Mediaocracy

I am suffering a thought crime. I am paying for democracy to be beamed to me and I know it is distorted.

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget…”

We are told that the whole of Great Britain is in fervour at the prospect of Nick Clegg finally being given the platform he deserves. I don’t know anyone who could pick him out of a line-up. The three 90-minute debates, featuring Brown, Cameron and Clegg, will begin by focusing on domestic policies, international affairs and the economy. They will be recorded in England and broadcast throughout the UK. This is a serious distortion of our understanding of process, politics. As Isobel Lindsay writes in the Herald today: “Will we get guarantees from the broadcasting companies that every question asked will make it clear whether it is relevant to England only?” We will surely not get this.

She continues: “Any discussion of education, the health service, social care, crime and punishment, planning, the arts, agriculture, most environmental, energy, housing and transport policies will have no relevance to Scotland or, for the most part, to Wales or Northern Ireland. So we are going to be presented in at least one of these debates with a crude English-centred perspective which will be seriously misleading unless it is made explicit on each question whether Westminster has any competence in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.”

The Guardian reported: “The first programme, to be presented by ITN’s Alistair Stewart, will cover domestic affairs and come from the north-west.” Assynt?  “The second show, presented by Sky’s Adam Boulton, will cover foreign affairs and come from the south-west.” Kirkudbright? No.

Yesterday the SNP said it was unacceptable for the licence fee-funded BBC to exclude Scotland’s most popular political party from the leader debates.

“This is a matter of basic fairness in the run up to a general election and the BBC has decided to give an hour-and-a-half of exposure to the leaders of the three UK political parties each in the run up to the election – and has made not a single proposal to give balance to the SNP in the run-up to polling day,” he continued.

What is a fundamental issue of democracy is being presented as a technical issue of media management. ITN’s Alistair Stewart, Sky’s Adam Boulton,  and the BBC’s David Dimbleby, are the vanguards of UK democracy. The tortuously negotiated agreement states: “There will be no close-up cutaways of a single individual audience member while the leaders are speaking. However if [a] leader directly addresses an individual audience member, a close-up shot of that individual can be shown.”

So what’s wrong with this?

It’s not that it substantially shift the general publics perception of the various parties status at the next general election. Nor that it orients the entire sorry edifice of Westminster as essentially an English parliament and an English election. Nor is it essentially a matter of licence-fee fraud, we are used to paying the same as everyone else in the UK and getting an anglicised world beamed back to us.

No, the exclusion of Alex Salmond is really about re-packaging parliamentary politics as a presidential race. Here three titans of public realm will battle it out, the charisma of Brown pitted against the authenticity of Cameron, that is if either of them can manage to shield themselves against the oratorical whirlwind that is Nick Clegg when he gets going. Really. Please.

Three carefully groomed Unionist politicians will contrive to disagree about some petty details while sharing a cosy consensus on all basic fiscal, constitutional, and environmental issues. The constitution has been excluded from the debate. This is the sanitisation of political debate.

There will be some quibbling about social policy, with individuals clambering over each other slavishly to be seen to be ‘tougher on crime’ or more right-wing on immigration or pandering to whatever wheeze the tabloids have dreamt up that week. It will not motivate people to vote. There will be no Obama effect. We are told that the audience are not aloud to make a noise, this is no ‘town hall meet’ to continue the disgraceful Americanisation of our political culture. We know now that these people will walk on stage with the script of safety first embedded in their heads.

Labour and Tory apologists for this televisual gerrymandering have been bleating about how the SNP are a tiny party in UK terms. Former Scotland office minister David Cairns dismissed the issue saying: “In the UK parliament, which has got 650 seats, the SNP hold seven. In the UK parliament, the SNP are a fringe, minority party.” The problem is that if Scotland is considered unimportant to Westminster then Westminster will become unimportant to Scotland.

As if criteria for media inclusion can be made up on a whim and isn’t enshrined in law. So what else could they have done? Is it all so hopelessly complex?

There are two problems: 1) this is a UK General Election – why should Giles in the Cotswolds have to listen to Alex carping about Calman? And Alex, as is pointed out ad nauseam isn’t running for Westminster. 2) While it’s a two party contest in England (the Liberals are tagged on to this for a laugh) it’s a four party (if your feeling very generous) system in Scotland. So, what to do?

They could have just had the three ‘main’ parties plus the governing parties of the devolved assemblies, parliaments, so that would have included the DUP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein. This is intolerable as it would be a tacit admission if what has
happened and what is happening: change. The brutal truth is that all of these polished immaculate inert professional politicians are running on a change ticket. Brown is running that he is changing, and can cope with the change of the collapse of western capitalist economies better than most, largely because he wrote the cheques that brought it about. Cameron is running on the ticket that he – as Etonian thoroughbred is the heir to Blair’s classless society. Clegg is running on – God I have no idea what Clegg is running on. No doubt it has something to do with PR. I’m sure it’s all very sensible. The problem is it’s presented as all very reasonable and of course there was no other option. But this is Orwellian and our acquiescence and mute deference in it all is worrying. Nobody cares. The media in Scotland, mired in unacknowledged and short-sighted prejudice see this purely as an SNP issue.

Lets assume that actually acknowledging devolution is not an option, and the simple formula of going round the ‘Nations and Regions’ (sic) is an intolerable affront to the British establishment of the BBC, SKY, and the Unionist political media managers.

Here’s a less threatening option that would have better served democracy.

They could have had two debates in England (London and Manchester, Newcastle or Liverpool), then one in Northern Ireland, one in Cardiff and one in Edinburgh. They could have included each of the leaders of the governing parties, plus the other players in England – presumably Caroline Lucas, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin.

Alternatively – the obvious compromise on this issue is that the proposed debate on domestic policy questions is only shown in England.

There are other criteria the BBC have used about representation, such as: offer space to political parties who are contesting every seat, or who have over a certain per centage of the popular vote. The case is dismissed on three flimsy arguments. Firstly that Salmond is not running for Westminster. No but his party is, and Angus Robertson could stand. Secondly, that the SNP have no chance of forming a govt. No, but neither does the Liberal Democrats. Thirdly, that the SNP are a tiny marginal forced when taken in UK terms. True but the Tories are a tiny and marginal force in Scottish terms. They have one MP in Scotland and may have none in two months time.

The entire affair is dressed up as if its some sort of psephologist’s wet dream, a weird constitutional conundrum. It’s not, its called democracy and its about representing fairly the options open to people. If the SNP don’t sue I think the wider independence movement should consider a mass boycott of the licence fee in protest.

No television without representation.

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  1. Great post – Nuff said

  2. Drew Murray says:

    In Canada it would be unthinkable for the media to host a national political debate while excluding the Parti Québécois. There would be hell to pay – nae kiddin.

  3. bellacaledonia says:

    Well exactly Drew, it’s not that difficult is it? Can you describe the Canadian solution?

    I don’t think it should be tolerated.

    1. Drew Murray says:

      The Quebec elite have always shared power with their Anglo counterparts federally. They (and the Catholic church) kept the French population in line -maintaining a cozy relationship that benefited both the French and Anglo elites. The ethnicity of the Prime Minister alternated between French and Anglo by policy. However, in the sixties the Quebec working class became radicalized – throwing off the stranglehold of the Catholic church socially and the English language in the workplace. In the 196o’s the FLQ scared the bejesus out of the establishment:

      “The Front de Libération du Québec (Quebec Liberation Front), commonly known as the FLQ, was a left-wing nationalist and socialist paramilitary group in Quebec, Canada, active between 1963 and 1970, which is widely regarded as a terrorist organization.[2][3] It was responsible for over 160 violent incidents which killed eight people and injured many more, including the bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969.[3][4] These attacks culminated in 1970 with what is known as the October Crisis, in which British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was murdered. Founded in the early 1960s, it supported the Quebec sovereignty movement.

      FLQ members practised propaganda of the deed and issued declarations that called for a socialist insurrection against oppressors identified with “Anglo-Saxon” imperialism,[1] the overthrow of the Quebec government, the independence of Quebec from Canada and the establishment of a French-speaking Quebecer “workers’ society”. The organization was also influenced by other movements, such as those for the independence of former colonies such as Algeria, Vietnam and Cuba.”

      tinyurl.com/ybealqa

      In the face of the mounting demand for Quebec independence and social justice the elites became more conciliatory. Between 1968 and 2006 there were only 18 months when the Prime Minister was not from Quebec. In the early 1980’s the Canadian government patriated the BNA act from the UK and sought to amend it into a modern constitution. After some arm twisting all the provincial premiers endorsed it except for René Lévesque – the then Premier of Quebec.

