Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Still Nothing Worth Watching... UKIP TV

Last weekend, a Spring conference of a national political railed against inequality, cuts to the NHS and tax evasion by the wealthy and called for a basic citizens' income to be paid to all adults. The same party heard how its MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) have worked to create laws that give real protection to workers and consumers, that support communities facing pollution from big business and introduced a cap on bankers' bonuses. This party has an MP, 2 MEPs, and over 160 local authority councillors as well as 2 members of the London Assembly and its candidate came third in the last London Mayoral contest.

However, the Green Party gained relatively little coverage for its work and proposals. When leader Natalie Bennett was granted an audience with the eminence gris of Radio 4, John Humphrys, his main focus was on whether or not the party should change its name.

Wall to wall coverage meantime went to another party - UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party. As for some months, its seemingly ubiquitous leader, Nigel Farage, has been profiled ceaselessly on TV, radio and press. One Tweeter was even moved to state "Listened to Sports Radio Bulletin & no quotes from UKIP. Britain isn't what it used to be."

This in spite of UKIP having no MPs, and having just pulled ahead of the Greens in terms of local councillors last year (and subsequently losing swathes of these councillors either to breakaway groups, resignations, suspensions from councils or expulsion from their own party). The party's MEPs for a second parliament in a row have plunged in number as they have been expelled or left of their own accord (although to be fair, this time none of them have gone to jail for fiddling expenses). Their record of attendance in the European Parliament is pisspoor beyond compare and when they have turned up they have voted against/abstained on votes calling for action to stop violence against women, including female genital mutilation. In spite of this, they happily draw the salaries and expenses funded by the taxpayers they claim to be defending.

In policy terms, they are indistinguishable from the Tory right wing - opposed to Europe, supporting cuts to the NHS and pensions, opposing action on bankers' excesses and hostile to immigration while ignoring the millions of Britons living in Europe. And they even have a councillor who asked on social media if tuna is "a real fish that swims in water".

UKIP have nevertheless been polling reasonably well in opinion polls - around the 10 - 12% level, neck and neck with the sucker-punched Lib dems. So now Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, has decided that UKIP is to be treated as a major party for the purposes of broadcasting during the European elections. This means parity of coverage on the BBC and commercial TV and radio channels with the Tories, Labour and Lib dems. It also strengthens Farage's claim for a place in any Leaders' debate at next years general election - and indeed reflecting this, the BBC have already set up a Nigel Farage-Nick Clegg debate in early April.

 (A note for viewers in Scotland: There are some limited exceptions in Scottish-only programming given UKIP's dire position north of the Border - keep up the good work! However, Scots can be assured that they will still be able to see plenty of Farage & Co on all UK-wide programmes such as Newsnight, Question Time and the Daily Politics as well as all news bulletins. One more reason to vote Yes!)

So UKIP joins the three other neoliberal parties on the telly. Needless to say, the Greens and any other parties with genuinely different agendas (especially, it seems, left wing ones) are still not invited - our viewing is restricted to a mere illusion of choice. "Balance" in political broadcasting is a rather oddly interpreted word, with a clear bias to providing the status quo with a near overwhelming incumbent advantage. This paralyses genuine political discourse in a context where access to media is often key to any political idea or movement being taken seriously. Indeed, UKIP's rise is not entirely unattributable to polling organisations adding them to their list of parties respondents are prompted to think about when asked how they plan to vote. The Greens and others are not currently included - on the occasions they have been, they often poll between twice and four times their normal showing.

Of course, you could argue that this is just crying over spilt milk on the party of a Green. But on the other hand, you could look to the absence of any real debate on the mass media about our society and our world and the future we face. Instead, like a set of adverts for banks or insurance firms, you get some mild variations on a theme. Go compare, but don't waste your time for too long - they really are all pretty much the same.

So many channels; so little choice...


  1. Need to change one of your 'MEP' to MP

  2. Thanks. If you want to be a proof-reader, you're hired! :)