Sunday, 22 October 2017

Start the Week Open Thread

Just because this open thread is headlined 'Start the Week Open Thread' doesn't mean that you have to confine yourself to comments about tomorrow's edition of Radio 4's Start the Week. That would be silly. So please feel free to comment below on any BBC programme you like. Even Strictly (if you really have to). Thank you.

Feathers flying and ad homs

News-watch has two new reports out today, and the Sunday Telegraph has reported their findings...

News-watch's main findings are:
  • that the BBC invited a third more pro-EU than Eurosceptic speakers to appear during the election campaign.
  • that the BBC, during this period, has placed a heavy one-sided emphasis on the difficulties of withdrawing from the EU.
  • that left-wing voices in favour of withdrawal from the EU were ignored for years by the BBC (of the 5,037 guests speakers on EU matters on Today between 2002 and 2015, only five were left-wing advocates of Brexit - 0.1% of the total speakers on the subject).
The BBC's response has been aggressive (to put it just as mildly): 
We do not recognise the allegations made by News-watch and to describe this as a 'report' would be a gross overstatement for what is a defective and loaded piece of work which wouldn't pass basic academic scrutiny.   
Across the election campaign we heard from a range of voices, provided our audiences with clear and balanced analysis and rigorously scrutinised the issues and this is quite simply as an obvious attempt by a lobby group to discredit the BBC when all we are doing is holding all politicians, no matter their view, to account.
I see that response as a ratcheting-up of the BBC's usual stonewalling whenever reports of this (unwelcome) kind come out - a ratcheting-up made all the easier by that absolutely dreadful Sun 'analysis' of 'BBC bias' on the Marr show and The Sunday Politics. As I wrote at the time:

The 'tally-ho' that went up from the BBC after that Sun survey also went up today. BBC types have been piling in on Twitter to rubbish the findings, despite not having read the reports in full - reports which News-watch will doubtless post in the coming days (as they always do). 

If you want to get the full flavour of the BBC's response today please explore the following Twitter thread, launched by blog favourite Rob Burley:

The "evidence" Rob has for asserting that News-watch's research is "unreliable" comes from one chap on Twitter who attempts to give it an impromptu fisking.

Peter the Would-Be Fisker initially goes for the ad hom approach (as did the BBC spokesman quoted above), checking out News-watch's website, putting two and two together and claiming it's partisan. 

Peter then picks one report and claims it lacks a methodology - even though the said report did have a clear methodology (on page 5) which Peter clearly failed to spot, probably in his headlong eagerness to quickly debunk News-watch.

Peter then says, "As far as I can see, none of these reports have methods section" - even though they actually all have clearly outlined methodologies. (Please check them for yourselves and you'll doubtless  all manage to "see" a good deal further than Peter here!).

Others, like the BBC's business reporter Joe Lynam, took a different ad hom route in trying to debunk News-watch today:

The snag with this one is that it's a very clever ad hom approach. It 'works'. 

As many BBC defenders on Twitter have said today, people who commission polls tend to get the results they want, or why commission the poll in the first place? The mere fact that pro-Leave, BBC-bashing MPs have commissioned this and got a result which proves them to be completely right about the BBC must mean that there's no smoke without fire. Monitoring groups can't be unbiased if they are commissioned. It stands to reason, surely?

Well, the obvious answer to that is that, no, it doesn't stand to reason at all. Not at all. 

The 'ad hominem' fallacy is, well, precisely that: a fallacy. The fact that a monitoring organisation (a pollster, an academic group, an independent monitoring unit) carries out a study on someone's behalf doesn't in itself invalidate anything. All that matters is the the quality and robustness of the evidence. If the evidence is offered transparently and holds up to scrutiny then all the 'ad homs' in the world will fail to refute it because the evidence is (or ought to be) independently verifiable (or refutable). 

Moreover, Joe Lynam & Co. invite another obvious riposte: The BBC's recent landmark impartiality studies, which largely 'proved' the BBC to be impartial, were commissioned by....guess who?...yes, by the BBC.

Aha! Does that invalidate the findings of all of those major BBC impartiality studies which found the BBC to be broadly impartial? By Joe's logic, yes, yes it does. 

And when the BBC commissions a bunch of ex-BBC types and pro-EU leftists and far-left activists at Cardiff University to review its entire output for impartiality and when they 'find' that the BBC has a bit of a right-wing, anti-EU bias but is basically sound and impartial, what's to stop people from 'the other side' playing exactly the same 'ad hom' card and rubbishing their findings on the 'no smoke without fire' principle that no-one-but-no-one puts aside their biases when publishing studies like this - least of all pro-BBC, pro-EU leftists commissioned by the BBC?

What's good for the pro-BBC goose is good for the anti-BBC gander, isn't it?

Now at this point a bit of necessary self-reflection is urgently needed because people on 'this side' are as guilty as anyone else of playing precisely the same game that Joe Lynam and the BBC spokesman quoted by the Telegraph have been playing here. We do it again and again.

And by that I also mean me. I partly rubbished that Cardiff University report (and others from Cardiff Uni) on exactly the same lines, so I'm no better than anyone else in that respect - except for the (blessed!) caveat mentioned below. (But, worse, that's far from the only time I've done it too).

So we all do it, and I don't blame Joe Lynam for trying it on here. We don't like or trust some statistic findings so we busily dig around and find 'Gotcha!' evidence that those responsible for those figures strongly hold a particular point of view and claim, abracadabra!, that their statistics must therefore be unreliable. 

It's so much easier to do that than to drill into the statistics themselves and, with an open mind, try to verify or refute them. 

