Monday, 30 May 2016

Au revoir

For my final post before I officially begin my two-week holiday in Raqqa, here's a Bank Holiday Monday smorgasbord...



I was going to begin it with John Humphrys's interview with Jackie Walker, but Sue and Sarah AB have absolutely nailed it already. 

"Bungled" is le mot juste. My original thoughts were to outline JH's interviewing here with phrases like "gumming" and "whacking her with a moth-eaten feather duster" but "bungled" is a much more precise way of putting it.

JH was simultaneously woefully under-prepared and distressingly OTT. She walked all over him - much to the delight of her fans on Twitter (the usual crowd).

Now Ms. Walker, without refusing to apologise for her false and obnoxious comments (indeed by openly revelling in them), is now back in the Corbynista fold. In contrast, suspended Labour MP Naz Shah, who has apologised and apologised and apologised (and won a good deal of respect from most quarters for so doing), is still suspended.

Go figure!


Start the Week

This morning's Start the Week from the Hay Festival had me completely hooked. 

Its theme (perfect for a sunny bank holiday morning) was 'Spooks, war and genocide', and I found myself thinking rather more deeply about the issues raised than I might normally do. 

Now, I could share some of those new, deep thoughts with you (and say how fascinating former British soldier Harry Parker's novel sounds) but, instead, I'll just narrow things down to the programme's main point of disagreement: the question of how to get the balance right between the needs of national security and human rights (an issue I've never quite managed to satisfactorily resolve inside my own muddled head). 

The two poles of this vital argument were represented by Michael Hayden, the former director of the US National Security Agency who George W. Bush made Director of National Intelligence and then director of the CIA, and Philippe Sands, the  human rights lawyer who wants to see Mr. Bush tried. They engaged with each other thoughtfully and respectfully, both acknowledging the complexity of the issues involved. And both of them came across well. 

Disappointingly, presenter Tom Sutcliffe - representing the BBC here - marred things a bit by getting excessively hot-under-the-collar with Mr. Hayden on a couple of occasions over the Bush administration's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques'. If Mr. Sands could remain calm and friendly towards the highly thoughtful Mr, Hayden, then surely Tom ought to have tried to keep his cool too. Plus he stopped Mr. Hayden in his tracks as soon as he began suggesting that President Obama was not only a continuation but, in some ways, an amplification of President Bush on some key national security issues. 

Much as I like Tom Sutcliffe (especially for Round Britain Quiz), I have to say that his own biases were showing through there. He should have kept calm and trusted his listeners. We're quite capable of making our own minds up (or at least trying to), thank you, without having some BBC/Guardian voice vigorously 'virtue signalling' at us.

I haven't so far mentioned that journalist Janine di Giovanni was also a guest on Start the Week there, did I? Apologies. A case of #everydaysexism probably.

Speaking of which...


Woman's Hour

Also surprisingly fascinating was today's Woman's HourYes, the subject was extremely niche - high-profile media types worrying about (women journalists) getting on (or not getting on) in the media - but it was also curiously thought-provoking, and it got better as it went on. 

Lots more deep thoughts flowed in my head as a result which, again, I won't bother you with. So what will I do instead? Well, I'll simply transcribe the start of the bit about the (in)famous Katie Hopkins, starring 'token male in the lionesses' den' Nick Ferrari from LBC (who you'll be relieved to hear survived the ordeal unscathed). It's quite revealing, I think, about the BBC mindset:
Emma Barnett (Woman's Hour presenter): The digital landscape is changed hopefully. It has also meant that, mentioned commercial earlier, Camilla - what sells, what doesn't...we may have got to position where people are more extreme to get hits. So let me bring in somebody who, if you're talking about female polemicists in the modern day: Katie Hopkins. I want to understand. Does she fit in as a polemicist, someone like that? Or is she part of the kind-of internet culture provocateur? Nick, I'll ask you. What would you make of somebody like Katie Hopkins? Is she evening up the score for female polemicists? 
Nick Ferrari: I don't know whether she's evening out the score but obviously she's got a role to play. Yes, she's a voice. She's a voice who has a certain audience. It has a certain resonance. There are people out there who follow her. It might be totally opposite as I see heads shaking just about all around me at this table... 
Emma Barnett: A lot of heads shaking on this programme! 
Nick Ferrari: There's a lot of...they're even shaking in the control room. I've lost the whole...I've lost everybody...I've lost the whole of the BBC on this one!! 
Emma Barnett: Welcome to Woman's Hour, Nick Ferrari!
Indeed, Emma! 

