Sunday 31 May 2015

The two Andys

Now that the election is but a distant memory, the Andrew Marr Show and The Sunday Politics have lost their lustre. Both now seem directionless. Andrew Marr tries to generate some vitality by punching the air with his good arm, but it’s no good.

I suppose the Labour leadership is vaguely interesting to Labour voters. As I watched Yvette Cooper a huge amount of indifference and gloom descended. She seemed to be saying a whole lot of words and sentences that had no meaning. 

I was trying to read an article in the Times by Tom Holland (£) at the same time, but I did observe that Yvette has got quite a small head and rather large feet. Imagine being married to Ed Balls.

Tom Holland has decided that Islam could be reformed if only Muslims were willing to take the prophet Mohammed’s life story with a pinch of salt, since it was written many years after the event, and its accuracy could not be guaranteed. If only some of those literal interpretations of Mohammed’s more unsavoury lifestyle choices could be ditched, posited Tom wistfully, Islam might actually become worthy of its claim to be a religion of peace. All you need is love.  It seems a bit of a long shot. Good read though.

Anyway, Andrew Neil, everyone’s favourite interviewer, tenacious, sharp and ferocious, lost both his bark and his bite, dammit, at a most inopportune moment. On interviewing George Galloway he  just went all limp. 

I tried to see if I could spot where Galloway’s hat was, to no avail. Someone must have persuaded him to take it off and maybe leave it out of camera shot, which must have taken some coaxing. “Hats off” to whoever managed that. 
As. You know, Galloway wears the hat at all times including in the bedroom. You saw it when he announced, from the end of the bed through the medium of Twitter, that his next project was to be London Mayor.

For some reason Andrew Neil had turned on the saccharine; he and George chatted away amiably about Lutfur Rahman and other matters of interest.  
“You declared Bradford an Israel-free zone” challenged Andrew, smiling with amusement. “Will you be doing the same for London?” he probed in jest.
“No” his chum replied.  “It would certainly be my aim to encourage support for the Palestinians. London has more supporters of Palestinians than any other part of the country” said he, modestly. “Me and Ken Livingstone are exceedingly fond of the religion of peace” he added, or something to that effect.

I wonder if IS would let him wear the hat, should he decide to travel. They’re sharp dressers As. You know.

A George Galloway joke

After all that, here's a bit of semi-light relief (h/t Nick Cohen's Twitter feed), featuring a certain over-litigious ex-MP:

Is the BBC Trust biased in favour of anti-Israel complainants?

Moving onto the latest batch of Editorial Standards Findings (every complaint and appeal being, as usual, "not upheld")...

Among the published rulings, there's one attacking the BBC for being pro-Israel (p.38) and another for being anti-Israel (p.25) - just the way the BBC seems to like it so they can claim to be 'getting it about right'.

The BBC has thrown both complaints out, but there's a notable difference between their rulings:

The one criticising Jeremy Bowen's reporting (the one where he said “After the attack on the centre for the disabled it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer”) is firmly rejected, while the one quibbling about how Douglas Murray was introduced on Newsnight includes the following emollient passage:
In considering the appeal the Trustees had some sympathy with the complainant’s view. While not agreeing with the complainant that the Henry Jackson Society should have been described as “an extreme pro-Israel organisation”, and considering it to be an organisation which expresses views on a variety of issues, Trustees felt that it was unfortunate that the introduction to the discussion had not included more detail and were not persuaded that most viewers would have been familiar with the work of the Henry Jackson Society. However, they did not consider that this would amount to a breach of editorial standards. Mr Murray’s viewpoint was clear in the interview and so the Guidelines had been complied with. 
I've been reading a fair few of these complaints in recent months and a proper study of the BBC's rulings is needed. (When time permits, I'll put it together). It's my strong impression that the BBC gives more ground - even to the extent of upholding some complaints - to the anti-Israel side. 

Hadar's dogged work at BBC Watch must have detailed scores and scores of examples of the BBC not giving "more detail" about anti-Israel organisations that "most viewers wouldn't have been familiar with" (and some with very dodgy links to extremist organisations). 

Complaints doubtless go into the BBC based on them. I've not seen a single one receive "some sympathy" from the BBC Trustees yet.

Is the BBC Trust biased in favour of anti-Israel complainants?

"An unfortunate coincidence"

The one on the Patagonian episode of Top Gear appears in this month's offerings. 

If you recall, the issue arose because of a confrontation with Argentinian locals arising from the said Argentinians noticing Clarkson and Co's registration plate and not taking a liking to it:

Many saw it as implying '1982 Falklands' and read it as a typically un-PC (and rather funny) Top Gear joke. The Argentinians saw it the same way (though they didn't find it at all funny) and complained...and complained...and complained...

The upper echelons of the BBC's Complaints Tree are experts at crafting po-faced rejections of complaints and complaints appeals (even if they're valid, as many of you are doubtless all too aware), and this one's an absolute gem.

