I first met Greg in the summer of 1985 just after I had finished my first degree. I walked into his office, knocked on the door and said ‘My name is David, can I help.’

Retelling the story later Greg would claim that the thought crossed his mind that I might be a spy. Given my appearance(!) and the fact I was only 21, it’s not surprising he dismissed the thought and took me on as a volunteer. I had become interested in media sociology when undertaking a Sociology module as part of my Biology degree and had got my best mark of the year for my essay on the media and the Miners’ strike, though I admit I did not attend any of Greg’s lectures. Though I was studying for a degree in biology, I was immediately taken with the discipline of Sociology. I remember the euphoria, as if it was yesterday, of discovering that all these weird ideas that I had were actually just the “common sense” of sociology. We had just gone through a whole year of the Miners strike and the experience of the Hunger Strikes in Ireland and the horror of Falklands/Malvinas were just behind us. Let’s also remember the US invasion of Grenada, the assault on the revolutionary government of Nicaragua and, of course, the liberation struggle in South Africa. I had been politicised by all of this and Sociology felt like coming home. It was this awakening and my subsequent voluntary and then paid work at the Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) that set me on the path I later took.

Greg was as everyone says a gregarious, supportive and generous host in person and in professional life. I would certainly not have as good an appreciation of the many varieties of curry in Glasgow had I not met him.

Our office was in a Victorian terraced house which the GUMG gradually took over as a research centre. It was a few minutes walk from the rest of the Sociology department and that distance was a blessing as the engaged nature of the research we did there was not always, ahem, properly appreciated by some other parts of the department. This is not the place to analyse why that might be, but the fact of the separation and the perceived lack of appreciation certainly helped to produce an esprit de corps. A sense of engaging in a collective mission in which a defiance of external pressures was taken for granted. This has – it seems to me – always served me well, though perhaps others might take a different view!

Later, in Belfast, I came to know one of Greg’s contemporaries from his (according to Greg) legendary time in Bradford where his love of curry had been formed. The friend, Gerry McLaughlin, was my guide and chaperone round mostly Republican but a bit of Loyalist Belfast. It was great to see these two old friends reunited some years later after I realised that they knew each other of old.

Greg was recruited to the Glasgow group by John Eldridge who was Chair and Head of the department and was always afterwards associated with the group. The group began in 1974. Sadly John too is no longer with us. Among the others on the team were Brian Winston (who died in 2022), Peter Beharrell (two lls not one, as he had to remind me too many times) and Jean Oddie, John Hewitt and Paul Walton. I never met Jean and John H, and only met Paul very briefly, years later.

Exceptionally Bad News

One of my earliest tasks was to hold up cue cards with the script of the university produced video on the media and the miners’ strike. Behind the “newsdesk” was our then colleague the criminologist Col. Jason Ditton (who was still at that point based in Southpark Avenue with us) playing the newscaster. He intoned the reconstructed news while the autocue consisted of me holding up, then discarding cue cards in the manner of Bob Dylan in Subterranean Homesick Blues. We later made a video on sexism and Page 3 in the same studio.

Open Space

Later that year, BBC Two broadcast a programme based on War and Peace News – the latest GUMG book on coverage of disarmament and of the Falklands/Malvinas adventure, as part of their Open Space series. This was supposed to mean that external teams – in this case Greg et al, were supposed to have editorial control. This was far too much for the BBC especially since the show quoted the leaked minutes of the BBC ENCA meetings showing hop the corporation had shaped coverage in favour of the government.

As a result the BBC stepped in to censor its own programme. The GUMG insisted on a screen-card reading CENSORED and another suggesting that viewers write and complain to the BBC’s Director General. This was to have lasted some minutes but the BBC censored its own censorship and cut the duration of the censored section. As broadcast it ended with the beginning of the famous Beatles song in which the words, “I read the news today, oh no …” were all that were heard.

The resulting publicity led to the editor of ITN, David Nicholas, attacking the book and to The Observer describing the GUMG as ‘academic hit men stalking television’s newscasters’.

The work up to that point had focused mainly on news, on the question of bias, though with some interest shown in the processes of production – for example in the sections of War and Peace News (on the BBC’s confidential News and Current Affairs committee).

On Audiences

Work on ‘audiences’ came next. Greg published his path-breaking study Seeing and Believing in response to TV coverage of the Miners’ Strike in 1990. This turned the existing field on its head. The flourishing of work on ‘audience reception’ in sociology and media studies had overwhelmingly focused on matters of ‘interpretation’ and ‘negotiation’ of ‘meaning’. Greg showed that the contents of public belief could be directly affected by the misinformation and bias so widespread in mainstream media coverage of the year long strike. This was a revelation. It almost singlehandedly rescued the notion of media power. And lots of us followed up with our own studies – including myself as part of my PhD project on the conflict in the north of Ireland.

