement of these goals. It will be useful here to distinguish between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ control mechanisms, which function respectively as internal and external constraints on the freedom of media workers to reproduce reality. Both internal and external mechanisms work mainly through competition which secures homogenisation with respect to the media’s main goals. Competition is of course the fundamental organisational principle of a market economy; but, it plays a special role with respect to the media. As Bourdieu points out, competition ‘rather than automatically generating originality and diversity tends to favour uniformity’. Still, competition is not the only force securing homogenisation. In a similar way as with the market economy itself, competition provides only the dynamic mechanism of homogenisation. It is the fact that owners of mass media, as well as managers and the highest paid journalists, share the same interest in the reproduction of the existing institutional framework which constitutes the ‘base’, on which this competition is developed. But, let us consider briefly the significance of the various control mechanisms. The main ‘internal control’ mechanisms are ownership and the internal hierarchical structure, which are, both, crucial in the creation of the conditions for internal competition among journalists, whereas the ‘ratings’ mechanism plays a similar role in the creation of the conditions for externalcompetition among media. Starting with ownership, it matters little, as regards the media’s overall goals defined above, whether they are owned and controlled by the state and/or the state-controlled institutions or whether, instead, they are owned and controlled by private capital. However,
there are certain secondary differences arising from the different ownership structures which may be mentioned. These secondary differences have significant implications, particularly with respect to the structure of the elites controlling the media, their own organisational structure and their ‘image’ with respect to their supposedly ‘objective’ role in the presentation of information. As regards the elite structure, whereas under a system of state ownership and control the mass media are under the direct control of the political elite and the indirect control of the economic elites, under a system of private ownership and control, the media are just under the direct control of the economic elites. This fact, in turn, has some implications on whether filtering out of information takes place directly through state control, or indirectly through various economic mechanisms (e.g. ratings) .As regards the media organisational structure, whereas state-owned media are characterised by bureaucratic rigidity and inefficiency, privately owned media are usually characterised by more flexibility and economic efficiency. Finally, the ‘objective’ image of mass media suffers less in case of private ownership compared to the case of state ownership. This is because in the latter case control of information is more direct and therefore more obvious than in the former. Another important internal control mechanism is the hierarchical structure which characterises all media institutions (as it does all economic institutions in a market economy) and which implies that all- important decisions are taken by a small managerial group within them, who are usually directly responsible to the owners. The hierarchical structure creates a constant internal competition among journalists as to who will be more agreeable to the managerial group (on which their career and salary prospects depend). Similarly, people in the managerial group are in constant competition as to who will be more agreeable to the owners (on which their highly paid position depends). So, everybody in this hierarchical structure knows well (or soon learns) what is agreeable and what is not and acts accordingly. Therefore, the filtering of information works through self-censorship rather than through any kind of ‘orders from above’. The effect of the internal hierarchical structure is to impose, through the internal competition that it creates, a kind of homogenisation in the journalists’ performance. But, does this exclude the possibility that some media workers may have incentives other those determined by career ambitions? Of course, not. But, such people, as Chomsky points out, will never find a place in the corridors of media power and, one way or another, will be marginalised :
They (journalists) say, quite correctly, "nobody ever tells me what to write. I write anything I like. All this business about pressures and constraints is nonsense because I’m never under any pressure." Which is completely true, but the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going to say the right thing… it is not purposeful censorship. It is just that you don’t make it to those positions. That includes the left (what is called the left), as well as the right. Unless you have been adequately socialised and trained so that there are some thoughts you just don’t have, because if you did have them, you wouldn’t be there. But, how is it determined what is agreeable? Here it is where the ‘external’ control mechanisms come into play. It is competition among the various media organisations, which homogenises journalists’ behaviour. This competition takes the form of a struggle to improve ratings (as regards TV channels) or circulation (as regards newspapers, magazines etc). Ratings or circulation are important not per se but because the advertising income of privately