Scrap Page Three – ‘it’s so last century’

Labour Party

Earlier this week Rupert Murdoch’s gave the most significant indication that he might replace the Sun’s Page Three with a half-way house of ‘glamorous fashionistas.’

Murdoch was responding on twitter to a tweet which said Page Three is so last century. Murdoch replied: “You may be right, don’t know but considering.”

This is the first serious hint he has given that he may well do something to end this antiquated, sexist feature.

The campaign to end Page Three really took off after an organised group called No More Page Three was formed. It has actively campaigned for companies to boycott The Sun, refusing to advertise in the paper until the Page Three girls are removed.

Lucy Holmes, the campaign’s founder, tweeted that campaigners were “really pleased” by the hint dropped by Murdoch.

I said in my own statement on the issue that images of semi naked women are in no way acceptable in the 21st century.

It’s not just sexist, but is a complete objectification of women. It’s also offensive.

In addition this is a daily newspaper not a top shelf magazine, something that children and teenagers read. It’s not acceptable for them to view such images yet they are subjected to them on a daily basis.

Essentially Page Three is sexist, out dated and offensive to women so I sincerely hope Murdoch ends this so called ‘institution’. But a halfway house is not acceptable. Just end it all together.”

During questioning at the Leveson Inquiry, The Sun editor Dominic Mohan said the photographs had become an established part of British society.

He added that “the ultimate sanction lies with the reader” and that he felt the pages were “tolerated by the majority of British society” and that the paper’s support of “women’s issues” such as cervical cancer screening illustrated it was not “sexist”.

Such images have only become an established part of British society precisely because little has been done to challenges it. There are very many people who find them offensive and so it’s the right time to stop printing them.”

Rupert Murdoch owns too many newspapers

Labour Party

Rupert Murdoch owns too many newspapers. This was the uncompromising message from the Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman at the Westminster Media Forum yesterday as reported in the Guardian.

It’s not solely a British problem. Here in the European Parliament we have debated media pluralism, or plurality as we call it in the UK, on many occasions. One of the first debates after the 2009 European elections was about Silvio Berlusconi’s vast and often unedifying media empire. The vote on the resolution went narrowly against the appalling Berlusconi to the surprise of many on the centre right who wrongly foresaw an easy victory for their side.

The media pluralism question raised its head again during the Hungarian EU Presidency. Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the right wing Fidesz Party sought to change the country’s constitution in a number of ways, including curtailing the freedom of the country’s press and media outlets.

Control of the media, specifically media plurality, is a polarised issue in the European Parliament. Given that much of the business here is conducted on the basis of consensus and the rough and tumble of robust debate so strong in Britain is largely lacking in the European Parliament, this is an unusual phenomenon. The only conclusion I can draw from the way parties of the right and centre-right in the European Parliament have rallied round to defend mass ownership of the media is that they benefit from such an arrangement. Berlusconi as Prime Minister of Italy and media magnate was very much to the right as are most owners of newspapers and television.

Harriet Harman is right when she says, “Murdoch owns too many newspapers and had it not been for the phone-hacking scandal the government would have waved through his bid to take control of the whole of BskyB. Both Ofcom and Leveson are looking at ownership . It is clear that there needs to be change.”

This is very welcome news and I for one will be following the progress of the forthcoming Communications Act closely. As Harriet said yesterday, it will be “an opportunity to take action to deal with difficult, historical problems which have been unaddressed to too long.”

Meanwhile the debate on media pluralism continues in the European Parliament. Control of the media is now more than a national issue. Media spans borders and what happens in one European country affects another. I do not wish to see the mauling received by the Labour Party before the 1992 general election happen anywhere else. Neil Kinnock was vilified by the Murdoch press because he bravely committed Labour to tackling media ownership were it to form a government. Tony Blair later felt he needed to make it up to Murdoch prior to the 1997 election.

