OPINION PEACE

One unexpected side-effect of the past twelve months has been a personal chart system for famous (and not-so-famous) names as they climb up, drop down and come straight in ‘with a bullet’ re my estimation of them. I guess living so much of one’s life in the frenzied parallel universe of cyberspace – where every minor tremor is sold as a major earthquake – has inevitably provoked people into making more public statements on current affairs than they normally would, if only because in some cases there’s less company to express an opinion to in private. It’s been revealing to read the reactions to news stories that have burned brightly for 48 online hours from those who normally never venture from their fields of expertise; by doing so, they’ve often given away thoughts that ordinary circumstances would perhaps have kept hidden from the wider world; and, in the process, their chart positions have altered accordingly. Yes, there have been plenty of non-movers – I knew Piers Morgan was an arse pre-Covid and he’ll remain one post-Covid, so he’s stayed more or less where he was; yet, at the same time, there have been several notable reversals.

Although I’ve never had any great craving to revisit it since, I nevertheless used to watch ‘Little Britain’ back in the day, and I winced when David Walliams and Matt Lucas apologised for making people laugh 20 years ago, begging forgiveness from those to whom forgiveness is an alien concept; as a consequence, they plummeted down the charts quicker than a Christmas No.1 in January. Less dramatic but equally disappointing capitulations to the BLM orthodoxy from those I’d hitherto respected as attractive social media presences led to a further reshuffling of the top 20. No, I don’t have to agree with everything someone thinks or believes; I’m grownup enough to handle the fact that a few people I like have Woke leanings where some issues are concerned, just as I can be friends with people who support Manchester United or who are incurable Remainers; it doesn’t change my overall impression of them as a person unless it becomes their sole raison d’être. The problem when more hours are lived online than off is that certain beliefs can then assert themselves as defining characteristics and not just opinions that are said aloud once or twice before being put to one side. And the mood of the moment is, of course, to be utterly defined by the checklist of the consensus.

Encouragingly, this chart hasn’t simply been one in which all names are dropping down – there have been some impressive climbers too, none more so than Neil Oliver. A likeable character fronting many TV documentaries I’ve enjoyed over the years, Oliver is an energetic, enthusiastic historian making the past come alive, someone who infuses each television outing with a passionate zest for his subject that belies his age as much as the flowing hair he admirably refuses to cut. Before the pandemic, I only knew what Neil Oliver’s opinions were on Robert the Bruce or the Vikings; I had no idea what he thought about anything else. Unlike Gary Lineker, however, the current situation has enabled Neil Oliver to show he is even more articulate, intelligent and erudite when it comes to subjects outside of his usual comfort zone. In weekly dispatches posted on Talk Radio’s YT channel, Oliver has revealed himself to be something of an oracle for our times, a rare voice of measured sanity in a stormy sea of misinformation and illiberal hysteria, someone who won’t be cowed by the pressure to conform just because not doing so could threaten his career.

A good deal of what Oliver says in these chats used to be called common sense, and common sense coming from a charming, charismatic and enlightened individual. But Oliver’s common sense appears even more striking and refreshing because of the context in which it has publically emerged. This context is a time when our sacred NHS is issuing ‘gender neutral’ guidelines to midwives advising them to use terms such as ‘human milk’, ‘chest-feeding’ and ‘people who are pregnant’ lest it should be implied that only ‘biological women’ can give birth, a time when a school in Sussex has dropped Churchill and JK Rowling as house names because the former was ‘a figure who promoted racism’ and the latter does not ‘represent the school’s core values’. Just in case you’ve forgotten, the shocking Tweet that turned the ‘Harry Potter’ author into the contemporary emodiment of the evil Sir Winston helped defeat read: ‘People who menstruate – I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’ Rowling was responding to the kind of nonsensical, ‘Alice in Wonderland’-like distortion of language prevalent in the silly new guidelines for midwives, a journey into fantasy biology and rebranding of female terminology to accommodate the illogical demands of Trans-activists. What a bloody bigot.

The cynical and opportunistic adoption of Woke dogma by corporations and institutions who are pitching themselves against the vast majority of people who reject the divisive lunacy of the ideology is something that was well under way before the pandemic. The unique circumstances of the past year have merely exacerbated factors that were already bubbling away on campus and online, elevating them into the mainstream because the public were suddenly locked-out of the public space. These corporations and institutions are naturally backing what they believe to be the right horse because they see it as a means of survival when so many have gone to the wall; it’s nothing more than desperate self-preservation, and anyone who believes these bastions of the capitalist creed have undergone a social conversion is as deluded as some of the pronouncements they’ve been issuing. But, hey, place a population under house arrest for twelve months and it’s inevitable that madness will ensue.

