Thursday, 5 March 2009

BBC's Cosy Memories of 1984

Since my post on Harry's Place went down such a storm (quite unexpectedly, I may add) yesterday, I thought I might as well chuck some more thoughts into 'net discourse.

Today’s BBC TV Lunchtime News’s item on the 25th anniversary of the NUM’s great strike in 1984 made me think a few things. First of all, pointing out BBC leftward bias is like painting the Forth Bridge or rolling a pea up Everest with your nose. However, sometimes you have to do it. Having been an NUJ officer and rep I am always interested in how the NUJ-heavy BBC news staff cover union stuff.

The main thrust of Savage's report was not on the why or wherefore of the dispute but on the miners' resentment of the police's behaviour. A classic culturally Marxist take on an historical event (and a handy way of avoiding any parallels and ironies with today's burgeoning industrial disputes). The police's behaviour is a clause in the story, a huge and important clause, but a clause nonetheless. Virtually the first image we saw was of Arthur Scargill being arrested. The audience's familiarity with a complex industrial dispute that occurred a quarter of a century ago is, interestingly for this dumbed-down, user-friendly organisation, taken as read. We get straight into what interests Savage and, presumably, his BBC editors: police clashing with miners at Orgreave and testimony from one NUM man of police heavy-handedness and 'fascist' behaviour. Naturally, no mention was made of the murder – by miners – of taxi driver David Wilkie. Note Kim Howell’s testimony.

Savage then finished his report (not in the net version) by reminding us that a Conservative government was in charge during the miner’s strike (a Labour government wouldn’t be so high-handed and institutionally crass to striking industrial workers, now would they?) and ended with this final line: ‘. . .to the people of Yorkshire, Arthur Scargill will always be a hero.’
But not in Nottinghamshire, eh, Danny? Unless this 25th anniversary is going to move around locations other than Yorkshire, it appears that the Beeb have decided to commemorate the strike in a very one-eyed way. The nuances of the strike – the disagreements among miners and mineworkers’ organisations – were ignored. It was presented rather in the manner Soviet TV must have recalled the 1917 revolution – bloody, glorious, necessary and united against the forces of reaction.

While I still take the side of the miners’s cause of fighting for their livelihoods and kicking against a high-handed, monetarist government uninterested in their personal plights, Scargill, it seems to me, is a boneheaded Communist and unapologetic admirer of Stalin. See here. I’d bet you could find a fair few people in Yorkshire, never mind anywhere else, who wouldn’t have a good word to say about the man. You wouldn't know any of that from Savage's pisspoor work.

Final thought: Mandelson and the steelworkers. But no great outcry from reporters such as Savage about *that* (or the nuclear workers' complaints). Better to live in the comfy past, where tories were villains and Stalinists heroes.


Jonathan said...

From an interview with Howell:
He says: "It was a reporter from PA [the Press Association news agency] who I knew. He said: 'Are you sitting down?' I said: 'No, come on, what is it?' He said some of your boys have killed a taxi driver up on the Heads of the Valleys road.
"For only the second time in my life my knees began to shake. Because I thought, hang on, we've got all these records we've kept at the NUM offices, there is all those maps on the wall. We are going to get implicated in this.
"I remember thinking I've got to get to that office, I've got to destroy everything - and I did.

Note, his knees were not shaking because he realised a man had just been callously "killed" - the murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter; make of THAT what you will - but because he was scared he was going to get in a bit of trouble with the law.

William Gazy said...

A caring, sharing barbarian, then!

Cheese Messiah said...

I started to watch BBC4's documentary The Miner's strike the other night. Much like you said, this began with a close-up, from the miner's point of view, of police in riot gear truncheoning him down.
Obviously this is the only narrative the BBC wants to broadcast.

TDK said...

While no fan of Thatcher I note that the mining industry lost more jobs under Labour administrations than under her. It was in continuous decline from the end of WWII.

The same is true in spades for the rail industry. Before Beeching there had been a few cuts but nothing like what occurred in the period up to 1970.

Selective memory.