Posts Tagged ‘Radio 4’

‘I’ Article About Research into Artificial Wombs and their Morality

January 8, 2020

This is another science story from yesterday’s I for 7th January 2020. It’s about current research into developing artificial wombs. At the moment, these would be for very premature babies, but they could in theory go much further, which raises some serious ethical issues.

The article by Alla Katsnelson, ‘Baby in a bag: could humans be grown in an artificial womb?’ runs

Critically preterm babies face an uncertain future. Although a foetus is considered viable at 24 weeks of gestation, only about 60 per cent of babies born so young will survive, and many will experience life-long complications.

For those born a couple of weeks earlier, the statistics are even more dire: just 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks are likely to survive.

building a so-called artificial womb could potentially save these babies. In October, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands announced that they had received a grant for E2.9m (£2.5m) to develop a prototype of such a device. But the project isn’t the only artificial womb on the horizon. In 2017, researchers in Philadelphia transferred foetal lambs, aged between 105 and 115 days of gestation (equivalent to about 28 to 30 weeks human gestation), into a so-called biobag filled with artificial amniotic fluid. After several weeks in the bag, the lambs developed normally. And in March 2019, an Australian and Japanese research team kept younger lambs, about 95 days’ gestational age, alive in a different system.

Dr Matthew Kemp, who led the latter work, admits that researchers don’t fully understand foetal growth in the womb, which makes replicating it a challenge. The Dutch group noted plans to roll out a clinic-ready prototype in five years, but Dr Kemp says it will probably take much longer. And because the technology is so costly, it’s unlikely to be widely available any time soon.

So far, what researchers call artificial wombs are essentially souped-up incubators. They provide a fluid-filled space in which a foetus can receive nutrients and oxygen through a ‘placenta’. From there to full-on ectogenesis – incubating foetuses outside a human for the full duration of a pregnancy – is an enormous leap.

But many bioethicists note that technology moves quickly, and proactively thinking through the possibilities is important.

In this more futuristic vision, artificial wombs can do a lot for society, says Dr Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University in New York. It could allow people who can’t carry a pregnancy for whatever reason – illness, infertility, age, or gender – to do so. It might also shift some of the childbearing responsibilities carried by women. But it also raises concerns. For example, ex-utero gestation would probably turn reproductive rights on their head, says Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Manchester. If a foetus can gestate outside a woman’s body, the choice fo whether or not to have the baby might be deemed out of her hands.

Another issue is that our legal rights are predicated on having been born alive. “I don’t think that a gestating subject in an artificial womb necessarily meets that requirement,” says Romanis. “That raises some questions about human entities ex-utero that have never existed before.

There have been newspaper articles about the development of artificial wombs since the 1980s, at least. The Absurder published one c. 1985, and I think the Independent also published one in the 1990s. And the whole area of artificial reproduction has been a live issue since the first ‘test tube’ baby created through in vitro fertilisation in the 1970s. But it also raises the spectacle of the kind of dystopian society Aldous Huxley portrayed in Brave New World, where humans are bred in hatcheries, engineered and conditioned for their future role in society. The Auronar, the telepathic race to which Cally, one of the heroes of the Beeb’s SF series, Blake’s 7, also reproduced through artificial gestation.And one of the predictions in Brian Stableford’s and David Langford’s future history, The Third Millennium, is that during this millennium this will be the preferred method of human reproduction, at least in some extraterrestrial colonies. And over a decade Radio 4 broadcast a series in which various intellectuals created fictional museums. One was ‘the museum of the biological body’, set in a post-human future in which people were neuter cyborgs born from hatcheries. This is obviously very far off, and I doubt anywhere near the majority of humans would ever want to reject gender and sexuality completely, whatever certain sections of the trans community might believe.

As with cloning and Dolly the Sheep, it raises very profound and disturbing questions about humanity’s future and how far technology should expand into the area of reproduction.

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.

