Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Gerry Adams Questioned By Police Over Murder

It's fascinating how stories 'break'.

Sky News is just reporting Gerry Adams Questioned By Police Over Murder.

BBC News beat them to it by about five minutes, with Adams held over McConville murder.

Yet, between the BBC's very brief first take and their sketchy second take, the Daily Mail had published a very detailed article Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams arrested over murder of widowed mother abducted from her home in 1972, providing the full background to the story.

We're only a few minutes in but the much-derided Daily Mail is leading the way.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Free Gaza Propaganda

[Did I hear a certain someone talk about "the BBC’s habit of allowing a litany of embellished falsehoods to be repeated on air, unchallenged", recently? Hmm, yes I did, and talking of which....]

Radio 4's The Listening Project is an attempt by the BBC and the British Library "to build a unique picture of our lives today" by "asking people up and down the country to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative". 

Biased BBC's Alan had the misfortune to hear one of last Friday's editions of the ongoing series, Adie and Ruth - Adventure in the Blood, in which a mother and son discussed their shared wanderlust and reminisced about how the son was forcibly prevented from sailing into Gaza by those Israeli meanies. (He thought he'd share the pain with the rest of us. Cheers Alan!)

'Intimate' anti-Israel propaganda - that's what we heard.

The Adie in question wasn't the BBC's Kate but an anti-Israel activist called Adie Mormech, and the idea that it was merely wanderlust that led him to Gaza is something of a stretch given that he seems to have devoted the entirety of his adult life to such anti-Israel activism. 

He was part of the Free Gaza Movement and has since been involved in the International Solidarity Movement, working in Gaza as a "human rights advocate" (whilst seeming to be strangely unconcerned about the human right's record of the present government of Gaza - Hamas). 

He's also taken part in anti-Israel protests in Gaza, campaigned for a boycott of Israel and written for Israeli-hating websites such as Mondoweiss

Adie seems to have got into the habit of embroidering his story over the years, as a spot of Googling reveals. 

On Radio 4 last week he told us that there were "around eight Israeli gunships surrounding us", and that they were "imprisoned for a week". At the time he said there were "six Israeli warships" and told the BBC that he spent "five nights in an Israel jail". (Given that his original version of events doubtless considerably embroidered the truth, what's a little extra embroidering between anti-Israel activists, eh?)

Adie Mormech's story is not a new one to the BBC, as the link above shows, and they surely knew what an episode of The Listening Project would result in. And yet out went the invite to Adie and Ruth, and out went this edition of the programme, along with its anti-Israel propaganda.

#breaking BBC News

Thanks to breaking news from the Gruadian, Twitter is ablaze tonight with news about the latest changes at the BBC.

As Sue and myself have our ultra-trendy fingertips ever poised upon on the racing pulse of modern social media, here are our latest twitterings on who's in and who's out at the Beeeeeb...

Oh good, Mark Mardell has been dropped as the BBC's North America editor, #greatnews and #ohdavidpreiser(usa)will be pleased. 

Oh no though, Mark Mardell is going to become the presenter of Radio 4's The World This Weekend instead, #morebiasontheway and #thatstheworldthisweekenddownthecrapperthen. 

What's become of poor Shaun Ley? #thisisshaunley,bbcnews,ulanbator?

Mark Mardell is to be replaced by Jon Sopel, #wtf? and #hic! 

Plus...Gavin Hewitt has been bumped as Europe editor, #shrug.

...and he's been replaced by Katya Adler, #wellatleastshesbetterlooking, #everydaysexism.

Katya used to tread the BBC beat in the Middle East with all the impeccable impartiality we expect from the BBC, #extremelyheavysarcasm

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Dreadful Advert

Our household stopped subscribing to the Telegraph after one too many of those obnoxious and offensive articles in which Peter Oborne aired his pathological obsession with the Jewish Lobby, but I must admit the Telegraph seemed to  have a pretty interesting obsession of their own. (Dissing the BBC) 

However the Times isn’t entirely deficient in that department either.

Bottom of page 13, (£) a piece by Miles Goslett about Lord Patten, illustrated with a distinctly unflattering photo of the soon-to-be ex-chairman of the BBC Trust. 

Patten a ‘dreadful advert’ for the BBC” says the headline.  Groups representing the licence fee-payers have penned a letter to Sajid Javid saying Patten’s mistakes must not be repeated.
“....due to his astonishingly patronising approach to anyone who has ever questioned him on any matter relating to the BBC.”
They say they the new appointee mustn’t be indulged like Patten, who is paid £110,000 for “three to four days per week,” has five corporate jobs with firms including BP and EDF, and is also the unpaid chancellor of Oxford University.

“In the letter, Patten is also accused of ‘covering up at least one major scandal”  ....the Pollard review into the Savile affair, which “failed to include key evidence about Mark Thompson” even though Nick Pollard, who chaired the £3 million inquiry, admitted its exclusion was “a mistake” .

Trojan Elephant.

There are several pieces on the web about Robert Fisk’s disgraceful report in the Independent, a newspaper that has acquired a reputation for being even more antisemitic than the Guardian. Fisk himself couldn’t have Fisked it any more Fiskishly than Cif Watch has here.
Hamas…handed Israel a gift by bombarding Sderot from Gaza with thousands of inaccurate rockets, most of them home-made. It allowed Israel to kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians as it sought revenge, and deprived the Israeli left (that which still existed) of their support for the original Israeli withdrawal from Gaza;
Amongst a sack of disingenuous chaff in that paragraph there is one grain of truth. 

Of course anything that harms your enemy hands them a potential propaganda gift at the same time.  It’s when only the gift is seized upon and any injury or harm is all but forgotten that things become more complex. For example, when the Fogel family were butchered by Palestinian youths, some of us used that  (and still do) to illustrate the sadistic nature of individual acts of Palestinian “resistance”. But there would be something deeply wrong if we relished its impact as a weapon more than we anguished over the stark brutality of the act and its impact on the survivors. Not to mention the very idea that this deed had handed anyone a gift.

Similarly, when the Israeli army (arguably legitimately) rashly used white phosphorus near civilians, they too could be said to have handed a ghastly gift to their enemies. The fact that this has been interpreted as a deliberate attack on civilians and is now embedded into the narrative as such was so predictable that the mind boggles as to why its use was ever authorised. As we would all know, if the BBC hadn’t systematically avoided reporting it, the Israelis take great pains to avoid harming civilians even when responding to deliberate and outrageous provocation, often to the detriment of their own safety. No wonder it’s so easy to seize upon such things when there is little or no interest from the BBC in countering them.

