Sunday 19 April 2015

Norman's Wisdom

Norman Smith provided his second piece of Norman's Wisdom on this morning's Broadcasting House - a spot where he highlights one incident from the week that strikes him as particularly significant.
Last week it was Joey Essex not knowing much about politics, something Norman felt was a warning to all hacks and politicos, giving that most people don't live in the Bubble they live in. This week it was the story about the collapsing stage backdrop at UKIP's press conference, signifying how UKIP's vote appears to be collapsing now, given all the pressures and added scrutiny brought by the election.
It will be interesting to hear what Norman's remaining pearls of wisdom tell us.
Norman was back on Broadcasting House again this morning and for the second week running focused, critically, on UKIP (beginning about 35 minutes in). 

Yes, he did also have a wee dig at the SNP whilst, in contrast, presenting Ed Miliband in a positive light - but criticising Nigel Farage and defending the BBC was what this piece was really about. You might begin, therefore, to suspect that Norman Smith has an anti-UKIP bias. 

The whole thing needs transcribing for posterity. We may have lost most of the works of the great pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece, but I for one will be damned if we're going to lose a single scrap of Norman Smith's wisdom today:
Well, as we've been hearing, it's been a week dominated by manifestos but also that TV debate involving the opposition leaders. Most of them, of course, focused on the clash between Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Miliband but, afterwards, I found talking to to politicians really from all of the parties, the one moment...the one moment that caused their jaws to drop was this one: 
  • Nigel Farage: There just seems to be a total lack of comprehension on this panel and, indeed, amongst this audience, which is a remarkable audience even by the left-wing standards of the BBC. I mean, this lot's pretty left-wing, believe me, ...
  • David Dimbleby (interrupting): Hang on a second, hang on a second..
  • Nigel Farage: The real audience is sitting at home actually.
Now, was Norman going to go on (after that edited clip) to wonder whether that very-biased-sounding BBC audience is deeply problematic for the BBC? Or to point out that the politicians from all the other parties, whose jaws dropped, might be wrong in their view of criticisms of Nigel Farage's attack on the audience and the BBC and that he might have a point that the real audience was sitting at home? Er, no...
Now, what left so many seasoned politicians literally shaking their heads in disbelief was that in having a go at the Beeb...worse, having a go at the audience...Nigel Farage broke one of the cardinal rules of modern politics: namely don't moan about the messenger. At least not in public.
It's bad politics. Very, very bad politics. It looks like self-pity, an excuse. a whinge. 
Now at that point you might have expected Norman to entertain the thought that maybe that's what's wrong with mainstream politicians: that they suck up most of the BBC's bias and daren't criticise it...because it's bad form, not the done thing, and that UKIP is different to the rest of them in preparing to point at the Emperor's new clothes and say his bias is showing. But no, it was back to a bit more UKIP-bashing:
Worse, it becomes the story:
  • Chris Hope: Chris Hope, Telegraph. Nigel, you say you've read the document fully. Are you happy that the only black face in the document is in your overseas aid section and, secondly,...
  • (UKIP audience boos and then cheers)
That's UKIP's manifesto launch this week where tempers flared after Nigel Farage was bowled a bit of a googly and his incensed reporters rounded on the Telegraph. Inevitably that moment overshadowed the rest of the coverage of UKIP's manifesto.    
Oh no, it wouldn't do to point out that the booing came from a large contingent of BAME UKIP supporters at the launch ('BAME' is Newspeak for 'Black, Asian and Middle Eastern' - Update: Or is it? Answer: No, it's Newspeak for something else. See the comments below), and that the cheers come from the rest of the UKIP audience supporting their protest. Instead it was onto a wee pop at SNP supporters: 
And, Paddy, if you doubt whether all this really matters very much, remember last years Scottish referendum campaign when scores of any SNP folk descended on the Beeb's Glasgow headquarters to protest at coverage of their campaign - a moment senior figures in the SNP told me had been an utter disaster.  
Really? Well, given how those scores of angry SNP folk [actually numbering in their hundreds, even by the BBC's own account,] are still hopping mad at the BBC and how their cause has, it appears, only gone from strength to strength since their referendum defeat, maybe those "senior figures" were a little premature.

