Thursday 31 October 2013

Mark Easton keeps at it

The BBC's home affairs editor Mark Easton has been getting a bit of stick recently from right-wing newspapers and politicians over the issue of bias, particularly regarding the issue of immigration.

Undeterred, Mark keeps on keeping on. 

His latest blogpost poses the question Is diversity good or bad for community cohesion? 

Can you guess what answer his article will give...before you even read it? 

Here's his closing paragraph:
But what this paper suggests is that where you have non-segregated and relatively prosperous communities, diversity is likely to improve community life, not damage it.
Did you guess correctly?

That won't exactly blow those suspicions of bias away, will it?


This week's Telegram at the Daily Telegraph features a twenty-minute discussion between James Delingpole and former BBC arts correspondent Rosie Millard on the issue of BBC bias. It's well worth a listen.

Wednesday 30 October 2013


I keep noticing a fifties revival, what with all that retro furniture with splayed out, spindly legs, and nostalgia on the radio like that enjoyable stroll through the childhoods of Christopher Matthew and Martin Jarvis, ‘Grey shorts and sandals’ radio 4. Apart from finding the content entertaining I thought it also echoed what radio used to be like. (before every other programme included something related to Islam or Sharia compliant everything-but-the-kitchen-sink)

There’s been a marked hankering back to the days when there was an air of certainty about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Christianity was the default religion in as much as everyone, with little thought,  put down ‘C of E’ on forms, so as not to stand out from the crowd. 
When I use the term ‘everyone’, kindly assume it’s is my way of loosely tarring the majority of British people, with an indiscriminate, sloppily laden brush.

Not that ‘everyone’ was necessarily religious, but they felt that as a nice person, one should be.  The security of the cosy consensus and the predictable assumption, ‘everyone’ knew where ‘everyone’ stood.
Religion provided a kind of paternalistic protection, reaching the parts that earthly, mortal parents cannot reach, with their human flaws and failings. Paternalistic Christianity, the Mum and Dad for adults, the agony aunt that told us what to do.

We know now that alongside this rosy cosy glow was the secret shame of illegitimate child, the agony of forced adoption, the cruelty of Catholic nuns and the Christian Brothers, the child abuse and paedophillia, the untouchability that priesthood and piety in general conferred upon the un-righteous. However, Enid Blyton country and Rupert Bear’s Nutwood were proper ‘Christian’. Men smoked pipes. That’s what Christianity means to some people, and very jolly it all was too.  
coatrack with red and yellow knobs on

Scandinavian furniture and black metal objects with red and yellow knobs on heralded the beginning of the doubts. The dawning of  the avant garde, uncertainty and flux, where ‘everyone’ began to question the omnipotence of both mortal and immortal Mum and Dad.

Why am I writing this? Oh yes, it was inspired by the thread on Harry’s Place, which was Sarah AB’s response to the much hyped programme ‘When Tommy met Mo’, shown on BBC One the other night. 

Ever since the shock of the Tommy Robinson/ Quilliam press conference, that eagerly awaited BBC documentary had been trailed as though Tommy’s relationship with Mo Ansar was responsible for his  defection from the ‘far-right’ EDL in order to join  the ‘moderate’ reformist organisation Quilliam. Apparently this is to be known as his ‘rehabilitation’ .

I differ with Sarah AB in nearly everything she has to say on this topic. In fact she has got off the fence for once,  but landed on the wrong side. She believes that homophobia, antisemitism, and “extreme or theocratic” views can be stripped from Islam, leaving a cleansed, shiny, positive religion, (of peace?) not a hollow puff of pointlessness.
A commenter, ‘Mark’ said:
What I don't understand (from various interviews, including this one), is where someone says, "Tommy hasn't renounced his views." What exactly do they mean by that? …”
Another commenter ‘stefssdadsd’ said: 
He was never against Islamic extremism but against Islam per se. and he still is.”
It transpires that this commenter regards being “against Islam per se” as negative.
Sarah AB said:
Mark - I think that's a fully fair point as I wouldn't want him to be in favour of extreme or theocratic views, or not care about antisemitism or homophobia. He's often gone quite the wrong way, in my opinion, about engaging with these issues, but that just means he has to adjust, not totally turn his ideas inside out.If he was totally against Islam (as stefssdadsd says below) then he doesn't quite seem to be now. This is positive, and if he's still against all the thing(sic) which he used to think meant he had to be against Islam - that's fine.”

This is positive? How so? Are politically correct people with a phobia about being thought Islamophobic hankering back to a new, revamped fifties, where a new religion stripped of  its nasty “Christianity’ and its nasty ‘Islamism’ can act as agony aunt for the lost souls who can’t stand on their own two moral feet? What’s so positive about a new-look emasculated Islam?
On the same thread the discussion veers off course and alights on the meaning of “A Christian country‘ 
One example of something I didn't like was something he said about wanting to keep England a Christian country.
(Says Sarah AB.) 
Several comments later Martin Jennerson tackles her:
I don't think he's really referring to bringing back compulsory Church attendance on Sundays, rather just using Christianity as code for the idea of conserving the ethnic status quo.”
There ensues some back and forth that attempts to analyse what is meant when people defend their misgivings about Islam, saying they want to keep England a Christian country. The discussion is brought to its senses by ‘nanomanoman’:
Gnnnn. A culturally Christian country Sarah, don't you get that?! And why not, it's British culture - your culture - FFS!”
That comment got 25 updings, and I don’t think they were only for the ‘gnnnn’. 

Everyone is delighted to see Mo Ansar get his comeuppance on the BBC, which was a most unexpected outcome, given the BBC’s past record. While I enjoyed the programme I found the narration read or written by Nicky Campbell very annoying. He kept on saying ‘Islamophobia’, and in that sincere, non ironic way. He’s obviously with Sara AB. But we knew that.


