privatisation

Rejoice! Murdoch Press Losing MILLIONS

Here’s a bit of good news amidst the horrors of this Tory government, the floods, deportations, rampant racism and the Coronavirus: the Murdoch press is losing money. Very big money. Zelo Street has just put up a very revealing piece about their accounts for the period ending June 2019. This reveals that the Murdoch empire has been hit with a charge of £26,721,000 for one-off payments for legal fees and damages paid to the claimants in the phone hacking scandal. They’ve also incurred other one-off costs for UK newspaper matters of £25,737,000. Other charges include £1, 549,000 for the Management and Standards Committee. This means that the total damage is £54,007,000. Mind you, the directors still remain handsomely rewarded. They have been paid £5,191,000. Of which Rebecca Wade got £2,787,000. Overall, the company lost a total of £67, 952,000. The total loss for the financial year is £67,952,000. Which means that even without the phone hacking scandal, the company would have lost £14 million.

Zelo Street comments

‘Will the Murdoch press make money again in the next few years? Given the claims keep on coming, and the potential downside for the Sun titles if there is serious blowback (as happened with the Screws over the Dowler hacking), it’s not such a daft question.

Or is Rupe just in it for the political leverage? There’s a $64,000 question for you.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/murdoch-press-still-losing-money.html

That’s a very good question. A little while ago Private Eye raised the same issue regarding the Times. The actual amount of income generated by the Thunderer is so small, and its losses correspondingly so high, that if it was any other paper it would have been closed down years ago. But because it’s the British paper of record, Murdoch keeps it going because it gives him a seat at the same table as the politicos.

The Sage of Crewe recognises how influential the Murdoch titles still are. Tim remarks that the Murdoch’s goons still exceed the other titles, even those of the Heil, in the hate they can lay on their targets. The rest of the press follows their lead, and knows better than to mess with them. But the costs of the phone hacking scandal show all this is catching up with Dirty Rupe and his empire of sleaze.

Tony Benn in his book, Arguments for Democracy, points out that the Daily Herald didn’t fold because it lacked a popular readership. It collapsed, and then was subsequently bought by Murdoch and transformed into the scabby rag it is now, because it lacked advertisers. At the time its readership was bigger than the Times, the Groaniad and the Financial Times added together. What killed it is that its working class readers were too poor to appeal to the advertisers.

I’ve no doubt the paper’s sales increased massively after it was transformed into the Scum. But I also think that it was kept afloat because it was a Tory paper. It was the first working class Conservative newspaper, and so companies that would have had second thoughts about advertising in a socialist paper were probably more prepared to place adverts with Rupe’s mighty organ.

The question is, will that continue. If the Murdoch papers continue to lose readers, will there come a point when the advertisers demand that they’re not getting enough exposure for the money they’re spending, and demand that his newspapers cut their advertising rates. Which will mean another financial hit for them. And what will happen if Murdoch doesn’t shake off his newspaper’s reputation for gross breaches of journalistic standards. Of course the Scum’s journalistic reputation always was low, but in the 1980s and ’90s there was also a tendency to laugh it off as a joke. One of the silly parties standing in Gloucestershire in either the 1983 or 1987 election was the ‘Have the Sun Redesignated as a Comic’ Party. This shows how seriously some people viewed it. Which is unfortunate, as while the Scum certainly deserved its mockery, the joke also created a kind of complacency. For the more intelligent, the Scum was dire and a joke, but it still was massively influential, and the policies it and its master promoted – rampant militarism, welfare cuts, privatisation and a culture of ruthless selfishness and greed – were anything but funny.

But with the phone hacking scandal, some of that laughter has died, quite apart from the bitterness the good folk of Liverpool still feel about the paper’s gross libel of their fair city. How long before the paper’s reputation gets just that bit too toxic that the advertisers don’t want to risk their reputations by being associated with it. And if they go, the Scum goes too.

And hopefully, there’ll be a few more years where the Murdoch press makes such spectacular losses, that it won’t be too long in coming.

Lisa Nandy Shows True Blairite Colours

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 11:11pm in

I always suspected that Lisa Nandy was a Blairite, and particularly because of the way the media hyped her as one of the front runners in the Labour leadership contest. Now she’s confirmed it.