Johnson Turns on BBC Complaining of Bias

December 17, 2019

Despite the Beeb’s massive pro-Tory bias – all those stories it ran pushing the anti-Semitism smears, the packed, right-wing panels and audiences of Question Time and Fiona Bruce favouring the Tories, gaslighting Diane Abbott, and Laura Kuenssberg’s breach of electoral law about the postal vote, BoJo still isn’t satisfied with the Corporation. He announced yesterday that he was boycotting Radio 4’s Today programme, claiming it was biased. An article about this in yesterday’s Metro, ‘Johnson boycott of BBC Today ‘Bubble”, ran

Boris Johnson has turned up his attack on the BBC and ‘withdrawn engagement’ from its Radio 4 Today programme.

A No. 10 source accused the corporation of speaking to a ‘pro-Remain  metropolitan bubble in Islington yesterday’.

No minister were put up for interview on the programme in the 48 hours after the election, following a campaign in which the PM was criticised for refusing interviews to the Today programme and Andrew Neil.

Dominic Cummings – the PM’s chief adviser – told colleagues he ‘never listens’ to the programme, which has lost 1 million listeners since 2017. 

It also emerged the PM has asked aides to explore whether non-payment of the TV licence fee should be decriminalised.

He threw doubt over the future of the £154.50 annual charge during the campaign.

A BBC spokesman defended its election coverage and said it was ‘fair and proportional’. 

Zelo Street comments on the twitter debate about this, beginning with former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s tweet

A clever moment for Dominic Cummings {if it’s him} to pick off the BBC [and thereby delight Murdoch and many others]. If my timeline is representative, many of the Beeb’s natural defenders are shrugging and/or too cross to protest.

Even if they think the BBC had a poor election, that’s like abandoning the NHS because it struggled over one winter. By all means call for improvement/reform. Privatisation will lead to a form of UK Fox News. And then how we’ll miss it.

The Tories have been steadily running down the BBC for years. They resent it because it’s a state industry. Hence the legislation passed under Major’s government demanding that more programmes should be made outside the Beeb by private production companies. Boris’ attack will also please Murdoch and the Americans. Murdoch has been attacking the Beeb for years in order to promote his wretched Sky channel, and the Americans are buying up British broadcasters. Nothing would please Murdoch and the Americans more than to have the Beeb abolished or privatised.

As for Fox News, it’s dire. Its slogan, ‘Fair and balanced news’ is an outright lie. It has a colossal right-wing bias to the point that one media investigation found that people would be far better informed if they didn’t watch it because of the massive falsehoods and lies peddled by the channel. It also has a very restricted audience. Its demographics show that most of its viewers are over 70, so much so that it has been described as a television retirement home. Yet I can remember an article by one of the hacks in the Radio Times pondering if the BBC shouldn’t emulate it.

Zelo Street also shows a number of other tweets by people, who do feel betrayed by the corporation. While they don’t support its privatisation, they feel that their criticisms aren’t taken seriously. This feeling is summed up in a tweet from Matt Prescott:

I used to love the BBC and would have died on the barricades to defend it. Now I feel utterly betrayed by the daily failures to ask hard questions and call out lies.

Tim concludes

‘The Tories have played the BBC like an obedient fool. And in pandering to them, the Corporation has left itself fatally vulnerable.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/tories-turn-on-bbc.html

Yes, they have. If the Corporation thought that a pro-Tory bias would stave off further attacks, they have been gravely mistaken. The Tories won’t be satisfied until they are privatised, just as they want the media in general to capitulate to them and their wishes utterly. As history has shown, those broadcasters that anger them in power have their stories spiked or their broadcasting licences withdrawn.

The Beeb does make good programmes, which is partly why the Tories hate it. As an institution, it’s genuinely popular and so prevents private broadcasters completely taking over British television and radio. But through its pro-Tory bias it has alienated many on the left, who would otherwise be its most staunch defenders.

But Johnson’s attack on the Beeb is only going to be the beginning. He wants the other broadcasters to submit. The attack on the Beeb is also a veiled threat to them.

The Tories are directly attacking freedom of speech and opinion on the airwaves. This looks very much like the beginning of massive state control of public broadcasting, in which the only voices permitted will be pro-Tory.

 

 

Trailer for Horror Movie ‘Tokoloshe’

November 23, 2019

The tokoloshe is a type of goblin in Black South African folklore. I found this trailer for a horror movie about the spirit on YouTube. The blurb for it simply says its due to be released on View On Demand soon.