While we’re on the subject of retro, I wanted to say something about Grayson Perry’s third Reith lecture to please Craig. I thought it was definitely the best one so far. Certainly the most entertaining, and the audience seemed to like it. They gave it a standing ovation.

 Unfortunately I have nothing much to add to my earlier observations. I still think the same. I haven’t been ‘rehabilitated’ by Grayson’s very apparent popularity. 

Tracey Emin's rubbish portrait of the Queen

All that stuff about the Mafia-like art establishment, all that stuff about rebellion as an art form. The former is certainly something quite evident and quite unhealthy.  But Grayson fails to acknowledge that there is in fact a thriving art world out there, ‘outwith‘ the mafia, where practicing artists   and craftspersons make a hard-earned crust, and sometimes a jolly good crust it is too. Maybe they’d love to be in with the in crowd, but maybe they should be careful what they wish for.
As to the latter - rebellion as an art form, I think it’s on its last legs. It might have been the case once - well it definitely was the case once, but I think the tide has turned. Grayson Perry is the art world’s Edna Everage. He should step into her shoes, I hear there’s a vacancy. 

Tuesday 29 October 2013

On Lou Reed

I don't know about you but wherever I seem to have turned in the last few days - whether it's the BBC's Today programme or the Daily Telegraph website or NotaSheep's blog - it's been Lou Reed all the way.

The late singer-songwriter's demise has sparked a considerable amount of interest and comment.

I will admit, however, to being mostly unfamiliar with much of Lou Reed's music.

I knew - on a quiz-goer's level - that he was the Velvet Underground guy - and that Velvet Underground did I'm Waiting For My Man - and, of course, I knew and liked Lou Reed's big solo hit 'Walk On The Wild Side' [though, rather like a stereotypical judge, I'd never picked up on the use of the word 'head' in the song], and I fondly remember Lou's namesake Oliver 'covering' this very song so enthusiastically [hic] on Wogan - which, as Grayson Perry might say, was art. [It was Walk On The Wild Side, wasn't it?]

The last few days, however, have brought to my notice Lou's original version of Perfect Day, so perfectly sung. I've never heard it before, yet have completely fallen in love with it.

Now, ol' Lou was [it seems] quite a character, and not an easy character. James Delingpole's blogposts about Lou Reed in recent day (and, yes, James interviewed him), have been fascinating - and somewhat surprising.

I've seen lots of deeply admiring writing about Lou Reed (including from NotaSheep) and quite a lot of negative comment too, but I was quite staggered [hence, feeling the need to blog about it] by a piece in the Daily Mail entitled [at length]:
Just a few hours after Lou Reed's death, Tom Leonard felt it appropriate to post an unremitting sneer at the singer. 

Even someone as fairly unfamiliar with Lou Reed as me could see that this was was a paint-the-dots hatchet job-attempt. 

I'd read about the 'Perfect Day'-Susan Boyle affair, for example, and knew that Tom was blagging. 

Tom Leonard says that Lou Reed made Susan cry by refusing to allow her to sing the song:
He reduced the Britain’s Got Talent star Susan Boyle to tears in 2010 after he refused to let her perform Perfect Day on the America’s Got Talent TV show.
Wikipedia, however, notes that's there's much more to the story than that:
In September 2010, Susan Boyle had to cancel a performance on America's Got Talent at the last minute. She had planned to sing "Perfect Day", but two hours before the show, she was told that Lou Reed had intervened, refusing her permission to perform his song and to include it on her forthcoming album The Gift. As she and her choir didn't have time to rehearse another number, she decided to cancel her performance.
A couple of days later, representatives of Lou Reed stated that he had nothing to do with the decision and that it was just a licensing glitch. 
A couple of weeks later, Lou Reed agreed not only to let her include the song on The Gift, but also to produce her music video of the song. It was shot on the banks of Loch Lomond and premiered on 7 November 2010.
That seems to me to be a salutary reminder of how a certain kind of journalist writing a certain kind of piece can behave. 

Clearly, Tom Leonard cast this story in the blackest possible light and omitted all the subsequent part of the story where Lou Reed appears in a good light - indeed, as  the perfect gentleman - presumably because that didn't fit his chosen angle. 

Similarly, Tom Leonard makes a lot of Lou Reed's 'glamorization' of heroin, citing his fascinating song Heroin

Compare that with Neil McCormick's take on the same song at the Telegraph:
In the era of Sergeant Pepper and flower power, The Velvet Underground’s seven minute, two note drone about shooting up, speeding drug rush followed by grinding come down, feels like an extraordinary slap in the face to hippie drug culture. “Heroin will be the death of me,” sings Reed, who could never understand how the song might be misinterpreted as a pro-drug anthem.
I can quite understand, by the way, why Neil ranks that as the most 'essential' of Lou Reed's tracks. It's a fine example of youthful, Schubert-like genius.

Thankfully, all the top-rated comments below Tom's post take him to task, with a vengeance - and, in fairness to the Mail, they allow that to happen without censorship. [BBC moderators, please take note].

I have to say I'm old-fashioned in my belief that (unless it's Hitler) you shouldn't speak ill of the dead, within hours of their death at least. 


OK, this blog is basically about banging on about BBC bias (and using plentiful alliteration in the process), but I'm watching Autumnwatch tonight on BBC Two, and they are broadcasting from my beloved Morecambe Bay....and I want to recommend it to you.

[I don't work for the local tourist board, by the way].

Chris Packham & Co are based at one of my favourite places - the nature reserve at Leighton Moss. 

There you can hear bitterns booming, watch starlings whirling in the air, spot a stag (if you're staggeringly lucky), wander up to stately Leighton Hall (where Batman's butler Alfred learned his trade), or lurk in the lodge, prying into the tawdry affairs of sundry migratory birds as they sit and squawk on the lake. 

As I'm typing, Martin Games-Hughes (he of that laugh) is watching the starlings rotate above the reeds at Leighton Moss - and enthusing, as BBC presenters are prone to do (understandably).