My favourite bits run as follows:
The Head of Editorial Standards, BBC Trust, noted that the Executive had issued, prior to broadcast of the programme, detailed responses explaining that the number plate controversy which occurred during filming in Argentina was the result of an unfortunate coincidence, and the cars were neither chosen for their registration plates, nor were new registration plates substituted for the originals.
To date, there is nothing that we have seen or read since the team returned which supports the view that the number plates in question were deliberately employed, which is in-keeping with what production staff and the presenters have said.
Yes, it was all an unfortunate coincidence (just like the 'I hate Cristina Kirchner' t-shirt I'm wearing as I write this is also an unfortunate coincidence). H982 FKL was a pure accident.

And for once I entirely agree with the BBC bigwigs. 

No apology. Up yours, Cristina!

You Can't Call Me 'Mo'

Among them I spotted someone complaining about having their comment 'moderated' off a BBC thread (on an article by Dominic Casciani entitled Analysis: Can extremism plan work?). 

Here's how the BBC describes what happened:
The complainant had posted several comments on the article. During a thread which was discussing Islamic State (IS), the complainant had posted a reference to a verse from Sahih Bukhari, a collection of sayings and deeds of Prophet Mohammed:
“Check your facts. Islam does allow killing of anyone who ‘offends’ - “ - “Book 53 verse 271. The IS are simply doing what Islam tells them to.”
Another commenter had responded:
“As any Muslim or non-Muslim scholar who studied Islam knows, there are different interpretations of that verse.”
In response to this thread, the complainant had posted a further comment in which he abbreviated the name Mohammed and said he had authorised killing.
This comment by the complainant had been removed by the moderator.
The complainant then duly complained. And this is what happened next:
The Central Communities Team responded on 30 October rejecting the appeal and saying that the comment had been removed because abbreviating the name of the Prophet Mohammed is potentially offensive to some people. They also said that the comment was off topic for the article. 
The complainant took it further, but the BBC was still having none of it:
The Adviser then noted the response from the BBC Social Media Complaints Group which had drawn a distinction between using the abbreviated form of Mohammed and using it to describe others who share the same name and agreed that it:
“…was indeed likely to cause offence to some users of the site and a breach of our House Rules. The suggestion that referring to others who share the name Mohammed in this way would not cause offence was not considered to be a comparable analogy.”
On appeal to the BBC Trust, the trustees agreed with the BBC Social Media Complaints Group:
Trustees considered this was a reasonable interpretation of the House Rules for BBC message boards regarding offensive comments, and Trustees noted that the BBC had reserved the right to fail comments which breached house rules.
And that's when things were brought to a full stop.

The moral of this story is that if you call The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) 'Mo' on a BBC comments thread about Muslim extremism you are highly likely to be 'moderated' off the page. 

And the BBC will not back you up however much you complain about it.

Keep swallowing that 'Tablet'

Damian Thompson of The Spectator and The Catholic Herald did a 'me' and speculated yesterday about what would be on this morning's Sunday on Radio 4:

No such hatchet job on Cardinal Pell took place; although he was mentioned.

Damian, however, shares my much-repeated belief that Sunday tends to sound like the audio equivalent of the liberal Catholic magazine The Tablet - of which the programme's main presenter Edward Stourton remains a trustee.

Years of unsympathetic, snarky comments about Pope Benedict have been followed by what feels like an ongoing deluge of sympathetic, appreciative comments about Pope Francis. And stories largely of concern to Catholics seem to be almost weekly occurrences on Sunday. Oh, and there's all the left-liberal stuff too. 

That said, am I am guilty of overstating the case against Sunday? 

Even since Is the BBC biased? (with subsequent help from Damian Thompson and others) exposed the programme's heavy use of guests from The Tablet back in 2012 (and the total exclusion of guests from the rival, more-conservative-inclined Catholic Herald), Sunday has brought in much fewer guests from The Tablet and some guests from The Catholic Herald (usually Madeleine Teehan) and other more traditionalist voices have subsequently appeared, giving the programme a somewhat better balance of voices.

Yes, there was that Tablet 175th anniversary edition a couple of weeks ago where the magazine got a lot of highly favourable coverage (aka 'a plug') and, yes, the programme does still focus unusually heavily on purely Catholic matters...

...but is it really fair to describe Sunday as 'The radio version of The Tablet'?

Surely that's just rhetoric of the kind we bloggers about BBC bias might occasionally over-indulge in?


Anyhow, the centrepiece of this morning's Sunday saw Edward Stourton talking about the Vatican's media operation (yes, I know!) and interviewing the man Pope Francis appointed to review it - namely, former BBC Trust head Chris Patten. 

It was a good-natured interview, with Lord Patten expanding on his points at length and receiving no challenging questions from Edward. (Please listen to it and you might almost hear Ed purring in the background).

Edward Stourton began by asking Lord Patten: 
Many might say you were brave to take this on. Certainly under the last pope [i.e. Benedict] scarcely a week seemed to go by without the Vatican apparently shooting itself in the foot in media relations!
He later asked: 
Were you impressed with Pope Francis?
Lord Patten replied: 
Oh, I mean, I'm a bit old to go into hero worship. I think he's probably the most remarkable person I've ever met. I mean, he's astonishing. He's like...sorry, to some people this may sound a bit soppy or sanctimonious, but it's like the Gospel of St. Matthew embodied in one person. He's just remarkable - witty, normal, not sort of behind great formality or ceremonial or ecclesiastical millinery. He's a wonderful human being.
Yes, I know that's exactly the sort of thing that leads me to regularly describe Sunday as 'The Tablet on air', but at least Lord Patten isn't a fellow trustee of Ed's at The Tablet.

