Monday, 17 April 2017

Another introspective Hugh Sykes on Turkey

Going introspective again for a few minutes...

It is certainly true that impartiality can be hard to achieve, as Sue has always reminded me (in reaction to my far more rigid views on the matter). It's true because we humans aren't robots and because impartiality is a slippery concept and, as a result, it's far from unlikely that the BBC will keep on failing in that regard, even if they were always trying to behave themselves (which they most certainly aren't always trying to do!)...

...and it's also true that a broad, cross-BBC bias might inevitably come about (as it has!) if BBC employees tend to come from much the same demographic and mindset (as they do, often via the Guardian's recruitment page!).

[Ed - That's enough exclamation marks for now, Craig.]

Here's a question though: Should the BBC actually be actively biased, with all of our blessing, in favour of 'good' rather than 'evil', say? Or in favour of 'democracy' rather than 'anti-democracy'? 

(Of course, that depends on what people think is 'good' and 'evil', or 'democratic' and 'anti-democratic', as cultural relativists might put it. I think cultural relativism is very over-rated though).

I was wondering about all this in light of what I've heard of the BBC's Erdogan coverage in recent days - and especially after Mark Mardell and Hugh Sykes's latest discussion on today's The World at One

Now, Hugh Sykes certainly got himself wound up this lunchtime in bizarrely contrived comparisons with Brexit (springing, no doubt, from his own views on Brexit) and only just managed to save himself by adding "possibly snobbishly" to his closing, loaded remarks about the Turkish referendum result being a case of "the educated for No against the uneducated for Yes" (and where have we heard that one before?)....

....but the really fascinating thing about this World at One discussion was Hugh's tone. I've never heard him sound so flustered on air before. He was babbling (eloquently of course) in a highly excited fashion at times and was so strongly inflecting his phrases with heavy tones of (unhappy) incredulity that his true feelings about events in Turkey could hardly have come across any louder or clearer - including his obvious view that what has happened in Turkey has been shabby, undemocratic and, all in all, a very, very bad thing. 

And the thing is, from my point of view, that he's obviously dead right about that. It is a very, very bad thing, and he's absolutely right to be so upset (and biased) about it. (Erdogan supporters would naturally disagree about that).

So was Hugh being biased against 'evil' and in favour of 'good' here? If so, good on Hugh! 

And if Hugh and the rest of the BBC were consistent in being biased in favour of 'good' against 'evil', and in favour of 'democracy' against 'anti-democracy', who on earth could object to them being so? 

If they didn't engage in false equivalences between democracies (shall we say Israel perhaps?) and their totalitarian, terrorist enemies (shall we say Hamas perhaps?), wouldn't that always be the right thing for the BBC to do?

And what could be sillier than Lord Hall, say, telling us (as he notoriously did) that the BBC can't call Islamic State 'Daesh' because that's a "pejorative" term used about them by their opponents and, thus, that using it would mean the BBC taking sides? 

Once again, I'm thinking on my feet here (though actually sitting down): Shouldn't the BBC be biased against President Erdogan if most people can agree that he's 'evil' and 'anti-democratic'? 

Or would that give the BBC a blank cheque to pile on the opprobrium even more against anyone and everyone they consider undesirably 'populist' (from Trump supporters to Brexit supporters) - something that most people in the UK might not agree with the BBC about? 

And, given how they already behave, wouldn't they keep on cashing that blank cheque day in and day out, making their bias even worse (if you can imagine that)?

As ever, your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Anyhow, here's a transcript of that World at One discussion:

Mark Mardell: Within the past few minutes the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has monitored the fairness of a referendum, has described it as being conducted in an "uneven" way, with a misuse of government resources. Our correspondent Hugh Sykes is in Istanbul. You've been out and about this morning, Hugh. What's happening?

