Posts Tagged ‘Tom Mills’

The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.

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Book on Conservative, Anti-Left Bias at the BBC

August 24, 2017

The BBC: The Myth of a Public Service, Tom Mills (London: Verso 2016).

I managed to pick up a copy of this book, which came out last year, yesterday while poking around one of the secondhand book shops in Cheltenham. The BBC has become increasingly very blatantly biased against the Labour party, trade unions and the left in general. The Corporation has huffily denied this, but it’s been the subject of academic critiques by Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff academics, who have concluded that there is a very real bias towards the Tories and business leaders, and against Labour MPs and trade unionists. According to the back flap of the dust jacket, Tom Mills is another academic – a lecturer in sociology and policy at Aston University, and a former co-editor of the New Left Project.

The blurb on the front flap states

The BBC is one of the most important institutions in Britain; it is also one of the most misunderstood. Despite its claim to be independent and impartial, and the constant accusations of a liberal bias, the BBC has always sided with the elite. As Tom Mills demonstrates, we are only getting the news that the Establishment wants aired in public.

Throughout its existence, the BBC has been in thrall to those in power. This was true in 1926 when it stood against the workers during the General Strike, and since then the Corporation has continued to mute the voices of those who oppose the status quo: miners in 1984; anti-war protesters in 2003; those who offer alternatives to austerity economics since 2008. From the outset much of its activity has been scrutinized by the secret services at the invitation of those in charge. Since the 1990s the BBC has been integrated into the market, while its independence from the government and big business has been steadily eroded. The BBC is an important and timely examination of a crucial public institution that is constantly under threat.

Barry and Saville Kushner have also pointed out how the Beeb and its journos unquestioningly accept the necessity of austerity, rarely inviting on their programmes anyone dares say otherwise. When they do, the interviewer promptly throws a fit and shouts them down. They heard one instance of this while listening to a radio interview on Radio 4 with a leading trade unionist, who was very abruptly stopped when he tried explaining that there was absolutely no need for it. See their book, Who Needs the Cuts.

The anti-Labour bias is acutely obvious in Laura Kuenssberg’s treatment of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. It was also very evident with the reports on the Six O’clock news by John Pienaar and George Alagiah. Any number of people have complained about Kuenssberg’s flagrant bias, and got the same shirty treatment from the people in the media bubble. Those, who dare to complain, like Guy Debord’s Cat, get a haughty letter from one of its apparatchiks pompously informing them how the Corporations journalists are all scrupulously impartial, and they are mistaken. And the hackettes in the Groaniad immediately got on their high horses to claim that those criticizing la Kuenssberg were just doing it because they were sexist chauvinists, like the Bernie Bros in America. Which also didn’t exist, but were made up by Killary and her minions as a way of explaining why few people, including women, actually like this highly entitled, neoliberal, establishment figure, who befriends blood-soaked war criminals like Henry Kissinger.

And despite the Beeb’s protestations, several of their own journos don’t buy this rubbish either. Robert Peston, now the Beeb’s economics editor, was asked three years ago what he thought about the claims that it had a liberal bias. Peston replied that, on the contrary, the Corporation was ‘completely obsessed with the agenda set by newspapers’, naming the Heil and Torygraph. He added that it ‘quite often veers in what you might call a very pro-establishment, rather right-wing direction’. He forthrightly said that the claims that the Beeb is left-wing is ‘bollocks’. (p. 106).

But such claims have been around since the BBC was formally incorporated as a nationalized industry. When it was just a cartel of radio manufacturers and broadcasters, the Conservatives were accusing it of a Socialist bias. Glancing through the book reveals that there have been repeated attempts by the Tories to make it reflect their views. In 1947 Churchill launched one of these. Some of the most significant occurred in the 1970s with Keith Joseph and the other neoliberals around Maggie Thatcher. They got very upset in 1974 when the respected American economist, J.K. Galbraith, presented a series critiquing corporate power and the rise and crisis of industrial society, including Marxist and Keynsian perspectives, The Age of Uncertainty. This was too much for Joseph and the rest of the frothing mad Tory right. Galbraith was no liberal. He identified as Conservative, but had said the unsayable. Galbraith stated in the introduction to the ninth episode of that, ‘The Big Corporation’, that it was a myth that the consumer is sovereign and the corporation respond to their preferences, efficiently allocating society’s resources. The reality was that ‘corporations influence government, influence the consumer. Only the textbooks say otherwise.’ Joseph and Geoffrey Howe then organized a campaign to have another series set up, examination the question from a pro-Hayekian, free market perspective, presented by Milton Friedman. This was the Milton Friedman, who enthusiastically rejected democracy after realizing that his Chicago School would always been a minority. He therefore championed General Pinochet, who was also an enthusiastic Monetarist, when he overthrew the Marxist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, in a Fascist coup.

