Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Open Thread

Just in case posts from Craig and / or Sue are sporadic during the frantic season, here's a new Open Thread.

Supplementary pieces

It’s hectic chez Sue at the moment, but I’d like to quickly link to pieces that relate to a couple of our earlier posts. 

Time (lack of sufficient) sometimes forces me to combine several issues in one piece and I often have to condense material that I’d have liked to expand upon much more fully. Not to worry; someone far more eloquent has done it so I don't have to.  Here’s Douglas Murray’s article for Gatestone Institute about President Trump and Jerusalem. He compares Emily Maitlis’s appalling Newsnight interviews, first with Ghada Karmi and next with Mark Regev. 
The reaction around the world in recent days has been a reminder of the one central truth of the whole conflict. Those who cannot accept that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel tend to be exactly the same as those who cannot accept the State of Israel. Consider the expert whom the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Newsnight chose to bring on to receive soft-ball questions on this issue. Dr. Ghada Karmi, from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, a notorious opponent of Israel, was inevitably given the sort of respectful interview style that Newsnight presenters generally reserve for when they are interviewing Madonna or some other mega-star they cannot believe their luck at having gotten to speak with. 
Here is what Ghada Karmi had to say -- with no meaningful challenge from the programme's presenter, Emily Maitlis. 
Ghada Karmi: We know that Donald Trump is not a free agent. He is surrounded by pro-Israel advisors, pro-Israel officials. 
Emily Maitlis (BBC): To be fair the American stance towards Israel has not differed particularly from one President to another. 
Karmi: No, because it's always been dictated by Israeli interests. 
Maitlis (BBC): So what are you saying – that he cannot broker peace or America cannot broker peace in the region. 
Karmi: No – of course not. He can't. He's compromised. He is surrounded by pro-Israel propagandists, people who want Israel's interests above any other and he cannot operate as a free agent even if he had the wit to do it.... Why it is so dangerous is because you know one of the first things that might happen -- and watch for this -- is that Israel will be emboldened to take over the Islamic holy places. It's had its eye on the Aqsa mosque for a long time. 
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, when Maitlis then turned to interview the Israeli ambassador to the UK, she adopted a different tone. 
Ambassador Mark Regev was not given these sorts of soft-ball questions. If he had claimed that the Palestinians were planning to bulldoze the Western Wall, it seems unlikely he would have been allowed to say it uncontested. He was in fact treated throughout as though he were simply some well-known variety of idiot or liar, who had no concept of the "offence" (a favourite threat term) that this move by the American President would cause Palestinians.
Ghada Karmi was not challenged on the claim that the Israelis were about to take over any and all Islamic holy places (to do what?), but Ambassador Regev's suggestion that the State of Israel already has its Parliament, Supreme Court and every wing of government in Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem might just be Israel's capital, was treated as though it were the most inflammatory nonsense the BBC had ever heard.

The second piece that filled in gaps  (left by me) concerns another comparison between two interviews by John Humphrys on the Today Programme, 6th December.

Again, the tones employed by the interviewer with the Israeli and Palestinian representatives were 'chalk and cheese'. My post attempted to take on several issues from the same day’s episode, but BBC Watch has posted part one (of a two-parter) that addresses the first interview in detail. 
Needless to say, the hostility of the tone used to question the reasonable sounding Israeli, Nir Barkat, was palpable, whereas Humphrys took Manuel Hassassian’s histrionics in his stride.
There’s a full transcription of the first interview here   - then Hadar Sela gets out the stopwatch and goes into full Craig mode:
Leaving out the introduction, this interview lasted just over four minutes, during which Humphrys interrupted his interviewee on five occasions and spent well over a quarter of the time (1 minute and 14 seconds) speaking himself – including lengthy statements .

I await part two with interest. 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Open Thread

The Advent of a not-so-new open thread....

It's the same old song

Good grief! It's coming beyond a joke. Whenever The World This Weekend focuses on Brexit Mark Mardell's framing introduction almost always goes something like this:
Welcome to The World This Weekend. This is Mark Mardell. Push is about to come to shove as the Cabinet finally plans to talk about what they hope to get out of Brexit.
David Davis: Canada, plus, plus, plus. 
But one Canadian negotiator tells us it won't be easy.
Jason Langrish: This is a very unconventional negotiation. You're going backwards, not forwards. You're not integrating, you're de-intergrating.
Why is this programme so relentlessly negative about Brexit so often? 

It then followed its usual template. We got three experts - Dr Lorand Bartels of Cambridge University, Canadian trade negotiator Jason Langrish and Allie Renison of the Institute of Directors - who all offered shades of much the same opinion on Mr Davis's Canada+++ model: They all poured various amounts of cold water over it. There wasn't a fan of Brexit in sight or sound, and very few rays of sunshine came from Mark himself, who framed and amplified their 'remoaning'. 