Now in fairness to myself, I did also criticise the Cardiff survey on its merits too, condemning the extreme narrowness and randomness of its focus on just one week's output from two different years,  and comparing it to much better kinds of analysis, so my doubts about that Cardiff report remain. 

And that's what the BBC defenders ought to do here too, if they can. Do News-watch's findings stand up to scrutiny?

The fact that it's so much easier to take the 'ad hom' approach and try and find out who the researchers are, what their politics are, who backs them, who funds them, etc, and thus 'discredit' them, means, alas, that the 'ad hom' approach will always remain the first port of call for most people.

It's just the way it is (as Bruce Hornsby might put it).

Questions for 'Panorama' from Emily Thornberry

The famous Emily Thornberry

This morning's Andrew Marr show also featured Emily Thornberry, newly sensible-sounding and boring. (Has she been coached?)

You might not be aware though of a letter which Ms Thornberry has recently sent to the BBC  on behalf of a constituent concerning a 2013 edition of Panorama. It was addressed to Panorama editor Rachel Jupp: 

Was 'The Andrew Marr Show' biased over Catalonia?

Andrew Marr groupie Alfonso Dastis

For your delectation, here's a three-handed Twitter exchange this morning between The Andrew Marr Show's editor Rob Burley and a couple of critics. It followed the interview with Spanish foreign minister (and self-declared AM Show fan) Alfonso Dastis:

Euan Anderssonn: Where was the representative from @delgovuk for balance? Why does BBC & Marr consistently only show one side of argument in Spain?
Rob Burley: How have we "consistently" only shown the Spanish side? We have only done one interview which was today! Will be bidding for Catalan Govt.
Euan Anderssonn: Been happening for months. #BBC consistently sides with Spanish Govt, as shown today with no-one from @delgovuk being interviewed
Rob Burley: In a crowded show domestically, we chose today to ask the Spanish Govt to justify actions. Bidding for Catalans. Don't invent conspiracies.
Euan Anderssonn: No conspiracy. I have to pay #BBC licence for your output, so expect balance. You could have easily fitted in interview with @delgovuk
Rob Burley: No we couldn't. And we don't within a single show balance every issue. Think licence fee payers also interested in U.K housing,Brexit etc.
Kevin Rinchey: It's in the BBC charter Rob.
Rob Burley: What? That every show has to be absolutely balanced? Send me the relevant clause.
Kevin Rinchey: I think you've demonstrated my point.
Rob Burley: While you dig the clause out can I congratulate you for googling "BBC Editorial Guidelines".
Kevin Rinchey: I think your digging yourself a hole here Rob or are you saying Marr is just a random platform for some?
Rob Burley: No. I'm saying we interviewed Spanish Govt today and bidding for Catalan Govt. Impartiality not judged on single programme. Stop digging.
Kevin Rinchey: Fair enough Rob. I watch Marr I realise you only have an hour. I really hope you can get someone from @catalangov
Rob Burley: Thanks Kevin. Asking but we can't compel them to. Hope will soon.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Listening to BBC reviewers talking absolute drivel

Donald Trump

It's a while since I've listened to Radio 4's Saturday Review, as I grew impatient with the self-important blowhards then appearing on it, but I began listening tonight...

...only to be brought up short within seconds of the first guest's contribution.

And what was it that made me move towards the off-switch? Well, by this from long-term Saturday Review regular Amanda Craig about Armando Iannucci's new film The Death of Stalin:
I think this is the best film I've seen this year. It's satire at its most savage, and also its most pertinent because we are, of course, living in another age of dictators - whether it's Trump or Putin or Kim Jung-il - and these things are all too horribly real.
Yes, "of course", Trump is a "dictator" worthy of comparison to Stalin and it's definitely "horribly real" that she's so confident in her views about "Kim Jung-il" (sic). And can you believe that no one, not even Tom Service, picked her up on any of that?

The programme's website, incidentally, framed the film in this way:
How funny can a film about the death of the man whose regime saw the murder of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens actually be?
"Hundreds of thousands"? That's one heck of an understatement

More random thoughts

I was driving to work yesterday morning and switched on Today just at the moment where a voice I didn't instantly recognise was interviewing a BBC reporter and describing Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party as "hardliners". I thought, "A clear example of 'bias by labelling' there from a BBC presenter". Then I remembered reading about CNN's Christiane Amanpour being a guest presenter sometime and realised it must be her enjoying her moment in the Today sun. She's certainly no fan of Brexit.

Having her and Remain campaigner Stephanie Flanders as guest presenters isn't helping Sarah Sands give Today a neutral tone on Brexit (or Trump), is it? At least the consummately professional Carrie Gracie (the last of these Three Guest-Presenting Graces) should know how to conduct herself. 


David Keighley's latest piece provides the kind of detailed overview that (alas) I can only dream about offering you at the moment. (So please go and read it, if you haven't already). Its main focus is the BBC's coverage of those 'hate crime' figures, and the way the BBC keeps plugging the alleged link to Brexit. The BBC stood out from most of the other reports I saw in that by not balancing those figures about rising 'hate crime' cases with other figures showing a fall in 'hate crime' prosecutions, making the BBC appear particularly biased (and irresponsible) in this respect. David (naturally) also spotted that, summarising the main BBC website article on the story in this way:
And the reaction? This BBC report emphasises in great detail the rise in number of recorded ‘crimes’, does not enumerate the fall in prosecutions, and has a long sequence about a Muslim ‘victim’ who concludes: ‘I really think it's important for us to report, no matter what.’ Of course.
Of course.

I'm looking out of my window at the wet and windy weather of Storm Brian (yes, it does sometimes stop being sunny in Morecambe, as surprising as you may find that) and I'm thinking, "This doesn't look like a 'Brian' to me". It's more a 'James' I think. (It's making me think of James O'Brien for some reason).


