Thatcher wanted to privatise Channel 4

It is always amusing to hear the left selectively invoking Margaret Thatcher. This week, they are doing so to prevent the privatisation of Channel 4, citing the fact that she brought the channel into being. She did, in 1982; but in her memoirs, she explains that by 1988, when she was striving for the phasing out of the BBC television licence fee, she decided that Channel 4 would be better off privatised. On both subjects, she was defeated by what she calls ‘the monopolistic grip of the broadcasting establishment’. That grip is scarcely looser today.

This is what liberal war fever looks like

In a private letter written in 1918, the recently deposed German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg admitted that in the run-up to the Great War, ‘there were special circumstances that militated in favour of war, including those in which Germany in 1870-71 entered the circle of great powers’ and became ‘the object of vengeful envy on the part of the other Great Powers, largely though not entirely by her own fault’. Yet Bethmann saw another crucial factor at work: that of public opinion.’How else,’ he asked,'[to] explain the senseless and impassioned zeal which allowed countries like Italy, Rumania, and even America, not originally involved in the war, no rest until they too

Is Russia Today finished?

As the British authorities debate whether to ban the propaganda channel of a savage imperialist power, Russia Today is making a decent first of banning itself. Workers have been walking out for a week. The invasion was too much even for staffers who had spent years demeaning themselves by licking the boots of a dictatorship. Even if Sky and YouTube had not effectively closed the channel by pulling it from their platforms, RT would have faced extreme difficulty in continuing to broadcast from London, one ex-staffer told me. About half his former colleagues had quit, including large numbers of production staff the Russians needed to keep the channel on air. One had

Why we shouldn’t ban Russia Today

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has written to Ofcom urging it to keep the situation with Russia Today ‘very carefully under review’ given events in Ukraine. At PMQs, Keir Starmer called for the government to ask Ofcom to review RT’s license.  But if RT lost its broadcast license in the UK, then Putin would use this as an excuse to kick out the BBC and other British broadcasters. Just look at how Russia closed the Moscow office of Deutsche Welle, the German public service broadcaster, and ended the accreditation of its journalists after a German-language version of RT was taken off air in Germany. The least-worst option would be for

Boris is about to give Silicon Valley censors more power than ever

Four years in the making, the Online Safety Bill has now been sent to senior ministers for review — a process that allows them to protest, to shout if anything obvious that has been missed. In this case, the process is invaluable because something huge has been missed. The Bill, if passed, would empower the Silicon Valley firms it’s designed to suborn. It would formalise and usher in a new era of censorship of UK news — run from San Francisco. This Bill would backfire in a way that its Tory advocates have so far proven unable to understand let alone address. That’s why it needs to be halted, and a rethink

How western journalists became Putin propagandists

Why does Vladimir Putin need Russia Today and Sputnik News when the western media are doing such a great job on his behalf? Throughout his two decades in power, Putin has yearned for international respect. Failing that, he’ll settle for fear. And what more satisfying outcome could there be for a serial sabre-rattler like Putin to have his bluff finally taken seriously? For weeks, British papers and TV have been filled with images of scary Russian tanks, warships and artillery blasting away — mostly provided, if you check the photo credits, by Russia’s Ministry of Defence. Since November, the US and British governments have been issuing increasingly strident warnings that

The rise of Indian cancel culture

In 1975, India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi suspended democracy. The so-called ‘Emergency’ was largely of her own making, giving her the power to rule by decree. Hundreds of prominent writers and journalists, not to mention opposition leaders, were bundled off to jail. Remarkably, that was all it took for the rest to fall in line. Newspapers stopped printing stories that offended their ruler’s sensibilities. Shivarama Karanth, one of the doyens of the modern Indian novel, took off to ‘compose ballets with lilting music’ in the Canarese countryside. The Illustrated Weekly of India, meanwhile, began running acrostic love letters spelling the name of the premier’s balding, bovine son. How did the

When it comes to Africa, the media look away

Kenya We were flown around the country, hovering low over mobs using machetes to hack each other up Each time I sit in St Bride’s on Fleet Street during the memorial of another friend, I look around at the crowds they’ve been able to pull in and feel terribly envious. Riffling through the order of service and then the church’s book of correspondents to find the faces of old comrades, I’m like a man wondering if any guests will bother turning up to one’s own hastily arranged bring-a-bottle party. Our 1990s generation of Nairobi hacks has been severely depleted. While we survivors are not a distillation of complete bastards, it’s

Un-cancel Terry Gilliam!

I am starting to wonder if the world of arts and culture is staffed, in large part if not exclusively, by massive whinging babies. What other plausible explanation is there for the frequency with which publishing houses, streaming services and theatres are going into open revolt because their employers have commissioned work by someone whose opinions they happen to find disagreeable? Terry Gilliam is the latest artist in the crosshairs. The Monty Python legend and director was due to co-direct a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Old Vic in London next year. Sondheim had expressed support for Gilliam’s vision for the show. But according to reports

Is Laura Kuenssberg leaving Westminster?

