Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Who’

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

May 13, 2020

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

Ho Ho! Black Guardian Embarrassed by Her Bookshelf

May 5, 2020

Sarah Vine plotting the Doctor’s downfall and intergalactic domination.

Here’s a bit of comic relief amidst the continuing grim reality of the Coronavirus crisis. Sarah Vine, Mail columnist and wife of Michael Gove, managed to give the online public a few moments of fun when she gave them a very revealing look at her and her husband’s taste in reading matter.

Vine’s proud of her husband’s membership of Boris’ cabinet, and has taken to giving herself the pretentious internet monicker of @WestminsterWAG, as she clearly regards being the other half of an MP as glamorous as being a footballer’s wife or girlfriend. And to show her and her husband’s astonishing good fortune, she took a picture of Gove taking the daily Downing Street briefing as it appeared on the TV in their home and posted it on Twitter with the caption ‘Surreal’. The TV was underneath a set of bookshelves, and it was their contents which gave such great amusement to those looking at her Tweet. Former New Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell picked out a few particularly noticeable volumes, and tweeted at her that ‘having Hitler, Rommel and Napoleon next to Maggie is not a good look.’

Now there are a number of ways Vine could have reacted to this gibe. She could have made the obvious comment that reading about notorious people doesn’t mean you want to imitate them. The amount written and published about Hitler and the Nazis is colossal, but mercifully very few people reading about them are murderous racists and anti-Semites. Ditto for Napoleon. The Napoleonic period is fascinating because it is such a critical period in European history, when French armies marched across the Continent with the intention of building an empire. But obviously that doesn’t mean that everyone reading about the Corsican general has similar megalomaniac ambitions. As it was, she simply replied “Don’t be so absurd. They are books. You should try them sometimes – you can learn a lot from them. You will note there is also a Peter Mandelson”. And that’s where she should have left it. Unfortunately, she couldn’t resist posting another Tweet, saying “As a very special treat for my trolls and [Alastair Campbell] here is another bookshelf. There are about 20 more. Enjoy!” And the peeps on Twitter did just that. And it wasn’t pretty.

Owen Jones spotted a copy of The War Path, the prequel by David Irving to his Hitler’s War. That’s the David Irving, who really is an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Mehdi Hasan and another Tweeter noticed that she also had a copy of The Bell Curve, a book arguing that intelligence is linked to race. Jones further remarked commented on her reaction to his criticism about an article in the Spectator by Rod Liddle arguing that there should be more islamophobia in the Tory party. Vine called the article ‘Clever and funny’. Dawn Foster tweeted that she’d read Gove’s ‘virulently islamophobic’ Celsius 7/7 and written about his time as education minister, and it was obvious that The Bell Curve had strongly influenced his thinking. It was, she said, ‘dangerous, racist rubbish’. That’s nearly everyone said about The Bell Curve, including a great many scientists, which is why it’s been torn to pieces by critics. Libcom Dot Org also noticed that Vine and Gove owned a copy of Alan Benoist’s Beyond Human Rights: Defending Freedom, adding the significant information that Benoist’s a central figure in the European New Right and Third Positionist movements. The latter movement is a revisionist strain of White Nationalism that doesn’t want Blacks and Asians to be deported from Britain and Europe. But they do want them to be segregated. Zelo Street in their article about Vine and Gove’s wretchedly poor choice in reading matter added that Benoist also has White Nationalist and Russian Fascist links as well.

Vine then got very huffy about all this criticism, and Tweeted  “Extraordinary how many people on here seem to be so censorious of books and the idea of knowledge. In common with the Nazis, the Spanish Inquisition, Communist Russia – and pretty much every despotic, brutal regime you can think of. Says it all, really”. But political liberalism, in the broad sense of defending and upholding free democratic societies, in which people are not persecuted because of their religion or ethnicity, also means recognising and condemning ideological threats. It’s why Mein Kampf was banned in Germany until a few years ago, and why decent bookshops won’t stock copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It’s also somewhat rich for Vine to compare her critics to dictatorships and other savagely repressive movements when the Daily Mail has based much of its sales tactics on stoking similar outrage and demanding anything left-wing or otherwise controversial to be banned.

