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24.11.07

The Cornish Media

The BBC is also facing charges of a lack of support for Scots and for Cornish due to a failure to mention either language in its statement of Public Purposes, a mission statement for the corporation which is committed to implementing under the terms of the BBC charter. The document states that the BBC’s output should support the UK’s indigenous languages “such as Gaelic, Welsh, Irish and Ulster Scots”, but fails to specifically mention either Scots or Cornish.

The above is taken from the Eurolang website.

What excuse does the BBC provide for this less than even handed treatment of the UK's indigenous minority languages? I think all Cornish TV licence payers have a right to know and should certainly ask. I don't think anybody is asking for 50% of programs to be in Cornish but is it right that the language should be relegated to the odd half hour on local radio? Have the Cornish public been asked about the cultural content of BBC productions broadcast in the Duchy?

The problem is not just the BBC but with the lack of independent media sources in the Duchy in general. National minorities, distinct cultural regions, indigenous peoples or whatever designation you want to use must be provided with a pluralistic media that allows them fair access.

It is in this vein that I am happy to reprint a letter produced by J Angarrack of the civil rights group Cornwall 2000.

ELECTION 2004: CORNWALL 2000 REACT TO WESTERN MORNING NEWS ASSISTING IN NORMALISING THE VIEWS OF ENGLISH SUPREMACISTS AND XENOPHOBES.

INTRODUCTION

This short paper constitutes an analysis of the letters page of the Western Morning News daily newspaper in the ten week period leading up to the elections to the European Parliament of June 10th 2004.

The author is director of civil rights organisation Cornwall 2000. He undertook his investigation after Cornish minority rights activists had, for many months, been complaining that whilst they were experiencing difficulty in having letters published, the ethnic majority and those at the other end of the political spectrum appeared to be having little difficulty.

This paper is primarily intended to inform the Council of Europe's Advisory Committee to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities [FCPNM]. However, it will also be of interest to concerned individuals, academics and non-government organisations working in the field of minority rights. It will also contribute to the debate on whether the interests of free and representative expression, and therefore the democratic process, would be better served by Cornwall acquiring some form of independent news media.

CONTENTS:

1. BACKGROUND.
2. CASE STUDIES.
3. THE UKIP FACTOR.
4. THE UKIP MESSAGE.
5. THE MISSING CORNISH DIMENSION.
6. CONCLUSION.
1. BACKGROUND.


1.1 As with most of the written news media in Cornwall, the Western Morning News [WMN] is part of the Daily Mail Group. The Daily Mail produces news articles that are sympathetic to those on the right of British politics. Its agenda is largely centralist, Anglophile, Royalist and Eurosceptic.

1.2 The WMN serves a population of approximately two million people over a catchment area extending through Cornwall, Devon and an indeterminate area to the east. The paper produces a Cornwall edition and describes itself as "Cornwall's only local daily paper". In many areas of Cornwall, the Daily Mail Group have acquired a monopoly on the dissemination of local/regional printed news matter.

1.3 The Cornish are a pre-English minority group constituting some 175,000 - 200,000 people mostly living in their historic homeland of Cornwall/Kernow. A recent survey by Plymouth University found that, if given the opportunity, over a third of pupils in Cornwall schools would identity as Cornish. Elements within the group strive to maintain their region’s constitutional position and the group’s unique social outlook, linguistic heritage and cultural identity.

1.4 UK Census 2001 carried a 'Cornish' ethnic group category. Some public authorities carry out ethnic monitoring of the Cornish. The Cornish language has been accorded international protected status. The Council of Europe has urged the Government to extend the cultural, educational and other benefits of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities to the Cornish.

2. CASE STUDIES.

2.1 The Press Complaints Commission [PCC] is the newspaper industry vehicle of self-regulation. The PCC has a Code of Practice which states: "The Press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to a persons race. In particular, newspapers must not publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material". However, the Cornish experience of this organisation has given rise to a widely held belief that, as those responsible for determining whether a newspaper has breached the code rely on funding from the owners of the very same newspapers, it is a less than satisfactory vehicle of regulation.

2.2 The WMN often publish inaccurate, misleading and distorted information about the Cornish. This includes their social circumstances, historical background, economic profile and the constitutional position of their territory. Attempts to have these inaccuracies corrected rarely produce results.

2.3 There are also instances where WMN reports have removed the ethnic Cornish dimension. On other occasions deeds which cast the majority group in a less than favourable light are left out of reportage. I have highlighted examples of this practice in other publications, however, one relevant instance occurred in May 2001.

