Covid-19 and the ownership and control of the media
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

Covid-19 and the ownership and control of the media

Natalie Fenton points to the need for less concentrated ownership and more democratic control of the media, in the wake of the Covid-ap pandemic. 

The media are vital purveyors of information and interrogators of power in a pandemic where a government’s decisions translate directly into lives lost or saved. In a global health crisis, the public need, more than ever, a media that will interrogate those decisions and hold power to account.

However, the sad fact is that the pandemic has exposed much of the mainstream media as being part of the system rather than its watchdog. There have been repeated examples across different media outlets of a systematic failure to interrogate government responses. Instead, media outlets merely amplify the official statements from endless, bland press briefings.

These daily briefings churn out what we used to call propaganda but now refer to as PR. The government has explicitly sought to restrict media challenge and scrutiny by refusing to put forward ministers or representatives to go on news programmes such as Radio 4’s Today Programme. It has also barred certain journalists from asking questions at their press briefings in order to discredit critical reporting – actively seeking to punish and freeze out watchdog journalism.

BBC journalists also have to worry about possible government funding cuts. Reporting accurately on your own paymaster has always been a problem for political journalism, but particularly so when the government is all too willing to be the playground bully. So when Dominic Cummings ignored the rules of lockdown and outraged the nation, Radio 4 gave his wife a spot to explain how kind he is.

Newspapers have also played the game to their advantage. With many of them facing economic meltdown due to the collapse in advertising revenue, the News Media Association (representing most of the largest and wealthiest media organisations) lobbied government for their own bailout. The result has been government underwriting of large corporate media to the tune of £35m through advertising and paid-for content under the rubric of ‘we are all in this together’. 

The advertising looks like public health campaign material. But the paid-for content that tells the reader that the government is doing a pretty good job looks like any other article, just tagged with an additional health warning that “this advertiser content was paid for by the UK government”.

In the UK, this is particularly ironic given that the press campaigned extensively against effective (independent) regulation on the basis that it would lead to unwarranted state ‘intrusion’ into the industry. Many of them are still paying out millions of pounds settling phone hacking cases – so this £35m subsidy of taxpayers’ money is in effect contributing to phone hacking settlements.

Meanwhile, virtually none of the paid-for content is going to small independent news organisations, even though they lobbied for their fair share.  As a result many of these will struggle to survive.

Alternative models of ownership and control

Coverage of the pandemic has revealed mainstream media to be an explicit channel for government PR spin, further propelling the revolving door between major news organisations and the government. Boris Johnson worked for the Telegraph and the Times. Michael Gove was a Times journalist. George Osborne became editor of the London Evening Standard. Allegra Stratton’s recent appointment as Rushi Sunak’s director of strategic communications is a friend of Dominic Cummings, and was national editor of ITV news and political editor of Newsnight. The list goes on.

What can we do about it? The deep entanglement of media power and political power is self-serving. Government favours large corporate media because they are dominant – and they retain their dominance because the government favours them. Concentration of media ownership keeps this relationship intact. So we must legislate for more plurality of media ownership, to create a sustainable communications environment that is innovative, diverse and fully independent of vested interests (whether these are commercial or political).

We need to encourage alternative models of media ownership such as cooperatives and employee buyouts, that promote equality and financial security of journalists over profit-making and shareholder returns, and serve a far wider range of needs and more diverse set of interests.

We also need more democratic, diverse and accountable public sector broadcasting. Over the last three decades the independence of the BBC has been steadily eroded and its programme making increasingly commercialised. In recent years, its funding has been severely cut and its programming has become increasingly conservative. Public service content needs to be delivered through modern, democratised public platforms and networks and to operate autonomously of government and the market.

Without these changes, our mainstream media will remain far too complicit with elite political power to do the job they are supposed to do. And in a global health crisis, a failure to scrutinise government mismanagement could literally mean life or death for thousands of people.

This is the latest in the series of articles on the effects of the pandemic on culture, published jointly with the Morning Star.

A World Beater
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

A World Beater

Published in Poetry
 World Beating (or – Boris Johnson's Wet Dream)
by Martin Rowson, with image by Martin Gollan
I wanna be a
    World beater,
    World beater
    World Beater
    Woad Botha
    Veldt Pouter
    White Buddha
And a
    World beater
And though I'm just a
    Wet bleater
    Warped boaster
    Windy Bunter
    Wild banter
Gonna make me a
    World beater
    World breeder
    Whack butter
    Wank blotters
Gonna be a 
    World beater
A fucking
    World beater
    World belter
    Would batter
    World, bladdered
And make the
    World bleed
Until the
    World's bitter
And the
    Welts blister
Cos I'm a
    World beater
    World Beater
    World Beater
    World beater
Who's gonna beat that sorry World red, white

    Black and blue.