I myself was watching a small squadron of these very starlings around three hours ago, from our upstairs window, on their way (I presume) to Leighton Moss, as they began their magical flurry. I was also watching them at the weekend swirling in the surprisingly warm afternoon air over the Lune estuary, whilst chomping on a sandwich and a bowl of chips, and downing a glass of wine [me, not the starlings that is], at my favourite local hostelry. [How many other blogs about BBC bias would share such intimate moments with you?]

The main theme of this series of Autumnwatch is migration. Not immigration, of course. [Nod to  a BBC bias issue? Tick.]

Oh dear, two cheerful, go-BBC posts in a row. What about the BBC bias, you may ask? The real BBC bias?

Well, the programme is now talking badgers - and the controversial badger cull. It's strongly biased in favour of the badger - taking a 'badgers good, humans bad' stance. Tut, tut, and on a controversial issue. Ergo, BBC bias. [Phew, that was close!]

Nice Rebellion,Welcome in!

It's making typing out this post rather hard going, but I've got my fingers firmly crossed that Sue will have something to say about this week's Reith Lecture by Grayson Perry. 

Grayson himself seems to have a pretty shrewd idea about why the BBC chose him to give this year's lecture:
And I often feel that I’m being wheeled out in many ways as a kind of you know bit of bohemian danger. I always feel like that dirty teddy you see sort of tied to the front of the radiator of a refuse truck. You know, the little mascot. I mean the BBC in asking me to give these lectures, they’re probably hoping that I’ll go off on one and swear a lot.
That said, I'd be surprised if the boss of Radio 4 wasn't congratulating himself at his decision, given how entertaining this series of lectures has been. 

As a sample, if you think a lecture by a befrocked contemporary potter isn't for you, please give these quotes from today's lecture a read and see if you enjoy reading them:
When I started at art college, that idea of revolution and change and rebellion was almost the DNA of art. of his favourite expressions was, “We must kill modern art.” That was how sort of central it was to the idea of being an artist, and that’s one of the delightful traits of the art world really... is that after a century, or 150 years now, that idea of revolution and challenge, we encourage it. We kind of say you know along comes the young artist...talented, little bit angry...comes along and he goes, “You establishment!”, and shakes his fist at the establishment and goes, “I am going to show you what fantastic innovation I have here!”, and the art world sort of looks down and sort of goes, "Oh yeah. Nice rebellion! Welcome in!"
That’s why I’ve called my lecture that. That’s why I’ve called it Nice Rebellion, Welcome in! 
And there’s even a kind of acronym which kind of suggests the sort of art that that young man, or woman, might be making, and it’s Maya, M.A.Y.A. - Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable. 
Virginia Nicholson, someone with great bohemian credentials because she’s the niece of Virginia Woolf, full-on bohemian, she said recently “We’re all bohemians now.” 
And if you think about it, all the things that were once seen as subversive and dangerous - like tattoos and piercings and drugs and interracial sex, fetishism - all these things, they sort of crop up on X Factor now on a Saturday night on family viewing.
The one thing you won’t see though: Underarm hair. The last truly dangerous thing. 
And even the art world itself can be quite orthodox in some ways.
I think one of the most rebellious acts done by an artist recently was by Tracey Emin. She supported the Tories.
And that shows you that you know it’s not that difficult in some ways to be subversive even within art. 
Me, I have to sort of protect myself against this because when I’m out in the evening and I’m with my mates and I’m being terribly cynical and ironic. But when I want to look at art, I want to have a sincere one to one experience with it because I am a serious artist. I’ve dedicated my life to it. So I go to exhibitions in the morning on my own when I can go, hmm, and you know maybe have a little bit of a moment. I have to protect my tender parts from that wicked irony. 

Monday 28 October 2013

Disaster Relief

Hope you all survived the storm. 

Commenters at the Telegraph have been helping report on the devastation

[A warning: What follows contains graphic descriptions of suffering which some readers may find disturbing. There's also some flash photography.]

startledcod • 8 hours ago
West Sussex was horrendous, one chair in my pergola was leaning against the table and another had blown over all together.

nathaniel @startledcod • 7 hours ago
You think that's bad? Here in Surrey my wheelie bin lid was literally blown open.
Of course, all trains to London are cancelled.

at_the_round_table @nathaniel • 6 hours ago
You think that's bad? I was smacked in the face by a leaf on my to the shops. If that had been a branch and I had been holding a baby whilst wearing roller boots we could have both ended up in A&E.

TRAV1S • 8 hours ago
It was Armageddon this morning, a bin fell over in the garden.

Vlad_the_Inhaler @TRAV1S • 8 hours ago
All very funny but I saw a man in the depths of despair this morning because he couldn't get his cigarette to light.

It appears that senior BBC editors have now rushed Orla Guerin and Fergal Keane back to the UK to pull doleful, award-winning faces whilst interviewing some poor, distressed family whose fence has been damaged by the unrelenting force of Nature. O the humanity!

Sunday 27 October 2013

"A stitch-up"

I hope he doesn't mind, but I think it's worthwhile re-posting a comment from historian Ara Sarafian, which was posted on The Ottomans: The Armenian Genocide thread. It seems to confirm the sense I had that the BBC Two series The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors was engaged in something of a whitewash of the Armenian Genocide.

His contribution to the programme was, indeed, remarkably brief and he was, as I wrote at the time, "talked over by Rageh's commentary saying that Turkey dismisses such accounts [those contained in the British Parliamentary Blue Book] as 'war-time propaganda'":
I agreed to give an interview for a BBC documentary regarding the Ottoman Empire and World War I. The focus of the interview was the British Parliamentary Blue Book, "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire," which was published in 1916.
Prior to our interview, I corresponded with the BBC production team. I pointed out the strength of the various accounts that underpinned the British report, how such material was used to construct the Armenian Genocide thesis, and how this thesis can be critically evaluated today. 
When I met the film crew, they had already shot their interviews in Turkey and chose not to discuss any of their previous material with me. All of the questions in our interview were provided by the producer and restricted to the Blue Book. There was no exchange of views regarding the Armenian Genocide and its denial by Turkey today.
The final cut of the film was a stitch-up.
* Ara Sarafian is a historian specialising on the late Ottoman Empire. He is the editor of the critical edition of the British Parliamentary Blue Book "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16... [uncensored edition]" and "Talaat Pasha's Report on the Armenian Genocide." For more information please contact 
We'd like to thank Ara Sarafian for his comment.

