Sunday 23 June 2013

'PM' Harder

Last week's survey of PM gave me the opportunity to be flippant, pop in a joke or two, and dwell a little on the lighter side of the news. This week's survey reflects the much more serious tone of this week's editions of PM

My goodness, it often felt as if the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were Eddie Mair's special guests in the PM studio. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death were the main themes of the week (and, yes, most of the items really could be slotted into one of those categories). There was nary a joke from Eddie to lighten the mood. In fact, it wouldn't have surprised me to have heard Eddie, who probably looked like a jasper and a sardius stone this week, say in a voice like thunder, "Come and see!" at the start of each programme and then to have heard the PM newsreader read the news to the sound of seven trumpets. Sadly though, the Whore of Babylon didn't turn up to give us the weather forecast. 

The intention behind this ongoing survey is to see if any trends in bias are emerging - as they should be doing if the BBC is as biased as people like me have long claimed. (That's the theme of this blog after all.) PM is one of the most-listened-to current affairs programme on BBC Radio 4, so it's an obvious test case to use. I have to say that I can't see any such trends of bias yet (quite the reverse), but I'll leave it open to you to disagree if you spot something I'm missing. 

The side benefit of doing such a survey is that it's got me listening to a lot of very interesting items. Hopefully what follows will convey some of that interest (and be of interest to you too), even at the risk of it reading more like a diary crossed with a news magazine at times rather than a blog about BBC bias. 

So, as President Obama orders more arms to be sent to the so-called lukewarm factions in the Laodicean opposition and President Assad promises to spew them out of his mouth in response, let's get started...   

Saturday 22/6

1. Policy pronouncements by Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg

Basically, Ed promises not to borrow more to fund spending and Nick promises not to break election promises next time. Ritula Shah (presenting) wondered whether "this cautious approach" would lead to a "dull agenda" at the next election. Former Labour special advisor and Progress columnist Paul Richards and Mark Pack of Liberal Democrat Newswire discussed the matter with her. Ritula's questioning stuck fairly rigidly to the framing question. This was the kind of bog-standard party political discussion that bores me rigid these days. It didn't engage me one bit and tempted me to switch off (except that I could hardly do that, could I?) Blah-di-blah-di-blah.

2. The U.S. files criminal charges against Edward Snowden, the leaker/whistle blower

The BBC's John Sudworth updated Ritula on the latest from Hong Kong.

3. The Guardian's story about GCHQ's use of internet surveillance

After clips of Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti denouncing GCHQ's apparent actions as "a clear contravention of the law" and Sir Malcolm Rifkind denouncing as "absurd" the idea that the U.S. is engaged in fishing expeditions against British internet users, Ritula interviewed security specialist Professor Peter Sommer (who last appeared on the programme precisely one week earlier and seems, therefore, to be their go-to guy on the issue). Professor Sommer says (and gives evidence in support of his contention) that "it's all pretty ambiguous". To boil his initial point down: The law in this area says this and that, but there are always exceptions. He's even unsure as to which legal forum GCHQ would need to go to discuss this kind of thing in the first place. In theory the first point of oversight would be the Foreign Secretary. (Why is William Hague competent to judge such things? Though democratically-elected, is he democratically accountable given that he will never be questioned in open parliament about his decisions?) Then there are various commissioners, but they're there to check compliance with (and interpretation of) existing legislation. Finally, there's the ten-member Intelligence and Security Committee (chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind), only two of whom (Sir Malcolm and Sir Robin Butler) would have had much experience of dealing with intelligence at all - in other words, WTF do they know about modern surveillance? Ritula summed up his responses as "More questions than answers". Indeed. Still, they were very interesting questions.

4. Mamphela Ramphele launches a new political party in South Africa, Agang, to challenge the ANC

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge and Karen Allen report on the launch. Mamphela Ramphele (former partner of Steve Biko) wants to cut the ANC's majority to under 50%. Will her promises win voters? According to many of Karen's vox pops, the new party lacks governing experience. However much people like her policies, that lack of experience will count against her, they say, and people seem likely to keep preferring the ANC.  

5. The government has dropped plans to raise the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph

The Times had suggested that this is because the government is wary about annoying women voters. An AA survey of 13,000 drivers suggests 63% of all drivers were in favour of a higher limit but 41% of women thought the limit should remain at 70 mph. Ritula asked racing driver and TV presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson (above) and Harry Eyres of the FT (not above) for their views (one being a woman, the other a man!). In an obviously-anticipated reversal of expectations, Vicki wanted the speed limit raised, on the grounds that most people are doing that anyway and because cars are much safer than they were when the 70 mph limit was first introduced, while Harry not only firmly rejected the idea but wants the limit of motorways reduced to 50 mph on grounds of road safety and the need to reduce carbon emissions to signal our need  to ensure a sustainable future. 

1. Sentencing of teacher Jeremy Forrest for abducting a schoolgirl

Eddie was updated from the court in Lewis by the BBC's Sophie Hutchinson then talked to Forrest's defence lawyer Ronald Jaffa. He raised with him the chatter on Twitter comparing the five-and-a-half year sentence given to him with the 15 month sentence given to Stuart Hall. Mr Jaffa said the judge followed the sentencing guidelines and sentenced within them.

The same issue was then discussed with the BBC's Clive Coleman, who agreed there's no anomaly between the two cases. The judge in the Stuart Hall case had to sentence according to the law at the time, when there were lower maximum sentences. The crucial year was 1985, when the maximum sentence for indecent assault was raised from two to ten years. Stuart Hall's crimes took place before then, so that's what he was convicted of and why his sentence was as long as it is. That maximum sentence remained at ten years even when the offence morphed into sexual assault in 2003. Jeremy Forrest was convicted of sexual activity with a child, considered a far more serious offence and carrying a maximum sentence of fourteen years. If there's intercourse, the starting point for any such sentence is four years. The breach of trust by someone in a position of authority was a significant aggravating feature in this case. This accounts for the sharp differences in sentences between the two cases. New guidelines are coming, Clive added, which will move away from the present emphasis on 'which body part is touching which body part' in favour of an emphasis on the harm caused.

Now, if I've explained that to your satisfaction then it's a testimony to the clarity with which Clive Coleman explained it to me - and to Radio 4 listeners.

2. Autopsy confirms actor James Gandolfini died of a heart attack

A statement from a friend of the family.

3. The Care Quality Commission (CQC)

Returning to the story the programme "discussed at length" the previous night (as Eddie put it), we heard extensive clips of interviews from earlier BBC programmes (including PM). Eddie then interviewed Camilla Cavendish, investigative journalist and associate editor of The Sunday Times who has just be made a non-executive director of the CQC board - a sign they are wanting to appear transparent, she says. Her view is that the CQC's initial decision to try to suppress the name of those involved in the cover-up (at the advice of lawyers) was "daft" and "misjudged". She approved of their quick change of mind though and wants the leaders of the CQC to be given "an encouraging wind" (i.e. not given the push). She wants the CQC to listen to patients like James Titcombe and Julie Bailey, who were "the only effective watchdogs" at Morecambe Bay and Mid Staffs. She suspects there's a "culture of contempt" for patients from within "some parts of the NHS", adding that many of us have anecdotal evidence that that's the case (as, indeed, many of us do). She backed up Jeremy Hunt's idea of a Chief Inspector for Hospitals.

For those bias-hunters seeking evidence of the BBC's pro-NHS bias, it's hard to find any such evidence here, and bias-hunters seeking evidence of the BBC's anti-government bias can't claim that Camilla and her support for Jeremy Hunt's scheme provided any evidence of that either. Short of Eddie Mair asking "Aren't Labour to blame for all this mess?" to every guest interviewed on the subject, it's hard to imagine some of most anti-BBC right-wingers accepting that the BBC isn't being pro-Labour. I suppose they would have liked Eddie Mair to haul Andy Burnham in for questioning and tell him he's a nasty piece of work (like he did with Boris). 

4. A party leaves the Greek government

Mark Lowen tells Eddie about the departure of the Democratic Left's departure from the government over the row of the "yanking" of the ERT, its state broadcaster.

5. North Korea

The BBC's Lucy Williamson reports on a decade-old Seoul-based online newspaper which is smuggling information out of tightly-controlled North Korea - images of street children sleeping rough in temperatures of -20 degrees, for example. The organisation has ten undercover correspondents gathering news from the dark North - including border patrol guards, policemen, secret service agents, the military, municipal workers, merchants and manual workers. Some get paid, some don't (and those who don't appear to be wanting to help change in their country). The sources mainly come from the remote Chinese border region. The risks are high, says the paper's editor. Being near the Chinese border - and using Chinese mobile phone networks - helps fool the regime in North Korea into not suspecting the calls so much, whereas if they'd been made directly to South Korea the regime would be more easily able to trace them. If caught the risks could vary. Local North Korean officials can be bribed. Get caught by officials from Pyongyang or military officials, however, and you could be sent to a concentration camp. One correspondent was recently arrested and the site has faced cyber attacks - which is the price of becoming better known. Officials in China and South Korea are now part of its audience. An interesting piece. I'd always wondered how such snippets of reality get out from such a strange dictatorship, other than by getting star BBC reporters to go on holiday with a bunch of LSE students. 

