Monday 24 June 2013

Apocalypse Later

The BBC Academy College of Journalism has updated its guide on reporting matters related to Israel and the Palestinians.

As soon as I opened the page the following passage leapt out because its guidelines are being flouted, day in, day out; flouted with such frequency that one may be surprised to learn that such guidelines exist. Producers, scriptwriters and commissioning editors must be unaware of them too.  

‘Middle East expert’ Some ‘experts’ may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another, even if they have no overt affiliation. It is preferable, where time and space allow, to provide a lengthier indication of the contributor’s views on past issues so that the audience might calibrate his or her statements for themselves.In all reporting we should avoid generalisations, bland descriptions and loose phrases which in fact tell us little about a contributor or event. The phrase ‘Middle East expert’ implies the BBC thinks this person's views have weight and independence. If we can defend that judgement - that's fine. If not it may be better to avoid the phrase.Overall, we should seek a precise description - for example, what job does this person hold? Who employs them? Where do they stand in the debate?
Has the BBC been following those guidelines? They say Ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law does not excuse), so an unequivocal mission statement like the above, dedicated to transparency and clarity, is tantamount to a confession. Each time extremists such as Abdel Bari Atwan or Ghada Karmi are introduced as ‘experts on the Middle East’, perhaps with “editor of Al Quds” or “research fellow at Exeter University’ innocently tagged on, the BBC is guilty of opacity and bias by omission.  Anyone who didn’t know any better would get he impression that they are impartial.  All that’s missing is the epithet *innocent face*. 

But this particular BBC failing applies across the board. It’s not limited to matters M.E.  BBC  folk are complacent and content with their own political biases and, cue annoying advert, ‘they don’t even know it.’ Take, for example the ubiquitous adjective “right-wing” as applied to “think-tank”, or  “far-right” applied to anything or anyone opposed to Islam.  Left-leaning is the BBC’s meridian, and that’s that.
It makes the following sentence even more nonsensical on oh so many levels.  
“Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.”

There’s a whole thread on Harry’s Place that deals with defining Terrorism. Sara AB says:
“I think it is reasonable to see some of the actions associated with anti-Muslim bigots as ‘terrorist’, though these are not at the worst end of the spectrum generally,”  
Now we’re into semantics, I think she should start a thread to define ‘Bigot” too.

The BBC’s policy is never to use the word ‘terror’ unless it’s a quote. I’m not sure if this is because of difficulty with the precise definition - does it apply to any violent act in the name of  a war or cause, perpetrated by an unofficial, (i.e. illegitimate ) soldier/political activist? Or even a threat or incitement - nobody seems to know. 

But in any case the big deal they’ve made out of using a euphemism in order to avoid making a value judgement does little more than draw attention to the fact that they ARE making a value judgement. Each time they call an obvious terrorist a militant it’s the biggest display of a value judgement one could ever hope to encounter.

What they fail to recognise is the obvious fact that the whole of the BBC’s output is a kind of value judgement. It’s the selection of certain matters that are deemed newsworthy, and by the same token, those that ain’t.

The result of the BBC’s failure to report vital information was demonstrated on Thursday. Melanie Phillips created a minor furore when she attempted to enlighten the Question Time audience about the religious mania that motivates the Iranian Ayatollahs, viz the coming of the Mahdi, which first necessitates an apocalypse (to befall upon us, predicted to occur in 2022 if I’m not mistaken) 

How far-fetched is that? Well, it is far-fetched, and that’s precisely why she was telling them it’s useless to think one can negotiate rationally with Iran. Hoping that Iran’s secular movement will somehow seize power seems almost as far-fetched. 

But the BBC QT audience knows nothing about matters concerning the Mahdi, the apocalypse or the aspirations of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hosseini Khamenei, because the BBC deems that kind of thing  less newsworthy than, say the triumph of a Palestinian ‘Cinderella‘ winning Arab Idol

Because the whole Twelfth Imam business is one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up‘ scenarios, the baying -  nay, braying mob booed Melanie Phillips for saying what she said. With the aid of the BBC they are convinced that the reasonable thing to do is to ‘reach out’ to Iran with the open fist of friendship, otherwise known as capitulation.

The BBC audience is led to believe that the religious Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas, Hezbollah and other fundamentalist Islamist organisations are ‘just like us’ because people like Yolande Knell are oddly unimaginative. Despite being sent to far-flung regions as  professional reporters, they remain inherently parochial.  I think it must be something to do with belonging to the BBC ‘family’. Like in the Peggy Mitchell Eastenders of long ago. It’s Fambley.

Melanie Phillips’s exasperated outburst  became a bit of an internet sensation. She accused the British public of being ignorant and imbecilic for pooh-poohing her suggestion that Iran needed to be neutralized. Since she was on the BBC, she stopped short of directly attributing the audience’s ignorance and imbecility to the BBC’s failure to disseminate the facts surrounding Iranian irrationality.

People are strangely passionate over matters about which they know next to nothing. They don’t even know they don’t know, however, simply because they think it’s possible to learn all there is to know by listening to bits of news on the BBC.

