Archive for December, 2010

22nd Dec 2010

Media v. Politics, or… Murdoch v. Cable


So Con-Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable declares war on Murdoch’s News Corporation – and then gets removed from the responsibility of deciding whether the global media conglomeration should be allowed to take over BSkyB (it is currently the 39%-majority shareholder in Britain’s largest subscription TV company). The quasi-judicial responsibility has been passed to Culture and Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt (yes, that was Hunt).

All of which puts Hunt/Cameron/Clegg in an awkward spot, not to mention Cable. If Hunt chooses to reinforce Coalition solidarity by taking the same view as Cable, he risks the wrath of Murdoch and the real possibility that The Times/The Sunday Times/The Sun/News of the World will switch political allegiance to Labour. Ed Miliband was quick to exploit the Cable/Murdoch conflict yesterday by forcing Cameron’s hand - it was a calculated and brilliant piece of politicking, likely to find favour with News Corp’s senior editiorial gatekeepers.

On the other hand, Hunt has gone on the record expressing his admiration for Murdoch – and senior Conservatives likewise hostile to the state-subsidised-public-service-broadcasting model will urge Hunt to go with his instincts. The previous Labour Government, including Hunt’s predecessor at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw, were openly critical of News Corp, so it would be bad form for the present regime to be seen to follow suit. But, of course, if Hunt does a U-turn vis-a-vis Cable, that will leave Vince fuming and Con-Dem exposed to more internal fractions.

WATCH THIS SPACE!!! The inextricable – and crucial – link between politicians and media corporations is no better demonstrated than right now…

UPDATE 24/12 – I do think Cable has got a valid point about how the covert investigative journalism behind the recording of his private remarks, to what he supposed were ordinary constituents, undermines MPs’ relations with Joe Public. Undercover reporting fosters a culture of fear among front-line public figures. A few years ago I did a radio interview in the wake of Sven-Goran Eriksson falling victim to similar journalistic trickery at the hands of reporters disguised as Arab businessmen. My culture of fear pov was countered by the presenter, who argued that famous people should expect the sort of treatment dished out off the back of questionable media ethics. Of course, the presenter was a journalist herself – birds of a feather, flock together and all that…

In the arena of academic social research, by stark contrast, covert investigations of almost every kind are deemed entirely unethical by professional organisations like the British Sociological Association. The embedding of trust and integrity among the researchers and the researched are key. Media organisations justify pushing the limits of ethical conduct by arguing that their reportage is in the public interest. But while the public interest may be partially satisfied at any given moment in time, the culture of fear that subsequently intensifies throughout the public sphere simply leads to a future marred by tighter press controls, more stringent PR/legal protection against exposure to scandals, and greater distanciation between political/public figures and the public at large. Which is the greater vice: ethical discipline  or professional distrust?

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20th Dec 2010

Prof Philip M Taylor

On the 6th December Philip Taylor, Professor of International Communications at Leeds University, died of cancer. Back in 1998-99, when I studied for an MA at the Institute of Communications Studies, he was its Director. Phil’s lectures on international communications were well-received – he had a flare for challenging and provocative public speech. His views were often controversial and paid no heed to the latest fads or spin-doctored sound bites. I recall one lecture in which he blew away the American cultural imperialism thesis in one fell swoop. Responding to a student’s comments about the malign global power of US media, Phil picked up a newspaper, sought out the TV guide, and then demonstrated how US exports actually made up a relatively small proportion of that day’s viewing schedule – hardly featuring at all during prime time. He was always critical of US/Western media and communications, but never took the easy-way-out; was never anti-American or anti-globalisation per se.

An historian of propaganda and psychological warfare among other things, Phil passed on his expertise to researchers, postgraduate students and military establishments across the world. His books on war and the media, notably Munitions of the Mind (3rd edition, 2003), War and the Media (2nd edition, 1998) and Global Communications, International Affairs and the Media since 1945 (1997), will stand the test of much time.

His long-standing website is well worth a visit, as is the site set up for tributes to him.

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17th Dec 2010

Peace at Leeds Met

After weeks of walk-outs, sit-ins and shut-downs, this week Peace finally arrived at Leeds Met. David Peace, that is, author of The Damned United and the Red Riding quartet among other novels. Actually, Peace postponed the original date of his visit to the School of Cultural Studies because it clashed with student protests – a touching gesture by a highly political writer.

Peace began by reading the opening sequence of The Damned United, his acclaimed story of Brian Clough’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United. You may have seen the film, which is piss-poor, but the novel is gripping and also very funny (I recommend it). Then he read the ending of GB84, a violent and disturbing account of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, and another fine example of Peace weaving fiction with historical fact. Both readings were enhanced by the author’s deadpan Ossett dialect. The chair of the event, Dr Tom Herron, set the tone for discussion with this pertinent remark about Peace rewriting the occult history of Yorkshire. 

