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Saturday, September 01, 2012

The case for a socialist media

Stall: During the last Aotearoa is Not for Sale march we sold over $100 worth of socialist pamphlets.
The battle against capitalism is intellectual as well as activist.
I doubt many people will disagree when I say the NZ Herald, the television news and the corporate radio stations are not up to the task of providing us working people with enough news, analysis and information to change the world.

If you read or watch corporate media you’ll see the love life of Kim Kardashian and family given more coverage than recent massacres of Syrian civilians in Aleppo or Damascus. You’ll see the lies of big business and the National Party being regurgitated unchallenged. Remember the story about wharfies earning $92,000 a year? You’ll see space given to racists and bigots like Paul Holmes and until we organised to stop him Paul Henry, to slur Maori, women, immigrants and queer people. You’ll hear from embedded journalists about the wonderful aid work NZ soldiers are doing in Afghanistan while the country falls apart under the strain of occupation. We shouldn’t complain about media bias although it exists – but about media manipulation – of public opinion and thus of public action.

The left, unions and political movements are often targets of this manipulation. Remember the NZHerald’s campaign against Hone Harawira in the 2011 by-election? Listen to the carefully crafted words in this editorial by the Herald during the election, “To the extent that his Mana Party has any policies, they have been borrowed from the far left. Maori should beware - the far left is a zone of political philosophy that wants to submerge cultural distinctions in the interests of class solidarity. An indigenous minority has much greater aspirations available.” Hardly neutral, the tone is clear. Maori should stay away from Mana and stay away from the left. And this of course was one among no less than four Herald editorials which slurred Hone during the by-election.

Or take the Dominion Post editorial during the Hobbit dispute,
“ Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. The full stupidity of the Actors' Equity members who arranged an international boycott of The Hobbit is now apparent... it was lunacy for them to target The Hobbit to press their claims. In case they have not noticed, this is not the only country with hills and atmospheric forests. It is also not the only place in which actors are available for employment.”
Stupidity and lunacy being of course the key words. Or remember the TV1 evening news story which aired the day after 43 were arrested on Symonds Street. In it the reporter said, “Some say they’re going too far.” Before interviewing three students who all gave negative reactions to the protest. “Pretty extreme to be honest for just a little bit of money” said one. Another said, “I know a lot of people who aren’t really keen on participating in it.” A further told the protesters to go and door knock in ‘lower socio-economic areas’ to get them to vote. The clip then proceeded to ask ‘They’re are questions being raised about just who is behind the group.’ Followed by images of SA activists and then Chris Glen from Occupy. More students with Remuera accents then appeared on camera to say of the protest of clearly hundreds of students, ‘I think there were only four students in it. I Swear’ The corporate media is no friend of the left, no ally to unions and no help to political movements.

Thankfully there are alternatives. In the far north there are iwi and hapu radio stations that gives Hone access to thousands of Te tai tokerau residents. Unions too have their own media, newspapers, journals, newsletters and websites that reach hundreds of thousands of homes. Political movements like blockade the budget use facebook, twitter, Craccum and youtube. One student made video of the arrests on Symonds street has been viewed over 9000 times. Another nearly 4000.

Using and creating our own media is critically important. For Socialist Aotearoa its critically important as well. We use facebook and youtube, print and distribute the Anti-capitalist newsletter, sell pamphlets full of our ideas and run the SA blog. In June we were the 31st most read blog. We have 1700 facebook likes and our posts are seen by 9000 people each week. Our audience is growing. The quality and quantity of our blog coverage is growing. Slowly but surely.

Our coverage of left-wing events and politics in Auckland – video, commentary and analysis is the best. We’ve been able to break important stories like video of police brutality in Glen Innes or photos from the inside of occupied universities.

Our analysis is agenda setting on the left. Whether it is of what next for the ANFS movement or what union tactics are appropriate or of how to break police kettles with accompanying video. We were the only media that called on the CTU to rally against the 90 day bill. When Hone spoke out against the Maori Party agreement with the Nats we called for a new left movement to be built around him. We were the first to call on our blog for the left and unions to rally around and support locked out Marton meatworkers in November 2011, before the CTU stepped in and when the MWU bureaucracy was trying to push the workers back to work. When the Rena grounded off Tauranga we were the first to pin the blame on the maritime free market and offer an explanation of Port of Convenience shipping. We were the first to call for Mana and Occupy to support the Glen Innes fight against evictions and published that in our anti-capitalist. We distributed thousands of leaflets calling for a blockade of the Ports of Auckland during the big public march. Two days later the ports were blockaded.

When our media is working at its best, it helps us spread the struggle against capitalism, educates our comrades on issues of national and international importance and inspires new people to join Socialist Aotearoa. It is our agitator, our educator and our organiser. Our writing contains the memories of our struggles and explains our ideas to thousands of people who want a socialist alternative to capitalism.

But more can and should be done. In every city and town, in every workplace and campus around this country there are people with similar ideas to ours. People who know capitalism is not working and agree with most of what we say. Fight asset sales, fight for workers’ rights and protect the environment. The problem is finding these people, showing each one of them that there are a thousand other people who agree with them and pull them together into a critical mass who feel confident enough to stand and fight. Writing, distributing and selling socialist literature is key to that. It’s a way to locate people who agree or who half agree with what we are saying. Not just online but in the real world. On campuses during Orientation week. At workplaces during strikes and pickets. On protest marches and at political events.

Most workers want change. They want more equality, better wages, cleaner environment and jobs for all. But most expect change to come from the Labour or Green parties, or for the million people who didn’t vote at the last election – they expect change not to come at all. We might meet people who are angry but haven’t thought through the complexities of trying to change the world. Our media, our literature gives us that tool to argue and to educate with. From this layer our organisation will grow and come out stronger. Stronger in the battles over asset sales, fee increases in the university and wage stagnation in the workplaces.

Not every revolutionary will be a Noam Chomsky or John Pilger. Every revolutionary should however write at least once a week for the blog. It could be something small, a movie, music or book review from a revolutionary perspective. It could be a three line interview with a striking worker. It could be a report from a protest or event you attended. Practice makes perfect. The more you do, the quicker you will get.

Every time we share our analysis, our experience we get better at writing, at making our arguments, at understanding our own ideas. Writing is a discipline, it forces us to struggle with ideas, weigh up opinions and decide on emphasis - what we should do as revolutionaries, how we should fight. Writing is absolutely key to our struggle.

The success of Socialist Aotearoa and the radical left in Aotearoa is tied up with the growth of a media that supports the radical left, unions and the movements we fight in. It won’t be the current corporate media. It will have to be built by us, written by us and distributed by us. We need more people to write good socialist analysis of events here in Auckland, report on the daily lives of workers and to write articles that inspire collective action –strikes, protests and direct action. The more we write, the more readers we have, the larger the audience for our politics and potential to engage these people with our activism.

A socialist media can be built. It must be built. To explain the world. And to change the world. Either we continue to grow our media. Or it’s back to the drivel, back to Paul Holmes, back to Kim Kardashian.

-Omar, SA

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