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BBC: Victim of McCarthyism

BBCComparing the BBC to a militant communist movement has become standard slander for the right-wing who believe everything ought to be up for grabs by shareholder-run corporations, and disagree that information should be a basic human right, writes Jay Baker.

10 October 2010

I remember filming fascist British National Party leader Nick Griffin heading towards the steps of the courts in Leeds – for once, one step ahead of the sluggish, jaded corporate media crews beside me – while his crowd of followers chanted “BBC – KGB!”

The shots comprised some of the best original footage for my film Escape from Doncatraz, and this was just one of the ridiculous claims proudly made by the BNP supporters for my camera lens, after I somehow snuck into the corporate press pool.

But comparing the BBC to a militant communist movement had to be the height of ignorance. Sadly, beyond the bubble of the BNP this has become standard slander for all the right-wing in general who believe everything ought to be up for grabs by shareholder-run corporations, and disagree that information should be a basic human right.

Let’s be clear: the BBC isn’t perfect. Far from it.

Lord Reith was right to champion a public broadcasting service that sought to “inform, educate and entertain,” but the institution itself has been far from grassroots, instead an elitist organisation for years.

Why else would they so elaborately edit the footage of the picketing coalminers at Orgreave so that the television viewing population of Britain thought the miners had provoked the police?

As a public body, the BBC has frequently fought against private interests – perhaps – but they are not truly in touch with the people.

Despite all this, the fact remains that the more media is deregulated, and bodies like the BBC, CBC, and PBS are weakened, the more controlled our media messages become; greater information in the hands of a more concentrated corporate elite with one ideology. The people are only as wise as their knowledge is well-sourced.

This has become a real struggle in recent years. As Prime Ministers such as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair made monopolies increasingly possible for media barons such as Rupert Murdoch, the likes of Sky have been able to coax TV personalities away from the BBC with bigger fees.

When the “Beeb” have attempted to compete, they’ve been wide-open to accusations of “wasting pubic money.” Never have the flaws of capitalism been so obvious, yet so rarely vocalised.

Until Russell Brand came along.

Last week on the BBC’s Newsnight, Brand made an incredible series of comments on the subject of the media, accusing the corporate press of demonising the BBC, who penalised him and Jonathan Ross for their radio incident with actor Andrew Sachs (or, at least, his answerphone). Brand suggested that this, in turn, provided an opportunity to part ways with another high profile name who commanded a highly competitive fee. Certainly, the BBC may be doomed to failure in competing with the conglomerates for big names.

But last night on Newsnight, the conversation was much different. Film director Ken Loach, a man I have met and greatly admire, debated with Tory Michael Heseltine, who was defending the militant deficit-reduction cuts by Tory ministers.

Ken’s argument was simple: throwing people onto welfare – then reducing welfare benefits – will result in poverty and crime; simple taxation of the banks could instead clear the entire deficit. Ken made it clear he was not a supporter of the New Labour project that continued Tory deregulation, so Heseltine simply accused him of instead supporting “crypto-communism.”

When Labour’s newly-elected leader Ed Miliband criticised the “New Labour” project after getting enough total votes from party MPs, party members and – shock, dread! – union members, the corporate media mobilised quickly to marginalise his populist messages by declaring him “Red Ed.”

The argument was that he wouldn’t have won without all those union votes (though it can also be said he wouldn’t have won if fewer MPs and members had voted for him). With Labour now taking the lead according to polls, the propaganda has become desperate.

As I detail in my book Pissing in the Mainstream, in the post-war 1950s, Britain and the United States had to fight hard to stop empathy for the Soviets – who had suffered massive losses in the Second World War – turning into socialism in the West. Of course, Britain went mildly socialist anyway, with Clement Attlee introducing a national health service and welfare state.

But in the U.S., where profits were priority, a clever man by the name of Joe McCarthy decided to stop such progressive socialist speak from Hollywood actors and activists by branding them outright “communists” if they did so.

This came at a time when the U.S. was not only reaping rewards of a 50% tax rate on the rich, but also enjoying the ability to send both corporate and governmental messages directly into homes via the television set, with suburban sprawl offering car-accessible homes to be filled only with more appliances.

This capitalism – this consumerism – wasn’t just a luxury, it was a patriotic duty in opposition to Soviet communism. Thus, marketing became about the “creation of wants.”

All of this worked, with the word “enough,” as ever, inapplicable. In the 1980s, the right-wing project went even further, cutting taxes on the rich, reducing jobs and services for the poor, and enjoying the profits posted from exploitation.

Ronald Reagan led it, Margaret Thatcher supported it. Today, David Cameron merely follows in her footsteps with the exact same ideology – New Labour merely created the perfect conditions to be able to execute it all under the premise of dutiful deficit-reduction.

When an opponent like Ed Miliband comes along to even marginally threaten all this, it’s important to pump the propaganda. But with him labeled “Red Ed” and filmmakers like Ken Loach called “communists,” it’s remarkable that the right-wingers have taken a page from the McCarthy playbook in this day and age.

Whether it can work again remains to be seen.

Jay Baker is a British media activist hailing from the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. He has almost 10 years of experience as a professional documentarian, writer, youth worker, social justice campaigner, and social entrepreneur in Britain and North America. He is the director/producer of the feature-length film Escape from Doncatraz and author of Pissing in the Mainstream.

Jay founded the ground-breaking “green” media company, SilenceBreakers, a social enterprise that works with partners to re-utilise social media materials for community projects.

Jay has also written for independent newspaper The Mule, the award-winning zine La Bouche, Broad Left Blogging, The News Portal, and has been published numerous times in The Blog Paper. He is currently working on his next film, Return to Doncatraz, set for release in 2012.

Visit his website MediaActivist.


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