According to the Daily Mail's media editor Katherine Rushton, the BBC has fought "a furious battle" to keep to itself the number of complaints it receives each day. Unfortunately for the BBC, it's now lost that battle and been forced to admit that it gets "nearly 1,000 complaints every working day". Also:
The Corporation would not give a breakdown but last week Ofcom chief executive Sharon White said three out of ten of the complaints it receives about the BBC centre on bias and inaccuracy.
It didn't surprise me in the least that this information had to been extracted from the BBC against the BBC's wishes and with the BBC dragging its feet every single step of the way. It did surprise me a bit that it was only "nearly 1,000 complaints every working day".


It is becoming impossible to keep track of BBC bias. I was reading some comments recently about all the messaging that Eastenders puts out. I haven't watched Eastenders for over twenty years (except a couple of episodes for the sake of this blog), but messaging on Eastenders has long been a given. It sounds to be getting worse though. 

I suspect that lots of BBC One drama comes with added messages (the usual BBC messages) - just like Radio 4 dramas (and The Archers) - simply because on the occasions when I have watched them I usually get the feeling of being whacked over the head with some clunking great fist of a message, as well as countless more subtly inveigled messages (though not subtle enough not to be noticed). Watching them and detailing it is something that I couldn't face doing, even if I had the time (which I don't). And then there's the transgender agenda and the feminist agenda and the race-baiting agenda...and how many more? 

It's all too much. I need to lie down. 


On a brighter note, you really can't beat In Our Time with R Melvyn. This week it was the Congress of Vienna. Tim Blanning of the University of Cambridge was so infectiously enthusiastic (and darned interesting) that I feel he really ought be given a BBC programme of his own. (Watch him turn out to be a fanatic for some cause I don't like, the BBC take up my suggestion and ask him to bang on about that cause, and me repent at leisure). Next week it's 'Feathered dinosaurs'. God bless Lord Bragg, and all who sail in him!


Yes, Newsnight has covered some of the big stories of the week - President Xi (all hail!), murder in Malta, Brexit, party political goings-on, etc - but it definitely does seem to be going down the celebrity interview route more and more often. We've had Mary Blige, Trevor Noah and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden just this week. (The Bruce interview was the only one I didn't really inclined to run to the hills at the mere thought of). Plus, they really do like talking about race. They've been at that a lot again this week.


Most sexual taboos from earlier ages have become acceptable, with the BBC's ardent blessing, but a few still remain - such as zoophilia and paedophilia. Infamously in the 1970s some socially-liberal voices, particularly on the Left, briefly flirted with pro-paedophilia campaign groups (and the BBC was then at the height of its Jimmy Savile era). Surely even the BBC won't dare to go down that route? 


Terry, in an earlier comments thread, reminded me of a curious omission from Suzy Klein's otherwise excellent Tunes for Tyrants: Music and Power with Suzy Klein. As the final episode looked at the Second World War, whatever happened to the most famous WW2 symphony of all, Shostakovich's Seventh (the Leningrad) - a work with a back story of the utmost drama and relevance to the series's main theme? I was expecting it, yet it never came. Yes, I understand the relevance of Walton's glorious Spitfire Prelude and Tippett's pacifist curate's egg A Child of Our Time but to miss out the Leningrad Symphony was a very curious omission indeed. 


Meanwhile back at the Today ranch...

The power struggles and back-stabbing at Today are beginning to make Games of Thrones seem like Last of the Summer WineThey just can't stop sniping at each other. I'm running out of popcorn.


And as Saturday night is music night and Radio 3 has Uncle Jim Naughtie presenting Verdi's Otello, here's Placido and Katia with the love duet from the end of the first act. If you don't know it, it's very, very lovely (and the nearest Verdi got to sounding like Wagner).

Islamic Vikings - an update

All credit to the Independent for updating its readers over the much-reported claim that the Vikings wore Arabic words for 'Allah' and 'Ali' in their burial garments, thus suggesting a strong Islamic influence on Viking culture.

They followed up the story with "a leading expert" in medieval Islamic art and archaeology, who has rubbished the claims saying that there's no Arabic script present at all.

It's a fascinating read and, to my mind, places the Swedish researchers (and the media who reported their claims) firmly in the dock.

The BBC's article on the original story was particularly uncritical of the original claims and overly triumphalist for Islam, but the BBC (unlike the Indie) hasn't yet provided an update. 

Another 'Newsnight' voter panel

All credit to Newsnight for their voter panel on how Brexit is going last night. I feared the worse, given the travesty of previous voter panels on Newsnightbut this was a well-chosen, varied panel of voters from a city (Sheffield) which voted 51-49 to leave the EU. They were all suitably labelled too, presumably for the sake of transparency, on how they voted in the referendum and their declared party allegiances:

Ben  - Leave (Liberal Democrat)
Gillian - Remain (Conservative)
Michael - Leave (Labour)
Roger - Remain (Labour)
Sonia - Remain (Labour)
Janetta - Leave (Conservative)
Carole - Leave (Conservative)
Albert - Leave (Labour)
Richard - floating 

It was a lively, interesting discussion, full of surprises.

"Populist billionaire" poised to win Czech election

What's in a headline?

That's an interesting form of words, and when you click into the BBC News article and read its opening paragraph you find that Mr Babis isn't just a "billionaire"; no, he's "a populist billionaire". (Remind you of anyone?)

The second paragraph of the article focuses exclusively on his wealth, and questions about his questionable past dominate the rest of the article. 

I'm not getting a very positive vibe from the BBC about Andrej Babis here.

