The media

Press gang: A Little Less Conversation

By Lucy Clement

The writer Somerset Maugham once described in rather disparaging terms how the Americans managed to converse without thinking. It was no doubt unfair at the time, and remains unfair to most Americans, at least those outside the current administration. But Maugham's description of a conversation consisting of "pithy and hackneyed phrases" which leave the mind "free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication" gives a rather good summary of Tony Blair's all-new scaled-up focus group initiative: The Big Conversation.

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Press Gang: Will the Sun shine for Howard?

By Lucy Clement

Could the Sun win it again for the Tories? That's the tantalising prospect held out to new party leader Michael Howard by News International boss Rupert Murdoch this week.

It was a clever piece of news management on Murdoch's part. All week rival papers had been printing critical stories about the appointment of his son James as Chief Executive. What better way to deflect them than with a juicy alternative story to run?

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Press Gang: Do it for the money, Burrell

By Lucy Clement

In Paul Burrell's position, let's face it, most people would do the same thing. Cash in. And why not? There's not much respect left for the British Royal Family to destroy, now the Queen Mum's dead and with her all that Blitz-heroine mythology.

It's a shame that Burrell's sticking to the tired old line of 'doing it for Diana', but after all those years as a flunkey it's probably too much to expect him suddenly to come out and declare yes, the Royals are a bunch of parasites and here's the inside story.

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The left and the Guardian

The Guardian's coverage of the expulsion of George Galloway from the Labour Party on 22 October was not only pro-Galloway, but notably uncritical. It took Galloway as he chose to present himself - as a left-wing martyr to the anti-war cause.

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Sexing up, lies and audio tape

By Nicole Ashford

So, did Alastair Campbell sex up that dossier? It's a question that brings to mind oft-quoted lines about the Pope and bears. Come on. Alastair Campbell is paid to sex up Government information. That's his job. The idea that on this occasion, with public opinion split on the war and Tony Blair desperately needing to win round his own MPs, Campbell sat back, put his feet up and tossed the dossier back with a "Looks fine to me" is laughable.

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Muslims, Christians, Marxists, free speech: the Muhammad cartoons dispute. An attempt at a dialogue. [2006]

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By Sean Matgamna
In the Muhammad cartoons dispute, the issue was free speech.

Q. What for socialists is the issue in the uproar over the cartoons depicting Muhammad?

A. Whether or not the devotees of a religion should be allowed to enforce the precepts, rules, and customs of a set of religious believers on people who do not voluntarily accept that religion and its rules. (Or - and this is important, too, for many of Islamic background - on people who, accepting much of the religion, disagree with some of its rules and customs).

In the Muhammad cartoon dispute, the issue was free speech.

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Defend left bookshops!

Six years down the line, left-wing bookshops Housmans and Bookmarks
are still facing a potentially ruinous libel case for stocking the
respected anti-fascist magazine Searchlight.
The case was brought by someone criticised in Searchlight.
"Astoundingly, British law allows anyone who claims they have been
libelled to sue a shop, distributor or library handling the allegedly
libellous publication, as well as or instead of suing the author,
editor and publisher," said Albert Beale of Housmans.
This case has still not reached a conclusion although it relates to
an article in a 1993 issue of Searchlight and the case was first
brought in 1996. This action is one of several initiated then by
people criticised in Searchlight, in what could be seen as
politically motivated attacks on progressive bookshops.
Housmans, which is linked to the magazine Peace News, and Bookmarks,
run by the Socialist Workers Party, have been fighting the case with
a defence of "innocent dissemination", in effect arguing that it is
impossible for bookshops, particularly small independents, to check -
and take responsibility for - the content of the thousands of
publications in stock at any one time. The shops feel that it is
important to try to take a stand, otherwise there might be no end to
this sort of "legal intimidation".
The shops are facing a new round of legal bills as the case moves
towards a conclusion, and so are relaunching the appeal fund for this
important case. Housmans has recently been targeted with a further
libel writ from one of the group who sued over Searchlight. This
case, relating to criticism in another publication, similarly
threatens the free circulation of radical material.

l Donations to "Bookshop Libel Fund", c/o HOUSMANS BOOKSHOP, 5
Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX, 020 7278 4474 or c/o BOOKMARKS
BOOKSHOP, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, 020 7637 1848.

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