(It was Nick's first appearance). 


The World at One

For today's The World at One it was back to the Hay Festival. The main news story of the day, however, was the latest batch of Albanian economic migrants getting rescued in the English Channel. 

Interestingly, from yesterday's BBC One news bulletins onwards, the BBC hasn't hidden the fact that these escapees from Calais are Albanians. They haven't exactly gone overboard, however, in stressing the 'economic migrant' point and what that suggests: that there are obviously a lot of economic migrants from (non-war-torn) Albania (or now-peaceful Kosovo) in the camps at Calais. 

Why haven't we heard about them before? And, given that it eventually was revealed that Albanians (and others from the Balkans) also made up a surprisingly large number of those trying to get into Germany last summer, why haven't we heard much (if any) discussion on the BBC as to why that's the case? Just why are so many of these people from the Balkans trying to get here? (They aren't Syrian refugees. They aren't unaccompanied children.) It's a very under-reported (almost unreported) story, isn't it? 

Richard Galpin's report featured two interviewees: very briefly UKIP's Henry Bolton, ("UKIP's candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner in Kent - a job he didn't get", as Richard introduced him") and, at much greater length, Damian Green PM ("former Home Office minister"). Mr. Green described the people crossing the channel as "refugees" - and wasn't picked up on that. 

We also got the reflections of Salman Rushdie on the subject. (Salman was with Martha Kearney at the Hay Festival.) He waxed literary and somewhat nebulous on matters political. He extolled the wonderful things about immigration for the UK but then conceded that there's probably been too much, too quick recently. That's worrying for him not so much in its own right but more because it's leading to the rise of the far-right across Europe. 

He did tell us an interesting story though about his final abandonment of his Muslim faith as a 14-year-old though. His coup-de-grace was to eat a ham sandwich. (By coincidence, I'd just eaten a ham sandwich before listening to him this lunchtime). 

The closing discussion between a historian, a neuroscientist and a novelist, focused to a surprising extent on the BBC's favourite subject: Mr. Donald Trump. (Boo!)


Top Gear

How you doin'? 

Well, thanks for asking but I've nothing much to say about Top Gear (though, in true blogger style, that isn't going to stop me). 

I didn't watch it but I've read lots about its disappointing ratings, its largely unenthusiastic critical reviews and its less-than-wildly-enthusiastic public response  - with the exception of Matt LeBlanc, who everyone seems to have found likeable.

('So boring it barely exists': readers review the new Top Gear was the Guardian's less-than-Friendly headline.)

The BBC News website, as is its way, had the news of those ratings as one of the top five stories on its homepage earlier this afternoon. Oddly, they've now dropped it down to their Also in the news section! (O the embarrassment!) 

Despite not being entirely able to disguise the fact that Top Gear's return was something of a flop, the BBC article tried to be as Panglossian about it as it can be, casting that 4.4 million figure in the best possible light, quoting Chris Evans's tweets rather than all those negative tweets everyone else is citing, and describing those reviews as "mixed", #bbcbias.



Catching up with yesterday's stuff, The Andrew Marr Show has received lots of comment as usual. I'm still recovering from Amanda Platell's semi-pornographic on-air flirting with Yanis 'Spock' Varoufakis - by far the most graphic flirting I've ever seen on the Marr show (even including all of Andrew's own sterling efforts while interviewing glamorous Hollywood actresses). I felt that the programme's producers missed a trick by not providing the paper review with a Barry White soundtrack.

As David P noted in the comments (after vomiting), Mr. Varoufakis was on fine form throughout. He may have been a complete flop as Greek finance minister, but he's great entertainment - and worrying 'right' about quite a lot of things (though I didn't buy his anti-Brexit point). He's what the Greek's might call 'a phenomenon'.

Doc Fox and Tony BLiar followed.

The Corbynistas on Twitter weren't at all happy at the good doc's appearance (some even blamed the 'Tory' BBC' for inviting him on, saying he's always on)...,but that was as nothing compared to how they reacted when the hated Tony came on. Liam was quickly forgotten, and all Hell broke loose.

