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.

The Power of the Capitalist Press

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The article by Peter Lazenby in the Morning Star yesterday Free-media? More-like-guard-dogs-of-the-Establishment neatly summarised the distortion and lies in the capitalist press about Jeremy Corbyn since the Manchester Bombing. To these we can now add today’s headline in the Daily Torygraph: Corbyn is making excuses for terror attack, says May. Not actually a lie, as Theresa May did say this, but constructively a lie as anyone who heard what Jeremy Corbyn actually said can confirm.

As Peter Lazenby pointed out, eighty percent of national newspapers are owned by companies controlled by billionaire proprietors. Given this skewed ownership, it’s not surprising that we get distorted news. The rest of the national newspapers (Morning Star excepted) are hardly more balanced – the Guardian’s coverage of the general election, for example, has been sour and disappointing. But are the days when our national newspapers dictated the result of general elections (It’s the Sun wot won it) over? With declining circulation, now only 7 million and falling, is their remaining influence now largely confined to the establishment itself?

Even if the power of the press is diminishing, there still has to be a reckoning if Labour wins – although there will be plenty of Labour MPs who associate themselves with the establishment rather than their own members and voters and who will resist any interference with our so-called ”free” press. Prohibiting anyone from owning, directly or indirectly, a newspaper when they don’t pay UK taxes or cannot vote in our elections would be a start.

GO TO IT!

According to the Morning Star today (Tuesday, 9 May), the Crown Prosecution Service may not be able to defer their decision on whether as many as 20 Tory MPs will face prosecution for breaching election spending limits in the 2015 general election until after the election on 8 June. Does this mean we can look forward to a repeat of the sight Theresa May being bundled into the back of a car by burly policemen, last witnessed following the tragic incident outside Parliament on 22 March? Given our supine mass media and captured BBC, probably not, but we live in hope. The best explanation for why Theresa May called a snap election when she had a perfectly adequate parliamentary majority guaranteed for the next four years is not her need to negotiate ‘toughly’ with the EU or even an opportunistic attempt to destroy the Labour Party for ever, it is that this parliamentary majority could have been destroyed by such prosecutions. If she can increase that majority sufficiently, she will be able to ride out any post-election scandal with the support of the mass media and the BBC. One wonders whether waiving through Murdoch’s bid to acquire the rest of Sky TV could be part of such a strategy.

Meanwhile, we face a pending poster storm from the Tories, financed by huge donations from non-dom millionaires – all completely legal, of course, having been routed in ways approved by our feeble Electoral Commission. Fascistic calls for ‘strong and stable government’ and huge portraits of our reptilian leader can, however, be defeated. We can win the forthcoming election, but it will take unceasing grass-roots activity in the marginal constituencies. This isn’t democracy – everyone’s vote should count, and real democracy isn’t confined to putting a cross every few years on a piece of paper listing a restricted choice of candidates. But that is the current system and we have to go along with it if we are to defeat May and the big money backing her. This is why the Communist Party is calling on its members and supporters to assist Labour in this election. For Croydon CP, this means assisting in Croydon Central, doing the low profile jobs for Labour like leafletting. Go to it, Comrades! There is a world to win, and this could be the first step!

Demise of The Independent

News that The Independent is to close in March, lingering on only as a phantom, digital only, newspaper, should shake any lingering view that we enjoy in the UK a free and independent press. But how significant is this development?

The Independent has long since dropped from its masthead the claim to be “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The former claim was always problematical – a free press in this country demands some political bias as a counterweight to that exerted in favour of the Tories by most of our media, including the BBC. The latter claim was clearly unsupportable after the newspaper was acquired in 2010 by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev who also, by then, owned the London Evening Standard. Although following Lebedev’s acquisition  The Independent never sunk to the level of anti-working class vindictiveness employed by the Standard, it failed to respond to the opportunity presented for progressive politics by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader and it has failed to take the lead in opposing the government’s attacks on working class interests such as trade union rights, housing, education and the NHS. With the Guardian mired in Blairite nostalgia, it has been left to the tiny (but perfectly formed)  Morning Star to lead on this. It could therefore be argued that the loss of The Independent doesn’t really matter. There is, however, another way of looking at its pending disappearance.