"Its trustees include Lord Patten, Baroness Shirley Williams, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Edward Stourton"?


Carpe diem

Radio 4's Broadcasting House, coming live from a tent at the Hay Festival (though sounding as if it were being broadcast from inside a tin drum), paused for thought for a moment today. 

We heard extracts from one of Clive James's latest poems, Sentenced to Life - read by the man himself. 

It was so good I thought I'd share it with you. (The full poem can be found here).
My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.
Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.
It reminds me somewhat of Afterwards - a late poem by Thomas Hardy:
When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
"He was a man who used to notice such things"? 
If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
"To him this must have been a familiar sight." 
If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone." 
If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
"He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"? 
And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
"He hears it not now, but used to notice such things"? 

The Curious Incident of the Panorama Episode that Disappeared in the Night

The fates have conspired against me here.

I checked out an old episode of Panorama on iPlayer yesterday - the one where Panorama brought in famous U.S. pollster Nate Silver before the election to answer the question, Who Will Win the Election?

I wanted to check how well Nate did, given how effusive presenter Richard Bacon had been about his astonishing accuracy as a pollster.

The answer is that he was no better or worse than anyone else. If I remember the numbers correctly, he predicted the Conservatives would have 282 seats, Labour 270, the SNP 48, the Lib Dems 24 and UKIP 1. (Well, he got the UKIP figure right!)

I thought I'd post about it this morning but that I'd better just check that those figures are correct first - as I like to be accurate about such things.

Unfortunately overnight the 'watch again' option has been removed from this episode. 

With one other exception (an episode about Ebola), every other Panorama edition from the past year is still available to watch again, so the decision to remove the option for this one edition is a very deliberate move on the BBC's part.

Whose blushes are being spared here? Nate Silver's or the BBC's? 

Maybe it's time to send Darragh MacIntyre in to investigate.

Saturday 30 May 2015

"...towards the far-right..."

I started to write a long post about today's Dateline London and its ridiculously biased discussion of David Cameron, the EU and UKIP (EU=good, UKIP=bad)...

...but I think it's best just to give you this one quote from presenter Gavin Esler (re the forthcoming EU referendum):
But what you might see is, broadly, the centre-left and the centre-right coalescing on a 'yes' vote and others towards the left and towards the far-right will say 'no'...
And, yes, he really did say "toward the far-right" to describe people (presumably many Tories as well as UKIP) who will say 'no' in that referendum.

The mindset of many at the BBC revealed there for all to see, I'd say.

Borders, Oil and Power and a bit of Israel-bashing

BBC World service Newshour Extra. The BBC’s Owen Bennett Jones hosted a discussion called “Borders, Oil and Power in the Middle East.” 

Newshour extra.  The blurb:
The map of the Middle East, established after World War One almost 100 years ago, is crumbling. Islamic State militants now control large parts of Iraq and Syria including the border region that divides the two countries, and their territorial ambitions have not ended there. Is Islamic State permanently re-drawing the map, or can the traditional regional powers retain their dominance? What are the consequences for the people who live within those borders and for control of the region's vast mineral wealth? Owen Bennett Jones discusses these issues with professors Fawaz Gerges, Rosemary Hollis, Sari Nusseibeh and Avi Shlaim, and John Hamilton, the London director of Cross-Border Information.

(Photo: A group of IS fighters in an undisclosed location in Iraq holding guns and wave IS flags. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Colourful fashions sported by IS fighters, from l - r : 
Blazer and baggy pants combo accessorised with full-face kaffiyeh; khaki and stone baggy-pants look topped off with black full-face pashmina; nightie, tea-towel, sandals and AK- 47; combat ensemble and balaclava; black top-to-toe accessorised with bullet-belt and colour co-ordinated face-scarf; lounge suit, grey v-neck jumper and colour co-ordinated full-face kaffiyeh; flack jacket layered over hoodie, teamed with khaki low-crotch pants, full-face black mask and AK-47 
I.S. flags, black edged with gold-fringing: retro look inspired by granny’s velvet curtains.

Although I’m not qualified to evaluate the panel’s comments about the political journey that led to the current situation in the Middle East, I was sorry to see that three members of the panel are from the anti-Israel school of historians and lecturers.
Somewhat more realistic was  Palestinian Al Quds University ex-president Sari Nusseibeh, who ‘retired’ from his post last year, three days after masked supporters of Hamas marched through the Al Quds campus.  Sari Nusseibeh spoke of religion, politics and human values.

Sari Nusseibeh
At the time Tom Gross said:
“Mr. Nusseibeh should stay and show that he is the moderate that he purports to be, by engendering a spirit of tolerance and moderation among students on campus, rather than allowing military-style parades that encourage violence, and that other students, who simply want to study, find intimidating,” said Gross on Thursday. “Were he do to this, President Nusseibeh could play a significant role in helping create a better future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.” 
Fawaz Gerges is on the BBC’s speed dial, and has been known to assert that I.S. has nothing to do with (the real) Islam. He said Isis is on a course of self-destruction. “Once the dust settles you’re gonna see the collapse of this particular utopian project.”    

