Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Rupert Murdoch and the Privatisation of the BBC

June 9, 2016

One of the major forces behind the Tory’s demands for the privatisation of the BBC is Rupert Murdoch. It is well-known that Murdoch owns the Sky satellite TV network, and so bitterly resents the state broadcaster as an obstacle preventing his own continuing expansion into broadcasting. Murdoch isn’t the only media mogul to demand the break-up of the Beeb in favour of their own interests as private broadcasters. Until recent, Richard ‘Dirty’ Desmond, the proprietor of Express newspapers and various grubby mags found on the top shelves on newsagents also owned Channel 5, along with his Fantasy X porn channel. The situation was much the same in the 1980s, when one of the other newspaper magnates, the late, unlamented Robert Maxwell, owned Rediffusion, which was also looking to expand, and so attacked the Beeb. But because of his domination of the market, Murdoch is perhaps the leading voice demanding the Beeb’s privatisation.

Mark Hollingworth discusses Murdoch’s self-interested attacks on the BBC in his book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship. While this section isn’t particularly surprising in itself, as the Dirty Digger has been doing it for decades, what is shocking is how viciously and single-mindedly the old brute prosecuted his attacks on the Beeb in the 1980s. He writes:

The attacks on the BBC began in January 1985, during the corporation’s negotiations for an increased licence fee, and were sustained through the year. On 14 January 1985, the Times published the first of three successive leading articles extolling the virtues of advertising the need for deregulation of the BBC: ‘The BBC is today accused of inefficiency, unaccountability, self-aggrandisement and feather-bedding its employees…Are the critics justified? In their main principles, yes.’ The next day Labour MP Joe Ashton launched his private member’s bill calling for advertising on the BBC. That morning the Times’ editorial was headlined-‘Wither the BBC’- and called for the break-up of the corporation: ‘Advertisers can clearly pay some part in generating the revenue to pay for many programmes…We need a more open, less monolithic system of broadcasting in which customers can choose what qualities they want from their TV screens.’ The next day the Times thundered again at its 1,300,000 readers: ‘Lord Annan’s Committee recommended a break-up of the BBC into its radio, TV and local radio components. The government should now prepare to go further than this. It should consider quickly the establishment of a new broadcasting commission to auction franchises that are currently operated by the BBC.

Now, what the Times fails to tell its readers is who will directly benefit if these franchises are auctioned. At the front of the queue will be a certain R. Murdoch, proprietor of the Times, who will benefit commercially if the BBC is broken up. Murdoch’s company, News International, owns Sky Channel-a cable and satellite operation which transmits 73 hours a week of alternative television and has three million subscribers in 11 countries. In 1983 Murdoch also took control of Satellite TV, Sky’s parent company, at a cost of £5 million and has a 75.5 per cent shareholding. Satellite began transmitting in 1982, beaming English language programmes to Norway and Finland for two hours a night. In 1985 the Times’ owner acquired the biggest stake in 20th Century Fox to provide films for his satellite Sky Channel to beam across Europe. Clearly, if even parts of the BBC are privatised, these Murdoch-owned companies will make a lot of money.

Murdoch’s views on the BBC are quite clear. ‘I would like to see it privatized,’ he said in November 1985. But this was not just his private opinion. According to the Mirror’s Paul Foot, Murdoch ‘has personally ordered a sustained attack on the BBC and all its people.’ Alastair Hetherington, former editor of the Guardian, added weight to this assertion when he accused the Times of conducting ‘a vendetta against the BBC in its leaders, news stories and features’. This is certainly borne out by the evidence. The Times published at least eight anti-BBC editorials throughout 1985. The paper also published a series of news reports, often based on the thinnest material, which suggested extravagance and incompetence among BBC management. ‘BBC Condemned As Licence Fee Monster’ was the headline for one story which was merely a report of an article by an obscure ex-BBC employee in a trade journal.

