Posts Tagged ‘Astrazeneca’

The Beeb’s Biased Reporting of NHS Privatisation

January 2, 2020

The Corporation’s General Right-wing Bias

The BBC is infamous for its flagrant right-wing bias. Writers and experts like Barry and Savile Kushner in their Who Needs the Cuts, academics at the media research centres of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff Universities, and ordinary left-wing bloggers like Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out time and again that the corporation massively prefers to have as commenters and guests on its show Conservative MPs and spokespeople for the financial sector on its news and political comment programmes, rather than Labour MPs and activists and trade unionists. The Corporation relentless pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. But it has also promoted the privatisation of the NHS too through its biased reporting.

Biased Towards NHS Privatisation

Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis’ book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, has a chapter by Oliver Huitson, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, discussing the biased reporting of the NHS’s privatisation by the media in general. Here, however, I will just confine myself to describing the Corporation’s role. The Beeb was frequently silent and did not report vital pieces of information about successive privatisations, such as the involvement of private healthcare companies in demanding them and conflicts of interest. On occasion, this bias was actually worse than right-wing rags like the Daily Mail. Although these ardently supported the NHS’ privatisation, they frequently reported these cases while the Beeb did not. When the moves towards privatisation were reported, they were often given a positive spin. For example, the establishment of the Community Care Groups, groups of doctors who are supposed to commission medical services from the private sector as well as from within the NHS, and which are legally allowed to raise money from the private sector, were positively described by the Corporation as ‘giving doctors more control’.

Lack of Coverage of Private Healthcare Companies Role in Privatisation

David Cameron and Andrew Lansley did not include Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill in the Tories’ 2010 manifesto, because they didn’t believe they’d win the election if they did. But in all the two years of debate about the bill, the Beeb only twice reported doubts about the bill’s democratic mandate. (p.152). In October 2010, Mark Britnell was invited to join Cameron’s ‘kitchen cabinet’. Britnell had worked with the Labour government and was a former head of commissioning for the NHS. But he was also former head of health for the accountancy firm, KPMG, which profits greatly from government privatisation and outsourcing. He declared that the NHS would be shown ‘no mercy’ and would become a ‘state insurance provider, not a state deliverer’. But the BBC decided not to report all this until four days after others had broken the story. And when they did, it was only to explain a comment by Nick Clegg about how people are confused when they hear politicians stating how much they love the NHS while at the same time demanding its privatisation. (pp.153-4).

On 21 November 2011 Channel 4 News reported that they had obtained a document which showed clearly that GP commissioning was intended to create a market for private corporations to come in and take over NHS services. But This was only reported by the Groaniad and the Torygraph. The rest of the media, including the Beeb, ignored it. (pp. 156-7).

Lansley was also revealed to have received donations from Andrew Nash, chairman of Care UK, another private healthcare firm hoping to profit from NHS privatisation. But this also was not reported by the Corporation. (pp. 157-8).

In January 2011 the Mirror reported that the Tories had been given over £750,000 from donors with major connections to private healthcare  interests since David Cameron had become their chief in 2005. But this was also not mentioned by the Beeb. (pp. 158).

The Mirror also found that 40 members of the House of Lords had interests in NHS privatisation, while the Social Investigations blog suggested that it might be as high as 142. The BBC, along with several papers, did not mention this. (pp. 158-9).

Sonia Poulton, a writer for the Heil, stated on her blog that 31 Lords and 18 MPs have very lucrative interests in the health industry. But this was also ignored by the Beeb, along with the rest of the media with the exception of the Guardian. (p. 159).

The Tory MP, Nick de Bois, was a fervent support of the Tories’ NHS privatisation. He is a majority shareholder in Rapier Design Group, which purchased Hampton Medical Conferences, a number of whose clients were ‘partners’ in the National Association of Primary Care, another group lobbying the Tories for NHS privatisation. This was also not reported by the Beeb. (pp. 159-60).

The Beeb also chose not to report how Lord Carter of Coles, the chair of the Co-operation and Competition Panel charged with ensuring fair access to the NHS for private healthcare companies, was also receiving £799,000 per year as chairman of McKesson Information Solutions, part of the massive American McKesson healthcare company. (p. 160).

There were other links between politicos, think tanks, lobby groups and private healthcare companies. The health regulator, Monitor, is dominated by staff from McKinsey and KPMG. But this also isn’t mentioned by the press. (pp. 160-1).

