It’s The Media Stupid…Book Review

By Peta Steel

The Media, the 2019 Election and The Aftermath

Edited by Granville Williams

Published by Campaign For Press And Broadcasting Freedom (North)


‘It’s the Media, Stupid’ – The Media, the 2019 Election and the Aftermath’ sounds like an accusation, it is in fact the title of a book skillfully edited by Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom [North], that looks into what’s happened to the media since the election and the run up to it.

Throughout the 2019 election CPBF produced Election Watch, some of the comments included in the book come from those and from a conference held in February. It includes chapters from journalists and luminaries such as the much respected former BBC Industrial and Political correspondent Nick Jones, and Tony Burke, former Deputy General Secretary of the GPMU and now Assistant General Secretary of Unite and former print worker using their experience to try and analyse what happened.

I have worked on both sides covering elections as a reporter for national/local papers and for national radio, and previously as a press officer for Labour during the 1970 election; later quietly working for Labour behind the scenes during campaigns I was reporting.  I have also worked as a TUC press officer and represented journalists as a National Organiser for the NUJ so my feelings about the media have ranged from desperation to frustration. Many of those feelings are mirrored in the book, particularly those in relation to the BBC, formally seen as an independent defender of the truth but now looked on as having compromised its reportage in favour of the establishment.

The book also looks at how the Tory Government treats those critical of them since the election.  The failure by the media to hold the Government to account for the way it has handled the pandemic is already coming under scrutiny.

In his foreword Professor James Curran of Goldsmith University, himself a writer of previous studies on press coverage of politics refers to the British public having lost their trust in the media:  ‘Britain’s Trust in the British press,’ he writes ‘ is now even lower than that of Serbians in their press, while trust in British broadcasting has fallen before the EU average’.  Certainly the Millie Dowling coverage which saw the closure of the News of The World did much to expose how the media, in particular red tops had given up any vestige of decency in attempts to get a quick headliner.  Something that those of us who had ever dealt with Murdoch had known, but the public now had demonstrated to them.

The editor of the Soviet news outlet Pravda once said to me: ‘the problem is that you think you have press freedom, you don’t, your papers are owned by a few with their own interests; we know we haven’t, so we aren’t tricked’.  He was right. The Mail’s publication of the Zinoviev letter in 1924 a few weeks before the General Election which produced the collapse of the Liberal Party and landslide victory of the Tories led to Labour taking steps to distance itself from left socialist leaning policies which could be likened to Communist tendencies. The letter was of course a forgery, but the public believed it.  It was an early indication as to how the right wing press, who would go on to support Mosley and the blackshirts, would treat Labour. And to what depths it would plunge and still will do as has been shown more recently.

Certainly coverage of the Labour Party, and in particular on Corbyn since the 2017 election was even more viscious than those previously conducted. Leaders of the Labour Party have always come under attack from the press. Neil Kinnock was portrayed as a joke Welshman in attacks that at times seemed racist, the attacks on Ed Miliband made by the Mail, were. Harold Wilson was described as a Russian spy and Michael Foot as a tired out old eccentric. Clement Attlee, after whom the English section of the International Brigade was named was seen as fair game before the war, was accused in the 1945 General Election by Winston Churchill as having plans to set up a gestapo. Fortunately the British public knew Attlee and saw through the attempts at vilification.

The difference between Corbyn and his predecessors was that the general public didn’t know much about him, other than what they were told about him by the media. One thing was certain and that was that none of the proprietors were going to accept even the remotest possibility of someone like Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.   No other leader received the level of hits against them that Corbyn received, some 5,000.  It was as Nicholas Jones rightly complains a ‘hatchet job that was the vilest I have witnessed in 50 years of political reporting’.

‘Any semblance of trustworthiness he might have accrued as leader of the opposition was torpedoed in a sea of slurs and smears. A masterclass in character assassination was delivered with shameless superiority.’

As Jones writes: ‘Rarely have editors and columnists of Conservative supporting newspapers been so calculated or so co-ordinated in demolishing the credibility of a British politician.’

