Sunday 18 November 2012


SueI would like to address the purpose of blogging because it might seem like a self-harming exercise to leap from one purportedly high-traffic platform into the wilderness here on “Is”.

I started writing for Biased BBC in February 2009, and looking back I was surprised at the size of my own output.  I still stand by most of it, and no doubt I’ll be bringing some of it up here now and again.

Many of the people I bump into hold anti-Israel opinions with varying degrees of passion. As far as I can tell they have no particular reason for making this choice, apart from “knowing’ what they “know’, including a mishmash of myths and propaganda they have absorbed over time. A considerable amount of their hostility towards Israel, together with an open or subconscious suspicion of ‘the Jew‘, has been brought to them by the BBC. Yet, at the merest suggestion that they are not only ill-informed, but that their arguments are the same as the antisemitic discourse of antisemites and racists, they are horrified. Antisemitism is racist, and racism one of the top ten taboos alongside paedophilia. Therefore attempting to hint that this might be the case is tactless; a sure-fire way of making enemies.  Best keep trap shut. 

But in a blog, you can say such things without losing friends, and with the (minuscule) hope of influencing people.

Biased-BBC was the first blog I’d come across which openly discussed the BBC’s biased reporting of Israel. I chose to write on that particular blog because it was not stigmatised by the label, which shouldn't be a stigma at all, namely ‘Zionist’. It was stigmatized, however, by the label ‘right-wing’, and this prevented it having any influence on anyone other than the already converted. This is the flaw of any dedicated enterprise, being dismissed for being what it is. Which is what has happened to Israel. 

Let’s look at one of my favourite websites, Harry’s Place. The articles are by a varied bunch of regular and guest contributors. Its overall left wing political position is counterbalanced by a vociferous commentariat. (How pompous does that sound.) Although I hardly ever comment on blogs apart from BBCWatch, I feel a tiny bit fond of and in awe of the Harry’s Place community. I do believe Harry’s Place has an influence, and makes a difference. But what is their raison d’etre? It’s to inform and educate, I’d say. At the moment there’s a must-read thread about the fascinating case of Ronnie Fraser V UCU. 

A couple of websites I’m very interested in are CiFWatch and BBCWatch. They risk being dismissed because of their Catch22 stigma. They’re Zionist! (Oh noes) But they are informative and full of facts and specific examples of bias and prejudice, and if it wasn't for the biased reporting of the Guardian and the BBC they wouldn't need to be there. But they do need to be there. The high standard of research by the writers in both blogs is sometimes sabotaged by the over- partisan sincerity of some of the commentariat, but as we well know you can’t help this.

Then there’s the Commentator, which as far as I know was a project set up by Robin Shepherd. The Commentator is excellent, but I have to say that in some ways I preferred his own blog, now defunct. Although the Commentator is high profile and professional and a sort of counterbalance to say, Huffpo, I liked undiluted Shepherd better. I always read the Commentator though, and it does reach a large audience, which has to be a good thing.

Part of a blog’s personality lies in the comments. Guido’s act like a ball and chain. 

Biased-BBC suffers a similar handicap, but additional problems have rendered it impotent. Some of the contributors wish to dismantle the BBC altogether, and all they want from the blog is to chat about this amongst themselves, whereas the ones who sincerely wish to reform and improve it are stranded.

There are more blogs that I would like to bring up later.

Craig: Do you know how many blogs there are out there? Funnily enough, that question never crossed my mind until today. A bit of Googling suggests there are over 70 million and counting. With our new blog, that's 70 million and one! 

They come in all shapes and sizes, with all manner of purposes. I did an upbeat music blog for a while. The campaigning ones we've been actively involved in have all been specifically about BBC bias. Like you I'd been worried about BBC reporting for a long time before I stumbled across Biased BBC. It was a relief to find a lot of people there who felt much as I felt. That was about five years ago. Each day you could go in and read comment after comment giving concrete instances of what its readers felt to be examples of biased BBC reporting. They may or may not have been justified, but most people there (at the time) were trying to highlight what they thought to be an important issue and they seemed to realise that building an archive of credible evidence had to be a key part of that campaign. They didn't just take it as read that the BBC was biased - or at least they didn't take it as read that everyone else would automatically agree with them about that. They wanted to be able to prove to others - the unpersuaded multitude - that there really was a problem with BBC reporting. 

