Saturday 27 April 2013

Bombs are bad. Martin Luther King is good

I will admit to not being the world's biggest fan of Thought for the Day - the Today programme's daily offering of religious wisdom from across the (liberal) world of faith. (Non-believers need not apply). 

I know I'm not alone in that. Even the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the likeable Justin Welby, admitted to Evan and Sarah that it wasn't something he felt inclined to listen to very often either.

Justin might, therefore, share my affection for a wonderfully witty Twitter feed dedicated to encapsulating the wisdom of every Thought for the Day talk in no more than 140 characters. 

Blog favourite Damian Thompson of The Daily Telegraph (another non-fan of TFTD) brought it to the world's attention:
Talking of religion-lite, I’ve found a way to enjoy Thought for the Day. A Twitter account called @TFTDAbridged fits the daily messages into 140 characters. I don’t know who writes it, but he or she captures their profundity. “A new year is like a new exercise book. Christianity isn’t like a new exercise book, but forgiveness totally is.” “People argue about things, which means Pope Francis is totally like Nelson Mandela.” “Science is pretty good but it totally doesn’t explain religious stuff, so religion is right about stuff, just like my dogs.” And my favourite: “Marathons are totally like pilgrimages. Marathon runners are totally like Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”
The Twitter feed can totally be found here, at TFTDAbridged.

Archbishop Justin's own (so far one-and-only) Thought for the Day, broadcast on Good Friday, was crisply (and fairly) encapsulated thus:
What's happening in Cyprus is a perfect opportunity to talk about Good Friday and how amazing Jesus is. Am I right?

Moore and more

The wonderful Charles Moore of the Telegraph has become something of a hero to (right-leaning) critics of the BBC following his sterling denunciations of the BBC for its bias over the coverage of the death of Baroness Thatcher (see earlier posts on this blog).

His anger at the BBC's anti-Thatcher bias struck a chord with lots of people - though (looking at Twitter) it also aroused a lot of derision from others who felt that the BBC's coverage had, if anything, been decidedly pro-Thatcher.

If you switch on BBC Two tonight you'll find that the biased BBC is broadcasting a one-and-a-half-hour documentary based on Charles Moore's biography of the great lady, Young Margaret: Life, Love and Letters. They are also broadcasting a half hour documentary on Radio 4 tomorrow afternoon (1.30 pm) called Living with Mrs T, presented by Charles Moore himself. Then, completing his neglect at the hands of the shamefully left-wing BBC, Charles Moore's biography of Lady Thatcher will be Radio 4's Book of the Week all next week. 

When Charles is next on the BBC, I hope he continues to give them both barrels for their outrageous bias. 

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Alo and Здравейте! ('Hello' in Romanian and Bulgarian)

During my lunch hour at work on Monday, I clicked into the BBC News website and saw the prominently-featured headline Few planning to migrate to UK - poll, concerning a Newsnight survey about possible immigration to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria from 1 Jan 2014. The headline had changed to Polls: No indication of huge Romanian-Bulgarian influx by the time I'd got home, but you can still see the original headline on the link provided by anticipatory piece posted the night before

Having read the BBC article and its 'nothing to worry about, folks!' headline, I then clicked into the Daily Telegraph site to find it had posted its own response to the BBC survey, headlined Nearly 350,000 Romanians and Bulgarians could be looking for work in the UK, a new poll has suggested. It was its lead story at the time and shouted 'plenty to worry about, folks!' 

The contrasting kinds of spin put on the Newsnight survey by the BBC and the Daily Telegraph could hardly have been more different then  - the BBC saying the survey suggests that "few" Romanians and Bulgarians are coming. while the Telegraph was interpreting it as suggesting that a huge influx of Romanian and Bulgarians is coming after all. 

The statistics provided by the respective articles further enhanced the differences of emphasis. 

The BBC report said that 1% of Romanians said they were looking for work in the UK in 2013 or 2014 ("very small numbers of people", according to BBC reporter Sanchia Berg), with 4.2% of Bulgarians saying they were so doing. That doesn't sound too scary, does it?

The Telegraph, however, took the obvious next step of translating those percentages into actual numbers -     153,000 Romanians and 196,000 Bulgarians, totalling nearly 350,000 potential immigrants in total. Now that's a lot of people! Indeed, that's massively more than the 50,000 a year that Migration Watch have been predicting

The Telegraph followed their article up that same evening with another entitled BBC accused of 'spinning' figures on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants. The article noted that
"the BBC did not convert those percentages into potential numbers of migrants and said they showed that “very small numbers of people” in the two countries are considering moving to the UK."
This wasn't quite right, as that "very small numbers of people" phrase only referred to Romania; however, the Telegraph was absolutely spot on in querying why the BBC hadn't converted those percentages into actual numbers. 