This looks like it could be amazing. It appears to be set in South Africa with a mostly Black cast, and as such is a fresh approach to Horror. A little while ago a Black fan complained to the British comics/fantasy writer Neil Gaiman that there was no Black Horror literature. So Gaiman tried to correct that by writing the novel Anansi Boys. This has been adapted for Radio 4, where it starred Jacob Anderson and Lenny Henry. The Hollywood Horror film, Candyman, is based on a figure from modern Black American urban folklore, so Horror has drawn on Black folklore before. I also wonder if an investigation of Black cinema and the films made for Black audiences during segregation, as shown in the documentary That’s Black Entertainment,  and then the Blaxploitation phase of the ’70s, also didn’t have some Horror movies or ghost stories also drawn from the Black experience. It was the ’70s that gave us Blackula, which was parodied a few years ago in a pop video. But it’s true that the vast majority of Horror movies and literature come from within White and now mainstream culture. But this is the only movie I can think of that’s been made starring Black Africans and aimed at a global, mainstream market.

I think there’s an influence from Marvel’s Black Panther movie there as well. Not in the content of the film, but possibly in the fact that it showed that mainstream audiences were willing to accept films with a Black majority cast.

This looks like its going to bring an original, non-western view and material to the Horror genre, and could be really interesting indeed. 

EL4JC Video Showing Just How Impartial the Beeb Isn’t

November 2, 2019

Mike over on Vox Political has reproduced a series of tweets showing a video produced by EL4JC. This is a graph showing the cumulative proportion of left, right and centre guests on various Beeb news and politics programmes. The columns in the graph increase as the figures for each day and programme is added to the sound of Greig’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from the Peer Gynt suite. This ends by showing how massively biased the Beeb is in its selection of guests. Here’s a shot of the last image.

Embedded video

As you can see, the Beeb is massively biased in favour of the Right. Those guests, who are not from the Right are drawn far more from the Centre than the Left. One of those, who retweeted the image, Julie Houghton, commented

this is appalling. Retweet everyone and share. Sick of seeing right wing nutters having such a biased platform. Handed to them on a plate by the BBC & don’t get me fucking started on right wing lying newspapers, distorting the truth. Something has to change.

Yes, it does. And this analysis of Beeb bias won’t surprise anyone – not on the Left at least. Barry and Saville Kushner in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, tell how the Beeb on its news programmes always featured people supporting austerity to the exclusion of trade unionists, Labour politicos and protesters arguing otherwise. When these dissenting voices were allowed on, they were quickly silenced, or in some cases actually shouted down by the presenters. The media research departments at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff universities have also produced reports into Beeb political bias. They concluded that the Beeb is far more likely to have speaking on their programmes Conservatives and spokesmen from the City than Labour politicians and trade unionists.

But why this massive bias now? Mike also reproduces this image, containing a tweet from a former BBC newsman, Marcus Moore, and a graphic about the career of Sarah Sands, now editor of the Radio 4 Today programme.

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Moore’s statement that this all follows Cameron’s decision to appoint John Browne, formerly of BP, to the government department responsible for recruiting management and senior executives from private business to reformed government departments also deserves comment. I don’t doubt that Moore’s absolutely correct in that the ultimate responsibility for all this lies with Cameron. But Tony Blair was also keen to have the BBC parrot lines spouted by New Labour. And the appointment of private business people to the heads of government departments was not only a New Labour corporatist policy, but also that of the Nazis in their promotion of private industry. Not that the Beeb wasn’t biased in favour of the Tories long before that.

So where should people go for proper information?

Mike suggests that people would be better served taking it from social media, and the independent sources that so terrify the establishment media. So much so that there are now groups like Stop Funding Fake News, who adopt a spurious concern to prevent people getting their news from extremist sources. By which they mean websites like The Canary, which supports Jeremy Corbyn, but is not ‘extremist’ nor does it retail false information. The establishment claim that people taking their information from online sites like The Canary is not only fueling extremism, it is also destroying the ideological consensus built by people all reading and watching the same newspapers and news programmes. In other words, they’re afraid that people are moving away from them and their influence is being undermined by their online competitors.

Good.