Moreover, when angry readers have written to complain about the coverage or offer and alternative point of view, the Times has refused to publish their letters. this was revealed by Paul Fox, Managing Director of Yorkshire Television. On 2 November 1985, the Times published another leader attacking the BBC, the IBA and ITV companies and misquoted comments that Fox had made about public service broadcasting. Fox wrote to the paper to set the record straight about his misrepresented remarks, but his letter was not published. Three days later, on 5 November 1985, David Plowright, the Managing Director of Granada TV and Chairman of the ITV Companies Association, also wrote to the Times to complain about front-page news report of a MORI opinion poll on advertising on the BBC. In his letter, Plowright pointed out that the Times opinion poll showed that more people were either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied with the quality of TV in Britain than those who took the opposite view. How curious, wrote Plowright, that the paper’s news story had failed to include these facts. The letter was not published and the issue was not corrected.

The Times was not the only Murdoch paper to attack the BBC. His tabloids have joined in the fun. Here’s the Sun on 23 January 1985: ‘Oh, what superior people they are at the BBC. Here is the Director-General, Alastair Milne, raising his hands in horror at the idea of accepting adverts…Just where is the BBC superior to the commercial channels… There is only one area where the Beeb shines. No-one could possibly match its overbearing, totally unjustified smugness. And again on 2 September 1985: ‘The BBC should compete in the market so it ceases to be such a burden on the public.’ The Sun’s sister paper, the News of the World, began its campaign a trifle later than most but soon made up for lost ground. Every week throughout April 1985 there was a news story about the expenses of BBC staff which were reaching ‘scandal’ proportions. The next month News of the World journalists were instructed to file detailed reports of the eating and drinking habits of fellow reporters on the BBC during a royal tour. One brave woman journalist refused, because she said this was not her job. A News of the World executive then telephoned from London to accuse her of being disloyal. However, halfway through his lecture, the editorial executive was much dismayed to find that he had been put through by mistake to Kate Adey-a BBC television news reporter. (pp.12-14).

The News of the World executive probably left the phone with his ears ringing. ‘Kats Adie’ is the formidable woman, who was thrown out of Libya after she put the fear of the Almighty into Colonel Gaddafy. She is most certainly not afraid to ask awkward questions of the powerful.

The Beeb does have its faults. Its biased news coverage enrages me, and has been criticised many times for its bias against Labour and to the Conservatives. On the other hand, at its best it does provide good, solid public service broadcasting that few of its commercial rivals are able or even willing to provide. And advertising increasingly cannot provide the needed funding for some TV programmes today. A few years ago there were plans to bring back Spitting Image, the much-loved satirical puppet show screened on Channel 4 on Sunday evenings. This was eventually dropped because it was simply too expensive.

And no matter how biased the Beeb is, Murdoch’s worse. The more he goes on, the more he resembles the Bond villain, a media-mogul, who planned to start a war between America and China simply for its news value. That particular piece of Bondage ended with Commander Bond and his mates killing the villain, who was then reported as sinking in the South China Sea along with his stealth yacht. An end very similar to the drowning of Robert Maxwell. After something like five decades of lowering media standards across the globe, you feel it’s about time someone from the world’s covert intelligence agencies made him put a sock in it.

In the meantime, here’s Spitting Image on the Dirty Digger and his nearly subterranean journalistic standards.

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Private Eye from 2009 on Corporate Lobbying at the Tory Party Conference

March 8, 2016

Private Eye printed this piece about the corporate sponsorship of the Tory conference that year in their issue for the 4th – 17th September 2009.

Conference Countdown

David Cameron has warned lobbyists to keep their distance at the Conservatives’ forthcoming party conference in Manchester. With the keys to No. 10 within his grasp, the last thing Dave needs is another cash-for-access scandal. But corporations that want to get close to the PM-in-waiting can always go the think-tank route.

Policy Exchange is the most Cameroonian of these bodies, and its preliminary conference timetable shows how easy it is for business interests to pay for face time with shadow ministers.

Shadow energy minister Charles Hendry will be speaking about “energy security and decarbonisation” courtesy of Oil & Gas UK, the trade body for the North Sea oil firms, alongside the group’s chief executive. As the meeting is being paid for by the oil lobby, energy security will most likely trump global warming, and wind and wave power, like energy saving, will not get much of a look-in.

Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien will be discussing whether funding for long-term care should be by “individual, state or partnership”. The answer may well be by “partnership” because the meeting is being paid for by Partnership Assurance which specialises in funding elderly care through equity release and insurance schemes and so has a direct interest in less government funding for elderly care.

Fellow shadow health minister Mark Simmonds meanwhile will discuss whether “We need more public health initiatives for the worried well?” The obvious answer would be ‘No we don’t”, but as the meeting is sponsored by Alliance Boots, which would love to be involved in government health initiatives to drum up more business, the answer may well be in the affirmative.

Shadow business minister Mark Prisk is addressing a meeting called “Britain won’t be great if we don’t make anything anymore”, paid for by the arms firm BAE Systems. He will speak alongside BAE’s spin doctor, Bob Keen. BAE’s contribution to Britain’s greatness includes taking huge amounts of the defence budget for military kit marred by cost overruns and late delivery – overpriced and late schemes like the Astute Class Submarine (£1bn over cost, four years late) about which the Tories have been making a fuss.

The British Airports Authority, so close to the current government, is taking no chances with a new administration and so is sponsoring a meeting on “infrastructure” with George Freeman, Cameron’s “A List” candidate for the safe Tory Mid Norfolk seat. BAA’s spin doctor, former spokesman for Tony Blair Tom Kelly, will also address Tory delegates at the meeting.

Shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey meanwhile will be talking about “the future of television ” on a platform funded by BT Vision, alongside the TV-on-the-internet firm’s chief executive. BT Vision of course currently lobbying the government to merge with Channel 4. So no hidden agenda there.

This shows how duplicitous Cameron has always been in trying to deny the corporatist agenda behind the Tory party. He wanted to hide the influence of the lobbyists at this party conference, just as his lobbying bill is supposed to make government more transparent by limiting them at Westminster. In fact, it’s aimed at charity and other political pressure groups and denying them access, and leave the corporate big boys untouched.

And it also shows the very deep connections between his Tories and the corporations seeking to profit from privatisation and government outsourcing.

The Young Turks: Verizon Patents Device to Spy on You for Advertisers

October 31, 2015

I post a similar piece from The Young Turks a little while ago on the way the American government was going to place tracking devices in people’s home appliances – TVs, washing machines, freezers, and so on, which would allow them to keep tabs on them. In this report from 2012, the Turks reveal that Verizon has patented a device which allows the TV to spy on you in order to target advertising. For example, if the camera picks up sounds of arguing, you’ll get an advert for marriage counselling. If they see ‘cuddling’, your TV will show an advert for contraceptives.

This is a serious potential infringement of civil liberties, and it’s not the first. The Turks reveal that four years previously another company had patented a similar device. Verizon are able to do so, unlike the government, which needs a warrant, because they’re a private company.

As the Turks point out, this has serious implications. They raise the obvious question: does anybody really believe that the government isn’t going to use this technology? They are, unfortunately, extremely pessimistic about the possibility of citizens resisting what Benjamin J. Grimm, your ever-lovin’ Thing, would describe as ‘a revoltin’ development’. They believe it’ll take a couple of scandals, and even, then the evidence is that people are so habituated to such surveillance, that they won’t resist.

This is one more step towards Orwell’s 1984. In Orwell’s dystopian classic, the government monitors and controls people through cameras, including in their television. Orwell’s novel was based on Stalinism and the idea of a totalitarian ‘socialist’ state. This technology is being developed for private industry, and no doubt will be adopted by our increasingly Right-wing government to protect private industry and the exploitation of the poor and unemployed by the upper classes.

Here’s the video:

Sue Marsh on TV Bias against Covering Welfare Issues

February 5, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s article and links to Sue Marsh’s post, over at Diary of Benefits Scrounger, on her experience of being downgraded from panel member to a simply member of the audience for Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row. It’s entitled, ‘The Big Benefits Row’. Like Mike, I can’t reblog her post, but it is definitely worth spreading. All of it is well-worth reading for the insight it gives into the values of ‘medjar’ folk from a woman who has appeared and tried to present the experiences of the disabled themselves on a long line of shows. As a result, she has seen herself side-lined and her views silenced in favour of the usual right-wing ignorant loudmouths. The piece begins

As many of you may know by now, last night was the Big Benefits Row on Channel 5. “Roll up! Roll up for the spectacliar sight! Real life poor people for your viewing delight!”

