Saturday, 23 June 2018

New-born-but-growing Open Thread

Mobilisation on a big scale

Well, today's People's Vote March in London certainly didn't reach or surpass the required 17.4 million mark. Nor did it equal the 2003 anti-Iraq war demonstration which saw between 750,000 and 2 million people take to the capital's street (to achieve nothing), nor the pro-fox hunting Countryside Alliance march of 2002 which saw some 400,000 people marching in London (also achieving nothing). Still, Ben Wright's report on tonight's early evening news bulletin on BBC One (which led with the story) began like this:
This was a mobilisation on a big scale, by people who had come to the capital from across the country, many of them hoping Brexit can be stopped. Two years on from the referendum to leave the EU, the march organisers said more than 100,000 people turned up to demand another vote on the final Brexit deal. 
We heard from several protestors, plus David Lammy and Anna Soubry. A less-than-impressed member of the public viewing the march was also included and Dr Liam Fox was quoted later. 

If you're wondering, the other march did get a brief mention right at the end:
In another part of Westminster there was a smaller demonstration in support of Brexit, clashing protests that proved again how divisive the decision to leave the EU remains.


Charlotte Gallagher, Radio 4's correspondent for PM at the anti-Brexit rally in central London, made quite a statement on the programme about the respective numbers attending today's two marches. She said:
Now, there was also a pro-Brexit march taking place in central London at the same time as this one today but on a much smaller scale. We are thinking a few hundreds people were at that even compared to obviously the 100,000 people at the main event at Parliament Square.
How does she know there are 100,000 people at the anti-Brexit rally (as its organisers claimed before and during the event)? Shouldn't she have added some distancing caveats to that, saying that it's only a claim?  

"I'm one of them"

Interesting tweet from the official Radio 4 Woman's Hour Twitter feed just now:

Comments (so far) could definitely be going better:

  • If you are there in a personal capacity, why use the BBC to propagate your personal views @BBCWomansHour? If on BBC duty should you not be impartial?
  • BBC impartiality? I've no problem with your opinion as a named person; I've a huge one with expressing it on a blue tick BBC account.
  • You're supposed to be impartial, you vile bunch of  w******s !
  • Gosh, never saw that coming. It's almost as if you are just a bunch of entitled, self-satisfied, middle-class flibbetygibbets who like nothing more than getting together to sniff each other's artisanal farts of moral superiority. 
  • And I’m one of 17.4 million sat at home watching the football.

Update (16:58) : And it's gone!! Woman's Hour has deleted it.

Jon Donnison is back

BBC news correspondent Jon Donnison was interviewing a couple of anti-Brexit marchers at the People's Vote March in London a few minutes ago (just after 2 o'clock) and, doing his 'BBC impartiality' bit, asked one of them: 
Again, people would say: There was a referendum. People voted. It was close - 48 to 51 -- but the 48 lost. 
He could have said, "Again, people would say: There was a referendum. People voted. The 48 lost", but he didn't. He had to add, "It was close". (Was it? There was a 4% difference.)

Also, the result wasn't "48 to 51". It was 48 to 52 (48.11% to 51.89%).

Checking back, he also called Leave voters "the 51%" earlier too (just after 1 o'clock), so it wasn't a random slip.

Was this evidence of bias or just factual inaccuracy on Jon Donnison's part?


Interestingly the BBC News Channel is showing aerial images of both Brexit marches in London - the anti-Brexit People's Vote March and the pro-Brexit UK Unity and Freedom March. 

It's estimating the former to be attracting "tens of thousands" though not "hundreds of thousands" and the latter to be attracting around "a couple of thousand" people.

BBC reporter Jon Donnison is at the anti-Brexit march, and all the interviews so far have been with those attending that march.  

John Sweeney is uneasy

John Sweeney pronounced himself "uneasy" about the rise of Matteo Salvini in Italy on today's edition of From Our Own Correspondent.

Here's a transcript:

In the green hills above the Tyrrhenian Sea the air hangs heavy and low. In the distance lightning crackles, thunder rumbles and the wind lifts flaps of corrugated iron. The racket brings a false sense of life back to the old abandoned brick kiln. From the look of things the factory went bust a decade ago, maybe more. 

Calabria is the poorest province of Italy, poorer than Sicily just across the Strait. It's under the thumb of local mafia known here as the 'Ndrangheta. After the factory was abandoned it was used to dump chemical waste but no-one has been convicted. Perhaps the mafia had a hand in the dumping, perhaps not, but it's the man that some believe bears the ultimate responsibility for another crime in the old brick factory who's making the news. Earlier this month Soumaila Sacko, an African from Mali, came here to loot some corrugated iron to make roof for his home in a nearby shanty town. An Italian opened fire and Sacko was dead. A man has been arrested but denies killing him. 

Sacko's  murder is fast becoming a cause célèbre because many, especially on the Italian left, blame a politician for creating a new mood of hostility to African migrants. His name is Matteo Salvini and he is the coming man of Italian politics. Dark-haired, deep-voiced, bearded, Salvini is the country's new interior minister - a populist firebrand for the hard right League and, it just so happens, a senator for Calabria. 

We went to the unofficial migrant camp where Sacko lived. It's a glum place, huge puddles on the ground. One man told us, "It's not easy. We hear many things from Salvini. Some people say we're going to be sent back. We don't know what to expect." "Does that make you afraid?", I asked him. "Yes it does", he said. 

