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

Nationalisation: The Reason the Tory Press Feared and Hated Tony Benn

June 8, 2016

In 1970s and 1980s, Tony Benn personified everything the Conservatives and the right-wing press hated and feared about the Labour party. In the early 1970s the party had adopted an increasingly radical platform, advocating the nationalisation of 25 companies, including BP, and introducing a form of industrial democracy, which would have seen up to 50 per cent of management boards composed of workers’ representatives. Benn, who had won press approval in the 50’s and 60s for his efficient management of industry, had moved leftward, and fully supported these proposals. Instead of arguing against these ideas, which were the policy of the wider Labour party, the Tory press held Benn almost solely accountable for them. He was therefore reviled as a fanatic, compared to Adolf Hitler, and derided as a ‘loony’. None of this was even remotely close to the truth. Those, who had personal dealings with him, such as the head of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, where Benn was the local MP, stated that he was calm, reasonable, and always gave a clear answer. Other industrialists spoke about how Benn always listened intelligently to what others had to say, and sought out all opinions on an issue before he made his mind up. But this was very firmly ignored and denied in the press’ caricature.

Mark Hollingworth discusses the press’ demonization of Benn, and how it sharply differed from the reality, in his book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship. In the chapter on Benn, he makes the case that what the press feared most about Benn was his advocacy of increasing nationalisation and state control. They were afraid that after he’d nationalised the initial 25 firms, he’d extend it even further, until the press itself was nationalised. Hollingworth writes:

During a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee on 28 February 1975, a prominent member suggested that if Tony Benn were to save a child from drowning, the headlines the next day would read ‘Benn’s Latest Grab’. He was exaggerating, of course, but not by much. for between May 1973 and June 1975 Labour’s industrial policies were consistently portrayed as the pipedream of one politician.

The press campaign began with the advent of ‘Labour’s Programme for 1973’ – a radical nationalization document. Benn fully backed its proposals

What we have in mind goes far beyond the window dressing of some European schemes. We are thinking of say 50 per cent of workers, elected through their trade union membership onto supervisory boards with real power. And we mean to carry through this sort of reform in the public sector as well as in the private sector. We shall carry through a real redistribution of income and wealth by radical changes in the tax system.

Fleet Street was horrified. Suddenly Benn was part of ‘the wild Left’, ‘trying to attract the support of the extreme left militants.’ The Sun, at that time loosely pro-Labour, stated: ‘If Mr Benn is to be believed, Britain may shortly become a Marxist state,’ while the Sunday Telegraph preferred ‘Bolshevik Benn’.

In September 1973, Labour’s National Executive proposed that 25 leading companies be taken into public ownership. The Daily Express interpreted this plan as Benn toeing the Moscow line: ‘Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – those four grim, grey spectres from the past who started it all – might not have been displeased with the former Lord Stansgate.’

But the press’ hostility to nationalisation was for reasons much closer to home, according to Charles Wintour, then editor of the London Evening Standard and now a member of the SDP: ‘They’re planning this socialisation of the 25 firms,’ said Wintour at the time

Well, in the long run, if this process continues indefinitely, they will start brooding on state control of the newspapers. I mean, nationalization means a production – the newspapers are produced. In the long run, this must be part of their policy. that’s logical. They believe in it. And consequently I think that the newspapers have a right to be particularly suspicious of the Labour Party in its extension of nationalisation and state control.

Wintour’s analysis turned out to be correct. The press was deeply hostile to nationalisation. But this political opposition was concealed in the form of linking the policy with Benn’s political ambition. This is how Noyes Thomas reported the issue for the News of the World: ‘In his thirst for power he has seemed recently to be prepared to see even his party out of office for a further term provided it brings Wilson and his moderate colleagues to the end of the political road. It was Benn who bludgeoned through the party’s policy document – the threat to nationalise Britain’s top 25 companies.’ (pp. 39-40).

The British press claims to be a democratic check, holding the government to account through questioning and reporting. In fact, as the authors of several of the chapters in Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS SOS, show, the press, with some notable exceptions, along with so many of the other British institutions which should have been defending it, signally failed to do so. They have been quiet as this most precious of British institutions has been and is being privatised. Elsewhere in the book, Hollingworth states that at the 1979 election, Thatcher only got 44 per cent of the vote, but she had 84 per cent of press support. And the press’ bias against Labour has continued. It only abated under Tony Bliar, because the wretched warmonger caved in, and gave the Thatcherite privatisers, and particularly Murdoch, everything they wanted. It’s high time that relationship changed, and we had a truly free press.

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Murdoch’s Editorial Interference and Right-Wing Bias

June 7, 2016

The phone hacking scandal has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. For a moment it looked like Murdoch himself was going to end up in court, because of allegations that he personally interferes in editing his newspapers. According to Private Eye, he almost appeared before the beak a few years ago on a libel charge, after Michael Foot sued the Times for claiming that he was a KGB agent, based on the unlikely word of Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a former KGB agent, and self-confessed liar. From what I recall, a number of the Times’ staff were highly sceptical of the allegations, with the exception of the editor, David Leppard. And so the paper printed the story that Foot, a principled democratic socialist, whose loyalty to his country should never have been in doubt, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

Murdoch’s managed to escape these scrapes with the law, and wriggle out of them when he has been forced to appear before public enquiries and parliamentary committees, by claiming that he doesn’t interfere with his papers’ editorial policies. Mark Hollingworth, in his book The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, points out that Murdoch largely doesn’t need to. He appoints editors he knows will follow his political line, like Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, who before he became editor of the Sunset Times was one of the editors on the Economist. Neil told his staff at a meeting of the Gay Hussar pub in London that he fully supported Thatcher’s policies on monetarism and privatisation, although on macroeconomic policy he claimed he was further to the left, and more like David Owen. (p. 18).