Then came an interview with Ken Clarke, who said much what you'd expect him to say and kept up the programme's relentless 'remoaning'.

Finally, as usual, came the 'balancing' interview with a Brexit fan - this time Lord Lamont.

This is where Mark usually begins interrupting and challenging - and he didn't disappoint this time either. The contrast between this interview and all that went before was striking.

This must be a very easy programme to edit. Just do the same thing week in, week out! (That also makes it easy for me to blog about it too!)

P.S. In the closing headlines, guess who Mark quoted, Ken Clarke or Lord Lamont? You won't be surprised to hear that Ken was given 'the last word'. Poor Lord Lamont!

Still, the closing interview with marine biologist Steve Simpson, who worked as a sound recordist on Blue Planet II, was very good. We heard the sound of coral reefs, damsel fish, clown fish and humpback whales, plus the love song of the British cod (which Mark thought sounded like "a mechanical foghorn"). Professor Simpson explained that males have about ten seconds to sing a song to a female while they swim towards the surface from the seabed at night. 

Andrew Neil schools James Mates

For those who don't do Twitter, here's an interesting exchange between Andrew Neil and ITN's Europe Editor James Mates: 
Andrew Neil: Beware pundits who, having called stage one of Brexit talks wrong, now say stage two will be much more difficult. Could be. But not if:
i) The UK could actually make up its mind what it reasonably wants.
ii) There is goodwill on EU's part (and there could well be). 
James Mates: Wasn't it Donald Tusk who said this morning Phase 2 will be much more difficult?  I guess he might know. 
Andrew Neil: James! He's about to start a new negotiation. Don't be naive. Why do UK journalists take everything Brussels bureaucrats/politicians say at face value, instead of applying the same scepticism we rightly apply to UK politicians/bureaucrats?
I do hope Andrew's BBC colleagues get schooled by his tweets too.

[P.S. The title of this piece and all this talk of 'schooling' is just me being masochistic. It's a pet peeve of mine that videos or posts which promise that we're about to see someone getting 'schooled or 'destroyed' or 'totally destroyed' by someone else over some political point or other almost invariably turn out to be deeply disappointing. Hope that's not the case here though!]

In other news

News this week that you may have missed if you were only paying attention to BBC News...

In London, outside the US embassy, a crowd of 'anti-Zionists' shouts "Khaybar Khaybar, ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa yahud" ("Jews, remember Khaybar the army of Muhammad is returning"). 

In Malmö, Sweden a crowd of 'anti-Zionists' shouts "Vi har utlyst intifada från Malmö. Vi vill ha vår frihet tillbaka, och vi ska skjuta judarna" ("We have announced the intifada from Malmö. We want our freedom back, and we will shoot the Jews.")

In the Netherlands a 29-year-old man waving a Palestinian flag smashes multiple windows of a Jewish restaurant in southern Amsterdam.

In Gothenburg, Sweden a gang of masked men firebombs a synagogue, forcing Jewish students to hide in the basement until the security forces arrive. 

The final story there is being carried by several of the UK's tabloids today (Mirror, Express, Mail). It's yet to make the BBC News website though. 

Mr. Marr's Sunday Menu

So, Theresa May's best week, I guess, since she became Prime Minister, getting that first Brexit agreement. But this leaves open the biggest question of all - what kind of relationship are we going to have with the EU? What kind of country are we going to be? At last, the Cabinet are going to settle down to discuss it. About time, because, as with Labour, right now, it's clear as mud. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Sir Keir Starmer, his Labour opposite number, are both here, mud-free, promising straight answers to straight questions. I'll also be talking to Ian Blackford, the SNP's Leader at Westminster, about his call this morning for Labour to join his party in a pledge to stay inside the Single Market. And I've been talking to the Hollywood screenwriter and West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, on his first film as a director, Molly's Game, with its star Jessica Chastain. Plus reviewing the news, Gina Miller, the anti-Brexit campaigner, the broadcaster Iain Dale - he's pro-Brexit - and observing them both, Anushka Asthana, political editor of the Guardian

A question from former UKIP leader (now an independent) Steven Woolfe: which the answer is 'No'. The guest line up was 3 Remainers v 2 Leavers (if you don't count Anushka Asthana of the Grauniad as a Remainer. If you do then it's 4 Remainers v 2 Leavers). Time-wise, however, as far as the three big political interviews went, given that the David Davis interview was almost as long as the Ian Blackford and Sir Keir Starmer interviews combined, that imbalance looks much less unbalanced. The press review had pro-Brexit Iain Dale and anti-Brexit Gina Miller - and Anushka Asthana. So make of that what you will!


Tina Daheley's left-leaning bias 

Sue's busy today, but wants to know why Tina Daheley has to sit off-centre when reading the news. Once you notice it you can't unnotice it, she says. 