We have to deal with the Media that we have got. It’s one that is being reduced as papers are cut back or closed, or go on line.  Particularly vulnerable have been local papers bought up by large paper groups, closed down as circulations fell.  Independent voices covering local politics are being squeezed out. Unions are no longer in a position to shut down a paper for a story they disagree with. In the 70s as television and local radio took on the press; local and national, papers and groups passed into new ownerships.   Ownership is now becoming even more compressed. In 2019, 83% of the market was owned by three groups, giving them more power and influence than they have had before making them even more difficult to make answerable for what they do. 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, realized that there was a professional need to redress the balance against the lies, distortions and vindictive campaigns.  Granville Williams, this books editor was and remains a prominent advocate leading CBPF [North].

Tony Burke, himself a longtime 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. But it was evident from 2017 that the BBC had metamorphized into becoming a commentator and critic of Corbyn. It’s 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 whilst 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.

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TUC Organise 2020

Sign up now for loads of great on-line meetings….

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Why the UK needs a national Recovery Plan – Webinar

UK manufacturing must be at the heart of any strategy to #Recover and #Rebuild our economy. Join our live webinar debate with leading opinion formers across industry and politics #ManufacturingMatters Thursday 25th June 11am – 1pm

Register here:

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Brazil Solidarity Initiative & Covid19

Please consider signing our statement below. Just email with your name and position or what they would like to be listed as?

“Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently dismissed Coronavirus as “just a fantasy” and “media hysteria.” He has recklessly refused to put people and health first. Brazil now has the second-highest number of cases and deaths in the world and rising.

 The Pan American Health Organization has issued an alert regarding the fast-spreading of COVID-19 in the Amazon. Opposition continues to grow to Bolsonaro’s inhumane response to the pandemic across society.

 We express our solidarity with the people of Brazil in their struggle against Bolsonaro and the threat he poses to public safety. Their fight is our fight.”

Thanks you

Brazil Solidarity Initiative

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The Brexit transition deadline will not be extended, says Gove. Can’t wait for the “Oven ready ambitious trade deal” they promised!

Michael Gove said yesterday that he informed his EU counterparts that the UK is not planning to extend the Brexit transition period beyond January 1st, the current date at which the UK must formally stop acting under EU trade and immigration regulations.

So between now and the end of December, the we can look forward to the Government negotiating a trade agreement with the EU (these are their words) which is “ambitious, broad, deep and a flexible partnership”. 

An “oven ready” deal with an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership” that would entail “no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”.

The Government also said their deal would safeguard “workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection”, including “effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement.”

And they committed to negotiating a “broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership” underpinned by “long-standing commitments to the fundamental rights of individuals, including continued adherence and giving effect to the ECHR, and adequate protection of personal data”.

They promised this to the British people at the General Election – they own it, they will be held to account! 

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McCluskey: MPs correct to denounce British Airways as a ‘national disgrace’

A group of MPs from all sides of the Commons is absolutely correct in its denunciation of British Airways’ treatment of its staff, the leader of the UK’s most influential trade union has said today (Saturday 13th June).

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey was responding to the publication of the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the aviation sector’s reaction to the Covid-19 crisis in which it singles out BA for fierce and unique criticism.

The damning report concludes that the airline’s current consultation on staffing changes “is a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs and weaken the terms and conditions of its remaining employees”. 

In a further reflection of the committee’s fury, it condemns BA’s behaviour, and that of its parent company IAG, towards its employees as “a national disgrace” adding that “it falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.”

The committee’s report is just the latest in a long and growing chorus of criticism, ranging from the chancellor and the aviation minister to public figures like Piers Morgan and Ricky Gervais, who have variously expressed shock at the company’s misuse of the furlough scheme and Bank of England loans to fund the business while it `fires and rehires’ every one of its 42,000 workers, and horror at the mistreatment of a loyal and dedicated workforce.

Such is the anger at the company’s conduct, calls are mounting for the government to strip BA of some of its slots, particularly at Heathrow airport, a call made by Unite in response to the airline’s `industrial thuggery’, arguing that a much-reduced and socially irresponsible company should not be rewarded with lucrative flight times and routes.