The News of the World

But Hollingworth makes clear that the Dirty Digger does interfere with the editor’s running of his newspapers, and certainly did so when he took over the News of the World at the end of the 1960s. Hollingsworth writes

However, when Murdoch was faced with an editor who didn’t share his political views and wanted a semblance of independence, the situation changed dramatically. when he took of the News of the World in 1969, Murdoch told the incumbent editor, Stafford Somerfield: I didn’t come all this way not to interfere.’ According to Somerfield, the new proprietor ‘wanted to read proofs, write a leader if he felt like it, change the paper about and give instructions to the staff’. As the paper’s long-serving editor, Somerfield was used to a fair amount of independence and he tried to resist Murdoch’s interference. In 1970 Somerfield was dismissed by Murdoch.

A similar fate befell another News of the World editor a decade later. Barry Askew had been appointed by Murdoch in April 1981 after a successful career as the crusading editor of the Lancashire Evening Post during which he published a series of stories about corruption among local public officials and institutions. However, when Askew and the News of the World declined, like the Times under Harold Evans during the same period to give the Conservative government unequivocal support, Murdoch took action. ‘He [Murdoch] would come into the office,’ said Askew, ‘and literally rewrite leaders which were not supporting the hard Thatcher monetarist line. That were not, in fact, supporting – slavishly supporting – the Tory government.’

Askew believes the big clash came over an exclusive story about John DeLorean, the car tycoon. A freelance journalist, John Lisners, had persuaded DeLorean’s former secretary, Marian Gibson, to reveal details about her boss’ business practices and alleged irregularities. It was a superb story, backed up by other sources and also cleared by Gibson’s lawyer-Clarence Jones.

However, just after noon on Saturday 3 October 1981, Murdoch telephoned Askew, as he invariably did every week, to discuss the main stories. Askew told him about the DeLorean scoop and Murdoch appeared initially to be enthusiastic. Later that afternoon Murdoch arrived at the office in Bouverie Street and went straight to the ‘back-bench’ to read the DeLorean material. One of the key sources was William Haddad, who had worked for Murdoch on the New York Post. On learning of Haddad’s involvement, Murdoch said: ‘He’s a leftwing troublemaker’, although he later denied saying this. ‘I may have referred to Bill’s love of conspiracy theories.’

Murdoch then consulted his legal advisors and they decided the story was legally unsafe. The story was killed. The next day the Daily Mirror published the same story on its front page and the rest of the media followed it up. Interestingly, according to Ivan Fallon and James Srodes’ book DeLorean, it was Murdoch who arranged for Lord Goodman to act as DeLorean’s lawyer to discourage the rest of Fleet Street from pursuing the story. Within a year DeLorean’s car firm was bankrupt. Within two months, in December 1981, Askew was dismissed and he returned to Lancashire a bitter man. ‘I don’t think Fleet Street gives a damn about ethics, morality or anything else. It gives a damn about attracting a readership that will attract an advertising situation which will make a profit which will make the press barons powerful politically.
(pp.18-20).

The Times

This editorial interference did not stop with the News of the World. It also extended to the Times, when that august paper was under the editorship of the highly respected journalist, Harold Evans. Hollingworth continues

But by far the most revealing example of Murdoch’s desire to set the political line of his papers also came during 1981 when the Conservative government was very unpopular because of high unemployment. when Harold Evans was appointed editor of the Times in March 1981, he was given official guarantees by Murdoch about editorial freedom. On 23 January 1981, the new owner of Times Newspapers had given formal undertakings that ‘In accordance with the traditions of the papers, their editors will not be subject to instruction from either the proprietor of the management on the selection and balance of news and opinion.’

Within a year, however, Evans had been dismissed, claiming he had been forced to resign over constant pressure by Murdoch to move the paper to the Right. Evans’ added: ‘The Times was not notably hostile to the [Conservative] government but it wanted to be independent. But that was not good enough for Rupert Murdoch. He wanted it to be a cheerleader for monetarism and Mrs Thatcher.’ Murdoch denied the charge: ‘Rubbish! Harry used to come and see me and say, “Rupert, it’s wonderful to have you in town. What do you want me to say, what do you want me to do, just let me know.”‘ On this crucial point, Evans told me: ‘Lie plus macho sneer with a useful ambiguity. It is a lie that I ever asked him what to say… It is true that I asked his view from time to time on developments of the paper. The truth is that far from asking Murdoch “what to say”, I followed an editorial policy often in opinion at variance with his own Thatcher-right-or-wrong view.’

The evidence certainly gives credence to Evans’ interpretation of events, although he also fell out with some of the staff. According to leader writer Bernard Donoghue, features editor Anthony Holden and executive editor Brian Macarthur, there was political pressure on Evans because of what Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Times centrist drift’. When unemployment had reached three million in the summer of 1981 Murdoch and Gerald Long, Managing Director of Times Newspapers, wanted the Times to emphasize the number of people in work. Evans declined and Murdoch snapped at him: ‘You’re always getting at her [Mrs Thatcher].’ The Times editor and his proprietor continually argued over economic policy and on one occasion Evans received an extraordinary memorandum from Gerald Long: ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the recession has ended. Why are you have the effrontery in the Times to say that it has not.’

Evans believes the Times was simply taking a more detached, independent editorial position. But by early 1982, Murdoch was clearly losing patience. According to Bernard (now Lord Donoghue, a leader writer and now a stockbroker at Grieveson & Grant, Murdoch had promised Mrs Thatcher that the Times would be back in the Conservative camp by the Easter of that year. But the editor refused to submit to what he later called ‘political intimidation and harassment’. On 12 March 1982, Evans wrote the following editorial: ‘ Unemployment is a social scandal… We favour a more competitive society as against one which is subject to the monopoly power of capital or the trade unions. Three days later Evans was dismissed.