The BBC’s habit of allowing a litany of embellished falsehoods to be repeated on air, unchallenged, was demonstrated in Sunday’s The Big Questions. “Is Islamism the biggest threat to the modern world?”
This was supposed to be a debate about Tony Blair’s infamous warning about the threat from Islamism. 

Anne Marie Waters (Sharia Watch) and Sam Westrop (Gatestone institute) were pitted against a gaggle of the BBC’s favourite Muslims, ranging from Usama Hasan (Quilliam)  through Bangladeshi-born British Imam Ajmal Masroor to Abdel Bari Atwan (from multiple BBC appearances as ‘expert on the Middle East’, the most inappropriate description that there ever in this world could be, as well as a regular on the panel of the BBC’s Dateline.)

 “It’s an exaggerated threat” opines Atwan, and “Tony Blair is responsible”  before launching into an  illogical diatribe of exquisite stupidity, ending “we-in-the-West *created* Islamism.”  Predictable Blair-bashing ensued.
“Mr Atwan, you famously said ‘Were nuclear missiles ever to strike Israel I would dance in Trafalgar Square’  so I don’t think...”
“This is misquotation. This is not true..”
“It’s not true? You never said that?”
“no no no no. It was out of context”
“What does that mean?”
“I was talking an hour programme, they took few seconds and anyway who is bomb-bing? Who is bomb-bing the Arabs now? The Israelis. Who is committing massacres against Arabs? The Israelis!”
You cannot call this a debate. The Muslims seem incapable of listening to anything but their own voices. Once they start, they cannot be stopped.

Sam Westrop promises to post, on the Stand for Peace website, conclusive proof that Ajmal Masroor did claim that American security forces orchestrated the Mumbai attacks, and also that the Westgate shopping mall attack by Boko Haram was  the work of shadowy forces. Which he denies.

“Hamas leader is honest and great man as opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu anytime” announces Masroor, to loud applause.

Nasr Emam (Muslim Chaplain in Scarborough) is wearing an distinctly unIslamic tie. He splutters:
“I don’t support Hamas. Hamas isn’t even an Islamic ideology.”
“What is it then?”
“Waffle waffle. They want their country back. Waffle waffle inanity splutter. Who is funding you (Anne Marie) to pay for Sharia Watch?”
UnIslamic tie

Uh oh. Palestinian Musher el-Farra of Sheffield PSC is on the programme. On the front row.
Why? Obviously to tell us that Hamas is the outcome of Israeli Zionist aggression and repeat the lies that have embedded themselves into the narrative. “Phosphoric bombs” “Ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” “Massacres” Lies that are accepted as the truth; so embedded that they can be uttered unchallenged.

“... ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians which started in 1948 when they destroyed five hundred thirty two villages.” 
Musher el-Farra wants Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes against the Iraqi people. Thunderous applause.
 “The killin’ of fishermen... just for fishin’ in the waters. The killin' of farmers, the pollutin’ of Palestinian waters..” ”Killin’ of people wavin’ white flags, all this.. don’t talk to me about threat radicalism and threat to global... Islamism........Zionism is....... Israel is big power....” 
No more Mrs. nice-guy; I use dialect in a denigrating manner because I’m fed up with half-wits being afforded credibility by the BBC in their relentless unprincipled pursuit of ratings. 
This man cannot be stopped. He’s in full flow, eyes blazing. Nicky Campbell  has to put a hand on his arm to get him to stop.

In my opinion the BBC introduced this person and Abdel Bari Atwan into the mix solely because the BBC knew they would automatically launch themselves off into anti-Israel tirades, thereby tidily diverting the topic away from facing the undeniable truth. That Islam is incompatible with the West and it is indeed the biggest threat to the modern world.

In my opinion, no Imam, no spokesperson for Islam, no community leader, no Islamic authority I've ever seen or heard is sure about what exactly Islam is. They cannot agree on what Islam is as a religion, they are evasive about what Islamism is as an ideology and no-one can agree upon the legitimacy of much of the weighty paraphernalia that surrounds the whole doom-ridden palaver. 

The one motivating, unifying element, the only thing that they’ll readily agree upon, the glue that holds them together, is their hatred of Israel and the Jews. That is what sets them on fire. Their eyes glow, their hands flail and their tongues lash. 

Why do I think the bulk of the audience is so ready to clap at any anti-Israel utterance, and boo and hiss at the slightest mention of the Israeli Prime Minister? 

Because of the BBC’s anti-Israel bias by omission, its susceptibility to pro-Palestinian emoting and its politically correct kow-towing to half-wits. 

Look at this document (H/T Biased BBC) download from here  setting out rules for Muslim education. What a load of restrictive, repressive, cruel orders.

My husband’s “Rules Concerning Toast” make more sense. And they were (half) tongue-in-cheek.

One minute The MCB issues a 72 page document detailing a list of intrusive demands that schools adapt to 72 pages-worth of Islamic superstitions, the next this statement:  'Education and Muslims: End this Witch-Hunt of British Muslims' denying that state schools are the target of a 'Muslim takeover', where supposedly conservative Muslim views and mores are imposed, and where non-compliant teachers are forced out.

Never mind the Trojan Elephant. It’s Islam itself that is ‘in the room’, and this room ain’t big enough for both of us.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Niggle Farridge

It's hard trying to be impartial, and slips are inevitable. We aren't machines after all and what we really think will sometimes get blurted out, however hard we try to keep our opinions to ourselves.

Poor Andrew Marr evidently doesn't have a high opinion of UKIP and UKIP supporters. He slipped up twice this morning and evidently couldn't help himself from outblurting his real thoughts about them. ("Outblurting"? Very Thomas Hardy that.) 

First, as spotted by Biased BBC readers, Andrew Marr referred to a "cracking picture" of an odd looking chap in a blazer on the front page of The Observer 

and quipped, "This looks like the ultimate UKIP supporter here!"

Then later, whilst interviewing Natalie Bennett of the Greens, he outblurted "Nigel Farridge" when mentioning the UKIP leader's name. 

Pronouncing Nigel Farage's surname as "Farridge" is a popular sport among his less high-minded critics. You may have heard Radio 4 comedians mispronounce his name that way. Left-wingers on Twitter are always calling him "Farridge". A UKIP-baiting regular ('troll') at the Telegraph posted as "Niggle Farridge", complete with an unflattering photo of the UKIP leader as his avatar. 

