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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Press Blue Button for Privatisation

This article of mine appears in The Morning Star.
Do please try and sign the Bring Back British Rail Petition, mentioned below!

Will the BBC survive a new Conservative government? Despite David Cameron's claim that he was a "big fan" of Auntie on the Andrew Marr show last Sunday, the oldest broadcasting company in the world looks set for the toughest years of its long existence if, as expected, Cameron's manic privatisers get elected this spring.
Last year shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey, a member of Cameron's inner circle, suggested the selling off of Radio 1.
And although the Tories denied that it was official party policy, a Daily Telegraph report quoted an unnamed Tory MP who said: "Radio 1 and Radio 2 are ripe for a sell-off, perhaps even BBC1."
The sad thing is that the BBC has very few allies in new Labour either. In December the government added BBC Worldwide to the list of assets it wants to sell off, despite the BBC's opposition to such a step.
The calls for profitable parts of the BBC to be hived off is reminiscent of the way that British Rail was gradually dismantled in the 1980s.
In 1982 the profitable British Transport Hotels was sold off. British Rail's ferry operator Sealink, despite earning a profit before interest and tax of £12.8 million for the year ending December 31 1983, was flogged off to a Bermuda-based US-owned company in 1984.
And in the late 1980s British Rail Engineering was broken up and sold too. And we all know what happened after that.
Of course the BBC has many faults. There's the obscene salaries it pays its top "stars" and high-level executives. There's its biased reporting of international events - Auntie has provided massive coverage of anti-government protests in Iran, but much less on demonstrations against the illegal coup d'etat in Honduras.
There's its craven pro-Israeli stance, highlighted by its refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for the people of Gaza last year. And its continuing enthusiasm - even after the debacle of Iraq - for inviting discredited warmongering neocons on to its current affairs programmes.
But all these things can be put right by making the BBC more democratically accountable.
Privatisation is most certainly not the answer.


Apparently it was Duchess of Westminster Loelia Ponsonby who said: "Anybody seen on a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life."
Well, if bus fares continue to rocket in Britain, soon it will only be the rich who will be able to travel on them.
Alarmed at the poor deal that passengers are receiving from the bus companies, the Office of Fair Trading has decided to refer the bus sector, which receives around £2.5 billion a year from the public purse in subsidies, to the Competition Commission.
The OFT believes that greater competition between bus companies will lead to a better deal for passengers and taxpayers. But is that really true?
Do passengers really want to see several bus companies operating on the same route? Or do they simply want to have an affordable, reliable service?
Nearly 25 years on from the Thatcher government's destruction of the state-owned National Bus Company, it's time to acknowledge that bus privatisation - like the privatisation of the railways, water and the energy sector - has been a disaster for the general public.
The answer is not more competition, as the OFT seems to think, but to bring back the National Bus Company as part of an integrated, publicly owned, public transport system.


On the subject of the destruction of Britain's railways, I'm pleased to announce that the newly formed pressure group Bring Back British Rail has organised an online petition to No 10 Downing Street calling for the return of a publicly owned railway.
The group, set up by rail commuter Ellie Harrison, demands:
An end to private interest in public transport.
A fully integrated, publicly owned rail network, in which the passengers are always the most important stakeholders.
Consistently low-priced fares and fast, frequent and efficient services which have the capacity to continually improve and expand in order to encourage more people to choose rail travel as a real, green alternative to their cars.

The petition, which at time of writing already has over 1,000 signatures, can be signed at


The neoliberal noughties were not a great decade for public ownership - but towards the end of the decade there were definite signs that the tide has turned.
In 2008 New Zealand renationalised its railway network. In Venezuela Hugo Chavez carried out a radical programme of nationalisation. In Argentina many assets sold off in the 1990s have been bought back into public ownership.
All over the world, public opposition to privatisation has grown. There can be few people today who don't realise that privatisation benefits only big business and the very rich, but unfortunately the hold that capital has over political parties in countries such as Britain means that public opinion is not reflected in the positions taken by our political representatives.

Let's hope that by the end of this decade, increased public anger with privatisation will finally force a change of approach, and that all the assets flogged off by governments around the world over the past 30 years or so will be back where they belong - in public ownership.

Neil Clark is co-founder of the Campaign for Public Ownership.


Michael said...

As a broadly conservative lad, I realise that I am in the minority when I say that the BBC is undoubtedly a jewel that we ought to take better care of, though reform certainly, rather than auction off to the highest bidder. Indeed, other than a little frustration at what it sees as the left-liberal stance of the BBC, or else blind ideological convictions regarding its state ownership etc., I'm not sure the right has made a very convincing case for chopping up Auntie, so to speak.

