Sunday 30 November 2014

Broadcasting House

Today is (as I may have mentioned before) Advent Sunday and, even though I'm an unbeliever, I love my Christian heritage and would dearly love, like Thomas Hardy, to see the oxen kneel on Christmas Eve, hoping it would be so.

Thus, as today is the first day in the Church's liturgical calender (its News Year's Day at it were), I've been trying to write posts today that reflect a fresh spirit on my part - more Ebenezer than Scrooge (leaping ahead somewhat to the next liturgical festival). 

Actually though, reading back, they are, by and large, just the same as before. So, like New Years resolutions, the best laid plans of mice and bloggers oft gang awry...

Still, it's always best to keep trying.

And, thus, it's onto this morning's Broadcasting House and a chance to register my appreciation of the programme for actually - and surprisingly rarely at the BBC - giving the victims of terrorism an airing. We heard from three survivors/family members of victims. The terrorists who scarred their lives were (a) the IRA, (b) the 7/7 bombers and (c) the Islamists who attacks Mumbai.

Their reflections were what I wanted to hear as it's hard to know how you'd react yourself to being personally caught up in such atrocities, especially as time passes. They were surprisingly optimistic about the future.

Paddy O'Connell drew that optimism out of them, and they all seemed free of bitterness.

The cynic in me feels obliged to wonder if that spirit was something that attracted the makers of Broadcasting House to them in the first place. If they were still bitter, if they despaired of the future, if they campaigned for justice against the IRA, if they campaigned against Islamic terrorism, if (God forbid) they'd joined the EDL, would BH have ever invited them to join the discussion then? 

I rather doubt it.

Still, it was very good to hear them speak.

Also unusual was a 'good news piece' about Britain and Israel - a Kevin Connolly piece about a fascinating, swashbuckling Irish-British hero, Col. John Henry Patterson, who, amid a myriad of other heroic Kipling-like adventures, led a group of fighters in the doomed assault on Gallipoli. Among those fighters were Jewish Zionists and their bravery there won him to their cause. He campaigned for the creation of the State of Israel thereafter, dying just one year before its rebirth. So influential was he that Benjamin Netanyahu's elder brother was named after him. Mr Netanyahu himself was heard in Kevin Connolly's report, giving his appreciation of the great man, and three films have been based on his life.

Kevin Connolly's record in the U.S. certainly wasn't free from the blemish of bias - especially his insulting coverage of the Tea Party - and BBC Watch has been critical of some of his recent reporting. Both myself and Sue, however, closely monitoring the BBC's coverage of Operation Protective Edge, found Kevin Connolly's reporting to have been significantly better than that of his colleagues - so much so that we worried when he vanished from the scene and was replaced by far worse, quickly-flown-in reporters (dozens of them, including Orla, Jeremy, Jon, Lyse, Uncle Chris Cobley and all). He, at least, tried to give a sense of Palestinian aggression in the early days of the conflict and made an attempt to report the fears and feelings of ordinary Israelis in the (Hamas) firing line. 

And, so, it's good to hear him doing something positive for BH that isn't anti-Israel.

On a lighter note (F sharp), I've also enjoyed BH's focus on intrusive background music. A BBC wildlife camera man sounded off on the programme a week ago about the use of emotionally-stirring music in wildlife documentaries. He didn't like it. He wants to hear the sounds of nature in nature programmes. 

And BH listeners have agreed with him in their droves.

Now, this is a subject that tickles my fancy because the great David Attenborough series are full of stirring music. No Sergio Leone film is more tied into the power of music than a David Attenborough landmark series. My strongest memory is of marching crabs marching to stirring march music - and, though the music was wonderful, I did think at the time that I was being emotionally manipulated by the music and that it was too intrusive.

That said, I don't usually find it intrusive, but...

...oh, I've wanted to blog about this for ages but never got round to it. So here's my chance at last! (Phew!)...

One of the glories of recent BBC Radio 4 broadcasting was British Museum director Neil MacGregor's wonderful series about German history, Germany: Memories of a Nation. It was a feast of information, engagingly written, undumbed-down....

...BUT, its soundtrack was the classical music of Germany, primarily Beethoven and Wagner - glorious works, many of which I love. The result, for a lover of such music, was deeply distracting. There was Neil telling us fascinating things about Goethe and behind him was Beethoven's magnificent Egmont Overture and I, loving the Egmont Overture, couldn't stop myself from being distracted by Beethoven. Who to listen to, Neil MacGregor or Beethoven? Move onto the 19th Century and Neil's eloquent words were battling for my attention with Wagner's anvil-banging dwarves (from Das Rheingold), music that always rivets me and sends a metallic shiver down my spine. Neil didn't always win. 

I held back from moaning about that here because it seemed so trivial at the time next to the splendours of Neil MacGregor's series. But there you go. It's off my chest now. I can sleep again. 

Going back to Broadcasting House, the paper review featured Bunny Guinness (Gardener's Question Time/Daily Telegraph), Chris Neill (Radio 4 comedian) and Krishnan Guru-Murthy (Channel Hamas News). They didn't like the changes on The Archers (and all of them appeared to be absolute devotees, strangely). Krishnan said he couldn't say "cock" on Radio 4, while talking about Penny the potty-mouthed Tory. Then it was onto Chris and potty-mouthed David Mellor, the second naughty Tory story in a row. More mockery of the Tories followed. Radio 4 comedian Chris Neill stood up for Emily Thornberry, after she was mentioned, and no one disagreed. Then it was onto the Turner Prize, and the usual stuff thereon - which is always fun. Chris (pretended) said he liked that kind of thing. Krishnan and Bunny said they love Banksy (naturally). Krishnan stood up for Gordon Brown before moving onto fitness bands. Chris then talked about eating out on Christmas Day (the selfish b**tards), and everyone agreed it was wrong (as do I), and then the two (PC) men fretted about separate things for boys and girls (as such people tend to fret about). Bunny, private school parents, and their "so bad" obsession with their children succeeding (boo!) followed, and Krishnan agreed there was "something odd" about private schools at the moment (it's being taken over by oligarchs and the super-rich). They then talked poinsettias.  

Merry Advent!

Well, that's my excuse. What's Hugh's?

At the risk of sounding obsessive - which is something no blogger has ever been accused of before - our old friend Hugh Sykes, even before I started reading blogs about BBC bias, has always struck me as the dictionary definition of a BBC reporter - a highly intelligent, brilliantly-gifted reporter working for the impartial BBC whose less-than-neutral views, whilst reporting, have hardly ever been disguised, despite carrying the brand mark of BBC objectivity. 

For me he was the voice of the BBC during the Iraq War, always working to criticise the war and berate Western foreign policy. 

Hugh Sykes was always my 'main man' in that respect. 

That's way I am so struck by his oddly unbuttoned behaviour on Twitter. It's as if the whole BBC has been granted the licence, informally, to let off steam and speak its mind. For me, it's like hearing 'The entire BBC Mindset' sounding off, and it's fascinating. 

Maybe this blog should now just stick to spotlighting Hugh's tweets as the final conclusive proof of BBC bias, #likeshootingfishinabarrel. Or maybe it should just - case closed - have done with Hugh's tweets forever, #qed.

Anyhow, our man today, following on from his earlier anti-UKIP retweets, has posted/retweeted (among various more trivial things): 
  • a sad picture from Gaza
  • an anti-regime tweet from Syria
  • criticisms of the verdict on Hosni Mubarak
  • a dig at the UK's ambassador to Egypt over the Mubarak verdict 
  • a swipe at an "intemperate" Republican for being mean to the Obamas other words, many of the expected points of view (from my perspective) of the BBC as a whole, #BBCMacPherson, #institutionalBBCbias

The other thing about Hugh Sykes is that - as a result of years of listening to him and, recently, following his tweets - I've grown to like him, so all this Hugh-bashing is sitting somewhat uncomfortably with me.

He may be a biased BBC reporter/tweeter but he's a rounded, likable human being too, #moraldilemma, #lastwordabouthugh?

An anti-Thatcherite 'Point of View'

Pessimistic philosopher John Gray is a fascinating intellectual figure and Radio 4 can count themselves lucky to have him as one of their A Point of View presenters but, thinking in terms of BBC bias, Radio 4's A Point of View has long been a clear-cut, open-and-shut case of BBC left-wing bias. 

I've expounded several times before about the programme's blatant bias (see the link to A Point of View on the right), with its hordes of left-wing presenters and one solitary, lonely, belated right-wing exception (Roger Scruton), but, among that crowd, John Gray has always stood out as someone a bit different - an anti-capitalist, pro-environmentalist, anti-EU maverick who started out as a Thatcherite, turned Blairite, and then went semi-#Occupyish-before-the-letter. Right wing? Left wing? 

His latest A Point of View spent a good deal of its time denouncing free-market Thatcherite ideology, though - interestingly - he gave the good lady herself some credit for being a pragmatist. 

Overall, most of it would have been music to the ears of many a left-leaning Radio 4 type. So it's no wonder, probably, that Radio 4 added him to their A Point of View cast list...

...and, thus, poor Roger Scruton remains alone as A Point of View's only right-winger in the village. And even he's an anti-Thatcherite kind of conservative.

To quote Twitter, "#bbcbias". 

James Harding, Putin and Nick Cohen

Partly for the sake of provocation  - and I mostly mean for the sake of recording my own feelings of provocation on reading the piece - and, also, just because it's him, please take a read of Nick Cohen's denunciation of BBC Director of News James Harding at Standpoint and its less-obviously-left-wing follow-up at the Spectator

It poses some serious questions about Mr Harding's past record [the then-Times man's passing over the expenses scandal] and present BBC directorship, alleging cronyism - the kind of potentially devastating charges that the BBC boss ought to be compelled to answer - but there's so much in Nick's piece that strikes me as wildly off-key (a polite way of saying "wrong") that I'd be glad of a second opinion. I'm having trouble sorting out the insights from the blind spots. 

Another Miscellany for Advent Sunday (afternoon)

What did we learn, bias-wise, from the previous post then?

That Evan Davis may have been pushing his pro-EU bias at us on Newsnight, that Andrew Marr's show was pretty much OK, that Radio 4's Sunday was its usual liberal-biased self, and that Hugh Sykes still doesn't like UKIP (and ain't afraid to show it on Twitter)... other words, biases (where found) from the usual, expected direction. 


It's not always like that though (and I refuse to be the sort of blogger who refuses to admit that). 

Take today's The World This Weekend with Mark Mardell, which rather surprisingly (well, it surprised me) focused on the severity of the UK's budget deficit. 

It asked election candidates from the two main parties - and their think tank counterparts (from the centre-left IPPR and centre-right CPS, both properly labelled) - to spell out their thinking on how the next government should reduce the deficit.

On a day when the big political news is that George Osborne is trying to outbid his political rivals over extra NHS spending, focusing on our national indebtedness and how drastic the steps required to tackle it are going to have to be, this isn't the sort of thing I expect from the BBC. 

The programme, incidentally, made use of the FT's deficit calculator and its editor, Nick Sutton, has asked us to give it a go too. So I have done, and all Radio 4 listeners and Is the BBC biased? readers should too.

It's eye-opening. No wonder the politicians interviewed didn't get anywhere near the target. They wouldn't dare spell out just what needs to be done. I, not needing any votes, cut everything, except defence (how right-wing of me!), and still didn't get there. (Must try harder next time).


George's extra (vote-buying) NHS spending pledges, incidentally, formed the main subject of last night's extended paper review on Radio 5 Live's Stephen Nolan show, hosted by (Peter Allen) Stephen Nolan and, unusually for a BBC programme, one of the guests spoke from a non-pro-NHS position. 

This programme isn't something I normally listen to but I'd read (at Biased BBC) that Biased BBC/A Tangled Web editor [and non-NHS fan] David Vance provided good value on it so thought it might be fun to listen to. [It comes in the last hour, if you've clicked on the link above].

It was fun. And he did

It wasn't the kind of debate you get on Radio 4. After a brief appearance from a David at the Sun on Sunday, David Vance and another David from the Daily Mirror locked horns, and Biased BBC's David came out on top - even reducing the Mirror's David to stunned silence at one stage (following by a Damascene acceptance by the Mirror man of his unquestionably fair but somehow-rarely-heard-on-the-BBC point). 

And (David No...) Stephen Nolan got his horn stuck in too from time to time, occasionally trying to gore David Vance. 

Now, I know DV and SN go back a while (Radio Ulster, and all that), but from what I've heard of their encounters before, Stephen always seems to go for him more than his left-wing opponents. SN tried a particularly sharp move here, trying to entrap his guest with suggestions of snobbishness or racism (I'm not sure which as DV deftly batted it away before he could spell it out). Far be it from me to step into their relationship, but that suggests possible left-wing bias to me on the part of the BBC host. 

I do like paper reviews, especially when the reviewers come from different perspectives. 


Returning to The World This Weekend...

After a depressing report (and interview) on the present situation in Afghanistan, where (pace the BBC) Islam and violence in no way go together, the Islamist Taliban has embarked on yet another intense killing spree, the programme lightened up and took us to the UK's very first Jewish Comedy Festival...

...where were found such jokes as:
I went home the other night, found my best friend in bed with my wife. I said, 'Lenny, I have to. But you?' (Saul Bernstein)
I'm a reform Jew, which means I go to synagogue twice a year: Yom Kippur and Christmas. (Josh Howie)
Another comedian, Raymond Simonson, made a couple of important points:
One of the biggest differences between the Jewish community here and in the United States is in our size. We're under half a percent of the population in the UK, 275,000 Jews. There are five and a half million of us in America. So Jewish comedy there, the Jewish community there, out, loud and confident, and  the Jewish community here have been quite quiet, kept their heads down.
I think whenever there's a time where anti-Semitism has been on the rise - and this summer there was the highest ever levels of recorded anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, so the Jewish community shrink further down - so what we're saying is, no, we're going to stick out heads further above the parapet and we're going to have people - Jewish, non-Jewish - laughing with us. That's so important.
And the best of luck to them.

And well done to The World This Weekend for broadcasting that.

And if you click on the link to the programme you'll also find two bonus jokes.

Miscellany for Advent Sunday

This week's Newswatch had Evan Davis on to answer questions about his interviewing technique following complaints from viewers about his interruption-strewn interview with Owen Paterson MP (and Emily Maitlis's just-as-interruption-strewn interview with Sir Malcolm Rifkind), which we discussed here on Thursday

Evan put in a larger-than-life performance, being himself, and Samira Ahmed was clearly charmed. 

He conceded that he'd interrupted a couple of times too often but stood by his performance overall, saying that Mr Paterson had been given a long time to give his first answer and, thus, been allowed to make his case. 

Samira, however, had read to him a viewer's comment that didn't just complain about all the interrupting. It also complained that Evan Davis had been over-keen to put his own point of view across. That's something also remarked on by us (the bit where he tried to get Mr Paterson to say that the EU isn't over-regulatory and undemocratic). Evan 'forgot' to answer that bit of the complaint.


Samira then literally brought down the curtain on the programme by reading out a few more of Newswatch viewers' least favourite cliches. 

People are literally sick to death of inappropriate uses of the word 'literally', among other things. 

Well, my bugbear (besides politicians accusing each other of rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic) is the way more and more people, especially scientists (for some reason), are beginning their answers to questions with the word 'so'. It's spreading like a plague of anchovies. So annoying. 

Well, at least they don't overuse the word 'well' at the start of sentences - unlike certain people I can mention. Namely me. 


Today's Andrew Marr Show balanced Tories and Labour people well. 

The main political interviews were George Osborne and Ed Balls. I laughed at Andy Marr telling Ed Balls that he would be unpopular if he became chancellor after the next election because of all the cuts/tax rises that would have to be brought in to tackle the deficit and adding, cheekily, "even more unpopular than you are now" [I'm quoting from memory there], and then taunting him about George Osborne having shot his fox over the NHS spending pledge. 

The other example of the show balancing Tories and Labour people well came during the press review. 

The Tory guest praised Mr Osborne's political skills over the NHS spending pledge but queried the move (given that both the deficit and national debt are still going up), stood up for an English parliament and denounced Labour's calls for English regionalism, defended a Tory MP and then stood up for an ex-Tory MP.

The Labour guest questioned the UK's economic recovery and raised the cost of living crisis, argued against an English parliament and echoed Labour's proposals for northern councils to have powers instead, flagged up a piece by Will Hutton, heaped more pressure on a Tory MP and then further undermined an ex-Tory MP.

The Tory guest was Iain Dale. The Labour guest, it wasn't a Labour guest after all, sorry. It was the former BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders. My mistake.

Actually, that's a little unfair on her. Her take on the UK economy was pretty balanced, in in all. Her take on matters constitutional much less so.


