Saturday 30 November 2013

Top stories

Understandably, most of the UK's broadsheet newspapers (The Independent,  The Guardian, The Times) led today with the trial of the alleged murderers of Lee Rigby. The news of the police helicopter crash in Glasgow only came in after they went to press.

Still, the trial of Adebowale and Adebolajo continues to one of the lead stories on both the ITV News website (Soldier was 'callously murdered') and the Sky News website (Woolwich Trial: 'Killer Nearly Beheaded Soldier'). 

Surprisingly, however, the trial story has vanished from the list of lead stories on the homepage of the BBC News website. It only appears in their 'The Papers' section. 

Last week's Newswatch aired concerns that the BBC was failing to cover the build-up to the trial, but the BBC responded that when the trial officially began the corporation would provide full coverage. 

Is the BBC already pulling back from that commitment?

Thursday 28 November 2013


Before we go any further, this concerns the Telegraph rather than the BBC.

Peter Oborne hates the Jewish Lobby. He’s made programmes about it, so convinced is he that it’s evil. I’ve no idea why he has got this unkind notion into his head, but his obsessional ravings actually sully what’s left of Daily Telegraph. His latest effort concerns the Historic Deal. At the time of writing his article has generated 1113 comments, some of which are truly frightening.

Oborne begins by giving an account of the address William Hague gave - on his return from Geneva - to the ‘pro-Israel Lobby’ (the Conservative Friends of Israel,) which Oborne sees as a sinister cabal. He was sure to specify the glitzy location lest anyone should forget how are rich and greedy these types are. 
Park Plaza Hotel, since you ask.

This was a PR exercise aimed at reassuring ‘friends’ that the deal Hague just signed wasn’t tantamount to throwing Israel under a bus.  No doubt Oborne suspects that such fawning  dutifully carried out on behalf of a government he believes is in the grip of ‘tentacles’ was necessary only because of unseemly pressure from Zionists.

In the manner of the ubiquitous phrase “The BBC has learned”, (you know, that headline which manages both to sensationalise and insinuate that some shady secret or other was procured with difficulty) Oborne has ‘obtained’ a copy of the the briefing pack that was given to attendees. Needless to say he doesn’t think much of it, because it parrots “the overblown rhetoric of Mr. Netanyahu[…] All of which is misleading, ignorant and poorly informed.”

Oborne - perhaps more of a nuclear physicist than me - sincerely believes the Iranians’ plea that their desire for centrifuges and enriched uranium is purely for civilian purposes. Not just for energy, but to diagnose and treat disease as well! 
“The briefing goes on to claim that “Iran has actively enriched uranium to 20 per cent fissile purity, far exceeding civilian purposes”. In fact, there certainly is a civilian purpose for such uranium: it can be used to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, a facility that produces medical isotopes and nothing else.”
Who’d have thunk it?  Such enriched uranium can be used to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor? Like a machete can also be used to take stones out of horse’s hooves.

While  Mr. O is examining the way the peace deal went down with Jewish lobby, one might wonder why he didn’t apply his penetrating insight to how it went down on the other side. With jubilation, says the Guardian.  You’d think this might be significant, for if the freeze on nukes was such a painful concession for the Ayatollahs, why are they so thrilled? Peter?

A chunk of his piece is devoted to John Kerry, who Oborne believes can be a great secretary of state, comparable to Baker, Kissinger or even Marshall.”

Then, Oborne seems to have had another idea:
It is not absurd to speculate that Kerry and Obama will soon press for the prize that has eluded every president so far – a lasting solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

Au contraire, as they say. It is quite absurd. How does Oborne imagine Kerry and Obama will convince the overt extreme Islamists of Hamas and the covert extreme Islamists of the PA to unlearn years of ingrained Jew-hate and without further ado love thy neighbour? Can’t see it myself. Unless he means the Iranian version of a lasting solution, and the cancer these isotopes are destined to cure is the ‘cancer of Israel’.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Think tanks, newspapers and Twitter

Here are some fascinating graphs drawn from a statistical study of the political influence/orientation of British political think tanks carried out by economist Andrew Whitby - a study based on Twitter. 

Using the property of homophily - the tendency we human birds have to flock together with those who share our outlook and opinions - Andrew Whitby trailed all the Westminster MPs who use Twitter and noted down all the UK think tanks they chose to 'follow'.

The assumption here is that, in general terms, "you are likely to have similar views to those people that you follow or are followed by (or retweet or are retweeted by)." 

Measuring the difference between the proportions of Labour and Conservative MPs who follow each think tank could, therefore, give the world a strong indication of where that particular think tank stands on the political spectrum. 

The resultant graph rings true with me. See if it does with you too. 

There's only one possibly surprising result in that graph - namely the apparent left orientation of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a body which is usually described (by the BBC) as 'respected', 'influential' and 'independent'. 

Andrew Whitby then conducted a similar study of whom MPs follow on Twitter, this time concentrating on the UK's newspapers, producing this graph:

That rings true too.

Such techniques remain useful for measuring bias as well, of course - and some have tried them already. 

The Centre for Policy Studies report into BBC bias, which many of you will remember, noted citations of think tanks by the BBC News website. It claimed to have found objective proof of BBC bias.

Its measure of left-right orientation, however, was somewhat unusual: It was based on how often those think tanks were cited by the (right-wing) Daily Telegraph and the (left-wing) Guardian - a technique which produced this rather bizarre chart:

Now, that doesn't ring true, by and large. The IPPR is NOT more right-wing than the Adam Smith Institute. Demos is left-leaning but most certainly not THE most left-wing think tank, or to the left of Compass. ResPublica isn't more left-wing than the Fabian Society - and nor is the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The Institute of Economic Affairs is most certainly NOT to the left of the Work Foundation either - etc, etc. 