And yet here was Andrew Marr outblurting "Nigel Farridge" on his TV show today, as if calling him "Nigel Farridge" is something he's in the habit of doing off camera - which I suspect he does quite often.

If only the BBC worked to achieve a representative spread of political opinions among its presenters and then allowed its presenters to be open about what they really think, this sort of thing wouldn't keep happening. 

That's something the BBC should really think about doing. 

Fisking and Pilgering

In the ...and other matters section of this blog, please let me steer you towards a fine fisking of the Independent's Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk from CiF Watch's Adam Levick. It outlines Mr Fisk's latest "distortions, half-truths and fabrications". 

No one is more deserving of a fisking than Robert Fisk (even Jeremy Bowen).

According to the Collins English Dictionary 'to fisk' means 'to refute or criticize (a journalistic article or blog) point by point'. Many of us have fisked things over the years. 

The verb 'to fisk' and the noun 'fisking' have caught on to such an extent that they are becoming commonplace.

Sadly the same hasn't happened to the verb 'to pilger' and its associated noun 'Pilgerism'. Both of those were coined by Auberon Waugh in honour of John Pilger. 

'Pilgerism' would be a very helpful term though in describing some aspects of the work of, say, the BBC's Hugh Sykes. It would mean "to earnestly fasten on to some element in a situation which has a half-grain of truth, to ignore the rest of the package and to present the half-grain in isolation as the true essence."

If only my fellow bloggers could help to popularise 'pilger'! 

Unfortunately, according to the Urban Dictionary, 'to pilger' already has another, very different meaning: "The act, undertaken by a lesbian, of causing a predominantly straight girl to question her heterosexuality. Usually involves excessive charm and schmoozing", which is something John Pilger certainly can't be accused of in any way, shape or form.

Was 'BH' B.S.?

Were I being curmudgeonly I would complain that Broadcasting House on Radio 4 this morning engaged in yet more banker-banking (complete with cash register ka-chings as details of pay amounts were read out) and featured a satirical piece mocking UKIP's famous immigration poster. Other curmudgeons might take these as signs of left-wing bias.

I'd also moan, where I in that kind of mood, about 'typical BBC navel-gazing' given that there was a self-congratulatory report about a previous BH report as well as a plug for another Radio 4 show (Just a Minute). 

I'd also grumble that Paddy O'Connell twice called the canonisation of the two popes in Rome their "beatification" (er, no), and note that a Twitterista has tweeted approvingly:
Ian ‏@ian262  2h I like the way @paddy_o_c is treating the #Pope thing with the respect it deserves* #BH (*Not much)
Plus, I'd disapprovingly point out that Paddy said that Sergeant Wilson in Dads Army was played by "Arthur le Mesurier". 

But I'm not being curmudgeonly today so I won't do any of that. 

Besides, the banker-bashing gave voice to a defender of bankers and the following debate between Guardian leftie Tom Clark and libertarian rightie Richard D. North was a good one, with only a little side-taking by Paddy (and I bet you can guess which side).

Plus the Just a Minute thing with the whistle and Nicholas Parsons was quite fun, and we got to hear from the famous whistle-blowing Trudy Stephens, who many listeners might have assumed to be like Captain Mainwaring's wife.

Plus the paper review, with composer Patrick Hawes, DJ Tony Blackburn and Sunday Times reporter Christina Lamb gave us a decent spread of views. (I like the sound of Patrick Hawes). 

The UKIP squib is the one that's provoked the sharpest differences of opinion. Many Twitteristas found it very funny, one even calling it "genius". Over at Biased BBC, it's been described as unfunny and "laboured" (and biased). I can't say it made me howl with laughter, but I did smile twice, and it was more silly than politically-loaded. 

The "Arthur le Mesurier" thing was doubtless a mere slip of the tongue, and the "beatification" thing was, well...

Ah, and now the sun is coming out. What's not to be cheerful about?

Popes, Sharia Watch UK and Wonga

The canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II inevitably dominated this morning's edition of Sunday

Two former popes have never been canonised on the same day before - and, to make it even more historic and unprecedented, they'll be canonised by two living popes - Francis and Benedict XVI. (That's a lot of popes!)

Even though the BBC already has two experienced Rome correspondents - the veteran David Willey and former Middle East correspondent Alan Johnson - Sunday followed hallowed BBC tradition and dispatched William Crawley to the Eternal City as well, which must have been very nice for him. In fairness to William, he's quite good at describing events like this but he wasn't given much time to do so, and Sunday chose to cram in several other BBC correspondents too:
As Pope Francis prepares to make history by canonising Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in front of millions in Rome today, Edward Stourton talks to Cardinal Vincent Nichols about what this event means for the Catholic Church. We have live reports from William Crawley in Rome and the BBC's Adam Easton in Poland. The BBC's Rome Correspondent, Alan Johnson, reports on the build up to this historic event in Vatican City and Trevor Barnes assesses the life of Pope John XXIII.
Ed Stourton rounded things off by interviewing Cardinal Vincent Nichols, asking questions loaded with liberal Catholic sensibility. The usual Tabletistas may have been physically missing, but they were there in spirit through Ed, and the underlying Tablet-style message was clear: the fast-track canonisation of John Paul II is wrong, but the canonisation of the saintly John XXIII (and, by extention, Vatican II) is a good thing.

There was also time for two other Sunday favourites though - discussion of Muslim matters and the Church of England's controversial involvement with Wonga.  

As regards the latter, Ed Stourton interviewed Edward Mason of the C of E's ethical advisory group and, adopting an incredulous tone of view, badgered him over why it's taking so long for the Church to disinvest in Wonga and questioned him over whether the Church should be involved in venture capital at all - all asked from the 'Wonga is wicked' standpoint of course. 

The discussion of the former involved crossbencher Baroness Cox and lawyer Aina Khan debating whether Sharia Councils are unfairly treating Muslim women seeking divorce settlements. 

This was occasioned by the launch of Sharia Watch UK this week. 

Caroline Cox hosted the event in parliament, and says that sharia law is inherently discriminatory ("fundamentally against the principles of our country", "fundamentally discriminating against women"). A Muslim woman came to her and told her of her bad experiences at the hands of sharia courts here, saying that she'd come to the UK to escape from sharia law but found that the enforcement of sharia law within the UK was actually worse than in her own country. Aina Khan, who specialises in achieving solutions using Sharia law principles in the English courts, admitted that there are problems but maintained that such discriminatory practices are not inherent to sharia law and that they merely reflect the culture of different countries' ways of proceeding. 