However... it does show that a lot of objection regards bias is a matter of perception - I've always found the BBC to have a pretty much pro-Palestinian stance, and not a lot of serious effort goes into presenting the Israeli point of view (the humanitarian appeal was a demonstration of the supine nature of the BBC, rather than active bias, being scared of accusations of impartiality - the cliché 'between a rock and a hard place' comes to mind).

As for the railways, I'm not sure, but if you get me started on the Royal Mail! - granted there weren't various bits of EU legislation to take into account, and the internet wasn't such a big thing, but I always say, nonetheless, that 'when I were a lad etc' (not all that long ago actually), we had two deliveries a morning and the first one always came before the family left for work. First-class was cheap, and it nearly ALWAYS arrived the next day. This, obviously, is better than we have now.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have any problem with the BBC being funded by the British public if the following were true:

1.) if it were politically neutral i.e. not a 24/7 Neocon propaganda maschine!

2.) if it gave due weight to the views and opinions of the genuine majority of the UK public on non-political issues.

3.) if it were run cost effectively i.e. without wasting huge sums on overseas propagada stations in foreign languages, etc.

Since none of the above is true, I would weep very few tears if the Tories sell the whole darned thing to Murdoch. At least I could then choose whether to pay for the shit they are pumping out.

Mr. Piccolo said...

Another wonderful article, Mr. Clark. I always enjoy reading your blog, it is one of the best on the Internet.

On the topic of the BBC, even though I am not British, I understand the importance of public broadcasting. So much of television and even radio is a total cultural wasteland nowadays. I don't really consider myself a snob, but things like "reality" shows make me cringe.

Furthermore, I would add that private media consolidation has been a huge disaster for the public as well. In the United States, we used to have a lot of little private TV stations that had independent, local programming, like locally-produced children's shows that were far superior to what is passed off as children's entertainment nowadays. But since the drive towards media deregulation in the 1980s, non-news, locally-produced programming has become hard to come by.

On a final note, I was wondering what your thoughts were on increasing worker or consumer involvement in the management of publicly-owned enterprises? Personally, I think any new nationalization or re-nationalization ought to include at least some provisions for direct worker or consumer decision making. I feel that it is too risky to completely trust the politicians to act in the public's interest, and not sell off state-owned assets when it is in their interest or in the interests of their paymasters, so some form of democratic management should be included in publicly-owned enterprises. I'm just not sure how this would specifically work. What do you think?

P.S. Sorry for the overly long comment!

Robin Carmody said...

One important reason why many people on the right want to break up the BBC is that it (ironically in part because of pressure the Major government put on Radio 1 to distance itself from the commercial sector) gives national, mass exposure to musical styles which reflect the true state of much of Britain, which the Tories *always* want to censor and sweep under the carpet. The commercial sector cannot be trusted to expose any such styles - just look at how Logan Sama's excellent show on Kiss has just been cut in half - and much of the Tories' demand for a privatised Radio 1 is really a desire to shut such people up and have pop radio playing nothing but state-approved, supine voices (Capital may play Dizzee Rascal but if there was no Radio 1 it would never have heard of him).

I dare say Neil might agree with the censorious right on this matter. However, there are many other reasons to oppose privatisation: ironically, the Tories' core voters (and the obsessively anti-BBC Mail and Telegraph's core readers) would have much *less* programming to their tastes, not more, should the BBC be destroyed. In 1993/4 it seemed as though the BBC would only be able to survive by taking the "Himalayan option" - i.e. become a clone of PBS/NPR. Birt's market-led reforms managed to convince the then government that it could survive as a mass broadcaster, and indeed it became more committed to mass entertainment probably than it had ever been before. But this might be its fatal weakening point now we are likely to have a Tory government which *doesn't* contain people like Douglas Hurd who had a romantic attachment to the BBC because they could remember when it was a monopoly ... Cameron is part of the Diana Generation, who listened to Capital in lieu of their parents' choice of Radios 3 and 4, and his liking for the blandest forms of pop says much about what his government is likely to be - inherently against both *actual* pop music *and* any form of high culture.

jock mctrousers said...

" I've always found the BBC to have a pretty much pro-Palestinian stance, and not a lot of serious effort goes into presenting the Israeli point of view ..."

What do you mean? That they sometimes pay lip-service to the notion that there should be some sort of rules regarding the killing of Palestinians? When will you be happy? When the BBC is giving exclusive access to those calling for a 'final solution' to get rid of the Palestinians.
Read the Glasgow Media Group's 'Bad News From Israel' and wake up. At present BBC could well stand for B'nai B'rith Corporation.

Czarny Kot said...

The fact that the BBC is accused of bias from all sides highlights its biggest problem.

No media outlet can ever truly be 100% partial.

The BBC tries and no-one is happy with the result.

They could just give equal airtime to journalists who are openly and unashamedly left, right, liberal, socialist etc..