In passing we learn that his platform is (in the BBC words) "anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-corruption". 

Had he been 'pro-establishment, pro-EU and anti-corruption' would the report have been quite as negative about him?

Update, 5.30pm: Breaking news....

Yes, "populist billionaire" Andrej Babis has won the Czech Republic's general election. "Particularly noteworthy" though, the BBC says, is the strong performance of the SPD (Freedom and Free Democracy party) "as the far-right party wants to ban Islam in the Czech Republic".

(I pass this onto you as the BBC website isn't reporting this prominently yet).

Further update: A BBC News Channel discussion between Julian Worricker and Rob Cameron this afternoon saw further labels flying.

Again, Mr Babis was was "the billionaire Mr Babis", "the populist Mr Babis" and "the Czech Trump". The SPD here were the "virulently nationalist, xenophobic, Eurosceptic SPD party led, believe it or not, by a half-Czech, half-Japanese businessman."

Yet another update (22/10): Here's a transcript showing how BBC World News (and, therefore, BBC One) were reporting the results overnight:

BBC newsreader: A billionaire businessman in the Czech Republic has scored a convincing victory in elections to the lower house of parliament. Andrej Babis, the country's second richest man, emerged with 30% of the vote - not enough to govern alone but far ahead of his rivals. A far-right Islamophobic party also made strong gains while liberal, pro-European parties faltered. Rob Cameron has more from Prague. 
Rob Cameron: This is what success looks like for a man who has already tasted so much of it. His business empire controls much of Czech agriculture, chemicals, and the media. Now, he has set his sights much higher. After almost four years at the finance ministry, the Slovak-born business tycoon is on the brink of becoming prime minister. It was a result few had predicted. Andrej Babis's prospects had dimmed in recent months after a string of scandals - two separate criminal investigations into claims he fraudulently obtained EU funds for a luxury resort. He said all of that was a campaign against him, a political witch-hunt by an establishment terrified of his pledge to clean up corruption. "Trust me," he said, and the voters believed him. Populist, mildly eurosceptic, and hostile to immigration despite his non-Czech origins, he has left the established centre-left and centre-right parties in tatters. Instead, a host of new protest parties, including the far-right SPD. They want to ban Islam in the Czech Republic, and also hold a referendum on leaving the European Union. They are unlikely to get one. But attitudes hardening here to the EU, and to migrants, and Andrej Babis has tapped into them

The final results, if you were wondering, look like this:

ANO (centre/centre-right) - 29.6% (up 11%)
ODS (centre-right/right) - 11.3% (up 3.6%)
Pirates (centre) - 10.8% (up 8.1%)
SPD (right/far-right) - 10.6% (up 10.6%)
KSCM (communist) - 7.8% (down 7.2%)
CSSD (centre-left) - 7.3% (down 13.1%)
KDU/CSL (centre-right) - 5.8% (down 1.0%)
TOP 09 (centre-right) - 5.3% (down 6.7%) 
STAN (centre-right) - 5.2% (up 5.2%)

Friday, 20 October 2017

Even handed

I don’t know if I omitted the link to Karen Harradine’s piece about UNESCO in The Conservative Woman, but here it is.

Once again, if you haven’t already done so I urge you to read it. And here’s another good’un by Rod Liddle (£) more or less on the same topic, with a little more info on UNESCO’s outgoing director Irina Bokova. He speaks for many of us. (i.e., me)

A few days ago I wondered about something I heard Nick Robinson saying, which seemed dubious to me. Was I imagining it?  Craig gave him the benefit of the doubt, so I left it. Don’t wanna be too OTT with the paranoia, do we, nit pickers?

However, it concerns Ms. Bokova so I’ll stick it in here just for the hell of it:

“Did anyone hear Nick Robinson talking to the outgoing director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova?
He said to her:
"You use language for protecting a site in east Jerusalem which everybody knows - even (in) the BBC knows - that’s used by Palestinians and not used by Israelis, and therefore is designed to offend"
In other words, obviously the BBC is sympathetic to UNESCO’s relentless campaigning against Israel, but nevertheless “even the BBC knows" that referring to the Western Wall and Temple Mount only by their Muslim names will not go down too well. 
It might be Nick’s way of saying the ‘value-judgement-free’ BBC is conscious of its obligation to  appear even-handed over matters concerning Israel and the Palestinians, so when UNESCO decides to declare another “Palestinian” world heritage site it should choose its words more carefully.
Or, it might have been Nick inadvertently letting the BBC’s default anti-Israel agenda (a value judgement) slip out. It’s just that little word: “even” that gives the game away. In my humble opinion. 

Feel free to disagree.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

But Whatabout the BBC?

Afshin Rattansi was invited to defend “Putin’s mouthpiece” (RT) on Daily Politics with Jo Coburn and Andrew Adonis. Should politicians be allowed to appear on RT? Should they be paid for doing so? 
There used to be a playground saying: “It takes one to know one”.  

It was quite funny listening Jo Coburn complaining of RT’s bias, “ a propaganda arm of Putin’s government”,  and the oleaginous Afshin Rattansi firing back a few lethal barbs at the Beeb during his “whataboutery” defence. 

What fun.

“Just as people are sent to jail if they don’t pay Jo Coburn’s salary” 

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Knickers in a twist

It seems to me that the entire blogosphere has cottoned on to the fact that the BBC is biased. The only entity that hasn’t noticed is of course the BBC itself. One might say the BBC is becoming increasingly isolated in this. 

It’s almost embarrassing, like they’ve come out of the washroom with their skirt tucked into their pants.  I say washroom to avoid committing a non-binary  gender offence. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word ‘skirt’.