As with many, Neil Oliver suspects he’s become afflicted with a strain of agoraphobia after a year of forced confinement. Ashamed he felt relief at not having to travel down to London from his Scottish home for a recent TV appearance, Oliver was evidently taken aback at how someone who in a normal year can find himself in an airport three or four times a week could be intimidated by the thought of making such a journey after a year out of action. ‘It’s a bit like when somebody’s suddenly confined to bed,’ he says, ‘and their muscles atrophy and dissolve away much quicker than you might have expected, and there’s bedsores and all the rest of it.’ He shrewdly opines how easy it is to slip into such a mindset when cut off from routine interaction with the world and one’s fellow man for an extended period, and makes the salient point that coming out of isolation has the potential to be a harder task than being isolated. The speediness with which the population has been institutionalised by hibernation is, he points out, something that won’t necessarily be mirrored by the time it will take for it to readjust to normality again.

Since last March, I’ve found it quite unnerving watching the rest of the world exhibit characteristics I myself have been blighted by for decades. I’m someone who, if not careful, can quickly slide into a semi-agoraphobic state if I go several weeks with no discernible social activity. If I establish a regular outlet for that, I usually improve and become more comfortable with the idea; if I slip out of the habit, however, the prospect of venturing farther afield from these four walls takes on scary dimensions that render any outing a challenge on a par with scaling Everest. Therefore, having continuous social isolation imposed upon me has placed me in a situation whereby I yearn for a return to normality whilst simultaneously fearing what that might entail. To have a public figure like Neil Oliver expressing these sentiments when so many others are going with whatever flow will keep their heads above water – even if that means sacrificing the respect and admiration of those who won’t – is at least one welcome development, one more small mercy.

© The Editor

RADIO GROUNDHOG

The temporary removal of Talk Radio’s YouTube channel yesterday could be viewed as something of a storm in a teacup in that it was unsurprisingly reinstated within a matter of hours. Mind you, a station with Rupert Murdoch and the best legal brains money can buy behind it was hardly going to be a permanent absentee online. I’ve never been a listener myself, but I have watched many of the ten-fifteen minute Talk Radio chats on YT in recent months, especially the ones in which TV historian Neil Oliver has revealed himself to be a rare beacon of sound common sense and reasoned, enlightened argument in a sea of fearful conformity and blind acquiescence to the consensus. I definitely would have missed him being given the kind of sensible platform he’d never receive from his principal media employer of the past decade or so had the suspension become permanent. Anyway, Talk Radio has been slapped on the wrist by Silicon Valley and now it’s back, just as though nothing ever happened. But it did.

A radio station that passed all the stringent tests of Ofcom and one that is hardly the home of today’s Lord Haw-Haw’s, Talk Radio has nevertheless insisted on transmitting dissenting voices actually questioning the unimpeachable wisdom of our elected representatives and their pandemic panaceas; and this didn’t find favour with the big tech overlords who are pulling the strings of all western world leaders. Any conspiracy theory involving clandestine organisations plotting a ‘great reset’ should always remember that the men and women fronting the governments of the globe are, on the whole, not exceptionally bright individuals; as with the Hollywood A-listers whose intellectual shortcomings are exposed when they mouth their own lines rather than those written for them by a scriptwriter, our Presidents and Prime Ministers are consummate salespeople for the brand and little more. If there are nefarious figures currently conspiring to reshape the planet so that it runs along lines more conducive to their worldview by inventing a virus that will finally give them the absolute power even Kim Jong-un can only dream of, they ain’t heading any democratically-elected administrations at the moment.

What the abrupt albeit brief absence of Talk Radio from a visual medium that has long-since abandoned its outlaw origins really demonstrates about where we are now is just how intolerant the true powers-that-be are of free speech, free thought and free opinions. Using a company with such financial strength-in-depth to make a token example of was an interesting development that sent out a message to all bedroom ‘influencers’ that nobody is beyond censure in this climate of fear; those who stood up to applaud when renowned rentagob fruitcake Alex Jones was excised from the history books did so in the belief Silicon Valley would only ever single out the most hysterical and intentionally outrageous online critics whilst respecting the rights of the rest to express their concerns without fear of cancellation. Think again. Whilst Talk Radio receives the maximum publicity due to its high-profile status, what of others on the hit-list who can’t command the same viewing figures, those motivated into setting up their own little online operation because there appears to be no other outlet if one has something to say? Who would even know if they vanished overnight, never to be seen again? State your case at your peril if that case doesn’t fall neatly into line with the orthodoxy.