I was contacted by the show’s producers early. Would I be on a panel to discuss welfare changes? They assured me it would be balanced and to their credit, I do think they worked very hard to make sure a range of views were represented in a way that shows like Benefit Street and On Benefits and Proud neglected entirely. Had I been a beleaguered austerity-junkie audience person, I think I would have had a rare taste of how it feels to find oneself outnumbered.

As the days passed before the show, I got that sneaking feeling I was being downgraded. Perhaps I should explain. I’ve done a lot of media now. Newsnight, BBC News, Sky, Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, LBC and many, many more. The pattern is almost always the same. I’ve learnt never to tweet about bookings until I’m in the actual studio getting miked up. For every 5 approaches, I suppose one might actually come to something.

Initially, the plan is always for real a debate, or a full feature on welfare cuts or a hard hitting doumentary. As the producers of the shows try to get guests to appear to discuss disability welfare cuts in any serious kind of way, they realise the task is almost impossible.

For some time now, the DWP and No.10 have refused to put anyone up against me. (and presumably other campaigners) at all. At first, 3 (all BBC) went ahead, but the various researchers were all genuinely shocked at the lack of government engagement. All said they’d never known such blanket refusals to debate an issue.

Perhaps more sinisterly, they were shocked that invariably the DWP refused to take part unless the stories were edited their way. Iain Duncan-Smith has written repeatedly and furiously to the BBC about their lack of balance in reporting welfare issues. Anyone who follows the debate with even a flutter of fleeting interest will know just how ironic that is. If ever there has been an issue so poorly reported, with so much ignorance and so many lies, the current “welfare” debate must be it.

But it’s clever isn’t it? Refuse to debate at all and generally it will mean there can be no debate. You can shut down any and all opposition simply by saying nothing at all.

Later in the article she describes her experience of selective editing, having her piece cancelled without anyone ever telling her, and finding the show’s format changed to allow the usual media loudmouths to present a diatribe of abuse against her and the disabled in general.

I’ve been edited to make me look like a “shirker”, I’ve hauled my crohn’s riddled butt all the way to London only to be told “Oh, sorry, it’s not happening now, did no-one let you know?” I’ve been booked for shows under the pretence that a particular subject-du-jour is the subject only to be ambushed scrounger bashing vitriol the moment we go live. (Yes Nick Ferrari, I do mean you.) I’ve been made to walk to locations, despite pointing out repeatedly that I can’t walk far or stand for very long. “If you could just manage…..”

I’ve uncovered vast and shocking welfare stories only to find I can’t get them published anywhere. Bumped for Egypt. Bumped for Syria. Bumped for chickens in cat outfits. (That last one’s not even sarcasm!?!) Repeatedly I hear in a loop “But welfare isn’t a story.”

Well no, why would it be? The current social security cuts are stripping away an eye-watering £28 BILLION from the support and services sick and disabled people rely on just to get through the day. That’s a full FIFTH of the entire deficit reduction plan falling on those who often have no voice to defend themselves. One pound in every five!!!

She also notes the problem she and four other wheelchair users experience just getting into the building, and then the highly patronising attitude of the studio staff over where they should be put. Now, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on a course at M Shed, one of the Museum’s in Bristol. When you volunteer to help them, they give you training on how to talk and interact with members of the public. Much of this is simple common courtesy. The guidelines state that when a disabled person turns up with a carer or non-disabled person, you talk to both of them. As I said, just common courtesy, and hardly rocket science. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have occurred to the TV professionals charged with presenting these issues to the great British public.

Having only needed to use a wheelchair for just under a year, the reality of disabled access has shocked and appalled me too. Did you know for instance that most trains only have ONE disabled space and so can only take one wheelchair user? No, I had no idea either. And did you know that you can’t get in to most restaurants and shops despite access being a legal responsibility? Nope, nor me. Or that supermaket aisles often make it impossible to get around a shop independently? Or that you can’t use almost any of the London Underground?I didn’t know any of that stuff

When we got to the Channel 5 studio an epic confuddle broke out. As I’ve also learnt, they often do when some people are faced with several people on wheels all at once. They could only take 3 wheelchairs. 4 would apparently tip the building over into a dangerous and unforgivable fire risk. They couldn’t evacuate four of us!

