Monday, 25 March 2019

Open Thread

Apologies if things are a little quiet hereabouts for a while, but please pour yourself another large glass at the BBC licence fee payer's expense and settle down with your favourite slippers for the latest open thread.


The Hollow Men

Anthony Zurcher?

T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men ends with his most famous lines of poetry: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."  

The Hollow Men of Lord Hall's mainstream media must have been thinking something similar when the news of the Mueller report's findings came through last night. 

The New York Times at least didn't try to sugar the pill for its readers this morning: 

So is this going to provoke some urgent soul-searching on the mainstream media's part? 

I'm very intrigued to see what Paul Wood writes about it next. He's invested so much in ever-so-impartially giving the claims credence that his take on what went wrong with much of the mainstream media reporting on the subject - including the BBC's reporting and his own reporting - would be riveting to read.

Will such soul-searching take place?

I turn, as we all surely must do, to the beating heart of the BBC - the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson. He's surely the weather vane for the BBC here.

And - alas, not unsurprisingly- we see him reaching for straws and rolling on regardless. 

  • "Being (apparently) cleared of collusion with Russia may help Pres Donald Trump win re-election.  But Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal says even if there’s not enough evidence to prosecute him for criminal conspiracy, questions remain over whether Trump has been compromised."
  • "Anne Applebaum, Washington Post: Russia made extensive efforts, through hacking emails as well as information warfare, to help Trump win in 2016. Members of the Trump campaign knew this in advance. Trump publicly called on Russia to release information that would hurt Clinton."

I suspect he's going to be highly representative of Lord Hall's mainstream media. 

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Lord Hall says calling the BBC 'mainstream media' is "an assault on freedom of expression"

The lordly Tony Hall, Dee-Gee of the Bee-Bee-Cee, turned into Mr. Boombastic last week (as Scooby's friend Shaggy would doubtless say). 

Giving the Lord Speaker's Lecture on Wednesday last week, he told people like us to stop using the phrase "mainstream media".

Why? Because "it’s an assault on freedom of expression": 
The phrase, “mainstream media”, is now a term of abuse - used by people of all political persuasions. Traditional journalism is painted as part of the problem rather than the solution. This really worries me. 
Ultimately, it’s an assault on freedom of expression. And our duty to seek out the facts - without fear or favour - no matter how inconvenient they might prove to be. 
I think he's being complacent. Indeed, maybe Sue and myself should set up a side-blog called Is the BBC complacent? (with an especially redundant question mark).

The way traditional broadcast outlets, all mainly employing like-minded people from similar higher socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, feed in packs on so many stories in barely distinguishable ways (from Trump to Brexit), like the clique to end all cliques, makes for an unhealthily complacent echo chamber where the likes of Lord Hall can feel at ease but from which many, many people feel deeply disconnected. That clique needs a name, and 'mainstream media' does the trick beautifully

It may not be a comfortable term for the likes of Lord Hall, but by disconcerting him - and his like - it's definitely doing its job. 

And, of course, it's possible to flip his hypocrisy and claim that it's "an assault on freedom of expression" to try and stop people like us from using resonant phrases like 'mainstream media'. 

Is Lord Hall so wrapped up in his BBC comfort blanket that he just can't see any of this?

Well, tough luck Tony. The phrase 'mainstream media' is here to stay. And as they say in mainstream American movies, 'Deal with it!'. 

Now, who to believe?

The Tories also took umbrage at this Newsnight-inspired item:

The Government replied:

Yet again our healthcare authorities have to correct really irresponsible scaremongering over Brexit. Last one I saw was Gary Lineker. This time it’s... the BBC.
(though as someone replied, "If Leo Varadkar IS the EU then Gary Lineker IS the BBC").

So who's right - Newsnight or the DHSC? Well, I'm quite unable to say (not being an expert on such matters), but I can say that it's not unusual (as we know) for the BBC, including Newsnight, to go with alarming/alarmist warnings about Brexit as main stories.

In passing, however, Newsniffer shows that it took the Newsnight reporters in question - Ben Chu & Marianna Spring - nearly 24 hours to get their main talking head's job description right. For the first 21 hours of their BBC News website report she was identified as "Saffron Cordery, the chief executive of NHS Providers" until they edited the piece and she became "Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers". That's a long time to correct something as simple as that.

Another curious Newsnight fact here (just as an aside, and while I'm on) is that both reporters - Ben and Marianna - came to the BBC via left-leaning papers, namely The Independent and The Guardian respectively.  (Someone with a name like 'Marianna Spring' just had to have worked at The Guardian!}. Will that manifest itself in their reporting?

A sob story swallowed by the BBC

BBC image

So what have I missed this past week?

Well, for starters various Conservative MPs took umbrage with the BBC after an interview on the Today programme with a headmistress from South London where she claimed to have cleaned the toilets and served in the canteen at her school because of budget cuts. Various newspapers, however, reported that the school’s accounts showed that the cleaning budget rose by £27,000 in the year 2017-18 and that her own salary rose by at over £10,000. And when she told The Sun (in response to such points) that the pupil population of the school has increased significantly since 2017, The Sun looked at the official figures and found that the school had fewer pupils in 2018 than the year before. It's quite a story!

