Tuesday 30 July 2013

No benefit of the doubt here

The government (especially IDS) and several voices from the Right side of politics - from Stephen Glover to Janet Daley and Daniel Hannan - have often been sharply critical of the BBC for what they see as its biased reporting of the Coalition's benefit reforms. They argue that the BBC has taken sides in the argument (consciously or unconsciously) - i.e. the side of those who oppose the government's reforms. 

Today's rejection by the High Court of challenge to one of the government's key benefit reforms brought by a number of disabled claimants resulted in the following cluster of stories, which led the BBC News website for much of today (until the sentencing of Wikileaker Bradley Manning demoted the story into second place):

Housing benefit challenge fails

Disabled families lose a High Court challenge to social housing benefit cuts for residents with spare bedrooms in England, Wales and Scotland.

Does the main article provide evidence for the case against the BBC? Or does it show impartial reporting at its finest?

Wall, what should we expect from such a report in advance? 

I think we should expect an outlining of the judgement (complete with quotes from the judges) followed by reactions from both sides - presumably the 'winning side' first (i.e. the government) and the 'losing side' second (i.e. the benefit claimants). For the report to be balanced it obviously needs to provide a roughly equal amount of space to each side of the argument.

Is this what happens?


This is how the main article about the story of the BBC website is actually structured:
Paragraph 1: Descriptive
Paragraph 2: Descriptive
Paragraph 3: Descriptive
Paragraph 4: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 5: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 6: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 7: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 8: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 9: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 10: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 11: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 12: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 13: The government's side
Paragraph 14: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 15: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 16: The government's side
Paragraph 17: The government's side
Paragraph 18: The government's side
Paragraph 19: The government's side
Paragraph 20: The government's side
Paragraph 21: Descriptive
Paragraph 22: Descriptive
Paragraph 23: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 24: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 25: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 26: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 27: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 28: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 29: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 30: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 31: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 32: The side of the claimants
Paragraph 33: The government's side
That's 21 paragraphs given over to critics of the benefit reforms (the claimants, their solicitor, Labour, charities) and just 7 given over to supporters of the benefit reforms (the government) - which strikes me as a massive imbalance in the article against the government. 

You can of course carry out the same count for yourselves to see if you agree with my labels for each paragraph. 

BBC News website readers moving on from that biased article have four other links to click on - two are BBC journalists' overviews (including a Q&A article), but the other two are given over entirely to the the claimants's side of the argument. This strikes me as a further imbalance, adding insult to injury.

You will also have noticed that the judges' ruling is not quoted by the BBC. The BBC article merely links to it. I'm at a complete loss to understand why the whole point of the story - that a judge has made a ruling dismissing the claimants' case - seems to be missing from the BBC's lead article. Where are the quotes from the judges? Where's the summary of their ruling? 

Now, it's not all bad. There are two videos in the main article - one for each side of the argument. That's an attempt at balance. 

Still, it must be said that the video where the claimants' side of the argument is given is placed right at the head of the article, just beneath the headline, while the government's response is placed well down the page. 

However, the inset analysis from Mike Sergeant, the BBC's local government correspondent, does strike me as being a model piece of impartial reporting (in miniature). That's the article's redeeming feature. 

Don't you agree that this provides a good deal of evidence to support those at the Telegraph, Mail and Spectator who agree with Iain Duncan Smith that the BBC is biased against the government's benefit changes?

About talks about talks

These ‘talks about talks’ in yesterday’s headlines provided the BBC with another opportunity to confuse the listener. 
Monday’s Today featured two items on this topic. In the first, at 7:51, Justin called upon the opinions of two specially selected guests.

Ghada Karmi, a doctor and journalist, and Lord Levy, president of Community Service Volunteers Jewish Care, outline what the talks will be trying to achieve.

Ghada Karmi, "a doctor and journalist"

Lord Levy

So says the Today website. 

It seems odd to describe Ghada thus. She’s a well-known anti-Israel activist.  Her bio says that she was ‘forced to flee‘ from her childhood home in  Katamon in the ‘Nakba’’, or catastrophe, which is how many people perceive the creation of Israel. Accordingly, as it says in Wiki,  (I know, I know, warts and all) she opposes the existence of Israel, and considers its very being nothing but an affront to all Arabs. Therefore it’s fair to assume that when she refers to ‘the occupation’, she means ‘Israel’s existence’. 

So the description ‘doctor and journalist’  seems a little inadequate. In the programme itself, Justin went into a bit more detail, and introduced her as a Doctor, and “research fellow at the Institute of Islamic and Arab studies at the University of Exeter” Impressive, but not completely honest and open.

She may well be a research fellow, but it seems rigor is not her strongest suit, since she wrote a whole book boasting what she probably assumed was a cunningly emotive  title: “Married to Another Man”, which was based on a resonant quotation, namely “The Bride is Beautiful, But she is....etc”) 
which alludes, of course, to the hypothesis that the entire land of Palestine was already  occupied and belonged to the Arabs. The origin of this unsubstantiated cable-from-the-two-Rabbis on a pre-Israel recce is a mystery, but Chinese Whispers comes to mind, having passed through Jeremy Bowen via Avi Shlaim and out the other end of Ghada Karmi. 

(Incidentally, one of her co-signatories calling for a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association and its expulsion from the WMA, happens to be Dr David Halpin, but that’s another story
If he wasn’t so dull and somnambulist-like they’d be getting him on Today to opine about the Israeli involvement in the blackmarket trading of human organs. The video of him doing just that is no longer available on Youtube, fortunately for him.)

I digress.

Throughout her spot with Justin, Karmi punctuated her remarks with feigned sorrowful laughter at the futility of it all. 
Lest her negativity appeared malevolent she opened with a claim that she wishes to resolve the conflict: 

“Well, any move that tries to resolve this conflict is welcome, but .... I don’t think we need to get too excited because we’ve been here before [...] this method has been tried many times in the past and has always failed. It has provided Israel with a cover - with a pretext to continue to colonise Palestinian land....”

Ahh, now we’re getting to the point, which, as ever,  is Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land.

“Mr Netanyahu the Israeli prime minister is on record as having said ‘I have all kinds of tactics’ he said to an audience when he didn’t realise he was being recorded ‘I have all kinds of tactics for disrupting any peace negotiations.’ 

(“Did he really say that?” someone asks on Harry’s Place) 

“No. This is a right-wing government whose agenda is to continue to colonise the West Bank and to hang on to what it already has. “The Palestinians are, let’s face it, in a very weak position, they’re in no position to refuse any kind of hope of relief from the Israeli occupation, but I’m afraid i don’t think this is the way. It’s not that one doesn’t welcome moves towards peace, it’s just that trying once again  a formula which has failed in the past is not the best way to go forward.”