According to the Skwawkbox, she managed to destroy her left credentials and public credibility in the space of 50 seconds during an interview on Newsnight. She claimed that Labour’s manifesto showed that it didn’t know how much its promises would cost to carry out. This was flat-out false, because Labour’s manifesto was fully costed, far more so than those of the other parties.

She also said that the party should abandon its aim of nationalising key industries and services. This sets her at odds with the voting public, who support it. But it’s not too surprising considering that she was one of those, who very publicly resigned during the 2016 ‘chicken coup’, and then went on to chair Owen Smith’s challenged to Corbyn’s leadership.

Skwawkbox concludes

Nandy seemed to forget that she is asking for support from Labour members who overwhelmingly support renationalisation and are justly proud of the party’s thorough plans for bringing it about – and that if she won, she would be asking for support from voters who largely agree that it’s the right way forward, regardless of how they voted on the Brexit issue in December.

See: https://skwawkbox.org/2020/02/13/video-in-50-seconds-lisa-nandy-sets-fire-to-left-credentials-and-to-public-credibility/

Labour’s manifesto policies, with the exception of broadband, are exactly what the country needs and the majority of the public know it. And the Tories know they’re popular too, which is why Johnson promised more funding for the health service, had to nationalise Northern Rail and why he promised massive infrastructure spending and expansion. None of which will actually happen, by the way, with the exception of HS2.

And in rejecting these policies, I also believe that Nandy has shown that she is not prepared to fight the privatisation of the health service, nor the decimation of the welfare state.

She looks to me like she really is a Blairite, and wants to return the party to Blair’s Thatcherism and being another version of the Tories.

Beeb Producers Decide News Programmes’ Slant Before Shootingll

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 8:58pm in

A few days ago I put up a review of Robin Aitken’s Can We Trust the BBC? (London: Continuum 2007). This argues that the Corporation isn’t full of Conservatives and has a right-wing bias, but the opposite: that it is crammed full of left-wingers and has a marked, institutional bias against Conservatives and the monarchy, former British empire and Christianity. While Aitken musters a considerable amount of evidence for this, he also ignores the far greater amount of evidence against his view. The Beeb has nearly always been biased against the Labour party and the trade unions, although I’m prepared to admit that there may have been pockets in the Beeb, like Scotland, where Aitken started his career, that may have been more left-wing. If this changed, it was while the Beeb was under the control of John Birt and Greg Dyke. But while Dyke may have been a member of the Labour Party, he was a New Labour convert to the free market. Which means he definitely wasn’t Old Labour. Since the departure of Dyke, the Beeb has become very blatantly biased against Labour and especially against Jeremy Corbyn. It did as much as the rest of the media to push the anti-Semitism smears.

But there is one part of Aitken’s argument that I believe, and still think remains true today, even after Brit’s departure and the Beeb’s alleged return to the Right. Aitken states that Birt wasn’t satisfied with merely presenting the news. He wanted the Beeb to contextualise and explain it. And this meant that news and documentary producers decided on their programmes’ content and direction before they shot any footage or interviewed anyone. Aitken writes

I saw Birtism close up when I moved to the Money Programme. This long-established show had a loyal audience for its Sunday evening slot, but the old populist format was viewed with disdain by Birt. What he wanted was analysis, and lots of it. The new programme style was uncompromising. A subject would be chosen – say electricity privatisation – and a storyline worked out. A detailed script including putative interviews was worked up before a single word had been uttered by an interviewee, or a frame of film shot. We worked from written sources (previous articles/ analyses by academics) and briefings by individual experts.The fine detail of these scripts was obsessively wrangled over until, finally, filming actually began. The task then was to make sure reality conformed to our preconceptions.

All this accorded with Birt’s philosophy. In his autobiography, The Harder Path, he writes: ‘Directors and reporters were sent off with a clear specification of the story their film should tell … [they] … had lost the freedom of the road; they had forfeited much of their discretion’. Birt had encountered stiff resistance to this methodology at Weekend World, similarly at The Money Programme the producers and reporters resented the new straitjacket but had to embrace the new orthodoxy. (pp. 23-4).

My guess is that this system is still very much in place. It’s why the Beeb has followed the rest of the media in demonising the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic. And it’s particularly responsible for the horrendous bias of the Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This was so extreme that it sparked a storm of complaints and resulted in the production of a documentary film refuting it. A film that inevitably was attacked by the same fanatical Zionist witch hunters responsible for the smears against Labour.

The Corporation’s bias may have changed from Labour to Conservative – if it was ever ‘Labour’ in the first place – but the mindset and methodology behind the biased reporting is exactly the same.

Dawn Butler Defends Labour Manifesto, Says Tories Stole Labour Policies

Last Saturday’s I for 8th February 2020 carried a piece about Dawn Butler by the paper’s political editor, Hugo Gye, ‘Butler: as deputy leader, I’d be like John Prescott without the violence.’ This consisted largely of an interview with Butler followed by how well the various deputy leadership contenders were faring. Butler argued that she should be leader as she was ‘the experience candidate’, having served under two Labour Prime Ministers. She also claimed that she could unite all sections of the party, and was therefore the unity candidate. She also stated that as deputy leader she’d be like John Prescott without the violence, because she doesn’t intend to punch anyone. As for her chances of winning – the favourite is Angela Rayner – she said that throughout her life as a Black female she’d always had someone telling her she had no chance.

But this isn’t what I found interesting. That was what she said about the positive reception she’d experienced of Labour’s manifesto, and that the Tories had stolen Labour’s policies. Gye wrote

I’ve put up several pieces about Butler, criticising her demand for all-Black shortlists and her statement that she intends to fight misogyny. The all-Black shortlists could make racism even worse, as some Whites in majority ethnic neighbourhoods with a Black MP may feel excluded. Her statement about misogyny is questionable because of the way what is considered misogynist has been expanded to include not just definite cases of sexism, but more dubious areas like microaggression. These are supposed to be the tiny, everyday pieces of sexism that affect women’s confidence and feeling of self-worth. Like calling them ‘Love’. At the same time, Private Eye has claimed that, rather than not having been a member of any coup against Corbyn, as she claims, Butler was very definitely one of the participants. This casts doubt on her position as a left-wing candidate.

But I think she is almost certainly right about the positive response of the public to Labour’s policies. In polls Corbyn’s policies of renationalisation and the restoration of workers’ rights and the welfare state were well-received. It’s why the Tory media had to resort to portraying him as an anti-Semite and communist or Trotskyite. And the Tories have been forced to appear to steal Labour’s policies. After Labour announced its policies on the NHS, the Tories announced they were going to invest a record amount in the health service and built more than 40 new hospitals. This is all lies, but it shows how they have been forced publicly to move away from their real policies of starving the NHS of funding and closing hospitals. Just as they have been forced to renationalise Northern Rail, although some of that was an attempt to divert attention away from the problems caused by government failures in the construction and maintenance of the tracks and infrastructure, on which the trains run, which is still government-owned. Just as the Tories have also promised – again, it’s just lies – a massive campaign of house construction as well as the expansion of the rail network.

I feel that even though Labour will be out of power for the next five years, it can still do much good by maintaining those left-wing policies and trying to force the Tories to move left, so that when the Tories – and they will – their right-wing policies will be soundly contrasted with Labour’s socialist programme that will be far more successful. If this is done properly, it will show to the public that socialism hasn’t been superceded by Thatcherism. Quite the opposite – it is Thatcherism that is now obsolete.

My fear, however, is that if Starmer and Rayner get into power, they will turn the clock back to Blair, and Britain will be further decimated, economically and socially, by the Thatcherite policies of privatisation of industry, schools and the NHS, and the destruction of the welfare state.

Murdoch’s Daughter Being Considered as Next Beeb Director-General

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/02/2020 - 10:24pm in

This is ominous. According to an article by Adam Sherwin in yesterdays I for Monday, 9th February 2020, the BBC is considering appointing Elisabeth Murdoch, Dirty Rupe’s daughter, as its first female Director-General. The I’s article seems to think this will be a positive move, as she isn’t supposed to be hostile to the Beeb like her father. And the appointment of one of Murdoch’s family as the Beeb’s chief will supposedly deter Downing Street from making any further attacks on the Corporation. The article runs

Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Rupert Murdoch, who became a successful television entrepreneur in her own right, has emerged as a surprise candidate to run the BBC.

Mus Murdoch, former head of Shine UK – the production company behind MasterChef and Broadchurch – would be seen as an acceptable director-general by the BBC’s Downing Street critics. However, the prospect of the broadcaster being run by a member of the Murdoch family, which has campaigned against the licence fee-funded BBC through its newspapers, will shock many at the corporation.

I has learned that the BBC is appointing headhunters to broaden the search for a new leader, following the announcement that Tony Hall is leaving.

Current favourites include Charlotte Moore, BBC director of vision, the best-placed internal candidate; Jay Hunt, former head of BBC1 and Channel 4, who now leads Apple’s European TV commissioning; Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4; and ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall.

Insiders say the BBC is almost certain to appoint its first female director-general.

The BBC board, led by Sir David Clementi, is seeking a figure with proven leadership in the creative industries who carries enough authority in Whitehall to guide the BBC through tough negotiations over the future of the licence fee.

Ms Murdoch, who pocketed £130m when she sold Shine to 20th Century Fox, ticks many of the boxes. She does not share her family’s antipathy to the BBC, having sold 20 shows to the broadcaster as a producer.

Stepping aside from her family’s succession battle, Ms Murdoch, 51, has spoken in support of the “universal licence fee” but urged the BBC to how “efficiently that funding is being spent on actual content”.

It is not clear if Ms Murdoch would welcome an approach for the £450,000 post. last year she co-founded Sister, a global television production business which developed the acclaimed Sky drama Chernobyl.

Although Downing Street’s choice to lead the BBC would be a longstnding critic such as Rebekah Brooks, CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, a figure such as Ms Murdoch would prove an acceptable compromise.

In a box article next to this, ‘Power play Smart move?’, Sherwin also writes

Although the appointment of the new director-general is a matter for the BBC board, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s top aide, has privately warned that a ‘business as usual’ successor to Tony Hall would only hasten the end of the licence fee.

Handing the BBC’s future to a scion of the Murdoch dynasty would be a bold move for the broadcaster.

Elisabeth Murdoch has £300m in the bank, boosted by dividends from her father’s sale of Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney, and has made a number of strategic investments in digital start-ups.

But another option could be Alex Mahon, Channel 4’s chief executive. Hired by Ms Murdoch for her Shine group in 2006, it was Ms Mahon who brought the Broadchurch producer Kudos into the business.

The upside of luring Ms Murdoch, once named the fifth most powerful woman in Britain in a Woman’s Hour poll, is the weight her name would carry in negotiations over the BBC'[s future with Downing Street. “It could be a genius move. They woulnd’t dare f**k with a Murdoch,” said one insider.

My guess is that even if Murdoch became director-general, she’d still carry on the and increase the Beeb’s right-wing political bias. I also think that she’d carry out some further privatisation and quiet dismantling of the Beeb for the benefit of its competitors, but not as outright as Cummings and BoJob would quite wish.

Whoever gets installed as the next director-general will still be under pressure to get rid of the licence fee, though I’m sure the Tories would hesitate at attacking one of Murdoch’s own family because of the power of the Murdoch press. On the other hand, she could well reverse her previous positive attitude to the Beeb, and become an enthusiast for its dismantlement once she become D-G.

Whatever happens, the Beeb is still in serious danger. But because of its massive political bias, its traditional defenders on the Left are no longer as willing to support it.

 

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.

 

Channel 4 Threatened by the Tories with Privatisation… Again

The ‘Viewpoint’ column in next week’s Radio Times, for the 8th to 14th February 2020, contains an article by Maggie Brown, ‘Saving Thatcher’s baby’, about the problems confronting Channel 4. It begins

In 2020, Channel 4 is facing a number of challenges. Its staff are scattered to the winds, Channel 4 News is under attack from the Government, and the threat of privatisation looms. Is the pioneering broadcaster, which was launched in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, facing an endgame?

She then describes how the broadcaster has moved its headquarters out of London and into Leeds, with hubs in Glasgow and Bristol with more programmes filmed in the regions, such as Manchester and Wales, and changes to the broadcasting schedules with the introduction of new programmes. One of these will be Taskmaster, taken from the Dave digital channel. Brown comments that the programme’s acquisition by Channel 4 is an attempt to boost audiences, but is also ‘a symptom of the tricky compromises and tightrope that C4 has to walk.’ She continues

It is a public service broadcaster “funded by advertising, owned by you”. It must also rally support as an alternative public service broadcaster to the BBC in the face of a hostile Conservative government that is needled by its mischievous independence and most recent mockery (that melting ice sculpture after Boris Johnson failed to show up for a climate change debate).

But relations with Conservative governments have always been tense, with liberal Channel 4 News and tough current affairs programmes such as Dispatches the lightning conductors. After the climate change debate last November, privatisation was immediately threatened again: a knee-jerk response.

She ends the piece by stating that the broadcaster’s business team will remain in London. She sees this as an indication that the broadcaster will not only confound the pessimist’s predictions of its impending demise, but will actually thrive. The business team have the Thatcherite values of self-reliance, and it’s this quality that will allow the broadcaster not only to survive but flourish.

Hm. Possibly. My own feeling is that if Channel 4’s business team manages to save the broadcaster, it won’t be because of an nebulous ethos of ‘self-reliance’, but because it will reflect the views and demands of metropolitan business. The same businesses that fund the Tory party.

She is, however, right about the Tories having a persistent distrust of the broadcaster. Thatcher set Channel 4 up in order to be an alternative to BBC 2. It was to serve communities that the Beeb channel didn’t, like ethnic minorities. It was also to excel in news coverage, as well as alternative arts and sports. By the latter, Denis Thatcher actually meant yachting. What that meant in practice was that the programme broadcast opera, as well as Indian cinema, a serial of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, a history of the madrigal, the pop show, The Tube, and a variety of comedy shows. These included Who Dares  Wins, a sketch show whose cast include Rory McGrath and Tony Robinson, the classic satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, and Desmond’s, which was set in a Black barbers, and launched a wave of Black comedian in Britain. It also had a history of Africa presented by the White afro-centric historian, Basil Davidson, and a news programme about the continent with Black presenters and reporters.  It also showed Max Headroom, which consisted of pop videos hosted by the eponymous Max, the world’s first computer-generated video jockey. Offsetting all the highbrow stuff were sexually explicit films and programmes, which was the closest teenage schoolchildren could get to viewing porn before the internet. It was the sexually explicit stuff that particularly annoyed the Daily Mail, who branded the broadcaster’s controller at the time, Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’. The Channel responded to this by broadcasting programmes for gays and lesbians. Amid the furore, one of the most sensible comments was made by the archdeacon of York. When they asked the good churchman what his view of the broadcaster showing a series about lesbians, he replied, ‘Well, who’s going to watch that if there’s Clint Eastwood on the other?’ Quite. Now I understand that one of the channels is bringing back The ‘L’ Word, a lesbian soap opera first shown at the beginning of this century. Quite apart from Channel 4’s own gay soap opera, Queer As Folk.

Private Eye seemed to regard Channel 4 back then as condescending and pretentious. Its literary reviewer sharply criticised a book by its then chief, Jeremy Isaacs, because he made it plain he wanted to bring the British public material like miner’s oral history and so on. When people complained that people didn’t want some of this, Isaacs replied that they had latent needs, needs they didn’t know they had, until someone showed them the material they’d been missing. It was this comment that particularly aroused the reviewer’s ire. But Isaac’s was right. Sometimes you don’t know if there’s a demand for a subject, until you offer people the chance of trying it. And Channel 4 really tried to expand, create and satisfy a market for culture. Oliver Letwin, the former sketchwriter for the Daily Mail and now the Times, actually praised the broadcaster for this in his book, Bog Standard Britain. The broadcaster’s programming always hit and miss. Amid the good stuff there was also much material that was rubbish. And while it had the reputation as rather left-wing, it also carried a programme of political discussion for Conservatives, Right Talk. On the other hand, its opera performances actually managed to reach a decently sized audience, showing that ordinary Brits wanted and would watch highbrow culture.

Its average audience, however, was tiny, and there was pressure on the broadcaster, like the Beeb, to produce more popular programmes to give the British public value for money. Hence the channel became much more mainstream in the 1990s. Its audience grew as expected, but the country lost out as the channel no longer tried to expand the public’s minds and tastes as it once had. And as I said, this was lamented by Letwin, among others, a supporter of the very party that had spent so much time decrying and criticising the channel for being too daring and alternative.

If I remember correctly, the Tories have privatised the channel before. There have been at least two part-privatisations, where the government has sold off some of its share in it. One was under Thatcher, when she was privatising everything. I think the other may have been under Major, who continued her programme. I have a feeling that the second privatisation may have been a cynical move by the Tories to try and work up some enthusiasm for the government. It was announced with the fanfare the Tories usually gave the privatisations, presenting them as some kind of exciting generous opportunity granted to Britain’s workers. Thatcher was trying to create a shareholder democracy, where ordinary people would own shares as participants in capitalism. That’s all died the death a long time ago. The shares given to the workers in the privatised industries have all been sold on, and are now in the hands of a few big businessmen. The council houses she sold off have been bought by private housing associations for profit, and there’s now a housing shortage. And the privatisations were never as popular as the Tories tried to make us all believe to begin with. Support for them, according to polls done at the time, never rose about fifty per cent.

Channel 4 news has a reputation for excellence. Which is undoubtedly why the Tories now despise it and are discussing privatisation again. Britain’s publicly owned broadcasters are under threat because they are obstacles to Murdoch, the Americans and the British private broadcasters, who fund the Tories, dominating British television. They also despise them because they’re supposed to be impartial, unlike the private networks, which would be free to have whatever bias their proprietors chose. And besides, as this week’s attempts to dictate to the media, who could and could not attend BoJob’s precious lobby briefings shows, the Tories want to impose ever more restrictive controls over the media. The end result of that process, if it goes on is, is the rigorous, authoritarian censorship of totalitarianism.

I dare say that if the Tories do go ahead and privatise the Beeb and/or Channel 4, it’ll be presented as some kind of great liberalisation. The British public will be freed from having to support them, and they will have to take their chances in the market place, according to the tenets of Thatcherism. But if that happens, public service broadcasting will have been destroyed along with what should have been cornerstones of media impartiality.

But considering how relentless biased the Beeb has been against Labour and in favour of the Tories, their news desk has done much to destroy that already.

Journos Walk Out As Boris Tries to Control Press

The Tory attempts to impose rigid, authoritarian control over the press continues. One of the big stories yesterday was the news that the assembled hacks and hackettes of the media had walked out of a press briefing organised by No. 10. There was going to be a ‘technical briefing’ on Brexit by David Frost, our comedy Prime Minister’s adviser on Europe. However, only selected members of the fourth estate were invited. A list was read out of those favoured journos were going to be allowed to go to No. 10, splitting the media into two groups as those who were and were not invited were told to stand on different sides of the room. The media outlets that were definitely not invited included the I, Daily Mirror, Independent, Evening Standard, HuffPost UK and PoliticsHome. Those papers not on BoJob’s list also tried to get into the briefing. This assault on press freedom was too much even for those invited, and other journos walked out of the meeting in protest. They included Laura Kuenssberg for the Beeb, ITV.s political editor Robert Peston and the senior political correspondents from the Heil, Torygraph, Scum, Financial Times and the Groaniad. A row broke out, with Lee Cain, BoJob’s director of communications, declaring “We are welcome to brief whoever we want, whenever we want’.

The Mirror’s political editor, Pippa Crerar, described the shenanigans as ‘sinister and sad’. The SNP’s culture spokesman, John Nicholson, commented that Johnson already hid from interviewers he found too tough, a tactic he learned from Trump. The Shadow Culture Secretary, Tracy Brabin, said that it was concerning that Johnson was using Trump tactics to hid from scrutiny. Dame Eleanor Laing, the deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, also condemned BoJob’s actions, and said, ‘Accredited lobby journalists are indeed part of our parliamentary community and so, of course, must be, should be, and normally are treated with respect’. And the NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: ‘As ministers are now boycotting certain programmes and journalists, this represents another very dangerous step.’

The I covered this in yesterday’s edition, for 4th February 2020. Their description of the events on page 10 was accompanied by an analysis by Richard Vaughan, ‘No 10 has started to chip away at freedom of press’, describing how this was just the latest step in Boris’ attempts to restrict press freedom and hostile reportage. The article ran

Since entering No 10 last year, Boris Johnson’s senior advisers have wanted to exert greater power when it comes to the media. Up until the election, Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s de facto chief of staff, and his direct of communications Lee Cain, were too distracted to do much about it.

But having secured an 80-seat majority, the pair have all but declared war on the parliamentary “lobby” journalists in a bid to exercise their new-found strength.

First was change to the lobby briefing system – the twice-daily meetings where journalists can fire questions at the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.

Cain insisted that all meetings would be held in Downing Street rather than the Commons. This raised concerns that it would give No 10 the power to refuse entry for any journalists who had fallen out of favour.

And so it has proved. Last week, a select group of journalists were invited to a briefing by security and intelligence officials on allowing Huawei to run part of the UK’s 5G network. Representatives from I, the Daily Mirror, HuffPost, the Independent, the Press Association, Reuters and several websites were barred.

Yesterday, No 10 repeated the move, attempting to freeze out several journalists from a Downing Street briefing with the Government’s lead Brexit negotiator David Frost, only this time it prompted a walkout.

It follows similar decisions by Mr Johnson’s team to boycott BBC Radio4’s Today and ITV’s Good Morning Britain as well as avoiding Andrew Neil during the election.

It is a power play by Cummings and Cain, who prioritise “message discipline” above all else and who view the favoured outlets as being essential to getting their message out. The move has been described as Trumpian by opposition MPs, due to its similarity to the way the US President excludes certain reporters he does not like.

It would be very easy to dismiss this as sour grapes at not being one of the chosen few titles, but it is a worrying sign of things to come. Shutting out certain publications damages the bedrock of a free media which exists to help hold the Government to account.

In fact, as the media coverage of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn has shown, it’s been a very long time since the Tory media held the government to account. They were also very heavily favoured by the Beeb. John Major, when he was in power in No. 10, used to ask his cabinet how their friends in the media could help them spin certain issues and stories. And former cabinet ministers of Tony Blair’s have described how he was always concerned to have the press on his side, and that Rupert Murdoch was always an invisible presence at meetings due to his switch to supporting Blair.

Now with this attempt by Boris to exclude the media outlets he dislikes and Johnson debating whether or not to abolish the licence fee and privatise the Beeb, the media just might be waking up to what a threat Johnson poses to freedom of speech and of the press.

And this is a very dangerous step. Trump, who started this tactic, also pondered whether or not he could have certain newspapers closed down. He can’t, at least not at the moment. But that’s another step in the sequence of imposing a rigid state censorship over the media comparable to that of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

The media were fine about supporting Boris when it was voluntary. He was standing up for capitalist freedom against that evil Commie Corbyn. Well, Corbyn wasn’t a Commie, and they’re just now starting to find out that under Boris, supporting him is going to be  compulsory.

The Beeb’s Reward for Helping the Tories Win the Election: 450 Newsroom Jobs to Be Cut

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/01/2020 - 11:14pm in

There were reports last night of mass redundancies at the BBC newsroom. According to a story in today’s I by Adam Sherwin, ‘BBC staff in revolt as 450 news jobs are axed – but red button reprieved’, there was an angry confrontation between newsroom staff and the Beeb’s director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth over the proposed sackings. It was led by Victoria Derbyshire, whose award-winning show has also been axed. Here’s part of the article

Victoria Derbyshire led a furious staff revolt at the BBC yesterday after the corporation unveiled cuts to Newsnight, Radio 5Live and other news output, leading to 450 job losses.

The BBC said that presenters would be among those axed as resources are transferred from traditional broadcasting to digital platforms, in an attempt to make £80m of savings.

The number of original films produced on the flagship political programme Newsnight will be halved, with 12 staff under threat. A spokesman said that job losses at 5Live were being “driven by the changing listening habits of the audience and demand for digital content”.

