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Norman Buchan

Norman Buchan Labour MP for Paisley South, was Shadow Spokesman for the Arts until the dispute with Neil Kinnock which he describes in the present issue.

Broadcasting and the Abyss

Norman Buchan, 14 June 1990

When, five long years ago, Mrs Thatcher appointed the Peacock Committee to report on the financing of the BBC it was with the intention of replacing the licence fee by advertising, and thus killing off one more of the quangos dedicated to public service. Economics were against her. It took the Committee only a couple of weeks to discover that this would slash the income of all existing commercial television. But no government committee or Royal Commission has ever said, ‘we recommend nothing,’ and this Committee, being a very bright committee, said a great deal. The aim, commented Alan Peacock, was to open up a free-market economy and let British broadcasting develop in the same way as the free press has developed since the ending of pre-censorship in 1694. The trouble with that comparison is that three centuries of the ‘free press’ have ended with 93 per cent of national daily and Sunday newspapers concentrated in the hands of a mere five people. Indeed, with only three people – Maxwell, Murdoch and Stevens – controlling 80 per cent of it. We might well ask whether we have not simply returned full circle to a 1694 triple pre-censorship. The implications for broadcasting were ominous.’

Diary: In Defence of the Word

Norman Buchan, 1 October 1987

‘We do not wish newspapers to fall into too few hands’: Kenneth Clarke, Trade and Industry Minister. ‘There could hardly be a more obvious increase in concentration than acquisition of a fifth national newspaper by a group which already owns four’: Sir Zelman Cowen, Chairman of the Press Council. Both these comments were made about the recent takeover of Today newspaper by Rupert Murdoch. Unbelievably, the first came from a speech in the House of Commons in defence of the takeover. Stripped of the technical and financial arguments that would have accompanied a reference up to the Monopolies Commission, the Government case was that, like the housemaid’s baby, it was only a small takeover: ‘less than 3 per cent of the market’. As a result, the position whereby one major grouping, Murdoch, controls over a third of the popular press was virtually ignored – at any rate, by the Government. Much was made of the 3 per cent. Nothing of the 35 per cent. The truth is that three men – Murdoch, Maxwell and Stevens – now control almost 80 per cent of the popular press in Britain.

Diary: Press Freedom v. the Home Office

Norman Buchan, 19 March 1987

After some three years of intense consultation and of formal policy-making it was more than a shock to be confronted, at the very last syllable of recorded time, with an amendment from the Leader of the Labour Party which tore the guts out of the central thesis of its document on the arts. If nothing else, my consequent sacking at least put the arts for once into the forefront of political argument.

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