For a statistical survey to really hit home it has to have very stable roots and not produce lots of obviously wrong results. 

The CPS went down a fruitful path by investigating BBC bias in this way, but undermined their own case because of this not-entirely-convincing way of defining left-leaning and right-leaning think tanks. They, thus, found themselves easily - and widely - dismissed. 

Maybe they should try again, using Andrew Whitby's Twitter results. Or someone else should try instead.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Historic mistake

Having rashly stated that the BBC was even-handed in yesterday’s reporting of the Historic Mistake by at least giving the Rabid Dogs a reasonable quota of space to defend themselves, I now have to qualify that, having watched last night’s Newsnight. 

I am of course, referring to the interview by a particularly supercilious looking Paxman, with Daniel Taub. Gurning with more distaste than normal, Paxman parroted some of the BBC’s well-worn memes and tropes.

Googling Daniel Taub the other day, I saw another Paxman/Taube interview and realised that but for the beard, the BBC could easily have replayed it instead, saving all concerned the tiresome chore of going through it over again.

One particular question that the BBC assumes will poleaxe defenders of Israel is: “Why shouldn’t Iran have nukes? (if Israel has nukes)”
Although, to me, this as the same as saying “The warders have keys, so why shouldn’t the criminally insane have them also?” the average viewer might not see things that way because they can’t contemplate the notion that Rouhani is not just a spokesperson for the mad Mullahs, he is on record as uttering viciously antisemitic statements in his own right.   

The average viewer may neither know nor wish to know much about that, because it’s easier and more palatable to assume that peace and love are just around the corner.

Jeremy Paxman assumes that this question is his trump card. Pitching it is tantamount to the knockout blow, which, very sadly, in effect it is, because there is always much too little time to explain to a non-receptive audience that there is all the difference in the world between Israel and Iran.

Iran sponsors terrorist atrocities worldwide, practices extreme oppression at home, hangs homosexuals and detests Jews so much that they openly declare their desire to finish them off altogether, whereas Israel is a tiny nation that is threatened with annihilation by most of the surrounding countries when they’re not too busy tearing each other and themselves to pieces; a country, which inexplicably, much of the rest of the world wishes to disarm and deprive of the ability to defend itself. 

Why say the Iranians have given up nothing when they clearly have? asks our weary BBC protagonist, referring to the fact that they’ve agreed to temporarily halt the final stage of developing nuclear weapons, which they have clearly boasted they can reinstate at the drop of a hat.

“You’re the problem here”

“We don’t know a great deal about the Israeli nuclear programme, do we?” Smirks Paxman, wielding a mighty hammer-blow to the rabid dogs, apparently satisfied that he has clinched the argument, BBC style, once and for all. 
Israel has nukes.....

Monday 25 November 2013

Small mercies

Historic mistake

Yesterday’s treatment of ‘The Deal’ by BBC News 24 wasn’t too bad. 

That is, taking into consideration that the deal brokered by Kerry and Mother Theresa Ashton is perceived as a life-changing stride towards World Peace and Apple Pie, at least there was a lengthy interview with Daniel Taub on BBC News 24, which granted him ample space to put Israel’s case.  It’s true that despite Andrew Neil’s attempts to have Saudi Arabia added to the meagre list of party poopers, Israel is still seen, by the BBC at least, as the lone spoilsport.
“The western media concentrates on the fact that the Israelis and Mr Netanyau are not happy about this, an understatement; what they don’t often mention is that the Arab Gulf States are also very apprehensive about this deal.”
As it happens, I heard Mark Mardell this morning - or was it a dream? - setting out quite clearly some of the reasons why Israel was not nearly as euphoric over the deal as the rest of the world seems to be.
While I find it astonishing that the BBC and many politicians seem willing to overlook all the reasons not to be cheerful as set out so succinctly in Netanyahu’s wolf in sheep’s clothing speech   

I understand that there are many matters of global significance and ramifications over which I am unable to trouble my pretty little head to do with economics, balances of power and realpolitik, which are beyond my pay grade. 
However, and it’s a big however, who could argue with some glaringly obvious facts, such as:
It was the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, not ideological capitulation.
Sanctions were imposed for a reason, and ‘curbing’ their nuclear programme in - their own words - an ‘easily reversible’ fashion is hardly reassuring. Would supernanny give in at the first whimper from the naughty chair? (I hate supernanny)

Why would the West suddenly trust a regime that has a record of being wholly untrustworthy? Could wishful thinking really triumph over common sense under the gaze of a worldwide audience? King’s new clothes I suppose.

There are so many reasons why this deal is bad that one must hope there’s some mysterious ‘good’ in there that we’re not being told about.

But it’s early days. The BBC has been behaving oddly recently. After ignoring Israel’s humanitarian efforts in Haiti and the Philippines, and the ongoing medical treatment of Palestinians in Israeli hospitals, we’re suddenly given a generous report by Kevin Connolly of all people, on Israel’s compassionate response to sick and injured Syrians.
I nearly fell out of bed this morning when I heard it, and here is the web article to prove that I wasn’t dreaming.

I understand that some of Israel’s supporters will be expressing their gratitude to the BBC for this small mercy, but you can bet that masses of Israel’s detractors will be firing off furious letters about the Israel lobby and its hold over the Zionist BBC.

Sunday 24 November 2013

BBC News = the Scottish police service

Here's an intriguing stat, figured out (from FoI responses) by Bill Rogers at Trading as WDR.

The BBC says it employs 19,649 staff on permanent or fixed-term contracts, with 38% employed in the corporation's news division. 

Get your calculator out and that works out as 7,466.22 people working in BBC News. [That .22 guy (or gal) must have been taken on to meet the BBC's equality and diversity targets.]