Anyhow, it's not all bad. Most political parties (though not UKIP) have now learned the correct lesson - don't mess with the Beeb - and one politician from one party in particular is showing everyone else the proper way to do it. Who is that great leader?:
Now it this election it seems lessons mostly have been learned.
  • Ed Miliband: Now, we're going to take some questions. I just want to say something in advance of the questions and it's really important that we hear these questions respectfully because it is who were are as a country. So I'm going to turn to our friends from
  • (Labour audience applauds).
The old smoothie! "Our friends from". Yes, Ed. Even so at Labour's manifesto launch this week there was also a minor moment when things didn't quite go according to plan. 
A "minor moment", eh? Unlike the UKIP manifesto launch moment, it seems. Anyway, back to Norman:
  • Ed Miliband: No, no, no, come on, come on, come on. Remember what I said. Seriously, seriously, you know, that is Faisal's job to ask these questions. Let me answer him...Let me answer you directly, Faisal.
So, Paddy, my token and very limited bit of Norman's Wisdom for politicians and the party faithful this week is: however much you may resent, despise, detest even our impertinent questions - or even those from the public - smile, laugh, get on with it, but don't moan.    
...which is all very well, but it doesn't quite relate to the piece's starting point: Nigel Farage and that audience.

If a politician doesn't want to play the BBC's game and sees himself facing an audience that appears to be outrageously biased - and which is behaving in what seems like an outrageously biased way - should that politician just shut up or should he publicly protest about it instead and call out the broadcaster in question?

Plus, why is it fine for a BBC studio audience to register its disapproval (in a biased way) yet completely wrong for the party faithful at a manifesto launch or press conference to register their feelings if they think a journalist's question goes too far? 

The underlying message of Norman Smith's piece today could, perhaps, be summarised as: "Shut up and stop questioning BBC bias, if you know what's good for you".

Actually, I think politicians and the party faithful should call out blatant media bias much more often - as, indeed, should the rest of us. There should be no blank cheques for BBC bias. 

Anyhow, so who's Norman going to have a dig at in the final couple of episodes of Norman's Wisdom? Two unhelpful pieces on UKIP down, two more to go perhaps? 


  1. This is the inevitable result of an atmosphere where the "journalist" feels superior to both the people he's covering and his audience. We've seen Smith and the BBC develop this way for some time.

    Note to Norman Smith: The problem is that the BBC is no longer simply the messenger. It has become the message. Notice that no fuss has been made about how hideously with the Green Party leadership is as presented on their manifesto page.

    It's whiter than a BBC editors meeting, yet the Watermelons are giving a pass because they express all the approved thoughts. And yes, the Telegraph is equally guilty here.

  2. As they used to say at the BBC, that Green manifesto is "hideously white". You're quite right that the BBC doesn't seem to have ever thought (even for a second) about bringing that up with a Green Party spokespersonage.

  3. "Most political parties (though not UKIP) have now learned the correct lesson - don't mess with the Beeb"

    Seems the LibDems may have rather timidly come out for a swing. See how long that lasts.

    I got this far before smiling wanly:

    'that strikes him as particularly significant

    Does he... the BBC... not see just how everything is now shaped by what 'strikes' a very small pool of people with a very big pot of of money and monopoly access to the airwaves?

    What strikes Norm to share, or strikes fear into him not to, goes to the heart of propaganda and/or censorship.

    We have had several DGs and Trust Chairs in recent history basically tell the world... ''back off, or else... we are as untouchable as we are unaccountable".

    That did not... does not play well with me at all.

    So... wisdom, or hubris?

    1. I did gasp at this feature myself.

      It seemed as if Norman was so sure that every right-thinking person (mainstream politician, Radio 4 listener) was bound to chortle along with him (and Paddy) about the utter stupidity of Nigel & Co. for call the BBC on its bias and, thereby, engaging in "very, very bad politics" by shooting the (oh-so-very impartial) messanger.

      No, no one should take on journalists (like Norman) who are merely asking "impertinent questions", and spinning spiders-webs of 'editorial comment' in advance and in the wake of those questions. Oh no.

      This sort of commentary from a senior BBC reporter (albeit such a charming chap as our Norm) doesn't play well with me either.

  4. Good post. Just one point of info: BAME stands for Black And Minority Ethnic. Why Black is singled out from Brown, Yellow, Red and Olive (or White for that matter), and what it means in this context (Tamils can be very Black but they seem to refer to themselves as Black) has never been altogether clear to me. However, that is the accepted acronym.

    1. Whoops! Thank you for that correction. Where on earth did I get the 'Asian and Middle Eastern' bit from? Too many close encounters with BBC tick boxes?


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