Friday 28 February 2014

Hard hearted talk

The episode of HardTalk with Stephen Sackur and Naftali Bennett

I know interviewers aren’t supposed to answer questions put to them by the subject of the interview. The understanding is that the interviewer asks the questions and the interviewee answers them. But Stephen Sackur’s line of questioning took no account of Israel’s circumstances. In other words he spoke as though Israel did not have to contend with people to whom the very idea of normal relations with Israel is considered a deadly sin, never mind the inconceivable proposal that such people might actually contemplate peace while Israel is still up and running.  Ignoring the context  made his line of questioning unreasonable and unanswerable in a “when did you stop beating your wife” way.

It is likely that he was well aware that he was doing so, in which case it seemed perfectly reasonable for Naftali Bennett to resort to asking, in desperation “What would you do?” 
Of course Sackur didn’t have to actually respond. So he didn’t. He merely changed the subject. 

Opinion is divided as to who was the victor at the end of this combative interview. Pro-Israelis thought Mr. Bennetts triumphed. Pro Palestinians did not. Stephen Sackur’s wife is Iraqi, which may or may not explain his tendency to make  less than impartial noises where Israel is concerned, but it did seem to me that he was being deliberately obtuse. BBCWatch has examined the HardTalk episode with Sackur and Saeb Erekat. Sackur’s unsympathetic views towards Israel can be detected therein.

The BBC website has singled out one quote from this episode in their trailer:
“Israeli settlements must stay”  That’s a selective, somewhat mischief-making quote.

It’s all very well taking a harsh line over Israel if you take an equally harsh line over Israel’s enemies. Take, for example the video of Hamas’s response to UNWRA’s recommended revised school  curriculum. Blogger won't let me post it into this piece, but do click on the link below - if that works.

If fairness and balance was one of the BBC’s objectives, it might give its audience some idea of what Israel is up against. The Palestinian mindset. Stephen Sackur was keen to get the answer to his question “Can you understand the mindset of the Palestinian? Can you empathise?”

Who's funding EUou, BBC?

Now, we already know that the BBC has received money from the EU in the past, but this - from the Spectator (£) - looks like a questions-really-need-answering kind of scoop to me, and quite damning against the BBC:
Over the last three years the BBC has secretly obtained millions of pounds in grants from the European Union. Licence fee payers might assume that the Corporation would have been compelled to disclose the source of this money in its annual reports, but they bear no trace of it specifically. In the latest set of accounts, for example, these funds are simply referred to as ‘other grant income’.
Instead of making an open declaration, the BBC’s successful lobbying for this money had to be prised out of it using a Freedom of Information (FoI) request lodged for The Spectator, proving that there was never any danger of the state broadcaster’s bosses volunteering it willingly.
The FoI response confirms that BBC staff applied for, and accepted, about £3 million of EU funds between April 2011 and November 2013, most of which has been spent on unspecified ‘research and development’ projects, with the remaining £1 million spent on programming.
A sly and slippery BBC at it again, by the looks of it, being dragged, kicking and screaming, by FoI requests, into disclosing funding it most definitely didn't want us to know about. 

Please take a read of the whole article.

I've long thought the charges of pro-EU bias on the BBC's part are some of the most clear-cut cases of BBC bias, and this sort of thing pours fuel onto the already-raging fire even more.

Climate 'Feedback' loops

There is no need for "balance" in pieces about climate change.  Does the BBC now feel compelled to have someone who thinks that smoking is good for you every time smoking is discussed?  Are we now to expect a member of Occupy to be offered the right of reply every time Robert Peston discusses the economy?  The BBC has a duty to reflect reality, rather than allowing dinosaurs like Lord Lawson to fill the airwaves with unscientific and deeply-irresponsible views. [Rob Hopkins, Transition Network].
That's a point of view, expressed in an open letter of complaint to the BBC, from an environmental activist and keen Radio 4 listener.

It's an opinion which large numbers of (other environment activists) other Radio 4 listeners seem to share...

...if last week's Feedback is anything to go by.

Large numbers of them put pen to paper - or fingers to laptop - to bang out their own complaints about that Today interview, and about a second Today interview (a week later) concerning genetically-modified (GM) crops [both guests in favour].

27 pages-worth of critical e-mails, according to Roger Bolton. 

The first interview was a debate between Lord Lawson and Sir Brian Hoskins of the Committee on Climate Change in which Sir Brian expressed his belief in man-made climate and Lord Lawson expressed his disbelief in made-made climate change.

Classic 'balance'. 

And that's what offended the Feedback listeners about that interview, three of whom were invited into the studio. 

One was introduced as belong to a pro-green group in Crediton, Devon; the second as being a Green Party member; and the third as being "from the Isle of Wight" (and if you look online you'll soon discover that she's pro-green too). 

The first (activist) listener argued that two scientists should have been involved in the interview, and that Lord Lawson shouldn't have been as he isn't a scientist and, thus, hasn't got the "relevant expertise". He then cited the BBC's own 'independent reviewer', Prof Steve Jones, who argued that it's not true impartiality to have someone as unqualified in this field as Lord Lawson in such a debate. The second (activist) listener (insulted) described Lord Lawson as "an extreme nay-sayer". The third (activist) listener said Lord Lawson's appearance "wasn't defensible" as he's not a climate scientist. She said a sceptical scientist would have been "acceptable", if the interviewer was clued-up enough (presumably to challenge him/her).

Now, if I've learned anything from reading and writing blogs about BBC bias for so long it's that some of you will now be experiencing a kind of 'warming' yourselves, as your blood begins to boil and steam starts pouring out of your ears. 

At the blogs I tend to frequent (and love), such criticisms of the BBC as these will be thought completely absurd and 180 degrees wrong (angle-wise, not temperature-wise of course).

Whether it be Watts Up With That, Bishop Hill, Biased BBC, Christopher Booker, or wherever James Delingpole is blogging, all these sites argue the exact opposite point of view - that the BBC is a extremely dangerous propagandist on behalf of the global warming myth (as they/you see it).

The thing that struck me though, whilst listening to Feedback, is that such criticisms [from my end of the blogosphere] don't appear on Feedback. 

Shouldn't there be droves of such complaints, attacking (say) Inside Science for its regular - and unchallenged - 'warmist propaganda'?

Are they being censored?

And, in this specific case, is it because Feedback is being dishonest about its '27 pages of e-mails', only selecting the pro-green criticisms?

In the context, that's unlikely. Critical comments, in this context, could have only (largely) come from one side, I suspect - i.e. the side we heard from. 

So, is it because green activists, like Rob and the Feedback studio listeners, get together en masse to complain in droves to programmes like Feedback (like good little campaigners, and activist Question Time audiences), thus ensuring a hearing for their grievances, while their opponents - man-made global warming sceptics (and Question Time conservatives) - tend to simply comment on blogs, and leave it at that? [Of course, Radio 4 non-activist listeners could have complained in significant numbers too.]

This week's Feedback is about to be broadcast as I type. I've only just caught up with last week's Feedback on Radio 4 as it took an age...a flippin' age...for it to make its appearance on the BBC i-Player. (Why?).

Will those energetic green campaigners get their message across for a third week running? Will you 'climate sceptics' let them? 

Diversity, as sung from one hymn-sheet

It's been quite a month for pledges from senior BBC figures. 

There was Director of BBC Television Danny Cohen decreeing the end of all-male panels on BBC TV comedy shows. 

Then came the BBC's Controller of Drama Commissioning Ben Stephenson saying that a greater emphasis will be placed on gay characters and storylines in BBC drama. 

Then came Controller of BBC One Charlotte Moore promising a greater range of roles for women in BBC drama, and more roles for black actors too. 

'Diversity' is the word on all of their lips. 

How about another commitment to diversity from them: To a much greater diversity of social and political viewpoints among their staff, including BBC managers, as well as from the dramas and comedy shows they produce? 

That kind of diversity is rather lacking at the moment.

Another hard week at the BBC:
Monday: Diversity training
Tuesday: Planning for strike day 
Wednesday: On strike/shopping
Thursday: Whole day bitching about Clarkson
Friday: Sickie

Thursday 27 February 2014

Inside Radio 4's brand of science

Given that BBC Radio 4 doesn't offer its listeners much in the way of dedicated science programmes, I should probably refrain from complaining too much about Inside Science, but...

As Inside Science is a weekly magazine show dedicated to news about science, you might reasonably expect it to be free from the kind of left-wing point-scoring which - either subtly or with the application of an king-sized sledgehammer - pervades so much of the rest of Radio 4's output. 

Yet, bizarrely, Inside Science rarely seems to go an edition without ensuring that some left-wing point or other is scored. 

I've heard violent attacks on the Daily Mail, sneers at UKIP and mockery of opponents of mass immigration during the course of this year's editions of Inside Science - and we're not even out of February yet. 

As a case in point, I was happily listening to this afternoon's edition, which began by discussing brain-machine interfaces and, among other things, the way they are offering hope to people suffering from the terrible condition known as locked-in syndrome, when presenter Adam Rutherford changed the subject and read out a listener letter's (from a Jago Tremain of Norwich) wanting to know if there was a gene 'for narrow-minded intolerance' and 'nastiness', following last week's edition of the programme which dismissed the idea of a 'gay gene'. 

Jago says that gay people have caused far less suffering than intolerant fundamentalists over the centuries [probably true, given the tiny percentage of people in any given population who are gay]. He also says that he wants intolerant, narrow-minded, nasty, anti-gay people 'cured' of their intolerance if ever such a gene is found. 

(Adam described that as his "favourite letter to Inside Science yet".) 

A professor (Tim Spector) then appeared, talking about genetic research into conservative v liberal views, straightforwardly linking the phrase "right-wing" to "fundamentalist" and, thus, in the context of Adam Rutherford's build-up, inevitably linking right-wingers to 'intolerance, narrow-mindedness and nastiness'. 


The thought has crossed my mind before that Inside Science, especially when Adam is presenting it, has had something of the feel of the Guardian's science coverage about it.

Admittedly, the Guardian's science coverage is some of the best in the British media, but a significant slice of it is (inevitably) tinged by the Guardian's very particular political biases. Often strongly so. And Adam Rutherford's editions of Inside Science seem to partake of that spirit on a surprisingly regular basis.

I could have kicked myself....kick, kick, kick...that I didn't check this out earlier, but I thought I'd google Adam today and....aha!.... of course he's a regular columnist at the Guardian (among other things), writing a fair few left-leaning pieces amongst his straight-down-the-line science pieces there. [I'd assumed he was a BBC employee, doing what BBC employees seem to do so naturally.]

Why isn't that surprising? 

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Laura Kuenssberg v Harriet Harman (Part Two)

As Sue said in the previous post, Newsnight's Laura Kuenssberg gave Harriet Harman such a forceful grilling that even many of those who had been slating the BBC for refusing to report the swirl of allegations/insinuations surrounding her (up till the point when Ms. Harman denied the Mail's allegations) found themselves having to applaud Laura for her work. 

It's certainly an interview that could be marked down in the 'evidence against pro-Labour bias' column of a putative Newsnight bias audit sheet. And it's only right and proper to point that out on a blog that monitors BBC bias.

And Laura continued where she left off on last night's Newsnight, investigating the NCCL's files for herself and finding that the three Labour figures in the eye of the storm - Ms Harman, her husband Jack Dromey and Tessa Jowell - were deeply involved in defining the leading issues of the day and that PIE (the Paedophile Information Exchange) "was part of the conversation that took place at the National Council for Civil Liberties." 

There are "countless documents" from PIE in the NCCL archives, she said. 

She quoted one of Harriet Harman's senior Labour colleagues" saying "they were amazed that Ms. Harman refused last night to admit the affiliation between the paedophile group and her employer has been a mistake". 