Edward Stourton was fairly hands-off here, though his questioning was more challenging towards Baroness Cox and he did ask Aina Khan a leading question that helped advance her side of the argument.

And such was this week's Sunday. (P.S. As it's Sunday, please can we have some sun today?)

Re the SpongeBob SquarePants mushroom

This week's The Unbelievable Truth featured some of the sillier common names scientists have given to recently-discovered species.

I thought I'd share.

There's an African millipede called the wandering leg sausage...

the Burmese sneezing monkey...

the ninja slug...

the yeti crab...

...and the SpongeBob SquarePants mushroom...


Alan has posted some interesting material at Biased BBC this morning, including a piece on how Al-Jazeera praised the restraint of the Israeli military (not something you're ever likely to hear from Jeremy Bowen) and an extract from an essay by left-wing former BBC reporter Nick Jones on the problems facing the corporation. (He reckons its problems ultimately stem from "the free-for-all of the Thatcher era and then the bonus culture of the Blair years").

Here at Is the BBC biased? though, we've got something about voles for you. Yes, voles. 

There was an interesting The Living World this morning on the subject of voles. Yes, voles.

Presenter Chris Sperring went with Dr Fiona Mathews, Senior Lecturer in Mammalian Biology at Exeter University, to track down some voles in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. (I can think of worse ways to pass a few hours.)

We learned that there are five types of vole found in the UK - field voles, water voles, bank voles, Orkney voles and Guernsey voles.

They can be recognised by differences in size, colour, length of tail, size of ears, what they smell like, and by what they eat. (Field voles, for example, are grass specialists. Bank voles, in contrast, also eat shrubs, fruit and invertebrates.)

There's an estimated population of 75 million field voles in the UK, living out their very short lives.

Other factoids are that voles produce urine which is visible in ultra-violet light, presumably as a way of signalling to each other (scent-marking). Unfortunately, some of their (many) predators can see it too. 

Also (as that apparent scent-marking suggests) voles are territorial, especially the females during periods of lactation. Males are rather more free-and-easy apparently, and the females aren't so fussed about them intruding.

That said, voles tend to stay close to where they were born, maybe dispersing a 100m away at most. They can breed within five weeks of being born.

As for the 'vole cycle', some UK vole populations go through multi-annual cycles (with numbers fluctuating up to tenfold on a three to four year cycle), others are just seasonal, having their fling in the spring or late summer and then passing on. It's "one of nature's mysteries" why each population does as it does, according to Dr Fiona.

Those of you who sit in dread during BBC natural history programmes awaiting the inevitable moment when climate change is mentioned will not be surprised though to hear that climate change did indeed come up, with the recent floods being unambiguously attributed to it.

"So we see climate change having a major effect", asserted Chris at this point.

Dr Fiona was asked to give a message. She wants farmers to keep undermanaged grassland at the edge of their fields, give it time to become tussocky grass, keep lifestock off it and don't cut it so often. That will allow voles to keep flourishing - unless Chris's scary predictions about the devastating impact of climate change on Britain's wildlife by the end of this century come true.

So there you have it. A post about voles.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Straight from the Trojan Horse's mouth?

When you've been following a story closely at, say, Andrew Gilligan's column in the (right-leaning) Telegraph or at (left-leaning) Harry's Place, and they've been somewhat of the same mind about it, then the BBC's coverage of the same story can appear to come from somewhere unique to the BBC. Somewhere strange.

The Trojan Horse story is a case in point.

Yes, all credit must be given to Newsnight for leading their Thursday edition with some freshly-discovered developments in the story, but the results were tame by the standards of what I've been reading elsewhere. 

It's as if they were holding back, and that ever-present sense of a BBC walking along a concrete path (when it comes to Muslim sensibilities) as if they were actually treading on a land-mine-festooned gossamer web decorated with humming bird egg-shells comes to mind again.

Still, contrary to what many of us might have expected, the BBC hasn't ignored the story. 

Indeed, programmes like Today and Newsnight have been actively involved in investigating it, and on this edition of the programme Newsnight went to Park View School in Birmingham and talked to two teachers there who said (anonymously) that (a) worksheets were handed to Year 11 boys saying that a woman must obey her husband and that sex education lessons contained the message that “wives are not allowed to say no”, and (b) that Creationism and intelligent design were taught by at least one science teacher. 

The school's response was that the former came about due to a misunderstanding and that a school assembly had been convened afterwards to make it clear that non-consensual sex within marriage is rape. Plus they said that Creationism isn't school policy.

Then (in Chris Cook's report) two young female Muslim parents were interviewed, stating how good the school has been at helping produce well-behaved pupils in a deprived area of Birmingham - which rather took the sting out of the report.

Kirsty Wark then interviewed Talha Ahmad from the Muslim Council of Britain and Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association.

Kirsty stuck to challenging Mr Ahmad over those two charges, rather going round in circles in the process, and then started rubbishing the "overblown" claims being made about the affair with Andrew Copson. 

Andrew, being a nice humanist, wasn't the man to give a robust, non-pc answer to such questioning and, frankly, Newsnight really needs to get Andrew Gilligan onto the programme. He would have given Kirsty short shrift over such assertions.

Andrew C was there because the BHA has been investigating the story too - rather more robustly than the BBC in fact.

The BBC report completely missed some of the more serious charges being reported by the BHA, and it's a shame that Andrew Copson didn't mention some of them during his Newsnight appearance (for some reason).

The Birmingham Post is reporting the BHA's findings in much greater detail. 

The BHA is saying that "former workers" at the school claim that (a) pupils at Park View School were allowed to express “positive views” about the 7/7 and 9/11 attacks, (b) members of staff had been advised not to bring soldiers to the school for visits and (c) that one employee spoke of wanting an “Islamic state”.

This story looks set to run and run and the BBC is bound to keep pussy-footing around over the issue. Because that's what they do.

Update: ...and there's more from Andrew Gilligan in this morning's Sunday Times.

'Newsnight' - 22-25 April

As for many of us, this week was another four-day week for Newsnight. (I like four-day weeks). What did they cover this week, and who did they interview?