The intriguing bit comes when you compare that figure, as Bill does, to similar figures in other contexts:
The police service in Scotland has a staff of 7,500, as does the London Underground, Legal & General UK, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, and defence company Thales UK.
So, as many people work in BBC News as police the whole of Scotland? Crivens!

Passing by

This week's Newswatch highlighted another instance of what some (including yours truly) see as the BBC's anti-science bias.

Here are two e-mails the programme received:
I am curious to know the editorial justification behind the vastly different treatment given by BBC News to two British Nobel laureates who recently passed away. The author Doris Lessing was given a detailed obituary on the website, and her death was the top story reported on television news that day. The biochemist Fred Sanger who received two Nobel prizes for his important work in protein and DNA sequencing, did not receive even a cursory mention on the 6.00 pm news programme.
Why such scant coverage of Frederick Sanger's life and achievements on BBC News? Is this symptomatic of the lack of  understanding of progress in science, and lack of those with a science background working within the BBC?
You can see for yourselves the disparity in the BBC website's coverage by a simple search. On the 17th November, there was a full-length article, a full obituary, three video reports and one audio report for Doris Lessing, with another audio tribute the following day. Dr Sanger, in contrast, received just one full-length article on 20 November. 

Still, at least Last Word, Radio 4's obituary programme, covered both Doris Lessing and Fred Sanger.

They also covered broadcaster and gay rights campaigner Ray Gosling, GCHQ whistleblower Jock Kane, and folk music record producer Austin John Marshall. 

Well, I never!!

Vicky Beeching

Can you guess what the result of this morning's Sunday Morning Live poll result was, when the question put was:
Is immigration good for Britain?
Of course you can. It was inevitable: 
11% said 'yes, immigration is good for Britain'
89% said 'no, immigration is not good for Britain'
Give people the chance to text anonymously and they seem much more likely to tell you what they really think!

The panel were, typically, aghast at the result. 

Radio 4 Thought for the Day's Vicky Beeching described it as "a real shame" and said that "it worries me". The Daily Mail's Angela Epstein described it as a "kneejerk reaction" and poet Benjamin Zephaniah said that "immigration is what made Britain". Oh dear.

This morning

Just as a coda to the previous post - especially Paddy O'Connell's strange dismissal of the apparent political angle to the London slavery story...

Edward Stourton also discussed the story on Sunday and avoided the political aspects completely, merely describing the apparent "cult"-like aspects of the story and then suggesting that they [namely himself and the panel discussing the general issue] needn't go into that.

The BBC News website isn't elaborating on the political point either, merely sticking to the word "collective" and the phrase "through a shared political ideology", as used by the police.

The Sunday Times, however, is prepared to elaborate on what kind of cult this appears to be:
Separate sources said the couple and the two women were members of a Marxist-Communist group that lived together in the capital in the 1970s.
There's also an illuminating report on non-religious political cults in the Sunday Telegraph.

All very strange, on so many levels.

Saturday 23 November 2013

This evening

I listened to Radio 4's PM this evening before....ahem...watching Doctor Who. It was presented by Paddy O'Connell. As I hadn't had time to catch up with much of the news today, I came at it almost (but not entirely) fresh.

The programme began by discussing the mysterious ongoing slavery story. Two people (of Indian and Tanzanian origin, we now learn) have been arrested for holding three women captive (one Malaysian, one English, one Irish) over several decades.

In an unexpected twist, the police have said something about the victims being originally involved in "a collective", meeting through "a shared political ideology".

That was intriguing and suggestive, but Paddy O'Connell openly told us not to pay much attention to it:
I'm not sure that the word 'collective' is going to shed a lot more light at this stage. Putting that to one side...
I thought it best to do as I was told by Paddy and stop thinking about it then

Oddly, however, Paddy then himself returned to this very angle, only to dismiss it again:
I mean, going back to that word 'collective'. I don't no where police [sic] thinks that begins and ends, but it must be going to make the operation delicate in trying to know where to go.

Next up was the Dominic Grieve story.

Mr Grieve, the Attorney General, has said that corruption in the UK is growing - and part of the blame for this problem lies with ethnic minority communities - principally the Pakistani community. (Well, you could have blown me down with a feather there!)

Paddy and the BBC's Tom Barton discussed the matter.

Paddy's introduction suggested that Mr Grieve had rowed back somewhat from his original Telegraph comments and was now emphasizing that no one community was responsible after all, and Paddy cited the Electoral Fraud Commission saying that there was "no robust evidence" that any one ethnic minority was disproportionately responsible. 

Tom largely dismissed the issue of electoral fraud, though he conceded that there is "potentially" some evidence of ethnic minority fraud, including among the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities - though "white British" people have been convicted too. 

So that's that then. Nothing much to see here, apparently.

Still, as if taking no chances, PM then invited on a Conservative MEP of Pakistani extraction, Sajjad Karim.

I did click onto the BBC News website earlier today and saw Mr Karim being quoted on the BBC website's main article on the issue, criticising Mr Grieve for being mean to the Pakistani community. Lo and behold, here he was again, being invited onto Radio 4's PM to further his criticism of the Attorney General.

And further his criticism he most certainly did, excusing "Asian communities" from the blame and saying that it wasn't the Pakistani community which carried out the fraud, merely certain "individual political activists". "The community was the victim not the perpetrator," said Mr Karim.

"It's quite nuanced what you're saying", Paddy told him - and, as we all know, nuance is good.

