Posts Tagged ‘All-India Goldies’

Vox Political on John Whittingdale’s Attack on the Beeb’s Independence

May 12, 2016

John Whittingdale, the Tory perv and walking security risk currently in charge of spearheading the government’s campaign to privatise the Beeb, has finally released his White Paper on the subject. Among his proposals are recommendations that the BBC Trust should be dissolved and replace with a unitary board. This would have members directly appointed by the government, though he tries to reassure critics that most of the board would still be appointed by the Beeb itself. He also wants a new mission statement to be launched by the Corporation, expressing its goals “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.” He also wants it to be “required to give greater focus to under-served audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and those in the nations and regions”.

Mike here points out what a mass of contradictions the Paper is, as well as its highly patronising tone to the great British public. Mike says

John Whittingdale must think we’re all too stupid to see the contradiction in terms he has written into his White Paper on the BBC.

He reckons the BBC needs a new mission statement: “”To act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.”

But he also wants to dissolve the BBC Trust, replacing it with a new unitary board including some members appointed by the government – so that’s impartiality out of the window before his new version of the Beeb even gets going.

Some might say the BBC is already biased towards the Tories – we only have to look at the protests against arch-Tory Laura Kuenssberg in her role as political editor at BBC News – but this would instill that bias at an institutional level.

Mike also points out that Whittingdale’s demands for it to give greater service to Blacks and ethnic minorities risk turning the Beeb into a service aimed primarily at catering for minority communities. In Mike’s view, this is better left to the commercial companies.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/12/an-impartial-bbc-not-if-tories-get-to-choose-who-runs-it/ Go and read it for more information.

Mike is absolutely right that even having some of the new unitary board appointed by the government would result in a loss of the Beeb’s independence. This has happened on the continent. Sarkozy in France used the government’s control over funding for the state broadcaster to get genuine well-respected French news anchors sacked for daring to criticise him. Berlusconi in Italy used the government’s control of the state broadcaster to pull a late night satirical programme, Rayot, from Ray, the name of the channel, off the air because it dared to spoof him. The writer, Sabina Guzzanti, who used to play Berlo himself in her sketches, later made a film about the affair, Viva Zapatero!
This takes its title from the name of the Spanish president, who ended his government’s power to appoint the head of the state broadcaster, thus making it independent of government control.

Now Whittingdale is trying to do the opposite, and thus join Sarkozy and Berlusconi in trying to make television and the media generally the mouthpiece for their official propaganda.

As for the Beeb catering more to BAME audiences, the Corporation has tried to do that through radio stations set up specifically to serve different ethnic minorities. One of these was the Asian Network, for which the Beeb has been running trailers a couple of weeks ago. I think there’s also another radio station for Blacks. I seem to recall there also being adverts for this station being run about 12 years ago. It was also specifically part of the remit of Channel 4, when that station was set up as a public service broadcaster. And Channel 4 did broadcast much material aimed at Black and Asian audiences. Apart from the Indian films on ‘All-India Goldies’, they also broadcast a history of the world, which was designed to put European history in its place as the history of just part of our planet, and give equal space to events elsewhere around the globe. There was a history of Africa, presented by Basil Davidson. Davidson’s White, but he’s an Afrocentric historian, who believes that the major cultural developments supposedly pioneered by ancient Greece and Rome were actually taken from Black African civilisations. It’s the same view as Martin Bernal in his immensely influential book, Black Athena. A couple of years later, the BBC also produced a series on African history, presented by a Black Muslim historian, Dr Ali Mazrui.

Between them the Beeb and Channel 4 have also nurtured much Black and Asian talent, like Lenny Henry, the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, which first appeared on radio as The Secret Asians, Felix Dexter, Stephen K. Amos, who now has a weekly show about his own life growing up late night on Radio 4. Saturday tea-time on Channel 4 there was also a comedy programme set in a Black London barber shop, which was on just before the awesome Max Headroom. Many of the performers in these shows managed to make the crossover into more mainstream programming. Mira Syal has appeared in many different programmes over the years, including a soap with the Bog-Eyed Brummie Git, Jasper Carrot. Nina Wadia was in Chambers, a comedy set in a firm of lawyers, with one of the Long Johns. And Sanjeev Bhaskar has also gone to a variety of other shows, not least the Kumars at No. 42, which has spawned various versions across the world. The American version is called The Ortegas, and is about an Hispanic family. And Lenny Henry really needs no introduction.