Such lack of sovereignty and independence by the editor has been prevalent throughout the Murdoch empire. ‘I give instructions to me editors all round the world, why shouldn’t I in London,’ he told Fred Emery, home affairs editor of the Times, on 4 March 1982. However, since 1983 all four of Murdoch’s London papers have taken a consistently pro-Conservative government line and so there has been no need to interfere. According to a report on the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team, this is how the system works: ‘Murdoch appoints people who are sympathetic to him. Thus most of the senior staff like Hugo Young have left or been completely emasculated or replaced… To survive you have to self-censor. You approach a story in a different way than if you’d run it in the way you wanted to.’ (pp. 20-1).

The Sun

Hollingsworth concludes that Murdoch actually rarely interfered with the Sun, as under its editor Larry Lamb, who was knighted by Thatcher in 1980, it had already moved to the Tory right, a policy that was continued by the succeeding editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. (p. 21).

So while Murdoch may not interfere in the day-to-day editorial matters of his newspapers any more, they do reflect his personal political opinions and his own personal style of journalism, as carried out by compliant, sympathetic editors.
There was an outcry when he tried to buy the News of the World in 1969. The paper’s then-management were worried about how he would change the paper. And the same fears were raised again when he went off and bought the Times in the late ’70s or first years of the ’80s. There were indeed plans to refer his proposed purchase to the monopolies and mergers commission, though that might have been when he bought the Daily Herald and turned it into the Scum.

And his critics were right. He is not a fit and proper person to own a paper, and he should never have been allowed to buy them. It says much about Thatcher’s grubby, domineering leadership that he was.

The Guardian’s Wealthy Readership and Its Campaign against Corbyn

June 6, 2016

Recent years have seen the Groaniad become increasingly critical of Labour and its leadership, ever since it decided at the 2010 elections to throw its weight behind the Liberals, who then embarrassed this former left-wing beacon by forming the coalition with the Tories. Mike yesterday published a piece about an article in the newspaper, written by Catherine Bennett, a Blairite, had attacked Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, claiming that he wasn’t interested in winning elections and was somehow sexist, like his predecessors Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown. It was another attempt by Blair’s clique to retain power in the party by rubbishing their left-wing rivals. However, the Guardian’s criticisms of the Labour party did not suddenly begin six years ago.

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

Mark Hollingworth also describes how the supposedly liberal Guardian also took part in the press’ splenetic attack on leading Labour figures and left-wing causes during the early and mid-1980s. In his book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, he argues that some of this is due to the Groan’s need to retain its appeal to its very wealthy readership, and in particular to advertisers prepared to lavish some of their money on the newspaper. He writes

The loss of advertising revenue would be especially damaging to a paper like the Guardian which cannot make up the losses by subsidies from the other profitable parts of its company. It can also be a factor in influencing the paper’s political policy. On 10 August 1979, the Guardian published a statement in Campaign, the weekly magazine of the advertising industry, which declared that the paper is read by “The Thinking Rich…85 per cent of them are ABC1 (social class) which is a better percentage than the Financial Times or Daily telegraph can offer.’ The statement also stressed that its readers ‘were not down-at-heel extremists without a penny to bless themselves with…They have bank accounts full of lovely money.’ Nearly two years later, in April 1981, the Guardian’s marketing strategy appeared not to have changed. Another Campaign message, under the name of Gerry Taylor, Guardian’s Managing Director, ran: ‘To assume that the Guardian is only for leftwing trendies and drop-outs is as outdate a view as the dinosaur…If the newly constituted SDP really takes off, the Guardian is ideally suited to champion the new party’s cause as the centre-party voice in the 1980s.’ The advertisement was taken from an article by a London advertising director, but it had clearly been sanctioned at the highest level by the Guardian management. (pp. 15-6).

This situation and outlook has been repeated, thirty years later, with the Groan giving vocal support to the Lib Dems and embittered Blairites.

The Press and Accusations of Communist Influence/Infiltration in the Labour Party

June 5, 2016

Mark Hollingworth’s book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also does an excellent job of showing how the press, at just about every general election since the 1920s, repeats the lie that the Labour party has been infiltrated by Communists and others from the hard left, or that their policies hardly differ from those of the Communist party. He writes

Ever since the Labour Party have been in a position to form a government – by themselves or in coalition – Britain’s press have tried to portray them as being Communist wolves in sheep’s clothing. In their polling day edition for the 1923 general election, the Daily Mail produced the headline: ‘Moscow Funds For Rowdies – Labour Candidates Subsidized’. The paper alleged that Labour’s parliamentary candidates ‘received £300 apiece’ from Bolshevik sources. Two years later, on 25 October 1925, the Daily mail produced – ‘Civil War Plot by Socialist Masters-Moscow’s Orders To Our Reds’. the basis for this story was a letter supposedly written by Zinoviev, president of the Third Communist International in Moscow, to the British Communist Party which the Mail described as ‘the masters of Mr Ramsey MacDonald’s [minority Labour] government’. Despite clear indications that the Zinoviev letter was a forgery, the story was given uncritical coverage by all the popular papers. Six years later, in 1931, MacDonald and his supporters deserted the Labour Party and formed a National Government with the Conservative Party.

Very little has changed. At almost every election various lists of Labour candidates with alleged Communist or Marxist sympathies are displayed with great prominence on the front page of the popular papers. The 1983 campaign was no exception. In fact, Fleet Street tried harder than usual to show that the Labour Party was, as the Sun put, ‘penetrated at all levels by sinister Marxist forces’. This section of the chapter describes how the press repeated the claims of Douglas Eden, a member of the Council for Social Democracy, that 55 members of the Labour party, later expanded by the Daily Express to 70, had extreme left-wing, Marxist-Leninist sympathies.