Tuesday 22/4
1. David Moyes sacking by Man United: "Game over. David Moyes is out. But whoever is in next at Manchester United they'll need to perform and fast. Do we all lose out if we just aren't willing to wait for success". Interview with Paul Marshall, member of the Red Knights consortium; Alyson Rudd, football columnist, The Times; & Professor Bill George, Harvard Business School.
2. Ukraine: Discussion with Mark Urban.
3. The far-Left attempt to take over the NUT: "'Michael Gove, the demented dalek on speed'. Teaching unions often want to exterminate education secretaries but is the National Union of Teachers also on track to poison itself as candidates from left-wing Militant push for control?" Interview with Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary, NUT & John Blake, Labour Teachers.
4. 'The Second Machine Age': "Technology is meant to make everything in our lives so much easier. Everything that is apart from finding a job. 'There is no economic law that says that everybody's going to benefit from technology. It's possible for some people, even potentially a majority of people, to be made worse off.'"
5. Safety on Mt Everest: "And industrial action at 30,000 feet. As more than a dozen mountain guides lose their lives in an avalanche, sherpas say they won't take climbers up Everest unless their lives improve. We seek the views of climbers who've reached the summit themselves." Interview with Alan Hinkes, climber & Bonita Norris, climber.
   [closing credits: a violinist attempts to break the world record for fast playing, performs The Flight of the Bumble Bee]

Wednesday 23/4
1. Ukraine: "Tonight Vladimir Putin sends out a warning to the West saying that Russia will respond if its interests in Ukraine are attacked. What kind of Russia is this man trying to create? We speak to the Pullitzer Prize-winning editor of The New Yorker who witnessed the fall of communism close up and has been following Vladimir Putin's every turn". Interview with David Remnick, The New Yorker.
2. Violent crime: "Statistics suggest that incidents of violent crime have fallen inexorably over recent years, halving in this country over the past decade, without anyone truly understanding why. Now a new study by Cardiff University...suggests the reason for the drop is a less macho culture, combined with the fact that fewer young people are drinking, partly because of cost but also because society is changing, and across the Western world." Interview with Pauline Pearce, the 'Hackney Heroine'; Daniel Knowles, The Economist; & Professor Steven Pinker, author The Better Angels of Our Nature.
3. Boris: "Whatever's happening to this likely lad? Newsnight learns that Boris could announce his decision on a return to Westminster as early as June."
4. Debt: "What happens if you lose everything, go bankrupt, is a question which may face more of us if interest rates rise, but what happens when discharging a debt can cost you many times over? Sometimes debtors have no choice but to allow professionals called insolvency practitioners to manage their affairs, and the government is increasingly concerned that the fees they charge could be very high."
4. Shakespeare: "And in the company of Helen Mirren we kick off a week of celebrations of Shakespeare's 450th birthday with a series of performances on Newsnight by some of our finest actors." Report featuring Helen Mirren; interview with Josie Rourke, theatre director & David Harewood, actor.
   [closing credits: David Harewood performs Iago from Act One of Othello]

Thursday 24/4
1. Operation Trojan Horse:  "Tonight on Newsnight the Birmingham school at the centre of the allegations of an Islamist takeover. For the first time some teachers who taught there speak of their experiences. 'In the boys' sex education lesson a worksheet was given out to them which says a woman has to obey her husband. Questions were asked: Does that mean a woman can't say no, we can demand sex?'" Interview with Talha Ahmad, Muslim Council of Britain & Andrew Copson, British Humanist Association.
2. Labour's policy on zero hours contracts: "Behold, a Labour policy! Nearly twenty years after New Labour promised to get rid of zero hours contracts Ed Miliband finally reveals his reforms." Interview with James Sproule, Institute of Directors & Kevin Jennings, Unison.
3. Wind turbines and the Tories: "David Cameron, who once memorably had his very own small wind turbine on his roof, has announced that under a Conservative government support for these giant whirligigs will be becalmed...So the party that once urged us all to 'Vote blue and go green' is blowing cold on their much-vaunted energy policy".
4. China's military: "China has the biggest standing army in the world but it's in the midst of a radical transformation".
5. Cornwall: "Power to the Cornish people! After winning official minority status is independence next for the land of pasties, pirates and Poldark? We'll be speaking to the man who's practically the King of Cornwall, Jethro." Interview with Jethro, comedian.
6. Shakespeare: "And Tom Hollander swaps his dog collar for a crown for tonight's celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday." Interview with Tom Hollander.
   [closing credits: Tom Hollander performs Richard III, opening speech]

Friday 25/4
1. Disestablishmentarianism: "Iran, the Vatican and England. Members of that elite club where the head of faith is also head of state. Could it be time to end all this? The Deputy PM thinks so. The Church doesn't." Interview with Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Speaker's Chaplain, House of Commons & Giles Fraser, priest, St Mary's.
2. Pakistan's blasphemy laws: "A 73 year old British grandfather has become the latest victim of Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws. After reading some verses from the Koran Masud Ahmad was jailed for "posing to be a Muslim" and locked up for 65 days. He has now fled bail and is staying with his children in Glasgow." Report featuring interview with Masud Ahmad.
3. New mortgage rules: "New mortgage rules come into force at midnight aimed at insuring borrowers are not offered loans they can't afford. Homebuyers are being warned to expect more scrutiny and a greater chance of rejection..."
4. Britpop: "And will Damon Albarn finally concede Oasis were better than Blur?" Interview with Report featuring interview with Damon Albarn.
   [closing credits: Helen Mirren performs Cleopatra, Act 5 Scene Two, Anthony and Cleopatra.]

Friday, 25 April 2014

Lies, damned lies, and Cardiff University academics

Mark Twain is the likeliest candidate for having coined the killer quote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics".

I've always felt that to be deeply unfair to statistics. 

Statistics are invaluable. It's how they are used - and misused - that's the problem. 

Think of it this way, if you like. People (though not Mark Twain) sometimes say, "There's no such thing as a bad dog, just a bad owner." Well, I'd say there's no such thing as a bad statistic, just bad users of statistics.

As someone who (in the past) based an entire BBC bias-related blog around statistics, I'm bound to say that of course. But the importance of using statistics to help answer the question "Is the BBC biased?" is something that many people (besides me) cling to with hope in our ever-optimistic hearts of finally nailing the BBC down over its strangely slippery bias.

That's why high-profile statistical reports about BBC bias always create such a stir (in certain circles).

Not that they usually seem to do much good. 

However watertight they may be, people who dislike their findings are free to dismiss them (and they'll find plenty of like-minded people cheering them on as they do so.) 

Similarly, it's a simple fact of life that reports that come to conclusions about BBC bias which confirm our personal opinions tend to be the ones we find most persuasive, and about which we are least critical. 

