Raymond Williams on the Media

We have been reduced to making contrasts between the speculator and the bureaucrat, and wondering which is the blacker devil. The real barrier, perhaps, is that we see these as the only alternatives … The systems have profited so far by each terrifying us with the other, and by the lack of any genuine and attractive alternative.

Raymond Williams, Communications, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1968, p.152, 161

In Britain the BBC and News International – the bureaucrat and the speculator – dominate our debates about the structure of the media. We are still being invited to choose between two wrong answers. To the extent that politics take place in – and are shaped by – the media, both options lead to a democracy without substance. The road to freedom runs through a reformed media.

Williams rejected state and commercial control and argued, in favour of trusts run by journalists:

Where the means of communication cannot be personally owned, because of their expense and size, it is the duty of society to hold these means in trust for the actual contributors, who for all practical purposes will control their use. (p.153)

However, the audiences of the major media should have some considerable degree of control over the operations of the media on which they rely. Modern technology makes audience control a practical possibility, after all.

It is remarkable that a proposal that is practical and just – and that stands to improve the quality of public debate – can be ignored so thoroughly by the major media. I wonder why radicals are not more eager to pursue the implications. It is clear to me that the refusal even to entertain what are no more than minor administrative changes marks the critical point of conflict, the pivot on which social transformation can be made to turn.

(I have, it must be added, been drinking coffee.)


3 thoughts on “Raymond Williams on the Media”

  1. “It is remarkable that a proposal that is practical and just – and that stands to improve the quality of public debate – can be ignored so thoroughly by the..” Speculators and Bureaucrats

    Why is it remarkable?
    Surely it is what one would expect?

    1. Events can be both predictable and remarkable.

      But there’s more to it than that. The two systems survive by remaining plausible. They cannot ignore reality beyond a certain point. The movement for media reform has so far failed to force them to acknowledge its existence. This too is remarkable.

  2. ” The two systems survive by remaining plausible.”
    You will be telling us next that food processors have an interest in maintaining their customers’ health. Or that slaveowners have a vested interest in the welfare of their chattels.

    In fact “the two systems” survive by extending their monopolies and making their plausibility irrelevant. They function more and more openly as propaganda organs for an oligarchical state.

    They are much more concerned with their credibility among the 1% than with the fact that the public takes everything they say with a generous helping of salt. They understand that, in the absence of consistently accessible alternative sources of news, most of what they say will stand.
    Thus it is that the nonsense that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, with a view to ‘wiping out’ Israel, is credited by large majorities in the US etc. The media’s warmongering over Iraq appears to have had no effect at all on its role in promoting hatred and war.

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