We haven’t heard enough yet about Harvey Weinsteen or ”stine" as in Einstein, because we have also to discuss the ones who ‘knew but didn’t speak out’, rather like the BBC over Jim’llfixit, and we have to listen to endless stories from hashtag ‘me too’. However, if we just hang on a little longer, universal transgenderism will take care of all sexual bullying, organically. It’s only a matter of time.

 I’m thinking of self-expressive ideas to use as my own personal pronoun. You know, instead of ‘her’ and ‘she’. You have to choose your own. I was thinking in terms of vowels and consonants, like in Countdown.  I think, maybe no vowels. Make me sound Polish.

The BBC’s enthusiasm for diversity is coupled with its diktat  against using value-laden terms such as ‘terrorist’ or making discriminatory value judgements; rather, a dread of its staff being caught out making one, which throws up elephantine cognitive dissonance; the inconsistency that dare not speak its name. 

Having embraced cultural Islam, the default BBC position is institutionally hostile, if not to individual Jews, (Apart from Harvey W) then to Israel. But like the lady with the pants, they can’t actually see what has happened till it’s pointed out.

A glimpse into what things could be like - but for the BBC’s attitudinal negativity, was apparent  in this interview on Sky News Australia, posted on Daphne Anson’s blog.  As she frequently attests, ‘down under’, the negative influence of Islam and antisemitism is by no means absent. However. Put to one side those intrusive images of Dame Edna, possums - and the refreshing attitude of these two rather camp presenters is, to coin a phrase, like a breath of fresh air. They interview Melanie Phillips with sympathy, empathy and admiration.   
When would you ever get that on the BBC?

Of course the BBC can’t suppress all those pesky value-laden tweets and slips of the tongue by their employees, and any fule kno that Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson are closet Tories / Nazis, which would explain Andrew Neil’s invitation to address the Holocaust Educational Trust Dinner
The speech was nice, but flawed, as many commenters pointed out. His remarks about Trump, and Islamism  were copybook BBC. Typical curate’s egg, but the good parts were worth their weight in honesty.

There have been several excellent pieces in The Conservative Woman recently, back to Mr Wine-stain again,  but we all know, and have known for years, that Tinseltown is completely bonkers and doesn’t represent real life. I don’t know why everyone’s knickers are in such a twist about it. “Casting Couch” is normal currency isn’t it? Part of the furniture so to say, and has been for ever. 

The really, really excellent piece on The Conservative Woman was by Karen Harradine about UNESCO. That is one you really should read. It may not be quite so interesting to you as the antics of  Mr. Wankstain, but it  is to me.

Talking of TCW, I started reading “How To Write Stylishly” by Margaret Ashworth, which is on their sidebar. Forgetting for a moment that I am not a writer or reporter in all media, I thought it would help. There are lots of instructions, particularly on things never-to-do, and even though I am a bit anal about apostrophes, I felt totally intimidated by the lengthy list of crimes against literacy. Specially the one headed “Banned”. But then I remembered that as a blogger, the rules don’t necessarily apply. So, as I like to use outmoded phrases like ‘tuning in’ for their retro appeal, I will cherry pick. (That’s what we bloggers do) From the bottom of the page, this is what I picked:
terrorist: As we all know, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. I don’t see much problem with ‘terrorist’ for anyone who uses violence to cause terror, but if you have a view on the aims of a particular group and are sympathetic to them, better words could be ‘rebel’ or ‘militant’.

 "If you have a view on the aims of a particular group and are sympathetic to them, better words could be ‘rebel’ or ‘militant’."  The BBC woz here!

The BBC’s commemoration of the Balfour declaration continues. “My Father’s Israel”.
 I didn’t tune in. Here’s what (not a very)Happy Goldfish had to say:
“BBC bias: Presented and also produced by his own son, this very one-sided programme avoided saying (and nobody was asked) why there was such opposition to Tazbar.
It failed to point out that Tzabar wanted the West Bank Golan Heights and Sinai to be returned without any peace treaty, and despite the loss of thousands of Israeli lives to attacks launched from those territories.
Tzabar is described only as playful, profound, just a little bit annoying, a star of Ha’aretz, artist, and writer of five popular children’s books. No mention of his Israel Communist Party membership, nor his holocaust comparison.”


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Open Thread

Here's a new Hillary-Clinton-approved open thread. Thank you in advance from me, Hillary and the team at Women's Hour for any comments you care to submit. Cheers!

When the BBC banned Vera Lynn

Stalin and Suzie Klein

Recommendation time: Tunes for Tyrants: Music and Power with Suzy Klein on BBC Four has been superb. 

It's a sweeping three-part series that looks at the uses and abuses of music by the Nazis and the Soviets, and its uses by their democratic opponents.

It raises some thought-provoking questions about music and morality.

One section from the final episode taught me something that I had absolutely no idea about: that some in authority thought that Vera Lynn and her songs weren't helping the war effort, especially following the loss of Singapore and the set-backs in North Africa in 1942. 

Questions were raised in Parliament to that effect and the BBC, in response, set up the Dance Music Policy Committee to police the Forces' Sweetheart and her sort of music. 

Their ruling was that performances by women singers would be controlled and an "insincere and over-sentimental style" would not be allowed. "No numbers will be accepted for broadcasting which are slushy in sentiment", the BBC said. 

So Vera Lynn's radio show Sincerely Yours got taken off the BBC's airwaves and jolly, upbeat music programmes which emphasised a collective spirit, such as Music While You Work and Workers' Playtime, became the order of the day instead. 

That policy failed, however, as Vera was far too popular and struck back in 1943 with a film called We'll Meet Again. whose roaring success convinced the authorities that she was actually a clear morale-booster after all and, in fact, just the ticket for civilians and soldiers alike. 

