Saturday, November 26, 2005 

Murdoch: arrogant, pompous and self-deluded.

Oh, the joys of being a media billionaire. No one respects you, according to Mr Rupert Murdoch. In a interview with the Press Gazette, now run by a certain Piers "Morgan" Moron, a former editor of the News of the Screws, he lashes out at nearly everything and everyone in a Mr Burns-esque way, saying that no one loves him or understands him.

His influence extends across the globe: from Fox in the US to Star TV in Asia, and the Sun and Sky in the UK. He is courted by presidents and prime ministers, and his personal fortune is estimated at $7.8bn, or £4.53bn. But Mr Murdoch still does not feel he gets the respect his achievements deserve, using his first British interview in five years to complain about the "resentment" he inspired at the BBC and the "establishment forces" ranged against him.

In the interview with the trade magazine, Press Gazette, Mr Murdoch said that his bloody showdown with the print unions in 1986 over his decision to sack them overnight and move to then state-of-the-art presses at Wapping had been an "absolute turning point for Fleet Street and the whole of the newspaper industry". As the first private firm to take on the unions and win, it secured the future of many of his rivals which would have otherwise gone to the wall.

"I'm certainly very, very proud of it. And it'll be part of my legacy. It was only 20 years ago, but people are already forgetting it," he told Press Gazette, now co-owned by his son-in-law, PR man Matthew Freud, and celebrating its 40th anniversary this week.

Mr Murdoch, whose News International division owns the Sun, the News of the World, the Times, and the Sunday Times, said that it was because he had been "fairly radical" and "an agent for change" that his achievements were not appreciated by his peers.

He said there were "three or four major benefits that I've done in Britain": breaking the hegemony of the unions at Wapping; "introducing competition in the popular press" by taking on Hugh Cudlipp's Daily Mirror with a revitalised Sun in 1969; "dragging the Times into the modern age" since buying it in 1981; and launching Sky television in 1989.

It was the success of the satellite broadcaster, which dominates the pay-TV industry and has almost 8 million subscribers, that so infuriated his enemies, he claimed. "Sky put the whole of the broadcasting establishment against me, and particularly the BBC. They had 240 people in their public affairs department at one stage who did nothing but lobby for legislation against Sky, and were a constant pain," he complained. Mr Murdoch has long been dismissive of the BBC's right to licence fee funding, and scathing on the UK's regulatory environment, despite rule changes that have worked in his favour over the years. "Sky is doing very well. It will do a lot better. And as it does, the resentment from the establishment forces will only grow stronger," he predicted of the firm 37%-owned by News Corp and run by his son, James.

Mr Murdoch has a close relationship with New Labour. Tony Blair assiduously courted him before he became prime minister; in a memoir of his time as Mirror editor, Piers Morgan (who also now co-owns Press Gazette) said No 10 frequently tipped off the Sun before rivals.

Mr Murdoch predicted that the Tory leadership race would result in a stronger Conservative front bench, leading to some "interesting politics". He declined to be drawn on whether his titles would switch their support to the Conservatives in time for the next general election, but his right-hand man, Irwin Stelzer, has gone on record with his misgivings at the prospect of Gordon Brown as prime minister.

Most have assumed that James, who, despite the nepotism controversy that surrounded his appointment, is seen to have done a good job during his two years at Sky, is in pole position to take over from his father in due course. But Mr Murdoch Snr hinted that Elisabeth, who is married to Mr Freud, and left Sky to launch her own independent production business, and Lachlan, who acrimoniously parted from his father's company earlier this year, would return to the family firm.

"I don't think I've heard of any heir to a newspaper company who ever wanted to walk away from it. Children of major media people - generally, I wouldn't say universally - want to be part of it," he said.

Let's just start with his three or four "major benefits" that he's brought Britain. First off the bat is his breaking of the unions, when he sacked the lot of him and moved to his at the time revolutionary printing presses. Before then, print unions it has to be said were a troublesome lot. They were quick to strike and they occasionally refused to print some material, such as an infamous Sun front page which depicted Arthur Scargill as Hitler. But at this time the unions were under incredible pressure already, as the Tories passed more and more draconian legislation that effectively destroyed trade unionism in this country. It has yet to recover, and probably never will. Some may say this is and was a good thing. Others would disagree. While Murdoch was a trend-setter, he was no means the revolutionary who broke the unions back.