"But could a paedophile organisation really have been just another name on the list?", asked Laura - showing us an NCCL list with PIE's name on. She then cast doubt over Harriet Harman's claim that PIE was just "one of over a thousand groups" affiliated to the NCCL and that the NCCL's work was "never influenced by that group":
But this list we found shows the leader of the Paedophile Information Exchange had a position on the NCCL's gay rights committee. 
Laura then featured a defender of Harriet Harman, former NCCL executive member Anna Coote [who is now a leading light in the left-wing New Economics Foundation think tank], saying that PIE's agenda "was never shared let alone promoted" by Ms Harman & Co. She said they had no influence whatsoever.

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, however, then immediately cast doubt on that statement:
"It's hard to believe nowadays but we thought it was progressive to take on board the views of paedophiles. I mean, it seems extraordinary in this day and age, but that's exactly what was happening throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s."
"The record on this episode has not yet been left to gather dust", Laura concluded.

Another uncomfortable Newsnight for Labour's deputy leader then.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Finger in pie.

There was plenty of mileage for Biased-BBC in the BBC’s reluctance to get to grips with this story, but when they belatedly did so, I think they messed up. 
I happened to turn on Newsnight last night just in time to see Laura Kuenssberg interrogating Harriet Harman in aggressive, more-Paxo-than-Paxo style. Repetitively trying to force Harriet Harman to say “It Was A Mistake.” 

This tactic has become so annoying that this viewer was alienated straight away. I actually began to feel sorry for Harriet Harman; it was that bad.
Has the new editor of Newsnight instigated interrogation lighting? Dramatic, and not in a kind way.

By next day (today) the BBC had elevated this issue to non-stop superstory. The incestuous headline was “Harman refused to say It Was A Mistake several times.” 

I’m no apologist for PIE but I did once have an acquaintance whom I now suspect was a borderline paedophile. And, and, and.. I know a paediatrician.


Blimey. They’re reporting the arrest of Moazzam Begg. That brings back memories.
Remember Gita Sahgal?
“I have no doubt that history will vindicate Gita Sahgal in her decision to challenge Amnesty International over its relationship with former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and his organisation Cage Prisoners.
She has now left her job, as The Times reports today. This will be a great loss to Amnesty, which has lost a deeply respected figure in international human rights, especially in the field of women’s rights and the threat of authoritarian Islam. I can’t really better Oliver Kamm’s analysis of how damaging this is for Amnesty:"Its critics charge that it has diluted its defence of universal human rights by allying with a group that rejects that principle. By its treatment of Ms Sahgal, and its grudging and euphemistic explanation for its behaviour, Amnesty has confirmed that the critics are right."You can read Gita’s full statement at Harry’s Place here.If she feels a little isolated at the moment, she should seek solace in the fact that the case has become  a rallying point for anti-totalitarians in Britain and around the world.”
Martin Bright April 2010 Spectator.

Let’s break out the popcorn and switch on the TV ?

Chickens, eggs and the BBC

“The unofficial camp was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel.”
This was the subject of a BBCWatch piece pointing out that the original wording in a BBC web article by Yousef Shomali and Yolande Knell had been corrected as a result of a listener’s complaint. Before the correction the wording incorrectly stated: “the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel”. I think that egg laid a chicken. 

However, there is, at least, some background in that piece, which does say that before the current crisis the Yarmouk refugees had been comparatively well integrated into Syrian society, for what that’s worth. Here’s the relevant passage:
Over time, it grew into a busy residential and commercial district of the Syrian capital where about 150,000 Palestinians lived alongside Syrians.
Although the Syrian authorities did not give citizenship to refugees, they had full access to employment and social services. Many say they had relatively good lives compared to their counterparts in other Arab countries.
But after the civil war began three years ago, Yarmouk got caught up in the violence.
Armed rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad moved into the camp and found support among some Palestinian groups.
While tens of thousands of Palestinians fled, about 18,000 were trapped inside.
After months of negotiations, a deal was struck at the end of last year between the Syrian authorities and Palestinian representatives to allow food to be delivered to the camp.
A committee made up of the different Palestinian factions in Yarmouk approached local rebels.
The first food supplies were allowed in on 18 January and some people were allowed to leave for humanitarian reasons, via the safer exit to the north of the camp, into a government-controlled area.
"We were trying to get food and medicines in and help bring out those who are ill, pregnant ladies and university students," says minister, Ahmed Majdalani who led a Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) delegation from the West Bank to Damascus.
"To be honest, the Syrian government was in full co-operation with us and there was also help from the armed groups."
So throughout the BBC’s reporting of the worsening conditions in Syria, particularly in the distressing reports from Lyse Doucet, given that the BBC has a habit of blaming Israel for all the woes of the world, there had been surprisingly little direct blame attributed to Israel, save the arguably necessary/legitimate description of Yarmouk as a “Palestinian” refugee camp.

Harrowing reports

But it had to happen sooner or later. In this morning’s Today programme (8:30 am) Lyse Doucet gave another of her harrowing reports from Yarmouk. Lyse Doucet had clearly alluded to other communities suffering similar hardship and virtual imprisonment in Syria, (transcript of relevant passage below:)
Naughtie: 20,000 people there. What’s the story of the siege? Why has the siege never broken?
Doucet: Jim, starving the people at a time of war is a war crime. So in the Syrian conflict food is a weapon of war. It’s used by all sides. Yarmouk is just one tragic snapshot. across Syria about a quarter of a million Syrians are living in conditions like that.
Who's a Naughtie boy?

Nevertheless, James Naughtie had to make a point of reminding listeners that these refugees were driven out of Israel in 1948, as though - if it weren’t for the Zionists, the ‘Palestinians’ who had been living a “relatively good life in Syria” wouldn’t be starving and under siege.   (Of course according to the BBC the Palestinians in Gaza and the WB are also ‘under siege’) and we don’t even need to go into the status of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, i.e. denied citizenship etc. 

Since he was on the subject, mightn’t Naughtie have also reminded us that the reason Palestinians fled was something to do with a war waged by Arabs who intended to destroy Israel as soon as it was ‘born’?

James Naughtie said: “And, of course they’ve been refugees for some time before this awful conflict began.”
“Yes, some of them have said “This is not our war. “ answered Lyse. “Yarmouk was set up in the aftermath of the 1848 Arab-Israeli war which led to the establishment of the state of Israel.” 