The chapter also discusses the way the press decided that there were marked similarities between Labour’s manifesto and that of the Communists at the 1983 election.

That same day, 19 may, the Communist Party manifesto was published. The next morning ‘Red Shadows’ headlined the Daily Express editorial:

Pick up the Communist Manifesto and it might be Labour’s. The two have chilling similarities. From unilateral nuclear disarmament to withdrawal from Europe, from economic controls to nationalisation. The difference is that the Communists will not win a seat… The voters rumbled them long ago. That is why the clever Marxists have gone into the Labour party. Mr Foot is no Communist. Doubtless he finds their support thoroughly distasteful. But his policies have made him a tool of those who are foes of the democratic freedom he upholds.

This was not a sudden discovery by the Express. The paper produced an identical response to the Labour and Communist manifestoes in the previous general election in 1979. ‘The Red Face of Labour-Communists Pick Same Policies’, was the headline to a front-page news report by John Warden on 11 April 1979. ‘The Communist Manifesto made an astonishing appearance yesterday as the Red Face of Labour. This “carbon copy” of policies is embarrassing for Mr Jim Callaghan.

One of those smeared as a Communist was Robert Hughes, who was the MP for Aberdeen North, and a member of the left-wing Tribune group. The evidence for his supposed Communist sympathies was that he had written for the Morning Star, Marxism Today, and Labour Monthly and Straight Left, the last two pro-Soviet magazines. The Express also claimed he was a member of three other pro-Soviet organisations, the World Peace Council, British-Soviet Friendship Society and Friends of Afghanistan. In fact, the World Peace Council had made him a member unilaterally, without consulting him or even telling him. Hughes didn’t know anything about the two other organisations, nobody he asked knew either, and he concluded they didn’t exist. When Hughes contacted the Express, they claimed that he had also been a member of Liberation and Voice of the Unions, which they also stated were Communist front organisations. Hughes had indeed been a member of them, but they weren’t fronts for the Communist party. The only evidence that they were was the fact that some of the leadership were former members of the Communist party. Hughes took the Express to the Press Complaints Council, which issued an adjudication in his favour, ruling that it had published inaccurate information.

Under Tony Blair, the Labour party managed to avoid being smeared as being infiltrated by Communists, as Murdoch had switched sides and was backing the Neoliberal future warmonger. But they were back on course with the gibes at ‘Red’ Ed Miliband, and they’re repeating the smears against Jeremy Corbyn. Well, it’s nonsense – nasty, pernicious nonsense intended to scare the public, but still nonsense. And once you find that it’s been more or less tried against the Labour party at just about every general election the party has fought, the allegation soon loses its force.

Ken Livingstone, the Daily Mail and the Anti-Semitism Allegations

June 5, 2016

Hollingworth’s book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also throws some light on the ultimate origins of the anti-Semitism allegations, at least as far as they concern Ken Livingstone. In the chapter on Leninspart and the GLC, Hollingworth describes how the editor of the Daily Heil, at that time David English, was convinced Red Ken was an anti-Semite, and approached George Tremlett, a Conservative councillor and chair of the GLC Housing Committee, to ask questions about the GLC supporting two Jewish organisations in order to expose him. He writes

Two months later, in March 1983, Tremlett received another call, from Arthur Williamson. According to Williamson, Sir David English, the editor of the Daily Mail, had personally drafted a question for Tremlett to ask in the council chamber. English was convinced that Livingstone was anti-Semitic. And so he wanted a Conservative councillor to request that Jewish groups like ‘The Student and Academic Campaign for Soviet Jewry’ and ‘Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry’ be given facilities at County Hall. The Mail’s editor wanted it to be asked in Question Time because he was sure Livingstone would refuse, but Tremlett again refused to co-operate. However, the Mail persisted, and the paper’s home affairs correspondent, Anthony Doran, twice telephoned Tremlett to find out if he had asked the question. Unperturbed, the Mail launched its own campaign to champion these Jewish organisations – ‘Jewish Group Accuses GLC: Why Can’t We Hold Exhibitions? reported Doran on 18 March 1983. The Mail’s campaign lasted nearly a year with the paper accusing the GLC of being ‘The Politburo Beside The Thames’. 97-8).

I’ve read nothing to suggest that Ken’s an anti-Semite, and much that points in the opposite direction. He very clearly condemns all kinds of racism, including anti-Semitism, in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. He is also genuinely horrified at the way the US and Britain after the War employed former Nazis, men who were responsible for the most horrific atrocities against Jews and others during the War, as part of the global fight against Communism. This looks to me very much like the Israel Lobby and the Blairites trying to hang on to power using a script that was first used 30 years ago by the Daily Heil. It’s an accusation that even Ken’s Tory opponents on the council refused to indulge.

Benn, Livingstone, Tatchell and Scargill, Popular Socialists Not Communist Dictators

June 5, 2016

One of the aspects of press policy that comes across most strongly in Mark Hollingworth’s book on the hounding and vilification of left-wing politicians, the Greenham women and the miners in the 1980sThe Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, is the repeated tactic of concentrating on a particular politician, and trying to present them as crazed and dictatorial. I’ve described in a previous post yesterday how Tony Benn was compared to Adolf Hitler, complete with a retouched photo to show him with Adolf’s toothbrush moustache. This was very much despite the fact that Tony Benn had served as an RAF pilot during the War. The same tactic of smearing a brave man, who had fought for his country as a traitor was repeated a few years ago by the Daily Heil on Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. They ran an article denouncing Ralph Miliband as ‘the man who hated Britain’. Miliband was indeed a Marxist intellectual, who hated the capitalist system and therefore much of the class-based structure and institutions of British society. But he also fought in the British army against Fascism during the Second World War.