2.4 When reporting on a South West Regional Assembly meeting held in Exeter on May 19th the WMN failed to describe to its readers the scene of flag waving, UKIP leaflet distributing, elements shouting down panellists. When their `European Conspiracy` theme failed to win them any friends they resorted to aggressive heckling in the base language of the xenophobe, the homophope and the white supremacist. My letter to the WMN highlighting these events was not published.

2.5 A recent example of the WMN publishing material designed to denude the distinctive history of the Cornish, undermine their self-awareness and endorse an 'official' version of history which retrospectively backdates English hegemony over Cornwall occurred on 10 February 2004. Although the story centred on an Anglophile myth, my letter calling for the claims to be substantiated, and offering a correction of the misleading picture being presented, was not published.

2.6 However relevant the above may be, this paper explores the ten week period leading up to the EU elections of 10 June 2004. As such, the period under review begins on 1 April 2004. During this period I submitted for publication a number of letters which addressed issues raised by the newspaper itself.

2.7 An opportunity to test WMN letter publishing policy arose on April 9th when a WMN feature writer accused the Cornish of being inter alia: socially bankrupt, unfunny, pathetic, ham-fisted and futile; the cause and source of irritation with supremacist attitudes and an identity that is both amusing for onlookers yet so completely unnecessary. Cornish letters of protest, clarification and defence were not published.

2.8 Another opportunity occurred on April 15th when a WMN feature writer adopted a supremacist posture by claiming that the actions of 'other' 19th century imperial powers were "unspeakable", whereas British imperialists acted out of benign paternalism. In the lead-up to European elections the constant vainglorious misrepresentation of Anglo-British history has important social and political implications for us all. However, my attempt to provide balance by offering an alternative appraisal was not published.

2.9 On 18 May 2004 the WMN published a letter from a prominent charity refuting one of the many United Kingdom Independence Party [UKIP] derived myths then being printed in the paper. My letter applauding this action and explaining that the UKIP is driven by a phalanx of similar myths that have xenophobia as the common denominator was not published.

2.10 On 19 May 2004 the WMN published a letter asserting that the proposed ban on hunting, a Right to Roam Act, speed cameras, increasing fuel costs, house price rises and salary discrepancies? are "European idiocies" which the public should "fight". My letter highlighting the fact that there is an increasing tendency in some quarters to blame 'outsiders' for perceived problems of our own making was not published.

2.11 In the week before the election I made one last attempt to explore a number of UKIP derived inaccuracies being printed in the letters columns of the WMN, in pro-UKIP news features run by the WMN and in prominent advertisements placed in the WMN by the UKIP. The issues were as follows: 1. Transfer of power to Brussels had been achieved without reference to the people. 2. The UKIP would deliver a crime free society. 3. That clogged roads, bad railways etc were the fault of immigrants, and that the UKIP would deliver a society free of overcrowding. 4. The UKIP would get rid of "red tape" and "human rights". 5. The claims that the UKIP would "restore" freedom of speech. 6. The UKIP postulations on people being "born free Britons". This letter was not published.

2.12 Letters from four other Cornish people along similar lines also remained unpublished. It should be noted that demand had previously led the WMN to establish a specific letters page entitled 'Cornish Issues'. This was withdrawn without explanation about two years ago.
2.13 When a Cornishman complained that the WMN printed too many anti-EU letters and too few pro-Cornish, pro-EU, letters the editor stated, "We never suppress any news, pro- or anti-EU" [April 6].


3. THE UKIP FACTOR

3.1 The fact that many letters offering corrections to a number of UKIP assertions [and others voicing alternative views to certain aspects of UKIP policy] remained unpublished was not due to any lack of space. In the ten-week period under review the WMN published 175 letters [some extending to 500 words] from 86 people supporting the UKIP stance. This is the sum total of letters that either specifically supported the UKIP or advocated withdraw from Europe on UKIP principles. I have included correspondence that originated from outside the WMN catchment area but excluded letters from self-declared UKIP supporters when discussing other issues. Copies of newspapers used in this survey are stored in libraries throughout Cornwall.

3.2 Of these letters, 31 people having two or more letters published were responsible for 119 out of the 175. Breaking the figures down still further, a mere eight people were responsible for 57 letters. Sometimes the same correspondent would have two letters published in one edition [May 4th for example]. Often the writers were allowed to repeat unchallenged arguments time and time again. One UKIP supporter had ten letters published over the period under examination, another nine. All in all, the pro-UKIP stance had more letters published than all other political parties put together.

3.3 Of the 31 who had two or more letters published, 9 gave addresses in Cornwall. To the best of my knowledge none of these people are active in the close-knit ethnic Cornish social, cultural or political scene.