Someone tell her please, that the Arab-Israel war did NOT LEAD to the establishment of Israel. 
“They fled there. It came over the decades the most thriving Palestinian community, a camp which was indistinguishable from the towns which grew up around it. Now it is doubly cursed because it is part of this war. palestinian factions are part of this  war as well, but you could feel the strain of the suffering, as all Syrians are suffering too.  There used to be about 180,000 people living in Yarmouk on the southern edge of Damascus. Now it’s estimated that there are about 20,000 and I can imagine so many people want to get out. [...] but they want to go back in. They say they have no other home.”
So, was it really necessary to remind the listeners in that half-a-story fashion, that Israel is responsible for everything bad that happens to the Palestinians, now and forever?

Monday 24 February 2014

"As fruitful as arguing that a prawn should be a giraffe"

Newsnight's one redeeming feature - poor, worn-out, disenchanted, utterly-bored-to-tears Jeremy Paxman - has written an article for the Grauniad laying into philosopher Alain de Botton and his much-plugged views on the news. (We even plugged A de B here at "Is".) 

It's hardly a profound piece, but it certainly made me laugh. 

Of course, some people will pick up on the perfect translation of Paxo's trademark arched eyebrow and sneer into prose in this passage: 
Thanks be, Alain de Botton has come among us again, as he does so often when we're perplexed. Anxious about whether you understand art? Do you appreciate sex properly? What's religion about? How can you be happy? Fear not, De Botton can tell you, quickly and easily. Not since Moses went up a mountain and came down carrying a couple of slabs of granite reducing life to 10 commandments has anyone been able to reduce the complex enigmas of existence down to simple injunctions. The man has a solution for everything.
Or this delicious turn of phrase (perfectly capturing former BBC Head of News turned Professor of Media Studies at Cardiff University, Richard Sambrook, perhaps?):
Reporters in rehab (now often posing as professors of media studies)...
The Daily Mail has also been quick to spot and blow up a passing dig at the Newsnight presenter's BBC colleague Huw Edwards...
Admittedly Huw Edwards can come across like some evangelical preacher on a wet Sunday morning in Merthyr Tydfil
...turning it into "an extraordinary attack" and "a bizarre feud". Which calls for this image:

But Jeremy Paxman had some interesting things to say about the news as well. 

His article begins, with plenty of the the studious cynicism for which he's known:
What is news? To judge from the daily newspapers and TV bulletins we can discard my favourite definition – that it is something that someone somewhere doesn't want us to know.
Jeremy's conspiratorial definition of the news (which he then dismisses) is something which will resonate with many of the BBC's critics (and critics of Newsnight). 

For those of us on the mainstream Right (as we see ourselves) - the Biased BBC/Daily Mail/Is the BBC biased?/Daily Telegraph/Not a Sheep/The Commentator tendency - that's a definition which finds itself crossing our minds, from time to time, to varying degrees, probably without us even being aware of it having done so.

For example, from Quentin Letts at the Daily Mail and Damian Thompson at the Telegraph, through to many commenters at Biased BBC - and, well away from the mainstream Right, Roy Greenslade at the Guardian too - many people have been aghast (if not exactly surprised) that the BBC has (at least until this afternoon) resolutely avoided reporting the Harriet Harman-Jack Dromey-Tessa Jowell PIE/NCCL paedophile allegations being made by the Mail - a story the Mail has been making hay with for several days now (and which other papers have subsequently taken up). 

Except for Prof. Greenslade of the Graun, all the above have seen that refusal to cover the story by the BBC as clear evidence of pro-Labour bias on the BBC's part - and a case of "something that someone somewhere [the BBC and the Labour Party] doesn't want us to know". 

What's changed today that finally provoked the BBC to break cover (keeping with this way of thinking), is that Harriet Harman and her husband have now denounced the Mail's investigation as a "smear". The BBC, so it seems, now feel safe to leap into action in response. Clicking its heels, so to speak, at Hattie's command.

I doubt that example was in Paxo's mind though.

His main point seems to be that the news just isn't interesting enough these days, that the news needs to be perpetually new and surprising:
Astonishing events that burst into our consciousness with the impact of the attack on the Twin Towers are very rare indeed. Most of the rest is just regurgitated announcement, speech or advertisement. Sometimes, the press release has scarcely been rewritten. Maybe that's why so many people don't seem to be paying much attention any more.

That's far too world-weary (and wrong-headed) for me. There's plenty going on, and novel excitements aren't everything (or anything much). 

Just because Jeremy is bored and just because Ian Katz's Newsnight isn't interested in covering the lurch into leftist authoritarian - and the reactive protests - in post-Chavez Venezuela, for example, doesn't mean that it's not a story of importance for our times, telling us important things about radical chic regimes and their way of degenerating into Gadaffiesque strangeness (or, in Maduro's case, extreme mediocrity) and cruelty.

Still, I've got to concede that there is some truth in this:
Technology has eliminated time-delay and now enables us to be virtually present at any event, almost anywhere. Enjoying lives of greater comfort and safety than ever before, we can be regaled in our own sitting rooms with mayhem or misery from most corners of the globe. But the more news there is, the less anyone really needs it. The result, too often, is paralysis – information overload. What are we to do with it all?
And, in a dig that I think applies to many a BBC editor (Newsnight's Ian Katz included), I rather liked this:
When it comes to it, news is just some things that have happened, as chosen by some not-very-interesting people running newspapers and television.
These people have rather predictable tastes and rather obvious blindspots. 
Don't they just! (See our coverage of Newsnight and Sunday for evidence of that). 

The most exciting bit for me involved that old chestnut - one which gets me and Sue playing conkers with each other from time to time: the question of impartiality v advocacy for the 'best kinds of bias'. Paxo is on my side here:
De Botton's cure for the indifference that afflicts so many of us when confronted with tidings of some awful human tragedy far away is for the news to be less preoccupied with accuracy and more with advocacy. Fine if De Botton is the advocate-in-chief. But just supposing that George Galloway, David Icke or Abu Hamza got the job?