Yes, it could be paranoia and it could even be simple hubris, but I have to admit the practice of ‘shadow banning’ – whereby one’s online output is still there yet is mysteriously no longer visible to the casual browser and non-subscriber – has increased in the past few months to the point whereby I wonder if I myself have been victim to it. Whenever I publish a post on here it automatically appears on my Twitter account, a process that has traditionally resulted in a modest albeit steady supply of likes and re-tweets. However, recent events prompted me into taking a look at the response of my 124 Twitter followers to the Winegum posts on there of late and I realised I hadn’t received a single like or re-tweet since the back end of November – the post titled ‘The Emerald Aisle’. There have been 17 posts since that one (not including this) and none have received any recognition from my Twitter followers whatsoever. Okay, so I have no divine right to receive such endorsements, and one might reasonably assume nothing I’ve written since November has been to the taste of 124 people who had previously been appreciative of my oeuvre; but I can’t honestly believe there’s been any dip in quality or a sudden drop in the variety of subjects that fall under my radar; I genuinely think I’ve continued to do what I do – that is, what regular readers expect and enjoy – and that doesn’t really warrant this overnight absence of interest. Makes you wonder, though, dunnit. If they could suppress an important story regarding the President-elect’s son, they’re hardly going to lose sleep over shadow banning me.

Anyway, I think the timing of the Talk Radio disappearance was particularly relevant, coming as it did on the first day of Lockdown 3, the latest sequel/reboot in a shitty franchise that nobody with half-a-brain wanted. 100 years on from the Prohibition of alcohol, the Prohibition of social interaction goes from strength to strength. As Boris addressed the sufficiently terrified masses, we were encouraged to believe any increase in infections was all our fault and were once again told to stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS – lest the latter found overflowing wards an impediment to TikTok dance routines, naturally. Mind you, it was refreshing to learn one more lockdown zealot had been caught out; this time round it was our favourite human oil-slick Piers Moron, exceeding Kay Burley’s birthday shindig by jetting away from the capital’s Tier 4 Hell to the more relaxed climes of Antigua during the festive season. You may well ask how a hypocrite sleeps at night, but normal rules don’t apply; after all, if they were in possession of a conscience that would immediately disqualify them from being a hypocrite.

Of course, I’m largely focusing on events in England here, for Soviet Scotland and the People’s Republic of Wales are already lost causes behind their own little Iron Curtains. And let us not neglect the fact that another national lockdown south and east of our respective borders is good news for that beleaguered public service which is especially gifted at shooting itself in the foot as it takes the knee. As was pointed out by Triggernometry co-host Konstantin Kisin on Twitter today, we’ve gone from flattening the curve to police demanding the right to smash your door down in less than a year; this was in response to an article in the Grauniad whereby David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police Commissioner, called for power of entry into the homes of suspected lockdown-breakers; the good old Met, never slow to gleefully leap on any passing bandwagon that earns them a few chattering-classes points, has simultaneously claimed it will be ‘more inquisitive’ with people out and about in the capital. You vill show me your papers! All well and good for a constabulary with such an impressive record of always getting the right man and never making a mistake when invading anyone’s personal space in their size nines.

So, school’s out for winter once more – and probably spring and summer as well – and it’s back to online learning for all those middle-class parents with the time and space to enforce it; as for those in the wrong catchment areas, good luck and tough shit. How fortunate we are to live in the age of the goldfish; Boris tells us the tunnel will be illuminated by a glimmer of light sometime around the back end of February and we’re supposed to believe him – just like we were supposed to last year. I have no doubt whatsoever that what six days of 2021 have shown us is essentially a condensed compilation of the entire twelve months ahead of us. I can’t bloody wait, though I must be careful what I say on the subject…

© The Editor

THE PEOPLE ARE SPEAKING

twatA post on here last week marked the 80th anniversary of the world’s first regular high-definition television service, which, as we all know, was brought to us by the BBC. Crucial to the service from day one was a theoretical impartiality when it came to coverage of political matters, emphasising the need to give both sides of a debate equal airtime to avoid accusations of bias or favouritism. This needed to be reemphasised due to previous clashes via the dominant broadcasting medium of the day. A decade before transmissions opened at Ally Pally, the BBC was accused of favouring one side over another during the General Strike, though a pattern was established in 1926 that the party in power is always the one that possesses a persecution complex when it comes to broadcast news.