As well as rescuing the notion of media power, the work was also able to demonstrate in great detail the processes by which people were able to resist misinformation from the news. This was due either to processes of logic or evaluation of contending information, or because of personal experience and these processes cut across ideological frames or positions which people already inhabited. This was a valuable corrective to those varieties of theory or explanation which held that there was no escape from “mass society” or “bourgeois ideology” and it pointed the way to building mass resistance to misinformation and dominant ideas. In other words not only was it a better empirical account, but it helped practically to see how resistance might be accomplished.

The Labour Party

While I had no interest in parliamentary politics during the 1980s, Greg was a member of the Labour Party and he stayed in all the way through, even through the grinding horror of the Blair years, the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, and later the death grip of Starmer. He was always on the left, close to the Campaign Group and had the sort of devotion to the party which is evidenced by John McDonnell. This was – it always seemed to me – misguided. I did, however, join him in the party in order to elect Corbyn in 2015 and then hung on through several attempts to remove me, before having to jump before I was pushed in 2019. The Party followed through and expelled me anyway, even though I had already resigned!

The work of the media group was widely admired in some parts of social science and media studies, and looking back now even (some) people from those parts of the academy who were a little superior about their particular theories saw in hindsight the value of the endeavour.

The work of the Structuralists and Post-Structuralists always seemed to me to be ‘post’ the present rather than in it and of it. I think the Corbyn interlude brought many of us together in a practical politics.

Greg’s most theoretically engaged work was the book he and I co-edited Market Killing (2001). I liked the title of that book but never really understood it. He used to say that Herbert Marcuse’s most famous book, One Dimensional Man, was only so widely known because of the title. In it we developed a critique of the “market populism” – as we saw it – of much media and cultural studies. We coupled this with an analysis of the limitations Blairism. For all of its appalling practice the Blair and Brown years did not conduct witch hunts of the sort seen during the Corbyn years (remembering that the rate of expulsions from the party became turbocharged once the left took charge of the party with the appointment of Jennie Formby as General Secretary). These only intensified during the Starmer years. If Blair had conducted such purges, Greg would probably have been expelled back then in the early 2000s.

The last publication I co-authored with Greg (in 2015 also with Catherine Happer) was our overview of the ‘circuit of mass communication’ I think that the attempt to place the role of media and communications in the context of larger relations of power and domination is absolutely where media studies ought to be at, and I am pleased to have been involved in the development of that perspective. In particular in an age where old certainties are increasingly questioned, I rely on the interaction of structure and agency which is fundamental to human communication and, if possible, more so to mass communication, which is undertaken not in circumstances of our own choosing.

Viva Palestina!

I guess my own interest in Palestine was sparked to some extent by the research culture at the Media Group. Back in those days we had a thriving, ever changing group of researchers, on short term contracts, doing PhD’s and for a period there were placement students from Middlesex University who came for the whole year. Sue Mew was amongst them, and she went on to lecture in media at Middlesex.

Some were on longer term academic grants mostly from the ESRC including Peter Beharrell, Kevin Williams, Jenny Kitzinger, Lesley Henderson, Jacquie Reilly and others.

This was the early days of some of the more radical stuff that Channel Four was producing including the “authored” form of current affairs pioneered by Diverse Reports where left wing programmes could occasionally be made. Greg was involved in this and, in particular, with the Friday Alternative. It was also the home of the new Right to Reply programme fronted by Gus Macdonald, the Scottish former trades unionist and some-time Trotskyist who ended up as the Blairite Lord MacDonald. But back then radical Channel Four pioneered the idea of the “Video Box” where ordinary people up and down the country could walk in and record a short clip railing against this or that piece of bias or misinformation. We used to collectively produce a script and sometimes visual aids scrawled on bits of paper and then head down to Cowcaddens where the video box was located at the entrance to the Scottish Television studios. Two or three of us would cram into the video box with one person reading the script as best they were able the other others holding up visual aids at the seemingly appropriate times.

One of our endeavours was on Palestine during the second intifada. A settler from the occupation forces was returned home to his settlement after being released from custody having been caught on film breaking Palestinian bones by beating prisoners with rocks. He was welcomed home said the BBC reporter as a “gentle giant”. We were outraged and said so.

