Thursday, 23 February 2017

Alternative facts

Not everything you hear on The Daily Politics is necessarily true. 

A report from Copeland on Tuesday's edition saw BBC reporter Jenny Kumah telling us that "The Liberal Democrats came third in the last General Election here". 

No, they didn't. They came fourth, behind UKIP, and lost their deposit.


It's still extremely curious how media organisations - from Sky to ITV News, from the Times to the Guardian - are consistently referring to the ex-Guantanamo terrorist Jamal al Harith as "Jamal al Harith", only noting in passing that he was born as "Ronald Fiddler". 

The BBC, in contrast, is still sticking with calling him "Ronald Fiddler", only noting in passing that he changed his name to "Jamal al Harith". 

The corporation is standing out like a sore thumb over this.

Last night's BBC One News at Ten, for example, reported his name like this:

  • A political row has erupted over the compensation paid to the British fighter with so-called Islamic State. Ronald Fiddler was formerly a detainee at Guantanamo Bay and is reported to have died in a suicide bombing in Iraq. 
  • Lord Carlile, who reviewed terror laws for ten years, said Fiddler should never have been paid a penny. 
  • Jamal Al-Harith, born Ronald Fiddler, was among the suspected terrorist detainees held here at Guantanamo Bay without charge until, following British government pressure, he was freed, to discuss his time behind bars. 
  • Fiddler was a suspected terrorist associated with Al-Qaeda and yet he was compensated. 
  • There may be more like Ronald Fiddler. Security forces can only try to keep up their guard in future. 
Given that this happened across the BBC's many platforms, it was clearly a decision that came from on high.

Taking a swing

Yesterday, the BBC didn't have any major Trump news to report. The US & Canada page on their website, therefore, decided to lead for much of the latter part of the day with: 

To quote DB:


There was a startling BBC News website article a couple of days ago, Trump condemns 'horrible' anti-Semitism, that certainly did seem to be pushing an agenda more than it was simply reporting. 

As well as quoting lots of  criticism, including "scathing" attacks, on Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka, the closing paragraphs of the piece positively drip with innuendo:
Mr Trump's condemnation comes after days of criticism that his administration lacked a plan to deal with a recent spike in reports of anti-Jewish threats. 
Last week, when he was asked about the matter during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Trump cited his presidential election victory. 
"I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I'll be able to do something about that," he told an Israeli reporter. 
Later that week an orthodox Jewish reporter asked Mr Trump about US anti-Semitism, while emphasising that he was not linking the president himself to such incidents. 
Mr Trump responded he is the "least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life", before telling the reporter to be quiet as he tried to ask a follow-up question.
The whole piece seems to reinforce the point David made in the comments to the previous post (in connection to another BBC website article on the same subject), "This was just an excuse for the BBC to slip in the vile, false narrative that Trump is possibly an anti-Semite".  

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

An Innocent Abroad: Updating 'Panorama'

Jamal Al Fiddler

In March 2004 the BBC broadcast Out of Guantanamo: A Panorama Special

It focused on the stories of two men. One (Moazzam Begg) was still in Guantanamo, the other (Jamal Al Harith) had just been released and reunited with his family in the UK.

Jamal's story, of a boy from a Jamaican family who converted to Islam in his 20s, was told like this by the BBC reporter (Vivian White):
Jamal Al Harith was one of the five British detainees freed this week from Guantanamo. His journey there was an extraordinary one. Jamal comes from a West Indian family, and he was brought up in Moss Side.  He converted to Islam in his 20s and changed his name from Ronald Fiddler to Jamal Al Harith.  
Jamal travelled widely.  He'd been to Pakistan and worked and lived in the Sudan. When he said that he was setting off again to visit a Muslim country just weeks after the attacks of 9/11 his family were worried. 
He left Manchester within weeks of 9/11. He went to Pakistan and was trying to get a lift out of the country towards Iran when he was captured by some Afghanistan tribesmen. They handed him over to the Taliban who suspected he was a spy and put him in jail. 
Jamal Al Harith from Manchester had become a prisoner of the Taliban. But after 9/11 the Afghanistan War broke out.   
As the Taliban regime was attacked by the US led coalition for harbouring Al-Qaeda, Jamal Al Harith from Manchester was in a Taliban prison in Qandahar. After the Taliban regime collapsed, he was still in the prison, stranded, his money and passport stolen.  An American journalist discovered him there. 
His family were looking forward to Jamal's release, but US special forces took over the former Taliban prison. 
Jamal Al Harith from Manchester had been transported to Guantanamo Bay. 
Last night five young Britons were released. Four were arrested under British anti-terrorist law  on their return. But Jamal Al Harith was simply questioned by the police and allowed to go. 
After two years detention he was a free man, innocent, out of Guantanamo.
During the programme Vivian White asked Jamal's sister, "But the idea that really means he's a fighter, that seems ridiculous to you." She replied, "Yeah".

A man in the wrong place at the wrong time, clearly. 

That suicide bomber is said to be the self-same Jamal Al Harith. 

He died fighting for the most brutal terrorist organisation in the world, Islamic State. 


Oddly, other than a couple of mentions of his nom-de-guerre "Abu-Zakariya al-Britani" and a single mention of "Jamal Al Harith", this BBC online report refers to him throughout as "Ronald Fiddler" or "Fiddler". That 2004 Panorama, however, said he changed his name to "Jamal Al Harith" even before 9/11.

