Sunday 7 July 2013

Live Free or 'PM'

A True Brit - Andy 'The Brit' Murray - has won Wimbledon, the first Scot Brit since 1936. The British Lions have thrashed the Ozzies for the first time in many a year. Abu Qatada is finally out of here. Mo Morsi is a goner too. Plus Tom Watson is now kicking his heels. The sun is shining, and I'm glad to be in England now that Summer's here. Happy days!

What's needed for such a sunny day is yet another interminably long post about Radio 4's PM - this week featuring the return of Andy Murray's countryman, the Brit Eddie Mair. 

As the programme's self-appointed umpire, my task (yet again) was to ensure fair play. Please see if you agree with the umpire's decisions.

Paddy O'Connell presenting. 

1. Egypt

30 people dead, 1,000 injured. The BBC's Tom Bateman, on the streets in Cairo, reported on the latest eruption of violence, framing his report like this: "Two and a half years after an experiment with democracy began and a week that saw it collapse again." [Could the Muslim Brotherhood have put it better?] Tom went to a coffee shop and talked to two unemployed women. They dislike Egyptians shedding each others blood, and say that they never had a good economy but they had safety. Now they don't have safety. One said she was excited by the thought of democracy in 2011, but now wishes Mubarak would come back. The other says she doesn't want Mubarak back, because he was useless about unemployment. They argue about whether Egyptians are ready for democracy. 

Paddy reinforced the message, saying the army "struck at the nascent democracy we've been hearing about. By shooting at and killing supporters of President Morsi last night the military challenges all those who want ballots over bullets, including the many faces of political Islam"

He then talked to Michael, now Lord Williams [Labour], a former UN Middle East diplomat. Lord Williams described the last few days as "a terrible setback" and said that the Morsi government had "a very short period" in power to make a difference. "This was a democratically elected government, the first in Egypt's history and it's been strangled by a military coup d-etat." 
Paddy then opined, "Oddly the army's backed all the people who've run the country in the last fifty years, so it's rather a grim sense of certainty about it. But what does this do for Islamists who were trying to argue in favour of democracy? Doesn't it make their corner difficult?"

"It's an extraordinary setback in that regard," replied Lord Williams, making the parallel with FIS in Algeria in the 1990s, and drawing another parallel with "Hamas in Palestine" in 2006. "They won those elections, nobody contested that fact, ["Hmm", said Paddy at this point, as if agreeing] but Israel together with the quartet decided that they were not fit to govern". He thinks a lot of Islamists will now move towards the Salafists, armed struggle and jihad. He thinks the West should tell the Egyptian military to rule for less than a year, and that the Islamists should be compromised with and "not excluded from politics." 

The same message was coming from Paddy, Tom Bateman and Lord Williams and seemingly reinforcing that message even more, Paddy then read out a headline beginning, "Supporters of the elected Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi....."

Yep, I think we get the message Paddy. 

Should we be getting a message? Would Eddie Mair project his own views in such an obvious way as Paddy was doing here? 

Up till that point I thought much of PM's coverage of this week's events in Egypt had lacked much of an agenda (except for Hugh Sykes), balancing out points of view pretty well. This segment was decidedly unbalanced and partial on the part of the BBC reporter and presenter. Here I'd claim 'bias'.

For a completely different take on this please see (a) Sue's post above and (b) Marc Goldberg at The Times of Israel

2. Abu Qatada to leave for Jordan that night

The BBC's June Kelly reported from Jordan on what was likely to happen to Qatada on his return. We heard from his supportive relatives, defending him and hoping he'll be a free man in Jordan soon. June then described his terrorist plots. We also heard from an American investigator who worked on one of the plots. Then someone from Human Rights Watch worried about poor old Abu and his return to a country that still practises torture. The Jordanian justice minister says he'll get a fair trial though. [Whatever. At least he's gone!!] 

3. Sport

Wimbledon - the Ladies' Single Final - and the British Lions' victory over Australia. Willie John McBride gave his reaction to the win. 

Eddie Mair presenting.

1. Egypt

Kevin Connolly reported live from Cairo on the deadly firing by Egyptian security forces on Muslim Brotherhood protesters. We heard from a pro-Morsi protester and an MB spokeswoman denouncing the army. Eddie then talked to Kevin about the atmosphere now. He said we'll have to wait and see what happens next.

Eddie then talked to James Naughtie, who the BBC has rushed out to Egypt to join all the other BBC reporters there [for some reason]. Jim had just left Cairo, but agreed with Kevin that we'll have to wait and see what happens next. He stopped at a "small city" of two million people called El Faiyum. [Wikipedia tells me that modern city occupies part of the ancient Egyptian site of Crocodilopolis. What a great name! Shame they can't re-name it Crocodilopolis again. Most people used to worship a crocodile god there; now most of them worship Allah.] Despite having only just arrived, Jim felt confident enough to make some big, sweeping statements [as is his way]. He said that people outside the flag-and-poster-waving, factional capital "just want what they call 'justice' and by 'justice', in practice, what they mean is 'jobs'." Eddie asked him if what he was saying is that the passion in Cairo is greater than elsewhere. Jim said he didn't want to make any "great statements", as Egypt has "70-80 million people", but "there are enormous, cataclysmic events that are always possible in Cairo" [which sounds like a 'great statement' to me!] but "many people, I think, don't want to align themselves in a rather simplistic way as either pro- or anti-Morsi". "The truth is that when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, there's a very wide spectrum and many people would say, "Look, I'm a good Muslim. What I want is justice, and quite often that means 'economic justice', and frankly I'm less bothered about what label the president has stuck on his forehead." Now, that's the mark of a truly great reporter: You may have only just arrived in a country and not be an expert on it in any way, shape or form, but within a couple of days of arriving at the airport and chatting to a few local yokels (via a translator no doubt) you can speak with the utmost authority on the subject, and share your instantly-gained special insights with the whole wide world, courtesy of your employer. I await Jim's inevitable parting essay for the Today programme, where everything he's gleaned from his four or five days in Egypt will be wrapped up into one, award-winning package. Anyhow, back to what he said on Friday...People where he was then were watching a TV and feeling "some bewilderment" at what they were seeing in Cairo. Jim also said that "Egyptians know there is no going back on what occurred two years ago, but they also know that there are deep divisions about how the questions about the mix between religion and politics are resolved in the coming years." It's all "very, very complicated".

