Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/471/2004
New Labour hypocrites wade into row
In its domination of British newspapers last week, Big Brother even made it onto the front page of the Financial Times. However, the FT was mostly concerned about how the row could damage Anglo-Indian trade relations in the week that Gordon Brown was drumming up trade on a visit to India.
The condemnation of Big Brother and Jade Goody from the head of the CBI and cabinet ministers had more to do with protecting British economic interests than any genuine attempt to tackle the complex issues of racism and bullying raised by the programme. The row however, is a logical development of the neo-liberal deregulation of television channels, which has produced a race to the bottom in the standards of programmes. The 'innovative' Big Brother format of bullying and debasing participants is commonplace and Big Brother is by no means the worst.
It appears that its producer Endemol and Channel Four were concerned that viewers had grown tired of the staged rows and confrontation encouraged by the programme's format.
There are guidelines on broadcasting material that is, or appears to be, racially inflammatory. It is possible Endemol deliberately overlooked the impact of the racist rows or even edited the confrontations to juxtapose statements to make them appear even more inflammatory than they already were, to gain a ratings rise. But the bullying and racism - combined with playing on class antagonisms - created a monster that got out of control for Endemol and C4.
The intervention of Blair, Jowell and Brown - as well as being concerned about trade with India - is probably linked to pressure on New Labour about the future of digital broadcasting from Rupert Murdoch and Gordon Brown's positioning himself for becoming prime minister.
Labour wants Murdoch's support for the next election. Murdoch in return wants - after the tightening of the financial noose on the BBC - a possible crack at ITV and C4, either by taking one of them over or greater shackles being placed on them while the reins on his own empire are loosened. Also, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's attack on the programme is linked to the extra £14 million funding C4 is asking for from the government for its switchover to digital.
The record number of complaints and the high vote for Jade Goody's eviction show an underlying anger at racism and bullying that led Gordon Brown and Ken Livingstone to call for a "vote for tolerance". One survey showed that 55% did not believe the insults were typical of 'modern Britain'. 72% of women thought C4 should have intervened to stop the bullying. That mood was a big factor in Carphone Warehouse withdrawing its sponsorship deal of £3 million.
The actions and comments of those like Jade cannot be defended. However, there was an element of whipping up fury against Jade from middle-class media commentators as a dig at working-class 'Chav' culture, which they probably regard as endemically racist.
As commentator Mark Lawson said: "those exposed as bigots may now themselves be exposed to another form of bigotry... the middle-class denigration of the working classes as 'white trash', the one openly remaining racist phrase in common usage. The libelling of a large part of the British population in some parts of the British media is a strange way of preaching tolerance."
Labour ministers condemned the racism in Big Brother when in reality it is their policies that have fostered support for the racist BNP amongst a section of despairing white working-class people in areas where Labour has abandoned working people.
Whilst public broadcasters have to be made responsible for cutting out racist undercurrents in programmes like Big Brother, racism in society will not be undercut simply by the platitudes of Labour politicians or middle-class media commentators.
What is needed is a political alternative that fights for working-class people, against the divisions fostered by racism and for a raising of the cultural horizons of all people. Such an alternative will take the form of a new mass workers' party that fights the cuts of New Labour and has a programme that defends the NHS, education and public services, and raises the consciousness of working-class people about the role and control of the media.
In The Socialist 25 January 2007:
War and terrorism
Socialist Party news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis