Sunday 15 June 2014

Catching up, falling behind

As you may have noticed, this hasn't been a particularly busy week of blogging here at Is the BBC biased?. It's not that there's been nothing to write about, rather the reverse: There's been far too much to write about. 

For starters, there's the news from Iraq, where a small band of medieval-minded Muslim fanatics have attempted to seize control of the Iraqi Midlands, and there's the news from England, where a small band of medieval-minded Muslim fanatics have attempted to seize control of the country's second city. 

On the Iraq story, I'm not going to be disingenuous here. I think the range and quality of the BBC's coverage has been impressive. So many interesting experts have been invited into the BBC's studios this week that I actually feel properly informed for once  - though, of course, I'm not expert enough to tell whether they really are right  or merely if they sounded right). 

Also, having listened to and watched a lot of BBC coverage this week, I know what I've heard and I really have heard a dazzling variety of voices - defenders and critics of the al-Maliki government, defenders and critics of President Obama, defenders and critics of George W. Bush, defenders and critics of Tony Blair, pro-and-anti-Saudi voices, pro-and-anti-Iranian voices, etc. 

As for 'angles', well, yes, some programmes have 'pushed' one particular angle at me (such as this morning's Broadcasting House which concentrated its criticism on President Bush and Mr al-Maliki), but those have been balanced by other programmes which either (a) 'pushed' a contrasting angle at me (such as today's The World This Weekend where President Obama's policy came under fire) or (b) 'pushed' a variety of contrasting angles at me (as on last week's editions of Newsnight, where various experts, two U.S. Republicans, two U.S. Democrats, a former UK ambassador to Iraq, a former head of the U.N., a Conservative MP, a Blair advisor, an ex-Labour left-winger, an Iraqi government supporter, an Iraqi government critic (and former PM), and an FT journalist were all brought in to give their widely differing views). 

In all honesty, I really cannot fault it. Can you? (Please say if you disagree).

On the 'Trojan Horse' story though, I believe that Monday's BBC News at Six coverage was deeply biased (especially Reeta Chakrabarti's report) - and argued so in an earlier post.

Then, blow me down with a feather, on the following night's News at Six the BBC didn't just not bury the story, no, they actually took it forward, reporting that the claims of an Islamic plot (confirmed by Ofsted), were supported by evidence that something similar has been happening in schools in Bradford. [Alan at Biased BBC spotted this too, joking that it showed that the BBC "has started its own Islamophobic witch hunt".] 

Newsnight's coverage was, I believe, rather too mired in BBC (PC?) caution on the one hand [with Chris Cook's reports continuing to resolutely downplay the story] and sensationalism on the other [with Emily Maitlis getting carried away with the programme's 'scoop' in getting Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted to criticise Michael Gove then refusing to be straightforward when reporting Sir Michael's retraction of those criticisms - despite her BBC colleague, Jon Manel, unearthing for The World at One what seemed to me conclusive prove that Michael rather than Sir Michael was remembering events correctly] - both trajectories tending toward taking the story away from its main focus and onto 'Westminster Bubble' matters instead. 

As we've written here before, the BBC's 'Trojan Horse' coverage has been a real curate's egg. They've done some decent investigations of their own on this, and they've done some serious downplaying and deflection too. You might take that as a sign of their impartiality, or  that they are beginning to see the light. I suspect it's also a sign of their utter confusion. 

Most unusually for me, I even watched part of this morning's The Big Questions, which asked "Should the British stop tolerating intolerance?" 

The guest list was largely familiar, predictable even, but it can't be faulted for variety. It included Ajmal Mansoor, Adnan Rashid and Myriam Francois-Cerrah [see-no-evil-hear-no-evil Muslims], Maajid Nawaz [a see-some-evil-hear-see-evil Muslim], Kevin Friery [an atheist], Peter Hitchens [a right-wing contrarian who takes an indulgent line on Islamic extremism], Douglas Murray [a right-wing contrarian who doesn't take an indulgent line on Islamic extremism], Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner [a liberal Jew] and Daniel Hannan [a liberty-loving Tory MEP], among others. 

I also watched The Andrew Marr Show all the way though. A Middle East expert critical of Tony Blair and the editor of The Sun reviewed the papers. [I was shocked to learn that I didn't know who the editor of The Sun is. Victoria Newton was a new name to me]. Then came John Reid (Blairite ex-minister), actress Kathleen Turner, Tony Blair (Blairite ex-prime minister) and Sajid Javid (Conservative). 

The world of Twitter exploded in rage at the mere presence of Tony Blair. Some also moaned about the BBC inviting a Murdoch Empire editor on. Accusations of bias inevitably poured in: Andrew Marr was too soft on Tony Blair. Andrew Marr was too soft on John Reid. Andrew Marr was too soft on Sajid Javid. Well, frankly, the Andrew Marr of today is not the Andrew Marr of five years ago. He's a kinder and gentler interviewer these days. He's soft on everyone...

....which at least gives us a chance to hear the views being expressed. I much prefer this way of interviewing, generally-speaking - unless the interviewee is being blatantly evasive [or if I really dislike the interviewee!]. It's much preferable to the relentless attack-attack-attack style of interviewing that too often topples over into being too unthinking and inflexible. [Mishal Husain's interviews on Today this past week have occasionally fallen into that trap].

What's next? Well there's also been Desert Island Discs with "Palestinian author and human rights activist" Raja Shehadeh and Kirsty Young making sympathetic noises as he told his passive-aggressive, embittered account of his personal experiences [h/t Sue] followed by Edward Stourton on The World This Weekend being oh-so-impartial in giving half of his report to the Israelis and half to the Palestinians but giving the 'woes' of the Palestinians a noticeably more sympathetic hearing, and the final word. If I may quote my friend Sue here:
So, even as the Trojan Horse rumbles on and the Islamist uprising rapidly spreads throughout the entire planet, the reality of the Palestinians' rejectionist attitude to peace with Israel remains a mystery to the pundits at the BBC.  
In other news tonight, the Islamists of ISIS in Iraq have posted photos of what they say are huge numbers of massacred soldiers, the Islamists of Hamas are in the frame for kidnapping three teenage boys, at least nine people have been killed in an Islamist suicide bombing in Baghdad, Islamist suicide bombers have attacked checkpoints in Benghazi in Libya, the Islamist regime in Sudan has been accused by America of bombing schools and hospitals in two of its states, Islamists have attacked a coastal town in Kenya, Somali Islamists have rounded up 100 women and ordered them to comply with Islamic dress code or risk being whipped, a Christian teacher in Egypt has been jailed for six months for insulting Islam, al-Qaeda has released a video calling for jihad against India, etc, etc.

Well, that's me caught up then. Good night.

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