 The PM's Chief Adviser Addresses His Critics
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

 The PM's Chief Adviser Addresses His Critics

Published in Poetry

The PM's Chief Adviser Addresses His Critics

by David Betteridge, with image by Martin Gollan

My eyes are dim, I cannot see.
Come wife, come child,
and drive with me!

To drive at speed on public roads
may remedy my sight.
If not, and we get mangled in a crash,
it proves my first assessment right.

I cannot see how anyone can think my judgement or my actions wrong;
but if you do, heigh ho! I do not care.
I carry on, and on, for you are weak,
and I - prepared to boldly, blindly drive,
unstoppably - am strong.

Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24


Published in Poetry


by Mark Kirkbride

Contagion wants to shake your hand. Now you’re ‘it’
and you don’t even know it. When everyone else
could see it coming, the Prime Minister dismissed it.
With more time to prepare than most around the world,
he squandered it all, sleep-walking into disaster
with missed COBRA meetings, warnings disregarded,
then talk of ‘herd immunity’ and ‘losing loved ones
before their time’ as if sacrificing the sick
and vulnerable to a lottery of death
was a plan. Now the Government’s playing catch-up
to avoid a backlash as a silent wave of death
sweeps the country, taking mums, dads, husbands, grans, thousands
upon thousands more than the official figure
because if you weren’t tested you didn’t die of it.
The dead nurses, who worked 12-hour shifts, caught it
on their own time, not due to binbag PPE
after the hollowing out of the NHS.
You see, the Conservatives are super-spreaders
of lies. The problem is, they just don’t care. They read us
to see how normal human beings should react.
So take off your Brexit blinkers. COVID – the Tories
are on it, they’re all over it, it’s on them, they own it.

The Unopened University: Stay Alert, Boris!
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

The Unopened University: Stay Alert, Boris!

Published in Poetry

Overacting, or The Unopened University

by David Erdos

And so the Unopen University fails as its peri-pathetic
Lecturer garbles. Transmitting graphs and equations
That would set the mathematically untrigged into spin;

A series of mixed ratios equal R over the rate of dissent
Subdivided, before what is in blue times the yellow,
Can, to the power of shite, infect twins. Or some other

Nonsense that shows no clarity, only static,
As hints were leaked of announcements that would
Returns us all to clear air. Before a broadcast that singed

Everyone confused, watching. By a form of brute
Aping Churchill, with a delivery so emphatic
That it seemed to press once wild hair. ‘Stay Alert’,

He said. Where? And how for that matter.
Alert at home or out jogging now that apparently
We all can? But just as long as we’re related? I see.

Or rather I don’t. What’s the question? Are we to now
Jog with passports, or have our DNA stamped across us
As the Street Block Corona Bill tests for clans?

Those who can’t work at home can go to work,
But must bike there. So does that mean as I say
This that the Tour de London streets that were

Empty will now resemble that famous race
Through the Alps? Or will millions of builders
Now walk from one far away zone to another,

While at the same time keeping distance
From the clatter of traffic, and the greasing
Of wheels. I have doubts. I have proper visions

Now of the past as pennyfarthings crest above
Scooters. I see pony traps, horse and carriage
Crammed across Kilburn High Road. And on

The Uxbridge Road a relay from Hillingdon
Down to Acton, as frustrated plumbers
Stop and start and stop. Hope’s borrowed.

Tonight’s lecturer stunned with his lack of clarity
And false promise. It was a tease, a temptation
To make the rabbits twitch in the hutch.

Hotel owners despaired, along with restaurateurs
And pub landlords. As others had no idea
Of what happens when you have moved so far

Beyond what’s enough. Give the public what
They want is the trick, while you in fact
Give them nothing. People will not be as tidy

As you think or expect them to be. For further
Traps can be set if you encourage past
Experience as nostalgia in yet another attempt

To win over, the fact deprived who stay squeezed.
The toothpaste tube empties out, as does the piggy
Banks and the wallet. Those eager to live risk reversals

If a false start yanks their frail lead. And Scotland
Does not agree, along with Wales and Ireland.
A four nation state hung, drawn and quartered,