 In what way Ghada welcomes “moves towards peace” we’ll never know, but methinks it might be somehow related to:
 "There is actually nothing — repeat, nothing — positive about the existence of Israel, as far as the Arabs are concerned.“At the Palestinian Return Conference held in January 2011, Karmi referred to the creation of Israel as involving the "dispossession and theft of a whole country" and that "The only way to reverse that is on the basis of rights and justice; that is the right of return of the refugees and the dispossessed and the exiles back to their homeland." She was then quoted as stating:"If that were to happen we know very well that that would be the end of a Jewish state in our region".[7]
That’s Wiki for ya!
Lord Levy appeared to be acting as P.R. for John Kerry. He could hardly be seen as  a counter-balance to his fellow-guest. Conspicuous by its absence, its invisibility, its non-appearance - neither abstract  nor concrete, tangible or intangible, nor dancing a diabolical version of the hokey cokey, in other words not there at all, was the teeniest smidgeon of a pro-Israel voice; you know, for balance.

Later in the programme, at 8:50 we heard two more opinions.

 Bronwen Maddox, a British-based Anglo-American journalist, and Simon Tisdall, an assistant editor at the Guardian, discuss how effective the talks will be.”

Why? Nobody will ever know. The masculine-sounding Bronwen who I thought was a bloke at first, and the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall are apparently “two people who’ve been “chronicling”.

They didn’t seem to have been doing much chronicling though. I suppose it depends on how you define chronicling. Perhaps they mean listening to the BBC and stuff like that. Neither of them contributed any illuminating insights whatsoever, nor anything that could be remotely considered to be ‘on behalf of Israel.’

See Harry’s Place for a variety of considered and nuanced observations on the topic. For one thing, the matter of the soon to be released prisoners, a topic that was hardly mentioned, if at all, on the Today programme.  Neither, for that matter, was there anything whatsoever about intractable Palestinian rejectionism and incitement. Don’t bother listening to the silly old BBC. 

Key o'the door

Chris Patten

Impartiality is at the heart of the BBC’s commitment to audiences. 
The Trust is committed to making sure that the BBC retains the 
public’s trust and fulfils its obligations to ensure its output achieves 
due impartiality. 
Recently, the BBC published the results of a new survey 
(to be conducted annually) of perceptions of the impartiality and 
trustworthiness of BBC News compared with other media. The 
results were encouraging, with 49% of respondents saying that 
BBC News was the one source they were most likely to turn to 
for impartial news coverage, compared to 14% for ITV and 6% 
for Sky News. 
Other work during the year included an impartiality review 
on ‘breadth of opinion’ in news, current affairs and factual 
programmes, led by Stuart Prebble, former Chief Executive 
Officer of ITV. His report focused on three topics: religion and 
belief; the EU; and immigration. The Trust concluded that, whilst 
there have been problems in the past and some remain, on the 
whole, the BBC goes to great lengths to provide a breadth of 
opinion. Nonetheless, we felt that the range of opinion may be 
narrowed in some subject areas by too great a focus on a 
Westminster agenda. We have, therefore, asked the Executive 
to ensure it has effective systems in place to monitor opinion 
more widely. 
The Trust held an impartiality seminar during the year, with guests 
from inside and outside the BBC. The seminar, on economics 
reporting, reflected the importance of challenging and explaining 
the issues across all economic sectors, given the complexity and 
lack of certainty inherent in this area. 


I just thought I’d stick that on the end for fun.

A Million+ reasons to mistrust the BBC's education reporting?

Here's a little something I posted as a comment nearly three years ago at Biased BBC.

Craig says:
Catching up on this week’s editions of Newsnight. On Monday night (the day of Lord Browne’s report on tuition fees), Michael Crick reported on the strains in the coalition. He badgered a Lib Dem MP (Stephen Williams) over the issue, then featured as ‘talking heads’ Pam Tatlow ofMillion Plus, which he described as “one university think tank”, and a Labour MP called Adrian Bailey. Pam Tatlow was very critical, and also attacked bankers and the City. 
What Crick failed to tell his audience is that Pam Tatlow is also a Labour Party member who tried to become the Labour candidate for the safe Labour seat of Ashfield (beaten by Gloria de Piero).
Yet again a BBC ‘talking head’ who is presented as an independent voice who turns out to be no such thing.

Moving on from October 2010 to July 2013 and guest what? Yep, they're still at it. 

Here's Alan at Biased BBC today:
Today the BBC brings us the Million+ think tank, ‘a think tank that also represents newer universities‘ which is telling us that ‘England’s teacher training system ‘broken down’
The system of planning teacher training in England has broken down and risks a future shortage of teachers, a university think tank says.
In her evidence to the committee, Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+ – a think tank that also represents newer universities – said School Direct, , which is focused around on-the-job, school-based training, had been introduced “without any robust assessment of its impact on teacher supply”.
Pam Tatlow?   Ever heard that name before?  You might have…she was in the news not so long ago….as a short listed Labour party candidate.
You’d have thought that might just be a bit relevant when you have a person strongly criticising government policy and yet is Labour through and through.
Apparently the BBC doesn’t think that to be the case.

The journalist behind that BBC report is education correspondent Hannah Richardson - the one who prompted this comment from me (here at Is...?) just three weeks ago:
I wondered what the BBC's online education reporter Hannah Richardson would make of it, as she's long seemed to me to be particularly close to those who oppose Mr Gove's educational policies and is always the BBC education reporter most likely to post a biased piece on any subject.
As a further flavour of Hannah's reporting, perhaps a couple more comments from me at Biased BBC from 2010 might be of use:

Craig says:
The main education story on the BBC’s website is another attack on the Tory ‘free schools’ policy:
Free schools ‘could widen social divide’

The article by Hannah Richardson is almost entirely given over to the criticisms of the “leading academic” Dr Susanne Wiborg of the Institute of Education. Described as “an expert in comparative education”, she is quoted at great length. (20 paragraphs are given over to her attack, with just 4 paragraphs putting the government’s side.)

What Hannah Richardson neglects to point out is that left-wing Dr Wiborg is a outright advocate of comprehensive education:

Toby Young in the Telegraph has a different take on the same story:

Craig says:
This same reporter’s previous article College cuts ‘to hit class sizes’ follows a similar pattern, being based on criticism of government policy by a teaching union (the UCU), whose leader Sally Hunt’s views are quoted at much greater length that the government’s.
Before that there was University ‘denied to thousands’, where Hannah Richardson again based an article on criticisms by Sally Hunt of the UCU.
Then there’s this tear-jerker about devastated children, a councillor close to sobbing, bemused teachers (etc), let down by Michael Gove: Pupils ‘devastated’ by school rebuild let down
Before that there was Nobel winners’ protest halts science funding change, which turns out to be just another story based on a campaign by Sally Hunt and the UCU.
Then there was Schools buildings scheme scrapped, where Michael Gove is given plenty of space, but is followed by an endless stream of critics, including a ‘selection of your comments’ – ALL critical.
All these stories come from this month alone.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Are Muslims being demonised?

Watching Sunday Morning Live in full, with my impartiality-bound 'Is the BBC Biased?' hat on, did the programme demonstrate BBC bias as regards the 'Muslim question'? 