The Telegraph quoted UKIP's Nigel Farage:
“It looks to me as though the BBC is using very heavy spin on their polling figures. Quite frankly their headline simply does not match the results they have been given.”
Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, was also quoted, making a point that many of you will recognise:
“I don’t see why we should be surprised because the BBC has a track record of not being impartial and giving us their own political bias.”
The BBC denied “spinning” the headline figures and insisted that it had been “clear” in its reporting. “We have been clear in our reporting that the surveys are a snapshot of opinion and that people’s intentions may change,” a spokesman said. “It is difficult to see how any of this constitutes spinning.”
Actually, I'd say it's very easy to see how that headline and the failure to convert those percentages might constitute spinning!

Migration Watch certainly believes the BBC to have been spinning:
This is a stunning survey, which the BBC has rather desperately tried to play down. The percentages look small but when multiplied by the size of the work force they produce large numbers. 
That night's edition of Newsnight itself didn't go in for such overt spinning (despite how it frames the feature on its website) and it gave voice to a range of perspectives on the issue. It was, however, left to Paul Nuttall of UKIP to bring up the 350,000 figure. 

The estimates for actual numbers have ranged from a mere 13,000 (the then Labour government's estimate), through the more recent NIESR figure of 21,000 and Migration Watch's 50,000 now reaching Newsnight's 350,000. We are still very much in the dark it seems. No one knows how many will come and Sanchia Berg herself was very careful to urge caution over the BBC's survey, especially given its small sample. Given the last wave of immigration from Eastern Europe was massively underestimated (except by Migration Watch), many are understandably assuming that the totals from Romania and Bulgaria will prove larger rather than smaller than expected. But as high as 350,000? (350,000 to 400,000 has been UKIP's best guestimate for some time). The Romanian and Bulgarian ambassadors themselves predict up to 35,000 migrants. We will see.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Why did Fitch downgrade the UK?

Whether it really matters much or not (and it might do), this week's downgrade of the UK to AA+ by the ratings agency Fitch has embarrassed Chancellor George Osborne and been pounced upon by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. 

If you read the BBC News website's account, Fitch downgrades UK credit rating to AA+, you will (I suspect) come away with a vague sense as to the reason for the downgrade.

The BBC article concentrates on the Plan A v Plan B debate concerning the government's austerity measures, leading the reader to assume that Fitch's beef is with the austerity strategy and the harm it's doing to the economy:
The Fitch credit ratings agency has downgraded the UK to AA+ owing to a weakened economic outlook.

The move, after Moody's downgrade in February, came as Chancellor George Osborne defended the government's austerity plan.

Fitch said its downgrade primarily reflected a weaker economic and fiscal outlook.

Mr Osborne has said his was the "right plan" and that the economy was "healing".
Fitch said its downgrade "primarily reflects a weaker economic and fiscal outlook" but returned its outlook to "stable", removing the threat of further rate action in the near term.
Reading an article in The Spectator by Fraser Nelson comes as something of a jolt after reading this. Fraser argues that the reason Fitch downgraded us was because our government hasn't lived up to its promises on borrowing and debt reduction i.e. that it hasn't been "austere" enough:
Fitch has today followed Moody’s in downgrading Britain from AAA to AA+. The reason? George Osborne is borrowing far too much.  In its verdict, it said that gross debt “will peak at 101% of GDP in 2015-16…and will only gradually decline from 2017-18.” The Chancellor, of course, had once set a rule to “ensure that debt is falling as a percentage of GDP by 2015″. This has been abandoned, and the downgrades are the consequence.  
For all Labour’s talk of austerity, George Osborne is borrowing more over five years than Labour did over 13 years.
Fitch had been happy with Osborne’s original deficit reduction plan. But the Chancellor has not stuck to it. Faced with a choice between more cuts or more debt, he has gone for more debt every time. 
There was absolutely nothing in the BBC's article to suggest that this was the reason for Fitch's decision.

Indeed, so different was the Spectator's take from the BBC's that I suspected Fraser might have been engaging in a bit of pro-Tory spin. (The online piece by the BBC's Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders similarly avoids giving this particular interpretation.)

If Fraser's version of Fitch's verdict is correct then the BBC has seriously failed to report it accurately; if it isn't correct, then Fraser really is engaging in pro-Tory spin.

There's only one way to find out. 

The BBC rather unhelpfully fails to link to the Fitch statement, thus making it hard for its readers to read what the ratings agency actually said. Fraser Nelson, in contrast, provides the link for his readers. Here it is.

