Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Long View or Wrong View?

I listened with increasing incredulity to Jonathan Freedland's “The Long View of Targeted Fake News” Radio 4. He set out to compare the infamous blood-libel that stemmed from the murder of 8 year-old William of Norwich, with the “Fake News” of today. 

I assume the general idea was to demonstrate the ease with which unfounded rumours can take hold, with ensuing dire and far-reaching consequences. Only - and this is as predictable as anything could possibly be - he chose not to make his comparison between the Jews of then and the Jews of today.  He chose instead  to make his comparison between the wholly unfounded libel against the Jews, which occurred in 1144 and the “New Jews” of the present day; namely the Muslims.  
 At one point he conceded that, while the rumours against the Jews were “bogus’ and “wholly invented”,  there “have been” some attacks involving Muslims, and “there’s a difference”. 

“Yes” said Miqdaad Versi, the man from the MCB, deftly brushing terrorism to one side, “but there have been a number which are entirely fictitious,” and he cited a few inconsequential examples, such as the falsely reported Muslim ban on the new five-pound note. Good grief. 
Jonathan Freedland's Long view isn’t long. In fact it’s pretty short. He failed to see that could have saved himself the trouble of contriving an unconvincing comparison for the very simple reason that the same old blood libel against Jews is still very much alive and kicking. It’s still the same old fake news, the same old antisemitic memes and themes; same as it ever was. He should have compared fake targeted news then with fake targeted news now.  But he didn’t. Instead he chose to make capital out of the flawed claim that ‘Muslims are the new Jews.
He should have taken a genuinely Long View, comparing the much maligned Jews of 1144 with the much maligned Jews of now.

Half the story about hatred of the Jews has been deliberately excised, quashed, suppressed, hidden away from “The News”.  What is “targeted and fake” about that? Just that the omission has crucially skewed the news to the point where it’s simply fake.    

Trust Jonathan Freedland to invite someone from the Muslim Council of Britain to cement his false comparison. 
Still with Jonathan Freedland,  I had intended to say something more about David Goodhart, whose new book “The Road to Somewhere" I wrote about the other day
Goodhart seemed to me to be a person from the left who is now perceived by persons from the further left as a bit of a traitor. They accuse him of turning right, evidencing his populist views on immigration, or rather his understanding, nay, sympathetic portrayal of ‘the right’s’ views on immigration. He’s a veritable Gillian Duffy, they assert.

I happened to see Mr. Goodhart on Sunday’s The Big Questions and I still had the feeling, that for all his rationalisations of the poor misunderstood ‘Leave’ voters for whom he’s created the benign-sounding term “Somewheres’,  he is at heart a true lefty trying his best to appear even-handed. 

However, I did wonder, yet again, if I’d got him wrong. Now that Jonathan Freedland has reviewed his book for the Guardian, I’m beginning to think I just might have been right all along.

The first part of the review consists of a straightforward description of the book’s contents. 
(Here am I opining on a book I haven’t even read, the irony of which hasn’t escaped me.)
 However, it’s not so much the book itself that concerns me here, but Freedland’s tiresome conflation of Jewish and Muslim communities. 
Here’s the bit that interested me, which I’ll quote in full:

“Where Goodhart goes wrong above all is on Britain’s ethnic and religious minorities. Even though he concedes that these groups can exhibit Somewhere-ish attitudes – prioritising stable families, for example – he frames them throughout as the cloud on the Somewheres’ horizon, the blot that has darkened the Somewheres’ previously sunny landscape. It is their arrival that has changed Britain beyond recognition, their presence that has to be dealt with.

I’d contend that this ‘blot’ applies exclusively to large Muslim communities where whole ‘landscapes’ have changed beyond recognition and the hapless outsider is subjected to a palpable atmosphere of hostility. This doesn’t apply, on the whole, to Jewish communities, apart from, say, the odd rudeness or brusqueness emanating from some of the ultra orthodox. But Freedland insists on conflating them. He continues:

“Perhaps my own experience as a member of Britain’s Jewish community has skewed my perspective, but I’d suggest that the very qualities Goodhart most admires among the Somewheres – including neighbourliness, trust and a sense of shared destiny – are to be found in Britain’s minorities. They have not caused the social fragmentation he laments: globalisation, automation and a thousand other shifts bear more blame than they do. If anything, and especially in the cities, they point to a remedy for those Anywheres Goodhart believes have become unmoored. Minorities might be more of a model than a threat, more to be emulated than to be feared.”

Where does Jonathan Freedland live? Luton, perhaps? High Wycombe?  Rotherham? I doubt it.

If anything qualifies as ‘targeted fake news’, surely consistently drawing false equivalences between Jews and Muslims comes pretty close.


The BBC explains car-rammings and stabbings directed against Israelis  as  acts by frustrated Palestinian militants.  

Now the BBC has rediscovered the word ‘terror’, but how will they explain this identical act of terrorism? 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

As it says...

Not a lead story

(h/t DB)

There's been a bit of breaking Trump news within the past hour or so - news about Trump and Russia. The House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes has told Fox News that he's seen "no evidence of collusion" between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia

Given the prominence the BBC has given to this story, and the heavy attention paid to it by BBC reporters like John Sweeney to Paul Wood, you might have thought that the latest twist in the story would have immediately appeared (as previous twists have done) near the top of the BBC News website's home page as a lead story. 

Curiously, however, the BBC's article about this - and, yes, there is one - isn't on the BBC's home page. It's only appeared (less than an hour ago) on the website's World page as the seventh-ranked story (beneath Bangladesh v Sri Lanka in the 100th test). 

The BBC's report is very scanty regarding what Rep. Nunes actually said. This is its summary of his words in its entirety: 
There is no evidence so far that President Donald Trump's campaign team colluded with Russia during the 2016 US election, a top lawmaker says. 
Devin Nunes, head of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, made the remark on Fox News. 
Mr Nunes, a Republican, said the leaking of Mr Flynn's name was the only crime "that we know that's been committed". 
Mr Nunes also told Fox News on Sunday that a review of justice department documents provided on Friday indicated there was no such wiretap.
What The Hill's account gives us that the BBC doesn't give us is the substance of Rep, Nunes's remarks, complete with plenty of quotes.

On the question of collusion between the Trump team and Russia he replied:
I'll give you a very simple answer: 'No'. Up to speed on everything I have up to this morning. No evidence of collusion.
On the question of whether he thinks elements inside the intelligence community or the FBI have been leaking information to undermine the Trump presidency, he replied:
It's pretty clear that that's happening. There's even been stories written about it in numerous newspapers talking about how they said they left breadcrumbs around to hurt the Trump administration.
On the question of whether he still thinks they are leaking information he said he doesn't "think so anymore":
I think it was largely people maybe who were there, had classified information, who are now no longer there and decided to leak it. Clearly to leak Michael Flynn's name talking to the Russian ambassador, that was clearly designed to hurt Gen. Flynn and the president's national security adviser.
I would have thought that reporting what Devin Nunes actually said would have helped BBC website readers to understand this story - especially given how dramatic what he says is. As it is, the BBC's account was barely worth publishing, given how little it actually tells BBC website readers.

What's the betting though that if Rep. Nunes have said something about him thinking there is evidence of collusion that he'd have been quoted at much greater length and the story would presently be leading the BBC News website?

A question

This morning's Sunday featured a discussion between the BBC's Martin Bashir and The Tablet's Christopher Lamb about Catholic-Islamic relations under Pope Francis. This is part of their exchange:
Martin Bashir: Is this not also Pope Francis and the way he's applying the Christian gospel? So just as the world turns away from migrants desperately crossing perilous waters, many losing their lives in the process, and there's Pope Francis, he goes to the island of Lampedusa, welcomes and prays with them. And as the resurgence of right-wing populism expresses itself in anti-Islamic rhetoric, now we have Pope Francis deciding to visit nations like Egypt and Bangladesh. 
Christopher Lamb: The Pope has, throughout his papacy, been keen to de-link Islam from Islamic terrorism, or the the faith of Islam from terrorist acts in the name of God, and I think he'll be keen to again stress that message, whilst also calling on Islamic leaders, by building bridges with them, to also condemn those act of terrorism.
Martin Bashir's question was rather loaded, wasn't it?

Coming up...

I wasn't aware that a great deal of 'fake news' has been targeted at Muslims and immigrants in the UK, but it looks as if BBC Radio 4 is about to push that very the contention that Muslims are the new Jews:

"I was a journalist at the time and I felt misled by that"

Confession time: I am one of those people who supported the Iraq War. (Yes, I know). I was so supportive of it that I stopped listening to Start the Week on Radio 4 for several years after Andrew Marr took over and used edition after edition (or at least it felt like that to me) to bang on about the Iraq War from every angle possible, almost invariably featuring someone, or several people, bemoaning the causes and consequences of the Iraq War, accompanied by the murmuring agreements of Mr. Marr. It felt like being harangued by a BBC presenter riding their personal hobby-horse and I missed Melvyn Bragg and Jeremy Paxman's less political versions of the programme. (I've long since relented). 

Andrew Marr, talking to Tony Blair this morning, finally confirmed my suspicions about him at that time when he said: 
The other thing about that whole period of New Labour politics and what followed was there was a lack of trust in politics. We saw the 2008 crash - and people are still suffering hard after that - but also a whole series of scandals, weapons of mass destruction and so forth. I was a journalist at the time and I felt misled by that.
It certainly felt at the time (to me) as if he'd fallen out of love with Tony Blair (along with many others at the BBC). 

And, it turns out, he had

And that he'd taken it personally too. 

In my feistier previous-but-two blogging incarnation I wrote about that famous clash between Alistair Campbell and Andrew Marr in 2010 after Andrew had made a disobliging introductory quip about the 'dodgy dossier' during a Marr show interview: 

Well, he clearly did have an opinion of this after all. Obviously.


This morning's Something Understood looked at piety. It's well worth a listen. 

Mark Tully, a spiritual man in the Prince Charles manner, all-embracing in his reverence for world religions, brought us gifts of lovely music (from Bruckner to Rutter, from Vaughan Williams to The Mavericks, from Rossini to Islamic rap) plus plenty of thought-provoking poetry and prose. 

Mark was making a defence of sincere piety and the benefits it brings to all of us, believers and non-believers alike, in terms of culture and personal inspiration. 

The featured spirited defence of Christian monasticism against those who pour scorn on it struck me as powerful but I got stuck on the point that those who don't believe the truths of Christianity (which our monks and nuns are trying to live and breath) are somehow wrong to doubt the point of such a wonderful, rigorous, fulfilling way of life if those truths aren't in any way true at all. Surely whether they are true or not has some bearing on the ultimate value of monastic living? 

There was also an Islamic parable about an ostentatiously pious Muslim who has a dream about a another man - a Muslim shopkeeper - being even more pious than him. As he can hardly believe it to be possible, he goes to find this shopkeeper to see if it's true and finds him busy serving his customers and being cheerful, so doesn't think he can be that pious. He tells the shopkeeper his dream and the shopkeeper has a knowing look in his eye. The shopkeeper says he'll only explain his piety to the pious man if the pious man carries a bowl of mercury up and down a long street without spilling it for an hour. The man, with great effort, finally achieves that task, huffing and puffing with anxiety, and then the shopkeeper explains. Did you think about Allah when you were performing that task? No, said the pious man, I was too busy thinking about not spilling the mercury and getting back to your shop in time.  Ahh! but am carrying mercury around in a bowl all day and think about Allah all the time, including when I'm doing my daily duties, such as serving my customers. Now, the moral there was that the shopkeeper was better than the ritual-observing, pious man, who was a hypocrite. Hearing the story, however, and clearly unlike Mark Tully, I found myself warming to the poor harmless hypocrite. The shopkeeper sounded insufferably smug to me, and not very pleasant. Fancy putting someone through such an ordeal simply to prove that you're more truly pious than they are - and ensure that they know that you know that they know that you're more pious than them! What a pompous oaf!

Then came a piece extolling the virtues of the women's mosque movement in Cairo - an Islamic revivalist movement which aims to counter the immoral secularising, Westernising trends of the last century and teach Egyptian women how to be pious and live good Muslim lives in a modern if this kind of thing has been necessarily a wholly good thing in Egypt over the last forty or so years! There was not a whiff of the possible - and actual - risky consequences of such Islamising tendencies from Something Understood here, alas.

As I say, it was certainly thought-provoking. How sensible my thoughts are about any of what I heard I'll let you be the judge though.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Emily throws caution to the wind

President Trump's meeting with Chancellor Merkel yesterday began with a handshake...

...and their press conference ended with another handshake:

In between came an awkward moment when it appeared that Mr Trump ignored Mrs Merkel's request for a handshake for the photographers, though media reports have generally pointed out that it was "unclear whether or not Trump heard the chancellor". 

(Sky's video report, for example, was cautiously headlined 'Does Trump snub Merkel handshake?')

Of course, that non-happening of the middle handshake 'went viral' as The Big Story of the Day, Trump-wise. Thus, it was inevitable that Emily Maitlis's 'bit from America' on last night's Newsnight would begin by referring to it, sarcastically.

Unlike cautious reporters elsewhere, however, Emily appeared to have no doubts whatsoever that it was a deliberate snub by President Trump:
Good evening from Washington. In recent times, President Trump has shown himself a rather enthusiastic advocate of the handshake. Sometimes they've appeared to go on painfully long. But today was not one of those times. He rejected the formal clinch with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the two faced off in a rather awkward tension - to the shout of "handshake!" from press photographers - mirroring in their body language what we know already of their political differences. 
That's the sort of thing that might get Donald Trump tweeting about "the FAKE NEWS". 

To return to the theme of an earlier post...

The Sky News website's report on the Paris airport attack still begins: "A radicalised Muslim on a terror watchlist opened fire on three police officers at a road check before attacking a soldier at a Paris airport".

The individual was a "radicalised Muslim known to intelligence services" a police source said.
You won't, however, find that quote or the word 'Muslim' anywhere in the BBC News website's report. The nearest it gets is the phrase "radicalised individuals".

The BBC always treads more carefully than others when this kind of news story is unfolding.

Update (14:15): According to the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, the attacker's name is Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a Frenchman with a Tunisian family background. Sky News names him as Ziyed B. The BBC News website hasn't updated its report with this information yet.

Update (20:00): The name Ziyed Ben Belgacem has finally been reported on the BBC website within the last half an hour. According to NewsSniffer the BBC made the change from "the 39-year-old" to 'Ziyed B.' at 17:10 and the change from 'Ziyed B' to 'Ziyed Ben Belgacem' at 19:45. This latest version reports that Ben Belgacem said he wanted to "die for Allah" and that a Koran was found on his body. The BBC's headline is now:

Sky's headline is now:


I had to smile at this blurb from the From Our Own Correspondent website:

Whoever wrote that doesn't appear to have noticed the irony or the fundamental contradiction contained therein.

That one-time "famous Dutch tolerance" on the issue of immigration (i.e. suppressing any questioning of immigration) sounds rather like the famous BBC "tolerance" on the same issue in years gone by.

If you recall, this kind of thing used to go on at the BBC (as reported by Stuart Pebble in his BBC Trust report on BBC impartiality): 

As for Gabriel Gatehouse's report, it was much like his reports elsewhere. He wasn't breathing a sigh of relief at Geert Wilders's "pretty distant second" in the Dutch elections because "if blunt words aimed at foreigners was what the electorate was after they need look no further than the Prime Minister himself." Mark Rutte had "told Dutch citizens of Turkish descent to behave themselves or eff off". 

"For me," Gabriel said, "hearing these words in the mouth of a Dutch prime minister was profoundly discombobulating. Was this still the country I'd grown up in? If tolerance was gone, what was left?" 

Oh well, at least the Dutch still ride bicycles and eat mayonnaise with their chips.

You don't say, Aasmah!

Here's something slightly startling (h/t StewGreen at Biased BBC) from this morning's Saturday Live on Radio 4 - an (open) admission of BBC bias: 
AASMAH MIR: I'm really interested to ask you, because I think you're probably the first Republican that we've had in the studio about how you feel about how things are going right now in America. Obviously you have a Republican back in the White House. From your point of view, what's the mood in America? Are people hopeful? Excited? What?  
JIMMY OSMOND: I'm here promoting a tour...No, I'm just trying to change the subject actually.
AASMAH MIR: I know. I am genuinely interested because it's so rare for us to have someone who's a Republican

Compare and contrast

The airport shooting in Paris is receiving contrasting media coverage as usual. 

Whereas Sky News's main report is emphasing that the attacker "a radicalised Muslim on a terror list", BBC News's equivalent report is downplaying this element, sticking with describing the attacker as a "man". 

The Sky article also begins by stressing the violence perpetrated by the attacker whereas the BBC begins with the violence done to him

Here's the Sky news article:

And here's the BBC News article:

The BBC and its use of vox pops

If Amol's tweets partly read like a Lebedev press release and his News at Six report come across as a more balanced but slightly Osborne-tilted piece of journalism, then Newsnight took the opposite approach.

They went instead for the full-on anti-Osborne hatchet job treatment, complete with a sneering introduction from James O'Brien, wacky visual images of Mr Osborne being repeatedly hit on his hard-hatted head by brickbats in the following criticism-heavy report, and then a long list of overwhelmingly one-sided questions from James O'Brien (critical about/sneering about George Osborne) to his two guests (Simon Jenkins and Rachel Johnson). You would think from that, to paraphrase Jonathan Haynes of the Guardian, that it's like JO'B is a left-wing London radio shock-jock rather than a BBC current affairs presenter. 

To illustrate the difference in intent between the BBC journalism of Amol Rajan on the News at Six and the BBC journalism of Newsnight here, I'm just going to set side-by-side the vox pops sections from Mr Osborne's Tatton constituency which were selected by each programme. 

AMOL RAJAN, BBC News at Six: In his Tatton constituency in Cheshire today, this is how some voters reacted:
VOX POP 1: Obviously thrilled for George, remaining in the public spotlight. I guess one just hopes he will continue his constituency duties.
VOX POP 2: To me, he should either be that one or that one. Make one of them your job.
VOX POP 3: I don't have a problem with George Osborne doing that. I thought he was an amazing Chancellor. 
Now compare that to:
DAVID GROSSMAN, Newsnight:  In his constituency, 130 miles away in Cheshire and definitely not in London, the news of the MP's new job was greeted by some with incredulity.
VOX POP 1: What?
BBC REPORTER: He's going to be the editor of the Evening Standard in London. We're asking people you think about that.
VOX POP 1: I don't think very much of it, to be quite honest. He's not a journalist, is it?
BBC REPORTER: But he's going to be the editor of the paper?
VOX POP 1: That's what I mean. He's not a journalist so how on earth can he be an editor?
I don't think anything can be clearer, could it? The first selection of vox pops offered three voices, two supportive of George Osborne, one somewhat more critical, while the selection of vox pops from Newsnight was just one bloke criticising George Osborne, adding to the overall hatchet-job effect. (You can also 'hear' the difference in tone there in the framing remarks from the BBC journalists).

If nothing else that's surely the ultimate proof that the BBC's use of vox pops is not to be trusted.

"Who asked you to defend the position?"

Mr Osborne will succeed Sarah Sands, who's moving to become editor of BBC Radio 4's Today. 

Coincidentally, until December 2016, Amol was the editor of the Lebedev-owned Independent. 

(Small world!)

Amol announced his scoop in a long series of tweets:

2/ Starts mid-May. Awaiting approval of civil service advisory c'ttee.. Succeeds Sarah Sands who's Editor of @BBCR4Today from early May...
3/ Many precedents for mixing politics + journalism, from Bill Deedes to Boris Johnson. GO will do ES in morning, then switch to being MP...
4/ Undoubtedly huge coup for ES, which gets v high profile + calibre leader - and also for ES owner (my former boss) @mrevgenylebedev...
5/ First task for GO: keep constituents happy (v tough). Also needs to pick right fights with government + address ES commercial challenges
6/ Don't see this as a problem for (still vast) political ambitions. His politics - liberal Tory, London roots, globalist - precisely ES...
7/ Key point is he has huge task both editorially AND commercially. Needs to find new revenue streams, possibly through events...
8/ He clearly has connections to do that, incl beyond London. ES still has unique reach and influence in capital. Staff will be galvanised..
9/ GO appointment sends a strong message to advertisers, rest of media industry - and his enemies and allies in the world of politics....
10/ I suspect the PM is about to find revenge is a dish best served in... a mischievous London newspaper with over a million readers...
11/ Osborne to address staff in Standard newsroom shortly after midday. More on my scoop @BBCNews + blog coming up:

This didn't go down too well with a couple of prominent Guardian writers - namely columnist (and Dateline London regular) Nesrine Malik and the paper's technology editor Jonathan Haynes

They couldn't believe what they were reading and strongly criticised Amol Rajan for giving the appearance of acting like a Lebedev press spokesman rather than acting like the BBC's media editor (which he is):

I think they had a point about some of those tweets. 

Amol didn't directly respond to that on Twitter but did re-tweet various tweets praising his scroop and his impartiality. For example:

Now, as Corbyn advisor David Prescott (son of John) tweeted there, Amol Rajan's package on BBC One's News at Six also struck me as reasonably balanced too....

....though note (a) his description of Mr Osborne as the man who "took charge of rebuilding Britain following the financial crash and (b) the pro-Osborne balance of the featured vox pop voters from Tatton: 

