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Social media spectacle: work and leisure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 11:46am in

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This may be an overly cynical view of social media but this is what my use of these platforms has led me to. It's not intended as any sort of final word on today's Internet and social media but will hopefully be the start of a conversation.

What was heralded as a revolution in human interaction has become a realm for the extension of impersonality and the ever-increasing intrusion of the workplace into our free time.

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Miriam Margolyes has been cleared. Her 'crime'? Telling the truth | David Mitchell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/06/2020 - 7:00pm in

Confected Twitter outrage at her admission that she briefly hoped Boris Johnson might die has got the Tories off the hook

When Miriam Margolyes was “cleared by Ofcom” last week over remarks she made on Channel 4’s The Last Leg in early May, I was broadly pleased. But there was a lot about the situation that vexed me.

Here’s what actually happened. On a live late-night comedy show, speaking from her kitchen because of the lockdown, Margolyes described the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis as “a disgrace” and “a public scandal” and then went on: “I had difficulty not wanting Boris Johnson to die, I wanted him to die, and then I thought that reflects badly on me and I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants people to die. So, then I wanted him to get better, which he did do, he did get better, but he didn’t get better as a human being and I really would prefer that.” The remarks elicited 494 complaints (after being widely reported in the press) and led to “an initial investigation” by Ofcom, which concluded on Monday that Margolyes will not face “an official investigation”.

The concept of someone hoping someone else dies is widely discussed in our culture

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Channel 4 Programme Next Friday of People Defying Lockdown to Bonk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/06/2020 - 8:37pm in

This is a bit more fun, and should be some light relief after the grim events of the past few days. Mike’s put up several pieces about the attempts by the government and the fun police to stop people having sex in case it spreads the Coronavirus. Apparently, people of opposite sexes from different households may not spend the night together. And now Harvard scientists have said that if you’re having sex, you should wear masks to stop yourself from spreading the infection. It all reminds me of the Robin Williams’ joke about safe sex during the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s. Soon nobody would be having sex at all, unless they were clad in complete decontamination suits. Then they’d simply push the semen through an airlock at their wives and girlfriends.

But people are defying the fun police, and next Friday Channel 4 is screening a show all about it, Sex in Lockdown: Keep Shagging and Carry On. The blurbs for this in Radio Times run

Anna Richardson delves into the ways sex in Britain has altered since we’ve been in lockdown. People from across the nation talk to her about their experiences as she gets to grips with all things love, sex and romance in these unique times, from a separated couple who created a replica penis, to a singleton breaking the rules to have sex outdoors.

And

Well, there’s a title to thwack you between the eyes. Most of us are coping with social distancing, but how does sexual distancing work in these restrictive times, if you don’t actually live with your lover? If you crave an outlet for your desires, but Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Grindr have ground to a halt? If you’re just craving a bit of romance?

Anna Richardson, the writer, host of C4’s dating show Naked Attraction and partner of Sue Perkins, grapples with this topic – virtually, one hopes – and talks to Brits up and down the land, from a separated couple who created a replica penis to a singleton who flouted the rules to revel in sex outdoors.

The show’s on at 10 pm on Friday, 12th June.

When I was a lad in the 1980s, Channel 4 had a certain reputation for broadcasting the sexually explicit and risque. There was a curious dichotomy of tone – it broadcast very highbrow stuff, like a drama version of the Hindu national epic, The Mahabharata and opera. But to drag the viewers in and raise advertising revenue, it also showed quite explicit, and largely continental movies. One comedian joked recently that it was where teenagers when looking for porn before the arrival of the internet, and there’s more than a little truth in that. Channel 4’s gone more mainstream with time, but this, and shows like Naked Attraction, demonstrate that it’s never lost that aspect of its broadcasting. And so, despite the lockdown, it’s still broadcasting more rudery and naughtiness.

Hooray! Murdoch Papers Too Ashamed to Publish Pathetic Circulation Figures

Ho ho! Zelo Street yesterday published a very interesting and amusing article about the continuing decline of the lamestream press. Jim Waterson, a hack at the Guardian, posted a series of tweets about the latest circulation figures for British newspapers. And they aren’t encouraging. Zelo Street has said for the past couple of months that the press has been badly hit by the lockdown. People simply aren’t buying papers. It’s why the Murdoch rags, inter alia, have been pushing for the lockdown to be lifted and actually took to implore their readers and internet followers to #buyapaper. They’re not remotely interested in the welfare of the great British public. But they are worried about falling sales and what Murdoch and the other chief inmates of News International will do about them – like start laying people off.

Waterson tweeted that, although the newspaper sales figures were supposed to be out that day, the industry had insisted that they should no longer be published. The monthly ABC sales charts have also been permanently stopped because they give a ‘stimulus to write a negative narrative of circulation decline.’ Which in English, rather than the garbled version spouted Newslink’s yuppie manager in the comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey, means that it encourages people to write about how the press is in trouble. Nevertheless, most of the papers did publish their figures. The exceptions were the Times, Sunday Times, Torygraph and the Scum. And the paper with the highest circulation was the Daily Heil, with 944,981 copies sold.

Well, as the character, Gus, once said, I’ll just throw that into your intellectual wok and see if it stir fries.

Zelo Street points out that this is the first time no newspaper has sold less than a million a copies. It also suggests that this has happened to the Sun, which is why the super, soaraway Current Bun is not publishing its figures. It’s possibly been supplanted by the Heil for the first time in 40+ yearsThe Street also argues quite reasonably that both the Heil’s and Scum’s Sunday editions will have worse sales than the dailies. This means that the press is in terminal decline and we’re entering the endgame.

Novara Media’s excellent Aaron Bastiani put an additional boot into the Murdoch title’s shame. If newspapers won’t publish their sales figures, then the Beeb shouldn’t review their front pages every morning. Unless we know these papers’ reach, it’s just giving them free advertising.

Good point.

Zelo Street also states that the press is probably going to lose even more readers when they work out that the papers they support wanted the lockdown lifted for the sake of their own profits, not out of concern for the public’s wellbeing. A number of may well die from Coronavirus infections picked up when the papers told them that the disease was nothing to worry about. And their survivors will put two and two together and decide not to continue supporting them. Or even bringing a class lawsuit against them.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/05/press-heading-for-early-oblivion.html

My guess is that the reason the Torygraph and the Murdoch rags aren’t publishing their sales figures is partly economic. Apart from being embarrassed at how pathetically their mighty organs are doing, they’re also afraid of repercussions from advertisers. If they find out how low the newspapers are selling, they may well want the advertising rates reduced. This will mean a further drop in these newspaper’s income. Which means greater losses, and the threat of even more redundancies.