Monday, 20 February 2017


For fans of BBC interviewers where the two BBC presenter-reporters decide to talk about themselves (sometimes cruelly but accurately described as 'navel-gazing'), here's a transcription from tonight's 100 Days, co-starring Christian Fraser and the famous Jon Sopel:

CHRISTIAN FRASER: Stay with us, because I want to discuss strategy with Jon. We really should talk about his attitude to the press, Jon. The media is, according to the tweet, "the enemy of the American people". That came last week. Now, you were on the receiving end of it last Thursday. I was sitting in the chair watching you. Let's just remind our viewers of of how that went. 
Trump: Where are you from? Sopel: BBC. Trump: Here's another beauty. Sopel: It's a good line. Impartial, free and fair. Trump: Yeah, sure. Sopel: Mr President... Trump: Just like CNN, right? Sopel: On the travel ban... We could banter back and forth. On the travel ban, would you accept that that was a good example of the smooth running of government? Trump: Yeah, I do, let me tell you... Sopel: Were there any mistakes in that? Trump: Wait! Wait! I know who you are, just wait. Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth roll-out of the travel ban...
I love that! "I know who you are". What do you make of the strategy, Jon? 

JON SOPEL: I think that, if you look down the ages, every president has tried to communicate directly with the electorate without the mediation of newspaper journalists or people like us. You go back to the Second World War, it was Roosevelt with his fireside chats. Today, Donald Trump has 25 million followers on Twitter. He wants to go to rallies where he can address the crowds, like we saw over the weekend. I think that part of the strategy absolutely makes sense. I think the other thing about Donald Trump is he loves to have an enemy. If you think about when he was running for the Republican nomination, it was "lying Ted", "low-energy Jeb", "little Marco". And then it was onto the election itself and it was "crooked Hillary" and "Lock her up!". And I think he needs an enemy now, and he's determined to make the enemy us, and we must resist the temptation to fall into the trap of thinking that we are the opposition. We're journalists holding him to account.

CHRISTIAN FRASER: But there are people on both sides of the House...I mean, John McCain was saying this weekend, if you want to have a free democracy, you have to have an adversarial press, and there are people on both sides of the House that are concerned about the tone. 

JON SOPEL: Yeah, I think there are, and I think there are people who would want him to dial it back. I mean, the idea of saying that journalists are "the enemy of the people", I think that went too far for some people, but broadly speaking, I think an awful lot of Trump supporters believe that we are the bad guys in all of this, they think that Donald Trump is the purveyor of truth, and sometimes it will be our job to say, "You know what? What he just said is not as truthful as first appears". But it's going to be contentious, I think it is fair to say. 


From this lunchtime's BBC One News at One came this report from Richard Lister. It wasn't entirely free from editorialising:
Richard Lister, BBC: But it's the President who calls the shots, and he uses Europe as a model for all that's wrong in the world - even if he has to make up his own facts to fit the argument
Donald Trump: You look at what's happening last night in Sweden - Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers and they are having problems like they never thought possible. 
Richard Lister: There was no such incident in Sweden. The country has taken in large numbers of refugees and hasn't suffered any terrorist attacks as a result. But the policy's not without its Swedish critics. 
Swedish man on Fox News: I think we were caught off-guard.
Richard Lister: The president said later he was referring to this Fox News report, claiming that violence has risen in Sweden along with refugee numbers. That claim, too, is questionable. But Mr Trump's backers insist his points are valid. 
Dr. Jan Halper-Hayes: People seize upon it and you see these articles, and when I pulled it up on Google, it's like, well, Donald Trump was really right. There were the neo-Nazis going to the refugee camps, and there's been a lot of corruption and rape going on. 
Richard Lister: That's not the message Mr Pence is pushing, but President Trump's voice is louder and Europe is unsettled. On the streets outside his meetings, these protesters are sending a message of their own, that the values of the Trump administration are not welcome in Europe. That's a debate which is getting even more personal in London as members of Parliament consider an online petition signed by almost 2 million people suggesting that Donald Trump's state visit to the UK would cause embarrassment to the Queen. Richard Lister, BBC News. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Reporting With Changing Parts

I suppose we all fall into habits and repeat ourselves. (I certainly do - as regular readers of this blog will be well aware). But the BBC's Laura Bicker has taken the art of 'repeating oneself' to a new high in recent days. 

I must have heard about seven or eight different reports from her and her coverage of the Trump rally in particular has, on the whole, been far less sarky than what you'd expect from the rest of her BBC colleagues, but Laura has found a particular formulation to fit into her many pieces over the last few days, and she's stuck with it (with slight variations), like Philip Glass with a chord progression. So much so that I've started laughing every time I hear it.

And it was there again on tonight's BBC One evening news bulletin - and, to my great amusement, it came in two versions:

  • But he doesn't need to win friends here in Florida, he needs some on Capitol Hill, if he is to get his agenda through Congress. 
  • This rally was hugely popular with his voting base, but it won't win over his critics.
Perhaps you will start noticing it too from now on. A fixation shared is a fixation halved. 

Private Eyes

This morning's Broadcasting House made for a pleasant listen, as ever.

This week's Slow Listen feature (minus any sighing) featured a minute's worth of the sound of a steam train in motion (along the magical Settle-to-Carlisle railway). I'd have happily scrapped The Archers for a full hour of it.

The paper review featured Britain's only Conservative-supporting comedian - his phrase! He was quite funny, and certainly much funnier than Vince Cable.