The union has also condemned the airline for singling out the UK arm of IAG – which contributes 66 per cent of the group’s profit – for savage attacks on jobs and pay while the terms for workers across the rest of the group are left intact.  The assault on UK jobs comes while the group seeks to purchase another airline, Air Europa, at a cost of one billion euros. Further, no other airline has approached the crisis in such a brutal fashion; Ryanair’s CEO has taken a pay cut and has said that staff wage cuts will be reversed at the earliest opportunity.

Unite’s Len McCluskey

Commenting, Len McCluskey said: “The transport committee’s report pulls no punches and is absolutely correct to denounce British Airway’s conduct in such unique and unequivocal terms. 

“Outside of the BA boardroom bunker, it is hard to find one, single defender of the actions and supporter of the airline’s plans.  Once again, BA has shown that if there is a wrong way to go about things, then that is the reckless path that it will choose.

“The case the company makes for sacking 12,000 and trashing the wages of those who stay on the workforce is full of holes because it is a transparent effort to generate profits out of a crisis.  BA is fooling nobody.  The parent company easily has the cash and assets to weather this storm, and if it did not then it would not contemplate for one moment the one billion pound purchase of another airline.

“BA has infuriated MPs because it is using taxpayers’ money and the chancellor’s well-intentioned jobs retention scheme to keep cash in the business while destroying tens of thousands of UK jobs, ruining people’s lives and destabilising the whole of UK aviation into the bargain.

“Never before has the country witnessed such wholesale mistreatment of a UK workforce and such brutal industrial thuggery.  MPs are totally right to say that this must be stopped, and that if the company refuses to behave responsibly towards the workers and the nation that makes its profits, then it is correct that it loses its lucrative Heathrow slots to an airline that will invest in the people and businesses of this country.

“We welcome the committee’s calls too for BA to set aside its weapon – its programme of mass sackings – so that proper discussions about an acceptable way out of this short-term crisis can be held.  

“BA’s board is in a terrible hole but it is entirely of their own making; my advice would be, stop digging.  Work with us on a way back while there is still a sliver of possibility for discussion.  I repeat, my phone is always on and my door is always open.”

In respect of BA, the Transport select committee’s report states:

  • That British Airways’ current consultation on staffing changes is a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs and weaken the terms and conditions of its remaining employees.
  • “The behaviour of British Airways and its parent company towards its employees is a national disgrace. It falls well below the standards we would expect from any employer, especially in light of the scale of taxpayer subsidy, at this time of national crisis.”
  • British Airways should “extend its consultation period to allow meaningful consultation to take place as per its legal requirements, and without pre-conditions, so that all parties can consider the proposed staffing changes in the context of the Government’s plans to help the aviation sector restart and recover.”
  • It also urges all UK-based aviation employers “not to proceed hastily with large scale redundancies or restructuring to terms or conditions of employees until the Job Retention Scheme ends in October 2020 and they have had the opportunity to consider the government’s plans to help the sector restart and recover.”
  • That the government “revise the rules of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to prevent, or strongly penalise, companies for making large-scale redundancies, while in receipt of funds from the taxpayer.”
  • That it notes “calls from parliamentarians for the Government to strip British Airways from some of its slots, especially from Heathrow Airport where it is the dominant airline”.
  • Asks the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority to “explore every avenue available to ensure that recent changes and their impact on the availability and distribution of airport slots do not unfairly impact passengers”.
  • That this should include referring “the whole aviation industry to the Competition and Markets Authority for a market study and possible investigation on slot allocations”.
  • The committee also asks the government to publish a strategy for the restart and recovery of the aviation sector including “work on an international basis to re-examine the airport slot allocation process to ensure it encourages competition and connectivity.”

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Unite video demolishes BA’s ‘fire & rehire’ claims

A Unite video explaining BA’s finances ‘demolishes’ the airline’s claim that it must fire its workforce and rehire those that survive on inferior contracts. 

The in-depth analysis of British Airways’ financial position reveals the true extent of BA’s plan to use the health crisis as cover to slash jobs, pay and conditions in order to transfer ever greater sums of money to its Spanish parent company IAG and its shareholders.