Things change. Reading B-BBC now is a very different experience in so many ways. The exceptions to this are the wonderful David Preiser's ongoing forensic coverage of the BBC's reporting of U.S. politics (Oh, hang you head in shame Mr. Mardell!) and D.B.'s ever-growing study of partisan tweeting by BBC staff, which he has also taken directly (with much success) to the BBC by also engaging them on Twitter. They show, I think, that systematic approaches can work better than the purely scatter-gun  This chronicling of evidence seems to me to be what the new blogs like BBC Watch and Is? are about too. Biased BBC has the best brand name in the area and lots of BBC people know about it and read it, even if they daren't comment there given the astonishingly hostile and somewhat cultish way parts of the commentariat tend to react to anyone who dares disagree with the blog. (You'll recall, Sue, how one of the very few BBC reporters prepared to regularly stick his head above the parapet at B-BBC found himself and his sexual orientation made the subject of a none-too-pleasant guest-post on the blog after making a gentle, amusing and self-deprecating comment.). Thankfully, B-BBC owner David Vance is now promising firm action on that front. If BBC employees and BBC supporters could feel safe to engage with criticism of the BBC in a civilised atmosphere, things could improve sharply at B-BBC.

The way blogs seem to gather intensely partisan readerships is a fascinating phenomenon. If you read, say, a selection of the main global warming/climate change blogs - both the sceptical ones (like Watts Up With That?) and the non-sceptical ones (like Real Climate) - you find exactly the same thing. Both camps accuse the other of being completely wrong, of dishonesty, of having bad motives, of being in the pay of some organisation or other, of censoring their opponents' views, of not being who they say they are, of cherry picking, etc. The insults fly. Everyone on the other side is either completely wrong, corrupt, stupid or downright evil. It's like two parallel universes and God help any brave soul who strays into the wrong universe. The pack descends upon them. You can guarantee that anyone who has just read that and is a partisan from either of those camps will think 'That may apply to the warmist/denier crowd at Watts Real With That Climate? but not to our realist/sceptical side. We don't do that.' There must be something about the blogosphere that makes that happen. (Rows on classical music blogs about the use of vibrato get just as wild too!) 

Is it inevitable? As we've seen at first hand, some of the 'home crowd' simply don't want to hear from people who disagree with the blog and want to chase them away. Others seem to positively relish stalking and snarling at dissidents (like over-exuberant little dogs). We've observed regulars on certain blogs who always begin their daily tour of duty by hunting out all the comments from dissenters just so that they can systematically rubbish them. Strange behaviour maybe, but very human behaviour. How on earth do you stop that from spoiling a blog, except through periodic 'Play nice!' exhortations or by moderation/censorship? Having hardly any readers certainly helps there!!

Sue: At times like this blogs like BBC Watch come into their own. Even if their overtly pro-Israel agenda places them beyond the pale, meaning that people of a certain disposition can dismiss the entire thing as propaganda, they provide detailed examples of biased reporting, citing specific instances and explaining why they are wrong.  Substantive evidence is difficult to ignore, even by people who can’t face the truth. I think BBC Watch has already made an impact.

Someone mentioned on TV just now that William Hague’s unequivocal condemnation of Hamas for ‘starting’ the present outbreak of violence was because he was making amends for his previous anti-Israel remarks, when the criticism he received ‘bruised’ him. I don’t know whether ‘making amends’ is a factor in the BBC’s coverage. Up till today, I thought I detected signs of improvement. But having listened to Sunday and watched Sunday Morning Live this a.m. I’m thinking we’re back to square one.

As things stand, the BBC spokespersons who used to participate in the Biased-BBC blog no longer do, and as the rhetoric became more and more polarised and less tolerant, and the community became less and less  willing to engage with dissenting voices, the easier it became to dismiss the entire thing as a hate-site for loonies. A site of which one should  “take no notice”. Biased-BBC may well be a haven for frustrated bias-spotters, but it’s an ineffective vehicle for communicating with the BBC.

I'm asking for someone to remind me how effective "Is?" is. Please don't. 

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