6. The Care Quality Commission (CQC)

The programme convened its own mini CQC to "help us to understand how hospital inspections can be improved". The panel consisted of: Dr Jonathan Fielden of University College Hospital, London; Jocelyn Cornwell, who worked for one of the CQC's predecessors; and Joyce Robins, co-founder of the Patient Concern campaign group. None of them reckoned much to hospital inspections. (Bias?) Jocelyn Cornwell (now of the King's Fund think-tank, much respected by the BBC) gave somewhat perfunctory-sounding support for Jeremy Hunt's idea of a new chief inspector but believes inspectors cannot assure the public. Safe patient-centred care is the responsibility of those on the front-line, she says, and blames the system rather than the individuals themselves. She says inspectors aren't able to be there all the time and doesn't see how inspection will help motivate staff. Jonathan Fielden agrees that inspectors aren't really the answer and that organisations need to listen to patients and staff. The right leadership and an "open culture" are needed, he waffled said. I have to say, having heard both of the two guests so far, that Joyce Robins's opening remarks that she's "absolutely sick of this endless statement of purpose which sounds great - all the vision and the mission and all that sort of thing" struck a chord. She wants the inspection system made less bureaucratic, less grand. Jocelyn Cornwell listed the errors at Morecambe Bay: (1) a lack of skill and knowledge on the part of staff, compounded by (2) not listening to the parents, compounded again by (3) a cover-up. She doesn't see how inspection could have helped with any of those things. (So what, precisely, could have helped then?) Dr Fielden rushed to place it all in context - "millions" of patients are looked after "each day" (really?) and there's a "vast amount of high quality care"  to consider. (He used the word "vast" a vast number of times here to emphasise the wonders of the NHS). Joyce Robins said the inspection system is still too geared to giving hospitals an overall rating. Crash teams are needed to shut things down and open things up if necessary. It's not good enough that hospitals as a whole get a rating, rather than individual units within a hospital, she concluded.

The bias angle? Well, you had a couple of voices from within what you might call the health establishment largely singing from the same hymn-sheet and a patients' campaigner from outside that circle voicing the concerns of her particular campaign group. (I've read up on them (google 'Patient Concern') and I'm not on board with some of the things they want, so I won't say that she speaks for all - or, dare I say, even most? - patients). All were downbeat about the value of inspection - in theory as well as in practice. All in all, I found it a curiously unsatisfactory discussion, not taking us very far and, frankly, confusing me even more - though I don't think that's down to the programme itself, merely to the quality of their guests' contributions. Tut, tut though - Eddie didn't ask a single one of them  "Aren't Labour to blame for all this mess?" Some people (on right-wing blogs other than this one) aren't going to like that one bit! 

7. The rebuilding of King Frederick the Great's Palace in Berlin

"Brace yourself", Eddie said. Suitably braced, we heard him tell us about the German...yes, German building projects in Germany that are "running very late and very over budget". (I should have braced myself more for that shocker. It's taken me hours to recover - and I still can't believe it). "I should warn you", Eddie added, preparing us again, "Stephen Evans's report contains size comparisons with football fields." 

The laying of the foundation stone was marked by a gong. The palace had been dynamited by the communist regime in 1950 as royal palaces weren't their sort of thing. So recreating it has a symbolic purpose. Some vox pops watching the ceremony expressed approval. However, Berlin's new airport is late, and will cost twice the original estimate. A plan to alter the station in Stuttgart is running billions over budget. A new concert hall in Hamburg is seven years late and ten times the initial budget. We hear from a taxpayers' campaigner who is (understandably) dismayed at that. Stephen speculated that the country's new-found confidence is making it think very big, wanting huge status symbol buildings to match its growing status - despite this being an age of austerity. Political pressure is leading to the construction of such buildings with, perhaps, too little preparation. Klaus Wowereit, the (Social Democrat) Mayor of Berlin (personifying this way of thinking) reckons the King's palace will be OK though and sounds intensely relaxed about it running over budget. (Maybe that chap from the German taxpayers' alliance should have a work with him.) As far as the theme of bias is concerned, both sides of the taxpayer versus tax-spender argument would have found something to agree with. 

8. Previously on PM... 

Charles Saatchi & Nigella Lawson; a commenter says men are victims of abuse by women too; another commenter supports Nick Clegg for saying he wouldn't have known how to have reacted had he been there. (Neither would we, she said,); the CQC; a commenter tells of his own failure to get the secretive CQC to come to grips with his complaint; GM foods; a commenter talks about the copyright problem and the wickedness of agri-businesses; another says the onus is on scientists to prove their safety and we shouldn't run before we should walk; a third attacks multi-nationals and their plans to own third world countries; those Brazil protests; a commenter complains about the overspend on the 2012 London Olympics.

As for bias, that all three of the comments about GM foods were anti-GM is very likely to reflect the programme's e-mail inbox. GM foods do arouse a lot of hostility. (Not from me though. I suspect we're in anti-science, MMR scare-type territory here). 

9. How the human voice links us to the deceased

A brief collection of treasured voices that listeners have sent in of deceased friends and family...talking, singing...Strangely moving - and, even more strangely for me, slightly unnerving. This was followed by a hard-to-forget - and far from maudlin - interview (by the master of such interviews, Eddie Mair) with a lady whose daughter, Flora, died of a brain tumour at the age of 6 last year. As someone who's spent some four years (on and off) blogging about BBC bias, it's easy to overlook how enriching the BBC can be at its best - and it's easy to try to fool yourself into thinking that such things don't matter and that the bias (you see) is all that really matters. 

