Posts Tagged ‘Power Without Responsibility’

Tony Benn’s Suggestions for Media Reform

February 10, 2020

One of the other books I picked up going through the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham last Friday was Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullins and published in 1981. Based on Benn’s speeches, articles and lectures over the previous two years, the book was Benn’s observation on the profoundly undemocratic nature of British society, and his suggestions for reform. He wanted to create a more democratic society that would empower ordinary people and move towards the establishment of socialism.

Although it was written forty years ago, the book and its arguments are still tremendously relevant. One of the chapters is on media bias against the working class and the Labour party. As we’ve seen over the past five years and particularly during the last election in December, this is very much a live issue because of the unrelenting hostility by nearly all of the media, including and especially the Beeb, against Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and the Labour party as a whole. Benn discusses right-wing media bias in the chapter, ‘The Case for a Free Press’, and on pages 118 to 120 he makes his suggestions for its reform.  Benn wrote

‘Some Proposals for Reform

Reform of the media has only recently come to be taken seriously. The Glasgow University Media Group, the Campaign for Press Freedom, the Minority Press Group and academics such as James Curran at the Polytechnic of Central London have produced a wealth of carefully researched analysis and proposals for reform which would reward seriously study. At the time of writing the Labour Party National Executive Committee has a working party considering what must be done to obtain a media responsive to the needs of a twentieth-century democracy rather than an arm of the British establishment. I do not wish to anticipate the proposals of the working party, but in the interests of stimulating debate on this important subject I set out below some of the possibilities for reform which are now being discussed in the Labour Party and elsewhere.

  1. An Open Press Authority

This has been suggested by James Curran and Jean Seaton in their book Power Without Responsibility. This would be a public agency accountable to Parliament and it would aim to extend the freedom to publish. The OPA objectives would include the following:

i Provision off a launch fund, raised partly from a tax on media advertising expenditure, to assist new publications.

ii Grants to assist publications that have failed to attract significant advertising.

iii A National Print Corporation to extend modern printing facilities to a wide range of publications.

iv A guarantee of distribution for minority publications through a new wholesale organisation.

2. Anti-Monopoly Legislation

Considerations will have to be given to legislation to break up the huge newspaper monopolies; existing monopoly legislation has proved wholly ineffective for this purpose. Such legislation should also prohibit or severely limit investment by newspaper chains in television and commercial radio.

3. Reform of the Wholesale Trade

Wholesale and retail distribution of British newspapers and magazines in dominated by just three companies: W.H. Smith, John Menzies and Surridge Dawson. In many areas one or other of these companies has a complete monopoly. The result is that non-consensus publications have great difficulty in reaching the news stands. The French have solved this problem by imposing a legal obligation on wholesalers and retailers to carry, on request, all lawful publications excluding pornography. Publishers have to pay a handling charge on all returns. As a result the French public have access to a far more diverse range of political views than we do in Britain. The French example should be studied.

4 The Right of Reply

Where a newspaper or magazine has published a report about an individual or group which seriously distorts the truth, the person or organisation offended should have the right to set the record straight in the columns of that newspaper. The reply should be allotted adequate space and prominence and it should appear as soon as possible after the original story. It should be made legally enforceable. The Campaign for Press Freedom has set out the case for a right of reply in an excellent pamphlet.

5 Broadcasting

i Instead of being composed of the ‘great and the good’, worthy citizens chosen for their alleged impartiality, the boards of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority should contain representatives of a wide spectrum of opinion and interest groups.

ii The proceedings of the two boards of governors and all internal directives on policy should be publicly available.

iii The IBA should be given a legal obligation when awarding franchises, to give preference to non-profit-making applications such as cooperatives; at present most franchises got to companies more concerned with profits than quality.

iv The BBC is too big. It should be broken up into separate independent units for television, radio and the overseas service.

v The BBC licence fee, which places the Corporation at the mercy of the government, should be abolished and replaced by a grant awarded by Parliament five years in advance.

vi The Fourth Channel, as presently constituted, is controlled by the IBA and will buy in programmes from commercial companies. It should be reconstituted as a separate, publicly financed cooperative which would act as a ‘publisher’ of programmes made by freelance and independent production groups.

6 Satellite Broadcasting

By the mid-1980s satellite communication systems will make it feasible for American or European commercial television to be relayed into Britain. The result could be a diversion of advertising revenue away from existing publicly regulated services and an end of any chance of creating and maintaining public service broadcasting. As a matter of urgency Britain must contact other European governments with a view to placing under international control all companies using satellites for this purpose.’

He concludes the chapter with this:

These are some of the ways in which the British media could be developed to serve democracy rather than a consensus which has long been overtaken by events. I list these suggestions simply as a basis for consideration in an area where, until recently, there has been very little positive discussion. The free flow of information is the life blood of democracy and the present ownership structure and organisation of our media is incompatible with democracy. At a time of crisis, such as we now face, itis important that people should be able to choose freely between the various alternatives that political parties are seeking to put before them. To do that they need to be properly informed. That should be the role of the media in a democracy.