Sue's right, and now I'm noticing it too. (Thanks for that, Sue!). 


Here's Marr editor Rob Burley:

Of course, there's a good deal of truth to that. It's vanishingly rare to find anyone who ever accuses Andrew Marr of conducting a "soft" interview with someone they support or who accuses him of conducting a "hard" interviewee with somebody they themselves can't abide. Funny that, isn't it? That said, I think Andrew was tough on all three of his main interviewees today - even the ones I disagree with. So there! They were all excellent interviews.

I especially enjoyed the sequence of clips of politicians from both sides in the EU referendum saying that we'd be leaving the Single Market if we voted to leave the EU which was played to the SNP leader at Westminster. Ian Blackford blethered on regardless and tried a spot of whataboutery but was made to look silly by doing so. (Entirely his own fault, of course). 
Naturally, not everyone agreed with Rob's tweet. Someone went off at an interesting tangent too: 
Rob Burley: So, here's another thing, seems to me that people's view of whether we are hard or soft on interviewees is closely-related to whether they agree or disagree with said interviewee. It's boring.
Paul Ewart: Here's the thing: journalists should be holding government ministers to account over Brexit. The opposition, is, um....the opposition. Brexit as an issue, derives almost entirely from Conservative divisions and incompetence.
Rob Burley‏: We hold both to scrutiny. It's simple.
Paul Ewart: Government should be held to account more than the opposition. It's simple: speak truth to power.
Rob Burley‏: We don't take the view that we should favour one or the other. Obviously they are in a different position but both must be examined.
Paul Ewart: It's not about favouring for goodness sake, it's about holding to account those who are actually enacting power and policy. On an issue such as Brexit, the government of the day should always, always be held to higher account than the opposition &thus more stringent interrogation. That I should need to explain this to an experienced journalist is beyond baffling.
Trumpton‏: (interrupting) All elected politicians are in a position of power - suggesting that a Labour MP should not be scrutinised is just baffling.
Rob Burley: Enough of the logic. You're in the wrong place.
I suspect you'll be able to guess where Paul Ewart comes from politically. (Clue: He's not fond of Tories and is unlikely to ever complain that the BBC gave the likes of David Davis a hard interview).

This discussion went on and on, incidentally, with Rob at one point begging the persistent Paul to block him!

That said, I'm not the only one being virtuous today. Zelo Street's Tim Fenton (very much from the same part of the political spectrum as Paul) is being just as virtuous:
@AndrewMarr9 shows with David Davis + Kier Starmer that he is an equal opportunity bringer of difficult questions #MarrShow
Rob Burley replied, "Thanks Tim - and you are not a man who is easily pleased." (He's not wrong about that either!)

And, finally in this section, Rob also received a "Top Tip" from one viewer: "If you waterboard all participants, no such accusations can be thrown at you and it is far from boring. Let's do that next week, OK?"



Sue also wants to know why Andrew Marr asked film director Aaron Sorkin Molly Bloom about Trump's Jerusalem decision? "Could it be that  a lefty luvvie might come up with an unexpected answer?", she asked rhetorically. "I. Don't. Think. So", she replied. 

And she was right not to think so. Mr Sorkin was nothing if not predictable here:
Andrew Marr: When you're making a film, you've written presidents, you've written the Social Network and now you're bringing in the Russian Mafia. That can't not be a political statement at this moment?
Aaron Sorkin: It would have been a political statement no matter what year the film was released. As it happened, this film suddenly became more relevant than anyone expected it to be. I'll even tell you this - many of the Russian mobsters who Molly inadvertently lets into her game, she did not know that they were connected, as we say, in the US. Many of them lived in Trump Tower.
Andrew Marr: And your characters in the West Wing have this golden way of speaking which owes a lot to JFK, I guess, and that era, and the writers around there. And we now have a president who communicates by tweet. Can I put it to you that, actually, whatever you think of Donald Trump - and I suspect you're not a huge supporter - he's a very, very effective modern rhetoritician?
Aaron Sorkin: Well, effective at what? I don't think there's a grand strategy behind what he's doing, I don't think he's playing 3D chess while the rest of us are playing checkers. I think that we are seeing a guy just lob spitballs, and what he does best and what his base likes him the most for is that he's an excellent stick with which to poke their enemies in the eye.
Andrew Marr: You come from an American-Jewish heritage. Do you not at least applaud the move to Jerusalem as the capital, the American embassy going to Jerusalem? A lot of people in Israel are really, really delighted.
Aaron Sorkin: No, I am not delighted that he did that. It was absolutely unnecessary. There is no upside to it. It will very likely cause violence around the world. A lot of that violence is going to be directed toward Americans. It was an empty gesture designed to appease a very, very narrow group of supporters. Of course, Israel is applauding it, and of course, we all support Israel, but it was a reckless and stupid thing to do. 