This morning's Sunday on Radio 4 talked about the visit of Pope Francis to Turkey. Caroline Wyatt did her BBC duty and (twice) compared his skills favourably to that of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. As I knew she would in advance (it's de rigeur for Sunday) she mentioned that Benedict got into a spot of bother just before his visit to Turkey by appearing to connect Islam with violence. As we all know, the two things are in no way connected - as we can see in the news every day. I'd have preferred much more of a focus on some of the eye-poppingly nutty things the Turkish president Erdogan has been saying in recent weeks about women and the wickedness of the West. 

There was a focus on the churches' involvement in fighting HIV/Aids, especially in connection to "Black African men and women" (as the Sunday website puts it, curiously using a capital 'b' throughout for 'Black'), plus a bit about religion in The Simpsons. There was an interview with Bishop Larry Jones from St Louis about the Ferguson riots, where the underlying assumption that the grand jury got it wrong and that it's all about racism wasn't challenged. There was a football-related, WW1-related bit about a new version of Silent Night (presumably the programme's bit to mark Advent Sunday). There was something about Catholic-Orthodox relations in light of the Pope's meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople (yes, as far as the Orthodox Church is concerned, it's Constantinople not Istanbul, it's Constantinople not Istanbul...)...

...and there was a discussion about the place of religion in public life with two people from a high-powered commission - namely a couple of Sunday regulars, humanist Andrew Copson and interfaith thinker Ed Kessler. Ed Kessler founded the Woolf Institute, the body behind the commission dedicated to the study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims". (Poor old Sikhs and Hindus!) The man heading the commission, Thought for the Day's Lord Harries (the former Bishop of Oxford), recently hit the headlines by saying that the Koran should be read at the coronation of Prince Charles - though that wasn't discussed here. Conservative religious voices were absent too. 

Ah, I feel all liberal and vaguely religious now for some reason...


Hmm, what's good old Hugh Sykes up to on Twitter, that "endless stream of drivel" (as Damian Lewis put it on Desert Island Discs)? Anything impartial? 

Oh, look! He's retweeted a Haaretz writter attacking UKIP and Mehdi Hasan attacking UKIP. He's clearly still not exactly warming to UKIP, is he?
Oh Hugh!


Advent 1955
by John Betjeman

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound -
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out 'Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.'

And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They'd sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.

We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell'd go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
'The time draws near the birth of Christ'.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.


And, as blogs often seem to have out-of-the-blue music features, here's a favourite piece of mine that - doubtless peculiarly to me - seems to reflect the spirit of Advent:

Saturday 29 November 2014

Peter Allen and former prime ministerial reputations

Hip, hip, hooray! (according to YouGov)

Here's a recent comment from Biased BBC (the blog not the broadcaster):
Will all end in tears
Have a listen to Peter Allen on Five Live (01:46.30)
The item is about whether or not an award should be withdrawn from Labour’s Tony Blair because of his involvement in the invasion of Iraq.
But note how easily Allen turns it into an anti-Thatcher piece.
All to do with Blair. Flip all to do with Thatcher. But not on the biased BBC.
Been said before, will be said many, many, many times again – there is not even an effort to disguise the bias nowadays.
The discussion in question was a rather confrontational one between former Tony Blair advisor Matthew Doyle and the Stop the War Coalition's Chris Nineham. Peter Allen, perhaps seeking to calm things down, decided to reach for potential common ground. He asked Matthew Doyle this:
Something which you might agree a bit more is the way his legacy is know, by and large, when you say "Tony Blair" you don't get cheers any more. Like when you say "Lady Thatcher" you used to get cheers, you certainly don't any more. What happens, Matthew? What happens between power and afterwards that we in the end...people become...I know you might say it's all about Iraq...I wonder whether it's a symptom of the years going by. We turn on those who were esteemed to be responsible for the way the world is. What goes on? 
He then asked Chris Nineham this:
Yeah, what about this....whatever happens to people's reputations, Chris?  I mean, I know you feel very strongly about Tony Blair. You probably feel equally strongly about the late Lady Thatcher, negatively as well, I guess. But do we have a tendency in this country to rubbish those who lead us?
Now, is it true that Lady Thatcher's reputation has fallen in the same way as Tony Blair's? Her reputation was always fiercely contested but I don't think it's sunk in the way Peter Allen assumes; indeed, the most recent YouGov polling (from December 2013) shows her reputation still soaring way above other recent former UK prime ministers.

48% of people consider her to have been a "great" or "good" prime minister, compared to 30% who think of her as a "poor" or "terrible" prime minister. 

Tony Blair fares far less well, with 34% believing him to have been a "great" or "good" prime minister  compared to 37% who think him a "poor" or "terrible" prime minister. 

Still, at least Tony Blair fares better than Sir John Major - only 18% believing him to have been a "great" or "good" prime minister as against 31% who think him a "poor" or "terrible" prime minister.

And Sir John fares better in turn than Gordon Brown - a mere 12% of people believing him to have been a "great" or "good" prime minister as against 59% who think him a "poor" or "terrible" prime minister.

In fact, come to think of it, when you consider the sheer scale of opprobrium felt towards Lady Thatcher throughout her years in power, and the sense of fatigue among many of her erstwhile supporters in the run-up to her downfall, it might credibly be claimed that - uniquely - she has disproved Peter Allen's point by becoming more "cheered" after losing power than she was when she was actually in power.

Here endeth the history lesson.

Clearing up the BBC's guidelines on Twitter

Following on from earlier posts...

Well, one concern - especially in the light of many BBC reporters' frequent one-sided "retweeting" of non-BBC peoples' highly biased tweets (Jon Donnison's constant retweeting of articles critical of Israel, for example whilst never retweeting any pro-Israel articles, unless he's mocking them) - is that such one-sided "retweeting" might damage the BBC's 'reputation for impartiality'.