Thursday 20/6

1. The names of those present at the Care Quality Commission meeting that decided to delete a report on its own failings are revealed

This was clearly the big story of the day - the suppression of an internal review into the failure of the CQC's own inspections at Furness Hospital. To remind you all of what you doubtless already know: The CQC had given the hospital the all-clear, despite several new-born babies dying in its maternity unit. When questions were raised internally about the issue, the review was ordered to be deleted. The CQC later hired accountants Grant Thornton to investigate this, and Grant Thornton uncovered the cover-up. The current boss says all the CQC members responsible for the cover-up have all gone. However, the CQC then decided to redact the names of those CQC members from the Grant Thornton report "on legal advice", thus adding a new layer of cover-up to the story. The Information Commissioner was not impressed by that and a head-of-stream, built by the Mail and Telegraph, led - late in the afternoon - to the publication of all nine names. BBC reporter Angus Crawford detailed what was apparently said at that meeting - and jaw-dropping stuff it is too - and what actions might follow. James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died at Furness Hospital, wants a police investigation of the CQC.

David Behan, chief executive of the CQC, was then interviewed at length by Eddie and made to account for the events of recent days. He gave Mr Behan a right-and-proper grilling, refusing to allow him to weasel out of anything through polite but firm and thorough interviewing. Hopefully, parliament will hold him to account with the same rigour.

2. Teacher Jeremy Forrest found guilty of abducting a schoolgirl

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson reported from the court on the jury's decision.

3. Nick Clegg is asked on LBC about the assault on Nigella by Charles Saatchi, and says he's not sure exactly what happened, it could have just been a "fleeting thing" and can't imagine what he'd have done had he been there

Some MPs are unhappy with Mr Clegg about this. The BBC's Iain Watson explained why, saying that Mr Clegg had made an "error" by doing what some politicians don't do - answering instead of ducking a question. The MPs in question - cue Labour's Yvette Cooper - alleged that it shows a "casual" attitude towards domestic violence. Nick Clegg put out a "clarifying" statement, saying he "misspoke" and that he's done a lot of work on domestic violence. I think Iain's point that "politics, as we know, can paint issues in primary colours rather than more subtle shades" is proved by this story.

(I see Ed Miliband has now told the Graun that he would have intervened. Yeah, right! How gullible does he think we are? I mean, the idea of Ed Miliband...yes, Ed Miliband...leaping Clark Kent-like into action without a moment's hesitation to save the beautiful Nigella from the violent clutches of her husband doesn't really ring true to me. And as for telling Andrew Sparrow "Our duty is to intervene," well, the word "pompous" springs to mind. Now, it would be wonderful to think that any man would intervene in such a situation and ask "What's going on?" but, as the other diners that day showed, that doesn't seem to be what usually happens - especially when people can't be completely sure what's happening. There's something quite grating about a politician jumping on a bandwagon).

4. The Queen's horse wins the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot - for the first time

After an ear-splitting clip from an excitable BBC commentator, the BBC's horse racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght told Eddie that this was the first time the horse of a reigning monarch has ever won the Gold Cup since it was first staged there in 1807. The Queen's had 21 Royal Ascot winners, but none have won the Gold Cup before. Eddie asked, "Do we know if  the Queen was as excited as the commentator there?" (I don't think that could have been possible). The quandary as to who would hand the Queen the cup, given that she always hands it out and it would have looked a little odd if she'd merely picked it up and clutched it, was solved by the Duke of York handing it her instead. (Phew!)

5. Brazil protests

Carla Dauden, a Brazilian photographer, used YouTube to "eloquently" (as Eddie put it) complain about the use of people's taxes to pay for sports stadiums. We heard a long extract from the video. She says most of the money from the World Cup goes straight to FIFA, and tourism money goes to those who already have money. She thinks it could be a lot better spent. People are being kicked out of their houses. Native Indians are being evicted from their traditional lands. 'Is that democracy?', she wonders. Etc, etc. You can watch the whole thing here (and I can certainly see where she's coming from):

After Carla's video, Eddie talked to BBC sports correspondent Tim Vickery, who set it all in context. He says it's a new development that's perplexed the authorities. He thinks the protests are about the relationship between the Brazilian state and the Brazilian citizen. The football tournaments are a rallying point for protest because the Brazilian state has been so "high-handed" and "arrogant". (Paul Mason won't like this, but this makes the protests sound like a sort of Brazilian Tea Party). What's gone wrong? Well, when Brazil won the World Cup in 2007 the public were "explicitly told" the stadia would be paid for by private money, leaving taxpayers' money for infrastructure like public transport (the starting point for the protests). The opportunity to improve things like public transport "has been squandered". Tim said the games are (a) costing a lot more money than they should do (sounds familiar) and (b) are bringing fewer gains that they should do.