There was no musical number at the end this week, so here's some Abba:

Direct messaging

Haaretz, Israel's equivalent to the Guardian, featured a column on Thursday by Allison Kaplan Sommer wherein Ms. Sommer considered the possibility (in her view) that Donald Trump is succumbing to Jerusalem Syndrome ("that disorder in which a recent visitor to the Holy City begins to take on the personality of a biblical figure") and starting to see himself as The Messiah. ("It just could be a logical next step on Trump's path of auto-hagiography.")

That was evidently more than enough for the team at Radio 4's Sunday. On the same day that the article was published, they tweeted Allison: 

The result? She was present-and-correct on Sunday this morning talking about the reasons behind the US President's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - mainly "to placate evangelical fundamentalists" in US elections - and the theology behind it. 

Explaining the theology behind it was the reason Sunday gave for why she was on. She, however, rather gave the game away by declaring herself to be no expert on the theology - "far from it!". She said she was just passing on what she'd learned (and it sounded like it too). She added, "It sounds absurd to many of us".

All very Sunday!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Fake news

The great Will Hay channelling his inner Kamal Ahmed

The BBC's plans to educate school children about fake news was the main topic on this week's Newswatch (fact!).

A couple of unrelated people with identical surnames discussed the issue  (another fact!) . 

This post will feature a transcript of their discussion (yet another fact!).


As you'll see from the transcript below, the BBC regards its new project - going into schools and teaching them to spot fake news - as part of its inform, educate and entertain remit.

Other may see it differently. 

Encouraging pupils to view news reporting sceptically can't be anything but a good thing. Don't believe any source until you are sure you can trust it (and even then beware of possible biases and errors). That's what schools should be teaching anyhow of course (and hopefully are). 

When the BBC goes into schools, what will they be using as examples of fake news? Will they be going after social media only, or will they be going after traditional media outlets too? If the latter, will they be concentrating on newspapers (and if so which newspapers?) or concentrating on broadcast media as well? And if the latter, which broadcast media will they use examples from? Will they use any examples from the BBC?

(And, if they need them, we here at ITBB - and David over at the other News-watch - have some excellent examples they can use!)

It's fascinating that the example the BBC is particularly focusing on - and has been focusing on for some time now (e.g. Nick Robinson on Today) - is that notorious Russian bot-propagated photo of the Muslim girl looking at her phone on Westminster Bridge while others are tending to victims of the Islamist terrorist attack. 

That's the example Amol Rajan, the BBC's Media Editor, uses and that the BBC's own coverage of its new project has used too. 

I, like many of you no doubt, saw that image and the accompanying tweet - and various accompanying retweets - at the time. It spread. Someone posted it across various comments threads over at Biased BBC, and some eagerly rose to the bait. Others (I'm very glad to say) questioned and condemned it, demanding context and wondering how anyone could presume to know what was actually going on in the girl's mind. 

So even social media sites that the BBC would doubtless label 'echo chambers' did not act as echo chambers over this. Plenty of people actually used their brains...

...and I know that because I followed their discussions about it very closely at the time.

Will BBC types going into schools - who doubtless did not follow such discussions closely at the time - reflect that fact? 

That fake news image of the Muslim girl raises other questions about the BBC's role too. Why the strong focus on that particular example?

As you'll see from the transcript, the pupils taught about it by the BBC's Amol drew the conclusion that it was unfair to Muslims - and, yes, it undoubtedly was unfair to Muslims (and intended to be divisive), but, fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the BBC making a very particular point here.

Maybe school children should also be taught to sniff out agendas being pursued by allegedly impartial broadcasters?

And, of course, the BBC is itself far from innocent over this. From Jon Donnison's infamous 'Gaza' tweet that was actually from Syria to the BBC's inflammatory reporting of the death of a Polish man in Harlow soon after the Brexit referendum, the BBC has failed on the fake news front many times too. 

Indeed, the Corporation's doom-laden post-referendum Brexit coverage could be considered 'fake news' on bulk. BBC soothsayers' predictions of woe, woe and thrice woe have, again and again, proved to be premature at best and complete kangaroo's testicles (for any fellow IACGMOOH fans) at worst. 

My main memory of the BBC's overnight referendum result coverage was watching long-faced Kamal Ahmed scaring the living daylights out of BBC viewers (including me) with his 'endtimes' grimness about the immediate market reaction. It felt like 'told you so' gloating to me at the time. Even if it wasn't, it certainly was doom-mongering. Is spreading doom and gloom over neutral facts (and market fluctuations) fake news? Or just bias?