      In 1991 a new party from Quebec sought to promote independence at the federal level – the Bloc Québécois. At its first election they won 54 seats in the Federal parliament making them the official opposition. Since then a realignment of right wing parties has pushed them back into third place with 49 seats.

      Continual constitutional concessions since the eighties in an attempt to bring Quebec into the Federal fold have provided Quebec with many of the trappings of nationhood – it has its own embassies, controls immigration, has taxing powers, controls education and health care etc… But these have, so far, failed to stifle independence aspirations in that Province.

      Never-the-less, at the last referendum 50.58% voted NO while 49.42% voted YES for independence. The referendum was full of controversy – rejected ballots, Federal illegal election spending, fast tracked citizenship for a NO vote – suggests that it may very well be that the YES side actually won.

      However, changing demographics in the province may have tipped the balance in the federalists favour as the “pure lane” are being outnumbered and outbred by incomers from other ethnicities.

  4. David Straiton says:

    I have commented on this scenario on my facebook wall. Drawing attention to the historical
    importance of the Thatcher poll-tax.Come on Scotland,take to the streets!

  5. DougtheDug says:

    Mike, it’s not a question of fairness or of internal criteria used by the BBC or other broadcasters to decide who gets on the debates it’s a case of the broadcasters breaching the OFCOM guidelines, the BBC guidelines and the law by keeping the SNP off the debates broadcast in Scotland.

    If you look at the OFCOM guidelines then in Section 6 OFCOM define four major parties in Scotland, Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib-Dems and the SNP. All these parties must be treated equally by broadcasters who fall under OFCOM, namely Sky and ITV and being a major party gets you perks and an automatic right to parity in political broadcast time with the other major parties even on the BBC.

    The BBC guidelines say, “We should make, and be able to defend, our editorial decisions on the basis that they are reasonable and carefully and impartially reached. To achieve this we must ensure that: they are aware of the different political structures in the four nations of the United Kingdom and that they are reflected in the election coverage of each nation. Programmes shown across the UK should also take this into account.”, so they are duty bound to recognise the place of the SNP in Scottish politics.

    Then you have the law on impartially, namely the Communications Act 2003 section 320. It’s the usual legalese but here’s a summary of what it says in relation to TV services and it’s referenced directly in Section Six of the OFCOM code.

    320 Special impartiality requirements

    The preservation, in the case of every television programme service, teletext service, national radio service and national digital sound programme service, of due impartiality, on the part of the person providing the service, as respects of all matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy.

    The impartiality requirement is one that, subject to the OFCOM standards Code, may be satisfied by being satisfied in relation to a series of programmes taken as a whole. OFCOM shall determine what constitutes a series of programs.

    You’ve also got the rules for party political broadcasts. It’s all here in this Parliamentary Briefing note where political broadcasts are worked out not on how many MP’s the parties have but on their candidates, and this is the important bit, by home nation not on a UK wide basis.

    So after all this what does it mean?

    It means by broadcasting a multi-party political broadcast, which is what a debate is, into Scotland and only including three of the four parties defined as major parties in Scotland the BBC, ITV and Sky are breaking the BBC Guidelines, the OFCOM guidelines the procedure on allocating political broadcast time in Scotland and the Communications Act 2003.

    What the broadcasters have done is taken the English impartiality requirements which have only three major parties defined and applied that to the UK as a whole.

    They’ve then ignored devolution and will broadcast a debate mainly about English domestic policies right across the UK even though most of it doesn’t apply to Scotland which will not only be wrong but it will mislead voters.

    It is actually quite sobering to look at what they plan to do. Despite all the talk in the blogs about devolution, independence and the West Lothian question the idea that England is Britain is England is still firmly embedded in the establishment.

  6. Wardog says:

    Well said, I agree, what is preventing anyone from asking ofcom or a court to looks at this?

    A case brought by the supporters of those not included, greens , snp, plaid surely must stand a chance.

    Or is it the case that the SNP et al are simply cutting their losses and will use this a stick post 2010 election?

  7. Crazy Daisy says:

    D the D,

    Great post, however, these are “Guidelines” as you state, so they can in typical Labour fashion ignore them!

    CD

    1. DougtheDug says:

      Crazy Daisy:

      These are not just “Guidelines”, these are M&S Guidelines.

      If you look at the original section 320 on the Communications Act 2003, not my summary, you’ll find that the Act names OFCOM as the body which will create the standards to which any interpretation of impartiality in the Act will be measured.

