Posts Tagged ‘‘The Press and Political Dissent: A Questio of Censorship’’

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.

The Guardian and the ‘Femsplaining’ of Corbyn

June 7, 2016

On Sunday Mike posted up a piece critiquing an article in the Guardian by Catherine Bennett attacking Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, she opined, was purely interested in expanding his power base at the expense of winning elections. She also claimed that he was a nasty male chauvinist, who passed over women for important cabinet and political posts, like Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown.

Mike described the attack as ‘femsplaining’, a word he coined as the female equivalent to ‘mansplaining’, which is when a man gives a bloking, and usually spurious explanation of an issue. Mike pointed out that the article really wasn’t so much a feminist critique of Corbyn so much as a hit piece by his Blairite rivals in the Labour party.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/05/corbyn-femsplained-as-a-blairite-tries-to-put-women-off-the-labour-leader/

The article wasn’t the most bizarre attack on Corbyn from a feminist/ gender politics slant the Groan has published recently. A few weeks ago, it printed a letter from a reader, Val Walsh, who accused Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in America of having suspect and reactionary attitudes to gender and the politics of sexual identity based purely on the fact that they dressed in a style reminiscent of mid-20th century men’s fashions. The letter was so bizarre, it got into the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ section of Private Eye.

Marsh wrote:

Hadley Freeman [29 March] overlooks a key feature of the outfits sported by leftwing male politicians, such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. These represent 1950s ‘manly’ dressing: loose, shapeless and generally dull; designed to make sure men were not mistaken for women or seen as feminine, and at the same time meant to function as both camouflage (of the body) and as sufficiently ‘bloke’. the style pre-dates the impact of young gay men and gay-influenced heterosexual men who started (a long time ago) wearing clothes that fit (not necessarily tightly). Bernie and Jeremy’s outfits are surely a size of two bigger than necessary, and not so much retro, but simply the habit of older white heterosexual men of carrying on a before, as if 1950s western manliness was an exemplar, and pretending their embodiment is not party to their politics.

This tells us they have given little thought to their own sexual identity ande its part in the new ‘old’ politics in 2016. They lack awareness of the problematic part played by hetero-patriarchal masculinities in the politics of left or right, and in this continuity they identify themselves with that old hegemonic masculinity…. [continues] (Private Eye 15-28 April 2016, p. 35).

It’s clearly a bonkers piece, and is an example of someone projecting their own prejudices onto the person they’re writing about, rather than a genuinely reasoned analysis. Bernie Sanders is a case in point. I don’t know whether Sanders has given much thought to his sexuality. It’s immaterial. Sanders is probably the most left-wing of the Democrats, and he was supporting gay rights long before many other people, as far back as the 1970s. That’s just about forty years before Hillary finally decided she was in favour of gay marriage. As for Jeremy Corbyn, I honestly don’t know what he stance on sexuality and gender is, but I think I can guess. If he’s left-wing, ‘Old Labour’, then it’s almost certain that he also supported feminism and gay rights. This was, after all, the stance of the GLC in London as a whole, not just ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Also, a few weeks ago Private Eye joked about an article in one of the papers which described Corbyn’s hobbies. One of these was baking bread. Not exactly the most macho of pastimes.

Bennett’s and the other faux-feminist critiques of Sanders and Corbyn constitute attempts to appeal to female voters by smearing their left-wing male rivals as misogynists and sexists in order to try to cover up their preferred candidates’ right-wing, corporate stance as ‘establishment’ candidates. Hillary Clinton’s supporters’ denunciations of Sanders are evidence of that. They decided that Bernie and his supporters must be sexist, because they were standing against Hillary, who was a woman. Clinton is also very much a part of the corporate establishment, a very rich woman, whose policies reflect the interest of the corporate donors financing her against the interests of ordinary, regular blue-collar America. Clinton’s response, when this is pointed out, is to claim that as she’s a woman, she can’t be a member of the establishment. This is complete twaddle, as she manifestly is.

The same with the Blairites and Corbyn. The Blairites represented the ‘aspirational’ working class, and attempted to appeal to them and middle class swing voters. They stood for Thatcherite privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. They began the privatisation of the NHS, which has accelerated under Lansley, Cameron and the Tories. They have absolutely nothing to offer the working class except misery and poverty.

But they’re determined to hang on to power, and the Guardian’s giving them space because while it’s liberal, it supports the Lib Dems, not Labour. And it’s not a working class paper. I posted up a piece yesterday quoting Mark Hollingworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship on the Groan’s extremely affluent readership back in 1979 and ’81, and its need to appeal to these affluent readers and potential advertisers. That was over thirty years ago, but I don’t think anything has changed since. If anything, it’s going to get worse because of the massive losses the Guardian is suffering.

As for Bennett and Hillary Clinton, their spurious feminist attacks on their rivals disguise the fact that they really don’t support or have anything to offer working class women. It’s been pointed out that female workers are those, who have suffered the most from the government’s austerity programmes. They predominately work in the sectors of the economy that have seen the most cuts and lay-offs. They also suffer disproportionately from some of the welfare cuts introduced by the Thatcherites, such as to child benefit.

Ultimately, Hillary and Bennett don’t represent the aspirations of all women. They represent the desires and ambitions of elite, affluent women to succeed, while making sure that working class women, along with the rest of their class, are kept firmly in their place and don’t rock the corporate, establishment boat.