Along these badly sketched lines can’t be freed.
Stay Alert: More design from the slogan smeared
Cummings. Stay Alert Twats is more like it, as you

Can see the sneer as he writes, on his little
Whiteboard, or iphone, containing pictures perhaps
Of the gravestones, each empty space filled

With scribble, which is conditional, naturally.
And so the rhetoric came. And the lecture screen
Remained empty. Devoid of real information

He talked to us, liminally. Everything remained
Vague or faint despite the overarchedness
Of his acting. He was both Henry the Fluff

And a Falsestaff roaming around ruined fields.
Which he almost ‘Blaked’ or ‘Dunkirked,’

As he tried to rouse the long fallen. Who must not
Rise but keep rocking. Pass our tests to keep failing.
Numb yourselves down. That’s the deal.

Let Us Face the Future
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

Let Us Face the Future

Published in Poetry

ronavirusLet Us Face the Future

by Chris Nash

Common and apart, we stand in defiant windows,
Each in a viral, personal Grenfell, care of,
we’re refugees like all the rest, too late we know
our land’s no longer ours, beyond the heal of love:

An invisible hand locks our lives in data series,
all the roads we assembled to the future together,
are needlessly dissolved in self-inflicted fevers
to end in malls, they commandeer as mortuaries.

The poorest she that is in England screams for relief,
ghosts of daffodils shake masked heads in disbelief:
When and how did we allow our golden western isles
to be consumed cut-price, in death’s supermarket aisle?

From the doorstep shore, oh yes, we’ll clap our NHS,
Remembering whose 21 votes stopped its progress
We will rise, raise our eyes from TV’s slumbering view,
to see from island isolation, over white cliffs, a world anew.

Author's Notes:

Let Us Face the Future was the title of the Labour Party’s visionary 1945 Election Manifesto.
‘Ghosts of daffodils’ is an echo of Wordsworth’s vision of our holy, golden islands.
The Tories voted 21 times to stop the passage of the NHS legislation. Winston ‘Boris’ Churchill said it ‘was the first step to turn Britain into a National Socialist economy’.
‘The poorest she that is in England’ is an echo of the famous words of Thomas Rainsborough in the Putney Debates 1647.
‘TV slumber’ is an echo of the revolutionary lines of Percy Shelley in The Masque of Anarchy 1819 - ‘Rise like lions after slumber’.

RIP - the criminal Tory lack of preparation, and mishandling of our people - more St Bodge than St George.

Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24


Published in Poetry


by Sally Flint

'I owe them my life.' - Boris Johnson, thanking NHS staff.

It's early morning: no-one speaks. Not yet.
Yellow's Orthopaedics, pink Paediatrics,
purple Chemo ‒ not enough aqua for A&E,
so there's a sharing out of ICU's blues.

They've sat with the dying beyond shifts,
high-fived and hugged each other for the ventilated
dads, mums, daughters, sons, brought back.
Now, in handovers with bleary-eyed night-staff,

they dread further shortages coming.
It'll take more than a pandemic to examine
if the 'public purse', can pay those on 'the frontline'
enough to 'put food on their tables', settle their debts.

Nurses always applaud patient recoveries,
know sometimes it's a word, a touch, saves
a life. It's not about colours. They know politicians
who clapped loudly when blocking their pay rise.
Some dream of a future government unmasked.

After Lockdown
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

After Lockdown

Published in Poetry

After Lockdown

By Christopher Norris, with images by Martin Gollan and James Gillray

No we’ll never go back to the bad old days,
To the days of corporate greed,
When the bankers thrived on their bad old ways,
And the poor folk went in need.
For when viruses strike they don’t care who pays,
Who’s the bit-part or who plays the lead,
As the thing goes into its critical phase
And the leveller gets up to speed.

Oh we’ll not go back to the years we spent
Being told that the set-up was fine,
Though the good things went to the 1%
And the crap to the 99,
While they tried to muffle the discontent
Among those at the end of the line
By treating the Coronavirus ‘event’
As just that: not for us to repine!

But we’ll not go back to their crafty tales,
To their trickery, scams and lies,
To the nincompoops raised as alpha-males,
And the hedge-fund hiking guys
Whose idea of a game-plan that never fails
Is to chase the brown-envelope prize
Till the plan goes tits-up and a long spell in gaol’s
The just sentence that never applies.

For we’ll not go back to that time before
The Coronavirus struck,
Though it struck all the harder if you were poor
Or temporarily down on your luck,
And not raking it in like those devil’s spore
Soon competing to make a fast buck
From the plagues of the time, whether sickness or war,
With us plebs as their sitting duck.