Mr Karim criticised Mr Grieve further:
When Dominic tries to draw a distinction between Pakistan and India based on an indices of corruption, I really don't understand the point that he's making or evidence that he has because my experience would tend to suggest that it is very difficult to discriminate between the two countries on any corruption indices.
Paddy didn't challenge him on that, so let me do so instead: The evidence for that claim (which a politico like Mr Karim should be aware of, and a journalist like Paddy O'Connell should be no less aware of) is Transparency International's influential corruption perception index. Its 2012 figures place Pakistan (and Bangladesh) well below India in terms of probity when it comes to corruption. India is in 94th place while Pakistan is much lower down in 139th place (with Bangladesh in 144th place).  

Paddy let Mr Karim finish his (long) attack - adding a "fair point" along the way - before bringing things to a close:
OK, I'm going to leave it there because I feel you've put your position about his remarks, but thank you very much for joining us today.
He had indeed put his position.

OK, now it was time to hear the other side of the argument...

...oh, er, actually no. it wasn't. It was in fact time to move on, and hear the news headlines again:
Comments by the Attorney General, which we've just been discussing, have sparked angry criticisms from many quarters, including his own party.
Ah, and how's that for a negative spin on the story (negative from Mr Grieve's point of view that is)? Very negative, I'd say.

There was then a brief mention of Iran-U.S. talks, followed by a discussion about old age between Dame Ann Leslie and Baroness Trumpington and, finally - and inevitably - a plug for tonight's Doctor Who. 

And that's your weather.

Doctor WTF

Here's another post adding to the hype about tonight's Doctor Who whilst simultaneously moaning about it...

My family were gathered around the TV last night, discussing BBC One's News at Six

Important points were being made about how all those fat cats who run places like the Co-op Bank (and their lawyers) all seem to have fat faces, and serious questions were also being asked about why some BBC reporter or other was needlessly standing in front of a village church that you couldn't actually see because it was night time. (He had to tell us he was standing in front of the village church, and pointed to a sign to prove it).

At about 22 minutes into the news though, came a piece on the anniversary of Doctor Who, with the BBC's arts guy Will Gompertz reporting from inside the TARDIS. 

And it went on and on and on. And on and on. A couple of Doctors could have given their parting speeches and fully regenerated by the time it took for Will's puff piece report to come to an end. 

It felt as if it has gone on for at least five minutes.

But had it? Surely, with so much real news going on, the BBC's widely-viewed main evening news bulletin couldn't really have given over so much time to a shameless, completely-uncritical plug for tonight's anniversary episode? Surely my sense of time must have been deceiving me?

Well, the BBC News website has this very report, and it goes on for 5 minutes and 15 seconds - and that's without Fiona Bruce's introduction.

And they say the BBC doesn't advertise! (That would make a nice catchphrase). 

Friday 22 November 2013

Israel’s Spoilsports

Christiane Amanpour likes to call Israeli politician Naftali Bennett “Mr. No” because he’s against making a bad deal with Iran.  He makes the case for Israel on CNN to (somewhat unnecessary) theatrical effect with the aid of an ancient artefact, which he took out of the country illegally.
"This coin, which says "Freedom of Zion" in Hebrew, was used by Jews 2,000 years ago in the state of Israel, in what you call occupied. One cannot occupy his own home." 

Mr Bennet is by no means the only Israeli who the BBC sees as a spoilsport for not wanting to hug an Ayatollah. 

On Biased BBC, David Vance  cites an early-morning report on Today R4 (38 mins in) by Kim Ghattas (odd that someone from Northern Ireland thinks Kim Ghattas’s accent could be Irish) which presents the Israelis as though they’re guilty of spoiling everyone else’s party. (how annoying is it that the Today programme no longer has items individually listenable to on the website) 
Netanyahu was presented as intransigent and US jewish people seeking to influence opinion were presented as unhelpful lobbyists!”

John Anderson in a comment links to this, and I’m about to link to this:
I do miss Mel’s articles when she wrote on the Spectator, with comments facility. Never mind. This article was worth waiting for - and here she links to the Jerusalem Post.

Why is the BBC and, for that matter, much of the western press so determined to ignore these openly stated declarations of intent? They’re news, aren’t they? 

Bad Company

Does ‘sharing a platform with’ automatically bind one to the other speakers at, say, an event alongside Muslim hate preachers ?
If so, that would besmirch one helluva lot of the great and good in this country.

As a fan of Harry’s Place, particularly when the debate  reaches levels that no other blogs can reach, I couldn’t help noticing the name of the BBC Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming, Aqil Ahmed, when it cropped up in the comments section of this gripping thread. 

The article concerns MP Andrew Slaughter’s litigious reaction to being criticised on Harry’s Place for being listed as a speaker at this year’s GPU conference.  That is an acronym for an outfit entitled Global Peace and Unity, with the sub-heading "Freedom for all". Abandon traditional interpretations of Peace, Unity and Freedom, and visualise a “Peace and Blessings  Be Upon Him” kinda peace, unity and freedom, and you’ll get the picture. 

I understand that this organisation has been holding annual conferences since 2005, and Andrew Slaughter MP has been engaged as speaker on a number of previous occasions, but perhaps since the climate has slightly hardened against extremist Islamists and Muslims with links to terrorist organisations, something in the air has made Mr. Slaughter feel that an article accusing him of doing so once again in 2013 is “scurrilous, highly offensive and defamatory”.

The author of the article in question kindly withdrew it from Harry’s Place, and instead wrote a piece explaining why.
 Mr Slaughter has told me that he is taking legal advice for my “false and malicious statements” about him being a speaker at GPU 2013”.  
Mehrdad Amanpour poses a very reasonable question, namely whether 'blogging' something that had been announced loudly and clearly by the organisers of the conference could be termed malicious; and surely, if anyone has made a slanderous error, surely it should be the GPU organisers whom Slaughter might best accuse, nay, sue for doing this scurrilous, defamatory and highly offensive deed, should it not?