6. GM Food

Government minister Owen Paterson says emotion rather than evidence is driving people's fears about GM food. Eddie talked to environmental campaigner Mark Lynas, a former staunch opponent of GM crops who "shocked audiences earlier this year" by saying he'd got it wrong in this debate, and food journalist Joanna Blythman, author of What To Eat, who opposes GM food. A two-sided debate followed, which reminded me of the kind of intemperate debates which rage over 'climate change'. (Ye gods, all those 'Watts up with the real climate' blogs - on opposing sides of the argument - with their infinitely cliquey and frankly monstrous regiments of loyal commenters!). For example, I had to grin at the way Joanna launched a string of harshly-worded ad hom attacks on the supporters of GM and then (without seeming to bat an eyelid) launched another ad hom accusing them of "vilifying" their opponents. Why do these kinds of debate bring out the worst in people? Still, it certainly wasn't biased.

7. Boris Obama calls George Osborne 'Jeffrey' at the G8 Summit

President Obama called the British chancellor that three times, seemingly confusing him with the singer responsible  for the 1980s hits On the Wings of Love and Stay With Me Tonight. PM managed to get the aforementioned Jeffrey Osborne on the line. He was flattered that President Obama is a fan. He understands that George sings though, so when he comes to London next they could, he suggests, sing a little duet together. "What do you think caused the confusion?", asked Eddie, "because you don't look like him?" (Jeffrey Osborne laughed at that). "Are you any good at maths?", wondered Eddie. He then asked him if he'd sing back a quote of George Osborne's: "Tax cuts should be for life, not just for Christmas". Jeffrey obliged.

8. The death of Sopranos actor James Gandolfini

We heard a clip from one of his very rare interviews.

9. How the human voice links us to the deceased

Another interview in this short but thoughtful series featured a PM listener who, as a 13 year old, used her cassette recorder to record her grandparents. She admitted she'd previously used it for...ahem...recording the Top 40 (er, yes) and Eddie said he wouldn't report her to the authorities for that! Her grandparents (both born in 1895) thought it a magical device. They spoke into the microphone. Her late dad's voice is on there too. She can't remember what they said, only having listened to it once since. Her memories of how cassette tapes jammed and unravelled, and all those illegal Sunday nights with the charts, brought back a fair few memories for me too. It was that fear of losing the tape forever due to jamming or unravelling that stopped her from listening to the recording again. She still couldn't throw it out though. In one of those moments you kind of sensed was coming but were still glad that it happened, Eddie told her that BBC Scotland had processed her tape into a digital format and that she could have the results on an MP3. She was, I'm glad to say, happy. Radio 4 listeners listened along too, and I'm sure they were happy for her too. Eddie then complimented her on the quality of her recording!

Wednesday 19/6 

1. The Supreme Court rules that the families of soldiers killed in Iraq can pursue damages against the government under the Human Rights Act

Eddie provided a detailed history of the background complete with clips for starters. The issue concerns Snatch Land Rovers: Did they offer sufficient protection to soldiers in Iraq? After giving us the views of the complainant families and their supporters and a flavour of the political debate, the BBC's Clive Coleman provided Eddie with an analysis of the legal position. Up until today, he said, protection for soldiers stationed abroad under Article Two on the European convention that protects the right to life effectively ended at the gates of the military base they're serving in and didn't extend onto the battlefield. Today changed that, pushing that protection onto the battlefield (against the MoD's wishes). Sounds like a quantum shift? Well, Clive says, not really. The Supreme Court hasn't guaranteed that the claims will succeed, only that they'll be heard. Moreover, decisions taken in the heat of battle and policy decisions taken at a high level of command can't be challenged on human rights grounds.

Further to several earlier clips from the complainant families, we heard from a father of another of the soldiers, happy at the verdict. The MoD declined to be interviewed, so a clip from Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was played instead. Richard Kemp was then heard of for the third time, sounding a note of caution about the ruling, then a lawyer acting for the families put the opposing side. We were getting several points of view here. BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt described it as a difficult area of law, with one of the Supreme Court judges dissenting, and outlined the MoD's concerns and the debate over what this means for Britain waging war. This ruling sounds like another great leap forward for lawyers, methinks.

To those who, as with the CQC story, have been complaining that the BBC is failing to lay the blame where they believe it really should be laid - at the door of the last Labour government - well, this segment didn't exactly dwell on that angle but it did present historic clips of two figures from the Conservative opposition demanding answers from the then-Labour government. Yes, no former Labour minister was dragged in kicking and screaming and given a good coshing by Eddie though.

2. Peace talks in Afghanistan?

The BBC's Jonathan Beale reports on continued Taleban attacks, and the frustrations of President Karzai regarding the intended talks and the behaviour of the Americans.

3. Protests in Brazil

The BBC's Gary Duffy updates Eddie on the spread of the protests and specifies the cost of hosting major sporting competitions, corruption and inequality as the main grievances. His three vox pops, all protesters, say what they want - each reflecting one of those three grievances.