I’m not saying the Beeb’s record in this is perfect. There is still much controversy about the lack of performers and directors from ethnic minorities in television. For example, a year or so ago a number of celebrities gave their support to a campaign for greater representation for Black and Asians on television. Those joining the campaign included Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig. I am merely trying to point out that the Beeb has made some effort in this direction.

Mike also points out that TV favourites like Strictly Come Dancing and Dr Who also have a very wide appeal, including minorities. Indeed they have. What struck me about the new Dr Who when it was revived by Russell T. Davies was the increased presence of Black and Asian characters. What made the news was Davies determination to include gay characters, like Captain Jack, but Davies was also very obviously keen to make the series more representative of British society. And so Rose Tyler’s boyfriend, Mickey, last seen fighting the Cybermen in a parallel dimension, was Black. As was another of the Doctor’s companions, a lady doctor. And the various future worlds and planets to which the Doctor has travelled have also been very multicultural. Or at least, they are if their inhabitants are humanoid. There are, for example, Black Timelords, while the besieged human mission attacked by the forces of darkness in the episodes ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ included Blacks and Asians.

I got the distinct idea that it’s this type of representation – more Black and Asian faces on mainstream programmes – that anti-racist campaigners are keen to promote, rather than separate broadcasting ghettoes. A few years ago Private Eye ran a few pieces noting that the BBC Asian network was having trouble recruiting talent for precisely this reason. The aspiring British Asian stars and directors of tomorrow wanted to go into mainstream broadcasting, rather than confine themselves simply to their own communities. Of course, Whittingdale would like the Beeb to become mainly a broadcaster for minority interests, as it would leave the field free for the big corporations the Tories represent to move in on the mainstream audiences the Corporation has vacated. The Eye has also satirised that attitude in this fortnight’s addition, in which it has Murdoch’s papers whining about how the BBC is terribly unfair for producing genuinely popular programmes, and thus discriminating against all the rubbish produced by Murdoch’s and the other commercial broadcasters.

Vox Political on the Part-Privatisation of Channel 4

May 10, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece today about the government’s proposed partial privatisation of Channel 4 under John Whittingdale. The Torygraph has reported that the government has climbed down from privatising it fully, and instead are just looking for a ‘strategic partner’, like BT. They would also like the network to sell its offices in Westminster and move to somewhere like Birmingham. Its account should also be checked by the NAO, responsible for examining government expenditure, and they would like to change its non-profit status and see it pay a dividend to the Treasury. Mike points out that the network chiefs have taken this as stepping stone towards Channel 4’s full privatisation, and are deciding to reject it. Meanwhile, the Tories don’t want to privatise it fully, because they’ll get the same backlash from their proposals to sell off the Beeb. See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/only-part-privatisation-for-channel-4-as-tories-fear-another-bbc-style-backlash/

This is another barbarous government attack on public broadcasting in the UK. Channel 4 was set up in the 1980s to be a kind of alternative to the alternative BBC 2, and to cater for tastes and audiences that weren’t being met by the established channels. According to Quentin Letts in one of his books, Denis Thatcher thought this mean putting yachting on the sports’ coverage instead of footie, which shows the limited idea of ‘alternative’ held by Thatcher and her consort. Jeremy Isaacs, its controller, was proud of his outsider status as a Jew in the network, a status he shared with Melvin Bragg, a Northerner. He said that he wanted to put on the new, fledgling channel programmes on miner’s oral history, and performances of the great classics of Britain’s minority cultures, like the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He also believed that people had ‘latent needs’ – there were things they wanted to see, which they didn’t yet know they did. He was widely ridiculed for his views. Private Eye gave a sneering review of the book, in which he laid out his plans and opinions, stating that all this guff about people’s ‘latent needs’ showed that he thought he knew more than they did about what people actually wanted. As for being an outsider, the Eye observed rather tartly that they were all outsiders like that now in broadcasting, swimming around endlessly repeating the same views to each other.