Nothing new under the sun

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

Radio 4's liberal religious affairs programme Sunday returned to several of its favourite themes this morning.

These included:

- an interview with a pro-rebel Syrian "Muslim scholar".

- a feature about sharia banking in the UK, discussed from an 'ain't this great' and 'what else can be done to make it a success?' standpoint.

- an interview with Archishop Vincent Nichols on ethical banking. (The Archbishop tends to appear on the programme either to defend his Church when something has offended liberal Catholic sensibilities or, whenever he makes a speech about the banks or bankers).

- yet another feature on how unfair the government's welfare reforms are, as ever from a critical standpoint. Last week we had a Christian who felt they were unfair. This week we heard from Jews who felt they were unfair. (If Grant Shapps wants concrete proof of BBC bias, he should consider the completely one-sided way Sunday has covered this issue over the last two and a half years).

- yet another feature on abuse within the Catholic Church, and bad news for the Catholic Church  -  this time from Poland. (The programme's appetite for such stories is almost limitless.)

These are thing we've noted at Is the BBC Biased? many times before - often in very great detail - so I won't expand on them again here. There is very little new under the sun at Sunday - and maybe from me at Is the BBC biased? too.

There was also an interview about the the letter sent by several Haredi rabbis criticising the new chief rabbi for going to a pluralist convention. This was a response to unbalanced discussion on the subject during last week's edition where the presenter questioned his two guests from a stance of disbelief that the rabbis could have taken such a strong position against such a nice-sounding event. Both guests were unsupportive of the rabbis - one aggressively so. I'm guessing Sunday must have received some complaints about that, and decided they'd better revisit the story with a more sympathetic guest this week.

The other subjects up for discussion were an exhibition of the relics of St. Anthony of Padua in Belfast (introduced with a Tabletista-style grumble about John Paul II being canonised too quickly) and something about "not for profit" 'death cafes', where people talk openly about death.

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

And, to proof that again, this week's Sunday Morning Live viewers' poll gave 'the wrong answer' yet again. The question asked whether Roma people are unfairly stigmatised. 

Anyone who watches Sunday Morning Live could have guessed the result - a massive landslide victory for the 'no' side (as represented on the programme by Biased BBC's David Vance). 

It happens week in and week out - and, as there's nothing new under the sun, we at Is the BBC biased? keep pointing it out week in and week out. 

Also, the liberal-minded members of the panel (including Julie Bindel) reacted with shock and horror at the result, as if they couldn't believe it. That also happens most weeks on Sunday Morning Live. They never expect what's coming. Vanity of vanities. 

Then, as ever, the presenter (here Katie Derham) read out a selection of comments - two saying 'yes', two saying 'no' - and said that was an "even split". Well, yes - if your producers hand pick two voices from each side of the argument you will get an even split. It's kind of inevitable.

"Is there anything of which it may be said, 'See, this is new'?"

Saturday 26 October 2013

Let them eat cake

I didn’t see the debate “should British women wear the niqab.” on Channel Four when it went out, but I watched it online.

The debate had Douglas Murray in it for goodness sake. And Yasmin Alibhai Brown!
“A panel including writer Shalina Litt, activist Sahar Al-Faifi, writer Douglas Murray, Islam lecturer Khola Hasan, broadcaster Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Fatima Barkatullah debate the niqab in Britain.”
I won’t let the fact that this was a Channel 4 programme, not BBC, deter me because, well,  it was so bizarre. To me that is; someone who hasn’t had to internally normalise mingling with and living happily amongst slow-moving tents while pretending it’s o-politically correct-kay.
No, living in the sticks, I don’t have to bother about mingling with the multicultural. I just have to mingle with the multifaceted.The tattooed, the pierced, the clinically obese and the unemployable as well as the Guardian-reader, the alternative lifestyler, the all-over denim wearing perpetual student and the healthy, wealthy and wise; the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Personally I come somewhere in between none of these.
Anyway all these people do like a uniform of some sort, so why, one might ask, should one object to the niqab?

The reason I object to it is because the uniform represents hatred for me, openly displayed under the protection afforded to “religious ‘faith’”. 
Fatima  Barkatullah (haha) and her shrouded sisters are wearing it “as a way of asserting a Muslim identity they feel is under attack” and while they’re at it, advertising the fact that the Gods and messengers they worship deem me inferior because I have descended from the ape and the pig. Just think; if devout Muslims, who have an even more stringent dispensation from behaving normally than ‘moderate’ Muslims, are forbidden to teach children the sound of the letter ‘P’ by using the word ‘Pig,’  what would they be teaching their children about me and my porcine origins if they can’t even bring themselves to utter the word?

Great Grandma

They are going round ‘in yer face’ wearing the symbol of antisemitism with impunity. Provocative and taunting, and that’s why I object. I hope that’s clear. Never mind whether or not these deluded semi-articulate Ali Gs are empowered and liberated. Who cares?  

What I really wanted someone to ask was, why? Are you serious? How long do you think you can get away with claiming this joke outfit is anything other than ridiculous? 

Your eyes darting from side to side look exactly like cartoons of ‘blinking in the dark’. Where’s Minnie Mouse? Some of you even wear back gloves, like those camouflage art-works where people are disguised as the background and made invisible. 

