Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Between the Lines: South Fork, Sinn Fein & Censorship (1985)

The Between the Lines Column from the September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Passing of a Texan Idiot
Wipe away those tears, fellow workers: mourning will not bring him back. Those of us who watched the BBC's final screening of Dallas (BBC1, 17 July) saw how Bobby Ewing, the not very bright Texan oil millionaire, planned to marry two rich women in one episode and, just as he'd decided which one to leave on the shelf, along comes another woman in a fast car and . . . bash! Next scene: Bobby lies dying in a posh Texan hospital surrounded by the whole cast and not a single doctor or nurse. After mumbling some soppy sentiments — "Don't let them sell you to the ITV, Pam" and "Don't forget the number of the Swiss bank account, J.R." — his eyes close and the contract runs out. The other characters stand around and weep, presumably because this is the last episode to be shown in Britain. If I was J.R. I'd sue the hospital for negligence, leaving the poor man unattended in his final moments, with nothing but a second-hand script of a death scene to keep him going. 

Millions of workers watched this sentimental garbage, pushing it into the top programmes in that week's ratings. While wage slaves mourn the fictitious of a privileged parasite there are millions of the wealth-producing class living in squalor — as shown on the very good portrait of the declining british welfare services, From The Cradle To The Grave (ITV, Mondays, 29 July-19 August). The choice is clear: do we treat into the fantasy worlds of Dallas and Dynasty or look at the less glamorous, less jolly, less simplistic world of social reality for the working-class majority? We know which choice the programme-controllers would like us to make.

Talking of utter triviality, have you noticed how TV news often repots as issues of importance matters which inform us of nothing but the empty-headedness of the news editors? The recent story about Labour MPs dangling a topless woman over the River Thames (BBC News, 29 July) was about as important a contribution to human knowledge as the lengthy reports a few weeks earlier about a manifestly deranged ex-SAS man who spent several weeks living in a small rock — a British rock of course — somewhere to the north of Scotland. When one considers all the important happenings in the world which workers should be hearing about — the oppressive activities of governments, the mass murders and mutilations in wars, the millions dying of starvation in a world of food surpluses, the uncontrollable fluctuations of world trade — why is it that the important news is all too often left out to make room for insignificant trivia? Could it be that, like the producers of Dallas, the news editors prefer a good bit of diversionary escapism to a healthy dose of useful knowledge?

Socialists and Censorship
In the same week that the BBC listed its twenty-year ban on The War Game it obeyed government wishes and banned the Real Lives documentary which included an interview with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein. Socialists aim to build a majority movement in favour of a totally democratic society; we have always emphasised that such an end can only be obtained by democratic means. Socialists are against government censorship whether it is by law, as in Russia and South Africa (where the recent emergency powers have seriously media censorship), or by hints and the use of political pressure, as in allegedly democratic Britain.

In this column last month we pointed out that, much as we deplore the anti-working-class aims and policies of Sinn Fein, we favour all opportunities for workers to be exposed to all political points of view. If the defenders of the IRA have a case to state we are in favour of it being heard, not censored, just as we want our own ideas to be given media exposure. The BBC has a long record of denying the Socialist Party of Great Britain TV time and it is worthy of note that the major capitalist parties, which do have access to TV, have not found such censorship in conflict with their professed democratic principles. In calling for the Real Lives documentary to be banned, the Home Secretary admitted that he had not even seen a recording of it. Perhaps he well urge the BBC to show it in twenty years' time.
Steve Coleman

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