Friday 3 July 2015

Feedback loop

Call them 'conspiratorial', but some people feel that the whole row between the BBC and David Cameron over what to call Islamic State is too good to be true (for both sides) - especially given that the BBC pioneered the way when it came to calling IS "so-called Islamic State" and has even outstripped most politicians when it comes to vigorously projected the message that IS has nothing to do with true Islam. 

Suspicions therefore followed of a possible collusion between the BBC and the government (a fake row designed to reinforce a socially cohesive message that won't hurt the feelings of British Muslims).

Sometimes it's very hard not to think like that. Take today's Feedback, for example. This also discussed the issue of the BBC's use of language, but this time over the issue of immigration.

Two out of the three featured listener emails/calls featured listeners complaining that the BBC was taking the tabloid route of using words like "swamping" to describe the 'migrants' at Calais, and taking John Humphrys to task for saying "so-called genuine asylum seekers" on Today last week. [It's not been JH's week, has it? And it's mostly been over the term "so-called"!]

Then came an interviewer with a third complainant (from the pro-immigration side) - Professor Richard Rudin of Liverpool John Moores University. 

Prof. Rudin was unhappy with the BBC for using the phrase "illegal immigrants". He says that phrase should never be used. Never. He calls it "toxic", and blamed John Humphrys (again) for using the world "illegal" this week. Prof. Rudin always wants them to be referred to as "migrants" by the BBC. 

And here's where conspiratorial thoughts arise because the BBC has pioneered the way in tending (very heavily) towards using the word "migrants" rather than "immigrants" - and in using the word "illegal" very sparingly. 

The BBC has already travelled most of the way that Prof. Rudin wants them to travel...

...and, I suspect, many at the BBC (if not necessarily John Humphrys) would be all too happy to go the whole hog and do what Prof. Rudin wants them to do - impose a prohibition on the term "illegal immigrant".

Too good to be true (for some at the BBC)?

Roger Bolton mentioned that Prof. Rudin is a professor of journalism and that he used to help refugees settle in the UK. He didn't mention that Richard Rudin used to work for the BBC, where (as his LinkedIn profile states) he "held senior editorial, management and presentation posts". (Wonder if he had any involvement in shaping the BBC's reporting of immigration?)

John Humphrys, of course, famously noted that the BBC had a liberal bias on the topic of immigration. (Roger Bolton wasn't best pleased about his saying so publicly either). Wonder what he'll make of this edition of Feedback?


  1. There's no doubt in my mind that the political and media elite are quite happy to risk the survival of our country in pursuit of PC ideology. I think many of them can now see just how dangerous and damaging mass immigration has been and continues to be - but like an inveterate gambler at the tables, they can only think of doubling up, to make up for their losses.

  2. Is this a put on, Craig? I mean, these complaints are about things we know the style guide already encourages.

    If you know about the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, you'll get the following reference. If not, here's a link to some background:

    The BBC bringing people in to complain and tell them to change their reporting reminds me of the following scene from the story "How Mr. Rabbit Was Too Sharp for Mr. Fox" (the one about the briar patch).

    “‘Skin me, Brer Fox,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘snatch out my eyeballs, t’ar out my years by de roots, en cut off my legs,’ sezee, ‘but do please, Brer Fox, don’t ffing me in dat brier-patch,’ sezee.

    “Co’se Brer Fox wanter hurt Brer Rabbit bad ez he kin, so he cotch ’im by de behime legs en slung ’im right in de middle er de brier-patch. Dar wuz a considerbul flutter whar Brer Rabbit struck de bushes, en Brer Fox sorter hang ’roun’ fer ter see w’at wuz gwineter happen. Bimeby he hear somebody call ’im, en way up de hill he see Brer Rabbit settin’ crosslegged on a chinkapin log koamin’ de pitch outen his har wid a chip. Den Brer Fox know dat he bin swop off mighty bad. Brer Rabbit wuz bleedzed fer ter fling back some er his sass, en he holler out:

    “‘Bred en bawn in a brier-patch, Brer Fox—bred en bawn in a brier-patch!’ en wid dat he skip out des ez lively ez a cricket in de embers.”

    In other words, the BBC would be all to pleased to be "forced" to change their language. They now have the backing of "public opinion" to defend their well-established policy of referring to 'migrants', almost never using the qualifier "illegal", and insisting that the Islamic State is not Islamic. It's a disgrace.

    Aside from that, the deal with Cameron seems to have backfired on the BBC bosses a little bit, which is amusing. If it had been PM Miliband giving the orders, no Beeboids would be gnashing their teeth over politicians trying to influence them.

