BBC and Murdoch, on the Same Side

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Britain is
said to be approaching its Berlusconi Moment. That is to say, if
Rupert Murdoch wins control of Sky he will command half the television
and newspaper market and threaten what is known as public service
broadcasting. Although the alarm is ringing, it is unlikely that
any government will stop him while his court is packed with politicians
of all parties.

The problem
with this and other Murdoch scares is that, while one cannot doubt
their gravity, they deflect from an unrecognised and more insidious
threat to honest information. For all his power, Murdoch’s
media is not respectable. Take the current colonial wars. In the
United States, Murdoch’s Fox Television is almost cartoon-like
in its warmongering. It is the august, tombstone New York Times,
"the greatest newspaper in the world," and others such
as the once-celebrated Washington Post, that have given respectability
to the lies and moral contortions of the "war on terror,"
now recast as "perpetual war."

In Britain,
the liberal Observer performed this task in making respectable
Tony Blair’s deceptions on Iraq. More importantly, so did the
BBC, whose reputation is its power. In spite of one maverick reporter’s
attempt to expose the so-called dodgy dossier, the BBC took Blair’s
sophistry and lies on Iraq at face value.

This was made
clear in studies by Cardiff University and the German-based Media
Tenor. The BBC’s coverage, said the Cardiff study, was overwhelmingly
"sympathetic to the government’s case." According
to Media Tenor, a mere two per cent of BBC news in the build-up
to the invasion permitted antiwar voices to be heard. Compared with
the main American networks, only CBS was more pro-war.

So when the
BBC director-general Mark Thompson used the recent Edinburgh Television
Festival to attack Murdoch, his hypocrisy was like a presence. Thompson
is the embodiment of a taxpayer-funded managerial elite, for whom
political reaction has long replaced public service. He has even
laid into his own corporation, Murdoch-style, as "massively
left-wing." He was referring to the era of his 1960s predecessor
Hugh Greene, who allowed artistic and journalistic freedom to flower
at the BBC. Thompson is the opposite of Greene; and his aspersion
on the past is in keeping with the BBC’s modern corporate role,
reflected in the rewards demanded by those at the top. Thompson
was paid £834,000 last year out of public funds and his 50
senior executives earn more than the prime minister, along with
enriched journalists like Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce.

Murdoch and
the BBC share this corporatism. Blair, for example, was their quintessential
politician. Prior to his election in 1997, Blair and his wife were
flown first-class by Murdoch to Hayman Island in Australia where
he stood at the Newscorp lectern and, in effect, pledged an obedient
Labour administration. His coded message on media cross-ownership
and deregulation was that a way would be found for Murdoch to achieve
the supremacy that now beckons.

Blair was embraced
by the new BBC corporate class, which regards itself as meritorious
and non-ideological: the natural leaders in a managerial Britain
in which class is unspoken. Few did more to enunciate Blair’s
"vision" than Andrew Marr, then a leading newspaper journalist
and today the BBC’s ubiquitous voice of middle-class Britain.
Just as Murdoch’s Sun declared in 1995 it shared the
rising Blair’s "high moral values" so Marr, writing
the Observer in 1999, lauded the new prime minister’s
"substantial moral courage" and the "clear distinction
in his mind between prudently protecting his power base and rashly
using his power for high moral purpose." What impressed Marr
was Blair’s "utter lack of cynicism" along with his
bombing of Yugoslavia which would "save lives."

By March 2003,
Marr was the BBC’s political editor. Standing in Downing Street
on the night of the "shock and awe" assault on Iraq, he
rejoiced at the vindication of Blair who, he said, had promised
"to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in end the Iraqis
would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved
conclusively right" and as a result "tonight he stands
as a larger man." In fact, the criminal conquest of Iraq smashed
a society, killing up to a million people, driving four million
from their homes, contaminating cities like Fallujah with cancer-causing
poisons and leaving a majority of young children malnourished in
a country once described by Unicef as a "model."

So it was entirely
appropriate that Blair, in hawking his self-serving book, should
select Marr for his "exclusive TV interview" on the BBC.
The headline across the Observer’s review of the interview
read, "Look who’s having the last laugh." Beneath
this was a picture of a beaming Blair sharing a laugh with Marr.

The interview
produced not a single challenge that stopped Blair in his precocious,
mendacious tracks. He was allowed to say that "absolutely clearly
and unequivocally, the reason for toppling [Saddam Hussein] was
his breach of resolutions over WMD, right?" No, wrong. A wealth
of evidence, not least the infamous Downing Street Memo, makes clear
that Blair secretly colluded with George W. Bush to attack Iraq.
This was not mentioned. At no point did Marr say to him, "You
failed to persuade the UN Security Council to go along with the
invasion. You and Bush went alone. Most of the world was outraged.
Weren’t you aware that you were about to commit a monumental
war crime?"

Instead, Blair
used the convivial encounter to deceive, yet again, even to promote
an attack on Iran, an outrage. Murdoch’s Fox would have differed
in style only. The British public deserves better.

8, 2010

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His latest book is Freedom
Next Time: Resisting the Empire

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