This is not the way the UK should be conducting its relations with the media. Political parties should never feel they have to be nice to an all-powerful media baron and they should never feel any pressure to compromise their principles and beliefs to get support from such a quarter. The UK and Europe as a whole needs a free and fair press and media. It’s one of the best ways of securing our democracy.

Murdoch’s Sunday Sun continues to degrade women on Page Three

Labour Party

The new Sunday Sun has tragically continued with the usual offensive Page 3 female image.

Evidently Rupert Murdoch, along with his counterpart in the airline industry Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, thinks it is acceptable to publish pictures of naked, or nearly naked, women. While Murdoch does it in a family newspaper, O’Leary’s choice is a charity calendar.

Messrs Murdoch and O’Leary, let me, on behalf of very many other women, tell you that it is not acceptable to degrade and objectify women in this way. My recent blogpost on attitudes to women current at the Sun shows two interesting things – an apparent culture of bullying women at the newspaper and public dislike of Page Three. A survey conducted by Platform 51, previously called the Young Women’s Christian Association, demonstrated that a majority of women and a significant number of men do not like Page 3 pictures.

I recently received a long and heartfelt email from a young woman constituent called Tashelle Roberts. She is not a political activist or professional campaigner. She is quite simply a woman who is angry and upset at Page 3.

This is an slightly edited version of what she had to say.       

“I am writing to you to bring to your attention some of the extreme sexist publications, namely The Sun, The Daily Star and The Sport that allow features that degrade women in many ways – but these publications have been available to the general public – men women and children alike for 40 years and nothing has been done about it.

“Like all women in the United Kingdom I am offended and constantly humiliated by extreme sexist nature of British media.

“MP Clare Short tried to speak up against the way women are portrayed in the media 25 years ago – and was greeted by a room of male MPs who simply giggled at the mention of breasts and dismissed her views simply because she was a woman – She was called ‘fat, old, ugly and whiny’ by these papers which published humiliating pictures and articles of her.

“Please, don’t let history repeat itself!

“Page 3 portrays being a ‘page 3 girl’ or ‘page 3 idol’ as the most glamorous thing in the world – it plays on young girls minds and all young girls in the UK are exposed to page 3 from the time they are toddlers.
Then they reach puberty and everyone knows that being 11 or 12 is not the easiest. These girls experience what we all experience – being rejected by a crush, being told they are fat/short, loosing friends to other friends, parents getting divorced, being bullied/humiliated in front of a boy they may like – we have all experienced this and at the time it is seems like these are the biggest problems in the world – and while all these changes are taking place – these girls are still being exposed to Page 3. They pick up the paper and read how the Sun glamorises this profession and makes selling your body or showing your breasts seem like the easiest way to be a celebrity – and at that moment – the little girl thinks in need of attention thinks yes, this is what I am going to be when I grow up.

“So yes – these girls – some barely 18 years old, so choose to do this on their own accord – but the Sun, The Daily Star and The Sport – being so public and easily accessible – prepares them and builds up this state of mind in children so that they know nothing else. So when these children could have become doctors, lawyers, teachers or anything else they want to be – they have so much potential – daily access to this degrading media builds them up to believe this is all they are worth and although being 18 is considered legal – we all know what being a care free 18 year old was – Do they ever consider the consequences?

“The Sun promotes an idea of – nothing else working for you?? Well we pay you money to show your breasts and you’ll get tons of attention.

“These young girls of 11,12 think “yea I’ve got the boobs so I guess this is my way to fame and fortune”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0LGW8urTOs
“The above link is to an advertisement posted by the Sun on youtube advertising ‘Page 3’ – this video shows the disrespect the Sun gives normal ‘non-page-3’ women. These newspapers rate women simply by the size of their breasts and their waists and insult REAL women – the ones who have to do 3 jobs – look after their kids – make sure their husbands and family are happy.