Anyhow, in the spirit of Newsnight's David Bowie tribute act, I think the last word is best left to the Thin White Duke himself:
All the young dudes/Carry the news/Boogaloo dudes/Carry the news. 
I can imagine Newsnight editor Ian Katz sagely nodding his head at that (like it actually means anything).

Sunday 23 February 2014

From Somerset to the paddy (O'Connell) fields of Bangladesh

It was like old times on this morning's Broadcasting House, with Paddy O'Connell dancing in the streets (so to speak) over events in Kiev. 

We've been here before.

I remember very well Paddy's enthusiastic coverage of the early days of the Arab Spring (before it turned to deepest winter). He didn't quite say, "Bliss is it this dawn to be alive, But to be a middle-aged BBC presenter is very heaven!", but he could well have done so. 

And then there was his now-equally-risible attempt (on both BH and Twitter) to promote the idea of a 'Financial Spring' after the #Occupy revolutionaries (remember them?) set up their tents in front of St. Paul's Cathedral and the end of capitalism seemed nigh. 

He never learns. 

He was at it again this morning, enthusing about the "revolution" in Ukraine against "a president who fired on his people on the doorstep of Europe". He talked of "citizen guards" replacing the police. I felt like getting my tricolour out and crying 'Vive l'Ukraine!'

Pro-European Guardian historian Timothy Garton Ash then appeared to back up this view that this is, quite simply, a revolution. 

Paddy invited him to enthuse "from the gut". Professor Garton Ash described himself as "delighted".

Next came a debate on the Scottish independence debate between a father (Eric) and a son (Ross) who stand (amicably) on opposite sides of the debate. Eric sounded much more political that Ross, being (as Ross described him) a long-time supporter of independence. Ross, the son, is more open-minded, even conceding that he could change his mind on the mind if so persuaded. 

Eric denounced the selfishness of the UK, saying that Scotland (in contrast) would welcome more immigration, as well as denouncing the Iraq War and the poll tax. 

BBC news bulletins have given a fair amount of coverage today to Labour leader Ed Miliband's calls for reform to Prime Minister's Questions and Broadcasting House did their bit too. Current BBC political reporter Chris Mason and former BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant discussed the history of PMQs. 

According to Chris, PMQs is a relatively recent invention, first being held in its current form in 1961 - and BH got in some actors to recreate a ludicrous-sounding exchange from that first set of PMQs between a   buffoonish-sounding Tory MP (what a prat the actor made him sound!), Tory PM Harold MacMillan and the then Mr Speaker Sir. It sounded rowdy.

Chris then reminded us that 1975 was the date when we first got to hear PMQs - a big day for Radio 4, Chris said. We heard a clip of Margaret Thatcher (sounding much like the Mrs Thatcher of the 1980s. Wasn't her voice supposed to be much more high pitched back then?) v Harold Wilson (sounding like Mike Yarwood). It sounded rowdy - and the public could now hear it for the first time. And to prove that we heard a clip of the SNP's Winnie Ewing being barracked and then cut down by the Speaker.

It was then back to Ukraine and BBC reporter Gabriel Gatehouse. The topic this time was what Paddy called the "taste for bad taste" of missing president Viktor Yanukovych as Gabriel took us on a tour around the no-longer-victorious Viktor's "incredibly opulent" palatial complex. There are boxing rings, a floating banqueting house, a menagerie full of birds, boar and deer (apparently all destined for the table), and, yes, duck-houses - "Duck-houses, that ultimate symbol of corruption", quipped the (biased) BBC reporter.

The paper review followed, with John Sergeant, cookery writer Prue Leith, and author and Guardian columnist Sarfraz Manzoor. 

Sarfraz started by enthusing over the possibility that men taking more of a role in doing the housework might be contributing to the apparent fall in the divorce rate over recent years. (Social conservatives, look away now!) John then enthused over early sex and Prue praised co-habitation, and Sarfraz name-checked 'austerity' as another possible cause. 

Prue then took us to bankers, and said she didn't believe what the bankers are saying. Sarfraz criticised the media for not urging on action against the banks. John talked up the moral issues over 'profits'.

John then returned to the subject of Ukraine, quoting the Observer:
The recent revolutions of the Arab Spring have shown that stormed palaces, packed squares, absent police and an intoxicating sense of liberation from an old guard do not necessarily deliver better political systems.
I had to grin at that, given Paddy O'Connell's past (and present) history of covering such stories as if he himself was partaking in that intoxicating sense of liberation. 

Sarfraz attacked the media again for creating a simplistic good-bad narrative - just as, I think, sections of the BBC have been doing over Ukraine (though naturally, as a BBC regular, Sarfraz didn't name and shame the hand that feeds him).

Prue talked about that perennial favourite topic - does music help make your a more intelligent person? Research suggesting that children who play music will do better at school has now been reported. Prue was sceptical about it. I'm sceptical about a causal link too (though I'd like it to be true). 

Poor John Sergeant 'fessed up to liking classical music. Prue held his hand and reassured him that it's OK. 

I'd like to second that. It really is absolutely OK, John. Please stop worrying and don't be afraid to come out of the closet about it. Just stand tall, and say 'I like classical music'. 

I like classical music too. 

I tried to hide it while I was a teenage boy, pretending to be into pop music, but I now feel fully at ease inside my own skin. I'm out and I'm proud. Me and Johann Sebastian Bach? I love him, and I'm not afraid to say it. 

Maybe me and John should go on a Classical Music Pride parade together. I've already thought of some great slogans: 'We're here, and we're into chamber music. Get used to it!', 'Out of the Closets and into the concert halls!', 'Two, Four, Six, Eight! How Do You Know Your Kids Are into Tom Robinson?' and 'Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Haydnophobia's got to go!'   

Prue worried about parents who want their children to be geniuses. She said that you shouldn't want your children to be geniuses, as geniuses are "very unhappy people". Sarfraz opined that geniuses tend to have bad relationships with their parents. John agreed that happy geniuses are "very unusual". 