The big interview of the day was with Ian Hislop of Private Eye, in the wake of the apparent eruption of satire (mainly Saturday Night Live) since Donald Trump became president. 

Paddy kept telling us how well the magazine is doing, sales-wise - especially since Brexit and Trump. And Ian sounded as pleased as (Punch) punch about that.

Paddy did disagree with Ian a bit. Paddy (being Radio 4) suggested that satire is predominantly left-wing. (Listening to Radio 4 comedy, who could blame him for thinking that?). Ian said that's not actually true and that satire is, in fact, inherently conservative (with a small 'c'). 

Paddy also raised the following concern: 
If we come home, do you think that the Conservative Party have been given a free pass, in the sense that there's been a lot of focus on the Labour Party's divisions, but David Cameron has run off to the Cotswolds. He called the In-Out referendum. Boris Johnson was stabbed in the face by Michael Gove. And yet the attention of the media, pretty much, has been on the Labour Party. Is that fair?
All I can say is that Paddy mustn't have been watching Have I Got News For You very often!

The Big Painting Challenge

I've never seen a single episode of Great British Bake Off or MasterChef, but I have been watching The Big Painting Challenge on BBC One. 

It's the sort of programme that a few years back would have been automatically presented by Rolf Harris. No ifs, no buts. BBC One and Art was Rolf and only Rolf for several years. Not even Sister Wendy could get a look-in on BBC One. It was Rolf, Rolf, and yet more Rolf. (Though a certain Mr. Yentob used to get a late evening slot every so often too).

For some reason, Rolf - now known as 'Harris' - is no longer on the BBC, so it's the Rev Richard Coles and Mariella Frostrup presenting instead.

(It has to be said that neither has a catchphrase to match 'Can you tell what it is yet?' or that heavy-breathing thing Rolfie used to do). 

The format is straight out of GBBO - and all the rest, ad infinitum: contestants (some with moving back stories), mentors, judges, a public vote, and a weekly eviction - plus plenty of BBC diversity. 

For two weeks in a row 'the public' (namely a few people invited in by the BBC) went for the largely abstract piece by the pretty young woman (#everyday sexism) - the one my elderly parents think is, by a long way, the worst of the lot. I rang them tonight to check up on their take and, yes, they described it as "rubbish". 

I was more taken by it (lovely colours, striking effects), but I'd have chosen several other (more naturalistic) paintings before it myself.

Of course, one contestant got voted out. I don't usually think of myself as a 'non-competitive sports' type but the brutal stupidity of this cookie-cutter BBC format strikes me as distasteful. It's all a game, but it's people's deepest feelings that are being held up to public embarrassment here, and I don't like it.

I shall now melt, snowflake-like, away - though I might tweet my disgust to the world first. #benicetohedgehogs.

I did like the look of Hastings though. It's obviously somewhere that offers much, much more than merely the opportunity to fight off Norman invaders.

Update: Not on The Big Painting Challenge, but here's a 1936 painting of Marine Court in Hastings by Raymond Myerscough-Walker.

Another joke

Everyone's a comedian:

For an alternative (non-sarcastic) take about Trump's comment about Sweden please try here.

And for the BBC's counterblast to such pieces try this new BBC website piece.

The first, the Spectator piece, says that, though bizarrely wrong about what happened in Sweden 'last night' {i.e. didn't happen}, Trump was generally right about Sweden.

The other, the BBC piece, pretty much devotes itself to trashing Trump's claims in their entirety.


The lead story in today's Sunday Times was an Andrew Gilligan report on the (apparent) latest flaring of the 'Trojan Horse plot' affair. 

The latest turn in the story, though it contains some rather confusing caveats, is that there are fears of an Islamist takeover at a school in Oldham following some (allegedly) intolerant, Islamising behaviour from a Muslim parent governor (whose sister is in prison for an antisemitic plot), and that the head teacher at the school is worried for her personal safety after "a long campaign" of death threats, other threats and verbal abuse.

It's the kind of story that the BBC has a long and inglorious track record of ignoring (as we've noted before on many occasions), and the BBC News website shows no signs of having reported it today either - except for a brief mention on its The Papers page. (It's not even been on the BBC's Lancashire page).

Indeed, newspaper reviews seem to have been the only BBC space where this story has been reported. BBC Breakfast simply read out the headline (at 6.10 and 7.13), as did Andrew Marr, while last night's The Papers on the BBC News Channel was close to comical in the way the presenter sped through the story. Having dwelt on another, non-leading Sunday Times story earlier, she asked for "a quick summary" of the Trojan Horse story and then said "sorry to cut in" after swiftly interrupting to move the review onto another story. (The second paper review didn't discuss it at all, despite covering other Sunday Times stories).

It was discussed however, at somewhat greater length, on the mid-morning BBC News Channel paper review where, tellingly, both paper reviewers - Rachel Shabi of the Guardian and Martin Lipton of the Sun - felt the need to stress how "careful" everyone should be in discussing such stories lest it "stigmatise" and upset the Muslim community. Rachel, in particular, clearly wanted to dampen the story down and, though expressing sympathy for the head teacher, made plain her unease with/disapproval of Andrew Gilligan's tone.

As far as I can see (using TVEyes Media Monitoring) those are the only mentions of the story on BBC TV (BBC One and the BBC News Channel).

It's clearly just one of those stories that doesn't grab the BBC's interest. As usual.

(If you spot any other BBC coverage of this story, please let us know below).

