Sunday 29 November 2015

'BBC Trending' goes on the attack against ex-Muslims

Even by the BBC's standards this is an absolute shocker...

BBC Trending on the BBC World Service today discussed the use of the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause. As the programme's website put it:
Thousands explained why they left Islam online, using the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause, but some thought the discussion was badly timed, and labelled it ‘hateful’. We meet the woman behind the campaign, and ask if she intended to create such a pointed conversation.
Before coming to the programme itself, it goes without saying that many people 'lose their faith' or convert to another religion, and that we tend to think it's OK for them to do so, given our commitment to freedom of belief. 

As is well known, however, a lot of Muslims disagree. A sizeable number don't think that their fellow Muslims should be allowed to stop believing in Islam, and a fair proportion of those also believe in death for 'apostates'. Some 13 Muslim-majority countries still proscribe the death penalty for 'apostasy', here in 2015.

That being the case, the large-scale global use in recent days of the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause for people to explain and share their own reasons for leaving Islam is undeniably significant and brave, and you might think that the BBC would be interested in giving it a respectful hearing.

The BBC did not give it a respectful hearing here. Instead, this programme put its users in the dock and condemned them.

Presenter Anne-Marie Tomchak outlined the nature of the hashtag before saying that it had been strongly countered by people claiming it was "hateful". 

Her guest in the studio was Mobeen Azhar, a journalist and film maker for the BBC who you may have seen on Newsnight following the Paris attacks, and who was one of Ed Stourton's guests on Paris: Could It Happen Here? last week. 

Mobeen Azhar

He said that, for a time, #ExMuslimBecause was the top-rated tweet in the UK last week and that it aroused a strong response, including strong criticism that it was "Islamophobic...opportunistic...and shouldn't be happening right now".

Anne-Marie interrupted to say, "People were really upset about it as well because it's such a sensitive issue".  

"And I think a lot of this has to do with timing," replied Mobeen, before expanding on that:
You know, we're in a situation where Muslims, I think, feel slightly attacked and they feel that their lives and their beliefs are being constantly discussed. You know, they're on the front page of lots of newspapers constantly. And so for that reason I think a lot of people thought this was bad timing.
Anne-Marie Tomchak then introduced an individual from an organisation associated with the hashtag, the very brave Council of Ex-Muslims. Her introduction to the group sounded (to my ears) somewhat disdainful: 
It was actually started by this group, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain.
She then spoke to its spokeswoman, Maryam Namazie - though not before Mobeen had mocked her for winning the 'Secularist of the Year' award. "It's not the sexiest title!", he said, laughing, before adding that her opponents would say she's "quite opportunistic".

Here is a transcript of Anne-Marie Tomchak's interview with Maryam Namazie. 

Please keep an eye on both the ratcheting-up of the BBC presenter's questions - and the nature of those questions - and Maryam's answers, which repay close attention:
MN: One of our activists said that, "Being ex-Muslim is not being anti-Muslim. It's just criticising an idea that I don't agree with". And that's actually how it started. And we never expected it to trend in this way. We actually initially said that we were collecting statements from people for December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day, to show that leaving Islam, saying one is an ex-Muslim, is a basic right. But it just took off. And it shows just how much people needed to express themselves via this hashtag. 
A-MT: What kind of stories have you noticed people sharing around this hashtag online? 
Maryam Namazie
MN: Yeah. I think there are some really funny ones, of course, like, you know, "I'm #ExMuslimBecause I wanted to eat pork".,And then there are, of course, those that are saying, you know, "My father is a sheikh and he's forced me to marry", "My own mother told me I ought to die because I've left Islam". So there's a wide range of stories. A lot of the hashtags just said that they felt that they're not alone, because I think a lot of people do feel alone and isolated - which shows how much people need to know that they're not alone and that there are many of us out there. 
A-MT: Is there a risk that there are others out there who would look at a hashtag like this and might not necessarily be prepared for the kind of backlash that might lie in store for them? 
MN: Yeah. I don't think that anyone is encouraging anyone to take a risk because if anything we know the risks more than anyone else. For example, even though I don't have threats for my family I do have it from Islamists all the time. But again, you know, blaming us for speaking up for the death threats and the intimidation that Islamists impose is sort of blaming the victim in a way. You know, how else are we going to challenge this movement if we're not able to say that we think differently and we have a right to think differently.  
A-MT: One of the tweets that I noticed was saying that this hashtag was more or less giving people an opportunity to bash Muslims. What do you have to say in response to a statement like that? 
MN: Yeah, well I mean, you know, those who bash Muslims bash me as well because we all look the same to them. I've got a Muslim name. The minute I defend refugee rights they tell me to go back home. But we've been very clear from the start that we're ex-Muslims not because we want to be anti-Muslim but because we want to defend the rights of ex-Muslims. And there has to be a space for that.
A-MT: 'Can you speak?' is one thing'; 'when to speak' is another. And when you look at the recent news events - say, for example, what happened in Paris, the Paris attacks. Let's look at the refugee crisis around Europe. Did it occur to you that this was possibly not the right time to put out a hashtag like this? 
MN: Yeah, but Paris is maybe your marker as someone in the West, but our marker has been bombings in Iraq, in Afghanistan, sharia law in Saudi Arabia, for decades. That is our marker. To see it only within the context of Paris doesn't see the humanity of all those people who are dying, day in and day out.
Anne-Marie Tomchak's questions there - and the tone she delivered them in - weren't sympathetic (unlike her questions to Mobeen Azhar). Maryam Namazie was being firmly challenged here. 

Maryam, in response, gave some very interesting answers, occasionally couched in language that you might expect would strongly appeal to the left-liberal instincts of a BBC reporter/presenter - if you didn't know how strangely such people react to anything that concerns Muslim sensibilities.

And here's the really shocking thing about this edition of BBC Trending. As soon as that interview with Maryam Namazie had finished, the BBC's Anne-Marie Tomchak said the following:
So quite a strident tone coming from Maryam Namazie.
That was truly a "WTF?" moment for me. And Mobeen Azhar gave it a clear 'hmm' of agreement.