The lamestream media are all pushing, to a greater or lesser degree, the same Thatcherite policies that have done so much damage to our country, and have destroyed so many lives – of the unemployed, the poor, and the disabled. It deserves nothing but our contempt, and people are far better advised looking at excellent left-wing blogs and sites like The Canary, The Skwawkbox, Novara Media, Evolve Politics, Vox Political, Zelo Street, Another Angry Voice, the Disability News Service and so on.

But Mike’s piece also concludes with a tweet from Mike Smart, warning people only to take their anger out on Beeb news programmes. Otherwise they will play into the hands of the right-wing and corporate shills wishing to privatise the Beeb altogether.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Private Eye Cheers Defunding Campaign Against the Canary

October 17, 2019

I’ve blogged many times before about Private Eye’s hatred of Jeremy Corbyn and their poisonous support for the anti-Semitism smear campaign against Labour. One of those pushing it in the Eye is ‘Ratbiter’, revealed by Tony Greenstein a little while ago to be the pseudonym of Groaniad/Absurder hack Nick Cohen. Cohen, who isn’t actually Jewish despite his name, is clearly one of those miffed that Labour has elected someone who’s actually going to do something for Britain’s working people, and isn’t prepare to ignore or support crimes committed by the British establishment’s favourite colonialist state in the Middle East. He’s the author of a piece, ‘Faking Hell…’ in this fortnight’s issue of the satirical rag for 18th-31st October 2019, praising the Stop Funding Fake News organisation for their campaign to stop advertisers using those social media sites they consider to be outlets for fake news. Cohen’s article starts by praising the site for doing what he believes Google should be doing in preventing firms advertising with extremist web sites. He starts off by describing how those on the extreme right have had their advertising revenues hit, as firms like Sky, Macmillan Cancer Care, Which?, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Manchester United, Chelsea, Ted Baker, Experian and Ebay have requested Google to take down their advertising on Breitbart, Westmonster, and TR, the site of the notorious islamophobe and jailbird Tommy Robinson. Thanks to their campaign, Robinson’s site has lost 70 per cent of its income. Which might stop some of his jaunts abroad for a little while. But almost inevitable, the article goes on to attack The Canary. This has been a particular bete noir of the Eye for some time. They really don’t seem able to stand the idea that there are any social media sites supporting Corbyn, not least because they’re also a rival to the lamestream media. Which also includes Private Eye. Describing SFFN’s attacks on The Canary and its effects, Cohen says

While far-right sites target Muslim immigrants, far-left sites target Jews. “The Canary”, the campaign tells its followers and advertisers, “regularly publishes fake news and attempts to justify anti-Semitism”. it also feeds the conspiracy theories of the far left. One hideous example came when the campaign discovered that Unicef, which tends to the victims of the Syrian and Venezuelan regimes, was advertising on the Canary, which has denied the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and pretended that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad did not use chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in Douma. In August, the Canary cut its staff from 25 to seven. Perhaps inevitably, it blamed “political Zionists” targeting advertisers.

The toppling of the Canary is “the strongest evidence yet that the clickbait business model can be defeated”, the campaign said. Combine it with changes to Facebook’s algorithms to reduce the prominence of media businesses, and fake news in the UK is taking a hit.

Let’s go through and critique this pile of driveling hogwash. 

Firstly, the Canary isn’t a ‘far left’ site. As I understand it, it supports Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s programme of nationalisation, the restoration of the NHS, welfare state, worker’s rights and trade unions, isn’t extreme left, except in the addled brains of convinced Thatcherites. It’s actually a return to the social democratic consensus, which was actually the centre left before the appearance of Thatcher and her campaign of privatisation, deregulation and the destruction of the welfare state and the decimation of working class organisations.