Eddie then discussed the whereabouts of deposed president Morsi. He turned to someone who had cropped up on Today a day or two earlier, Dr. Eugene Rogan of Oxford University's [Saudi-funded] Middle East Centre. [The same names keep cropping up on the BBC]. There was was on the side of the debate strongly opposed to the deposing of Mr Morsi by the army. Hearing his name, I expected Dr. Rogan to back up the Muslim Brotherhood's complaints - and that is precisely what he did, saying "they have grounds for concern." He dismissed one of the charges against the MB as "trumped up", saying "I don't know what legal code that conforms to". He thinks the "government doesn't intend to do justice by the MB, but take them out of power". To Eddie's point that the judiciary had "acted as a brake on Mr Morsi", Dr. Rogan described the judiciary as being a relic of the Mubarak era, like the army. The people in Tahrir Square are getting "throwbacks of pre-revolutionary leadership, the very opposite of what Tahrir Square was supposed to be about". He sees the arrests as "a provocation against the party". He believes that if the country goes straight to elections the MB will "prevail yet again". [You can read more about Eugene Rogan here and here.]

2. The row between Labour and Unite

Political correspondent Chris Mason described the story that began with a "drunken dust-up" in a Commons bar and that's now raising "the biggest of questions about the Labour Party", not what I thinking, "Is Labour wholly in the pocket of the unions?", but 'where is Labour going?' and 'who does it represent?'. Chris gave the background - the accusation of rigging by Unite (with its one-and-a-half million members) and the £3m given to Labour last year. Unite disputes this (well, the first part of it at least!). Chris was with Len McCluskey in Manchester and gave us his side of the story, with clips from him and two other aggrieved Unite officials. Then we heard from Tom Watson, "a ringleader in bringing down Tony Blair". A clip from him, saying he knew nothing about Falkirk, failed to bring a comment from Chris that he certainly did know one of the (now-suspended) candidates Unite wanted in Falkirk because she was his office manager! Then came a clip from Ed Miliband, appealing to those "seven million" people in trade unions [as Chris put it. According to the FT the figure is actually 6.5 million] and defending the way the party has conducted itself. The Conservatives were very briefly alluded to [no clips] before Chris said that tussles with the unions aren't necessarily a bad thing for the Labour Party - if they're seen to win them.

Those (Tories? UKIPers?) wanting a damning report on either Labour or Unite - or, preferably, both - will have been sorely disappointed by Chris Mason's reporting here. They will doubtless have found it overly mild and uncritical - and possibly biased, in that it missed out most of those tasty, Labour-and-Unite-unfriendly details found in ITV's main report that evening (see my earlier post on the subject).

3. The Vatican says Pope John Paul II is to become a saint

Eddie talked to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who said that for someone to become a saint that person must have lived a life of 'heroic virtue'. Eddie asked him about specific rules regarding miracles. The cardinal said that, unless you are a martyr (when miracles are dispensed with), you need to have a miracle - or miracles in the case of Pope John Paul, who's had two miracles. The most recent came on the day of his beatification, where the curing of an individual was a sign that "he was close to God". Eddie [keeping whatever scepticism he might have under check] wondered about that, saying that in the Bible people who perform miracles were present at the time, whereas here the miracle - a woman in Costa Rica reporting that an aneurysm she'd had, which was going to kill her within the month, was cured - took place after the pope was dead. The cardinal replied, talking of the testimony of the woman, and others who witnessed it - the doctors - saying that this cure could not have happened without a miracle. She had prayed to Pope John Paul to be cured. The cardinal then moved on, with what sounded like a little haste, to return to the subject of "the heroic nature of his life" - his travelling around the world, the first visit of a pope to this country, his caring for the sick, his spreading of the good news, his closeness to the people. [I'm saying nothing here, not being a Catholic, beyond saying that I share David Hume's view of miracles].

4. Wimbledon

Wimbledot again, and people hitting balls back and forth over nets. For hours.

5. MPs debate an in-out referendum on the EU

Political correspondent Carole Walker reported on the parliamentary debate, describing it as "a raucous debate"

6. Is their intelligent life out there?

Jodrell Bank is getting serious about the search for intelligent extra terrestrial life, scanning the data from across the UK's telescope network to look for any tell-tale signals of advanced civilisations. The BBC's Pallab Ghosh reported on their plans. We heard from two of the astronomers there. They are concentrating to begin with on 1420 mhz, considered one of the most likely frequencies discerning aliens would use. The problem is sorting about the natural signals (the pulses of pulsars, for example) from the communications of little green men. If they did detect such a signal it would "arguably be the biggest discovery ever made". There is some opposition though from other scientists, who think the money would be better spent on "more serious" science projects, but we heard instead from a professor who says it won't cost much and will be money well spent - it will inspire children, for example.

