The mainstream media is an ‘incredibly well-organised cartel’

BBC Television Centre

In a recent interview with media expert Justin Schlosberg, Phoenix Media Co-op asked how the mainstream media has managed to maintain some levels of public trust despite its ongoing abuse of that trust. He insisted:

the power of the brand in news is phenomenal. It’s unlike… any other industry or sector. The BBC is the BBC. Right? It’s known all over the world. … It’s so seeped into the public consciousness that it will always be taken seriously, even if it’s not believed, even if it’s attacked, even if it’s criticised. It will always be taken seriously as… a ‘proper news organisation’, as a ‘real news organisation’. And the same is true to a lesser extent but [in a similar way] with… the Guardian, the Times, and whoever else. So when it comes to brand power, you can’t compete.

And the other problem you’ve got right now, of course, is that the [social media] platforms have totally cottoned onto this, which is why they are actively promoting and reinforcing that brand power through their algorithms. They’ve been doing this for a number of years. …

It just shows how upside down the whole… dominant discourse is about the relationship between tech monopolies and the mainstream media, and indeed about the relationship between… mainstream media and public trust. Actually, … what’s been happening in recent years is the exact opposite of that whole narrative that ‘oh god, we’ve got to help save the BBC and the newspapers because otherwise… the whole news agenda will be taken over by Breitbart and Kremlin-controlled bots…’. Exactly the opposite is happening. They’ve totally consolidated their grip. …

“It’s an incredibly well-organised cartel”

Schlosberg continued by pointing out:

Newspapers like the Sun are reaching an audience today that they could never have dreamed of… in the 1990s. … [Rupert] Murdoch, through the Sun, has such a bigger audience than he’s ever had… And he doesn’t even care about profit. That’s why he’s held onto the Times for… 30 years without ever making a profit. He’s not even interested in profits… but the Sun does make a profit. So… it’s just a no-brainer….

It’s an incredibly well-organised cartel. … That’s basically what the mainstream media is. It’s a cartel. They protect each other’s interests. … If you look at… the tiny number of new entrants… (it’s basically Huffington Post and BuzzFeed) that have… entered the mainstream media sector over the last 20 years – how they have evolved from starting out as quite disruptive and even potentially radical in their news agenda to becoming… virtually no different to any of the established mainstream liberal press. And that’s because of that cartel power. … It comes back to this issue of… ‘Well, if we want to be taken seriously as part of the… mainstream media, we can’t be banging on about… this line about [the political weaponisation in recent years of] antisemitism [allegations], because people will just think we’re… cranks and left-wing crackpots.

More about the interviewee

Schlosberg is a senior lecturer and assistant dean at Birkbeck College, University of London. He previously chaired the Media Reform Coalition and co-founded the Truth Defence anti-misinformation collective. He has also written and contributed to numerous books on the media, including 2019’s Bad News for Labour. Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief.

We’ll be releasing further clips from his interview with Phoenix Media Co-op in the coming weeks.

Main article image via strollerdos/CC BY 2.0