Scargill and the Miners

Arthur Scargill was another working-class political figure the press smeared with comparisons to Hitler, and claimed was a dictatorial monster during the Miner’s Strike.

Maggie Thatcher in one of her rants had described Scargill and the NUM as ‘Red Fascists’, and so the press followed suit. On 19th April 1984 the Daily Express ran a piece by Prof. Hans Eysenck comparing Scargill and the striking miner’s to Hitler and the Nazis, entitled ‘Scargill and the Fascists of the Left – from the Man who Witnessed the Rise of Hitler: A Warning We Must Not Ignore’. The Sunday Express under its editor, John Junor, ran a similar piece.

Mr Arthur Scargill has clearly been flicked in the raw by suggestions that he has been acting like Hitler. But isn’t he? Hitler used his thugs to terrorise into submission people disagreed with him. Isn’t that precisely what is happening now at night in Nottinghamshire mining villages? Hitler had an utter contempt for the ballot box. By refusing the miners a right to vote, hasn’t Mr Scargill against invited comparison? There the serious similarity ends. For although Mr Scargill may be a stupid man, I do not think he is an evil one.
(pp. 275-6).

Peregrine Worsthorne, the editor of the Torygraph, compared Scargill to Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists. The Daily Heil on the 1st April 1984 ran a piece with the headline, ‘Coal Boss Hits Out at Union ‘Nazis”. But it was the Scum that really went overboard with the accusations of Nazism. It ran headlines like, ‘Mods in Fury at “Adolf” Arthur’, showed a photo of Scargill with his right arm raised, greeting other miners, with the headline, ‘Mine Fuhrer’, and then ran another piece comparing Scargill’s determination to fight to the bitter end with Adolf Hitler in his bunker.

But Scargill personally was far from a dictator. Hollingworth points out that Scargill did not start the strike, but was simply following the directions of the union’s members quite democratically. Hollingworth writes

In fact, the dispute began in Yorkshire when mass pithead meetings were held at every colliery to decide whether to support the fight to oppose the closure of Cottonwood. A Yorkshire NUM Area Council meeting was then arranged which took the decision to sanction all-out industrial action. Scargill didn’t attend or speak at any of these meetings. Nor does he have a vote on the miners’ National Executive Committee. (pp. 272-3).

The miners themselves repeatedly told the press that they weren’t blindly following Scargill, and that the situation was in fact the reverse: he was doing what they told him. This was repeated by the Coal Board’s Industrial Relations director general, Ned Smith, stated ‘I don’t think Scargill has kept them out. That is nonsense. A lot of the areas have a great deal of autonomy. It’s simply not true to say it’s Scargill’s strike.’ (p. 273).

Hollingworth also notes that the press had a personal obsession with Red Ken. When he took over the GLC, the Scum declared ‘Red Ken Crowned King of London’. Hollingworth, however, describes how Leninspart was again, very far from a bullying egotist monopolising power. Bob Quaif in a published letter to the Evening Standard stated that he was a Liberal/SDP, supporter, but he was impressed with the pluralist and democratic terms in which Livingstone expressed his opinions. Moreover, the Labour group when it took power removed some of the patronage powers from the leader, and gave them to elected committees. Ken controlled overall policy, but real power was held by the Labour group which met every Monday. Livingstone himself said of his role

I act more like a chief whip, co-ordinator and publicist of the group. I go out and try to sell the message and to hold the group together… people really only come to me when there is a problem. I never know anything that’s going right. I only get involved in all the things that are going wrong. Committees run into problems with the bureaucracy and I come along and stamp on it. (p. 84).

Hollingworth goes to state that if Livingstone had been personally ousted from power in the Autumn of 1981, the council would still have had much the same policies under the leadership of Andy Harris or John McDonnell.

Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell Smeared as Communists

Throughout all this, Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and Peter Tatchell were all smeared as Marxists and Communists. The Sunset Times described the miner’s strike as ‘Marxist inspired’, with Hugo Young declaring ‘Call Scargill a Marxist, and correctly identify members of the NUM executive as Communists, and you seem to have solved the entire analytical problem’. The Daily Express even published a piece entitled ‘Scargill’s Red Army Moves In’, ranting about the miner’s had been infiltrated by militant Marxists, determined to prevent changes to union rules which would make striking more difficult. The piece, written by Michael Brown, stated

The militant Red Guards responsible for most of the pit strike violence will attack against today when Arthur Scargill attempts to rewrite his union’s rules. A rabble of political activists plan to invade the streets of Sheffield to browbeat any opposition to a delegates conference designed to reduce the majority needed for strike action … It will be orchestrated by a ‘5th Column’ of political activists who have taken over the running of the miners’ strike. All are handpicked men, some with university training who have Communist, Marxist or Trotskyist backgrounds. They run the flying pickets and handle funds for paying them. (p. 266). There was absolutely no evidence for this, and the papers didn’t provide any.

The Sunday Express and the Scum also claimed that Livingstone was a Marxist, an accusation that lives on in Private Eye’s nickname for him as ‘Leninspart’. But again, Hollingworth states that there’s no evidence that he is either a Communist or Trotskyite. Roy Shaw, the moderate Labour leader of Camden council, who did not share Ken’s left-wing views and opposed him on many issues, stated of ‘Red’ Ken ‘He embraces Marxism if he thinks it will be of advantage to him. But he is certainly not a Marxist. He plays along with them and uses a lot of their methods, but he certainly is not one of them.’