This is what Fitch says are its key rating drivers here:
The downgrade of the UK's sovereign ratings primarily reflects a weaker economic and fiscal outlook and hence the upward revision to Fitch's medium-term projections for UK budget deficits and government debt. Despite the loss of its 'AAA' status, the UK's extremely strong credit profile is reflected in its 'AA+' rating and the Stable Outlook.
- Fitch now forecasts that general government gross debt (GGGD) will peak at 101% of GDP in 2015-16 (equivalent to 86% of GDP for public sector net debt, PSND) and will only gradually decline from 2017-18. This compares with Fitch's previous projection for GGGD peaking at 97% and declining from 2016-17 and the 'AAA' median of around 50%.
- Fitch previously commented that failure to stabilise debt below 100% of GDP and place it on a firm downward path towards 90% of GDP over the medium term would likely trigger a rating downgrade. Despite the UK's strong fiscal financing flexibility underpinned by its own currency with reserve currency status and the long average maturity of public debt, the fiscal space to absorb further adverse economic and financial shocks is no longer consistent with a 'AAA' rating.
- Higher than previously projected budget deficits and debt primarily reflects the weak growth performance of the UK economy in recent years, partly due to headwinds of private and public sector deleveraging and the eurozone crisis. Fitch has revised down its forecast economic growth in 2013 and 2014 to 0.8% and 1.8%, respectively, from 1.5% and 2.0% at the time of the last review of the UK's sovereign ratings in September 2012. The UK economy is not expected to reach its 2007 level of real GDP until 2014, underscoring the weakness of the economic recovery.
- Despite significant progress in reducing public sector net borrowing (PSNB from a peak of 11.2% of GDP (GBP159bn) in 2009-10, the budget deficit remains 7.4% of GDP (excluding the effect of the transfer of Royal Mail pensions) and is not expected to fall below 6% of GDP and GBP100bn until the end of the current parliament term. The slower pace of deficit reduction means that the next government will be required to implement substantial spending reductions (and/or tax increases) if public debt is to be stabilised and reduced over the medium term.
As you can see, Fraser Nelson's interpretation of Fitch's decision is correct. The ratings agency is primarily criticising George Osborne for failing to tackle the budget deficit and debt, for borrowing too much, for not pursuing Plan A rigorously enough.

The obvious question now arises: Why didn't the BBC article inform us about this?

The curious thing about the BBC article is how little it tells us about what Fitch said. Unlike Fraser Nelson's  piece, it doesn't extensively quote from the Fitch statement; indeed, as far as direct quotes are concerned, it uses a mere nine words (and that's if you include "stable"):
Fitch said its downgrade primarily reflected a weaker economic and fiscal outlook.

Fitch said its downgrade "primarily reflects a weaker economic and fiscal outlook" but returned its outlook to "stable", removing the threat of further rate action in the near term.
How on earth is that good, informative reporting?

Bluntly put, it isn't. It is uninformative at best and positively misleading at worst. Have many of its readers would google around and find and read the Fitch statement for themselves?

When you turn to the BBC News website (as millions do each day) you expect it to tell you what has happened and to explain it without fear or favour. If a report about a ratings agency's downgrade fails to report what the rating agency actually says and fails to give an explanation of its decision that comes anywhere near to its reality, then (I'm afraid) I find myself questioning its adequacy - and its impartiality. The 'inadequacy' question is, I think, beyond doubt here. The 'lack of impartiality' question more questionable.

How about you? Putting aside your political preferences, what do you make of this failure (if you agree it is a failure) to report a story adequately?

"Is the BBC biased against Israel?"

As per an article in the Jewish Chronicle, a survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) has found that an overwhelming majority of Jews in the United Kingdom believe that the BBC is biased against Israel in its news coverage.

You can read the full report here

JPR's summary of this part of the report runs as follows:
The vast majority of respondents (four out of five) considered BBC News’s coverage to be biased against Israel. Respondents who supported the Conservative Party were twice as likely to perceive the BBC as being ‘heavily biased’ against Israel as Labour Party supporters. Further, self-defined ‘Religious’ respondents were more likely than ‘Secular’ respondents to consider the BBC to be biased. On the other hand, respondents with higher levels of educational attainment were less likely to consider the BBC’s news coverage to be biased than those with lower level or no qualifications.
The figures as regards BBC bias break down in this way:

36% believe the BBC is heavily biased against Israel
43% believe the BBC is somewhat biased against Israel
14% believe the BBC's coverage is balanced
3% believe the BBC's coverage favours Israel

Despite this, the BBC continues to be the go-to source for news for British Jews:
The BBC was by far the most important provider of terrestrial and online news among respondents to the survey. BBC TV news was viewed by nine out of ten people in the week prior to the survey and the BBC’s online news service was viewed by one out of two — no other online news source was nearly as popular.
88% viewed BBC News, compared to only 49% for ITN and 44% for both Channel 4 and Sky News, according to JPR's survey.

The figures for newspaper readership are just as interesting. The question posed was, “In the last 7 days, which newspapers, if any, have you read?”:

The Times/Sunday Times - 46%
The Evening Standard - 26%
The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday - 24%
The Guardian/Observer - 22%
The Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph - 21%
Metro - 19%
The Independent/Independent on Sunday - 7%
The Sun - 6%

The report's author, David Graham, notes a couples of caveats. The first is that the survey was conducted in 2010, and that things may have changed since. The second is that as the original survey was specifically about attitudes towards Israel, the "data may over-represent individuals with an interest in politics and international affairs."

Saturday 20 April 2013

Gaping holes in the BBC's reporting?

You would, I hope, expect that a House of Lords report claiming that the scale of European Union fraud is massively more than than the European Commission has presently admitted would be widely reported - especially by any media organisation which claims to be a leading source of news. 