Samira and Kamal

Anyhow, here's Mr. Ahmed and Ms. Ahmed:

Samira Ahmed: Now, the term 'fake news' may have first been popularised by Donald Trump during his presidential election campaign, but it's become a major concern, not just because politicians throw it at journalism they don't like, but also because of the evidence of fake stories created and spread, especially through social media platforms, notably in the run-up to the US election. But how easy is it just got fake news? There has been rapid change in how young people consume the news, and the BBC is starting a scheme to help secondary school pupils identify it. The BBC's media editor spoke at six formers in Kent. 
Amol Rajan: How do you consume news everyday? 

Pupil 1: I'll be honest, it's mainly through Snapchat. 

Amol RajanPut your hand up if you're on Snapchat....To gauge their news literacy, we showed the pupils an image that was shared thousands of times on social media. It depicts a Muslim woman after the Westminster Bridge terror attack. 

Pupil 2: Yeah, she seems like she's not caring, and maybe she's sorry, or she doesn't realise, who knows?

Amol RajanBut this was fake news. The image was attached to a tweet from an account linked to Russia, and our pupils did detect anti-Muslim prejudice. 

Pupil 3: I think if she was of a different race this tweet would never have been put out and it's really wrong that people feel the need to do that. 
From March, up to a thousand schools will be offered mentoring in class, online or at events by BBC journalists, including from the likes of Huw Edwards and the BBC's economic editor Kamal Ahmed, and Kamal joins us now. Welcome to Newswatch. Have you ever been caught out by fake news? 

Kamal AhmedI don't think so, no. Obviously we do our best to make sure we're not. I was once almost caught out. A Mark Carney Twitter feed started, who's the Governor of the Bank of England, and I must admit, for a moment I thought, my goodness, the Governor of the Bank of England is going to start tweeting. That was the only time I thought to myself, check yourself, Kamal! Is that really believable? And I think when you're thinking about fake news, that is probably the first thing to do. Is what you're seeing really believable? And as soon as you've checked, is Mark Carney going to be on Twitter anywhere else, everyone was saying, well, of course, the Governor of the Bank of England couldn't do that. So I think it's thinking about what's the source of the story, does it look believable, is it being reported anywhere else? And I suppose the responsibility is on us as the BBC to help people navigate this new world of news that they live in. 

Samira AhmedWell, let's talk about that, because people might say, why does the BBC feel it needs to do anything about this? 

Kamal AhmedI think we do have a role, if the BBC's role, its mission, is to educate, inform and entertain. Educate is part of what we do, and I think it's an important part of the conversation. And also I think, Samira, for us, we need to listen as well. We need to listen to young people. Amol Rajan's piece there was very interesting, what people felt about some of the news information they were being given. So it's a learning exercise for us as well. 

Samira AhmedLet's look at a couple of the things you mentioned there. We saw Amol going into schools, as you said, what actually are people like him and you doing when you do go into them and when you start going into more? 

Kamal AhmedWell, I'm going back to my old school in the New Year in London. I think what I would love to do, and I think this is what the BBC is planning, is just go through some of those stories and talk to the young people, the sixth formers and others, about what they think about the news coverage and how it works. And do they think about, is it fake news? Is a deliberately misleading piece of information? 

Samira AhmedIt's very clear that young audiences, particularly in their teens and early 20s, they don't consume traditional curated TV news bulletins like we all used to. Do BBC editors understand their world enough? 

Kamal AhmedThe BBC certainly does. I would not claim myself that we should say 'We understand the world that young people live in' but, certainly, we have all sorts of content on Facebook on Twitter, on Instagram, we have a piece of our organisation called News Labs, which looks at how news is shared in different ways on mobile. Newsbeat and Newsround, they are on lots of these social media outlets. 

Samira AhmedIn terms of who you send out to spread that message, if you don't mind me saying so, apart from Tina Daheley, who has worked on Radio One, one might think you're not actually of that generation. You know, who would be the right people to be sending, and is it people like you? 

Kamal AhmedWell, I think it's young people, but I think it's about showing that the BBC takes it seriously at whatever level in this organisation you happen to be and whatever age you are. I'm certainly no celebrity, and I wouldn't claim that I am, but I think I work at the front line for the BBC in economics, which lots of young people talk about and are very interested in - intergenerational unfairness, inequality, those type of issues are issues I cover - and I think if I can help people navigate that and also listen to that, I think that is of advantage, I hope, to them, and it certainly will be to us. 

Samira AhmedKamal Ahmed, thank you. 


Catching up with things, I really did enjoy this week's Start the Week. Andrew Marr & Co. talked all things Russian, and the range of views wasn't as predictable as you might have expected...

...except perhaps for Andrew's own views! 

Passing by this remarkable statement...
Can we start, Dominic, by talking a little bit about another aspect of Russia, which is its powerful Muslim identity? We don't often think of Russia as a Muslim country but, of course, Moscow is one of the great Muslim cities of Europe.
(Dominic himself talked, more realistically, of Muslims as having a peripheral place in Russia.)