It also doesn’t change the fact that while the books on Hitler, Rommel and Napoleon don’t mean that Vine and Gove are admirers of right-wing megalomaniacs and dictators, the other books do show that they have a very dangerous taste for the ideas of real racists and Fascists.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/sarah-vine-felled-by-falling-bookshelf.html

 

Discworld Novels To Come to TV and Film

April 29, 2020

Good news for fans of the late Fantasy/SF author Terry Pratchett. According to an article on page 3 of today’s I, for 29th April 2020, a special production company is set to develop his discworld novels for the screen. The article simply reads

Sir Terry Pratchett’s production company, Narrativia, is to bring the late writer’s Discworld novels to life in screen adaptations. It hopes to create “truly authentic” features based on the novels, which remain “absolutely faithful” to Sir Terry’s “original, unique genius.”

I saw Pratchett several times speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. He was a funny man, who spoke to packed audiences. Like Michael Moorcock, the author of the cult Fantasy hero, Elric, Pratchett was also critical about the genre in which he wrote. He once said that if you read The Lord of the Rings when you were 13, and didn’t think it was the greatest book in the world, there’s something wrong with you. And if you still think it’s the greatest book in the world by the time you’re 33, there’s something really wrong with you. He also said that Fantasy was dead, and he was a maggot crawling in its rotting corpse.

But this was back in the 1990s, when the state of genre literature I hope was a lot different than it is today.

There have already been a couple of TV adaptations of his Discworld books, I believe. There has definitely been an animated version of Soul Music, about a lad who makes a pact to become Discworld’s superstar performer of what the trolls call ‘music with rocks in’, narrated by Rowan Atkinson. There’s also a TV adaptation of the book Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman,  and starring David Tennant, formerly Dr. Who, by one of the internet TV services. It’s either on at the moment, or it very recently has been. Apart from Discworld and Good Omens, Pratchett also co-wrote a couple of novels with other writers, including an SF trilogy about parallel worlds, which included The Long Earth, and The Long War with Hard SF writer Stephen Baxter, the author of the Xelee books.

I have to say that I only read five of his books before giving up – The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Mort, Pyramids and Reaper Man. I really enjoyed them, but gave up reading him because I simply couldn’t keep up with the man’s colossal output. His novels were hilarious, but many of them also contained among the humour a serious humanistic message. He was also very appreciative of the fans, who made him one of the great giants of modern Fantasy literature.

It’s great that there is a production company set up to try and translate Pratchett’s unique literary creation to TV and film, and wish them every success. After the horrors of the present, we’re going to need a good dose of humour and healthy, intelligent Fantasy.

Does Sarah Vine Look like Two Doctor Who Villains?

February 20, 2020

Okay, I know this is ad hominem, but it’s been niggling away at me for some time. This is one for Dr. Who fans, and the question is: does Michael Gove’s equally odious wife, Sarah Vine, look two of the villains from the classic series, the Black Guardian of Time and the Valyard.

Sarah Vine

The Black Guardian of Time, as played by Valentine Dyall

The Valeyard, as played by Michael Jaystone

The Valeyard was an evil version of the Doctor, made up of pieces from his 12th and 13th incarnations. He acted as the prosecution in the Colin Baker story, ‘Trial of a Time Lord’. The Black Guardian of Time was the opposing force to the White Guardian. He first made his appearance in the Tom Baker ‘Key to Time’ story, ‘The Armageddon Factor’, and later reappeared during Peter Davidson’s time as the Doctor. Whereas the White Guardian stood for Good, the Black Guardian stood for evil, seeking to destroy the universe and plunge it into chaos and evil.

Which sounds pretty much like the policies of the Tories and Daily Mail. It’s been established in Dr. Who that the Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate. The Doctor’s done it, and before him/her the Master became Missy.