Secondly, it doesn’t promote anti-Semitism. What it has done is attack, rebut and refute the anti-Semitism smears against the Labour party and specifically Corbyn’s and his supporters. And these are very much politically motivated. It comes from the Blairites, who are determined to cling to power whatever the cost, the British political and media establishment, which is simply terrified of anyone giving back any power to working people, and the Israel lobby. And a large part of it comes from the Israel lobby. Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada, and the Jewish American academic and critic of Israel, Norman Finkelstein,  have described at length how Israel and its supporters have been smearing any and all critics of Israel as anti-Semites since the 1980s, even when they are anything but Jew-haters, as in the case of those above. It’s their only defence against the justifiable criticism and condemnation of Israel’s government for its crimes against the Palestinians. It’s hasbara, the Hebrew term for Israeli civilian propaganda. The campaign against Israel’s critics, including Corbyn, is run by a special department of the Israeli state. This is why one of those smeared as an anti-Semite is Cyril Chilson. Mr Chilson is the son of a Russian Red Army pilot and a holocaust survivor.  He’s Israeli, and served in the IDF and then an intelligence unit producing such propaganda. It’s because of his work for the Israeli military that he recognised the attacks on Corbyn and his supporters for what it was, and denounced it. And as result, this man, the son of people whose resistance and survival of Nazism was truly heroic, has been smeared as a Jew-hater. Disgusting.

Thirdly, the Anglo-American media have been producing fake news about Venezuela and Syria. Some of the footage of refugees supposedly fleeing persecution by Maduro’s regime was faked. Independent experts analysing the footage and evidence of the chemical weapons attack at Douma have come to the conclusion that this was also faked. Assad is a monster, who has killed and tortured in order to maintain power, and he does oppress his country’s Sunni Muslim population. But it doesn’t look like he was responsible for that atrocity. That lies instead with the ‘freedom fighters’ – ahem- which we’re supporting. You know, groups connected with ISIS and what evolved from the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. But the neocons have been pushing for the overthrow of the Syrian regime since the 1990s, because Assad is a Shi’a, like the Iranian regime, although of a much more radical branch of that faith. He’s therefore allied to Iran, which the Americans also want to overthrow. See the pieces produced by the Jimmy Dore Show about this.

Cohen in his attack on the Canary for rightly rejecting the received view of these events is therefore parroting Neocon propaganda.

Zelo Street has written extensively about Stop Funding Fake News, exposing how it attacks decent left-wing social media sites, while at the same time remaining very shadowy itself. No-one knows who runs it, as their identities and connections are very much hidden. The Sage of Crewe has therefore advised companies not to be influenced by their misinformation and pronouncements, until they themselves become much more transparent.

And then there’s Private Eye’s hypocrisy for printing this drivel.

Ian Hislop, the magazine’s editor, appeared on Radio 4 a few years ago in a piece about satire down the centuries, explaining that what his magazine attacked was humbug, double standards. Private Eye is one of the few mainstream magazines that tries to bring the public the news behind the news, exposing double-dealing, lies and hypocrisy in the press, the government and industry. But publishing this attack on the Canary is very hypocritical, consisting as it does of nothing but lies and propaganda.

The Defunding of Arab Satirists Al-Hudood

And it’s especially hypocritical as a few pages before Cohen’s wretched piece, there’s a little article in the magazine’s ‘Street of Shame’ column, ‘Joke Now, Pay Later’, about how the Arabic satirical website, Al-Hudood, was experiencing a funding crisis. Metro Bank has told them it will no longer act as their bank, and they have not been able to find anyone else to do so. There has been no explanation from the banks for this refusal to deal with them.

This seems to be the same tactics Stop Funding Fake News are taking with the Canary and other left-wing bloggers and vloggers: try to take them down through preventing people from supporting them financially. Perhaps whichever oppressive regime or organisation has leant on the banks to withdraw their support for al-Hudood also considers that they’re ‘fake news’ and a dangerous, extremist organisation.

Private Eye does much good in its exposure of some of the underhand dealings in Britain and around the world. But this attack on the Canary is, like their attacks on Corbyn and his supporters, just pure hypocritical establishment lies.

IPSO and the Press Story about Princess Di’s Warning to Meghan Markle from beyond the Grave

October 6, 2019

I found another interesting snippet from Private Eye while I was looking through a pile of old copies last night, which adds a slightly different perspective Prince Harry’s decision to prosecute the press.  Harry is rightly angered at the way his and other’s phones were hacked, and it appears that one of the other victims was his mother, Princess Diana. It looks like one of those bearing responsibility for that was Piers Morgan, who was editor of the Mirror and then News of the World when it happened.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/10/prince-harry-says-they-hacked-diana.html