The Reason the Press Hated Livingstone: His Support for Worker’s Control

June 6, 2016

Right at the beginning of the chapter on the press’ vicious campaign against Ken Livingstone and the GLC in Mark Hollingworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, there’s a snippet of dialogue between Livingstone one of the gentlemen of the press, in which ‘Red’ Ken – actually never a Marxist, despite the press’ claims – expressed his opinion that factories should be run by their workers, and schools by parents and teachers. This idea was simply rubbished by the interviewer. Hollingworth considers that this shows the fundamental reason why the press hated Livingstone with such bitterness. They really didn’t like the idea that ordinary people could or should run things. Hollingworth writes

During an interview with Terry Coleman, the former Daily Mail columnist who writes for the Guardian, Ken Livingstone remarked that he believed every factory should be run by its workers and each school by the parents and teachers.
‘Chaos’, replied Coleman.
‘No, no, no,’ said the GLC leader. ‘Concentrations of power produce chaos.’
‘But surely few people could run anything,’ responded Coleman. Livingstone then said that everyone was capable, given a chance, and that there was, for instance, nothing special about him.
‘Rot,’ replied Coleman.
‘No, seriously,’ said Livingstone, ‘that potential is there in everybody’.

That conversation revealed as much about Fleet Street as it did about the politics of Livingstone and the Labour group he led on the Greater London Council. It showed that one of the key factors behind the press hostility to the labour movement was their intense opposition to syndicalism – whether political, industrial or cultural. That in the eyes of editorial management, groups of ordinary people were incapable of running their own affairs. And it was neither practical nor desirable.

This attitude came into direct conflict with what the Labour group of GLC councillors were trying to do between 1981 and 1985. Their view was that people did have the potential for self-management – from tenants’ associations on council estates to workers in factories. Also that the GLC would be a political and financial peg on which a whole range of groups in London – Blacks, workers, Irish, women, gays – could hang their grievances, fulfill their capabilities and combat discrimination.

This may sound highly utopian and idealistic, but it was what the GLC administration tried to do on a local government level. ‘Socialism,’ said Livingstone in December 1983, ‘means people having day-to-day control over their own lives.’

It’s probably no surprise that this put Leninspart in conflict with the right-wing press. Thatcher talked a lot of waffle about liberating people – all that stuff about how ‘there is no such thing as society, only people’ – but the only people she wanted liberated were the owners of capital – financiers and businessmen. The workers were simply there to work, and respectfully take their orders and their beating from an increasingly macho management style. When Ken talked about liberating people, he meant it for the working class and other, traditionally excluded and marginalised groups. And that terrified the editors of the Express, Mail, Scum and the others. I can remember Ken appearing on a page of photographs of supposedly dangerous subversives published in the Sun, which one of the right-wing students at College had stuck to the wall outside his room. Under Ken’s photo was a quote, in which the scourge of the Thatcherites declared that he didn’t believe in the army, but wanted the workers to be armed to defend the factories.

Lenin introduced worker’s control in the factories for a short time during the Bolshevik coup of 1917, but quickly reversed the policy as it didn’t work. On the other hand, the experience of the Spanish anarchists and Syndicalists during the Spanish Civil War shows that workers could run industry, though some political scientists have suggested that this would probably break down in the large scale industries now common in the developed world. Nevertheless, that aspect of the anarchist experiment in Spain was successful, and it does provide some support for Ken’s views. Which is enough reason for the press to hate and fear him.

And just how much the Tories hated him is shown in one of the more bizarre stories in that chapter. Apparently one of Livingstone’s Conservative opponents woke up an hour earlier every morning so that he could give himself another hour in which to hate Livingstone. We are dealing with some seriously deranged right-wingers.

The Miners’ Strike and Times’ Editor Charles Moore’s Hatred of the Working Class

June 4, 2016

Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, argues that the impoverishment and degradation inflicted on the working class by Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Conservatives is due to a bitter hatred of them by the Conservative upper classes. He quotes Balfour as saying ‘Of course there’s a class war going on. We started it.’ Hollingworth’s discussion of the miner’s strike in his The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship adds more evidence to this. He notes that the right-wing press and its editors may also have had a very strong hatred of the miners, a hatred that was displayed in a comment by Charles Moore, a former editor of the Times and one of the Thatcher’s biographers. It was also displayed in a piece written by an academic, who talked about how the miner’s were all tricked into striking because they were the less intelligent pupils from Secondary Moderns and Comprehensive schools.

There is also some evidence, though far from conclusive, that Fleet Street’s hostility was based on simple class hatred towards the miners and their families. Charles Moore is the editor of the Spectator but used to be a Daily Telegraph reporter and writer and still contributes to the paper regularly. Asked about the miners, he replied: ‘I really hate those people, actually. This strike as brought out feelings I didn’t know I had. It seems to me such a lie that these people represent or are the defenders of an oppressed class and so clear that Arthur Scargill is an oppressor, that is has finally brought out all my contempt for the Left. A perhaps more serious example came from the Sunday Times in August 1984. The paper commissioned a feature article by Professor Frank Musgrove of Manchester University. This is what he wrote:

In the past 30 years two social processes have siphoned off men of initiative and ability. Educational selection has left a residue of D and E stream secondary modern and comprehensive school pupils for pit work – there has been a massive haemorrhage of talent from mining communities. And earlier pit closure programmes have set up eddies of selective migration which have drained away the most enterprising men from the more northerly fields.

It is the dilute human residues that remain, especially in Yorkshire and Durham, that have been most effectively manipulated and mobilised by the tactics of the NUM. They have been bounced into a strike without a ballot and have learned to repeat slogans (‘No pit closures on economic grounds’. ‘Cowards hide behind ballots’) whose horrendous implications they do not begin to grasp.

We did not solve the educational problem by raising the school-leaving age to 15, still less to 16. Five years in the E Stream of a comprehensive school is an excellent training in sheer bloody-mindedness if not actual subversion. … This is not education. It is a species of trench warfare. It is anticipatory socialisation for the mass picket line. (The emphasis is added by Hollingworth, pp. 283-4). The Sunday Times was, of course, edited by Andrew Neil, now presenting the Daily Politics for the Beeb.