At the invitation of Paddy, Sarfraz (of Pakistani origin) took us to the Observer and the Independent and the question of which is the most 'homophobic' country? He mentioned Nigeria, Gambia and India. 

John talked Scotland, and the independence debate. He's clearly been disappointed that the issue hasn't been considered particularly important by people south of the border. He's glad that Westminster politicians have finally stuck their British oars into the debate in that part of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that is having to decide whether to remain part of the United Kingdom. About time, he thinks. Sarfraz mocked celebrity endorsements [though, being a trendy type, he added a caveat that David Bowie is OK], but John welcomed 'throwing the kitchen sink' at it. 

Prue talked costly energy-saving devices that either put your bill up or are ineffective, such as solar battery chargers and water-saving shower heads. Prue thinks it's about posing. John mocked David Cameron's "funny little wind vane", which certainly got Paddy chortling. 

BBC veteran Hugh Sykes was on hand to round off the programme by talking about flooding. Obviously not the flooding in Somerset. Oh no. Hugh talked about flooding in Bangladesh instead, in his usual sanctimonious way.

I suppose the message here was: We think we're hard done by? Pah, the Bangladeshis get it so much worse. (Like we don't know that already).

Paddy ended by wishing us "a great day". Thanks Paddy. 

Trend-spotting on 'Newsnight'

Keeping track of what Ian Katz's Newsnight reports over the past few weeks, a few general trends can already be observed. 

One that stands out for me is the way the programme pays close attention to technology, and less attention to general science stories - something that was very clearly reflected in Ian Katz's decision to abolish the role of Science Editor and create a new role of Technology Editor instead. 

Tellingly, the sacked Science Editor (Susan Watts) has a degree in Chemistry while the new Technology Editor (David Grossman) has a degree in Politics, which pretty much says it all really.

Anything that ties in technology with social media seems to be of especial interest to them. Twitter, facebook, new apps - those are Newsnight's kind of stories. 

Secondly, and possibly mirroring that downgrading of science, is the programme's growing emphasis on arts coverage. (Perhaps the demise of Newsnight Review on BBC Two is helping push that too). Kirsty Wark is visiting more art exhibitions on Newsnight these days.

Thirdly, Ian Katz is clearly aiming at making his programme more female-friendly. Topics he presumes will be of interesting to women are very much on the rise and all female-discussions, whether about comedy panel shows or criminalising prostitution, are becoming more common too. Plus the former 2:2  'gender' balance of main presenters (Jeremy Paxman and Gavin Esler v Kirsty Wark and Emily Maitlis) has now shifted to being more of a 4:1 'gender' imbalance (Jeremy Paxman v Kirsty Wark, Emily Maitlis, Laura Kuenssberg & Victoria Derbyshire). 

Fourthly, Ian Katz is clearly aiming to add more jokes, from the Cookie Monster and Kirsty Wark's zombie dance through to the David Bowie impersonator, the clever jokey closing item is becoming a bit of a trademark of 'new' Newsnight.

Of course, many of the old interests of Newsnight - the hurly-burly of 'Westminster bubble' party politics, the big international stories, the deadly serious reports on worthy subjects, the obsession with phone hacking, climate change, the tributes to recently deceased left-wingers - all remain firmly in place.

Other trends will doubtless emerge over time. 

'Newsnight' - 17-21 February 2014

It's also time for Is the BBC biased?'s now-regular listing of all the stories covered over the course of the week by BBC Two's Newsnight.

Here's what they chose to report this week:

Monday 17/2:
1. Who knows best on floods - scientists or politicians?
2. Is climate change responsible for the floods? Interview with Andrew Montford & Professor Kevin Anderson.
3. What happens when benefit claimants break the rules and the government stops their money? Interview with Nadhim Zahawi MP (Con) and Debbie Abrahams MP (Lab).
4. The UN compares North Korea to Nazi Germany. Interview with John Everard, former British ambassador to North Korea.
5. Is Alex Salmond's plan to make Scotland a full EU member by 2016 realistic?
6. Kirsty Wark talks to photographer David Bailey about his new exhibition.

Tuesday 18/2:
1. The Ukrainian protests. Interview with Tim Snyder of Yale University and opposition MP Rostyslav Pavlenko.
2. The NHS's plans for a new database that will share patients data records, possibly even with drugs companies. Interview with Clare Gerada.
3. What's wrong with Welsh education? Is more devolution needed?
4. Should Prime Minister's Question Time been changed to reflect the public's (apparent) distaste for its yobbishness? Interview with Tessa Munt MP (Lib Dem) and Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con)
5. Recreating Captain Scott's expedition to the South Pole. Interview with British explorer Ben Saunders.

Wednesday 19/2:
1. The Ukrainian protests. Interview with Ukrainian vice prime minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko.
2. "How Tony Blair offered Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch a shoulder to cry on" - the phone hacking trial. Interview with Steve Hewlett of the Guardian.
3. Are fixed-term parliaments a good or bad thing? Interview with Sir Gus O'Donnell.
4. Actor Alan Alda explains why he's hunting for a scientist to explain what colour is in terms that a child could understand. Interview with Alan Alda.
5. Why the American campus has become a place of sexual danger for many young women.
6. Facebook buys a mobile phone instant messaging app. Interview with Mike Butcher, editor of

Thursday 20/2:
1. The Ukrainian protests. Interviews with opposition activist Malanka Podolyak, former British ambassador to Ukraine Robert Brinkley, & former Kremlin advisor Alexander Nekrassov.
2. Should buying sex be illegal? Interview with Mary Honeyball MEP (Lab), Laura Lee from the National Union of Sex Workers, Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, author of 'The Price of Sex' and Dorcus Erskine of The Poppy Project.
3. The hacking trial. Interview with Steve Hewlett of the Guardian.
4. Is the Welsh NHS in trouble? Interview with Welsh health minister Mark Drakefield MA (Lab)
5. David Bowie's intervention in the Scottish independence debate. A tribute act performs a satirical take on 'Live on Mars'.