The local mayor is a former Communist. He wrestled with honouring Italy's tradition of hospitality with how his voters feel about the migrant shanty town. He blew hot about Salvini's denial of human rights but seemed well aware that the interior minister has been shooting up in the polls. "Has the shanty town been a recruiting sergeant for Salvini?", I asked. "Yes", he said. 

In Villa San Giovanni, the port immediately across the Strait from Messina in Sicily, I met Francesca Porpiglia, a councillor for the League and a devoted follower of Salvini. She took me for a drive around town and told me that groups of young people of colour hung around in bars making other people, especially women, feel unsafe. African migrants, it turned out, are like London buses. There's never one around when you want one. Eventually, after two laps of the town centre, we found three. They seemed to me to be doing no harm. I put it to Francesca that some say that Salvini is a bit of a fascist. She laughed and replied, "No, no. I believe that the concept of right and left as it was understood in the old days doesn't exist any more. It's an obsolete concept". Maybe. 

This week Salvini called for a national census of the Roma in Italy adding that the country would "unfortunately" have to keep its Italian Roma. On the migrant crisis he uses language like "Stop the invasion" and "our people come first". You get the drift. He's been photographed with our own Nigel Farage and on the continent he's made friends in all the hard right places, going on a platform with France's Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands. When Salvini went to Moscow he wore a Vladimir Putin T-shirt. Doesn't everyone? Salvini is against Russian sanctions. He's anti-euro, anti-Brussels and anti Europe's post 1945 settlement. 

His success means that he's knocked to the grand old man of the Italian right into the shade. Spare a thought for Silvio Berlusconi. Say what you like about the old cruise ship crooner - he's a slimy crook in bed with the Mafia for example - but Berlusconi liked to be loved. Salvini gives the impression that he likes to be feared. 

I love Italy, and in particular I love its easy-going anarchy - the idea that whoever is in power will find it hard to do much. But it's difficult to watch the passionate intensity of the Salvini devotees like Francesca and listen to the familiar pieties of the people who oppose him without shall I put this?...uneasy.

Later that day...

Leading the BBC website this afternoon:

And the BBC News Channel is leading with the march.

And, of course, on goes the pandemonium:

Rob Burley: Thing about muting is that you don’t KNOW but you feel certain they are still shouting at you but into the abyss. I only mute when there’s literally no point in doing anything else, for anyone involved.
Jo Maugham QC: Enjoy your sneer. Meanwhile your disingenuity does huge disservice both to the BBC and our country.
Simon Maginn: Rob that's just factually wrong. I'm waiting for an apology for you describing me as 'paranoid'. Apologise for your grossly offensive language.
Rob Burley: So - I can’t believe we still need to explain this but professionally disingenuous commentary requires it - at 5am the BBC led on a march that hadn’t started, then when new quotes from Cab Min/PM came out they lead the story (which still made much of the march) and now this. So all in all, today’s march, which we were preemptively shrieked at for not covering enough, has been all over the BBC since 5.30 (when I first looked) and stays or goes from the lead on merit.
Michael: My, my... someone sounds very bitter today. Is that the sound of words being forced through gritted teeth I hear?
Rob Burley: At this point I’m almost laughing at some of the silliness.
Pete Myers: As long as both marches get equal coverage, everyone will be happy!
Ed Morrish: Has Andrew Marr ever told you his “pro-European body language” story?
Rob Burley: No. 
Ed Morrish: Complaint letter after he’d outlined the reasons the UK shouldn’t join the Euro: “Although your piece was ostensibly anti-Euro, I could tell from your body language that you are pro...”
James Kirkup: I’ve never met Rob Burley but there are few people on Twitter I admire more. Industrial-strength forbearance in the face of chronic muppetry from all sides.  The BBC gets some things wrong (who doesn’t?) but it also employs some first-class journalists.
Rob Burley: Thanks James, that’s ever so generous. And thanks for advocating for the imperfect but very important BBC and our staff.
Jo Maugham QC: A better defence would consist of answering fair questions without sneers or accusations of mental illness.
William Wright (to Jo Maugham QC): A better way to make your argument may have been not to start with the accusation that the BBC had cynically changed the headline and the story for when people got up?
Alladin Noons #FBPE: Go on yourself  BBC News showing aerial images of #PeoplesVoteMarch all down The Mall 👏.
Simon Maginn: Sick of being insulted by over-paid BBC stooges. Rob Burley, if you think I'm 'paranoid' - mentally ill - for calling out BBC bias, I would suggest you're in the wrong job entirely. I won't be libelled and insulted by arrogant BBC goons. Apologise or resign.
Ed Stradling: To be honest, what I half-expect now, is for the conspiracy theorists to complain that the Eid festival down the road at Trafalgar Square isn't getting enough coverage, showing up the BBC for its obvious pro-Brexit, anti-immigrant bias.
Mike: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Rob Burley: Damned basically.

Follow–through and Focus

Talking of the Spectator, the BBC's Paul Wood writes occasional articles about Donald Trump for it. His latest piece, What does the British government know about Trump and Russia?, hasn't gone down with the magazine's below-the-line online commentariat. They think it stinks of BBC bias. 

It's certainly a strikingly-written piece where every claim of wrongdoing (whether by Trump, or Arron Banks, or Russia, or the British government) is made to sound credible (sometimes with Paul Wood himself explicitly pronouncing it credible) but carefully caveated with 'some people say'-style get-out clauses. In the end, however, when you stand back from it a bit, it strikes you that not a single actual piece of the described wrongdoing has yet been proven. It's still all smoke and no fire.

