Freedom of the press is not the same as freedom of expression

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This lecture discusses the concepts of freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I argue they are not the same thing. I also talk about freedom of speech and freedom of the press under capitalism and conditions of class struggle. I am a Marxist, after all.

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  • At the most abstract, 1) gives us the universal idea that communication is a necessary component of human existence. Communication is central to the development of a society’s productive and reproductive resources at both physical and intellectual levels. Element 2) provides the understanding that all class societies – based on exploitation, accumulation and an inequality of political power – have shared dynamics. This simply suggests (as a basic tenet of materialism and Marxism) that class inequality requires social formations to behave in certain ways and that there is a common set of techniques and rituals that define state control in societies of unequal distribution of wealth and resources.The third element brings us closer to an analysis of our concrete situation within the period of capitalism in decline and asks us to examine the specificity of class controls over communicative activity within a defined capitalist social formation The fourth element appears to be a further abstraction in that it asks us to consider the class interests of the oppressed and exploited class. However, it is concrete in the sense that it opens up for analysis the specific forms that a struggle over freedom of communication takes within late capitalist social formations. The ideological ‘expression’ of the concrete contradictions surrounding freedom of communication in a capitalist society take the form of contested and heavily ideologised positions around ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of expression’. In it’s most concrete form within capitalist social formations this contradictory exposition of freedom of communication takes the explicit form of ‘freedom of the press’ (Macnair 2009, p. 567). Freedom of the press is contradictory in a capitalist society because it is freedom of ownership of a printing press (or broadcast outlet) and it relies, for its efficacy, on the ‘unfreedom’ of those who do not own such means of communicative production. In other words, freedom of the press in a capitalist social formation implies and, in fact, depends on, a lack of freedom of communication for the working class.
  • For capitalism as a whole, continuing accumulation and expansion of social capital requires a system of open information and cooperation – the scientific basis of increasing labour productivity. However, simultaneously, individual capitalists rely on secrecy and today, industrial espionage and sabotage. The NDS scandal surrounding the Murdoch empire, for example indicates the lengths an enterprise will go to in order to secure a material commercial advantage over its rivals.
  • The form of ‘market’ and its ideological consequences overlay every aspect of capitalism. Formal adherence to an ideology of market superiority and naturalism (Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’) is both a security blanket and a Trojan horse for capital.The hierarchy of the market comes to be expressed in bourgeois intellectual and cultural institutions.(Ticktin 2009, p. 526)Hillel Ticktin very aptly describes the role of the modern organic bourgeois intellectual as that of the facilitator, the oil on the squeaky wheel that mutes the distracting noise and keeps the system moving, so that it ‘glides by’ without arousing any suspicion or animosity in the minds of the oppressed and exploited; ‘ a kind of therapy with the present’ (Ticktin 2009, p. 527)  The distinctive feature of capitalist dynamics in relation to communication is the fact that communication itself becomes a sphere of capitalist activity.(Macnair 2009, p. 574)Communication becomes commodified and subject to the rules of generalized commodity production.
  • Freedom of the press is not the same as freedom of expression

    1. 1.  What is freedom of the press A quick guide to “freedom” and” unfreedom” in communication theory A/Prof Martin Hirst, Deakin University, July 2013 What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 1 30/07/13
    2. 2. The Orwellian moment  Free speech is about speaking truth to power  Gramsci’s notion of “good sense”  NOT “common sense”  Freedom of speech is universal, but it is restricted in many ways  Moral restrictions  Economic restrictions  Political restrictions This is the Orwellian moment in history. politics, political ideas and ideology are not what they seem and confusion rules. Where ruling ideas are internally conflicted, as they are put forward in the media and through education, free speech takes on a new dimension. Ticktin 2009, p. 524) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 2 30/07/13
    3. 3. Freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press  Freedom of expression is a fundamental condition of human existence – it is inherent  Freedom of speech is constrained by social conditions  Freedom of the press exists only for those who own one  The ruling class no longer really needs freedom of speech for subordinate groups  The capitalist press is ‘free’ to publish propaganda What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 3 30/07/13
    4. 4. Freedom of expression  Article 19  Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.  The UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 30/07/13What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 4 Freedom of expression is held to be universal. A right that everyone has, regardless of any other condition.