There was nothing strident about Maryam Namazie's tone there. Or her comments. 

Anne-Marie Tomchak

And it got worse.

Anne-Marie then went on to explain what she meant:
So quite a strident tone coming from Maryam Namazie. And the way she uses the term "Islamists".
And, yes, Anne-Marie Tomchak paused before the word 'Islamists' in order to put it in inverted commas. 

Bear in mind that Maryam Namazie has received death threats from such people.

Mobeen Azhar agreed:
I mean, it's quite uncompromising. I think that one of the problems that might come from that 'Islamist' broadly refers to this idea of Islam the faith being used as a political ideology. Now the fact is, within that there are many shades of grey. And I think lumping these people together is not going to be the most helpful thing, and could be misconstrued, and could be quite problematic. 
Another "WTF?" moment. And bear in mind again that Maryam Namazie has received death threats from such people, and yet Mobeen Azhar is fretting about her comments being "problematic" towards Islamists.

And what did Anne-Marie Tomchak of the BBC say in response to Mobeen Azhar of the BBC's frankly jaw-dropping comments?

Did she respond with some kind of "WTF?" too? Of course she didn't:
But let's just talk about her tone again because you described it as 'uncompromising'. How do you think what she's saying is going to be interpreted by Muslims around the world?
Mobeen Azhar then replied: 
Well, you know, this really takes us back to this thing about Muslims feeling attacked because I think pretty much for 15 years now - you can say since 9/11 - a lot of the Muslim community around the world has felt that they are on the defensive. They feel that there's fingers being pointed at them. I think in terms of Maryam's tone, it might make Muslims feel attacked again. 
Unbelievable, isn't it?

And on it went. Here's what the BBC presenter said next:
Well, they have demonstrated that on social media. There has been quite a defensive tone, even a counter-hashtag #MuslimBecause, and then outlining the reasons why they are Muslim and defending the faith. Some people found the #ExMuslimBecause hashtag quite offensive. One tweet I saw said, "I find this campaign hateful. It paints all Muslims as bad. Almost 2 billion humans can't all be the same." And then they've used the hashtag, #NotoBigotry. Other practising Muslims tried to engage with the hashtag, which is interesting. And one of those is Rashid Dar. He works with a think tank over in Washington DC and he posted a tweet where he offered to meet ex-Muslims and have a coffee and have a chat. 
We duly heard from Rashid Dar, calling for both sides to "tone down the vitriol" and expressing his desire to talk about what his Muslim faith means to him in a positive way. 

No challenge came from Anne-Marie Tomchak (at least as BBC World Service listeners heard it). It was just a short statement. Instead, she asked Mobeen Azhar what he made of what Rashid said and they both laughed. Mobeen joked that "social media is not like a coffee shop".

And that was that.

I try to be as dispassionate as I can be on this blog, but this was an absolute disgrace.

Anne-Marie Tomchak and Mobeen Azhar's behaviour here was beyond belief - and very far from impartial. 

Worse, it was far from impartial in the most appalling way. Instead of sticking up for brave people like Maryam Namazie they put her in the dock and then pronounce a sentence of 'guilty' on her - and all in the interests of her critics, many of whom are Islamists. 

Thanks to Anne-Marie Tomchak and Mobeen Azhar, the last straw has broken the camel's back here. I've had enough of them.

Update: I see others have picked up on this too and Maryam has posted her own response.

I came across this edition of BBC Trending via a tweet from Nick Cohen and a Facebook posting from Atheist in a Headscarf that said "the BBC should really be ashamed of for further silencing us by promoting the idea that somehow, SIMPLY STATING we are Ex Muslim and why is tantamount to Islamophobia".

Maryam's blogpost states that Anne-Marie Tomchak interviewed her for 30 minutes. Only 3 minutes of that interview made it onto today's programme.

Further update: Alan at Biased BBC recalls that this isn't the first time that Mrs Namazie has been given the 'BBC treatment'. As she wrote on her blog five years ago:
BBC Sunday Morning Live invited me to join its debate on whether ‘it is right to condemn Iran for stoning’ on 5 September 2010 via webcam. During the debate, the programme allowed only two interventions via webcam (that of Suhaib Hassan of the Islamic Sharia Council and Mohammad Morandi of Tehran University – both of whom were in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s stoning and/or execution). I (who had presumably been invited to defend Ms Ashtiani and oppose stoning in the debate) was never given the opportunity to speak. 

Another update: Intriguingly, Rashid Dar is also concerned that the BBC omitted most of his interview with Anne-Marie Tomchak. And the parts he says were omitted appear particularly telling, and damning. He says the BBC chose not to air his criticisms of the Muslim community:

Wake-up call (1/3)

You hear a lot on radio 4 if you wake up early enough. You don’t even have to get out of bed, which is nice.
Still on the topic of people’s shallow grasp of Islam, here’s one small example of a BBC broadcaster’s puzzling and counter-intuitive respect for devout religiosity. 

Though the UK is nominally a Christian country, religion currently plays a declining role in society. Journalists and presenters are predominantly from the secular left, but one baffling anomaly emanating from this non religious demographic bucks the trend. Naive admiration for devout religiosity.  Oddly, it seems exclusively applicable to one particular religion. Not Christianity.

I don’t know whether Helen Mark is a Christian or an atheist, but I don’t think she’s a Muslim. Either way, see what you make of this.

Helen Mark on Open Country, (Radio 4 early Saturday morning) encountered “a party of schoolchildren” at the foot of Pendle Hill, Lancashire, which she was about to climb. 

“We did our prayer up there” one boy said. Helen replied: “What a wonderful place to do that. In fact this hill has a very strong religious history” she continued, referring to the unfortunate local women who’d been tried for witchcraft 400 years ago, known as the ‘Pendle witches’. “That’s just a rumour” asserted the children. “Witches aren’t real”. 