The BBC reporter's 'get out clause' is the familiar
RTs, #Tags not endorsements
(or variants thereon) written into their potted Twitter biographies.

But what do the BBC guidelines actually say about that?:
You may wish to consider forwarding or "retweeting" a selection of a person's microblog entries/posts or "tweets". This is very unlikely to be a problem when you are "retweeting" a colleague's BBC "tweet" or a BBC headline. But in some cases, you will need to consider the risk that "retweeting" of third party content by the BBC may appear to be an endorsement of the original author's point of view.
It may not be enough to write on your BBC microblog's biography page that "retweeting" does not signify endorsement, particularly if the views expressed are about politics or a matter of controversial public policy. Instead you should consider adding your own comment to the "tweet" you have selected, making it clear why you are forwarding it and where you are speaking in your own voice and where you are quoting someone else's.
So, if, say (picking a BBC reporter out at random!), Jon Donnison's most recent retweets and tags to third party sites on matters of politics and controversial public policy retweet or quote (without an impartial framing comment from the BBC reporter) follow this pattern:

it may not actually be enough just to write RTs, #Tags not endorsements underneath your avatar. The BBC reporter needs to also take active steps to avoid giving the impression that he or she is endorsing those quotes and retweets (steps which Jon Donnison most certainly hasn't been taking here). 

But what of Hugh Sykes and his "But I am scrupulously objective when reporting - unlike some of my Tweets! I obey: "Hang up your opinions with your coat"" defence?

Are reporters like Hugh allowed to say whatever they like on Twitter, despite identifying themselves as BBC reporters in their biographies, just as long as their TV, radio and online reports are scrupulously objective? 

The BBC editorial guidelines say quite simply:
A successful BBC microblog is likely to be personal in tone but it must not contain any personal views which would damage the BBC's reputation, for example over impartiality.
To me that sounds like a straightforward "no". Doesn't it to you? 

The idea of the Westminster elite and the Establishment being out of touch is blown apart by 'Today'

At the risk of sounding like a right-wing Citizen Smith...

The closing discussion on this morning's Today discussed whether politicians are out of touch with the public with Matthew Parris of the Times and Michael White of the Guardian, two doughty defenders of the Westminster elite. 

The balance here (besides one leaning rightwards and the other leaning leftwards) was in setting someone who defends the Westminster elite 100% and says that it's the public that's out of touch and someone who thinks the other goes a bit too far and, himself, only defends the Westminster elite a mere 90% of the way.  

Mishal Husain introduced Matthew by saying he "used to be one of them" (given her rather tight-laced sense of humour I don't think she meant that as a double entendre) but Matthew, as far as I can see, still is "one of them". And so is Michael, despite being a Guardian tribune, saying that the Andrew Mitchell verdict this week "blew apart" "the idea of the Westminster elite and the Establishment and the unaccountable." (Did it really though, given that Mr Mitchell had been immediately dropped like a stone by that very elite when the story first broke in 2012? And aren't judges part of the Establishment?)

It was all good fun (they got to talk Lloyd George and Churchill), but a third journalist - one with a distaste for 'the present lot' of politicians - would have been welcome.

Power to the people!

Did Duncan Weldon misspeak on 'Newsnight'?

Did you spot what former-TUC-chief-economist-turned-Newsnight-economics correspondent Duncan Weldon did last night? 

Discussing David Cameron's latest immigration speech with Kirsty Wark, Duncan prefaced his analysis with these words:
Before we look at the detail though it is worth remembering, you know, immigration in general, European immigration, is not a drain on the public finances. In general migrants contribute more than they take out.
Now, that's a potentially misleading way of putting it, isn't it? I took him to mean that all immigration, including EU immigration, is not a drain on the public finances and reacting with surprise to what he'd said. 

His sentence structure made that a reasonable reaction, don't you think? 

So was he referring to all immigration or just to European immigration? - because "immigration in general" is not the same as "European immigration" and by concluding "in general migrants contribute more than they take out", Duncan risked misleading viewers into believe that immigration as a whole benefits the UK economy, which it doesn't.

The idea that immigration as a whole benefits the UK was only the BBC's spin on the recent findings about immigration. A recent, controversial UCL report found that, yes, EU migration does indeed benefit the UK economy but that non-EU migration is a huge drain on it. 

Specifically, those findings were that EU immigrants boosted Britain's finances by £4.4bn in 17 years but that those from outside the EU cost us £118bn. [If you recall, the BBC massively played down the latter figure - unlike most other media outlets].

An edition of Radio 4's More or Less also made this clear. It analysed an earlier version of the UCL report and found that claims that immigration as a whole benefit the UK economy massively are untrue and that there is probably a negative overall effect thanks to non-EU immigration. It found that European immigrants make a positive contribution of £6,000 to the public purse while non-European immigrants make a negative contribution of £21,000 to the public purse. Its conclusion was that immigrants as a whole make a negative contribution of £14,000 to the public purse. 

So did Duncan Weldon "misspeak" with his repeated "in generals", and in fact mean only EU immigration (as per his sub-clause)? Or did he elide the two things intentionally?

P.S. It has to be added that the UCL reports findings about the positive economic effects of EU immigration were strongly contested by Migration Watch among others and that its chief author was accused of pro-EU bias. It seems that Duncan Weldon - like the rest of the BBC - just accepted them.

Totally like Bishop Baines

Just a reminder - as I've not mentioned it for some time - that Today's platitudinous religious spot Thought for the Day is still being deliciously parodied by TFTD Abridged, whose mission statement reads as follows:
Every day the BBC's flagship news programme Today is interrupted by a couple of minutes of religious moralising. I can get it down to 140 characters or less. 
Today's abridgement has not yet been posted but while we fans of TFTD Abridged are waiting with baited breath, here's a sample of our hero's work from this very week.