The coming decades

This week's The World This Weekend began with the split, as Mark Mardell presented it, between reassuring Vice President Pence's wholly warm words on NATO and unsettling President Trump's only-partially warm words on NATO, but much of it - thankfully - was spent on something completely different: The possible impacts of AI on our lives over the coming decades. 

The closing interview with Calum Chace and Richard Susskind was so thought-provoking (and important) that I thought I'd transcribe it for both you and posterity. (Give me a prize!)

MARK MARDELL: Well, to discuss some of the implications of Pepper and friends, and artificial intelligence more generally, I've bought together Calum Chace, author of The Economic Singularity, and, speaking first, Professor Richard Susskind, President of the Society for Computers and Law and author of The Future of the Professions. 
RICHARD SUSSKIND: I look at this from the point of view of the recipient of services. Now, many people say, well, of course it's going to put people out of work, and we could have a debate about that, but what I'm more interested in is this idea that we have health services that are creaking, educational services with a worry about quality, and we have a set of technologies that are emerging that seem to me to be able to offer access to patients, to students, to clients, what were hitherto professionals, over access to easy expertise, to guidance, basically to help people with their lives. And so we have here, in principle, one of the key solutions to the problems facing our health service, our legal system, and our educational system. 
MARK MARDELL: Calum, are you worried about the jobs? 
CALUM CHACE: I am both excited and worried. AI will provide much better services, it will improve all the services that we need, but it will do that by replacing the humans who are currently providing those services, not as well. So, in the future we need to figure out how to make sure those humans carry on receiving an income, and that is a big challenge. 
RICHARD SUSSKIND: I think we have to be clear about timescales here. I often say that for us the 2020s are going to be a decade not of unemployment but of redeployment, and by that I mean we're going to see many professionals - and I'm focusing here on doctors, lawyers, accountants and so forth - retraining to be involved not so much with competing with systems but actually with building these systems. And so we'll have a whole industry and, indeed, a great deal of employment in the 2020s devoted to human beings designing and building, engineering their knowledge into these systems. Once we get into the 30s and 40s I think it will be an entirely different ball game. 
MARK MARDELL: Calum, in every other industrial revolution or change in technology, whether it was the Great Industrial Revolution or the mechanisation in factories in the Thirties, people have predicted that there'll be mass unemployment, and yet there have been new jobs created. Won't that just simply happen again? 
CALUM CHACE: I don't think so, and it is entirely true that previous rounds of automation have not caused lasting unemployment. The question is, 'Is it different this time?', and I think it is, because past rounds of automation have, by and large, been mechanisation. Machines have replaced our muscle power. Now, that wasn't very good for the horse, because the horse had nothing to offer except for its muscle power. What's coming is a wave of cognitive automation where machines do the jobs that we currently do with our minds, and when they take those jobs it's not at all clear what we have left to offer. I partly agree with Richard that's the 2020s isn't going to be the time when we have massive waves of unemployment, although I think there's some areas where we are going to see it - for instance, professional drivers, I think, are largely going to be rendered unemployed by self-driving vehicles. That's about a million people in the UK, about 5 million people in the US. It's not at all clear what other jobs they can do. 
MARK MARDELL: I suppose, as ever, who owns and controls the systems that are doing these things really matters?  
RICHARD SUSSKIND: This is a vital question. If you think of income coming from two sources today - from the labour of people on the one hand and from capital on the other - if you consider that to be a pie, what we're finding is that the labour slice is going to get smaller. In principle, one can see some very attractive and interesting ideas about the capital - by which we mean the intellectual capital, the systems and the data - very interesting ideas that that might actually be shared amongst us, on the basis of a Commons or a Wikipedia type way. The reality, however, as things seem to be emerging, is that a very small number of very large and influential commercial organisations will both own and control the systems and data. What's at issue here - and you can see emerging in this discussion - it's not some changes at the periphery of our society. We're seeing some fundamental challenges to the way we organise ourselves, to the way we live, to the way we work, and this needs deep policy thinking as well as political activity. 
MARK MARDELL: And Calum, we heard from Sheffield about the attraction of the basic income. Do you think that's one solution? 
CALUM CHACE: Well, I think it might be a partial solution, but the thing about basic income is it's fantastically expensive and, secondly, it's not enough. If you've been used to earning, say, £40,000 as a high-end professional driver you're not going to be at all happy to be told that in future you going to be living forever on £10,000 a year. So UBI is only part of the solution. 
MARK MARDELL: Richard, are we getting somewhat carried away? I mean, are there are some things that only humans will ever be able to do? 
RICHARD SUSSKIND: If you think about the basic human capacities that we have - our ability to think and reason and solve problems - we call that 'cognitive'. That's one. Our ability to move things around, to lift, our manual capabilities - that's a second. If you think, thirdly, about our emotional capabilities - to recognise and express emotions. And a fourth is our moral capacity, our ability to recognise what's right and wrong and also to take responsibility. It seems fairly clear that AI is impinging on the cognitive capability (robotics) and the manual capability. The area of 'affective computing' - that's machines that can both express and detect emotions - that's moving fairly rapidly into the emotional dimension, which may leave us to this question of our moral capacity. Do we believe machines can recognise what's right or wrong? But the bigger question is, do we want time machines to take responsibility in the way that we as human beings do? Are we comfortable with the idea, for example, of a machine deciding to switch off a life support system, and doing so? Probably not. And so, there's certainly a moral dimension that for many years yet we'll want to reserve for human beings. But this raises a fundamental question of the moral limits of machines, and the issues that Calum and I have been discussing today. Here's another one, again for policy makers and legislators to think about, and to think about now: Even if machines in the future can undertake various tasks, are we wanting to draw a moral line at some place? 