Channelling the spirit of the blessed Boris, I'd said that was happened on Twitter at the point of the hated Mr. Blair's arrival was comparable to how Euripides's Bacchae reacted to King Pentheus after he banned their worship of the beloved (Jeremy Corbyn) Dionysus. They went into a wild frenzy and wanted to tear him apart. And Andy Marr went the way of Actaeon at the hands of these hermaphrodite maenads too, purely through association. (The world of 'BBC bias' gets madder and madder).


The World This Weekend

My 'big thing' yesterday, if I'd had the time to post about it, was going to be Mark Mardell's latest EU referendum special on The World This Weekend

Our Mark had wangled another BBC jaunt (at our expense no doubt), this time to Berlin. He liked Berlin...which is nice.

There all-and-sundry sent us a postcard saying how much they want us to stay in the EU. They love us and wouldn't be too mean to us if we leave the EU but they so want us to stay and they will be mean enough to make us regret leaving.

All voices sang from the same Lutheran hymn sheet...except for the lady from what Mark called the "hard-right" AfD, who rather fancied seeing what would happen if we left.

'Will you punish the UK?' was Mark Mardell's question throughout.

His two studio guests, back in Blighty, were Sir Vince Cable and Gisela Stuart. That was fair enough. Gisela got a little less time than Sir Vince but Sir Vince was interrupted, while Gisela wasn't. Also fair enough.

I saw a detailed comment elsewhere, however, saying that Mark Mardell cut Gisela Stuart off, that there was hardly any time for Gisela, that unelected/kicked-out Sir Vince got an easy ride, that Mark Mardell ignored the main issue of the day "which was the immigration figures", and that there was "a long, biased report featuring only pro EU bigwigs and foreign students"...

...which reminded me of the danger I face, as a blogger, when it comes to the fraught question of confirmation bias.

That commenter spotted that Sir Vince got more time than Gisela but didn't recall that Sir Vince also got interrupted, unlike Gisela. He also didn't notice that Mark Mardell did raise those immigration figures during that interview (if only once). Nor did the commenter remember MM's interview with that striking AfD lady (despite remembering the pro-EU/pro-UK students who appeared for less than 30 seconds). And Gisela Stuart, if you listen back, didn't get cut off by Mark Mardell for reasons of bias. MM was clearly chafing at Sir Vince for time reasons in advance of his Berlin report and when Gisela begun replying to Sir Vince MM had already begun his link to the report. He immediately said he'd return to Gisela and Sir Vince later, which he did (and which is something else that commenter didn't remember).

This isn't a sneer at that commenter. It's a reminder and a possible mea culpa. We all hear what we hear. We only seem, however, to remember parts of what we hear on occasions. Something in us makes us forget the bits that don't confirm our point of view. And we also mishear things, perhaps for the same reason. We're all at risk of doing it. It's human nature. We probably all need to re-check what we've heard. Here endeth the lesson.

This feature struck me as being strikingly pro-EU-biased nonetheless. Please feel free to debunk me if you think I'm hardly any more reliable than the commenter above. I could be wrong.

I don't think I am though. This kind of thing has marked Mark Mardell's The World This Weekend for months.


Farming Today

Talking about the BBC's EU referendum coverage, it would be wrong (and downright silly) not to acknowledge that certain BBC programmes really have been 'getting it about right'.

I've been fairly studiously monitoring Radio 4's Farming Today - one of the few BBC programmes the Sunday Telegraph's Christopher Booker thinks is beyond reproach - for some time.

And I agree with Christopher. I think Farming Today's EU referendum coverage has been beyond reproach.

Try Friday's edition, perhaps, for a taster.



Countryfile on BBC One also did an EU referendum feature, courtesy of Tom Heap, this week.

Countryfile is a programme that matters. It has a big audience (bigger last night than the much-hyped Top Gear). Being Tom Heap, about whom we've written before, I expected heavy bias. I don't think I found it.

The structuring was very BBC. First came a section starring pro-Remain David Cameron, with two pro-Brexit voices as 'vox pops'. Then came a section starring pro-Leave Boris Johnson, with two pro-Remain voices as 'vox pops'.