To many people it will come as absolutely no surprise that the Times and the Torygraph are in such a mess. Private Eye have covered many times their problems and falling circulation in its ‘Street of Shame’ column. In the case of the Torygraph, it’s problems are due to bad corporate management, including a devotion to internet gimmicks rather than solid news reporting and deliberately altering news content in their interests of the advertisers. This last policy so infuriated Peter Oborne that he left the paper and went instead to the Heil, making his own criticisms of it very public. There have already been redundancies and cutbacks, but these have failed to halt the paper’s continuing decline. The Eye has also said that the Times’ sales are now so low, that if it were any other paper it would either have been folded or put up for sale by its management years ago. But it’s the British paper of record, and so allows Murdoch to grab a place at the government table because of its prestige. Which means that if its circulation is so low that there’s no reason the Beeb, or anyone else, should take any notice of it, Murdoch’s ability to influence government decisions, even to act as kingmaker in his decision which party to support, is severely damaged.

Ditto with the Scum. It certainly didn’t have the Times‘ prestige or even its journalistic standards – indeed, it’s a matter of debate whether the scabrous rag had any standards at all. But it was Britain’s leading newspaper with a huge circulation, and more visibly influenced British politics through its shrill trumpeting of everything Thatcher and the Tories ever did, until Murdoch decided to flirt with New Labour. Now that’s also been seriously damaged.

Zelo Street is right in that these newspapers still have an influence beyond their print sales through their online presence, but there are problems here as well. Many of their articles are behind paywalls, which means that many casual readers won’t read them because they won’t want to pay or subscribe to the wretched rags. And if they are free, then it comes from money made from print sales. Which mean that when those go down, the paper’s ability to put up their articles free on the net also declines. The situation does not look good.

I’ve no sympathy for any of these foul rags. I suppose it’ll be a shame if the Times folds, after lasting for nearly 300 or so years. But as it, its Sunday counterpart and the Scum are just rightwing, Tory propaganda rags that lies, smear and libel decent people with absolutely no compunction, as far as I’m concerned it deserves to go under. Britain will be better off without them.

And while we’re on the subject, what about the sales figures for Private Eye? I know it’s a magazine rather than a newspaper, but much of it is news. My guess is that it’s circulation is also falling in line with the rest of the press. It’s hostility and snide remarks about left-wing news sites and internet organisations like The Canary and The Skwawkbox also seem to suggest that it’s afraid of their competition. Private Eye does publish some very good stuff, but it has also promoted the Blairites and the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn’s Labour party, as well as other material which is utterly wrong. So I have very mixed feelings about it.

As for the rest of the press, their mostly right-wing propaganda rags, and so absolutely nothing worthwhile will be lost if they go under as well.

 

 

Technofascism: The Censorship of David Icke is Digital Book Burning in a Totalitarian Age

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 1:20am in

CHARLOTTESVILLE (Rutherford––We are fast becoming a nation—nay, a world—of book burners.While on paper, we are technically free to speak—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—in reality, however, we are only as free to speak as the government and its corporate partners such as Facebook, Google or YouTube may allow.

That’s not a whole lot of freedom. Especially if you’re inclined to voice opinions that may be construed as conspiratorial or dangerous.

Take David Icke, for example.

Icke, a popular commentator and author often labeled a conspiracy theorist by his detractors, recently had his Facebook page and YouTube channel (owned by Google) deleted for violating site policies by “spreading coronavirus disinformation.”

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which has been vocal about calling for Icke’s de-platforming, is also pushing for the removal of all other sites and individuals who promote Icke’s content in an effort to supposedly “save lives.”

Translation: the CCDH evidently believes the public is too dumb to think for itself and must be protected from dangerous ideas.

This is the goosestepping Nanny State trying to protect us from ourselves.

In the long run, this “safety” control (the censorship and shadowbanning of anyone who challenges a mainstream narrative) will be far worse than merely allowing people to think for themselves.

Journalist Matt Taibbi gets it: “The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant.”

Don’t fall for the propaganda.

These internet censors are not acting in our best interests to protect us from dangerous, disinformation campaigns about COVID-19, a virus whose source and behavior continue to elude medical officials. They’re laying the groundwork now, with Icke as an easy target, to preempt any “dangerous” ideas that might challenge the power elite’s stranglehold over our lives.

This is how freedom dies.

It doesn’t matter what disinformation Icke may or may not have been spreading about COVID-19. That’s not the issue.

As commentator Caitlin Johnstone recognizes, the censorship of David Icke by these internet media giants has nothing to do with Icke: “What matters is that we’re seeing a consistent and accelerating pattern of powerful plutocratic institutions collaborating with the US-centralized empire to control what ideas people around the world are permitted to share with each other, and it’s a very unsafe trajectory.”

Welcome to the age of technofascism.

Technofascism, clothed in tyrannical self-righteousness, is powered by technological behemoths (both corporate and governmental) working in tandem. As journalist Chet Bowers explains, “Technofascism’s level of efficiency and totalitarian potential can easily lead to repressive systems that will not tolerate dissent.”

The internet, hailed as a super-information highway, is increasingly becoming the police state’s secret weapon. This “policing of the mind: is exactly the danger author Jim Keith warned about when he predicted that “information and communication sources are gradually being linked together into a single computerized network, providing an opportunity for unheralded control of hat will be broadcast, what will be said, and ultimately what will be thought.”

It’s a slippery slope from censoring so-called illegitimate ideas to silencing truth.

Eventually, as George Orwell predicted, telling the truth will become a revolutionary act.

We’re almost at that point now.

What you are witnessing is the modern-day equivalent of book burning which involves doing away with dangerous ideas—legitimate or not—and the people who espouse them.

Today, the forces of political correctness, working in conjunction with corporate and government agencies, have managed to replace actual book burning with intellectual book burning.

Free speech for me but not for thee” is how my good friend and free speech purist Nat Hentoff used to sum up this double standard.

This is about much more than free speech, however. This is about repression and control.