Anyway, the good news is that Slaughter is not speaking this year, but the bad news is that after much deleting and rejigging of websites and conference schedules, it seems that the BBC’s Aqil Ahmed is involved. He’s not listed as a scheduled speaker as far as I can tell, but his mugshot is still there as are the mugshots of one or two other “experts” on the Middle East. 

Though this might seem speculative and gossipy, it does seem worth flagging up. 
“Sadiq Khan MP, Lord Falconer and Simon Hughes MP who were also named in various media all managed to have their profiles removed promptly from the GPU 2013 publicity.”

If certain persons in public life are taking great pains to dissociate themselves from a group because of its alleged links to extremism and advocates of terrorism, and if the BBC’s Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Multicultural Programming is not, surely we should at least be told.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

New-look 'Newsnight'

So, Ian Katz's attempts to revive knackered old Newsnight have resulted in him getting rid of presenter Gavin Esler, long-time reporter Tim Whewell and science editor Susan Watts. 

It's a bit of a shame about Susan Watts, perhaps, as she's quite unusual at the BBC in actually having a science degree and knowing what she's talking about. (She's got a BSc in Physics, if you're wondering.)

The Guardian quotes Mr Katz as saying that the programme's "commitment to covering science – including climate change – is as strong as ever. Just want to do it in a different way". 

(Being Ian Katz, he said that on Twitter.)

Will those different ways, by any chance, involve celebrities? (I'm having visions of Bill Bailey larking around in the Newsnight studio.) They could, of course, just follow the lead of the rest of the BBC and call in Professor Brian Cox whenever there's a sciency bit to do. 

Still, o joy of joys!, the programme is bringing Laura Kuenssberg back to the BBC as a reporter/presenter. (I can't wait, and the Cookie Monster tells me he's looking forward to meeting her too.) 

Paul Mason's job is still up for grabs though and, according to Newsnight insiders, the sharp money is now on Russell Brand.

Gathering Flowers, or not (as the case may be)

Charles Moore makes a telling point over at the Spectator:
There has naturally been plenty of unfavorable comment on how the Revd Paul Flowers, the ‘crystal Methodist’, was allowed by the Financial Services Authority to become chairman of the Co-op Bank. But the story does not reflect very well on the media either. If you look at Robert Peston’s BBC blog on the subject, for instance, there is a lot of ‘I am told’ and ‘according to the Manchester Evening News’.
Is there no one in the BBC’s enormous staff who could have done a bit of work years ago on the Revd Mr Flowers? Isn’t it even more extraordinary that the media did not pick up Mr Flowers’s ignorant testimony earlier this month to the Treasury Select Committee until it was drawn to their attention on Sunday after he was exposed by the Mail on Sunday for buying illegal drugs? It seems truer than ever that the only way to ensure no one notices you is to say something publicly within the Palace of Westminster.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Complaining to the BBC

Is there any point complaining to the BBC's Complaints department? 

Well, I used to do quite a bit of complaining to the BBC in my earlier (activist) days, but rarely got anywhere beyond a mild admission from the BBC that James Naughtie could maybe, perhaps, just possibly, have phrased something a wee bit better. 

For those thinking of complaining about something, however, and who have never complained to the BBC before, I'd like to try to give you a taste of what you might expect if you do go down that path. 

I can't, unfortunately, give you any tips as to how to complain successfully, as I failed to get far beyond absolute zero with them.

The BBC Complaints page itself is quite easy to get to (or, failing that, you could just click here). Filling in the online complaint form takes a little more time and effort though.

So what happens once you've sent it?

Well, to begin with, you can expect a reply from them. They won't ignore your complaint, as they are constitutionally obliged not to ignore your complaint. 

You could get a reply quickly, or maybe get a reply after a week or so, or after two weeks, or after a month, or after three months....

It all seems to depend. On what? 

Well, perhaps, on the seriousness of the complaint.

The speed of those recent responses from Today to complainants about Sarah Montague's anti-Israel crack (during her interview with Baroness Warsi) suggests that, if they realise they've been really caught out on something extremely controversial, they can work faster than a speeding bullet to reply and try to diffuse the situation. (Not that that means you'll get anywhere, of course, merely that you've received a quicker brush-off than usual!)

However, if you send them a detailed, accurate and devastating complaint about something less sensitive but still embarrassing (to them) they can often take their own sweet time in replying to it. One of mine took all of those three months to arrive. I could barely remember what I'd originally written when it eventually came through...

...Which leads me onto another tip: Make sure you save a copy of your original complaint as, when they reply to you, they won't include your original complaint in their e-mail. You'll need to re-check your original complaint to see exactly how they've brushed you off.

The BBC will only stop replying  to you if (a) you keep endlessly complaining, or (b) if they discover that you are making your complaints public - by, say, posting them online while they're still ongoing, or if you're publishing their responses. 

Their e-mailed replies specifically ask you to keep all your correspondence with them private. (So much for transparency, perhaps). 

Well, naughtily, I used to publish my exchanges with them on my earlier blogs, as I didn't see why I should keep it our little secret.

I did always feel it right though to remove the name of whoever it was whom the BBC Complaints Department employed to try to figure out the best form of (weasel) words for help get their colleagues out of 'fessing up to the charges being made against them -  and I did that decent thing however snippy their responses (and some could be decidedly snippy).

They only stopped replying to my complaints when one of the U.S.-based reporters I was complaining about spotted that I'd posted my original complaint at Biased BBC, and spotted his own name on the blog.

Yes, I had him fully banged to rights, if I say so myself - which probably didn't help. Plus he'd already been spotted by Biased BBC's eagle-eyed D.B. bellyaching on Twitter about having to waste an entire afternoon replying to some right-wing crank (me). 

So I never did get that reply, and appear to have been blacklisted for a while after that.

The nearest I got to a proper acknowledgement of a mistake on the BBC's part came when I moved away from complaining about 'Bias' (which is the category I usually selected on the online complaints form) and moved onto 'Accuracy' instead. I took them up on something to do with opinion polls and margins of error, if I remember rightly. (It feels so long ago). 

That suggested to me that they are slightly more comfortable conceding factual errors than admitting to bias - something which in my experience they are very loathe to do.

So, if you are complaining about bias would it perhaps be better to select the 'Accuracy' option from the drop-down list provided rather than the 'Bias' one, and then bring in the issue of bias when you finally get to the section where you are able to outline your complaint (in a sharply circumscribed number of words)?

Maybe, if you want to get a somewhat fairer hearing.

However, the BBC produces monthly stats detailing the categories of claims they receive, so if you don't select 'Bias' the monthly total in the 'Bias' column will look smaller than it really should be, making it appear as if the corporation has received fewer complaints about bias than it actually has. So I'd stick to selecting 'Bias' if you really are complaining about BBC bias.

These thoughts arise because (a) I've recently sent two complaints to the BBC (I'd better not say about what) and (b) because there was an interesting exchange at Biased BBC recently on this very subject. 

One commenter at B-BBC said "Do not complain to the BBC but tell everyone". Another replied that "doing nothing" was "NOT an option". The debate continued. 

Guest Who then joined the debate and made some points which I'd also like to echo here.

Yes, it can be very frustrating trying to make your way through the BBC's Complaint maze. I myself have often been guilty of giving up too soon. 

Others plough on though, Theseus-like (though without Ariadne's thread to help them). Even if they keep banging their hands against a brick wall or meeting a particularly bullish BBC Complaints Minotaur, on they go, doggedly. 

They can, sometimes, get somewhere.

It is, indeed, the only game in town, however rigged in the BBC's favour the process may feel (and be). 

It will also reveal to you how they tend to rely on formulaic responses,  how they skirt around the points you're making (even to the point of seeming to pretend not to have quite understood some of your strongest points), and how they frequently trot out something, anything, however feeble both they and you know it to be, especially when really caught out, simply in the hope (it seems) that you'll just sigh and give up.

You will, occasionally, get direct replies (as part of the Complaints Department response) from BBC editors or reporters. It can be interesting to hear (straight from the horse's mouth) how they try to account for themselves.

Plus your complaint will be on record, and the BBC will now be aware of what your are thinking. However small it may be you will have made a mark, which is better than not having made a mark.

Of course, there are plenty of other things you could do as well. 

You could (as I used to do) e-mail MPs and MEPs (especially the ones of the receiving end of some particular instance of bias). You could e-mail newspapers or specific journalists. You could tweet about it, put it on Facebook, sign petitions, keep commenting on BBC-related threats at lots of newspaper/magazine websites, or at all manner of blogs. You could even e-mail BBC journalists directly (and, if you're polite, some do reply). There are probably lots of other things you could do too.

Some complaints - and not just from powerful people and influential campaign groups - do succeed though, as I said earlier. 

A campaign based on this blog's earliest Sunday-related post provoked many complaints, and seems to have wrought a significant change in one aspect of Sunday - its guest selection on Catholic issues.

So it can work.

Take also BBC Watch's continued successes at getting the BBC to amend their web articles. The BBC Complaints department may not acknowledge their original error by e-mail, but the BBC website edits those offending articles nonetheless (on the sly, as it were). 

Plus, every so often, BBC Watch records a reader's success at getting a genuine concession from the Complaints department on top of that change to an article - albeit that complainant is usually one particular very dogged individual who refuses to give up. As Roy Castle used to say, dedication's all you need. Sometimes.

Well, I hope this ramble through the undergrowth of the BBC Complaints Department might give one or two of you some helpful insights. 

If you've not complained to the BBC before and you're feeling aghast at something they've done, why not give it a go?

Monday 18 November 2013

Regenerating a comment

And before I fly off with Peri into the deepest reaches of the universe tonight, I'd like to lift another exchange tonight at Biased BBC (partly because it involves me!):
chrisH says: November 18, 2013 at 8:48 pm
I`ve only had the radio on three times times today, but each occasion has mentioned the bloody Dr Who day coming up.
HGAF?…when the BBC wants to put its daleks back into senior management , then I`ll think it worth the endless puffs and plugs.
Can say puffs still can`t I?
Shameless self-referential gobshites , the BBC.
PS-don`t suppose the inventor of the Dalek will be seeing any money from the BBC anytime soon eh?…Copyright is a one way street with the BBC isn`t it?
Craig says:
November 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm
There was a long ‘Doctor Who’ plug every hour on the BBC News Channel this afternoon, and I do mean ‘long’.
There was also a plug on ‘Today’ this morning.
There was another plug on the BBC One’s ‘News at Six’ tonight too.
Even Radio 4′s religious affairs farrago ‘Sunday’ had a plug for it yesterday.
And they say the BBC doesn’t advertise.
The BBC’s Cyber Controller obviously gave the order to plug ‘Doctor Who’ across the BBC, and the BBC Cyber Warriors clicked their heels and obeyed.
There was also, you may recall, a Brian Cox TV lecture on the science of Doctor Who last week, plus umpteen articles on the BBC News (yes, News) website. 

Beam me up, Peri.

Update: There was even a 'Doctor Who' question on yesterday's Round Britain Quiz:
In what way could a gruff NCO, a priestly victim of the Antichrist, a larking Chief Petty Officer, and a mad monk, successively be said to have impersonated a police officer from 1963 onwards?
(Whoops, partly given away the answer there!) 

Letting a thousand Flowers - and five mentions of Labour - bloom

In the interests of fair blogging, I must point out, in the light of an earlier post - Bowdlerising 'A Bankers Tale' - that the BBC News website is actually leading tonight with the latest developments in the Paul Flowers story: Co-op probe after drug allegations against ex-boss, and it even mentions "Labour" five times. 