NEWSREADER: In a move that's astonished his fellow MPs and outraged some, the former Chancellor, George Osborne, has been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard daily newspaper. Mr Osborne says he'll combine the role with his job as MP for Tatton, as well as at least one other job working for an investment company. Here's our Media Editor, Amol Rajan, who broke the story.
AMOL RAJAN: George Osborne rose from young Tory advisor to Shadow Chancellor at the age of just 33, but six years after taking charge of rebuilding Britain's economy following the financial crash, he was sacked by Theresa May after the Brexit referendum. But stop press! Today he made a career change - or at least half of one. In a shock announcement, Osborne has been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard, a job he will do while continuing to be an MP.
GEORGE OSBORNE: I'm thrilled and excited to be the new editor of the Evening Standard. There are big issues in our world and what people want are authoritative facts, good analysis, great journalism. It's a really important time for good journalism and the Evening Standard is going to provide it. 
AMOL RAJAN: In a few week's time George Osborne will take the editor's chair in this building. He'll arrive at 5am and leave around midday. But I spent years here too when I was editor of the Independent and I can tell you that there are managerial and commercial responsibilities too. Some editors have been known to work up to 100 hours per week. So the question that Standard staff are asking is how do you reconcile being a hard-working editor with being a hard-working MP? In his Tatton constituency in Cheshire today, this is how some voters reacted:
VOX POP 1: Obviously thrilled for George, remaining in the public spotlight. I guess one just hopes he will continue his constituency duties.
VOX POP 2: To me, he should either be that one or that one. Make one of them your job.
VOX POP 3: I don't have a problem with George Osborne doing that. I thought he was an amazing Chancellor. 
AMOL RAJAN: Mr Osborne will be paid substantially less than his predecessor but then perhaps he doesn't need the money. The 45-year-old already earns nearly £75,000 as an MP. He took home over three quarters of a million in the past year for speeches. And he makes £650,000 a year for four days work a month at asset manager Black Rock.
ANDREW NEIL: I thought it was fake news when I heard it to begin with. Why is he doing it? Not for the money, because he's got plenty of money from elsewhere. I can only conclude that he wants to build the Standard into an alternative power base to Theresa May, and in the event of Brexit all going pear-shaped, he will use this power based to launch his attack. 
AMOL RAJAN: Some have said there's a clear conflict of interest here. Others have questioned George Osborne's commitment to Parliament.
JEREMY CORBYN: He is very clever and he is very able but this is ridiculous. How can you edit a daily newspaper, the Evening Standard, which is for London, represent a Cheshire constituency, and be a director of a bank all at the same time? 
AMOL RAJAN: He may be no stranger to the headlines, but George Osborne has limited journalistic experience and credentials. This surprise appointment will intrigue Westminster and readers of the Standard. The likelihood is that he will be a newspaper editor long after he's MP for Tatton. 


Norm in full flow

This week's Newswatch began with an interesting complaint, prompted by a characteristic piece of arm-waving hyperbole from the BBC's Norman Smith:
SAMIRA AHMED: First, how significant is it in news terms when politicians listen to criticism and rethink controversial decisions? On Wednesday the Prime Minister announced the scrapping of the plans announced in the Budget to raise national insurance payments for millions of self-employed workers. Norman Smith described this "u-turn" to Sophie Raworth like this:
NORMAN SMITH: Sophie, let's just get this in perspective of grand government u-turns: This is a full-blown, howling, screeching, Italian Riviera, hairpin-bend, smoke-bleeding-from-the-tyres sort of u-turn! In terms of the speed, just seven days ago Philip Hammond announced this tax rise. And the scale of it! It is a complete abandonment of a key tax rise. Not a tweak, not a nudge, not a review - it's out the window!
SAMIRA AHMED: But some of you thought there was too much relish and shock over a simple change of mind, including Robin Petherbridge: 
ROBIN PETHERBRIDGE: Politicians get all excited about policy u-turns because they love finding fault with each other. You people in the media love them because you have the same mindset, and also you can't resist a bit of conflict. But most of us are actually quite happy when politicians admit they have made a mistake, and take action to correct it. It would be good if your reporting could better reflect the mindset of the public, rather than that of politicians.
I'm not quite so sure about this one. 

Robin Petherbridge clearly has a sensible 'real world' point. We surely do all like people who change their minds when they get something wrong, and a politician who changes their mind in such circumstances might be regarded in a positive light by many ordinary voters - if they are perceived to be doing so with good grace.

But the media and politicians and enthusiastic followers of party politics all love a good 'u-turn' story, and have done for since time immemorial. To try and convince them that a 'u-turn' is a sign of something good (individually, politically) is surely a lost cause. It's always a sign of weakness to them. It's the smell of blood. The pack always rides out in full force, and the reporting (including the BBC's reporting) inevitably has a strong 'Tally-ho!' flavour about it - as with Norman Smith's highly excited contribution here. 

I don't think I'm too bothered about that though. Should I be? Does it matter? Does making politicians feel deeply unwilling to change their minds do harm or good to our political system?


Among this week's big BBC bias controversies has been the following tweet:

It certainly didn't get a favourable response on Twitter (or elsewhere), with some calling it "a new low" for the BBC to even be asking that question in that way. 

Samira Ahmed also used Twitter to canvass opinions, adding her own in the process:

Update (14:00): The BBC Asian Network has apologised:

Further update (20:00): This isn't the first time that the BBC Asian Network has posed a "provocative" question. This. for example, was asked in the days immediately after the brutal 'religiously motivated' murder of Glasgow Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah by a Sunni Muslim (who claimed Mr Shah had "disrespected Islam"), and days before leaflets were found at a South London mosque calling for the slaughter of Ahmadis:

Further update (19/3, 11:30): You may have missed this yesterday (I did), but the BBC News website published an article about the BBC's apology. I came across it by chance just now.

John Humphrys gets into trouble (twice)

Catching up (and going back in time)...

Listening to last week's Feedback (i.e. the 10 March edition) reminded me that there were two other storms about BBC bias the week before last (other than Dame Jenni Murray and Laura K), both involving John Humphrys.

Feedback only tackled one of them though.

The one it didn't cover concerned the rage of Corbynistas at JH's interview with Labour shadow education secretary Angela Rayner on Wednesday 8 March. They accused him of haranguing her, interrupting her too much, trying to put words in her mouth and being patronising.

That's the kind of complaint which holds no water though unless it can be proven to be part of a trend of bias across a large number of interviews - unless it is truly outrageous bias.

Moreover, that kind of one-off complaint tends to come from partisans who don't like their side being given a hard time and, therefore, doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

A week or so earlier Nigel Farage had received the full John Humphrys treatment too, being 'belittled', getting asked the same question again and again, being interrupted incessantly and being led to 'confess' to something. It was all personal stuff. A one-off complaint about that which didn't set it in the context of years of such interviews would merit the same dismissive treatment too.