At the end of the programme Helen recounted: “Earlier when I met the children from the Muslim primary school, they told me that they’d said a prayer, on the ridge where we are now. Isn’t that a lovely connection with what you’ve been talking about?” (they’d been discussing the witches)

I was immediately struck by the admiration with which she described something (it seems to me) quite unlikely that she knew very much about. She might have been confusing Islam with Christianity.  
I know this will seem trivial, but it’s a symptom.

Brownie points to the school for getting the under 11s out into the fresh air. But prayer? Prayer to Allah? During outdoor activity? Describing that particular manifestation of religiosity as ‘lovely’ is a little strange, but juxtaposing it with 400 year-old trials for witchcraft is plain bonkers.

“Witches aren’t real” seems a sensible statement, but trials for witchcraft were real enough. As for Allah, well, the jury’s out.

Wake-up call (2/3)

This morning, another unsettling listening experience.  More or Less: behind the Stats.  Sympathy for Jihadis.

More or Less is about statistics, so the Sun poll should have been right up its street. 
Early as it was, I thought it would be worth a listen. I think this is an abridged version of a lengthier broadcast on the BBC World service.

We heard that the poll had prompted angry responses online, like one that was read out (I presume we heard the voice of the author)  apparently a college lecturer called Rial Khan (phonetic) from Leicester in the UK. This is a transcript:
“Are you nuts? So you’re telling me I’ve got six members in my family, my bruvver has six members in his family, and my uvver bruvver has six members in his family, you’re telling me each one of us has an extremist in our family? So you’re telling me that there’s three extremists in my extended family? Where d’you get your facts from mate? You’re completely wrong. You know what you’ve just done? You’ve opened the floodgates”

Blimey Mary. I hope I never get into an argument with anyone who’s been lectured by such a genius of advanced logic
Next came a string of ‘hashtag one-in-five‘ Tweets of wit and humour, such as  “One in five Muslims sleeps with his beard on”, clearly demonstrating that one in five Muslims have a Jolly Good SOH. 

Survation has already publicly criticised the Sun’s interpretation of their survey, arguing that the findings did not justify the Sun’s sensationalist headline: “One in five Brit Muslims’ sympathy for Jihadis” 
The Survation representative on the programme was upset at the Sun’s interpretation because he felt the figures represented, if anything, a fall in support for jihadis.

In response The Sun stated: 
“It is not for a polling company to endorse or otherwise the editorial interpretation of a survey. The Sun published the poll’s findings clearly and accurately, including the questions in full.”

The question that caused the most trouble was  “How do you feel about young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria? The boxes were marked (in terms of sympathy) from: 1:A lot; 2: Some; 3: None; 4: Don’t know. 
The answers: 5%, 14%, 71% and 10%. respectively.

So although the vast majority said they had no sympathy, as many as 19%  had some or ‘a lot’. 

One objection was the  ambiguity of the question and in particular the interpretation of the word ‘Sympathy”. Dr Maria Sobolewska, an expert on polling who specialises in ethnicity, religion and race relations, said that some of the interviewees may have misinterpreted the question.
“Did they simply feel that the situation for Muslims was hard, with all the wars around the world and conflict, and perhaps prejudice in Western Europe, and therefore this particular person feels some sympathy with how desperation may lead some young people to terrorism? Is it just a kind of emotional understanding, or is it actually weak or tacit support of terrorism? I really think making that leap into the second conclusion is a bit taking it too far.”
By that token, what’s the point in doing any survey at all? if you’re going to analyse, apologise for and re-adjust uncomfortable findings, why bother with a survey in the first place?

“Desperation may lead  some young people to terrorism?” Now who’s making leaps?  
Dr Sobolewska would have preferred the word ‘Support’ to ‘sympathy’, which I daresay would have produced an equally questionable outcome, simply because ‘support’ implies active, rather than passive involvement in Jihadism, therefore would have been just as ambiguous and just as likely to produce a misleading outcome.  I think Dr S simply didn’t like the Sun, didn’t like the questions, didn’t like the findings, the conclusion, or the negative impression it gave of “the Muslims”. 

The Survation spokesman explained that the question had been phrased specifically so as to compare it with a similarly worded survey that had been carried out earlier in the year. They should have let him  explain that in the first place. It might have saved time.

There are all sorts of leading and loaded questions surveys could devise. “Do you support, say, beheadings and devil worship? “The outcome would, of course, be predictable, and the survey would be pointless. 
Do you think this programme fell short of the standards to which licence payers are entitled to expect?
1: Agree; 2: Don’t know; 3: Don’t care: 4: Elvis

Wake up call (3/3)

The final early-morning listen was a programme that sometimes contains some real gems. Something Understood. 
This episode was called: The Court of Public Opinion

Whom do you think Mark Tully’s guest was? Why, none other than Alan Rusbridger. 

Charlotte Church sang the opening number, Gabriel Fauré’s Tantum Ergo, recorded before her credibility was blown to bits. No, not by her political activism; she ‘lost her credibility’ ‘at the court of public opinion’. 

Mark Tulley said social media has a lot to answer for. 

After thought-provoking readings from  Gustave Le Bon “The power of crowds”  and 

Tully said:
Accuracy is one of the most important attributes readers and listeners look for in quality journalism. 
Alan Rusbridger. who was editor of the Guardian for 20 years and only retired this year, says journalism will continue to provide accurate information and play its essential role in society, even though the social media have made a wholesale change in the court of public opinion.

I think journalism does what journalism has always done, and I think is completely necessary, but it lives in a completely different context in which everybody can be a publisher, so when I first became editor 20 years ago the only way anybody had of responding to anything the Guardian did was to write a letter, and I could decide whether to publish it or not, and mostly, we didn’t! 
But now anybody can respond, discuss with each other, publish, and that ability of everybody to answer and to distribute their own thoughts and material is a vast, vast change, probably the biggest change in 500 years.

