Capitalism requires consent. This consent doesn't have to take the form of active support - apathetic or even despairing acquiescence will do. It's the task of supporters of capitalism to sell the system to the mass of people. The mass media are there to tell us what we should think and do. If capitalism solely relied on the support of capitalists to keep it going it wouldn't last too long . It is kept going by the ideas and behaviour of workers. Most of the population passively and sometimes actively participate in their own exploitation. Socialists living in capitalism are, of course exploited but strongly object to being so - and we do all we can to explain to others the nature of this exploitation and the way to end it.
Whenever a story breaks, or significant events are occurring, the media produces “community leaders”, and “representatives” of consumers, or “interest groups” the media claims to function as a forum, representing the views and analysis of “the people”, to represent the divergent views on a particular topic. This claim, however, is undermined by the fact that the media self-selects these “representatives”, and by the fact that more often than not, these representatives are not even vaguely appointed by the people they claim to represent. Given, though, that these “representatives” only exist by and through the virtual world of the media, and only exist through the recognition of power and not through the active involvement of those they claim to represent, they can only present an abstraction of the views they claim to put forward; akin to the abstract “people” of radical bourgeois politics. From the Open University unit, "Science, Technology and Everyday Life, 1870-1950":
"The so-called 'mass media' serve to generate consent in their audiences by representing the real world in ways which confer legitimacy on the social order in which they subsist...Communication is not only about who is talking to whom, and how; it is also about who is not talking to whom and why."
There are today no mainstream media outlets that are not pro-capitalist, is pretty much indisputable. This means that, today, newspapers and news programmes (those read and watched by the working class) are not what they appear and claim to be. Their role is not to enlighten and inform, but to mould public opinion so that it reflects the interests of the capitalist class and the state. "News" is propaganda, not genuine journalism. If you want to know the truth, you cannot rely on the media. We have that on good authority – in fact, on the authority of the more honest newspapers. (The more honest papers are those that are read mainly by capitalists who need reliable information about the world in order to make investment decisions, as opposed to those that are read mainly by workers.)
The media generate a kind of false community, dominated by corporate values and corporate images of the world. To join your fellow humans in this community, all you have to do is surrender your real feelings and values to agree with whatever it is that the media say that other people think. No matter how a person feels about the reality presented by the media, he can still be made to feel that "nobody feels this way but me".
In selecting who can speak, the media exercises power similar to that of the medieval monarch determining who gets to sit in their parliament. Indeed, the modern mass media presents itself as a forum for the people, as the place for representation and for determining legitimacy a third house of parliament, the Fourth Estate. All manner of hangers-on maintain a stranglehold on the state apparatus, while the mass media provides a means of identifying and recognising certain interest groups within society, and constructing the playing field on which political battles are fought out. The media, though, always lies within the hands of the ruling elites, and so ensures that representation remains within the bounds of holding the existing social relations together.
The media are businesses whose job is not just to make profits, but to mould public opinion. But it is intolerable for business in general if any one dictator should come to wield decisive influence. The example of Murdoch’s Fox network in America has “distorted” public opinion so much as to give credence to “right-wing populism” – which threatens to put state power in the hands of ideology rather than true business interests. From a socialist's view, it was equally intolerable that Murdoch should so influence public opinion as to build support for wars, from the Falklands to Afghanistan, and opposition to the class struggle, from the 1980s miners’ strike to the more recent state-workers pensions strikes. In capitalism, propaganda is not carried out by central state institutions but by exclusion from mass media which is monopolised by the owning class:
"Our system differs strikingly from say, Soviet Union, where the propaganda system literally is controlled by the state . . . Our system works much differently and much more effectively. It's a privatised system of propaganda, including the media, the journals of opinion and in general including the broad opinion of the intelligentsia, the educated part of the population" - Chomsky
"The modern mass media is not, as some...like to remark, controlled by corporations; it is corporations. Businesses do not control the car industry; the car industry is big business. Likewise, the media is made up of large corporations, all in the business of maximising profits . . . This immediately suggests that, at the very least, media corporations might have a tendency to be sympathetic to the status quo, to other corporations, and to the profit-maximising motive of the corporate system . . ." David Edwards. Far from some Orwellian vision of state control ITN, the Guardian, and pals are voluntarily "on message" because this is in the long-term interest of their product.
The newspapers and journals we read don't need screaming headlines urging us to choose capitalism—their "news", features and advertising unite in assuming a capitalist world. The TV programmes, films and videos we watch and the radio programmes we listen to are similarly slanted. We are sometimes entertained by sagas from pre-capitalist times, but never stimulated by scenes depicting a possible socialist future. The books we read, the movies we watch are overwhelmingly non-political, which means they carry the covert message: "Don't even think about changing the system - better still, don't even think there is a system." Our imagination is not invited to venture no further than the bounds of private property society.
The camouflaging of class rule by the media generates endless hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is not one of the more appealing character traits. But, as poet Matthew Arnold remarked, “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” The prevalence of hypocrisy is a sign that it is no longer possible openly to justify certain evils. Tabloids and ruthless reporters pre-date Murdoch’s era by many decades. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles plays the role of newspaper owner Charles Foster Kane, who he models on the real-life tycoon William Randolph Hearst. In the movie we see the obscene amount of wealth and power concentrated in the hands of Kane and how he uses his network of newspapers to influence public opinion and politics. In the first part of the twentieth century the American writer and journalist Upton Sinclair drew attention to the corrosive influence of advertising that led newspapers to adapt content to suit powerful sponsors and encourage editorial self-censorship. Sinclair’s book The Brass Check (1919) was a scathing attack on a monopolistic press, in which he said that commercial journalism had become “a class institution serving the rich and spurning the poor,” with the task of “hoodwinking of the public and the plunder of labour”.
Take away Murdoch and another shark swims into his place; topple his empire, and another tycoon rises up. It is foolish to call for a reformed journalism but leave in place the profit motive that drives tabloid excesses. The truth is that the main job of the mass media is not to report the facts to a concerned, democratic citizenry, but to make profits. The working class generally has little interest in state policy decisions because they feel that they have no real say over it anyway. And they feel that not because they’re stupid but because it’s true.