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Richard Barbrook
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The Reregulation of the Media
part 16

The pessimism of Baudrillard and other post-modernists reflected the growing crisis of representation within the industrialised countries. Although they had perfected their media skills, politicians encountered increasing difficulties in arousing the interests of voters. In the early-1980s, right-wing politicians had claimed that deregulation and privatisation were needed to hasten the adoption of new information technologies. as the old manufacturing industries declined, redundant workers were supposed to find new jobs in the post-industrial sectors, such as computers and the media. Yet the electronic media and other information sectors only created a limited number of new jobs. Instead a two-tier society emerged within many advanced capitalist countries. Following Japanese and Third World examples, the labourforce was slowly polarised into a core of full-time employees and a periphery of part-time or unemployed workers. Unable to meet the needs of all the electorate, politicians concentrated on winning the votes of core workers through tax cuts and abundant credit. Even when left-wing governments were elected, the domination of the world financial markets prevented any attempts to isolate a single national economy from the crisis of Fordism. Deprived of any chance to improve society, politicians and bureaucrats concentrated on enjoying the perks of power. Not surprisingly, many voters reacted with a combination of apathy and anger. With seemingly no possibility of radical change, they now believed that elections could no longer accomplish anything.

Faced by a disillusioned electorate, western European Socialist parties advocated the revival of state controls over the economy in a new form. In their view, government intervention could mediate between the conflicting interests of corporations, small firms and employees. Although integrated within the world market, they believed that the state could use regulations to improve competitivity and accelerate technological innovation. As representatives of the 'general will', the elected government had to override the particular interests of capital in the interests of all citizens. Inspired by this analysis, Socialist parties also reasserted the need for state regulation over the electronic media. In their view, the failure of media deregulation proved that the political right of freedom of communications couldn't be solely guaranteed by the economic right of private property. Instead they argued that the state had to intervene within radio and television broadcasting in the interests of all citizens. Although the economic impact of the electronic media was marginal, their cultural and political impact was immense. Because of the dramatic economies of scale in information production, thousands of media workers could provide an increasingly wide range of radio and television channels to millions of listeners and viewers. By the late-1980s, many people within the advanced capitalist countries were spending more time watching television than working.

Despite supporting state controls, the Socialists didn't advocate a return to the system of pillarisation within a single public service monopoly. Instead the Socialists wanted a new form of regulation which would enforce political pluralism across a mixed economy of nationalised and private electronic media providers. Using regulatory bodies, governments would ensure that internal pluralism was respected within the news and current affairs programmes of the major radio and television channels. By issuing licences to an ever larger number of stations, the state could also create external pluralism between competing providers of the electronic media. According to its supporters, this regulation model of media freedom combined the best elements of the public service and neo-liberal models by providing guaranteed access to the airwaves for the competing political parties and a choice of services for the listeners and viewers. Using limited government subsidies, the surviving examples of the self- management model could even be incorporated within this new media consensus. For some, the creation of internal and external pluralism within radio and television broadcasting led to a limited version of the electronic agora. Under the supervision of the state, a combination of pluralism within the electronic media and regular sampling by opinion polls had established a permanent dialogue between citizens and their representatives. But, in reality, this form of two-way communications was very indirect. Crucially, without full employment, the implementation of the regulation model couldn't end the growing crisis of representation within the advanced industrialised countries.

 
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