    PS: Anyone who is offended (on other people's behalf) by the Uncle Remus character (the narrator) speaking in dialect will need to explain to me why it's different from, for example, Sir Walter Scott's depiction of his characters' speech.

    1. I used to love the Brer Rabbit stories as a kid. I remember the briar patch one.

      So, in recent days, the BBC has been accused of being insensitive in their use of language to the feelings of British Muslims and illegal immigrants. What's next? That they use Eurosceptic language? That they are too dismissive of climate change? That their Middle East editor keeps making pro-Israel reports? That their reporters on Twitter tweet too much from the Right?

    2. I know, it sounds so ridiculous when you spell it out like that, but it certainly seems to be happening.

    3. I have read one recent article (at the Guardian) where someone with strong ties (job-wise) to the EU - did claim that the BBC uses the language of Eurosceptics. The ridiculous is moving centre-stage.

      Given the forthcoming referendum, will the BBC promote such complaints to protect itself?

      The good thing is that if it does there are lots of ears out there ready to catch them in the act.

    4. "Complaints from both sides...."

      We make fun of it for a very good reason.

  3. 3 Brer Rabbit fans on one website and 2 of them British. Unique ?

    1. I wasn't aware the stories had crossed the pond much. I assumed they'd been sent down the memory hole because of the so-called racist depiction of the Unlce Remus character. The old Disney film, Song of the South, has certainly been banished from our screens for it.

      The stories are Aesop-like fables, and nothing to do with slavery or racism or anything else. And I've never had the same class-war perspective of accent and dialect as a lot of people seem to, especially in the UK.

    2. Yes, Aesop-like fables is exactly what I remember them as, and great fun too. Given that both me and Grant read them as kids, they must have been quite popular with British parents back in the days of our youth - unless it is a strange coincidence.

      As for the fate of the stories these days, politics infects everything. It's getting so out of hand, they'll be refusing to show 'The Dukes of Hazzard' soon.

      Imagine that? No more Roscoe P. Coltrane, Boss Hogg and....ah!....Daisy Duke! Still, people aren't that daft and it will never happen.


    3. Regarding the banning of the Dukes of Hazzard: Coincidentally, Bo and Luke and the General Lee have been brought back to life for a couple of tv commercials for the Auto-Trader app. I noticed from the first one that they made sure the camera angles didn't show the top of the car. In the rare few frames where you could see part of it, it was obscured with lighting effects.

      The commercials (I think there are two or three) have been running for about a month, and now I wonder if they'll be pulled.

    4. Craig, I suspect it is a coincidence. I thank my late father for introducing me to so many things which most kids were not exposed to. I have no idea how he came across Brer Rabbit. It was also he who, as far back as the sixties, alerted me to the bias of he BBC. If he were alive today, he would be throwing cans of Irn Bru at the TV !

    5. DP, As indicated, I think there are very few Brits who would have ever heard of Brer Rabbit. I re-read some of the stories about 10 years ago and they never struck me as being racist.

    6. I truly haven't got a clue about how Brer Rabbit entered my life. He was just there, early on, making me laugh.

      I can still remember the look of the books - old hard-backed ones, without covers. And I remember reading and re-reading them, and enjoying them as much as Brer Rabbit might have enjoyed a Death-By-Carrot dessert...

      ...though obviously not in the original dialect version David quoted, sezee.

      Come to think of it, I might buy the Complete 'Tales of Uncle Remus' for my great niece and great nephew.

    7. Oh dear, looking on Amazon, I think I can guess that I must have had the Enid Blyton 'Brer Rabbit Collection'.

      Enid Blyton pioneered the way, vis a vis being on the receiving end of 'Dukes of Hazzard'-style PC hysteria.

    8. I just checked the title page of my Collins First Edition 1969 copy of "Uncle Remus Stories" (classic illustrations by William Backhouse). It was published in Great Britain and Glasgow! I never took notice of that before. So it was clearly available to you guys, which is pretty cool.

      It also says, "Retold by Jane Shaw from the original Joel Chandler Harris". I haven't looked at these in decades, but I see now that, while the dialog is still written in dialect, some of the spelling has been cleaned up to make it more intelligible. Some of the original color has been removed from the speech this way, granted, but the spirit is still there. A quick internet search tells me this was done quite a few times.

      I have mixed feelings about doing this sort of thing. I had a difficult time understanding some of the dialog when I recently accidentally read Scott's "The Black Dwarf", so I understand the desire to clean it up from that perspective. But it seems they've basically sent the entire character and stories down the memory hole, which serves no purpose.

      There's a metaphor for what the BBC does in there somewhere....

