Posts Tagged ‘Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association’

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.

Back to Censorship with the Tories

June 6, 2015

One of the reforms now being mooted by the Tories is the introduction of legislation to allow the Broadcasting Standards Authority to intervene in a possibly controversial or offensive programme before broadcast. This is, of course, censorship, and the Tories are well aware of what a hot potato this issue is. Mike’s already reported on his blog over at Vox Political the reaction of Sajid Javid, who has apparently raised some objections to it. It’s ‘apparent’, as Mike considers that Javid’s objections are merely cosmetic formalities. The decision has already been made, but the Tories are presenting a fa├žade of objections in order to stave off criticism that they are all in favour of it.

In fact, sections of the Tory party have for some time now bitterly objected to what they see as appallingly lax, permissive standards on television and the theatre. A few years ago, one of the High Tories with either the Daily Mail, the Spectator or possibly the Telegraph, wrote a piece declaring that British society had been wrecked by the evil Roy Jenkins. Why Roy Jenkins, of all people? After all, Woy was hardly some Marxist or other radical Left firebrand, determined to destroy capitalism. He was one of the founders of the SDP. Some idea of his character can be seen in Gerald Scarfe’s description of him as having ‘a good claret face’.

Nevertheless, the Tory right despises him as the personification of the very worst aspects of the Sixties. It was Woy Jenkins as home secretary in the 1960s, who ended censorship in the theatre, legalised homosexuality and removed the property qualification for jury service. This meant that all kinds of ‘orrible filth was allowed on stage, to the consternation of Mary Whitehouse and the other members of her Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. The judiciary became soft of crime, because the great unwashed now allowed to judge whether defendants were guilty in the courtroom were not respectable householders, and so had no interest in defending property rights. And most heinous of all, gays were allowed the freedom to indulge their sexuality in the privacy of their own homes, instead of being arrested and properly punished for the threat they posed to society.

Looking back, the restrictions on what was considered suitable for performance, either broadcast, or on stage, was quite severe. Michael Bentin, one of the Goons, said in his one man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal, way back in the 1990s that the Beeb’s regulations forbade them from making jokes about the following:

The monarchy

Disability

The colour question

‘Effeminacy’ in men

and they couldn’t blaspheme.

They remembered all this through the mnemonic ‘My God, said the Queen, I do believe that one-eyed N*gger’s a poof’. According to the regulations, this would be the single most unbroadcastable sentence possible.

Of course, this censorship became increasingly untenable as popular attitudes changed and traditional authority came under increasing questioning, not least during the satire boom. Ways could be found for entrepreneurs to get round the statutory requirement for theatres to submit their scripts to the Lord Chamberlain for approval before they were staged. And the restriction’s became increasingly anachronistic and absurd. Peter Cook in an interview with Clive James back in the 1990s gave an example of just how absurd and unworkable they were. One of the plays he staged at his club, The Establishment, began with the line ‘Enter three terrible old queens’. Obviously, this violated the prohibition against the portrayal of homosexuals. The script came back covered in blue pencil. They then changed the line to ‘Enter three aesthetic young men’. This, however, was deemed completely accepted and duly passed.

The lifting of those restrictions thus prepared the way for the portrayal of racism and discussions of racial issues in Til Death Us To Part, with Alf Garnett on TV and the extremely camp characters, Julian and Sandy, on the radio comedy series, Round the Horne. Their sexuality was never clearly stated in English, but they spoke in Parlary, the language of actors and the gay underground. And if you understood that, then it was. There were numerous lines about men being ‘omee palones’. ‘Omee’ is the Parlary word for man. ‘Palone’ meant woman, and ‘Omee palone’ was the term used to mean a gay. So, provided you knew the lingo, it was pretty much in front of you all the time, even if the BBC never dared to say it quite outright.

As for the increasingly questioning attitude towards authority, this appalled members of the older generation to the extent that twenty years after it was broadcast, the BBC’s foremost political journalist and broadcaster, Robin Day, still declared That Was The Week That Was ‘deplorable’ in his autobiography, Grand Inquisitor, when it was published in the 1980s. The Tories would dearly love to drag the country back to situation before 1968/9, when there was due to deference to the monarchy and established authority, and the airwaves were full of clean, wholesome family entertainment without the sex and violence that they feel is destroying the British family and sending crime figures shooting up.

It’s highly debatable how far the reactionary Right can turn the clock back to the 1950s. Homosexuality is still bitterly opposed and hated in some sections of British society, but it’s been so widely accepted elsewhere since the 1980s that the Tories have been forced to support gay marriage. Weirdly, even UKIP, which has viciously attacked gay rights, has now gone so far as to want to take part in a gay price march in London. Society generally has accepted premarital sex and the depiction of nudity and some sexual activity on TV – as long as it’s broadcast after the watershed, that it’s hard to see how an outright ban on this could ever be possible or be seen as anything other than ridiculous. Quite apart from the fact that viewers are able to see sexually explicit and violent movies on DVD or the internet in their own homes, and in films at the cinema.

This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some standards, especially when dealing with sex and extremely controversial topics like race. It does mean that the standards have moved so far since the days of censorship that its return would be difficult, unpopular and probably so riddled with complications, contradictions and exceptions as to be unworkable. One example of the latter was the prohibition of the Thatcher government against directly broadcasting statements by terrorists in their own voices. It was introduced to prevent organisations like paramilitaries in Northern Ireland and their associated political parties, like Sinn Fein, from gaining ‘the oxygen of publicity.’ So the TV companies simply resorted to voice actors imitating their voices while quoting their statements. The policy then had to be abandoned, because some of the impressions of the terrorists and their politicians, like Gerry Adams, were so good that they were actually indistinguishable from the people themselves.