Most newspapers did indeed carry the story:

The TimesReal cost of fraud in EU could be £4.3bn, warns Lords report April 18 2013 Billions of pounds are disappearing from the coffers of the EU because of gaping holes in attempts to tackle fraud, peers have warned. In an alarming assessment of the quantities of cash disappearing from the EU’s budget, a House of Lords report found that an official estimate that £348 million was lost as a result of fraud in 2011 was “only a glimpse” of the real scale of the problem.

The Daily MailEU budget fraud may be more than £4BILLION which is 12 times higher than previous figure 17 April 2013 Officials 'failed to give realistic assessment of how much money lost'; EU's cohesion fund and agriculture were areas 'most susceptible' to fraud; House of Lords committee condemned Treasury for lack of help with inquiry

The Daily TelegraphEU 'losing £4 billion of taxpayer cash to fraud' 17 Apr 2013 More than £4 billion of taxpayer cash is "disappearing" from the European Union budget every year because officials are failing to get a grip on fraud, a damning parliamentary report said today.

The Daily ExpressLords accuse Brussels of covering up £4bn fiddles April 18, 2013 THE true scale of European Union fraud is at least 12 times greater than officially acknowledged by Brussels, a report from the House of Lords said yesterday.

Yorkshire PostEU budget fraud ‘may be costing taxpayers over £4bn’ 17/04/2013 The scale of fraud against the EU budget is likely to be in the billions rather than millions and at least 12 times greater than the amount acknowledged by the European Commission, a House of Lords report has claimed.

Liverpool EchoPeers challenge EU fraud audit data Apr 17 2013 The scale of fraud against the European Union (EU) budget is likely to be in the billions rather than millions and at least 12 times greater than the amount acknowledged by the European Commission, a House of Lords report has claimed.

The Irish TimesEU budget fraud ‘may be in the billions’ Apr 17, 2013 Report suggests real size of problem may be around €5 billion

The Daily StarPEERS CHALLENGE EU FRAUD AUDIT DATA 17th April 2013 The scale of fraud against the European Union (EU) budget is likely to be in the billions rather than millions and at least 12 times greater than the amount acknowledged by the European Commission, a House of Lords report has claimed.

London Evening StandardPeers challenge EU fraud audit data 17 April 2013 The scale of fraud against the European Union (EU) budget is likely to be in the billions rather than millions and at least 12 times greater than the amount acknowledged by the European Commission, a House of Lords report has claimed.

I've been keeping a careful eye on this story for the last four days and can confirm, however, that neither The Guardian nor The Independent have reported it. 

Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that (unlike the Eurosceptic Telegraph and Mail) both The Guardian and The Independent are strongly pro-European newspapers. As they are privately-owned media outlets, their right not to publish a story that casts the EU in a bad light is their own business. If they don't want to report it there's no obligation for them to do so.

What though of the impartial, charter-bound BBC? 

It regularly reports on the findings of parliamentary select committees. Did it report this report? No. 

You will not find  the story on the BBC website. It hasn't been reported on Today or The World Tonight either. Just like the Europhile Guardian and Independent, the BBC has chosen to ignore it.


One of the most regular accusations against the BBC (re bias) is that it is pro-EU. Is this more evidence of that bias?

UPDATE 23/4: ....and yet a report from the very same House of Lords committee a few days later - which criticises the government's plans to opt out from the EU's crime measures -  is not only reported but made one of the BBC News website's main stories.

Fancy that!

BBC News23 April 2013 Last updated at 06:10


Treasury queries Scots currency pactscottish bank notes

The case for an independent Scotland retaining the pound in a currency pact with the rest of the UK is not clear, according to Treasury analysis.

Undated photo of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar TsarnaevBoston attack motive still unclear

No mention is made of the possible motive for the Boston Marathon bombing as prosecutors charge the surviving suspect in hospital.

Other Top Stories

Friday 19 April 2013

Where all their speculation got them....

As discussed in an earlier post, Tuesday's speculation on Radio 4's Today with regards to the Boston marathon bombings tilted strongly towards giving credence to the 'it's domestic, right-wing terrorism' line of argument:
Evan Davis: We know it was Patriots' Day and a holiday in Boston yesterday. How significant might that be do you think? Or is it just the day the Boston marathon is run and, so, if you want to create carnage at the marathon that's the day you do it?
.....looking at this it seems as though the evidence is tipping towards some kind of domestic terrorism rather than something more Middle Eastern-related. Just because of the day, the fact that it isn't suicide bombers. 
The Today interviewers played down the opposing line of argument (for which there was, at the time, just as little evidence), that it could be a foreign or jihadi terrorist attack. 

Listening back to that days' The World at One and PM finds something very similar going on. 

On The World at One Martha Kearney posed this question:
Well, the marathon in the city is traditionally run on Patriots' Day, which commemorates the first battle of the revolution back in 1775, but in recent decades the day has become associated with domestic terrorism, the date of the Oklahoma Bombing. Does that give us any clues as to who might be behind the attack?
On PM Carolyn Quinn posed these questions [to Democrat senator Bennie Thompson]:
The marathon in Boston is traditionally run on Patriots' Day, commemorating the first battles of the American revolution. In recent decades though the day's become associated with domestic terrorism, hasn't it? The date of the Oklahoma bombing. You were the author of a report on that. Do you think that could give us a clue as to who might be behind the attack?
So when you talk about that [domestic terrorism] what sort of groups could you be talking about?
The same angle, as you can see, was being pursued across Radio 4's output on Tuesday. The wrong angle, as we now know. 