Friday 21/2:
1. The Ukrainian protests. Interview with Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Yuriy Sergeyev, and opposition spokesman Oleh Rybachuk.
2. The Archbishop of Canterbury attacks the government over its benefit cuts. A report featuring claimant Terry Moore, who has been sanctioned (he says unfairly) and is suffering as a result. Interview with Steve Baker MP (Con) and Sarah Teather MP (Lib Dem).
3. Branding - is the internet making big brands irrelevant? Interview with author Emanuel Rosen, author of 'Absolute Value', and Rita Clifton, chairman of BrandCap.

Sunday in the Park with Peter

Yes, it really is that time of the week again: Sunday morning. Or should that be Sunday morning?

This week's Sunday, presented by Shelagh Fogarty, pursued the following subjects - with each subject introduced as the programme's website presented it. My ramblings follow on.

From Papal Meetings with the Council of Cardinals to the creation of nineteen new Cardinals, Shelagh Fogarty talks to the BBC's David Willey in Rome about this week's events at the Vatican.

David Willey said there was a "very joyful atmosphere" after the ceremony, with lots of singing (especially from supporters of the new African cardinals). He said that the balance between Europeans and non-Europeans is now exact, with 61 each, and that non-Europeans are now poised to become the majority in the Catholic Church, which is - he said - now tapping into their wisdom. DW said that Cardinal Nichols is "on exactly the same wavelength as the Pope", both focusing on listening to the world's poor people. He talked of the increasing emphasis on collegiality under Pope Francis. It was all very non-critical on DW's part, which is such a change from his critical manner and tone of voice when reporting Vatican issues during the pontificate of Benedict XVI...

...talking of whom, the Pope Emeritus was there at the ceremony creating the new cardinals. David Willey described that as "a big surprise. No one expected to see him". He got a couple of big embraces from Pope Francis. Shelagh and DW speculated that it might be the intention of the Vatican to reintegrate him back into Vatican public life.

Felicity Finch reports on how the recent floods have meant burials have become impossible in certain areas of the country.

This segment looked at an overlooked aspect of the flooding - the distress caused by postponed funerals. The main problem is that with so many burial grounds being waterlogged it's too dangerous to dig graves,  given that the sides could easily collapse in on gravediggers. Felicity Finch talkd to Rev John Rogers of St. Michael's Church, Tilehurst, Reading, who described what has been going on his his area, then Shelagh Fogarty talked to Dominic Maguire from the National Association of Funeral Directors. He said they're not sure know how many funerals have been postponed, as the evidence is largely anecdotal.

Next week the Government considers proposals for legislation on pre-nuptial agreements, Shelagh discusses what it could mean for the institution of marriage, with the Right Reverend Mark Davies, Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury and Baroness Ruth Deech, Former Lecturer in Family Law.

This was an interesting discussion, balancing the Bishop (who is against such changes) with Baroness Deech (who is strongly for them).

At the moment pre-nups aren't legally binding, but the Law Commission is considering making them so. Bishop Mark believes that it will further ingrain "the culture of divorce" and the marriage crisis in this country, asking people to create a divorce settlement even before they've made their marriage promises. Ruth Deech thinks that the culture of divorce, for good or for ill, is here to stay and that the law is far too messy at the moment. She thinks that those getting married for the second time are likeliest to take up legally-binding pre-nups, along with the rich footballers and young career women - which didn't reassure the Bishop of Shrewsbury!

With this pre-nup I thee bind.

As cult classic The Exorcist is reworked for Radio 4, Shelagh explores how the depiction of the Devil has changed down the years and whether it reflects society's perceptions, with Catholic Film Critic, Father Peter Malone.

Fr Malone thinks the idea of being possessed by the Devil is something people simply took for granted over the centuries, having read the gospels, but by 1973 visual representation of the phenomenon was something new. In the earliest films, the Devil was depicted as a comical figure, but then - in films like The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary's Baby - he began to be used to dig into our deepest fears. Shelagh pointed out that training to deal with exorcism is on the increase in the Catholic Church and asked Peter Malone whether, in his experience, the exorcisms we see in films (such as, more recently, Anthony Hopkins's The Rite) are a fair representation of what actually happens. Fr Malone said, yes, they are (from what he'd heard) pretty faithful and exact. Shelagh also noted that Pope Francis mentions the Devil a lot. Fr Peter said that the Devil is a way of representing evil in the world. Shelagh then wondered whether it's harder to scare us with the Devil these days as few people believe in him literally. Fr Peter doesn't thing so, and said that people at the time thought it was lapsed Christians who might have been more scared by The Exorcist.

Next week the European Parliament will vote on a proposal to criminalise people who pay for sex. Our reporter Trevor Barnes looks at how this could impact on those working in the sex-trade industry.

This was a subject tackled by Newsnight this week too. It centred on the efforts of Labour MEP Mary Honeyball to criminalise men's purchase of sex - i.e. the Nordic model of dealing with prostitution. Opponents of the move believe it will drive prostitution further underground and make it more dangerous. Both Mary Honeyball and Steve Chalke of the UN argue for  the law change on feminist/gender equality grounds. Against them we heard from Niki Adams of the English Collective of Prostitutes, who wants prostitution fully decriminalised, and from a volunteer in London who expressed her fears that the safety of prostitutes could be make further compromised by such a law. 142 sex workers have been murdered since 1990, said Chris Armitt of Merseyside Police, and said that most prostitute have not been trafficked. 

I've no complaints about this report, as it was fully balanced.

In the week that the Welfare system became a battle ground between Church and State, the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, John Battle, Anti-Poverty Campaigner with the Leeds West Debt Forum and Peter Hitchens, Columnist for the Mail on Sunday discuss how welfare can be reformed in a way that is morally right.

This, of course, was the feature I was complaining about in advance yesterday and, unfortunately, it was as biased as you might expect if you have two people on one side of the argument and only one on the other - especially when the two opponents of the welfare reports - the Bishop of Manchester and former Labour MP John Battle - acted as something of a tag team by repeatedly interrupting and rounding on Peter Hitchens, and regularly agreeing with each other.

I can't think why it was considered necessary to have Bishop Walker and Mr Battle on together. Mr Battle was surely not needed.  

What of Shelagh's interviewing?

