We are told (Independent, January 7th) that Tony Blair has been dining with Rupert Murdoch, with a view to the Murdoch press supporting the new, “improved” Labour Party. This development should not make us run away with the idea that Murdoch has suddenly embraced socialism. Not at all. If Murdoch gives Blair support he will want something in return — like no new cross-media ownership rules that might interfere with the onward march of News International. And if, come the election, there is any sign that the Conservative Party’s fortunes are reviving, Mr Murdoch will dump Mr Blair like he dumps everybody who fails to line his pockets or further his interests.
What, you might ask, has this got to do with the representation of homosexuality in the media?
Well, while Mr Murdoch may be regarded as unpredictable in his political loyalties, other media tycoons are not. Their loyalty has been, and always will be, to the Conservative Party. As Lord Stevens, Chairman of United Newspapers, publishers of The Daily Express, Sunday Express and Star has said: “I think it would be very unlikely that I would have a newspaper that would support the socialist party. That isn’t what some people call press freedom, but why should I want a product I didn’t approve of? I believe it is in the best interests of United Newspapers in terms of profits and shareholders to support the Conservatives.”
The middle-market, true blue Express and Mail have realised that their natural ally, the Conservative Party, is in deep trouble. Having indulged themselves in a little bit of Tory bashing over the past year, when there was not an election in sight, they now see that it has got to stop. They have to return to the loyal Tory fold. Any honeymoon that might have been enjoyed by Bambi Blair is now over and he is under heavy fire from the Fleet Street propaganda battalions. Nothing that he or any of his colleagues do or say will any longer be taken at face value. Mr Blair is finding out just how nasty and dishonest the press can be when it sees the Conservative Party teetering on the brink of destruction.
Not only that, but the price war is beginning to bite in a big way. The papers know that one way to attract and hold on to readers is to get tough, swing to the right, provide simple solutions to complicated problems. Anyone reading the Tory press over the past month would have been left in no doubt that they’re all trying to out-tough each other. Tabloid machismo is back in fashion.
And it is not just in the arena of politics, but also in social policy that the papers are getting increasingly reactionary. The Daily Express and The Daily Mail are full of fifties-style photographs of idealised family groups. You’ve seen them — dad, mum, and the kids sitting round the fire, dad smoking his pipe, mum doing her sewing — everyone in their rightful place and all is well with the world. In this fantasy world there is no room for you-know-what.
On December 24th The Daily Mail even treated us to a gruesome group photograph of the Jakobovits family. It decorated an extended interview with Lord Jakobovits, the ex-Chief Rabbi and proponent of the genetic annihilation of gays. The title of the piece, “Why we must all fight to rescue the family”, should have been warning enough of the reactionary stuff to come. For who is the prime enemy of the family? You’ve guessed it.
Lynda Lee-Potter, who was conducting the interview wrote: “His trenchant view that homosexual behaviour is always wrong has made him the victim of abusive attacks and hatred, but he is unrelenting.” She quotes Jakobovits as saying: “I have every sympathy but I cannot condone it. The urge I can understand, but to give in, to perform marriage ceremonies between males, or between females is horrendous. It debases the sanctity of life in every way. I think that the act itself should be regarded as illegal in the same way as incest is illegal. The state has legislated on incest and I would like the same attitude to homosexual acts. It is just as much an affront… It’s a perversion. It’s also a violation of nature and a violation of the natural law and the moral law. Moreover it frustrates the whole meaning of marriage. I think the majority of citizens still feel a sense of outrage over this.”
Meanwhile, in The Daily Express (December 22nd), Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s ex-propagandist, who has a face as sour as his opinions, wrote: “Homosexuals are still a minority. At most they probably number no more than one in 100, which is still too many.”
Then came the first of two controversies over gay kisses on TV. The BBC’s children’s programme Byker Grove featured one boy, Noddy, giving another, Gary, a peck on the cheek. It lasted one quarter of a second. The Sun (December 15th) said — as it usually does in times of national crisis — that “protests from parents jammed BBC switchboards”. Mary Whitehouse was pulled out of her dotage to screech, “They should not touch this issue on a children’s programme.” In an editorial, the paper said that the BBC was “defiling teatime” by showing the kiss and giving “kids as young as five the impression that homosexuality is normal or something they should try.”
The Daily Mail invited greasy Tory MP Harry Greenway to say “disgraceful” and then followed up with other dimwits like Nicholas Winterton and Stephen Green venting their homophobic spleens in the most extreme fashion.
Over in The Sunday Express, Brian Hitchen — who considers himself the ultimate macho journalist — wrote: “What will happen next? Normal Gary could give naughty Noddy a whack in the mouth. But don’t hold your breath. This is the BBC we’re talking about. They don’t have people like me writing the scripts.” Are we to understand from this that Mr Hitchen would approve of a 15-year-old boy being smashed in the face because he happened to be gay? Would Big Brian like to do it himself?