7. Detroit

Airplane - "It was a rough place - the seediest dive on the wharf. Populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It's worse than Detroit." Then there's Worse Than Detroit by Robert Plant. The BBC's Jonny Dymond reported from the city, which has fallen on hard times. It's "got no money, it's deep in debt, and there are around 80,000 properties sitting empty." There are plans, however, to do something about it. We heard about various projects, one of which Jonny found "amazing to witness" - a community project/talent show. A hippy-sounding flute played throughout. If you want to see what inspired Jonny Dymond so much, there's a website: Surely you'll want to click on it...and I won't call you Shirley. [No politicians, especially the Democrats who run the place, were mentioned].

8. Previously on PM...

Summer holidays. A commenter complained about teachers getting the "luxury" of such a long holiday and called Anthony Seldon a "silly man"...another wanted shorter summer holidays to save parents from getting stressed...another said children get tired by Christmas...another thought MPs might be up for a change too, given that their long summer holidays date back to the days when they were all landowners and needed a long time off to supervise the harvest...village halls - a commenter says the idea of community is a fiction and that it's local busy-bodies who dominate...another complained about his project's lottery funding running out...Death Valley is hot - a commenter went their last year, said the health centre has a urinal colour chart so you can check your wee and make sure you're still OK...another's son has just completed the Death Valley Challenge at Furnace Creek - a one-mile sprint - dressed as Darth Vadar...Cold calls - a commenter answers the phone in French and German and then wishes them a merry Christmas in Welsh...another says it's becoming a nightmare in France...cold calls are coming into the NHS too...someone else, an elderly unwell man, was asked if he wanted to make a will...Simon Calder and his train journeys - memories of listeners...the PM Twitter account - listeners are sending them their weather updates already!

Thursday 4/7

Eddie Mair presenting.

1. Scotland Yard announces its own investigation into the disappearance of Madelaine McCann

The BBC's Danny Shaw updated us on the Met's reasons, six years after the little girl's disappearance. Eddie then talked to private detective and TV presenter Mark Williams-Thomas, who has reviewed the evidence himself. He says that much of the information the Met has was available in 2010. The Portuguese police (who closed the case in 2008) collected the data sporadically, so the British police have had a lot to pull together. With 38 new possible suspects, will the Portuguese police re-open the case - especially given that the latter may feel that the British police are saying that they didn't do a good enough job?

2. Egypt

The day after the night before. Aleem Maqbool reported from Cairo on the reactions of the two sides. As for the new interim president Adly Mansour, "a lot of Egyptians wouldn't know anything about" him. "There are some suggestions that he has some sympathies towards the Mubarak regime". He made a speech promising elections not based on fraud [as if the last ones were, won by you-know-who were!]. Aleem says the army are now being welcomed "broadly" by the public and "are lapping it up". Aleem then went for a walk away from the crowds in Cairo. National flags are hanging everywhere, everyone's talking. What do the people in the cafe think? He finds a mixture of happiness and anxiety, though "the tension of the last few days has now lifted". [It wouldn't lift for long.]

Eddie then talked to former Obama adviser Dennis Ross. Was it a coup? Possibly "a soft coup", said Mr Ross, but we've got to be careful about using such a term. The army were responding to a public surge - people who feared the Islamisation and authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who felt the Morsi government was making their lives "dramatically worse". The military almost seems to have been "driven to act", lest the state near-collapsed. The army had been signalling its concerns for several months but the Morsi government was "impervious" to this. The West should establish various principles - the military should return to barracks and set a date for elections no later than six months from now, an all-embracing constitution and a technocratic government.

3. Wimbledon

Wimbledot talked about the tennis.

4. Economy

Stephanie Flanders talked about the Bank of England's change of policy - not to change policy.

5. Tom Watson resigns from the shadow cabinet

Eddie talked to George Parker of the Financial Times. George describes him as "a divisive figure", lays out the situation in Falkirk with Mr Watson as "part of a triangle" with Len McCluskey and one of the suspended candidates in Falkirk. George describes Mr Watson's resignation letter as "rather patronising in tone", putting Ed Miliband "in a difficult position". Why didn't Ed sack him first? "George Parker of the Financial Times...and a possible future chief whip", said Eddie at the end, teasing himself over his wrong introduction to Mr Parker.

6. Those business concerns about the introduction of the computerised tax system - were they justified?

Returning to a subject the programme had reported on earlier in the year about the introduction (in April) of Real Time Information (RTI), the big complex government IT project that even the head of HMRC predicted might have a few "chewy moments", BBC reporter Chris Vallance went to see how it turned out. Since the earlier report the government relaxed the rules until 2014.  HMRC's Ruth Owen says "it's going rather well" and "has exceeded expectation", with 1.4 million PAYE schemes coming into the system. There have been the odd problem though. One such is the potential for confusion arising from the scrapping of P45s. The system could have you don't as still working for the company you've now left, after you get a new job. That might cause problems with benefit entitlements. However, "even some hawk-eyed critics of government IT projects, like Tony Collins, think that HMRC may have something of a success on its hands", said Chris. Tony gives it "the thumbs up". Some of the largest businesses aren't on the scheme yet though - only when they are on it can the system truly be judged. [It's good to hear a BBC programme returning to one of its earlier 'scaremongering' reports and redressing the balance].

7. That all-party parliamentary group on village halls

The appeal on PM by village hall campaigners for an APPG on village halls paid off. Eddie interviewed an MP who'd bitten on the idea - Conservative MP Richard Bacon.  Mr Bacon relished his village hall. Eddie says Mr Bacon, as he understands it, wants "to spread the joy". Eddie asked him what he needs to do to set up an APPG. Mr Bacon is setting on up on another issue at the very moment and says it's not too difficult to do. "Fantastic! Thanks for doing that. Can you just confirm we haven't paid you in any way?", said Eddie at the end of  the interview.

