Tuesday 25th October 2016                 Change text size:

Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane would be proud of the British press

newspaper stand By Bobbie Johnson via Flickr

100 years ago today the legendary Orson Welles was born. Seventy-four years after the release of his first and greatest film, Citizen Kane, we can only wonder what the eponymous lead and the real men that were his inspiration, (Hearst, Pullizter and Northcliffe) would make of the role of the British press in our general election.

Orson Welles was an American actor, director and producer born May 6, 1915. He was the son of Richard, a wealthy inventor, and Beatrice, a concert pianist. He was highly gifted himself as a magician, pianist and painter. His 1938 “The War of the Worlds” has become one of the most famous radio broadcasts of all time.

But perhaps his most famous role was as the media magnate, Charles Foster Kane, in 1941’s Citizen Kane. This, his first motion picture, was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won the Best Writing category. Kane was largely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Kane is an enormously wealthy newspaper publisher who uses his press power to wield huge influence against enemies. Sound familiar?

The Times, Sun and Mail have launched slanderous attacks on Ed Miliband and his father, fanned fear about the influence of legitimately elected SNP MPs and already challenged the post-election legitimacy of a Miliband government or coalition. Oliver Huitson’s excellent recent article on OurKingdom articulates the strategy of the three leading newspapers operating as, “a media machine entirely in lock step with Conservative HQ.”

Peter Oborne’s article for the same website explains how, “In Britain, it is often asserted that we have a free press. This is not completely true. There are numerous subjects which national newspapers and broadcasters either ignore or devote token attention.”

We explored the subject ourselves in 2012, with our Guide to Responsible Media and a series of articles, such as “Freedom of expression is not the same as a freedom to mislead“, and, “A free press would be good idea”.

Rupert Murdoch, the Barclays Brothers and Jonathan Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere), owners of the Times/Sun, Telegraph and Mail respectively, decided long ago that that their corporate and personal (non-dom) interests coincided with, and were furthered by, a Conservative government. Rupert Murdoch’s deeply cynical ploy of strongly backing the SNP in Scotland to weaken Labour in its heartlands and simultaneously stoking fears about the SNP in England to help the Conservatives in theirs, illustrates this naked political manipulation.

Citizen Kane is ultimately destroyed by the stock market crash of 1929, forcing him to sell his media empire to his sworn enemy. In the real world Murdoch, Barclays and Harmsworth have seen their net worth (Forbes/Sunday Times) rise by over £10 billion since the stock market crash of 2008, from £6.7 billion to £16.8 billion. It’s a pity life doesn’t imitate art.

Orson Welles died at the age of 70 on October 10, 1985. He was survived by his third wife, Paola Mori, girlfriend Oja Kodar, and four children. You can see the great man in action on Parkinson in 1974 here.

Photo: Bobbie Johnson via Flickr

Further reading:

General election: attention given to sustainability in campaigns criticised

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