‘Sort of Marxists’ – the Glasgow University Media Group

SpinWatch editor David Miller learned his trade at the Glasgow University Media Group under its head Greg Philo, from around 1984. The GUMG looked at media bias against trade union and radicals by analysing and recording unstated assumptions in the news in the early days of media studies. The Group was attacked by defensive television executives who accused Philo and his allies of being closet Marxists and Communist sympathisers.

In those days of class conflict, being labelled ‘Marxist’ was a career-killer, so the Media Group were all keen to deny the charge. Adrian Quinn put the question to the key members, and got these replies:

Peter Beharrell: ‘It’s not really accurate to say that I was a Marxist, though I certainly was very much influenced by what passed for Marxism in sociology in the 1970s….’
Howard Davis: ‘No. Though I wouldn’t deny that we were involved in certain Marxist ways of thinking. …’
John Eldridge: ‘No. If anything, I am a neo-Weberian’.
Greg Philo: ‘No’.
Paul Walton: ‘The GUMG was never a Marxist group, and in fact of all the researchers only myself and Peter Beharrell had ever been Marxists. I had been Marxist of the Year in 1973, but by Bad News I had broken with Marxism and was exploring American sociology and other theories. At that time my position was left Labour. It would be fair to say most of us were socialists’.
‘Contrary to claims, conventions and culture: An apologia for the Glasgow University Media Group’, Adrian Quinn International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics Volume 3 Number 1.

What these cautious words meant was that these one-time radicals had all got jobs in academia, and were a bit less radical in their outlook. Instead of laying claim to Marx’s mantle, they were happier passing off their ideology-critique as left-wing sociology.

In their book Market Killing, published shortly after the ‘anti-capitalist’ riots in Seattle, Greg Philo and David Miller, struck a much more openly Marxoid tone, as here, in the introduction:

relations of power and exploitation at the heart of the productive system were masked in a society which saw only “free” relations of exchange between individuals in the market … the power of capital and the inequality of the relations of production were lost in this ideological sleight of hand

That was closer to what they really thought, but for most of their academic careers the Glasgow University Media Group have adopted the method of masking their actual positions behind an appeal to objectivity and empirical research. ‘In its present form the GUMG is like an invisible college’, writes Adrian Quinn: ‘The group is now made up of a network of people, representing various academic disciplines’.

A certain amount of caution is understandable when faced with the McCarthy-style accusations the GUMG faced in the 1980s, but over time this clandestine way of working has distorted the Group’s output and ethics.

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