The press also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of Militant Tendency, the Marxist group was that was allegedly trying to take over the Labour party. The Daily Mirror claimed Tatchell was linked to Militant and Tariq Ali. The Torygraph also claimed he was a member, as did the Daily Star, while the BBC on 2nd August 1982 on a late-night news bulletin called him ‘the Militant Tendency candidate for Bermondsey’. To their credit, both the Graun and the Absurder published interviews with members of the local Labour party, who said that Tatchell was most definitely not a member of Militant.

Hollingworth describes Tatchell’s politics views and how they differed, at times very dramatically from Militant, and states that he was merely part of the Bennite Left of the Labour party. Indeed, Militant itself did not like Tatchell, and backed him only reluctantly. Hollingworth writes

But Militant’s stance towards Tatchell’s candidature was based on clear ideological differences. On many issues, the two were diametrically opposed. Broadly speaking, Tatchell belonged to the radical Left of the Labour party which rallied round Tony Benn’s banner during the 1981 deputy leadership campaign. According to Michael Crick’s excellent book on Militant. The ‘Bennite Left’ are often described as ‘petty bourgeois reformists by Militant supporters. For Tatchell one of the major differences was on the structure of a socialist society:

I see socialism as being essentially about the extension and enhancement of democracy, particularly in the economic realm. Militant have a very centralised vision of command socialism. Mine is more decentralised and concerned with empowerment. In other words, giving people the power to do things for themselves. Militant take a Leninist view based on a vanguard centre.

On specific policies the discrepancies between Tatchell and Militant are also stark. For several years the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) was Labour Party and TUC policy and Tatchell supported it fully. Import controls, one of the main proposals of the AES, was seen by Militant as ‘nationalistic’ and ‘exporting unemployment’. Other policies on wealth tax, planning agreements and industrial democracy are rejected by Militant as not going far enough.

When it came to social issues, Tatchell and Militant may as well have been in different parties. Tatchell supports ‘Troops Out’ of Northern Ireland, while Militant is against withdrawal. Positive action for women and ethnic minorities, backed by Tatchell, are seen as ‘bourgeois deviations from the class struggle’ by Militant. The issue of gay rights has only one been raised at the Labour Party Young Socialists conference since Militant took over Labour’s youth section in 1970. According to Michael Crick, Militant supporters are often hostile to gay Party members. (pp.158-9).

So while Scargill, Livingstone and Tatchell were certainly left-wing Labour, they weren’t dictators and definitely not Communists. It was all a smear. But it shows how the press and political establishment were convinced that any serious left-wing Socialist attack on the establishment had to be connected to Moscow. Hence Frederick Forsythe’s wretched little book, which has the British intelligence services battling a Communist plot to infiltrate the Labour party, ready to turn Britain into a Soviet satellite when Labour win the election. It’s says everything about Thatcher that she declared he was her favourite writer.

And Now Corbyn

And this type of abuse hasn’t stopped, either. The most recent victim is Jeremy Corbyn, who is again being smeared as a Communist. Hollingworth writes that it is an old tactic used against the radical Left – to single out a leader, and then go for the jugular. They couldn’t use it against the Greenham women, as they had a very decentralised and non-hierarchical ideology. There were no leaders, and those women, who did speak to the press, made it clear they were only articulating their own views. If they spoke to the press more than a certain number of times, they then refused to speak any more and directed the press to talk to someone else. In extreme cases they even left the camp.

They are, however, determined to use again and again. I found a book on Militant in the politics section of Waterstones recently, and on the back, with the usual approving quotes, was someone stating that the lessons from Militant were relevant once again with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party. This is just a smear, along with all the baseless smears against Livingstone, Scargill and Tatchell before him. It shows how little the tactics of the Tory press change in their campaign to discredit genuinely principled and democratic radicals.

The Press’ Censorship of Violence against the Strikers during the Miner’s Strike

June 4, 2016

Mark Hollingworth in his book on the press attacks on the Labour party and trade unions in the 1980s, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also notes the way the press suppressed and ignored stories about violence against the strikers during the miners’ strike. He discusses in particular the press’ refusal to print a photograph of a policeman beating a women with a baton, police agents provocateurs, and how the fourth estate very rapidly lost interest in an arson attack on a miner’s car when they found out that the victim was a striking miner. Hollingworth writes

On a direct level there were dozens of examples of news stories and photographs involving intimidation of striking miners. Yet, in contrast to the almost blanket coverage of violence by pickets, the vast majority of allegations concerning police actions on the picket line were ignored. Perhaps the most notorious example was the photograph of a young woman, Lesley Boulton, being attacked by a truncheon-wielding mounted policeman at Orgreave coking plant on Monday 18 June 1983. She had been shouting at the police to ‘get an ambulance’ for a middle-aged injured miner. John Harris, a photographer with the International Freelance Library, managed to take two frames of film of the police attack and then ran off. Later that Monday afternoon his agency offered the pictures to the Daily Mirror who rejected them because they had ‘got all they wanted’. Harris’ photographs were freely available to Fleet Street later that week, but of Britain’s 17 national newspapers only the Observer published the picture of Boulton the following Sunday. Instead, it was left to some European papers like Stern magazine to print it. However, the public display of the photograph at the 1984 Labour party conference in Blackpool forced an interest from Fleet Street. Their response was to suggest that perhaps the camera angel or depth of field gave a misleading impression.

Detailed allegations of police harassment were also carefully documented. On 7 June 1984, a Nottinghamshire miner claimed he had recognised two plain-clothes policemen posing as pickets and inciting other miners to throw stones. But perhaps the most remarkable incident occurred on 15th June 1984 when two more plain clothes policemen were caught red-handed posing as miners at the Cresswell Strike Centre in Derbyshire. The police officers, P.C. Stevens and Sergeant Monk, were even identified by local reporter Carmel O’Toole, whose paper, the Worksop Guardian, carried the story on its front page. O’Toole then phoned through the story to the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. They spiked the story. Names, addresses, telephone numbers and sworn statements concerning several alleged incidents were compiled by Tribune for any inquiring journalist or editor. Fleet Street turned a blind eye.