Neither Martha nor Carolyn pursued any other specific lines of investigation in their questioning.

That there had to be some speculation on Tuesday about the motives of the (then unknown) perpetrators is probably inevitable. That the speculation should have concentrated so noticeably - in the questioning of the various Radio 4 presenters - towards one particular explanation (the right-wing, domestic extremist explanation) at the expense of other explanations was surely not inevitable. It makes it appear as if the BBC was encouraging its listeners to leap to conclusions - the wrong conclusions hindsight now tells us - and steer them away from other conclusions (especially those concerning Islamic terrorism).

To quote David Preiser at Biased BBC:

If they’re going to wildly speculate to fill air time, then they should speculate about everyone, and not try to dismiss suspicion about one specific possibility. No evidence means no evidence either way, BBC. It’s just as wrong for them to remove one group from suspicion as it is to point fingers at everyone else.


Thursday 18 April 2013

The BBC's Baroness Thatcher funeral coverage: Who did they interview?

For those of you who are interested, here is a complete list of all the interviewees (excluding vox pops) featured on the BBC News Channel's coverage of Lady Thatcher's funeral between 6.45am and 10.00pm yesterday. 

I believe the list speaks for itself. 

6.50 Andrew Pierce (Daily Mail) & Kevin Maguire (Daily Mirror)

7.15 Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, biographer of Lady Thatcher

7.45 John Sergeant (ex BBC political correspondent) & Beatrix Campbell, writer (feminist & left-winger)

8.05 John Sergeant (ex BBC political correspondent)

8.14 Bob Broadhurst, former Met Police Commander

8.17 Francis Maude MP (Conservative)

8.35 Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, former head of the Royal Navy

8.42 Denis Oliver, Baroness Thatcher's former driver

9.25 Baroness Shirley Williams (Liberal Democrat), Prof Peter Hennessey, historian (cross-bencher) & Terry Wogan (jovial BBC chap).

9.35 Baroness Shirley Williams (Liberal Democrat), Prof Peter Hennessey & Lord Forsyth (Conservative)

9.41  Baroness Virginia Bottomley (Conservative), Prof Peter Hennessey & Matthew Parris (The Times)

9.46 Maj-Gen Jonathan Shaw

9.50 Lord Dobbs (Conservative) & Matthew Parris

10.10 David Cameron, PM (Conservative)

12.08 Peter Hennessey & Nick Robinson

12.38 Gerald Howarth MP (Conservative) & Andrew Neil, broadcaster

13.36 Ken Clarke MP (Conservative)

13.50 Bob Broadhurst, former Met Police Commander

14.09 Lord Steel (Liberal Democrat)

14.29 Beatrix Campbell, writer (feminist & left-winger)

14.33 Sir Bob Worcester, founder of MORI, & Lord Dobbs (Conservative)

14.46 James Forsyth (Spectator) & Nick Watt (Guardian)

15.10 Lord Lamont (Conservative)

15.15 John Campbell, biographer of Lady Thatcher

15.22 Ruth Davidson MSP (Conservative)

15.32 John Redwood MP (Conservative)

15.36 Margaret Beckett MP (Labour)

15.47 Sam Brownlee (former Falkand Islander) & Sukey Cameron (Falkland Islands official representative)

16.36 Eleanor Laing MP (Conservative)

16.49 John Whittingdale MP (Conservative)

17.16 Sir Ming Campbell MP (Liberal Democrat) & Liam Fox MP (Conservative)

17.44 Michael Cockerell, documentary maker

17.52 Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, biographer of Lady Thatcher

18.34 Penny Mordaunt MP (Conservative), Andrew Rosindell MP (Conservative)

19.19 William Shawcross, commentator

19.37 David Willetts MP (Conservative)

21.14 Eric Deakins, former Labour MP (lost to Mrs Thatcher in Finchley in 1959)

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Charles Moore v the BBC

Charles Moore of The Daily Telegraph, talking on the BBC News Channel just before News at Six, launched another strong attack on the BBC's reporting following the death of Lady Thatcher. 

Here's a  transcript of that interview:

Jane Hill (BBC): Let's reflect on today and how it has gone and whether it was appropriate. I'm joined by Charles Moore, who I'm sure you know is writing the authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher. He joins us from the studios at The Daily Telegraph. Charles Moore, hello to you. I know you were at the ceremony here at St. Paul's Cathedral at lunchtime. You've been the the receptions. Your take on today, whether it was fitting, whether the scale and the style was appropriate.