Is Laura Kuenssberg’s time as BBC political editor coming to an end? That’s the suggestion tonight after the Guardian reported she is in talks to step down from the role and move to a plum gig hosting the Today programme.  Rumours of Kuenssberg’s impending departure have been circulating around Westminster for some time now to little avail. But this time it is being talked up as part of a wider shake up of the Beeb’s lead presenters, with Jon Sopel recently announcing he is ending his US beat and returning to the UK. Rumours of Kuenssberg’s impending departure have been circulating around Westminster for some time now Kuenssberg’s time in

It’s no wonder young people have ‘eco-anxiety’

Is it any wonder that children and young adults are going down with ‘eco-anxiety’ , as claimed in an opinion piece in the BMJ this week? One of the pieces of evidence it cites is a survey published in 2020, which claimed that 57 per cent of child psychiatrists had dealt with patients who were feeling anxious about climate change. It would be easy to dismiss this as another case of the ‘snowflake generation’ lacking the toughness of their forebears. But even if it is true that earlier generations of children, such as those brought up during the second world war, seemed to cope much better with the genuine threat

How I missed the Matt Hancock story

I want to apologise: I have let myself down. I let others down too, and I’m sorry. Not because, Matt Hancock-style, I breached social distancing guidelines with a steamy office affair — but because I missed the scoop. I was sent a compromising picture of the then health secretary and his mistress almost a week before the Sun newspaper sensationally revealed their relationship — and I did not believe it was him. Having never knowingly undersold my ability to break big stories, this is embarrassing to say the least. Over the years, my scoops have led variously to the jailing of a cabinet minister (Chris Huhne); the resignation of the

What do Extinction Rebellion have against a free press?

One can only hope that the profound political thinkers of Extinction Rebellion took care not to dump cow manure on the wrong steps when they descended en masse to Kensington this week. According to the group, which used the somewhat confusing ‘#Freethepress’ slogan, the target of their protest was Northcliffe House, home of the Daily Mail. Annoyingly for the eco-warriors though, the paper is based in the same building as the Independent, which unfortunately shares pretty similar beliefs to XR: that we are all doomed and will shortly be fried to a crisp by the sun, unless rising sea levels drown us all first. As part of the stunt, XR

Tala Halawa and the progressive media’s anti-Semitism blindspot

The tale of Tala Halawa has an ever-mounting horror to it: each sentence is more disturbing than the last. First we learn that this BBC journalist proclaimed during the 2014 Israel-Gaza war that ‘Israel is more Nazi than Hitler’ and that ‘Hitler was right’. Then we encounter her assertion that ‘ur media is controlled by ur zionist government’ and her sharing on Facebook the same image that saw MP Naz Shah suspended from the Labour Party in 2016, an image that advocates the ‘transportation’ of Israel to the United States to end ‘foreign interference’ in the Middle East. Next up is a graphic Halawa tweeted showing a child being burned

The school that made an American century

New York With the Karamazovian hangover now only a weekly occurrence, the healthy life rules supreme. Well, most of the time. Up early, I go for a brisk 30-minute walk, then it’s breakfast in the park that stretches out two blocks away. I finish off with two sets of 20 push-ups on a park bench, a few kicks and punches using leaves as targets, then cross Fifth Avenue going east. (Karate is now a three-night-a-week activity, and I’ve given up Judo as it takes up too much time and needs too many partners.) I then buy the papers from a friendly Indian, get my first coffee of the day from

Corbyn’s plan to revolutionise the mainstream media

Jeremy Corbyn is hitting the comeback trail. The former Labour leader made the keynote speech at this week’s Media Democracy Festival organised by the Media Reform Coalition. He began by citing his own journalistic credentials. ‘I produced 500 columns for the Morning Star.’ Then he turned to India where 250 million strikers are protesting against the removal of state support for farmers. The strike involves ‘one in thirty of the entire population of the world,’ enthused Corbyn, which makes it the largest industrial dispute in history. But coverage in the UK has been minimal, ‘which says a lot about the priorities and the news values of much of our media outlets

Don’t forget about BTECs during the A-level circus

The summer ritual of A-level results day is so well known it’s easy to forget the thousands of students receiving their BTec National results. That’s the intro to a BBC News item on vocational qualification results issued today. It’s also the story of British culture and economics, told in a single, unwittingly revealing, sentence. Around 250,000 kids will get BTEC results today – that’s almost as many as the 300,000 or so who get A-level results. But of course, media and political attention paid to the latter group is vastly greater than the former. Why? Because BTECs are for other people: people who are poorer and whose parents didn’t do A-levels

We’re all guilty of recruiting this virus to our cause

There must be a quote from Shakespeare for this, but so far I haven’t found it. It’s the way we all of us contrive to see in cosmic events the evidence, the signs and portents, for what we already believed even before the cataclysm had occurred. These are the days of miracle and wonder, sang Paul Simon… The way we look to a distant constellationThat’s dying in a corner of the skyThese are the days of miracle and wonderAnd don’t cry, baby, don’t cry, don’t cry… Somehow there never was a plague, earthquake, flood or epidemic that was not also a sign that the human race must mend its ways

The Spectator, the oldest magazine in the world, to launch US edition

The Spectator, which has published weekly out of London since 1828, will launch a US edition this fall. Spectator USA has had a successful digital-only presence in America since the spring of 2018. It will publish its first monthly US print edition on October 1, only 191 years after the launch of the London edition. ‘Better late than never,’ says Andrew Neil, Chairman of The Spectator worldwide. ‘With our unparalleled success in the UK and our happy experience in Australia, we’ve decided it’s time to bring our unique brand of magazine journalism to the US. Like its mothership back in London, The Spectator’s US edition will be no dour, dull, run-of-the-mill political magazine. We will not be

High Life | 8 November 2018

New York   An old-fashioned party is a gathering of friends invited by the host or hostess, who foots the bill. Old-fashioned parties are very rare in New York nowadays. Actually, they are non-existent, having been replaced by the charity shindig: the guests pay, the host or hostess profits, the gossip columns get to write about it, and the charity sometimes even gets to see some of the moolah the climbers paid to get in. Last week I went to an old-fashioned party given by Prince Pavlos of Greece and his princess, M-C. The occasion was the princess’s sister Pia Getty’s birthday. I ran into a lot of old friends