And so what impact has it had on newspapers and journalism?

I think it’s very difficult to ignore the response, and the big question for newspapers is whether you do more than acknowledge it, whether you welcome it and embrace it, and my strong feeling as an editor was that it was better to embrace it because the response is usually quite informative and interesting.

But social media are often cited as being democratic, and as you rightly say everyone has the right to publish, but they can be extremely tyrannical and vindictive, can’t they?

Well yes, it has all the faults of democracy. Sometimes you get an ugly crowd mentality, although often that;’s counteracted by people getting together and saying ‘this is ugly’, so it’s often quite self-correcting. We’re learning how to use this amazing new democracy, but of course if you don’t like the sound of it you can just point to the ugly bits and say ‘well, we don’t like that’.

“I mean the way I tried to explain it when I was editing the Guardian was to talk about a play, say, the first night at the National Theatre, a new play. 
I always wanted Michael Billington our theatre critic in the audience. He’s an expert and he’s been writing about the theatre for 50 years now, but if you ask anybody and they say there were nine hundred other people in that audience and say is it conceivable that none of those nine hundred have got anything interesting to say about this play, it’s obvious. there will be highly intelligent and perceptive theatre-goers in that audience, do you want to hear from them? Well why not? That would surely add to the sum of that criticism. Now, out of that nine hundred, maybe only 30 want to do that, and out of that 30 maybe only 10 are any good. But if you’ve got 10 views of the play and could persuade Michael to discuss this with them I think that’s better journalism.

When it comes to this question of bullying, of media judgment, media courts and that sort of thing, actually what you might call traditional media can be just as vindictive, and just as wrong in fact, as the social media sometimes, can’t it?

Completely; if the people who have traditionally held the megaphone have often been quite vindictive and nasty, so I don’t think there’s a monopoly of virtue in newspapers, and I think actually one of the things that journalists have found in this new world, when they say” oh my god, these people are horrible, so vitriolic” you sometimes think, well, have you read what they’re responding to. Have you examined your own tone? Because you’re pretty vitriolic too, and this has led to an interesting thing happening, which is some journalists becoming more tentative in what they write. Some journalists are saying well this is more like a conversation. This is what I think, now what do you think? When you and I were at our peak, Mark, if I can put it like that, the moment the story ended was the moment you broadcasted it or published it, then you went off to the pub..


The most interesting journalists now said well actually the moment i press that button is the most interesting because that;s the moment people are going to respond, and if I go and make myself a cup of tea and come back and start talking to them I;m going to learn all kinds of things about this story that I wasn’t able to do in the first versions. So in a sense stories don’t have an ending now; they have a beginning.

Yes. One has to raise the dreaded question of control over the media, partly because of social media and partly because of the behaviour of the media itself. Do you think there is a way of controlling the media, which is not actually run by the media itself?

We haven’t perfected the regulatory system for regulating the newspapers. Arguably it works better in broadcasting, but I think social media does act as a check and balance. To give you a really trivial example. earlier this year an opera critic was very rude about an opera singer and referred disparagingly to her size and weight, and there was an uprising of opera singers on Twitter and Facebook who just said ‘we’re not going to take this any longer’ and ‘by the way, have you seen this bloke, he looks pretty odd too, and he’s no-one to judge’. It’s a trivia example, but there’s a strength in solidarity and I think 20 years ago no opera singer would have dared respond to a critic

I’ve always felt that in some ways the social media in some ways increases the responsibility of newspapers because when there are so many rumours, so much misinformation on social media it is very important to have reliable and trusted media organisations that you can turn to.

Yes  that’s true. Nothing I say should undervalue the skills of journalism, but, if you look around you now, quite often the place where things are first reported, or where the important evidence lies, is on social media. So, this year alone, some of the most compelling bits of journalistic eyewitness material appears on social media. I don’t think any journalist.. can’t cut it off and say well they’re all stupid, they’re not journalists. You have to look and sort out the wheat from the chaff and say, well, there are gems here and if we combine what we do with what they know we’re going to be better journalists.
I also discussed with Alan Rusbridger the crucial role that reliable journalism plays in sifting facts from the sea of rumours that floods social media.

Apologies for the lengthy transcription, but I think you’ll see what I was getting at. Motes and beams.
The infamous example of Alan Rusbridger’s trip to Israel with Tom Gross and the Guardian’s ongoing vitriolic campaign to delegitimise the only democracy in the Middle East.

Different leads

BBC Breakfast this morning is leading with the "crucial climate change conference", with a heavy focus, image-wide, on the worldwide protests calling for action (most of which seem to feature men in polar bear costumes). 

We've already heard from Richard Black (yes, that Richard Black, formerly the BBC's environment correspondent) of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, which was described by presenter Jon Kay as "a non-profit organisation that's looking for debate on energy change", and Professor Richard Allan from the University of Reading. 

The same story also leads the BBC News website's home page:

Sky News, in contrast, places the story second - and takes a very different, more sceptical take on it:

And ITV News doesn't feature the story among its main headlines at all:

Striking differences, eh? 

Saturday 28 November 2015

"The leading questions in that report were quite outrageous"

Just as Sue is taken aback by the inexhaustible torrents of pro-Corbyn posts that she's seeing on Facebook, so I'm taken aback by the unending flow of accusations of anti-Corbyn BBC bias on Twitter.

Some may have a point but most just sound ridiculous - like the guy who tweets The World at One pretty much every day to accuse them of being 'Tories'. (Even Mark Mardell got called "the voice of Tory #bbcbias" this week, though it's usually Martha Kearney who's on the receiving end of his "Tory" accusations).

A flavour of the latter - the Twitter world of completely bogus claims of BBC bias - came on this morning's Today and, as newspapers (like the Guardian) are reporting it, it's worth commenting on here. 