    5. 5. Article 19  Freedom of expression to be effective must rest on other inalienable human rights  The right to work  Free from violence  No hunger, etc Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 5 30/07/13
    6. 6. Freedom of communication: a materialist schema 1. We communicate to survive as a species 2. all class societies exhibit shared dynamics in relation to control of communicative behaviour – favour ruling class 3. capitalist relations of production determine the specific political- economic dynamics and contradictions in communicative behaviour that are overlaid on but not do not wholly displace (1) and (2) 4. Marxism recognises the class interest of the proletariat in relation to freedom of communication, its ideological expressions under capitalism and in relation to developing political consciousness in subordinate classes (Adapted from Macnair 2009, p. 567) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 6 30/07/13
    7. 7. Marxism & Freedom of Communication  You can protest all you want, so long as it is ineffective  Media applies ridicule – ‘Occupy’ – ‘keep off the grass’ [C]ommunication is a relation between humans, not the action of an isolated individual. My freedom of communication is impaired if I may write, but may not publish; if I may sing satirical songs, but only in my bath. (Macnair 2009, p. 569) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 7 30/07/13
    8. 8. Capitalism and freedom of expression  Absolutely agree that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right  It’s all fine in theory, but what about in the real world?  The right to freedom of expression is experienced under social conditions of the class struggle  There is a fundamental class inequality in the application of any universal right enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 8 30/07/13
    9. 9. Materialism and freedom expression  The universality of human rights cannot be expressed within the limits of capitalism  Freedom expression is a ruling class freedom in a class society The term „freedom of expression‟ can be understood as the expression of the full potential of the talents and abilities of the individual. It is clear, that in this sense, it can only be expressed in a socialist society. It is, in fact, one definition of a socialist society. (Ticktin 2009, p. 513) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 9 30/07/13
    10. 10. Communication and accumulation  Scientific labour  Discovery and research  Technical labour  Economic exploitation of science  Managerial labour  Command and control  Intellectual labour  Reproduction of S/r  Ideological labour for capital there is a necessary conflict in capitalism between the need for freedom of expression for the purposes of accumulation and the need to maintain control over the same process of accumulation both for the individual capitalist and for the class as a whole. (Ticktin 2009, p. 516) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 10 30/07/13
    11. 11.  Political economy of free speech „the analysis of the various subtle and less subtle political economic forms of control over modes of expression and of criticism within capitalism and of capitalism’ (Ticktin 2009, p. 515). What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 11 30/07/13
    12. 12. Marxism and free speech The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. (Marx & Engels: The German Ideology) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 12 30/07/13
    13. 13. Free Speech is a class issue too  The right to assembly  Union access to workplaces  IR  Unfair Work Australia  Strike-breaking  Fascism Freedom of speech or expression or communication (however you want to call it) is dependent on power, control, resources and access (Macnair 2009). In a capitalist world all these equations are in fact unequal; there is a ruling class and there are subordinate classes. What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 13 30/07/13
    14. 14. Free speech a revolutionary demand  Emerging bourgeois class demanded free speech so that it could organise itself against autocracy  Needed allies amongst proletarians and allies  For a while at least  Marx & Engels both took issue with censorship in their own daily journalism and other writing  Also argued for an independent workers’ press What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 14 30/07/13
    15. 15. The bourgeois origins of the free press Newspapers were critical to the organising of the bourgeois during their revolutions of the 17th & 18th centuries Editors among the first organic intellectuals of the bourgeoisie What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 15 30/07/13 The French Revolution, the bourgeois revolution, par excellence, placed the question of the rights of man on the agenda. (Ticktin 2009, p. 516)
    16. 16. The property franchise still exists  In late capitalist society the right to speak has been expropriated and made beholden, in most cases, to property rights  Commercial in confidence  Trademarking and branding  State rights to secrecy and diplomacy  Cabinet confidentiality The bourgeoisie needs freedom of expression but it also destroys it in the name of capital itself. (Ticktin 2009, p. 522) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 16 30/07/13
    17. 17. Freedom of expression no longer  Need to control accumulation overrides commitment to freedom of expression  Vertical control over media messages to subordinate classes  Not just simple ‘manufacture of consent’  The dialectic of the front page  Informed horizontal control to manage its affairs  ‘executive committee of the bourgeoisie – propaganda department once a ruling class cements its control and firmly grasps the reins of political and economic power, it no longer needs to exert the universality of human rights in practice What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 17 30/07/13
    18. 18. Simple commodity speech  Advertising  Marketing, PR  Sponsorships  Advertorial  Product Placement  Political speech and the ‘permanent campaign’  Naomi Klien ‘shock doctrine’  Spin and ‘fake news’ A candidate for president of the United States today has to spend tens of millions of dollars a week for more than 52 weeks to have any chance at all of even being one of two rival contenders. What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 18 30/07/13