One of the most revealing sections is the chapter discussing how the Beeb’s massive pro-business bias was established about nine or so years ago, way back at the start of century around the year 2000. It was set up, and the treatment of business affairs expanded, by Greg Dyke. Dyke was a member of the Labour party, and a crony of Tony Blair. This explains why the Tories were constantly howling about how he was a dangerous Socialist, and there was a left-wing bias at the Beeb. In fact, Dyke had imbibed the same Thatcherite, neoliberal views as Blair, despite the continued whines that the Beeb had an ‘anti-industry culture’. It’s another example of how politicians on the nominal left, like Blair, took over and expanded the Conservatives’ neoliberal programme.

As for pro-Fascist bias, this even afflicted that great founder of the Beeb, Lord Reith. In 1933 Reith made a speech declaring that it was possible for someone to spread democratic values without being a democrat. Two years later, in 1935, he made a speech praising Mussolini. He personally believed the country needed a dictatorship. Fortunately, the rest of the Beeb’s governors and controllers didn’t, and forced him out.

This is interesting, as it’s an aspect of Reith’s life I hadn’t heard about before. There have been biographies of him – one of which was published in the 1990s, and, I think, reviewed by the Financial Times. However, from what I can remember, what was said about Reith’s personal failings was about his own puritanism, repressed homosexuality, and guilty infatuation with another man. I can’t recall any mention of Reith being a supporter of Fascist style dictatorship, although it should also be said that he despised the Fascists’ thuggery.

It would be too much to say that the corporation is pro-Fascist. They’re very proud of a quote made during the crisis of 1974, when one of the journos announced that the Beeb isn’t impartial – it’s strongly pro-democratic, and passionately feels this needs to be cherished. On the other hand, broadcasters tend to be Conservatives. And one aspect of the Conservative mindset is authoritarianism. See some of the pieces on YouTube discussing this by left-wing news sites like Democracy Now and so on. This would explain why they give more respect than they should to extreme right-wing movements like the BNP and UKIP. Guy Debord’s Cat has written about this over on his blog, if you want further information.

The book also places Mary Whitehouse, the moral crusader, who became the scourge of broadcasters from the 1960s onwards. Whitehouse is still a notorious figure today for her campaign against all manner of smut and filth on television with her group, the Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. A year or so ago there was a book about her and her correspondence with the Corporation, Ban This Filth. Mills states that she is looked upon as an eccentric figure. Misguided, but essentially harmless. This isn’t quite the case.

Whitehouse was linked the Tories, and a friend of Maggie Thatcher. She and they thought that there was a plot by a left-wing elite to foist all this degeneracy and moral chaos on the British public. It’s a view that’s now become firmly established within the Right. And there was a very strong political dimension to her campaign. She believed that the liberal elite wanted to create sexual permissiveness and anarchy in preparation for a state of political anarchy, in which the fundamental institutions of British society would be torn down. And like many a bonkers conspiracy theorist, she was convinced that this was all being coordinated by Moscow. These days she’d probably be on Infowars with Alex Jones, along with nutters frothing about imaginary satanic paedophile rings operating out of Boston pizza parlours by Hillary Clinton, and those who think that the government is run by a secret cabal of aliens from Zeta Reticuli.

As for her views about political anarchism, this was also held by MI5, much to the amusement of the real anarchists in the Anarchist Federation. See one of the pieces on modern anarchism in the anthology of anarchist literature, Anarchism, edited by George Woodcock.