I’d been trying not to cry for about two hours by this point and the only way we were all going to get in was if I left my wheelchair in the foyer and hobbled down to the basement studio. I was the only one who could walk at all.

Once on the set, even bigger confuddlement broke out. “You can’t put them here, they’re in the way of the cameraman” (I thought the “them” was a nice little dehumanizing detail eh?) “You can’t let them sit at the front, it makes them look too important” (I precis) etc etc. After at least 10 minutes of this infathomable conundrum, Mik shouted to the audience who were now in their seats ready for the show to begin. “Get a job they say?? Are you watching this? Most of the time, we can’t even get a bloody seat!”

She states she found the show remarkably unbiased, but was naturally intensely disappointed about not being allowed to speak about the problems faced by the disabled. She includes some of the facts that you won’t see on the news anytime soon.

However, I could barely breathe with pent up frustration. As each part of the show went live again following an ad break, I’d pray that something would be said about disability and every time it wasn’t, I deflated further and further (DON’T be a crybaby on national TV…DON’T be a crybaby on national TV….DON’T be a crybaby on national TV, repeat) How are you suppoed to have a debate about social security and not include sick and disabled people? We rely on it more than any other group! Here’s a few facts, just in case you’ve never read this blog before

Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being cut by 20%
The criteria to qualify for DLA slashed has been by 60%
1 MILLION people are to be stripped of Employment and Support Allowance
The Independent Living Fund has bee scrapped**
1500 people lost their jobs as Remploy factories were all closed
Just 3% of the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people
Social security fraud is around £1.2 Billion per year – less than half of 1%, or 0.15% of total welfare budget. That’s just £1.50 lost for every thousand or 0.15% of the total welfare
The DWP pay out much more in their own errors – 2.2 Billion
A whopping £16 BILLION goes unclaimed, generally to avoid the stigma of “welfare”
We have some of the toughest criteria for claiming social security in the developed world.
Is our UK social security systemn too generous? No again. In international terms we come just 46th out of 51, paying some of the lowest benefits anwhere
440,000 sick or disabled people will be hit by the Bedroom Tax. That’s over 2 thirds.

She concludes her post by saying that she believes the neglect of disabled issues and the effects of the government cuts is simply due to the fact that most media people simply don’t see it as an issue, rather than anything similar. She does, however, ask her readers to publicise and retweet her article to spread awareness of it and the intensely harmful effects of the Coalition’s cuts.

‘And yet again my friends, we shall have to make our own news. If you’ve read to this point, PLEASE don’t close the page until you’ve shared it with your networks. You can use the buttons just below to retweet or post it to Facebook. But PLEASE, if you can support us in any way, sharing this article can show producers of shows like the Big Benefits Row that we DO have a voice, we DO matter.

As campaigners we’ve often reminded ourselves that “Alone we whisper, but together we shout.”

I imagine that the producers of last nights BBR got a better offer than me. Someone with a higher profile who they thought might attract more viewers. Some suggested it could be more sinister than that, but I’m convinced that for most affluent, white, able-bodied producers, long term ilness or disability simply doesn’t come on to their radar. Another genetically-programmed response means we simply cannot believe in our own mortality or believe that any harm can ever cast shadows over our lives.

We can show them – and the public – that on social media if nowhere else, sick and disabled people can -and will – be heard.’

The whole article needs to be read. It’s at http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-big-benefits-row.html.

As an aside, regarding her comments on Nick Ferrari, I’ve got a feeling that, like Kelvin MacKenzie, he’s another escapee from the Sun or similar tabloid. They’re too of the reasons why my parents no longer watch Alan Titchmarsh’s chat show in the afternoons. There’s only so much prejudice, ignorance and bile you can take at that time of day.

‘This Joke of a Man’: The Real, Metaphorical Identity of Ian Duncan Smith

November 10, 2013

Thinking over some of the low actions and policies for which Ian Duncan Smith has been responsible, it struck me which cult figure on television he most resembles. let’s go through some of these, and list his most outstanding qualities.