Fake news broadcasters

Mr. Putin won't be happy with the BBC this morning.

First, on The Andrew Marr Show, came the Russian leader's best-known political opponent, the admirable Garry Kasparov, and then the first question on The Big Questions was "Is Russian cyber warfare undermining the West?"

On the latter the  (Kremlin stooge) Russian broadcaster Sputnik came under the most intense fire, with Nicky Campbell putting this question to its head:
Nikolai Gorshkov, I want to bring him in, editor of Sputnik news. We hear about this, various elections coming up. We hear about trying to undermine the opponents of Marine Le Pen and undermining the opponent of Geert Wilders - anything that will ultimately put a politician in place who will be anti-NATO and anti-EU. If I may say so provocatively, your puppet masters, they bump people off. We're on the same moral road as North know, people disappearing, assassinations. 
Nikolai Gorshkov replied that they are journalists, a news agency that gives people "an opportunity to see other angles, more context, background".

He got quite a roasting though, especially during a memorable, forensic intervention from Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council, which I'll transcribe below...

Look out here for Nicky Campbell's feeble, jokey play of devil's advocacy and, above all, for the way the BBC presenter tried to pile on the pressure for Mr. Gorshkov with a little 'alternative fact' of his own...namely that Sputnik is also guilty of being homophobic. 

Spiked's Tara McCormack immediately corrected Nicky by (accurately) pointing out that it wasn't Sputnik who had called called backers of Emmanuel Macron "a very rich gay lobby" but a French politician speaking on Sputnik (Nicolas Dhuicq of the Republicans).

What is it with BBC reporters and presenters at the moment? Why do they keep making such mistakes during their attempts to damage someone's (or some organisation's) reputation? 

It's especially ironic (and inept) that Nicky Campbell made that false statement about Sputnik during a section which was highlighting the point that Sputnik is a purveyor of false, propagandist news.

Anyhow, here's the transcript:
BEN NIMMO: Can I jump in on the question of the journalism? This is important. You ask, "What is the founding document?" It's the presidential decree signed by President Putin on the 9th of December 2013 establishing the Rossiya Segodnya news agency, which is your parent company, which says in Paragraph Four that the purpose of this news agency is "to communicate the state policy the Russian Federation abroad. OK? Compare that with the BBC charter which says the purpose of the BBC is to be independent and impartial. Then if you look at your reporting. Good example would be the 2nd of February last year - I do this all the time, so I'm afraid I'm a geek on it! - Donald Tusk presents his proposals for how to keep Britain in the EU. The Vote Leave campaign issued a press release on it. The Vote Remain campaign issued a press release on it. Reuters in their reporting quoted both the Leave and the Remain press releases. Sputnik quoted the Leave press release and not the Remain press release. If you look at the coverage over the last two weeks, last week the BBC did a feature on Sputnik and the allegations that it's a propaganda outlet which quoted you saying that 'we're not'. Yeah? That's balanced journalism...  
NICKY CAMPBELL: Is the BBC blameless? 
BEN NIMMOLet me finish... 
NICKY CAMPBELL Selective reporting? Editorialising? I'm being devil's advocate by the way. 
BEN NIMMOOK. Let me finish. 
BEN NIMMOThe BBC quoted the allegations against Sputnik and the response from Sputnik. The week before, Sputnik France ran a feature on allegations of propaganda and bias by the French media in favour of Emmanuel Macron. Only one person was quoted in that story, who was a political opponent of Macron who was accusing French journalists of going to a Moscow rally for Macron and putting on his T-shirts. No French journalist was interviewed in that... 
NICKY CAMBPELL: And  also, if I may say, it said on Sputnik that Macron was backed by "a very rich gay lobby", so homophobic as well?  
TARA McCORMACK: I think that was a French parliamentarian, a quote from a French parliamentarian. 
Mr. Gorshkov, incidentally, has an interesting back history. He worked for the BBC from 1993 to 2013, beginning as a producer and desk editor for the BBC World Service before becoming a BBC correspondent and then, via BBC Monitoring, rising to be a BBC regional manager and, finally, the head of the BBC Hub in Ukraine and Moldova. He started as director of Sputnik in December 2014.

"A kind of Wagnerian raspberry"

Andrew Marr's introduction this morning ran as follows:
Oh, it's very, very bad. People of Britain! When it comes to Brexit, think again. You don't have to do this. Thus, Tony Blair this week. And what came back was a kind of Wagnerian raspberry. Is it actually all over for Remain? To talk about Tony Blair and "rising up" against Brexit, I'm joined by one of his closest political friends, the former cabinet minister, Lord Mandelson. From a master of the political game of chess to the real thing. I've been speaking to former world champion, Garry Kasparov, about his opposition to Putin and Donald Trump. Responding for the government, Justice Secretary Liz Truss. She'll be talking too about the images of drugs, violence and anarchy in prisons on our TV screens this week. And speaking of anarchy, I've been talking to Tom Hollander about his dazzling return to the stage in a Tom Stoppard classic. Describe the play briefly omitting all but essential detail. Act one. Plus we've got music from Chuck Prophet, the sound of 'California Noir'. That's my editor's desperate attempt to make me seem even slightly cool. Didn't work! Reviewing the papers this morning, the Labour MP, Caroline Flint, Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times, and UKIP's only MP, Douglas Carswell. All that coming up soon, but first the news with Christian Fraser.
It must be BBC policy to introduce Mr. Carswell as "UKIP's only MP" on his every appearance!