So perhaps the Black Guardian has also done it and is now hiding undercover in the Daily Fail’s office, seeking her chance to once again overthrow the forces of order and spread evil across time and space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lookalikes: Eric Pickles and Monster from H.P. Lovecraft

January 28, 2020

Mike yesterday put up a piece mischievously suggesting that Sajid Javid, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Dr. Who villain, the Collector, from the Tom Baker era story The Sunmakers, and also Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Javid was posing in publicity photo with the new 50 pence piece, which will be issued to mark Brexit. And yes, he does look somewhat like Gollum, shown in a still from the movie in which he peers at the One Ring.

In the same spirit, I’ve also noticed an uncanny similarity between the former Tory minister, Eric Pickles, and a monster in Tim White’s awesome cover painting for the third volume of Grafton’s H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus, The Haunter of the Dark.

Eric Pickles

Lovecraftian Horror

Of course, there’s no similarity whatsoever between stories of a group of monsters aiming to enslave and destroy humanity, and the creatures of H.P. Lovecraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Baker Talks to Nicholas Briggs

January 27, 2020

Before the heavy political discussion, a bit more Science Fiction. It was Tom Baker’s 86th birthday a few days ago, and to mark it Big Finish released this video on YouTube. Big Finish produce Dr. Who audio plays with the classic Doctors, including, of course, Tom Baker. In it Nicholas Briggs, who has done the Dalek voices on Dr. Who, talks to the former fourth Doctor and asks some questions put by fans. Baker looks his age, but his mind and voice are still as sharp as ever, and he’s as funny as he’s always been. Happy birthday, Tom, and many happy returns!

Collection of Science Fiction Stories Tackling Racism

January 18, 2020

Allen De Graeff, ed., Human And Other Beings (New York: Collier Books 1963).

Science Fiction, it has been observed, is more often about the times in which it was written than about the future. Quite often it’s been the ‘literature of warning’, in which the author has extrapolated what they feel to be an ominous trend in the present to show its possibilities for the future if left unchecked. Thus H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine presented a nightmarish far future in which capitalist elites and the working class had diverged into two separate species. The Eloi – descendants of the elite – were small, dreamy creatures, with no industry of their own. They were the food animals instead of the Morlocks, descendants of the working class, who had been forced into lives of underground toil by the late Victorian and Edwardian class system. Other SF stories have tackled the problems of overpopulation – John Brunner’s Stand On Zanzibar, the catastrophic over-reliance on mechanisation for, well, just about everything – E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, or the horrifying potential of genetic engineering and mass psychological conditioning, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and so on. I borrowed this colllection of SF stories from a friend. It’s interesting because it uses the theme of contact with alien and other non-human intelligences to criticise and denounce the very real, present issue of racism. The book’s blurb begins with the quotation ‘”Everything that diminishes human dignity is evil,”‘, and continues

With this timeless truth as his theme, Editor Allen DeGraeff has collected a group of superbly told science fiction tales that support it with horror or humor. Other planets, other centuries, living beings of shapes and colors other than “human” are the imaginative ingredients. Shock, surprise, and sympathy are the emotions they act upon.

  • Would you join the Anti-Martian League? Or, like Sam Rosen, would you fight it?
  • Would the gentle Adaptoman – four arms, two brains, three eyes-arouse your hostility if he worked in your office?
  • Could you live as a Professional in a world of Categoried Classes if there were also people known as Wipers, Greasers, and Figgers?
  • Would you marry an Android, a person physically just like you, but artificially “Made in the U.S.A.”?
  • Would you mock or make a friend of Narli, the charming fur-bearing exchange professor from Mars?
  • Could you serve with a soldier Surrogate, a human being reclaimed from the dead with biological techniques of the future?

In settings ranging from the Second Battle of Saturn to Earth 2003 and shining blue-green globe Shaksembender, these authors portray the ideas of human dignity.

The authors, whose work is collected in the volume include some of SF great masters – Ray Bradbury, William Tenn, Leigh Brackett, Frederick Pohl, both alone and with his frequent collaborator, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Sheckley and Eric Frank Russell.

