Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mark Steel wows Green Left fringe

Campaign Against Censorship: for press freedom fringe

Tim Gopsill led off the session. He's a member of the NUJ executive and co-chair of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

Beginning his speech well he pointed out that whilst it might be the case in China the main source of censorship in the UK (and US) was not the government but the big businesses that actually own the media. It was less a case of the government interference in the press as media interference in democracy.

In fact there was living proof on the platform in the shape of Mark Steel who'd been sacked for his political views from the Guardian, although luckily for us he'd been able to get work at the Independent instead, continuing his excellent weekly column.

Having said that he then went into gory detail as to how the government had brought the BBC to heel over the Hutton report, suppressing its ability to pursue high quality journalism and cowing it into little more than a propaganda outfit for the government. I even laughed out loud when he said “It's a disgrace... even Campbell doesn't slag them off any more.”

Tim's main concern was around the undermining of “high quality journalism” and the ability of big business to provide a free and fair media – he argued it simply “can't be left to the free market.”

Tim was good but I'm guessing most people there had come to see Mark Steel who was on top form. He immediately launched into his story about how Johnny Ball, much loved kids TV presenter from the old days, had once grabbed him in a vice like grip and told him that carbon emissions were down to spiders. For a change it isn't the left who are the crazy ones who people just write off, at last it is the right, in this case climate change deniers, that come across as total oddities.

In fact this is true for a whole range of areas, for instance where even traditional conservatives are angry about the privatisation of the rail network system. Steel was at his angriest when discussing transport – I sensed the years of accumulated wasted time in utter discomfort that he'd obviously had to suffer on London's grime ridden public transport.

But when it came to laying blame he was determined not to say the failure to get our views across in the press was all the fault of the right and the owners of the media – that when it comes to getting across our message we have to take this on as our responsibility rather than pretend its always someone else's problem. No easy task at a time when the left is “weaker than it has been for a hundred years”.

He stated the Labour Party couldn't be regarded as socialist by any stretch of the imagination any more and the left inside of the Labour Party was at its weakest it ever had been in historical terms. He named organisations like the Communist Party who, whilst we may have had many major problems with them, it also contained good individuals who'd managed fantastic achievements, and it's effectively no longer on the scene.

He even mentioned that “I was, until very recently, a member of a hard left organisation that just hasn't got anywhere” and that “if you look at the debacle of Respect is it any wonder we haven't been able to attract any more than a handful of peculiar people.”

He said it was a tragedy at a time when the right is on the defensive among the general population that the left had been unable to tap into this in the way it could have. “All organisations need to get together and discuss, without slagging each other off,” about how to present an effective united movement that doesn't allow Tesco to pose as green because it has a new eco-logo.

I don't know if this is a first, but a non-Green Party member got a standing ovation. Thanks to the Green Left for organising such an energising event.

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