Ralph Miliband on the popular press

By Tom

01 October 2013

[T]he press may well claim to be independent and to fulfil an important watchdog function.  What the claim overlooks, however, is the very large fact that it is the Left at which the watchdogs generally bark with most ferocity, and that what they are above all protecting is the status quo.

Many ‘popular’ newspapers with a mass circulation are extremely concerned to convey the opposite impression and to suggest a radical impatience with every kind of ‘establishment’, however exalted, and a restless urge for change, reform, progress.  In actual fact, most of this angry radicalism represents little more than an affection of style; behind the iconoclastic irreverence and the demagogic populism there is singular vacuity both in diagnosis and prescription.  The noise is considerable but the battle is bogus.


Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society: The Analysis of the Western System of Power, London: Quartet, 1973, pp.199-200.

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2 Comments on "Ralph Miliband on the popular press"

By Red Square, on 02 October 2013 - 09:39 |

“From the point of view of the dominant classes, nothing could be so advantageous as the assertion which forms one of the basic themes of nationalism, namely that all citizens, whoever they may be, owe a supreme allegiance to the ‘national interest’ which requires that men should be ready to subdue all other interests, particularly class interests, for the sake of a larger, more comprehensive concern which unites in a supreme allegiance rich and poor, the comfortable and the deprived, the givers of orders and their recipients.

“...It is particularly in the competition with their opponents on the Left that conservative parties have exploited national sentiment, insisted on their own patriotic dedication to the nation, and regularly, often vociferously, opposed this national dedication to the allegedly less patriotic or positively unpatriotic and even anti-national concerns of left-wing parties.”

Miliband, Ralph The State in Capitalist Society, p. 186-187.

By Ian Sinclair, on 02 October 2013 - 11:36 |

I prefer this from Ralph Miliband’s ‘Capitalist Democracy in Britain’ which suggests he was a very early proponent of the Propaganda Model and Media Lens.

“Most newspapers” are “agencies of legitimation and organs of conservative propaganda.
  The first and most important of these constraints is that newspapers are part of capitalist enterprise – not only business but big business… a second important constraint is that newspapers are part of the world of business in a different sense as well, namely in the sense that they depend on the custom of advertisers.
  Proprietors may or may not choose to exercise direct influence on their newspapers; and the direct influence of advertisers may not in any case be substantial. But the fact that newspapers are an intrinsic part of the world of business fosters a strong climate of orthodoxy for the people who work in them. So does the concern of editors and senior journalists to maintain good relations with government and ministers, civil servants, and other important people in the political and administrative establishment.
  These constraints, however, do no great violence to the people actually in charge of newspapers and occupying influential positions in the journalistic hierarchy, simply because most of them, notwithstanding the unbuttoned and ‘populist’ style which much of the newspaper world affects, share the assumptions and outlook of the world of business and government. The overwhelming chances are that they would not come to occupy the positions they hold if they did not… Anyone looking at the daily press in Britain must be struck by the diversity of format, style, and contents of newspapers. But in terms of important political assumptions and positions, the impression of diversity is superficial: the reality of it is an underlying uniformity of anti-socialist commitment, hardly relieved by the occasional (or even the regular) contribution of someone of a left-wing disposition – the tribute which underlying conservatism pays to superficial diversity.”

(Ralph Miliband, Capitalist Democracy In Britain, Oxford University Press, 1982, republished 1988, p. 84-6).

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