Saturday 24 October 2015


Apologies for the lack of posts in recent days. Sue's away and I've been otherwise engaged. (Some of the perils of blogging!)

One of the big BBC-related stories of the past week has been the appearance of Lord Hall, James Harding and David Jordan at parliament's European Scrutiny Committee discussing the BBC's policies in the light of the upcoming EU referendum.

Two parts of the discussion have dominated the media's reporting of it:

The first was that "all BBC journalists" will be sent for "mandatory training" so that they become "as well-informed as possible of the issues around the workings of the institutions of the EU and its relationship to the UK". 

(So that's John Humphrys, James Naughtie, Evan Davis, Kirsty Wark, Katya Adler, Jeremy Bowen, etc?)

The second concerned the meeting's most heated moment - when Jacob Rees-Mogg confronted David Jordan (director of editorial policy and standards) over EU funding for the BBC - the reporting about which has been somewhat confusing (to my mind).

Mr Jordan began by replying that the BBC "doesn't take money from the EU" and that the organisation that does take money from the EU (£35 million), Media Action, is "owned by the BBC" but "independent". 

On being pushed further (over a FoI request by The Spectator into EU funding for the BBC), however, things got murker and Mr Jordan and Mr Rees-Mogg began to fall out:
David Jordan: There are two things you were referring to - the question that you asked last time, which was in relation to Media Action, so I answered...
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Well, I wasn't actually. Last time I was asking about EU funds broadly, not Media Action.   
David Jordan: Well, it's that £35 million figure which you quoted which relates to the Media Action... 
Jacob Rees-Mogg: But you replied about Media Action when I was asking about all EU funding....
Having watched their earlier exchange again, Mr Rees-Mogg is correct. He didn't ask about Media Action or "quote" that £35 million figure earlier. Here's how their discussion started:
Jacob Rees-Mogg: I just want to go back to a question we came to the last time you came to the committee, on the money that the BBC receives from the EU, which I know isn't huge in your overall budget but which is still some tens of millions. One of the standard contractual terms when the EU hands out money is that those receiving money won't say or do anything damaging to the interests of the EU. Does the BBC agree to those standard contractual terms and will they take money from the EU between now and the referendum? 
David Jordan: The BBC as a public service broadcaster doesn't take money from the EU. The organisation to which you're referring that take money from the EU is an organisation called Media Action and that's an independent part of the BBC with independent trustees........
The committee's chairman, however, only added to the confusion here by wrongly ascribing that "quote" about the £35 million to Mr Rees-Mogg himself shortly after, so maybe Mr Jordan's apparent confusion on that point is more understandable:
William Cash: Why do you need to receive the £30 million I think that Jacob referred to...?
The disagreements continued, however, and David Jordan, in answer to pushing on that Spectator FoI request, said that independent companies who make programmes for the BBC also receive some EU funding and that the EU also funds some other things, such as translating programmes made in English into other EU languages (as seemed to have been the case with the highly controversial pro-EU mockumentary The Great European Disaster Movie). 

Jacob Rees-Mogg was not happy:
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Look, you are now giving me a really different answer from the one you gave before. I never mentioned Media Action. I only mentioned EU funding. You gave an answer about overseas aid and now you're saying the BBC does receive money to help with some of its programming and does receive money to translate some of its programming and you are therefore signed up to the contractual agreements from the EU that require you not to damage its interests. Why didn't you give the full answer the first time.
David Jordan: I gave a very full answer about Media Action and now I'm giving a very full answer about how other funds are occasionally available for other programmes to make use of... 
Jacob Rees-Mogg:...which you denied in response to my first question. 
William Cash then told them to calm down and moved the discussion on - which is unfortunate, I think, as many issues were still left dangling in the air over the EU money that isn't spent on Media Action. Mr Rees-Mogg still seemed unclear about that. I'm certainly unclear about it. 

And does the BBC sign up to that contractual agreement with the EU when it accepts the funding for innocuous-sounding tasks like translations and those other aspects of programming (whatever they may be exactly), apparently always involving independent companies? 

And what if those independent companies only produce pro-EU programmes for the BBC (like The Great European Disaster Movie?) How would that free the BBC from charges of pro-EU bias? Does their independence' and the apparent fact that the EU money they get goes on things like translations really get the BBC off the hook here?

Such questions need a lot more scrutiny.


  1. I've been extremely busy as well recently and missed this entirely. A fascinating - but entirely unsurprising - look into how totally lost these people are. Making sure BBC staff are "fully informed about the workings of the EU" is entirely beside the point. As if that's where the bias lies. How is that going to stop Beeboids from painting euroskeptics as parochial Little Englanders? How will this prevent them from pushing the "Britain will be poorer out" agenda?

    Geraint Davies made an excellent point early on, one which we've made many times: the public believing the BBC is impartial isn't proof that it's impartial. Yet the BBC's number one defense is the whole "Most Trusted Broadcaster Ever" line.

    Davies touched on an equally excellent point a bit later, one which showed how lost at sea Hall, Harding, and Jordan really are, and the BBC is in general on the issue of their bias(es). When asked how the BBC would make sure to differentiate between the different factions of the In side (using Wales as a great example), they literally had no idea how to respond. It was a pathetic moment. The simple answer would be to say that the BBC would simply try to present each faction of each side of the argument as plainly and fairly as possible, let them speak for themselves and let the public decide. That's really all most of us ever asked for in the first place, isn't it? But these establishment elite mandarins had no effing idea what to say.

    Rees-Mogg's question about the BBC taking funding from the EU only accidentally revealed another problem with the BBC. Media Action of course has nothing to do with the BBC proper or EU reporting, and so the bit about the BBC being required not to be anti-EU as a condition of taking the money is a baseless charge. As far as I understand it, no EU money is used on anything the BBC does domestically. It shouldn't be taking any money at all for anything, of course, and shouldn't have these tentacles spread around the planet. Which is what the question did inadvertently reveal: the BBC is the Leviathan, and the Beeboids arrogantly believe they can do whatever they like simply because they can and that they are pure because they are the BBC. There is no valid reason for the BBC to own or have any connection to Media Action whatsoever at this point. Yet they cannot even contemplate the possibility of releasing the grip of a single tentacle.

    Off the topic of the EU, but on the topic of JR-M, he said something I found very troubling on the Daily Politics yesterday. He said that Cameron should stuff the House of Lords with as many Conservatives as possible to get legislation through. He suggested 100 or even 150 more would be fine with him. It's quite a different perspective on democracy than I would have expected based on what I've heard from him in the past.

    My man Varoufakis was with Neil for the whole hour (and was his usual brilliant yet mad self), and he basically had the same reaction as I did, although was rather more cheerful and humorous about it.

    1. I'm glad you watched it too. It was surprisingly engrossing.

      Media Action's scope really did seem to provoke a sharp intake of breath from many of the MPs there (from across the political spectrum). David Jordan was so missionary-like about it that he prompted the obvious question: What in Gawd's name is the BBC doing getting so heavily involved in such things?

      David Jordan presented the Media Action trust as being mainly about promoting democracy and humanitarian concerns. It's also big on 'climate change'.

      Young Mhairi Black of the SNP recently pronounced herself to be a fan of JR-M (as you may have spotted from the youngsters at the Speccie). She said she could listen to him talking about the constitution for hours. If he gets his way and stuffs the Lords with Conservatives, I reckon she might even buy him a deep-fried whisky.

      I definitely prefer your man Varoufakis to our Seumas Milne.


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