    19. 19. The unfreedom of the press Freedom of the press is contradictory in a capitalist society because it is freedom of ownership that relies on the „unfreedom‟ of those who do not own a press. Freedom of the press in a capitalist social formation implies and, in fact, depends on, a lack of freedom of communication for the working class. What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 19 30/07/13
    20. 20. No free speech in the news industry  formal democratic structures, institutions and principles in a capitalist society are not enough to guarantee freedom of expression for everyone  a glaring contradiction that is visible to Marxists, but that is generally hidden behind an ideological veil of free speech, or more specifically ‘freedom of the press’  this paper starts from a critical political economy approach to the major news media and commodified news information. What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 20 30/07/13
    21. 21. The social relations of news production The distinctive feature of capitalist dynamics in relation to communication is the fact that communication itself becomes a sphere of capitalist activity. (Macnair 2009, p. 574) The hierarchy of the market comes to be expressed in bourgeois intellectual and cultural institutions. (Ticktin 2009, p. 526) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 21 30/07/13
    22. 22. The right to publish  Within capitalist relations of production the right to publish information and distribute it freely is tied directly to a property right.  Ownership of the means of news production gives that fraction of capital or ruling class the right to publish  This is a direct translation of the bourgeois property relation to ownership of capital Freedom of the press is manifestly specific to capitalism and the period of the emergence of capitalism. (Macnair 2009, p. 568) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 22 30/07/13
    23. 23. Press freedom is a property right  Freedom of the press has an economic imperative under capitalism  Editorial functions subsumed under commercial functions  Media is interlocked with other forms of capital “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” A J Liebling “The press is not only free, it is powerful. That power is ours. It is the proudest that man can enjoy.” Benjamin Disraeli What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 23 30/07/13
    24. 24. The right to edit  Editors are the senior managers of ideological apparatus on behalf of capital  Well-paid, subject to whim of proprietor or board  All, or at least most, tend to behave in accordance with the requirements of capital  Within the relations of production they perform a managerial and political role on behalf of social capital  Advertising + the feigned editorial independence of a ‘free press’ are the glue that hold it together What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 24 30/07/13
    25. 25. Journalism and the labour process  Newsworkers occupy several discrete and overlapping fractions of the new middle class  The work of journalists at the coal face of producing news and current affairs is proletarianised  Their class location with economic relations of news production aligns them with working class interests (union membership for example)  Their location within the social relations of news production sees a partial alignment with ruling class interests What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 25 30/07/13
    26. 26. Contradictory class positions  News workers – new middle class / petty bourgeois /  At top of scale managing capital interests  Directing resources  Economic relationship of wage labour  Productive and unproductive – paid out of circulation  At bottom of scale (proleterianising?)  Social relations of production complicated The attitudes, doctrines and theories propounded by the capitalist ‘intelligentsia’ reflect their contradictory situation. (Ticktin 2009, p. 518) What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 26 30/07/13
    27. 27. Bosses slam media rules  Media reforms proposed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy  A Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA)  A ‘public interest’ test for media mergers  A statutory commitment to maintain journalistic standards  Threat of losing a privilege in relation to privacy law “Australian media bosses have slammed the Gillard government’s wide-ranging changes to media rules, saying a new regulator to oversee print and online news content and a public interest test for mergers are unnecessary and a threat to free speech.” AFR, 13 March 2013, p.1 What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 27 30/07/13
    28. 28. Press tsar to regulate standards  Regulator at ‘arms length’ from government control  Australian Press Council comes out against the legislation LABOR has infuriated publishers by proposing a new federal regulator to oversee press standards and rule on mergers, as part of a wider overhaul to be rushed through parliament, despite fears it could trigger a $4 billion television takeover. The Australian, 13 March 2013,p.1 What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 28 30/07/13
    29. 29. Free press in the liberal- democratic paradigm A free press is an essential feature of a healthy liberal democracy. Media outlets should always feel free to criticise politicians and others in power without any fear of retribution. James Paterson, 13 March, 2013 What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 29 30/07/13
    30. 30. MEAA response to Conroy  ‘sweeping, intrusive and fail to respond to changes in our industry  Does not address real concern about attacks on freedom of the press:  ‘the growing practice by wealthy Australians attempting to use injunctions, defamation and other court actions to prevent proper journalistic investigations’  Opposed to PIMA, supports industry self-regulation  Does not protect journalists who refuse to divulge sources in line with the Code of Ethics  Does not protect whistleblowers What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 30 30/07/13
    31. 31. Freedom of the press in Britain is freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertiser's won't object to Helen Swaffer There are laws to protect the freedom of the press's speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press Mark Twain What is freedom of the press – Martin Hirst 31 30/07/13

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