      Theses standards are OFCOM’s Broadcasting Code which I refered to as guidelines in my comment.

      The Communications Act 2003 and OFCOM’s broadcasting code are linked at the hip.

  8. I don’t think Ofcom will want to know until the broadcast has gone out. Until then complaints should be made to the broadcaster so, they’ll go ahead with their English election broadcasts and ignore the fall-out later.

  9. subrosa says:

    I agree with Dougie. Although OFCOM may look into this they will delay until after the broadcasts. Then their findings will be of little interest.

    Excellent post Mike and a good idea to stop paying the licence fee. Now how do we organise that?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We’re preparing campaign – watch this space.

  10. DougtheDug says:

    Dougie, Subrosa,
    OFCOM as an enforcing body in this case are about as much use as a chocolate teapot but any legal challenge by the SNP or others in the courts would base its challenge on the Communications Act 2003 which demands impartiality in political broadcasting and that act defines the code OFCOM created as a standard with which to measure the definition of fairness within the act.

    The courts not OFCOM would enforce the legislation contained in the Communications Act 2003 and the judge would use the OFCOM code as the standard for impartiality as set out in the legislation.

  11. DtD

    Fair enough on your legal challenge point. I agree about the OFCOM being useless.

    Perhaps the SNP should start thinking about making Scotland a licence fee zone

  12. Licence fee ‘free zone’ sorry

  13. redcliffe62 says:

    One can assume that there are some interesting discussions going on in the background.

    I am sure the SNP have already stated that they are amenable but require an outcome that is fair.

    Showing the debate but stating the issue relates to England only is not unreasonable. And simple for broadcasters to caption. The SNP and PC should be allowed a comment mid debate at the very least on matters that are clearly relating to their areas of interest.

    Personally, I think as soon as the election is announced and dates agreed for the debates that the matter goes to court.

    Ofcom delaying the outcome seems unlikely as it would look like a fudge that it would be. And I am sure Ofcom are looking at it right now unofficially and will not feign surprise when the issue is raised in the public domain, as if they supposedly need to start from scratch.

    The Quebec comments above are interesting; and show that a referendum (or for that matter ann election) can be rigged with careful media management and mass immigration policies.

  14. Bill Wilson says:

    All they have to do is not broadcast the program in either Scotland or Wales and they fulfil all the reuirements of OFCOM, and satisfy the demands of the SNP. I would be happier watching a re-run of ‘To the Manor Born’ anyway.

  15. Ron Y says:

    Hi,
    I’m trying hard to get a an SNP site up for the election.
    Any chance of a link to
    http://www.snp-fife.org.
    Reciprocal link to you a certainty.
    Webmaster

  16. Dave Coull says:

    I just posted this on the Our Scotland forum
    http://ourscotland.myfreeforum.org/ftopic6591-140.php

    ” This issue of blatantly biased and metro-centric election coverage has been falsely presented as being about complaints from Alex Salmond as an individual, or from the SNP as a party. And of course it’s true that here on this forum we have seen several SNP supporters indicate that they would be prepared to financially support legal action against the BBC and other broadcasters. But it’s not only the SNP which thinks the attitude of the broadcasters is disgraceful, and legal action isn’t the only possible way of mounting a challenge. There is always the option of illegal action. I note that Mike Small, on the Bella Caledonia website, says “If the SNP don’t sue I think the wider independence movement should consider a mass boycott of the licence fee in protest”.

    Hey, that’s an idea. An organised campaign of non-payment. It worked with the poll tax. Getting some folk to refuse money (with a good political excuse for doing so) might be easier than getting them to contribute money for a legal challenge. If enough people refuse to pay, with clear political support, then collecting the licence fee could become a nightmare. And this could be a way of throwing the entire election campaign off the boring path charted by the politicians of all parties. What’s more, the campaign wouldn’t need to stop when the election is held. It could go on as long as biased and metro-centric broadcasting continues.

    Bella Caledonia are saying they are “preparing a campaign – watch this space”

    https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2010/03/04/media-democracy/

    One response to my post, so far, from oil industry worker “Holebender” , who says

    ” Whatever the route, it must be challenged!

    I stand ready to participate in both a legal and illegal challenge.

    In the pre-independence American colonies it was the tea tax which triggered the overthrow of UK rule.

    In pre-independence India it was the salt tax.

    Will the television tax be the catalyst which finally brings about independence for Scotland? “

  17. Pingback: Scotland Speaks «

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