Beeb Falsely Presents Pro-Privatisation Think Tanks as ‘Independent

The BBC, along with much of the rest of the media, have also been responsible for misrepresenting spokespeople for pro-privatisation lobby groups as disinterested experts, and the organisations for which they speak as just independent think tanks. This was how the Beeb described 2020health.org, whose chief executive, Julia Manning, was twice invited onto the air to discuss the NHS, and an entire article was given over to one of her wretched organisation’s reports. However, SpinWatch reported that its chairman, former Tory minister Tom Sackville, was also CEO of the International Federation of Health Plans, representing of 100 private health insurance companies. Its advisory council includes representatives of AstraZeneca, NM Rothschild, the National Pharmaceutical Association, Nuffield private hospital group, and the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services. (p. 162).

Another lobby group whose deputy director, Nick Seddon, and other employees were invited onto the Beeb to discuss the proposals was Reform. Seddon was head of communications at Circle, the first private healthcare company to take over an NHS hospital. Seddon’s replacement at Circle was Christina Lineen, a former aide to Andrew Lansley. None of this was reported by the Beeb. Their corporate partners included companies like Citigroup, KPMG, GlaxoSmithKline and Serco. Huitson states ‘Through Seddon’s and other Reform Staffs’ appearances, the BBC may have facilitated private sector lobbying on a publicly funded platform without making relevant interests known’. (163).

Beeb Did Not Cover Protests and Opposition to Bill

Pages 164-5 also discusses the Beeb’s refusal, with few exceptions, to interview critics of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill, the rightwing bias of panels discussing it and how the Beeb did not cover protests against it or its discussion in parliament. Huitson writes

At the BBC opportunities were frequently missed to provide expert opposition to the bill on a consistent basis. the RCGP’s Clare Gerada was largely the exception to this rule. Many of the most well-known and authoritative critics of the bill – the likes of professors Allyson Pollock or Colin Leys, doctors Jacky Davis and Wendy Savage from Keep Our NHS Public – never appeared on the BBC to discuss the plans. Davis recalls being invited to appear on the BBC a number of times but the item was cancelled on every occasion. ‘Balance’ is supposedly one of the BBC’s primary objectives yet appearing on the Today programme of 1 February 2012 to discuss the bill, for instance, were Shirley Williams (who voted in favour of the bill, however reluctantly), Nick Seddon of ‘independent’ Reform (pro-Bill), Steve Field (pro-Bill) and Chris Ham (pro-Bill). It’s difficult to see how that is not a breach of BBC guidelines and a disservice to the public. One of the fundamental duties of an open media is to ensure that coverage is not skewed towards those with the deepest pockets. And on that issue the media often performed poorly.

Further criticism of the BBC stems from its curious lack of NHS coverage during the climactic final month before the bill was passed in the House of Lords on 19 March. One such complaint came from blogger and Oxford Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology Dorothy Bishop, who wrote to the BBC to ask why it had failed to cover a number of NHS stories in March, including an anti-bill petition that had been brought to the House by Lord Owen, carrying 486,000 signatures of support. In reply, the BBC confirmed that the bill had been mentioned on the Today programme in March prior to the bill’s passing, though just once. Bishop replied:’So, if I have understood this right, during March, the Today programme covered the story once, in an early two-minute slot, before the bill was passed. Other items that morning included four minutes on a French theme park based on Napoleon, six minutes on international bagpipe day and eight minutes on Jubilee celebrations.’

Other BBC omissions include Andrew Lansley being heckled by angry medical staff at a hospital in Hampstead, as reported by both the Mail and Sky News. On 17 March a peaceful anti-bill march took place in central London. Those out protesting for their national health service found themselves kettled by riot police despite being one of the most harmless-looking crowds you’re ever likely to see. The protest and the shameful police response were completely ignored by the media, except for a brief mention on a Guardian blog. On social media numerous examples have been reported of protests and actions opposing the bill that were entirely absent from national coverage.

Then, on 19 March, the day of the final vote on the bill, the BBC ran not a single article on the event, despite this being one of the most bitterly opposed pieces of legislation in recent history – it was as if the vote was not taking place. The next day, with the bill passed, they ran a full seven articles on the story. Three days after the bill passed, Radio 4 broadcast The Report: ‘Simon Cox asks: why is NHS reform mired in controversy?’ Why this was not broadcast before the Lords’ vote is a mystery. 