Weirder still, the Nazis created their own answer to Vera Lynn, Zarah Leander - except that (being Nazis) she was far from 'the girl next door' type. She was 'the statuesque Teutonic goddess next door' type instead.

Zarah Leander and the least-angelic angels ever

In the smash film The Great Love her sentimental songs wowed the German public, and she sang surrounded by angels who were SS guards in drag (with the cameras keeping them at a considerable distance).

Well, fancy that!

Norman Smith, sadly

Our Norm

This lunchtime's BBC One News at One featured the following exchange, with the BBC's assistant political editor Norman Smith letting slip a word he ought not to have let slip:
Sophie Raworth: Let's talk to Norman Smith, who is in Westminster. Well, we've got the OECD, the international think-tank, saying that a second referendum would have a positive, a significant effect on the UK economy if it reversed Brexit. That's not a realistic option though, is it?  
Norman Smith [shaking head]: Sadly not now. Mr Hammond has already said this lunchtime it's not happening and, to be honest, even the most optimistic of Remainer would probably concede it's about as likely as the Loch Ness Monster putting in a surprise appearance. At least for now. 
'Sadly', eh, Norman?

Monday, 16 October 2017

Weather report

Andy Marr's Thought for the Day

Here's another memorable quote from Andrew Marr to add to the collection, delivered on this morning's Start the Week. Andy was talking about the potential benefits of a Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un meeting:
However bizarre the thought of two fat, angry men with strange haircuts sitting in the same room together and trying to talk through translators - and this is a very, very strange thought - it's clearly better than the alternative.

Opinions on the Austrian election

In the News

Sometimes the quality of BBC reporting raises your eyebrows. Being up early this morning, I was watching BBC World News's pre-breakfast paper review and heard BBC business reporter Sally Bundock describe Susanne Thier, the girlfriend on the incoming Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as "his wife". Not a major error, of course, and I wouldn't have commented on it had Sally not gone on to interject her own opinions into the following discussion (and she wasn't the only one). Under discussion was the Austrian election result with guest Priya Lakhani of Century Tech.
Priya Lakhani: It is incredible. He [Sebastian Kurz] doesn't have enough of the votes to lead Austria by himself so he's looking to form a coalition, and politics in Austria has obviously shifted now to the right. There's been a rise...
Tim Willcox: Significantly so.
Priya Lakhani: Significantly to the right, yes, with the rise of this sort of anti-establishment, anti-immigration party, and so what Sebastian Kurz is looking at is to form a coalition with the Freedom Party...
Sally Bundock: Which is a real worry because they're a far-right party. 
Priya Lakhani: Absolutely. They're very anti-Islam. I think it's mentioned all over the papers. Quotes here about are anti-Islam...talking about fascism and Islam and Muslim symbols, and it is really worrying, and there's definitely a rise in these parties. So it will be interesting to see with the coalition and how it's formed and the type of weight that's given to the Freedom Party. 
Tim Willcox: A very similar campaign in tactics to what Donald Trump did and, as you mentioned, Macron as well. "Austria first" for example...Trump, you know, "America first"...and appealing to those instincts in a very populist way. Too much migration. 
Priya Lakhani: Absolutely. Absolutely. There has been a real focus on the country, who you are and what we should be doing for you, absolutely. And I think the problem is if that's a real precedent at to elections going forward and how the world really responds to this, so...

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The BBC and social conservatism?

Here's a little something from Rod Liddle's latest Sunday Times column. (I obviously can't vouch for how true it is): 
I often get asked by broadcasters to put a socially conservative view. When the BBC needs someone to advance these opinions, the producers refer to it as “dial-a-c***”.

Showing some bias?

Mark Mardell's preview of The World This Weekend on this morning's Broadcasting House began like this:
Well, as the rest of the West shows some backbone and stands up to President Trump after his Iran speech we'll be talking to the man who actually led the British negotiating team about what next and we'll be looking at reports from Washington that the President is unravelling. 
That phrase "shows some backbone" isn't exactly a neutral one, is it? It makes it sound as if Mark Mardell is praising 'the rest of the West' for standing up to President Trump. 

I was going to leave my question there as an 'Unanswered Question' but decided to answer it anyhow because, also during this preview, Mark Mardell told Paddy that he'd never heard of the American composer Charles Ives.

More recommended reading

There's a very interesting post at Biased BBC from VX which questions the impartiality of the man responsible for those hate-crime figures which the BBC cites so often in connection to the Brexit vote. 

It's well-sourced and worth a close read.

It's to be presumed that the BBC's home affairs/crime reporters are familiar with Superintendent Paul Giannasi. Should they be taking his figures on trust?

A Thank You Open Thread

A thumbs-up from Eric too

Thank you to all of you who have kept commenting during our Rip van Winkle tribute act these past couple of weeks or so. Much appreciated.

P.S. Time for a bit of celebrity name-dropping.

On the Wolverhampton to Stockport leg of my train journey home yesterday I had Radio 4 presenter Michael Rosen sitting across the aisle from me. It was nice to see that his Trotskyite principles didn't prevent him from opting to travel first-class with me instead of showing solidarity with the downtrodden proletarians in standard class.

It was the first time I've travelled first-class on a train. You get free cups of tea, fruitcake and crisps and a bit more leg room. If you're lucky you might also get a free breakfast bun. (We weren't, as the trolley service took two and a hour hours to get to us and it wasn't on offer by that stage. Mustn't grumble though.)

I wonder which Radio 4 presenter will be joining me next time? My money's on Laurie Taylor. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017


A BBC radio programme I particularly enjoy is Radio 3's Free Thinking.