And he's also quite capable of misreporting the President. One thing even some critics have conceded is that Donald Trump is following through on his election pledges and getting lots of them up and running. He recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the US embassy there. He pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal. He withdrew the US from the Paris climate accord. He moved to renegotiate NAFTA. He pulled out of the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership deal. He introduced a travel bans for residents of several Muslim countries. He got tough with China on trade. He talked to Kim Jong-un. He got his tax cuts passed. He got his Supreme Court nominee accepted. He bombed Islamic State into oblivion.  Paul Wood, however, is sticking with the old line:
And Theresa May was the first world leader through the door of the Oval Office to see the new president. But whatever promises she wrung from Trump will depend on a follow–through and focus he has not shown. This is a president who could not get his own healthcare bill past a Republican Congress.
For a President with no follow-though and focus, his actions seem to show a lot of follow-through and focus.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the 'Question Time' Studio (Updated)

I talked about this afterwards to the lady who vets the audiences [on Question Time]. It's an urban myth that before each show the BBC sends a coach to pick their audience up from the Socialist Worker's Party Social Club, Hizb ut Tahrir and the EU Commission. In fact – and I totally believe this – they are rigorously screened and pre-selected to reflect the political spectrum.
I am one of the few people who can’t really complain about the editorial policy of Question Time having been on it 26 times since I was first elected in 1999. In terms of the coverage it gives Ukip I have found it fair and in the past few years the programme has even started accepting Ukip panellists other than me!
But there have been a couple of programmes in which my colleagues and I have faced a hostile audience which in no way represents how Ukip is normally received or which are representative of the opinion polls. I am not pointing the finger of blame at the QT team but the question I want to ask is whether the Question Time audiences are being exploited by the hard left?
This is precisely what Left-wing activists in BBC Question Time audiences do, by the way. Whenever I’ve been on the panel, I have been struck by it. The audience is not, as the folks at home often think, overwhelmingly on the Left: it is just that the Leftist groupies have positioned themselves around the room and are causing enough ruckus to intimidate those who disagree with them. The producers of this hapless programme always claim that they screen out activists with their advance audience questionnaires. So let me tell you something else about committed political agitators: they tell lies. And they do that – I mean this quite charitably – with the most honourable intentions.
I’ve often heard conservatives complain that the BBC packs the audience with lefties so they’ll jeer and hiss whenever the Tory on the panel uses a stock phrase like ‘long-term economic plan’. Not true. The makers of the programme bend over backwards to try to ensure the audience contains a broad cross-section of political views. By definition, a majority of them won’t be Conservative voters, so in all likelihood I’ll be given a hard time. But that’s the country’s anti-Tory bias, not the BBC’s.
And now comes Charles Moore, writing in the Spectator:
In the entire time I have done the programme — more than 30 years, starting under the great Robin Day — the left in the studio has been noisier, and usually more numerous, than the right. The difference between then and now lies in the left’s degree of organisation. Nowadays, you can tell as soon as you go on if there is a coordinated left-wing claque in the room (about 50 per cent of the time, there is). They tend to sit together, have common points ready and make the same sound of righteous shock at anything ‘unacceptable’. It would be interesting to see whether this planned intimidation would still work if the BBC made everyone present give up all mobile devices at the door. A programme called Question Time does need an audience which wants to listen to the answers.
It continues to intrigue me that, though each of them has a somewhat different take on why the audiences on the BBC's Question Time appear so overwhelmingly biased towards the Left, they all seem to agree on one thing: that the people who produce Question Time for the BBC aren't to blame. 

A not-so jolly 'un

Meanwhile on a social media platform elsewhere (now going on), the BBC's head of live political programmes is debating with a leading anti-Brexit QC....

Rob Burley: BBC website must be on the blink: we’re leading with the People’s Vote march, yet also apparently engaged in an effort to suppress said march. What’s going on?
Jo Maugham QC: At least until anyone woke up, eh Rob? How cynical.
Matt Kilcoyne: Is your screen broken Jolyon?
Jo Maugham QC: ‏I think yours must be. Compare Rob's picture with mine.
Rob Burley: I think we reserve the right to change the headline across the day. The fact remains that the Brexit march is being covered. Because we cover the story.
Jo Maugham QC: You're not remotely embarrassed about claiming balance because of leading with the story at 5.37am?
Rob Burley: I’m not remotely embarrassed at all. We will lead with the best story, or its particular iteration, at a given time. At the moment that’s Brexit related, with the march as part of it. Later something else might happen that knocks Brexit and the march off the lead.
Jo Maugham QC: That's not what I am objecting to, as you well know. I am objecting to you claiming, that because you led with a story at a time of day when everyone was asleep, the BBC is unbiased.
Rob Burley: We’re endlessly slandered by you & others for not covering x or y and for “bias”.
I pointed out, yet again, that we were covering the very things you claim we ignore. But headlines change. Yet you build another cathedral of paranoid conspiracy around it. It’s ridiculous.
Jo Maugham QC: No. You claimed neutrality explicitly because it was your "lead". And then you dropped it because "something else happened". But nothing else happened and it was only your lead briefly at Saturday dawn. Those are the facts and your ad hominem attack on me doesn't change them.
Jo Maugham QC: [to audience] Rather than engage fairly and honestly with indisputable facts, the BBC's editor of live political programmes resorts to personal abuse.
Rob Burley: You won’t find any personal abuse. It was your conspiracy theories, illustrated this morning as you dance on the head of a pin around a headline, that I was criticising.
Jo Maugham QC: Accusing me of being paranoia (sic) - mentally ill - is not personal abuse? It certainly is and is quite possibly actionable, Rob. And you still haven't answered my question. You said something had changed to cause you to alter your lead. What changed?
Rob Burley: I am sorry if you took that as a personal attack. I was characterising the conspiracy theories as paranoid rather than the person making them. But as you are at the point of casually threatening legal action, I am no longer engaging with you.
Jo Maugham QC: I'm not casually threatening legal action. I have no intention of suing you. I just want you to answer the question I've posed half a dozen times and which you pointedly refuse to answer. What changed to cause you to alter your lead?
Jo Maugham QC[to audience] He won't answer the perfectly fair question I've posed repeatedly. He's running away.
naectegale hraevn: In the wrong, so resort to threats of legal action. That's a bit like bullying, isn't it? Certainly an effective way to shut someone up if his career might be at risk. Sledgehammer to crack a nut on twitter - not a good look.
Rob Burley: That’s why I’m no longer engaging with the guy.
Jo Maugham QC: There's no threat. I've said so explicitly. You just don't have an answer and won't admit it.
Rob Burley[to audience] So Brexit anniversary - government comments and anticipation of the march - leading BBC website currently (I don’t work on the site but I do know leads and headlines change) Guessing the march will be an even bigger part of it once it, you know, actually happens.