“‘Legend has it that Murdoch was incandescent with rage when he saw the first bare breasts to grace his title. But the subsequent rise in paper sales – 1.5 million to 2.1 million in a year – rather soothed him.’ – BBC

“In other words the newspaper justifies using a young woman’s naked breasts to increase sales.”

Murdoch’s Sun ate women’s dignity

Labour Party

Congratulations to campaigning MP (and fellow blogger) Tom Watson for exposing the bullying of women members of staff at the tabloid Sun.

According to Watson, Sun editor Dominic Mohan, told the Leveson enquiry “it is wrong to suggest that the Sun trivialises offences against women.”

Not so, says Watson, and I know who I believe. Watson tells us on his blog he has inside knowledge that at least five female journalists on the paper have been sacked in the last eight years. At least two of the sacked women went on to win compensation after challenging their dismissals. Two out of five strikes me as a high percentage and provides strong evidence of serious discrimination against female employees.

More recently, Whitehall editor at the Sun Clodagh Hartley had a complaint of bullying against her upheld by an independent adjudicator. This will, of course, be of great concern the beleaguered Mohan, who has a lot on his plate after the recent arrests of Mike Sullivan, the paper’s crime editor; the former managing editor, Graham Dudman; executive editor, Fergus Shanahan; and Chris Pharo, a news desk executive.

Appalling though this is, unfortunately it’s not the whole story. The Sun still publishes topless and virtually naked women on page three – a practice deeply disrespectful to women, which I believe should immediately be consigned to the scrapheap.  

The Sun is not just a newspaper, it’s theUK’s largest selling national daily with a circulation of 7,774,000. It’s our most popular newspaper and it behaves in a totally unacceptable way towards its female staff. It also publishes demeaning images of women.

I wholeheartedly agree with the four women’s groups – End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, Object and Eaves – who appeared before the Leveson inquiry arguing that the Sun should ban sexualised images which would not be shown on television before the 9.00pm watershed. As Former Labour MP Clare Short, who has campaigned against page three, said in the Guardian “The bottom line is that pictures that would not be permissible in the workplace or on broadcast media before the watershed can still be published in a daily newspaper.”

What is more, the newspaper reading public do not want page three, perhaps understanding how degrading it is to women. According to the Huffington Post, Platform 51, formerly the Young Women’s Christian Association, commissioned a nationally representative poll which showed that twice as many women would support a ban on pictures of topless women appearing in daily newspapers as would oppose it. And it’s not just women. Almost a third of the men questioned also supported a ban.

So it’s actually the Sun “wot ‘as got it wrong”.

Disrespect to women and actions such as bullying at work and publishing pictures of undressed women are no longer acceptable. Thankfully the world has moved on from the 1970s when the Sun introduced page three. It’s about time the Sun itself caught up with the modern world.  

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Once again the headlines were dominated by the News International scandal. First Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and CEO of News International stood down from her post as the chief executive and then earlier today she was arrested, over the phone hacking scandal.

We could be forgiven for believing there was no other news worthy of headlines for the way in which this story has dominated both print and broadcast coverage.

One point worth mentioning is how Ed Miliband seemed to capture the mood of the nation so effectively. During Prime Ministers Questions earlier in the week he used sound bites to great effect, telling the PM ‘he just doesn’t get it’ and calling upon him to apologise for what Miliband labelled ‘a serious error of judgement’. You can watch Michael White’s Guardian podcast here for full analysis.

To confirm this, today’s Sunday Mirror carries a poll by polling firm ComRes which states Miliband has received a ‘big bounce’ following the scandal. You can read the analysis of the ComRes poll here.

Perhaps now Murdoch’s media empire has been shaken we can once again have a proper debate about media plurality. Indeed the Independent raised such a point in its leading article: ‘Our democracy is stronger for the dropping of BSkyB bid: We now know that the integrity of our public institutions is not for sale to the highest bidder’. You can read the article in full here.

Media plurality and the demise of the Murdoch empire will, I’m sure be a big moment in British history, but there was other news. Greece is dangerously close to defaulting on its debts and if it does so the consequences threaten to spread far across Europe and will be a complete disaster for the euro.