The BBC has many faults but it is still a highly valuable and respected institution and I would hate to see it go private.

In terms of news reporting though, it is in a bind-- how to maintain a decent level of reporting without being accused of bias by the whole political spectrum?

Roland Hulme said...

Radio 1 and Radio 2 should have been sold off donkey's years ago. As a five year veteran of the commercial radio industry, I think it's absurd that private industry is supposed to 'compete' with a well-funded, commercial-free giant that's paid for by a virtual tax on the British people (and if you don't think the TV licence is a tax, sell your TV and stop paying it. You'll get bugged by the licence people WEEKLY and accused of lying to them about having a TV.)

I love some things on the BBC - like Doctor Who - and think its news coverage is some of the best in the world (a lifesaver over in America) but Radio 1 and Radio 2?

Sell 'em. Sell 'em cheap and sell 'em fast.

olching said...

I've always found the BBC to have a pretty much pro-Palestinian stance, and not a lot of serious effort goes into presenting the Israeli point of view

Well, as Jock points out, this is one of the biggest bogus claims I've read in a while.

Israeli politicians are never really challenged. They are courted and treated with utmost respect. Palestinians by contrast only feature as a faceless mass to be pitied (in a non-committal way) but no more.

It is the Israeli government's point of view that is invariably taken as the starting point and everything else follows thereafter.

I don't remember where, but I read an article in the aftermath of the Gaza war last year, which highlighted the stats: Israeli politicians got (if I remember correctly) nearly 10 times as much airtime on the Beeb than Palestinian representatives or Palestinian supportive representatives combined.

If we then also bear in mind the fiasco of the humanitarian appeal (not of "supine nature"), then Michael's points are embarrassingly weak and wrong.

It's as Jock says: Until Palestinians are completely are utterly dehumanised in the media, the right will continue to harp on about a 'lack of balance'.

olching said...


I love some things on the BBC - like Doctor Who - and think its news coverage is some of the best in the world (a lifesaver over in America) but Radio 1 and Radio 2?

What you are saying here is that policy should be dictated by your personal preference.

It is of course entirely irrelevant whether you like Radio 1 & 2 (as it happens, I agree with you, certainly on Radio 1). So unless your personal preferences become a benchmark for policy, your comment remains utterly irrelevant.

jock mctrousers said...

I have a gut loathing of the BBC (for its insidious 'be a good chap' propaganda), but I confess that I spend a lot of time listening to it - esp. Radio 4 & 5 live (daytime), the World Service ( MI6 News), and yes - Radio 2 for some things, and these things are what justifies R2: for my tastes - Paul Jones Blues show (though I wish someone else was presenting it), Bob Harris Country, and the Folk Show (Mike Harding?). There used to be a nightly blues hour on jazz FM (London)-gone now, as is Jazz FM (now Smooth FM); there used to be a London Country Music station (during the New Country boom of the early to mid 90s), then it became Ritz FM or something, more AOR rock in the mix, and now I think it's Easy FM with the country gone completely. There's a much better folk show - the Traditional Music Hour, Thur 1 or 2PM - on London's Resonance 104.4pm, but Mike Harding's bland MOR folk show is all we've got that's available nationwide. And there are other niches covered; in fact R2s evening output is devoted to stuff that just wouldn't be heard if there was no public service, and that's the case for it - though, during the day I agree that it's mostly quite dispensable.

Undergroundman said...

The BBC aims at impartiality but ultimately is it difficult ,if no impossibleimpossible. I was reading the other day an article from 200 of the death of Litvenenko in London where he was described as a "dissident".

In fact he would best be described as an "oppositionist" in the pay of Berezovsky but often such errors are due to lazyness or lack of thing. idob't believe the BBC is propaganidistic though it adheres to liberal platitudes too much.

As I keep repeating political liberalism is not economic neoliberalism: the latter actuallly undermines the former, though neoliberals supporting untrammelled corporate power and globalisation claim to be "liberals" because liberals are meant to be "nice people".

The reporting of John Simpson is still able to reveal the kind of conlexity absent from Fox News or the Murdoch Press. We desperately need to retain the BBC as an indendent corporation.

The alternative is a choice of CNN, Fox News and other media outlets controlled by oligarchs who use it to advance 'public diplomacy' ir propaganda and on more subtle ways than Fox News.

Though disillusioned with British, the moral decline of the liberal nation I was born into, the degradation of the public sphere, the comnplete decline of the idea of fairness and of the empirical attitude of testing what works in practive is being replaced by nasty little ideological othodoxies.

THe BBC must not be privatised. It would make Britaion more like Italy under Berlusconi. Neil Clark has my complete support on that and the renationalisation of the railwaty. Dead hand of Thatcherite dogmas must be challenged by left, right and genuine political liberals. The alternative is bleak

Robin Carmody said...