That changed BBC main headline now looks like this. It still mentions the anti-Brexit march under the headline and uses an image of an anti-Brexit campaigner:

Never happy

Rob Burley: BBC website must be on the blink: we’re leading with the People’s Vote march, yet also apparently engaged in an effort to suppress said march. What’s going on?
Alastair Campbell: OK to relegate to second story. Ring around a few more businesses who are busy moving jobs and investment. Need contacts?
Rob Burley: Watch out Alastair, if you’re not careful you might get a reputation for trying to manipulate the media to suit your agenda.


I don't think Alastair Campbell is going to give up spinning against the BBC any time soon. And why should he? He's doing very well out of it. He was on BBC Two yesterday (The Daily Politics). He was also on Radio 4 (Any Questions). Jobs a good'un?

Two sides to every story

Lead story

Alastair Campbell & Co. have been banging on all week about the BBC 'failing' to cover today's anti-Brexit march so as to pressure the BBC into giving it massive coverage. And guess what? This morning the BBC News website is leading with that very march (even though it hasn't even started yet!). 

Does this prove that their dishonest campaign of bullying the BBC works? Or would the (anti-Brexit) BBC have led with it like they've done this morning (before it even happens) anyhow? 

We'll never know, of course, now.  Anyhow, it's leading the BBC News website.

and here's Rob:

Friday, 22 June 2018

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Which of the following do you think is the true version of the way the BBC framed its main story on tonight's BBC One late evening bulletin?


Is it?:
BBC Newsreader: Two major employers in the UK criticise what they see as the slow progress of Brexit negotiations. Airbus, which employs 14,000 people here, and which has previously issued similar stark warnings about the risk of the UK not joining the euro and about the UK leaving the EU, says it will now have to reconsider its future if there's no Brexit deal. 
Talking head 1This is just a businessperson sitting here today, explaining the risks we've evaluated for our business - I'm not a politician, and rather than Project Fear, this is dawning reality.  
Talking head 2We are seeing a careful choreography re-run of Project Fear. Airbus and others seem to have been lined up - alongside ex PMs no doubt - to imply end of the world unless blah blah.
Meanwhile, BMW says the uncertainty over Brexit means the UK's car industry could be less competitive. As our economics editor Kamal Ahmed explains though, other big employers in Britain take a different view....
BBC NewsreaderTwo big employers in Britain issue stark warnings over the slow progress of Brexit negotiations. Airbus, which employs 14,000 people here, says it will have to reconsider its future if there's no Brexit deal. 
Talking Head 1: This is just a businessperson sitting here today, explaining the risks we've evaluated for our business - I'm not a politician, and rather than Project Fear, this is dawning reality. 
Meanwhile, BMW says the uncertainty over Brexit means the UK's car industry could be less competitive.
I don't think you'll need to ask the audience there.

Is the BBC biased against Jeremy Corbyn?

'Is the BBC biased against Jeremy Corbyn?' was the questioned asked by Roger Bolton on today's Feedback in the light of a three-part Radio 4 series called The Long March of Jeremy Corbyn.

We heard from four listeners:

  • My name is Karen Lakin. I listened with interest to 'The Long March of Jeremy Corbyn' this week and I was relieved by the balanced approach of the reporting. It highlighted to me the not-so-subtle misrepresentation of Jeremy. 
  • Duncan Shipley, Dalton. Hatchet job drivel dressed up as documentary show. Extremely weak.
  • Nick Hyder. 'The Long March of Jeremy Corbyn' is an essential listen.
  • Simon Warner. Although Steve Richards did make a worthy attempt to create a balance portrait of Jeremy Corbyn I rather felt as if the programme was light on centrist voices within the party. The usual suspects, like Owen Smith and Margaret Hodge, did stand-up and express a more negative reading of the Labour leader but the programme more generally relied on voices who were in favour of what he was doing - Len McCluskey, John McDonnell and so on.  

So plenty of praise there, including for the programme's impartiality, but also complaints of bias from both sides of the Labour divide - which cancelled each other out in true 'complaints from both sides' fashion. (Very nice for the BBC).

The overall effect (accidental? deliberate in the juxtaposition of self-cancelling voices?) was to make this programme sound as if it actually might have been impartial (as least as far as Labour's factions go). 