Now, the BBC defended the Today programme, saying "We are confident this interview complies with our editorial guidelines", and adding that she was questioned and pressed. And, in fairness to the BBC here, how could her interviewer know that she was being economical with the truth if - as happened - she insisted what she was saying was true?

Here's a Twitter exchange on the matter: 
James Cleverly MP: She forgot to mention, when telling the story about how money was so tight that she was forced to clean toilets in her school, that her cleaning budget has risen 90% in a year - and she's had a £10k pay rise.
Alex Deane: I remember this interview. It really stuck with me because after she asserted that the sky was falling in it was put to her that funding is actually up. Her only reply, which the presenters naturally found unrebuttable, was “I am not making this up.” Well...
Melindi Scott: Radio 4 Today treated her like a messiah.
Alex Deane: They did at least ask her the question. She effectively asserted “it is true, as I am saying so.” Without further particulars it would have been very difficult for the interviewer to out and out call her a liar.
Melindi Scott: The point at which she was discussing the funding of her school theatre should possibly have rung alarms.
I agree with Alex. The interviewer couldn't really call her out.

However, if we can excuse Today, what about the BBC News website? 

The story is still up: 

A head teacher says she has had to scrub the toilets, clean the school and work in the canteen because of school funding shortages on schools. 
Siobhan Lowe, head of Tolworth Girls' School in Surbiton, south London, spoke of the embarrassment of not being able to fund support for her pupils. 
She says she has already sold off land, cut subjects and a deputy head post to stay afloat, as budgets tightened.
And Newssniffer shows that her tale was made the main angle on the story for the BBC after that Today interview - with the headline changing from Heads angry at minister's school funding 'snub' to Head teacher talks of cleaning loos amid funds shortfall. Even odder, seven days later the headline changed again to Head teacher talks of cleaning toilets in funding shortage - the only change made to the article in that final version.

So why hasn't the BBC website updated this article to put the points found out by the newspapers about the 'toilet-cleaning head teacher'? Why didn't the BBC check the facts of the story themselves, instead of just regurgitating it whole? 


The cacophony of voices all jabbering at the same time which erupts every time I click on the home page of our homely blog at the moment may seem deeply irritating - and it ruined my attempts to enjoy that Rolling Stones video I posted earlier - but it's almost as though it was meant to be, written in the stars, or as if we intentionally designed it (which we didn't') as a artistically magnificent metaphor to sum up the hapless state of Parliament at the moment or the babble of similar-minded voices being incessantly poured into our heads by the BBC at any moment. Or whatever.

To compliment it, here's some Charles Ives (which echoes the effect to perfection) as various military bands march past each other playing different tunes at the same time:

Of course, none of you will ever manage to listen to this wonderfully haywire music while browsing the blog given those voices endlessly chattering away. 

As far as conceptual art goes Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have nothing on Is the BBC biased?

Careless Whisper

Agnes Poirier

Denis MacShane: Is it true that on Andrew Marr both Emily Maitlis and Tom Newton Dunn ignored in their paper review the tiny fact of 1 million filling central London? This is part of prob of whole London elite media and BBC handling of Brexit/EU.
Tom Newton Dunn: No it isn't. You could try watching it before tweeting? Less fun I appreciate.
Quantum Tarantino: It was certainly discussed. But it was the French lady who emphasised it, seemed less so from you and EM. Only thing AM said was to remark on the witty signs.
Rob Burley (to Quantum): So what!!!? We are now examining every micro exchange in the hunt for bias. When the show had references to the march and questions on it throughout. It’s bananas.
Andrew Marr (to Denis): C’mon Denis. It was in the very top of the programme, extensively discussed in the paper review and mentioned in every single interview. This BBC bashing is just getting absurd. I’d expect better if you.
Rob Burley (to Andrew): Not sure why, it happens every day.
Denis MacShane (to Andrew): I was told only Agnes Poirier emphasised it in contrast to EM and TND. If untrue and the two Brits focused on march I apologise. Yday BBC 17h50 TV news treated a million marching in London as same weight as a few dozen w Farage in Midlands.
Iain Dale (to Denis): Why do you tweet such utter bollocks when you clearly didn’t watch it?
Rob Burley (to Iain): Good question and rather well put.

Actually, the funny thing is that Denis MacShane was broadly correct about the Agnes Poirier/Emily Maitlis/Tom Newton Dunn matter (in that neither of the latter discussed the march), but I've absolutely no idea at all where he got his last claim from (the one about "Yday BBC 17h50 TV news treated a million marching in London as same weight as a few dozen w Farage in Midlands") as it's entirely false. You can still check for yourselves here for a few more hours:

You'll see that the Nigel Farage protest didn't even get a mention in that bulletin and that nearly half the entire BBC 17h50 TV news was given over to the 'PV' march. So did Denis trust what he read elsewhere on Twitter about it without watching it for himself (just like with this morning's Andrew Marr show)? If so, Rob would not approve. And he'd approve even less if Denis simply made it up!

Ah, more 'complaints from both sides' fun!

You Can't Always Get What You Want

First Witch: When shall we three meet again? 
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second WitchWhen the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won. 
Rob Burley, the BBC's head of live political programmes, has been engaged in intense hand-to-hand combat again this morning. Here he is taking on screenwriter and director Paul Dornan.