....shall we savour instead this opinion from Mr. Marr? 
Roy, a lot of people think that we are heading towards a major Sunni-Shia conflict across the whole part of that world. Certainly that's what Netanyahu thinks. The rhetoric from the Saudis is beginning to look that way as well. Increasing sort-of hysteria about Iran reaching the Mediterranean. 
Is it really "hysteria" for a country like, say, Israel to fear Iran's growing power in Syria and Lebanon (an Iran committed to its destruction)?

The Unanswered Question

First the tweet:

Then the reply:

And then the silence.

Who cares?

Among the plethora of BBC reports about President Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem there's a video report headlined Why British Jews care about Jerusalem

Now, of course, that's not actually true (fake news!), but there is a video report from the BBC headlined Why British Muslims care about Jerusalem

One man and his dog

Also on last night's BBC News at Ten, Jeremy Bowen metaphorically wagged his finger and then, after beginning his report by saying that that US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has led to bloodshed as predicted, ended it by saying that things were actually "quieter...than many expected". He looked somewhat deflated.

Look out for poor old Saleh, standing amidst the rubble of his demolished home. A Jeremy Bowen report wouldn't be complete without someone like poor old Saleh, nor without a bit of pointed anti-Israel framing from the BBC's Middle East editor:

Newsreader: Israel has carried out air strikes against targets in Gaza, injuring ten people, after Palestinian militants fired a rocket into Israeli territory. Two Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces during a second day of protests in the West Bank and Gaza against Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Our Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, reports from Jerusalem. 

Jeremy Bowen: Palestinian protesters confronted Israeli security forces on the roads leading into all the big towns on the West Bank. Plenty of people had warned that US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital would lead to bloodshed. It has. One dead, and many wounded, across Gaza and the West Bank. That's the land Palestinians want for a state, with a capital in East Jerusalem. 
This is our land. Palestinian, all Palestinian is our land. Mr Trump, you are wrong. 
Most Israelis are delighted President Trump has accepted their reality. He [the Israeli vox pop] said:
We are steadfast here, eternally here since ancient times. This city was given to Jews 3000 years ago. We are the continuation and the US has recognised that. 
But the golden dome behind him is part of the third holiest place in the world for Muslims. And a few hundred yards away, several thousand Palestinians were going home after the noon prayer. The reality of this city is that many Palestinians live here. Life can be hard for them. Saleh's home has been demolished twice this year by the Israeli authorities. They give Palestinians very few building permits, while constructing thousands of homes for Jews
I born in this land, and my father and my grandfather. And I will die in this place. I will not leave it, not for Israel, not for Jews, and not for the United States. 
Palestinian areas of Jerusalem were quieter after Friday prayers than many expected. Whenever a crowd formed, mostly of onlookers rather than protesters, the police broke it up. Mr Trump's declaration is a big challenge for the Palestinian national movement. It will turn into a big defeat for it as well if the Palestinians aren't able to organise a coherent challenge to what's happened, and to build on all the international criticism there has been. Israel feels on the up. It's been given American presidential recognition in this city, without mention of occupation and without, so far, a single concession in return. Jeremy Bowen, BBC News, Jerusalem. 

Fergal Keane on the DRC

Fergal Keane
Something from an earlier ITBB post

It's good to see that the BBC is placing more emphasis on Africa and that Fergal Keane, their new Africa editor, is making good on his pledge to report goings-on there more fully. 

He's just been to the Democratic Republic of the Congo - site of the worst war (or wars) since World War Two. The BBC (though far from alone in this) never gave that conflict the coverage it deserved, preferring to focus on much less deadly conflicts instead like that between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Hopefully then, the BBC is now trying to get its priorities right (though it still came lower down the running order than the Jerusalem story). 

Last night's BBC News at Ten saw Fergal Keane in the BBC studio explaining the situation their to Fiona Bruce.
Newsreader: At least 14 United Nations peacekeepers have been killed and more than 50 injured in an attack on their base in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN said the peacekeepers were from Tanzania. Five Congolese soldiers were also killed. The attack took place in North Kivu province in the east of the country, where several rival militia groups are fighting for control. Our Africa Editor, Fergal Keane, is here with me. You've just come back from Congo. What's the background to this?  
Fergal KeaneWell, the UN has for some time been a target in eastern Congo because it acts in support of the Congolese government. The real context behind this, even though the group who carried out the attack, the ADF, are Islamist, well it's not like Al-Shabab in Somalia. The real context is a deeply unpopular central government that's clinging to power, whose President, Joseph Kabila, has gone beyond his two term limit. And you have a sense now among warlords, militia groups, among wider civil society, that an endgame is beginning. You have jockeying for power. Congo itself is a mess at the moment. You've more than 4 million people displaced. And at the same time as this, you have a UN peacekeeping force of 20,000 and they are now cutting it down by 3,000, under pressure from the Trump Administration, which wants to reduce peacekeeping costs. This at a time, as I say, when violence is on the rise. I've just come back and I've seen in many parts of the country how those UN peacekeepers, the very people who were attacked last night, are the only people who stand between the ordinary citizens who are being relentlessly attacked, and the exactions of militia groups, warlords and the security forces of their own government. So this couldn't come at a worse time.
I saw that after reading the Guardian's account of the atrocity and noted some striking differences:

Firstly, the Guardian's account doesn't downplay the Islamist element of the atrocity, unlike Fergal Keane's.