Second then is his taking on of the Daily Mirror under Hugh Cudlipp, when he bought the Sun in 1969. The Sun responded to the Mirror by going further down-market; the creation of page 3, sex scandals and treating politicians, especially Labour and the unions with contempt. As the sales of this new Sun rose, the Mirror, which although populist always has retained some serious high-brow journalism, followed the race to the bottom. It introduced its own Page 3, now long since thankfully removed. It went through the distressing period of having Robert Maxwell as its owner, who plundered the pensions fund. In short, a home for the working class consciousness outside the unions was largely destroyed. The Mirror has never recovered, despite many re-launches. It now sells less than 2 million copies a day, compared to the Sun's 3,300,000. The shame is that the Mirror's journalism has always been far superior to the Sun's, breaking many more important stories and scandals than the Sun ever has. Yet thanks to Murdoch's race to the bottom which he refers to as competition, the British tabloid press is now rightly seen as one of the most grotesque in the Western world. It isn't called the Street of Shame for nothing.

His third claim is of dragging the Times into the modern age since buying it in 1981. Well, he certainly has done that. What was once the house paper of the establishment is now a shadow of its former self. Transformed recently into a tabloid with little debate and angering a lot of readers, it has along with the Telegraph moved more into the realm of the Daily Mail than the serious broadsheet it once was. Its once highly regarded editor, Simon Jenkins recently jumped ship to the Guardian. Its banner above the masthead once this week was "HOW TO IMPRESS HER IN THE KITCHEN". As commented on, it was something you would have thought unbelievable to be in the Times. As for the Sunday Times, beloved and heavily rewarded at one time for its serious and hard-working investigative journalist team, Insight, it is also a shadow of its former self. While it continues to sell well, again the competition now comes from the left-of-centre papers, with the Observer and Indie on Sunday being felt superior, despite smaller sales. The recent imposition of Sarah Sands as editor of the Sunday Torygraph has led to it being renamed the Sunday Tottygraph and Sunday Hellograph, especially due to its apparent attempts to gain female readers through its new magazine Stella. The serious journalism of the past has been replaced with the tracking of desperate women who have gone to Spain to get late-term abortions unavailable here, with moralism ringing from its every ink-stained letter. The less said about Murdoch's other newspaper, the News of the World (Screws) the better.

His last claim to lasting change in Britain is his launching of satellite television in Britain as Sky. While it has undoubtedly brought benefits to Britain, with easy access to 24-rolling news channels and specialist channels unavailable to the average person with a TV licence who can get 5 channels, it also brought plenty of trouble in its wake. It can be argued that the buying up of all the rights to showing football games, especially in the top division, has led to the game becoming filled with overpaid players, watched only by those who can afford it. Tickets to games now start at around £20 a piece. The huge amounts of money from Murdoch have changed the game, and many would say for the worse. The recent buy-up of all the rights to cricket tests involving England has produced an angry response, just as the England win in the Ashes has led to a resurgence of interest in the game. Inevitably, the Sky channels have also resulted in a dash to the bottom of the barrel in television standards. With channels only supported by advertising revenue, the rise of reality TV, makeover shows, lifestyle programmes and even tarot card reading and "psychic" channels has been relentless. This is to ignore the distortions of Murdoch's ventures overseas, especially the nature of his notorious Fox News channel.

Through all this, Murdoch claims that he is resented by the BBC and other certain parts of the establishment. This is more or less based on how Murdoch has waged war against the BBC in his newspapers ever since he first bought into this country. He doesn't believe in the licence fee or public service broadcasting. That takes money away from his hands. As for the establishment forces against him, the Labour party which once hated him is now entirely in his pocket. It is widely alleged and believed that Blair decided to change his mind on having a referendum on the European constitution because Murdoch told him unless he did, the Sun and Times would once again support the Tories. Blair meekly obliged, only for the French and Dutch voters to reject the treaty and save his bacon.