The BBC would rightly reject both complaints and claim that the Today veteran treats all sides equally badly. They might even say that John will be John (to borrow a phrase from Tony Blair).

And they could very well be right about that. He does seem to like to argue with anyone and everyone.

The row the last-but-one Feedback did cover concerned Tuesday 7 March's edition of TodayJohn Humphrys was interviewing Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley about terrorism. The following exchange took place:
Mark Rowley: We know it was extreme right-wing related issues which led to the tragic murder of Jo Cox not that long ago. So...
John Humphrys (interrupting): So,,.in that case, wasn't that just a very deeply disturbed man really? Mentally ill, wasn't he? It slightly muddies the water, doesn't it, when we talk about that as terrorism? It was a murder, wasn't it?
Mark Rowley: That's not my classification. That was the view of the court and the sentencing. That's the conclusion they came to, 
The featured listeners to Feedback condemned JH for "inaccuracy", "sloppy journalism", and "muddying the waters" himself over the issue of Islamist v far-right terrorism by (apparently) equating terrorism purely with Muslims and (apparently) dismissing the white supremacist aspect.

He was, essentially, being accused of behaving like some of the commenters I saw on some right-wing blogs in the aftermath of Mrs Cox's murder.

Roger Bolton then played a typical (and very brief) BBC response from the Today programme, basically asserting that the interview was fine and had nothing wrong with it whatsoever:
Listeners expect robust and challenging questioning and John was establishing whether the murder of Jo Cox should be equated to other recent terrorist acts. Mark Rowley made it clear that the view of the court and sentencing was that Jo Cox's murder was an act of terrorism.
Roger Bolton said that Feedback had then asked listeners (doubtless via social media) for their reaction to the BBC's official defence, and the word that kept cropping up in their responses was "disingenuous". Further condemnation of John Humphrys followed.

Those critics of John Humphrys were correct. And those critics of the BBC's response to these complaints about John Humphrys were also correct. John had got it wrong, he was muddying the waters (however accidentally), and the BBC was being deeply disingenuous in their defence of him.

They should have just admitted he got it wrong and moved on.

The fact that they couldn't even bring themselves to do that speaks volumes about the BBC's deeply ingrained defensiveness.

Love After Love

Last night's Newsnight ended with a tribute to Derek Walcott - a reading of one of his poems by Linton Kwesi Johnson. 

It's not a poem I knew but, reading around about it, it appears to be popular with mental health charities and those suffering from depression. Its message is that we need to get along with ourselves.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Brief round-up

The political earthquakes during the last few days have been too numerous to mention. Philip Hammond’s screeching U-turn, for which Norman Smith provided the sound-effects, Nicola Sturgeon’s annoyingly ill-timed second referendum announcement, eagle-eyed Laura Kuenssberg’s percipient warning of the Tories’ broken manifesto pledge, which propelled everyone’s NICs into a twist.  

We don’t automatically take a negative view of everything we see on the BBC, and I thought the item on Victoria Derbyshire’s morning show about Alexander Blackman’s conviction for murder being reduced to manslaughter was interesting and balanced. I thought the discussion between ‘heart’ (the emotional statements made outside the court) and ‘head’ (former soldier, author and barrister Patrick Hennessey in the studio) was helpful and thought-provoking. Victoria Derbyshire read out a very critical (of her and her show) message from a viewer, and said to the camera crew, as a rather contrived aside: “stop laughing”, which I have to grudgingly admit was quite amusing. I understand the topic was covered in a Panorama, which I missed, but here is the BBC’s web report.

Here at ITBB however, we’ve been inexplicably silent.

Oh well. One thing I did watch the other day on The Daily Politics was Rod Liddle, their daily guest, reduced to as much laughter as his smoker’s cough would allow by a feminist. (I think that's what she is.) It occurred towards the end of a long overdue discussion about universities, no-platforming and free speech. 

The age-old argument about freedom of speech has reared its head again, currently centred around academia after a spate of politically correct no-platformings and safe-space issues has threatened to undermine the entire university ethos.  A place of ideas and debate.  (funny that Andrew Neil hadn’t heard of Maryam Namazie - I always assume people like him know all about such things) 

The funniest bit was when Rod Liddle found himself sitting next to author and commentator Kaite Welsh who said that true freedom of speech involves accepting no-platforming as one of its own consequences. Rod Liddle found that hilarious. As did I, although I do see that there is more than a grain of truth in there. Still funny though.

Interviewing as an art form

I’m not sure if the BBC deliberately assigns anything to do with the Middle East to Mishal Husain, and if so, whether it’s despite or because of her infamous “Homemade contraptions / How many Israelis” interview. 
(I know Sarah Montague sometimes tackles this topic too.) 

How many Israelis have died?

It’s obvious that very few people in the mainstream media are experts on the Israeli / Palestinian situation, but it’s quite clear that they take a view on it nevertheless. 
“I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” is a much mocked sentiment made about the naive by the intelligentsia, but it sums up the media’s approach to the Israeli /Palestinian conflict

The folks in the BBC’s complaints department aren’t the sharpest tools, but if they have one thing going for them, it’s self-confidence and the benefit of standard customer-services training. That’s two things, sorry. 
They’ve undoubtedly learned to express concern for the complainant’s feelings and regret for any offence caused before launching off on a painstaking explanation as to why the complaint was misguided. 

We wrote about the interview in question here, but I hid it in one of my ‘multiple topic’ contributions, perhaps to the detriment of its due exposure.