Charles Moore: I think it did go very, very well. It was a very moving ceremony, a very traditional ceremony, but also with just enough of the personal touch - for example in the sermon by the Bishop of London -  so that you had the feel of Lady Thatcher coming through in a very religious environment. It succeeded in keeping politics, political controversy, right out of it, but establishing her great importance. And I thought the behaviour of the crowds was marvellous. I mean, it was very moving to be in the cathedral and to hear the rustle of..which is what it sounds like when you're in the cathedral..of the clapping that's coming from outside - the same thing that I can remember happening when I went to the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, and you're getting the actual crowd feeling that starts to come in among all of us sitting there, and that's an extraordinary sense, and I think at last, after some rather absurd controversies, the actual feeling of great masses of people became apparent and it was all very appropriate and dignified.

Jane Hill: Indeed, and that is an element of the service a lot of people today have picked up on and the applause was certainly very, very loud when Margaret Thatcher's children and grandchildren came out onto the steps here at the end of the service. That said, controversies are not entirely absurd, if I hear your word correctly - if you forgive me, it's very noisy here - but I think that's what you said and we cannot get away from the fact that this was very nearly a state funeral for someone who was not a head of state.

Charles Moore: I don't agree with that. First of all, it wasn't a state funeral. Secondly, several people in our history have had state funerals who were not heads of state and I don't regard that as an important controversy. I think throughout all this the BBC has tried to stir up a lot of controversy. There is genuine controversy about Mrs Thatcher's record and it's quite right that that should be debated but I think there've been a lot of non-issues and I think there's been much too much concentration on a very small band of trouble-makers.

Jane Hill: Well, the miners who lost their communities, people like that you we have heard from, even in the last hour, it's not a tiny group of people, is it?

Charles Moore: I think it is a tiny group of people who wish to be rude. There are plenty of people who wish to be critical and, of course, Lady Thatcher was a controversial figure and that's perfectly right. But the number of people who seriously want to be rude and nasty is a tiny, tiny minority and I've been very frustrated all week by how the BBC's constantly put up malcontents and very rarely talked to ordinary people all over the country who respect and admire her, whether or not they all agree with her and I think one of the things that's come out very attractively in the funeral today is that sense of sympathy, solidarity and admiration which a great majority of people do feel.

Jane Hill: Well. And you may not have had a chance to watch much of our coverage today for very obvious reasons but we have spoken to an awful lot of people who chose to be here, and wanted to be here and have said lots of incredibly positive things about Margaret Thatcher as well.

Charles Moore: Well obviously you wish to defend your wish to defend your corporation but I think it's behaved badly and I find many people say that. The BBC was always against Margaret Thatcher, and it still is. And I think it's a great pity and it's actually caused a lot of upset abroad because people simply can't understand what's going on, that the national broadcasting corporation would be saying these things when she's so enormously admired across the world.

Jane Hill: Charles Moore, thanks for joining us here tonight

Charles Moore: Particularly...there are British, there are real British people and today...[faded out by the BBC]

Jane Hill: Charles Moore, thank you very much, who..I'm sure you know..has written the authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher.

Some extracts from the interview have now been uploaded onto YouTube:

The end is where we start from

As I'm recording the day's coverage on the BBC News Channel for later scrutiny, this post will merely provide a few initial impressions of the big event - the funeral of Baroness Thatcher - or, more accurately, the reactions of others to the BBC's coverage. 

I always keep up with the comments at Biased BBC. I was amused today to see these two comments come in within a minute of each other:
Submitted on 2013/04/17 at 3:35 pm - BBC coverage of state occasions used to set the benchmark. something somewhere went wrong. I think at heart the BBC discovered that it was no longer patriotic. State occasions became events to be viewed with a satirical wry commentary. This morning Dimbleby was ill informed and sarky in tone.
Submitted on 2013/04/17 at 3:34 pm  - I was moved by the funeral (which I watched live on the BBC HD channel). It really did look like history in-the-moment and it was a respectful, quietly impressive ceremony – the sort of thing this country does so extremely well when it actually wants to. The BBC refrained from any petty political point scoring throughout the coverage. Even Dimbledore somehow acquitted himself well in the proceedings.
As well as these differences of opinion at Biased BBC there were also sharply different reactions on Twitter concerning the BBC's coverage of Lady Thatcher's funeral.

At (right-leaning) Biased BBC the prevailing opinion was that the BBC got it wrong, and that the coverage was anti-Thatcher. Searching under 'BBC bias' on Twitter (which will automatically deselect all those millions of people who aren't objecting to 'BBC bias') and then counting (as I'm wont to do!) you will find a similar difference of opinion on Twitter - albeit, as at Biased BBC, a far from even split. A clear majority of Twitterers, however, are complaining about pro-Thatcher bias from the BBC, with considerably fewer people complaining about anti-Thatcher bias (though there's been a recent upsurge from that side of the argument). Twitter, however, is not necessarily representative of anything other than the Twittersphere. Just like blogs.

A classic moment (which also made me smile) came when these two tweets popped up within about a minute of each other, both reacting to David Dimbleby's interview with David Cameron just before the funeral:

David dimbley very poor interview with pm showing typical BBC left wing biasDoes he not realize this is a funeral

If you think the has a left bias just look at 's performance today! Unashamed true blue love in with

I saw that interview. There was a bit of sweetness and a bit of tartness in David Dimbleby's questioning. In other words, it was balanced. There was something for everyone - and something for everyone to object to (were they so minded).

