Saturday, 26 September 2020

The First Open Thread of Autumn

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us again, and the gathering swallows will soon be twittering in the skies like so many BBC journalists. 

Where are the open threads of spring? Ay, Where are they? Think not of them. Autumn hast its open threads too — and here's the first. 

Thank you for your support and comments.

One minute to midnight

'Francesca' is a fine Italian name. Fans of Dante will recall poor Francesca da Rimini, blown about the first circle of Hell like a leaf in a never-ending whirlwind alongside her no less ill-fated lover Paolo. 

Most readers over the centuries have felt nothing but sympathy for her. 

Will they sympathise with Francesca della BBC though? 

Here's her story. (Please try not to faint with pity.)

Fran Unsworth, the BBC's Director of News and Current Affairs, jetted off to Italy this week to speak at the Prix Italia conference - it's a hard life, but I suppose someone has to do it - and reading her speech makes it sound as if she feels she's in the first circle of Hell at the moment being blown about like a leaf in a never-ending wind too. She even begins by saying:

We live in stormy times and are all trying to navigate through them with intelligence and with good hearts and good intentions.

What's bothering her especially is the impact of the 'culture wars' on the BBC and the fact that "many actors wish to co-opt us into their side of the culture war". She strongly hints that some BBC staff have already been co-opted:

Online warriors...can encourage staff with a particular interest in an aspect of the news, for example from their lived experience, to seek to persuade editors that their view of the world needs to be reflected in our coverage. Or that we should adopt the particular vocabulary they endorse.

She says this is "increasingly hard this is to resist" (we've noticed, as per Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter!), but says if the BBC don’t resist it they will "undermine their future as a universal public service media organisation, taking money from everyone". 

What can be done? She says that newsrooms should

(1) "Decide on the right editorial way forward and the right language to deploy, in a clear, calm, considered fashion. And which when challenged can explain their decisions quickly and responsively to both the outside world and to our own staff".

(2) "Shrug off social media pressure and the cancel culture, and parry the unfair attacks on our honesty and intentions".

And, she adds:

(3) "More than anything, we need newsroom leaders who are ready to reflect a broad range of thinking, who don’t always go down the same narrow, well-trodden path because it is the one they have always followed". 

Shrugging off social media pressure and the cancel culture is a good idea, and of course the BBC should parry unfair attacks on their honesty intentions. And it's good that she acknowledges the narrowness of the range of thinking among BBC 'newsroom leaders'. 

But (1) is surely dependent on (3) already being in place, and the problem is that (3) is very far from being in place. 

BBC groupthink rules, and it will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to change - if her and Tim Davie seriously want to change it. 

It is precisely because (3) isn't remotely in place that so many wrong editorial ways forward have been chosen in the past few years (and decades) - and it's getting worse. (Just look at Newsnight).

'A broader range of thinking' is surely the horse, 'deciding the right editorial way forward' the cart?

Anyhow, Miss Unsworth ended her speech with a rhetorical flourish:

If we don’t analyse the dangers these cultural issues pose to public service broadcasters and think them through, we may look up and see to our surprise that the hands of that clock we watch all day are pointing at one minute to midnight.

Many, of course, think it's past midnight already.

The BBC's "ongoing propaganda war against the Jewish state"


On the subject of Sue's Tuesday post, David Collier has now posted a coruscating attack on the BBC over this week's Panorama and BBC Arabic's heavy involvement with it. 

It's too powerful a piece to be read in paraphrase, so you really ought to read the whole thing.

He looks at why the BBC targeted Roman Abramovich ("a wealthy, proud, Zionist Jew who fights antisemitism – what is not for the hate?"); argues that the BBC has "amplified beyond recognition" certain fringe Jewish voices through "editorial choices"; and says the BBC is "obsessed with Israel".

He further argues that BBC Arabic's story about Mr Abramovich's funding of an NGO (Elad) that invests in Jerusalem isn't news ("Shock horror – A Jew invests in Jerusalem"):

Jews investing in Jerusalem is like Muslims investing in Mecca or Catholics in the Vatican. It is a non-story.

He then outlines the "usual smears", the loaded language, the "nonsensical propaganda stories" and "the standard deceptive tactics"  used by the BBC - eg:

BBC Arabic [found] a fringe Israeli left-wing politician to claim he was ‘shocked’ on camera. That politician left the scene 14 years ago after his party failed to gain enough votes to see him re-elected. This is truly desperate stuff.

He sets out the historical background to the story behind the BBC "hit piece" in detail before describing how "as always" the BBC tried to make it personal" and then proceeded to "hide most of the story" of the family presented as a victim of Mr Abramovich’s funding and Elad’s activity. David lays out what the BBC "hid" - the exposed forgeries, the wealth of the "poor" family, the legal rulings against them - and the funding for them from "Jewish American billionaire George Soros":

You may not know this, as some backing of Jewish billionaires the BBC don’t want people to know about.

He then describes BBC Arabic as "a propaganda network":

Anyone who doesn’t realise this doesn’t understand the way news is produced and isn’t paying attention. Using mainly locals to create its news, it is entirely subservient to local pressure and norms. When they do get to tell a story about life in Gaza, they spend it talking about fishermen and ancient coins rather than the brutal rule of Hamas. And inside every human interest story like that, they never miss an opportunity to talk about Israeli ‘oppression’.

David has seen the full interview between Doron Spielman of Elad and Rosie Garthwaite of the BBC (the main journalist and producer behind this piece) and describes how the 55-minute exchange was reduced to "just a few seconds for her piece" after "careful snipping":

Anyone who ever wants to see how bad BBC journalism is – should seek out evidence such as this. It exposes an exercise in creating propaganda, ignoring what you are being told and writing the piece they were always going to write anyway.

What points made by Mr Spielman did Rosie Garthwaite omit?  

  • This is Jerusalem, the City of David and what we do benefits everyone
  • This is an archaeological site of world importance
  • Many Arab voices are with us, why are the BBC only using those against us
  • Some well-funded NGOs are dissuading Jewish/Arab cooperation
  • Suleiman forged documents and has no real claim
  • Israel abides by the law
  • The EU and some governments fund those dissuading Jewish / Arab cooperation

He adds, "Each of these is a story in itself. None of them made it into the piece." 

