It’s the media stupid!

Welcome to part 2 of Peta Steel’s review on Granville Williams collection of comments on ‘The media, the 2019 election and the aftermath,’ especially for UNITElive.

Reading time: 6 min

Nationals in particular have swung even harder against Labour and the unions. Thatcher, aided by Murdoch and the others right wing owners changed the climate in this country in the 1980s and 90s dumbing down information to that of the celebrity and ‘me’ generation.

The Campaign for Press Freedom was set up in 1979 supported by the NUJ and Print unions.  It later widened its scope in 1982 to take in broadcasting, a portent of what was to happen as commercial TV quality was sacrificed to raise money to bid for new licenses.

The NUJ who represented many of the journalists on the papers which many now themselves no longer respected, realised that there was a professional need to redress the balance against the lies, distortions and vindictive campaigns.  Granville Williams, this book’s editor was and remains a prominent advocate leading CBPF [North].

Pragmatic approach

Tony Burke, himself a long-time supporter of the campaign and Louisa Bull, a former NATSOPA/SOGAT rep now Unite national officer for the graphical, paper, media and IT sector’s chapter take a pragmatic attitude towards detailing the history of papers and the growth of social media, an area which also needs some form of regulation to give standards within the latter, they call for media unions, progressive academics and activists to ‘clarify and campaign for effective, independent, transparent regulation.’

A call that is prescient as the future of newspapers as a provider of news is doubtful. The report just published by Labour Together on the general election says that the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University found that in 2018 on line media, including social ones have become the more important source of news than print for every age group, though social media considered on its own is still less important for those aged 45+.

Union activity in the media is also highlighted by Tony Burke and Louisa Bull showing how unions often estranged in the past came together in the early 1990s to form Press For Union Rights set up to the fight deregulation.

Sadly attempts to amalgamate the NUJ and the print union the NGA in the 1980s failed but realisation that a new harder political climate, dealing with media groups controlling all aspects of publishing and broadcast media which would destroy union rights led to others coming together, as has been reflected in Unite membership.

Interestingly it was his debates on TV which had helped Corbyn to break through barriers to recruit voters to his side when he stood in the leadership election of 2015.  But in many ways it was his performances on TV during the 2019 campaign with the addition of highly biased coverage that had built up over the last few years that were used against him.

Three of the chapters in the book look at the BBC’s performance.  Nicholas Jones portrays how broadcasters instead of leading and taking their own views found themselves increasingly led and following up stances and stories published in red tops.

Slanted front pages

But it was evident from 2017 that the BBC had metamorphised into becoming a commentator and critic of Corbyn.  Its pro-Brexit coverage in the referendum certainly showed it was willing to take a political line that it had not done in the past. Burke and Bull also refer to how even the slanted newspaper front pages shown on screens for comments from reviewers or on news programmes all subtly added to a negative portrayal of Labour and Corbyn.

We read what paper owners want us to, we do expect an independent, impartial line from our own public broadcasting service. But while the BBC may sometimes follow the newspaper lines, that hasn’t stopped it from coming under fire from newspapers. The future of the BBC and its license and independence is now open to question as a hostile government which shows its contempt for the public looks at what is to become of it.

This book though critical of its failures to show impartiality argues that that the principle of Public Service Broadcasting must be maintained. It calls for more public participation in making it answerable, and that there should be competition for quality. Something that is also called for in the commercial television and radio companies.

This book includes illustrations of the front pages used to attack Labour and Corbyn; it also includes chapters that cover antisemitism, the youth vote as well as other aspects of press coverage. It doesn’t shy away from being critical of Labour’s own election campaign nor of the way that Corbyn’s team dealt with the attacks, sometimes taking a defensive role that did far from allaying the disquiet that grew up around him because of past connections and behaviour.

This country is in the midst of the pandemic which is expected to lead to a recession as bad as that of the 1930s, possibly worse, as we look like leaving the EU without any trade deal. Unemployment is now the highest we have experienced. It’s essential that we have a media, social or otherwise which asks the right questions, fights to make sure that one of the worst Governments on record is called to account.

Never more has this country needed a strong media unafraid of taking on the establishment. It’s The Media, Stupid, takes a hard look at what has happened and opens up discussion on what can be done to enable this.

As Granville William writes this book is part of a CBPF (North) initiative ‘to arouse public awareness of the vital importance of diverse, independent media’.  This book certainly does this.

It’s the media stupid – The media, the 2019 election and the aftermath edited by Granville Williams and published by Campaign For Press And Broadcasting Freedom (North). Priced at £9.99

By Peta Steel

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