Posts Tagged ‘Lord Beaverbrook’

The Webbs’ Suggestion for Reforming the Capitalist Press

September 6, 2020

Friday evening Extinction Rebellion took it upon themselves to blockade three print works owned by Murdoch in Merseyside, Hertfordshire and Lanarkshire. The works didn’t just print the Scum and the Scottish Scum, but also the Daily Heil, the Torygraph and the Evening Standard, which are respectively owned by Lord Rothermere, the weirdo Barclay twins and Evgeny Lebedev. The response of the press and indeed the political establishment have been predicted. Priti Patel for the Tories and Labour’s Emily Thornberry have both condemned the blockade as an attack on democracy. As has Keir Starmer, which shows his completely lack of scruples. He’s previously talked about how he was involved in protests against the Murdoch press. But like Blair, he’s desperate to get Murdoch and his empire of filth and lies on his side. Dawn Butler did issue a Tweet supporting Extinction Rebellion, but Starmer showed his true, Blairite authoritarianism and made her take it down.

I’m not a fan of Extinction Rebellion. Their cause is right and just, but I disagree with their tactics. Their strategy of blocking streets, including roads to hospitals, is dangerous and seems designed to annoy ordinary people and cost them support. But this time I think they’ve done the right thing. They’ve released a series of statements on social media pointing out that, contra to the nonsense the press and our leading politicians are saying, we don’t have a free press. Mike and Zelo Street have put up a couple of articles reporting this, and making the same point. The newspapers are owned by a very small number of billionaires. Five newspaper magnates own 83 per cent or so of the British press. And they don’t hold the government to account. Rather they act as propaganda outlets for the government. Mike has a quote from Lord Beaverbrook in which he openly said so. John Major when he was in power used to discuss with his cabinet how they could reach the British public with the help of their friends in the press.

Press and media bias against Labour was on the factors which lost the party the elections against Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. Several books were published then analysing the media bias and the false reporting. These also made the point that the press was in the hands of a corporate oligarchy, and that they were part of great conglomerations which extended into other industries. As a result, certain issues were very definitely not reported. The Observer didn’t report on the savage crackdown on a mining dispute in Zimbabwe, because its proprietor, Tiny Rowland, was negotiating with Mugabe for a mining concessions.

But the problem of a hostile capitalist press also goes back much earlier to the emergence of organised labour, the socialist movement and then the Labour party in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And Sidney and Beatrice Webb made a few suggestions on how this could be overcome in their book, A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain. They recommended that, in line with other industries, they should be transformed into cooperatives, owned and managed by their readers. They write

We hazard the suggestion that here may be found the solution, in the Socialist Commonwealth, of the difficulty presented by the newspaper press. Although Socialists foresee a great development of official journals of every sort, in all the arts and sciences, industries and services, and in different parts of the country (published by authority, national, municipal or cooperative, vocational or university, and often posted gratuitously to those to whom the information is important), probably no Socialist proposes that the community should have nothing but an official press. At the same time, the conduct of a newspaper with the object of obtaining a profit – even more so the conduct of newspapers by wealthy capitalists with the object of influencing the public mind; or the purchase by such capitalists with ulterior objects, of one newspaper after another – appears open to grave objection, and obviously leads to very serious abuses. Especially during the stage of transition from a predominantly capitalist to a predominantly Socialist society, it may be necessary to prohibit the publication of newspapers with the object of private profit, or under individual ownership, as positively dangerous to the community. But this does not mean that there should be no unofficial journals. All that would be forbidden would be individual or joint-stock ownership and commercial profit. The greatest newspaper enterprises could be converted into consumers’ Cooperative Societies, in which every purchaser, or at any rate every continuous subscriber, thereby automatically became a member, casting one vote only, periodically electing a managing committee by ballot taken through the newspaper itself, and the managing committee exercising (with due participation in the management of the vocations concerned) entire control over the enterprise, but being required to devote any surplus of receipts over expenditure to the improvement of the newspaper itself, and being forbidden to distribute any part of it, either in dividends or in excessive salaries, or to individuals at all, otherwise than by way of reduction of the price for the future. It would certainly not be the wish of Socialists to prevent any group of readers from having (with the criminal law) any newspaper that they desired; and the form of a consumers’ Cooperative Society seems to make possible the utmost variety in independent journalism without dependence on capitalist ownership or the unwholesome stimulus of private profit. With periodicals limited to those owned, either by public authorities of one or other kind, or by consumers’ Cooperative Societies – ownership by individual or joint-stock Capitalism being entirely eliminated – the transformation of journalism into an organised and largely self-governing profession, enjoying not only independence and security but also a recognised standard of qualification and training, and a professional ethic of its own, would be greatly facilitated. (pp. 270-1).