Today had lined up two Labour MPs - anti-Corbyn Barrow-in-Furness MP John Woodcock and pro-Corbyn former BBC reporter Clive Lewis. The latter began his contribution by protesting against the previous report from Sima Kotecha, who had featured some vox pops from Slough - the constituency of one of the two Labour MPs calling for Jeremy Corbyn to resign: 
Clive Lewis: First thing, Nick. Let's just put a marker down here. I think the report that you put on first, I assume that was a polemic because it was so one-sided it was an absolute outrage. I'm going to say that just for the record.
Nick Robinson: Hold on a second!
Clive Lewis: So I'll consider the issue...
Nick Robinson: Hold on a second! Sima Kotecha's a very professional reporter. She'd been to Slough and she's reported what she said. It was neither...
Clive Lewis: The leading questions in that report were quite outrageous. I've been a journalist myself Nick for twelve years. I know a leading question when I hear one, OK...
Nick Robinson: You've made your point. Let's move on.
Was Sima Kotecha's report from Slough a one-sided, anti-Corbyn polemic? 

Well, it featured four vox pops. All were Labour supporters. Two approved of Jeremy Corbyn, two disapproved of Jeremy Corbyn. 

Let's quote everything the BBC reporter said though and check out those 'leading questions'.

To the first (anti-Corbyn) member of the public she asked:
You've got the MP for Slough saying he should stand down?
Was that a leading question? Or just a question (based on that fact that the local MP had called for Mr Corbyn to resign)?  

She then introduced the second and third (pro-Corbyn) members of the public:
Across from a construction site on a main road, mother and daughter Dora and Gloria are standing by the traffic lights. Both are Labour supporters and both want more unity in the party.
"Both want more unity in the party" can be read as critical of either side, or as both sides, so I wouldn't call it either 'polemical' or 'one-sided'.

And Sima Kotecha's next words (introducing the third vox pop) don't strike me as providing any support for Clive Lewis's charge of anti-Corbyn bias either - quite the reverse...
Her mother Dora isn't worried though and believes Jeremy Corbyn will be the next prime minister. She says that we mustn't forget that he won a quarter of a million votes in the leadership election and has a huge mandate.
...though she did then ask about her "worry" again:
You're not worried? that section of her report also balances out, I reckon.

As, I think, did her interview with the final vox pop here. The first two questions to him could, again, be read as critical of either side, or both sides. The third question, again, asks if the respondent agrees with his own MP. And the fourth question puts a pro-Corbyn point:
- Darren Clews is about to whiz off on his motorbike. He's a traditional Labour supporter but says he's frustrated at the way the members are behaving.
- And at the moment you don't feel that it is [united]?
- Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn should resign?
- Why do you say that, because a lot of people voted for him? 
Far be it from me to stick up for the BBC (though I don't see why I shouldn't), but Clive Lewis MP was the one showing outrageous, one-side, polemical bias here. (It's a good thing he's no longer a BBC reporter then!)

The kind of Twitterati described at the start of this post are going crazy about this though. They think Mr Lewis has a point, even though he hasn't actually got a leg to stand on (in my view)...

...which is yet more evidence for the point that if the BBC is getting complaints from both sides it doesn't necessarily mean that the BBC is getting it about right. 

It might simply mean that the BBC is getting largely valid complaints from one side and largely invalid complaints from the other side, so the BBC is in fact getting it about wrong.

That said, none of this is to say that all of the complaints that the BBC is biased against Jeremy Corbyn are necessarily wrong - just this one, and plenty of others pouring in daily on Twitter.

Takeaway messages

This morning's From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4 covered a good deal of familiar territory in the familiar BBC way. 

As discussed in the comments section of the previous post, the BBC's Tim Whewell presented a piece about Belgium's 'Jihad Central', the district of Brussels called Molenbeek:

Anonymous28 November 2015 at 12:20 
Another one for your collection - Tim Whewell's PC venture into Mollenbeek on From Our Own Correspondent on the BBC. 
It's an interesting case study in how to use narrative form, selective quotation, tone of voice, false equations, ellipsis, unverifiable assertions and biased selection of facts to create an impression. I am sure he is a very likeable guy - he seems so - and probably none of it is conscious plotting to distort the truth, but distort it he does.  
One of the unverifiable assertions was that journalists were chasing Muslims down the street looking crying out "Do you know any terrorists?" Really? It sounds improbable but it helps to create the impression that racist tabloids were encouraging group hate by calling Mollenbeek "Jihadi central". But take a look at this article from the sober-minded, pretty liberal and pro-migration Economist: 
If somewhere produces a lot of steel then it's not unreasonable to call it "the steel capital of the world". If somewhere has a lot of film and rock stars it's not unreasonable to call it "the home of the stars". And if somewhere produces the highest per capita number of Jihadis in Europe it's not unreasonable to call it Jihadi Central.  
Anyway, have a listen if you can spare the time, as I say it is a marvellous piece in understanding how an impression is created: in this case, Muslim as nice, pro-integration victim. Whewell completely suspends all critical faculties: no interest in whether a substantial section of the Muslim population gives actual or tacit support to the Jihadis; no interest in whether other migrants to Belgium e.g. animists, Christians, Jews and Hindus suffer the same difficulties in integration; no interest in wondering whether non-Muslims, women especially, get hassled in Mollenbeek; and no interest in whether Sharia rules in Mollenbeek (are there Sharia courts for instance?). 
No, it was just a "mood music" piece designed to dull the senses.  

Craig28 November 2015 at 15:40 
I'd have hoped for better from Tim Whewell. He can be a fine reporter.
This, however, was just the usual BBC report, almost a paint-by-numbers affair, all about the sense of alienation and victimhood felt by the Muslims of Molenbeek.  
Reading about Molenbeek elsewhere, it certainly seems as if it's been heavily Islamised, with alcohol suppressed, women pressured to wear the veil and non-Islamic newspapers restricted. Non-Muslim women have been abused and spat at. The area's Jewish shopkeepers were terrorised and forced out; as was the local gay population. The area has become largely a monolithic, Moroccan-background immigrant district. 
None of that came out in Tim Whewell's 'FOOC' report.