Rosemary Hollis is a professor of Middle East Policy Studies, City University. She analyses the concept of ‘narratives’ (Israeli v Palestinian) in a scrupulously “even-handed” manner, but is inclined to be more ‘even-handed’ about the Palestinian narrative than the Israeli one. She chaired a Chatham House Q & A  called:  “What next for the Middle East Peace process?” during which a question was posed, beginning: “I want to thank Professor Mekelberg (a panellist) for his very succinct summary of Israeli policy: grab more land, sit and wait. I’ve never heard it so succinctly summed up.” (Just to give a flavour of the kind of event Rosemary Hollis seems to involve herself in.)

Professor Hollis  questioned whether the western concept of nation states is as seminal as they like to believe. She said the Sykes Picot order should not stand.

Rosemary Hollis

Avi Shlaim  had more to say about Sykes Picot. 
“Britain made three irreconcilable promises, promise to the Arabs, Sykes Picot agreement to carve up the Middle East at the expense of the Arabs and The Balfour declaration. Palestine, the thrice promised land.” He opined that all the borders had remained stable except one. (Israel’s)   Avi Shlaim, as we already  knew, is in favour of the ‘one-state solution’, which he appears to believe, if implemented, would somehow bring about peace in the region. (albeit after thirty or so years.)

Avi Shlaim

Apart from an introductory statement by Sari Nusseibeh there was virtually no acknowledgement from Owen Bennett Jones  or the other three panellists of the irrationality of political Islam, so the discussion, in my view, was meaningless. 

What started out as a programme about borders (in view of Islamic State’s recent efforts towards obliterating them all to create a worldwide caliphate) gradually morphed into a discussion questioning Israel’s legitimacy via a rather complex, specialised exposition of the current state of the oil industry. 
All the speakers appeared to regard the Arabs, the Palestinians, various Islamist groups (bar I.S.) as rational beings, rather than religious, Jew-hating fanatics, many of whose  raison d'ĂȘtre is the ‘removal of Israel’ (or more specifically all Jews) from so-called ‘Muslim lands.’

For whom the Belz toll

Theresa May’s plans to crack down on extremism, combined with the faith school dilemma, which has been intensified by the Trojan Horse revelations, have produced another example of the consequence mentioned in an earlier post.   
“Jews are the victims of collateral damage every time anyone has the temerity to criticise something “Muslim”.   ‘The Muslims’ are spoiling things for everybody else.”
It’s not that anyone in their right mind would approve of a religious ban on women driving, be it in Saudi Arabia or London. However the prominence the BBC gave to the story about the  Belz community seemed to be a case of the media attempting to imply that “The Jews are as bad as the Muslims”

The BBC weren’t any worse than the rest of the MSM over pushing this story and sensationalising it in a palpably Jew-bashing fashion. Oliver Kamm in the Times (£) wants to remove all faith schools. 
“ Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has begun an investigation into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect whose rabbis have banned women from driving children to school. The edict from the Belz sect, in Stamford Hill, northwest London, said children would be barred from schools if their mothers drove them there, as women driving was “contrary to the rules of religious modesty”.Mrs Morgan, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people they are breaching the independent school standards.”

Disapproving of women (immodestly) driving seems dreadfully backward and impractical, and if it means children are ostracised or excluded from school it’s immoral and probably illegal.  
But I’m inclined to think that the comparatively small numbers of Belz involved ought to be allowed, within reason, to do whatever floats their boat. Within the law of course. (The British law rather than the Belz sect law, if there is one.) 

It’s hard to find the actual numbers that make up this group, and the media’s habit of lumping together the Haredi  and the ultra Orthodox is confusing. There are several Hassidic groups, and as far as I know, the majority of Jews of all stripes do not approve of bans on women driving. They probably think bans on women driving are as ridiculous as we all do.  

So here’s another story that makes Jews look ‘other’ seemingly to equate them with the Muslims.  Always keen to assert that IS has nothing to do with (the real) Islam, you might think that the BBC would be equally keen to point out, at the very least, that the Belz are not representative of (mainstream) Judaism.

"I'm not sure people can have much confidence in the editorial judgement of @andrewpolitics and @BBCLookEast", says Douglas Carswell

There's a lively Twitter debate going on over the question of free speech following the mob attack on Douglas Carswell MP the other day. A local BBC news programme chose to do its 'BBC impartiality' thing and invite on someone from the baying mob:

[Update: I've deleted most of the tweets featured here, given that they turn out to be unfair to Andrew Sinclair - though I'll leave this one for the record, given that this is the source of the accusations against his editorial judgement]:

Update: Andrew Sinclair has been in touch to point out that he didn't take part in the coverage of this story and played no part in the decision to interview the protestor, so it is wrong to say that the fact that Look East ran the story should reflect on his editorial judgement. 

He was actually working on another programme at the time and was informed out of courtesy that the story was being run. 

The fact that he tweeted about it and later expressed an opinion about the interview is very different to making an editorial judgement. 