owned mass media (which is the extra income determining their survival or death) depends on them. The result is, as Pierre Bourdieu points out that: Ratings have become the journalist’s Last Judgement (...) Wherever you look, people are thinking in terms of market success. Only thirty years ago, and since the middle of the nineteenth century ― since Baudelaire and Flaubert and others in avant-garde milieux of writers' writers, writers acknowledged by other writers or even artists acknowledged by other artists― immediate market success was suspect. It was taken as a sign of compromise with the times, with money (...) Today, on the contrary, the market is accepted more and more as a legitimate means of Iegitimation. The pressures created by the ratings mechanism, as Bourdieu points out, have nothing to do with the democratic expression of enlightened collective opinion or public rationality, despite what media ideologues assert. In fact, as the same author points out, the ratings mechanism is the sanction of the market and the economy, that is, of an external and purely market law. I would only add to this that given how ‘public opinion’ is formed within the process of socialisation and internalisation of the dominant social paradigm, it is indeed preposterous to characterise the ratings mechanism as somehow expressing the democratic will of the people. Ratings, as well as polls generally, is the ‘democracy of the uninformed’. They simply reflect the ignorance, the half-truths, or the straightforward distortions of the
truth which have been assimilated by an uninformed public and which, through the ratings mechanism, reinforce the role of the mass media in the reproduction of the dominant social paradigm. One may therefore conclude that the role of the media today is not to make the system more democratic. In fact, one basic function of the media is, as Chomsky stresses, to help in keeping the general population out of the public arena because ‘if they get involved they will just make trouble. Their job is to be "spectators," not "participants". Furthermore, the media can play a crucial role in offsetting the democratic rights and freedoms won after long struggles. This has almost always been the case when there was a clash between the elites and trade unions, or popular movements generally. Walter Lippmann, the revered American journalist was explicit about it, as Chomsky points out. For Lippmann, there is a new art in the method of democracy, called "manufacture of consent." By manufacturing consent, you can overcome the fact that formally a lot of people have the right to vote. We can make it irrelevant because we can manufacture consent and make sure that their choices and attitudes will be structured in such a way that they will always do what we tell them, even if they have a formal way to participate. So we’ll have a real democracy. It will work properly. That’s applying the lessons of the propaganda agency. 
Within this analytical framework we may explore fruitfully the particular ways through which the filtering of information is achieved, as, for instance, is described by Chomsky and Herman in their ‘propaganda model’. Similarly Bourdieu shows in a graphic way how the filtering of information takes place in television, through the structuring of TV debates, the time limits, the methods of hiding by showing etc. Particularly important is the way in which the media, particularly television, control not just the information flow, but also the production of culture, by controlling the access of academics as well as of cultural producers, who in turn, as a result of being recognised a public figures, gain recognition in their own fields. Thus, at the end, the journalistic field, which is structurally very strongly subordinated to market pressures and as such is a very heteronomous field, applies pressure, in turn, to all other fields.
An illustrative application of the above analytical framework is the crucial contribution of the mass media in the creation of the subjective conditions for the neoliberal consensus. Thus, the mass media have played a double ideological role with respect to the
neoliberal consensus. On the one hand, they have promoted directly the neoliberal agenda :
• by degrading the economic role of the state, • by attacking the ‘dependence’ on the state which the welfare
state supposedly creates, • by identifying freedom with the freedom of choice, which is
supposedly achieved through the liberation of markets etc. (talk radio
• and similar TV shows play a particularly significant role in this respect).
On the other hand, the media have also attempted to divert attention from the consequences of the neoliberal consensus (in terms of growing inequality and poverty, the explosion of crime and drug abuse and so on) :
• by promoting irrational beliefs of all sorts (religion, mystical beliefs, astrology etc). The film and video explosion on the themes of exorcism, supernatural powers etc (induced mainly by Hollywood) has played a significant role in diverting attention from the evils of neoliberalism.
• by manufacturing irrelevant and/or insignificant ‘news stories’ (e.g. Monica Lewinsky affair), which are then taken over by opposition politicians who are eager to find fictitious ways (because of the lack of real political differences within the neoliberal consensus) to differentiate themselves from those in power
• by creating a pseudo ‘general interest’ (for instance around a nationalist or chauvinist cause) in order to unite the population around a ‘cause’ and make it forget the utterly dividing aspects of neoliberalism.