Besides this doubtless well-meaning but worryingly distorting piece there was also the BBC's David Shukman explaining why he's feeling guardedly "optimistic" about significant "advances" arising from the Paris conference on (what Kate Adie introduced as) "man-made global warming"....

...and an emotional piece from freelance reporter Chris Haslam on the plight of a newly-arrived Syrian refugee family in Berlin. 

He told the heart-rending story of a man called Malik from Latakia who is suffering from cancer. He received state support for his chemotherapy until (Chris told us) the Syrian police asked him to become an informer. If he became an informer, the police said, the Syrian state would continue to fund his treatment. So the man fled, taking his wife (Shabima) and three children (Omar, Seema and Anas) with him, arriving in Germany three weeks ago.

Chris Haslam worried about the dehumanising effects of Germany's asylum processes and, even more, about the Germans requiring asylum seekers to wear green armbands, which he said reminded him uncomfortably of the country's Nazi past. 

To give you a proper flavour of the report, here's just one extract from it:
After 40 days in the European wilderness they arrived in Berlin - another frightened, anonymous, desparate family who risked their lives on a one-way journey into the unknown. 
Look at your own family and ask yourself if you'd make it. 
If there's one thing you can say about From Our Own Correspondent is that it's rarely shy about giving Radio 4 audiences a strong takeaway message. Today's edition was  certainly no exception to that.

Friday 27 November 2015

Islam for dummies

Polls are in the news. Has anyone conducted a poll to assess the general public’s perception of Islam?
One problem is how to broach the matter delicately without antagonising the man on the multicultural omnibus.

My poll would be designed to find out how much people know about current issues, and what they think about them; Islam, the Arab world, immigration, Israel and antisemitism. I’d also need to ask where they learn about politics and current affairs.  I’d have one box saying ‘BBC’ and another saying ‘other.’

I don’t have a Facebook account myself, but I have access to one, and I’m taken aback by the inexhaustible torrents of pro Jeremy Corbyn posts that keep appearing in front of me. More and more and still more. Am I hallucinating already?
Are all those star-struck fools really oblivious to Corbyn’s affiliations with radical Islamists and antisemites? Love is blind; even if they were aware of something nasty in the woodshed they’d play it down or they wouldn’t even care. 

One obvious piece of advice to myself. Don’t go on Facebook. Don’t look.
If they choose to advertise their ignorance, who cares?  Am I bothered about those who ‘don’t know much’ about world politics, but ‘know what they like’? Should I care or just go ‘so what?’ 

When questioned, Dara O’Briain explained why he never makes jokes about Islam. The main reason, (apart from the obvious) was that he doesn’t think the public knows much about the subject, other than that  Muslims pray five times a day. He felt, quite rightly, that in order to be funny, a joke must be based on a fundamental truth, and if no-one knows enough about Islam to recognise truth, they won’t get the joke.

I think he may be right. Having just watched a Tommy Robinson video in which he also expresses concerns at the public’s ignorance of what Islam actually is, I think it’s fair to say that universal ignorance is a pretty well substantiated fact.  So - how come? How can it be that no-one knows much about Islam?  It’s topical. More than topical.

If public figures don’t really know what they’re talking about maybe they should just shut up. 

“.... the renowned Quranic scholar David Cameron” he writes. That’s heavy sarcasm, in case you didn’t recognise the joke.

Where’s the BBC? We employ the BBC to inform and educate us. We pay for this. Give us our money’s worth! 
One would think that in the current circumstances the BBC would fully enlighten the audience so that they can make up their own minds about what’s racist, what’s phobic and what’s incompatible with British values.  

This needn’t violate the BBC’s controversial edict that prohibits BBC reporters and journalists from making and airing value judgments. So don’t. Simply equip the people to make them for themselves.
As it is, the BBC seems to be doing their utmost not to do so. Instead they do everything possible to muddy the waters, particularly by overlooking some of Islam’s most outrageous cultural and religious practices, supposedly to maintain social cohesion. I think that bus has already left.

 “It may well be that when you first heard of the barbarous Islamist atrocities in Paris you thought: ‘My God. My God. How could they do that? At least now maybe the scales will fall from some eyes and we will tackle the problem head on.’ And then, like me, having thought this, you will have watched a BBC news programme and very quickly realised — nope, not a chance, business as usual. The same delusional rubbish, the same gerrymandering of public opinion, the same absurdities.”
Says Rod. Yep. That’s the BBC. 

A French reader pointed me to a video of Nabila Ramdani being interviewed sympathetically by Victoria Derbyshire following the terrorist attack in Paris. The entire interview was conducted on the topsy turvy terms of the (hypothetical) imminent anti-Muslim backlash.
Nabila decided to tell Ms Derbyshire that Muslim children in France who had refused to observe a minute’s silence for the victims had been taken to the police.  Our reader said this was false, and I failed to find any evidence of such a thing on the internet. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Until then I’ll assume it didn’t happen. 

Making a potentially inflammatory allegation could have been deliberately  designed to ‘anger the Muslims’. Was Ramdani deliberately setting out to engender a backlash? Why? What is she up to?

Why was Victoria Derbyshire interviewing a distinctly antisemitic Islam apologist in the first place? I wonder if Victoria Derbyshire knows much about Islam. Has she read the koran? Has she heard the rantings of radical preachers whose videos are all over the internet? Has she seen the opinion polls? She probably just dismisses uncomfortable facts as Islamophobic smears.  We can see where Victoria’s sympathy lies. With the lies. 

Rod Liddle refers to a ‘French Algerian’ woman who told Kirsty Wark that the attacks could have been by rival drug gangs’ I assume this was Nabila’s expert contribution to our enlightenment before she thought of plan B. The backlash schtick. 

If Victoria Derbyshire wasn’t savvy enough to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to exaggerated Muslim grievance-mongering, was the BBC acting responsibly in handing the topic over to her? Andrew Neil might have approached Ramdani’s imaginative testimony with suspicion and might even have raised an eyebrow. 