Talking to Islamic State

This viewer comment -
Every second of airtime given to these ISIS terrorists is a gift to them. If their intention is to strike terror in people's hearts, then the press is helping them all the way.
Andy Wood
- was the starting point for Steve Hewlett's interview with the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson on this week's Newswatch

As it was such an interesting interview, I thought I'd transcribe it for posterity. It touches on such important subjects.


Steve Hewlett: John, thanks very much for coming. Are you, do you think, and the media more generally, really guilty of giving IS propaganda?

John Simpson: Oh, it's the kind of thing that people say whenever you get this kind of situation, or "You're giving them airtime. You're doing their propaganda work for them". I mean, what is news? I mean, otherwise, we would be reporting anything. People often say, "Oh, would the BBC have been in Berlin in 1943?" Of course we would have been - if we'd have been able to - of course. We don't want to tell people less than we can. We want to tell them as much as we can. 

Steve Hewlett: You've been covering conflicts for a long time, often featuring combatants, some of whom are described as "terrorists" from time to time, and one thing and another. How is covering this conflict differ?

John Simpson: This is really, really hard. I've kind of made what I laughingly call "a career" out of being on the other side. Not the side...not our government's side, not the side of people who say "You shouldn't give these people propaganda", but going and trying to see what's happening there. I used to do a lot of work with the IRA. Then I went to Argentina during the Falklands War. I...all of these kind of things....

Steve Hewlett (interrupting): You met the Taliban!

John Simpson: I met the Taliban, and I spent a lot of time with...Yes, and I would really like to go and see ISIS - except that I would be one of these characters in an orange jump suit with my head being sawn off. And when it's as extreme as that it really does made it difficult. If I could find a way, Steve, of going and being pretty sure I'd come back, I would do it. I wouldn't tell the BBC before I did it or anything, but I would go and do it. But I haven't found a way of doing that.

Steve Hewlett: Do you think that because of this, or that effect, that we are less well informed about this conflict, the dynamics of it, than we might otherwise have been?

John Simpson: I think if we saw the kind of people that are in places like Ramadi and Mosul up front and listened to what they had to say I think that would be the strongest propaganda against them that's imaginable. It may be some of them are wise enough to realise that and that's why they don't want to do it.

Steve Hewlett: How sure can you be that you know what's happened? I mean in the piece that we looked at there's a bit where you say, "One of the things about this conflict is you never see the enemy. You see lots of people firing, but you never see who they're firing at" and all you're able to say is that IS are somewhere over that ridge, sort of thing. How sure can you be that you're getting the truth of what's going on?

John Simpson: It's hard, of course. The fact is the Iraqis aren't terribly good at...well, they're not actually very good at lying, the Iraqi government, and, of course, when they win some places back they're not terribly good about taking journalists there. But you can go there. You can see by the facts on the ground whether ISIS is there or not. I mean, frankly you rather hope they won't be.

Steve Hewlett: One last question, if I may: You said that if you could you would like to talk to ISIS, if you could do it without losing your head, so to speak...

John Simpson: In every sense!

Steve Hewlett: Have you made any attempts to get to them, and are any arrangements underway? Attempts to...Is there other form of communication at all?

John Simpson: Well, I probably wouldn't say if there were, but actually no, because I don't know through the normal channels in Iraq and Syria and so forth...I don't know how to make contact with them. But, you know, you get a nose for these kind of things and one day it might be possible. The problem is you've got to have absolutely failsafe agreements that they won't kill you. You know, whatever else, that's not a very bright idea. I don't want to make the news. 

Steve Hewlett: OK, thank you very much indeed.

Look out, the World Service is coming!

"Thanks for all your comments this week", said Steve Hewlett at the end of this week's Newswatch

That was a bit ironic given that there's only been one viewer's comment in the entire programme - far fewer than usual. 

The critical comments from viewers are one of the features which makes Newswatch work watching - alongside Samira Ahmed's interviews. Both occasionally have a bit of bite to them. It would be a shame if the programme was neutered and turned into another Feedback.

Today's edition certainly had more of a Feedback feel to it than usual. Though it featured an interesting interview with John Simpson, the latter half of it was given over to an interview with World Service presenter Ros Atkins and was, at heart, an extended plug for his Outside Source - which will be coming to the News Channel four times a week from next week as part of the Channel's revamp.

That revamp appears to amount to lots more sharing of programmes with the World Service... those who say that the BBC World Service is even more riddled with bias than the UK wing of the BBC might soon get the chance to tell the rest of us, "See. Told you so!"

Sheikha, rattle and roll

Alan at Biased BBC's post about the BBC's reporting of a speech by Qatar's Queen Mum, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned (who may or may not like corgis but is unlikely to be fond of gin), calls attention to the fact that the BBC thought her Oxford University speech denouncing "Muslim-ophobia" newsworthy.

As far as I can see, only the Guardian (among the UK media) also considered it newsworthy. So it may not have been newsworthy after all.

[I would have found a look at Qatar's increasing role within British universities more newsworthy].

Both the BBC and the Guardian give her speech pretty much criticism-free coverage, for whatever reason. 

Unlike the BBC's article, however, the Graun opens up its piece for comment - and I think it's safe to say that even the Guardian's commentariat thinks Sheikha Mozah's grievance-mongering rant is rubbish from start to finish.

Incidentally, fans of the later series from the Star Trek franchise might suspect that Sheikha Mozah (pictured on the right, above) is part of Starfleet. 