What a bloody cheek! Why do they ever in this world think going round draped in material brings them closer to God, with their ridiculous penis-shaped heads and their yash-mak nose-bags.  The sight of the apparition in pink cloth, momentarily inhaling her niqab while attempting to communicate and appear normal at the same time was comical and sinister.

Breathe in

Remember that documentary with Stacey Dooley about fanatical Islam in Luton all those years ago when Tommy Robinson was just a spark in the EDL’s eye? I’ll always remember the scene where she was sitting at a table in a cafe with  some of her black-tented former school-mates trying to ‘understand’ them. Set before each of them on the table was an enormous slice of cake.  I waited apprehensively to see how they would overcome the logistics. Nothing happened.  

Douglas, that’s the first time I’ve seen you defeated. You were defeated by the inanity of the opposition. Too inane to get to grips with. Beyond parody. You should have offered them cake. 

Is the BBC our Radio Moscow?

...asks Christopher Booker in the Telegraph:
The problem with the BBC director-general Lord Hall’s admission that the corporation has been slow to recognise how much of its output is “biased” is that those who inhabit the BBC are the last people who could recognise how deeply in its culture that bias has become engrained.
Many of us could instantly jot down a list of issues on which the BBC has a clear “party line”, which distorts its coverage to the point where its audience is consistently manipulated and misinformed. Wind farms, for instance, it is for; Israel against; public spending for; “government cuts” against (and don’t mention the deficit); “brave” social workers and gay marriage it is for; US Republicans against. In its sentimental but hopelessly uninformed view of the EU, it is for; private enterprise — against; Tories (unless, like Lord Patten, the BBC Trust’s chairman, they are rabid Europhiles) it is against. The Guardian – for; the Mail and the Telegraph – against. And so forth.
Thirty years ago, Alasdair Milne, Lord Hall’s predecessor, told me that the one issue on which the BBC was proud to ignore its Charter obligation to be “impartial” was apartheid. But since then, its flouting of this statutory duty has become so routine — both in what it tells us and what it leaves out, in who it has on the air and who it excludes — that its coverage is, in many respects, as predictably one-sided as that of Radio Moscow in the days of the Soviet Union.
Read more here.


Also from the Sunday Telegraph...
Minister's TV licence fee threat
The BBC could lose its exclusive right to the licence fee if it does not tackle a “culture” of secrecy, waste and unbalanced reporting, a senior Cabinet minister warns.
The minister in question in Grant Shapps, the chairman of the Conservative Party. The Telegraph's Tim Ross reports:
In a major intervention understood to have been made with the knowledge of Downing Street, he said that the Government would consider whether the BBC can keep receiving all the proceeds of the licence fee – £145.50 each year from every household with a television – after 2016, when its Royal Charter expires.
The issue of BBC bias appears to be on the government's mind:
He also spoke of his concerns about a lack of “fairness” in the BBC’s reporting.
Last week, this newspaper highlighted questions over a bulletin by Mark Easton, the BBC’s home editor, on a European Commission report about benefits for migrants. It appeared to draw inaccurate conclusions and fail to present the Government’s position fairly.
Mr Shapps said the item was “wrong” and added that there had been problems with other items by Mr Easton, including one on the Government’s austerity measures, which Mr Shapps described as prophesying “Armageddon, rubbish on the streets and people unburied”.
Although the minister stopped short of an accusation of “institutional bias” he said: “I do think there is, possibly with the particular journalist, but also there is an editorial question for the BBC about applying fairness in both directions. That also is a question of credibility for the organisation.”
He highlighted an opinion poll two weeks ago that concluded that the public were content with the outcome of the spending cuts so far, which the BBC downplayed.
“When they were proved categorically wrong, and people gave the wrong answer and said their services were improved, their response was to bury the story,” he said.
First the Telegraph, now the government. The pressure continues to build on the BBC.

For the moment though, the BBC is having none of it:
A BBC spokesman said last night: “Mr Shapps is right that transparency is key to the future of the BBC. So is its freedom from political pressure.”
He said its own television and radio programmes held executives to account, that it had dealt with 1,600 freedom of information requests in 2012, and appeared in front of 16 Parliamentary committees this year. It allowed the National Audit Office “full access” to everything except “editorial decisions”.
He said Mr Easton’s report was “fair” and that he had a “long record of reporting without fear or favour”.


Is the BBC predictable in its bias? 

That thought came back to me on reading a comment from chrisH at Biased BBC. 

He wrote: 
"The BBC are so predictable that I was able to predict that Titos wife and Felix Dexter would comprise half of “Last Word”…the obituary show on Radio 4 at the moment."
My point being that the BBC is so predictable that we just know there`ll be lefties in their dotage, and multiculti useful tools of alternative comedians that get the tributes.
Safe to say that if you actually HAD changed things…or used to be a “right winger”-there`ll be no mention of them.
The BBC gives its paste and plaster medals to the Miliband archetypes, the Howard Marks safe rebels…you try bringing up a few kids not to riot?…the Beeb won`t bother its arse.
It`s the total predictability-the obvious perpetual engineering of the social soul…that cheeses us off. 
Oh hell-another dead social work lecturer-a champion of the profession! Didn`t get her, but 50% isn`t bad from the “ever-original BBC” is it?"
I tend to drive home to Last Word when I finish work on Friday, and rather enjoy it (if it's right and proper to enjoy an obituary programme!), but is there truth in what Chris says?

As an experiment, here's the list of the five people whose deaths were marked by this week's Last Word:
Sir Anthony Caro, leading British sculptor
Felix Dexter, comedian
Jovanka Broz, widow of Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia
Professor Olive Stevenson, social work academic
Noel Harrison, son of Rex, singer, actor, Olympic skier, best known for 'The Windmills of Your Mind'
And here's the full list of obituaries featured over the past week in the Daily Telegraph. 

Who did Last Word cover and who did they choose not to cover? Who did the Telegraph cover and who did they choose not to cover?

