Saturday 17 January 2015


While watching this week's Newswatch I was struck by how many times the phrase "the Prophet Muhammad" was used during the programme's first couple of minutes. Samira Ahmed said it twice and so, in a clip from a BBC report, did BBC reporter Hugh Schofield: 
There is, of course, the famous cartoon on the front page of the Prophet Muhammad. On the inside there are no other cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. 
Others have noted this strange and pervasive submission to Muslim sensibilities before. They've sometimes contrasted it with the fact that you never hear a BBC current affairs presenter/reporter using the term "the Lord Jesus Christ" (or even "Jesus Christ") when referring to Jesus. 

When the BBC's Controller of Daily News Programmes, Gavin Allen, appeared, however, he resolutely used the term "Muhammad" (three times). Samira Ahmed then picked up on that and did so herself. 

Hopefully, Mr Allen will make it clear to BBC reporters that once they've established that the Mohammed being referred to is the Muslim prophet Muhammad they ought to refer to Muhammad as "Muhammad", lest they be seen to be advancing a form of Islamic piety. 


Of the viewer emails about showing/not showing the front cover of Charlie Hebdo, Newswatch went straight for the 'we get complaints from both sides' angle. One viewer complained that the BBC was engaged in "abject gutless capitulation to the terrorists" by not showing the image while another complained that the BBC was showing "appalling judgement, given the tensions in our multicultural society" by showing the image. 

Where the balance of those emails lay (50/50? 72/28? 98/2?), who knows? 

The other two viewer emails complained that the BBC was giving too much coverage to the Paris massacres because (1) these "plonkers" (i.e. the jihadi murderers) want publicity and this kind of extensive coverage gives them what they want and (2) because the BBC should have given equal weight to the massacre of huge numbers of people at the hands of Islamists in Nigeria. 

The latter complaint ended with the suggestion that the BBC seems to value European lives over African lives - i.e. implying racism on the BBC's part.


Samira Ahmed did her usual good job, putting decent questions to Gavin Allen. He, of course, maintained that the BBC has got its coverage about right.

His reply on the Nigeria question, therefore, was to deny all charges. His point was that there's a clear difference between the "availability" of news in Paris and in Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is remote and "incredibly dangerous". 

This is a familiar point. It's why the deadliest war since the end of World War Two - the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo was staggeringly under-reported. Usually just a BBC Africa correspondent would be dealing with it. Occasionally, a bigger BBC name would arrive to do a few reports. Rarely, a BBC star reporter would turn up and make a big thing of the story for a day or two. Over 5 million dead, and yet most BBC viewers know little about it.

It's also why conflicts where the news is always "available" and journalists do feel safe - like in Israel and Gaza - get massively disproportionate coverage. This summer's conflict was surely the ultimate example of how hordes of BBC reporters, including the 'big beasts' of BBC broadcasting, rush en masse to a safe conflict. (There were, by my reckoning, getting on for two dozen BBC people shipped in for that.)

It's an imbalance the BBC clearly needs to keep working on - keep safe, but find ways to report the big stories from unsafe conflicts, and get a proper sense of proportion into their coverage of world affairs. 


The programme also touched  on the Till Willcox affair. 

And 'touched on' is the right way of putting it...

It was a short clip, one viewer email criticising Tim Willcox and the BBC's standard reply saying he's apologised, he did nothing wrong and he meant no offence.


Finally, and for no apparent reason other than that they found it funny - oh, yes, and that it's a dig at UKIP...mention of the controversy over the party leader election debates brought a gratuitous clip of the Pub Landlord Al Murray's party election broadcast for FUKP. The Pub Landlord is standing against Nigel Farage, of course.

Maybe a stiff email to Newswatch is in order about that.


  1. "Hopefully, Mr Allen will make it clear to BBC reporters that once they've established that the Mohammed being referred to is the Muslim prophet Muhammad they ought to refer to Muhammad as "Muhammad", lest they been seen to be advancing a form of Islamic piety. "

    I couldn't agree more. The battle against Sharia has to be fought on many fronts. And this is an important one. There is no reason for BBC News to act piously towards Pro-Mo.

    There was a gratuitous snipe at Farage by some nutjob feminist on Radio 4 the other day. More or less simply saying he was ugly. Which is odd, since I didn't think fems were supposed to judge on appearances.

    Oh and the Now show got in a dig about UKIP's policies being crazy and ill thought out (paraphrase).

    I don't object to jokes about politicians but it appears that only UKIP is subjected to this level of "gratuitous" comic assault (not that they are ever very funny really). The jokes always suggest that UKIP is "beyond the Pale" - so it is very much a kind of "you're either with us or against us" gambit. I used to enjoy the Now Show, but don't really any longer. Also, they had a few Paris massacre related jokes which (1) ignored the massacre of Jews and (2) completely avoided any connection with Islam, through a lot of false analogies, including the false analogy that to defend the cartoons is to want to publish them yourself.


    1. I’m glad you mentioned The Now Show. I don’t usually listen to it, but I did today. It almost felt sad that they were trying to be satirical about ‘free speech’ without mentioning the Jews or Muslim antisemitism. In other words there was unintentional satire, or rather irony, because of the unmentionable elephant in the room, throughout.

      They did have a timid go at Islam. A ‘Muslim’, a “Rupert Murdoch’, some clunking repartee, a tale with a moral, all built on a straw-man and a false equivalence. Then they took a soft shot at the Saudi cleric’s fatwa against snowmen.

      It felt sad really. As if they were trying to be funny in the face of adversity. Even though they didn’t know it themselves.

  2. I must admit I didn't hear the whole of the Now Show, but it seems we had broadly similar reactions. As you say, the overall feeling is one of sadness. I guess the real adversity for a comic is being rendered irrelevant. If comics won't take on Islam as a subject directly then they are going to become increasingly irrevelant, but it's influence on our lives is set to grow, not reduce.


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