Live long and prosper - unless you're a kuffir.

Bari wants a FIFA Spring

Dateline London's most regular guest was back on the show today. 

Abdel Bari Atwan, eyes a-bulging, did his usual party tricks - including forcing in a smear against Israel.

It's Bari's 6th appearance on the show this year. 

When he railed against Sett Blatter, saying that Mr Blatter reminded him of an Arab dictator and calling for "a FIFA Spring" against him, my view of the FIFA caudillo experienced at 180 degree turn. 

What would a "FIFA Spring" bring about? 

Well, if the Arab Spring's anything to go by, the next FIFA election would be won by the Muslim Brotherhood and the 2026 World Cup awarded to Islamic State. Instead of penalties, matches will be decided by a beheading competition. Oh, and women's football will be banned.

Gawd 'elp us!

No cultish refusal here

Nick Cohen, denouncing people like us for our "cultish refusal to allow one good word to be said about the corporation", must have missed Is the BBC biased? (I know. It's not exactly hard to miss us, is it?). We've praised good BBC programmes from the start.

And, despite fleeting qualms about its "protected species" badger coverage (in the light of the must-discussed cull of badgers over TB in cattle), I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus on praise for this year's Springwatch on BBC Two

Part of the reason I was so quiet, blog-wise, last week was that I was watching Springwatch and Springwatch Unsprung.

I'd gladly subscribe to such BBC broadcasting. It is world-beating stuff.

Oh, but shouldn't I be mining it for bias though? Those boring, pretty-looking yet scentless Spanish bluebells invading our south coast, weren't they BBC propaganda persuading us to accept mass immigration (as I've seen said)? Was the programme's favourable coverage of urban pigeons proof of some kind of BBC bias too (despite Chris Packham's disdain for pigeons, as reported here last year)? Was the programme proselytising over micro-plastics and their ingestion by all manner of animals - from plankton to something else beginning with 'p'- propagandist? And, gosh, a couple of guests also mentioned climate change, so is that evidence of BBC bias too?

I really wouldn't want to be one of those people who tries to extract BBC bias from a sausage roll, so my answer to those four questions is 'no', and my reaction to reading comments of that kind is: "Is that really all you have to say about Springwatch?"

Bring on the avocets and the adders, the bitterns and the badgers, the perilous scrapes and the heroic shrimps...and bring me Chris Packham (who I've met in the flesh and found charming), Michaela and Martin (who I've warmed to as time goes on), and everyone else involved in the show.

So, Nick Cohen, do you fancy (like me) going to the Scottish Isles to watch the newly-revived white-tailed eagles?


Here's proper impartiality for you: two pieces from Standpoint magazine - one bashing the BBC, the other bashing people who bash the BBC:
Here's a sample from each of them:

Stephen Glover
If the Tories can reasonably consider themselves hard done by during the election, UKIP is entitled to think it was taken to the cleaners by the Corporation. Despite Ofcom’s decree that it should be treated as a “major party” on the same basis as Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems, it was regularly tacked on to the end of BBC political reports, and sometimes entirely ignored. In one television debate Nigel Farage was barracked by a BBC-selected audience that appeared predominantly anti-UKIP. When grilled by Newsnight’s Evan Davis Mr Farage was treated as though he was batty or an extremist or both, though when Mr Davis came to interview the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, he was full of smiles and reassurance. 
By way of further supporting evidence, let me point out that the editor of Newsnight, Ian Katz, is a former deputy editor of the Guardian, its political editor hails from the same newspaper, and its economics editor was previously an economist at the TUC. Ask yourself whether it is imaginable for the editor and political editor of the most important current affairs programme to have worked for the Daily Telegraph, or for its economics editor to have cut his teeth at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The answer is obviously “No” — as it is equally inconceivable that an ex-Tory cabinet minister would be appointed as the £300,000-a-year “director of strategy and digital”, as the former Labour cabinet minister James Purnell was in 2013. The same point can be made about the centre-Left participants who monopolise the Beeb’s satirical and culture shows. Sometimes it seems as though Tony Hall, director-general, as well as its head of news, James Harding, are ’avin’ a larf. 
I don’t doubt there are many fine journalists working for Auntie who strive to be neutral and objective, and often succeed in being so. But with a few exceptions they are what they are — metropolitan, conventional members of the slightly left-wing cultural elite, wary of Tories and their strange antediluvian beliefs. Appointing right-wing BBC chairmen or director-generals won’t affect the direction of travel, as Margaret Thatcher discovered in the 1980s. It is surely instructive that almost every BBC journalist to whom one talks is convinced that the organisation is even-handed.