The stories were written at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining power, although still bitterly opposed by a viciously racist, conservative state apparatus and politicians. A number of other SF writers were also using the genre to denounce racism. Sometimes that was through metaphor, such as in Cordwainer Smith’s ‘The Ballad of Lost C’Mell’. This tale’s titular heroine is a young woman genetically engineered from cats. She is a member of an oppressed servile class of similarly genetically engineered animals. These creatures are denied all rights by their human masters, and humanely killed by euthanasia is they are unable to perform their functions. Through telepathic contact with another such creature, a dove of immense intelligence and wisdom, C’Mell is able to persuade a human board of inquiry to grant her people human rights. Other SF writers tackled racism directly, such as Harry Harrison in his 1963 story, ‘Mute Milton’. This was his angry reaction to a comment by a redneck southern sheriff’s response to the news that Martin Luther King was highly respected in Sweden and Scandinavia, and had been awarded the Nobel prize. The sheriff responded that King might be popular in Norway, but back in his town he would be ‘just one more n***er’. Harrison’s story is about a Black American college professor, who comes to a southern town on his way to another university to present his invention: a radio that runs on gravity. A stranger to the racial repression of the Deep South, he falls into conversation in a bar with a wanted civil rights activist while waiting for his bus out of town. The Black activist tells him what it’s really like to be Black in the South. The sheriff and his goons burst into the bar looking for the activist. He escapes out the back. The sheriff and his men shoot, but miss him and shoot the professor instead. When one of the goons tells the sheriff that they’ve killed an innocent man, he just shrugs it off as ‘another n***er’.

Racism has since gone on to be a major topic of much SF. It’s been explored, for example, in Star Trek, both recently and in the original 60’s series. It also inspired Brian Aldiss 1970s short story, ‘Working in the Spaceship Yards’, published in Punch. This was about a man with a Black friend having to come to terms with his own feelings about androids as they started working alongside them in the spaceship yards of the title, and going out with human women. It’s a satire on the racial politics of the day, when many White Brits were, as now, concerned about Black and Asian immigrants taking their jobs. And specifically anti-Black racism was tackled in an episode of Dr. Who written by award-winning Black children’s writer, Mallory Blackman. In this tale the Doctor and her friends travel back to the American Deep South to make sure Rosa Parks makes her epochal bus journey against the machinations of White racist from the future determined to stop Blacks ever gaining their freedom.

Not everyone is satisfied with the metaphorical treatment of racism pursued by some SF. I can remember arguing with a friend at college about Star Trek, and how the series explored racial tension and prejudice through Mr Spock. Despite being half-human, Spock was still an outsider, distrusted by many of his human crewmates. My friend believed instead that the series should have been more explicit and specifically explored anti-Black racism. More recently there has been the rise of Black SF writers, who use their work to address issues of race and the Black experience. An anthology of their work was published back in the 1990s as Dark Matters, a pun on the dark matter of astronomy, that is supposed to give the universe its missing mass.

Even if not explicit, the metaphorical approach allows writers to say what otherwise may not be said, as in the former Soviet Union. There, writers such as the Strugatsky brothers used the ‘Aesopian’ mode – SF as fable – to attack conditions in the Communist state, which would have been subject to censorship and severe punishment if said openly. Over in the capitalist world, the political situation was much freer, but there were still limits to what could be portrayed. Star Trek featured the first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Lt. Uhuru in the episode ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’, but the network faced deep opposition from broadcasters in the Deep South. An indirect treatment also allows people to think about or accept ideas, which they would have rejected through a more straightforward treatment of the subject. Some readers may have been more receptive to anti-racist ideas if presented in the form of aliens than through an explicit treatment of colour prejudice against Blacks and other races.