This is the most potent theme evoked in Peace’s novels – that tension between history and cultural memory. Peace revealed that he spends around 12 months researching the period about which he intends to write – a meticulous task, made more impressive given that almost all his tales are post-1970. Here is very contemporary history, within reach of many living people’s memories, but just far enough gone to allow scope for uncertainty, romanticism and mythology.

When I read Peace’s first novels, the later-named Red Riding books, my immediate theoretical instincts drifted towards Fredric Jameson’s perspective on the disappearance of individual style. Jameson’s cultural logic of late capitalism states that aesthetic – and highly commodified – pseudo-versions of the past come to disrupt, and ultimately replace, documentary-like histories that claim to be true and authentic. In the battle between originality and what Jameson terms intertextuality (texts that borrow elements from, and frankly plagiarise, other texts), the latter always wins through. The outcome of this postmodernist state of affairs is the commercialisation of nostalgia texts (retro films, music, architecture, furniture, etc.) and the emergence of pastiche. Pastiche is the art of imitating existing forms of art without acknowledging their existence.

Pastiche, in Peace’s work, amounts to an imitation of true events and true lives to create a wholly alternative (fictional) past that effectively – though it may not wish to – engages in a rewriting of real history. To be crude, the headline in the figurative Postmodern Times might read something like this:


Given this dislocation of time and memory, I would hazard a view that Peace is an important writer, not just of past times, but of our times too. His rich evocation of 1970s and 1980s pop culture is worth the price of his books alone. Indeed, he brings all of this media, music, sport and culture even closer to the here-and-now than it already is, what with all those latest cover versions, tribute acts, time-detective TV dramas, vintage clothes, retro football shirts and so on. In Yorkshire-speak, we may well ask: what year’s this anyroad?

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08th Dec 2010

Michael Wesch

A fascinating – and amusing – presentation by media/cultural anthropologist Dr Michael Wesch, on the changing dynamics of new media and modes of critical thinking…

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02nd Dec 2010

World Cup Bid: so we lost, stop sulking for chrissake…

STOP PRESS – ORIENTALIST DISCOURSE RUN RIOT! Xenophobic media reporting of the decision to give Russia – not Eng-er-land! – the 2018 World Cup paints a sorry picture of sports journalism in this country. And the BBC – only too happy to broadcast a Panorama special on Fifa corruption just days before the big vote – has been one of the worst culprits. Peter Allen on 5 Live offered pathetic criticism – rendering Qatar (winners of the 2022 bid) unfit to host the tournament, and snuggling up to the ineffectual Cameron/Windsor/Beckham triumvirate as if the sun shone out of their Etonian/Leytonstonian backsides. Unsurprisingly, Talksport’s xenophobia reached fever pitch, with Russia and Qatar described as dangerous and not footballing countries. Such reportage says nothing about the fair-minded, cosmopolitan, multicultural, mixed-up people we English/Brits are – and always have been. Come to think of it, those right-honourable representatives hardly represent the nation either.

Personally, I’m delighted for Russia and Qatar – they’ve never hosted the World Cup (England has) and both countries sit in TV-friendly timezones, not too far behind Asia/China nor too far ahead of the West. Plus they need the investment – we don’t. We’ve got the Olympics (and we can’t afford them) – so let’s not expect too much of a world beyond our shores that looks on us, quite justifiably, as an arrogant and rather isolated island still harping on about its glorious history and wonderful heritage… not to mention the colonial aggression, rampant imperialism, slavery, territorial theft, rape, pillage and so on. 

Anyway, by the look of things, we might just see off Nepal’s vertical pitch and win the bid for 2050 – by which time I’ll be in my seventies, with a place in the sun (as opposed to the snow), and football will have been re-branded (for the nth time) a whole new ball game (the Premier League/News Corp affair will be so, so yesterday – we won’t even recall, or be reminded of, who won all those PL titles!).

UPDATE 3/12 – UK NEWSPAPER FRONT PAGES: The Sun – Russia bunged World Cup… The Daily Mail: Was it a stitch up?… The Times: Frozen Out [a reference to the voting as well as the weather]… and most Orientalist/impartial/racist of them all, The Daily Mirror: SOLD – RUSSIA, a Mafia state rotten to the core with corruption, QATAR, a medieval kingdom with no freedom of speech, Both are swimming in oil money…

No surprises – sad but true, you would expect our press to engage in such sensationalist, emotive garb. But I reiterate my point made earlier in this post – you wouldn’t expect the BBC and other major broadcasters to take the same line. Newspapers aimed at 9-year-old readerships are one thing – public service media aimed at a more mature and diverse audience are quite another. No wonder there’s been a blacklash against xenophobic reportage voiced across social media and the odd broadcasting platform (including the 5 Live phone-in) this morning.

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