At the same time, the creation of the neoliberal conditions at the institutional level had generated the objective conditions for the mass media to play the aforementioned role. This was because the deregulation and liberalisation of markets and the privatisation of state TV in many European countries had created the conditions for homogenisation through the internal and external competition, which I mentioned above. It is not accidental anyway that major media tycoons like Murdoch in the Anglo-Saxon world, Kirsch in Germany, or Berlusconi in Italy have also been among the main exponents of the neoliberal consensus agenda. 3. Media and culture in a democratic society
Culture and a democratic conception of citizenship I am not going to repeat here the discussion on the fundamental components of an inclusive democracy and the necessary conditions, which have to be met for the setting up of it. Instead, I will try to focus on the implications of the democratic institutional arrangements on culture and the role of media. The starting point is that the conditions for democracy imply a new conception of citizenship: economic, political, social and cultural. Thus,political citizenship involves new political structures and the return to the classical conception of politics (direct democracy). Economic citizenship involves new economic structures of community ownership and control of economic resources (economic democracy). Social citizenship involves self- management structures at the workplace, democracy in the household and new welfare structures where all basic needs (to be democratically determined) are covered by community resources, whether they are to be satisfied in the household or at the community level. Finally, cultural citizenship involves new democratic structures of dissemination and control of information and culture (mass media, art, etc.), which allow every member of the community to take part in the process and at the same time develop his/her intellectual and cultural potential. It is obvious that the above new conception of citizenship has very little in common with the liberal and socialist definitions of citizenship, which are linked to the liberal and socialist conceptions of human rights respectively. Thus, for the liberals, the citizen is simply the individual bearer of certain freedoms and political rights recognised by law which, supposedly, secure equal distribution of political power. Similarly, for the socialists, the citizen is the bearer not only of political rights and freedoms but, also, of some social and economic rights, whereas for Marxists the citizenship is realised with the collective ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, the conception of citizenship adopted here is not related to the current social-democratic discourse on the subject, which, in effect, focuses on the institutional conditions for the creation of an internationalised market economy ‘with a human face’. The proposal for instance for a redefinition of citizenship within the framework of a “stakeholder capitalism” belongs to this category. This proposal
involves an ‘active’ citizenship, where citizens have ‘stakes’ in companies, the market economy and society in general and managers have to take into account these stakes in the running of the businesses and social institutions they are in charge of. The conception of citizenship adopted here, which could be called a democratic conception, is based on our definition of inclusive democracy and presupposes a ‘participatory’ conception of active citizenship, like the one implied by the work of Hannah Arendt. In this conception, “political activity is not a means to an end, but an end in itself; one does not engage in political action simply to promote one’s welfare but to realise the principles intrinsic to political life, such as freedom, equality, justice, solidarity, courage and excellence”. It is therefore obvious that this conception of citizenship is qualitatively different from the liberal and social- democratic conceptions, which adopt an ‘instrumentalist’ view of citizenship, i.e. a view which implies that citizenship entitles citizens with certain rights that they can exercise as means to the end of individual welfare. Although the above conception of citizenship implies a geographical sense of community which is the fundamental unit of political, economic and social life, still, it is assumed that it interlocks with various other communities (cultural, professional, ideological, etc.). Therefore, the community and citizenship arrangements do not rule out cultural differences based on language, customs etc, or other differences based on gender, age, ethnicity and so on; they simply provide the public space where such differences can be expressed. Furthermore, these arrangements institutionalise various safety valves that aim to rule out the marginalisation of such differences by the majority. What therefore unites people in a political community, or a confederation of communities, is not a set of common cultural values, imposed by a nationalist ideology, a religious dogma, a mystical belief, or an ‘objective’ interpretation of natural or social ‘evolution’, but the democratic institutions and practices, which have been set up by citizens themselves. However, as I attempted to show elsewhere this cultural pluralism does not mean a kind of cultural relativism where ‘everything goes’. In other words, it is possible to derive an ethical system and correspondingly a set of cultural values which is neither ‘objective’, (in the sense that it is derived from a supposedly objective interpretation of social evolution—Marx, or natural evolution---