Nick Cohen
You have to read the right-wing press to see how unrelenting the assault on the BBC is in England. You have to read Bella Caledonia or one of the other SNP blogs to see how Scottish nationalists ape English Tories. It’s not that the BBC deserves to escape scrutiny for its biases and faults, or for the many follies of its managers. Rather, you need to look at the cultish refusal to allow one good word to be said about the corporation, and at how this stifling uniformity reveals the emptiness of nationalist and Tory myths.
Conservative intellectuals are fond of Jonathan Haidt’s argument in The Righteous Mind that liberals do not understand tradition and therefore cannot tolerate conservatives. Haidt’s thesis is highly dubious — the American and European liberal-Left are suffused with traditions of their own. But when conservatives go on to say that the Right is more broadminded than the Left, they reduce Haidt to absurdity.
A glance at the conservative press shows you that dissent not only on the BBC but also on the EU is simply not allowed to exist. Even civilised conservatives, who deplore the dumbing-down of British culture, can never discuss in public what would happen to that culture if their allies succeeded in abolishing Radios Three and Four. Scottish nationalists boast that theirs is a warm and cuddly “civic” nationalism, yet they demand the sacking of BBC journalists who fail to show proper deference to their leaders.
The easy explanation for the group-think is that many journalists act like prostitutes, whoring out their integrity to whoever pays them. It is certainly the case that you cannot defend the BBC in most right-wing newspapers without running into trouble.

Another one for the collection

A cautionary tale

Here's a cautionary tale for bloggers about BBC bias...

As I wrote at the time:
Such a trawl [through the Panorama archive] reveals that most of Darragh MacIntyre's Panorama reports have been about 'tax dodging', though there's also one in his portfolio called Hungry Britain? (about "the dramatic rise in the number of food banks in Britain") and an exposé of the BNP entitled BNP: The Fraud Exposed.
He also did an (at the time) incendiary-seeming hatchet-job on the DUP in Northern Ireland - BBC Spotlight: The Iris Robinson Investigation.

His targets appear to prove him, therefore, to be very selective in his interests - right-wing politicians, Ulster unionists, the British state, tax dodgers - and mark him as having a clear left-wing bias.

However Google carefully and you'll see that he was also behind another BBC exposed, Storyville: The Disappeared, which investigated the IRA's murderous past and pointed the finger at Gerry Adams himself, deeply discomforting him at the time.

So the charge of 'bias' isn't quite as clear cut as it first appeared.

Friday 29 May 2015

"Views here my own and do not reflect BBC"

At least some BBC journalists appear to take notice of blogs (though they may pretend otherwise).

Senior BBC producer (BBC Business Unit) Louise Greenwood featured in a post here one week ago.

She was the one who tweeted, "Hopefully that's the last we've heard of this lot", following UKIP's election results. 

She reappeared in a post from yesterday denouncing "spineless public servants locally & Whitehall". 

Overnight, she's deleted all of the tweets featured here at Is the BBC biased? and changed her profile from: 


As you'll have noticed, the flippant "etc" has been now replaced by "and do not reflect BBC".

Her deleted tweets show that she knows she crossed BBC editorial guidelines - and that she's been caught out.

Update (17:26): Oh my, and now Louise has just changed her profile again...just to make things clear!

Smile, you are beautiful, Louise! 

All the news that's fit to bury on the Sports page

The latest stunt by the Palestinian Authority - an attempt to politicise football and get Israel chucked out of FIFA, much trailed by the BBC in recent days (on Radio 4 and the World Service especially) - has collapsed.

According to Sky News (on its home page - 3rd main story), "The Palestinian football head says he doesn't want to play politics after backtracking on a motion to have Israel axed from FIFA." 

Oddly, the BBC News website - which is leading with the FIFA elections, now entering a second round - doesn't choose to highlight this story. It's not a story presently appearing on their home page.

There is a short article about it though on the Sports page, Fifa congress: Palestinian FA drops bid to have Israel suspended. So, yes, they have reported it (sort of).

Now, if FIFA had decided to throw Israel out of its corrupt organisation, who doesn't think that the BBC would have led with it, or made it their second (or third) story?

Is the BBC biased in favour of assisted dying?

It concerns the BBC's coverage of the death of Jeffrey Spector (54) at the Swiss Dignitas clinic - i.e. the BBC's reporting of what some call 'assisted dying' and others call 'assisted suicide'.

Alistair is strongly against assisted dying.

I'm not with Alistair on that at all, but his case against the BBC is interesting.

He writes:
Given this catalogue of horror, you might expect the BBC to present this case in a neutral and non-partisan fashion, but the Corporation, which has acted as the cheerleader for changing the law, could not help itself banging the drum for legal reform.
The BBC 10 O’clock News represented the pinnacle of this one-sided reporting.  The package started badly as BBC’s medical correspondent Fergus Walsh appeared to get giddy with glee as he reported on the details of this man’s sad story, but it got worse.
The whole item continued without a single person from the medical profession, disability right movement, or even from one of the major religions putting a contrary view. That’s right. Not a single person from groups like Care Not Killing, the British Medical Association, any of the royal medical colleges, Association of Palliative Medicine, or the hospice movement took part.
A clear example of biased broadcasting, but the BBC has form. In the last eight years we have seen consistent bias from the BBC reporting on assisted suicide and euthanasia. Indeed the BBC has screened no less than five primetime docudramas and documentaries positively portraying assisted suicide and failing to give the opposite perspective.
And it not just news programmes that see the BBC push their pro-death propaganda. Increasingly light entertainment and soap-operas use assisted suicide to base some salacious storyline on.
This is an area that a blog like this should, perhaps, be investigating (even though, as I say, it runs against my own beliefs). 

Is the BBC cheerleading for changing to law to allow assisted suicide? 