Let’s remind ourselves.
“Although the BBC mentioned it on their website, (in the above running order) Mishal Husain didn’t make much of the fact that Zoabi is an Israeli Arab and an MP in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. She certainly didn’t tell listeners that Zoabi is opposed to the ‘two state solution’ (she wants a one-state (Arab) solution) and that she opposes Israel being recognised as a Jewish state. Despite the fact that as an MP she is hugely benefiting from its democratic system, she is ideologically opposed to Israel’s existence. How mad is that?[…]Haneen Zoabi was given plenty of space to express herself without let or hindrance. “What will happen if Trump moves the embassy to Jerusalem? Mishal asked hopefully. “Will it be a red line?” 

Mishal did interrupt a particularly long rant to ask Zoabi what she thought about settlements being “not the only issue”,  and citied other issues, which (she said)  ‘Israel sees’ as additional ‘obstacles to peace’, namely: The status of Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s security.  

Issues effortlessly glossed over by Mishal, but hugely complex, contentious and nearly always misrepresented. 

“650 units is ‘a crime against humanity’ “ said Zoabi, “It’s a war crime”.
"If you want peace, you want justice, and you must make Israel accountable to its crime” she opined. Another lengthy rant unchallenged, including the customary Palestinian rewriting of history and imaginative interpretations of various wrongdoings of the state that so generously provides her with the opportunity to spread anti-Israel propaganda to those that hunger for such a thing, Palestinian intransigence, rejectionism, incitement, violence and visceral hatred of Jews didn't get a look-in.

“In short, Haneen Zoabi was given a completely unfettered platform from which to spout her predictably one-sided propaganda (in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as victims and Arab belligerence and Palestinian terrorism are erased) in an obviously more sympathetic environment than was evident in the previous day’s interview. 

The fact that Mishal Husain failed to challenge even one of Zoabi’s many falsehoods means that the BBC cannot possibly claim that this interview was intended to meet its public purpose remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.”

BBCWatch submitted a complaint about the interview, specifically stating that a number of Zoabi’s falsehoods remained unchallenged.

After the obligatory apology for the delay in ‘coming back’ and ‘understanding’ your hurt feelings, they proceed with the business of dismissing the complaint. 

  • First, a reminder of the aim of the interview. It was primarily about Donald Trump (thus sidelining any inaccuracies and falsehoods to a position of secondary importance, or as incidental.)
  • “The interviewee spoke quickly and passionately”  “In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest….”  Interrupting passionate and fast-speaking Israeli spokespersons never seems to present much of a problem though.
  • “A contrasting view,” should the listeners be in need of one, was provided the previous day, so “Listeners can judge for the different arguments for themselves.”

It wasn’t a case of different arguments though, was it? It was a stream of falsehoods, which the BBC did not challenge or rectify.  
“Interviewing is an art form rather than a simple science,” is a patronising defence for the artists of the BBC complaints department to bring in, when surely facts are considerably more of a science than an art form. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Belated catching-up

Progressive Class system.

His forthcoming book “The Road to Somewhere: The populist revolt and the future of politics”  was plugged on Start the Week yesterday morning. 
Goodhart looks down from heaven at all mankind. Much as he tries to hide it, his approach to the “Somewheres’ sounds patronising. The peasants are revolting, and they wreaked their revenge by by voting Brexit.

My impression was of a simplified analysis that conveniently put us into two groups, by implication ‘good’ and ‘bad’, which came across as heavy-handed and insulting. Too neat and tidy, and smug. Then someone - possibly by Andrew Marr - boosted that impression by casually remarking that “Leave” voters tend to approve of Capital punishment.

I freely admit that I may have misunderstood the whole thing. Correct me if I’ve got it wrong, but I thought David Goodhart sees the “Somewheres” as parochial, narrow-minded and bigoted, part of ‘the hang-em-and-flog-em brigade’, whose brains are addled by ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar.  
Mind you, he did concede that extremism in the  “Somewheres” only represents a small minority of the Somewheres. (In other words extremist ‘Somewheres’ are Nothing To Do With common ‘Somewheres’)
The “Anywhere” lot, on the other hand, are the open-minded liberal elite, the ‘anywhere I hang my hat, that’s my home’ brigade. They the are right-minded globalists who love adventure and are open to new ideas and dismissive of the old; they are the moral-equivalence-mongers.

‘Anywheres’ and ‘Somewheres’ sound like progressive euphemistic terms for old fashioned class snobbishness.


Not newsworthy. Part 1.

Much of the most recent bias is that of omission. The OMG Daily Mail featured a couple of tales about you-know-what and you-know-who which the BBC hasn’t covered. A story about foreign aid funding incitement against Jewish Israelis appeared in that newspaper two days running. 
The readers’ comments were divided, perhaps between the anywheres and the somewheres, but one couldn’t be sure which was which. 

The other Daily Mail story was more upbeat, and the same story was also featured in the Times. It was a ‘picture’ story about orthodox ‘Stamford Hill’ Jews celebrating Purim and was quite jolly. Ultra conservative parents were snapped with their children who were dressed up in elaborate fancy dress. Quite a sight. 

The BBC wasn’t interested. However, elsewhere it’s almost as if a lightbulb has suddenly been switched on. Oh look, here’s something we hadn’t noticed till now.

We await,  with anticipation, the media’s celebrations for the Balfour centenary. Hopefully not influenced by this. Warning; contains traces of Robert Fisk.


In fact there’s a rather embarrassing bandwagon emerging. The antisemitism bandwagon. People who were the most vocal “critics of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians” and the most ardent defenders of Islamic immigration and apologists for Hamas and so on, like, say Owen Jones, have started making statements about antisemitism, and how they’re against all forms of racism. 

Jeremy Corbyn is on board, as are a sizeable portion of the Labour Party. It’s rife in the US too. Think Linda Sarsour whose recent concerns about antisemitism can only have been adopted to mask the antisemitism within her anti-Israel activism. 
There has also been a mini explosion of genuinely non-political Israel-themed reporting. We’re talking foodie programmes and articles, although the Times piece featured a book based on Israeli research rather than the research itself. 