What followed was an interview with Steve Richards, transcribed below. It too had the effect of making it seem that The Long March of Jeremy Corbyn is a particularly fine piece of impartial BBC broadcasting (as least as far as Labour's factions go).

But what of the BBC as a whole?

Steve says the BBC failed to grasp the significance of Jeremy Corbyn to begin with. It underestimated him. Only the 2017 election changed that.

That seems true to me, though Brexit has probably had something to do with the fluctuations in the BBC's attitude to him too.

Steve also says that the BBC has been excellent at giving voice to the range of Corbyn supporters, thus changing the political debate....

....which is an interesting idea.

It's an idea that could easily (and mischievously) find itself recast to parody a familiar line of argument from the likes of Samira Ahmed & Co. about Nigel Farage and his (in)famous 31 appearances on Question Time: By so heavily platforming voices from the far-left, the BBC is guilty of normalising them.

I have to say though that I'm personally entirely comfortable with hearing the broadest range of views possible, and don't begrudge Owen, Ellie Mae, Rachel, former Newsnight Paul, Kerry-Anne & Co. their generous season tickets to appear on the BBC in the slightest. The more the merrier I say.

Roger Bolton (a man with a left-wing past) then pursued a fascinating line of argument over how the Left has been accustomed to seeing the BBC as a bulwark to balance out the right-wing press.

I think there's something in that too.

By implication, that's surely also why the further reaches of them are now so constantly angry at the BBC for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about/reverential towards oooh Jeremy Corbyn.

And that's surely why the likes of (far-left) Media Lens - very early, lonely pioneers of this kind of left-wing BBC-bashing - have always singled the BBC out, along with the Guardian and the Independent, for especially intense criticism. They seem to see them as 'traitors' - a soggy, left-liberal 'centre ground' constantly letting the Left down by not being even more biased in their direction than they already are.

(The newer crowd, however, appear more likely to unthinkingly accuse the BBC of being 'Tories' or 'right-wing', being less grounded in intellectual politics than those old-school Media Lens activist types.)

And something similar might well explain the remarkable Lord Adonis/Alastair Campbell double act and their stupendous campaign against the BBC's pro-Brexit (sic) bias.

Roger Bolton has cracked it!

Anyhow, that's more than enough of that. Here's the transcript:

ROGER BOLTON: The series has three different presenters. The first programme was presented by the political journalist Steve Richards, who two years ago was the man behind a previous series called simply The Corbyn Story. I asked him why he felt now was a good time for another programme. 
STEVE RICHARDS: I made a series of three programmes about Jeremy Corbyn at the end of his first year as Labour leader, and it seemed to me that at the end of the first year since the general election there was an equally compelling case to re-visit Jeremy Corbyn. It seems to me he is still living through the most extraordinary story in British politics since 1945 - the rise of this figure who had been on the backbenches now established as a leader after that election, which I consider to be a success for him even though he lost. And so, he is just fascinating and I wanted to follow through that curiosity for a second time. 
ROGER BOLTONThere's a lot of suspicion of though the BBC - not necessarily of you. A lot of emails to us talk about you being extraordinarily fair-minded - but that's not the BBC. I mean there are emails like, "I see the BBC has a whole series now of Corbyn-bashing", "hatchet job drivel dressed up as a documentary show", etc, etc. So there's a great suspicion. Do you think on the whole that the media have been, and the BBC has been, fair to Corbyn? 
STEVE RICHARDSWell, it depends what you mean by 'fair'. I think at the beginning all media outlets, including the BBC, struggled to quite recognise the significance. That was up until the general election. I think he was viewed in the media through the prism of 'this is all gonna be heading for disaster'. I think since the election there has been a greater understanding of his significance. And the BBC now - and this I think is a healthy thing and one of the consequences of Corbyn - are very good actually at putting up a range of voices who are close supporters of his, and that has changed the political dialogue on the media.  Not surprisingly it did take time. 
ROGER BOLTONBut you'll never satisfy the Left in one way, will you? They look and say the media is biased against it. They look at the Daily Mail, they look at the Daily Telegraph, they look at the Sun, whatever, and, therefore, they look at the BBC, in a way, to counteract the balance. 
STEVE RICHARDSWell, certainly those who thought my programme was biased against Jeremy Corbyn should listen to it again. I mean, the majority of contributions...Because we were trying to understand him you have to speak to those who are close to him and, therefore, the majority of the contributions were from people trying to shed light on him from a quite sympathetic perspective. But, you're right. The role of the BBC is not counter the Daily Mail. The role of the BBC is to be  balanced and, therefore, you have to include other points of view as as a matter of duty. But also it would be an inaccurate picture to present the current situation within the Labour Party as some sort of harmonious paradise. I mean, that would be wrong. So the BBC has duties of impartiality that are well known but you also got to tell the story as it is in reality. 
ROGER BOLTON: Do you prefer making these sort of documentaries to doing straight interviews, in the sense that a lot of our listeners say a lot of political interviewing has become 'bang bang', 'yes, no', 'polarised positions'? Do you prefer though gradual exposition and exploration of ideas? 
STEVE RICHARDSI love doing considered political journalism, at a time when politics is so fast-moving, but I think the interviewing is also...I agree with some of those listeners who think it's too much of a sort of shootout at the O.K. Corral style of political interviewing. And I wish in some ways that the interviews we did for the series could be put on a website or something because the interviews themselves, I think, are quite interesting, because if you just have a conversation with these people they engage with you... 
ROGER BOLTONBut don't you think there's an additional problem here? That those who were operating from outside what was the political consensus need more time to have their ideas expressed or exposed? 
STEVE RICHARDS: I completely agree. And they need to be tested over time. And you have to get through all the cliches about, you know, 'back in the 1970s', you know, in the context of, say, that Corbyn programme. It's much more complicated and interesting than that. And that does take time and it needs space, And, if you've got three minutes you just say to Corbyn or McDonnell, 'You know, so you want to take us back to 1970 with nationalisation?', they'll say 'No, no, we're not. We want to do this, this and this', and it's over. So, yeah. I haven't thought about it like that before but the old consensus was familiar terrain for the interview and the listener, and this is all new, and it needs space. 
ROGER BOLTON: Our thanks to Steve Richards. 

