Editorial: Happy Birthday, Mr Maxwell
It was just a year ago that Robert Maxwell took over the Mirror Group of newspapers, with the declared intention “. . . to restore the Daily Mirror to its rightful place as Britain’s biggest-selling paper” and in the process consigned executives like Clive Thornton to what he considered their rightful place, in exile from the Mirror.
Since then, there have been changes. The price of the Mirror has come down and gone back up, bingo has waxed and waned, uncertain policy has meant that readers who get their buzz from photographed female breasts have not been sure, from one day to the next, whether they were to be gratified or not. Some long-running strip cartoons have gone and Jane is back — a 1980s, jet-travelling, spaceage, more explicit version of her innocent predecessor of the 1930s and 1940s.
So far Maxwell has not achieved his declared aim. The Mirror circulation in May was 3,230,000. over a quarter of a million down on last May. Profits, which were £5.7 million for the Group last year, were at one time expected to amount to £1 million but are now likely to be £800,000. The other papers in the Group are faring no better; the Sunday Mirror’s sales were 500,000 down compared to May 1984 and the Sunday People’s down 333,000.
The Mirror Group is struggling, it need hardly be said, partly because of the savagely competitive nature of the media world, particularly that of the newspapers. Maxwell’s great rival is News International, owned by Rupert Murdoch especially the Sun on weekdays and the News of the World on Sundays. Murdoch’s papers are not having too easy a time of it either; the Sun’s circulation fell by 134,000 from last May but the News of the World’s appeal through salacious revelations wrapped up in mock moral outrage continues as strongly as ever; its sales in May were 4,826,000 — an increase of 400,000 over May 1984.
Socialists weep no tears for the difficulties of the great newspaper combines; the end of one organ of capitalist opinion merely opens a gap which will be filled by another. We operate on other assumptions; what matters to us is the material these papers disseminate, how it is received, how popular it is — and why. This approach is not confined to the so-called popular press, for the ideas pushed out by people like Maxwell and Murdoch are often no more than a brilliantly economical version of those to be found, in more sonorous terms, in the “quality” press.
All these organs of opinion are produced, from the first outlines in the reporters’ notebooks to the finished product streaming off the presses, on the basic assumption that the capitalist social system is fundamentally in line with human interests. Of course, there are a few problems like wars, slums, famine, social alienation, diseases, but these are matters for regret. With the correct intentions on the part of our rulers they can all be put to rights. Meanwhile, a little hard-nosed exposure, and reporting, of the problems can be useful in boosting circulation.
So the press are at one in joining the debate over which way to reform capitalism and who is best to do it. None of them dissent from the proposition that the outcome of the debate is significant to human beings. At election times, for example, they plug away in support of one capitalist party or another, promoting the leaders of their chosen side as the wisest, most learned, most sincere (as well as having the happiest family life, the bonniest children, the shaggiest dogs . . .) None of them ever states the opposite case — that all of these parties have obviously failed to cure modern society of its ailments, none of their leaders has had the slightest effect on capitalism’s inhuman course and that, therefore, it is logical and constructive to look elsewhere if we are concerned about human welfare.
There is, to be sure, one discernible difference between the “popular” and the “quality” press and that is the unflagging optimism of the former. However desperate the problem, however calamitous the disaster a newspaper like the Mirror reports, it will do so with an implied confidence that the essential goodness of Mr and Mrs Average Briton will overcome it all. In fact, so false is this attitude that it is the darkest pessimism; it offers no hope for the human future.
For real hope, for valid optimism, we have to turn to the socialist movement. Socialists have, at present, no great media resources and our publications consist of the Socialist Standard, the organs which our companion parties abroad are able to publish. our pamphlets and a succession of supporting leaflets on day-to-day issues. Besides the Mirror, the Sun and the rest these are puny but the case they state is the most powerful thing, for its consistency and its validity.
Working class ideas may be temporarily fashioned by, but will often act against all the hysterical denunciations of the press, the TV and the rest. At the moment there is overwhelming support for capitalism, with dissent occasionally being directed towards policies for some tinkering reforms of the system. It is not enough to hope that the system does not have to be abolished but can be reformed out of character. The remorseless. everyday experience of capitalism works to change these ideas, to enlighten the working class as to their true interests and to the need for a social revolution to bring capitalism to an end.
This is no mechanical process, which socialists can sit back and watch. The human race makes its own history and socialists strive to encourage, to stimulate and to accelerate the trend towards the understanding which will bring about the revolution. In this, a kind of battle of ideas, communication is vital. In numbers alone, the capitalist class at present have the advantage. But the ideas of socialism are too powerful to be denied.
Maxwell should enjoy his birthday. While he can.