1. A fundamentally incompetent man, with delusions of promotion far above his proper place in society. Check.

2. A complete lack of any kind of magnificence or personal greatness. This is clearly shown in his attempting to overturn the court’s decision on Mrs Laurel Duut’s benefits and have her, an Englishwoman, deported to her husband’s homeland of the Netherlands. Check.

3. Colossal personal vanity, and delusions of military greatness despite its apparent complete absence. Well, he claims to have a degree from an Italian university, which issues no degrees. Vox Political calls him RTU – Returned To Unit, because of his questions over whether he actually completed officer training. I’m inclined to believe he has taken the exam, possibly as many as thirty times, and each time blacked out, covered his hand in ink, and put it down on the paper as his only answer.

4. Sneering and overbearing attitude to his subordinates. Definitely check. He tried to lean on the parliamentary committee for work and pensions and bully them into blaming his permanent secretary, Robert Devereaux, for his mistakes.

5. Claims to be a leader, despite having absolutely having no leadership ability whatsoever. He was after all ‘the quiet man’ leading the Tory Party, until they lost once again to Labour and he was replaced by Cameron. So much for his determination. Certainly check.

In short, he reminds me strongly of the description of this notorious personage, seen regularly on television, especially during the 1980’s and ’90s.

Yes, Ian Duncan Smith is indeed an Arnold Rimmer de nos jours! With the possible exception that Arnie was aware of his faults, and could at times aspire to be better than he was. In other respects, all IDS lacks is the ‘H’ for ‘Hologram’.

Ian Duncan Smith Rimmer pic.

Another difference between the two is that Arnold Rimmer had a far superior alter ego, Captain ‘Ace’ Rimmer, who roamed the dimensions fighting evil wherever he found it. Unfortunately, there’s no chance of that happening to IDS any time soon.

But just to take your mind off how awful IDS is, here’s the clip from Red Dwarf where the crew tour through the specially constructed ‘Arnold Rimmer Experience’ to remind them how great the great man was. Enjoy!

Channel 5’s Latest Attack on the Poor: On Benefits and Proud

October 12, 2013

In my last blog post I recommended anyone with an interest in historic technology to watch Beat the Ancestors, a programme on Channel 5 on Mondays, in which a team of engineers, craftsmen and film special effects technicians attempt to recreate and improve upon a device from history. This could be a weapon, such as a cannon, or, as in Monday’s programme, a machine such as the 13th century crane used to build Salisbury Cathedral. It’s an example of the often excellent archaeology and history programmes, which the fifth channel is capable of making, and often does far better than the BBC or Channel 4.

Unfortunately, the Channel is owned by the pornographer and right-wing proprietor of the Daily Express, Richard Desmond. Thus, an hour after this foray into industrial history and experimental archaeology, comes another attack on the unemployed. At 9 o’clock is the documentary On Benefits and Proud. According to the Radio Times, this is about

‘The lifestyles of some of those living off the state who are not currently seeking employment, including of a mother of 11 whose benefits are double the average wage in Britain’.

Now Mike, over at Vox Political, Johnny Void and any number of other left-wing blogs, like Diary of a Benefit Scrounger are doing their level best to disabuse the electorate of the Tory notion that there are people on benefits living good lives at the public expense. One of the guests launched a splenetic, and hilarious diatribe sending up these kinds of stories last night on the long-running satirical quiz show, Have I Got News For You. Nevertheless, they get recycled in order to support the Tory policy of re-introducing grinding, Third-World poverty to this country to punish those unfortunate enough not to be working. Not that Channel 5 is alone in this. The Beeb did something similar a few months ago with Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer in We All Pay Your Benefits. Spamfish over at Oprichnik Rising launched a blistering attack on that one, because of the way it misrepresented one of his friends. I’ve reblogged the story, so it’s over here as well as on his site. Go and look at it to see for yourself how disgracefully manipulative these shows are.