Discrimination by the press between violence against working and striking miners, particularly in the Midland’s coalfields, was starkly exposed by the case of Derbyshire miner Pete Neelan. In January 1985 his car was set on fire, his garage burned down and the word ‘Revenge’ spray-painted on to his house. As soon as it was announced that he was a miner at Worksop Main, Derbyshire, several Fleet Street correspondents and an ITN team flocked to his house to record the details for publication. However, when Neelan told them he was on stroke there was suddenly a loss of interest in the news story. ‘Everyone seemed terribly disappointed,’ said Neelan. The questions stopped and the journalists went home. The next day there was no sign of the story in the press. (p. 264-5).

Mike reported in Vox Political last week that there were calls after the release of the report in the Hillsborough disaster, which exonerated the Liverpool fans, that a similar inquiry should be held into the miners’ strike. Mike doubted that we’d ever get the truth about the strike from Theresa May, the Home Secretary. Considering how massively implicated nearly all of the press in the gross distortion of the news, I doubt very much that we can expect any truth about the strike, either from May nor from the press. There are too many high-ranking Conservative former editors with careers and reputations at stake. Besides, it might cause Rupert Murdoch to have palpitations.

The National Union of Journalists’ Code of Professional Conduct

June 4, 2016

This is the NUJ’s code of professional conduct, as laid out in Mark Hollingsworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship (London: Pluto 1986).

1. A journalist has a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards.
2. A journalist shall at all times defend the principle of the freedom of the Press and other media in relation to the collection of information and the expression of comment and criticism. He/she shall strive to eliminate distortion, news suppression and censorship.
3. A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate, avoid the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact and falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.
4. A journalist shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticized when the issue is of sufficient importance.
5. A journalist shall obtain information, photographs and illustrations only by straightforward means. The use of other means can be justified only by over-riding considerations of the public interest. The journalist is entitled to exercise a personal conscientious objection to the use of such means.
6. Subjection to justification by over-riding considerations of the public interest, a journalist shall do nothing which entails intrusion into private grief and distress.
7. A journalist shall protect confidential sources of information.
8. A journalist shall not accept bribes nor shall he/she allow other inducements to influence the performance of his/her professional duties.
9. A journalist shall not lend himself/herself to the distortion or suppression of the truth because of advertising or other considerations.
10. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
11. A journalist shall not take private advantage of information gained in the course of his/her duties, before the information is public knowledge.
12. A journalist shall not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of his/her own work or of the medium by which he/she is employed.

So now you know all the ethical rules which the press, particularly Murdoch, the BBC and Laura Kuenssberg regularly and spectacularly break.

Book Review: The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship

June 4, 2016

By Mark Hollingsworth (London: Pluto Press Ltd 1986).

Press Dissent Pic

I found this in one of the second-hand bookshops in Cheltenham. Although it came out thirty years ago, and covers the major issues of that decade, it’s still acutely relevant. The press and media is still overwhelmingly right-wing, and bitterly hostile to anything like genuine Socialism. This is shown by their refusal to cover Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, the uncritical support given to farcical and frankly libellous accusations of anti-Semitism, and its complete and utter failure to give to proper coverage to protests and demonstrations against the government’s austerity programme. One of the most flagrantly biased in this campaign is the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who has been booed and hissed by audiences at speaking events because of her blatant Tory bias, as recently covered in several of Mike’s posts over at Vox Political.

Individual chapters deal with the press’ attacks on and vilification of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and the GLC, press racism, Peter Tatchell and the Bermondsey bye-election, the Greenham women’s peace camp, the 1983 General Election, and the miner’s strike. The conclusion considers what may be done to alter this terrible situation. There are also four appendices. The first gives the commercial interests of the companies owning the British press. The second give the circulation figures for the national papers. The third lists the Fleet Street editors, and the fourth gives the NUJ code of professional conduct.

I remember many of these controversies from when I was growing up in the 1980s, but reading through the book I was shocked and amazed at the sheer venom and bile poured out on the people and causes featured in the book. Many of the ad hominem attacks sound like the kind of personal vilification Stalin meted out to his political opponents just before sending them to the gulags. It also shows how times have changed that the homophobia that was so prevalent in the 1980s, and which comes out particularly strongly in the press’ attacks on Peter Tatchell, is probably even more shocking now. And then there’s the attempts by the press to play down and demonise the women’s peace camp at Greenham common, which is shocking in its bias and repeated spiking of any positive articles or discussions of what they were doing. And if the press couldn’t simply distort the truth, they made it up, as shown in their articles about Black criminality and racist aggression against Whites, and the Miner’s Strike. There they fabricated a story about how the miners were all Communists – a standard line of attack on most of the left-wingers featured in the book – but were also being given paramilitary training by the IRA in Ireland.

Tony Benn

The book states that the businessmen, who worked with Benn had a high opinion of him. They found him clear and rational. John Shore, the chief executive of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, who dealt with Benn as the local MP for 14 years, says of him ‘I certainly never found him bonkers. He always presented in all his dealings with us a well-reasoned response to anything that we put to him.’ The Evening News, however, discussing Benn’s supposed political ambitions at the time of the EEC referendum in 1975, screamed that ‘Benn has gone too far to be treated as a joke… now he is seen in some quarters as a vampire, a fanatic and a bully.’ (p. 47). The Sunday Express ran a photograph of Benn, adding a Hitler moustache under the headline ‘Frightening Sketch of Wedgie’. It then went on to portray him very much as a traitor. It said, ‘In 1940 we knew we had no enemies within our own shores, that we were all united against Hitler. Can we say the same thing now? Could you, for example, be absolutely positively sure on whose side you would find people like Anthony Wedgwood Benn?’ Benn, the book notes, had volunteered and served as an RAF pilot during the War.