8. Little Chef boss tells PM the brand isn't about to disappear

Jon Manel of the BBC reported on Little Chef's fate. Happy memories of Little Chefs past from TV chef Phil Vickery followed. The chain opened in 1958 and, at its height, there were almost 440 restaurants. 83 remain. The chain was taken over six years ago, after losing 7 million pounds. This year it will make £4 million profit, but they're still selling it - using nostalgia as its main marketing tool. 4 or 5 interested parties are...interested. Phil "thinks it's had its day, sadly", though the chairman thinks it will be around for years to come.

9. Climate change?

I do like the occasional science features on PM. They allow you to get a glimpse into all manner of cutting edge scientific research, and this edition was no exception, introducing Radio 4 listeners to a concept almost as strange as quantum physics or membrane theory...This was such an out-of-the-way subject that I think the whole interview needs transcribing:

Eddie: We've been getting persistent reports in recent days, and there've been more today, that large parts of the United Kingdom - not everywhere but large parts of the United Kingdom - could be about to experience what experts as referring to as 'Summer'. Summer. Given that this is a new phenomenon, we've provided the BBC's newly-appointed Summer Editor Bocky Mulligan to tell us more. Bocky, before we get onto what Summer is and what we should expect, tell me about your new position.

Bocky:  Thanks Eddie. Well, the timing is fortuitous. As you know the new Director General Lord Hall commissioned an independent review from somebody about the way BBC News reports the weather.

Eddie: This is the report entitled Warm Front, Cold Front?

Bocky: Yes, and its key findings were that, while many British people had a favourable or very favourable view of the weather,  a study of BBC News output found that the words 'cloudy', 'raining', 'dreich' or 'gloomy' were three times more likely to be used than the words 'sunny', 'scorchio', 'sultry' or 'Kate O'Mara'.

Eddie: So here you are, the BBC's Summer Editor. The timing, as you suggest, couldn't be better. What do you and the other experts expect to happen in the next few days?

Bocky: Well, the phenomenon is known to experts as 'Summer' and this is where the temperature rises above 15 degrees Celsius.

Eddie: And what are the effects of that?

Bocky: Well, members of the public are advised that they may no longer have to wear a heavy coat or carry an umbrella. They may want to wear short-sleeved blouses or shirts.

Eddie: Short..sleeved..blouses or shirts?

Bocky: Yes, they're similar to the long-sleeved blouses or shirts or thick woollen jumpers we would normally wear but the sleeves are much shorter, allowing the warm air to circulate and the sun to reach the human skin - something which scientists believe may increase our Vitamen D.

Eddie: And that's because?

Bocky: That's because the cloud that has blanketed the UK for as long as anyone can remember is expected to part, for a while, and the sun, which is in the sky. will be visible - though I should caution people that they should not look directly at it because scientists fear if they do it might go away.

Eddie: And if everyone is a little warmer and wearing the lighter clothing you've been describing what are the other effects of this...erm...

Bocky: Summer. 

Eddie: Summer that you think might be around the corner?

Bocky: Well, it's possible people will be able to turn off their central heating. It might be possible to go outside and spend some time in open public spaces such as parks, and we have a clip of what a typical summer's day might sound like....

[Clip of summer]

Bocky: It's possible too that, but there's no hard evidence for this yet, that people would generally be happier, will be more courteous, letting other drivers into busy traffic, allowing someone with eleven items to use the '10 Items or Fewer' queue at the supermarket, sales of ice cream and lollies of all kinds are likely to increase and there could be a general economic uplift.

Eddie: Well that all sound very encouraging. Is there any potential downside to summer?    

Bocky: Yes. The companies who make signs for fĂȘtes warning 'Indoors if wet' are likely to go out of business completely.

Very illuminating.

Wednesday 3/7

Eddie Mair presenting.

1. Egypt: What is happening?

"We don't know", said Eddie in answer. As the programme was being broadcast the Egyptian armed forces were moving into position ready to depose President Morsi a couple of hours or so later, but that wasn't very clear at the time. The BBC's Quentin Somerville said it "feels like the final moments" for the Morsi government. My eyebrows did raise a little at his description of the army's intervention as "unprecedented", given that the army has intervened before in Egypt - given 1952 and 2011 (and the 59 years in between). He described the scene in Tahrir Square, when the anti-Morsi crowds are waiting the confirmation of their victory. We heard from some anti-Morsi protesters. "What we have here is an elected president being removed by intervention from the military", said Quentin, describing it as "a coup by appointment".

Eddie then talked to Shahira Amin, a TV news anchor on state television until 2011 (the one who, you may recall, so aggressively interviewed Gilad Shalit whilst he was being released by armed Hamas gunmen). She thinks it's "a soft coup", recalled the army's past misdemeanours, described it as "ironic" that the Tahrir Square people are now backing them against a civil, democratically-elected president "we" voted in a year earlier. The supporters of Mohammed Morsi are backing his legitimacy, granted by the ballot box. She said that Morsi "tried to appease" the army "in every way possible" and that his constitution made them "a state within a state". Now the army wants to "be there up front".  "My worst fear is that they may not want to leave power", she said.

Eddie then tried to talk to Essam al-Haddad, "a friend of President Morsi", but he was a bit busy at the time, so Eddie moved on... talk to Dr Hazem Kandil of Cambridge University, in Cairo. He's the author of Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen. He thinks "it's a big mistake to think of this purely as a military coup". The campaign against the president had been growing for months, with at least 17 million people coming out onto the streets. There was a danger of civil war, so the military used its constitutional right to ensure the stability of the country. It issued a deadline, then extended it, but the president refused to offer the slightest concession to the people  - "the most unprecedented popular uprising in size". He sees it as the product of the "unbelievable stagnation" the country's been in for a while.