Decide for yourselves whether this supports the case for a biased, left-wing selection process by the BBC:
Augusto Odone, the economist whose devotion to his suffering son was portrayed in the film Lorenzo's Oil, father of Cristina
Sir Anthony Caro, Britain's greatest abstract sculptor
Captain John Hatton, the soldier whose tank fired Britain to glory in a Nato contest, pipping the Belgians
Tommy Whittle, the saxophonist who abandoned dance bands and became one of the best-known modern jazzmen in Britain
Jeremy Gotch, a former child internee of the Japanese who pioneered the use of containers to transport bulk freight
Sir John Batten, physician to the Queen who pioneered treatment for adults with cystic fibrosis
Gypie Mayo, the virtuoso guitarist who helped Dr Feelgood into the Top 10 and played with the re-formed Yardbirds
Lou Scheimer, the cartoon mogul behind teatime favourites such as He-Man who irked Disney with a sequel to Snow White
Major-General Pat Kay, the marine officer who helped to take 65 enemy prisoners in Normandy and later guarded the nation’s secrets
Lawrence Klein, the pioneer of economic forecasting who advised China and won a Nobel Prize
George Ortiz, the connoisseur whose unrivalled collection of ancient objets d’art earned both admiration and controversy
Charles Castle, tap dancer and TV producer who hobnobbed with stars and made an acclaimed film about Noël Coward
Jock Kane, the whistleblower who battled to bring sex scandals and security breaches at GCHQ to light
Professor David Barker, the epidemiologist who suggested that infancy had a crucial role in causing 'lifestyle’ diseases such as diabetes
Felix Dexter, the actor who made his name in comedy not law

Friday 25 October 2013

Miscellany for another weekend

Fatwa Lifted
 I suppose the BBC could have named Fergal Kean’s series “Militancy through Time the BBC’s prism”. But they didn’t. They’ve lifted the fatwa on the word ‘terror’. 

Terror through Time.
extreme fear.
"people fled in terror"
 Fergal Keane celebrates sultry failed hijacker Leila Khaled, referring to her as “an icon of terrorism”.

a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.
When the BBC News channel reported the conviction of Pavlo Lapshyn it seemed like Anders Breivik all over again. They’re still trying to embed within our Branes an implicit-association between ‘far-right’ terrorists and murderers like Lapshyn - and, you’ve guessed it - the ‘far-right’ EDL. 
One BBC 24 report described the incident, the court case and the conviction at some length, then suddenly tagged on a postscript about Tommy Robinson’s decision to link up with Quilliam. It’s much more than Amazon’s marketing  strategy, the nudge: “If you bought that, you might like ‘this’. 


One Show went to Mo
Mo Ansar was a guest on the One Show the other day where he described his uncomfortable encounter with Tommy Robinson.  Alex Jones and Matt Baker who made no secret of where their sympathies lay. (clue: Not with Tommy R.)


Question Time.
On Question Time Tim Farron MP complained that people were mistakenly blaming immigration for ‘bad’ things, but we should all regard immigration as a blessing. Obviously tarring all immigrants with the same brush is the Lib Dem order of the day. I suppose it’s a kind of numbers game. If numerically more immigrants are hardworking and beneficial to “us” than actual Islamist terrorists, we should ignore all the rest of the problems caused by vast conglomerations of non-integrating non-English-speaking ‘Asians’ and thank Allah for our blessings.


Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman are more or less equally repulsive. A fair and balanced contest. Russell Brand is just like Kenny Everett being Cupid Stunt. It’s the feminine face and hair. An effeminate man in drag; convincing but for the beard. I’ve heard that some women find him attractive. It must be something to do with his $ fortune. The Brand revolution? Sounds like an orgy of directionless over-enthusiasm leading to self destruction, much like the Arab Spring (or the riots) 
His pretentious verbiage about redistribution of wealth begged a pretty obvious response, (i.e. begging) as in this Tweet from Trending Central.
Neither media icons were worth watching, even out of morbid curiosity. Sadly you can’t unwatch sickening things. The item should have gone down the pan.

Now for something completely worthwhile from the Gatestone Institute. This writer has a nice turn of phrase.
I’ll tar the whole BBC with one gigantic homogenous brush and suggest they read it. 

Wednesday 23 October 2013


When Grayson Perry’s Reith lectures were being trailed I thought we were going to get the lowdown on the slippery subject of evaluating and defining art in the present day. You know, get some answers to questions like “How to tell ‘good‘ art from ‘bad’, and “What is art?”. 
What’s more we were to be getting them  from an insider. Someone who is lauded by the establishment, whose work is undoubtedly considered by “them” to be ‘good’ and ‘art’.

Instead, he pussyfooted around, telling us that the arbiters of ‘value’ or ‘quality’ were gallery owners, collectors and, well, Charles Saatchi.

I  definitely detected a touch of bitterness in there. Grayson Perry’s success places him in a unique position; he can express cynicism about the art establishment, unlike  less successful artists and wannabes whose cynicism would come across as the jealousy of the excluded, or the public, whose bafflement and cynicism would be - is - attributed to ignorance.

He seems resentful about the fact that things like ‘craft’ and ‘skill’ are ‘outwith’ the definition of art. They are something else, in a separate category; no longer proper fine art.  Grayson Perry, as a ceramicist, has surmounted that obstacle by integrating a conceptual element within his pots in the form of decoration with sociological associations. Mere decoration wouldn’t do, as ‘decorative’ is a pejorative in the art world, but sociological (or do I mean social) commentary makes it  kosher.  Here’s a caption to one of his pots from the Saatchi Gallery website:
Perry’s urns are rendered with an incomprehensible master-craft: their surfaces richly textured from designs marked into the clay, followed by intricately complicated glazing and photo-transfer techniques. Perry makes ceramic pots, hand-stitched quilts, and outrageous dress designs, creating a cosmopolitan folk-art.”
This urn is entitled “Saint Claire 37 wanks accross Northern Spain” complete with spelling mistake. 
Art? Craft? Cheeky? Outrageous?   