That nice bishop Nick Baines did Monday's Thought for the Day:
That nice Christian writer Rhidian Brook did Tuesday's Thought for the Day:
That nice university chancellor Francis Campbell did Wednesday's Thought for the Day:
That nice reverend doctor Michael Banner did Thursday's Thought for the Day:
That nice Muslim professor Mona Siddiqui did Friday's Thought for the Day:

Sadly none of these nice, wise people follow TFTD Abridged on Twitter. To their great credit, however, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Anne Atkins, Vicky Beeching and Rob Marshall do.  

And so does Sarah Montague, which is like totally surprising.

The 'Today' Christmas guest editors 2014

Waking up this morning, the fifth most important story in the world - according to the BBC News website - was Lenny Henry to guest edit R4's Today

I'm guessing that someone important must have already noticed that this might be seen as naval-gazing and inappropriate (given all the more important news stories around this morning) so, in the last hour, the story has plummeted to 12th place. 

Still, the angle the BBC News website chose in reporting the story is interesting. Its focus, via that headline, is on Lenny Henry - the famous comedian who hit the headlines recently with his complaints about the BBC's treatment of black people. 

The more high-minded Independent, in contrast, takes the intellectual high road and goes with "John Bercow joins Lady Butler-Sloss and Lenny Henry as Today programme guest editors", as does the Telegraph which places its cast-list in the following order: John Bercow, Mervyn King, Lenny Henry, Tracey Thorn and Baroness Butler Sloss.

Is this an example of the BBC dumbing-down by pushing the famous celebrity among the Today Christmas guest editor list? Or is it the BBC prioritising the race angle - like the Guardian, whose headline is Lenny Henry to explore racial diversity as guest editor of Today programme?

...and, of course, much the same question may be asked of Today editor Jamie Angus for choosing Lenny in the first place.

John Bercow is going to focus on democracy and tennis, talking to Aung San Suu Kyi and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. He'll also get to interview his hero Roger Federer.

Lord King is going to go back to his old school, commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and debate whether German footballers are cleverer than their English counterparts.

Lady Butler Sloss will focus on the status of Gibraltar, the public's “misunderstanding” of the countryside, and look at the stresses and strains of being a parish priest.

Lenny Henry will, in the Telegraph's words, "investigate diversity in broadcasting, business and sport, as well as interviewing individuals who helped to break down racial barriers a generation ago."

Tracey Thorn, of Everything But The Girl fame, will, also  in the Telegraph's words, "pay homage to Kate Bush and examine how the internet can be a force for good for teenagers".

Bias-wise, what can we say? 

No much, I suppose, except that there's a clear pro-establishment bias there in that three of the guests are pillars of the British establishment: The Speaker of the House of Commons, a former Governor of the Bank of England and a former President of the High Court Family Division. 

Politically, Lenny Henry was a famous Labour luvvie from the days of Red Wedge in the '80's and was well into the Blair years. Is he still one? Tracey Thorn certainly is, and she's always banging on about how the 1980s are being misrepresented by the Tory establishment and how it should be remembered as the era of Red Wedge, so I predict that topic will also feature on her edition of the show. Former Tory MP-turned-Speaker John Bercow is famously impartial [ahem, sarcasm alert!], just as impartial as the BBC in fact (and, some think, in the same leftwards direction). Mervyn King is also considered impartial, though Labour appears to have long considered him to have Conservative leanings. Lady Butler Sloss stood for the Conservatives 55 years ago, but whether that makes her a Conservative now is another matter, particularly as she sits as a crossbencher in the House of Lords. So, that's all as clear as mud. 

No scientists, of course. Of course.

The guests and the topics they are apparently going to focus on aren't exactly ones that are setting my pulse racing. It's a safer selection than previous years. The word "worthy" springs to mind.

Friday 28 November 2014

I obey: "Hang up your opinions with your coat"

Hugh Sykes, the absolute epitome of BBC impartiality

Though technically it should have been awarded yesterday's prize for 'Impartial BBC Tweet of the Day', a subsequent tweet from BBC legend Hugh Sykes is so obviously impartial that it must receive a prize all to itself. 

So, step forward again Hugh, and congratulations! Your commitment to disproving claims of left-wing BBC bias is truly second-to-none:

Now, the extent to which a BBC reporter who advertises his BBC status on his Twitter feed remains a debatable matter on blogs like this.

Despite the embarrassment Biased BBC's DB has inflicted on the BBC over the partisan, left-wing tweets of innumerable BBC staff, twice prompting BBC Newsroom heads (Helen Boaden and Mary Hockaday) to send out panicky emails to BBC employees warning them against embarrassing the BBC by appearing biased, there's clearly still a feeling among certain BBC reporters that Twitter is something different.

Step forward again Hugh Sykes and this telling exchange with DB from last year [which, due to a formatting error caused by something I can't get my head round - and Biased BBC seemingly being down at the moment - I'll have to transcribe]:

HughSykes ‏@HughSykes  23 Jan 2013
#Europe #Cameron Serious danger that this 'act of self-isolation' will start draining investment from #UK: #CharlesKupchan @CFR #BBCWorld

DB ‏@4d2b  23 Jan 2013
@HughSykes Serious danger that the EU elite suck up ever more power and we the people never get it back.

HughSykes ‏@HughSykes  23 Jan 2013
@4d2b  #Churchill, 1948: "We must aim at nothing less than the union of Europe (with) some sacrifice or merger of national sovereignty."

DB ‏@4d2b  23 Jan 2013
@HughSykes It does amuse when lefties pick quotes from the likes of Churchill or Reagan when it suits, as if it wins the argument.

HughSykes ‏@HughSykes 24 Jan 2013
@4d2b #EU faulty but only rats leave ships, & interesting tht Churchill had European vision. 'It's peace, stupid' as #Clinton might hv said

DB ‏@4d2b  26 Jan 2013
@HughSykes "rats" eh? I trust the BBC will be keeping you far away from any coverage of an EU referendum if it ever happens.

DB ‏@4d2b  26 Jan 2013
@HughSykes "only rats leave ships" - or people who want to survive and thrive.

HughSykes ‏@HughSykes  26 Jan 2013
@4d2b Yes, Big If. But I am scrupulously objective when reporting - unlike some of my Tweets! I obey: "Hang up your opinions with your coat"

Whether the reporting of Hugh 'The West is always to blame' Sykes' really is "scrupulously objective" is even more open to debate.

Bias by omission?

You don't have to be a Conservative or a woman to appreciate Kathy Gyngell's latest article at Conservative Woman: We need a road map on how to quit the EU. Don’t expect head-in-the-sand BBC to help.

Kathy wonders why the news of the huge shortfall in EU spending of £259 billion, to which Britain might be asked to contribute some £34 billion, will have come as a surprise to most people. She blames the BBC.

And I think she's right to say that the BBC failed to forewarn the British public about the hole in the EU budget and, more generally, that the BBC has long underplayed the negative effects of EU membership. As for this "financial catastrophe in the making",
They kept the British public in the dark by virtue of that BBC default - bias by omission.
You can either put their indifference down to their being part of a liberal metropolitan conspiracy whose main concern was to avoid reporting the encroaching powers of Europe.  Heaven forfend that they should thereby antagonise the public and made them more Eurosceptic than already.
Or you can accept the BBC’s own excuse (on the rare occasions that they have ‘fessed up’) that much of what takes place in Brussels and Strasbourg is complex and boring and the British public don’t want to know - the lazy excuse of an organisation that had weakened its own raison d’etre by its continuous dumbing down, as the Daily Mail's Stephen Glover once put it.
She cites other examples of the BBC's failure to "educate and inform" over the issue too, but this specific example is an interesting one to stick with... 

It's always unwise to baldly state that the BBC hasn't reported something, but it often has, somewhere, and you just haven't spotted. That said, I haven't seen or heard anything about this on the BBC - which, given that it sounds like a major story, ought to be surprising. 

Have any of you seen or heard much - or, for that matter, anything - on the BBC about this astonishing revelation from the EU auditors? Have you seen it on discussed on Newsnight? Or heard it debated on Today or PM?  Or read articles and op-eds about it on the BBC News website? Or read blogposts about it by the BBC's Europe editor Gavin Hewitt? Or seen tweets about it from Hugh Sykes?

In other words, is Kathy Gyngell's BBC "bias by omission" over the EU's failings on display again?

Thursday 27 November 2014

Huey Sykes and the News

And the award for 'Impartial BBC Tweet of the Day' today goes to...

...drum roll please...

Mr. Hugh Sykes. (Applause).

Andrew Mitchell, plebs, the police, the BBC...

Keeping with stream-of-consciousness, a blog that monitors BBC bias should be able to 'live blog' some 'breaking news'.

I've just returned to my computer to find that an important(ish) news wave is breaking on the shoreline and various media surfers are likely to be riding it, so how is it being covered?...

I've clicked first onto the Sky News website. Its lead story is:
The judge at the former chief whip's libel trial says events "do not reflect well" on him and finds his account "inconsistent".
Now, this is a surprise. I thought Andrew Mitchell had pretty much been cleared by Channel 4's Michael Click and that the police had been proved to be lying. It looks as if that's not quite the case - if the sober judge behind today's verdict is to be believed. 

As Sky puts it:
A High Court judge has said he is satisfied former Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell called police officers "plebs".
Mr Justice Mitting said he believed that the Tory MP had lost his temper during an altercation at the main gates of Downing Street in September 2012.
He said he had reached the "firm conclusion" MP for Sutton Coldfield had used the "politically toxic" word during an exchange with PC Toby Roland.
Mr Mitchell, who has been ordered to pay interim costs of £300,000, said he was "bitterly disappointed" to lose the case and said it had been a "miserable two years".
Court sources have told the Press Association the overall costs of Mr Mitchell's claim could be as high as £3m.
Right, time to check the BBC News website. How it it reporting this? More favourably to Mr Mitchell? Less favourably?

Well, it's also the main story there. I'm not surprised by that. 

Intriguingly, however, the BBC's headlining of the story is less emphatic than Sky's, making significantly more use of the word "probably":
Ex-chief whip Andrew Mitchell probably did call police officers "plebs", a High Court judge has said as he rejected a libel case against the Sun.
Hmm, so not as damning as Sky's account. Anyhow, let's continue with the BBC's account:
Mr Justice Mitting called the Tory MP's behaviour "childish" and said he found the MP's version of events inconsistent with CCTV footage of the row with PC Toby Rowland in Downing Street in 2012.
Mr Mitchell, who may face costs of £2m, said he was "bitterly disappointed".
PC Rowland said he and his family had been through "indescribable pain".
"I am delighted to hear again my innocence, my reputation and my integrity as a police officer has been recognised. I hope now that a line can be drawn and everyone can be left in peace," he added.he rejected a libel case against the Sun.
Neither account looks good for Mr Mitchell, though Sky's take is clearly the harsher. What's going on?

Sky is part of the Murdoch Empire, as is the Sun who Mr Mitchell was going after in this libel case. Could that account for Sky's extra harshness?

What else are the BBC and Sky up to? Well, the Sky website is also 'live-blogging' the reaction to the verdict. The BBC also has a Timeline, a profile of Andrew Mitchell, two video reports and an article called Why did the word 'pleb' matter? 

