Burning cars and police violence in Frankfurt made the headlines yesterday. The international mobilisation of Blockupy has taken place by the European Central Bank since 2012, but this year’s protests were always set to be big because of the opening of ECB’s new HQ. With a humanitarian crisis and mass unemployment still ravaging much of Europe and the progressive Greek government recently coerced into yet another agreement with EU institutions, there could have hardly been a less appropriate moment for celebrations for the Euro elites.
Violence at protests is media-sexy. But the everyday violence of austerity is hardly news.
Austerity has the same logic in Britain as it does on the continent: it is making the poorest in the society pay for a crisis that the financial sector created. You cannot have financialised capitalism without crisis – hence the financial sector uses crisis to normalise rising inequlity as something inevitable.
Although we have an official recovery, only 1 in 7 people say they can feel it . Food banks and homelessness have become the dominant image of austerity Britain, with benefit sanctions and low pay as the most common drivers. More than one in four children is growing up in poverty. Inequality is not only felt in economic terms, either: women are hit harder by austerity by a combination of cuts in public services and a widening gender pay gap, especially with women overrepresented in public sector jobs. Also ethnic minorities bear the brunt disproportionately, as unemployment for BME youth has risen by 50% under Osborne’s austerity project.
At the same time, stock markets are booming like before the financial crash. Globally, the 1% is set to own more than the 99% by next year. The revolving door between the financial sector and supposedly public institutions undermines democracy both in Britain and in the Eurozone. This is why a UK group, Debt Resistance, took their Blockupy protest to the Goldman Sachs building on Fleet Street: The ECB, one of the most important institutions pushing for austerity in Europe, is run by an ex-Goldman Sachs man, like many of the Eurozone governments and the Bank of England. Many of the banks and accountancy firms wielding power as financiers, creditors or self-nominated experts are based in London.
But where are the angry headlines? The Sun, Daily Mail and the likes – sadly, Britain’s most read newspapers – are too busy blaming the poor and already marginalised for the economic downturn.
It is hardly surprising that the public’s perceptions of immigration and benefits are highly distorted: In 2013, a poll showed that the British think £24 of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently. The official estimate is £0.7%. The public also thought 31% of people living in Britain are immigrants and 24% muslims – the real figures are 13% and 5%.
A “them and us” mentality is also created in Britain what comes to Europe. It’s Britain paying too much in subsidies, our jobs taken by Eastern Europeans or regulation threatening the viability of our flagship financial sector – but never a word on how London-based banks profit from the Eurocrisis, or indeed austerity at home. It is not in the 1%’s interests to write that, and nearly 80% of Britain’s press is owned by five billionaire men.
We cannot tackle inequality and economic violence if we do not change the media landscape. A handful of billionaires – Rupert Murdoch, Viscount Rothermere, Richard Desmond and the Barclay Brothers – will always publish stories benefit the powerful and take aim at the powerless.
In this light, it is inspiring that there are actions taking on the concentration of media power. This week is Real Media’s Anti-Daily Mail week, with each day focusing on different issues corporate-owned media is ignoring, such as climate change, inequality and UK arms industry’s interests driving wars. Every day, the campaigners create covers of what the Mail would say if it was not owned by a billionaire: “The greatest wealth gap ever: and it keeps growing”, “Billionaires control our ‘democracy'”.
It is followed by Occupy Rupert Murdoch’s week-long protest at the media mogul’s new HQ by London Bridge, culminating in a trial of Murdoch for his complicity in wars, political blackmail and tax avoidance. To create alternatives to a political and economic system that oppresses us on a daily basis, we need to expose the vested interests of the corporate-owned press. And of course, strengthen the critical voices that are out there: next month, Real Media will launch a website that aggregates the best of alternative journalism.