I’m afraid I’ve misplaced the snippet, but if anyone’s really interested, I’ll try to find it again. But it was a report on a later sent to a complainant by IPSO about an article published in one of the newspapers. This claimed that a pair of ‘psychic twins’ had been contacted by the late Lady Di, who had given them warning from her to be given to Meghan Markle. If the Eye’s account is correct, it was deeply tasteless story. I’m not a sceptic regarding life after death and the possibility of the dead contacting the living, but this is right up there with some of the nonsense spread by mediums like the late Doris Stokes in her prime. And the various celebrity mediums, who’ve come out with messages from everybody from Henry VIII, Julius Caesar and Queen Victoria. It’s nonsense. The person, who complained to IPSO about it apparently objected to it because these claims were being reported as fact. IPSO stated that they decided that it had not. The article had included plenty of terms indicating neutrality towards the truth of the twins’ claim, like ‘perhaps’, and indicated that they were only reporting what they claimed through statements like ‘they said’. And so IPSO turned the complaint down.

The article didn’t say, who had complained to IPSO, carefully preserving their anonymity. And it could have been anyone. Princess Di may be over twenty years’ dead, but she still has her fans. Just as Meghan Markle and Harry also have their admirers amongst the general public, quite apart from their personal friends.

I was never a fan of Princess Diana. She did some good as Prince Charles’ consort, notably in her campaign against landmines. But she was also adept at manipulating the press, and her spat with Charles did diminish the general esteem of the monarchy, even if Charles was the adulterer. Nevertheless, she was killed with Dodi Fayed trying to escape the paparazzi press that followed and exploited her.

This story reminds me of comments Robbie Williams made a few years ago on a programme hosted by Jon Ronson on Radio 4. Ronson and Williams were going to a UFO and alien abductions convention in the US. When asked how he got interested in ufology, the 90s singing sensation replied that it was partly due to the rubbish he had suffered from the press about his mother. She was a medium, and so the papers had run endless stories about Williams, his mother and spooks until he was so sick and tired of it that he couldn’t read the papers. It was then that he started getting into UFOs, as something of a diversion. And on the subject of UFOs, Williams sounded remarkably sensible and grounded. When asked about some of the absurdities of the alien abduction phenomenon and Indigo Children – supposedly aliens incarnated as children to guide us here on Earth – he simply replied that he didn’t believe it or disbelieve it.

You can well understand why Williams would be upset with the press stories about himself and his mother. Just as it would be no mystery to anyone if Harry was upset about similar stories about his own mother and wife. Lady Di was certainly no angel, but she was hounded to her death by the papers. And the papers have been attacking Meghan Markle, with more than an undercurrent of racism beneath. How dare this American woman of colour marry a royal! And anyone would be annoyed at the press for hacking their and their family’s phones.

I therefore have every sympathy for Prince Harry’s decision, and wish him the very best in his suit against the press, particularly Rupert Murdoch and Piers Morgan. I’m sure that many Conservatives will too. I know one, who hated the Sun despite its right-wing bias, because it had taken every opportunity to exploit and run down the monarchy. It looks like now one of the royals is biting back. 

 

 

Radio 4 Programme on Racism and the Marginalisation of the White Poor in Bristol

October 4, 2019

The edition of the Radio 4 programme, Analysis, for Sunday 6th October 2019, is on ‘Whiteness’. The blurb for the programme on page 129 of the Radio Times runs

Neil Maggs, a Bristol-based journalist, is watching the debate on white privilege and race play out across the city he has grown up in. While he accepts much of the discourse on White privilege, he worries that an over-emphasis on race could further marginalise some of the poorer, white inhabitants in Bristol. How can society find a way through this, and what can different groups of white people agree on about their whiteness? 

The programme’s on at 9.30 pm.