That's progress.

BBC exclusive: Kennedy was shot by a right-wing Republican

Several commenters at Biased BBC have been pointing an accusing finger at a BBC documentary broadcast last night on BBC Two, as part of the corporation's build-up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy this week.

Here are the exchanges at B-BBC:

JonT says: November 17, 2013 at 7:23 pm.  Just watched a documentary on BBC2 about the Kennedy assassination. Three times they they stated that Texas was an evil ‘right wing republican state’ but not once did they deign to mention that Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist. Watch this in ignorance and you could believe that JFK was murdered at the behest of the republican party…incredible.

flexdream says: November 18, 2013 at 12:20 am.  JFK was strongly anti-communist. Oswald was linked with the earlier shooting and attempted murder of a right-wing figure in Texas. Still, it’ll never be possible to persuade everyone what happened after all this time. 

ftumch says: November 18, 2013 at 12:49 am.  I broke a long habit and watched some tv…. on iplayer:

05.30 “Texas is a traditional Republican stronghold”
07.34 “Texas is a difficult state, very right wing, very republican, very vocal…”
11.27 “But right wing republicans have already made JFK uncomfortable in Texas”
22.43 there is a man weeping leaning on a sign which says “KEEP RIGHT”
The latter is intentional.
But check this:
You will find that Texas was broadly Democratic up until 1961. The Fear and Loathing is a LIE.

ftumch says: November 18, 2013 at 12:56 am.  Further, the Democrat Senator for Texas Ralph Yarborough was in JFK’s motorcade as it drove through Dallas, though he isn’t even mentioned in the reconstruction.
Oh, and LBJ rode in the same car as Sn Yarborough. LBJ, that lifelong Texan and Democrat.

John Anderson says: November 18, 2013 at 1:40 am.  …and the Democratic Governor of Texas John Connally was in Kennedy’s car – and was himself shot that day.

Span Ows says: November 18, 2013 at 7:38 am.  To be honest much more than 1961: it has only been “broadly Republican” for the last 20 years.

That intrigued me. Surely this programme couldn't be that much of a biased travesty, could it? They must be exaggerating, mustn't they?

Well, I've now watched the programme in question and, amazingly, those B-BBC commenters are absolutely spot-on. 

Expanding on ftumch's comments, here are some quotes from the programme:

4:26 "The forces of the Republican Party were starting to pick up in '63, prior to running against Kennedy in '64. There were a few negative signs."
Last month, America's United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson was physically attacked during a visit to Dallas. The political climate remains tense.  

5.20: As Air Force One comes into land at Love Field, Malcolm Kilduff is steeling himself for the worst. Texas is a traditional Republican stronghold. Kennedy's progressive approach to domestic issues, like civil rights, is unsettling the Republican hardcore. What's more, his international ambition to act as peacemaker to the world has angered local right-wingers who believe that American is too heavily influenced by the United Nations. Kilduff expects a hostile reception.

7.34: Texas is a difficult state, very right-wing, very Republican, very vocal.

11.20 ...reassuring his audience that the United States is a peaceful nation. But right wing republicans have already made JFK uncomfortable in Texas. Even a front page welcome in today's newspaper is actually a list of challenges to the young president.

So, yes, this programme does seem to be spinning a line that the Republicans were (in some way) culpable for Kennedy's murder.

But surely it couldn't be true that the programme completely failed to mention Lee Harvey Oswald's extensively documented communist activities (and his time in the Soviet Union), could it? That would be genuinely extraordinary.

Well, genuinely extraordinary it is because - as the commenters at B-BBC said - there was not a whiff of any of that. Not a whiff. 

So, imagine (if you can) that you're a school pupil watching this programme for the first time and trying to learn about the assassination of JFK. 

If you're that school pupil, you will not learn from this programme that Oswald - the prime suspect - was a communist. 

Moreover, you might very well assume - and with some justification, given everything the programme told you - that Kennedy was killed by a right-wing Republican [as JonT at Biased BBC said].

Indeed, why on earth would that unsuspecting school pupil not assume that from this programme? 

ftumch, John Anderson and Span Ows are perfectly correct, too, that this programme was wrong - plain wrong - about Texas being a Republican stronghold at the time of the Kennedy assassination. 

It's simply not true, and it's remarkable that a BBC documentary series could have got away with pushing this untruth. 

Texas was firmly Democrat (at presidential elections) from 1848 to 1952. It went Republican in 1952, but returned to the Democrats in 1960, 1964 and 1968. The Republicans took the state in 1972, but the Democrats seized in back in 1976. Only from 1980 onwards (and the Reagan Revolution) did Texas firmly enter the Republican camp.

As far as governors of Texas are concerned, there was an unbroken run of Democrat governors from 1874 to 1983, and Democrats also won in 1987 and 1991. 

Kennedy's vice president, for goodness sake, was a long-serving Democrat senator, Lyndon B. Johnson, and all but one of the so-called Class 1 Texas senators from 1846 to 1993 was a Democrat.  

As Span Ows says, Texas was very far from being "very Republican" in 1963. 

So why did that BBC programme claim it was?

Well, the programme in question was a repeat - an episode of Days that Shook the World, a series of thirty-minute films from 2003.

In 2003 the BBC (seemed to me) to be at its most aggressively anti-Republican (in the U.S. sense of the world Republican), given (what seemed to me to be) their intense dislike for George W. Bush's presidency (especially in the build up to the Iraq War). 

Whether I'm sheathed in tin foil or not tonight - and tin foil and the subject of the assassination of JFK seem to be natural bed-fellows! - I'm putting this 2003 film's intensely anti-Republican tone down to the BBC's 2003 aggressively anti-Republican (anti-GWB) bias. I wouldn't have put anything past them at the time in that respect.

