Media Guardian (registration required) has an interesting – and rather poignant – article about Mediawatch-UK, the anti-smut campaign group founded by Mary Whitehouse from which this very website draws its name.
In its Whitehouse-led heyday, the National Viewers and Listeners Association (as it was then called), had 150,000 members and was hugely influential. Nowadays it is largely ignored, except when some tired hack at the Mail, Express, or Sun needs to fill a bit of space in a media story and decides to give rent-a-quote John Beyer a call.
Poor Beyer is painfully aware of the organisation’s decline since he took over from Whitehouse:
She had the ear of Mrs Thatcher, when she was prime minister, there’s no doubt about that. When I write to Tony Blair, John Reid or Tessa Jowell I don’t even get replies.
The article goes on to say that Beyer’s inability to understand how the mood has changed in this country is responsible for the decline of Mediawatch-UK as a campaigning organisation. He was silent on the biggest media uproar of the year – the Jade Goody v. Shilpa Shetty Celebrity Big Brother furore. Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster university explains:
The Celebrity Big Brother row did not speak to any of the issues that Beyer’s organisation was set up to deal with. It wasn’t a taste and decency issue, it was about dumbing-down, racism and bullying. Whether you saw it as a contrived issue or not, I thought very important issues were raised by that row. But the fact that mediawatch-UK didn’t get involved symbolises to me why they are now so marginalised.
In conclusion, Barnett says Beyer is a man out of time:
Whitehouse was brilliant at capturing a mood. But that mood has changed. Britain is a more tolerant, less censorious place. Beyer would have a much stronger constituency in America. If a tit pops out on primetime over there the country goes berserk. We left that behind 30 years ago. For that reason Beyer’s organisation doesn’t really have much of a constituency any more.
But if Mediawatch-UK finally sees the light and ceases to operate, will we have to change the name of this website? Any suggestions?