Wednesday, 22 December 2010
Anyone who has ever thumbed through a copy of Rupert Murdoch's The Sun newspaper would be hard-pressed to find any worthwhile contribution to British cultural life contained within its pages.
Perusing the ample column inches dedicated to celebrity and Royal gossip (who on earth is Kerry Katona and why do you care?), one is reminded of the description given of Cuban Communist newspaper, Granma, by the late Argentinean editor and dissident Jacobo Timerman, who described his encounter with the newspaper as "a degradation of the act of reading".
Business Secretary Vince Cable's boast to two giggling undercover reporters that he had "declared war on Mr Murdoch" has led to him being removed from the decision-making process over Mr Murdoch's BSkyB takeover in favour of Jeremy Hunt, a man who has previously expressed admiration for BSkyB:
"Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day."
"Choice" in Mr Hunt's terms refers of course to the distinction between hundreds of channels offering as many variations as possible of Road Wars and Airport, and news channels where flashing "breaking news" over even the most mundane story is customary.
Now that Cable is out of the way, it seems likely that Hunt will ease through Mr Murdoch's proposals for a full takeover of BSkyB, with sources close to the company even saying privately that the chances of its bid for BSkyB succeeding have increased dramatically since the departure of Cable. As a result of Cable's gaffe, it may also be easier for News Corp to mount a legal challenge if the culture secretary's decision does not go in it's favour.
In practice, full control of BSkyB opens the way for Murdoch to turn his Sky News channel into a fully-fledged British version of Orwellian US counterpart, "fair and balanced" Fox News.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, says he and Murdoch share a belief that the UK would benefit from a strong, “opinionated” news channel and that Murdoch told him that “he would like" Sky News to go down a polemical "Fox-style" route.
Anybody who has ever tuned into Fox News will be well aware of the poison the station pumps out in-lieu of news, from whipping up fear and hatred towards Muslims to fawning over career crooks and charlatans like the late Jerry Falwell.
Yet, in the age of market fundamentalism, any opposition to this distorted version of "freedom of the press" - in reality it costs several million pounds to own a newspaper or television station - is met with a rather predictable "well, what's the alternative?", as if any opposition to one man using the media as his personal propaganda-machine is the advocation of the system of Kim Jong-il.
More importantly, none of us voted for Rupert Murdoch. The call for a democratic media to prevent a select-few barons controlling the entire political and cultural information-gateway is a demand for greater plurality, not a call for less. Anyone who meekly suggests that the ownership of the mass media as it stands is "a price worth paying" when compared to the worst imaginable alternative must take responsibility for this "price", not only in terms of the rampant prejudice, homophobia and sexism pumped out by the British media, but also the consequences of such prejudices on government policy and every-day attitudes and their expression, rather than simply imagining the media to operate in a cultural void, detached from real-life implications.
To use the term "freedom" in relation to how media ownership is currently constituted is to do that very modern thing of using idealistic language that is devoid of all idealistic content.
Saturday, 11 December 2010
On the back of each successive student protest, the gulf between what has taken place on the day and that reported by the mainstream media has reached increasingly absurd proportions. On Thursday’s march on Parliament square there for all to see was the utterly contemptible behaviour of the police, who put a 20 year old in hospital with a brain injury, charged at children while on horses, and again kettled protesters for many hours in freezing temperatures without food, water or toilet facilities. The mainstream media however, rather than focusing on any of this - or the fact that a bill to make higher education all but off-limits to poorer students was passed in Parliament by those who got their educations for free - decided that the real problem was the protesters themselves - for having the temerity to stand up to the government’s ideological marketisation of and cuts to higher education.
Receiving greatest attention was an alleged ‘attack’ on the car of Charles and Camilla, who found themselves confronted by angry ‘subjects’ whilst on a taxpayer-funded sojourn to the Royal Variety Show. Indeed, rarely have such profligate benefit claimants been treated with so much deference and fanfare by the mainstream media – little mention of course of the expense of such nights out while students are protesting for the right to a decent education that is apparently 'unaffordable'.
The duplicity in police claims of student violence is clear when one considers the favoured police tactic of ‘kettling’ peaceful protesters into small areas - denying them the freedom of movement long-before any incidents of violence or disorder have occurred. On Thursday’s protest students marched on Parliament Square only to find soon after that they were forbidden from leaving. At this point no violence whatsoever had taken place. It is of little surprise that violent scenes later erupted as protesters understandably attempted to push back police lines in order to escape the kettle they had been cunningly lured into by the police.
After police had surrounded students for nine hours in Whitehall two weeks previously, protesters were unwilling to be denied their basic human right to freedom of movement and access to food and water for another nine hours without a fight.
Fortunately, due to the proliferation of mobile phone technology a great deal of the police violence was caught on camera, despite the collusion of mainstream journalists with the authorities. The most seriously injured protester was 20 year old Alfie Meadows, a student at Middlesex University, who was rushed to hospital suffering bleeding on the brain after being hit on the head with a police truncheon.
Apparently though, Camilla being poked on the arm with a stick is the real problem.
As night fell on Parliament Square the reinforced police lines continued to deny protesters the right to go home, and students huddled around make-shift fires in order to keep warm. Of course, viewed from the windows of MP's lavish Parliamentary offices, the fires were yet another act of ‘vandalism’, despite the temperature dropping close to zero.
The atmosphere amongst the protesters themselves was comradely and cordial, with many remarking on the music festival-like atmosphere as night fell. What was apparent however was a justified anger, not just at the ideological cuts to education, but at the unnecessary cuts to all services and jobs. Dotting the skyline were an abundance of literate and imaginative slogans painted onto homemade signs and held aloft by those with so much to lose from right-wing attacks on higher education.
Amidst all the media spin about ‘necessary’ cuts it is important to remember that governments across Europe are attempting to introduce sweeping austerity measures with the intention of making workers and students pay for a crisis they had nothing to do with. We’ve also learned this week that the Allied Irish Bank will be paying its employees bonuses of 40 million Euros, despite having had to be bailed out just weeks ago by European taxpayers.
It was 11 o’clock on Thursday evening before demonstrators were finally allowed to go home, nine hours after being entrapped by the police in Parliament Square. Despite the almost uniformly dishonest reporting from bourgeois media outlets, those who were at the protest are fully aware who the real instigators of the violence were; and no amount of duplicity on the part of those with vested interests in making the poor bear the burden of the crisis of the rich will wipe from the minds of impressionable youth the images of mounted police officers bearing down on teenagers with truncheons.
In order to move forward the strongest possible signal should be sent to Governments across Europe that workers and students will not pay for the crisis of the rich. Rather than spelling the end of protest and upheaval, Thursday’s march on Parliament Square should be seen as merely the end of the beginning.