It’s a good question. There has certainly been more than a degree of resentment about the amount of funding that has gone into St. Paul’s and the other racially-mixed areas in Bristol’s inner city, while the outlying, mostly White working class suburbs to the south of Bristol have largely been ignored. And one of the reasons suggested for the rise of UKIP, now eclipsed by the equally noxious Brexit party, has been that working class White voters felt ignored and left-behind by the Labour party. They were certainly ignored by Blair and New Labour, who were far more keen on picking up votes from more affluent voters in swing constituencies, and appealing to the middle classes by adopting the Tory policies of privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. And some of the resurgence of racism and anti-feminism in parts of the British working class may well be a reaction to this. Because while Blair and co. courted the middle class, they were also very loud about being anti-racist and feminist. It was an attitude that may well have created over here a constituency of angry White men that in America votes for Trump and the Republicans. Hopefully that is changing now that Corbyn is standing up for the working class as a whole. David Rosenberg has stated several times, and particularly against Margaret Hodge and her policy of doing nothing, that the way to tackle Fascism is to stress working class solidarity and class issues. These are tactics Hodge definitely didn’t follow in Islington, to the point where the BNP actually sent her a bouquet of flowers when they got seven councillors elected in Dagenham and Barking. That’s something the Tory press forgot when they worked themselves up into a lather yesterday when her constituency parties voted to trigger her for re-selection as the local MP.

The BBC programme offers a provocative new perspective on race relations and White identity in Bristol. It might be interesting to hear what it has to say. Providing it doesn’t portray poor or working class White Bristolians as uniformly racist. 

Establishment Media Bias and the Cheltenham Literary Festival

September 23, 2019

Someone really ought to do a study of the way the big literary festivals – Haye-on-Wye, Cheltenham and the others – select the books and media celebs they want to push and the way they try to manipulate public opinion towards the establishment consensus. Because, believe me, it is there.

In a couple of weeks’ time, right at the beginning of October, it’ll be the Cheltenham Literary Festival. As it’s booklet of coming events tells you, it’s been proudly going for 70 years. I think it was set up, or given a great deal of assistance when it was set up, by Alan Hancock, who owned a secondhand bookshop on Cheltenham’s Promenade. It was a fascinating place, where you could acquire some really fascinating, valuable academic books cheaply. But it had the same internal layout as the fictional setting of the 1990’s Channel 4 comedy, Black Books, but without Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey or Tamsin Grieg.

The festival’s overall literary stance is, very roughly, broadsheet papers + BBC, especially Radio 4. It pretty much shows what’s captured the attention of the newspaper literary pages and the BBC news team, several of whom naturally have books coming out, and who are appearing. In past years I’ve seen John Simpson, Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts, Giles Brandreth and John Humphreys talk or appear on panels. This year they’ve got, amongst others, Emily Maitlis and Humphrey’s again.

Much of the Festival’s content is innocuous enough, even praiseworthy from a left-wing perspective. For example, there are a number of authors talking about their books about empowering women and ethnic minorities. These include Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene talking about their book, Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, which is what it says: a guide for Black girls. Other topics and books discussed are on how empowered Black men are, and various feminist works about how gynaecological problems should be discussed openly, and the changing nature of the female muse. Rather than being passive creatures, modern muses are active, liberated women conquering business, sports, the arts and science. There’s also a piece on the future of masculinity, titled ‘Will Boys Still Be Boys’, which asks what will happen to boys now that the idea that there is a natural realm of masculinity, such as superiority and aggression, has been disproved. The concern with ethnic minority authors has always been there, or at least since the 1990s. Then, and in the early part of this century, a frequent theme of the Festival was ‘crossing continents’, which gave a platform to prominent literary authors from outside Europe and the West. It also gave space to Black and Asian literature from the UK. I can remember too, how one of the events staged at the Festival was a celebration of Black British poetry, much of it in Caribbean Patois.

The Festival also caters for more popular tastes. In the past it had speaking the Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, along with the approved, heavyweight literary types. It has events for children’s books, and this year features such media celebrities as Francis Rossi from Status Quo and Paul Merton. So, something for everyone, or so it seems.