4. The Spanish economy

Emma Jane Kirby reports from the resort of Torre del Mar (near Malaga) on the plight of the unemployed there. She finds many young unemployed people there playing games on the beach. They explain why they aren't at work: Because there isn't any work, They also express deep pessimism about the future. Across Spain about one-sixth of the young population is out of work, but in Andalusia unemployment has historically been high. In 2005 it was already over 14%. It's now at 37% and youth unemployment is pushing 60%. Permanent jobs are particularly hard to find. Sounds grim down south.

5. President Obama makes a speech in Berlin

Stephen Evans reports on the latest speech by President Obama. His charisma eventually shines through, he says, but it didn't overwhelm apparently and Stephen suggests that he didn't match either Kennedy or Reagan in the power of his rhetoric here. A German think-tanker (from the Mercator Foundation) agrees that a bit of the Obama sparkle has gone. (Not much Obama-worship there then). On more serious matters,  Stephen Evans also reported that Chancellor Merkel, who grow up in the Stasi state, had expressed  concerns about U.S. surveillance in the wake of the Snowden leaks.

6. Should we still hate bankers, or is it time to move on?

Phil Dibbs, former director at Barclays Bank, and Frances Coppola, an independent banking analyst discussed this question. Mr Dibbs robustly stood up for bankers in general, saying that "a few people have ruined it for the vast majority". The slightly more sceptical Frances Coppola largely agreed, saying that it was only "a very few rotten apples at the top" that put the economy in peril, and that if we go too far in bashing bankers per se they're simply not going to want to work - "be able to work" - in the industry. Enough is now enough, was her message. Those looking for anti-banker bias here would not have found any (except perhaps in the choice of subject). Pro-banker bias in the guest selection, however, is a surprising thought.

7. The trial of teacher Jeremy Forrest for abducting a schoolgirl

BBC reporter Duncan Kennedy was at the Lewis court and told Eddie what had happened.

8. "Slut-shaming pages" on Facebook

Another case of cyber-bullying. Users can post comments anonymously which claim to expose the sexual behaviour of young people (some as young as 12 years old) in towns and cities across the UK. Declan Harvey from Radio 1 reported. Imagine that your name and photo on Facebook are used to set up a page and all manner of made-up allegations and degrading insults are written on it about you by someone you may know (by, say, an embittered ex or a work colleague) or by a complete stranger. Everyone can see it. Rape victims have even been accused of lying on it. Police say it's a civil matter of defamation and have referred calls about it to Facebook. The child protection agency CEOP says its not a matter for them either. The victims say it's a bit of a battle getting Facebook to act, though Facebook say they remove the pages quickly. The Cyber Smile Foundation, the UK's only anti-cyber bullying charity, is on the case - and good luck to them.

9. How the human voice links us to the deceased

Another PM listener regrets not been able to hear recordings of their deceased loved ones. She recalls her loved one who died back in 1974. She's got photos now - and a recording of his music. (He was a jazz trumpeter and pianist). That recording also preserves his voice - in the sound of his laugh. Now it can be found, thanks to PM, in the Radio 4 archive too. So many thoughts arise from this interview. I'm very glad to have heard it.

1. US announced direct talks with the Taleban

Eddie talked to Richard Barrett, former head of the UN's monitoring team with responsibility for al-Qaeda and the Taleban. Mr Barrett expects no early resolutions. Eddie wondered, Who do you talk to? What preparatory work has been done? Couldn't these talks have taken place earlier, given the loss of life there's been? Mr Barrett posed the question supporters of both sides might have been asking: "OK, well what have we been fighting for? Why didn't we start talking in 2002? Why didn't we start talking in 2011? Why don't we start talking in 2014?"

2. G8 Summit

BBC chief political correspondent Norman Smith updates Eddie. A clip of David Cameron claiming success at getting "a strong and purposeful statement" on Syria is immediately followed by Norm's "but", contradicting the prime minister: "But, Eddie, I've been through the document and I have to say..." What he has to say it's hard to see any concessions from President Putin and as regards the one area where he might have given ground - over President Assad -, well, he hasn't given any ground at all. Mr Cameron "insists" Assad must go, but Norm describes the statement as "so vague" as to be open to any interpretation. Another clip of Mr Cameron insisting is followed by another "but" from Norm, chucking cold water over the prime minister's spin. A clip of "supremely relaxed" President Putin is not followed by a contradiction, merely by an "and". Norm then summarises all his points and says it will be the Russian leader who goes home smiling, not David Cameron. Does Mr Cameron ever get anything other than a bad press from Norman Smith? Still, by the looks of things, Norm wasn't wrong.

3. Children and online pornography

The government and online companies have been discussing the issue. A watchdog - the Internet Watch Foundation - will get more money and go out and look for child porn instead of waiting for it to be reported. The BBC's Andrew Bomford went to their offices to find out how they carry out their work. (The images had to be pixilated for Andrew to see them.) The researcher send there's been a trend towards younger children and towards severer content. The director of the Internet Watch Foundation welcomes to move to allow them to actively seek out such content, quickening the process of removing it from the internet.