No we’ll not go back to all that again,
To the age of executive jets
And the time when we thought you could hop on a plane
And then life would be good as it gets.
For it’s now clear as day if you’ve half a brain
That the present’s no time for regrets
If the skies show blue through the windowpane
And the Sun gleams bright as it sets.

No, we’ll not go back to the days of old
When those racketeers ran the show,
When our lives were wrecked by the lies we were sold
And the rip-offs they had on the go,
While their government lackeys did what they were told
Or picked up on the quid pro quo,
And the huddling masses, left out in the cold,
Were the last ones who got to know.

Yes, I grant you, the worst time we had to get through
Was the time when that plague hit its peak,
When the doctors and nurses did all they could do
But a vaccine was still far to seek,
And we suddenly knew, as the death-figures grew,
That for many the prospects were bleak
Since we all, nervous sailors and medical crew,
Were headed up Corona Creek.

But know this: if there’s one bit of wisdom we learned,
As we fretted lest months become years,
It’s that even the worst of events can be turned
To good ends as our retrospect clears;
For there’s strength to be had from those lessons hard-earned,
From the hopes intermixed with the fears,
And the new life discerned as we lock-downers yearned
To make good on those lives in arrears.

So there’s no going back to how matters stood then,
No regressing to times gone by,
When the captains of commerce were masters of men
And their whims could decide: live or die!
Yes, we lived through the virus and told ourselves: when
This thing’s finished we’ll want to know why
The old fixers and fraudsters had done it again,
Screwed us over and wrung us out dry.

Now we’ve made sure their schemes and devices won’t come
Back and bite us, like last time around,
That the billionaires won’t get us under their thumb
Till we end up six feet underground,
That their mansion won’t tower over our little slum
Where the viral infections abound,
And that never again shall they do zero-sum
Calculation of lives to the pound.

main image

A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion, by James Gillray, 1792

Prime Ministerial Couplets
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

Prime Ministerial Couplets

Published in Poetry

Prime Ministerial Couplets

by Edward Mackinnon

Not favouring Curry
John had his way with her, but wouldn’t promote her
She was salmonella poison to the loyal Tory voter

Suppliers of corpses
His Edinburgh schooling must have taught Blair
he needed a Bush just as Burke needed Hare

Economic Braveheart
No return to boom and bust: he certainly had some baws
when he claimed he’d put an end to capitalism’s laws

Distant relative of the Royals
Though born to rule, he said he was a team player at heart
ER and PR failed him when his heartless team fell apart

Surveyor’s report
Clad with towering faith and burning conviction
her strength and stability were proved a fragile fiction

Proving Juvenal right
Classic narcissist and Olympian liar
makes lyric poets give up and turn to satire

An Eton Mess

Image by Martin Gollan

An Eton Mess
Monday, 10 August 2020 15:24

An Eton Mess

Published in Poetry

An Eton Mess

by Christopher Norris, with cartoon by Martin Gollan

We’re in an Eton mess, my friends,
We’re in an Eton mess.
Those posh-boy crooks have cocked their snooks
And cooked the books when no one looks:
That’s how it goes I guess, my friends,
That’s how it goes I guess.

We’re back up Eton creek, my mates,
We’re back up Eton creek.
Those stuck-up fools from public schools
Have bribed their tools and fixed the rules
To suit their crony clique, my mates,
To suit their crony clique.

They lied to win our votes, you folk,
They lied to win our votes.
They said ‘Vote leave, one final heave’,
But whispered ‘We’ve tricks up our sleeve’,
And now they’re at our throats, you folk,
And now they’re at our throats.

They played the racist card, old chums,
They played the racist card.
They said ‘we’ll claw back cash galore
If we show more of them the door’.
They hit the migrants hard, old chums,
They hit the migrants hard.

It’s you they’re out to screw, you lot,
It’s you they’re out to screw.
They say the gains outweigh the pains
But use your brains, you’re still in chains:
You’ll starve before they’re through, you lot,
You’ll starve before they’re through.

Fight back and see them off at last!
Fight back and see them off.
Just seize the day, make that lot pay,
Get back what they have stashed away
And stuff that tosspot toff at last,
And stuff that tosspot toff.

You’ll clear the Eton mess all right,
You’ll clear the Eton mess.
You’ll hold the pass, put ruling-class
Dolts out to grass, and kick some ass:
One gang of thieves the less all right,
One gang of thieves the less.


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