I watched the Dave/Boris interviews closely. I spotted that Boris got more questioning from Tom than Dave and that Dave was photographed holding a lamb while Boris just stood in front of a stream, but I also note that people on Twitter then claimed that Tom - despite all that questioning - seemed to like Boris more. You see what you see. I sniffed hard and smelled a bit of pro-Remain bias. Others sniffed and found pro-Brexit bias. And all of us mainstream political types on Twitter, one way or the other, were utterly overwhelmed by the usual deluge of furious-sounding Corbynistas complaining that it was the 'Tory' BBC featuring nothing but Tories, making crude jokes about Mr. Cameron and pig farms, and wondering why Jeremy Corbyn wasn't appearing.

Complaints from all sides. And, maybe, here they have a point.

I was, however, being in holiday mood, mainly focusing on the lighter stuff. I was concentrating on Dave in his casual jeans, Boris in his traditional farmer's outfit and Anita Rani in her wetsuit - and on the stunning photography from the Countryfile crew of Snowdonia, especially the beautiful shots of Snowdon, Llanberis, the lake of Llyn Padam, ruined Dolbadarn Castle and the mountains guarding glorious Llanberis Pass. I think that's one of the most 'romantic' spots in the UK (only Morecambe Bay beats it for views) and Countryfile really did it proud.


BBC News at Six

Talking of the BBC's EU referendum coverage...

Our latest stats regarding BBC One's News at Six coverage, specifically monitoring which side's angle comes first in either the headlines or the whole bulletin now shows (not including Monday 30/5, which I've not watched yet), and following on from our last update, now read:
21 for Remain
7 for Leave
Two of the latest batch are, unusually, hard to call, so they haven't been included them the tally (either being neutral or too hard to decide upon). I'll list them among the others below, so please feel free (if you're more certain than I am) to allocate them to one side or the other:

22/5 Referendum battle lines are drawn over the Health Service and the chances of Turkey joining the EU. With controversy over what future migration levels might be David Cameron clashes with one of his own ministers on whether Britain could veto Turkish membership. The head of NHS England says the Health Service would be effected in a UK exit caused an economic slowdown. We'll be exploring the latest arguments from the two sides, with less than five weeks to go.

23/5 Voting to leave the EU would trigger a year-long recession. A bleak forecast from the Treasury. A warning from both David Cameron and George Osborne: at least half a million jobs could go

24/5 David Cameron: I think there's some very strong retail arguments about the cost of a holiday...
Newsreader: Now it's air fares on the line in the EU referendum debate. Claim and counter-claim. How do voters react?

25/5 A top economic group says quitting the EU could mean two extra years of austerity. Leave campaigners say it's propaganda.

26/5 Immigration takes centre-stage in the referendum debate as the annual figures show the numbers are up. The difference between those coming in and those leaving was over 300,000. More than half were from the EU.
Boris Johnson: That is pushing up our population growth. It's putting huge pressure on housing, on services such as the NHS and, of course, on school places and everything else.
Newsreader: We'll be getting the reaction from voters about these new figures.

27/5 Lurid and misleading. An influential group of MPs slams the claims being made by politicians on both sides of the EU referendum debate. The Treasury Select Committee says the public is rightly fed up about bogus and confusing arguments made by the Leave and Remain campaigns.
Andrew Tyrie: What we've got is an arms race of claim and counter-claim. It's not just confusing the public; it's impoverishing the political debate.
He called for an amnesty on misleading claims made by politicians. But is it likely?

28/5 Young people are being urged to register to vote in next month's European Union election. The former Labour leader Ed Miliband said millions of them are yet to register, just days before the deadline. Well, meanwhile the Employment minister Priti Patel has said Britain faces a brighter economic future outside the EU.

29/5 Downing Street says Leave campaigners in the EU referendum are trying to distract voters from the real economic cost of leaving the European Union. It comes after two senior Conservatives told the Prime Minister he must admit he can't cut immigration while Britain remains in the EU.

That's a pretty clear 3:1 ratio in favour of Remain.

The extent to which that reflects the relative fire power of the two campaigns rather than blatant BBC is open to question. The imbalance is clear and striking though.