Eddie then talked to Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). Mr Gamble welcomes the extra funding and the new powers for the watchdog, but gives the startling figure that only 35 'notice and take down' reports were served in 2012 by the Internet Watch Foundation (i.e. notice given to internet service providers of offensive material on their sites which the ISPs then take down), reflecting the fact that ISPs aren't the main means by which paedophiles access this kind of material. They do that by clustering together to form 'peer to peer networks' (sharing directly from each other's hard drives, bypassing ISPs).  His concern is that ISPs have been blocking for years and that blocking is all very well but what really matters is finding the abused child behind that image and rescuing them. What's needed, he says, is for the number of police working on the task of infiltrating online paedophile gangs (at the moment only a handful or so officers a day) to be boosted. Many more police should be working on this task. The images are a symptom, he said. The real issue is the rape and abuse of children, and rescuing them from that daily ordeal.

He believes Mr Cameron is being badly advised - though he sounded to have a dog in the fight, as it were.

4. Depicting Hitler in today's Germany

Prompted by a new book - Er is Wieder Da (He's back!), a comic novel re-imagining Hitler as if he were living today - the BBC's Stephen Evans reported on the debate about whether it's OK to depict Hitler in today's Germany. The author, Timur Vermes, says that presenting Hitler as a figure of fun with a logic of his own rather than as someone bad and senseless might help explain to modern Germans why their grandparents voted for him. They haven't been looking at him clearly and, as a result, haven't understood what happened. The rave reviews for the stage show in Berlin of Mel Brooks's The Producers - complete with Springtime for Hitler - showed that it was acceptable to present Hitler in this way, but only because of the Jewishness of its author. We heard from Rudolph Herzog, author of Dead Funny, who added that there would have to be an underlying worthiness to any such work to avoid flippancy. Most depictions present him as a clown, but a clown with a potential for anger. Thomas Pigor, the cabaret singer behind the song Sitting in my Bunker recounts his mimicry, beginning in 1993, when it still was a real taboo. Now, it's less shocking and more normal to laugh about Hitler, he said, before tracing the history of 'laughing at Hitler' in post-war Germany. People joked about Hitler all the way up until 1968, when a new generation blamed the elder generation for the denial of their Nazi past and jokes about Hitler stopped. American TV and films provoked occasional debates about the acceptability of depicting the Nazi past, and that acceptability only gradually re-emerged. Now it's OK again, he concluded.

5. Two teenagers hit by a train in Hertfordshire

The BBC's Alexandra MacKenzie reports on this sad story, apparently suicides.

6. Climate scientists gather to discuss Britain's weird weather

Professor Richard Betts from the Met Office was at the meeting and talks to Eddie. They looked at three seasons - the cold winter of 2010/11, the wet summer of 2012 and the cold March of this year. Causes? Declining sea ice in the Arctic, the ways in with the atmosphere and the seas interact, and changes in the sun (its eleven-year cycle) were their suggestions. Computer models will be used to 'test' them. Professor Betts found the discussion "exciting". Eddie wished him "good luck with it". Climate sceptics will, of course, be crying 'Blatant pro-warmist bias!' at this point.

7. The trial of teacher Jeremy Forrest for abducting a schoolgirl

BBC reporter Duncan Kennedy was at the Lewis court and told Eddie what had happened. Traffic noise stopped the interview for a while (if that matters).

8. How the human voice links us to the deceased

Another interview in this short series - this time from Warren Lakin, partner of Linda Smith, the comedienne well known to Radio 4 listeners, who was caught by surprise, shocked even, at PM's montage (which he hadn't been forewarned about). Eddie apologised for that, but Warren actually wanted to thank the programme. He likes listening to her voice on radio, but finds it very hard to watch her TV appearances. He was overwhelmed by the affection the public had for her, revealed after her death. He recently collected all her material together and deposited it with Kent University.

9. Domestic violence

Chris Avery, someone who used to beat his wife but now helps people not to do so, talked to Eddie about his impression of Charles Saatchi's actions. He believes Mr Saatchi to be minimising his actions and that he needs to face up to it. He then discussed his past and his present, and the nature of domestic violence.

Monday 17/6 

1.  Stuart Hall sentenced to 15 months

Alan Collins, a solicitor in the field of child abuse law who has acted on behalf of Hall's victims, gave his take on the case and the verdict. Eddie read out a BBC statement about its role in the story and invited Mr Collins to give his observations. Mr Collins wasn't unduly troubled by the length of the sentence, but a small number of people have complained, thus triggering an investigation by the attorney general's office. Only one complaint is needed to trigger that review process. Eddie then interviewed former attorney general, Sir Edward Garnier (Conservative), about the nature of such complaints.  Sir Edward told him that anyone can complain - for example, a person in Exeter could read in a newspaper about a sentence given in Newcastle  - but you have to do so within 28 days of the sentence being given. The attorney general has to refer the matter to the court of appeal if he thinks it's unduly lenient within that 28 day period, and there's absolutely no discretion about that period - no referral can be accepted after 28 days, even if the attorney general agrees with the complainant that the sentence has been too lenient.