He then writes about the BBC's use of an activist from Peace Now "to help with their case during the documentary", noting:

They had all the information necessary to remind viewers Peace Now is financed by foreign governments. If funding on one side is important, then surely it is on both. This isn’t neglect or an accident. The BBC have completely aligned themselves with only one side of the argument. This isn’t telling the truth, it is spreading disinformation. If the BBC knows there are problems with Sumarin’s claim – wasn’t it the duty of a proper journalist to remind viewers his evidence was proven to be forged?

We've already written about Rosie Garthwaite's history of "hard-core" anti-Israel activity on social media (and yet the BBC still went ahead with involving her here), and David adds to that the name of Uri Blau, who he calls "an anti-Israel activist". Mr Blau is 'friends' with numerous anti-Israel activists on Facebook. David concludes:

It is impossible for the BBC to claim impartiality when he is one of the producers of the piece. Uri Blau sits firmly on one side of the argument. He is in the enemy camp. How on earth can the BBC let him produce a news piece and then claim their investigations are impartial? It was a set-up from the start.

He goes on to say, "The truth is that the BBC and the Guardian are at war with the Jews" and then makes a point Sue has often made:

They don’t mind Jews when they are victims of a terror attack or Holocaust, but cannot stand them when they call for Jewish rights to be protected.

 He ends by writing:

It is an old-school British supremacist antisemitic mindset. A Jew investing in an archaeological site in the City of David – the historical biblical Jewish capital is enough to set them off. No longer interested in telling the truth, they sit firmly in the Arab camp, pushing out anti-Israel propaganda at every opportunity. Which makes pieces like the recent BBC piece on Panorama just par for the course. Just another shot in their ongoing propaganda war against the Jewish state.

Please give the whole piece a careful read. It deserves a proper response from the BBC.

The grass isn't always greener


Andrew Neil is a big fish. The BBC is a big pond. Will he find GB News a small pond? 

I do hope not. He deserves to succeed, and GB News deserves to succeed. They are both very much needed.

But sometimes people who are considered - and especially who consider themselves - 'BBC stars' have sunk rather than swum after leaving Auntie's protectively ample bosom.

Take the case of former 'BBC Breakfast star' Steph McGovern - the one who boasted to Boris Johnson about being in her job longer than he would be in his job. 

She's now at Channel 4 with a new show, Steph's Packed Lunch. 

This new 'star vehicle', the Daily Mirror reported this week, "failed to record a single viewer earlier this week":

Exclusive: Channel 4's Steph's Packed Lunch registered zero viewers at one point during the show on Tuesday

That's one heck of an achievement. It doesn't even sound possible. I'm assuming the ratings went so low they couldn't be detected by BARB (the Broadcasters Audience Research Board). 

Reading the Mirror piece it's hard not to feel sorry for her. She's up against ITV's Loose Women and appears to be receiving a cruel wake-up call. 

Maybe, in a few months, she'll be asking Andrew Neil to "gizza job"?



The BBC's statement on Andrew Neil's departure from the BBC was pleasingly warm:

I did chuckle at the bit about This Week being "much-loved". 

It begs two obvious questions: So why did the BBC cancel it? And will the BBC now admit they made a mistake?

Friday, 25 September 2020

BBC’s Reporting All at sea (over Banksy’s Mediterranean Sojourn)

A Guest Post by Arthur T 

After the recent posts - The Brand Banksy Connivance, picked up by News-Watch under ‘TheBBC’s Love Affair with Banksy’ - and further reading, I was astounded to find out just how selective the BBC had been with their coverage of the ‘Banksy goes to sea’ story. 


Sea-watch 3 Captain Pia Klemp, Heroes of our Times (courtesy available as a snip at $8,600.

The name of Pia Klemp should by now be known by all. Along with fellow captain Carola Rakete, she has been responsible for saving a thousand or so lives - migrants who were adrift in the Mediterranean mainly off the coast of Libya. Together, the two are principals of the Sea-watch programme, who in recent months have been at odds with the Italian authorities over the landing of migrants in Italian ports. website has this banner: 

Europe has gotten used to pictures of drowning people and sinking boats. We won’t. That’s why we keep on rescuing. With your support we will send another ship and aircraft to rescue. 

The first story from the BBC was on the 28th August 2020 on the Banksy pages of the BBC News website: 

‘Banksy funds boat to rescue refugees at sea’ … 

‘The Louise Michel has been funded by the street artist and is operating in the Mediterranean.’ … 

However, a day earlier on 27th August this article appeared in the Guardian:

‘Banksy funds refugee rescue boat operating in Mediterranean.’ 

This article covers the story in a depth that the BBC chose to avoid:

Banksy’s involvement in the rescue mission goes back to September 2019 when he sent an email to Pia Klemp, the former captain of several NGO boats that have rescued thousands of people over recent years.

"Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” he wrote. “I am an artist from the UK and I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy.”

Klemp, who initially thought it was a joke, believes she was chosen by Banksy due to her political stance. “I don’t see sea rescue as a humanitarian action, but as part of an anti-fascist fight,” she told the Guardian.

She has made clear that Banksy’s involvement in the operations is limited to providing financial support. “Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists.”

Who does Pia Klemp seek to engage with in her ‘anti-fascist fight’? Surely, not the EU. 

It’s clear that despite the BBC giving Banksy his own pages on their News website, they were kept well out of the loop over this story, and were required to play catch-up - and then only choosing to cherry the pick parts of the story which were in accord with their promotion of the Banksy brand. Were they unable to report that ‘the operations is limited to providing financial support’ and thus Banksy’s artwork was valueless in this instance? We have noted that the continued support by the BBC of Banksy, in particular the ‘mystery’ of his identity, can have been of significant commercial benefit to his wealth, now sufficient to fund the purchase of MV Louise Michel. 

What I find troubling is that a images Google search ‘Pia Klemp BBC’ produces no matches, though there are plenty of photos of Pia Klemp from other media sources. There is just one, indirectly drawing attention to The Guardian article via the newspaper reviews. I have been looking for the reasons that Klemp is ‘non-existent’ in this way according to the BBC. It appears that Banksy’s boat MV Louise Michel is a German flagged vessel, and that the Sea-watch programme, referred to by the BBC as an ‘NGO Charity’, is backed partly or largely by the Evangelical Church EKD of Protestant Germany. 