When the Bill was passed, the bill scrolling across the BBC News’ screen ran ‘Bill which gives power to GPs passes’. (166). Huitson remarks that when the Beeb and the other news networks reported that the Bill gave power to GPs and allowed a greater role for the private sector, it was little more than regurgitating government press releases. (p. 168).

Beeb Bias Problem Due to Corporation’s Importance and Domination of Broadcast News

Huitson also comments on the specific failure of the Beeb to provide adequate coverage of NHS privatisation in its role as one of the great British public institutions, the dominant role it has in British news reporting. On pages 169-70 he writes

Campaigners may not expect more from the Sun but they certainly do from the BBC, given its status as an impartial public service broadcaster whose news gathering is supported directly by licence fee payers. The BBC accounts for 70 per cent of news consumption on television. Further, the BBC accounts for 40 per cent of online news read by the public, three times that of its closes competitor, the Mail. Quite simply, the BBC dominates UK news. The weight given to the BBC here is not purely down to its dominance, however, but also because, along with the NHS, the BBC remains one of our great public institutions, an entity that is supposedly above commercial pressures. Many of the stories ignored by the BBC were covered by the for-profit, right-wing press, as well as the Guardian and Channel 4, so the concern is not that the organisation failed to ‘campaign’ for the NHS, but that it failed to report facts that other outlets found newsworthy.

The BBC’#s archive of TV and radio coverage is neither available for the public to research nor technically practical to research, but there are a number of reasons for confidence that their online content is highly indicative of their broader output. First, BBC online is a fully integrated part of the main newsroom rather than a separate operation. Consequently, TV and radio coverage that can be examined is largely indistinguishable from the related online content, as demonstrated in the examples given above. During the debate of Lansley’s bill, the BBC TV and radio were both subject to multiple complaints, the figures for which the BBC has declined to release.

Beeb’s Reporting of NHS Privatisation as Biased as Coverage of Miners’ Strike

He also compares the Beeb’s coverage of the bill, along with that of the rest of the media, to its similarly biased reporting of the miners’ strike.

The overall media coverage of the health bill brings to mind a quote from BBC radio correspondent Nicholas Jones, on the BBC’s coverage of the miners’ strike: ‘stories that gave prominence to the position of the National Union of Miners could simply be omitted, shortened or submerged into another report.’ (pp. 172-3).

Conclusion

The Beeb does produce some excellent programmes. I really enjoyed last night’s Dr. Who, for example. But the right-wing bias of its news reporting is now so extreme that in many cases it is fair to say that it is now a propaganda outlet for the Tory party and big business. It’s utterly indefensible, and in my view it will only be reformed if and when the newsroom and its managers are sacked in its entirety. In the meantime, Boris and the rest of the Tories are clamouring for its privatisation. Godfrey Bloom, one of the more prominent Kippers, has also put up a post or two in the past couple of days demanding precisely that.

If the Beeb was genuinely impartial, it would have defenders on the Left. But it is rapidly losing them thanks to its bias. And to the Tories, that’s also going to be a plus.

Thanks to the Beeb’s own Tory bias, it’s going to find it very hard to combat their privatisation.

And in the meantime they will have helped destroy the most valued of British institutions, the NHS, and free, universal healthcare to Britain’s citizens.

More on the European Round Table of Industrialists: The Free-Trade Corporate Interest at the Heart of the EU

January 30, 2014

I’ve blogged before about the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) in connection with the TTIP trade agreement, which would complete the privatisation of Britain’s NHS and leave national governments at the mercy of the multinationals. Lobster has reviewed two books critical of the strong corporate interests in the European Union, which were the subject of my previous blog posts about the ERT. Lobster 50 for Winter 2005/6 also carried an article on them, A Rough Guide to the European Round Table of Industrialists by Noel Currid. Lobster is on-line, so the article should be available. However, I thought I’d summarise some of Currid’s findings about the ERT here.