2. The plane carrying President Evo Morales of Bolivia is forced to land in Austria, due to suspicions he might have Edward Stourton Snowden on board

There was also some confusion about the details of this breaking story. It concerned Evo's presidential plane being made to perform an emergency landing and then searched by Austrian police on his way back from Moscow, following the decision of several European countries to deny him access to their airspace, prompted PM to interview Bolivia's ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, who (as Eddie said) "is not happy". He certainly wasn't. He said his president's life was put at risk and blamed France, Spain, Italy and Portugal for disregarding international law - and the United States, which he believes "is behind all this".

3. Egypt: What is happening?

It was back to Egypt and back to a Mr el-Haddad, albeit a different one this time - Gehad el-Haddad, a "supporter" of President Morsi. [Google suggests he's his spokesman]. He says it's "a full blown military coup". He doesn't know where the president is. He sets "it's a very dangerous precedent to set in an Arab Spring country"

4. Wimbledon

Wimbledot again, reporting at the point in the match when Andy Murray was two sets down. Just like the Egyptian and Bolivian stories, events were still unfolding. Unlike the Egyptian and Bolivian stories, no heads of state were involved - though Sir Alex Ferguson, former dictator of Manchester United, was in the royal box. 

5. Economic matters

The BBC's Jonty Bloom says the Portuguese government "is collapsing" because of a big argument over "the harsh cuts that have been imposed on Portugal as part of its bail-out". It's "another crisis in the Eurozone". Shares have fallen as a result. The "most worrying figure" is the borrowing costs of the Portuguese government, which have "risen from 6.6% for 10 years this morning to 7.35% this afternoon" - a "huge" increase in just one day, reflecting market nervousness. Then he discussed Nicole Farhi, the fashion chain, going into administration. He suspects it may be because they can't afford to pay their rent. Nicole Farhi herself expressed her "shock". 120 jobs are at risk. 

6. 'Nuisance calls'

An all-party parliamentary group on nuisance calls (yes, really!) held its first meeting today and is looking into tightening the rules. BBC reporter Andrew Bomford spoke to a PM listener, Richard, who took action, playing along with the cold calling company until he got to speak to someone with real authority and then telling them that if they called him again he would be charging them £10 a minute for his time. He thought that would have done the trick. It didn't. They rang again the following day. He took them to court, they settled and he got £195 plus court costs. But still the calls came. So he took them to court again and won £230. He will keep on doing it.  We then heard from Alun Cairns, MP (Conservative) who compared it to someone persistently knocking your door, or to someone knocking on your door wearing a balaclava and expecting you to open your door. Callers are supposed to identify themselves and the companies they're working for, but often they don't. The MPs want it enforced and a single regulator for the sector. Simon Entwistle from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) says the burden of proof "is too high" for complainants at the moment. He wants the nuisance value of the calls made the main criteria for issuing fines. A man from the Direct Marketing Association, which represents the industry, agrees the enforcement isn't tough enough, as "the cowboys" are giving everyone else a bad name. 

7. PMQs - David Cameron mocks Ed Miliband over Labour's links to the unions

Why was David Cameron so "hot under the collar" about this? Norman Smith described Labour's union links as "a rich source of Tory ammunition". Norm gave a little background on the Falkirk situation, then introduced Ed Miliband's briefing notes which (in a scoop) he'd got hold of after they'd been "left in a toilet outside the Commons division lobby", apparently by his parliamentary aide - not by Ed, Norman was told. [Shades of The Thick of It again]. They "tell us...just how anxious Ed Miliband is over the whole Unite, Falkirk saga", as they consist of pre-prepared lines he should use if the subject was brought up. "Embarrassing for Ed Miliband." Unite "are bluntly on the warpath", and Ed and Len McCluskey haven't spoken to each other in ages. "Norman Smith, stalking the corridors of power...and other parts of the Palace of Westminster", said Eddie. 

8. Egypt

Eddie spoke to publisher and political activist Hisham Kassem, who took part in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Mr Kassem is feeling anxious, awaiting the army's declaration and the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi. He says a "free country" and a "democracy" are different things. He reckons ten years are needed to built a democracy, there's been a set-back - the Morsi presidency - but things are now "looking very positive"
Then we heard from the BBC's Hugh Sykes, watching in London. Hugh recalled the "soft military coup" of 2011, and compared it to now - a military answering the calls of protesters again, but this time removing an elected president. Hugh's feelings weren't hard to discern:

"He won 52% of the vote. The fact that he won it in a run-off election against a former Mubarak prime minister simply revealed how much disarray the opposition was in. If they'd got their act together they might have been able to produce a candidate who was actually electable up against Mohammed Morsi. But, like it or not, that's democracy! He was elected. He got 52%. It's democracy, stupid."

"Parliament was elected 50% Muslim Brotherhood, 25% Salafists. The upper house was elected 90% Islamist. Both have been declared democracy is in some disarray." 

"There's the Muslim Brotherhood. We know about them. It's their president. They won the election, fair and clean. There's the military, who seem to be up against them now, although for quite a long time there were theories they were together against the third corner of this three-cornered fight, who are the youth, the secular revolutionaries, the socialists who were in Tahrir Square in February 2012 [sic], from January 25th onwards." 

"Don't forget, the military in Egypt is a business. If they can get on which their military affairs, they're happy." 

"My belief is that they will try to replace the present people and personnel which something else that can evolve quite quickly into the next stage of Egypt's revolution and democracy so that the military can recede into the background again and get on with the business that they like to be left free to get on with." 