Well, presenter Samira Ahmed's initial framing of the question 'Are Muslims being demonised?' certainly gave a fair wind to one particular side of the argument:
Bombs are being placed in mosques and a major Islamic organisation says British Muslims are living in fear. Is that because of an unfair portrayal of Muslims in the media? Are Muslims being demonised?
Still, in contrast to that, the programme's guest list hardly reeked of pro-Muslim bias. Yes, ubiquitous left-wing Muslim Mehdi Hasan of the Huffington Post was one of the guests, but he was balanced by Douglas Murray - a man whose willingness to criticise Islam places him as Mehdi's polar opposite. Plus the third guest was Thought For The Day regular, Anne Atkins - a bête noire of many on the religious (and non-religious) Left. That's a panel which, in principle, the Islamosceptic Right would feel much more comfortable with than the Islamophile Left. 

Looking at the various online reactions (on Twitter and the blogosphere) shows the usual divergence between those who spot Mehdi Hasan and cry 'Bias!' from one side and those who spot Anne Atkins and Douglas Murray and yell 'Bias!' from the other side. Here, by dint of numbers, the bias seemed (at first glance) to tilt in one direction - my direction. 

Was that counteracted though by the programme itself? Well, Samira's secondary introduction clearly gave the Mehdi Hasan side of the argument the edge:
Many in the Muslim community in Britain say they've become alarmed at what they call 'an unprecedented escalation of violence following the backlash after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in May. There has been an increase in reported hate crime and in the last five weeks there have been three bomb attacks on mosques. This week the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to the Home Secretary calling for a coordinated national response. They said it cannot be right that a minority community is allowed to be targeted in this manner. The government says it takes any such attacks very seriously but some Muslims say the planting of bombs is only symptomatic of a deeper problem in our society. Are Muslims treated differently to other minorities?
This was followed by a video report from Mehdi Hasan, reinforcing this message in the provocatively plausible way that Mehdi has made his own - plausible at least until you step back and give it a minute or so's thought. Mehdi likes to emote, in rational guise. He's a button-pusher. He's a "believe me when I tell you this" guy. Given the poll result announced at the end of the problem, Mehdi's rhetorical ploys no more worked on me than they did on most of Sunday Morning Live's viewers - which is reassuring. [Despite Samira saying it was a quarter of votes in favour of the Mehdi Hasan line, it was actually nearer one-fifth of the vote than one-quarter - a truly crushing defeat for Mehdi].

Mehdi is, I'd say, a 'heat over light' guy - the sort of guest BBC producers love. 'Heat over light' is a ratings booster - or, at least, so they seem to think. (Maybe they have Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle in mind). That's not proof of bias in itself - if the programme then balances it. 

Douglas Murray then argued against Mehdi Hasan. That's evidence of balance - 1 against 1 (the latter one having, so far, been given the platform). 

What of Anne Atkins? Did she make it 2 against 1 - and, if so, if which direction?

Well, Anne initially seemed to come out as being in Mehdi Hasan's camp. (You don't get to be a Radio 4 Thought For The Day regular if you're too far out from the BBC's way of thinking after all). She denounced the criticism of Muslims as racism. Later, however, she said that many people have concerns about the "firewall" Muslims seem to want to put around criticism of Islam. (Typical Thought For The Day fence-sitting! - Maybe.)

Assessing Samira's questions (one by one), I'd say they were fair and balanced, and appropriate to each of her guests. Some questions opposed the Mehdi Hasan line, some reinforced it - roughly in equal numbers. Plus she stepped in when Mehdi tried to talk over other guests and when he attempted to dominate the conversation - as he kept doing, again and again. Mehdi is a devil for doing that. [Is that demonising him by saying that?]

The 'vox pops'? Did they show bias? 

First we heard from Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini who said that the British people "no longer believe the Islamist peace double discourse from British Muslim leaders." In one of those "wow!" moments that thrills the heart, Sheikh Muhammad argued that "the literalist, supremacist use and abuse of scripture by violently extremist Islamist groups...isn't so far actually different to the same kind of literalist supremacist readings of the same kind of scripture by, if you like, sort of mainstream extremist Islamist groups like the Muslim Council of Britain and Jamaat-e-Islami front organisations like the the Islamic Foundation." He went on to argue that the violent texts in Islam need to be moderated by Islamic scholars and said they should follow the example of Jewish scholars who have long moderated the texts of Deuteronomy. He then went on to denounce the "interfaith or Islamophobia kind of industry". Mehdi, you won't be surprised to hear, wasn't entirely happy about that!

Next up, and appearing in defence of Mehdi, was Fayaz Mughal of Tell Mama. Samira's first question to him [rightly] asked about the danger of exaggerating claims of anti-Muslim incidents. Fayaz said what Fayaz usually says on the BBC - that it's a big issue. He attacked Douglas Murray personally. Douglas defended himself, at Samira's invitation, and politely skewered Tell Mama. 

The third 'vox pop' was Labour's Ann Cryer, a long-time voice-in-the-wilderness when it comes to voicing concerns about the treatment of the status of women in British Muslim communities. Ann said, as a Guardian reader, she never reads the Daily Mail but would condemn any demonisation of Muslims and 'Islamophobia', if they're doing it. Still, she said that she was fully entitled as an MP to defend Muslim women and to raise the issue of grooming of children by Muslim gangs, and she rejected any accusations of 'Islamophobia' against herself for so doing. (She clearly must have been on the receiving end of such accusations). Mehdi answered, not at all convincingly (from my point of view). 

So, the vox pops came down (essentially) 2-to-1 against Mehdi Hasan - even if Ann Cryer was not being unequivocally on one side of the argument. She eventually tilted towards Douglas Murray's side of the argument though.

All in all, the discussion itself was fair and balanced. The initial framing and the opening video report went one way, the balance of speakers went the other way - and Samira Ahmed trod an impartially-hugging path between them.

Sorry if you wanted me to denounce Sunday Morning Live here. I refuse, however, to denounce something that doesn't deserve denouncing - and this didn't deserve denouncing. 


Hmm, I suspect many of you will not be surprised that Sunday Morning Live is discussing the question 'Are Muslims being demonised?', prompted by a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain to the Home Secretary last week urging the government to act on the issue.

The programme is framing the discussion in this way:
Does the way Muslims are portrayed by media and elsewhere play a role in creating an environment where Muslims are made to feel alienated – or are these the actions of a small minority of criminals, who have paid no attention to constant efforts from politicians and public figures who try to explain that Islam is a religion of peace? 
The programme's website, however, includes something highly unusual for a BBC programme:
In the last month, three mosques have been targeted by terrorists who have left viable explosive devices at each site.
Yes, the BBC is actually using the forbidden 't word' - terrorists - without quotation marks.

Does this mark the beginning of a sea-change, and a change to their editorial guidelines? Or is it more of a one-off - to be applied [sparingly] to anti-Muslim terrorists only?

Update: Sunday Morning Live polled its viewers on the question 'Are Muslims being demonised?' The result came in at the end of the programme: 22% saying 'yes' and 78% saying 'no'.