The casual viewer is so anxious not to be thought racist that he tends to soak up lies and propaganda as long as he seems tolerant and right on as he does so.

We can’t be sure how much of the BBC’s sheer disinformation is responsible for the current political situation but if politicians insist that it’s ISIS alone that’s evil, and that it’s solely Isis, not Islam itself, that means us harm, then it’s high time the public were given a fuller picture.  Why did al-Qaeda instigate 9/11? Are Al Shebab and Boko Haram  peaceful? Are they all nothing to do with Islam?
Rod has also noticed. 
“Meanwhile, the Home Secretary was telling us that the terrorists represent a ‘perverted’ form of Islam. Hmm. The same perverted form of the religion as practised by Abdul’s home country, Saudi Arabia? Or in Iran, or Libya, or Palestine, or Somalia, or . . . the list of countries which kill apostates, persecute Christians, Jews, homosexuals and women is longish, you have to say. We must grasp that the proportion of Muslims worldwide who hold this ‘perverted’ view is far, far, higher than Mrs May or the BBC would like you to think. Some 27 per cent of British Muslims, for example, expressed sympathy with the Charlie Hebdo murderers. This week it was reported that one in five British Muslims sympathises with Islamic State fighters. That is a number which is, as John Major might put it, not inconsiderable.”

I note that Rod has come round to the opinion that the conflict in ‘Palestine’ might have something to do with Islam. Long time coming, but hopefully worth waiting for.  

If the BBC did its job properly we could tell our MPs how we feel, robustly reminding them that their job is to represent us. That is instead of being expected to to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Islam is the religion of peace. Rod again:
“I stared at the screen, mouth agape, unable for a while to believe what I was hearing. A whole programme about the Paris attacks in which three words — Muslim, Islam, jihadi — were not used at any point. The desperation to exculpate the ideology was present long before the bodies had been carried away. Then, when it was revealed that some attackers had entered the country as refugees, the Today programme had a fair, balanced and unpartisan debate between three people who agreed that we should take more refugees, because getting tough is ‘what they (the nasty terrorists) want us to do’”

I find assertions that we mustn’t do this, that or the other - because it’s “what the terrorists want” deeply irritating. Usually it’s said in defiance: “We refuse to alter our normal behaviour, because altering our normal behaviour is what the terrorists want.” No they don’t;  they want us to keep repeating our normal behaviour so that we keep on being sitting ducks. They don’t want us to take precautions because they want to kill us.  Where’s the logic in deliberately being an easy target?  

I’d put a question about that in my poll.  What do you think the terrorists want? I could send the questionnaire to Victoria Derbyshire but I doubt she’d bother to tick my boxes.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Brace yourselves!: Mark Easton on the latest immigration stats

Following on from the previous post...

Where was Mark Easton today?

He's not blogged about the latest Romanian/Bulgarian stats yet. He's not even tweeted about them yet. (Has anyone heard him analysing them?)

Ah well, I did see him on BBC One's News at Six. And he didn't mention the figures on Romanians and Bulgarians there either.


Could it be because of pro-immigration bias on his part? Or merely because of an unwillingness to 'fess up in public? Or something else entirely?

Well, here's my transcription of what Mark Easton actually did tell the nation on tonight's News at Six:
Well, when it comes to that target I think the government, frankly, has been a victim of its own success. 
The big increase is in people coming here to work, up 73% in just three years. And why? Because the economy's doing well. There are jobs. Britain is attractive. 
Another big driver of net migration is foreign students. Interesting. The numbers coming to study at UK universities. colleges and schools remain pretty flat, and that's despite the global expansion in the sector that has led some people to say. 'Actually, we could be missing out here on foreign income'. 
Refugees. Much debate as Europe deals with the exodus from Syria of course. Well, more people are seeking asylum in the UK but refugees, they still make up just onl...just 5% of non-British immigration. So a very small part. 
The real pull factor is our economy. 
And it's not just that our economic success is encouraging migrants. Migrants are actually helping boost our economy. Of the new jobs that are fuelling growth two thirds are filled by foreigners. 
And the Chancellor didn't need to cut tax credits and the police yesterday because of an official forecast saying that net migration would boost economic growth more than expected in the next few years. 
So quite simply, as things stand, the better the economy does the harder it's going to be for the government to hit its net migration target.
I took several messages from that on the subject of immigration - all of them pro-immigration:
(1) That immigration (of the mass variety) is doing wonders for our economy (and the government's coffers).
(2) That foreign students are good for the economy too.
(3) That the 'refugee' crisis is nothing to worry about here in the UK.
All points in one direction.

How is that 'impartial'?

Nothing changes

If you recall, in May 2014 ONS figures showed an unexpected dip in the number of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to work in Britain rather than the expected significant rise - apparently contradicting Migration Watch (who were predicting around 50,000 a year) and UKIP (who expected even more). The left-leaning newspapers (The Guardian and Independent) gloated. And so did the BBC:
Mark Easton: On New Year's Day, construction worker Victor Spiresau was greeted by politicians, reporters and photographers at Luton Airport - the first Romanian immigrant to arrive in Britain after the controversial lifting of employment controls on Romania and Bulgaria. Victor became the reluctant symbol of what many predicted would be a vast wave of East Europeans flocking to the UK. MPs and newspapers warned of a "flood" of hundreds of thousands of poor Romanians and Bulgarians who would strain our welfare system and public services. It was an argument that played directly into anxieties about immigration and the influence of the EU. But today's figures, the first official estimate of workers from Romania and Bulgaria since the transitional employment restrictions were removed on the so-called A2 countries in January, suggest there has been no flood. If anything, the reverse. 
Nick Robinson: Well, well, well. So much for those predictions of a flood of immigrants coming from Romania and Bulgaria once the door to the UK was opened - ie after visa restrictions were removed on 1 January this year!
Eddie Mair: After all the hype, how many Romanians and Bulgarians have come to the UK to work so far this year?
As we noted at the time, the BBC made a great deal of it...
It was high on the BBC website's running order, it was discussed on PM and it led Newsnight, plus star BBC reporters like Nick Robinson and Mark Easton made hay with it throughout much of the day. 
...unlike the right-leaning papers - a mirror image of the reporting of the story before January 2014, when the right-leaning papers were full of the Romanian-Bulgarian controversy and the left-leaning papers and the BBC were downplaying it.