The Sunday Express’s new female columnist, Janie Allan (who is basically Hitchen in drag) was writing about “why Britain has gone wrong” — a favourite theme of right-wing ratbags. Ms Allan’s rather predictable conclusion is that our present state of decay has been brought about because we are no longer a Christian nation. She says. “Today, awash with misguided liberal compassion, Britain seems to regard the Ten Commandments as the Ten Suggestions.” She says that it is fashionable to “defy God openly” and cites the case of “Sir (Lady?) Ian McKellen, honoured by a Monarch who is Defender of the Faith, [who] encourages everyone to rip pages out of the book of Leviticus which refer to the sin of homosexuality. The sad Sir Ian knows he has nothing to fear from the Defender of the Faith.”
In the hands of these ranting journos, Christianity becomes just like a branch of the Nazi Party.
There was also a spate of “children must be protected from gays” stories.
The Daily Mail (December 12th) reported that “Mother wins a ban on gay propaganda” and claimed that a woman in Shropshire had obtained an injunction stopping youth workers from contacting her son, aged 15, because she says they are trying to “influence” him into a homosexual lifestyle.
Although this purported to be a straightforward news story (can there be such a thing in The Daily Mail?), the paper said: “The mother’s battle reflects widespread fears that, following the lowering of the age of consent to 18, immature youngsters are increasingly being pressurised to accept themselves as homosexual.” Is that news reporting, or is that opinion masquerading as fact? Where is the evidence for this supposed “widespread concern” (and concern within a tiny minority of loony MPs and religious bigots does not count as “widespread”.)
The story was expanded by The Sunday Telegraph (December 18th) which headed its version: “My boy was lured away by gays and youth workers”. The story began with an interview with the boy’s mother who is trying to convince herself that her son isn’t gay — never mind what he thinks about it! She says, “I have always made it clear that I thought homosexuality on television was disgusting. And I have always told my son that he should respect women and only have sex when he really loved a girl.” She says that if he is heterosexual “all well and good” but if he is gay “I don’t know how I’ll face up to it.” This is obviously a woman with a big problem about sexuality. The court should have been issuing injunctions to protect the boy against her.
On December 22nd, The Daily Express told us that social workers at Islington Council “sent a 14-year-old boy in their care to a gay group” which turned out to be Hackney Outreach Project, described as “a confidential environment for gay young people with counselling for sexuality, Aids and equal opportunities”. The boy also apparently visited a West End night-club in drag and returned to the children’s home with unexplained cash.
The message from these stories was clear — gays are trying to “recruit” children through support, counselling and information groups. This was most directly put by Valerie Riches of the ludicrously named “Family and Youth Concern” religious group. According to The Sunday Telegraph, she “makes the bitter but logical observation” about homosexuals that “since they can’t procreate they have to proselytise”.
Having lost the argument during the age of consent debate, the religious right has now come up with this new line of attack. It is sinister and worrying, and it could herald a new campaign to defame and undermine the work of gay groups offering support to young people. This is an area we need to keep an eye on.
The Daily Express (December 17th) gave space for the certifiable bigot, Terry Dicks MP, to say “Don’t help Aids victims”. He was referring to the handing out of National Lottery money to charities and demanding that none should go to Aids research or education groups. Mr Dicks, I understand, considers himself to be a good Christian.
Then came the second “gay kiss” brouhaha, this time a lesbian smacker on Brookside. “Steamiest lesbian shots hot up soap” declared The Daily Express, while the Mail said: “Brookside flirts with new storm of protest as Beth meets her latest, and most passionate lesbian lover.”
There was a rather different reaction to this kiss, though. No one said that they felt sick when they saw it (even though Channel 4 caved in and excised the scene from the Saturday afternoon omnibus edition). This might be explained by a remark made by a Brookside spokesperson who made the point that the kiss was “so hot and sexy that it will appeal to both men and women”. For let us not forget that lesbianism is a big turn-on for straight men. (Indeed, on January 8th, The News of the World told us of a Government minister, Gerry Malone, spending an hour watching a “lesbian sex show” in which “naked girls played sex games with whipped cream”.)
Perhaps Brookside’s gay story-line is not quite as politically correct as it seems. Maybe, after all, it is not there to increase understanding, or for lesbians to identify with, but for straight men to get off on. Could it have been a coincidence that a large photograph of the kiss appeared on page three of The Sun, in a space traditionally reserved for straight male wank-fodder?
The Daily Mail (January 3rd) then tracked down the Romanian soldier who is claiming political asylum in Britain on the grounds that he is gay. The reporter found that 25-year-old Ioan Vraciu had “centrefolds of naked girls” decorating the walls of his bedsit. When questioned about this, the young man said that they were there as a cover for visiting friends who didn’t know he was gay. The Daily Mail’s reporter had clearly concluded that Vraciu is not gay. The other inescapable conclusion was that The Daily Mail didn’t think he should be in this country at all, whether he is gay, straight or hermaphrodite. In its opinion, no foreigner should be here “sponging” off the state — even if being sent back means he’ll have his throat cut. Remember, righteous right-wing “Christians” don’t believe in “compassion” — particularly if it costs them money.
A story in The Daily Telegraph (December 27th) headed “Bleak outlook for the gay community” summed up the situation wonderfully. The fact that it was referring to the situation in Romania seemed irrelevant.
All in all, it was a depressing month in the papers, and I fear that as the political battle hots up we are going to see homosexuality increasingly used as an instrument for cranking the country further to the right. How much further right can the Mail and Express go, you might ask, short of putting swastikas on their masthead?
Watch this space and you’ll see.