It's like a higher-quality version of Radio 4's Start the Week, and it's usually on for five nights a week. Its presenters are excellent and the range of topics is wide. It goes pleasingly deep too. And it's surprisingly broad-minded too on matters political.

Catching up with the more promising-looking editions of last week's offerings I came across an interview with Ronan Bennett, the writer of a new, three-part, prime-time BBC One historical drama about the Gunpowder Plot.

My ears pricked up as he talked about his intentions and reading the BBC's mission statement about the series confirms those intentions. 

Yes, this high-profile drama (which the Telegraph's Tim Stanley says is "edge-of-the-seat" stuff) will be about "showing the consequences of what can happen when a religious minority is persecuted". And it will have a "contemporary resonance”. 

The Catholic would-terrorists of 1605 will be cast as sympathetic human beings who had valid reasons to feel anger against the "relentlessly repressive" state, though there would be plenty of nuance and their violent intentions won't (it appears) be condoned.

Presenter Rana Mitter pointed out that James I began as a good deal less repressive towards Catholics than Elizabeth I, but Ronan was sticking to his guns (so to speak) and was clearly not allowing facts to get in the way of a good plot (so to speak). 

Rana also drew out of Ronan Bennett what those "contemporary resonances" would be. They would be (a) to suggest to English Brexit voters that they take a good long look back at history and realise that English nationalism isn't a good thing and (b) that Muslims today are in a similar situation to Catholics in Jacobean England and that the state shouldn't be repressive towards them.

Why do BBC dramas have to always be like this, pushing messages all the time (and almost always the same kind of messages to boot)?

Rana reminded us of Ronan's controversial past and asked if it led him to sympathise with the would-be terrorists of 1605. (That's why I like Free Thinking. It doesn't give its guests a free ride).

Now Rana said that, yes, the series does have plenty of nuance and Ronan said that he wasn't trying to be propagandist. So we'll have to see.

Alas I remember Ronan Bennett's last high-profile BBC drama - a much-promoted radio play for Radio 4 about the migrant crisis called 'Our Sea'. I wrote about it at the time, calling it "agitprop" and "shocking bias from the BBC".

If it's anything like that then the anti-Brexit, be-nice-to-the-Muslims stuff will be laid on with a Spanish Armada-sized trowel.

I do hope not (but I will not be holding my breath).

We have to talk about Iran

Times lead story

If British intelligence claimed that Russia had launched a cyber attack on the UK's parliament I suspect that it would be a lead story on the BBC, with much fulmination from studio guests. Today both the Times and the Guardian are reporting (after independently verifying the story) British intelligence's claims that Iran launched a cyber attack on the UK's parliament over the summer, hacking the emails of dozens of MPs (an event that was originally blamed on Russia), and yet - despite other media outlets also taking up the story - it looks as if the BBC is no rush to report it. The BBC reported on the cyber attack at the time. Why not follow it up now?

Update (15/10): And, yes, the BBC did eventually get round to reporting this too, sometime around 6 o'clock yesterday evening

Goodbye James Harding

What is there to say about the imminent departure of James Harding as BBC Head of News? Well, I've got nothing to say, so I'll refer you on to News-watch's David Keighley who provides a short audit of Mr Harding's 'achievements'

Apparently the names most likely to replace him are all BBC insiders. They include: Jonathan Munro, Gavin Allen, Fran Unsworth, Jay Hunt, Peter Barron, Ian Katz and Amol Rajan.


It is striking how some stories get dropped like stones, for whatever reason. The third story on the Sky News website this morning is an update on yesterday's story of the release of a Canadian/American family from captivity at the hands of Taliban allies in Afghanistan. On arriving in Toronto, the father has now claimed that the Islamist faction raped his wife and murdered his baby girl. The BBC News website, however, has no updates on this story, and yesterday's original BBC report is now only to be found low down on the Asia page. Curious.

Update: The story is now on the BBC News home page.
Further update: It's now the lead story for the BBC.

Friday, 13 October 2017


Sima Kotecha at the gates

Today's BBC News at Six reported on the ruling by the Court of Appeal that an Islamic faith school, Al-Hijrah in Birmingham, had broken the law by segregating girls and boys. Sima Kotecha's report featured three voices critical of the ruling and only one supportive of it - or, to put it even more statistically, 43 seconds went to those disagreeing with the Court of Appeal and only 10 seconds went to those agreeing with it. I kind-of suspected their report on this story would tend in that direction. 

A dialogue about the Football Lads Alliance

Please put aside whose video this is, and who was asking the questions, and the crude editing of parts of the video (which may have made the BBC reporter sound more defensive than he actually was and which leaves open the troubling questions, 'Is this what he said in full?' and 'Is he being fairly presented?') and just focus on what the BBC reporter said in answer to the questions put to him (especially in the unedited later bit of the video):