Saint Claire 37 wanks accross Northern Spain

I’d wager that his ‘dressing up’ has given credence to his work. “Being outrageous” ought to have been included in the list of tests he produced for us in his second episode: “Boundaries”, or “Can art be anything we like?”

The one thing Grayson seemed certain about was that his alter ego ‘Claire’ was NOT art. Only an artist can “artify” or “de-art” a piece of work, and Grayson deClared Claire “Not”.  
He  mused upon this concept with the Tilda Swinton story. (Cornelia Parker’s “Tilda Swinton asleep” exhibit was ‘art’ but Tilda Swinton’s own asleep exhibit (herself) was not.)

Sue Lawley seemed to think Claire was art, but who is she to say? What if, say Charles Saatchi, determiner par excellence, decided otherwise?
What if Cornelia Parker strode in, over-rode Grayson Perry’s judgment and offered “Claire” to the world as her art?  Unlikely I know. (For that matter who, one may wonder, decides who is ‘enough of an artist’ to deem things art/not art? In the QA session the idea was taken to its logical conclusion. One day everyone will be an artist, creating artworks for an audience of one.)

Let’s test whether Claire is art using Grayson’s principles: Is Claire Art?

Is it in a gallery?
It might be.
Is it ‘lame’ as in a copy of something or a boring version of something else? 
Yes and no.
Is it made by an artist? 
Is it folk art, aboriginal, a photograph, a limited edition? 
Well, yes and no.
Are other people (with handbags etc) looking at it? 
Is there a queue? 
Yes, I’m sure.
Would anyone notice if If it was on a rubbish dump? 
I guess so.

So despite what Grayson Perry says, Claire by his own definition IS art.

I know that was stupid. The whole point is, why try to define art at all, when we’ve already decided that by being ‘whatever anyone wants it to be’ the whole exercise is irrelevant because the term ‘art’ has more or less disappeared up its own fundament. 

The thing that stuck in my mind was the fact that Grayson kept saying he was ‘old fashioned’. Almost apologetically. Guilty m’lud, of being covertly traditionalist. I think he likes painting, (decorative) respects craftsmanship, and probably values skill. These factors are a major feature of his own work, but they’re not the qualities for which he’s achieved acclaim! In fact he’s achieved acclaim in spite of them! 

No wonder he’s cynical. Does Claire’s pantomime dame presence conceal, wizard of oz-like, the embarrassing fact that behind the curtain lies a traditionalist who is producing old fashioned craft.  Oh noes!

Or, one could see the invention of alter ego Claire as an outlet for feelings of guilt and confusion in the same way that James Thurber invented the fish with hysterical ears. Maybe she’s his way of keeping sane. A way of keeping sane which outwardly looks insane.  Enigmatic and conceptual.

James Thurber; hysterical ears
When art stopped being figurative it became much harder for the expert and impossible for the layman to evaluate. Although the abstract qualities in figurative art are a vital ingredient in differentiating ‘good’ from ‘bad’, they were difficult to define with clarity or precision. 
Lecturers at art colleges would analyse a painting in terms of ‘lines’ and ‘balance’, and the golden section, but somehow it all seemed as slippery a business as nailing the precise definition of ‘art‘ as it is in the here and now. 

An interesting programme on BBC Four last night about Australian art reminded me that abstract painting has been confusing people for over fifty years. The same old questions have been puzzled over inconclusively while certainties wax and wane with the passage of time. Painting and sculpture are sidelined, rediscovered, disparaged and reinvented. With some exceptions representational painters and sculptors are not considered truly part of the art establishment.  But it’s temporary. One day they’ll be back.

Grayson Perry is certainly an entertainer. His Johnny Ball-like delivery is full of sforzandos and accelerandos, and the boundary gimmick with the whip was pure art-ertainment. But so far he hasn’t delivered the enlightenment I was hoping for. My own fault I know. How could I have been so stupid.

Monday 21 October 2013

The Ottomans: The Armenian Genocide

The greatest test facing BBC Two's The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors was obviously how it handled the most incendiary event in the entirely of Ottoman history: The Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian genocide is widely regarded as the largest genocide prior to the Holocaust.

What resulted sounded uncomfortably like an apologia to me. 

I shall explain why. Please see if you agree.

The programme set the genocide in the context of the First World War. 

Rageh Omaar's commentary presented the Ottoman Empire as the victim of the Great Powers: 
"The Great Powers of Europe had been waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the Ottomans' lands. It came in 1914." 
A talking head immediately said that the Ottomans saw this would be "a struggle of life and death", and Rageh followed that by stating that "they soon faced an Allied attack". [The question of why the Ottomans entered the war on Germany's side, and what their war aims were was unexamined]. 

Another talking head talked up the size of the Allied fleet that landed at Gallipoli, "an attack the Ottomans had long dreaded." 

Ataturk's brilliant defence was sketched, as was the subsequent stalemate leading to the Allies' "humiliating defeat".
"Gallipoli convinced the Ottomans they were in a fight to the death. After years of battles that had seen them lose vast territory and great wealth, this was a war they felt they had to win. At any cost."
Thus encouraged to see the Ottomans as the victims with "life or death" dread of the Allies, we - the programme's viewers -  were primed to see that what Rageh meant by "at any cost" - here the Armenian genocide - may have had some just cause behind it. 

We were then taken to the ruins of the city of Van in South East Turkey, where we were told that Kurdish Muslims and Armenian Christians had lived together up to the start of World War One. 

The implication was that the massacre of Armenians in Van arose partly from the shock of the Allied invasion at Gallipolo on April 25th 1915. 

In fact, the siege of Van began on April 19th 1915, and was unrelated. So this was a false correlation on the programme's part, and deeply misleading. Whether that was deliberate or merely a result of ineptness, I cannot say.