9. HS2

Lord Mandelson, one of its earliest backers, has now said that the high speed rail-link looks like "an expensive mistake". Labour should think twice, he says. He says the original decision was in part "politically driven". The BBC interviewed Conservative minister Patrick McLoughlin, who is sticking with the plan. We heard a clip from that interview (all there was time for presumably, given the constant updates from Cairo).

Tuesday 2/7

Eddie Mair presenting.

1. The world slams the door on whistleblower Edward Snowden

Eddie reviewed the story so far - The Guardian, the NSA, The Guardian Prism, GCHQ, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, etc. Yep, it's Edward Stourton Snowden. The Guardian, Ecuador? Cuba? Iceland? Russia? The US wants him back. Etc. Edward has requested asylum from 21 countries - all listed. Some refused, some quibbled, some said 'yes, if...'. The BBC's Steve Rosenberg reported from Moscow, where Edward is in an airport...Or is he? Probably, Steve thinks. Or nearby. Who will take him? Bolivia? Venezuela?

Eddie then talked to Bruce Fein, the attorney representing Edward Snowden's father [and a Ron Paul-supporting conservative]. He doesn't know where his is either. Mr Fein is on Edward Snowden's father's side and, therefore, on Edward Snowden's side, making the case that the legality of secret law, dragnet surveillance and the indiscriminate collection of international information is more important than the row over asylum for Mr Snowden (Jnr) - in other words "the fundamental liberty...the right to be left alone".

Biased in favour of Edward Snowden? Well, Eddie asked, "It's a bit of chutzpah, isn't it,  Mr Fein, for someone to leak a lot of secrets and then pretty much ask that he not be jailed when he returns to face any trial and say what he likes when he's facing a trial? That's a pretty tall order for a man who's charged with the theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information, and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence. He doesn't have that strong a hand to play, does he?"

2. Egypt

Halfway betwixt the army's ultimatum and the army's action to remove President Morsi, Eddie talked to the BBC's Quentin Somerville. Quentin was in Tahrir Square, reporting on the day's events. He reckons the army will suspend the constitution when the deadline expires. [Correct]. "So you see an extraordinary thing where people demanding freedom are saying they want the army to intervene, that that's a new kind of democracy here." 

What to make of President Morsi then? Eddie talked to a supporter ('Mona al-Kazzaz', approximate spelling) and an opponent ('Mawar Faraad', even more approximate spelling). They gave their contrasting opinions, each at considerable length. It's very revealing to her such views expressed, without interruption, side by side with each other. Both ladies were highly eloquent. Then Eddie began interrupting the anti-Morsi speaker, asking her whether the military is the "best alternative" to the government of President Morsi and "Suspend the constitution and dissolve parliament. What sort of democracy is that?" He then asked the pro-Morsi speaker if Morsi was "the author of his own demise."

3. Wimbledon

Wimbledot talked about the tennis. Come on Tiger Tim!

4. Green shoots of recovery? confidence is at its highest level since 2007, export sales have grown at their fastest rate since 1989, the UK's construction sector is sounding positive, said Eddie...well, heeerrreee's Stephanie Flanders and Robert Peston! Stephanie wasn't very positive, suspecting only "a modest recovery" and "the wrong kind of growth". Robert wasn't very positive either, worrying about our failure to rebalance the economy, the rising deficit (and debt), low investment and, above all, "pretty insipid" growth that will make us "vulnerable", especially if China and the Eurozone go wrong. Increased consumer spending, said Stephanie, meant fewer people are going to save, which is bad too. [Thank goodness there aren't many green shoots or they might grow into trees on which we can all go and hang ourselves after listening to the BBC's economic experts!] "Oh, stop it, stop it. I want you both to stop!", said Eddie, before Robert tried to cheer everyone up with his swazzle. He didn't succeed.

5. State-funded boarding schools

Did you know that 5,000 British pupils attend state-funded boarding schools? Well, the government would like more of them in England. Only a small proportion of them are "paid for by local authorities", as it's usually the parents who pay the fees - on average £9,000. The BBC's Zoe Conway reported from Wyndham College, the largest of the 38 schools.  She said the government also wants to open them up to "disadvantaged" children, but there's the cost issue for parents to contend with. The school itself wants more "poor background" children. The headmaster reckons Michael Gove "has the bottle" to push things forward, unlike the previous four education secretaries. Zoe then went to an academy and talked to an anonymously-funded boarder from a tricky background. She likes boarding. The principal wants to give more space to other such "vulnerable" children. Off to a new state boarding school in Berkshire, and a question from Zoe to the head: 'Why not open the school "in a really deprived area?"' Boarding may not work for everybody but everyone she's spoken to says that when it does it can be "transformative". 

6. NHS Direct's 111 helpline

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson described it as "yet another blow" to the service, which covers a third of the population of England. NHS Direct is pulling out of two of it contracts, saying it's not in a position to provide services in two areas (N. Essex, Cornwall and the Scilly Islands).

7. Mikhail Khodorkovsky

The BBC's Dominic Sandford followed the mother of the imprisoned Russian oil billionaire as she made her regular long journey to the end of the Arctic to visit him. "Many see him as the country's longest serving political prisoner".  She is allowed a mere four hours and no physical contact when she arrived. We also heard from a pro-Putin MP who criticised his business practices, but Dominic said they were no worse than those of other billionaires. His mistake was to fall foul of Vladimir Putin.  The governor of the region had warned Dominic to "stay away" from the jail or he'd be arrested. He described the prison as "an extraordinary, dilapidated compound with rusting barbed-wire fences, huge spotlights and wooden watchtowers reminiscent of a Second World War movie". He asked Marina Khodorkovskaya to ask her son a question for him: What's his message for other opponents of the government facing/being imprisoned (Pussy Riot, Alexei Navalny). He advices them to be honest, speak out and not be afraid.