Well, unquestionably, Peter Hitchens got the most robust questioning from her, which frankly only adds biased insult to biased injury. Still, she did ask the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, one of the signatories of the Daily Mirror letter, about polls showing that the majority of people - and Anglicans - are in favour of benefit cuts, and whether that means that he's out of touch.

The government was repeatedly attacked during the discussion and no one was there to defend it. Peter Hitchens said "I'm not here to defend the government", and he didn't, so all three attacked the 'bedroom tax' - which is where that fourth guest I mooted yesterday was so sorely needed.

Still, at least we heard something you very rarely hear on Sunday - a quote from the Bible. Peter Hitchens quoted 2 Thessalonians: For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Fancy hearing quotes from the Bible on Radio 4's Sunday!

Saturday 22 February 2014

Reflexes 'n' reflections

As Sue's in a reflective mood tonight (and inventing much better titles than me)...

It was quite amusing in the early days of "Is" that the website that the website for Radio 4's Sunday had not one but two links to our site. 

They used to have a 'buzz' section, picking up on posts about the programme from across the intercyberwebosphere. Our two links stayed there for months.

That felt weird at the time. Admittedly, one of the two posts they linked to was broadly (but not completely) complimentary to them, but the other - the one about their bias on the subject of welfare - most certainly wasn't, and I thought it was much to their credit that they featured those links so prominently.

Quite a few Radio 4 websites had such a feature back then, thought most of them seem to have vanished. Sunday's was one of those that vanished, so there have been no links to "Is" from them for over a year now. 

That said, given that I've become much more hardline towards them though over time, they probably wouldn't have linked to us now even if they did still feature a 'buzz' section!

This raises an obvious question: How many people at the BBC read blogs about BBC bias?

Well, some obviously do, as I continue to dine out on the fact that we got a good-humoured mention on BBC Correspondents Look Ahead at the very end of 2012, after they'd checked out a post that painstakingly detailed (and mocked) their almost entirely wrong predictions for 2012 on the preceding year's edition of the programme. (I was an "unkind blogger"). 

There's not been much visible sign of active BBC interaction with this blog since though. 

Still, that doesn't mean they aren't reading us, and taking note.

That sort of thing is hard to judge though. It takes us into the realms of speculation - and memory.

In its early days, the Biased BBC blog attracted a number of comments from BBC folk, some using pseudonyms (like John Reith and Sarah Jane), some posting under their own names (like Nick Reynolds and Dr David Gregory-Kumar). Such comments have dried up over the last six years ago (with even Dr David dropping away) but, like with "Is", Biased BBC can only assume that BBC employees still read them. 

Commenters at Biased BBC occasionally spot changes in BBC online reports that suggest that the slatings those reports have received at Biased BBC have been picked up on, and acted on - clandestinely. 

If I were a BBC employee, I'd certainly read Biased BBC, and if I worked at Radio 4's Sunday, I'd read "Is". It's the sensible thing for them to do, even if they feel little but contempt for us. 

We are, after all, weather vanes, and they'd be wise to watch us whirl in the wind - or, to put it less poetically, they should know what their critics are thinking. [As it's free for them (no paywalls at either "Is" or Biased BBC), why wouldn't they (even if just for a laugh)?]

And here's where a blogger about BBC bias risks getting into dangerous territory - the territory Captain Mainwaring kept warning Corporal Jones about - "the realms of fantasy".

What if the makers of Radio 4's A Point of View read our post about their programme's blatant left-liberal bias?

Personally, I think it was a damning, banged-to-rights kind of post - the kind of thing a passing BBC employee who works on A Point of View might well have stumbled across while browsing the internet, googling the programme they work for. 

It listed all the contributors to the programme for the previous three years, all either firmly left-wing or left-leaning or politically centrist, with not a single right-winger in sight. 

Well, a mere nine months (:-) later, Radio 4 finally invited a right-winger to present A Point of View - the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. Proof they'd read "Is" and taken note?

Well, even if not, it's still good to see that Prof. Scruton has been given a second bite at the cherry, beginning a new run this very week - a wonderful, nuanced piece reflecting an Englishman's take on the Scottish independence debate. (Curiously, the link I've provided clips off the end of Roger Scruton's talk, for some very strange reason).

Still, he remains the only right-winger in the A Point of View village. (Four years of programmes, only one right-winger.) So, if you're reading, BBC folk working on A Point of View, please let's have more. You still remain blatantly biased towards the Left, and need to redress the balance. 

The other 'realms of fantasy, Jones' thing that preys on my mind is a comment I put on a particularly enjoyable - and well-read - thread on Biased BBC in August 2011. It listed every UK-focused correspondent on Dateline London who worked for a British newspaper and came up with watertight evidence that reporters from the Guardian and Independent out-totalled those from the rest of the press by a significant margin, backing up my (time-worn) case that Dateline London is BBC bias incarnate. 

What made the hairs on my neck slightly stand on end is that six days after I posted that comment, Dateline London broke from its long-term cycle of going weeks without a right-winger and then inviting either Janet Daley or Ann Leslie to appear [something I kept mocking] and invited a new right-winger, Tim Montgomerie of Conservative.Home. Could there possibly be a link? 

I've posted about Dateline London ever since, and those hairs-on-the-neck moments have re-occurred since [albeit not so strongly], most recently today when, after last week's big-but-evidence-backed whinge on the subject, entitled Left, left, left, we got a totally untypical Dateline panel - and a new right-winger to the programme. (Today's panel consisted of Annette Dittert from German TV [impartial-yet-oddly-left-leaning-like-a-stereotypical-BBC-reporter], straight-down-the-middle-towards-slightly-liberal U.S. reporter Henry Chu of the L.A. Times, BBC correspondent Dmitry Shishkin and....(drum roll)....Iain Martin of the Telegraph, our right-wing new arrival - and well done Iain.)

Were they shamed into that by "Is"? ("Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe".)

The realms of fantasy, Jones? Or do some people at the BBC watch blogs like this like biased hawks?

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins"...

ah but..."Shantih, shantih, shantih". (Google it if you don't know it.)