And secondly, the Guardian doesn't criticise the Trump administration for forcing the UN to cut the number of peacekeepers in the DRC, unlike Fergal's report which emphasises the vital nature of the UN peacekeepers there and ends with his opinion that the Trump administration-enforced cuts "couldn't come at a worse time".

I do find with Fergal Keane that you rarely come away from his reporting without feeling that you're being not-too-subtly preached to.


I've heard the term "hardliners" on the lips of BBC reporters over the past couple of days or so. It has been applied to two groups of people: those Iranians who are dead against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and those Brexiteers who want 'a hard Brexit'. Frank Gardner is one example of a BBC reporter who has been using the term about those Iranians, and Mark Urban is one example of a BBC reporter who has been using the term about those Brexiteers. Oddly, I've never considered either of those to be particularly hardline BBC reporters themselves. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Sucking up to antisemites

Spell-check will keep altering Maitlis to Meritless - I wonder if it knows something I don’t - I but  am absolutely tired of watching people like Emily Maitlis sucking up to people like Ghada Karmi

As if Karmi’s opinion is in any way worth hearing. (If that comment sounds dangerously close to complaining because someone I detest has been given airtime, so be it.) 

It’s not so much that I want Karmi to be no-platformed, although I wouldn’t care if she were, it’s merely that oxygen was being given to her very partisan, embittered opinion and  she was being sucked up to by one of the BBC’s senior presenters. Not only that, but Maitlis suddenly became rude and argumentative when speaking to Israeli ambassador Mark Regev, continually interrupting him in that reproachful tone of voice.

Now we all know what the BBC (and most of the British establishment) think about Trump, and we also know what the prevailing attitude towards Israel is - let’s call it lukewarm to cool -  but we suspect that the latter is based on a mixture of ignorance, lazy thinking and fear of enraging the antisemites in British society (if not on antisemitism itself.)

In case you don’t know, Ghada Karmi is an Honorary Research Fellow based in Exeter University. I think she teaches antisemitism and related studies. Honorary?  Wassat? Oh, nothing. It just means…….. Anyway, she gets to be labelled “academic”. 

To date, the only sensible article I have read about Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is in Commentary Magazine by Sohrab Ahmari, a senior writer at the magazine who happens to be of Iranian/ American nationality. So in a good position to opine. (i.e., notaJew) 

Because I don’t know if the full article will be accessible to many ITBB readers I’m going to reproduce most of it below. (The missing paragraph virtually reiterates the law US Congress enacted in 1995, which was included in Trump’s excellent speech

“The journalistic class is apoplectic over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But conservatives, including those skeptical of this president, should add it to the list of Trump-administration foreign policies that deserve praise. The case for recognizing Jerusalem, and relocating the U.S. Embassy there, is formidable. Talk of the move throwing the region into chaos is overwrought and out of touch with Mideast reality. [..] 
(Professional people) contend that Trump’s capital idea (pun intended) will scuttle any chances for a negotiated settlement to the seven-decade-long conflict. In this, they echo the Palestinian president-for-life, Mahmoud Abbas, who on Wednesday characterized the move as America’s “declaration of withdrawal” from the peace process. 
Here’s the problem with this line of argument: What peace process?

For nearly a decade, Abbas has refused to sit down for direct talks, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s open invitation. Abbas’s rejectionism was spurred in part by the Obama administration’s theory that peace would come from creating “daylight” between the U.S. and the Jewish state and tying talks to an Israeli settlement freeze. Now, with the Jerusalem move, Trump is signaling that Washington will no longer tolerate the Palestinians’ excessive demands–or the obstinacy that led them to turn down generous offers from Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008. 
But, ask the peace-processors, what about the violence that will ensue from this? Here one must respond: Have you looked at the Middle East lately? 
The whole region is on fire, as America’s traditional Arab allies respond to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions from Yemen to Lebanon. Very little of today’s instability has to do with Israel at all. Thus, Washington should take Arab leaders’ statements of outrage with a grain of salt. Arab elites have to create some sound and fury over Jerusalem to satisfy their publics. But most of them today look to Israel as a protector and potential ally against Tehran. 
It can’t be an accident, moreover, that Trump’s announcement followed news of Abbas’s visit last month to Saudi Arabia. There, the reformer-prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) reportedly told the Palestinian leader that Riyadh shares Netanyahu’s view of the conflict. The Palestinians must learn to accept a state with limited sovereignty and non-contiguous territory dotted with Israeli settlements. Under the MBS plan, the New York Times reported, “The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.” 
The leading Arab power, in other words, has concluded that maintaining the anti-Iranian alliance is more important than a settlement here or an East Jerusalem neighborhood there. The Trump administration’s Jerusalem decision, then, is attuned to the tectonic shifts taking place in the Middle East. Why keep pursuing the fiction that the Palestinian question is the most pressing problem in the region, when the Arabs themselves have moved on? 
As for Palestinian groups’ threat of staging days of rage and rioting, that’s not so much an argument against Trump’s decision as it is a case study in why peace has remained elusive for so long.