With every passing day, we’re being moved further down the road towards a totalitarian society characterized by government censorship, violence, corruption, hypocrisy and intolerance, all packaged for our supposed benefit in the Orwellian doublespeak of national security, tolerance and so-called “government speech.”

The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state.

Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use.

The end result is control.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.

In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

It’s political correctness disguised as tolerance, civility and love, but what it really amounts to is the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.

The police state could not ask for a better citizenry than one that carries out its own censorship, spying and policing: this is how you turn a nation of free people into extensions of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent police state, and in the process turn a citizenry against each other.

Tread cautiously: Orwell’s 1984, which depicts the ominous rise of ubiquitous technology, fascism and totalitarianism, has become an operation manual for the omnipresent, modern-day surveillance state.

1984 portrays a global society of total control in which people are not allowed to have thoughts that in any way disagree with the corporate state. There is no personal freedom, and advanced technology has become the driving force behind a surveillance-driven society. Snitches and cameras are everywhere. People are subject to the Thought Police, who deal with anyone guilty of thought crimes. The government, or “Party,” is headed by Big Brother who appears on posters everywhere with the words: “Big Brother is watching you.”

We have arrived, way ahead of schedule, into the dystopian future dreamed up by not only Orwell but also such fiction writers as Aldous Huxley, Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick.

Much like Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984, the government and its corporate spies now watch our every move. Much like Huxley’s A Brave New World, we are churning out a society of watchers who “have their liberties taken away from them, but … rather enjoy it, because they [are] distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.” Much like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the populace is now taught to “know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.”

And in keeping with Philip K. Dick’s darkly prophetic vision of a dystopian police state—which became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report—we are now trapped in a world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams and pre-crime units will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

What once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction.

Incredibly, as the various nascent technologies employed and shared by the government and corporations alike—facial recognition, iris scanners, massive databases, behavior prediction software, and so on—are incorporated into a complex, interwoven cyber network aimed at tracking our movements, predicting our thoughts and controlling our behavior, the dystopian visions of past writers is fast becoming our reality.

In fact, our world is characterized by widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining, fusion centers, driverless cars, voice-controlled homes, facial recognition systems, cybugs and drones, and predictive policing (pre-crime) aimed at capturing would-be criminals before they can do any damage. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Government agents listen in on our telephone calls and read our emails. And privacy and bodily integrity have been utterly eviscerated.

We are increasingly ruled by multi-corporations wedded to the police state.

What many fail to realize is that the government is not operating alone. It cannot.

The government requires an accomplice.

Thus, the increasingly complex security needs of the massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental overreach.

In fact, Big Tech wedded to Big Government has become Big Brother, and we are now ruled by the Corporate Elite whose tentacles have spread worldwide.

The government now has at its disposal technological arsenals so sophisticated and invasive as to render any constitutional protections null and void. Spearheaded by the NSA, which has shown itself to care little to nothing for constitutional limits or privacy, the “security/industrial complex”—a marriage of government, military and corporate interests aimed at keeping Americans under constant surveillance—has come to dominate the government and our lives.

Money, power, control.

There is no shortage of motives fueling the convergence of mega-corporations and government. But who is paying the price?

“We the people,” of course. Not just we Americans, but people the world over.

We have entered into a global state of tyranny.

Where we stand now is at the juncture of OldSpeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). The power elite has made their intentions clear: they will pursue and prosecute any and all words, thoughts and expressions that challenge their authority.

This is the final link in the police state chain.

Americans have been conditioned to accept routine incursions on their privacy rights. In fact, the addiction to screen devices—especially cell phones—has created a hive effect where the populace not only watched but is controlled by AI bots. However, at one time, the idea of a total surveillance state tracking one’s every move would have been abhorrent to most Americans. That all changed with the 9/11 attacks. As professor Jeffrey Rosen observes, “Before Sept. 11, the idea that Americans would voluntarily agree to live their lives under the gaze of a network of biometric surveillance cameras, peering at them in government buildings, shopping malls, subways and stadiums, would have seemed unthinkable, a dystopian fantasy of a society that had surrendered privacy and anonymity.”

Having been reduced to a cowering citizenry—mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all—we have nowhere left to go.

We have, so to speak, gone from being a nation where privacy is king to one where nothing is safe from the prying eyes of government.

In search of so-called terrorists and extremists hiding amongst us—the proverbial “needle in a haystack,” as one official termed it—the Corporate State has taken to monitoring all aspects of our lives, from cell phone calls and emails to Internet activity and credit card transactions. This data is being fed through fusion centers across the country, which work with the Department of Homeland Security to make threat assessments on every citizen, including school children.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, you are now being watched, especially if you leave behind an electronic footprint.

When you use your cell phone, you leave a record of when the call was placed, who you called, how long it lasted and even where you were at the time. When you use your ATM card, you leave a record of where and when you used the card. There is even a video camera at most locations equipped with facial recognition software. When you use a cell phone or drive a car enabled with GPS, you can be tracked by satellite. Such information is shared with government agents, including local police. And all of this once-private information about your consumer habits, your whereabouts and your activities is now being fed to the U.S. government.

The government has nearly inexhaustible resources when it comes to tracking our movements, from electronic wiretapping devices, traffic cameras and biometrics to radio-frequency identification cards, satellites and Internet surveillance.

Speech recognition technology now makes it possible for the government to carry out massive eavesdropping by way of sophisticated computer systems. Phone calls can be monitored, the audio converted to text files and stored in computer databases indefinitely. And if any “threatening” words are detected—no matter how inane or silly—the record can be flagged and assigned to a government agent for further investigation. Federal and state governments, again working with private corporations, monitor your Internet content. Users are profiled and tracked in order to identify, target and even prosecute them.

In such a climate, everyone is a suspect. And you’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.

Here’s what a lot of people fail to understand, however: it’s not just what you say or do that is being monitored, but how you think that is being tracked and targeted.

We’ve already seen this play out on the state and federal level with hate crime legislation that cracks down on so-called “hateful” thoughts and expression, encourages self-censoring and reduces free debate on various subject matter.

Say hello to the new Thought Police.

Total Internet surveillance by the Corporate State, as omnipresent as God, is used by the government to predict and, more importantly, control the populace, and it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. For example, the NSA has designed an artificial intelligence system that can anticipate your every move. In a nutshell, the NSA feeds vast amounts of the information it collects to a computer system known as Aquaint (the acronym stands for Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence), which the computer then uses to detect patterns and predict behavior.