The ERT was set up in 1983 by Pehr Gyllenhammer, the chairman of Volvo, along with Umberto Agnelli of Fiat, Philips, Wisse Dekker, and Etienne Davignon, the EEC Industry Commissioner. Their goal was to relaunch Europe in order to combat the ‘stagflation’ from which the EEC had suffered for more than a decade. They were also frustrated by the lack of progress towards European integration. Gyllenhammer stated that ‘Europe really is doing nothing. It’s time for the business leaders to enter this vacuum and seize the initiative.’ Dekker concurred, stating ‘If we wait for our governments to do anything, we will be waiting for a long time. You can’t et all tied up with politics. Industry has to take the initiative. There is no other way.’ Gyllenhammer, Dekker, Davignon and Agnelli then began to recruit other business leaders to their group.

By 2005 the ERT had fifty members, comprising leading industrialists from 18 European states as well as Norway, Switzerland and Turkey from outside the EU. It was chaired by Gerhard Cromme of ThyssenKrupp. Its vice chairmen were Jorman Ollila of Nokia and Alain Joly of Air Liquide. Other members came from DaimlerChrysler, Ericsson, Fiat, Nestle and Siemens. British members have included Paul Adams of British American Tobacco, Martin Brougton from British Airways, Tom McKillop of Astazeneca, John Rose from Rolls-Royce, Peter Sutherland of BP, Ben Verwaayen, BT, and Paul Walsh of Diageo. However, membership is individual, not corporate, and invitation only. It holds two plenary sessions twice yearly, which decide their priorities and programme of activities, as well as their publications and budget. Its decisions are made by consensus, rather than settled unilaterally by its leadership. These plenary sessions also set up the working groups, which perform much of the ERT’s work. These consisted of Accounting Standards: Competition Policy, Competitiveness, Employment/Industrial Relations and Social Policy, Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy; Environment; Foreign Economic Relations; and Taxation. The Secretary General of the ERT also heads its small secretariat. This is based in Brussels, and acts as a contact point for the Round Table, co-ordinates its various projects, providing administrative support, and publishes the Round Table’s reports.

The Round Table has as its goal the implementation of European integration in order to further the interests of EU transnational corporations so that they have ‘a significant manufacturing and technological presence worldwide’. It has stated that ‘industry is entitled to … an EU which functions like an integrated econo0mic system with single centre of overall decision making’. It has particular opposed and sought to abolish the national veto held by individual EU countries, stating ‘the problem is that in the individual countries the politicians have to gather votes’. Their model is the US, of which they believe that it also ‘could do nothing if every decision had to be ratified by 52 states’. The ERT’s primary focus is economic. It is not interested in the political consequences of integration, and it also does not deal with the specific legislation, only general overall policy. it also boats of its extensive contacts with the EU leading officials and bureaucrats, both at the national and international level. Currid quotes its website as stating

‘At European level, the ERT has contacts with the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Every six months the ERT strives to meet the government that has the EU presidency to discuss priorities. At national level, each member communicates ERT’s views to its own national government and parliament, business colleagues and industrial federations, other opinion-formers and the press’. By 1993 other lobby groups in the EU considered that the ERT was so successful in these aims that it had become part of the EU’s apparatus of government itself, rather than simply another lobbying group.

Jacques Delors considered that the Round Table was one of the main forces driving the establishment of the Single Market. The European Commission had advanced a series of proposals for removing the national trade barriers within the EEC in late 1984, but these had little support either from business or member governments. In January the following year, Wisse Dekker published Europe 1990: An Agenda for Action. This was part of a larger ERT publication, Changing Scales, which the Round Table sent to the heads of state of the various EEC countries. Delors’ speech three days after the publication of Europe 1990 on the subject of integration to the European parliament, according to Currid, shows a strong similarity to the proposals advanced by Dekker in the above text. The basis of the Single European Act, which forms the basis for the EU Single Market, was a white paper by Lord Cockfield, the Industry Commissioner. This postponed the Single Market’s establishment to 1992, rather than 1990. Nevertheless, its enactment marked the successful completion of Round Table’s main aim.

The ERT was also behind the EU policy to construct a massive, integrated transport infrastructure across the EU, intended to allow the greater flow of goods in the new, unified EU Single Market. The Round Table was instrumental in the inclusion of the Trans-European Networks, or TENs, in the Maastricht Treaty. These networks included the Channel Tunnel, the enlargement of various airports, and the construction of 12,000 km of new motorways. It is also due to the ERT that many of these new networks were subject to road pricing and became toll roads. In their Missing Networks, published in 1991, the ERT recommended the establishment of ‘user charges to distribute the funds for improving effective transport’. So the next time your stuck in a traffic jam in a toll road somewhere in the EU, these are the technocrats to blame.