There will be a review of the “the number of presenters we have and how they work” and a reduction in the number of stories covered each day, under a new centralised story commissioning structure.

The BBC is predicting 450 job losses, in addition to the 50 posts cut at the World Service before Christmas. Separately, it also suspended closure of its “red button” text service after protests that the move could adversely affect the elderly and people with disabilities.

An additional article by Sophie Morris reports that Johnson was asked yesterday whether the BBC was a ‘mortal enemy of the Conservative party or cherished British institution that will be funded by the license fee’ by the Labour MP for Weaver Vale, Mike Amesbury. Our current shambolic excuse for a prime minister replied ‘Well, Mr Speaker, I can certainly say that it is a cherished British institution and not a mortal enemy of the Conservative party.’

Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Jeremy Hunt also said how the Tories ‘cherished’ the NHS, despite having authored a book demanding its privatisation, and as Health Secretary presiding over a process of cuts and privatisations. Sherwin’s article also quotes Amol Rajan, who seems far more closer to the mark by suggesting that the cuts are an attempt to appease the Beeb’s critics in government. They believe the corporation is outdated and may be replaced by a subscription-style streaming system. Rajan said

“The audience the BBC has in mind in making these changes isn’t just licence fee payers – it’s the inhabitants of 10 Downing Street.”

The Tories have hated the Beeb for a very long time. Some of that is ideological – they hate any kind of state industry. And some of it is very much self-interest. They resent the Beeb because it is required to be impartial, and their backers in the corporate media, like Rupert Murdoch, would like it abolished and its position as the country’s main broadcaster replaced by their own networks. A week ago Zelo Street reported that Boris’ adviser, Dominic Cummings, really did want to present the corporation as utterly biased against the Tories.

This is, of course, the complete opposite of the real truth, which is that Beeb has always been far more biased against the left, the Labour Party and the trade unions. And last month’s election campaign showed how extreme that bias was, with every opportunity taken to present Labour in an extremely bad light. In particular, the Beeb joined the rest of the lying corporate media in claiming that Jeremy Corbyn was an anti-Semite, and the entire party was seething with Jew-hatred. If the Beeb had hoped to fend off the Tories’ attack by obediently following their line on the Labour Party, they’re going to be sadly disappointed. BoJob and his polecat still want greater say over who becomes the new director-general now that Tony Hall has retired. They will want someone who is dutifully compliant with their demands. Someone who will further turn the broadcaster into their propaganda arm, while running it down prior to privatisation.

 

 

 

Anti-Tory Cartoon: Ozymaggias

Here’s another of my cartoons mocking the Conservatives. And the specific subject of satire today is, once again, Maggie Thatcher. It’s inspired by the incident 18 years ago when someone, who was very definitely not a fan of Maggie’s, decapitated a statue of her in London’s Guildhall. Private Eye marked the occasion in its edition for 12th to 25th July 2002 with a parody of Shelley’s classic poem, ‘Ozymandias’, written by ‘Percy Bysshe Sparty’. It was a very appropriate joke. Shelley’s poem is a meditation on the vanity and transitory nature of earthly power. It tells how a traveller ‘from an antique land’ tells the poet about the remains of statue out in the desert, consisting of just two legs and a head. The statue’s face is cruel, with a frown, wrinkled lip and ‘sneer of cold command’. The pedestal is inscribed with one of the most famous lines in British literature, ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ But nothing of these remains, and all around the statue the bare sands stretch far away.

Private Eye’s spoof of the poem ran:

I met a traveller from, er, England

Who said: – A great big lump of stone

Stands in the Guildhall. Near to it, on the carpet,

Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed,

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymaggias, queen of queens.

Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!”

Thatcher was ousted from power in 1990 or so, and died years ago, a sad and embittered old woman. Unfortunately, her legacy, neoliberalism with its privatisation, destruction of the NHS and dismantlement of the welfare state continues. And it’s killing our people and destroying the country, just as climate change threatens to turn the planet into a burning desert.

We need a proper Labour leader, who can finally beat the Tories and destroy the reign of fear and poverty Thatcher started.

And then hopefully we can all gather round the visage of a statue of her, and mock her frown, wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command with a few of our own.

 

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