Thus, my world-famous interruption stats proved popular with UKIP and certain Conservative MPs, plus right-leaning readers of blogs about BBC bias. Left-wingers ignored them. The BBC dismissed them. 

Can you guess what I found?

Similarly, a Centre for Policy Studies report investigating the BBC News website's coverage of right-wing and left-wing think tanks, tied to citations of the right-wing Telegraph and left-wing Guardian, found an enthusiastic response at the Telegraph and at right-wing blogs but got trashed at the Guardian and left-wing blogs, and the BBC actively rubbished it. 

Can you guess what it found?

Plus (and from a different perspective), when Labour activist Phil Burton-Cartledge published findings about BBC bias on Question Time on his A Very Public Sociologist blog - along with his own interpretations of those results - the left-wing Twittersphere and the New Statesman were delighted. Right-leaning blogs like Biased BBC weren't impressed and couldn't believe what they were reading. 

Can you guess what Phil found?

Next. When John Robertson, an academic from the University of West Scotland, provided detailed statistical evidence of pro-union/anti-independence bias in the BBC's coverage of the independence debate, pro-independence/pro-SNP people danced a caleigh while anti-independence/pro-union types cocked a deaf 'un. The BBC went on the warpath. 

The mostly influential BBC bias-related statistical report of recent times though came from the University of Cardiff. It provided the statistic backbone for the BBC's own 'independent' study into the BBC's coverage of immigration, bias and religion - the Prebble Review - before developing a life of its own (thanks to the efforts of the left-wing academics behind it), finding great favour with left-wingers like Owen Jones, It appalled the Right. 

Can you guess what it found? 

We've dealt with all of these before at Is the BBC biased? and, I hope you'll agree, dealt with them fairly - except, of course, as regards my interruption stats, which are an unassailable paragon of objectivity and statistical rectitude and, thus, completely beyond criticism!

As a result, the CPS findings were found (by me) to be flawed, even though they accord with my own findings and right-wing intuitions, and Phil's finding on Question Time were given one-and-a-half cheers (not three cheers and not no cheers), despite running counter to my own suspicions and despite Phil's left-wing gloss on them. The Scottish independence report was only touched on briefly, and I can't really give a proper opinion on it without wasting hours and days investigating it (which ain't gonna happen), though it looked pretty convincing to me, even though I think a 'yes' vote in Scotland would be a very bad thing. 

That's me plugging my attempts to be fair-minded there. (You'll have spotted that, of course, being shrewd types.) It's me saying I 'dis' the Right' and 'give respect' to the Left if I see the evidence inclining their way. 

I can't help it. That's the way I am. So gimme a medal for it.

But even I was far from respectful towards the the most influential report of all, and joined in the robust rubbishing of it by many on the Right. 

This was the Cardiff University report, which I regarded as a crock of shite right from the start.

It has a curious history. It was part-commissioned by the BBC itself, as part of the 'independent' Prebble review into BBC bias. The Prebble Review used it, by and large, to advance the view that the BBC was, by and large, impartial - much as you'd expect from an official BBC 'independent' report. Then the Cardiff University academics behind it began giving it a new life, using it to advance the startling view that the BBC is pro-Right in its bias.  

The Left loved it (some, no doubt, with tongue firmly in cheek.) We right-wing bloggers were aghast. Alan at Biased BBC bashed it. I bashed it here at Is the BBC biased? 

And we were right to do so.

One of our lines of attack on it smacked somewhat of the ad hom fallacy, but - as fallacies go - this one had legs, and it was worth using them to run with. Let's sprint through it again.

We noted the BBC Trust's direct funding for the report. 

We noted that Cardiff Uni prof Richard Sambrook (former director of BBC News, the BBC World Service and BBC Global News) wrote part of it. 

We also noted that the lead author charged with publicising it, Mike Berry, is associated with the far-Left Glasgow Media Group (a group that tends to see blues under the bed). 

Plus, we noted that the other listed authors contained far-left Red Pepper writer (and European Commission-commissioned academic) Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Kerry Moore (who has written about the British media's ill-treatment of Muslims), Lina Dencik (who describes herself as an 'activist') and Arne Hintz (who describes himself as an 'activist') other words, as fine a collection of disinterested academics as you could possibly hope to find - as I'm sure you'll agree! 
The report got another media boost (in the left-leaning press) when Cardiff Uni media department boss-man Justin Lewis accused the Beeb of downplaying the report it funded/commissioned and of suppressing its findings that the BBC is pro-Right. We noted that Prof Lewis is a dyed-in-the-wool leftie, whose take on the BBC comes from the far-Left

We were suspicious, to say the least, of a BBC-backed report which the BBC used ('independently') to back its contention that it is an unbiased broadcaster of news. 

We were even more suspicious - given how convenient it is for the BBC to be able to advance one of its favourite arguments, "We get complaints from both sides; therefore, we must be getting it about right" - that the BBC-backed academics behind it (including a former VERY senior former BBC news supremo) then trotted out the remarkable claim that the BBC is actually right-biased.

Moving away from this line of argument, I complained that the Cardiff report used "a very small sample, the exhaustive concentration on which could lead to some very skewed results", contrasting that (modestly) with "my own intensive period of research", noting that "a massive sample such as this is surely preferable to a small sample, such as that used by the Cardiff team. Small samples are more prone to lead to statistical errors."

Well, blow me down with a feather, but there's a new report out today from the right-leaning think tank Civitas that rubbishes the Cardiff report along much the same lines as Is the BBC biased? and Biased BBC

It's an-easy-to-read 21-page report (and that even includes the footnotes). It may even turn out to be shorter than this post. 

I both recommend it and give my thanks to its authors, David Keighley and Andrew Jubb, for agreeing with me over everything I've ever said on the subject. I only wish they'd dedicated their report to me. [For any passing non-British people, this is an example of self-deprecating British humour. I don't actually mean it]. [[Or do I?]]. 

David and Andrew find that the BBC's Prebble report is "seriously flawed". They discuss Stuart Prebble's links to the BBC, the links between the BBC and Cardiff Uni's media department [another senior member is Richard Tait, former BBC trustee and Newsnight editor], and the university project director and the EU, saying the independence of the project is "severely compromised." They note (something we didn't) that the report was commissioned by BBC trustee David Liddiment, an intimate of the self-professed "liberal progressive" Mr Prebble. 

Excellent, compelling ad homs, as I'm sure you'll agree, but as a stats lover it's the critique of Cardiff Uni's methodology that really interests me...