I stumbled upon one blogger’s critique of that episode of Question Time. The blogger is “a guy in his early 30′s(sic) who’s trying to make a go of this whole writing business.” (Keep trying.)
I might as well give him a link because no-one is going to be swayed by someone who addresses his readership as lemmings.

HOW TRIVIAL OF YOU! HOW IGNORANT OF YOU!” was her [Melanie Phillips’s] next line and with it went any hope that the show might remain tenuously anchored in reality. “
opines early 30s guy, with a swagger. 
part of me is quite pleased to see that Mel’s back and as unhinged as ever” 
he says later. This Mad Mel mantra is a poor excuse of an argument. I’m waiting for one person to justify it. Even the heckler who shouted “Paranoia” was unable to flesh out his argument.

One thing 30s guy got right is that Question Time is terminally compromised by the frantic drive to make sparks fly by choosing an outspoken panel. That now takes precedence over inviting guests whose presence would increase the likelihood of a productive debate. 

The mischievous decision to invite Russell Brand onto the panel proved more of a damp squib than a sparky controversy. Few people could be arsed to react, even though he was supposed to be in disgrace and  expunged from the BBC’s speed dial. Whose idea was it? Who cares; it was stupid. 
Another under 30s blogger, not a fan, wrote about it on Huffpo.
“The crux of the problem with Question Time is its tendency to invite modish comedians or generally thick TV folk on the show, to answer questions with populist twaddle. This is designed to placate a loud yet clearly unthinking audience, who frequently hold such absurd positions with unbelievable self certainty that they are reminiscent of flat earthers.”

Yup. I’m with him. Why does Russell Brand sound like Ali G with a smattering of Bluebottle? 
“Drug addics should be trea’ed in a compassioni’ and empafa’ic - empafe’ic way.”  
Indeed.  What time is it Eccles? Question Time, my good fellow. I got it writted down on a bit of paper.


  1. Hi, early 30's guy here. Just thought I'd bob in, swagger about a bit, maybe opine a little. Oh wait, looks like you've got the opining bit covered so I'll guess I'll just swagger. Tra-la-la!

    1. Hi early 30s guy,

      Nice to see you. The opining bit is covered? No-one has the monopoly on opining do they? You’re welcome to opine as much as you like with or without the swagger.

      When you critique something or someone it makes sense to explain what’s wrong with it. So, why in your opinion, is Melanie Phillips unhinged? Just because ‘people’ say so? Or what?

      Have a look at the appalling comments below the YouTube video. It’s a wonder YouTube lets them stand.

      You’re quite right, I do opine; apparently to no avail, since the only thing that seems to be of interest is the teeny paragraph that concerns you.

      Diddly dee dee!

  2. Ah, I think I see the problem.... I think you're confusing Questionable Time (which is a critique of the spectacle - not the content - of QT) with a 'serious' opinion piece (which it most certainly isn't). However, you are right that I described her as 'unhinged' and that was a) because she was acting quite unhinged and b) she pedals a view of a Britain that I simply simply don't recognise - you know, the place where we're all divied up into 'Good' or 'Evil' with precious little left in the middle. In my book that's a seductive but patently false narrative that doesn't exactly help society rub along together.

    Oh, and I do tend to focus on the parts of other people's work where they politely slag me off. Yeah, I know - 'People in glass houses' and all that but whatevs...

    1. I sympathise with the last bit - I was indignant when an anonymous commenter on a review site described me as ‘unintentionally hysterical’. I think that was it.

      Even if one was to confuse your blog with a serious opinion piece, that has no bearing on the fact that you didn’t feel any need to explain why you called her unhinged.

      Seriously. How was she acting? Riled, maybe. Who wouldn’t be, if a woefully ill-informed mob booed and heckled them?
      I disagree that she pedals the view of Britian you describe. To use your phrase I simply don’t recognise that she pedals such a view. She certainly did no such thing on that programme.
      a) She was talking about Syria and then Iran, rather than Britain. She understands the politics of the Middle East very well. She is an ‘expert’. (Unless you believe that being a Zionist disqualifies one from being regarded as an “expert” whilst being a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activist does not)
      b)The “British” audience was naively defending Iran’s credibility as a rational negotiating partner without taking Iranian religio-political extremism into account. (Because they knew next to nothing about it)

    2. When someone starts embarking on an opinion that contains the phrase "Iran should be neutralised" (a rather strong phrase given the background hum of pre-emptive strikery), my spidey senses start tingling. When you then double-down on that position by basically accusing everyone of "cowardice" (which is pretty far removed from politely stating that you think there wrong) I then start actively twitching. However, it was the moment when those limbs went flying and that finger came out that I finally concluded that Mel was off her mash.

      And no, I don't think her being a Zionist excludes her from anything.... Other than a holiday in Iran maybe.

    3. I took “neutralized” to mean militarily. So what’s not to like?
      The flying limbs must have been your own, actively twitching. I didn’t spot any of Melanie’s limbs flying, though she did point, I agree.


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