The book concludes that Reith’s vision of the Beeb’s role was the same as that as Matthew Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby, in his book Culture and Anarchy. The alienated laboring poor were to be incorporated into the culture and political structure of British society, but firmly under the leadership of the upper classes. The brief period when British society and the BBC had become more egalitarian due to rising affluence and the economic and social changes of the 1960s, has disappeared. This is partly due to the collapse of Communism. There is now no longer an exterior threat demanding that certain concessions be made to the working and lower middle classes, so that they don’t become too radicalized. Neoliberalism has increased poverty and jobs are precarious. At the same time, power has become more distanced and centralized amongst a powerful coterie of Oxbridge-educated managers. And just as this has occurred in industry and wider British society, so it as has also occurred in the Beeb.

This is an important study of the Beeb’s institutional right-wing, pro-Establishment bias. It’s another refutation of the Beeb’s repeated, and increasingly spurious claims of impartiality. Since Corbyn became leader, more people have become aware of how hypocritical and specious these claims are. It’s why more people are getting their news and information from the internet, and sites you can really trust. Sites like Vox Political, Tom Pride, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, DPAC, Kitty S. Jones, the Canary, the Squawkbox, Guy Debord’s Cat, Tony Greenstein and others too numerous to mention.

These people convey real news, and their under threat from the big corporations Google and Facebook, who only want you to view and read approved corporate, neoliberal propaganda. It’s why they’re demonetizing left-wing news shows like Democracy Now, The Young Turks, the David Pakman Show, Secular Talk and Sam Seder’s Majority Report, and changing the rules on Facebook to make it difficult for people to access the left-wing blogs.

Don’t let them get away with this. Support your favourite left-wing blogs and news shows.

Lobster on a Report into BICOM, and Bias at the Beeb

September 27, 2016

BICOM

Lobster 66 also carried news of the publication of a report into one of the most important parts of the Israel lobby, BICOM in Robin Ramsay’s ‘View from the Bridge Column’. He wrote

The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre: Giving peace a chance? by Tom Mills, David Miller, Tom Griffin and Hilary Aked is a study of BICOM, its creation and influence in British politics. Among its chapters are ‘The second intifada and the establishment of BICOM’, ‘BICOM and British Zionism’, ‘BICOM strategy, elite networks and the media’ and ‘The Fox-Werritty scandal and the decline of democracy’. If you are only going to read one chapter, make it chapter five, ‘BICOM strategy, elite networks and the media’, which describes in great detail BICOM’s (largely successful) campaigns to get the British media to follow a pro-Israel line. This 96 page report can be downloaded as a PDF file.

Ramsay notes that the report is available online at: http://www.dropbox.com/s/rgb5yn4vjt2q74r/Giving%20Peace%20a%20Chance%3F-Spinwatch-2013.pdf

Aunty’s In a Bind

Further on in the column, Ramsay discusses two reports into political bias at the Beeb. One of them, The Today Programme and the Banking Crisis, concluded that the coverage given to economic issues by Radio 4’s current affairs programme, Today, was dominated by spokesmen from the City, and they were the only commenters, whose views were taken seriously. Ramsay notes that a copy of the study itself cost $25 (sic – perhaps he means pounds). However, Nick Shaxson had put a detailed summary of it, ‘Is the BBC Afraid of the City of London’, on his blog at

Ramsay also reports that a study of the BBC’s bias in reporting the privatisation of the NHS had also been published. This stated

In the two years building up to the government’s NHS reform bill, the BBC appears to have categorically failed to uphold its remit of impartiality, parroting government spin as uncontested fact, whilst reporting only a narrow,
shallow view of opposition to the bill. In addition, key news appears to have been censored.

This study was at http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/oliver-huitson/how-bbcbetrayed-
nhs-exclusive-report-on-two-years-of-censorship-anddistorti.

The BBC’s refusal to cover or criticise the government’s privatisation of the NHS is one of the issues Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis criticise in their back, NHS-SOS, which discusses how a whole series of British institutions, which claim to provide a check on government, like the press, and the medical profession itself, failed to protect it and instead were cowed by government pressure.