8. Long school summer holidays

In light of the debate over the plan to allow all state schools in England to set their own term times, the programme discussed the possible loss of those long school summer holidays we all remember so well. We heard from Ros McMullan of the David Young Community Academy, Leeds and Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College, Berkshire. Eddie asked them both to recall their own experiences of long summer holidays from their childhoods. Ros recalled sailing a dinghy on Lake Windermere. Anthony described them as "blissfully happy", staying on a farm in Devon. He thinks it's "tragic" if we deprive young people "of the rhythm of the year, of the sense of almost hibernation and rebirth that comes with a long summer holiday". Ros's academy, however, only gives pupils a four-week summer holiday, so that children don't have to endure long half-terms and aren't "away from learning" for too long. "The students like it", saying they got bored during the long summer holiday at primary school. She says that it's a "deprived" area, and children there don't get taken away on lovely holidays for a long period of time. Anthony says it's a model that "shouldn't" apply overall - as teachers, "who aren't particularly well-paid", need a long break to "refresh" themselves given that it's a "highly stressful" job. More importantly, he said, it's a time for children to spend with their families, getting to know each other again. As for pupils being away from learning for too long, he says schools should be encouraging them to read and to discover. Ros said it's all about context. "The best way" of reducing "disadvantage" and promoting "equality" is the holiday pattern her school follows.

Eddie Mair presenting.

1. The Egyptian army begins its removal of President Morsi

This was the day when the Egyptian armed forces gave politicians 48 hours to compromise - or else! We all now know where this was going - two days later the military (a) backed a popular revolution by removing an Islamist government which was destroying democracy and perverting the 2011 revolution or (b) staged a coup d'etat against a democratically-elected government which was securing democracy against the forces of the old regime. I've heard both points of view expressed across BBC programme after BBC programme. Both claims have something going for them - and, no, that's not just me sitting on the fence! Still, as this post is purely about PM, how did PM cover it? 

We heard first from the BBC's Aleem Maqbool. Aleem was outside the "burned-out, ransacked" Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. "Huge cheers went up" when the army statement came. The protesters think this means that President Morsi is going. We heard from several anti-Morsi protesters. Aleem noted the "remarkable turn-around for the army", given how "absolutely hated" they became during the period when they ran the country after President Mubarak was deposed. He said, however, that "people" in recent months have "more and more" wanted the army to step in, given how "disillusioned" they've become with Mohammed Morsi. Aleem said it's unlikely there will be any compromise over the following 48 hours [correct] and predicts that the president will take a "confrontational line" [correct] and that his position looks "very perilous indeed" [correct]. It sounds like "a military coup in the making", he said "everyone" was saying. [Well, "everyone" on that side of the argument seems to have stopped saying it after it happened!] He said that the army "may be reluctant to take over long-term" however - the country is in dire straits. Sound analysis, all in all.

Eddie then talked about the fall in the number of visitors to Egypt in recent years with Mo'taz al-Sayed, head of Egypt's tour guide syndicate. Mr Al-Sayed said that in 2010 Egypt received its highest-ever haul of visitors, with 14.7-14.8 million people pouring into the country. The figure since has fallen by 35-40%, losing them (said Mr al-Sayed) at least $4 billion a year - or $11-12 million in two and a half years. Those last two figures, as you'll have immediately realised, don't tally. Mr al-Sayed's got his millions and billions mixed up somewhere. Is it $4 billion a year and $11-12 billion in two and a half years, or is it $4 million a year and $11-12 million in two and a half years? The difference between the two is MASSIVE. I'm presuming it's in billions, but Eddie didn't cotton on to the discrepancy or seek to clarify it. (Such is our way with numeracy, sadly). I'm hoping Google will help here, as this is an interesting subject....Google isn't giving me the exact answer I want but it's talking in billions, so billions it much be. That's a lot of money then. Mr al-Sayed said there were 16-17,000 tour guides in Egypt, most of whom have suffered - i.e. are unemployed or struggling. He hopes that a change of regime will make things better and believes the army has the support of the people in opposing the Muslim Brotherhood, though he thinks the army has learned its lesson and won't misbehave this time. He himself wouldn't visit Egypt if he were a foreign tourist but thanked those who've done so. Those visitors who are still coming, he said, are lured by Egypt's old and unique civilisation and the present cheapness of holidays to Egypt - plus the fact that tourist haven't been attacked for many years. 

2. The hunt for the killer of Salford mum Linzi Ashton

The BBC's Ed Thomas updated PM listeners about this brutal story.

3. The demise of the European Train Timetable

Simon Calder, "the celebrated travel editor of The Independent", had rung the PM office that morning. "Obviously we pretended to be out, but he was very persistent", said Eddie. "Now we didn't need to be asked twice", obviously, when the man from The Indie rang. What was Simon "hopping mad" about? Thomas Cook's decision to kill off their European Timetable, published every month (or so) since March 1873, originally called 'Cook's Continental'. Why? Because Thomas Cook has been in a "right old muddle", losing around 90% of its share value in 2011. Even though the timetable has been paying its way, the company wants to focus on package holidays and "selling stuff" from the travel agents. Thomas Cook's internet site isn't doing it for Simon. So what's the point of carrying a 576-page book around in the age of the internet? Well, Thomas Cook's internet site isn't doing it for Simon. The book, however, still works for him. PM chose to invite its listeners to challenge Simon to use only the book to answer all their travel queries. Had I been listening live at the time I might have e-mailed in this challenge: How to get from Sofia or Bucharest to Boston in Lincolnshire via Brussels. Whether than would have been read out on PM I'll now never know, sadly. 