I’m not sure how many of these suggestions are relevant today, given the expansion of satellite and cable broadcasting,  the establishment of Channel 5 and the rise of the Net. My guess is that much of it is still acutely relevant, and the situation regarding the press monopolies has got worse since Benn wrote this. Murdoch now has an even firmer grip on the press and his own satellite channel, Sky, which he’d like to replace the Beeb. The Beeb has shown itself craven and massively biased towards the Tories, but they’re going to break it up and sell it off if they can in order to please Murdoch and the other commercial broadcasters. I think most of these reforms are still very much needed, but can’t see them ever being put in place given the massive opposition they provoke among the press and media barons, who control public opinion.

Corbyn’s supporters found a way round that with the internet, and Richard Burgon at the recent Labour deputy leadership hustings in Bristol suggested that Labour supporters should look to this and other alternative media rather than the old media. There are problems with this too, as the right have also latched on to the power of the Net. But it might just be the best, or only, way to move forward.

 

Vox Political: Anti-Labour Bias on Question Time Prompts Mass Outrage

January 16, 2016

The pro-Tory bias at the BBC becomes every more blatant. Mike over at Vox Political has this story, http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/15/bbc-question-times-right-wing-panel-sparks-anger-from-viewers-and-labour-mps/ about a report in the Mirror that the bias in the selection of the panel on Question Time was so right-wing that the Beeb has received a storm of criticism from the public, and the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour MP, Cat Smith, was the only left-wing member of the panel. The others were a Tory cabinet member, someone from UKIP, and two journos from the Murdoch press.

So no bias there, then!

It’s interesting reading the comments to this post as well. Most are from people, who stopped watching it because of the right-wing bias. The last time I blogged about the Beeb’s bias, I received some very interesting comments, which added further information and background to this issue.

One of them, Nosuchthingasthemarket, posted:

All good points – but you could also mention the salient fact that the political editor at the BBC is a former head of the Young Conservatives and was first accused of bias (over and above the BBC norms) as early as 1995; when he was working on Panorama.

Further information was added by the commenters over on Mike’s blog, who posted their response to his reblogging of my article on the Corporation’s bias. I know this is convoluted, and slightly incestuous, but the comments are worth repeating here.

Daniel Margrain wrote:

The BBC was founded by Lord Reith in 1922 and immediately used as a propaganda weapon for the Baldwin government during the General Strike, when it was known by workers as the “British Falsehood Corporation”. During the strike, no representative of organised labour was allowed to be heard on the BBC. Ramsay McDonald, the leader of the opposition, was also banned.

In their highly respected study of the British media, Power Without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton wrote of ‘the continuous and insidious dependence of the Corporation [the BBC] on the government’. (Routledge, 4th edition, 1991, p.144)

John Pilger has reported:

‘Journalists with a reputation for independence were refused BBC posts because they were not considered “safe”.’ (John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, p.496)

In 2003, a Cardiff University report found that the BBC ‘displayed the most “pro-war” agenda of any broadcaster’ on the Iraq invasion. Over the three weeks of the initial conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of coalition government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters. The BBC was less likely than Sky, ITV or Channel 4 News to use independent sources, who also tended to be the most sceptical. The BBC also placed least emphasis on Iraqi casualties, which were mentioned in 22% of its stories about the Iraqi people, and it was least likely to report on Iraqi opposition to the invasion.

http://www.medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=639:bbc-bombast-propaganda-complaints-and-black-holes-of-silence&catid=24:alerts-2011&Itemid=9

Joan Edington also commented on their bias towards privatised hospitals, and against Scots Independence.

It’s taken a long time for a lot of people to realise this bias. So many simply refused to believe that the good old BBC could be anything but impartial. Sadly, it has been obvious to me, and anyone who pays attention to the detail of news, that it has been getting worse for several years.

I first really noticed it in 2012 when the Welfare Reform Act came into play. There were interviews with patients at new PPI hospitals saying what wonderful treatment they had, while similar interviews of patients at traditional NHS hospitals always highlighted the negatives.

Up to this point I was ALMOST giving the benefit of the doubt about bias, thinking that maybe it was because they had sacked so many journalists that they could no longer carry out their own research.

However, since then, virtually all reports have claimed an event as true rather than saying “according to the government”. This is no more than propaganda.

The final nails in the coffin, to me and many Scots, was their blatant backing of Better Together during the Scottish Referendum in 2014 and a totally discredited “Scottish Labour” during the GE in May 2015. Mind you, these were probably not noticed by 90% of the UK population.

I am extremely sad about this situation since the BBC does make some very good programmes. It’s sports coverage used to be by far the best, back in the days before it had to compete with the money available to the commercial channels. It seems that we are to lose all that, simply because their once trusted and respected News Department can no longer lives up to that title.

My guess is that the BBC behaves with this bias because it is the British Broadcasting Corporation. It is the official, established state broadcaster, and so represents the views of the Establishment. It is supposedly impartial, and my guess is that many of its staff genuinely believe they are, but as the official state broadcaster the establishment bias is at the very core of its ethos and raison d’etre.

Hence the Tory party political bias, and the pro-War agenda. The upper classes have always been the backbone of the armed forces, ever since the feudal warriors of the Middle Ages. And the war in the Middle East is being ostensibly waged to protect Britain and defend and export her values of democracy and civil government. The opposite is true, of course. It’s done to for the interests of multinational industry, and the freedom of western capitalism to steal and exploit the resources of the Middle East. And so when the Beeb decides that its going to discuss the contemporary war on terror, it all becomes very establishment and official.