Saturday 4 January 2014

UK Conspiritorial

The National Archive at Kew has released the official Cabinet papers from 1984 under the thirty-year rule. 

Their website contains a half-hour podcast where two of the archivists at Kew run through the highlights from the latest batch. Both are excellent, engaging speakers and what they have to say is very interesting and pleasingly free of obvious spin. 

Every year at this time Martha Kearney presents UK Confidentialan hour long Radio 4 special devoted to the latest release. This too was very interesting and covered much the same ground as the National Archive podcast - though, being the BBC, it wasn't quite so free of obvious spin. 

Both the National Archive and BBC Radio 4 led with the Cabinet papers' take on the Miners' Strike. The National Archive gave an overview of all the main revelations without making a lot of any particular one. 

Curiously, one they omitted became the lead angle for Martha Kearney's programme - the records of a meeting in which National Coal Board boss Sir Ian MacGregor's suggestion that 75 pits might have to be closed was raised in Margaret Thatcher's presence. The official line, we were told, was that just 20 mines were earmarked for closure. Martha said Arthur Scargill has been alleging from the start that their were secret plans to close 70 pits. This made it seem like Scargill was right all along, that the miners' cause was just and that the Thatcher government had been complicit in a lie. 

Lord Kinnock one of the programme's three guests, pointed out, however, that Scargill kept claiming all manner of different figures for secretly-planned pit closures. Lord Armstrong, another guest, noted that the National Coal Board was closing around 20 pits a year anyhow and the suggestion of 75 pit closures was explicitly over a three year period. 

Without these guests Radio 4 listeners might well have come away with the impression that Arthur Scargill was, indeed, right and the Thatcher government was in the wrong. 

No context was given, merely former BBC reporter Nicholas Jones pushing this BBC narrative with all his customary vigour. 

Here's the missing context, courtesy of the National Coal Museum:
Number of working colleries in the UK 
1920 - 2851
1930 - 2328
1944 - 1634
1947 - 958
1950 - 901
1955 - 850
1960 - 698
1965 - 483
1970 - 292
1975 - 241
1980 - 211
1985 - 133
1990 - 65
1995 - 65
2000 - 28
2004 - 19 
That's the sort of thing you don't get told by the BBC. Literally. 

I tried to find such a list on the BBC website but couldn't find one. All I found was a long list of mine closures since 1984 - which is all very well but, as you can now see, also likely to prove deeply misleading for those unaware of the vastly longer list of mines closed in the decades before the miners' strike. 

Of course, if BBC Radio 4 was making this its main angle on the National Archive 1984 batch you could safely bet that the rest of the BBC will have been doing so too. And so it proved. (Nick Higham's website article is a good example). 

They are highly coordinated in their news reporting, setting the agenda and pushing it for all it's worth. The BBC chose to make this one document its main angle. (Listening to the National Archive podcast proves this, and the archivists at Kew didn't make anything of it.) They then went to town on it.

Typical BBC.

1 comment:

  1. The BBC are constantly looking for polemic and they know that with Margaret Thatcher it is almost guaranteed: already this morning I have seen a few comments on forums about "she let a police killer go and lied to the miners" type rubbish...clearly taken in by Higham and the way these things are reported.


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