Our “Free” Press

It would be a mistake to believe that the power of the capitalist press has been irrevocably damaged by its failure to deliver the Tory vote at the last general election. Social media may have enabled the Left to function without national newspaper support on that occasion but it must not be forgotten that the Tories still gathered 42.4 % of the popular vote against 40.0% for Labour. In the event of a Labour victory next time, unless something is done popular discontent will soon be whipped up against it. If anyone doubts this, look what is happening in Venezuela.

As Rob Griffiths, our General Secretary, reminded readers of the Morning Star this weekend, there is an old aphorism that the Express is read by those who think the country should be run like it used to be run, the Telegraph by those who think the country still is run like it used to be run, the Mail by the wives of those who run the country, the Guardian by those who think they should run the country, the Times by those who do run the country and the Financial Times by those who own it. While this is merely an amusing adage, it retains a germ of truth. But as Bill Barnett pointed out in a letter published in the same edition of the Morning Star, in times of falling readership, the “power of the press” is now largely dependent on the status it is afforded by national broadcasters, especially the BBC. ‘What the papers say’ is still treated as something of consequence to be faithfully reported. The continuing decline in readership is ignored. Every attempt to get the BBC to extend coverage to the Morning Star, despite well supported Early Day Motions in Parliament, is ignored.

A lot of nonsense is talked about the value of a “free” press. If a Corbyn led government is not to be undermined from the start, it should be a matter of priority for it to improve press regulation, require balanced reporting, establish an equal prominence right of reply, dispossess expatriate owners and, if any newspapers are to remain in private ownership, to properly tax the benefit of such ownership. As was pointed out in the Communist Party pamphlet From Each According To Their Means[1], newspapers are not owned for any (modest) profits they may generate, they are owned for the political power they confer on the owner. This pamphlet called for a public debate on newspaper ownership and how it should be taxed. One possibility would a substantial per copy levy on the number of copies distributed (rather than actually sold) in the UK with an exemption for reader owned co-operatives. An extra levy could be charged on any free bottles of water accompanying the purchase!

Footnote

[1] £2.50 including postage Follow link

Advertisements

TWO REVIEWS YOU MUST READ

In the Morning Star today is a glowing review by Andy Hedgecock of Dr Peter Latham’s new book Who Stole the Town Hall?  Peter is a member of this branch and an expert on local government. The review concludes that

Neoliberalism is unsustainable and this book uses compelling and accessible evidence that a  different form of politics is both possible and essential.

This is spot on. Copies of Peter’s book will be on sale at the Communist University in South London class at Ruskin House on 20 July but don’t wait until then: buy your copy now.

The other review you must read is Andrew O’Hagan’s review in the London Review of Books (1 June) of Adrian Addison’s book Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’. It’s not so much a book review, more a full on, in-your-face demolition of the Daily Mail and its editor Paul Dacre. Yet again the London Review of Books has shown itself to be unafraid of rocking the establishment and untainted by the timidity that grips the Guardian and the BBC.

Watch Out, Rupert!

The BBC is running scared of the government in the run up to the Charter Renewal negotiations. Any criticism of the government has to be ‘balanced’ or, better, as in the case of the ongoing police investigations into Tory over-spending at the last general election, completely ignored. Examples of this ‘balanced’ approach to news management were provided today (9 May) by the interview with Professor Jeffrey Sachs on the Today Programme  Professor Sachs, an economic adviser to the UN General Secretary, criticised Britain’s sponsorship of tax havens and predicted that the government would not be pressing for their abolition at the forthcoming inter-government summit on Thursday. The summit will be hosted by David Cameron, but he’s unlikely to use his position to press for abolition as this would not be acceptable to his City backers. The BBC, nervous of upsetting the government, immediately interviewed a City “tax expert” who reassured listeners that tax havens were nothing to do with avoiding tax (and, anyway, were not even called “tax havens”). Their purpose was to provide a neutral legal framework to facilitate international contracting. Needless to say, the respectfully supine interviewer, Sarah Montague, took all this nonsense at face value. Balance restored!

What a shame that the BBC’s commitment to ‘balance’ could not extend to reporting even handedly on the elections last week. Criticism of Jeremy Corbyn was the predominant theme. When, embarrassingly, Labour actually did quite well in England, the focus shifted to Labour’ s poor results in Scotland and the awkward fact that this was due to the previous Blairite leadership and nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn was ignored.

There are, nevertheless, two bright spots to lighten the gloom enveloping broadcasting. One brave BBC reporter, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (what a brilliant name – surely it must be a spoof?), dared to stand up to government this week (well, not actually ‘stand up to’, it was more a case of disrespect). Unfortunately, the government in question was the government of North Korea and he was duly expelled. Watch out, Rupert – try that at home and it’s your livelihood that will disappear, not your entry visa. The other bright spot is Channel 4 News. It’s currently much less biased than either BBC or ITV news and fully deserving of the award it received at last night’s BAFTAs. It’s hardly surprising then that, in the words of Peter Kosminsky at last night’s BAFTAs, the government intends to “eviscerate” it.

BYPASSING THE MASS MEDIA

An exception to the near total absence of comment in the mass media (Morning Star excepted) of the BBC’s “institutional bias” in its coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has been Paul Myerscough’s analysis in the current edition of the London Review of Books. The fact that LRB is a low volume, specialist literary monthly illustrates the extent to which the capitalist press, including the Guardian, is united in its hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and explains why Corbyn’s team must bypass them and the BBC if they are to reach out to voters.

Myerscough’s article cites a number of occasions when the BBC’s editorial independence and objectivity when dealing with Corbyn’s leadership has broken down. Readers of this blog could no doubt provide many more examples. Interestingly, Myerscough identifies the cause not as the imposition of a producer’s or presenter’s personal views but rather the dislocation between the new state of party politics following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader and the broadcaster’s entrenched conception of what constitutes ‘impartiality’. The BBC’s idea of impartiality remains centred on the fine gap between the Tory-big business nexus and the Blairite rump in the Parliamentary Labour Party. They have failed to take account of the fact that the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall option, more of the same from Labour, was totally rejected by Labour members and supporters.

An opportunity to assist Jeremy Corbyn in his strategy of bypassing the mass media will present itself on Saturday, 7 November when John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and Jeremy Corbyn’s principal ally in parliament, will open the Croydon Assembly at Ruskin House, Croydon. Registration is from 10.00 am and the Assembly will close by 4.30 pm. Other speakers include Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, Andrew Fisher, economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, and Candy Udwin, the PCS shop steward the National Gallery sacked and were forced to re-instate. This is a stellar line up and, although you can turn up on the day unannounced, it would be appreciated if you could register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/croydon-assembly-fighting-the-tories-a-manifesto-for-action-tickets-18754943541. There is no entry fee.

The Croydon Assembly is an initiative by Croydon TUC to make contact, radicalise and organise the wider community. It has the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party members on Croydon TUC. A manifesto has been prepared over the last few months and will be debated and voted on at the meeting. This is definitely one meeting worth attending.