Polls on Sunday Morning Live have the habit of not going the way one suspects the BBC might have expected them to go. Poor Mehdi Hasan (one of the three main guests, alongside Douglas Murray and Anne Atkins) rolled his eyes in disbelief. I laughed. 

Sunday, Flipping Sunday

This week's Sunday, as predicted, discussed the pay day loans issue. It pitted a left-wing campaigner against such companies against another critic of such companies (from the Anglican Church) - though "pitted" isn't really the right word given that they both agreed with each other. 

There was, also as predicted, discussion of the Catholic Church - and its coverage (as you'll see below) tallied well with my expectations of it (as outlined in the last-but-one post).

Here's a summary of how the programme unfolded. 

7.10 Introduction, by William Crawley

7.11 Unrest in Egypt. It's straight on the phone to Sunday speed-dial expert Fawaz Gerges of the L.S.E. Prof Gerges says the military should reassure the Muslim Brotherhood but that the Brotherhood "have lost the moral right to rule", not just in Egypt but throughout the region because of their incompetence. 

7.15 Pope Francis. The pope visits the favelas of Brazil and William talks to Austen Ivereigh of Catholic Voices (a former Tablet deputy editor) who describes the trip as "a great success". The Pope has "wowed" Brazil. William ends by asking him about the new Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Monsignor Leo Cushley (Cardinal O'Brien's replacement). Austen welcomes his appointment.

7.20 Black men in prison. A church in Birmingham is calling on the government to tackle the problem of  black men in British prisons. They account for 13% of prison population. Trevor Barnes reports on this "disturbing phenomenon". We hear from "black Christian leaders", who accuse the justice system of racism [as that must surely account for why a disproportionate-seeming number of black men are in British prisons, mustn't it? It surely can't be that a disproportionate number of black men commit crimes, could it? Perish the thought!!]. The pastor in Birmingham wants a public inquiry. [Who doesn't want a public inquiry into something or other?]. A short government statement is read out, demurring from the accusations of racism. Sunday regular Bishop Joe Aldred appears and [as is his way] compares the situation to apartheid South Africa. A former armed robber who turned Christian calls for more to be done. A young criminal who is being helped by the church says he deserves punishment, but not custodial sentences. He prefers community service. Those of a cynical nature might describe this report as a typical piece of liberal BBC hand-wringing.

7.26 Royal baby. A droll letter to Prince George from Sunday regular George Pitcher, former media advisor to Rowan Williams.

7.30 France and the ban on the Muslim veil. We hear of the "outrage" of Muslim groups. The BBC's John Laurenson in Paris talks to a hijab-wearing woman who has many grievances about her treatment. Then we hear from a teacher, Suzanne, a non-Muslim who's joined a group called "Mothers All Equal", which campaigns for Muslim women to be allowed to wear the veil. It's "very sad" and "very, very bad", she says, what's happening to Muslim women in France now. We hear briefly from the other side of the argument - from a female senator from the Radical Left who supports the tightening of the ban on the niqab, doing so on the principle of neutrality and secularism. Then it's right back to a Muslim woman from "an anti-Islamaphobia group" who recounts more grievances. John re-stresses the word "Islamophobia" before ending (in a downbeat voice) with concerns that French secularism is turning intolerant. A clearly biased report.

7.36 The call for forgiveness. The story of Maureen Greaves, whose Christian faith has compelled her to forgive the brutal killers of her husband, Alan. She believes they are made in God's images and can, she hopes, be delivered into God's hands. "A truly remarkable woman", William calls her at the end of the interview. Indeed.

7.42 Pope Francis. After a very warmly-worded introduction from William, we hear about the new pope from his biographer, Paul Vallely - a director [like Edward Stourton] of The Tablet. Paul tells a Tabletista tale of how Francis transformed himself from "a very authoritarian" figure who "ruthlessly" hammered supporters of liberation theology into a champion of the poor and an "icon of radical humility". His role in the Argentine dirty war, when he cut off two Jesuits who were subsequently tortured by the military, led to exile and his transformation. What we have seen since has been Jorge Bergoglio's "atoning" for what happened to those two Jesuit liberation theologians - a transformation from what William [in a question] calls a "reactionary" into a champion of the poor. William then asks Paul Vallely about how Pope Francis is transforming the Vatican. Paul Vallely extols his efforts so far and tells William that Pope Francis is now reaching out to the liberation theologians. He's "rehabilitated" them. A happy ending all round then, by the sounds of it - especially for those at the liberal Catholic Tablet. [I do hope the programme isn't slipping back into bad habits again].

7.48 The Church v Wonga: Ethics in the wake of Archbishop Justin Welby's call for the Church to complete Wonga out of business via credit unions. We hear Labour's John Battle and Dr Eve Poole. Mr Battle is a champion of credit unions and Eve Poole was full of praise for them too - both agreeing that they are "morally better" than the pay day loan companies, providing "alternative economics for the common good", as John Battle puts it. A harmonious ending to Sunday, with both guests singing from the same hymn sheet. [Not exactly impartial broadcasting though.]


So, from the standard Sunday menu ["the usual diet of breaking news from the Arab world, Christian-related abuse stories, bad news about the Catholic Church, something about human rights, the usual airing of Muslim grievances, a call for something or other by a left-wing campaign group, an Anglican row over something, that sort of thing"], this week's edition chose the "breaking news from the Arab World," "bad news about the Catholic Church" [sort of] and "the usual airing of Muslim grievances". The 'black men in prison' story could slot into either the "a call for something or other from a left-wing campaign group" or the "something about human rights" category, and the Wonga story comes fairly close to fitting into the "a call for something or other from a left-wing campaign group" too, given the presence of credit union campaigner John Battle.

There was, inevitably, nothing about Sikhs or Hindus - and, again, nothing about Jewish concerns. Muslim concerns were the only British minority religion raised (as usual).

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - as they say in Paris.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Jon Leyne 1958-2013

A familiar face (and voice) to those of us who blog about the BBC and are interested in matters Middle Eastern, Jon Leyne, one of the corporation's most experienced reporter, has died of a brain tumour. He was taken ill whilst reporting from Cairo, some time ago.

You may remember that he also used to report from Tehran - until the regime there threw him out.

Fran Unsworth, acting BBC Director of News, has said:
"Jon was a brave and courageous journalist in the best traditions of the BBC. He had an insatiable curiosity and told complex stories in an engaging and accessible way."

Dee Dee Na Na Na / Saturday night / I feel the air is getting hot / Like you baby

Time to predict what's coming up on Radio 4's Sunday tomorrow, guided by the programme's biases...as is now customary at Is the BBC biased?

Well, Archbishop Justin's declaration of intent regarding pay day loan companies (Wonga, et al) is bound to feature, as that sort of thing ['bad capitalism'] is right up Sunday's street. If this subject doesn't feature, I'll eat my hat. (It's a fine baseball cap, should you be wondering). If the issue does feature, will the programme balance a defender of pay day loan companies with a critic from the Church? Or, more likely (if my experience of listening closely to Sunday for well over two years is anything to go by), will it pit a left-wing campaigner against such companies against a slightly-less-left-wing Anglican critic of such companies who, unluckily, happens to be cast in the defensive position of defending the Church against charges of hypocrisy/not going far enough? Well, we'll see, but I know where I'm placing my money.