The Independent has around a 5% share of the readership of printed newspapers. Assuming this is acquired pro-rata by the remaining newspapers, it will leave 73%  controlled by four multi-millionaires: Rupert Murdoch (Sun and Times), Lord Rothermere (Mail and Metro) both with 29% each; Richard Desmond (Express and Daily Star) with 10%; and the Barclay Brothers (Telegraph) with 5%. Of these, only Richard Desmond lives in this country – yet they all exert tremendous influence over the UK government and its social policies and tax regime.

In any other situation where 73% of the market was controlled by four individuals, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), successor to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), would step in and the result would probably be enforced divestment. This would, however, require evidence of exploitation of market power and this is notoriously difficult to prove with newspapers as the benefit of ownership is not in the dividends received. Billionaires, even ones called Rupert, don’t make their billions from owning newspapers, they own newspapers to protect the billions they have made (or, in the case of Lord Rothermere, inherited). Lebedev’s closure of The Independent was not because it has not been yielding him sufficient monetary dividends, it was because it was no longer yielding him enough political dividends.

Regulatory agencies will never intervene to provide the truly free press we need. It can only be provided by government action to require national newspapers to be owned collectively by their readers. If the Morning Star can do it, so can the rest. But such government action will never be forthcoming under a Tory, or even a social democrat government. The remedy, as always, is a socialist government or, best of all, a social revolution led by the communists.

Lessons from the Hacking Trial

Writing in the Guardian this week following the conviction of Andy Coulson and the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks in the News of the World Hacking Trial, Joan Smith, Executive Director of Hacked Off, argued that the real story that has emerged from the trial is the lack of corporate governance in Rupert Murdoch’s press empire. Shareholders, she argues, will wish to know how a criminal conspiracy could flourish for so long at its heart. The remedy, she argues, is an independent regulator as recommended by Leveson, not the grandly named Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) favoured by Murdoch and the other newspaper publishers which is simply the discredited Press Complaints Commission in a new guise.

This is all pie in the sky. Truly independent press regulation might discourage unprincipled journalism but it will do nothing to address the even more serious problem of the gross political bias displayed by our newspapers. Another example of this was provided this week by their failure to report on the Peoples Assembly demonstration in London. The BBC, which is ‘independently’ regulated, was, however, equally remiss on this. Independent regulation of the press and indeed other media will clearly do nothing to restrict the way in which the rich and powerful use the media to promote their own interests. After all, they appoint the regulator. The appropriate remedy for our appalling newspaper industry is to regulate its ownership.

An immediate and short-term remedy would be to outlaw non-residents such as Rupert Murdoch from owning or controlling shares in newspapers published in this county. This is a no-brainer. Non-residents should be neither allowed to vote in our elections nor to influence their outcomes. A more permanent and effective solution would, however, be provided by requiring newspapers, as a condition of publication, to be re-structured as co-operatives owned by their readers, with every shareholder-reader having one vote regardless of the number of shares they own. Impracticable? No – that’s the structure successfully adopted by the Morning Star, the world’s only English language socialist newspaper and the most reliable and objective source of news in the UK.

Two questions need to be addressed: how much compensation should be paid to the present owners? and how to overcome the EU treaty obligations to safeguard property rights above all other interests, including those of labour? The answers are straightforward. Compensation should be based on circulation revenue less operating costs, adjusted for any current exploitation of labour such as sub-living wages paid by the newspaper and its subcontractors. Advertising revenue should be disregarded in this calculation as it arises in the main from the newspaper’s misuse of political influence and exploitation of its monopoly power. Compensation would, as a result, be minimal and would be further reduced if the co-operation of the owners and management over the transfer were opposed or resisted. On the EU treaty obligations to safeguard property rights above all other interests, including labour, the solution is simple: we should leave the EU.

Martin Graham