Put simply, Murdoch is a megalomanic. He seeks and craves power. He pays very little in tax (He became a US citizen for this purpose). He now controls one of the most powerful media empires in the world, able of smearing anyone which gets in its way, and it has in its pocket many of the world's politicians. Yet this interview shows just how pathetic this man is. He isn't content with what he has, and he blames others who've dared to oppose his manipulation, conservative values and bottom of the barrel journalism for it. In reality, he's an old man who in ten years will most likely be dead. His empire will crumble, and his so-called legacy will be forgotten. Like Blair, he seems obsessed with history. And like Blair, I think history will judge him harshly.

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Friday, November 25, 2005 

Farewell George Best.

He's dead, so can everyone now shut up about it? Thanks.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005 

Sluts and Napoleon.

France's supposed dedication to liberty, equality and fraternity seems to be a little limited when a rapper dares to voice the opinion of some of the underclass:

A French court agreed yesterday to consider a complaint brought by a conservative MP against the rapper Monsieur R for referring to France as a slut in a song.

The court in Melun, south of Paris, said it would rule early next year on the complaint filed by Daniel Mach, MP for the Pyrénées Orientales, who said he had the backing of 150 MPs but was bringing the action "on my own personal account, because I feel assaulted by these insults. They are a real attack on the dignity of France and of the state."

The MP, the latest in a long line of people to object to French rap lyrics since the early 1990s, added: "I want to grab society's attention, to show it that everything could just explode when an audience that is already fragile listens to such songs."

Mr Mach alleged that on the song FranSSe, from Monsieur R's latest album Politikment Incorrekt, Monsieur R - whose real name is Richard Makela - raps: "France is a bitch, don't forget to fuck her till she's exhausted/You have to treat her like a slut, man." At another point, Mr Makela says: "I piss on Napoleon and on General de Gaulle."

If convicted, the rapper faces up to three years in prison and a fine of €€75,000 (£51,000). "As soon as a rapper expresses himself, bizarrely, everyone launches into him," he told the France Soir newspaper yesterday. "There are plenty of songs that are part of this country's artistic heritage and every bit as virulently anti-France, and nobody complains."

While Monsieur R is not going to win any poetry prizes for his verse, it seems a little harsh that he may well be imprisoned for 3 months for articulating what some feel about the hypocrisy of the French system. From the establishment of the republic based on those famous 3 principles, all 3 have been broken consistently.

The most recent egregious breaking was the banning of religious clothing or jewelry on state premises, under separation of church and state and on the basis that the nation is secular. A decent argument, but not one which should have become law. The authoritarian stance of some of France's politicians not only over these two issues, but also over the riots which have subsided somewhat is worrying. It's worth remembering that Jean Marie Le Pen, leader of the National Front, beat the socialist contender into third place in the presidential election. All these measures seem to be handing more ammo to the far-right, and with the French left notoriously split between Communists, Greens, Trotskyists and the main Socialist but economically liberal party (although like the right it heavily supports subsidies for the farmers), the upcoming elections could see a drastic shift to the right which could effect the whole of Europe.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005 

Official Secrets Act threatened against newspapers over Bush memo.

I think this must pretty much confirm that it's true:

The attorney general last night threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of a document allegedly relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq.

It is believed to be the first time the Blair government has threatened newspapers in this way. Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, last night referred editors to newspaper reports yesterday that described the contents of a memo purporting to be at the centre of charges against two men under the secrets act.

Under the front-page headline "Bush plot to bomb his ally", the Daily Mirror reported that the US president last year planned to attack the Arabic television station al-Jazeera, which has its headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where US and British bombers were based.

Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: "We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish and were given 'no comment' officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act]".

Under section 5 it is an offence to have come into the possession of government information, or a document from a crown servant, if that person discloses it without lawful authority. The prosecution has to prove the disclosure was damaging.