Thursday, 21 June 2018


I’ve been away for a month and I think I’ve discovered the cure for blogging about the BBC. Don’t watch it. 
Coming back after a break, it all seems so petty and superficial. Instead, I’ve been mostly watching Fauda on Netflix.
Now there’s a compelling set of back-to-backs to binge-watch. James Delingpole says it’s popular with the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. 
The BBC should buy it in for their BBC Four foreign language / double episode / Saturday night slot. 

As if!
   It doesn’t have a sanctimonious lefty agenda.

Bear pit

I’ve also been reading Melanie Phillips (£) about being ‘set up’ by the Question Time team, and I’ve heard people discussing the US’s decision to walk away from the UNHRC -  mostly to opine that the right way to deal with this corrupt outfit is to ‘stay and change it’. 

As if!
   UNHRC is like the Eurovision Song Contest. It has as much to do with Human Rights as Eurovision has to do with music. It won't change.


I heard Will Self on the radio saying he’s reconsidering his resignation from being a Jew. Now he wants to be a Jew. I’d need to listen again to figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I don’t know if I can be bothered.

She's not the messiah. She's (possibly) the new presenter of Question Time.

As ever, there's a fine piece by David Keighley over at The Conservative Woman discussing the BBC's obsession with quotas. 

David suspects that the BBC will go the whole hog and appoint either Mishal Husain or Samira Ahmed to replace David Dimbleby on Question Time - not because they're necessarily worth it but because they'd tick off at least three quota boxes in one fell swoop! Bingo!!!

(Would anyone be surprised if the BBC did that very thing, and did so for that very reason?) 

If so, Mishal's widely-slammed performance during the 2017 general election, pretty much acting as David Dimbleby's understudy, might still scupper her chances. 

So cool, calm and collected Samira it is then...

....(though she never seems very cool, calm and collected when she's tweeting about her pet hate Nigel Farage. I suspect he'll be getting far fewer invites to appear on QT if she gets the presenter's job)...

...and she really wants the job too. She's already tweeted her CV:

David also discusses the BBC head of comedy Shane Allen's comments that Monty Python wouldn't be commissioned by today's BBC because they are "six Oxbridge white blokes" - comments made as the BBC unveiled a series of new comedy programmes fronted by female and ethnic minority comedians.

One absolutely hideously white python, namely Basil Fawlty (who famously owned a Spanish waiter, so was #FBPE and multicultural even back then), doesn't seen overly impressed with the Shanester (as the BBC's master of hilarity surely calls himself):

It must be said that, with the exception of Mrs Brown's Boys (though it's not my personal cup of Mrs Doyle's tea), BBC TV comedy looks to have pretty much passed on. It's no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to fresher media outlets. It's a stiff, bereft of life. It rests in peace. If Shane hadn't nailed it to the BBC quota board, it would be pushing up the daisies. Its metabolic processes are now history. It's off the viewing public's radar. It's kicked the bucket, having last been seen alive in the days of Mrs Bucket. It's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible on multicultural Songs of Praise

For my personal view on the Question Time issue, were you wondering, I'd scrap it. 

Sorry Samira.

P.S. If you wondering whether white, late middle-aged Shane Allen went to Oxbridge, well, no, he didn't. (I will admit to hoping that he did so I could make something of it). He went to Edinburgh University. And his track record, over many years before the BBC, sounds extraordinary. Was he really (as his BBC bio suggests) one of the creative minds behind Ali G, Brass Eye and Shooting Stars


A tweet today from the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson....

....has drawn an understandable response. People are talking about the language of genocide. 

It's the shocking word "purification" which gives that Salvini quote such a Nazistic flavour. 

A stray comment on his Twitter thread led me to check the quote though. Googling the original, it reads: 
Ci vuole una pulizia di massa anche in Italia. Via per via, quartiere per quartiere, con le maniere forti se serve perché ci sono interi pezzi d'Italia fuori controllo.
The key word there is "pulizia". It's the word John Simpson translates as "purification". 

Pop it into Google Translate, however, and 'pulizia' translates as meaning 'cleaning' or 'sweeping', so the phrase (in full, and given in context) would now translate as:
It needs a mass cleaning (or sweeping) in Italy too. Street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, with strong measures if needed, because there are entire parts of Italy out of control.
It's still a very strong statement, but it sounds a good deal less Nazi-like than "We need a mass purification", doesn't it?

Furthermore, if you put "We need a mass purification" into Google Translate it brings up, "Abbiamo bisogno di una purificazione di massa".

In other words, there's an Italian word which specifically means "purification", and that's "purificazione". And Matteo Salvini didn't use it.

I know Google Translate is hardly infallible but I've tried translating and re-translating these words and phrases back and forth and rechecking the source and I'm now certain that John Simpson was tweeting a mistranslation of Matteo Salvini here....

....and, very possibly, a deliberate mistranslation. Someone somewhere probably wanted to make Mr Salvini sound like a Nazi and, thus, render his statements abhorrent to all decent people. 