There is also bound to the something about the Catholic Church. It's been fascinating tracking liberal-Catholic-biased Sunday's treatment of Pope Francis (more popular with Catholic liberals) as compared to its coverage of Pope Emeritus Benedict (less popular with Catholic liberals) while he was pope. Month after month under Benedict, the pope would be dragged into some scandal or other by Robert Mickens of The Tablet or David Willey of the BBC - usually with a little help from Edward Stourton. Though the bad news stories about the Catholic Church haven't stopped being reported by the programme, Sunday had kept Pope Francis well away from them in their coverage. Given the latest major scandal over Mgr Battista Ricca, the man appointed by Francis to oversee reform of the Vatican Bank (a subject that Sunday has dealt with extensively over the last few years), Sunday would have been sure to have covered the story at length while Benedict was pope. Now, I predict they won't. They'll probably stick with Pope Francis's visit to Brazil. That would be a most remarkable proof of the programme's liberal Catholic bias, were it to be the case. The Ricca scandal is a big story in Catholic circles, and Sunday has never been shy of talking about Catholic scandals before. They surely have to mention it, don't they?

Other than that, I'll make my usual prediction that some of the stories will come from this menu:..."the usual diet of breaking news from the Arab world, Christian-related abuse stories, bad news about the Catholic Church, something about human rights, the usual airing of Muslim grievances, a call for something or other by a left-wing campaign group, an Anglican row over something, that sort of thing."

Other important religious stories I've spotted this week that (I predict) are unlikely to be covered on tomorrow's programme are (a) the concerns of Sikhs about future of traditional Indian weddings in Britain, given that Sikh temples have been advised to halt all civil marriage ceremonies on their premises to protect them from possible legal challenges for refusing to conduct same-sex weddings; (b) the widely-reported US report that Pakistani Hindus are the worst victims of rape, plus other reports raising alarm bells about the forced conversion of Hindu girls by Muslims in Pakistan; or (c) the race to become the new chief rabbi of Israel. As we know, stories about Sikhs, Hindus and Jews take second (or third, or fourth) place to stories about Muslims. 

Catchphrase: I hope to be proved wrong tomorrow morning. Come on Sunday, pleasantly surprise me!!

Dance of Death

Nothing stops the BBC's Dateline from sending out invitations to controversial "Palestinian writer" Abdel Bari Atwan, the programme's most regular guest

None of his earlier notorious statements - whether it be saying that he would dance in Trafalgar Square if Iranian nuclear missiles were to strike Tel Aviv or describing the Mercaz HaRav massacre (an attack on young students) as "justified" - has acted as a bar to those invitations from Dateline, or dinted the friendly respect shown to him by the programme's presenter, Gavin Esler (who even helps him launch his books), whenever he appears.

'Bari' has long been accused of speaking to Western audiences in a far milder way than he speaks to Arab audiences. A month or so ago, he appeared on an Egyptian TV station and described Osama Bin Laden as "half a terrorist". His comments were captured by the estimable MEMRI:
 “whoever fights America and its enterprise in the region, and whoever fights Israel and the American occupation, is not considered a terrorist by me.” 
“If you support the Palestinian resistance, you do not consider [Bin Laden's attacks] terrorism. But if you are with America, Europe, and Israel, you do consider it terrorism” 
He's been banned from entering the U.S. on the strength of his past record and, during the course of this interview, expressed fears that he might not be allowed back into the United Kingdom on the strength of the comments he'd just made. 

Needless to say, he was allowed back into the country. 

Still, at least you might expect that these latest comments would finally put him beyond the pale at the BBC. 

Not a bit of it. He was back on Dateline today, being treated as a wise expert by his friend, Gavin Esler. 

Gavin has not (so far) even asked him about his "half a terrorist" comments. Nor, I suspect, will he. Ever.

Yes, nothing stops the BBC's Dateline from sending out invitations to controversial "Palestinian writer" Abdel Bari Atwan, the programme's most regular guest.

Pigs and Placards

Take a look at these idiotic “No to Israeli Water Meters” clowns, then read this wonderful article by Qanta Ahmed that puts them and their ilk to shame.

“Boycotting Israel, whether academic or cultural is not an act of moral indignation, but an act of moral turpitude.”

The shockingly ignorant acquiescence to the widespread braying for boycott, now a socially acceptable sport eclipsing the spirit of academe, whether led by Stephen Hawking or others, reveals the depth to which anti-Israel bias is now entrenched in our ivory towers.The reality is simple: Calling for an Israeli boycott invites no reprisals. It is more than socially acceptable; it is a badge of honor brandished by those claiming to defend ‘minorities’. Yet ironically, while the costs of boycott will be shouldered by every Israeli, the major costs will be born by Israel’s own minority population, including Israeli Muslims of Palestinian heritage. This is a population which is for the first time becoming highly educated, advancing in the workplace, collaborating with their fellow Israeli Jewish citizens and eager to enter the global marketplace of ideas. These Israeli Muslim Arabs are the keystones to lasting peace in the region. No one else is better positioned to bridge conflicts and cultures and yet no one else will be more penalized by boycott.”

There you are O’Reillys and other actors and purveyors of moral turpitude, put that on your pigs and placards and strut about with it.

Monday 22 July 2013

Events at Belmarsh

The BBC is being criticised for making a big deal about the allegations of "assault" by prison officers against Michael Adebolajo, one of the suspects in the brutal killing of Drummer Lee Rigby. The allegations were made by Adebolajo's younger brother, Jeremiah, in an interview with the BBC's Tom Symonds.  

Some people are criticising the BBC for reporting the story at all; but surely it is news - however angry people might feel at the BBC for reporting it - as the allegations against the five prison officers, if true, would be serious ones. (If true).

Circumstances, of course, unfortunately do not allow the five officers their public say on the matter at the moment, so their side of the story is necessarily going under-reported.

That's why I have have my own doubts about whether the interview with Michael Adebolajo's brother should have been accorded such prominence on the BBC News website, or whether the Today programme should have given its prestigious 8.10 spot over to the story on Saturday.

Shouldn't it have been reported much less prominently, in the interests of sensitivity, fairness and impartiality?

Yes, other [privately-financed] media organisation also made a big deal of the story. Due to its unique system of public funding, however, that could very well provoke a 'So what? The BBC has a public duty to behave better than privately-funded media outlets, doesn't it? And, unlike every other media outlet - except for the Guardian/Observer - the BBC were the only ones who chose to interview the highly-partial Jeremiah Adebolajo about the incident.