No information is sacred or spared.

Everything from cell phone recordings and logs, to emails, to text messages, to personal information posted on social networking sites, to credit card statements, to library circulation records, to credit card histories, etc., is collected by the NSA and shared freely with its agents.

Thus, what we are witnessing, in the so-called name of security and efficiency, is the creation of a new class system comprised of the watched (average Americans such as you and me) and the watchers (government bureaucrats, technicians and private corporations).

Clearly, the age of privacy is at an end.

So where does that leave us?

We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.

It won’t be long before we find ourselves looking back on the past with longing, back to an age where we could speak to whom we wanted, buy what we wanted, think what we wanted without those thoughts, words and activities being tracked, processed and stored by corporate giants such as Google, sold to government agencies such as the NSA and CIA, and used against us by militarized police with their army of futuristic technologies.

To be an individual today, to not conform, to have even a shred of privacy, and to live beyond the reach of the government’s roaming eyes and technological spies, one must not only be a rebel but rebel.

Even when you rebel and take your stand, there is rarely a happy ending awaiting you. You are rendered an outlaw.

So how do you survive this global surveillance state?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re running out of options.

We’ll soon have to choose between self-indulgence (the bread-and-circus distractions offered up by the news media, politicians, sports conglomerates, entertainment industry, etc.) and self-preservation in the form of renewed vigilance about threats to our freedoms and active engagement in self-governance.

Yet as Aldous Huxley acknowledged in Brave New World Revisited: “Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in their calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those would manipulate and control it.”

Which brings me back to this technofascist tyranny being meted out on David Icke and all those like him who dare to voice ideas that diverge from what the government and its corporate controllers deem to be acceptable.

The problem as I see it is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we’ve allowed ourselves to become so timid in the face of offensive words and ideas that we’ve bought into the idea that we need the government to shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean.

The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive, polarized populace incapable of working through our own problems and reliant on the government to protect us from our fears.

In this way, we have become our worst enemy.

You want to reclaim some of the ground we’re fast losing to the techno-tyrants?

Start by thinking for yourself. If that means reading the “dangerous” ideas being floated out there by the David Ickes of the world—or the John Whiteheads for that matter—and then deciding for yourself what is true, so be it.

As Orwell concluded, “Freedom is the right to say two plus two make four.”

Feature photo | David Icke | Photo | Tyler Merbler

John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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Will Keir Starmer Be the 21st Century Ramsay McDonald?

This occurred to me a few days ago, thinking about Starmer’s strange decision to offer only constructive criticism of the government and his agreement to serve in a coalition with Johnson if asked. It was a bizarre decision, that either showed Starmer as naive, or far more closely aligned with the Tories at the expense of the left in the Labour party.

In fact there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Starmer, as a man of the Labour right, is basically a Tory in the wrong party. The leaked Labour report shows the Blairites in the party bureaucracy – Iain McNicol, John Stolliday, Emilie Oldknow and the other scum – actively working to make sure that Labour lost the 2017 election. One of them described feeling sick that Corbyn was actually high in the polls, and the intriguers exchanged emails in that the wished that Labour would lose to the Lib Dems or the Tories. One of them was even a moderator on a Tory discussion site, and had such a hatred for his own party that people wondered why he was still in it. Of course, when someone in the Labour party actually raised that question they found it was verboten and they were purged on some trumped up charge. And in at least one of the constituency Labour parties the right-wing leadership actually appealed for Lib Dems and Tories to join when the rank and file started to get Bolshie and demand change and the election of genuine Labour officials. Blair himself was described over and again as a man in the wrong party. He was a Thatcherite neoliberal. He stood for private enterprise and the privatisation of the NHS, although with the caveat that he still believed in free universal healthcare paid for by the state. And Thatcher herself claimed him as her greatest achievement. The first thing that the Blair did when he entered No. 10 was invite her round for a visit.

Blair claimed that politics had changed, as the fall of Communism meant that we were living in a post-ideological age. All that stuff by Francis Fukuyama about ‘the end of history’. Blair also packed his administration with Tories, arguing that in this new political era he wanted to reach across party lines and form a government of all the talents.

But neoliberalism itself has not triumphed, except as a zombie ideology kept walking by the political, social and economic elites long after it should have been interred. It keeps the 1 per cent massively rich at the expense of everyone else. And under Corbyn people started to wake up to it. Which is why the establishment were frantic to demonise him, first as a Communist or Trotskyite, and then, in a grotesque reversal of the truth, an anti-Semite. Starmer’s victory in the leadership elections is basically the Blairites returning to power and attempting to restore their previous domination.

It’s perfectly possible that Starmer is also simply being naive. After all, Germany’s equivalent party, the SPD, went into coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, the German Conservatives. It was a disastrous mistake, as Merkel’s gang stole the credit for their reforms strengthening Germany’s welfare state, while making sure that the SPD took the blame for their mistakes and the negative part of the coalition programme. The result was that the SPD lost the next election heavily to Merkel. 

There’s also the object lesson of what happened to the Lib Dems in this country when Nick Clegg threw in his lot with Cameron. Despite the rhetoric of dragging the Tories further left or rather to the centre, Clegg immediately abandoned any real centrism and backed Cameron’s vile, murderous austerity programme to the hilt. Indeed, he went even further. Cameron was willing to concede to Clegg that university tuition fees shouldn’t be raised. But Clegg decided that they should. And so they were, and British students naturally turned against the man who betrayed them. And at the next election, the Lib Dems were devastated as their supporters chose instead either to vote Tory or Labour.

And there’s an important lesson for Starmer from the Labour party’s own 20th century history. Right at the end of the 1920s or the beginning of the 1930s, the Labour Party entered a coalition with the Conservatives under its leader, Ramsay McDonald. This was a response to the Wall Street Crash and the global recession that followed. The party’s members wanted their government to act in the interests of the workers, who were being laid off in droves, or had their wages and what unemployment relief there was cut. Instead the party followed orthodox economic policy and cut government spending, following the Tory programme of welfare cuts, mass unemployment and lower wages. This split the party, with the rump under McDonald losing popular support and dying. McDonald himself was hated and reviled as a traitor.