The union will be meeting IAG financial analysts in the coming days to explain why IAG can afford to see out this crisis without such drastic cuts.

 Quite incredibly, while the airline is claiming poverty, its parent company IAG is ploughing ahead with the purchase of the airline Air Europa, for over 1 billion euros.

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said: “British Airways is claiming to be in financial difficulties while its parent company IAG is still planning to spend close to one billion euros to buy Air Europa. Workers in Britain who made two thirds of IAG’s profits are being sacrificed for the benefit of shareholders.

“BA is using the health crisis to axe workers’ jobs, pay and conditions. We have asked BA repeatedly to remove the dismissal notices. No other company is firing and rehiring its workforce in this way.

“Our analysis of BA’s finances show why British Airways and its owners IAG can afford to see out this crisis without such drastic cuts. This is a company with a lot of cash, strong assets and sustainable debt. There can be little doubt that BA is viable. The company controls some of the most profitable routes in the world and is backed by the Qatar Royal Family.”

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Labour Members – Speak Out to Stop Annexation

With the new Government in Israel threatening further annexation of occupied Palestinian land, now is the time for Labour members to speak up and support the global call from Palestine for “effective measures” to stop annexation.

We must stand firmly against such an act of aggression and – as an internationalist party – Labour must give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people.

In line with Conference policy, Labour must recognise that any just peace must be based on self-determination for Palestine, with equality and human rights for all.

This means opposing Trump’s one-sided so-called ‘deal of the century,’ and annexation. It means continuing to commit to immediate recognition of the state of Palestine and an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements.

Background – Why We Must Oppose Annexation

The new Israeli Government has said that it intends to annex large swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank, starting in July, land which was militarily occupied in 1967. This would be the culmination of years of appropriation of land – through the forced displacement of Palestinians, settlement and the annexation of East Jerusalem. Annexation, illegal under international law, is the forcible and unilateral acquisition of territory over which it has no recognised sovereignty and to make it an integral part of the state.

Palestinian civil society has made a global call for ‘effective measures’ to be taken to stop this annexation happening. If the measures are to be effective, this means the UK should now, at the very least, be adhering to an ethical policy on all the UK’s trade with Israel , in particular by applying international law on settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and stopping any arms trade with Israel that is used in violation of the human rights of Palestinians.

In the midst of the Covid pandemic a number of organisations are cooperating to try to respond to the call from Palestine by making Annexation a live issue on the current political agenda. Israel’s timetable is to annex land quickly with Trump’s support – this means we cannot wait.

If you agree with this and want to support the Palestinian call for action, please indicate your agreement with the following statement.

Speak Out – Sign this Statement:

I am speaking out now in order to stop the threatened annexation of Palestinian land by Israel in July and I call on the UK Government and all UK political parties to support the call of Palestinian civil society organisations for Effective Measures by all States to Stop Israel’s Illegal Annexation of the Occupied West Bank.

Would you like to stay in touch with Labour & Palestine?

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ONLINE EVENT: Venezuela: Exposing UK complicity in Trump’s regime change plan Monday June 8th, 7.00pm.

  • Register here

  • Facebook RSVP, share & invite here – retweet here to spread the word!

With guests from Venezuela, investigative journalist John McEvoy, Dr. Francisco Dominguez, Susan Grey (VSC), Colin Burgon of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America & Chair Tony Burke (Unite.)

Recent revelations of a ‘Venezuela reconstruction unit’ are just the latest in a long line of signals the British Government is working to Donald Trump’s agenda for regime change.

From hosting coup-plottter Juan Guaido to the Bank of England’s refusal to return gold held by the Venezuelan Government, Britain is again playing the role of the US’s chief ally in pushing for intervention against a sovereign country in breach of international law.

This meeting will hear from journalists, campaigners and others based in Britain and Venezuela on exactly how far Britain has gone in promoting regime change, and what we can do to build opposition to illegal intevention.

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TUC Statement on the murder of George Floyd, Trump and the US Crisis

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