Peaceful Tectonics

Discrimination? When will we see it?
January 13, 2007, 6:44 pm
Filed under: International Affairs, News, Religion, Uncategorized
Oh man, I am getting a little preachy with this topic, but it is only because I wish we were talking about these kinds of things in the US.  This is a short one.

Halting progress

AC Grayling

January 9, 2007 02:30 PM

There is only one printable phrase apt enough for religious groups seeking exemption from the requirement not to discriminate against gay people, and that is that their actions constitute an obscenity against human rights.

To obscenity add hypocrisy. Among the various items of deliberate misinformation being spread by religious groups about the anti-discrimination regulations is one that says primary schools will be obliged to promote gay civil partnerships on an equal footing with marriage. (Well, why not? Human affections and the commitments and comforts they generate are a great good.) As it happens the regulations do no such thing. Yet the law requires all schools to subject children to a “daily act of worship”, aka stone-age superstition with a tendency at one of its extremes to end in suicide bombings. I look forward to the day we secularists rally outside parliament by torchlight against brainwashing children into the nonsense left over from the ignorance of humankind’s infancy. In a choice between promoting civil partnerships for gays and obliging children to sacrifice a goat to Zeus, I’d go for the former every time.

One of the points being made in the debate over the anti-discrimination regulations is that people who run cafes and B&Bs who do not wish to serve gay people (“because it makes them condone gay sex” contrary to the morality devised in the sixth century BC) will be forced to quit their jobs and do something else. Tough. If they do not wish to treat other human beings equally, let them indeed do something else. That is exactly what we would say if they refused to serve black people, women, or Jews. The discrimination is the same, the unacceptability of discrimination is the same, the contempt one feels for them is the same.

And on the subject of Jews: what a disgrace that the stone-agers outside parliament tonight will include a Jewish group. If anyone should be against discrimination of any kind, it is a Jew. Alongside the Jews murdered in Auschwitz were homosexuals, wearing a pink patch where the Jews wore a Star of David. The despairing implication of the fact that Jews are joining Christian and Muslims – the usual standard bearers of intolerance and reaction – in this campaign is that too many people learn too little, never connect the dots, and repeat the ghastly errors of the past, when under the thought-inhibiting influence of such toxins as religious belief.

I write the above in anger. This effort to halt the fight against the evil of discrimination is a step too far by the religious, so ready to squeal like pigs when it is they who feel they are being discriminated against. They are trying to roll back the gains in civil liberties and the creation of an open society, which it has taken us centuries to achieve, from the time that Torquemada was burning people at the stake for incorrect versions of Christianity. Let people believe in fairies if they wish to: I would fight as hard to protect the right of the benighted to the stupidest beliefs as to protect the right of gays to equal treatment in all respects; but the condition is that they do not impose those beliefs on others, or the antediluvian morality that goes with it. And that is the line in the sand.


“Murdoch Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”
December 7, 2006, 1:24 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, International Affairs, News, Politics

Ok, so I first read this story on the BBC website and then I found a more developed article in the  New Statesman Magazine.  The title of this post is derived from the BBC Motto “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”.  Basically, it is about media ownership in the UK. I found that people in the United States care very little about where their media (news, entertainment, movies, magazines, books, music) comes from or how it is owned.  This article touches the surface of another world that Americans could not fathom; that the BBC is, dare I say, funded by tax dollars, well actually it is funded through licensing fees paid by citizens who buy televisions.  Yep, that’s right the BBC is a publicly owned and independently managed broadcast corporation, that means no commercials.  It has been run by a non-partisan board of governors since 1927.  Whatever your preference, public or private,  it is imperative to keep a close eye on our media outlets which increasingly wield more and more control over the information available to the common man. 

Nation of fools

David Puttnam

Published 04 December 2006

As the BBC reels from Michael Grade’s shock defection, a far greater threat to the future of British broadcasting is upon us. And it goes to the heart of our democracy.

Towards the end of a recent BBC Question Time programme, Polly Toynbee received a thunderous round of applause when she described Rupert Murdoch as “the most pernicious force in the country by far”.

Yet even though many citizens may instinctively agree with Richard Branson’s assessment that Murdoch is a “threat to democracy”, nothing beyond a resounding silence has been heard from either the Labour or the Tory benches following BSkyB’s acquisition of a 17.9 per cent stake in ITV – the catalyst for Branson’s remarks. Indeed, not a single prominent politician from either major party has thus far broken cover to suggest that the deal might raise serious questions about the future of media plurality in Britain. This is despite, or more probably because of, the fact that Murdoch owns four national newspapers, has de facto control of the BSkyB pay-television service (through a 38 per cent shareholding), owns, the social networking site most heavily used by the UK’s young people, and has now perched himself on the catbird seat at our largest commercial terrestrial broadcaster.

It is easy to dismiss Branson’s comments as sour grapes, given that BSkyB’s purchase of an ITV stake has in effect scuppered the chances of NTL (in which Branson has a 10.5 per cent holding) acquiring control of the terrestrial giant. Whatever the catalyst, I still believe Branson’s outburst to have been sincere, that he was speaking as much as a citizen as a businessman, and, most importantly, that he is absolutely right on this occasion.

Yet, astonishingly, the public has no idea whether there is anyone in parliament who agrees with him. It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy of silence, a conspiracy fuelled by a fear of alienating the most powerful media owner in the country.

In purely business terms, there is no question that by ac quiring its stake in ITV, BSkyB pulled off a spectacular coup – only equalled by ITV’s acquisition, a few days later, of Michael Grade as its executive chairman. It is hard to imagine the brilliantly combative Grade finding it easy to accommodate a significant shareholder who is also competing in the very areas of entertainment, news and sport that will naturally be his focus for success.

At stake is the erosion of competition within the British media, and the consequences that has for British democracy.

There are those who seem willing to accept that BSkyB’s move is merely an attempt to shut out NTL. But as Neil Chenoweth, one of Murdoch’s biographers, has written, in Murdoch’s deal-making “there is always a second strand running below the public trans action, known only to insiders, and then there is a third strand running under that again, which no one ever sees”.

In the case of ITV one can only guess at what the second and third strands might be. But some analysts have suggested that the acquisition of a stake in ITV is merely Murdoch’s first card in a longer game, one in which he will end up controlling Channel 5. RTL, owner of Channel 5, is strongly rumoured to be interested in ITV. Murdoch might be willing to sell out to RTL and to the other ITV shareholders in exchange for the prize of the fifth channel.

Dominant satellite position That would not just be a “threat to British democracy”, it would be a further step in a process that can only end in disaster. The cap acity of Murdoch’s British interests to “cross-promote” that terrestrial channel, using their dominant satellite position and their newspaper holdings, would be without precedent. The bleat that Channel 5 has merely 5.5 per cent of terrestrial viewing would very quickly become history as the new, heavily promoted, “super soaraway Five” dug deep into the market share of its rivals.BSkyB’s acquisition of a stake in ITV shows exactly why, in the teeth of fierce opposition from both the government and the Conservative front bench, the House of Lords was absolutely right to insist that a “public interest test” be inserted in the Communications Act 2003, so that the consequences for our democracy of mergers and changes of control within the media sector could be scrutinised and, if necessary, stopped.Ofcom has now begun its own scrutiny of the acquisition of the ITV stake, and the Office of Fair Trading is also likely to get involved. That would inevitably lead to politicians being drawn into making decisions about where the public interest really does lie.For myself, I have no doubts. This deal should not be allowed to stand. It is my personal belief that BSkyB, and thereby Rupert Murdoch, has unquestionably acquired “material influence” at ITV, and that this can only lead to a further and unprecedented erosion of plurality within the British media.In 1990 when Sky merged with BSB to create BSkyB, there was a rancorous Commons debate about the issue. The then shadow home secretary, Roy Hattersley, made a scathing attack on the government’s supine attitude toward Murdoch’s interests, going so far as to question the legality of the deal. Public opinion – a surprise?In the intervening 16 years, it has apparently become unthinkable that a front-bench politician of either of the main parties would even consider passing comment on any further extension of Murdoch’s tentacles, in the apparent belief that to do so is to incur the wrath of the Sun and the Times, and thereby to court electoral disaster.But public opinion has a nice way of surprising you, more so than ever in this digital age of blogs and social networking, when information and beliefs can be transmitted to millions with a simple click of the mouse.In recent weeks, Murdoch was given a wake-up call when, following a wave of public revulsion, he was forced to cancel a proposed book and TV programme in the US in which O J Simpson offered a hypothetical account of how he would have killed his former wife and her friend.That round of applause for Toynbee’s remark on Question Time should serve as a different kind of wake-up call – this time directed at our elected representatives.Its message is succinct: enough is enough. The time has come for politicians from all sides to step up and clarify their position on the future of democratic pluralism in our media.If they are really serious about regaining the respect, let alone the trust, of the electorate, it is time they stopped shaping their electoral strategies in response to the leader columns of any of our national newspapers, and started demonstrating a belief that the votes of millions at the ballot box count for more than the self-interest of a handful of manipulative media barons.

Lord Puttnam is a Labour peer, and was chair of the parliamentary committee that examined the Communications Bill. Deputy chairman of Channel 4, he writes here in a personal capacity