And that may well prove difficult. This memo only seems damaging to Bush - Blair for once comes off well, as according to the Mirror Blair made clear how idiotic such an act would be. Not only would it be an attack on an ally country, it would be an attack on the freedom of the press worldwide. Al-Jazeera is actually the most balanced Arabic news-station by quite some margin, and has recently signed up some notable western figures, including Sir David Frost. It plans to launch an English language station shortly.

More desperate however is the way in which the government has overreacted to the publishing of this memo by threatening the draconian Official Secrets Act. On the surface this is because it would bring the current case against the original leaker into contempt, but that seems like a wholly bogus argument. The government never threatened media organisations in this way over the leaks of the attorney general's legal advice over the war in Iraq. It also never took action against the Sun for leaking the findings of the Hutton inquiry - most likely because it was Alastair Campbell who did the leaking. The government seems to be taking the hard route to prevent high embarrassment to Bush at a time when things are not going well on the other side of the Atlantic.

If the memo is an actual transcript of a conversation between Bush and Blair, which seems highly likely, then it also brings back open the whole issue of the US bombing al-Jazeera in the past - in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The White House's official statement has been: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response." There have also been rumours that Bush was joking - that famed Texas droll.

We're unlikely to find out the whole truth unless someone with the memo decides to leak it onto the internet, and to be safe, to an American website. Cryptome which has obtained damaging documents and information in the past, has said it is happy to receive any information on it. Even if we do not find out the whole truth, the fact that the Bush administration seemingly saw that bombing al-Jazeera was justifiable because of their coverage of the reality in Iraq, and fear that they would show the truth of what was about to happen in Falluja, shows not only how paranoid the top wonks in Washington are, but also how they are prepared to deal with any dissent.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005 

Vote Sharon!

As so often after high-profile political incidents, Steve Bell takes the issue and deconstructs it. He's done it again.

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'War crimes within war crimes'.

George Monbiot has come up with more evidence of the US military in Falluja using horrific weapons:

But buried in this hogwash is a grave revelation. An assault weapon the marines were using had been armed with warheads containing "about 35% thermobaric novel explosive (NE) and 65% standard high explosive". They deployed it "to cause the roof to collapse and crush the insurgents fortified inside interior rooms". It was used repeatedly: "The expenditure of explosives clearing houses was enormous."

The marines can scarcely deny that they know what these weapons do. An article published in the Gazette in 2000 details the effects of their use by the Russians in Grozny. Thermobaric, or "fuel-air" weapons, it says, form a cloud of volatile gases or finely powdered explosives. "This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure ... Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 metres per second ... As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal haemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets." It is hard to see how you could use these weapons in Falluja without killing civilians.

This looks to me like a convincing explanation of the damage done to Falluja, a city in which between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians might have been taking refuge. It could also explain the civilian casualties shown in the film. So the question has now widened: is there any crime the coalition forces have not committed in Iraq?

It seems strange that it has taken a year for the really damaging stories to come out about what really happened in Falluja. While there was uproar about the footage of a soldier executing a man who was clearly alive (he was subsequently cleared of course), and mutterings on blogs and elsewhere, it's needed some research to uncover the little which we know have. Who knows whether we will ever learn the truth of what happened in Falluja, or how many years it will take until we do. To take Monbiot's closing question further: is it possible anything worse will be uncovered?

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Sun-watch: Asylum seekers did it!

Here's today's completely non-prejudicial Sun front page, revealing that those being questioned about the murder of Bradford PC Sharon Beshenivsky are asylum seekers. The Sun doesn't go into what difference that makes about the whole awful case, but they can't miss a chance to blacken the name of those freeing oppression who come here. They have to make sure to get such information into the public domain as quickly as possible, in case they are charged and it then comes under contempt laws.

It doesn't look like they're going to be prosecuted, as 3 of them have now been released by the police. They now have the Sun to thank whipping up more animosity towards asylum seekers in general.

Also in Sun-watch news, Alex Ferguson has alleged that it was the Sun that bugged the Manchester United dressing room at Chelsea, and not that they were passed the tape as they said.
Following the Sun's attempts to fit-up Bruce Grobbelaar with match-fixing, it wouldn't be surprising in the least.

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Monday, November 21, 2005 

Bush in China.