2. Hearing to test Moors' Murderer Ian Brady's sanity

The BBC's Dominic Casciani tells Eddie about the day's events at the hearing.

3. Charles Saatchi puts his hand round wife Nigella's throat happier days

Eddie reads out a statement from Mr Saatchi then talks to former Guardian picture editor, Eamonn McCabe, who gives the photos his seal of his approval. Eddie asked him about how such pictures would progress to the point of publication.

4. Newham Council's desire to deny betting company Paddy Power a license rejected by the courts

(Labour-run) Newham Council has got the hump about betting shops on its (or should that be "its"?) high streets and tried to stop Paddy Power from opening a new shop. The courts chucked their case out. Paddy has the power after all. The BBC's Andrew Bomford reported on the story. Despite giving a spokesman from the betting industry a brief say, Andrew gave an anti-betting Labour councillor the lion's share of the 'talking head' bragging rights and painted a scene of betting shops springing up like scabies in the area - which rather reinforced the Labour councillor's case. Yes, both sides of the case were given space but Newham Council's side (the side that lost the court case) were granted the better hearing. So, yes, a smidgeon of BBC bias might be found here. Still, too many betting shops in an area doesn't sound altogether healthy....(or is that just Andrew's report exercising a powerful subliminal effect on me after all?)

5. G8 Summit

Eddie talked to BBC political correspondent Norman Smith about the latest summit in Enniskillen. Norm predicted no progress on Syria. (I'd have predicted that too).

6. Greece

Mark Lowen reports from Greece on the political situation there. The Greek broadcaster has been "yanked off the air" (a phrase Eddie will use again this week). We hear from an ERT reporter, who ain't happy that Mr Samaras has yanked them off and wants the Greek equivalent of the BBC put back on air. The prime minister's coalition parties aren't happy but Mr Samaras says the reform is overdue.

7. The Spanish economy

Here's an interesting stat: When the Spanish property bubble burst some eight million jobs went with it. A town on the South coast of Spain spent a fortune building a tramway six years ago to link it to the major seaside report nearby (Malaga). "Guess what's happening to it now?" asked Eddie. I think we could all guess. It ain't going well. BBC reporter Emma Jane Kirby told its story. The trams have been leased to Australia and will be gracing the streets of Sydney. The local mayor says it's necessary to deal with the deficit. A furniture business owner is having to close her business, and says the town is going to have to change. It's doing so, says Emma Jane, by going back to its agricultural roots, tearing up vines and olive trees  to grow more profitable mangoes and avocados. (Who'd have thought mangoes would have been more profitable than vines?) Still, there's good ol' BBC hope at the end: If the town gets back on its feet those leased trams (see below) will be back!

8. The trial of teacher Jeremy Forrest for abducting a schoolgirl

BBC reporter Duncan Kennedy was at the Lewis court and told Eddie what had happened.

9. World hunger

Ruth Alexander from the BBC's More or less looked at a statistic used by the If campaign against world hunger: "There is enough food for everyone in the world yet every 15 seconds a child dies of hunger." But is that true? In advance of listening to this report I thought (and I'm typing as I think it!) that the BBC would hardly be so daring as to refute a key If campaign statistic just as the G8 summit was getting under way. That would be so un-PC - and so un-BBC!! Ruth said  that the If campaign had actually changed that statistic to "every 10 seconds a child dies of hunger" midway through the campaign. So is that true?

Well, said Ruth, it's true that that many children are dying but they're not starving to death. They're dying of diseases like measles and pneumonia, which their diets make them more susceptible to. It's not a lack of calories but the lack of a balanced diet that's causing the deaths - "a problem that in most cases could be addressed by nutrition education". So, to my surprise, Ruth was partially refuting the If campaign's stats.

What did they have to say to that? Well, they used the line that campaigners so often use when caught out:
"But the If campaign defends their stats. They say 'You've got to get people's attention with a simple message and then you can give them the detail'". 
In other words, a little white lie does no harm.

A very informative little section, as you might expect from the More or less team.

10. How the human voice links us to the deceased

This was the first in a series of interviews, following on from the death of BBC newsreader Rory Morrison, which evoked the power of the recorded voice of dead loved ones on the living. We heard from a mother whose son hung himself at the age of 19. Only one voice recording might survive - a voice-mail on his mobile perhaps. Unfortunately, the mobile phone has been lost. She daren't ring the number but will get her husband to do so soon. I will keep my fingers crossed for her. A thought-provoking interview by Eddie....

The following day's programme updated us with the news that she had rung the number but that it hadn't been recognised.

Thus ends my second review of PM. Did you spot any egregious bias? 

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