Hugh Sykes: Not a lot. Very little triumphalism. There was a bit of that last night, people roaring around in their the cars setting off fireworks. A lot of subdued despondency. I think the reality of this is only just sinking in. It's a bit like the day after the EU referendum in Britain last year. Brexit suddenly came into focus the next day. So people are being thoughtful and quite quiet. But the No side are furious. I mean, that description "uneven" is to put it mildly, from their point of view. They say that Yes played so dirty that they should have won an enormous margin. The Yes campaign got massive support from the government and from television. Imagine the government in Britain only supporting the Leave campaign and marginalising all the people who wanted to stay in the European referendum. It was very comparable to what that would have been like here. And the president is supposed to be above the party here. He certainly wasn't.  His face was on huge banners and billboards alongside that the word 'Yes' in Turkey 'Evet', and the No campaign got hardly any television airtime. There were few, if any, No political broadcasts and dozens for Yes. And to cap it all...They must...they really were desperate at the end. They thought they were going to lose, the Yes side. The prime minister tried to smear No voters by saying that voting No would be tantamount to supporting terrorism. "You're with us or you're with the terrorist." That remind you of anybody?

Mark Mardell: But given that sense of powerlessness from the opposition. do they stand any chance of stopping that, even with the sort of support of the OSCE?

Hugh Sykes: Well, it's a moot point, isn't it? They are going to appeal to the Supreme Court. Will the Supreme court by the time they appeal have been stuffed with Erdogan supporters, and that it doesn't stand a chance? But the appeal would be about the the ballot form decision, this very strange (at the very least) decision by the Electoral Commission last night...said in the middle of the count that they'd accept ballots with no official stamp on them...they are supposed to be stamped, every single ballot...and ballots in unsealed envelopes...every ballot's supposed to be an envelope that's sealed. otherwise it's fishy, and if it's not actual fraud there's plenty of opportunity for it. There's a really bad cloud of doubt hanging over such a tight result. The leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, commented above all this, "You can't change the rules of the game in the middle of a match".

Mark Mardell: Doesn't sound much chance of a very divided society coming together?

Hugh Sykes: No, it's completely split down the middle. I mean, 51-49. It's not exactly a resounding victory for Yes. And if you look at the map there's a stark colour difference between the Yes places - Istanbul - sorry, I beg your pardon - beneath the No places - Istanbul, Ankara and prosperous industrial and tourism centres along the coast, the south coast and the west coast like Izmir - against the people of the hinterland, against Anatolia, characterised by some, possibly snobbishly, as "the educated for No against the uneducated for Yes."

Mark Mardell: Hugh, thanks very much indeed.


  1. Reporting that Erdogan is an authoritarian despot is not biased. Beeboids opining that he should be removed, though, is.

    The BBC was clearly biased in favor of the so-called Arab Spring as well. The biggest problem of bias there was the way they spent most of their energy finding locals (e.g. in and around Tahrir Square) who fit the 'cosmopolitan, liberal, secular' mold, and tended to censor the more unhelpful facts about the gang-molestation of women, or the almost complete gender separation in the crowds.

    Their own bias kept getting confirmed by the vox pops they managed to find. Sound familiar somehow, doesn't it?

  2. What is sykes on?

    "Imagine the government in Britain only supporting the Leave campaign and marginalising all the people who wanted to stay in the European referendum. It was very comparable to what that would have been like here. And the president is supposed to be above the party here. He certainly wasn't."

    Don't 'imagine' it, the government was supporting the 'remain' campaign and calling their opponents 'fruitcakes' and 'racists'.

    What short memories these people have.

  3. Here's a question though: Should the BBC actually be actively biased, with all of our blessing, in favour of 'good' rather than 'evil', say? Or in favour of 'democracy' rather than 'anti-democracy'?

    A good question, one that I have thought about quite a bit, and I think the answer is "yes".

    The BBC is a state broadcaster, uniquely funded by the British people, so it should have a positive bias towards Britain and its people.

    It goes without saying that they can manage a general bias with respect to sport, and the same should be true of other things.

    Undoubtedly they should remain neutral with regards to politics, to a point, but once the British people (their licence payers) have made a choice they should present it in a positive way.

    Their constant emphasis on the Guardian viewpoint is a negative self-destructive one about Britain and the British people. It's not just bias, it's the wrong sort of bias. It helps the enemies of Britain, and also contributes to unhappiness in the population.