A Mark Mardell joke

Here's a sarcastic Twitter joke about Donald Trump from the BBC's Mark Mardell to the BBC's Jon Sopel:

(If you don't get the joke, there's a reminder here).

More on James Longman

James Longman is presently reporting for the BBC on the Paris riots. 

It was his online report that featured in the update to our post about the BBC's Paris coverage yesterday - a piece I described as being "entirely from the side of 'the aggrieved'".

Given that the BBC elsewhere have been very careful to call it an "alleged attack", that is a very bold statement. 

It's not a 'one off' either. Another tweet reads:

Even James himself in his BBC report uses the word "alleged".

A TV version of the report of his went out in the early hours of yesterday morning (before BBC Breakfast). Here's a transcript of it (minus the contributions of others):
Newsreader: The sister of the young man who was allegedly sexually assaulted by French police, has spoken to the BBC about her brother's attack and has said that there will be further violence unless justice is seen to be done. James Longman reports. 
James Longman: Youth sits idle in Paris's suburbs. This is the life they have been dealt. This is Aulnay-Sous-Bois - a district about half an hour north of Paris, and we're in the estate where 22-year-old Theo was allegedly brutalised by police. It caused massive protests, both here and across Paris, and there is real worry is that the protests will continue to intensify....Theo's Sister Eleanor shows me the graffiti's wall when he was attacked....Protests following the attack are a reminder of the chaos of 2005. France's cycle of violence. Youth versus police, black versus white, haves versus have-not's, seems to spin and spin and Theo's ordeal is part of that bigger picture...And 'shutting down' is just what President Hollande wants to do...Respect. It's earned in this place, like here at a football match in solidarity with Theo. But the opposing sides in France's struggle with race were decided long ago and it's far from over. 

Ticked off

The Mail on Sunday has a BBC story today about a BBC reporter, James Longman, "using his role at the Corporation to get a date": BBC 'Beirut Beefcake' seeks a love story by posting screengrabs on Tinder of himself reporting on Syria. The piece, in passing, includes the following information:
James was ticked off by the Beeb last month for breaking their social media policy after he shared an Instagram photo comparing Donald Trump's press conference to a speech by former Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi. 
So, they do still get a rap on the knuckles for displaying bias on social media platforms it seems. A previous Mail article says "James was hastily 'reminded of BBC policy'", before ending: 
His excuse? He was merely commenting on the coherence of the speech, not likening Trump to Gaddafi. Nice try James!
If James Longman got a ticking off for that then surely dozens of other, often high-profile BBC reporters should have very sore knuckles by now, given the way they've been carrying on on Twitter recently?

More on Jon Sopel...

As pointed out on a previous thread, here's Jon Sopel doubling down on the Trump=Hitler meme:

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Tiny BBC

Brand new story on the BBC World page - the fifth most important story in the world apparently, if the BBC's news priorities are correct:

It's presently the second most-read story on the BBC website (alternative headline: Internet memes mock Donald Trump by making him look small - literally). 

The article largely consists of mocking photos from opponents of Mr. Trump.

At the very bottom of the article, however, in the final paragraph you'll feel the 'balancing' bit - some anonymous commenter saying it's "just idiotic".

A shower of sarcasm

The Spectator has a BBC foreign correspondent embedded with them, namely Paul Wood. 

You might remember him from the BBC's Trump 'Golden Shower' coverage (where he lent credibility to the allegations on BBC One's main news bulletins) or, if you're a Spectator reader, you might recall his unpopular piece speculating on whether Donald Trump might be assassinated (a piece entitled Will Donald Trump be assassinated, ousted in a coup or just impeached? that had all manner of Speccie commenters saying they were cancelling their subscription forthwith).

His latest Speccie piece speculates on the coming last days of IS's 'caliphate' (though he reckons what could come next will be "just as dangerous" - or "even worse", as the article's online headline puts it). It's an interesting, thought-provoking piece. 

Naturally, however, it drips with beautifully-crafted sarcasm against Ol' Trumpie: 
Donald Trump...came into office impatient to finish off the jihadis. As the country star Toby Keith sang at the inauguration, the new President nodding along: ‘You’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A. Cos we‘ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way.’ During the primaries, Trump repeatedly claimed to have a secret, ‘absolutely foolproof’ plan to defeat Isis. This, it turns out, consists of telling the Pentagon to come up with something. The Department of Defense has been given 30 days to fill in the blank space under the heading ‘Secret Foolproof Plan’. The presidential order says: ‘The Plan shall include a comprehensive strategy and plans for the defeat of Isis.’
Is there a BBC reporter left who won't be sarcastic about the present US president? 

Vermin and scum

I've always rather liked the philosopher A.C. Grayling, and have one book of his on my shelves. Alas (unlike Zeno of Citium) he's no Stoic, and his tweets, in particular, have manifested a massive lack of stoicism in the face of recent events (since Brexit). Today the great man gave forth the following Epicurus-like epigram in reply to someone tweeting that "Trump is unfit to serve":

Alas, pretty much every response he's received on Twitter so far has been negative. It's as if he's Thrasymachus and dozens and dozens of Socrates-like gadflies have all suddenly descended upon his luxurious locks and begun furiously biting his philosophical head, accusing him (among many other things): of promoting hate, of contempt for people who don't thing like him, of using Nazi-like language, of displaying bile, of lacking a sense of balance, of being hysterical, of being "really off his rocker these days", etc, etc. (Others have been less kind).