Ralph Miliband

This kind of smear was repeated a few years ago against Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph. Ralph Miliband was a Jewish immigrant from Belgium, and a committed and respected Marxist intellectual. He also fought for Britain in the Second World War. Nevertheless, the Mail denounced him in a long, ranting column as ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

Ken Livingstone

On the 27th September 1981, the Sunday Express denounced Red Ken as ‘The IRA-loving, poof-loving, Marxist leader of the GLC Mr Ken Livingstone’. The papers hated him for subsidizing gay and feminist organisations, and for championing the Nationalist cause in Northern Ireland. In their attacks, they published a series of articles by psychiatrists and psychologists supposedly diagnosing Leninspart as a clinical maniac. This was a gross misrepresentation of what the doctors had actually said. They made clear that they were discussing a type of personality, and not specific individuals, and duly complained.

Peter Tatchell

As for Peter Tatchell, not only did he suffer because of his sexuality, they also tried linking, spuriously and unfairly, with Militant Tendency. One reported told Tatchell that ‘We’re going to dig up everything you have ever said or done from the day you were born’. Questions were asked whether he ever visited gay brothels. They also turned up outside one of his neighbours, claiming to be officers from Southwark Council, claiming that they were investigating complaints that he had been holding loud, all-male parties during the night. They went away disappointed when the neighbour told them otherwise.

Fleet Street Racism

The book also shows how prevalent and pernicious was the racism in Fleet Street. Newspaper editors frankly said that aspiring Black journos shouldn’t try getting into journalism, because they wouldn’t be valued and would find their careers blocked, no matter how good or respected they were in their countries of origin. A Sun editor, discussing what kind of image they should put on the front page to show happy folk winning the Scum lottery, said that they should put ‘darkies’ on it, as no-one wanted to see that. And the Dirty Digger, Rupert Murdoch, himself said to Harold Evans, the editor of the Times, regarding a Black protest march, that there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by a crack over the head with a police baton. Asians were more than 50 times likely to suffer a racial attack than Whites, and Blacks more than 35 times. But there was absolutely no interest in reporting these racist attacks. One journo said that the newspapers were not interested in crimes and tragedies where the victims were either working class or Black. And while they claimed that Whites were being racially attacked by Blacks at every opportunity, they were keen to do the complete opposite involving racial attacks on Blacks and Asians. This was shown in the press’ treatment of an arson attack on a Black household, that killed 13 people. The press described it merely as arson, and did not interview any of the grieving relatives, even when it was clear that it was a racial attack, and members of the British Movement were jailed for violence and making firebombs. The statistics were also flagrantly manipulated, with non-violent crimes included with violent robberies to produce a grossly inflated picture of violent Black criminality responsible for drug-dealing and mugging, and ample space given to extreme right-wingers like Harvey Proctor and Enoch Powell demanding their repatriation.

Greenham Common Women

The Greenham women were repeatedly ignored. One female editor on the Times, responsible for ‘Look’, the newspaper’s women’s supplement, tried to have a sympathetic article on them published. Despite having successfully edited the women’s sections for the Grauniad and Observer, she was sacked. There were repeated attempts to uncover violent incidents committed by them, and they were accused of being agents of Moscow and supporters of the IRA.

The Miners

This was also one of the accusations aimed at the miners. One of their organisers had gone to Dublin seeking funding from sympathetic trade unionists in Eire. The papers claimed he had gone off to get the IRA to train them in paramilitary tactics they could use against the police. Someone, however, took the trouble of actually interviewing the Irish mining union, which had given its support to the British miners. They stated very clearly that they weren’t connected to the IRA, and not only weren’t providing any kind of ‘paramilitary training’, they didn’t even know how.

Dealing with the Press in the Age of the Internet

The picture given is of a frankly out of control press, that lies as easily as most people breathe. It is corrupt and deeply mendacious. But the book also gives clues on how it can be dealt with. Apart from its own suggestions in the final chapter, Hollingsworth notes that at one point the coverage of Tony Benn became markedly less hysterical, more level and less biased, because Benn took control of the situation. Instead of letting the mainstream press set the agenda, Benn was refusing to give interviews to them, preferring instead to talk to other magazines and journals.

This might give a clue on how to handle the latest biased reporting by the Beeb and the press, including not just right-wing papers, but also the Graon and Indie. The net now provides an alternative outlet for news, one that is actually preferred by the younger generation. The old, lamestream media like the Beeb are under threat, and they know it. Hence the rants by Beeb hacks in the Radio Times lamenting the fact that the political consensus previously created through everyone in the nation getting their news from the same sources, is vanishing. There are, of course, negative aspects to this. Mike says one of the problems is the decline in investigative reporting. But people are turning to the alternative media – the internet with its blogs and vlogs, because the mainstream press and the BBC have shown themselves consistently uninterested in anything like objective, unbiased reporting.

This is a crisis in journalism, but it also presents new opportunities for better reporting from a media not quite so dominated by the old media giants. And if people are abandoning the Beeb and the dead tree press, then they can only blame themselves. More and more people are sick and tired of their bias, and their hounding and vilification of those they despise as enemies of capitalism and the Tory party. If they want to regain some of the public trust they’ve lost, they can do so by redressing the issue of balance. In fact, as their readerships decline despite them becoming more extreme and opinionated, their survival depends on it.