Saturday 7 February 2015

George Galloway v Question Time

It's not unusual for Question Time to be accused of setting up 'beyond the pale' types for a fall. In the case of Nick Griffin, for example, it would be very hard to persuasively argue that he wasn't set up for a fall - and duly fell.

What is unusual, however, is the apparent light shed by the Respect MP on the behind-the-scenes goings-on at Question Time following his hostile reception on this week's edition.

For starters, he said that David Dimbleby privately apologised to him afterwards (though obviously not that privately, given that Galloway decided to then share it with the world!)

He complained, "It was very poorly chaired by a man I admire but who let himself down immensely."

Even more strikingly (in the Guardian's account):
The controversy centred around a question that one audience member asked about a rise in antisemitism in the UK.
But the question also included a reference to the MP for Bradford West bearing some responsibility for this rise, an inclusion he said that had not been agreed beforehand.
In George Galloway's own words:
It is defamatory and worse and it was not the question that was asked. The question that was tabled and agreed was not the question that was asked.
He added his own words and David Dimbleby should have stopped and re-shot that question, as it’s not a live show.
David Dimbleby apologised to me afterwards for the man adding on that bit, but he should have made it clear to the audience that this trick had been played and not just apologise afterwards.
To accuse a parliamentarian of 27 years of being responsible for a spike in antisemitism is totally ludicrous.
The thing that's caught BBC critics' eyes there is the statement that the question was an "agreed" one, and that something had been added that had taken Galloway by surprise. Given that, pace Wikipedia, the panellists are not supposed to see the questions beforehand, people are wondering, how did Galloway know that? Are they shown the questions beforehand after all?

Unless I'm missing something though, aren't people misreading this (perhaps as a result of the Guardian writer's ambiguous wording)? 

Those direct quotations of Galloway's don't, as far as I can see, mean that he is saying that he (GG) had seen the question in advance. Surely all they mean is that, after the show, he found out what the original question was [doubtless by asking, angrily] and discovered that it didn't include a mention of him and that the questioner had added that bit on later - and that he was angry about it.

Anyhow, George Galloway also 'joined the club' in complaining about the composition of the audience. He said there wasn't a single Muslim in the audience despite there being a lot of Muslims in the borough where the programme was recorded - Finchley.

Well, firstly, how does he know? 

Secondly, however, Finchley has also got a significant Jewish population. The run-up to the programme was dominated, I recall, by pieces in the Mail and Telegraph reporting complaints that the BBC was being deliberately provocative (and insulting) in inviting Galloway to appear in a programme about to be broadcast from the area of the UK with the largest Jewish population - complaints I feel were perfectly justified. 

So, in this respect at least, George Galloway may have a point about a BBC "set-up". It clearly was a set-up - a set-up engineered to generate heat and ratings. Who the intended fall-guy from this set-up was - Galloway or the Jewish population of Finchley - we'll probably never know. I don't think the BBC's motives were honourable here though.

The BBC, of course, thinks it got it about right:
We are satisfied the programme was conducted appropriately and fairly.
Each week Question Time aims to have an audience that reflects the ethnic make-up of the area where we are filming, as well as being politically balanced. 
This week’s audience was no different and included people from a range of different faiths.
Update 8/2: I think we're witnessing the birth of a powerful new meme about BBC bias this weekend - one we'll see endlessly repeated as 'fact' on blogs critical of the BBC in the coming years and which the BBC, in turn, will keep on saying isn't true whenever it's raised.

It's based on what I'm now convinced is people's total misunderstanding of that rather badly-worded Guardian report, described above. 

Over at B-BBC some commenters are now sure it means that (according to GG) the questions on Question Time are agreed with the panelists beforehand and that the BBC is lying when it says [as it always says] they aren't. 

As I wrote above, "An inclusion he [George Galloway] said that had not been agreed beforehand" does not necessarily mean that he [GG] was involved in agreeing with it. It's an ambiguous sentence that can be taken in more than one way, and, as far as I can see, all it means is 'what was "agreed" between the questioner and the QT production team' [which GG subsequently found out about and got angry about afterwards].

If people complain to the BBC about this, the BBC will simply reply that they don't discuss the questions with panelists beforehand and that if GG is saying they do [which he isn't] then he's wrong and, thus, the complaint is not upheld and the complainants complaint will be filed on the BBC log for BBC staff to read and laugh at. And in this case, I think the BBC would be right to do so.


  1. I thought it was refreshing to have a bunch of religious maniacs from a different religion for a change.

    I am looking forward to the Amish featuring prominently next week. :)

  2. If you want a conspiracy theory...

    Assuming the BBC thinks a Labour victory is in its interests, doesn't it need to discredit Respect, in the hope of garnering an extra 1-2% for Labour? Muslims don't like seeing their reps being humiliated by their enemies. From a Muslim perspective, GG was thoroughly humiliated,simply because he had to listen to all that abuse. It's all about winning.

  3. That's a pretty good conspiracy theory given that, in certain seats, it good make a difference for Labour.

  4. Like most bullies, Galloway is just a nasty little coward who can dish it out but can't take it.

    Hector Plasm

  5. When did Galloway write this, and when did the audience member talk to the Jewish Chronicle about adding the bit about Galloway to his question? That would be important to know. We know Dimbleby knows the questions beforehand, and the guests must know some of what the general topics will be, seeing as how many will come prepared with notes.

    If Galloway complained about the question before the audience member's statement went public, then we can assume that the guests - or, at least, Galloway - will have been shown the questions in advance. If he wrote that in reaction to learning of the audience member's admission, then there's no story here.

    We know from the questionnaire, the BBC website, from first-hand accounts of B-BBC commenters on their personal experiences with getting in, and from the show itself that there's a clear bias in the way they prepare and produce the show. I don't know if it makes it worse if they actually do show the questions to the panelists in advance.

  6. I have been in the audience on Question Time (about 20 years ago) . All members of the audience are asked to write down two questions on a piece of paper about half an hour before the recording begins and these are then given to the producers who decide which are the 'best' questions. That would have been when George Galloway was tipped off. If all panellists are given this information I think that would be reasonably fair but if only GG then obviously not.

    Christopher Scopes

  7. The panel don't get questions in advance. But GG might well have been told after recording that the question- as submitted by the audience member, and selected (or "agreed" as GG put it) by the producers - did not include any mention of him personally. The reference to GG personally would have been added by the audience member during the recording.


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