The Daily Mail, as might have been expected, is firmly on the BBC's case over this. It doesn't mention that the Observer also interviewed Jeremiah Adebolajo for their own report. Only the BBC is in the Mail's cross-hairs here, naturally:

Prison officers have reacted with fury to claims from Woolwich murder suspect Michael Adebolajo that he was ‘assaulted’ while in prison.
The man accused of hacking to death Fusilier Lee Rigby in the street was involved in a violent incident in Belmarsh high security jail last week in which he lost two teeth.
In an interview with BBC News over the weekend, Adebolajo’s brother Jeremiah claimed warders in the prison ‘took offence’ when the remand prisoner refused to obey an instruction and then ‘smashed his head against a window’.
The BBC also reported the claim – denied by Prison Service officials – that the murder suspect had been denied medical treatment. 
Officials insisted he had refused to be seen by a doctor.
The report also claimed the suspension of five officers involved in the incident was ‘exceptional’, and hinted the assault might have been the result of Adebolajo’s ‘notoriety’.
But yesterday the prison officers’ union condemned reporting of the incident as a ‘circus’.
And sources suggested the officers had felt threatened after Adebolajo refused to comply with orders and turned towards them aggressively.
The online report the Daily Mail is describing is this one:

Woolwich murder suspect Michael Adebolajo was forcefully pushed against a window by prison officers, knocking out two of his teeth, his brother has claimed in an interview with the BBC.

Jeremiah Adebolajo said he spoke to his brother on an almost daily basis.
One thing that struck me as quite unusual for the BBC is that the headline lacked the corporation's familiar quotation marks. Compare the BBC's headline with ITV's Woolwich suspect's 'head hit window', brother claims. The use of quotation marks as 'scare marks' as much as merely 'quote marks' is a tool the BBC uses very often to emphasize that it is only a claim. It's interesting that they chose not to use them here.

What you won't find in that BBC report now is the claim  that the suspension of five officers involved in the incident was "exceptional", as mentioned by the Daily Mail

That's because the BBC has edited the article and removed the offending word. 

You can see that from the excellent News Sniffer site, which tracks amendments to BBC articles. The first version included the sentence, "Prison Service procedures state that this should only happen in 'exceptional cases'." That was removed ('stealth edited', some might say) around nine hours later, presumably because it seems to have been untrue - given that Sky News was reporting on Friday that "During an investigation of this kind, the suspension of staff is standard practice, the Ministry of Justice said" - as the Prison Officers Association are also saying.

The word is, however, still in the video report which features in the article. 'Stealth editing' a video would be a lot harder.

Oh, the irony!

There was a moment of delicious irony on this morning's Today (some 2h 37m in). 

Justin Webb was interviewing Israel-hater Alistair Crooke and Sir Menzies Campbell (no great friend of Israel either) about the EU's upcoming decision to designate Hezbollah (the Lebanese terrorist organisation) a "terrorist organisation". 

Justin asked:
Should Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, be designated a "terrorist organisation"?
Mr Crooke (inevitably) was against the move; Sir Menzies gave a disinterested-sounding commentary on the subject, though he sounded vaguely in favour of it. 

The irony, of course, arises because many of us have long asked:
Shouldn't Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant terrorist group, be designated a "terrorist organisation" by the BBC?
Famously (or notoriously), the BBC prefers to call Hezbollah (and other such terrorist groups) a "militant group" and advises its journalists to avoid the use of the term "terrorist" (unless quoting a third party). 

As you'll have noticed, Justin described Hezbollah in precisely that way in his question to Sir Ming and Mr Crooke. 

So, why shouldn't Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group, be designated a "terrorist group" by the BBC?

The BBC's Editorial Guidelines on the issue give the BBC's way of thinking:
- There is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or terrorist act. The use of the word will frequently involve a value judgement.
- As such, we should not change the word "terrorist" when quoting someone else, but we should avoid using it ourselves
- This should not mean that we avoid conveying the reality and horror of a particular act; rather we should consider how our use of language will affect our reputation for objective journalism
- In a digital age, it is no longer possible to assume an easy split between domestic and overseas audiences.
To paraphrase Neil Kinnock: I'll tell you what happens with this kind of guideline. You start with a woolly-minded assumption. This is then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a BBC – a BBC! – refusing to describe terrorist massacres from Mumbai to Mombasa, Bulgaria to Beslan, London to Boston as terrorist attacks. 

Maybe the BBC should follow the lead of the European Union - (it usually doesn't find that too difficult!) - and begin designating Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Yet another review...

As promised, here's a review into how the BBC covered the Keogh report into NHS care on Tuesday.

The question, as ever, remains 'Is the BBC biased?' 

How can we tell though? How can we guard against seeing the BBC as biased even if it's actually us, ourselves, who are the ones who are really being biased (an easy trap to fall into)? 

One way might be to look back over last week and list the main talking points of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party over the story and try to see if the BBC trod an impartial course between the two sides of the story. This is for those of us who, like the BBC, care deeply about such things.

Hopefully, you will find these lists to be a fair representation of each side's main talking points:

Labour's talking points:
- That the 13,000 'needless death' figure was Tory propaganda.
- That the Tories have been playing party politics with people's lives, exploiting the Keogh report for partisan advantage.
- That the Keogh report said more about what was happening on the Coalition's watch.
- That the main problem was fewer nurses, thanks to Coalition cuts.
- That the focus should be on Lynton Crosby and his 'lobbying' of the government over tobacco packaging rather than on Labour's links to the unions. 
The Conservatives' talking points:
- That the report found there were thousands of 'needless deaths' in the NHS.
- That the Labour Party bears a lot of responsibility for what the Keogh report found.  
- That Labour was playing party politics when it was in office and suppressed concerns about poor NHS care.
- That the hospitals put into special measures had more nurses than in 2010.
- That the Lynton Crosby story is a non-story puffed up by the Labour Party. Labour's links to the unions are the real story.

Let's take each of the main Radio 4 current affairs programme's in turn - and then add Newsnight for good measure. 

Andy Burnham still looked likeliest to be "in the dock" on Tuesday morning, given the non-BBC media's (mis)reporting of the build-up of the Keogh report over the preceding day. The 6.30 discussion on Today between John Humphrys and the BBC's Adam Brimelow didn't put him in the dock at all though, not even mentioning him.

Similarly the programme's first guest on the subject (at 7.10) chose not to put Mr Burnham in the dock either. Nor was he invited to do so by John Humphrys. This was Professor John Ashton, an NHS chief in Cumbria and a prominent critic of the present government's health reforms. Professor Ashton, you may recall, got into a spat with the Conservative Party when it accused him of not being an independent spokesman on the issue, given his lifelong membership of the Labour Party. Professor Ashton refutes that totally. Anyhow, that's all ancient history and John Humphrys made no mention of any of this when introducing Professor Ashton here.

Professor Ashton said it had been hard to get a grasp on the problem until the spate of infant deaths at Barrow made the problem clearer. He blamed the strategic health authority, not the government (of the time?) for failing to get to grips with the issue. He denounced targets and the "privatising" of the health service and ended by attacking the political "game" and expressing his concerns about the "private sector in medicine", which prompted an "Mmm, sobering thought!" from John Humphrys.

Andy Burnham was the man in the dock, however, at 8.10 - and he faced the Today programme's most feared rottweiler, John Humphrys himself.