An article in last week’s Guardian claims that the euro is run according to Germany’s monetary interests and in order for the euro to survive Germany must reconsider its position. If European monetary policy is run according to German interests, the article states, then huge structural imbalances will accumulate. It goes on to argue that Germany will then either have to pay to correct those imbalances, or agree that the euro should not be run primarily according to German interests. If they are unwilling to do either of those things, the euro can’t survive. You can read the full article here.

I was also saddened to learn that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of older workers who are staying in employment simply because they can’t afford to retire.

The report by the TUC shows a significant increase in the number of over-50s and people over the retirement age in work over the past two decades.

Brendan Barber the TUC general secretary was right when he said ‘the increasing number of over 65s in work shows that older workers are highly valued and that the government is absolutely right to scrap the default retirement age.

‘But there is a darker side to people to working beyond their retirement. Low wages and poor pension provision, particularly in the private sector, mean that many people simply cannot afford to retire at 65.’ You can read the article in full here.

Murdochs finally held to account by select committee

Labour Party

Following the News of the World scandal, I wrote an article about the fate of Murdoch’s media empire which was just published on PublicServiceEurope.com. It is copied out in full below:

The media empire of such might that was seemingly indestructible is now being rocked to its foundations

Yesterday afternoon, the Murdochs agreed that they would appear before a select committee in the Houses of Parliament. The committee is not able to summons them, as such, but the invitation was forceful nevertheless. Initially, they declined the request stating that they would appear before an inquiry – but that they could not appear in front of the select committee. Perhaps, there was a diary clash, eventually there was a U-turn and they changed their minds. The above scenario sums up the whole scandal.

An empire of such might existed and it was seemingly indestructible. Those at the top felt they were above any authority and it is this culture which, to us outsiders at least, appears to have permeated and flourished throughout the empire. We are even hearing from the FBI that it is now reporting 9/11 victims had their phones hacked by News Corporation, adding further violation to the uncomfortable feeling that those at the top encouraged unscrupulous behaviour.

In Britain, the scandal is considered to be so serious, that is has dominated all media coverage and shocked the nation over the last two weeks – precisely, because we have such a strong media culture which sets high investigative standards and which is highly regarded internationally. Was it right that the News of the World closed last Sunday? That is a difficult question, but it seems there was little choice – the brand was deemed to be untrustworthy. How would it ever find advertisers, who would be prepared to appear in their paper and pay to advertise? The brand had been irreparably damaged. The 200 or so staff suffered as a result of the actions of others, who had since moved on. The future of these journalists is unclear, many hope to be redeployed within the empire – but there is no guarantee.

And so their future along with that of the British print media remains uncertain. Murdoch may leave the paper industry all together and focus his efforts on broadcast media. We do not know – but next week when he and his son, James, and former News of the World editor and erstwhile chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks appear in front of the Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee – the world’s eyes will be following their every movement and hanging off their every word, because finally they will be held to account.

The closure of NOTW should be the beginning of a media overhaul, not the end.

Labour Party

The shock and horror of the British public over the phone hacking scandal at the News of the    World is palpable. The British public may have had little sympathy with media-courting celebrities who has the boundaries of their privacy broken – but news that murder victims phones were hacked has justly provoked outrage and disgust against the tabloid.

I am not going to delve too deep into condemning the actions of News International, that pool is already murky enough and our Labour Leader is doing a fine job of fronting proper criticism and putting pressure on Mr Cameron to get his act together in dealing with this issue.

I would, however, like to talk about what this indicates of some very worrying trends in the global media market. The Murdoch empire has once again shown that it is fundamentally just too powerful. In controlling so many media outlets Murdoch was able to dictate the outcome of elections, deluge the public consciousness with his opinions and, it is now clear, force all politicians to be beholden to him to the extent where they were afraid even to try to uncover illegal activities within his company.