Does that mean the BBC got it about right (as they themselves have a habit of saying)?

Well, I only watched the coverage of the funeral itself (plus the progression of the cortège) and found nothing to object to in terms of BBC bias. David Dimbleby did his usual fine job on such occasions.

Being an admirer of Mrs Thatcher though, my own personal biases might (I suppose) be coming into play here. As I was appreciating and being moved by the funeral itself, maybe that also means that the coverage was pro-Thatcher (working on me unawares)? Or maybe I was reacting more to the pomp and ceremony of the funeral (the military precision, the horses, the applause of the large crowds, the beauty of the music, the granddaughter's reading, the gorgeous Anglican ritual, the Bishop's sermon, the Queen and the Duke, the bells of St. Paul's ringing out, etc, etc, etc) as well as to my own affection for the memory of the idolised prime minister of my youth and, thereby, may have been filtering out the loaded anti-Thatcher commentary being (allegedly) supplied by David Dimblebias?

Well, I don't think that's the case. I am always wearing my BBC-bias-tinted spectacles after all and seem to be incapable of watching events like this without thinking about whether the coverage is biased or not.

I heard very little to object to. I registered a comment by David Dimbleby that I thought might annoy the anti-Thatcher crowd over South Africa, where he (rightly) decisively dismissed the Left's argument that Mrs T. wasn't anti-apartheid. Nothing else struck me as being likely to offer offence to anyone who wasn't going out of their way to be offended (however unconsciously). Fervent partisans and active bias seekers may not be accurate judges of bias after all.

I will need to review the day's coverage carefully, and as objectively as possible, to say whether there is a case to be answered (either way) that the BBC is biased. I won't take anyone else's word for it.


I note with some feeling that one of the poems Baroness Thatcher requested for her funeral was a favourite of mine - Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot.

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

'Jewish claims'

The Commentator highlights a remarkable reply to one of its readers from the BBC Complaints department. 

The reader had complained about the headline the BBC News website article about Lord Ahmed, a Labour peer suspended for making anti-Semitic accusations that Jews were responsible for his prison sentence following a fatal motorway crash:

The reader complained that the BBC's headline avoided the correct word - 'anti-Semitism'. Others complained that the headline was also confusing - i.e. that it might easily misled readers into assuming that 'claims made by some Jewish people' had resulted in his suspension.

The BBC Complaints department has explained why that headline was used. (I think I should have put the word 'explained' in inverted commas there. Hope you're not drinking something as you read this, or your computer screen could be drenched any second now!)
Thanks for your email and please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We try and stick as closely as possible to the words used, so, in this case we used 'Jewish claims' in the short space available for headlines to summarise his comments.
The reader's response to that is an entirely fair one:
Thanks for your reply, but with all due respect that is utter nonsense. 'Jewish claims' 13 characters. 'Antisemitism' 12 characters. Plus one look at the space available in the headline within the URL will tell you that there is/was PLENTY of space to report factually. To say that the misleading and inaccurate headline was due to space available is provably wrong. This is not an acceptable response . Please explain as I am considerably unhappy at the dishonest response you have provided.
Yes, Labour peer Lord Ahmed suspended after anti-Semitism (or Labour peer Lord Ahmed suspended after 'anti-Semitism') would obviously be a more accurate and much less confusing headline. Why on earth didn't they use it in the first place, and why haven't they changed it since? 

The bit the Commentator doesn't pick up on in the BBC's reply is "We try and stick as closely as possible to the words used." The words used, checking back, were in fact 'anti-Semitism':
The Labour leader Ed Miliband later said: “I think that the comments reported by Lord Ahmed are disgraceful comments.

“There's no place for anti-semitism in the Labour Party, and frankly anybody who makes those kinds of comments cannot be either a Labour lord or a Labour member of Parliament.” (Independent)
In a statement, the Labour Party said it "deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-Semitism". (BBC)
Even that part of the BBC Complaints department's reply doesn't ring true then.

Have I Got A "Flood" Of Remarkably Easily Offended People For You

The Daily Mail anticipated the day of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher (a beautiful, extraordinary service) by publishing a piece about BBC bias.  

More than 100 complaints flood in following BBC's Have I Got News For You quiz show mocking Baroness Thatcher's death

  • The BBC1 show has drawn 107 complaints since it was broadcast Friday
  • Guest Ken Livingstone joked about declining an invitation to her funeral
  • Other jokes were aimed at her son Mark and her former Tory cabinet

The article reports that some 107 people wrote into to complain about last Friday's programme. It mentions the BBC's response, before highlighting two areas of criticism:
During the show guest Ken Livingstone joked about how during her time in office she had axed the Greater London Council, of which he had been the leader.
He said: ‘I haven’t had my invite to the funeral yet so I haven’t been able to decline it.
‘It would be a tad hypocritical given she abolished me, to turn up to her funeral.’
A number of other gags were aimed at her cabinet and her son Mark.
A BBC spokesman is then quoted, giving the BBC's version of events in more detail: 
Responding to the complaints, the BBC said: ‘Given the enormous amount of TV and newspaper comment on the life and achievements of Lady Thatcher, it was impossible to ignore the story.

‘The very fact that the programme covered the death of Lady Thatcher was always going to infuriate some viewers, however they should know what to expect from the show after 23 years.

‘If you look closely at the content of the show you will see that at no point did we make fun of Lady Thatcher herself or put forward a critique of her record - everything was based around the reaction to her death by other politicians and public figures, and the row over the cost of the funeral.'
Then the article ends in this way:
However this is not the first time the BBC satirical show has landed in hot water.
Is 107 people really a "flood", given that the show has millions of viewers? Is this number of complaints really worth publishing an article about? Isn't this just an attack piece on the BBC for the sake of writing an attack piece on the BBC?

The worst element of the article comes in the captions to the accompanying pictures. 

There's a picture of Ian Hislop and Ken Livingstone, underneath which we find the caption:
Smirking: Ken Livingstone and host Ian Hislop took part in Friday's controversial episode of Have I got News for You
The word "smirking" is clearly intended to cast Ken Livingstone, Ian Hislop and the BBC in a bad light. It doesn't say what they were "smirking" at. Ian was laughing anyhow, not smirking. It reinforces the message that the programme was a sustained mocking of Mrs Thatcher's memory.

Then comes a quote, used as a caption by the programme:
"Mark could sell snow to the eskimos and sand to the Arabs"
beneath which the Daily Mail writes:
Sick joke: The show was peppered with references to Baroness Thatcher's family and former cabinet
This might lead its readers to assume that this "sick joke" at Mark Thatcher's expense was the programme's. It is in fact a quotation from Mrs Thatcher herself. It's her own joke about Mark and she didn't mean it viciously. 

Finally, beneath a picture of the two other panellists, the Mail gives us more dog-whistle language, presumably in the hope of raising its readers hackles ever more:
Part of the pack: Bridget Christie and Paul Merton also took part in the show which provoked anger among viewers
The use of the word "pack" implying an attack by a pack of wolves, on Baroness Thatcher. It is obviously intended to further reinforce the idea that the programme was nasty in its bias. It's particularly unfair on Bridget Christie who had only good things to say about the late prime minister.

The top-rated comment on the Mail website rather sums up my feelings about this article:
I'm a Thatcherite, watched the show and can't remember being offended by anything. I must watch it again with my indignant head on.- Alex, Guildford, 16/4/2013 22:53
Precisely. There was nothing to be offended about. 

For a flavour of its humour, I've done a bit more transcribing. See if you need to reach for the smelling salts!

Brian Blessed (presenter, introducing Ken Livingstone):
"On Ian's team tonight a left-wing politician who believes the state should pay for everything - except ceremonial funerals."

Ian Hislop:
"The BBC has been accused of bias. So, luckily tonight, it's rectified it inviting Ken Livingstone on." 

Brian: "Now how did the BBC expose their own leftie tendencies and their utter contempt for Thatcher's memory?"
Ian: "They interviewed her enemies who said unpleasant things about her and then they interviewed her friends, most of whom also said unpleasant things about her."  
Brian: "Now the BBC interviewed Gerry Adams. What did he say?"
Ken: "Didn't he go on about how she supported a whole list of things he didn't approve of, basically".
Brian: "Well, he said 'Margaret Thatcher did great hurt to the British people.' Although not as much as all those bombs, eh Gerry?"

Brian then quoted the 'Sun':
Unemployed Julian Styles, 58 — made redundant from a factory in 1984 — said: “I’ve been waiting for that witch to die for 30 years. Tonight is party time. I’m drinking one drink for every year I’ve been out of work.”
before quipping (loudly), "Thirty years. Without a job. Pull yer finger out Julian, you lazy bastard!!!"

Brian: "This is the solemn news that one of our greatest peace-time prime ministers has died but don't worry - Gordon's alive!!!!"

Brian: "I usually prefer the Ritz. Though not this week. It must have been like that episode of 'Fawlty Towers' in there."

As for the idea that it was a "pack"-like assault on Mrs T's memory, Ian was more concerned to criticise her critics - especially Ken Livingstone and the Tory wets, though (in the interests of balance!) he also had a couple of gentle digs at her most enthusiastic supporters, joking that they were wanting to rename London "Thatcher". 

The Mail's repeated assertion that the programme mocked members of her cabinet is true to a certain degree - except that it misses out that those jokes were gentle ones. All the sharp, harsh jokes were made at the expense of people like Gerry Adams, unemployed Julian and Dr Jonathan Miller ("And what a twat he is!") i.e. the people who showed the most disrespect for Lady Thatcher. Ken Livingstone was hardly cruel in his comments and was on the receiving end of quite a few barbs from Ian Hislop. I'm at a loss to know why Ken's words, as quoted in the Mail article, could offend anyone. Paul Merton made a joke about her closing down the mines, but that pretty much amounts to his contribution to the segment. The Ritz joke is the only one that came near to the mark (but it's a funny one).

If you've not see this edition of HIGNFY, you still have two days left to watch it.