First though we heard from Professor Brian Jarman, the man behind the 13,000 'needless death's figure. He's from the Dr Foster group at Imperial College. John asked him for his views on the last Labour government and what he felt was going on at that period. Professor Jarman made his criticisms, with John Humphrys only interrupting to stop him saying what Andy Burnham had said at a meeting, and goading him on to make the charges explicit. So, the Conservative Party's main talking points were given a thorough airing here - and only here.

Andy Burnham then came on to defend himself from the charges Professor Jarman had laid out. He did so with the utmost vigour. John Humphrys wasn't quite the rottweiler he usually is here, interviewing Mr Burnham in a surprisingly gentle tone. Why? Was it because he felt that the charges against Andy Burnham being made by Professor Jarman were too serious for knockabout interviewing? In other words, was he being kind? He certainly didn't give Andy Burnham a free ride but neither did he give him the sort of grilling listeners might have expected in the circumstance. Only when Professor Jarman re-entered did Andy Burnham feel the pressure build again, as the professor quoted a dodgy e-mail from the Department of Health to Ben Bradshaw. Mr Burnham attacked the Coalition again in response.

The Today live page that day selected only one quote to accompany this story:

Andy Burnham says care in the 14 hospitals being investigated by Keogh have deteriorated under the Coalition@bbcr4today

The World at One was being broadcast as the debate in the House of Commons was getting under way but before the report's official launch. Presenter Shaun Ley and BBC health correspondent Adam Brimelow began by anticipating the debate and the report. Adam immediately stressed staffing levels (especially nurses) as a "key area" and said that nursing levels have fallen "since the general election in 2010" by 4,000 but that "overall the number of clinical staff [especially doctors] has increased quite substantially". So that's a Labour talking point balanced by a Conservative talking point. The response of Basildon's hospital was then discussed.

The programme later featured an interview with the mother of a man whose treatment in one of the hospitals. Though she described herself as "a huge supporter of the NHS" and paid a the warmest of tributes to it, she described what she experienced with her son's treatment at the hands of one "bit" of the NHS as "degrading" and "inhuman" at times. She saw staff mocking patients, for example. "Arrogance" and "a lack of human compassion" were what she found. 

Next Shaun discussed the ongoing parliamentary debates with BBC correspondent Gary O'Donoghue, who described them as "absolutely extraordinary" in their "bitterness and rancour". He contrasted Jeremy hunts attacks on Labour (just as Labour were to do) with David Cameron's non-partisan approach earlier in the year after the Mid Staffs [Francis] report. GO'D said there "was a bit of truth in both of the analyses" [of Labour and the Conservatives] over the issue, but stressed that the government had chosen to go "on the front foot over Labour's record on the NHS" - echoing Allegra Stratton's point the previous night on Newsnight. Labour talking points outweighed Conservative ones here, but not to a significant extent. 

Next up came an interview with Radio 4's main NHS whistle-blower, Gary Walker, formerly of the Lincolnshire Trust, who wondered where the Department of Health has been over these years. He said the party political game playing was "an awful thing". Yes, he said, the last Labour government placed too much emphasis on targets and "placed reputation above patient safety" but said he'd seen an e-mail from Andrew Lansley to his local MP cautioning him against raising concerns about one of the hospitals concerned. He said that the problem was that the same leadership has been in place at the NHS for many years. Shaun raised Bruce Keogh's concerns about using the mortality rate (13,000) figure, but Mr Walker found such figures a useful warning signal. 

The programme had lined up, however, an expert who is known to be a leading opponent of the use of such mortality figures, Professor Richard Lilford of Birmingham University. He said that overall death rates are irrelevant to the debate. Preventable death rates are the thing. We should shut out "the noise" of overall death rates, he said. He denounced the use of the excess deaths figures that we all got to know so well before the report was launched (13,000 needless deaths) as "not responsible". You could say that all of this backs up a Labour talking point, despite Professor Lilford's independence. No political capital was made of it though.

Finally, Shaun interviewed Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who had painful personal experiences of poor NHS care. He asked her first about low staffing numbers, then asked her again about the number of nurses and the culture of the NHS. His third question was about the "party political bun-fight" in the Commons and whether that troubles her. She said that blaming the last Labour government is wrong and that the issue shouldn't be used as a political football. I got a strong sense that Mrs Clwyd had wanted to talk more about the problems she and others had encountered with the NHS (germane to the Keogh report) but kept getting diverted onto the issues Shaun wanted her to talk about instead.

Though much more nuanced than the edition of PM which followed, this edition of The World at One was still clearly closer to Labour's talking points than to those of the government.

PM's coverage - which was the first to follow the official launch of the review - began with a report from BBC health correspondent Adam Brimelow, concentrating initially on the political angle. 

The starting point of this report was to quote Sir Bruce Keogh's letter to Jeremy Hunt saying "Now is not the time for hasty reactions and recriminations" and calling for a focus on clear accountability". Adam then said, "But that focus on accountability has quickly descended into a political blame-game which is threatening to overshadow the review's work." Cue an immediate clip of Jeremy Hunt. 

That tallied neatly with Labour's claim that Jeremy Hunt was playing politics. Adam himself didn't make that point explicitly but the conjunction of his introductory words and that clip of Mr Hunt made the implicit as explicit as possible. 

So that's one of Labour's talking points covered. 

Immediately afterwards came an amplification of that point, plus a second Labour talking point for good measure:
"When presenting his findings Sir Bruce Keogh insists that he was looking at the present not the past, but the lead-up to this review has been dominated by discussions over mortality data going back in some cases over a decade, prompting reports over the weekend of 13,000 excess deaths at the 14 trusts since 2005 - a figure that was not used by Sir Bruce; indeed, he warns that using these mortality measures to quantify avoidable deaths is 'clinically meaningless and academically reckless'. The government has denied briefing the figure to the media but the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused Mr Hunt of 'one of the most cynical spin operations of recent times' and 'demeaning the office of health secretary'"
Adam's report then moved onto the findings of the Keogh report and a short excerpt of a lady describing the shocking treatment her relative had received at one of the hospitals concerned. This was the shorter half of the report.

Eddie Mair then interviewed Sir Bruce Keogh. So "what makes a story?" here (in Charles Moore's words) for Eddie?

Well, he first asked Sir Bruce about the 13,000 'needless deaths' figure and where he thought it came from. Sir Bruce said the figure was "a perfectly legitimate...statistical construct" though he took issue with some of the media reports which used it to make various assumptions. [This reflected better on that 13,000 figure than might have been expected]. 

One Labour talking point down. 

Eddie then quoted Sir Bruce's own words from the report [quoted in an earlier post] denouncing those figures, encouraging him to expand on that point. 

So that's the same Labour talking point repeated.

Sir Bruce said such measures "are important and have their use" [so NOT the ringing denunciation many of us were led to believe Sir Bruce was making of the 13,000 figure and the methodology behind it] but stressed the difference between inevitable and avoidable deaths. He said we should focus on avoidable deaths.