Meanwhile, Geert Wilders (a man blessed with no less luxurious locks than our very own hyperventilating professor) has called some Moroccans "scum", according to the BBC. Not a Sheep, among others, isn't overly impressed with the BBC's home page headline (see above) about that story:

"Surely a badge of honour"

That was literally tweeted just a minute ago (at the time of typing).

Meanwhile, just a few minutes earlier, Joe was alluding to Brexit on BBC One's Weekend News bulletin and tying it to the word "problem":
So, Joe, what are Peugeot hoping to get from the Prime Minister? Quite simply, they will be hoping to get at least as good a deal as Nissan acquired from the Prime Minister last autumn. Back then, the Prime Minister promised Nissan that they would get investment in electric cars and local components, as well as free and unencumbered access to European markets. The problem for Theresa May and Vauxhall is that Britain is leaving the single market, and probably the customs union, which means tariffs might be applied to British made cars sold on continental Europe

"France is burning"

(The title of this post is an echo of very similar {possibly identical} phrases I've seen elsewhere).

Over the past week I've read, again and again, complaints from commenters (on various sites) that the BBC has been seriously downplaying (to the point of ignoring) the violent riots in Paris and other French cities over the past fortnight, since the alleged assault/rape of a black man by French police.

After a few days of such complaints, someone spotted that the BBC website had reported the story but observed that the coverage had been hard to find. 

Googling confirms that the BBC did indeed report the story and that, interestingly, it was the BBC that got the scoop of an early interview with the alleged victim of the assault, Theo, back on 7 February (and probably fed the fury!). That appears to have been their first take on the story and it made some reference (at the end) to "unrest".

Then (as far as I can see) that was that until 12 February, when a short video report about the riots was posted. Another short video report on the riots followed on 13 February, accompanied by a longer 'proper' report

And that appears to be that for the BBC News website (so far). 

As for BBC One's daytime news bulletins (from Breakfast to News at Ten), using a very powerful search tool I've been given which finds any word on, say, BBC One (such as 'Paris'), I can pretty confidently say that there was nothing at all on BBC One's daytime news bulletins until Sunday 12 February's early evening news bulletin (where it got 26 seconds). 

The next appearance of the story was towards the end of BBC One's News at Ten on 15 February. This was the first full-scale report on a main BBC One news bulletin and came from the BBC's Paris correspondent Lucy Williamson. The following morning's BBC Breakfast also carried two 'news in brief' reports about the riots. 

And that (as far as I can see) is it for daytime BBC One: basically one full-length report (15 Feb) from Lucy Williamson on just one of the BBC's main news bulletins.

Here's a transcript of it:
Huw Edwards: Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Paris this evening to show their support for a black youth worker who claims he was raped by police earlier this month. There's been growing tension in some of the city's suburbs since the 22-year-old was arrested and allegedly assaulted a fortnight ago. One police officer has been charged with rape and three others with assault. But as Lucy Williamson reports from Paris, the President's appeal for calm is not being heeded. 
Lucy Williamson: Anger is spreading along France's urban veins. Tonight, chants of "Police, rapists, murderers" rung out just south of the Sacre Coeur. This is a protest about power. The power of individuals, their community, the state. France has been living with it for years, but in the last fortnight the story of Theo's assault, in a rundown Paris suburb, has reignited it. There are long-standing divisions rising to the surface here. The deepest anger in these protests has come from different people who say they feel ignored and left behind, who feel that the French establishment is remote and those in power abusive, corrupt and self-serving. Amateur footage of Theo's arrest shows him being taken to the car, moments after allegedly being raped with a police baton. The police watchdog last week described it as a serious accident, not a deliberate rape. 
Theo: I haven't been able to sleep for the past five nights. The medication they give me isn't enough. It's a very difficult ordeal for me. 
Lucy Williamson: "It was quick", said a neighbour. "He was lying here. They were hitting and kicking him. They brought him here behind the wall because it's out of sight of the cameras." The names of other young men who died while being chased or arrested in the suburbs north of Paris are repeated like a mantra of mistrust in the police. 
Protester: They want us to just shut up, OK? They don't want us to express in any shape or form of protest, OK? And that's how I feel about it. It's not like they're here to protect us. They're just here to shut us down. 
Lucy WilliamsonOver the past two weeks, the protests have grown, spreading to Rouen, Lyon, Marseilles. This is no longer a case of one man, in one Paris suburb. It's a reminder of France's deep divisions, and a test of the trust between people and power. Lucy Williamson, BBC News, Paris.
So, yes, though it would be wrong to say that the BBC One has completely ignored the story it has certainly not given it any great prominence at all. If you didn't see that single late evening news bulletin, you'd probably have missed it completely. 

Why is the BBC's very low-key reporting of this story an issue with some people? From what I can see they are accusing the BBC of downplaying a story about the the violent thuggery of members of France's ethnic minorities (and, by some accounts, a specific religious minority in particular) - i.e. covering up the violent downsides of multiculturalism. (Marine le Pen has condemned the French political class for failing to tackle this 'thuggery'.) 

Well, it's certainly true that Lucy Williamson's report is very much in the liberal BBC tradition of reporting about such riots, airing the views of disgruntled minorities and casting them as the hard-done-to "people" pitted against the "power" of the French establishment. (The Marine le Pen point of view was entirely missing). The (elsewhere) much-cited violence is not something that Ms. Williamson reports, only the "anger".