(I think it's safe to say that no one has persuaded Paul to change his mind here):

Rob Burley: How come the Marr paper review is covering the march yesterday? I thought we were trying to suppress it!!
Paul Dornan: For about 20 secs. Constantly trivialised to be a chat about ironic placards. No conversation about the substance of why 1 million people were asking for on the streets. Nothing at all to boast about Rob. Followed by another 10 mins of Ian Duncan Smith talking unicorns again. For the 1000th time. While the People Vote position got no one. On the day after an earthquake march. Are you proud of the work you do Rob? You shouldn’t be. It’s utter rubbish.
Louise Bayne: But why isn't it in the news? You cannot defend BBC news choice to focus elsewhere. Where are the aerìal screenshots? Where are speeches?
Rob Burley (to Louise): They were on yesterday. When it happened. How long should we run it in the news? Two days? A week? A month?
Rob Burley (to Paul): “While the People’s Vote get no one”. Apart from Nicola Sturgeon who is on the telly now.
Paul Dornan: Are you saying she’s a representative of the People’s Vote campaign? She’s not. She’s on talking about Scotland. Quite rightly.
Rob Burley: She was one of the main speakers at the People’s Vote march yesterday. And she’s talking about it in this interview. But clearly as you are so invested in your position the truth is not the point here.
Paul Dornan: Yes. She spoke. But she’s not a representative of that campaign. You’re so invested in giving an open platform to Brexiteers you utterly fail in your duty to hear from one of the leaders of the biggest national protest in history. That’s dismal journalism by any standards.
Rob Burley: This is one of the more ridiculous tweets I have ever seen. Apparently Nicola Sturgeon - as featured at the People’s Vote rally - is not sufficiently Remain for Paul so therefore the BBC is biased.
Paul Dornan: Rob, are you saying that she - in an interview rightly focused on Scotland- somehow encapsulates the whole people’s Vote position and spoke in total for an event she didn’t organise? Is that your editorial logic? Because that is truly ridiculous.
William Kedjanyi (to Paul): No, but as a supporter of Remaining and a key speaker, she surely acts as a representative does she not?
Paul Dornan (to William): Not if the majority of the interview-which occurred before the march- quickly moves onto other matters, no.
Shaun (to Paul): Paul, who would be acceptable to you as one of the the leaders?
Paul Dornan (to Shaun): Someone from that campaign. Or Andrew Adonis. Or Femi Oluwole. Or Mike Galsworthy. I don’t know these people BTW. Just want a passionate and articulate advocate interested In discussing the issue a million people marched on.
Shaun (to Paul): Lord Adonis, Femi and Mike would all, I'm sure, happily do it but I'm also sure they'd acknowledge the superiority of the elected first minister of a country and leader of a party who clearly back the PV solution. The only person with similar credentials is Caroline Lucas.
Paul Dornan (to Shaun): Absolutely. Except in that actual interview the people’s vote barely got one question. Instead Marr asked about revocation. Brexit in Scotland. No Deal Funding. And a second Scottish independence referendum. In no way was that an interview about the PV. It just wasn’t.
Shaun (to Paul): It was much more important and effective that rather than the friendly puff piece with a sympathetic voice you seem to want they put it to the Brexit Sec and followed up with more questions to force it against its detractors, which they absolutely did.
Paul Dornan (to Shaun): I didn’t ask for a puff piece. Just a true advocate being given proper time to make a clear, well informed case on this issue. Which can then be questioned and interrogated. All we got was something v different. Ah well. Sadly not surprised.


Interestingly, despite what Paul says, the 'People's Vote' was discussed for more than 20 secs during the Andrew Marr paper review. It was closer to one-and-a-half minutes. Plus the Nicola Sturgeon interview began with her talking about the 'PV', the Keir Starmer interview devoted its first four minutes to Labour's position on the 'PV' and the issue was even raised with Stephen Barclay. But, yes, there was no Lord Adonis or Femi or Mike Goldsworthy, so Paul remains dissatisfied. Cue Mick Jagger & Co:

"The trouble is that virtually every element of Chris Morris’s ‘Reality Check’ was either flat out false or based on a seriously incompetent use of statistics"

A chicken

You may well have already seen this but there's a fascinating piece from Nottingham University Business School's Professor David Paton, co-editor of the International Journal of the Economics of Business, at Briefings for Brexit headlined Fact Checking the BBC Fact Checkers

This is a thoroughgoing debunking of BBC Reality Check's Chris Morris, talking his statements on the Today programme of 15th March one by one. 

Being no expert myself on the subject of UK/US records on food health, I'm not competent to definitely rule who's right, except to say that David convinced me completely! 