The EU also appears to have been one of the major forces responsible for the introduction of the single currency. They had argued that this was necessary to complete the process of European integration as early as 1985. The Round Table was particularly active during the international negotiations in 1990-1 in preparation for the Maastricht Treaty. Currid notes that the ERT’s timetable for the establishment of European monetary union in their Reshaping Europe report, published in 1991, is also very similar to that in the Maastricht Treaty. The ERT also wrote a formal letter to all the European heads of government in 1995 requesting that

‘When you meet at the Madrid Summit, will you please decide once and for all that monetary union will start on the day agreed at Maastricht and with the criteria agreed at Maastricht.’ They stated that the heads of government they addressed duly agreed to this.

Delors in particular worked closely with the ERT to establish European integration. In 1993 he took part in the press launch of the ERT report, Beating the Crisis. A week later the European Commission published Delors’ own report on Growth, Competitiveness and Employment, which was similar to the ERT’s earlier report. At the launch Delors thank the Round Table for their help in his report’s preparation. Among its various recommendations, Beating the Crisis suggested that an EU-wide body should be set up to promote competiveness, similar to the Competitive Council of US President Clinton. Thus in 1995 the EU established the Competitiveness Advisory Group. As I mentioned in my earlier blog piece, this group has been responsible for recommending the lowering of wages, lengthening of working hours and decline in conditions for workers across the EU to allow it to compete internationally with the Developing World. Jacques Santer was also strongly supportive of the ERT, stating that by and large their priorities and that of the European Commission were the same. The ERT also approved of the results of the Amsterdam Summit of 1997, and in particular its strengthening of the power of the President of the Commission.

The ERT has continued to demand further EU integration and for the European Commission to be given even more powers. The Round Table declared to members of the convention on the future of the EU that it consider the establishment of a stronger commission to be vital as the Commission was ‘the genuinely Europe-focused institution and the one most capable of articulating the common European interest above national and regional interests’. They are also ardent opponents of any attempt to weaken the Commission’s powers through transferring them to the EU’s member states, or adopting a system of shared responsibility. Their desires here appear to have been fulfilled through the inclusion of Article 1:26 and Article 1:7 for the proposed EU constitution. These state that the Commission has the sole right to propose new laws, and establish EU legislation as superior to that of the member states.

The ERT was deeply involved in the preparations for the March 2000 Lisbon meeting of the European Council to make the EU ‘the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’. This was supposed to have been achieved four years ago in 2010. Also in 2000, Daniel Janssen, another member of the ERT, stated that the implementation of the proposals of the Lisbon meeting would cause a double revolution in Europe ‘reducing the power of the state and of the public sector and deregulation’. It would also transfer ‘many of the nation-states’ powers to a more modern and internationally minded structure at European level’. This ‘more modern and internationally minded structure at the European level’ would be the European Commission.

The first few years of the 21st century in fact saw the ERT’s project for European integration encountering increasing difficulties. By 2002 Morris Tabaksblat, the chairman of ReedElsevier, state that the commitment to European integration shown at Lisbon was no longer there. The ERT also stated before the March 2005 EU summit, that they were dissatisfied with the way the Lisbon plan for European Integration was being downplayed to give the EU Constitution a great chance of being approved in referendums. The Round Table was also alarmed by the French and Dutch votes against the EU constitution in the summer of 2005, but believed they should not impede the process of greater European integration. They stated

‘The results demand an immediate, constructive and determined response from the heads of government of Europe. it is time for positive leadership to engage public support, restore economic dynamism to the single European market and allow Europe to act with confidence and conviction on the world stage’.

Currid states as his conclusion that ‘Hopefully, this brief tour of the ERT’s activities over the years shows that it is an extremely important player in moves pushing us towards a de facto United States of Europe. The ERT has been able to achieve many of its aims in alliance with the European Commission, an undemocratic, bureaucratic and unaccountable body par excellence. The ERT is no friend of the rights of Europe’s peoples to democracy and self-determination. For the ERT, the bigger the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ – with the Commission plugging much of the gap – the better’. One cannot argue with this analysis.