Sunday 8 November 2015

(Not very) Hardtalk

Over the years a number of BBC related blogs have featured HARDtalk. Some have written about it many times.  

It presents itself as the BBC’s hard-hitting, one-to-one platform, where awkward but penetrating questions are put to important public figures, who are expected in return to give honest, revealing answers, and defend their case against intelligent criticism.

Stephen Sackur has a slightly bullying demeanour, which can look deliberately intimidating, like an overly stern schoolteacher “I'm establishing my discipline” (because I’m rather afraid of losing control.) (Thank you Dr. Freud)

I don’t know how effective that tactic is.  If one’s aim is to ‘draw something out’, surely it puts the subject on the defensive, which I daresay could eventually expose some important truth, perhaps more by accident than design. 

I imagine Sackur sees himself as the BBC’s chief Q.C. tasked with the huge responsibility of cross-examining the witness, uncovering lies and inconsistencies, weakening the defence, hoping that the verdict is favourable to Stephen Sackur and unfavourable to the accused.

The question is, has he been properly briefed? Is he well prepared? Has he studied the case, understood the nuances and complexities? Can he get to the heart of the matter?

Here’s an odd list . “Radio Times - The Greatest Interviews of all time.” I don’t think they mean the greatest. They mean interviews that went wrong, (car crash interviews) notorious ones, ones when the interviewee stormed out, swore, was pissed, or when the whole interview fell apart.
But in the olden, black and white days there were some memorable interviews, notably the one where John Freeman managed to penetrate the protective shell of famously irascible personality Gilbert Harding and reduced him to tears.   Very shocking in those days. That series, “Face to Face” was considered iconic, but I doubt whether it would fare well today.   
Anyway, I digress.

BBC Watch addressed the topic of HARDtalk recently in a piece called:

Guest poster Aron White compared the underlying gist of Sackur’s introductions, pitting episodes involving Israelis against those involving Palestinians. Needless to say, one thing he found was that Israeli guests get a tougher grilling.

One example was a recent episode featuring Israeli MK Yair Lapid. The harsh introduction, which pitted Israel’s ‘shoot to kill’ policy against the Palestinians‘ ‘stab to kill‘  policy, (without the latter of course, the former would not be necessary) was framed from a ‘hostile-to-Israel’ premise, which (I’ve argued in previous posts) is the BBC’s default position. 

HARDtalk routinely poses questions from the starting point (at best) of attributing moral equivalence to the Israeli and the Palestinian points of view, which sends across an acrid whiff of sympathy for the Palestinian cause and antipathy towards Israel. It pervades most relevant output from the BBC.

In that BBC Watch article, an example of a 2014 episode featuring Saeb Erekat was cited. Erekat has appeared on the programme again,more recently.

The Palestinians have a habit of clinging to the same old themes, repeating them over and over, sometimes ostentatiously using their fingers to ‘count the ways’. 
Here, commenter TrueToo gives an example on the open thread of Biased-BBC. Two recent HARDtalk episodes. Yair Lapid and “veteran Palestinian negotiator” Saeb Erekat.

Erekat, continually addressing his interlocutor by his first name, once again utters the same old banal, repetitive manufactured list of Israel’s misdeeds.  He lies from start to finish, and he is able to get away with doing so simply because Sackur wasn’t up to scratch, didn’t know the topic well enough, and with Erekat in the hot seat his probing and analytical skills are AWOL.

Erekat’s index finger is the occupation. The middle finger is the settlements; the third finger is the hopelessness etc. Ethnic cleansing. House demolitions. ‘Dictations’, killing fields. A handful or two of self-inflicted and manufactured grievances.
“I’m not saying we are perfect” is a new one. It’s all he could offer to defend the suggestion that there may have been incitement.  Twisted, distorted reinventions of things Netanyahu once said, lies, projections onto Netanyahu of all manner of Palestinian malevolence - Sackur let it all pass.   

So much went unchallenged; untrue allegations about expanding settlements, blaming Israel for all the shortcomings of the Palestinian leadership, all accepted by Sackur, and interpreted as ‘passionate’. “I hear what you say”.

Apparently Saeb Erekat has 60 grandchildren! Did I hear that correctly? Ethnic cleansing in reverse? Or perhaps he meant 6? Who knows. 

It’s as much as the Palestinians can do to drum up some dubious examples of what they see as (or can convince the outside world are) Israeli transgressions and milk them for all they are worth. They repeat them as often as they can get away with, emphasising them with their fingers and slicing gestures to disguise the paucity of the material. 

On the other hand, there are so many moral transgressions and illogicalities in Palestinian conduct that one wouldn’t know where to start. There aren’t enough fingers on the hands of the whole of the IDF.

The pretence that all the Palestinians want is a two state solution living side by side,  “A Palestinian State and the State of Israel” as Erekat claims (note: not the Jewish state) is a tailor-made equivocation designed to beguile people like Sackur and hoodwink the West.

I suggest that Sackur’s obvious empathy with Palestinians emanates from a feeling of superiority. It’s patronising, and maybe a tad racist. On the other hand, he knows he isn’t entitled to feel superior to Israelis, and he certainly doesn’t empathise with them or understand them. He’s just plain hostile. 

There. that’s my take on it. Just imagine. If Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi were stranded on a desert Island they’d be there counting the same old grievances on their fingers and blaming Israel as the sun went down and for ever and a day.


  1. First terrorists in the middle east, Irgun, Stern Gang, Haganah, Palmach, Lehi et al. Thank evangelical neo-colonialism, "messianic" Christian and Jewish politicians: Lord Palmerston, Lord Shaftesbury, Sykes–Picot Agreement, Balfour Agreement "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" always overlooked by messianic Zionist fascists and their apologists.

  2. All one needs to do is recall Sackur's angry berating of Patten over hiring a Jew as head of news, and then recall the total absence of similar behavior of the BBC hiring anyone else.


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