The piece begins:
Last Friday, the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 did a “Fact Check” on the US Ambassador’s recent claim that US had some of the lowest food poisoning rates in the world. 
Presenter Justin Webb interviewed BBC Reality Check correspondent, Chris Morris, who reported that they had investigated the issue and that the statistics were clear: rates of Campylobacter illnesses in the US were 4 times higher than those in the UK, whilst Salmonella rates were 20 times higher.  The Ambassador was, we were told “flat wrong” and no room for doubt was left.  Apart from the embarrassment to Woody Johnson, the piece was clearly designed to cast doubt on the desirability of the post-Brexit US-UK trade deal. 
The trouble is that virtually every element of Chris Morris’s ‘Reality Check’ was either flat out false or based on a seriously incompetent use of statistics.
and ends: 
I have raised these issues with Chris Morris and the Today programme and also with one of the authors of the BBC Reality Check article on which Chris Morris seems to have based most of his reporting.  The author has acknowledged in an email to me that the article contained errors and has agreed to do some re-writes.  That is welcome but does not address the fact that viewers of the Today programme were given a completely misleading impression of the facts as well as that the US Ambassador’s reputation was unjustifiably damaged. 
To date, I have not had a response from Chris Morris or Today and so I have now submitted an official complaint.  Let’s see how the BBC respond.
Please read it for yourselves (if you haven't done so already) and good luck to Prof. Paton with his official complaint.

Looking at Newssniffer, it seems that the author of the BBC website article hasn't made the promised re-writes yet, despite David's piece being published on Wednesday. That will also be worth watching.

A Masonic headshake

Well, at least the BBC can't be accused of not covering or suppressing discussion of that pro-EU march yesterday.



Phil Atherton: screenshot of the ‘top stories’ on my BBC News App at 8am. Did the march happen?
Rob Burley, BBC: Yes, it happened yesterday and was lead story all day. What is the new aspect of the march that should be in the news today? Of course it will be discussed but that’s not the same as a new development.
Paul Mason, ex-BBC: Why is Barbara Streisand more important than the political aftermath of the biggest demo in living memory? It's the BBC's flawed and opaque editorial judgement that deems mass peaceful protest of only fleeting significance. If a Royal died would you take that off p1 the next day?
Rob Burley: The aftermath of the march features prominently in the TOP STORY on the site today about the position of the Prime Minister. It just doesn’t have a story of its own because, unlike the Streisand story which has changed, the march finished yesterday and has still finished.

Additional tweet:
Rob Burley: Here’s the BBC apparently trying to suppress discussion of the march yesterday (which led all day) by including it in the top story this morning. Honestly, the desire to take offence and find fault without even checking what we are doing is exhausting.

Regarded by some

‘What MPs had seen in this Prime Minister is pretty much at every stage she had given way to a group of people regarded by some as extremists in the ERG group. She has listened to them, she has done what they wanted her to do, now she is paying the price for that turning on all the other MPs...’
Oh dear.

The Sunday Rod

It's always a pleasure to start a Sunday morning with a little prose from Rod Liddle. Here are a couple of quotes from his article today:
Rod Liddle: "It is always a pleasure trying to work out what Kirsty Wark is telling us."
Rod Liddle: "BBC Radio 4, a network that now consists almost entirely of middle-class women moaning about stuff."


Was Panorama there too?

Dammit, Jim!

It's BBC impartiality Jim, and just as we know it

Having been on holiday this past week, previous holidays returned to my memory, including a late teens family coach tour to Oban, Skye and Dunblane, my main memory of which was the coach driver endlessly replaying a cassette of Scottish folk songs as we crossed and re-crossed Scotland. 

It was one of those coach tours where the coach driver is out to flog you something at each and every opportunity and after a week of this same cassette being endlessly replayed he offered it us to buy, surprise, surprise.  

Unfortunately, this coach driver also drove at heady speeds across the lower, twistier parts of the Highlands and I, as a teenager suffered from travel sickness and, thus, (via my parents) had to get the coach stopped in the middle of my least favourite song on the cassette - the one with the irritating refrain 'Nickety nackety noo, noo, noo' - and sped out the coach door to spill the contents of my stomach back out through my mouth and over the edge of the wild and windy road to Skye - though, thankfully, I was followed by at least three adults, who'd been bravely holding back their vomit up till that point, one of whom followed suit and let it all out right next to me.

I later learned that the offending folk song was called 'The Wee Cooper O' Fife' and was a Dame Jenni-and-Jane-offending affair about beating your wife so that she does the housework, beginning:
There was a wee cooper lived in Fife
Nickety nackety noo, noo, noo
And he has tae'n a gentle wife
Risselty-rosselty, hey, pomposity
Nickety nackety noo, noo, noo.
And why am I telling you this? Because, besides happy memories of vomiting my insides out on the way to Skye whilst loathing the music I was being forced to listen to, 'Nickety nackety noo, noo, noo' now always inevitably make me think of James Naughtie. 

I wish I could tell you that this isn't a true story, but it is. I've been blogging about BBC bias for a decade now, so fitting BBC reporters names into spew-inducing folk songs from my travel-sick youth is surely only natural, wouldn't you agree?