Something similar could easily occur if Starmer’s Labour went into coalition with the Tories. They’d back the programme of further austerity, an end to the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS, and would lose members as a result. Just as the party did under Blair. However, I can see Starmer and the Blairites seeing this as a success. They despise traditional Labour members and supporters, whom they really do view as Communist infiltrators. They did everything they could to purge the party of Corbyn supporters, using the accusation of Communism and then anti-Semitism as the pretext for doing so. And they seemed determined to split the party if they could not unseat him. There were the series of attempted coups, in one of which Starmer himself was a member. It also seemed that they intended to split the party, but hold on to its name, bureaucracy and finances in order to present themselves as the real Labour party, even though they’re nothing of the sort.

My guess is that this would happen if Starmer does accept an invitation from Boris to join him in government. And the question is whether Starmer realised this when he made his agreement with the blonde clown. Is he so desperate for power that he sees it as a risk he should take?

Or does he say it as a way of joining the party to which he really feels allegiance, and a useful way of purging Labour of all the awkward lefties?

 

Socially Distanced, yet Virtually Convened: a Model of Online Conferencing (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/03/2020 - 3:19pm in

The following is a guest post* by Fabrizio Calzavarini (Bergamo, Turin) and Marco Viola (Turin), who together run Neural Mechanism Online, an organization dedicated to the philosophy of neuroscience and to bringing together philosophers and neuroscientists via webinars, webconferences, and the like.

In the post, they share how they have been able to develop an ongoing series of online events and build a sustained intellectual community around them.


[Chiharu Shiota, “Beyond Memory”]

Socially distanced, Yet Virtually Convened:
Neural Mechanism Online’s Model of Online Conferencing
by Fabrizio Calzavarini & Marco Viola† 

As we write these lines, the WHO has recently declared the spread of SARS-CoV-2 a pandemic. Newspapers around the world are swiftly shifting from minimizing the import of this crisis to realizing how serious a response is in order (as we’ve already seen in Italy). Meanwhile, professional philosophers’ mailing lists are crowded by announcements of cancellations for any event until next summer, following or anticipating the lockdown of universities. Moreover, already before the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, concerns about climate change and carbon emissions have pushed many academic professionals to avoid as much as possible travel for talks, conferences, and meetings.

In light of these considerations, a question arises: shall we suspend every academic meeting and continue our research as lonely monads enclosed in our ivory towers? Not necessarily. Web events (webinars, web-conferences, etc.) offer an effective alternative that is economical, eco-friendly, and inclusive. In recent years, both the technological and organizational models of online conferencing have changed dramatically. Synchronous (=in real-time) technologies offer scholars who are geographically dispersed (and possibly temporarily isolated, as at present in Italy and in other European and Asian countries) an opportunity to interact and collaborate in unprecedented ways. Nevertheless, many academic institutions have only started to explore the potentially revolutionary impact of such professional technologies.

In this post, we wish to demonstrate that people can still meet and discuss productively—online—by presenting our project of web-based events: Neural Mechanisms Online [NMO]. Our aim is not so much to promote the project but to present it as a case study of what we (and others) deem a successful enterprise. We want to bring you all a bit of hope, as well as share a bit of our know-how.

What is Neural Mechanisms Online?

NMO is the first world-wide series of synchronous web events dedicated entirely to the philosophy of neuroscience, as well as the interaction between philosophers and neuroscientists. The project is now in its third year of continuous activity. Participants so far have included several of the most established philosophers of neuroscience and neuroscientists, along with some promising younger researchers.

Webinars are our most popular format, dealing with hot topics in the philosophy of neuroscience. They are open to anyone with an internet connection (no fee is required). In addition to webinars, our project is devoted to the organization of “hybrid events” (i.e. events in which some people speak and/or attend physically whereas others do so online) and web-conferences (entirely online). However, in this post we want to focus on webinars (for great tips on how to design user-friendly online conferences, see this post by Catharine St. Croix). While webconferences provide an alternative to offline conferences (i.e., long but episodic meetings), webinars can be conceived as the analogue of reading groups (i.e., short but recurrent meetings). As such, they made a wonderful tool for long-term community-building: they allow organizers to trespass spatial constraints to pick experts on a given topic so as to create focused and productive discussions based on shared interest (compare them to the local reading groups where the topic is often an unsatisfactorily compromise between the taste of several scholars with very different interest).

In NMO, each webinar session lasts two hours: after a brief presentation, the speaker presents their paper (which we send to the mailing list a week before) for about one hour. The second hour is totally devoted to the discussion: first, with some discussants (usually three or four per session) that we have previously selected on the basis of their expertise, and then with the audience. Right before each session, speakers and participants receive by email an invitation to join the seminar. The whole session is recorded and later made freely available online on the YouTube channel and the Facebook Page of the project.

The Online Community

One of the most rewarding outcomes of NMO is that the participants have had the occasion to meet an astonishing number of colleagues of various ages and from various parts of the world. We dare say that something like an international community is beginning to take shape. If we sum up the keynote speakers of our webinar series [2018, 2019, 2020], the discussants of each webinar, and the speakers of the other web-events, we have had no less than 150 different academic researchers interacting with our audience for a total of over 3000 people connected. Right now, both our mailing list and our Facebook page have more than 700 subscribers.

So far, the speakers selected for our web-events have been balanced in as many dimensions as possible: gender (since the second year we have achieved a perfect 50/50 gender balance), nationality (we have had speakers from every populated continent except Africa), expertise (mostly philosophers, but also some scientists), and seniority (as mentioned before). Speaking of general audience (i.e. attendees), each of our web-event attracts on average between 20 and 40 persons from all over the world, although we reached peeks of more than 60 attendees simultaneously online for some big name (e.g. Edouard Machery or Joe LeDoux) and more than 100 for the NM Online web-conference. Not a huge crowd, admittedly. But while in webconferences you should probably aim for a big audience, a long-term webinar project like ours is more a gathering of a few dozen specialists spread around the world who can enjoy and discuss some technical (often very technical) papers.

Interaction and collaboration between participants in the NM online activities has often extended long after the formal web-events end. For instance, a distinguished editor is currently reviewing an extensive volume collecting many of the papers discussed in the first two editions of the project. More generally, meeting online has allowed us to establish and to reinforce several fruitful and pleasant informal relations with a number of colleagues. Many of them are now affiliate members of the NMO team, and Nick Byrd and Joe Dewhurst volunteered for managing the diffusion of news about NMO on the Brains Blog and our Twitter account, respectively. 

What Future for Online Conferencing?

 By narrating our experience with NMO, we mean to suggest that the potential impact of online conferencing for academic research is still largely unexplored. In the times ahead, with the virus possibly paralyzing many universities around the world, online conferencing might become the only alternative to hibernation. But web-based events have several virtues which make them worthy of consideration even in merrier times (for a discussion, see Byrd’s recent post on his blog). After all, when we began doing this, in 2018, it was not a forced choice.

A first and most obvious advantage is economic in nature. Being freed of any concern of space (although not of time), in a webinar we can bring together scholars purely on the basis of their expertise on a specific topic. More often than not, this involves people from at least four different towns spread across several continents. Imagine how much it would cost to bring them together in the same room!

And here comes the second advantage: assuming that a physical conference involves flights, how much in terms of CO2 emissions are we sparing by discussing via the web? Not to mention the time delay and the jetlag you spare by connecting. There are concerns with online conferencing, such as the uncertainty of using new and unfamiliar technologies. Nevertheless, we think that the explosive growth of the organizational and technological potentialities of professional conferencing applications (which have been used so far in NMO activities with no technical failure) makes the risks manageable.

There has always been the view that online conferences will not replace physical conferences. However, maybe the past will not dictate the future. According to many scholars, the time has come for academic institutions to realize their responsibility to be role models in an age of obvious climate breakdown. In this respect, the necessity of many universities to go online because of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak might represent the only positive aspect of the tragic events that are today shocking the world. This might have a ground-breaking impact for the academy in general, prompting a systematic change towards a more eco-friendly global paradigm of scientific enterprise.

In the meantime, some tips…

In the next weeks, we expect (and hope) that many will try to put up projects similar to NMO, either for the short-term purpose of overcoming this crisis without giving up on all activities, or for the long-term purpose of community building. The good results we have had come from more than two years of trial-and-error. By sharing some of the most basic and important things we have learned, we hope to help those attempting to host similar events:

  1. Hardware: unlike hybrid events, which involve interaction between an online and an offline audience (and which we will not discuss in this post), fully online events do not require sophisticated hardware: any laptop with inbuilt camera and microphone can yield passable results. Ethernet connections are to be preferred to wireless connections, for the sake of stability.
  2. Software: professional software that allows synchronous conferencing and hierarchical management of roles is preferable. Software that works as a plug-in for some browser rather than that which requires a dedicated installation is a virtue, as it does not discourage people from joining. And compatibility with mobile phones is also quite useful. We use Cisco WebEx, because it was offered by the University of Turin, and it has worked well, but there are many others available (e.g., GoToWebinar, Zoom, Livestorm). Unbeknownst to many, most universities already provide their researchers with access to some professional tools of this kind: get in touch with the technical personnel working in your institution.
  3. Briefing: no matter how user-friendly your software is, a brief introduction is always in order, so to explain both technical aspects and the schedule of your discussion.
  4. Time-zones: while online events allow us to cheat space and remove spatial constrains, they are still partially constrained by time, and especially by timezones. Two (maybe obvious) issues are worth mentioning: first, you probably could not have people from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia connected at the same time unless someone is willing to stay up at night. Second, time is a relative concept, and local times can be very confusing, especially due to different conventions (e.g. one-hour clock-shift due to summertime) that are hard to keep track of. To prevent confusion, state very clearly which time zone you are referring to when you setup a meeting, and do so redundantly in every message, possibly providing a link to some website for calculating local times (we use timeanddate.com).
  5. Check: no matter how reliable and user-friendly your software is: it is highly advisable to make several technical checks with all people involved in an online talk long before the event (and certainly not on the very same day!). Whenever possible, these technical checks should be made with the same software and hardware that will be used during the event. All sorts of technical problems, ranging from a dull microphone to privacy setting preventing cameras from working, can arise. Most of them are easy and quickly solved, but it is much better to deal with them without a crowd of people already connected and waiting to enjoy the event.

Clearly, rather than a recipe, these are the tips of icebergs (pun intended). If a recipe for a perfect online conference exists, we do not possess it. And possibly, the know-how involved cannot be perfectly translated into know-that. But if there is anything you want to ask, or even if you simply want to follow our activities, do not hesitate to write us at neuralmecha-nisms@gmail.com. We will be glad to answer any question, and perhaps learn a few things from your experience.

Good luck for your web-events!

† The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Joe Dewhurst (Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy) and Nick Byrd (Florida State) with the writing of this post.

The post Socially Distanced, yet Virtually Convened: a Model of Online Conferencing (guest post) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Complaint Sent to Charity Commission about Board of Deputies’ Political Bias

The internet blogger and activist Simon Maginn has complained to the Charity of Commission about the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They have, in his opinion, broken the Commission’s requirement that to qualify for charity status, an organisation should not support or oppose a political party or political candidate, although they may engage in political activity. Yet the Board has done this with its requirement that the Labour Party, and only the Labour Party, has to sign up to its 10 pledges to rid itself of anti-Semitism. When Mr Maginn asked the Board why they insisted that it should only be the Labour party who should do this, the Board said that it was ‘infested’ with ‘anti-Jewish racism’.

This is sheer nonsense. Of course there’s anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, just as there’s anti-Semitism unfortunately throughout British society. But despite what the Board, the Chief Rabbinate, and witch-hunting organisations like the woefully misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism would have us all believe, it is actually much lower in the Labour Party. Jewish Voice for Labour, which has larger and far more authentically Jewish members than the sham outfit, the Jewish Labour Movement, real name Paole Zion, has repeatedly pointed this out. And there have been a stream of Jewish Labour Party members, who’ve said the same. They’ve said that, while they know it must exist, they have never come across it themselves. And some of these are members of very long standing. This impression is supported by the Community Security Trust, who gather statistics on anti-Semitic crime and incidents. Their stats show that the incidence of anti-Semitism rises the further to the right you go, and so statistically the Labour Party is less anti-Semitic than the Tories. And three-quarters of anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the CST come from the far right. As you’d expect.

Simon asked the BoD why they were therefore targeting the Labour Party when the stats said otherwise. He states that they offered ‘no statistical rebuttal’.

Simon then says

“Thus, the BoD have made a very public statement that the Labour Party is problematic based on faulty data. They are ‘opposing’ the Labour Party in so doing. The issue is politically sensitive. The BoD’s ’10 point pledge’ has had enormous publicity, with all the Labour leadership candidates signing up to it. This, in my opinion, amounts to the BoD ‘opposing’ the Labour Party by singling them out for opprobrium and not demanding any other party sign the pledge.

“I think this politicisation of the BoD’s activities presents a negative image of charities, which the British people believe to be politically neutral. The suggestion that a charity might be using its charitable status to oppose one party and, by implication, support another is damaging to the reputation of the charitable sector generally.”

Mike in his discussion of this says it’s a strong argument, and will be interesting to see what the Charity Commission does with it. Particularly as it’s already investigating the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism for the same reasons.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/02/18/charity-commission-urged-to-take-action-over-political-activity-by-board-of-deputies/

But this was never about anti-Semitism to begin with.

Not the real hatred of Jews, simply because they’re Jews. This is the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism, and the one adhered to by one of the odious organisations behind modern anti-Semitism, the German Bund Antisemisten. But the Board of Deputies wasn’t interested in that. This was all about getting the Labour Party to adopt the I.H.R.C. definition of anti-Semitism and its examples, in order to prevent criticism of Israel’s oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The BoD, Chief Rabbinate, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and their counterparts in the Labour Party, Paole Zion, er, I mean the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, were frightened of changes to the Labour leadership long before Corbyn was elected. They started screaming that it was anti-Semitic when the Jewish Ed Miliband was elected, because he dared to criticise Israel. And they panicked when Corbyn was elected, because he is a long-time anti-racism activist who has consistently supported Palestinian rights. Along with supporting Britain’s Jewish communities. Mike and other bloggers have put up ad nauseam a long list of Corbyn’s actions to defend the country’s Jews. One of the best known of these is when he helped prevent the redevelopment of an historic Haredi Jewish cemetery. And he is also absolutely not an enemy of Israel. He just wants it to stop persecuting its indigenous Arabs.

Critics of Israel like Norman Finkelstein, the Jewish American academic, have pointed out that Israel is unable to counter criticism of its policies on factual grounds. It has therefore concentrated on smearing its opponents as anti-Semites. This is what the Israel lobby in this country was doing when it attacked Corbyn and the Labour Party. The accusations were very definitely politically motivated, and had a ready audience in the Conservative political and media establishment. These were all too eager to broadcast and amplify these smears to the widest possible audience, while ignoring the very many Jews and Jewish organisations that denied and contradicted these smears.

Simon’s absolutely correct, but I’m afraid I don’t see the Charity Commission acting. I’ve heard a number of stories about serious and flagrant mismanagement of charities. But it seems the Commission is very reluctant to act unless there’s no way it can get out of it. In this, it seems to resemble the Financial Services Authority, which is supposed to police the banking and financial sector. This is so loath to act on cases of wrongdoing that Private Eye has nicknamed it the ‘Fundamentally Supine Authority’.

But I hope the Charity Commission will prove me wrong in this, and hope they will investigate thoroughly this obvious case of definite, selective political opposition by the Board.

Simon has also published a series of Tweets criticising the Board’s 10 pledges and the reactions of the Labour leadership hopefuls to them. He points out that they won’t end the anti-Semitism controversy and Board’s meddling in the Labour Party. They’ll just increase it until the Party is destroyed. See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/02/19/labours-leader-candidates-seem-determined-to-destroy-their-own-party-heres-how-it-works/

 

 

Rebecca Long-Bailey Promises to Retain All Labour’s Manifesto Policies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/02/2020 - 12:15am in

Here’s some really good news from today’s I for Tuesday, 18th February 2020. According to the article, ‘Long-Bailey sticks to manifesto’ by Richard Vaughan, the Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey has promised to retain all of Labour’s manifesto promises. The article runs

The Labour leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey said she would not drop a single policy from the party’s general election manifesto, but admitted it “confused” voters. 

The shadow Business Secretary said there were policies in Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto that were “undeliverable in five years”, but were long-term aims. Ms Long-Bailey highlighted promises, such as the four-day week, which the party “would never have achieved in five years”.

“It was a long-term aspiration,” she said, “But putting it in a manifesto a packaging it in a way that we could deliver it under a next Labour government confused people.”

Ms Long-Bailey made the comments during a live Channel 4 debate in Dudley.

This is optimistic, as those manifesto policies, with the possible exception of G4 broadband coverage or whatever it was, are exactly what this country needs. They were actually very well received by the public despite the Tories’ and their media lackeys’ successful vilification of Corbyn. Their success is also shown by the fact that Boris has been forced to copy them. He had to announce he was pouring more money into the NHS, and build 40 more hospitals, as well as engage on a massive renovation of the public infrastructure, particularly the railways. Of course, he’s not going to do any of that. He’ll continue to cut funding to the NHS ready for privisation, and those hospitals aren’t going to be built. As for the money he’s going to spend on the railways, they are far below the vast sums required. He’s likely to go ahead with HS2, but that’ll be it.

And Boris has also had to renationalise Northern Rail, which clearly shows that rail privatisation hasn’t and isn’t working. Although I accept that some of the problems weren’t the fault of the rail operators, but the government’s and that of the state-owned company holding their railways lines, Railtrack.

The fact that BoJob has had to make these promises means that Labour can hold him to them. It means there’s pressure on the Tories to move in a left-ward direction, especially if they wish to retain and reward the former Labour voters in the north and midlands. It means that hopefully politics may no longer be a race for privatisation and welfare cuts between the Tories and the Labour party, as it was under Blair.

She’s also right in that there was a problem with communication. I was at a local Labour party meeting a few weeks ago, and the consensus there was that Labour left the public confused. There was too much for people to take in, and policies seemed to be announced by the day. It was also considered that Boris won by stressing an optimistic message looking forward, while Labour concentrated too much on the achievements of the past.

It’s a good point, but as a Labour supporter I was really enthusiastic about the election broadcast and its hark back to that awesome government of Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan. But I agree with them and Long-Bailey that Labour must communicate its excellent policies better, and look forward. We have to stress that under the Labour Party, the future will be better, and we will have better services, better healthcare and better welfare support, and the country will be altogether more prosperous, than it will under the Tories, Because all they off is broken promises and illusions based on fading memories of imperial greatness.