3.4 There were the exceptions. In the ten-day period up to and including election day the paper published five letters that opposed the UKIP stance. This, however, must be viewed alongside the publication of 32 pro-UKIP stance letters during the same period. The paper also published the odd pro-Cornish letter - as long as it did not critically examine the UKIP message.

3.5 The onslaught on the senses was compounded by a series of WMN UKIP related stories and features that failed to subject UKIP presentation and ideology to critical in-depth analysis. Daily UKIP adverts in the WMN stated that they were the only people "telling the truth".

4. THE UKIP MESSAGE

4.1 Although the UKIP leadership portray the party as working for the entire population of the UK, one of the UKIP's main concerns is to preserve English cultural, economic and political domination of the UK. On June 8 a letter from the UKIP Chairman identified 'This England' magazine as the vehicle for UKIP aspirations. The 'This England' website pledges to defend the 'English Constitution'. The same letter acknowledges that the UKIP and the Daily Mail newsgroup share common objectives. Yet the Daily Mail says that it represents the voice of 'Middle England'. On 12 June 2004 the Mail branded as a "lunatic" the person responsible for steering public funds towards refugee, minority and other underprivileged groups. Sometimes code is used to disguise the covert aim of UKIP activists. A prime example occurred on May 31 when a UKIP correspondent spoke of who "John Bull" should be voting for. At UKIP meetings, while the talk is of "reclaiming Britain from Brussels", supporters wear 'England' logos. On May 4 a WMN UKIP letter declared, "Stand and be counted for England and show that the English are alive and will not be led to the scaffold without a fight".

4.2 In the ten-week period under review the WMN published a plethora of largely unchallenged UKIP derived assertions. Some correspondents had attempted to engender support for UKIP by appealing to Cornish sentiments, others pandered to the reactionary forces of English supremacism/nationalism. Nearly all strove to conjure up in the minds of voters the notion of some innocent Eden-like past when those diverse groups who inhabited Britain were ruled by a benevolent monarchy and a tolerant English-dominated Westminster Parliament which 'gave' the world the English language and spread 'freedom' throughout the globe.

4.3 Although the people of Camborne hold an annual festival in remembrance of steam pioneer Richard Trevithick, the Cornish were outraged this year when [according to the Chairman of the Trevithick Committee writing in the West Briton newspaper of March 11] the steam parade was prevented from going ahead after police refused a road closure order on grounds of safety. Six days before election day, and in order to attract maximum attention, the WMN published a full colour picture of last years Trevithick Day steam parade and underneath this picture a UKIP supporter was asserting that an "EU Directive forbidding the parade" had been issued.

4.4 On 27 April the WMN published a letter from a UKIP supporter who "feared for the homelessness that would ensue for many who would have to sell their homes to pay the inevitable taxes" when the EU force UK drivers to "drive on the right".

4.5 On the same day that a WMN headline declared "We are heading for an abyss for which there is no return" a UKIP supporter, while fearing for the demise of "our incorruptible monarchy" asserts that "continental jurisprudence is founded on slavery" [April 6]. Later another UKIP supporter writes "We must stop supporting immigrants already here and stop any more from coming in" [April 13]. A WMN feature writer then declares, "Maybe the English are doomed, but it is the ultimate shame if we roll over and allow the barbarians to overrun us"[April 24].

4.6 After a Eurosceptic writes "we are swamped with migrants" and "the Government want to appease every race except the English" [April 26] a UKIP MEP looked to Enoch Powell for political inspiration [May11]. A UKIP supporter declares that remaining in the EU is "nothing short of peeing on the graves" of those UK citizens killed in W.W.II [May 11], after which many UKIP supporters cry "retain our centuries old freedoms and liberties" [May 15]. Another asserts that the EU are plotting to ban "Women's Institutes and Mothers Unions" [May 15]. Another states that we should "fight the European idiocies" of speed cameras and increases in fuel costs [May 19]. To which another declares that the EU is nothing but "Gestapo totalitarianism at its worst" [May 27].

4.7 On election day the WMN published two letters of significance. One letter stated that the Cornish have a chip on their shoulder, are no different than anyone else, and after all, "we all live on planet earth". Next to this was a letter from a UKIP supporter equating Britain with England, and extolling the virtues of celebrating the English identity.

4.8 A WMN caveat printed daily on the inside front page states, "The WMN bears no allegiance to any political party but seeks to serve what it believes are the best interests of the people".

5. THE MISSING CORNISH DIMENSION

5.1 The few letters that opposed the UKIP stance often levelled their criticisms at UKIP jingoism and xenophobia. Others argued for continuing EU membership to assist trade, combat pollution or fight crime. Some concentrated on the harm support for the UKIP would do to the Conservative Party. A small number of WMN features also carried these messages. However, never once was the UKIP agenda examined from a distinctly Cornish minority rights perspective.