Taking the ultra cynical view, as is my wont, it could be that a certain section of the media has belatedly woken up to the fact that the disproportionate focus on all things Islam (Eid, Ramalamadingdam, the Hajj, the hijab, etc) was beginning to look conspicuously propagandistic. They’ve realised that if they must equate antisemitism with Islamophobia and vice versa every time one or the other comes up, then they have no excuse for ignoring Purim or, for that matter failing to interest themselves in the wide ranging achievements of the Israelis. 


Not newsworthy Part 2.

This is pretty shocking by any scale of bias-by-omission. It’s yet another occasion when glorification of a murderer is played down. 
Compare the (neutral) BBC’s report with (anti-Israel) Al Jazeera’s . The two reports appear to have got mixed up.


Still catching up.

Recently I’ve been reading reports by Jonathan Hoffman on Harry’s Place and David Collier on his blog ‘Beyond The Great Divide’ about the appalling events in “Israel Apartheid week”  (I think it’s a fortnight now) an annual event hosted by various universities.

These talks take the form of one speaker or a panel and include a Q & A session. They do not appreciate criticism or any sort of critical questioning. If some of the speeches are fact-free and fanciful it doesn’t matter because we’re in a post-factual era. Only feelings count, and the sort of feelings at Israel Apartheid events should be evident from the title.


Talking of antisemitism, there were a couple of threads on Guido’s blog last week, one about Jenny Tonge and Jackie Walker having tea together.

and the other  about more of Jackie Walker's insights (“Jewish media pattern’)


They say no-one reads the comments on Guido Fawkes’s blog. But surely that can’t be 100% true! Last week I read the comments on the thread entitled “Budget Bloodbath”. 
For some reason this comment struck me:

Tom Collins 
“We have over 3 million muslims. 50% of the men and 75% of the women, are signed on at the Job Seekers Centres. Cost of their Benefits = £14 Billion a year.There are probably 600,000 Somalis living in the UK.80% live in Social Housing compared to 17% of the indigenous population. Over 21% of muslims have never worked.. These facts, and others, could drive one to drink. The future cost of this massive, uncontrolled immigration is virtually unimaginable.”

I don’t know if Mr. Collins’s figures are correct, but I did follow a link from Not a Sheep’s blog which appeared around the same time. It led to a covert video from 2009 filmed surreptitiously at the Darul Uloom school, which I hoped to paste into this blog for your edification. But it’s been taken down and I don’t really blame them. I wonder if the ofsted inspectors are mad or blind.
“A person who’s got less than a fistful of beard, then you should stay away from him” 
said the teenage Imam, randomly kicking pupils as he wandered past the children sitting in rows on the floor
Thanks, I certainly will. And a person who’s got more than a fistful of beard and a dress, for sure.

Again, at the same time as the above - possibly on the same day - I came across a piece via a link on our sidebar to an item on the ITV website.

“A new report says measures to tackle terrorism and extremism are jeopardising efforts to promote integration in Britain.
Government initiatives such as Prevent and Channel risk "fomenting fear and resentment" among people from national and ethnic minorities, a European watchdog claims.”
 I was going to paste the whole item into this, but you’ll get the drift from a few excerpts.
“The report highlights Prevent duty as a problem, the policy was brought in during 2015 and requires state bodies such as schools and councils to report people they suspect of being at risk of early radicalisation.
The Advisory Committee "observes that under these programmes liability has been shifted to local authorities and in particular to teachers, to detect early radicalisation," the paper says. 

The report criticises the fact teachers and lecturers were not given the "necessary competence" and putting them at risk of "over-reacting for fear of breaking the law.
Prevent has repeatedly attracted controversy, with critics labelling it "toxic" and calling for it to be scrapped.”
The study said: "Overall, persons belonging to ethnic minorities are in a better place in reducing educational gaps, but challenges remain in relation to higher levels of unemployment, low wages, underemployment, worse health status and access to care, high levels of poverty, low levels of English language knowledge and inadequate political representation.”
(emphasis added.)
Tom Collin’s assertions look quite credible now. Surely it’s those European watchdogs that need watching.
A European watchdog that can’t even watch an ethnic minority that’s busily fomenting hate and resentment against ‘the unbelievers’ since well before the Prevent strategy was a gleam in the eye of its creator must be as useless as one of those chocolate teapots that people keep referring to.

If we’re afraid to provoke enclaves of hostile citizens by interfering with their hostility to us, we’re stymied. We’ll just have to stand back and wait till enough “fear and resentment” are fomented to ignite  civil war. 
Meanwhile the BBC and much of the MSM are flooding the air waves with Good Muslim stuff while waiting for ‘integration’ to happen, which they hope to bring about by turning a blind eye to schools like Darul Uloom, ignoring the antisemitic teaching in aid-funded UNRWA and PA  schools and downplaying the glorification of Palestinian terrorists. 
Unlike my co-blogger I live in a self-employed micro bubble. Everyone round here is self-employed apart from, say, schoolteachers and the G.P. And I’m not too sure if he isn’t, come to think. 
Meddling with NICs didn’t sound like good news but the devil’s in the detail and they say some will be better off. Maybe Phillip Hammond will be forced to make a u-turn when possible on the long and winding road towards our fiscal destination.


The other day I read an essay about how to construct essays. I thought it might help. 
(The introduction should contain a clear indication of the proposed conclusion. The argument plus a counter-argument should be sandwiched between the introduction and the conclusion.)  Show your workings-out. Or make ‘em up and stick ‘em in afterwards. 

What if you reach the end without a conclusion?  I’ll never be able to write properly constructed essays.