This anthology, then, promises to be very interesting reading both through the tales themselves, and what they have to say about the times in which they were written. Times in which Science Fiction was joining the other voices denouncing racism and demanding equality and freedom for all, human and non-human. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Hooray! BBC War of the Worlds Adaptation Begins on Sunday

November 13, 2019

At last! The BBC is set to screen its adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic SF novel, The War of the Worlds, on Sunday 17th November 2019 on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it on page 64 of the Radio Times runs

Dramatisation of the HG Wells’s classic Sci-Fi tale, set in Edwardian England. Lovers Amy and George are among the first to notice when a mysterious capsule lands on Horsell Common near Woking in Surrey. Some thing it is an asteroid, but then it starts to shudder and move.

The additional article about the drama on page 63 by Alison Graham says of it

There’s an angry red planet, burning with fury, and its murderous emissary is falling to Earth, ready to destroy life as we know it by landing directly on, er, Woking. Blameless Woking in Surrey, the heart of the Home Counties. Surely it can’t be a twisted dislike of middle-class southerners that powers this gigantic beast?

The HG Wells sci-fi classic is dusted off in a thumping adaptation, with Rafe Spall as journalist George and his “wife” Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson), who have scandalised the town by living together unwed. She’s very progressive, considering this is Edwardian England, having a degree and a job as an assistant to an astronomer, Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle). 

But one night there’s a shattering noise, strange clouds fill the air and soon an unspeakable foe stalks the land, killing at will. Woking will never be the same again.

The I wrote a little piece about the adaptation yesterday, but instead of talking about the plot concentrated instead on the changes to the female lead, who is barely mentioned in the book, and that the astronomer, Ogilvy, is now gay. Peter Harness, who has adapted it, said that this made the story more interesting as Amy and Ogilvy were both outsiders. It’s definitely an attempt to make it more contemporary. Amy’s character obviously has been changed in order to introduce a strong female lead, and I suspect the decision to make her a scientist follows the campaign to get more women into science and engineering. As for the pair’s domestic arrangements, this seems partly based on some of the ideas circulating in very radical circles at the time – that marriage was a burden to women, and should be abolished and free love practised instead – and Wells’ own promiscuity. The decision to make Ogilvy gay also seems to me to be an attempt to make the story more contemporary. Or it might simply be following the lead of Dr Who, which has had a series of gay characters since its revival.

Regardless of the precise reasons for the changes, it looks excellent. It’s also been a long time in coming. It was due to be released last October and I wondered if it was ever going to be released at all. Now it seems it will, and I’m looking forward to it.

Cyberwoman Lies About Anti-Semitism Smears in the Metro

October 17, 2019

The late, great Bill Hicks once said, ‘We live in a world where the good die young, while mediocrities thrive and prosper’. And on Tuesday, two days ago, one of the more noxious of those mediocrities, Tracy Ann Oberman, appeared in the ‘Sixty Seconds’ interview column in the Metro. That’s the free newspaper given away to passengers on buses. The former Dr Who cyberwoman was talking about her latest role as the heroine, Brenda, in the crime drama Mother of Him, the mother of a son, who has committed a terrible crime. Inevitably, the questions then moved on to the abuse she had received for her campaign against anti-Semitism. This ran

You’re no stranger to facing a barrage of abuse online since speaking out against Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism problem. Did that feed into the play?

My speaking out on anti-Semitism and misogyny, in particular in my old party, Labour, and the trolling I received didn’t really feed in because the character of Brenda is not an actor or celebrity and didn’t put herself out there. It made me think that social media has a positive side, which is to give people a chance to put out their story when they otherwise would have been unable to.

Why has anti-Semitism reared its head now?

All racism and misogyny is there somewhere beneath the surface but up until the past few years it was kept to people mumbling in pubs and private areas as it wasn’t deemed acceptable to say in public. I think there’s been a big change since 2017. The left should be better, as should the right- but that is not my affiliation so someone else needs to police them. You can deny you have a problem with it as much as you like but it’s here and it’s thriving.

Your experience with trolling on social media fed into your podcast, Trolled. Have people responded positively to it?

I’ve had such incredible feedback. I get handwritten letters and cards and tweets from people who enjoyed it. I think people have found it very empowering and cathartic to be able to talk about it. Everybody I had on my podcast was championing a different cause and every single one of us had exactly the same sort of trolls. So it is less to with the issue and more to do with the type of person who wants to abuse someone they disagree with.

This is the most self-promoting, hypocritical balderdash. 

The anti-Semitism Oberman and the other witch-hunters are so keen to root out isn’t anti-Semitism per se, but rather criticism – including very justified criticism – of Israel. That’s why Oberman and the rest of the witch-hunters have been attacking Corbyn and his supporters. They do criticise Israel and its slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And Oberman, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement and the rest of the wretched lot can be very justly accused of anti-Semitism themselves. Very many of their victims have been Jews, like Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, to name only two. As a result, these decent people have suffered the most appalling trolling and abuse. Walker has been told that she can’t be Jewish, ’cause she’s Black, obviously by White racists ignorant of the indigenous Black Jewish people of Africa and Afro-Jewish people in the Diaspora. They’ve demanded that she be lynched – not a joke to someone, whose mother’s people in America really suffered that atrocity – and her body dumped in bin bags, or set on fire. Tony Greenstein has been physically attacked, and told by right Zionists that they wish his family had died in the Holocaust. And any Jew, who criticises Israel, will be called that their a ‘traitor’. As they point out, you can’t be a traitor to a country you weren’t born in, or have never visited. But Netanyahu, contrary to the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, which says that Jews cannot be accused of being more sympathetic or loyal to a foreign power, has declared all Jews, everywhere, to be citizens of Israel, and automatically expects their immediate, unconditional loyalty. Needless to say, he’s being sadly disappointed, as increasingly more Jews are giving him the two-fingered salute and ignoring Israel completely or showing solidarity with the Palestinians. To be a Jew, as one pro-Palestinian Jewish American has said, ‘is always to side with the oppressed, never the oppressors’.

The witch-hunters targets also include decent, anti-racist gentiles, like Ken Livingstone and Mike. They went after Leninspart because he dared to cite respected history, that Hitler did initially support Zionism. Tony Greenstein and Prof. Newsinger over at Lobster, and many others, including Mike, have cited chapter and verse of respected histories showing that this is absolutely right. But as Greenstein has shown, Israel has repeatedly tried to suppress any mention of its collaboration with Nazi Germany, including the collusion of Zionist activists, like Kasztner in Hungary, with the Nazis in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz.

Many of the people smeared as anti-Semites by people like Oberman are anything but.

Quite often, they, Jews and gentiles, have been active against racism, like the Black anti-racism campaigner, Mark Wadsworth. Mike and I were brought up with an awareness of the horrors of the Shoah, and Mike at College was invited to be one of the speakers at a commemoration of those murdered in it by one of his Jewish friends. They have often themselves been the subject of racist or anti-Semitic abuse and attack.

And as for trolling, Oberman, her friend Rachel Riley, and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism have done more than their fair share of this against decent people like Mike, Jackie and Tony. Riley herself has connections, it seems, to David Collier’s Gnasherjew troll army.

And Oberman has no business lecturing anyone on free speech.

She and her bestie, Rachel Riley, are suing 16 people, including Mike, for libel because they reblogged material showing how they bullied a 16 year old girl with anxiety issues after calling her an anti-Semite. Why? She dared to support Jeremy Corbyn, and didn’t want to have anything to do with them when they wanted her take time out from school to meet them to be ‘re-educated’. Riley is suing Mike, despite not being able to answer his question about what was libelous in the material he reblogged.

At the moment, they’re trying to wear down Mike’s defence by raising technical legal issues in the hope, it seems, of using up Mike’s money so that he won’t be able to afford to defend himself. Mike is still appealing for contributions to his defence fund, and is very grateful for the generous support he’s received from people really concerned with justice and free speech. See:

Court confrontation over Riley libel case is postponed

Fortunately, every time Riley and Oberman open their mouths, support for Mike and the other victims of their lies, smears and trolling goes up.

Don’t believe the lies of Oberman and Riley. Support free speech, and the people really tackling racism and anti-Semitism: their victims.