Is the Marxist approach to media ownership and media audiences relevant in contemporary society?

Media ownership in today’s contemporary society is often seen in major global conglomerates as many different media corporations branch out into the global marketplace. With this new global outreach it has created a much wider global audience ensuring that mostly every corporation can continue to expand globally. Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed that these very powerhouse corporations corrupted our economic system threatening our planet via excessive consumption of distracting irrelevant advertising, with an almost force fed type of media that we are made to intake. A contemporary society refers to the existence of a modern society in current time and the social impacts it relates to, the features of such, changing from generation to generation.

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere” (Marx,Engels1985:83). Even in today’s society businesses are having to expand or collapse under the ever growing presence of major powerhouses around them. This is usually from the corporations who own a number of smaller outlets, which by having a heavy weight backer behind them enables them to successfully stay afloat in the current contemporary society which features great technological dependance and innovations. With a longer life span in the general population, higher levels of literacy and such greater levels of gender equality, these business are now forever having to change the way they conduct their business. For many of these small ownerships if they cannot keep up with the ever changing technological world another big backer will simply come along, offering the same service but at a much more advanced stage. Only a few have the ability to survive such an advance but this is usually put down to the fact that they have a key loyal fan base, which are ready to stand against these other corporations to protect them from being replaced through a mean of patient modification. Towards the future these features of society are going to evoke, and ether develop further or recede into an oblivion as other contemporary issues take over, “The tendency to create the world market is directly given in the concept of capital itself”(Marx,1939:401).

“Marx believed that capitalism seduces consumers by giving them desires which enslave them. The goods that a worker produces eventually enslave them because they are trapped in a cycle of working for money to buy goods.” (Hands,2015:126) I believe that this theory is also one that affects the media audience, as they consume their select media they become engrossed by, normally to the point where they consult other forms of media to further gratify their needs. In most cases the media we consume isn’t just in one format, it has been produced and reproduced in many different forms that is created for us to spend money on in such a way that we don’t question it, just consume. The mass media is a means of production of which is under the ownership of the ruling class. Its believed the mass media functioned to produce a sense of false consciousness with the working-classes. Creating a stance whereby media products are views of expressions from the ruling class values, ignoring with it any values which may seem diverse enough to represent the wider lower class media audiences.

Traditional Marxists view the ownership and control of the media from an economic standpoint, recognising that there is power above that controls the mentality of the masses in order to favour them ideologically, in order to legitimise and reproduce inequality or economically in order to create a false need to gain themselves profit.The expropriation of wealth and its equal redistribution would create an establishment of common ownership, of which was one type of socialism Marx was exploring into, but first had to overcome the ideology of the state run businesses. “Modern private property corresponds the modern state, which, purchased gradually by the owners of property by means of taxation, has fallen entirely into their hands through the national debt” (Arthur,1999:79). As such with the government owned BBC with its TV Licence fee enabling it to have a direct control of the mass audience directly funding the content that they decide can go on the air, the powerhouse of freeview television having much influence on political parties and events. The BBC bosses are very much in the top 1% of earners, taking that income directly from the fee payers that make up a larger part of the lower class citizens. Unlike other media outlets the BBC does not have the luxury of having TV Commercial packages to sell, however this allows them to have more control over the content they wish to broadcast out on air. Other outlets can advertise these slots for a wealthy income but do have to insure they pay the right price for what they believe their audience will want to see. Although this does not restricted their options it does allow the audience to have more of a say regarding what they can view on that particular channel.

Marx believed that art, like society, developed as a series of dialectical contradictions and that in an ideal communist society, everyone would have access to the cultural heritage of society and artistic activities will stop being the preserve of a privileged minority. Although now this cultural heritage is available to a much wider audience there is still, in my opinion, a huge divide in the ability to access a wide range of artistic activities, a wide number of people are unable to express their opinions freely because of their particular race or sexuality, while a huge array of cultural centres are inaccessible to the working class due to the lack of funds being put back into struggling communities, these communities would benefit hugely if the media powerhouses came together to promote a better wellbeing at the very bottom level of societies classes. In Marx’s ideal communist society he also believed that there would be equal access for all to work and educate, even though in this contemporary society there is a state run system whereby everyone has access to educate, beyond this many families struggle to fulfil what they are capable of achieving because they simply cannot afford to be put in the position of having to repay the debt of being educated. They hope to move straight into a well established job but because this divide exists they are often overlooked, meaning they tend to spend most of their working careers stuck in the ‘proletariat’ class. This leaves anyone wanting to break into media ownership that has not been fully educated struggling to shape the mould of a ‘typical’ media owner. Anyone can own a piece of media but if you want your form of media to be taken seriously you need to have the resources and money behind you in order to establish yourself among the elite.

On the other hand the marxist approach to media audiences in contemporary society is not necessarily relevant due to how accessible the media currently is. With numerous platforms now available to such a wide scope of the population almost anyone can access some kind of media output however I do believe that in the current society there are ways that the media is slowly again becoming only available to an ever shrinking minority. As corporations fight to stay afloat in the current financial climate there are ever increasing subscription/access fees that the general public now has to pay in order to tap into sources of media. While there will always be a constant stream of free media readily available, the legitimacy of this media is increasingly becoming non-existent due to the media publishing what the audience wants to hear, not necessarily the true facts. When it comes to media ownership Marxism is still very much relevant, I believe there is still to this day a concentration in the ownership of mass media that is in the hands of a few corporations, enabling the owners to control their media output, sending out ideologies which have a benefit to the rolling class interests. Each station, newspaper or various form of media outlet can easily have there interests visibly displayed in near enough all of there publications, although the audience choose to consume this media they are very much pressured into being seen among the intellectual class as most people want to come across much wiser and smarter than they may appear to be. This might only be from a matter of personal opinion but when you step away from the media these ownerships are feeding to us, it is widely obvious that we allow ourselves to be consumed within the world that we allow to be presented in front of us, if we have a liking towards a particular publisher or celebrity we are often seen to follow suit with what they are saying, for all we know there are celebrities and high powered people in this world that are being paid by the media’s elite to express certain opinions so that us the mass audience fall at the feet of them, buying our way into their media world so we can further fund the means of this mechanical like structure that is slowly taking over our society.

There is the ability to present the Marxist approach into the contemporary society especially when it comes to media audiences, as they do still have the power to revolt, making all forms of media available to the large number of different minorities but when it comes to media ownership, it has been breached too far. No size of a revolt will be able to bring upon a social change, to change the way the media is owned economically. That being said some powerhouses will slowly crumble among the forms of public outcry but they will be simply replaced by a modified source which will be much wiser, more advanced with the extra added ability to fend for itself in any global market. It’s a pattern that often happens in our society, a group of small media outlets will be doing great trade until the hierarchy of a larger outlet sniffs the treasure and comes along to sweep everyone aside. The Marxist approach could find relevance within today’s contemporary society when it comes to the media’s audience but when it comes to the media ownerships it is no longer relevant.


CJ Arthur, 1999, The German Ideology edited and introduced by CJ Arthur, London, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.

Marx, Engels, 1985, The Communist Manifesto with introduction by A J.P. Taylor, London, Penguin Books.

Marx, 1939, Economic Manuscripts: Grundrisse, Germany, Penguin Books.

Hands G, 2015, Marx a complete introduction, Great Britain, Hodder and Stoughton.


The Prime minister and the press Barons, 10th March 2008, watch? v=HTDAoWqj378

Masters of Money: Karl Marx, BBC 2012, sQSoCjOSU


This Essay was from my Foundation year studying Media & Communications at Goldsmiths University, London.

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