As for Newsnightit's a while since I updated you (and a full update will be posted when I get back), but we left our count of pro-Remain, pro-Leave guests,, as of 17 April, as: 
36 Pro-Remain
22 Pro-Leave
7 Questionable  
Well, here's what's happened since:

Joint interview: Daniel Hannan, Conservative (LEAVE); Liz Truss, Labour (REMAIN); Juergen Maier, CEO, Siemens UK (REMAIN); Nicola Horlick, CEO, Money & Co. (REMAIN); Gerard Lyons, economics adviser to Boris Johnson (LEAVE); Farzana Baduel, Curzon PR (LEAVE)

Interview: Pascal Lamy, former EU trade commissioner  (REMAIN);
Interview: David Owen, former UK Foreign Secretary (LEAVE)

Joint interview: Suzanne Evans, Vote Leave (LEAVE); Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post (REMAIN)

Joint interview: Liam Fox, Conservative (LEAVE); Louis Susman, former US ambassador to UK (REMAIN)

Joint interview: Penny Mordaunt, Conservative (LEAVE); Alan Johnson, Labour (REMAIN); Richard Walton, former counter-terrorism chief at the Met (LEAVE); Colonel Richard Kemp, former Joint Intelligence Committee (LEAVE); Robert Wainwright, director, Europol (REMAIN); Shami Chakrabarti, human rights lawyer (REMAIN)

Interview: Andrea Leadsom, Conservative (LEAVE)

Interview: Liam Fox, Conservative (LEAVE)
Interview: Yanis Varoufakis. former Greek Finance Minister (REMAIN) 

Joint interview: Kwasi Kwateng, Conservative (LEAVE); David Hanson, Labour (REMAIN); Dr Rohini Deshmukh, GP (LEAVE????); Harriet Sargeant, Centre for Policy Studies (LEAVE); Jonathan Portes, NIESR (REMAIN?????); Rev. Alyson Buxton, Rector of Boston (REMAIN????)

Interview: Lord Lamont, Conservative (LEAVE)
Interview: Michel Sapin. French Finance Minister (REMAIN)

Joint interview: Douglas Carswell, UKIP (LEAVE); Amber Rudd, Conservative (REMAIN); Dr Dia Chakravarty, Taxpayers' Alliance (LEAVE; Tara Palmeri, Politico (LEAVE?????); Sir Stephen Wall, former UK diplomat (REMAIN); Minette Batters, NFU (REMAIN)

Interview: John McDonnell, Labour (REMAIN)

Interview: Liz Truss, Conservative (REMAIN)
Interview: Suzanne Evans, Vote Leave (LEAVE))

Joint interview: Peter Oborne, Daily Mail (LEAVE); Polly Mackenzie. former Lib Dem advisor (REMAIN) 

Joint interview: Andrea Leadsom, Conservative (LEAVE): Chuka Umunna, Labour (REMAIN); Charles Crawford, former diplomat (LEAVE); Ngaire Woods, Oxford University (REMAIN); Kathrine Kleveland, Leader of the Norwegian 'NO to EU' party (LEAVE); Peter Sutherland, international businessman and former Attorney General of Ireland (REMAIN)


Interview: Alan Sugar, businessman (REMAIN)


Interview: Theresa Villiers, Conservative (LEAVE)
Interview: Nicola Sturgeon, SNP (REMAIN)


Interview: Chris Patten, former BBC Trust chairman (REMAIN)
Interview: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative (LEAVE)

That raises our running total to:

60 Pro-Remain
44 Pro-Leave
12 Questionable  

As for the sub-trend of regarding who gets most of all of the solo appearances (i.e. not in joint interviews), well, that continues as well. I make the totals for that:

Remain - 25
Leave - 14

Both have balanced out more in recent weeks, though Remain still has a clear advantage.