So where did John Simpson get his translation from? Was he tweeting 'fake news' to his followers? If so, was that out of laziness or malice? (I'd suspect laziness - and a willingness to believe the worst.)

Monday, 18 June 2018

"That is at best uncertain, at worst misleading"

"The Government claims some of the cash will come back from the EU. That is at best uncertain, at worst misleading..."

So said the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg on tonight's BBC One News at Six, referring to Mrs May's 'Brexit dividend for the NHS' claim. 

No, Mr Campbell. I don't think the BBC is pumping out pro-Brexit propaganda for the Government. (And neither, if you're honest, do you). 

Has Anthony finally gone beserk?

Note the irrelevant disclaimer. 

Long-term BBC watchers may recall the former Head of the BBC Multimedia Newsroom Mary Hockaday sending out an email to BBC staff in 2014:

Helen Boaden, then Head of BBC Newshad sent out something similar in 2010

Do these emails from BBC high-ups come in four-year cycles? If so, we're due another this year - especially as more and more high-profile BBC journalists are saying things that brazenly compromise their impartiality.

For example, when I saw that Donald Trump had tweeted the following...

...I just knew that senior BBC US reporter Anthony Zurcher would "rush to communicate" his views on the matter on Twitter and tweet something that very sailed close to the wind, impartiality-wise. It turns out that I was actually only half-right. Anthony didn't just sail close to the wind, impartiality-wise, he crossed the line into outright sounding-off:

He sounds angry, doesn't he?.

He certainly doesn't sound impartial.

The current Head of BBC News is Fran Unsworth. How long will it be before she sends out that email again?

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

By updating posts from earlier today (which I've subsequently buried under long new posts) I may have I may have inadvertently 'avalanched' myself and disguised the main point of today's posts. 

However much Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell) may accuse the BBC of bias (from 'the other side'), their claims of bias (however frustrating they must be to some people who work at the BBC) are surely useful to the BBC as a whole as they seem to give credence to the 'we get accused of bias from both sides so we must be getting it about right' (complaints from both sides) argument. 

But in reality they don't give credence to the 'complaints from both sides' argument. 

Why? Because the claims of bias from Tweedledum and Tweedledee are demonstrably false. They are fit only for the bin (though they'll doubtless end up in a recycling bin and get recycled ad nauseam.)

There's no substance to them whatsoever. Disproving them is like shooting paraplegic fish in a tiny barrel. 

And worse, when closely examined, their fake claims of BBC bias actually steer us towards the monstrous crow of truth: that the BBC is biased in the exact opposite direction to that which Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell claim it is.  

David Dimbleby to leave Question Time

So David Dimbleby, after 24 years at the helm, is leaving Question Time. 

Who will replace him? 

According to the BBC, Kirsty Wark is top of the list and "other suggested contenders" include John Humphrys, Huw Edwards, Jeremy Vine and Nick Robinson. (What a thrilling list!). 

Quite why Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell aren't being suggested in that BBC report is surely prove of the BBC pro-Brexit bias. 

With all due respect to Lord and Alastair though, I'm predicting it will be a woman. The Guardian says there's pressure for it to be a woman, and I believe the Graun about that. The BBC is bound to give in to that kind of pressure (and feel smug about so doing). 

So who will it be? Kirsty? Emma Barnett? Victoria Derbyshire? Katty Kay? 

And who's off down the bookies tomorrow? I'm plumping for Victoria Derbyshire, main presenter of the effortfully worthy Victoria Derbyshire show.

Brexit dividend (3)

Alastair Campbell

I suppose we could just assert that all those wild claims of 'pro-government BBC bias' from the likes of arch-spinner Alastair Campbell (and myriads more on Twitter) over the corporation's reporting today of Mrs May's NHS funding/Brexit dividend pledge as simply the result of the partisan stupidity and utter mendacity of far too many people on Twitter (including Big Bad Al), but I think that blogs like this ought to at least try to do better than that. 

So here's a snapshot of this afternoon's coverage of the story...

You'll find below six lovingly-prepared transcripts of this afternoon's hourly BBC Radio 4 news bulletins. 

Do they prove pro-government bias from the BBC? 

I know I shouldn't ruin it for you with spoilers, but the answer is emphatically 'no'. 

When you see it laid out before you, in print, six hours of BBC Radio 4 reporting becomes sharper in focus. 

Every one of those six bulletins began by framing the story with criticism of Mrs May's Brexit dividend claim. 

All of them gave the the lion's share of the bulletin to reporting the views of critics of Mrs May and her Brexit dividend claim. 

And as for the clips from interviewees chosen, two were from Labour critics of Mrs May and one was from Paul Johnson of the IFS, also being unhelpful to Mrs May. The other (Helen Stokes-Lampard) fell closer to criticism than to praise. None was from someone defending/supporting Mrs May. 

Plus, the only Tory quoted (other than Mrs May) was Sarah Wollaston, who called Mrs May's comments "tosh". 

So there's no reasonable case to be drawn from this whatsoever that the BBC demonstrated a pro-government bias here. They most certainly weren't backing Mrs May and her Brexit dividend.

So does that prove then, as per 'complaints from both sides', that the BBC got it about right?

Well, no. In fact, far from proving that the BBC behaved impartially, I think these transcripts provide compelling evidence that the BBC was actually biased against the government (however right you or might think they were to be so in this instance). 

The framing of the story and the choice of voices were so starkly 'one-directional' here as to leave a massive question mark hanging over Radio 4's impartiality this afternoon. 

