Posts Tagged ‘Colin Leys’

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.

NHS SOS: Further Resources against NHS Privatisation

June 19, 2016

NHS SOS pic

As well as the information and resources Michelle has kindly posted as a comment to my piece on the cuts to the service at my local health centre as a result of the government’s creeping privatisation of the NHS, I’m also putting up the list of further resources included in Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ book, NHS SOS. This is a very detailed description of the long campaign against the NHS from Maggie Thatcher onwards, and in particular its latest phase introduced by Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act of 2012. As well as describing the attacks on the NHS, the book also includes chapters on the failure of the press and medical profession as a whole to bring down the whole process of privatisation when they could. It’s a very good book, clearly written, but it will leave you depress and furious.

It also the following resources people can use to fight the cuts and privatisation. Here they are:

National Campaigns on the NHS

* Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) – runs a national campaign as well as local groups across England. Campaigns for a publicly funded, publicly delivered and publicly accountable NHS. Website: http://www.keepournhspublic.com; Twitter @keepnhspublic.

* London Health Emergency (LHE) – campaigning against cuts, closures and the privatisation of the NHS since 1983. Website: http://www.healthemergency.or.uk; Twitter @JohnRLister

* NHS Support Federation – an independent pressure group that campaigns to protect and improve the NHS, true to its founding principles.

* National Health Action Party (NHAP) – campaigning for a publicly funded, publicly delivered and publicly accountable NHS.
Website: http://www.nationalhealthaction.org.uk; Twitter @NHAparty.

Allied Organisations

* Centre for Health and the Public Interest – a new independent health think tank.
Website: http://chpi.org.uk; Twitter CHPIthinktank.

* Medsin – Student network and registered charity tackling global and local health inequalities through education, advocacy and community action.

Website: http://www.medsin.org/; Twitter @medsinuk

* NHS Consultants Association – organisation of hospital doctors who support the NHS and campaign to end market-based policies.
Website: http://wwwnhsca.org.uk/

* OpenDemocracy – ‘free thinking for the world’. Running ‘OurNHS’, a new three-year project dedicated to reinstating a genuine National Health Service in England.
Website: http://www.operdemocracy.net/ournhs/about; Twitter: ‘OurNHS_oD

* Spinwatch – works for lobbying transparency, promotes greater understanding of the role of PR and propaganda.
Website: http://www.spinwatch.org/; Twitter @Spinwatch.

* 38 Degrees – online organisation that brings people together to take action on the issues ‘that matter to you and bring about real change’.
Website: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/; Twitter: ’38_degrees

Further Reading and Watching

* Health Policy Reform: Global Health versus Private Profit, by John Lister (Libri Publishing, 2013).

* NHS plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care by Allyson M. Pollock (Verso Books, 2004).

* The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys and Stewart Player (Merlin Press, 2011).

* Privatising the World: A Study of International Privatization in Theory and Practice by Olive Letwin (Cengage learning EMEA, 1988).

* ‘The NHS and the Section 75 regulations: Where next?’ by Bob Hudson. Guardian healthcare network, 30 April 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/healthcare-network/2013/apr/30/nhs-section-75-regulations-where-next. This helpful article covers some additional actions that can be taken by opponents of the health care reforms.

* Conflicts of Interest and NHS Privatisation, video by the National Health Action Party, http://www.spinwatch.org/index.php/component/k2/item/s441-conflicts-of-interest-and-the-privatisation-of-the-nhs.

* Take a Tour of Lansley’s Private Healthcare Supporters.
Video by Spinwatch, http://www.spinwatch.org/index.php/component/k2/item/S336-take-a-tour-of-Lansleys-private-health-care-supporters.

* The Spirt of ’45, a film by Ken Loach, for screenings and availability, see http://www.thespiritof45.com.