4. All-party parliamentary groups

"Whenever people speak to me in the street it's usually to say, 'No, I don't have any change'. The other thing they say is, 'Whatever happened to your effort to start an all-part parliamentary group on something?'" That question had been causing me sleepless nights too. Many listeners had contacted the programme to demand an all-part parliamentary group on village halls. Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending, doing its usual BBC duty for matters rural north of London and south of Salford, accompanied the BBC's Becky Milligan was dispatched to Ashurst, a tiny village (in West Sussex?) The old village hall was in such a state of disrepair that it was pulled down and a new village hall is building built. Alas (as you might guess), raising the money to finish it is proving difficult. A local campaigner hymned the value of the village hall and thinks an APPG would help raise awareness. Lots of local agree. It's proving unpleasant that there's no village hall at the moment. Becky learned that Laurence Olivier lived and died in the village. The report didn't blame Toricutz before fading away to the sound of RVW's nostalgic English lark on solo violin. 

5. Wimbledon

Wimbledot - Dot Davies - updated one and all on the whacking-a-ball-over-a-net thing. She asked Eddie the question most of the country had been asking last week: Where had he been? "I was negotiating my severance pay", he replied, truthfully

6. The National Audit Office slams the BBC over its lavish severance payments

Eddie gave an example: "One person got a severance payout that was £141,000 more than they were entitled to. It included almost £50,000 for training in information technology equipment to improve that individual's skills and career prospects." We heard brief clip of Conservative MP Rob Wilson's slamming the BBC over the matter and Anthony Fry from the BBC Trust saying that, post-Hutton, the BBC Trust was kept out of remuneration matters. Inevitably, the programme turned to Steve Hewlett of The Guardian Radio 4's The Media Show. Steve praised the new BBC DG for saying that severance payments will now be two years pay (if you've worked there long enough) or £150,000 - "whichever is the lower". However, blaming the previous regime is easym he said. The Trust is the problem. The National Audit Office has slammed the BBC twice in six months, forcing the Beeb into "an abject apology" six weeks ago for losing £100 million pounds on the Digital Media Initiative. "The number of counts against the Trust is building up to such a point where I think a discussion about BBC governance is almost inevitable." He dismissed Anthony Fry's defence by saying that their policy doesn't prevent them from overseeing a policy that governs executive remuneration - and if the rules don't allow you to effectively oversee the spending of licence fee payers' money, then you've got to change the rules. After Saville, George Entwistle, Digital Media Initiative and now severance payments...oh dear! As for viable alternatives, Steve suggested Ofcom regulation, a Channel 4 and ITV-style unitary board, but he thinks this is unlikely to happen. He says it's more like that the Trust's joint role as "regulator" and "cheerleader" for the BBC is going to come under scrutiny. Maybe, it's less complicated and the rules just have to be tweaked.

7. High temperatures in Death Valley, California

Almost 100 years ago the hottest temperature ever officially recorded on Planet Earth was recorded at Furnace Creek, Death Valley - 57°C (134°F). "On the plus side, it's a dry heat", said Eddie. This June temperatures nudged a new high of 130°F. Phew, what a scorcher! - as Ritula Shah would say. Eddie spoke to Steve Schilling of the Death Valley Health Center. For those of you who get very hot under the collar, reaching temperatures of 58°C, over the BBC's reporting of global warming stories, relax and sip on a chilled glass of Californian Chardonnay because Eddie didn't bring it up. Mr Schilling says that most of his customers come early morning. Eddie suggested to him that the high temperatures were the planet's way of telling people not to live there (which made him laugh), but he says that people love living there with "the desert, in the the clean air, with the starry night, and the less congested atmosphere of California and Nevada..." There's not much outdoor work going on out there at the moment - but plenty of air conditioning. "It's miserable for a few months then it's really gorgeous out there" - in December and January.

8. Simon Calder's challenge

The European Timetable met the first challenge thrown at it by listeners.

9. PM's new Twitter hashtag

Yes, PM is now on the Twitter. The #hashtag is @BBCPM. "...and if we're not trending within seconds I'm going to be furious", said Eddie.

  1. Hello world. Welcome to the OFFICIAL Twitter account for PM on BBC Radio 4. We are . Join us tonight at 5 for something or other......
  1. Ahem world. The new official Twitter account for PM on BBC Radio 4 is . has been fired for his earlier mistake.


10. Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski has reportedly become the first MP to declare they're bisexual

...according to The Mail on Sunday. Mr Kawczynski says it's about "transparency". Eddie talked to Edward Lord of the Standards Committee of the City of London Corporation [a Lib Dem], asking him whether it's good or bad that this is making news. Mr Lord says it's "positive" when anyone "comes out". Mr Lord identifies himself as bisexual. Eddie asked him about matters of romantic v sexual love, how people reacted to the change, "biphobia" (Mr Lord's word), whether he swings one way or the other (in "phases") or is simultaneous in his affections, whether people are hurtful towards him, whether gays and lesbians are harder towards him than from heterosexuals, and whether bisexuals are the least visible of the LGBT acronym.

11. Chinese companies in the U.S.A.

The BBC's Michelle Fleury reported on the expansion of Chinese companies in the U.S. Is it a good thing? Newly-hired workers at a new Chinese plant are excited. A union man fears that the new temporary low-paid jobs are becoming the norm though. For many families used to the old-style jobs the old middle class lifestyle is "slipping away" and the lack of employment in the area (in North Carolina) is causing hardship, though U.S. optimism isn't defeated yet.

12. Simon Calder's challenge

The European Timetable met further challenges thrown at it by listeners - though it informed the listener who fancies travelling to Athens by train that it was impossible. Athens is no longer connected to other European railways because of budget cuts.


As ever, did you see any strong strands of bias that I missed?

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