For comparison, what's ITV up to?
Former Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell has been ordered to pay interim costs of £300,000 after he lost his High Court libel action over the "Plebgate" incident.
Hmm, not good for Mr Mitchell either and as the Telegraph is leading with it too (complete with its own timelines) I hardly need look any further.

The BBC News website is certainly not going after Mr Mitchell more than other media sites then, is it? 

People who favour Mr Mitchell over the police will doubtless do bitterly unto Mr Justice Mitting what the grievance-mongers around Ferguson did unto the grand jury in the Michael Brown case by 'knowing' better than those (like Mr Justice Mitting) who sat through all the evidence (on the grounds that things 'stand to reason', and that we 'know this' and we 'know that', etc), and those who (at least in this circumstance) favour the police over Mr Mitchell will doubtless be shamelessly gloating at the ex-Tory minister's humiliation and finding the judge's verdict highly congenial. Such is the way of things, and it has absolutely nothing to do with questions of BBC bias. 

If you spot anything biased (media-wise) as this story develops, please feel free to point it out below.

'Newsnight' - punch-ups and pulled punches

I haven't watched Newsnight much since Evan Davis replaced Jeremy Paxman and, so, was rather expecting that Ian Katz and Evan Davis would be doggedly persisting with their 'gently, gently' approach to political interviewing. 

Having watched this week's editions so far though, it doesn't look as if they are.

In fact, it's been quite a while since I've heard such a pair of unfriendly, interruption-filled interviews as those between Evan Davis and Conservative MP Owen Paterson on Monday's edition (over Mr Paterson's deeply Eurosceptic proposals) and Emily Maitlis and Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind (over the the latter's parliamentary report into the murder of Lee Rigby) on Tuesday's edition.

The sheer extent of the interruptions provoked smiling bemusement from Mr Paterson and repeated protests to be allowed to finish a single sentence from Sir Malcolm.

The Ian Katz line, widely-promulgated, was that distrustful Paxman-style confrontation was getting viewers nowhere and that politicians and interviewers should try to trust each other more and, thus, give the viewer a better understanding of the story rather than just engaging in mutually-destructive theatrical (political) entertainment. 

Here it was back to mutually-destructive theatrical (political) entertainment.

What to make of them though? Well, I will admit to having been left rather bewildered by both interviews.

Besides superficial things like Evan's sprawling gestures and grey suit (a thin version of Alexei Sayle's old suit) and Emily's fetching leather trousers, all I remember from them was Owen Paterson smiling in bemusement at all the interruptions, Sir Malcolm Rifkind smiling wanly as he protested at all the interruptions, Evan Davis trying to undermine Owen Paterson's position, Evan Davis trying to get Owen Paterson to say that the EU isn't the over-regulating, anti-democratic forum that many people think it is, Emily Maitlis trying to undermine Sir Malcolm's position, Emily getting all het up about something or other being farmed out to a private (shudder!) company, and Emily finally seeming to say that she understood Sir Malcolm's point after having spent a good five minutes seemingly chasing her own tail around a line of questioning neither I nor Sir Malcolm could get our heads around. 

Now, that could be a result of my own failings (comprehension-wise, attention-wise), but I'm sufficiently self-deluding to believe myself to be a good listener and I can only repeat that neither interview shed much light for me on what the two politicians were actually trying to say (or the story) and, in this case, I don't believe that that can be blamed on either of the politicians.

The interviewers were simply too distracting and too full of themselves - and whatever it was they were trying to achieve from their interviews.

Plus, also at the risk of repeating myself, I found myself more aware that Evan was trying to get Owen to undermine a key Eurosceptic argument about the EU and that Emily was trying to shame Sir Malcolm over some private sector company's involvement in something or other than of anything either of the politicians was trying to say.

Our reactions to hearing things, unless we are very focused, tends towards stream-of-consciousness. This is my stream-of-consciousness response to these interviews.

If my bewilderment and vague exasperation is typical, then what did Newsnight achieve here (educationally-speaking)? A sense that Owen Paterson's proposals were fatally flawed and that both Owen and Evan think the EU isn't over-regulatory and undemocratic (which is what Evan appeared to get Owen to admit) and that Sir Malcolm's report is absurd and involves some dodgy private sector activity?

Wednesday night's edition featured two more politicians talking Scottish powers (a fairly famous Conservative ex-cabinet minister and a somewhat-less-famous-(to-put-it-mildly) Labour MSP). Evan was much more Katzian here, giving the Labour MSP a clear run and the Conservative peer a less-interruption-strewn interview. I think we, the viewers, learned more though. [I've not checked Twitter here but having two pro-union guests will doubtless have provoked a Twitterstorm among the cybernats.]

Now, to be fair to Newsnight, Wednesday's edition - and Evan's tweets - suggested great pride on the programme's part that (possibly) the Left's most revered intellectual, the 85-year-old Noam Chomsky, was being given the Evan Davis treatment.

That Newsnight would be as-pleased-as-punch to get an interview with the old man is unsurprising.

What was surprising was how short and tepid the interview was (they'd run out of time and Evan pulled every punch) and, more surprising still, the fact that the interview was preceded by a bunch of English vox pops who pretty much trashed every Chomsky quote they were given by Evan Davis - all of them regarding with pretty-much-unbridled contempt the professor's undeniable implication that they were mindless drones steered by a wicked elite into consumerism, individualism and scepticism about immigration..

...and, to be fair in turn to Noam Chomsky [perhaps the greatest example of a brilliant scientific brain being addled by silly politics], the cunning linguist turned the other cheek and carried on regardless (which is, perhaps, the privilege of being 85).

My stream-of-consciousness dries up at this point. So that's that.