Please read them for yourselves and see if you agree...

Update: Though it's aesthetically unpleasing, I've now coloured the transcript to more clearly show the balance (or imbalance) in the BBC's reporting. Blue is for bits that 'help' the Government. Red for bits that 'don't help' the Government. Uncoloured are the bits that are either obviously neutral or which can't easily be ascribed. As you'll see there's much more red than there is blue.

The head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson has said there is no Brexit dividend to provide more money for the NHS. He was responding to Theresa May's announcement that NHS England will receive an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 in part because of money saved when Britain stops paying into the EU budget. Mr. Johnson said the exit bill and commitments to fund farmers meant that there was arithmetic no money. Labour also dismissed Mrs May's promise as a "hypothetical". The shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has said it left too many questions unanswered.
Emily Thornberry: How are they going to pay for it? They say that they're going to increase taxes but we've yet to hear who's going to get their taxes increased and how. They say they going to increase borrowing but they haven't told us by how much, and they haven't told us what the effect will be. They've told us they're going to pay for from a Brexit dividend. We don't really know what that means because we don't know what the deal is going to be and what the overall effect on the economy is going to be and, actually, whether Brexit is going to end up costing us a great deal of money.
But the chair of the Royal College of GPs Helen Stokes-Lampard gave the announcement a cautious welcome.
Helen Stokes-Lampard: It's not quite as much as most health leaders have been asking for. The Institute for Fiscal Studies had been pushing for nearer 4% so that we can not just sustain the NHS but really push forward. But nobody's going to be turning their noses up at the 3.4% a year in real terms. So it's how we spend it that will matter.
Separately, the shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would match the government's funding promise, which he described as "baseline".

1 o'clock
The economic thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned the idea of a Brexit dividend, raised by the Prime Minister when she promised an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS in England by 2023. Theresa May told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that the country would be contributing a bit more, but she said it would also benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU. The director of the IFS Paul Johnson said an extra £20 billion meant higher taxes and/or borrowing. Labour says it will match the government's pledge and go further. Here's our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.
Jonathan Blake, BBC: Making a link between increased funding for the NHS and savings as a result of leaving the EU allows Theresa May to say to Brexit supporters in her own party and beyond that the much-criticised promise on the side of the campaign bus has been met and that the government has gone further. But economists have rushed to point out that once the broader economic picture is taken into account the Government will have less money to spend in the short term after Brexit not more. The Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston called the Brexit dividend claim "tosh" and accused Theresa May of taking the public for fools. Mrs May's suggestion that taxes will also have to rise to pay for this increased spending on the NHS is a significant statement for a Conservative Prime Minister.
Health bosses have welcomed the promise of extra funding, though a number have said more is needed. Concern has also been expressed about the absence of a commitment to provide more money for social care. Here's our health correspondent Dominic Hughes.
Dominic Hughes, BBC: Since the NHS was established 70 years ago its budget has risen by an average of 3.7% a year, but since 2010 that figure has been about 1.2%. At the same time demand for healthcare has been growing, so across the NHS there's a feeling that this settlement is just enough to stand still but it falls short of the 4% budget increase that most analysts felt would be needed to make up lost ground and bring about real change. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also get extra funds but the devolved administrations will decide how they're spent. This announcement leaves some big questions unanswered, not least the funding of social care, which has such a profound impact on the Health Service. Without those details there are no guarantees even this extra money will significantly ease the long-term pressures on the NHS.
2 o'clock
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned the 'Brexit dividend' quoted by the Prime Minister in her promise of an extra £20 billion a year for the NHS in England by 2023. Theresa May said the country would be contributing a bit more but it would also benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU. The director of the IFS, Paul Johnson, said the extra funding meant higher taxes and more borrowing.
Paul Johnson, IFS: If you look at the arrangement we come to with the European Union in terms of paying our exit bill or and if you add to that the commitments that the Government's already made to keep funding farmers and so on there is literally, arithmetically, no money. And, in addition, we know, because the Government's accepted this, that the public finances will be worse as a result of the Brexit vote, the OBR has said by £15 billion a year. It could be a bit more. It could be a bit less. 
Labour said its tax plans meant it would spend more on the NHS and social care.

3 o'clock
The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned Theresa May's claim that an increase in NHS funding in England could be paid for with a post-Brexit windfall. Mrs May told the BBC that money saved by Britain leaving the EU would help to provide an extra £20 billion a year by 2023, but Paul Johnson told the BBC the UK's exit bill and a commitment to keep funding farmers meant there was arithmetically no money. The shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said Labour would still spend more on the NHS than the government.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour: Now the government have announced these new baselines for the NHS we'll match that. That is the baseline that will become accepted, but we're saying you can go further and if the government made the taxation changes we're prepared to make it could be giving even more to the NHS. So Labour will be spending more on the NHS the Tories even after these announcements today.
4 o'clock
There's been criticism of Theresa May's announcement that a Brexit dividend will help pay for an increase in NHS funding in England. Mrs May said an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 could be found partly because the UK would no longer be paying into the EU budget, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies insisted there would be no Brexit windfall because the UK faces a steep exit bill, and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell described the pledge as a publicity stunt. 

5 o'clock
A senior Conservative MP has dismissed as "tosh" Theresa May's claim that a Brexit dividend will help to boost funding for the NHS in England by £20 billion a year by 2023. Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, said people were being treated like fools. Mrs May said the country would benefit from no longer sending vast amounts of money to the EU, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the Government has accepted that the public finances would be worse as a result of Brexit.