...especially as it backs up my own criticism here at Is the BBC biased?.....[sorry for the break but I've had to move my big head off the keyboard here to type again].....that the Cardiff team based their study on what I at the time called "a very small sample, the exhaustive concentration on which could lead to some very skewed results" (contrasting it, oh-so-modestly again, with my own nine-month, exhaustive study of every interview with a party politician (some 2,200 of them) on all of the main BBC current affairs programmes over this period), adding that "A massive sample such as this is surely preferable to a small sample, such as that used by the Cardiff team. Small samples are more prone to lead to statistical errors."

David and Andrew's criticism of the Cardiff report focuses on several areas of concern that those familiar with statistics will be well aware of. 

The Cardiff team studied the Today programme, understandably. But they only studied part of it - one and a half hours (the same one and half hours) each day (i.e. only half of its air time), and missed an entire eight of their one-months-worth of programmes in 2012 - something I would never have countenanced when I did my nine-month survey of BBC interruptions. (A single missed edition, I felt at the time, would have scuppered it). Cardiff covered too short a period and missed too much.

This also provides an example of what are known as 'constant errors'. Omitting the first hour-and-a-half of the programme and the Saturday editions they omitted such things as the (pro-EU-inclined) business spot at 6.15-6.30 and, even more important, the mass of BBC interviewer-BBC reporter interviews that dominate the early stages of every Today programme. Why didn't they monitor Today over the entirety the programme, or over different periods of the programme each day? Why be so rigid?

Then there's 'convenience sampling', where the Cardiff researchers reached back, grabbed and re-cycled a random study from 2007 (something 'at hand') to compare to 2012, based on the BBC Trust's 2007 Bridcut Report into impartiality. This was presented as a 'before and after' but, as they had no report at hand from before Bridcut, they had to use one from just after Bridcut, making both post-Bridcut. 

David and Andrew's research is far more extensive and comprehensive. They recorded everything over the period Cardiff covered (luckily for us). They spotted 21 guests in that month in 2012 who spoke in favour of the EU/EU legislation. Fully 12 of them would have been missed by the Cardiff team because they appeared before 7.30 am or on Saturday. 

Worse, due to the Cardiff team's extremely restricted choice of criteria as to what constituted a relevant EU discussion, a further 9 speakers fell out of the Cardiff survey's field of sight. Only one of those 21 pro-EU guests, therefore, registered on the Cardiff survey. Wiping 20 pro-EU speakers out of a survey of pro-EU BBC bias certainly strikes me as a good reason to dismiss the Cardiff team's findings. As the Civitas researchers say, 
this methodology [by Cardiff] would have identified only 4% of the total number of pro-EU speakers who appeared on Today between 15 Oct and 15 Nov 2012.
They then note what will sound remarkable to many of us - the way the Cardiff researchers blatantly conflated ALL UKIP and Conservative right-wingers as holding identical views on EU withdrawal - despite the fact (as we righties - unlike those Cardiff lefties - know very well) that there's a huge range of opinion on the Right about Europe, from UKIP 'withdrawalists' to Conservative 'stay-in-the-EU-and-renegotiate' types and Conservative Europhiles). 

Even though the Cardiff team spotted a fall in UKIP voices on the BBC between 2007 and 2012, they (and Stuart Prebble) dismissed that because UKIP-type views were expressed elsewhere by Conservatives (many of whom didn't share UKIP's views on withdrawal). 

David and Andrew say 221 full weeks of analysis of the Today programme, between 2005 and 2013, Newswatch’s research shows that Conservative withdrawalists appeared on only 14 occasions (equating to less than four times a year) and UKIP appearances outnumbered those by the Conservative withdrawalists by a ratio of almost six to one. Conservative ‘come out’ supporters made only 0.4% of the total EU-related speaker appearances, compared to 2.2% from UKIP. 
...which throws another spanner into the cogs of the Cardiff media machine.

The lesson of all this is that, in the absence of official BBC statistics on bias/impartiality (something they never publish), we shouldn't give up attempts to be statistical but we should, nonetheless, be rigorously sceptical about any such statistics-based surveys that come our way...

...and, I suppose, any attempted rebuttal.

Friday night quiz

The BBC is nothing if not sensitive to minority groups, even at the risk of parody.

Take today's Last Word on Radio 4. 

As it's Friday night, it's quiz time. So, which of the following is the real (Dr Leonard 'Bones') McCoy? - i.e. said by presenter Matthew Bannister in the course of the programe:
And we should warn vegetarians and vegans that this programme contains graphic descriptions of meat consumption.
And we should warn listeners from the Maori community that this programme contains descriptions of women undergoing their menstrual cycle.
And we should warn listeners from the Aborigine community that this programme contains the names of deceased people.
And we should warn Hindu listeners that this programme makes reference to the suffering of sacred animals. 
And we should warn Muslim listeners that this programme contains jokes about the Prophet Mohammed which some might find offensive. 
Please listen here to find the answer (in the opening seconds of the programme). 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Yolande and the Dragon

Actually, my one encounter with St George's Day on BBC Radio 4 was a feature on The World at One (both Today and PM bypassed the event) and it wasn't about how we celebrate St George's Day, here in England.

Oh no. It was a report instead about how St George is celebrated in 'Palestine', courtesy of Yolande Knell.

That same report, in televisual form, has been gracing the BBC's visual-based media outlets today [aka TV], and it followed another TV report, also featured on the BBC News website, called A Palestinian prayer song for St George

Plus there's a full-length website article from the fragrant (and occasionally flagrant) Yolande entitled Why St George is a Palestinian hero

Now, I can't see any overt Israel-bashing in any of those pieces, and I rather liked the incredibly gaudy colours of the Christian church in the latest of Yolande Knell's report, but it is typical of the BBC to see St George's Day through the eyes of the Palestinians - presented, as ever, as if surrounded by a luminous halo. 

Still, to be fair (as I always try to be), the BBC News website does have another St George's Day piece, What would make the English like St George's Day?, from Emma Hallett, which is quite interesting and engaging, if rather frothy and a little droll (in the usual BBC way). A picture of Morris dancers underneath its headline suggests where it's coming from. 

Well, as Tony Hawks memorably said,
The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Nigel Farage, England, and Saint George!'

An excuse to sneer at Laurie Taylor's 'Thinking Allowed'...

Today, as you may have noticed, was St George's Day. 