Make of all of this what you will.

Update: And tonight, on the BBC website, appears:

Like Lucy Williamson's piece, this is entirely from the side of 'the aggrieved'. 

Breaking news...

Just breaking onto my Twitter feed within the last minute...

Do you get the impression the impartial BBC doesn't like the new US president?

Enemy of the BBC

The BBC News website has recently published a piece headlined:

In it, historical uses of the "chilling phrase" - from Hitler and Stalin to Mao - are detailed and a series of hostile criticisms of the President are quoted. (There are no balancing defences of the President). 

Echoing David Willis and Justin Webb this morning, the article says:

The anonymous BBC reporter's description of the man who opened fire in a pizza restaurant last year (Edgar Maddison Welch) as "a Trump supporter" is something I've not been able to verify. (Can any of you find proof of this? You may succeed where I failed.)

He seems to have followed conspiracy theorist sites and to have believed this particular conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton, and to have been highly religious, and to have been a registered Republican, so he may very well have voted for Donald Trump, but this BBC article is the only mainstream media source I've found so far that says for certain that he was "a Trump supporter", and that describes him as such. (Has the BBC fact-checked this?)

NewsSniffer shows that the piece has been toned down slightly. It originally included a paragraph saying:
Mr Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy have led to comparisons, from some quarters, with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.
...but this was removed some 35 minutes after the article was first published. 

"Buy the t-shirt"

I see a lot of BBC types (Katty Kay and Paul Adams among them) are presently busy re-tweeting or tweeting about the following from Simon Wilson, "Editor, BBC Europe Bureaux": 

The BBC are certainly pleased with themselves. 

Missing Israelis

Talking of Dateline London, today's edition featured a section on Israel, the Palestinians and, of course, President Trump. 

It was a curious affair in which the pro-Palestinian Guardian writer Rachel Shabi made her usual attacks on Israel, while the rest (including Janet Daley and Gavin Esler) pretty much contented themselves with having pops at the new US president. 

Whether most of the 'pops' were justified or not, it made me realise, in passing, that Dateline hasn't had an Israeli regular (or any Israeli) for ages now, while its most regular guest remains the hardline Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan. 

That can't be right, can it?

In unison

Dateline London may have had a broader spread of guests today (with a right-winger on the panel in the form of Janet Daley) but the unison chorus of disapproval for Donald Trump and all his works seemed fiercer than ever. 

Surely it's now time (as I may have said before) to find some new guests for the programme (even if just a couple) who actually support Donald Trump. 

This programme goes out to the world and is one of the BBC's flagships (even if few people in the UK might watch it), so it surely needs to take its 'BBC impartiality' responsibilities more seriously?


Gavin Esler wasn't silent, of course. He contributed such thoughts as this (re Trump's supporters):
It's interesting that that same audience is very attached to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which is guns, and not very attached, it would appear, to the First Amendment, which is the right to freedom of speech and for people in the media to comment on the executive branch.

Views left at the door (yeah, right!)

Katty Kay, the BBC's main public face in the US, is sharing her pain with us on the BBC News website

She "wakes up anxious" for starters, wondering who's going to be on the end of the President's latest "tirade".


Opinions pour forth there - and there are more to follow:

BBC impartiality gets weirder by the week.

Is Donald Trump literally putting journalists' lives at risk?

Another snapshot (from this morning's Today):
JUSTIN WEBB: Donald Trump is on the campaign trail. That's what they're calling his event in Florida, "a campaign event" - which has some scratching their heads as the campaign. [John Humphrys laughs]. Isn't the campaign over? Our Washington correspondent is David Willis. 
DAVID WILLIS: He's on a roll following Wednesday's rather adversarial press conference, despite the fact that it struck many people as pretty chaotic. He believes he got his message across, he regained control of the narrative, if you like, after weeks of bad headlines. And today's rally, which is in an aircraft hangar in Orlando, is a way of staying on the offensive in just the sort of environment that Donald Trump most relishes - a large gathering in front of a very supportive crowd. 
JUSTIN WEBB: And he's been tweeting again?
DAVID WILLIS: He has, and overnight he took to Twitter to declare that the media, in his words, "was not his enemy but the the enemy of the American people". Now that is, of course, a fairly serious allegation. There are those who are wondering, I think Justin, where all this is going, what it could mean for the First Amendment and so on.
JUSTIN WEBB: Yeah, the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of the media. And the feeling among some that what he will do is, what, literally put lives at risk?
DAVID WILLIS: Potentially, yes. I mean there are those who are saying that, you know, if there is an attack on a member of the media because of all this, how would Donald Trump respond? And it's a good question. He does tend to get people heated up at his rallies. He feeds off the crowd's energy, of course, and that allows him to deliver a direct message, unfiltered message, to the people who voted for him - his movement, as he puts it. To those people this sort of message could be quite incendiary.
JUSTIN WEBB: Hmm. And for those people who support him but who aren't considering any kind of violence, all of this feels like, doesn't it, someone who is pretty much doing what you would have expected him to do when you elected him?
DAVID WILLIS: Well, the strange thing about this is the rallying aspect, because in the past presidents have been very keen to go off on the campaign trail and escape the hothouse atmosphere of Washington but they would tend to leave it, of course, until there was rather less time to go until the next election - not, as in this case, nearly four years.
JUSTIN WEBB: David Willis in Washington, thanks.