Strangely, this morning (still early days) this issue seems to have been demoted, news-wise. I do hope the BBC finds something else to gnaw on.

Saudi Arabia’s condemnation may merely be lip service - to keep their Arab co-religionists quiet, and d’you know, I hear that the Palestinians, actually, ain’t that bovvered.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Donald Trump, Fake news and the BBC

Our minds are being truly boggled by the BBC.

The term "fake news" was popularised by Donald Trump during his presidential election campaign last year. 
He used the term to denigrate the output of the traditional news media, although it is also used to describe news stories that achieve significant traction despite being palpably false. 
BBC journalists including Kamal Ahmed, Tina Daheley, Amol Rajan and Huw Edwards  will be telling students how to identify ‘fake news’. 

This in itself smacks of fakery pokery, but I do have to ask, will they be highlighting the BBC’s own social engineering project, the Today Programme? For example, for Mishal Husain’s oddly gratuitous, sugar-coated reports about British Muslims or Manuel Hassassian’s questionable statements in his entirely foreseeable meltdown.

Okay, so there are some very British Muslim farmers, who say the requisite words in Arabic whilst practicing an entirely humane version of Halal slaughter. Jolly hockey sticks.  
I’m sorry to say that John Humphrys was blatantly hostile to the Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat when he interrogated him this morning, abandoning all pretence of impartiality. (As they do when speaking to Israelis)

Of course Nir Barkat doesn’t understand the true extent of the BBC’s ignorance of the history of Israel nor the hostility with which the BBC approaches all Israeli spokespersons, and he might not be aware of the BBC’s gullibility with regard to the fakery pokery within Palestinian narrative.

John Humphrys reinforces his outrage by listing a cornucopia of hostile Arab States that have reacted badly to the American Embassy's intended relocation, and to Jerusalem being 'recognised as Israel's capital'. 
Those familiar with the non-revisionist history of Israel would accept Nir Barkat’s comments vis a vis Jerusalem as a given, but due to years of the BBC’s bias by omission, John Humphrys, and I’m sorry to say the majority of listeners, well versed in anti-Israel propaganda, will have found them arrogant and offensive. 
As for the threats of violence, which amount to tantrums from the Palestinians when confronted with reality, well, John Humphrys wasn’t afraid to bring the subject up,
The consequences will be massive, won’t they?
I don’t think so. 
You don’t think so?
and he immediately starts using the impatient, staccato delivery he reserves specially for expressing fury and exasperation.
But what they want is a two-state peace process don’t they, and.. This. Will. Destroy that process. Completely

Two-state peace process? Whatever. Move on and let us fast forward to ten past eight when a particularly adenoidal-sounding Jon Sopel joins the programme  to traduce Trump. Sopel is in even more Private Pike mode than usual. I do hope he’s remembered to put on his vest.

Humph and Sopel share the hope that Trump will back away from this. Boris is ‘concerned’.
Manuel Hassassian 'effectively the Palestinian ambassador' thinks ‘it’s going to be repercussions that will be very detrimental,’ and ‘violence will be inevitable’. Now John Humphrys’s indignation is directed at Trump, in sympathy with his interviewee.

Hassassian ups the ante: 
“He’s declaring war in the Middle East, he’s declaring war against one point five billion Muslims and hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept their holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of the Israelis”

John Humphrys seems to have calmed down.
“The Palestinians don’t have the wherewithal to declare war on the U.S.” says Humph. ”How will they prosecute their war?"
“The Palestinians will go down to the streets,” declaims Hassassian, “Let’s not forget what happened in the summer when the Israelis tried to close down the Al Aqsa Mosque… to the prayers… and you know almost an intifada could happen.”

Can you spot the fake news?

Sorry, but what with Mishal Husain’s saccharine ‘reports’ about British Muslims (why?) and a predicted avalanche of hostility towards Israel, I really do despair.

The only consolation and it’s not much of a comfort, is that some of the Tweets and comments I’m seeing are not wholly on message.