True story. A chap at work turned up in blue trousers, a white shirt and a red tie to mark the day. I admired his patriotic spirit, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that he ought to have been wearing merely the white shirt and red tie. (That said, I don't think the ladies at work would have been too happy to see him turn up trouserless. He's not their type.)

I myself am, of course, entirely au fait with the story of St George, England's patron saint. I've known the legend of St George rescuing the damsel from the dragon (Smaug) by showing it the head of the gorgon since I fell out of my cot, drunk, at the age of six. (I am part Scots by the way.)

Back to the BBC though.

Radio 4 has done all of us English folk proud today. 

Justin Webb dressed up as a knight to present Today, and Sarah Montague came dressed as a damsel. Tony Blair appeared as the dragon (by popular demand), and was duly slain (as per Sue's post).

The excellent Baroness Trumpington turned up on Midweek and stuck two proud English fingers up at all of England's enemies. [Good on that woman!]. She was egged on by Libby Purvis, who came dressed as Elizabeth I.

Woman's Hour was devoted to the issue of damsels in distress. Jane Garvey admitted that the thought of being rescued by St George made her feel weak at the knee. On imagining George Clooney playing the part of St George, Jenni Murray fainted live on air.

The Archers sang folk song arrangements by Vaughan Williams and Shula recited Shakespeare and C.S. Lewis. 

This week's edition of Round Britain Quiz was between the North of England and the South of England. And rightly so.

Best of all though...

Laurie Taylor and his guests announced the inaugural Ethnography Award 'Short List' on Thinking Allowed, and instead of the usual, predictable Marxist sociological crap that the programme usually trots out (pun on 'trots' intended)..... know the sort of thing....
....studies on 'Transactional Transgender Relationships in Cambodia', 'The Multicultural Prison', 'Butch Women: An ethnography of lesbian cookery', 'Islam, Youth, and Modernity in Post-English Britain', 'Intersexual seafarers and transnationalism in the twenty-first century' and 'Beyond parody? Alternatives to consumption within a social network of Russian workers'....
....Laurie Taylor and his judges instead chose, to my complete surprise,....
'The Secret of a Happy Marriage in Christian England', 'Why Prison Works', 'Soft and Feminine Women: Why the BBC Favours Young and Attractive Female Presenters', 'Islam, Women, and Barbarity in Saudi Arabia and Iran', 'English seafarers and their triumphs across the centuries' and 'Beyond caring? Alternatives to BBC sociology programmes'.
Bless you Laurie!

I knew it!

I knew it! 
As soon as I heard the headlines this morning on the radio (BBC radio 4) I knew what would happen.  Tony Blair says something that needs saying - the very thing that our current bunch of politicians, journalists, movers, shakers and Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n’ all are too deaf, dumb and blind to say. But because Tony Blair, the most reviled figure in the western hemisphere and beyond is the one who’s saying it, the message goes down the plughole with the rest of the bathwater.
No sooner did I click on the Guardian, as directed by the BBC website, than zillions of comments confirmed what I already knew. Most of the great British public have turned into zombies and antisemites. 
  I’ll just spell it out. Tony Blair has become known as, in no particular order:
  •  The person responsible for an illegal war,
  •  A war criminal, 
  • Tony B Liar. 

So when he says something we need to hear, it will be drowned in a sea of denial.
Brace yourself and look at the comments below all the Guardian’s reports related to his speech.  It seems that because Tony Blair is now a pariah,  a mouthpiece of Netanyahu, spawn of the devil, everything he says is tainted. His speech, made with the intention of trying to waken us up, has had the opposite effect. We’ve descended into a deeper slumber. If only he’d persuaded someone popular to make his speech.  

But who? I know. Russell Brand. Too immature. Alan Titchmarsh? No. Too mumsy. How about Mary Berry? Hmm.
Suggestions on a postcard please.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Why Google News is better than BBC News

Google News is a great source of news. Better than the BBC in fact.

Today, Google News shows that many a UK news site is updating their readers with the latest news from Abu Hamza's trial:

Abu Hamza: '9/11 Made Everybody Happy'
Sky News-9 hours ago

US jurors hear Abu Hamza's praise for September 11 attacks
Reuters UK-13 hours ago

Abu Hamza was 'happy' about 9/11 attacks terror trial jury hears
Daily Mail-12 hours ago

Abu Hamza trial sees him praising 9/11 hijackers hours ago

Abu Hamza in US terror trial: "Everyone was happy when the planes crashed on 9/11" hours ago

The BBC News website isn't reporting this story though.

It mentioned the start of Hamza's trial on April 17th, but hasn't returned to it since - which is funny, given that the BBC is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and has the wherewithal to keep its readers up to date with the news, when it wants to. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Dear Sir (Coda)

Just as a coda to Sue's post...

Jim Al-Khalili, Dan Snow, Adam Rutherford, Natalie Haynes, Dr Alice Roberts, Richard Herring, Tony Hawks et al are surely engaging in a spot of either confirmation bias or sleight-of-hand when they write...
Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities
...because such surveys also show something else - and something that runs completely counter to their line of argument.

YouGov's most recent survey on the topic Is Britain a Christian country? backs up their claim that most British people aren't religious, but it also shows that most people disagree with them about whether Britain is a Christian country and, even worse, that most British people actually believe that Britain should be a Christian country.

Now, that's something they forgot to mention in their letter, didn't they?

According to that YouGov poll,
76% Britons say they are 'not religious', but 56% say Britain is Christian, & 61% agree it should be.
Most Britons say that they do not belong to any particular religion and are not religious, our poll shows, with just 5% of Britons saying that they are 'very religious'.
However, most say that Britain is a Christian country anyway, and almost three in five Britons feel that Britain should be a Christian country in any case. Just one in five people says that Britain should not be a Christian nation.
Even among those who say that they are not at all religious, there are sizeable numbers who feel that Britain is, and should be, a Christian country.
Yes, just one in five people in the United Kingdom agree with Polly Toynbee, Dr Evan Harris, Peter Tatchell, Terry Pratchett, CJ De Mooi & Co.

I myself am 'not religious', but I would also say that Britain is Christian and that it jolly well ought to be Christian. I'm, therefore, much more in tune with the mood of the nation than Tim Minchin or Ken Follett (which is nice). 

Whatever David Cameron's motives (and cynical electioneering would be a good guess), his contention that Britain is a Christian country and ought to be a Christian country is one, therefore, that is shared by most British people. The view of these letter writers, in contrast, is shared by only a small minority of people.

So that's that then. Sorted.