This programme will be broadcast following the story on yesterday’s news that the Red Cross are having to deal with grinding poverty in this country. Millions of people in Britain are, according to yesterday’s edition of the Express, faced with the choice of ‘heat or eat’. They can either buy food, or pay their heating bills, but they can’t do both. Meanwhile the electricity companies, already making vast profits, are raising their bills by another ten per cent and running scare stories about Labour’s plans to cap them. As for higher executives at the Beeb, these are on multi-million pound salaries, as shown by the various golden handshakes given to the Beeb’s Director-Generals, who have been forced to resign following the Jimmy Saville scandal. A casual glance at the ‘Media News’ section in Private Eye will actually tell you just how bloated some of these executives’ salaries are. Now I’ve no doubt that, if confronted about these stories of benefit scroungers and welfare queens the same broadcasting executive would probably try to justify themselves by talking about how they were trying to preserve broadcasting neutrality, and presenting the other side of the argument, in contrast to the stories they’ve run about rising poverty on the news. They have not, to my knowledge, actually presented in documentary form the opposing viewpoint that most people on benefits don’t want to be there, and, in contrast to these highly biased documentaries, are not living at all. It’s about time they did. We, the general public, pay their wages, either directly through the license fee, or indirectly by watching their programmes and forming a demographic for their advertisers. The public may pay for the benefits supporting the unemployed, but the unemployed also pay the salaries of the TV executives. They are responsible to them, and so should make programmes revealing how the real poor live, not the minority that are constantly cited to support the Neo-Liberal fantasies of Right-wing politicos.

Science Britannia and the Need for a Programme on Medieval Science

September 22, 2013

Last week, the Beeb started a new series on the history of science, Science Britannia, broadcast on BBC 2 on Wednesdays at 8.00 pm. Fronted by Professor Brian Cox, now Britain’s answer to Carl Sagan, the series traces the development of British science and the personalities of the scientists involved from the mid-18th century. The name, Science Britannia, seems to come from the various music documentary series the Beeb has screened over recent years, such as Jazz Britannia, and one on caricature, political satire, the Music Hall and burlesque, Rude Britannia. Now any series on the history of science is to be welcomed, though my problem with such series is that they are always set in the Renaissance or later. In this case, I suspect the series has been influenced in its selection of the date at which to begin by Jenny Uglow’s, The Lunar Men. This was about the 18th century society of natural philosophers – the term ‘scientist’ was not coined until the 19th century – of which Erasmus Darwin was a member. He published his own theory of evolution fifty years before that of his better-known grandson, Charles. On this Wednesday programme Cox does go back to Isaac Newton in the 17th century, to examine his psychology, as well as that of later pioneering British scientists.

I do have one criticism of these series, however. They largely ignore the amazing scientific and technological advances that went on during the Middle Ages. Historians of medieval science, such as James Hallam in his book, God’s Philosophers, and A.C. Crombie in his two volume history of medieval science, have demonstrated that there was no Scientific Revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries in the sense that these ideas were a radical break with medieval science. They weren’t. Instead, they had their roots very much in the investigations and examination of nature of medieval natural philosophers even as they rejected their Aristotelianism. Roger Bartlet, in his programme on the medieval worldview, has demonstrated that the Middle Ages were not anti-science and that the mixture of science and faith made perfect sense to them, even if it now seems irrational to us. For example, I made a list of about 20 innovations that appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. They were
Adoption for the purpose of preventing the deaths of unwanted children, Council of Vaison, 442.

Linguistics: Priscian, 6th century.

Floating Mills, Belisarius, 537.

Orphanage, St. Maguebodus, c. 581.

Electrotherapy, Paul of Aegina, 7th century.

Tide Mills, Adriatic and England, 11th century.

Armour plated warships, Scandinavia, 11th century.

Lottery, Italy, 12th century

Harness, Europe, c. 1150.

Spectacles, Armati or Spina, c. 1280.

Pencil – silver or black lead used for drawing, 14th century.

High Explosive Marine Shell, Netherlands, c. 1370, or Venice 1376.

Movable type, Laurens Janszoon, alias Coster, 1423,

Oil painting, H and J Van Eyck, 1420,

Diving Suit, Kyeser, c. 1400.

Double crane, Konrad Kyeser, early 15th century.

Screw, 15th century Europe.