In fact, Isaacs was largely right. Quite often people discover that they actually enjoy different subjects and pursuits that they’re not used to, simply because they’ve never encountered them. The Daily Heil columnist, Quentin Letts, comments about the way the network has been dumbed down in one of his books, pointing out how good the networks cultural broadcasting was when it was first set up. The network was particularly good at covering the opera. I can remember they broadcast one such classical music event, which was broadcast throughout Europe, rather like the Eurovision song contest but with dinner suits, ball gowns, lutes and violins rather than pop spangle, Gothic chic, drums and electric guitars. The audiences for its opera broadcasts were below a million, but actually very good, and compared well with the other broadcasters.

As for its programmes aimed at the different ethnic minorities, I knew White lads, who used to watch the films on ‘All-India Goldies’ and the above TV adaptation of the Mahabharata. This last was also given approval by Clive James, one of the great TV critics. James noted it was slow-moving, but still considered it quality television.

The network has, like much of the rest of British broadcasting, been dumbed-down considerably since then. American imports have increased, and much of the content now looks very similar to what’s on the other terrestrial channels. The networks’ ratings have risen, but at the expense of its distinctive character and the obligation to broadcast material of cultural value, which may not be popular. Like opera, foreign language films and epics, art cinema and theatre.

Even with these changes, there’s still very much good television being produced by the network. From the beginning, Channel 4 aimed to have very good news coverage, and this has largely been fulfilled. There have been a number of times when I’ve felt that it’s actually been better than the Beeb’s. In the 1990s the Channel was the first, I believe, to screen a gay soap, Queer as Folk, created by Russell T. Davis, who went on to revive Dr Who. This has carried on with the series Banana, Cucumber, and Tofu. It also helped to bring archaeology to something like a mass audience with Time Team, now defunct. And if you look at what remains of the British film industry, you’ll find that quite often what little of it there is, is the product of either the Beeb or Channel 4 films.

And from the beginning the Right hated it with a passion. Well, it was bound to, if Denis Thatcher’s idea of alternative TV was golf and yachting, and Thatcher really wouldn’t have wanted to watch anything that validated the miners. And it was notorious for putting on explicitly sexual material late at night, as well as shows for sexual minorities, such as discussing lesbianism, when these weren’t anywhere near as acceptable as they are today. As a result, the Heil regularly used to fulminate against all this filth, and branded its controller, Michael Grade, Britain’s ‘pornographer in chief’.

And over the years, the various governments have been trying to privatise it. I think Maggie first tried it sometime in the 1980s. Then they did it again, a few years later, possibly under John Major. This surprised me, as after they privatised it the first time, I thought that was the end of it. Channel 4 had been sold off completely. It seems I was wrong. It seems these were just part privatisations. Now they want to do it again.

It struck me with the second privatisation of Channel 4 that this was an election tactic by the Tory party. Maggie had tried to create a popular, share-owning, capitalist democracy through encouraging the working class to buy shares in the privatised utilities. And for all her faults and the immense hatred she rightly engendered, Maggie was popular with certain sections of the working class. By the time the Tories wanted to privatise the Channel the second time, it struck me that they were floundering around, trying to find a popular policy. The magic had worn of the Thatcherite Revolution, Major was in trouble, and so they were trying to bring back some of the old triumphs of Thatcher’s reign, as they saw it. They needed something big and glamorous they could sell back to the voters. And so they decided to privatise Channel 4. Again.

They want to do the same now. But the fact that they’re looking for ‘a strategic partner’ tells you a lot about how things have changed in the intervening years. This is most definitely not about popular capitalism. Most of the shares held by working people were bought up long ago by the fat cats. In this area, the Thatcherite Revolution has failed, utterly, just as it has in so many others. This is all about selling more of Britain’s broadcasting industry to the Tory’s corporate backers. Much of ITV is owned by the Americans, if not all of it, and Channel 5 certainly is. What’s the odds that Channel 4 will stay British, if it too is privatised?

And so we can look forward to a further decline in public broadcasting in this country, as it more of it is bought by private, and probably foreign, media giants. Quality broadcasting, and the duty of public broadcasters to try and expand their audiences’ horizons by producing the new, the ground-breaking, alternative and unpopular, will suffer. All for the profit of the Tory party and their big business paymasters.