Stephen Glover: We have a stake in a Chinese restaurant, even as the BBC World Service is cut
Media Studies: Does David Cameron knowabout this £230m investment in China? I doubt it
Monday 14 November 2011
China's state-owned broadcaster is expanding worldwide. China Central Television (CCTV) is building a studio in Washington, which will serve as its US centre. It has also built a facility in Nairobi, where it will broadcast its English-speaking channel in Africa. I don't imagine CCTV will pump out crude propaganda, but it is certain to reflect the interests of the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, the Coalition is cutting back the BBC World Service, which does not broadcast propaganda, and seeks to enlighten and inform people who may live in societies less free than our own. The World Service's annual budget of £237m is being cut by 16 per cent, and some of its language services will be scaled back, or even abandoned.
Some will say that China has the second-biggest economy in the world, while Britain is a debt-ridden island plunging down the league of the world's largest economies. Mustn't we cut our cloth according to our means? I might accept this were it not for this fact: through the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), the Department for International Development has sizeable investments in China which, if sold, could more than make up the cuts to the BBC World Service.
Some of the CDC's £2.5bn overseas investments do benefit poor people in poor countries. Not so its holdings in China. The CDC has investments worth £230m there, and is committed to putting in a further £100m. Existing investments include a share in a chain of "hotpot" restaurants called Chaboo-Chaboo, which obviously should not be classified as aid of any kind.
And yet they are. All CDC's holdings are included in Britain's aid budget, which the Government is committed to increasing to 0.7 per cent of GDP. If the restaurants were sold and our other Chinese investments liquidated, our international aid budget (set to reach £11bn by 2015) would decline fractionally, which would doubtless upset the accountants in the Department for International Development, and the ministers who preside over it.
Does David Cameron realise this department has investments in China worth £230m? Or George Osborne? I doubt it. Are Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, or Mark Thompson, its director general, aware? I don't expect so. There is a significant pile of money, categorised as aid but doing nothing for the poor, that could be diverted to the hard-pressed BBC World Service, which really does do good for poor people in the Third World.
How Chinese ministers must shake their heads in wonder and contempt. They, who do not care overmuch about truth and objectivity in broadcasting, are building up a global broadcasting operation. And we, who should care about truth and objectivity in broadcasting, are cutting back the BBC World Service while sitting on an investment in a Chinese hotpot chain! No better example could be found of what is meant by the Decline of the West.
Damned if he knew, damned if he didn't
There seems to be widespread disappointment that there wasn't a "Perry Mason moment" during last week's interrogation of James Murdoch by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Some observers had hoped he would be felled by a question from the Labour MP Tom Watson, and he wasn't.
But there is another group of people who weren't necessarily hoping for a knockout blow – investors in News Corp, the media multinational controlled by the Murdoch family. Despite weeks of prepping, James Murdoch revealed himself as a first-class chump who in June 2008 didn't question why his company needed to pay out £700,000 to a victim of phone hacking, or read the QC's opinion recommending settlement.
Some will say this show of incompetence was the inevitable price of pretending he didn't know about the extent of phone hacking. Maybe – but it's also possible he was unaware of what was going on in his company. So far as investors are concerned, if he is not a knave, he is a fool. One way or another, he really was knocked out last Thursday.
Is europhobia now de rigueur at the Guardian?
Guess which newspaper's economics editor wrote this last week: "The European Union has always had problems with democracy... The real decisions in Europe are now taken by the Frankfurt Group, an unelected cabal made up of eight people... accountable to no one. Governments come and go but the policies remain the same, creating a glaring democratic deficit."
This robust Euroscepticism was part of a blog on guardian.co.uk by Larry Elliott, the paper's economics editor. Its columnist Seumas Milne recently wrote along similar lines. Although its leaders have not yet been infiltrated by such sentiments, they are hardly Eurofanatical.
When The Guardian put up its price to £1.20 in September, I forecast an accelerated drop in sales. I was wrong. It has not happened, though the effects could conceivably be delayed. Last month, the paper's circulation fell by less than 1 per cent. This may explain The Daily Telegraph's decision to increase its cover price to £1.20 from today.
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