Saturday, 19 April 2014

Newsnight, the cost of living, sexism, Facebook jihadis, Lord Tebbit and the Kop



Like Monday's edition, Tuesday's edition of Newsnight began with Ukraine before moving on to Labour's Cost of Living Crisis campaign in the light of the latest stats seemingly undermining Labour's case. As Jeremy Paxman's introduction put it:
Now, inflation in this country is now running at its lowest rate for four years, 1.6%. Figures out tomorrow are expected to show that wages are rising by more than inflation. A year ahead of the election this is good news for the Conservatives. The shadow chancellor Ed Balls was steadfastly maintaining today that the improvement didn't mean the cost of living crisis was easy. Well he might because Labour already has had to change its economic attack on the government once.
Laura Kuenssberg's report asked whether it's still "a crisis" or only a crisis now for Labour strategists. That couldn't be taken as evidence of pro-Labour bias by even the most biased anti-BBC-bias blogger! Yes, Paul Johnson of the respected, independent IFS popped up, as he so often does, to give Labour some crumb of hope that things will still be worse for people in 2015 than they were in 2010 or even 2008, but the problems for Labour weren't downplayed here and Jeremy Paxman didn't give shadow Treasury minister Shabana Mahmood an easy time of it either. His opening question was:
OK. So growth is up, inflation is down, wages are going to be above inflation. Do you want to apologise to the Conservatives?
Still, the programme's left-liberal instincts re-emerged in the following discussion of sexism in the UK, following a South African U.N. investigator's statements about how sexist Britain is. This is classic Newsnight territory under Ian Katz.

The programme gathered together an all-female panel consisting of the former editor of the Guardian Women's page and founder of welldoing.org Louise Chunn, Guardian writer Nesrine Malik, and founder of Everyday Sexism and new Guardian columnist Laura Bates. The Guardian, The Guardian and The Guardian. Former Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz must have fancied a re-union.


Interestingly, though they all thing there's a problem with sexism in the UK, both Louise Chunn and Nesrine Malik described Rashida Manjoo's statement that Britain is the world's most sexist country as "ridiculous", pointing to the likes of Saudi Arabia and South Africa as examples of countries with far worse records on women's rights that Britain. Even Laura Bates (above), as ideologically rigid a feminist as it's possible to imagine, grudgingly admitted Dr Manjoo went a little bit too far here.

The following report on the effects of social media on radicalisation was also typical of Ian Katz's Newsnight in looking at the social media aspect of a story:
From what has emerged from the world of espionage and counter-espionage it seems received wisdom that the greatest terrorist threat to this country comes from radicalised young men who travel to Syria to fight in the civil war and then return to Britain. But how do these networks form? How does a young man get drawn into an experience so utterly alien to his life here?  A group of researchers from King's College, London have unearthed the vital role played by social media.
Richard Watson's report on "the world's first social media jihad" looked at the type of sites jihadis use, the sort of videos they post [including one jihadi pulling a severed head from a bag full of heads in Syria] and who 'follows' who online. His talking heads were Shiraz Maher of King's College, London and Islamic scholar Sheikh Musa Admani, representing the 'nice side of Islam'. 

Dr Maher said that many British and European radicals are going to join ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, which wants an Islamic caliphate in the area, and which is good at branding itself, which young Muslims who want to fight in Syria find alluring. He outlined their research as follows:
On Twitter we've collected more than 18,000 individual unique users who either follow a foreign fighter or are followed by a foreign fighter. On Facebook we collected more than 4,000 pages that were 'liked' by the foreign fighter community. And once we pull all that data together we were able to build quite a unique picture, with other information as well, about who's the most popular, whose the most important within these networks.

They found that numbers 1 and 3 on the 'most popular' list were the American cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril and the Australian convert Musa Cerantonio, both of whom post in English. Jibril has 145,000 'likes' on his Facebook page. Jibril preaches against democracy, asserts Islam's supremacy and urges the spurning of 'kuffars'. Cerantonio is open in supporting ISIS, says the new caliphate's capital will be Jerusalem (which is presently "full of the Zionists") and extremely anti-American, calling for assassinations. 

Sheikh Musa Admani dismissed their "interpretations" of Islam, saying that they are "selective passage quoting" from the Koran, adding that "the Koran supports freedom".

"This is not Islam", he said. "No serious cleric of knowledge would recognise it".

This is a familiar message from the BBC, though one (this report suggests to me) that doesn't seem to be getting through to those it most needs to get through to - the would-be jihadis. 

After all that, it was pleasant to see Lord Tebbit on Newsnight, talking mainly about his new children's book and about coping with disability. His wife, as you will know, has been disabled since the Brighton bombing. 

It was a good-natured, interesting interview with Jeremy Paxman, but Paxo did keep pushing away at a particular point - at first indirectly, then more directly - about whether Britain is more compassionate these days, later shading into whether the Conservatives are more compassionate these days, and whether he likes that. I could have done without this apparent anti-Tory point-scoring attempt on Newsnight's part, but there you are. You can't have everything.

Finally, Newsnight - being a BBC current affairs programme - just had to have something about Hillsborough. The programme played out with the Kop singing You'll Never Walk Alone

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