Another possible reason might be that Pia Klemp has associations with Forensic Architecture, headed by British Israeli Eyal Weizman at Goldsmiths College. Readers of ITBBCB? will know this group from their shortlisting for the Turner Prize in 2018. 

All in all, it remains a mystery as to why the BBC, who follow every move of Banksy’s, were unaware of the story broken by The Guardian ‘Exclusive’ (although we all thought the Beeb and Guardian were joined at the hip), and also why there is so little on the BBC about ‘a hero of our times’ Pia Klemp, who must tick nearly every box for the BBC’s routine diversity exercise. That the EU come out of this very badly might irk the BBC group-thinkers for whom the EU can do no wrong. 

Also missing from BBC News, the story of Sea-watch and their continuing stand-off with the Italian authorities had a newsworthy addition last weekend, when according to Die Welt, 

"Sea-Watch 4" set - Bedford-Strohm criticizes “arbitrariness" Status: 21.09.2020 

Extracts read as follows: 

Italian authorities hold the refugee ship "Sea-Watch 4" in Sicily. Now the council chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany has intervened. He spoke of a pretext that would prevent sea rescue.

The outrage over the detention of the church rescue ship “Sea-Watch 4” is growing. The council chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, called the process on Monday an “irresponsible act of arbitrariness”. “Anyone who hinders sea rescue accepts that people will drown,” he said. Under the pretext of ship safety, the rescue of people from distress at sea should obviously be prevented,

The Sea-Watch 4 was arrested by Italian authorities on Sunday night in the Sicilian port city of Palermo after it had rescued more than 350 people from distress at sea. According to Sea-Watch, this was justified with alleged security deficiencies.

We can deduce from all of this that both the BBC and Banksy are way out of their depth when it comes to virtue-signalling over the rescue of refugees adrift in the Med - once it all turned ugly. The MV Louise Michel is little more than a shuttle service passing rescued refugees on to coastguard or Sea-Watch vessels, the latter of which are clearly at the sharp end of any dealings with the Italian authorities. Sea-Watch have powerful backers in Germany, whereas BBC/Banksy provide little more than a decorative froth. 

The BBC took an interest Carola Rackete of Sea-watch last year: 

Carola Rackete: How a ship captain took on Italy's Salvini

Italy migrants: Pressure builds over Lampedusa rescue ship’ 

The Sea-Watch 3 reached the Italian island of Lampedusa on Wednesday with 42 rescued migrants.

But, to the BBC, a similarly themed story from 21st September 2020 is no longer newsworthy! We should conclude that both Banksy and the BBC are well out of their depth and floundering. The virtue signalling from both have an uncanny, somewhat muted watery ring to them.

The BBC have tied themselves in knots over their reporting of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, by wishing to promote only the sentimental human stories of migrants. From 11th Sept:

Migrants on Lesbos: 'Europe does not exist. This is hell' 

In this emotive piece written from the viewpoint of the refugee, we were told by the BBC: 

The collapse of Moria into a scorched mass of ash and mangled memories has prompted a fresh humanitarian crisis at the edge of Europe. Not only are thousands of migrants and refugees without shelter - but when the fire hit, 35 of them had tested positive for coronavirus and most of those haven't been located.

The Greek government says the flames were lit by migrants protesting at isolation measures by the camp authorities.

The migrants refute that, insisting it was the work of far-right Lesbos residents, for years furious that their island has been on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis.’ 

By 16th September, the NYT and Daily Mail reported that not ’far-right Lesbos residents’, but Afghan Migrants Charged With Arson in Fires that Destroyed Lesbos Camp - The New York So, where is the BBC’s news of this, and their retraction of the far-right slur? I can’t find anything.

New DG/New Open Thread


Out with the old, in with the new. With September comes a new BBC DG, Tim Davie, and a new open thread. Thanks for all your comments.  

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Lazy, dishonest and biased.

I’m very sorry but I hardly watch the BBC these days. It’s not really a question of aligning with the ‘defund’ or ‘defend’ side of the argument or whether I think the BBC should be ‘reformed’ or ‘removed’. It’s partly because of the increasingly desperate pandering to a demographic…. 
“Generation Z, or Gen Z for short, are the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha” 
 …..that has moved on and doesn’t watch TV! And now, neither do I. (Well, I do, but rarely the BBC) The bias looks more and more entrenched. Who is in charge of this ‘unconscious bias’ training they’re talking about? 17 minutes to 9 (2:44) If the bias is unconscious, then how can the trainers know whether they too are suffering from it? It’s those wretched unknown unknowns again.

I didn’t want to watch Panorama last night - I haven’t watched it for years, the exception being the controversial John Ware episode that shed light on the Labour Party’s malevolent racism. However, the programme was on when I walked into the room just in time to see Richard Bilton cycling, W1A style, through deserted city streets. (why?) 

Well, it seems that he had unearthed some dirty dealing, which could be summed up as:

And the reason I’m even bothering to mention this is simply to point out that Bilton’s emotionally loaded language epitomises bias, be it conscious or unconscious, but not only the conscious/unconscious/subliminal repetitious utterance of trigger words like ‘settlers’ and the BBC/ Guardian’s casual scattering of “illegal under international law” and “Palestinian land” etc etc, this emotive background nagging demonstrates how effortlessly ‘unconscious’ or bog-standard ‘conscious bias’ is slipped in, enabling Richard Bilton and his unconscious mates to virtue-signal rather than apply the rigour of genuine curiosity and self-examination to his research.  (Research? What research?)

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Knocking Jim


The Sun on Sunday has a striking 'BBC profligacy' story today concerning James Naughtie's £175,000 salary. 

Its "audit" says that "the 69-year-old was on air for just over 23 hours [from April 2019-20] - equal to £7,608 an hour of broadcasting, or £126 a minute". 

The paper quotes "a source":

It’s quite clear it’s been an old boy’s club at the top of the BBC. Naughtie has been a big name for years but I cannot see how the BBC can justify such an enormous salary for that amount of work. 
He’s well respected and brilliant at what he does but that’s a huge sum and a kick in the teeth for those losing jobs. It shows how out of touch the BBC is.