And even before the policy was finally abandoned, it was spoofed and something of a laughing stock. The Day Today, the BBC spoof news show, which was the precursor to Chris Morris’ classic and highly controversial comedy, Brass Eye, sent up the restrictions in one edition. This featured an interviewed with a supposed Irish Republican politician, who, ‘in accordance with government broadcasting requirements’, was required to breath helium to make him sound as ridiculous as possible when giving his statement to journalists.

Moreover, any mention of censorship by that very term is extremely controversial. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s the British Board of Film Censors decided to change its name to the British Board of Film Classification as something that sounded much better and far less authoritarian. It’s interesting that the new legislation to allow the Broadcasting Standards Authority to intervene before broadcast has not been described as such. Nevertheless, censorship is what it is.

There is, of course, a much more sinister aspect to the Tories’ planned reintroduction of censorship. They’d like to have complete control over the news before its broadcast, to manipulate its content and control public attitudes. News analysts and media watchers have already noted that the BBC in its reportage is biased towards the Tories, but this isn’t enough for them. Any criticism, not matter how mild, is always denounced as evidence of the Beeb’s liberal bias. This is particularly self-serving when one considers how many of those making the denunciations have connections to Murdoch, who would dearly love the BBC to be reduced, privatised or completely abolished so he could grab some of its broadcasting action.

Private Eye have also published pieces pointing out just how many journalists from the Right-wing press, and associated in particular with Cameron, have gone off to work for the Beeb, contradicting the claims of the Telegraph and Times that there is a revolving door between the Beeb and the Labour party. This is, apparently, shown by the appointment of Andrew Marr as one of the Corporation’s leading political journalists. He is a member of the ‘left-wing’ establishment, as he was editor of the Independent, before taking up his position at the Beeb way back in the 1980s.

Thatcher’s government in particular acted at least twice to try and prevent the broadcast of critical programmes, or destroy the broadcasting companies that did. These were the programmes, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, an edition of the Beeb’s documentary and current affairs series, Panorama, and the ITV programme, Death on the Rock. ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’ annoyed the Tories because of its claim that they had been infiltrated by members of the extreme Right, such as the National Front, in order to radicalise it further, similar to the way the Labour Party had been infiltrated by the Marxist Militant Tendency. They therefore tried all they could to stop it being shown. Death on the Rock was about the shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar as they were preparing to attack a British army base. The programme alarmed and angered Maggie as it showed that there was no need for the shooting of the terrorists. They had been under observation at almost every point in their journey to the Rock, and could have been picked up and arrested safely, with the minimum of violence, at a number of times before their final battle with the British army. This wasn’t a defensive battle, but a staged execution of the terror squad, intended to punish the IRA and send a clear message that future attempts at terrorism would be dealt with the same way. It also seems to support the allegation of Colin Wallace and others, published by Lobster, that special SAS squads had been embedded in the British army in Northern Ireland in order to carry out similar executions of Nationalists.

Thatcher, however, denied that the shooting of the IRA terrorists in Gibraltar was anything of the sort. She and her cabinet were so annoyed at the programme that the ITV broadcaster lost its licence, and was replaced instead by Carlton. The very name of that company recalls the Tories’ Carlton Club in London, and suggested their political allegiance, or at least compliance, with Maggie’s demands. Despite Maggie’s denials, Lady Olga Maitland later gave the game away in her biography of the Iron Lady published later, where she said that the terrorists were shot as a punishment, rather than killed from self-defence.

And if the Tories were upset and tried to ban hostile programmes, they also harbour long grudges about programmes supporting them which the Beeb didn’t broadcast. Every so often you can read one of the Tory journos griping in the Daily Heil or one of the other rags about the Beeb’s bias in not broadcasting a play about Maggie and the Falklands War. This had a pro-Thatcher perspective, and included a scene showing her crying about the squaddies, who had been killed by the Argentinians in the conflict. I find it hard to believe that Maggie shed any tears for anyone, except herself and her immediate family, but this might be right. Either way, it was not broadcast, and the Tories have bitterly resented this and used it regularly as a cudgel to beat the BBC for its supposed left-wing bias ever since.

If the Tories manage to get their way with the new broadcasting bill and its provisions, you can expect their control of the media to be more or less absolute. Mike and many of the other left-wing bloggers have pointed out how protests are not reported by the BBC, or given minimal, grudging coverage. This included a massive demonstration of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, outside the Beeb’s own doorstep. This will only get worse with the Tories’ plans for the Broadcasting Standards Authority to act before broadcast. There will be even less hostile or oppositional coverage of the Tories and their policies, and instead much more programming supporting them. Of course, this could ultimately damage the established broadcast media, as more people would turn to the internet, and foreign news channels to get an idea of what was going on here. It’s happened already, in that Russia Today and the Iranian Press TV have already given extensive coverage to protests and demonstrations against the Coalition and their cuts, which the Beeb and British broadcasters have done their best to ignore as far as possible.

The political dimensions to this new censorship won’t be introduced explicitly. Instead, it’ll be like Cameron’s proposed legislation trying to censor the internet. It’ll be promoted and set up under the pretext of protecting impressionable Brits from porn and other objectionable material. The Daily Mail will no doubt celebrate it as the return of proper protection for the vulnerable children watching TV. Nevertheless, it will come in. The Tories will do what they normally do, and lie and deny that it is censorship, but this will be exactly what it is. And another British freedom will have been destroyed to make the world safe and profitable for them and their corporate backers.