But, look, onto matters closer to home and, look, alas. the wee BBC special correspondent who lived in Milltown of Rothiemay - namely Jim Nickety Naughtie noo, noo, noo - has drawn fire this week for saying (on Today):
Look, in any other European country, the Conservative Party would not exist in its current form. The ERG, Jacob Rees-Mogg's group, in France would be in the National Front, because that's what they believe, and in Germany they would be in the AfD. 
From that it appears that Jim Naughtie thinks that all right-wingers look alike, so to speak. However, the sonsie-faced BBC fellow, after an outburst of outrage, subsequently issued an apology that some say is merely a half-apology ('risselty-rosselty, hey, pomposity' perhaps?): 
I was wrong to say in a live discussion this morning that members of the ERG would be happy in a far-right party. That was not my intention, because I don’t believe it. I was trying to make the point that if our parties fracture in some way after Brexit – on Right and Left – we could see a political landscape emerge that looks more like the rest of Europe than it does at the moment. But my words were ill-chosen and I’m sorry for any offence caused.
The ERG clearly doesn't believe what, say, the Front National thinks. Compare their economic policies for starters and they are worlds apart. The Front National has a 'left-wing', anti-globalist economic outlook while the ERG is firmly in the globalist free market camp. Jacob Rees-Mogg and Marine le Pen, despite being Eurosceptic, are not ideological soulmates. James Naughtie was simply wrong and speaking from his own bias.

Of 'EastEnders' and James Purnell

The Rise and Fall of the BBC Empire

Talking of Toytown, I see that some MPs have taken time out from mismanaging Brexit in order to condemn the BBC for mismanaging the building of a new Eastenders set.

The £87 million project is running £27 million over budget and five years behind schedule. (I'm tempted to say 'very BBC').

This is costing BBC licence fee payers money. (I'm again tempted to say 'very BBC'). 

The Public Accounts Committee accused the BBC of "complacency". According to the Telegraph:
A BBC spokesman said: "We welcome the committee's recognition of the importance of the E20 project. However, we strongly reject the notion that there has been any complacency.".
So said a blatantly complacent BBC spokesman. 

Richard Morrison, writing in The Timescalls it a "fiasco":
To put this fantastical figure in some sort of real-life context, with £87 million you could build 250 affordable homes for actual East Enders. And to put it in another sort of context, this jaw-dropping overspend comes as the BBC is trying to make £800 million of savings. True, that’s partly because it will soon have to pick up the bill for free TV licences for the over-75s, but it also lavishes millions each week on astronomical fees for “talent” and inflated salaries for its executives, 100 of whom earn more than £150,000 a year.
He continues:
Then there’s the £10 million spent on promoting the new BBC Sounds app. That’s the BBC’s belated and (so far) blundering attempt to woo more young listeners by breaking into the streaming market dominated by Spotify. BBC Sounds is the pet scheme of James Purnell, a failed politician whose 15 minutes of fame as culture secretary was chiefly notable for the mind-boggling revelation that he had claimed £247 in expenses for 3,000 fridge magnets. Now he’s on a tolerable £315,000 a year as the BBC’s director of radio and education.
Harsh but true about the ex-Blairite minister now in charge of BBC radio? 

Well, whatever. But wild BBC profligacy where wild profligacy isn't remotely needed and brutal cost-cutting where brutal cost-cutting probably isn't needed seems to be becoming a hallmark (LordHallmark?) of the present-day BBC. 

Of 'Pitching In' and RS Thomas

R.S. Thomas, popping out to welcome English tourists in for a cup of tea and a chat (not)

If only the late, great, English-hating Welsh-nationalist poet, priest and bigot R.S. Thomas were still alive he'd doubtless be penning many an ode of violent hate against the 'English' BBC, despite himself refusing to own anything so modern as a TV. 

The reason? PitchingIngate

As he's not alive, it's been left to non-poets like the Labour leader of Cardiff council and Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister for international affairs and culture (an interesting combination of ministries) to voice the incandescent fury of (a tiny, noisy part of?) the Welsh nation against the BBC's "cultural colonialism".

What's got their goat (or sheep)?

Well, it seems to be partly down to the casting of an English actor - Larry Lamb (who famously played Archie Mitchell in Toytown) - as the lead character in Pitching In, a new, doubtless-as-hilarious-as-ever-these-days BBC comedy drama set in North Wales. 

Even worse, the makers of the programme and its actors are either English or speak with South Wales accents. 

It's to be hoped that Lord Hall, James Purnell and Co. don't have second homes in Wales or the ferocious ghost of R.S. will be haunting them with a fiery vengeance.

P.S. Those who think of R.S. Thomas might well think of him as an unsociable, unsmiling hater of pretty much everything, whether it be tractors, TVs, air conditioning, tourists, English people or anyone Welsh who isn't a long-suffering Welsh-speaking hill farmer, but he could - once every 500 poems (not counting his love poems to birds or the sea) - surprise the world with a human-love-filled poem, such as this one to Mildred, his late wife of 51 years:
We met
under a shower
of bird-notes.
Fifty years passed,
love’s moment
in a world in servitude to time.
She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
“Come,” said death,
choosing her as his
partner for
the last dance, And she,
who in life
had done everything
with a bird’s grace,
opened her bill now
for the shedding
of one sigh no
heavier than a feather.