  4. Simple answer to this, its in the BBC Editorial Guidelines introduction to impartiality:

    'Due impartiality...does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles'.

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  6. Strangely I was thinking exactly the same thing about the BBC and Erdogan. As you suggest, in a broad sense it’s hard to disagree that they should biased in favour of “good” vs “evil” or democracy vs anti-democracy. The problem is that although most of would support the concept of democracy, “good” has become grey area, beset by the forces of relative morality. The BBC has in the vanguard of those in favour of demolishing any sense of shared values.

  7. What The BBC should be doing is examining issues from all sides and allowing the public to decide for themselves or at least creating a platform where this can happen. It is not actually the place of the BBC to decide what is right or wrong. This isn’t necessarily an attack on Laura K, it could apply to any number of Beeboids, but the idea of sitting through the whole of Prime Minister’s Question Time only to have what we have just seen “explained” to us is beyond patronising.

  8. Just a few random thoughts - sorry if rambling.

    "Imagine the government in Britain only supporting the Leave campaign......”

    Am I remembering incorrectly or didn’t the following happen last year?
    • The Prime Minister was leading the remain campaign, using taxpayers money;
    • The BBC supported the remain campaign using money extorted under the law;
    • The thrust of the remain campaign was to denigrate and marginalise the leavers.

    I stopped watching TV several years ago, partly because I perceived the BBC news to have become almost useless at providing factual news and information. So now I can only judge the BBC from what I hear on the radio and what others write about BBC programmes. Over many years they appear to have morphed into a political pressure group with distinct views on many important issues which are held so strongly that they are prepared to report partial truths, withholding vital information needed to understand these issues. Their current affairs programmes such as question time became uninformative and unwatchable.
    I do not think that the BBC’s remit to be impartial should mean that they ensure all sides to a debate come across to the viewer as being equally valid. The BBC should allow truth, facts and logic to naturally come to the fore, without selective censorship. Current affairs programmes should have follow ups where further research has been undertaken to try and establish the truth.
    BBC reporters seem to nit-pick every apparent inconsistency in people whose views they obviously detest and brush over more glaring flaws in people who they naturally support. This seems to extend to deliberately sabotaging and damaging their “opponents”, whatever the cost to innocent people.
    The BBC seem to sympathise with the current big business of offence taking. If someone has an unapproved view then that person should not be allowed to speak and may be committing a crime if they do. Freedom of speech is the most important right upon which our civilisation rests, yet it is the one the BBC seem keen to ditch. At the same time they are promoting privileges for certain minority groups.
    It is strange that Conservatives and anyone supporting the UK leaving the EU are considered to be holding on to outdated values and to fear uncertainty and change. This could, of course, never be said about the followers of Islam, a 1400 year old fantasy/horror story.
    The following areas seem to pose problems for the BBC -
    BBC reporters seem to repeatedly hide the horrible nature of the existential threat to Israel by its neighbours whilst reporting Israel’s defensive actions out of context. Much of the criticism by sites such as BBC Watch appears justified.
    BBC reporting on Islam seems to hide the brutal reality of Islam worldwide and the threat this medieval ideology poses to secular liberal democracies. Do the BBC support restrictions on the freedom of speech if they think Muslims may be offended? For example, I think Robert Spencer is censored or simply dismissed as an extremist, presumably because he is too knowledgeable to debate with.
    Climate Change
    BBC seem to campaign for the most extreme view and dismiss and censor any information which is not consistent with that view. There appears to be substantial evidence of problems with the so called scientific consensus. Not much of a platform allowed for Steve McIntyre, Anthony Watts, Judith Curry etc.
    UK Flooding
    No serious analysis of the causes, eg building on flood plains, stopping dredging and bank building, deliberate flooding for pet environmental causes (relying on catastrophically wrong predictions of draught). To the BBC it is evidence of catastrophic climate change caused by man-made Co2. I agree that much of the flooding is man-made – it is government policy.
    Again no serious analysis, just scaremongering and near total support of the remain campaign. Why, for example, was Richard North not brought on as an expert?