Newsnight (again)

In the meantime, however, a new feature was added to Newsnight's coverage - a series of personal reflections from non-politicians. I've been monitoring that too. Here's how that's going:

My Decision video: Dreda Say Mitchell, writer (LEAVE)

My Decision video: Michael Morpurgo, writer (REMAIN)

My Decision video: Sir Tom Hunter, entrepreneur and philanthropist  (UNDECIDED)

My Decision video: Tracey Emin, artist (REMAIN)

My Decision video: John Timpson, businessman (LEAVE)

My Decision video: Gillian Duffy, 'that bigoted woman' (LEAVE)

My Decision video: Hilary Alexander, former Telegraph fashion writer (LEAVE)


My Decision video: Charles Moore, former Telegraph editor (LEAVE)

That's working out (so far) as: 
Pro-Remain; 2
Pro-Leave: 5
Undecided - 1
...which, as you can see, is trending firmly in the other direction to the earlier stats and, thus, somewhat complicating matters.



Some good news. Jon Donnison has stopped tweeting anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stuff. His Twitter feed has gone from inflammatory to innocuous this year. That's progress.


Talking of Twitter, the main hashtag on Twitter regarding 'BBC bias' at the moment is #toryelectionfraud #BBCbias. The Corbynistas have gone from nowhere (except Media Lens) a few years back to pretty much 'owning' the 'BBC bias' market on Twitter. Even the cybernats are being put into the shade by the Corbynistas.

A small, utterly unrepresentative social media echo chamber, always righteously banging on about BBC bias without just cause?

Strangely (and apologies for not mentioning this earlier), I'd been seeing this joint hashtag for ages in the run up to the elections this May. I'd particularly noticed that they were furious at Laura Kuenssberg (as they are about most things) for failing to tweet about it. Then on the day after polling day this year, Laura K did tweet about #toryelectionfraud and the BBC One News at Six mentioned #toryelectionfraud and the BBC's Twitter feed mentioned #toryelectionfraud. 

In the interests of disinterested, honest blogging, I could see their point. I don't know what to make of it though.



  1. To add to your commendably rich Smorgasbord...I want to do a reality check on the BBC's Reality Check. This is what they say about the clain :

    "THE CLAIM: Migration to the UK is out of control and will get worse if Britain remains in the EU.

    REALITY CHECK VERDICT: Net migration is still at near-record levels. Just over half of it comes from outside the EU. The government has not managed to bring migration from outside the EU down to tens of thousands as the 2010 and 2015 manifestos promised, so it is not clear it would be able to do so with EU migrants post-Brexit."

    OK, so far so rather the sense that the BBC might not be trying to cover up the fact the government has been telling lies about migration stats!

    But then, I wondered what to make of this:

    "The government has not managed to bring migration from outside the EU down to tens of thousands as the 2010 and 2015 manifestos promised"

    Hang on - as far as I recall this was a pledge about ALL migration not just "migration from outside the EU". Seems to me the useless crew at the BBC's overstaffed Reality Check unit have effed up again! :)

  2. Great "sign off" post. I really think that BBC Six O'Clock News research should be featured in the campaign. Sadly you chose the name "Is the BBC Biased" instead of someting more like "Independent Institute for Investigation of Media Bias with Special Reference to Right Wing Bias" or IIIMBWSRRWB" as it is affectionately known. :)

  3. You and your darn FACTS, as Scooby Evans might say...

  4. OFF TOPIC: Will the BBC be covering this on their website? Seems highly unlikely if Jenny "Welcome to Germany" Hill has anything to do with it. So far, the BBC seem more interested in an obscure German copyright case involving Kraftwerk, an old synth band that probably means nothing to 75% of its readers.


    Bias alert! The Archers are featuring a story about migrants from Europe coming to help the harvest. I am extremely concerned the storyline might feature
    elements designed to favour the Leave campaign such as showing the mayhem caused by the migrant pickers getting legless of illegal vodka distilled in some lock up garage; or how the corrupt gang system is ignoring the minimum wage; or how they are living 12 to a flat in Borchetser; or the effect on the pay rates of local farm workers; or them deciding to bring over their wives and girlfriend to start their families here because of the free NHS and free education; or showing them applying for free social housing. I suppose the BBC could be hoping to use this for pro-Remain propaganda but that seems unlikely doesn't it? :)

  6. Excellent, stout work Craig. It really is across the spectrum of BBC broadcasting. Enjoy the well-earned holiday.

  7. PS: Once again on Marr's show, Varoufakis demonstrated his uncanny ability to be both 100% right and 100% wrong at the same time, even in the same sentence.

    1. Ha-ha yes I've noticed that. He seems to move from a correct analysis to a wrong conclusion somehow.