YouTube interviewer: When you describe this crowd, how are you going to describe them in your news report?
BBC reporter: Er, well, we're going to call them...well, you've've labelled yourself as an 'anti-extremist movement'...
YouTube interviewer: When your news report comes out on this will you mention the word 'far-right'?
BBC reporter: If people label it as such then we have to reflect that, yes.
YouTube interviewer: No, you should report and reflect what you've met and seen today. Have you seen far-right demonstrators?
BBC reporter: If people label it as such...
YouTube interviewer: If I label you as 'a nonce' would you report that you're a nonce? What you do is word-association - which is what all the media do against ordinary people. These are ordinary people who have come out to demonstrate. You will do word-association of 'racism' and 'far-right'. You've got ordinary people who are demonstrating against terrorism and you...every time the mainstream brand them, and it's not fair. It's not right. And you know that because you're on this demonstration.
BBC reporter: I'm sure you know where those labels come from. You have calls for tighter immigration. That is a right-wing rhetoric.
YouTube interviewer: So calls for tighter immigration against Islamic terrorism is 'a right-wing rhetoric'? In fact the Labour Party talk about controls on immigration. Everyone does. What do you mean 'a right-wing rhetoric'? How it that 'right-wing rhetoric'?
BBC reporter: Well, but people would say that. That is by...
YouTube interviewer: So because this group talks about terrorism and talks about controlling borders that means they're 'far-right'?
BBC reporter: It's a far-right...yeah, they could be.
YouTube interviewer: This is what you're up against! This is what you're up against! This is the BBC. So if someone identifies as wanting to stop Islamic terrorism and controlling your borders it's 'far-right'.
BBC reporter: It would be labelled as such...
YouTube interviewer: By people like you!
BBC reporter: But my opinion is absolutely invalid. It's about getting...
YouTube interviewer: But you're reporting for the BBC. You're lying for the BBC. You are officially fake news. You are demonising so many innocent people...
BBC reporter: Right.
YouTube interviewer: You make it impossible for people to talk. And that's who you are. You're here to try and get bad footage. That's why you're here.
BBC reporter: Right.
YouTube interviewer: That's your agenda...
BBC reporter: You're frustrated with the media, from what I take from this?
YouTube interviewer: You have a complete agenda when you come to these demonstrations. And you don't usually report it. If you don't get any bad footage of today, if you can't get violence, you don't report.
BBC reporter: Do you think there will be violence today? I mean, it's been peaceful so far.
YouTube interviewer: No. Not unless far-left demonstrators are allowed to get up and throw things at people, which is what usually happens. So if the people want to stitch people up, which we see time and time again, then we'll see. But you are all part of the problem.

Isn't that revealing? The BBC reporter (or producer) is maintaining his - and the BBC's - impartiality but says that this protest by the Football Lads Alliance will be labelled as 'far-right' by the BBC because (unspecified) people label it as such. 

He also openly states his own opinion that calling for tighter immigration is "a right-wing rhetoric" - a particularly revealing insight into BBC groupthink. 

And when the YouTube interviewer states that the BBC's agenda will dictate that it won't report the protest unless there's "bad footage", the BBC reporter asks if the YouTube interviewer thinks there will be violence today....and, yes, the YouTube interviewer was correct in his prediction that because there was no 'bad footage', no violence, the BBC wouldn't report this demonstration, and they didn't.

I don't know who the BBC reporter/producer was. The YouTube interviewer, however, was Tommy Robinson.

Getting it wrong again

It's an old theme but the latest variation on it is well worth hearing: Stephen Glover's Daily Mail piece headlined 'How the Mail got it right on Romanian and Bulgarian migration and the BBC got it so wrong – and deceived Britain'. It's spot on and thoroughly damning.

The shocking thing about it, looking back, is that the BBC didn't just "get it so wrong" and "deceive Britain" for the first time here. They simply replayed almost note-for-note their earlier 'mistakes and deceptions' from the post-2004 mass influx from Eastern Europe. They clearly refuse to learn.

Back in the early 2000s we had reports such at that by the BBC's Dominic Casciani giving credence to claims that the influx from Eastern Europe after the borders opened in 2004 would be much smaller than the 'hype' suggested - and by 'hype' he specifically meant Migration Watch's claims. In the end Migration Watch proved right and the official UK projections proved wildly, spectacularly wrong. 

So you would have thought that the BBC would have learned its lesson by the time January 2014 came and the gates were opened to Romanians and Bulgarians, but no, no such lesson had been learned. 

They repeatedly and doggedly played down the likely numbers, with BBC reporters (such as Phil Mackie and Mark Lowen) not just reporting others saying that the numbers would be much less than Migration Watch and UKIP were predicting but stating themselves that they (as BBC reporters) didn't see any evidence that large numbers would be coming to the UK.

And when a small, unexpected dip in the numbers was reported in May 2014, the BBC splashed the story, with Eddie Mair talking of "all the hype" about the numbers, and Mark Easton saying of the "flood" that "if anything, the reverse" was happening, and Nick Robinson opining, "Well, well, well. So much for those predictions of a flood of immigrants coming from Romania and Bulgaria once the door to the UK was opened - ie after visa restrictions were removed on 1 January this year!" and crowing, "However, today the questions will be for UKIP who warned of a flood of new immigrants from the two countries". 

And what has happened ever since has been more and more data on the actual numbers and less and less BBC reporting of them. The OBS reported that there are now 413,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in the United Kingdom, equivalent to the population of Bristol, over whom some 263,000 or so came after January 2014. 

Yet again, the previous Labour government projection of 13,000 a year (the then Labour government's estimate) and he more recent NIESR's guess of 21,000 a year were shown to have been complete rubbish. Even Migration Watch's prediction of 50,000 a year now looks like an underestimate. UKIP looks likely to come closest with their much-derided prediction of 350,000-400,000 over five years. 

Why would the BBC get it so badly wrong not once but twice? 

To paraphrase Marx: History repeats itself, first time as terrible, biased reporting, second time also as terrible, biased reporting. 

Is there any other explanation for this?

And did they report the latest figures? Well, I've seen reports on the OBS's figures from everyone from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, from Sky News to Xinhua, from the Times to the Irish Times but I can find nothing on the BBC News website on the story. 

As far as I can see the BBC has studiously ignored the story, yet again.

Once again the BBC has betrayed its reporting responsibilities by failing to follow through on a story it massively hyped and got badly wrong. The BBC should be reporting these figures and pointing out who got it right and who got it wrong. 

There's no good reason why the Corporation isn't doing so, is there?