Justin Schlosberg | 01.07.2010 08:27
Not long after the WMD myth was exposed, the NY Times issued a public apology for coverage being 'not as rigorous as it should have been' (NY Times 26 May 2004). The mainstream UK press, for its part, neither acknowledged nor apologised for its similar lack of 'rigour' in the run up to the financial crisis. But faced with accusations of a free market journalistic bias, even conservative broadsheets began to question the 'Reagan-Thatcher revolution' and a longstanding vision of capitalism based on a 'pared back government' (The Times, 14 October 2008).
What a difference a year makes. The new right of centre UK government has wasted no time in exploiting Greece's debt crisis and the change of administration to usher in an 'emergency' budget that will 'pare back' the state in ways that Thatcher might only have dreamed of. By and large the mainstream media have once again been the all-too-willing mouthpiece of the powers that be, duly issuing shock and awe warnings of a fiscal disaster and hammering home the message that Britain's current deficit is the worst since World War 2.
Of course it is. What else could it be in the face of the longest and deepest recession since that era. What the papers have failed to point out is that the British economy has about as much in common with the Greek economy as Saddam had with Bin Laden. For one thing, whilst our national deficit might be the highest of OECD countries, our national debt remains below average and lower than that of the US, Italy, Norway and Japan. What is also so rarely pointed out in the media is that the national debt is the figure that really counts since the deficit merely measures the difference between our current spending and revenue rather than how far we are actually in the red. Whilst few would argue the need to bring down the deficit in due course, two critical questions that remain largely unaddressed are how much deficit can we afford, and how much do we need. In the midst of the debt crisis frenzy since the new government was established, the Office of National Statistics actually revised down the deficit estimated by the outgoing Labour government ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/10136055.stm). Needless to say, it did not make the headlines.
Unlike Greece, the UK economy is also underpinned by massive private sector wealth not just in finance but also chemicals, oil and arms. And what about the huge stakes we bought into some of the largest banks in the world in order to 'save' them and ensure that they get back to making the astronomical profits they are used to? Is it completely outrageous to suggest that the British public might make a claim to a share of those profits that reflects the share of our ownership? And if the public finances really are in the worst state since WW2, why aren't we raising the top tax rate to 60p, something that even Thatcher preserved during the first two years of her administration? These are the questions that can't be asked.
We are told that the budget was 'fair' but the only substantial tax rise was an increase in VAT, a regressive tax that by any measure hits the poor the hardest. We are told that front line services will be protected but hospitals and schools will be closed. We are told it is all about spending priorities but we are spending billions on a useless nuclear weapon that not even the military wants whilst axing 600,000 jobs from social workers to teachers. How many more contortions, distortions and extortions will it take before the mainstream media realises it is once again towing the line and failing to question the most basic premises of the so-called 'debt crisis'. Lessons it seems, are hard to learn when it comes to the News, and perhaps we will need yet another disaster of unparalelled proportions before editors begin scratching their heads once again. With the recovery balancing on a tight rope and industrial unrest mounting that seems far from a far off prospect.