A BBC spokesman responds:

Jim is one of the most recognisable voices on radio but listing his on-air hours does not represent any of the behind-the-scenes work. 

 Wonder how much "behind-the-scenes work" he does?

Charles Moore for BBC chairman?


Well, if the sources in Downing Street cited by the Mail on Sunday's political editor Glen Owen are correctly reflecting a serious, determined intent on the part of Mr Cummings & Co. to replace the departing Sir David Clementi as Chairman of the BBC with Charles Moore of all people then that would probably be the biggest shock to the BBC's system since time immemorial. 

The newly ennobled Lord Moore of Etchingham is definitely the cat the BBC pigeons would least prefer to have put among them. 

Unlike Sir David, Charles Moore wouldn't go native. Under him, the BBC would be shaken up, beginning next February. 

It's quite a tantalising thought. But is the Government brave enough?


Andrew Neil is being characteristically droll about it, even employing the time-honoured "choking on their muesli" crack:

BBC executives were choking on their muesli when it was reported that I was in the running to be next Chairman of the BBC. I have no interest in the job. But now the Daily Mail is reporting Charles Moore is favourite for the post, I expect BBC to be begging me to take it.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Eeyore reacts

As Morecambe goes back into lockdown on Tuesday, I feel my inner Eeyore bursting to get out:

“I might have known,” said Eeyore. “After all, one can’t complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said ‘Bother!’. The Social Round. Always something going on.”

Picking the right horse for the right course

Robert Cuffe

BBC News's head of statistics, Robert Cuffe, was on Newswatch this week. Here's a transcript: 

Samira Ahmed: Well, the man whose job it is to guide and advise the BBC's journalists on questions like these is Robert Cuffe, who is head of statistics for BBC News, and he joins me now from our newsroom camera upstairs here at New Broadcasting House. Thank you for coming on Newswatch. Can we start with all the different numbers being cited in stories about testing? There are the numbers of tests that can be done in theory, the number of tests being done, and the number of tests done actually processed. Which is the most important one to use in new stories, do you think? 
Robert Cuffe: Well, at the moment the story really is about the gap between demand and supply, and we don't really have good stats on demand. We know the supply. We know the number of tests that are reported everyday that come back with results, and we know the capacity that the labs say they have, and those two are pretty much bumping one up against the other. So it suggests that the system is pretty tight. And when not all tests arrive evenly spread through the week or across the country, that is going to lead to some of the problems that we have been seeing. But we can't tell just how bad the problem is. Like a lot of the coronavirus stories we are trying to piece together what feels to be honest like a jigsaw with pieces from many different boxes. 
Samira Ahmed: OK. Now, we have seen a significant rise in the number of positive cases of the virus, and that is partly because of much more testing. But doesn't that mean that the graphs that we have been using for months tracking the rise and fall of infection numbers since March [have] become a bit meaningless? 
Robert Cuffe: They can be if they are not used correctly. It is certainly true to say that we have gone through three phases. If you think back to March or April, where testing was limited to people maybe only in hospital, it was very, very severely constrained, and then we move through the summer and testing was largely available to anyone who asked for it and everyone was encouraged to go for tests, through the situation we have been reporting this week when we are starting to see constraints come through again, albeit not quite as, nowhere near as tight as they were earlier in the year. Those are three different phases, and to say that the number of confirmed cases on a given day means the same thing in those phases is probably not helpful, and that is why in the charts that we use to display those figures we are putting a break down the middle to illustrate those different eras that we have been through. But I still think it is useful to show the full history. 
Samira Ahmed: Another issue that viewers raise, in August the government changed the way that it calculates deaths from Covid-19. So now it is counting all deaths within 28 days of a positive test. But this fails to include those of course who might have died of Covid-19 more than 28 days after a test, and, on the other hand, it does include those who died in unrelated ways, who happen to have had a positive test. So again, it doesn't seem to be a very satisfactory statistic, does it? 
Robert Cuffe: I think every statistic has weaknesses, and we've just got to pick the right horse for the right course. So if you want to have a more nuanced judgement of whether a death was caused by coronavirus you could look at the death certificate and whether the registering doctor thought that was one of the underlying causes, or the direct cause of the death. But that takes up to two weeks before those numbers come out. Now, we do report them, so we are reporting both sets of figures, and there is a big difference between the totals. So there have been about 42,000 of the deaths within 28 days of a positive test, and about 56,000 mentions of coronavirus on death certificates, so those are big gaps. It is clear that the 28 day number, the number we hear every day, is missing a large part of the death toll but it is much more useful for telling us in a timely way what the trends are. So you don't want to wait when we think about an epidemic that can grow very, very quickly, you don't want to wait two weeks before you start to make decisions about the deaths that are helping you to understand what else is going on elsewhere. 
Samira Ahmed: One of the things you have made clear is that you feel BBC journalists need to contextualise, and that often means using different statistics and then explaining why they are different. But, of course, in headlines in particular, and short summaries, it can feel like we're giving a very simple story, things are going up or things are going down. It is not satisfactory, is it? 
Robert Cuffe: It is very difficult to summarise the coronavirus epidemic in a simple number. That is certainly the case. But I'm not sure that should be surprising. I'm not sure anything in life boils down to one question that can be answered very simply. It is really across the news and within the details of a story that we can really tell the whole detail of what is going on and put that picture together. 
Samira Ahmed: What is really interesting, Robert, is that clearly the BBC is coming up with some of its own statistics based on the data out there. Some viewers feel that the BBC has been taking government data too much on trust and we should do less of that and more of coming up with the BBC's own calculations. 
Robert Cuffe: I don't think that you need to build data from scratch in order to analyse, interpret or challenge the use of particular statistics. Certainly where the story justifies it, we will scrape the website, we will do the survey, we will send in the Freedom of Information request, but I don't think it makes sense for the BBC to start trying to calculate GDP or to conduct a census. So when we get in those statistics that come from government, it is our job really to understand what is the strongest thing that can be said with them, what is the correct use to which they could be put. 
Samira Ahmed: Robert Cuffe, thank you so much. 