A cheap shot, but how could I resist?

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Iraqi Kurds forcibly deported.

Another triumph for our caring, sharing and most of all compassionate New Labour government:

The deportees landed yesterday afternoon at the newly opened Irbil airport in northern Iraq and were given $100 (£58) each. They were reassured that they were in a "safe environment" and would be provided with transport to their home towns.

The decision to begin the long-threatened programme under cover of darkness reflects its political sensitivity. Previous attempts have been abandoned in the face of last-minute legal action and objections from the UN high commissioner for refugees.

"We can confirm that 15 Iraqi nationals with no leave to remain in the UK were removed," the Home Office said in a statement. "The government announced its intention to commence enforced returns in February 2004 and these removals bring Iraq into line with arrangements we have with other countries. All those removed were informed in advance and have been given assistance to help re-establish themselves in Iraq. It is important for the integrity of our asylum system that any individual found not to be in need of international protection should be expected to leave the UK.

"Enforced returns are on a case by case basis and only to areas assessed as sufficiently stable and where we are satisfied the individuals will not be at risk."

A quick search on the Guardian's website suggests that there's been at least 2 suicide bombings in Irbil this year. The whole of the country is still very volatile. Why are these people being deported back to countries which are by no means safe? Is this an attempt to get the figures down, and appease the tabloids press which never shuts up about spunging immigrants? Who knows, but when it endangers the lives of those who came here to escape Saddam, and when they are deported back to a country in turmoil following our enforced military liberation, don't we owe them something more?

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Association of Chief Police Officers opposes some of the government's anti-terror legislation.

From the way the government and Tony Blair in particular went on alarming about the police supported him and the government's position over 90 days detention without trial, you would have thought that he did genuinely have the backing of the police for all of his anti-terror bills proposals. Some of his wish-list was originally drawn up the police after the bomb attacks of July the 7th. Well guess what? On four points the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) opposes the bill. They are:

· Amending human rights laws to get round obstacles to new deportation rules.

· Making the justification or glorification of terrorism anywhere an offence.

· Automatically refusing asylum to anyone linked to terrorism anywhere.

· Banning the alleged extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and successor groups to al-Muhajiroun. Acpo says it knows of no intelligence to justify a Hizb ut-Tahrir ban.

In other words, apart from the 90 days, they oppose all the government's contentious proposals. "Glorification" has, and still is drafted far too broadly in the legislation and could result in the public or even journalists or commentators being arrested for saying that foreign regimes should be overthrown. Automatically refusing asylum to "anyone associated with terrorism" may well have stopped members of the African National Congress from fleeing here during the period of apartheid in South Africa. Its adoption would throw into the question the position of a least one notable opponent to Russian intervention in Chechnya, who has gained asylum here, to Russia's outrage. It would no doubt affect many others who have been falsely accused, or who have been smeared either by media, the state or intelligence services. Each case needs to be judged on its own merits. If Hizb ut-Tahrir were to be banned, why not the British National Party and/or other extreme right and left parties? Hizb ut-Tahrir are peaceful, however repugnant some may find their ideas. That cannot be said of some of the representatives whom have been put up for election for the BNP in the past.

From a BBC report:

On Sunday, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith insisted the bill was not "knee-jerk" legislation".

"The proposals in the bill do not represent overnight panic in response to the July attacks on London but are the culmination of proper policy development," he said.

He went on to argue that the danger came from "a knee-jerk reaction form the civil liberties lobby".

The civil liberties lobby now must obviously include the Apco, the Conservatives and numerous others who have condemned this draconian piece of legislation. If another attack takes place, it will not be because "the civil liberties" lobby has opposed these measures. It will be down to the incompetence of the police and intelligence services, and Blair's disastrous decision to hold President Bush's coattails. This so-called policy development happened the day before Blair went on holiday, in a typical media manipulation move while Charles Clarke was away. Before then consensus had been the key message. Now it is "it's better to do what we think is right and be defeated". What is it about this government that leads to its ministers indulging in such doublespeak? Are they gluttons for punishment, or do they genuinely believe some of this crap they call "policy?"

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