That may or may not be the explanation but, still, this was undoubtedly a travesty of a programme.

OK, all of this may seem like ridiculously biased BBC broadcasting, but there's even worse to come.

Nothing in this documentary made my jaw drop further...indeed it ended up nearly banging against my slippers!...than this truly extraordinary sentence:
In April 1961 Kennedy unsuccessfully attempted to oust the socialist liberator of Cuba, Fidel Castro. 
I have to admit that I'm rather unused to thinking of Castro as "the socialist liberator of Cuba". I tend to think of him as a communist, and as someone who imposed an oppressive one-party dictatorship on Cuba. 

My idea of what constitutes the definition of a "liberator" obviously differs massively from that held by the writer of this programme's script.

I do like to be fair, so I suppose the present BBC might argue that, as per Helen Boaden and Mark Thompson, that that was then and this is now. Yes, the BBC may, once upon a time, have produced the odd biased, liberal programme like this, but this is now and the BBC is so much better these days. Or so they might say. 

Except that the present bosses at BBC Two saw fit to rebroadcast this travesty, unedited, last night. 

Can anyone defend this ten-year old BBC documentary? I'd love to hear such a defence. 

A Chilly description of just one of the candidates...but why?

Today, this morning, gave Radio 4 listeners an overview of the results of the first round of the presidential election in Chile. 

The run-off will be between two daughters of Chilean air force generals. 

That's strange enough, but it gets stranger.

Their fathers were close friends for most of their lives, and the two daughters (who lived next door to each other) were also friends in their younger years. 

That was before the military coup of 1973.

The father of the left-wing candidate in this election, ex-president Michelle Bachelet, was a supporter of the democratically-elected Marxist Salvador Allende and served as a minister in the Allende government. He was subsequently tortured by the military regime.

The father of the right-wing candidate, Evelyn Matthei, was a supporter of General Pinochet and, in time, became a member of Chile's ruling military junta.

General Matthei was subsequenly acquitted of involvement in the torture (and subsequent death) of his former friend, General Bachelet. 

Both sets of friendships, understandably, ended as a result of these traumatic experiences. And the feelings of the two presidential candidates towards each other are now, just as understandably, full of bitterness - even though both candidates seem, admirably, to be striving to keep their personal feelings for each other out of the campaign.

It's a remarkable story, worthy of a novel. So Today invited a novelist to talk about it.

That novelist was Ariel Dorfman.

Evan Davis invited him to 'talk Today's listeners through' the election, as if he were an intrigued bystander.

Evan introduced as a "Chilean-American author", and his non-questioning questions throughout the following interview must have further encouraged Radio 4 listeners to think of Mr Dorfman as a disinterested contributor.

As they did me - to begin with. 

Mr Dorfman, indeed, began as if he were a disinterested contributor, and maintained a measure of that tone throughout the interview.

However, his talk of betrayal and cowardice when it came to the father of the right-wing candidate rang alarm bells with me.

Those alarm bells increased in decibel level when Mr Dorfman began describing Ms Bachelet as "one of the most affable persons I've met" and then described Mrs Matthei as a "very, very aggressive, even, at times, vulgar person". 

Hmm, I thought, he doesn't seem that disinterested a contributor after all. Is he a partisan, perhaps?

So what's with Ariel Dorfman?

Well, if the BBC won't help me out here, I'm betting the internet will. The internet rarely lets me down.

And, bingo!, the World Wide Web - in the form of the sainted  Wikipedia - rushes to the rescue:
From 1970 to 1973, Dorfman served as a cultural advisor to president Salvador Allende.
Ah, it all fits into place now.

Still, it would have fitted into place straight away if Evan had seen fit  to mention that useful snippet of information in his introduction.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Her Grace

Pat Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare

Well, not quite good night...

Returning to this week's edition of Sunday, the programme dealt yet again with the issue of women bishops within the Anglican communion. 

Another vote at synod will take place this week and the programme readied us for a discussion on the subject between a supporter and an opponent. 

Unfortunately, the opponent of women bishops had got "lost" on the way to the studio, so we were left (at no fault of the programme's) with just the pro-women-bishops guest.

Edward Stourton suggested she might be less forthright in her opinions, given that her opposing number hadn't managed to make it - which she duly was. She still managed to make her case though. 

Ed followed his own advice too, and questioned her in as un-forthright a way as possible, with little challenge to her way of thinking. 

So, yes, this discussion's imbalance was accidental, even if Ed Stourton could have been a bit less gentle in his interviewing manner in order to rectify that imbalance.

However, this being Sunday, a genuine imbalance had already been set in place, as the programme began with another voice from the Anglican communion who was strongly supportive of women bishops, indeed who has just become the first female bishop in the Church of Ireland - and who thought that women bishops might also be coming to the Roman Catholic Church sometime too. 

Ed interviewed her in just as benign a fashion. 

Thus two supporters of women bishops were given a platform and unchallenging interviews.

Sunday really does seem to find it hard to give voice to religiously conservative viewpoints. And that's not usually because they fail to turn up.

"England's funniest joke"

Now, some at Biased BBC suspect the aforementioned Tom of being a hoax - which after I've forced some of you to scroll so far down the blog to get to the next-but-one post might seem a little annoying, if true...

...which, of course, would call for a joke. 

So here's one voted the funniest in England by the University of Hertfordshire (which is a real university for sure):
Two men are sitting on a bar stool. One starts to insult the other one. He screams, “I slept with your mother!”
The bar gets quiet as everyone listens to see what the other man will do. The first again yells, “I SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER!” 
The other says, “Go home dad you’re drunk.” 
And with that, good night.