Some two decades ago Greg started to write more extensively about Palestine and his work with Mike Berry from 2004 (and indeed up to and including his last essay – with Mike – published in December last year) forms the basis for all rational accounts of the question of bias in the media against the Palestinians. Not a conspiracy, he says, but a matter of institutional power. And that is surely correct. Though the question of agency should not be regarded as being dismissed by this position.

I collaborated with Greg and others on a book project on the weaponisation of ‘antisemitism’ in 2019. The book was to be launched at the Labour Party conference in 2019 at the Brighton branch of Waterstones. As I write, I happened on a message Greg sent at the time in September 2019:

Latest from the publishers on the Brighton event for Bad News for Labour – antisemitism, the party and public belief.

“Just had a call from Waterstones head office – the Brighton store has had a barrage of abusive emails, phone calls and tweets about the event on Monday.”

We must stand up for free speech. It is incredible if academics are attacked even for discussing the evidence.

Quite right. And what happened was that the event was cancelled under Zionist pressure, and we had to hastily find a new venue. At which point the Chair of the Brighton CLP (I don’t remember if he had at that point been forced out of the Party or not) Greg Hadfield stepped in to offer the Theatre venue he had block-booked for the duration.

The Gaza genocide

I remember speaking with Greg only a few months ago about my research on Zionism after I was criticised by Justin Schlosberg, a colleague of both of us and co-author of that book from 2019, for failing to understand “socialist” Zionism. I had already been investigating the history of so-called “socialist” Zionism and was discussing my research in particular on the most radical left Zionist faction associated with Hashomer Hatzair, with Greg. I had known for years that he had visited “Israel” in the ‘70s and that he had been massively unimpressed with the Zionist project. I had also known that he had spent time on a Kibbutz. What I hadn’t known until we talked was that he was on one of the Artzi Kibbutzim. This was a kibbutz movement associated with Hashomer Hatzair, perhaps the most left wing Zionist group. Other figures on the left who are known to have visited or spent time with Kibbutz Artzi include Tony Benn (he was there on VE Day), Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky and of course Ygael Gluckstein whose then girlfriend – later wife – Chanie Rosenberg, was an Artzi Kibbutznik. Gluckstein famously broke with Zionism and his writings on Hashomer Hatzair and left Zionism include a coruscating analysis of the project published in 1946 before the Zionists even managed to expel the Palestinians. It repays reading today for all those imagining that there is a kinder, less genocidal Zionism lurking somewhere in the hearts of apparent comrades.

Gluckstein, of course, later moved to Britain, changed his name to Tony Cliff, and was the theoretical guru of the International Socialists which later became the Socialist Workers Party. Anyway, I regaled Greg with the exploits of Hashomer Hatzair in the 1940s including their involvement in the “11 Points of the Negev” colonisation project under the influence and financing of the Jewish Agency, which was not a socialist organisation. I also mentioned the later role of leading Hashomer militants in joining the Palmach – the “elite” forces of the Haganah terror gang, including involvement in the massacre of Palestinians. In retrospect, I am not sure that Greg had been fully apprised of those details when he travelled to occupied Palestine back then.

My own research trajectory moved away from media production, content and audiences to an examination of the propaganda apparatus surrounding the news and much else. This is, today, seen as a key element of understanding the ‘circuit of communication’, but it was not always so. Greg had originally suggested to me that I should do a PhD on media coverage of economics, but I demurred and he never questioned my choice. I will be forever grateful for the freedom that Greg afforded me to follow my nose towards the question of Ireland and from there to the question of propaganda and public relations.

In conclusion, as is perhaps apparent, I owe Greg a huge debt, as I know do many others. I cannot think of any other place in the UK where I would have been allowed to develop the research agenda I did without being determinedly sidelined and discouraged. Greg never discouraged my work and was never in the least obstructive, though he always freely gave (mostly) useful advice. I can’t say that for many others. If I was to narrow it down, I would say that Greg’s biggest influence on me was that he inculcated in me a lasting respect for the centrality of facts and evidence in academic enquiry. It was Greg who made me an empirical sociologist. I have to say I will forever be grateful for that.

There is a very useful chronology of the groups activities up until 2004 compiled by Adrian Quinn. Someone ought to update it!

(Featured Image: Image usage license granted by Alamy.)


  • David Miller

    David Miller is an investigative researcher, broadcaster, and academic. He is the founder and co-director of the lobbying watchdog Spinwatch and editor of Powerbase.info. David is also Producer of a weekly show, Palestine Declassified, on PressTV, and he is a regular columnist at al Mayadeen English. David was unjustly sacked by Bristol University at the behest of the Zionist movement.

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