I'd hoped to check out Fergus Walsh's News at Ten report but, as the programme is only on the iPlayer for 24 hours, it's vanished forever, leaving not a rack behind. And I can't find it on the BBC website either.

Still, there is a recent article (from three days ago) by Fergus Walsh on the BBC website entitled The Assisted Dying Debate

The headline is promising, giving hopes that Fergus will give a balanced flavour of that debate.

Please read it for yourselves though. Even if - like me - you incline towards allowing assisted dying, please judge whether you consider it a balanced article or not.

Once you've done so...'s my verdict: I'd say that Alistair Thompson has grounds for complaint: Most of the piece 23 paragraphs (out of 25) balances descriptive reporting with pro-assisted suicide quotes/polling evidence; only the final 2 paragraphs (out of 25) gives the opposing, anti-assisted-dying point of view.

I'm struggling to see how that's balanced - duly or otherwise. Can you defend it? 


Even Feedback's Roger Bolton, usually no slouch when it comes to defending the BBC against charges of bias, has admitted that the BBC's "liberal secular humanist" tends to make the BBC behave in a biased way when it comes to social issues like this, relegating the 'socially conservative' counter-arguments to the sidelines (due to not understanding/being able to empathise with them).

Is this another example of that?

Thursday 28 May 2015

Sent reeling

While I was ‘out-of-the-office’ I was mildly staggered to hear the BBC announcing that Amnesty International had issued a critical statement about Hamas. “Gaza: Hamas killed and tortured, says Amnesty” No scare quotes, even!

Amnesty gave their report the title: “Strangling Necks”, which was a bit weird.
When I had finished reeling, I started to think. 

Amnesty International, comprising some staunch, nay, virulent defenders of radical Islam, is renowned for being harshly critical of Israel -  why should such an outfit suddenly decide, out of the blue,  to behave as if it had turned against everything it had previously held dear?

Even worse, how could it be that one solitary statement from the aforesaid outfit could then be held up triumphantly by pro-Israel proponents and bloggers as evidence of Hamas’s depravity, as if Amnesty had experienced some belated enlightenment, perhaps connected to the widespread exposure of the horrors of Islamic State? In other words, is this the long-awaited absolution of Israel by a reformed Amnesty International? Not very likely, is it. 

Previous statements from Amnesty International have condemned Israel for every conceivable human rights violation that mankind could manufacture, whereupon we pro-Israel ‘misfits’ have rightly and routinely poo-poohed them as biased rubbish.

(One could equally ask such questions of the BBC. After all, the BBC sees Middle Eastern affairs through an Amnesty-like prism. Why did the BBC headline Amnesty International’s statement and not bury it as they happily do with unhelpful stories on other occasions?)

Doesn’t make sense, does it? a.) That Amnesty International should suddenly ‘notice’ what has been going on all along, when hitherto they had turned a blind eye, and b.), that everyone should guilelessly applaud them and turn a blind eye to their previous, dubious record.

Well, maybe we shouldn’t, and some of us haven’t.

I had a look at Amnesty’s actual statement on the A I website. “Strangling Necks.” It struck me that Amnesty still considers Gaza “occupied by Israel”; like 'Elder of Ziyon', I read footnote 26.

However, it is interesting to see how Amnesty talks about Israel in this report.
For starters, Amnesty must hang onto the illusion that Israel still occupies Gaza, even though they know very well that under international law, occupiers are responsible for maintaining the legal system of the occupied and Israel cannot do that. So it writes nonsensical passages like this:”

(then a quote from nonsensical passage written in obscure legalese, then:)
Amnesty is creating a legal framework that simply doesn't exist to ensure that Israel is considered an "occupier" of territory that Amnesty knows Israel doesn't have effective control over.”
[...]“At the end of the report, though, Amnesty reveals a possible reason why it issued this report ostensibly against Hamas - in order to pressure Israel to do what Amnesty wants!”

Read all of Elder’s piece, and you’ll see why this apparent change of heart isn’t something for us to gloat over, by any stretch of the imagination. 
Recognising atrocities committed by Hamas, which, due to modern communications very few people can hardly be completely unaware of,  looks like a preemptive face-saver which will serve to reestablish Amnesty’s lost credibility, (through a series of one-sided human rights related announcements) before normal Israel-bashing service is once again resumed. 

As far as the BBC is concerned, that normal service has already begun.  H/T BBC Watch

Kevin Connolly gives his explanation for Hamas’s behaviour. It’s the “relentless pressure of Israel’s military operations.”  
“Hamas exercises undisputed authority within Gaza, and Amnesty’s powerful report depicts an organisation responding to the relentless pressure of Israeli military operations with a brutal campaign against its own enemies within.”

Responding? How else would any hard-done-by organisation exercise its authority in response to 'pressure' from the enemy, other than by ‘killing and torturing’ one’s own citizens, whether 'suspected of collaborating with the enemy' or not?  Is that what Connolly is saying?

Notwithstanding the fact that any pressure coming from Israel was and is purely retaliatory. In other words, no provocation = no pressure.

It seems that even the depravity of Hamas cannot deflect Amnesty International or the BBC from their singular, particular  goal, the delegitimisation of Israel.