A ruined Armenian church and a ruined minaret in what's left of pre-war Van were pointed out. This highlighted that both religious communities suffered, with the implication of comparable suffering.

Rageh's commentary said that "Ottoman tolerance had worn out" as a result of "years of nationalist struggles in the Empire". We had been told earlier, by Eugene Rogan (the series consultant for The Ottomans) that both sides had behaved as badly as each other in those nationalist struggles, and that both sides had been "scarred" by them. 

"Thousands of Armenians has already been massacred", said Rageh, with this context ringing in our ears.

Now, whether you put this down to the series' sketchiness or its pro-Ottoman use of rose-tinted spectacles, this short miss-it-if-you-blink clause in Rageh Omaar's commentary conceals a long and very bloody history of Ottoman persecution of their Armenian Christian population. 

It skirts over the fact that Armenian villagers were second-class citizens in the Empire, that they had been overtaxed, kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam for centuries. Their testimony against Muslims was inadmissible in court. Their houses couldn't overlook Muslim houses. They they forbidden to ride horses. They weren't allowed to carry weapons. The ringing of church bells was forbidden.

It avoids mentioning the Hamidian Massacres of 1894-96 - a savage series of pogroms by state-backed paramilitaries which saw the deaths not of "thousands" but of hundreds of thousands (estimates range between 100,000 and 300,000). 

Many see the Armenian genocide as a rolling genocide, and one that got into its stride at this time - not because of the First World War, or because of Allied aggression against the Ottoman Empire. 

Another 15,000-30,000 Armenians were the victims of further pogroms in 1909, in what's known as the Adana Massacre. 

So, "thousands of Armenians had already been massacred" doesn't really convey the sheer scale of the slaughter faced by the empire's Armenian population in the run up to the First World War, does it?

It was followed a minute of so later by another clause: "The Ottomans had dealt brutally with Armenians before". 

Those two clauses are all the programme had to say about the pre-WWI atrocities committed by the Ottomans against the Armenian Christians. Is that not a case of whitewashing? It does give the appearance of that to me.

Anyhow, back to events in Van. 

Some Armenians fought back, and fought for autonomy, backed by Russian "until things escalated into a single dreadful event".

A Turkish talking head talked of "bad things happening". 

Those bad things - in his account - were the Russian army's arrival, and the fact that "the Armenian army burned all Muslim quarters of the city, and many of the Muslim population left the city". So the Ottoman army's subsequent destruction of the city was "revenge" for those actions - i.e. another apparent justification of the Ottoman's actions on the programme's part. 

Now, I've read quite a bit about this, and this is a defence of the Ottoman's brutality in Van that I've never come across before. 

Most accounts emphasise the duplicity and genocidal intent of the Ottoman governor Jevdet Bey. ["If the rebels fire a single I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and" (pointing to his knee) "every child, up to here".]

Rageh's commentary continued, however, describing what the Ottomans did in 1915 as "unprecedented". 

Well, yes, but not entirely - as we've seen.

He continued:
"They forcibly rounded up whole villages of Armenians and marched them to the desert".
Well, again, yes, but that's only one part of the Armenian genocide. 

The missing part from The Ottomans's account is its first phase - the wholesale slaughter of able-bodied Armenian males. That's quite a very big thing to omit. 

That phraseology also omits the fact that the second phrase of the genocide was the forced to the desert of the others - i.e. women, children, the elderly and the infirm. Something that makes the wickedness of it seem much, much worse. 

Again, whitewashing may be suspected. 

The next talking head, Sir Hew Strachan, then gave the Ottoman's justification - the need to secure their lines of communication and contain a rebellion. He did, however, note that the Ottoman's then "proceeded to outright massacre of Armenians, come what may". We weren't, unfortunately, allowed to hear him expand on that point. 

What forms did the massacres take? What about the mass burnings? What were the death marches really like? What about the concentration [some say 'extermination'] camps? What about the widely-made allegation of mass rape? The claims of deliberate drug overdoses, the deliberate infection of children with typhoid, and the use of poison gas? The accounts of the deliberate drownings of women and children?

Very little sense of any of this was given.

An Armenian historian described eye-witness accounts of the deportees being sent to their deaths in an organised fashion, but was talked over by Rageh's commentary saying that Turkey dismisses such accounts as "war-time propaganda". 
"There's intense debate over what happened to the Armenians and whether it should be described as 'genocide'". 
There is indeed, in Turkey, though most historians believe it very clearly is a genocide - something you might have hoped Rageh's commentary would point out. 

A very short consideration of this vexed question followed. 

Sir Huw Strachan didn't commit himself in the short extract featured. The aforementioned Armenian historian, just as briefly, said that what happened comes "pretty close to the definition". Sir Huw then observed:
"The round figure that tends to be used is a million Armenians die out of a possible population of two or three times that".  
That concession to reality [though many estimate the figure as high at 1.5 million - and the closest that there is to a consensus figure has settled on 1.2 million] was immediately countered by an apologist comment from Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam Without Extremes:
"It's a story which did not happen because of the Ottoman system. It's a story that happened because of the fall of the Ottoman system. Armenians had lived in the Ottoman Empire, side by side with Turks, for six centuries and because of the fears of nationalism that the conflict [sic] they had this tragic end".
Rageh's earlier talking head (the one who talked on "bad things happening") then ruminated with Rageh, in front of several shots of a ruined minaret in Van. 

"Did anyone win in the end to you think?", asked Rageh - as if one side came out as badly as the other. 

"No," came the reply. "We lost the city, and we lost the friendship between two communities", said the other - as if their had really been friendship between the two communities in the happy-clappy, multicultural Ottoman Empire.

Now, I'm perfectly willing to accept that the programme was a rushed, sketchy affair and didn't have the time to go into great detail about the Armenian genocide, given how much ground it had to cover in such a relatively short space of time. 

Still, this was so inadequate an account as to raise doubts about the programme's agenda - doubts I've reflected here. 

Do you share them?