But nevertheless, the Establishment bias is there, especially as so many of the speakers, like Maitlis and Humphreys, are drawn from the mainstream media. Back in the 1990s the Festival was sponsored by the Independent. Now it’s sponsored by the Times, the Murdoch rag whose sister paper, the Sunset Times, has spent so much time smearing Corbyn and his supporters as Communist infiltrators or vicious anti-Semites. Maitlis and Humphreys are BBC news team, and so, almost by definition, they’re Conservative propagandists. Especially as Humphreys is retiring, and has given interviews and written pieces for the Heil. Any chance of hearing something from the Cheltenham Festival about the current political situation that doesn’t conform to what the Establishment wants you to hear, or is prepared to tolerate? Answers on a postcard, please. Here’s a couple of examples. One of the topics under discussion is ‘Populism’. I don’t know what they’re planning to include in it, but from previous discussions of this in the media, I’m prepared to bet that they’ll talk about Trump, possibly Boris Johnson, the rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere in the world, like Marine Le Pen former Front National in France, the AfD in Germany, Orban and so on in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Five Star Movement in Italy. All of whom are definitely populists. But they’ll also probably include Corbyn and Momentum, because Corbyn is genuinely left-wing, challenges the Thatcherite neoliberal consensus and will empower the masses. All of which threatens the Establishment. There are also individual politicians speaking this year, but the only one I found from the Left was Jess Philips. Who isn’t remotely left-wing in the traditional sense, though she is an outspoken feminist.

The other topic is about what should be done with Putin. Now let’s not delude ourselves, Putin is a corrupt thug, and under him Russia has become once again a very autocratic state. Political and religious dissidents, including journalists, are being attacked, jailed and in some cases murdered. Among the religious groups he’s decided are a threat to Mother Russia are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m not a member of the denomination, and find their doorstep campaigning as irritating as everyone else. But they are certainly not a dangerous cult or terrorist organisation. And they have stood up to tyrants. They were persecuted by the Nazis during the Third Reich, with their members imprisoned in the concentration camps, including a 17 year old boy, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular messiah. For which I respect for them. The Arkhiplut has enriched himself, and rewarded his cronies with company directorships, while assassinating the oligarchs, who haven’t toed his line. And I still remember the genocidal butchery he unleashed in Chechnya nearly two decades ago, because they had the temerity to break away.

But geopolitically, I don’t regard Putin as a military threat. In terms of foreign policy it seems that Putin is interested solely in preserving the safety of his country from western encirclement. Hence the invasion of the Ukraine to protect the Russian minority there. If he really wanted to conquer the country, rather than the Donbass, his tanks would be in Kiev by now. I’ve blogged before about how Gorbachev was promised by the West that in return for allowing the former eastern European satellites to break away from the USSR, they would remain neutral and not become members of NATO. That’s been violated. They’ve all become members, and there are NATO military bases now on Russia’s doorstep. The Maidan Revolution of 2012 which overthrew the previous, pro-Russian president of Ukraine was stage managed by the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. There’s evidence that the antagonism against Putin’s regime comes from western multinationals, who feel aggrieved at not being able to seize Russian companies as promised by Putin’s predecessor, the corrupt, drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin. Putin also seems to be quite genuine in his belief in a multipolar world, in which his country, as well as others like China, are also superpowers. But the Americans are interested only in maintaining their position as the world’s only superpower through ‘full spectrum dominance’: that is, absolute military superiority. The US’ military budget supersedes both the Russian and that of the four other major global countries combined. Arguably, Russia ain’t the global threat. America and NATO are.

Festivals like that of Cheltenham are important. They’re business arrangements, of course. They exist to sell books. But they also encourage literacy, and allow the public to come face to face with the people, who inform and entertain them through the written word. Although here the books’ pages of Private Eye complained years ago that the Festival and others like it gave more space to celebrities from television, sport, music and other areas, rather than people, whose primary living was from writing. But the information we are given is shaped by the media – by the papers and broadcasters, who give the public the news, and the publishers, who decide which books on which subjects to publish. And then there’s the bias of the individual festivals themselves. And in the case of Cheltenham, it is very establishment. It’s liberal in terms of feminism and multiculturalism, but other conservative, and increasing Conservative, in others. It’s through events like Cheltenham that the media tries to create and support the establishment consensus.

But that consensus is rightly breaking down, as increasingly more people become aware that it is only creating mass poverty. The Establishment’s refusal to tolerate other, competing opinions – their demonisation of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Nazis, for example – is leading to further alienation and disaffection. Working people don’t find their voices and concerns reflected in the media. Which is why they’re turning to the online alternatives. But Festivals like Cheltenham carry on promoting the same establishment agenda, with the odd voice from the opposition, just like the Beeb’s Question Time. And this is going to change any time soon, not with lyingt rags like the Times sponsoring it.