This situation is not unique to the UK.  Consider for example Italy where Berlusconi not only runs the country but also maintains a national media monopoly. Unsurprisingly, media coverage in Italy is overwhelmingly more Berlusconi-friendly than in the rest of the world. Italian politics now takes place within Berlusconi’s fishbowl, the walls of which distort and dim even the most lurid of the Prime Minister’s activities and those of his associates.

There are a multiplicity of problems incurred by such media monopolies. It means that the public is not afforded the option of a variety of opinions and viewpoints. Public opinion is as much informed by the media as the media is guided by it; restricting the diversity of media opinions leads to a warping of public debate. In the case of news outlets such as Fox this can stray into the territory of the deliberately misleading and the propagation of actual untruths.

The News of the World has closed but this should not be the end of the story. At any rate the closure of the NOTW was as much a market-based decision as a political appeaser: Its mass desertion by advertisers rendered the tabloid unsustainable.  Instead this should initiate a rethink of how the media should be run within the UK and elsewhere. Allowing certain companies to achieve monopolies within the media not only leads to corruption, it is harmful to democracy. A healthy media requires a plurality of voices and opinions, free to report and express but that can also be regulated in order to prevent slander and malpractice. If the News of the World crisis teaches us anything it is that the British media has become divorced from its purpose. We must find a way to get it back on track.

A Loss for Media Freedom at Home plus a Victory in the European Parliament

Labour Party

As Rupert Murdoch seems almost certain to gain control of the 61 percent of BSkyB he doesn’t already own, the vitally important though very thorny issue of media control and media plurality is very much on the UK agenda.

To the shame of the Tory-led government’s Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the detriment of the British people, Mr Hunt intends to permit this £8 billion deal impeded only by a 10 year agreement to hive off the loss making Sky News.

However, we are not the only EU member state to feel the cold winds of such control and repression of freedom.  I have in the past blogged about Hungary where the right-wing parliament is seeking more powers over the media.  The European Commission has attempted to rectify the situation, but with little success.

Accordingly the European Parliament passed a resolution today asking the Hungarian authorities to suspend the implementation of the new media laws and for the European Commission to set a deadline for this.

The text of the main points of the resolution is set our below.

This is a major step forward and demonstrates that MEPs will not sit idly by while media freedom is compromised.

  • Calls on the Hungarian authorities to suspend the implementation of the new media laws, as the government’s 2/3 legislative majority does not give it a right to decide alone in matters of media freedom; and instead start the legislation anew in parity-based discussion forums that include opposition and civil society, with a view of improving the laws also on the basis of the remarks and proposals made by the European Parliament, the Commission, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights, recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights;
  • Calls on the Hungarian authorities to restore independence of media governance, with a parity based political composure and participation of journalists associations, while restricting media governance to the audiovisual field, removing its control over press and the internet; restore constitutional safeguards for media pluralism and true judicial overview by appeals to ordinary courts; limit the state interference with freedom of expression concerning balanced coverage to television only; protect investigative journalism by protection of confidential sources, removing news prescriptions and registration as a pre-requisite for operation; respect the country of origin principle enshrined in the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive;
  • Calls on the Hungarian authorities to involve all stakeholders in relation to the revision of the Constitution, which is the basis of a democratic society based on the rule of law, with appropriate checks and balances to ensure the fundamental rights of the minority against the risk of the tyranny of the majority;
  • Calls on the Commission to set a close deadline for the Hungarian authorities to change the law on the points raised by OSCE, the Council of Europe, the Commission and the European Parliament, and shall the deadline not be met, proceed with infringement proceedings;
  • Requests the Commission to submit a proposal for EU legislation on media freedom, pluralism and independent governance before the end of the year, hereby overcoming the inadequacies of the EU’s legislative framework on media, making use of its competences in the fields of the internal market, audiovisual policy, competition, telecommunications, State subsidies, public service obligation and fundamental rights of everyone on EU territory, in order to define at least the minimum essential standards that all Member states must meet and respect in national legislation to ensure, guarantee and promote freedom of information, an adequate level of media pluralism and independent media governance;
  • Calls on the Commission and the Council to ensure that democratic values including media freedom are respected within the EU and remain central to its foreign policy, while continuing to show support to media freedom campaigners inside and out of the EU;