Chirp, chirp

BBC Politics: Peoples Vote March organisers say more than a million people joined protests in central London.
Tim Montgomerie: The BBC has become Remain’s propaganda vehicle.
Chris Mason, BBC: I should arrange a lunch for you and Andrew Adonis. A table for two, a couple of cameras at a discreet distance...
Tim Montgomerie: BBC uncritically repeating organisers’ claims that a million marched today. Last time the organisers exaggerated by 450,000. 
Denis MacShane (former Labour Europe minister): Tim, BBC TV News gave equal billing to Farage and 50 anti Europeans in car park to one million of our fellow Brits expressing concern. BBC bias against EU this century is shameful.
And enter stage neither left, right, nor centre (as the BBC is, of course, wholly impartial), here's Rob:
Rob Burley, BBC: Maybe you're both wrong...
So who's right? 

Well, let's start with Denis MacShane's claim. Saturday's three main BBC One news bulletin's all led with the pro-Second Referendum march and none of them mentioned the pro-Brexit protest ("50 anti Europeans in car park") at all. So his complaint is false in regards to BBC One. And the BBC News website has also been leading with the march and placing a brief mention of the '50 anti Europeans in car park' at the back end of its long report - quite literally the back end, i.e. the final three paragraphs of a 32-paragraph report. And that doesn't even includes the eight paragraphs of pro-Second Referendum 'voices from the march'. So his claim is false about that too. 

As for Tim Montgomerie's claim, well, I must say that reading and comparing the BBC, Sky and ITV news websites earlier this evening, I thought the BBC actually put in rather more caveats that either of its broadcast rivals as far as the numbers go. And, checking out their respective main late evening news bulletins, their opening headlines ran as follows and reinforced my first impressions:
Sky: Demanding their voices be heard - As many as one million people take to the streets of London calling for a second EU referendum.
ITV: An estimated one million people marched through London today demanding a second referendum to break the political deadlock over Brexit.
BBC: A huge march in central London by protestors demanding another EU referendum. Organisers claim more than a million people took part and say it's one of the biggest protests in British history.
So I'd said Rob Burley has a point that both sides are wrong here - though Denis is much more wrong than Tim. Denis is plain wrong; Tim is wrong because the others are even worse.

Update - It continued:
Denis MacShane: Both?
Rob Burley: Yeah, you and Tim.
Denis MacShane: Ah. You are probably right.
Rob Burley liked
Very civilised.

Screaming headline alert: The BBC's Chris Mason DESTROYS Lord Adonis

Who mourns for Lord Adonis? (Not Chris Mason)

Fans of BBC-Lord Adonis tussles might enjoy this Twitter exchange from a couple of days ago. This time the BBC wins and Lord Adonis exits pursued by a geeky-glasses-wearing bear:

Lord Adonis: BBC News this morning is totally ignoring seismic 2.3 million who in 48 hours have signed petition to revoke Article 50.
Chris Mason: 11,000 likes, but wrong. It was in my BBC Breakfast report. It was in my BBC 5 Live report. And I talked about it on Brexitcast.
Anand Menon: And they mentioned at it near the top on BBC R4 Today as I recall. But hey. Don’t let the facts get in the way Andrew.
Simon Templar [though possibly not The Simon Templar]: Sorry to point this out Chris, even though I love your broadcasts and tweets, but you are being somewhat pedantic. And I do acknowledge that I am being pedantic in doing so. There's a little bit of Sheldon Cooper in all of us. Just saying.
Chris Mason: Sure Simon, I’m pedantic about facts. It’s my job to be. Lord Adonis was wrong, simple as that.
Lord Adonis: No, you are wrong Chris. I was listening to the BBC News on the Radio 4 Today programme and its reports, from 6am to 7.30am and no mention of the Revoke Article 50 petition across all bulletins. Fact.
Chris Mason: Let me quote you: ‘BBC News this morning is totally ignoring...’ Sent shortly after 6am. You are now justifying your falsehood by referring to one outlet. I know how much you love your retweets on here, but the simple reality is you were factually wrong.

Obviously His Lordship is talking nonsense about BBC bias. It's what he does. It's cynical pressuring.

And it doesn't balance out justified criticism of BBC anti-Brexit bias. 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Don't mention it

Shall we mention Shami Chakrabarti now? Andrew Marr completely forgot to mention antisemitism. It must have just slipped his mind. 
At first Shami did that eyes-to-the-sky thing that Diane Abbott does. It’s her ‘thinking’ expression. They’re waiting for inspiration from above. But she soon settled in and got into her stride. 

I didn’t see the Newsnight that caused the controversy, so here it is in case you didn’t see it either.

Oh. I now see that the offending passage was the contribution from the leader of “Generation Identity”.

This person was declaring his group’s fundamental opposition to the use of violence at all times and in all circumstances, as well as its opposition to Islam, which they believe is incompatible with western countries.
I daresay they’re antisemitic as well, I don’t know. Didn’t the terrorist say his role-model was Oswald Moseley?

Perhaps it was mainly the insensitivity of the particular timing of Newsnight’s airing, “the same day as the atrocity” but these are the views that Shami and her co-Islamophiles think should be no-platformed.

I did see Jeremy Corbyn on the Sophy Ridge programme.  My mind had drifted off, but my ears pricked up when I caught him uttering the phrase “5 Pillarz”. He wasn’t advertising that particular website though  - it was the name he’s given to some new fangled Labour policy related to Brexit.