I take Long-Bailey’s point that many of the policies in the manifesto will probably take more than a single term to implement. But they have to be long-term aims. And in the meantime Labour should concentrate on absolutely defending the NHS and seek to restore and expand the welfare state as well as employment rights and trade unions.

Because the NHS and welfare benefits are matters of life and death.

This announcement by Long-Bailey suggests she means to keep those promises, and is the woman to lead Labour to victory in the next election.

Tony Benn’s Suggestions for Media Reform

One of the other books I picked up going through the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham last Friday was Tony Benn: Arguments for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullins and published in 1981. Based on Benn’s speeches, articles and lectures over the previous two years, the book was Benn’s observation on the profoundly undemocratic nature of British society, and his suggestions for reform. He wanted to create a more democratic society that would empower ordinary people and move towards the establishment of socialism.

Although it was written forty years ago, the book and its arguments are still tremendously relevant. One of the chapters is on media bias against the working class and the Labour party. As we’ve seen over the past five years and particularly during the last election in December, this is very much a live issue because of the unrelenting hostility by nearly all of the media, including and especially the Beeb, against Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and the Labour party as a whole. Benn discusses right-wing media bias in the chapter, ‘The Case for a Free Press’, and on pages 118 to 120 he makes his suggestions for its reform.  Benn wrote

‘Some Proposals for Reform

Reform of the media has only recently come to be taken seriously. The Glasgow University Media Group, the Campaign for Press Freedom, the Minority Press Group and academics such as James Curran at the Polytechnic of Central London have produced a wealth of carefully researched analysis and proposals for reform which would reward seriously study. At the time of writing the Labour Party National Executive Committee has a working party considering what must be done to obtain a media responsive to the needs of a twentieth-century democracy rather than an arm of the British establishment. I do not wish to anticipate the proposals of the working party, but in the interests of stimulating debate on this important subject I set out below some of the possibilities for reform which are now being discussed in the Labour Party and elsewhere.

  1. An Open Press Authority

This has been suggested by James Curran and Jean Seaton in their book Power Without Responsibility. This would be a public agency accountable to Parliament and it would aim to extend the freedom to publish. The OPA objectives would include the following:

i Provision off a launch fund, raised partly from a tax on media advertising expenditure, to assist new publications.

ii Grants to assist publications that have failed to attract significant advertising.

iii A National Print Corporation to extend modern printing facilities to a wide range of publications.

iv A guarantee of distribution for minority publications through a new wholesale organisation.

2. Anti-Monopoly Legislation

Considerations will have to be given to legislation to break up the huge newspaper monopolies; existing monopoly legislation has proved wholly ineffective for this purpose. Such legislation should also prohibit or severely limit investment by newspaper chains in television and commercial radio.

3. Reform of the Wholesale Trade

Wholesale and retail distribution of British newspapers and magazines in dominated by just three companies: W.H. Smith, John Menzies and Surridge Dawson. In many areas one or other of these companies has a complete monopoly. The result is that non-consensus publications have great difficulty in reaching the news stands. The French have solved this problem by imposing a legal obligation on wholesalers and retailers to carry, on request, all lawful publications excluding pornography. Publishers have to pay a handling charge on all returns. As a result the French public have access to a far more diverse range of political views than we do in Britain. The French example should be studied.

4 The Right of Reply

Where a newspaper or magazine has published a report about an individual or group which seriously distorts the truth, the person or organisation offended should have the right to set the record straight in the columns of that newspaper. The reply should be allotted adequate space and prominence and it should appear as soon as possible after the original story. It should be made legally enforceable. The Campaign for Press Freedom has set out the case for a right of reply in an excellent pamphlet.

5 Broadcasting

i Instead of being composed of the ‘great and the good’, worthy citizens chosen for their alleged impartiality, the boards of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority should contain representatives of a wide spectrum of opinion and interest groups.

ii The proceedings of the two boards of governors and all internal directives on policy should be publicly available.

iii The IBA should be given a legal obligation when awarding franchises, to give preference to non-profit-making applications such as cooperatives; at present most franchises got to companies more concerned with profits than quality.

iv The BBC is too big. It should be broken up into separate independent units for television, radio and the overseas service.

v The BBC licence fee, which places the Corporation at the mercy of the government, should be abolished and replaced by a grant awarded by Parliament five years in advance.

vi The Fourth Channel, as presently constituted, is controlled by the IBA and will buy in programmes from commercial companies. It should be reconstituted as a separate, publicly financed cooperative which would act as a ‘publisher’ of programmes made by freelance and independent production groups.

6 Satellite Broadcasting

By the mid-1980s satellite communication systems will make it feasible for American or European commercial television to be relayed into Britain. The result could be a diversion of advertising revenue away from existing publicly regulated services and an end of any chance of creating and maintaining public service broadcasting. As a matter of urgency Britain must contact other European governments with a view to placing under international control all companies using satellites for this purpose.’

He concludes the chapter with this:

These are some of the ways in which the British media could be developed to serve democracy rather than a consensus which has long been overtaken by events. I list these suggestions simply as a basis for consideration in an area where, until recently, there has been very little positive discussion. The free flow of information is the life blood of democracy and the present ownership structure and organisation of our media is incompatible with democracy. At a time of crisis, such as we now face, itis important that people should be able to choose freely between the various alternatives that political parties are seeking to put before them. To do that they need to be properly informed. That should be the role of the media in a democracy.

I’m not sure how many of these suggestions are relevant today, given the expansion of satellite and cable broadcasting,  the establishment of Channel 5 and the rise of the Net. My guess is that much of it is still acutely relevant, and the situation regarding the press monopolies has got worse since Benn wrote this. Murdoch now has an even firmer grip on the press and his own satellite channel, Sky, which he’d like to replace the Beeb. The Beeb has shown itself craven and massively biased towards the Tories, but they’re going to break it up and sell it off if they can in order to please Murdoch and the other commercial broadcasters. I think most of these reforms are still very much needed, but can’t see them ever being put in place given the massive opposition they provoke among the press and media barons, who control public opinion.

Corbyn’s supporters found a way round that with the internet, and Richard Burgon at the recent Labour deputy leadership hustings in Bristol suggested that Labour supporters should look to this and other alternative media rather than the old media. There are problems with this too, as the right have also latched on to the power of the Net. But it might just be the best, or only, way to move forward.

 

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