 

The Political Divide over Press Freedom

Labour Party

silvio_berlusconi_10

Few issues have divided the European Parliament in the way that Silvio Berlusconi has managed to do.  I am talking specifically about his iron grip on the Italian media, though there are, of course other issues – ultra right wing views, corruption and young women from escort agencies – to name but a few. 

While not as gripping as the original debate, the sequel to my original post  shows just how much media pluralism is a left-right issue.  This is not really surprising when you consider that it is the right who concentrate media in their own hands, Rupert Murdoch being a good example to go along side Mr Berlusconi.  I could also cite the Rothermere family, hardly a bastion of progressive thought.  The Guardian/Observer are, unfortunately, hardly in the same league.

I did not, therefore, find it surprising that when we came to approve this week’s agenda for the plenary session of the European Parliament here in Strasbourg, the EPP raised objections to the resolution reported in my post.

They objected first of all to the title of the resolution which had already been changed to include “in the European Union” so that it didn’t refer exclusively to Italy.  The EPP, of course, wanted to take out the reference to Italy all together, prior to their other amendment which was to postpone the whole debate.  However, the EPP lost their chance to take Italy out, largely I think because the majority in the House realise just how poisonous Berlusconi actually is.  Having lost this vote, the EPP then withdrew their call to postpone the vote on the resolution itself.

Freedom of the Press in vital for European Democracy

Labour Party

Silvio Berlusconi1

As we all know, Silvio Berlusconi, the septuagenarian media magnate turned politician with a penchant for young girls, thrives on controversy.  It seems that you either love him or hate him.  I am obviously in the hate him camp.

 I have just come from a debate in the European Parliament on a resolution on “Freedom of Information in Italy”, i.e. do we think Berlusconi has too much power over the media there by controlling too many outlets at the same time as being Prime Minister.  The debate raised strong emotions and the Chamber was, unusually, awash with real feeling.  Passion at last.

 The Chamber also divided along left/right lines – again something which does not always happen.  The centre-right EPP supported Berlusconi with an enthusiasm I have rarely seen in Parliamentary debates.  You will by now not be surprised to learn that Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party is, in fact, a member of the European People’s Party (perhaps tarnishing their moderate right credentials).  Even so, EPP Leader Joseph Daul was positively ecstatic in his speech opening the debate, a stance I doubt he would have taken had he not really believed in what he was saying.

The Socialist and Democratic Group position was very clear.  We believe Berlusconi, whose Mediaset is the largest private television and communications group in Italy and who also indirectly controls the state broadcaster RAI, has far too much power.  He is obviously not the only person or organisation in this position.  Speaking in the debate, I drew attention to Rupert Murdoch whose international media empire owns more than its fair share of television and newspapers in the UK.   

  The S&D Group wants an EU Directive on media concentration and media pluralism, a straightforward demand which I, as Co-ordinator on the Culture Committee, which has responsibility for media issues, intend to pursue.

 The Liberal Group, the Greens and the GUE (Communist Group) support the S&D view while the Tories’ European Conservatives and Reformists along with the other right wing groups are with the EPP.

 The Commissioner responsible for media matters is Vivian Reding from Luxembourg, who spoke both at the start and finish of the debate.  Although she appeared supportive to the S&D view, she is concerned about the legal base for such a measure.  I would hope this can be sorted out so that the EU can take decisive action to ensure that the people of Europe have access to a wide range of information containing many and varied views.   It is quite simply not possible to have a strong democracy when the majority of the media which they see and reads puts forward only one side of a very limited story.