In 1926 it was the Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin; sixty years later it was the same party under Margaret Thatcher that pointed the finger at the Beeb, declaring it a hotbed of lefty sympathies; fast forward another decade and-a-half and it was Tony Blair’s (or, more accurately Alistair Campbell’s) Labour that singled out the nation’s premier broadcaster as harbouring grudges against the government of the day, a feud that cost the BBC its Director General, Greg Dyke. Despite the perennial paranoia of the incumbent administration, the BBC has managed to maintain impartiality on political matters, though it is notable that HM Opposition has boarded the bandwagon in recent years, particularly with Jeremy Corbyn.

At times, impartiality can present viewers or listeners with a lopsided view of the country’s political landscape, something that was especially prevalent during the EU Referendum; the impression given on the BBC during the run-up to polling day was that the Remain and Leave camps were neck-and-neck, when in reality this wasn’t the case. The American media avoided this minefield thirty years ago when it abolished a broadcasting rule that had been in place since television began its ascendancy over US radio in the late 40s, the Fairness Doctrine.

Introduced by the United States Federal Communications Commission in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine was implemented in order that the holders of broadcasting franchises would offer the public a balanced view of an especially contentious political issue of the day. Its critics compared it to Hollywood’s Hayes Code or even the Comics Code, which governed the content of comic books, both of which had arisen following moral outcries over unlicensed and uncensored material entering the public domain without first being subjected to a ruling body – not dissimilar from the old British Board of Film Censorship. Along with the Equal Time rule, which was restricted to political candidates during an election, the Fairness Doctrine was an attempt to prevent radio and television from adopting the partisan approach to issues that was characteristic of the US press, which tended to reflect the personal opinions of each respective newspaper’s owner.

In terms of the nationwide broadcasters CBS, NBC and ABC, the Fairness Doctrine was enforceable, but when it came to regional TV stations, particularly in the Deep South, it was open to abuse. WLBT was NBC’s affiliated station in Jackson, Mississippi and openly operated a segregationist policy, opting out of its parent broadcaster’s coverage of the Civil Rights movement; as a result, it was threatened with its licence being revoked in 1969. Overall, however, the Fairness Doctrine worked as a means of preventing TV and radio from being utilised as the propaganda wing of a specific political party or single issue lobby group, and the US as a whole was considerably more united in its general outlook as a consequence.

This came to an end in 1987, following years of demands for broadcast media to be as unlicensed as the press; Ronald Reagan’s former aide Mark S Fowler had progressed to the chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission and issued a report in 1985, claiming that the Fairness Doctrine contradicted the right to free speech as listed in the First Amendment. Two years later, the FCC ended the Fairness Doctrine, and to paraphrase Mr Burns, the media hounds were released. Despite warnings from his staff that ‘the only thing that protects you from the savagery of the three networks…is the Fairness Doctrine’, President Reagan gave the thumbs-up to the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine, even though numerous clauses – such as the ‘personal attack’ rule – continued to be upheld until 2000.

Over the last fifteen years, the spread of conservative talk radio across America, not to mention the increasing influence of the Republican-friendly Fox News, has shown that a ruling body need not be simplified and lazily caricatured as a totalitarian curb on free speech, but can be a necessary bulwark against the lunatics taking over the asylum. But Pandora’s Box is well and truly opened now, and there’s no way of reversing the rule. The Tea Party movement, which received extensive coverage during the 2008 Presidential Election, along with the grass-roots Republican upsurge that has propelled Donald Trump to his present position, has benefitted hugely from the end of the Fairness Doctrine, and along with the advent of the internet, ‘the voice of the people’ essentially translates as the voice of whoever rants louder than anyone else. One could argue the end of the Fairness Doctrine has been far more responsible for the erosion of public trust in elected representatives than the occasional misdemeanours of the elected representatives themselves.

Anybody who has inadvertently stumbled upon ‘Info Wars’ host Alex Jones, peddler of a thousand conspiracy theories and a man who likes to portray his bigoted bullishness as a heroic stand against Big Brother, will appreciate the potential dangers of giving a platform to any old idiot whose vocal chords can drown out the opposition. But such is media democracy – a million personal opinions all being aired at once; and nobody can see the wood on account of an abundance of bloody trees.

© The Editor