I’m not sure the content of the mainstream press would necessarily change if they were transformed into consumer’s cooperatives owned and managed by their readers, as the readers of the Scum, Torygraph and Heil seem to enjoy the lies and hate these rags publish. On the other hand, it would solve the problem of the individual capitalist or company dominating press if the management of these firms were run by their readers, who elected and appointed them. You can just here the screams of Murdoch and co if that was suggested. Let’s do it!

I also note that trials in France have started of those accused of assisting the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre by Islamist terrorists. When the attack occurred, people all over France and the world showed their solidarity with the victims by marching under the banner ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo’. Now the Murdoch press and other rags are being blockaded and demonstrated against. So I’d to show where I stand on this issue:

Je Suis Extinction Rebellion.

Nye Bevan and the Tory Sneer about ‘Champagne Socialists’

March 5, 2016

Remember in the 1980s when Thatcher went around sneering at middle class socialists and Labour supporters as ‘champagne socialists?’ It became one of the favourite put-downs of the Tory press, along with the cry of ‘Loony left’. It wasn’t an original sneer by any means. Back in the 1940s, similar things were said of Nye Bevan. Eric Hopkins, in his book, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes 1918-1990: A Social History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1991) notes that after he got into parliament, Bevan acquired ‘sophisticated tastes and wealthy friends, including Lord Beaverbrook. This annoyed one of Beaverbrook’s other friends, Brendan Bracken, who is supposed to have called Bevan to his face ‘a Bollinger Bolshevik’, ‘ritzy Robespierre’ and ‘lounge lizard Lenin’. (p. 96).

Well, that’s what they called the former Tredegar miner, who set up the National Health Service. The short answer to the sneer should have been ‘that’s what they called the best of us. It didn’t wash on him, and it doesn’t wash on us. Sticks and stones etc.’

It was a pathetic insult, but unfortunately it did convince some people that Maggie was somehow more ‘working class’ than the Socialists who genuinely were interested in working people’s welfare.

Mussolini, Press Censorship and Contempt for Newspaper Readers

April 16, 2014

Mussolini Pic

Mussolini before becoming the Duce, Italy’s Fascist dictator, had been a newspaper editor. Denis Mack Smith in his biography, Mussolini (London: Paladin 1983) describes both his style of journalism and his contempt for newspaper readers, which he used to justify stifling the freedom of the press.

The new premier was exceptional in having made his name as a newspaper editor and journalism continued to be one of his great passions. He was probably the best popular journalist of his day, and his ability to simply and vulgarize issues, to disregard consistency where necessary – in his own words, to over-dramatize or even invent facts – all these early lessons greatly helped to him effective in the kind of populist politics he was drawn to instinctively. They made him a successful politician, if a bad statesman.

He now decided to change the rules of journalism so that no one else could succeed as he had done. While in opposition, he had condemned censorship of newspapers as shameful and dangerous, and his pledge to maintain freedom of the press received unanimous support in the first fascist party congress; but as a dictator he seized on the fact that anyone who could manipulate the press might be able to change public opinion overnight, and even before the march on Rome he had prepared measures to control the newspapers. Here was the main novelty of Mussolini’s revolution and one of the principal reasons for his success. His sort of fascism could never have appeared before the days of popular journalism; nor in all probably could it have happened later, once Italy became a more literate and politically more sophisticated society. (pp. 78-9).

Censorship was something Mussolini had once condemned outright and some of his associates still disliked it. But once he was in power he meant to control journalism. Newspaper readers were gullible and impotent; he owed them no respect but claimed he had a duty to protect them from irresponsible editors whose lies were discrediting Italy abroad. Suddenly on 20th June 1925, late in the evening, he caught parliament unawares and proposed new press laws. All was over in half an hour with no debate and only five dissentient votes; parliament was then closed until the end of the year. (p. 105).

Mike once quoted Lord Beaverbrook to me as an illustration of the conscious bias of the press: ‘I print nothing but propaganda, propaganda and propaganda’. Members of Blair’s cabinet have said that during his administration he always trying to formulate policies that would gain the support of the press barons, such as Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail; and that Rupert Murdoch was a constant, silent presence over the cabinet meetings. And Murdoch’s attitude to his newspapers – the Sun, News of the World and the Times indicates to me that he had a similar contempt for his readers, cynically manipulating the news to sale papers and push through his right-wing policies. And the Tories were perfectly willing to violate the press monopoly laws in order to give him the papers and journalistic influence he wanted. He operates in a democratic system, but there’s still much of Mussolini’s attitude to politics, the press and its readers in his style of journalism and management.