Arquebus, Spain, c. 1450, first used at Battle of Moret, 1476.

Hypothermia, France, c. 1495.

Air gun, Marin Bourgeois, 1498.

Source

Great Inventions Through History (Edinburgh: W&R Chambers 1991).

This is only a short list. There have been whole encyclopaedias written on medieval science and technology.

I think one reason why such as programme has not been broadcast is because it conflicts with the received wisdom about the Middle Ages, and the aggressively atheist views of some of the media own scientific darlings. Since the Renaissance, and particularly since the 19th century, the Middle Ages have been viewed as an age of superstition, in which the Church actively discouraged and persecuted science and scientists. This wasn’t the case, but the idea is still promoted very strongly. One of those, who continues to do this, is Richard Dawkins, who is now known as an atheist propagandist almost as much for his work as a biologists and science writer. Very many of the science programmes screened on British television, whether BBC or Channel 4, included Dawkins as an expert. He is a popular speaker at literary and science festivals, even though his views on the relationship between science and faith and the history of science are completely wrong. Nevertheless, it agrees with the historical prejudices of his audience and the media. James Hallam said that he found it difficult to find a publisher for his book, God’s Philosophers, but its demonstration that people of faith – Christian priests, monks and laymen – could do great science in the Age of Faith – directly contradicted the popular view of the period. One publisher explicitly told him that they weren’t going to be publish the book because they were an atheist. Censorship and bigotry is by no means the sole province of the religious.

Unfortunately, the current institutional structure of the BBC and its commissioning process appears to make this extremely difficult to correct, at least for those outside of the television industry. A year or so ago I was so incensed at the repeat of the media’s prejudice against medieval science, that I considered writing to the BBC to propose a series on it to correct it. I ended up giving up altogether. If you go to the relevant pages on this, you’ll find that while the BBC will accept scripts and suggestions from outside the industry for drama, fiction and comedy, all factual content must be developed with a production company before they will consider it. What this means is that unless you are already a media insider, you have absolutely no chance of getting your idea for a factual series developed for TV.

I hope, however, that the Beeb’s view of medieval science will change, and that we can expect a series on it sometime soon. In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions, how I can approach the Beeb or another TV channel or production company to get such a series made, please let me know. It’s about time we did something to challenge this fashionable atheist myth.

Keeping Sunday Special: Why Society Still Needs One Day Free from Work

July 10, 2013

The immensely erudite Jerome has published this piece defending Sunday observance on his website, And Sometimes He’s So Nameless: http://jerome23.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/lazy-sunday-afternoon-should-we-still-observe-the-sabbath/. His argument is that, even in this secular age people need one day a week which they can spend with their families. As you can expect from Jerome, he’s done his research thoroughly, and cites the statistics to support his argument. He also cites the employment legislation that says that Christians and others may not be forced to work on Sunday. This is now being comprehensively ignored, as Sunday becomes yet another day of the week when people are expected to work. Like me, Jerome is old enough to remember when Sundays were effectively dead days. They were incredibly dull, with little on television except religious programmes and classic adaptations of Dickens and the other great Victorian novelists. There were some game shows, such as The Golden Shot, and usually at least a couple of comedy programmes – I remember such classics as The Rag Trade, Only When I laugh, and George and Mildred, and later comedies, such as Ever Decreasing Circles and Oh, Happy Band!. This last was another product from Perry and Croft, the writing team that brought us Dad’s Army and ‘Allo, ‘Allo. It was also the day when the TV companies ran the western, Alias Smith and Jones, and The Holiday Programme with Cliff Mitchelmore. But mostly I remember it just being very dull. However, as Jerome points out, it was nearly the only day of the week when the whole family could be together, and as a result, family life was strengthened. People need one day a week off. The early Christian theologian, Origen, considered the Sabbath one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, and noted that even some pagan Romans were copying Christians and taking a day off to rest. I am certainly not arguing for a return to the very dour Sabbatarianism Compton Mackenzie gently lampoons in the great British comedy, Whiskey Galore! You should be able to have fun on the day at rest, which even the 17th century theologians recognised when they debated the topic. My point is that people do still need one day a week to rest from work, and to spend with their families.