The wheel turns again.

The latest ONS figures are out. Migration Watch, yet again, has been proved spot-on, and UKIP's assertion that there would be a lot more than even Migration Watch's figure if 'hidden' factors were taken into account also looks increasingly realistic.

The figures showed that 50,000 migrants from Romania and Bulgaria came to Britain for more than a year in the 12 months to the end of June compared with 19,000 in year to June 2014 [just as Migration Watch predicted].
However, separate figures on Bulgarians and Romanians registering to work in the country show much higher numbers in the country [just as UKIP predicted]
The number of Romanians and Bulgarians issued with a national insurance number was the same as the overall number handed out to migrants from all non-EU states together. 
Official figures show the number of national insurance numbers issued to migrants from both countries rose by more than half between September 2014 and September this year to 206,000. 
In the same period the number of number issued to migrants from outside the EU rose by 28 per cent to also reach 206,000.
For EU citizens, the number of NINo [national insurance] registrations in YE September 2015 was 655,000, an increase of 150,000 (30%) on the previous year. The 5 EU nationalities with the most new NINo registrations in YE September 2015 were:
• Romanian (165,000)
• Polish (122,000)
• Italian (60,000)
• Spanish (54,000)
• Bulgarian (41,000)
So much for Keith Vaz's "trickle"! So much for Mark Easton's "if anything, the reverse"! So much for Nick Robinson's "Well, well, well. So much for those predictions..."! So much for Eddie Mair's talk of "all the hype"!

The right-leaning papers are, again, reporting the news heavily, and the left-leaning ones doing the opposite. 

And the BBC? 

Well, as far as I can see, they are reverting to type and joining the left-leaning newspapers in downplaying it yet again (predictably). 

The main online article on the latest immigration figures mentions the Romanian and Bulgarian figures (in two bullet points) but makes absolutely nothing of them. They are briefly stated, some way down the article, and then passed on from without comment. (The analysis from Danny Shaw studiously ignores them). 

I can see no other BBC online report today about it. Can anyone else find one? 

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Never were there such devoted sisters

I have to confess, with sincere regret, (barring an occasional glimpse of Alan Sugar) that I’ve squandered my entire allocation of trash-TV viewing on Gogglebox. 

I don’t watch Strictly, Bake-off, Voice thing, Celebrity or X factory. You name it, I don’t watch it. 

In fact I have watched Gogglebox a mere handful of times, but I like the bleakness, the inscrutability and the unconscious humour, the likes of which we’ve not seen since Mike Leigh’s early masterpieces, which he made before he got caught up in all that anti-Israel silliness.

I suppose, in an ideal world, its association with the Royle Family - the narrators are a clue - should have given the participants a strong hint that they were being ruthlessly, mercilessly lampooned -  if with affection. But I assume the prospect of fifteen minutes (and in some cases considerably more) of fame would override any possible concerns. But are we laughing at them, or with them?

Some of the close-ups of some of the faces can’t have been edited in for any other purpose than to engender dumbfounded disbelief from us, the viewers, at the sheer enormity of the human gormlessness we’re viewing. Not to mention our own voyeuristic gormlessness for viewing it. 
My favourites are the ones who hardly ever say anything. Their bewilderment at what they’re watching - and implicitly at life in general - is a sight to behold. 

And then, suddenly, one of them comes out with something profound. But mostly it just goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction, which I think is what Mike Leigh was striving for, in the early days.

Anyway, this is a preamble to something entirely different. In the line of duty I watched the Channel Four documentary about women who support ISIS. The similarity between the people featured in this programme and Gogglebox was palpabe.  This was the sinister version.

 One couldn’t help but notice the puns on the theme of ‘veiled / unveiled’ and ‘undercover’. The inanity of much of it was the most striking thing about this programme. And the banality. 
I’m surprised that Harry Mount in the Telegraph took it so seriously. The programme, I mean, not the message. 
Let’s start with the amateurishness of the production. We know it’s dangerous for an undercover reporter to show his or her face, specially when it’s anything to do with the ROP. But the TV team will normally deal with anonymity by showing the speaker in silhouette, or filming from an obscure angle. Was it absolutely necessary for ‘Aisha” to dress herself up in that ridiculous garb even when she was not “undercover”?  (!)
The solemn face of the unveiled presenter watching that frantic texting added to the Gogglebox effect. But let’s just ask ourselves - if someone was seriously going under cover in a dangerous situation  - would they have a camera in their handbag? A handbag! 
Especially when the garb they were wearing offered boundless opportunities for concealing goodness knows what beneath its vast blackness.  

I’d guess about 90% of this programme consisted of Aisha’s tube journeys. There was one amusing snippet when she slipped a bottle of water under the elephant’s trunk part of the apparel and took a swig. Another was a man dashing for the train just as the doors closed. 

If there’s one thing it did illustrate, it was that Londoners are completely unfazed by the presence of head-to-toe black-clad apparitions, something they’ve been forced to become accustomed to. Not a sign of that infamous Islamophobic backlash anywhere to be seen.

The meaty bits were there, amongst all the padding. The antisemitism was as clear as clear could be, as was the mumbo jumbo that we’re supposed to take seriously and respect as a religion. The sisters turned out to be as nasty a bunch as they are cracked up to be, if not nastier. The main thing about all this is the inanity, the stupidity, the ignorance of it all. 

The fact that we are afraid of offending the most offensive people on earth is mind-boggling. 
I wonder if it will feature on Gogglebox? Now that is one edition I would like to watch.