John Molyneux's pocket-sized book provides an accessible and enjoyable analysis of the news and entertainment media. Molyneux shows how a variety of British media formats and genres reflect and reinforce ruling class ideologies, concentrating mainly on television programmes with large audiences. Particularly fine is Molyneux's succinct but devastating critique of the British soap opera EastEnders (now there's a phrase I never thought I'd write!), which points to the drama's virtual absence of working class characters (most of the main characters are small business owners), its under-representation of racial minority groups, and the striking and wholly unrealistic absence of political or class consciousness among the good folk of Albert Square.
Happily, Molyneux - a Trotskyist and a member of the Socialist Workers Party - eschews many of the voguish assumptions of liberal media criticism. Mainstream media organisations should be criticised, Molyneux argues, not for being biased towards the right (which, as Molyneux correctly argues, they are not), but for their promotion of capitalist ideology. This point may seem familiar, or even obvious, but it is an important one to make when so many on the left today restrict their criticisms to 'neoliberal' capitalism (as though capitalism would be acceptable and/or workable with just a little more direction from a benevolent, 'democratic' state).
I would, nevertheless, take issue with one or two of Molyneux's arguments. My principal criticism relates to Molyneux's reading of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the exposure of which Molyneux takes as evidence that powerful media institutions can be challenged and brought low. This point is fine as far as it goes; but it ignores the political context of the scandal, which was in essence an epiphenomenal manifestation of the ongoing struggle between pro-US and pro-independence factions of the British state (the International Communist Current's article on the scandal remains, to my knowledge, the only article that shows any real understanding of this political context). In view of this, the takedown of Murdoch is best seen not as an assertion of people power, but as a sign of the British state's increasing intolerance of News International's propaganda. Appalling as the activities of the News of the World phone hackers were - and welcome as their exposure was - it is not clear to me why the humbling of one powerful set of politico-ideological interests by the even more powerful forces of the British state and the liberal media should be celebrated as a democratic gain.
I suspect that Molyneux's relatively optimistic reading of Hackgate is informed by the typically left-liberal assumption that the US-supporting media, such as those owned by News International, necessarily constitute a greater ideological menace than the liberal media and public service broadcasters such as the BBC. Even during the Blair years, when British foreign policy tended to follow that of the US, this was questionable (of all the news organisations, the BBC, according to a Cardiff University study, provided the least critical news coverage of the invasion of Iraq). Today, as tensions between Britain and the US grow, and as Britain pursues a more independent foreign policy, I think that it is even less plausible. Indeed, as I have suggested in a recent polemic, the BBC is as clearly an organ of state propaganda as any commercial media institution, despite - or more probably because of - its long-standing reputation for independence, neutrality and objectivity.
But this is a minor quibble. Molyneux's short text offers a convincing, concise and inexpensive introduction to the Marxist critique of the media. I strongly recommend it to anybody seeking to understand the ideological functions of the contemporary mainstream media.