Any Questions. The one about Islamophobia

This is pretty much the same topic as the previous one, but I might as well create a separate post for the edition of Any Questions already noted below the line, in which Iain Dale disgraced himself with some unadulterated gobbledegook about Islamophobia:
 “Everybody knows what it means, and just because someone has a different coloured skin and prays to a different God it doesn’t make them your enemy” 
But what if they are pale-skinned, and their God has stated unequivocally that they are your enemy and they should hate you?   And what about Andy McDonald MP, who expressed exactly the view I mentioned in my previous post, namely that all written or spoken criticism of Islam automatically implies the author's approval of murder.
“look at some of the writings that take place. it’s not just on social media. It’s on our Main Stream Media! Where people are writing with bile directed at people of the Islamic faith… […] but it seems to have got into the box of “It’s ok to say this”. We have got to eradicate (the rhetoric) from our national and international life otherwise these things will happen again.

 Even Jonathan Dimbles noticed what he did there. 
“Andy McDonald, those individuals whom you describe who write in a very ugly and prejudicial way, clearly are not the individuals who would commit the kind of atrocities that occurred in Christchurch. Are you saying that you think there is some kind of linkage between their writings and the uh uh um disordered, demented behaviour of the people like this person who is going to be charged very probably with this crime?

Undeterred, McDonald expanded his point thusly:
“I think undoubtedly so, if people who are writing for what are otherwise respected publications and which have wide circulation, and there are many people who have been on panels such as these, who’ve had those views and have written articles in those terms, I think they’ve got to look at themselves in the mirror today and say what contribution does that make in fomenting that level of antagonism and prejudice and discrimination against people, and they are playing a very very active role in that and I think they’ve got to question how they behave and the sorts of languages (sic) that they indulge in and I really do urge them to think very carefully about this because they are part of the issue. 
Perhaps realising the serious implications of what he just said, he appeared to row back:
“I’m not saying for one minute that they would sanction or approve such horrific events, but it’s the sort of environment that they establish, of acceptable discrimination or denial of the problem of Islamophobia, and those are the sort of things that have got to be addressed.
On antisemitism, it’s quite a different story.
“While the incidences of antisemitism are restricted to what is thankfully a very tiny proportion of what is a huge membership of over half a million, when accepted for what it is, we’re not in denial about it, and we will deal with it and we’re doing everything in our power to eradicate from our movement we have an absolute zero tolerance, what I would - I think that’s how we should approach it but I would - in terms of Islamophobia there’s a different attitude to it - it’s almost ‘casualised’, as if it’s acceptable, and Baroness Warsi has spoken out very loudly and long about that being rife in the Conservative Party and I just would urge colleagues across the house to take that seriously and root it out because at the moment, not enough is being done.  
Responsibility rests with politicians, responsibility rests with the media as well - to express themselves in appropriate terms, because it’s ‘othering’ and scapegoating of others is disastrous for a cohesive society.

Andy McDonald has some gall. As if antisemitism hasn’t been rife in the left for years.  As if it's restricted to a very small proportion of the party. As if the Labour Party hasn’t been in the business of ‘othering’ Jews for years. As if the Guardian hasn’t been spouting antisemitic bile for years. As if Seamus Milne isn’t a rabid Jew-hating anti-Zionist fanatic. As if antisemitism hasn’t been "casualised" as if it’s acceptable. As if the Corbyn’s Labour Party hasn’t  got to look at themselves in the mirror today and say what contribution does that make in fomenting that level of antagonism and prejudice and discrimination against Jews and Israel, and playing a very very active role in that.” As if Baroness Warsi expressed herself in appropriate terms.

Above and below: examples of people slamming each other.

As for double standards on 'terrorism', well,

I couldn't listen to Any Answers all the way through - but as far as I could tell, they skipped this topic altogether and leapt straight to Brexit. Correct me if I'm wrong, please do. If not, I can hardly believe that no-one at all had anything to say about the tenor of this discussion. Even the M.P. who is always identified as "of Palestinian origins" (impeccably sacred credentials there) avoided answering the question in a similarly Islamophillic fashion. She deviated, almost immediately, onto a mini-diatribe about poverty and deprivation. 

Mice will play

Craig’s away / mice will play; (you picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille) Oh well; I’m in the driving seat; hang on tight.

The best piece I’ve read so far or at least the piece that most represents my own feelings about the Christchurch atrocity (which it undoubtedly was) is by Laura Perrins.

However, expressions of revulsion at the violence, or sympathy for the victims have been received with extraordinary bitterness if they happen to come from individuals or groups who’ve criticised Islam. That sours things even further. When criticism of Islam is maliciously assumed to equate to actual advocacy of terrorism and slaughter, it starts to look like projection. 

Some of the stuff I’ve read and seen online is utterly appalling, especially on Twitter. I could single out the video of Chelsea Clinton being confronted with the accusation: “Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there”. And what was the ‘rhetoric’  that Clinton ‘put out there”? Ilhan Omar’s antisemitism, is all; and this finger-jabbing assault occurred at a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch shootings. (I see they've copyrighted the clip I've linked to. I don't know if one is allowed to just link to it.) The matter is fleshed out further in this BuzzFeed piece, where the perpetrators attempt to rationalise their bullying behaviour. 