Friday, 18 September 2020

MPs v BBC journalists


Note BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford's reply to Labour MP Barry Sheerman:

Barry Sheerman MP: It would be useful information for licence fee payers if the salaries of BBC journalists were flashed on their screen as they appear in the endlessly repeated advertisements before BBC News. 

Frank Bell: Same true for MPs I think, flash up salary, outside interests & their values & expenses.

Daniel Sandford (BBC): All except a very few BBC journalists earn less than Barry Sheerman’s £81,000 MP’s salary.

"Within audience expectations"


Talking of BBC U-turns and weasel words...

As Charlie noted on the open thread, this was the BBC's official response to criticism of the '(we do) want to Kill Whitey' "joke" on Frankie Boyle's New World Order:

Frankie Boyle's New World Order was shown after 10pm and its content is within audience expectations for a post-watershed, topical, satirical programme from a comedian whose style and tone are well-established.

As Cue Bono added,  "Yeah, as we all know a white comedian talking about killing black people would also be perfectly acceptable after 10pm".

Meanwhile, here's a short conversation on the matter (via Twitter). 

If you recall, I quoted comedian Konstantin Kisin the other day saying, "I am a huge fan of the BBC (or at least what it could be) and I will never criticise a comedian for trying an edgy joke but how is anyone supposed to defend the producer who thought this should go out? Insane." 

This is what happened next:

Daliso Chaponda: Who is this who has taken over Konstantin Kisin's account? Didn't the real Konstantin do a half hour interview about how freedom of speech is a fundamental principle under threat?  Wasn't he on Good Morning Britain saying people shouldn't take jokes literally.

Konstantin Kisin: Hi Daliso, not sure how my tweet can be read as anything other "she has every right to make the joke, I don't think the BBC should have put it out". This was the conclusion that most sensible people came to with Jo Brand, who I defended if you remember.

Wee Nippy Happy Again


Donalda MacKinnon

It was only a week ago that the BBC announced that Nicola Sturgeon's daily coronavirus press briefings were no longer going to be shown live every day on BBC One Scotland and BBC Scotland, only when "editorial merit" demands. 

Opposition parties in Scotland were happy; the SNP government wasn't

I ended my previous post on the subject by asking, "Will Tim Davie's BBC hold its nerve or U-turn under SNP pressure?" 

Well, this appears to be the answer, courtesy of a headline in The Times

Briefings on virus will be screened, says BBC

Yes, the BBC has performed a three-point turn and will now broadcast all of Nicola Sturgeon's daily coronavirus press briefings live, just as before, for the foreseeable future, as (they now say) "there are clearly strong editorial reasons for continuing to do so at the moment".

This is the statement from a BBC spokesman quoted in The Times a week ago...

We will continue to provide extensive coverage of the government press conferences across our news services, including live streaming online. We will of course consider showing press conferences live when any major developments or updates are anticipated.

That certainly sounded as if Ms Sturgeon's live press conferences were going to be only on an 'as and when' basis - which is just what the newspapers reported last week - but now BBC Scotland director Donalda MacKinnon is saying (in an email to BBC staff):

We did not say that we’d stop coverage of the briefings... 
We’ve said now that we’ll look at the briefings in the round — meaning we’ll broadcast them live on TV when we are in a period of the pandemic when there is significant public information being shared.

These seem to me to be weasel-words. It's true they didn't say they'd "stop" coverage of the briefings, but they did say they weren't going to broadcast all of them "live on TV" from now on

I think Ms MacKinnon is trying to pull the wool over people's eyes here. 

September Song


There certainly was a nip in the air this morning...

Tim Davie at the Royal Television Society, yeah?


Here's Tim Davie at the Royal Television Society, talking a good talk again. And saying 'Yeah?' a lot, yeah?

The paper picks out three quotes:

  • “The BBC does not deliver equally to everyone.” 
  • “There are some people who are getting extraordinary value from the BBC...but there are certain bits of the country that don’t necessarily feel the BBC is for them. It’s not as simple as saying under-35s - it’s often about your life circumstances, where you are, where you live.”
  • “I do think there’s something about metropolitan-based organisations, or the way you hire, that can feel a bit different from some of the population. It’s not left and right, it’s more complicated than that. It’s whether you feel it [the BBC] is for me.”

I'd say those quotes make the interview sound more dramatic than it is. Most of it paints a rosy picture of the BBC and there's plenty of BBC management-speak in there, yeah?

Thursday, 17 September 2020

BAME BBC (except Newsnight)


Today's Woman's Hour discussed diversity in the media. 

The discussion wasn't, of course, remotely diverse in terms of viewpoint. The guests were Yasmin Alibhai Brown, the Guardian's Jane Martinson and Amal Warsame of Women in Journalism, of which organisation both YAB and JM are also committee members. (Small world!). 

They all sang the same tune about how bad it is that the media isn't diverse enough, and the phrase 'male, pale and posh' was bandied about a lot.

The figures in the Women in Journalism report being discussed (which analysed certain programmes over one week) are fascinating though - especially for TV broadcasting. 

BAME presenters are massively over-represented in most of the studied programmes: BBC News at Ten on 43%, BBC Breakfast on 33%, and both BBC News at One and News at Six on 29%

Newsnight is the exception with 0% BAME presenters. 

In terms of the experts used, all those programmes either meet or exceed the national BAME population: BBC News at Ten on 22% BBC Breakfast on 19%,  BBC News at One on 13% and News at Six on 20%. 

Again, Newsnight is the exception with 0% BAME experts. 

Wonder if Newsnight will be discussing this tonight? I'm guessing they'll give it a miss.

"Radio 4 used to be the home of sober reporting..."

Here's an interesting comment from Red Handler on the unofficial army forum ARRSE:

I caught the end of The Media Show. It struck me that quite a few opinions were presented as fact. They talked about BAME representation in the media, but two of the four persons on the programme were BAME {judging by their names}: 50% representation is much more than the proportion of BAME by overall population size.  
Then I caught the BBC Radio 4 News at Six, which included a lot of opinion presented as fact and, overall, came over either as (a) a lot of effort being made to spin stories against HMG, or (b) reporters not realising that they are biased.  
Example (a reporter talking about HMG's new internal markets bill) - "...but the provocative move [i.e. HMG's bill] has increased tensions with the EU as the two sides attempt to hammer out a trade deal..."  
'Provocative' is defined as: 'causing anger or another strong reaction, especially deliberately' so the reporter appeared to me to be commenting about the assumed motivation behind the bill. The reporter's sentence could easily have been rendered as '...but the proposed bill has increased tensions...'. This especially after she began the item with:  
'When the Northern Ireland Secretary admitted last week that the government's plan would break international law in a specific and limited way, many MPs could hardly believe what they were hearing! His admission caused outrage; former Prime Ministers; lawyers, the opposition and many conservative MPs said the move threatened the UK's reputation for upholding treaties and international laws...'  
There was no representation of the government's reasons for bringing the bill forward. And I don't want hyped phrases such as '...many MPs could hardly believe what they were hearing! His admission caused outrage...': 
Radio 4 used to be the home of sober reporting...

Fair comment? 

Well, here's the offending report from Vicky Young

When the Northern Ireland Secretary admitted last week that the Government's plan would break international law in a specific and limited way, many MPs could hardly believe what they were hearing! 
His admission caused outrage; former Prime Ministers; lawyers, the opposition and many conservative MPs said the move threatened the UK's reputation for upholding treaties and international laws. 
The growing rebellion ahead of a vote next week has forced the Government to seek a compromise and the BBC understands that it will give Parliament an extra layer of oversight. 
But that has not been enough to assuage the concerns of the Advocate General for Scotland Lord Keen. He's resigned from the Government. Appearing in front of the Liaison Committee the Prime Minister insisted his duty was to protect the country from what he calls "an irrational interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement". 
But the provocative move has increased tensions with the EU as the two sides attempt to hammer out a trade deal. Hilary Benn, the chairman of the Brexit Select Committee asked Mr. Johnson whether he believed the EU was negotiating in good faith. 
[Clip of Mr Johnson and Mr Benn.] 
Mr. Johnson's offer of compromise may persuade enough of his own MPs to fall into line over the Internal Market Bill in a vote next week, but many think Downing Street's approach has done serious damage to the UK's reputation.

A Question of What Exactly?


The Daily Mail reports that former women's footballer Alex Scott is set to meet with BBC bosses next month and "thought to be poised to replace Sue Barker on A Question Of Sport".

The paper quotes a BBC "source" saying that Alex being in consideration for the presenting job had "nothing to do with gender, nor is it a case of the BBC trying to be woke".

We believe them, don't we? 

It looks as if many of the readers of that article don't though. "Yes sure, nothing to do with colour of course...." is the top-rated comment there. 

"Crowdfunding donors give thousands to ‘defund BBC’ lobby group"


The Times reports that the Defund the BBC campaign has already raised £60,000 via crowdfunding, and now wants to escalate its lobbying efforts. According to the woman who runs the campaign's daily activities, Rebecca Ryan, it was the BBC's coverage of Black Lives Matter - in particular that notorious headline on the BBC News website that read, “27 police officers injured during largely peaceful anti-racism protests” - which sparked them into activity. (It was indeed. I remember its launch on Twitter). Ms Ryan continued:

For the last four years the Brexiteers have been portrayed by the BBC as being thick, racist and old. It is difficult to explain to people who didn’t support Brexit how it actually feels to be forced to pay for something on fear of imprisonment only to be repeatedly portrayed in that way. It’s a deep, deep injustice.

Signs of life?

Like the suggestions of surviving organisms that have been reported this past week as possibly living in the sulphuric acid-dominated clouds surrounding our solar system's most hell-like body - the scorching, far-more-barren-than-any-Earth-desert planet Venus - the BBC can still astonish us mere humans by showing itself to be occasionally breathing as far as Lord Reith's 'educate' brief goes.

In a remote corner of the BBC (still to be abolished next year?), The Sky at Night  (introduced even now, musically, by my favourite composer Sibelius's At the Castle Gate), continues to do what it first did over 60 years ago, and does it as brilliantly as ever.

I fear for its future, but I'm glad it's still being allowed to quietly go about its business and that it allows for the late Sir Patrick Moore's designated successor Chris Lintott, Professor of Astrophysics in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, to keep on broadcasting for the BBC alongside Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

Maggie was a brilliant choice because she's uncannily like Sir Patrick in her so-fast-talking-as-to-be-hard-to-always-follow, enthusiastic delivery, so she appealed to Sky at Night fans. But she's also black and female, so that ticked the BBC's boxes beautifully - and, I suspect, remains the programme's key get-out-of-jail-free card, survival wise. 

Chris is a superb science communicator, and knows people, and I'm guessing got the BBC in - behind the scenes - on what could very well be one of the most transformative scientific discoveries of all time (if people forget Twitter and politics and BBC bias for a while). It was a wonderful coup for him:

Well, this is odd. You're watching this on Monday, September 14th, and a few hours ago, a team of astronomers here at Cardiff University announced to the world what could be the most significant astronomical find for decades. I'm filming this a few weeks before that announcement because The Sky At Night has been given exclusive access to the team behind the discovery. We're having to be incredibly secret. So, what is this top secret, ground-breaking discovery? Well, if you haven't heard, the team claim that they've found what could be the signs of life on Venus. I can't believe I get to say that to camera! The team think they've found what could be the signs of life on Venus. 

Here's what we know in a nutshell. The team used radio telescopes here on Earth to detect a gas called phosphine in the high atmosphere of Venus. On Earth that gas is only made in factories or by bacteria in certain conditions. Either way, it's made by life. The team asked whether natural chemical processes could account for what they've seen on Venus and the answer is "No." They could only make about a 10,000th of the amount of phosphine seen. If that's right, then this detection of gas is a sign of life high amongst the clouds of Venus.  

The scientists featured in this programme provided compelling evidence, with proper scientific caveats, for highly improbable extraterrestrial microbial life actually existing viably, right now, on our very own doorstep, floating in the clouds of Venus, armoured against its sulphuric acid and excreting proof of life as they go about their very limited lives. 

For decades Venus has been considered the least likely candidate for providing a haven for life in our solar system.  Not now though.

I seriously urge you to watch this programme.

I only wish the BBC had made more of it. The kind of BBC I want would have made it a half-hour special on primetime BBC One. 

Sky News learns


If you're even remotely interested in geology, or have seen programmes like Walking With Dinosaurs, or various edition of Horizon over the years, or listened to Radio 4's In Our Time, you'll surely know about the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. It happened some 233 million years ago, wiped out most of life on earth and left the field open for the dinosaurs to rise in the Triassic era. Out went Gorgonopsid, in came Coelophysis. 


Sky News has some breaking news for us this morning however:

Now that's what I call 'old news'!

Getting to know him


Well, here's a turn-up for the books. 

People on blogs like this - including this very blog - complained for years about the BBC's penchant for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, the eternal would-be leader of Pakistan.

People hereabouts warned that he was a dangerous Islamist, but he was the BBC's darling. 

And now he's the Pakistani PM and, we learn today, favours the death penalty, and castration for rapists - neither of which are very BBC, though the latter is probably considered 'progressive' in Pakistan. 

The BBC actually reported something bad about him earlier this year, which I missed at the time and only found accidentally today:

"I will never forget how we Pakistanis were embarrassed when the Americans came into Abbottabad and killed Osama Bin Laden, martyred him," Khan said.

Khan used the word "shaheed" - a reverential Arabic term for a martyr of Islam.

Looking back on old BBC interviews with him, I found a 2011 transcript of one with Andrew Marr. Mr Khan was on to plug his book. This question pretty much sums up the tone of the entire BBC towards Imran Khan back then:

Now you famously created a cancer hospital, a free cancer hospital. You've done a lot of that kind of philanthropic work. And you hope that your political party's time might have come, but you're starting from a very small base, if I can put it politely, and you're up against people with huge amounts of money and a kind of old system of sort of barons parcelling out party seats.

Just look at the language there: It pits Imran Khan, the David-like "cancer cancer hospital" guy, who's "done a lot of that kind of philanthropic work" and whose party starts from a David-like "very small base", against a Goliath-like system of the rich and powerful. 

At least Andrew went on later to ask the real question - though this was the only question of that kind he put:
Your critics say that you know you come across very well and all the rest of it, but you've become quite a tough Islamist yourself.

Imran Khan is a tough Islamist. He has, of course, also ruled out Pakistan recognising the State of Israel.  

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

KillWhiteygate (continued)


As far as KillWhiteygate goes, comedian Konstantin Kisin lays the blame nearer to where I think I think it should lie

I am a huge fan of the BBC (or at least what it could be) and I will never criticise a comedian for trying an edgy joke but how is anyone supposed to defend the producer who thought this should go out? Insane.

If you look at the programme's credits though, it lists three Executive Producers: Ruth Phillips, Peter Holmes and Christopher Barbour.

It also names the production company behind the programme: Zeppotron

I smell degrees of separation.

Are Ruth, Peter and Christopher independent of the BBC? 

If they're not independent of the BBC, this is their responsibility. 

If they merely work for Zeppotron and are independent of the BBC, who at the BBC ultimately signs these Zeppotron programme off? 

And who in particular signed signed this edition of the programme off? 

The answer should, of course, be clear and obvious. And if I'm missing something and you know what it is please let me know.



For fact fans, Zeppotron is also responsible for providing Nish Kumar's The Mash Report to the BBC

Which prompt the obvious question: Is Zeppotron named after the unfunny Marx brother?

In fairness to Gummotron though, I see that another programme they provide the BBC with is Would I Lie To You?, which has been pretty funny over the years. And they also do Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe and Channel 4's 8 Out of 10 Cats (and its Does Countdown sibling). Cue Jimmy Carr laughing.

BBC Comedy Strikes Again (The 'Kill Whitey' Edition)

Sophie 'Kill Whitey' Duker

If you missed what Andrew Lawrence was referring to there, it was this week's Frankie Boyle's New World Order

This rib-ticking section, where comedian Sophie Duker talked a load of jargon-filled, sub-Marxist, factually-false drivel and everyone else nodded along like nodding dogs with necks made out of spring, has provoked a mass of adverse criticism: 

Frankie Boyle: Do you ever read James Baldwin, Sophie? 
Sophie Duker: I have read some James Baldwin and what I find striking every time that I sort of interact with that idea of white power and black power is that those myths you were talking about, those capitalist myths, are so prevalent today, they're so real today, like the myths we have about black power, like black power, there is still a world where Africa was never colonised, was never pillaged for its resources, like white power is Trump Tower, like these things are put against each other, but when we say we want to kill Whitey, we don't really mean we can to kill Whitey really...We do...[laughter]...but when we say we want to kill Whitey it's a capitalist...
Jamali Maddix: Not today! 
Sophie Duker: Not today! 
Jamali Maddix: We've got to finish the show.
Sophie Duker: But when people react to people saying well white privilege, whiteness is a capitalist structure, it benefits itself...
Dane Baptiste: Absolutely!
Sarah Pascoe: (nodding in apparent agreement) Hmm.
Sophie Duker: It hurts white people, it hurts non-black people, it hurts black people, but still this kind of fear of a black alternative and its these sort of rhetorics battled against each other, these extreme capitalist rhetorics of supremacy. 
Ah, BBC comedy! 

Here's a very small flavour of the reaction:
  • The absolute state of BBC comedy.
  • This is from BBC Comedy's New World Order. I’m not sure how this is ‘comedy’. I’m not sure why our cash is paying for it. I’m not sure why the BBC isn’t challenging those determined to do all that they can to divide us with this hateful wordsoup of divisive dross.
  • This is horrible. It's not just unfunny, it's incoherent nonsensical Marxist gobbledegook. The white contributors nodding along supportively as this woman jokes about killing people who look like them is just plain sick.
  • Go tell your jokes about killing whitey to the young mother and her partner who had her jaw shot off guarding a transit station in Compton a few days ago. The BBC must have a no tolerance policy on ALL forms of racism.
  • The BBC is obliged by the terms of its Charter to encourage social cohesion. Instead they use licence fee payers’ money to make this.

"Totally impartial BBC2 Late night satirical chat show, don't forget to tune in"


Here's the brilliant and funny Andrew Lawrence channelling Frankie Boyle:

(Warning: Contains the odd swear word, or two).

When Tony Met James and Katty

I was just going to post the questions here, but why not post the whole interview? (I can guess an answer to that, it's Tony Blair!)

The questions are very BBC. 

There's James Reynolds going straight for the negative and suggesting that Israel's agreements with Arab nations might be putting the region "on the road to open conflict", then pursuing the "sidelining" of the Palestinians angle, and then interrupting to point out that "many" more than just the Palestinians don't want peace with Israel yet. 

And there's Katty Kay (naturally) going for the Trumps - as she did even more emphatically in her follow-up question about Trump and climate change. 



James Reynolds: Let's look at the reasons for this alliance coming about. The Iraq War, which you co-led, got rid of Saddam Hussein but it also gave much freer rein to Iran to expand as a regional power. In order to counter that Israel and some of the Gulf States are getting together potentially putting the region on the road to open conflict. How is the Middle East a safer place after this deal?

Tony Blair: James, I think you can tell the history a little bit differently. The fact is, this is now just about security and about Iran. It's about the belief in the Middle East that if you want to establish a peaceful Middle East, then you have got to establish relationships between the State of Israel and the Arab nations. That is entirely sensible, not just for reasons of security, Yes, it's true, Israel and the Arab nations are very worried about what Iran does to destabilise the region, but they're also worried about the various extreme groups on the Sunni side who also want to destabilise the region. And what these agreements symbolise are people coming together in pursuit of a different Middle East, one that is based on religiously tolerant societies and modern economies. And that's what is really behind this. And I think what you will find with the agreement signed today is that this is not going to be a cold peace, and it's not going to be about security. It will be about a warm peace and it will be about actual engagement in the economy, in culture and, of course, in  the resolution of the Palestinian issue. 

James Reynolds: When you visited Israel and also the Palestinians as prime minister after 9/11...I remember those visits. I was a Jerusalem correspondent at the was a common belief that you couldn't solve any of the problems until you had tackled and solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But doesn't this 2020 agreement show something completely different, that you can solve parts of the Israeli-Arab conflict by sidelining the Palestinians instead of resolving their fate? 

Tony Blair: You're not sidelining the Palestinians. Look, you're not going to get a...I've studied this now for the best part of 20 years, I was heavily involved as Prime Minister. I was involved afterwards as the quartet envoy, I've spent the last five or six  years working on the Arab-Israeli relationship. You're not going to solve it unless two things happen. You've got to get a Palestinian politics that is unified and in favour of peace, and you've got to bring the Arab nations alongside the Palestinians in that peace effort. And so, when people say - and there are, of course, people on the Palestinian side who say - no, you should have nothing to do with Israel....

James Reynolds(interupting) Many are saying that.

Tony Blair: ...until the Palestinian issue has been resolved. They do say that. but the strategy they've had up to now has not worked, and it won't work in the future. The right strategy is to encourage the relationship between Israel and the Arab nations and then say to the Arab nations. 'We need your support. A unified Palestinian politics in favour of peace needs your support. That is a strategy that can succeed. If we carry on doing what we have been doing for the last half-century, we'll carry on with the same result'. 

Katty Kay; You've just came from the White House, Mr Blair. I remember speaking to Jared Kushner at the beginning of this administration, and he said that Donald Trump was the person to bring about the Palestinians and the Israelis, nobody else could do it, but he was the guy that's going to do it, but effectively they've given up on that, haven't they? I mean, they're now saying, well, if the Palestinians want to come along but I'm not seeing much outreach from the White House to the Palestinians to get that agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Tony Blair: Katty, the White House, to be fair, have been reaching out the entire time. It's the Palestinians that won't engage with the Americans at the moment. Now, I understand all the reasons for that, moving the embassy to Jerusalem and so on. But the fact of the matter is, the intervention of the UAE was what prevented the annexation plans going ahead, and if the Jordan valley were to be annexed that would make a Palestinian state very difficult. So that intervention has actually preserved the possibility of a future Palestinian state. And, you know, the best thing for the Palestinians to do would be to engage with the Americans, engage with them by the way not saying that we agree with your plan, but saying let us sit down and discuss the detail of it. Because otherwise, and this is why...I understand completely why...people like me, when we encourage this relationship between the Israelis and the Arabs, they say. oh, you're an Israeli stooge, you don't care about the Palestinians. If the Palestinians don't get a different political strategy they will never get a state. What they've got at the moment is a strategy for sympathy. They need a strategy for statehood, and a strategy for statehood has to begin with making sure you engage with the Americans because they are powerful, making sure you bring the Arab nations on side because they can help, and making sure the Israelis feel secure with a Palestinian state because at the present time they don't. So if you want the strategy to succeed, that's how to do it. 

Keeping up appearances


Here's another bit of Lewis Goodall Twitter action to brighten up your Wednesday morning. 

One minute up pops a tweet:

The next minute it's been deleted and replaced by: 

The difference? "...of which I was not aware..." got dropped!

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

A five year plan for Gary Lineker


So Gary Lineker has signed a new five year deal with the BBC. 

But, as well as taking a pay cut, he will have to adhere to BBC impartiality rules as part of that deal.

Tim Davie clearly realised that he had to do something about Gary Lineker. Leaving him out of his declared crackdown on social media use drew a lot of flak and risked making him look weak, especially after Gary seemed to be mocking him over it. So he appears to have closed that loophole. 

Mr Davie has now said that that Gary "knows he has a responsibility to the BBC in terms of social media". 

The question is, will Gary stick to his side of the deal, and what will happen if he doesn't?

I'm already seeing some scepticism. BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford, for example, tweeted this in response:

So Gary Lineker has taken a pay cut. And is supposed to more careful about his social media use. Still managed to mention grouse shooting today though!

That came after Gary tweeted this earlier this morning:

Lovely day to mingle and murder some grouses.

Sorry Tim, but I think it's going to be a long and winding road with Gary. He loves his Twitter.


Update: So much for that then, apparently! 

Replying to a tweet from the Guardian saying that he'd agreed to tweet more carefully, Gary Lineker has now tweeted:
Not true, but hey-ho. BBC recognise that I tweet carefully and will continue to do so.

So, why are all these media outlets reporting otherwise? Have they got the story wrong? Is it to be business as usual with Gary Lineker and Twitter?