    9. Grant, it's the depiction of Uncle Remus himself that's considered racist, apparently. I never got that impression either, especially since Huck Finn and other lower class white characters of the period had their speech portrayed in the exact same way.\

      It's complete nonsense, of course. They weren't speaking in received pronunciation with perfect modern grammar in 12 Years a Slave, so WTH? I guess it's only correct if they talk that way when depicted as victims of white cruelty, rather than as free and independent colorful characters beloved by children of all races.

  4. Apologies if this is a double post. The system is playing up.

    I suspect Craig, as I, first became conscious of Brer Rabbit through Disney's 'Song of the South'. Once considered a classic it is now attacked as racist and Disney has withdrawn it. Unlike other Disney product it won't be reissued every decade or so. It is still available online. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

    1. So that's where Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah came from.

      Given how many people have recorded that over the years, and how closely Disney is associated with it, surely they won't ban that next?

    2. I don't think they can ban it from other recordings that have licensed the tune from them, but I'm pretty sure it's no longer on any official, in-print Disney recordings. They can't completely send it down the memory hole, though, seeing as how the five note motif is quoted in a whole bunch of Disney musical medleys and background music.

  5. As unlikely as it might appear I am very much in favour of the DAESH label. It's not that those barbarians are not Islamic. They clearly are but that DAESH is only one Islamic state among several who clam Islam as the constitution. The definite article 'the' is just as problematic. It appears to support the claim to be the new Caliphate - the single state of all Muslims. The indefinite article 'a' wouldn't do that.

    In addition, apparently the DAESH people are irritated by the name even if it is an acronym of Islamic State of Syria and the Levant in Arabic. It shows up their pretentiousness. Surely pissing them off is a plus?

    One could make the argument that labelling them DAESH (acronym remember, hence the ALL CAPS) allows media like the BBC to further distance the horrendous actions in Syria/Iraq from the 'Religion of Peace' --'True' Islam. I expect the images of them screaming "Allah hu akbar" while beheading prisoners on video convinces most people of the Islamic connection even without using Islamic State or so called or even self declared (my previous usage) Islamic State.

    Besides looking up IS -- one of the most common vowel-consonant combinations and third person, singular, present tense of the verb 'to be' on Google or a spell checker is a giant pain.

    For a further analysis DAESH it all.

    1. But those other countries already have names. And if one of them decided to change to the Islamic State of Whatever, that wouldn't make the ISIL name any less legitimate. People are going there because they believe it to be the best hope for a true Islamic State, not to anywhere else. To deny them their name is to deny the main issue which needs to be solved: the Muslim world needs to undergo a reformation and Enlightenment, period. Don't sweep that under the rug. Let them stand as the true Islam, and force the necessary debate.

    2. However equally true and violent Islam in Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. objects to that claim. There is no benefit to the West in taking sides. DAESH is used throughout the Arab world by states who bitterly oppose them and their imperial claims. Understanding the 'meaning' is as irrelevant as understanding the meaning of any country. How many peopel know the meaning of Germany, Haiti, Egypt, etc. It becomes just a name and like a rose left in the vase for a week too long will smell as rotten.

    3. It's Orwellian no matter how you slice it. Alex Salmond admitted to Andrew Neil today that it was part of a propaganda initiative, and the argument he and others have used to defend it gets it exactly backward. The debate must be had in the open, not stifled, or no progress can be made. If the Iranians and Arabs feel so strongly about it, as you claim, let them do something about it for real. If they won't do anything about it, their opinion doesn't count.

  6. The truth is out now:

    Apparently now the Tories are so effing stupid they want to haul Lord Hall in front of some sort of panel to ask why the BBC won't bow to pressure from the Government and use DAESH instead of "so-called Islamic State". Even the awful Telegraph political correspondent uses the 'so-called' qualifier.

    The giveaway, which proves me right:

    David Jordan, the BBC's director of editorial policy and standards, said late on Friday: "There has been some misinterpretation of the BBC’s position on the so called “Islamic State”.

    "Terminology can be debated - and we are well aware of the contentions around how this murderous group has branded itself– but we also believe that the British public is under no illusion as to what they stand for.

    "We have used the name 'Islamic State' with a qualifier such as “so called”, and the same terminology has been used by the majority of the British media and indeed, until recently, many politicians.

    As I said, the decision was already made, and the debate they were having about it was a fraud. Now they can preen and strut around crowing about how the BBC has once again stood up against political pressure, demonstrating how vital the license fee is to maintain editorial independence. And go on trying to deny that ISIL and Islamic barbarity has anything to do with Islam.

    Either the Tories are complete effing morons and have no idea what they're doing (a possibility, I grant you), or this is all a scam, in which the Government and BBC collude to make the BBC look good while pushing an Orwellian Social Cohesion agenda.


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