5.2 The fact that the UKIP wish to terminate EU membership was publicised. However, very little publicity was given to the fact that the UKIP also wish to increase spending on armaments, reverse the process of devolution and repeal the Human Rights Act 1998.

5.3 Yet international co-operation and regulation acts as a counterbalance to the excesses of an over-centralised state, devolution is a way for submerged nations and repressed regions to regain lost decision making power and the Human Rights Act 1998 [HRA], which is the domestic version of the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR], constitutes part of the legislative apparatus the Cornish rely upon to acquire statistical visibility, cultural recognition and educational equality.

5.4 The ECHR has given rise to the Strasbourg Court stating, "Free elections and freedom of expression, particularly freedom of debate, form the bedrock of any democratic system. It is particularly important in the period preceding an election that opinions and information of all kinds are allowed to circulate freely". Bowman v UK 1998

5.5 Whose human rights are the UKIP going to denude and/or remove when they repeal the HRA? Which groups of people will be left with less decision making power when devolution is reversed? What would these same people say if German voters turned to a nationalist party that advocated isolationism, centralisation, a clamp down on minority rights and a major weapons building programme? Will the bloody and repressive history of these islands be allowed to repeat itself when an English dominated Westminster Parliament unrestrained by the moderating force of international law holds unfettered sway?

5.6 Although 50,000 people in Cornwall signed a declaration for a Cornish Assembly, and most reasonable people would support Cornish cultural and educational aspirations, it was still possible to travel Cornwall and see a Cornish Flag flying alongside a UKIP poster. It is not difficult to see why, when an ideology goes unchallenged, and important elements of the debate are kept out of the public domain, voters can become confused.

6. CONCLUSION

6.1 In the run up to an election, and from a catchment area extending to two million people, the WMN had allowed 31 people to dominate its letters pages. This gave an impression of a South West populace resentful of ‘outsiders’ and obsessed by fear of foreign influence.

6.2 Objective observers witnessed the WMN pandering to a feeding frenzy of claims that became more paranoid as time progressed. The superficial impression was one of overwhelming regional support for a xenophobic and regressive organisation that revels in the nationalism that fuelled centuries of inter-European mistrust, resentment and warfare.

6.3 Repetition of supercharged rhetoric created an alarmist atmosphere that was used to full advantage by the UKIP. A WMN June 8 full page feature on the UKIP had the writer stating, "Exceptionally, the letters column of the WMN have long shown the depth of feeling on this EU issue, and not just on the nationality/patriotic front".

6.4 By helping foster such conditions the WMN had been partly responsible for a general dynamic which encouraged people to gloss over disturbing aspects of UKIP ideology. In effect, the WMN had assisted in normalising the views of English supremacists and xenophobes.

6.4 William Hague is a former Leader of the Conservative Party. His comment that "English Nationalism is the most dangerous form of all forms of nationalism that can arise in the United Kingdom" is not without foundation [BBC Today programme 9 Jan 2000]. On the same programme Jack Straw said, "The English have used their propensity to violence to subjugate the smaller nations of Britain. Then we used it in Europe and with our Empire. So I think what you have in the UK is small nations who have been over the centuries under the cosh of the English".

6.5 The UKIP went from an average of 7% of the total share of the vote in 1999 to 16% in 2004. They topped the poll in many districts within the WMN readership area and doubled the number of seats in a SW England region that included Cornwall. The UKIP did not win any seats in Scotland and Wales

Cornwall 2000 is aware of the obligation upon Government, contained within the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities [FCPNM], to "ensure, within the framework of their legal system, that persons belonging to a national minority are not discriminated against in their access to the media". We note in particular the Advisory Committee's acknowledgement, contained in the Explanatory Report, of the "self-evident" right for minority groups to seek state assistance in creating their own forms of media. We trust that the Advisory Committee will find this report of value when considering its response to the Governments forthcoming Compliance Report.


Cornwall 2000 would welcome any comments on this paper.

CORNWALL 2000: CIVIL LIBERTIES/HUMAN RIGHTS
45 Higher Bore Street, Bodmin, Cornwall UK. PL31 1JS
Tel/Fax: 01208 76336
Email: cornubian@tiscali.co.uk
JOHN ANGARRACK
14 May 2004
© Cornwall 2000 [3335 words]

2 comments:

Lord James-River said...

Cornubian - is it a duchy or a country?

cornubian said...

Are they mutually exclusive terms?