Eddie then moved onto the issue of politicians and their "hasty reactions" - a second Labour talking point. Sir Bruce refused to oblige, despite Eddie's pressing, and said all the politicians he'd met that day had been "very helpful". He went on to praise Jeremy Hunt's reaction. 

Eddie next asked about staffing levels - the fall in the number of nurses at the hospitals in recent years...which is another of the five Labour Party talking points. Sir Bruce said that he was unsure about such a direct statistical link, though he suspected there was a relationship - but if it existed it was only a part of a range of possible causes, he said. 

The other interview in PM was with Jeremy Hunt. Someone at Biased BBC described Eddie's tone here as "prickly". That's as good an adjective as I could choose for the interview. The answer to Charles Moore's question "Who's in the dock?" here was very definitely Jeremy Hunt - and Eddie was the prosecuting barrister. For Tory-supporting listeners it must have made for an uncomfortable listen. For anti-Tory listeners it must have been a hoot. Eddie is brilliant at this sort of thing. 

Eddie began by putting to him a serious of rapid-fire questions from Peter Walsh of the charity Action Against Medical Accidents about the safety of the hospitals in question, about the robustness of the regulatory system (interrupting him while he was answering) and whether those responsible will be held to account. Within two minutes Eddie turned to staffing levels - i.e. the number of nurses. (Labour talking point, interrupting him while he was answering, twice). Eddie gave Mr Hunt ample time to answer here.

Then came the abrupt change of subject...to the issue of tobacco packaging and David Cameron's chief advisor Lynton Crosby - a fourth Labour talking point. 

Eddie had an excuse ready for this: "I want to ask you about this because no ministers were available to us on Friday"

This was a classic BBC ambush, brilliantly staged. Mr Hunt was caught somewhat unawares, though he survived the encounter during which Eddie asked him if "something funny" was going on. The questions came thick and fast. I counted 15 points in this part of the interview from Eddie. Jeremy Hunt was in the dock, and the prosecutor (Eddie Mair) turned up the heat to full intensity. Jeremy Paxman, eat your heart out!

Statistically speaking, the interview broke down as being 4 minutes 17 seconds spent on the Keogh report [the story of the day] and 5 minutes 37 seconds spent on tobacco and Lynton Crosby [the story of the previous week]. You don't have to accept any kind of wild-eyed conspiracy theory that the BBC and Labour work are working hand-in-hand to admit that the bulk of this interview would have absolutely delighted the Labour Party, were it listening.

PM had the lion's share of Labour talking points. Neither Adam Brimelow nor Eddie Mair raised any Tory talking points. 

Still, the programme did interview a Tory politician - and only a Tory politician, even though Eddie made sure that he wasn't given any space to attack Labour. 

The World Tonight began with a short report from the BBC's Danny Savage the Royal Blackburn Hospital on what the Keogh Report said about the hospital and what's likely to happen there now. 

Then it was only the 13,000 'needless deaths' figure. We heard again from Professor Nick Black of the Keogh review team. He attacked the mortality rate figures and accused Brian Jarman of being "irresponsible", "very cruel" and of "lacking compassion" in scaring people over this. Ritula Shah asked him why he thought the government "allowed that discussion to continue unchallenged" and said "even today" Jeremy Hunt had been claiming thousands of avoidable deaths. Professor Black denounced Mr Hunt as being "out of order". He describes it as "reckless". He was not happy with the political debate that day, though he explicitly defended Andy Burnham, saying he had no alternative but to respond in the way he did. 

To further discuss the political debate, Ritula then talked to Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell (a "friendly critic" of the government's health reforms) and Labour's Andrew Gwynne (another, rather less friendly critic of the government's health reforms). Ritula began with those 13,000 'avoidable deaths'. As he did on the previous night's Newsnight and the following morning's Today, Mr Dorrell remained resolutely non-party political - unlike Labour's Mr Gwynne, who attacked the government and robustly defended his own party.  Ritula did suggest to Andrew Gwynne that Labour might have raised the debate by acknowledging the issue earlier. She then asked Stephen Dorrell if he was "dismayed" at Jeremy Hunt's "politicisation of the debate". He didn't defend Mr Hunt. 

As you can see, must of The World Tonight's coverage focused on the nature of the political debate and on that 13,000 'needless deaths' figure.

Moving mediums, that night's Newsnight immediately sprung onto those "lurid" headlines at the weekend about the 13,000 'needless deaths'. The report found "mediocrity" instead. 

Susan Watts's report began with the "political blame game". 20 seconds were given to Jeremy Hunt's attack on Labour, 32 seconds to Andy Burnham's assault on the Conservatives. [Former Labour advisor, not mentioned] Chris Ham of the King's Fund attacked the political squabble. Susan then outlined the review's findings. We heard from the boss of George Eliot Hospital NHS trust, outlining its response, and from someone from the Dudley Group NHS Trust, accepting the findings. Sir Bruce Keogh then appeared reassuring us all that immediate safety issues have now been resolved. The '8 achievable ambitions' were then outlined. Susan then discussed the review's scepticism about the mortality rates (13,000 'needless deaths') data. We heard from Professor Nick Black of the Keogh review team again [see The World Tonight], who "doesn't set much store" by such figures. He prefers case reviews instead. 

Emily Maitlis then interviewed Jeremy Hunt (and only Jeremy Hunt). He was firmly in the dock again. 

Emily's opening question expressed a Labour talking point:
"Jeremy Hunt, this is a major report today into an issue of major concern for the entire country. Why would you choose to make such blatant political capital out it?"
Her three following questions followed up on this same point.

She then moved onto a second Labour talking point and pressed him (with many an interruption) on the 'excess deaths' figure (five questions, at least).  

She moved onto pressing him on long it would take for progress to show up.

Then, just as happened on PM, Emily switched to the next Labour talking point - Lynton Crosby - and pressed him on that. She made a mere 9 points to him about it, compared to Eddie Mair's 15. That part of the interview took up 1 minute 52 seconds, the earlier part 5 minutes 15 seconds....

...but the programme then moved onto its next subject...in the wake of Jeremy Hunt's denials about Lynton Crosby...

...lobbying. The report from Zoe Conway again mentioned Lynton Crosby, tobacco, lobbying and Labour accusations about the Conservatives. Yep, Lynton Crosby.

When the discussion between Lord Bell and Sarah Wollaston MP followed, Emily immediately began by asking Lord Bell about Lynton Crosby. Yep, Lynton Crosby. Her questions then returned to the Lynton Crosby story again and again. Lynton Crosby, Lynton Crosby, Lynton Crosby.

"What makes a story?", as Charles Moore might say.

I think we can safely say that Newsnight reflected Labour talking points much more than it reflected Conservative talking points, despite the presence of a number of Conservative spokespeople on the programme (Jeremy Hunt, Lord Bell, Sarah Wollaston). The "Who's in the dock?" and "What makes a story?" questions outweighed the guest selection question here. 


Well, my review was probably about as impartial as an edition of the Today programme! You will have to listen for yourselves (while you can) to judge the fairness of my reviews.