Out of interest, Roland, what kind of pop/rock music do you like?

As a good Tory I suspect your tastes would run firmly to the Coldplays and Keanes of this world, perhaps occasionally slumming it with children of privilege such as Lady Gaga (who I do sort of like but only dispassionately) - i.e. the sort of people who pose no threat to the elite and would pretty much monopolise the playlists of *any* commercialised pop station.

I agree that daytime output on Radios 1 & 2 could perhaps take more risks (though there is always the problem that the very same people who now shout "dumbing down" would shout "elitist" should the BBC take the fabled "Himalayan option" ... part of me almost wishes it *had* become another PBS/NPR after 1993/4), but the fact is that the market could simply never sustain the specialist output on those stations, let alone 6Music and especially 1Xtra, which provides a platform for those otherwise disenfranchised by established media and established ideas of even "Britain", let alone "England". It is imperative that the range of public service broadcasting be kept as wide as possible - there are many publics who deserve to be served. It's a fine Butskellite principle of mutual tolerance, whose survival should be cherished - 1Xtra listeners and Radio 4 listeners, Asian Network listeners and Radio 3 listeners, fund each other's programmes. It works against social narrowness *at each extreme* and wherever it comes from, against a mentality of race war and class war - that simply *has* to be a good thing. If Moyles, Evans or Wright provide the mass-market popularity which ensures heavy Sky viewers don't resent paying the licence fee, and therefore all those other subsets of British society which the market ignores and freezes out can still be catered for, I'm even prepared to tolerate *those* three.

Of course, Roland - and all other Tories - would probably love to shut the voices of 1Xtra up. That alone is reason to defend it (because it will probably be Cameron's first target). There *is* a legitimate case that the BBC's stations could (as national FM networks are in many other countries) be accommodated in a much smaller part of the FM band, allowing national commercial FM pop stations to exist alongside them ... but the entirely true catalogue of minority tastes being marginalised by the market which Jock chronicles must surely prove that when everything is left to the market genuine choice is, if anything, *reduced*, not increased. Ditto XFM, Kiss and, ironically, Choice FM itself. The market has its place. But it cannot - *must not* - be total.

Neil Clark said...

thanks for the comments, everyone.
mr piccolo: many thanks for your kind words. in answer to your question: I agree with you 100%- we need to make sure that there is democratic management of the newly re-nationalised companies. We need to ensure that these companies are genuinely owned and controlled by the public- and not by some political appointees. It's not enough simply to renationalise these companies, they must be brought under genuine democratic control.

jack said...

Eastern Europe Watch

It is more than that in regards to major foreign policy issues in countries like Russia, Serbia and other countries. I always found there reporting on Israel on the whole to be quite critical.

During the whole Litvenenko affair the BBC and the British media as a whole acted as a PR outlet for Berezovsky even when the narrative changed and Litvenenkos Italian counterpart was arrested in Italy for arms smuggling who he and Litvenenko provided reports on the FSB to the EU parliament.

The BBC documentary The Godfathers in the Oligarchs was a joke (which turns out was produced by a Rothschild owned production company) you would never know with Berezovsky being the worst which he garnered his fortune through murder, blackmail and his connections to organised crime and Chechen terrorist groups. As Forbes 96 article put it:

“ The Forbes article, entitled "The Godfather of the Kremlin," was printed with no byline for fear of violent retribution to its authors. "Berezovsky," noted the magazine's editor, James Michaels, "stands tall as one of the most powerful men in Russia. Behind him lies a trail of corpses, uncollected debts and competitors terrified for their lives."

"Assassination is a tool of business competition. Scores of business leaders and media personalities have been killed ... Berezovsky controls Russia's biggest national TV network. His control was solidified shortly after the first chairman of the network was assassinated gangland style.
Berezovsky was immediately fingered by the police as a key suspect, but the murder remains unsolved two years later ... Such is the Russian business environment today that the men at the top have use for the shadowy army of killers and thugs who work further down in the scale of corruption, running prostitute and protection rackets."

In Serbia they totally take an anti-Serb position like during the Kosovo conflict showing a KLA torture den complete with chainsaw as Serbian and continually repeat old lies about Milosevic and the Serbs during the Balkans wars.

In Iran on the BBC news online website site they edited a picture of an Ahmadinejad rally to look like pro-opposition rally.

neil craig said...

I would like to see the BBC reduced to the equivalent of Network Rail - running the broadcasting aerials & auctioning off airtime so that slots are available to the highest bider & there is no uniform BBC line. That includes, indeed specially includes, "News" broadcasts - we have had long enough of these people pushing government fascist lies.

I'm sure I would not like all the new programmes, but then that is rather the point.