Or, I could also mention David Liddington stating (to Nick Robinson on the Today programme) that “Islamophobia is evil” which is an ominous and sinister type of a thing for a politician to say. Violence, murder and terrorism are generally considered 'evil', but “Islamophobia?” 

And one can’t forget being  directed to the nasty, nasty, nasty spat between   Nesrine Malek of the Guardian and Julia Hartley-Brewer and even worse, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s spiteful response to Melanie Phillips 

and this.

I am a critic of Islam, primarily because of something that most Islamophiles rarely acknowledge, namely the antisemitism that runs through that particular religion, and in particular the religiously-inspired desire to erase Israel from the map. (After all, by rejecting peace with Israel Arabs deny themselves economic and cultural benefits in a way that is entirely self-destructive)

However, I oppose all violence and terrorism unless it’s in self-defence or as a last resort in the face of constant provocation. And just to be clear I unequivocally condemn the atrocity in Christchurch.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

The NZ massacre: an appeal for calm and moderation

The appallingly cruel anti-Muslim terrorist atrocity in Christchurch, New Zealand proves - if proof were needed - that far-right, white supremacist terrorism is now a serious menace and that the ideology behind it as vile as its mirror image, Islamism. 

Both need crushing.

Of course, no terrorist atrocity these days would be complete without armchair warriors on various sides of our many culture wars vying viciously to score points off each other. 

The wilder shores I'll ignore, but within mere hours one 'respectable' side was trying to smear prominent critics of Islamism - from Melanie Phillips to Boris Johnson, from Maajid Nawaz to Julia Hartley-Brewer, from Sajid Javid to David Aaronovitch - with the Christchurch killer's murderous evil, while the other 'respectable' side was furiously countering that this was obscene opportunism. 

(You might notice a certain bias on my part in the way I phrased that).

And, of course, no terrorist atrocity these days would be complete without the authorities thinking that the first thing needed is to crack down on social media.

On these points, here's an appeal posted yesterday (as events were unfolding) from North Northwester at the They're Joking. Aren't They? blog:

The NZ massacre: an appeal for calm and moderation

In light of the unconscionable and apparently anti-Muslim attacks in New Zealand that may have been inspired by anti-Islamic sentiment and which all decent folk everywhere will condemn without demur or qualification (as do I ), now might be an appropriate time to point out that not all anti-Islamism activists and commentators are inspired to or approve of illegal violence.  
As our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and the bereaved, it is important that just condemnation of these criminals should not be used as an excuse for counter-attacks and blaming the innocent. 
Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Islam sceptics are simply decent, law abiding people who wish to go about their lives at peace with their neighbours while reserving to their consciences the basic human right of expressing condemnation of the 34,725 documented deadly Islamic terror attacks since 9/11, 7/7, the horrors of Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Telford and the rest of such events and who harbour – for whatever reasons - deeply held convictions critical of the motivations behind the Ariana Grande concert massacre and the ISIS-led attempted genocide against (amongst others) the Yazidi people. 
Please try not to make this sad situation worse by blaming, quite without evidence, any or all of Islam’s present day critics and detractors for fear your intemperate words might inspire violence or legal persecution against this much-maligned and diverse group of individuals: no matter how much you might personally disagree with their opinions and obsessions. 
Thank you.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Open Thread

Time for a new Open Thread. Thanks to one and all for your comments and support. Here's to us! And Cheers!

Forgetting the victims

Under the headline Ex-jihadist jailed for murders in Jewish museum in Brussels Sky News reports:
A French citizen told a jury "life goes on" as he was jailed for killing four people in a Jewish museum in Brussels. 
Mehdi Nemmouche was sentenced to life over the murders of tourist couple Myriam and Emmanuel Riva, and two museum employees, Dominique Sabrier and Alexandre Strens in May 2014. 
Nemmouche staged the attack shortly after coming back from Syria, where he had been fighting with Islamist factions in the civil war. 
It was the first attack by a Western European who had fought with the factions, and raised concerns about jihadists returning to their home countries.
Under the headline Brussels Jewish Museum murders: Mehdi Nemmouche jailed for life BBC News reports:
A Frenchman who murdered four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014 has been jailed for life. 
Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, opened fire with an assault rifle and a handgun, killing three people at the scene. A fourth person died later in hospital. 
He had previously spent a year fighting for the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. 
A man who helped plan the attack and supply weapons, Nacer Bendrer, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
One thing that immediately struck me here was that Sky News listed the terrorist's victims in its second paragraph, while BBC News - in a long report - only mentions Mr and Mrs Riva in connection to their children's testimony in court and completely omits the names of the other two victims, Dominique Sabrier and Alexandre Strens.

A second thing is that where Sky notes that his attack "raised concerns about jihadists returning to their home countries", you won't find any such mention in the BBC's article. 

As for the obvious antisemitic aspect, Sky reports that "Two French journalists told a court they remembered Nemmouche as deeply antisemitic, sadistic and full of hatred", whereas the BBC only reports his disgraceful defence team's argument that he "could not be considered anti-Semitic because he wore Calvin Klein shoes - an apparent reference to Mr Klein's Jewish heritage".

"The teenage female Bradford boxer fighting stereotypes"

The BBC is relentless. This is one of the top news stories on the BBC News website this morning: