Monday 30 May 2016

Au revoir

For my final post before I officially begin my two-week holiday in Raqqa, here's a Bank Holiday Monday smorgasbord...



I was going to begin it with John Humphrys's interview with Jackie Walker, but Sue and Sarah AB have absolutely nailed it already. 

"Bungled" is le mot juste. My original thoughts were to outline JH's interviewing here with phrases like "gumming" and "whacking her with a moth-eaten feather duster" but "bungled" is a much more precise way of putting it.

JH was simultaneously woefully under-prepared and distressingly OTT. She walked all over him - much to the delight of her fans on Twitter (the usual crowd).

Now Ms. Walker, without refusing to apologise for her false and obnoxious comments (indeed by openly revelling in them), is now back in the Corbynista fold. In contrast, suspended Labour MP Naz Shah, who has apologised and apologised and apologised (and won a good deal of respect from most quarters for so doing), is still suspended.

Go figure!


Start the Week

This morning's Start the Week from the Hay Festival had me completely hooked. 

Its theme (perfect for a sunny bank holiday morning) was 'Spooks, war and genocide', and I found myself thinking rather more deeply about the issues raised than I might normally do. 

Now, I could share some of those new, deep thoughts with you (and say how fascinating former British soldier Harry Parker's novel sounds) but, instead, I'll just narrow things down to the programme's main point of disagreement: the question of how to get the balance right between the needs of national security and human rights (an issue I've never quite managed to satisfactorily resolve inside my own muddled head). 

The two poles of this vital argument were represented by Michael Hayden, the former director of the US National Security Agency who George W. Bush made Director of National Intelligence and then director of the CIA, and Philippe Sands, the  human rights lawyer who wants to see Mr. Bush tried. They engaged with each other thoughtfully and respectfully, both acknowledging the complexity of the issues involved. And both of them came across well. 

Disappointingly, presenter Tom Sutcliffe - representing the BBC here - marred things a bit by getting excessively hot-under-the-collar with Mr. Hayden on a couple of occasions over the Bush administration's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques'. If Mr. Sands could remain calm and friendly towards the highly thoughtful Mr, Hayden, then surely Tom ought to have tried to keep his cool too. Plus he stopped Mr. Hayden in his tracks as soon as he began suggesting that President Obama was not only a continuation but, in some ways, an amplification of President Bush on some key national security issues. 

Much as I like Tom Sutcliffe (especially for Round Britain Quiz), I have to say that his own biases were showing through there. He should have kept calm and trusted his listeners. We're quite capable of making our own minds up (or at least trying to), thank you, without having some BBC/Guardian voice vigorously 'virtue signalling' at us.

I haven't so far mentioned that journalist Janine di Giovanni was also a guest on Start the Week there, did I? Apologies. A case of #everydaysexism probably.

Speaking of which...


Woman's Hour

Also surprisingly fascinating was today's Woman's HourYes, the subject was extremely niche - high-profile media types worrying about (women journalists) getting on (or not getting on) in the media - but it was also curiously thought-provoking, and it got better as it went on. 

Lots more deep thoughts flowed in my head as a result which, again, I won't bother you with. So what will I do instead? Well, I'll simply transcribe the start of the bit about the (in)famous Katie Hopkins, starring 'token male in the lionesses' den' Nick Ferrari from LBC (who you'll be relieved to hear survived the ordeal unscathed). It's quite revealing, I think, about the BBC mindset:
Emma Barnett (Woman's Hour presenter): The digital landscape is changed hopefully. It has also meant that, mentioned commercial earlier, Camilla - what sells, what doesn't...we may have got to position where people are more extreme to get hits. So let me bring in somebody who, if you're talking about female polemicists in the modern day: Katie Hopkins. I want to understand. Does she fit in as a polemicist, someone like that? Or is she part of the kind-of internet culture provocateur? Nick, I'll ask you. What would you make of somebody like Katie Hopkins? Is she evening up the score for female polemicists? 
Nick Ferrari: I don't know whether she's evening out the score but obviously she's got a role to play. Yes, she's a voice. She's a voice who has a certain audience. It has a certain resonance. There are people out there who follow her. It might be totally opposite as I see heads shaking just about all around me at this table... 
Emma Barnett: A lot of heads shaking on this programme! 
Nick Ferrari: There's a lot of...they're even shaking in the control room. I've lost the whole...I've lost everybody...I've lost the whole of the BBC on this one!! 
Emma Barnett: Welcome to Woman's Hour, Nick Ferrari!
Indeed, Emma! 

(It was Nick's first appearance). 


The World at One

For today's The World at One it was back to the Hay Festival. The main news story of the day, however, was the latest batch of Albanian economic migrants getting rescued in the English Channel. 

Interestingly, from yesterday's BBC One news bulletins onwards, the BBC hasn't hidden the fact that these escapees from Calais are Albanians. They haven't exactly gone overboard, however, in stressing the 'economic migrant' point and what that suggests: that there are obviously a lot of economic migrants from (non-war-torn) Albania (or now-peaceful Kosovo) in the camps at Calais. 

Why haven't we heard about them before? And, given that it eventually was revealed that Albanians (and others from the Balkans) also made up a surprisingly large number of those trying to get into Germany last summer, why haven't we heard much (if any) discussion on the BBC as to why that's the case? Just why are so many of these people from the Balkans trying to get here? (They aren't Syrian refugees. They aren't unaccompanied children.) It's a very under-reported (almost unreported) story, isn't it? 

Richard Galpin's report featured two interviewees: very briefly UKIP's Henry Bolton, ("UKIP's candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner in Kent - a job he didn't get", as Richard introduced him") and, at much greater length, Damian Green PM ("former Home Office minister"). Mr. Green described the people crossing the channel as "refugees" - and wasn't picked up on that. 

We also got the reflections of Salman Rushdie on the subject. (Salman was with Martha Kearney at the Hay Festival.) He waxed literary and somewhat nebulous on matters political. He extolled the wonderful things about immigration for the UK but then conceded that there's probably been too much, too quick recently. That's worrying for him not so much in its own right but more because it's leading to the rise of the far-right across Europe. 

He did tell us an interesting story though about his final abandonment of his Muslim faith as a 14-year-old though. His coup-de-grace was to eat a ham sandwich. (By coincidence, I'd just eaten a ham sandwich before listening to him this lunchtime). 

The closing discussion between a historian, a neuroscientist and a novelist, focused to a surprising extent on the BBC's favourite subject: Mr. Donald Trump. (Boo!)


Top Gear

How you doin'? 

Well, thanks for asking but I've nothing much to say about Top Gear (though, in true blogger style, that isn't going to stop me). 

I didn't watch it but I've read lots about its disappointing ratings, its largely unenthusiastic critical reviews and its less-than-wildly-enthusiastic public response  - with the exception of Matt LeBlanc, who everyone seems to have found likeable.

('So boring it barely exists': readers review the new Top Gear was the Guardian's less-than-Friendly headline.)

The BBC News website, as is its way, had the news of those ratings as one of the top five stories on its homepage earlier this afternoon. Oddly, they've now dropped it down to their Also in the news section! (O the embarrassment!) 

Despite not being entirely able to disguise the fact that Top Gear's return was something of a flop, the BBC article tried to be as Panglossian about it as it can be, casting that 4.4 million figure in the best possible light, quoting Chris Evans's tweets rather than all those negative tweets everyone else is citing, and describing those reviews as "mixed", #bbcbias.



Catching up with yesterday's stuff, The Andrew Marr Show has received lots of comment as usual. I'm still recovering from Amanda Platell's semi-pornographic on-air flirting with Yanis 'Spock' Varoufakis - by far the most graphic flirting I've ever seen on the Marr show (even including all of Andrew's own sterling efforts while interviewing glamorous Hollywood actresses). I felt that the programme's producers missed a trick by not providing the paper review with a Barry White soundtrack.

As David P noted in the comments (after vomiting), Mr. Varoufakis was on fine form throughout. He may have been a complete flop as Greek finance minister, but he's great entertainment - and worrying 'right' about quite a lot of things (though I didn't buy his anti-Brexit point). He's what the Greek's might call 'a phenomenon'.

Doc Fox and Tony BLiar followed.

The Corbynistas on Twitter weren't at all happy at the good doc's appearance (some even blamed the 'Tory' BBC' for inviting him on, saying he's always on)...,but that was as nothing compared to how they reacted when the hated Tony came on. Liam was quickly forgotten, and all Hell broke loose.

Channelling the spirit of the blessed Boris, I'd said that was happened on Twitter at the point of the hated Mr. Blair's arrival was comparable to how Euripides's Bacchae reacted to King Pentheus after he banned their worship of the beloved (Jeremy Corbyn) Dionysus. They went into a wild frenzy and wanted to tear him apart. And Andy Marr went the way of Actaeon at the hands of these hermaphrodite maenads too, purely through association. (The world of 'BBC bias' gets madder and madder).


The World This Weekend

My 'big thing' yesterday, if I'd had the time to post about it, was going to be Mark Mardell's latest EU referendum special on The World This Weekend

Our Mark had wangled another BBC jaunt (at our expense no doubt), this time to Berlin. He liked Berlin...which is nice.

There all-and-sundry sent us a postcard saying how much they want us to stay in the EU. They love us and wouldn't be too mean to us if we leave the EU but they so want us to stay and they will be mean enough to make us regret leaving.

All voices sang from the same Lutheran hymn sheet...except for the lady from what Mark called the "hard-right" AfD, who rather fancied seeing what would happen if we left.

'Will you punish the UK?' was Mark Mardell's question throughout.

His two studio guests, back in Blighty, were Sir Vince Cable and Gisela Stuart. That was fair enough. Gisela got a little less time than Sir Vince but Sir Vince was interrupted, while Gisela wasn't. Also fair enough.

I saw a detailed comment elsewhere, however, saying that Mark Mardell cut Gisela Stuart off, that there was hardly any time for Gisela, that unelected/kicked-out Sir Vince got an easy ride, that Mark Mardell ignored the main issue of the day "which was the immigration figures", and that there was "a long, biased report featuring only pro EU bigwigs and foreign students"...

...which reminded me of the danger I face, as a blogger, when it comes to the fraught question of confirmation bias.

That commenter spotted that Sir Vince got more time than Gisela but didn't recall that Sir Vince also got interrupted, unlike Gisela. He also didn't notice that Mark Mardell did raise those immigration figures during that interview (if only once). Nor did the commenter remember MM's interview with that striking AfD lady (despite remembering the pro-EU/pro-UK students who appeared for less than 30 seconds). And Gisela Stuart, if you listen back, didn't get cut off by Mark Mardell for reasons of bias. MM was clearly chafing at Sir Vince for time reasons in advance of his Berlin report and when Gisela begun replying to Sir Vince MM had already begun his link to the report. He immediately said he'd return to Gisela and Sir Vince later, which he did (and which is something else that commenter didn't remember).

This isn't a sneer at that commenter. It's a reminder and a possible mea culpa. We all hear what we hear. We only seem, however, to remember parts of what we hear on occasions. Something in us makes us forget the bits that don't confirm our point of view. And we also mishear things, perhaps for the same reason. We're all at risk of doing it. It's human nature. We probably all need to re-check what we've heard. Here endeth the lesson.

This feature struck me as being strikingly pro-EU-biased nonetheless. Please feel free to debunk me if you think I'm hardly any more reliable than the commenter above. I could be wrong.

I don't think I am though. This kind of thing has marked Mark Mardell's The World This Weekend for months.


Farming Today

Talking about the BBC's EU referendum coverage, it would be wrong (and downright silly) not to acknowledge that certain BBC programmes really have been 'getting it about right'.

I've been fairly studiously monitoring Radio 4's Farming Today - one of the few BBC programmes the Sunday Telegraph's Christopher Booker thinks is beyond reproach - for some time.

And I agree with Christopher. I think Farming Today's EU referendum coverage has been beyond reproach.

Try Friday's edition, perhaps, for a taster.



Countryfile on BBC One also did an EU referendum feature, courtesy of Tom Heap, this week.

Countryfile is a programme that matters. It has a big audience (bigger last night than the much-hyped Top Gear). Being Tom Heap, about whom we've written before, I expected heavy bias. I don't think I found it.

The structuring was very BBC. First came a section starring pro-Remain David Cameron, with two pro-Brexit voices as 'vox pops'. Then came a section starring pro-Leave Boris Johnson, with two pro-Remain voices as 'vox pops'.

I watched the Dave/Boris interviews closely. I spotted that Boris got more questioning from Tom than Dave and that Dave was photographed holding a lamb while Boris just stood in front of a stream, but I also note that people on Twitter then claimed that Tom - despite all that questioning - seemed to like Boris more. You see what you see. I sniffed hard and smelled a bit of pro-Remain bias. Others sniffed and found pro-Brexit bias. And all of us mainstream political types on Twitter, one way or the other, were utterly overwhelmed by the usual deluge of furious-sounding Corbynistas complaining that it was the 'Tory' BBC featuring nothing but Tories, making crude jokes about Mr. Cameron and pig farms, and wondering why Jeremy Corbyn wasn't appearing.

Complaints from all sides. And, maybe, here they have a point.

I was, however, being in holiday mood, mainly focusing on the lighter stuff. I was concentrating on Dave in his casual jeans, Boris in his traditional farmer's outfit and Anita Rani in her wetsuit - and on the stunning photography from the Countryfile crew of Snowdonia, especially the beautiful shots of Snowdon, Llanberis, the lake of Llyn Padam, ruined Dolbadarn Castle and the mountains guarding glorious Llanberis Pass. I think that's one of the most 'romantic' spots in the UK (only Morecambe Bay beats it for views) and Countryfile really did it proud.


BBC News at Six

Talking of the BBC's EU referendum coverage...

Our latest stats regarding BBC One's News at Six coverage, specifically monitoring which side's angle comes first in either the headlines or the whole bulletin now shows (not including Monday 30/5, which I've not watched yet), and following on from our last update, now read:
21 for Remain
7 for Leave
Two of the latest batch are, unusually, hard to call, so they haven't been included them the tally (either being neutral or too hard to decide upon). I'll list them among the others below, so please feel free (if you're more certain than I am) to allocate them to one side or the other:

22/5 Referendum battle lines are drawn over the Health Service and the chances of Turkey joining the EU. With controversy over what future migration levels might be David Cameron clashes with one of his own ministers on whether Britain could veto Turkish membership. The head of NHS England says the Health Service would be effected in a UK exit caused an economic slowdown. We'll be exploring the latest arguments from the two sides, with less than five weeks to go.

23/5 Voting to leave the EU would trigger a year-long recession. A bleak forecast from the Treasury. A warning from both David Cameron and George Osborne: at least half a million jobs could go

24/5 David Cameron: I think there's some very strong retail arguments about the cost of a holiday...
Newsreader: Now it's air fares on the line in the EU referendum debate. Claim and counter-claim. How do voters react?

25/5 A top economic group says quitting the EU could mean two extra years of austerity. Leave campaigners say it's propaganda.

26/5 Immigration takes centre-stage in the referendum debate as the annual figures show the numbers are up. The difference between those coming in and those leaving was over 300,000. More than half were from the EU.
Boris Johnson: That is pushing up our population growth. It's putting huge pressure on housing, on services such as the NHS and, of course, on school places and everything else.
Newsreader: We'll be getting the reaction from voters about these new figures.

27/5 Lurid and misleading. An influential group of MPs slams the claims being made by politicians on both sides of the EU referendum debate. The Treasury Select Committee says the public is rightly fed up about bogus and confusing arguments made by the Leave and Remain campaigns.
Andrew Tyrie: What we've got is an arms race of claim and counter-claim. It's not just confusing the public; it's impoverishing the political debate.
He called for an amnesty on misleading claims made by politicians. But is it likely?

28/5 Young people are being urged to register to vote in next month's European Union election. The former Labour leader Ed Miliband said millions of them are yet to register, just days before the deadline. Well, meanwhile the Employment minister Priti Patel has said Britain faces a brighter economic future outside the EU.

29/5 Downing Street says Leave campaigners in the EU referendum are trying to distract voters from the real economic cost of leaving the European Union. It comes after two senior Conservatives told the Prime Minister he must admit he can't cut immigration while Britain remains in the EU.

That's a pretty clear 3:1 ratio in favour of Remain.

The extent to which that reflects the relative fire power of the two campaigns rather than blatant BBC is open to question. The imbalance is clear and striking though.



As for Newsnightit's a while since I updated you (and a full update will be posted when I get back), but we left our count of pro-Remain, pro-Leave guests,, as of 17 April, as: 
36 Pro-Remain
22 Pro-Leave
7 Questionable  
Well, here's what's happened since:

Joint interview: Daniel Hannan, Conservative (LEAVE); Liz Truss, Labour (REMAIN); Juergen Maier, CEO, Siemens UK (REMAIN); Nicola Horlick, CEO, Money & Co. (REMAIN); Gerard Lyons, economics adviser to Boris Johnson (LEAVE); Farzana Baduel, Curzon PR (LEAVE)

Interview: Pascal Lamy, former EU trade commissioner  (REMAIN);
Interview: David Owen, former UK Foreign Secretary (LEAVE)

Joint interview: Suzanne Evans, Vote Leave (LEAVE); Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post (REMAIN)

Joint interview: Liam Fox, Conservative (LEAVE); Louis Susman, former US ambassador to UK (REMAIN)

Joint interview: Penny Mordaunt, Conservative (LEAVE); Alan Johnson, Labour (REMAIN); Richard Walton, former counter-terrorism chief at the Met (LEAVE); Colonel Richard Kemp, former Joint Intelligence Committee (LEAVE); Robert Wainwright, director, Europol (REMAIN); Shami Chakrabarti, human rights lawyer (REMAIN)

Interview: Andrea Leadsom, Conservative (LEAVE)

Interview: Liam Fox, Conservative (LEAVE)
Interview: Yanis Varoufakis. former Greek Finance Minister (REMAIN) 

Joint interview: Kwasi Kwateng, Conservative (LEAVE); David Hanson, Labour (REMAIN); Dr Rohini Deshmukh, GP (LEAVE????); Harriet Sargeant, Centre for Policy Studies (LEAVE); Jonathan Portes, NIESR (REMAIN?????); Rev. Alyson Buxton, Rector of Boston (REMAIN????)

Interview: Lord Lamont, Conservative (LEAVE)
Interview: Michel Sapin. French Finance Minister (REMAIN)

Joint interview: Douglas Carswell, UKIP (LEAVE); Amber Rudd, Conservative (REMAIN); Dr Dia Chakravarty, Taxpayers' Alliance (LEAVE; Tara Palmeri, Politico (LEAVE?????); Sir Stephen Wall, former UK diplomat (REMAIN); Minette Batters, NFU (REMAIN)

Interview: John McDonnell, Labour (REMAIN)

Interview: Liz Truss, Conservative (REMAIN)
Interview: Suzanne Evans, Vote Leave (LEAVE))

Joint interview: Peter Oborne, Daily Mail (LEAVE); Polly Mackenzie. former Lib Dem advisor (REMAIN) 

Joint interview: Andrea Leadsom, Conservative (LEAVE): Chuka Umunna, Labour (REMAIN); Charles Crawford, former diplomat (LEAVE); Ngaire Woods, Oxford University (REMAIN); Kathrine Kleveland, Leader of the Norwegian 'NO to EU' party (LEAVE); Peter Sutherland, international businessman and former Attorney General of Ireland (REMAIN)


Interview: Alan Sugar, businessman (REMAIN)


Interview: Theresa Villiers, Conservative (LEAVE)
Interview: Nicola Sturgeon, SNP (REMAIN)


Interview: Chris Patten, former BBC Trust chairman (REMAIN)
Interview: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative (LEAVE)

That raises our running total to:

60 Pro-Remain
44 Pro-Leave
12 Questionable  

As for the sub-trend of regarding who gets most of all of the solo appearances (i.e. not in joint interviews), well, that continues as well. I make the totals for that:

Remain - 25
Leave - 14

Both have balanced out more in recent weeks, though Remain still has a clear advantage.


Newsnight (again)

In the meantime, however, a new feature was added to Newsnight's coverage - a series of personal reflections from non-politicians. I've been monitoring that too. Here's how that's going:

My Decision video: Dreda Say Mitchell, writer (LEAVE)

My Decision video: Michael Morpurgo, writer (REMAIN)

My Decision video: Sir Tom Hunter, entrepreneur and philanthropist  (UNDECIDED)

My Decision video: Tracey Emin, artist (REMAIN)

My Decision video: John Timpson, businessman (LEAVE)

My Decision video: Gillian Duffy, 'that bigoted woman' (LEAVE)

My Decision video: Hilary Alexander, former Telegraph fashion writer (LEAVE)


My Decision video: Charles Moore, former Telegraph editor (LEAVE)

That's working out (so far) as: 
Pro-Remain; 2
Pro-Leave: 5
Undecided - 1
...which, as you can see, is trending firmly in the other direction to the earlier stats and, thus, somewhat complicating matters.



Some good news. Jon Donnison has stopped tweeting anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stuff. His Twitter feed has gone from inflammatory to innocuous this year. That's progress.


Talking of Twitter, the main hashtag on Twitter regarding 'BBC bias' at the moment is #toryelectionfraud #BBCbias. The Corbynistas have gone from nowhere (except Media Lens) a few years back to pretty much 'owning' the 'BBC bias' market on Twitter. Even the cybernats are being put into the shade by the Corbynistas.

A small, utterly unrepresentative social media echo chamber, always righteously banging on about BBC bias without just cause?

Strangely (and apologies for not mentioning this earlier), I'd been seeing this joint hashtag for ages in the run up to the elections this May. I'd particularly noticed that they were furious at Laura Kuenssberg (as they are about most things) for failing to tweet about it. Then on the day after polling day this year, Laura K did tweet about #toryelectionfraud and the BBC One News at Six mentioned #toryelectionfraud and the BBC's Twitter feed mentioned #toryelectionfraud. 

In the interests of disinterested, honest blogging, I could see their point. I don't know what to make of it though.


John Humphrys, recruiting sergeant

No blogging time for me for a few days, but I recommend Sarah AB’s article on Harry’s Place  about John Humphrys’s bungled interview with Jackie Walker.  I wholeheartedly agree with Sarah AB:
He did not do a very good job.  She was introduced as having been suspended for comments she made about Israel.  Although a discussion of Israel prompted her remarks, this isn’t an accurate summary of the reasons for her suspension. He also failed to pick up on the significance of the term ‘chief financiers’ or take issue with the dubious nature of some ‘historical’ accounts of the relationship between Jews and the transatlantic slave trade. 

Frustratingly, Humphrys’ line of questioning, even though it failed to probe the real problems with what she said, was open to a charge of unfairness.   He claimed she’d said in effect,  ’let’s get over the Holocaust’ (not really) and then said that there was no need for her to ‘invoke the Holocaust’ (when she wasn’t the first to mention it in the original Facebook conversation), and then claimed she implied ‘the Jews had it coming, almost’.”
The Slugger O’T piece is very good, too. 

The BBC is very slow to pick up on this kind of thing. By the time they’ve decided it’s ‘newsworthy’ people like Walker have had plenty of time to conjure up a defence and even convince themselves of its righteousness.  
The problem is that John Humphrys and co. are jacks of all trades and masters of none. He obviously hadn’t been properly briefed. Most of your all-purpose anchors and presenters are out of their depth when dealing with any serious subtlety and complexity. Time constraints as well.

Listeners who hadn’t already read about this incident must have wondered what all the fuss was about. “Reinstate the poor woman,” they’d be shouting at the radio ... “leave her alone”.

Humph has probably done Corby’s Antisemite Party a great service; hope they’re grateful. Probably recruited a few extra BDSers as well.   

Sunday 29 May 2016

Unaccustomed as I am...

If you’ve been reading the blogs I’ve been  reading you won’t have missed the disquieting incident of the schoolgirl who won the “speak out” Challenge at Redbridge Regional Final of the Jack Petchey public speaking competition.

I’m not in a fan of ‘competitions‘ in the world of the arts. However I see that formats such as BBC Young Musician does provide certain unique incentives and so on, but on the other hand it can also be a source of huge disappointment and discouragement.  More on that at a later date. (maybe)

 All that aside, we are where we are, and there is this competition for public speaking. I’m all in favour of public speaking as a hobby, or as a discipline or whatever you’d like to call it. I’m sure it’s a skill that will stand you in good stead in life. But look what’s happened in this case.

I mean, everyone is asking how on earth this speech managed to progress through whatever hoops it had to pass through - local panels etc.- despite clearly breaking the rules, to reach the stage of regional final, let alone win! 

- the speech must have a positive and uplifting message - in fact this is one of the core terms of the agreement with the Jack Petchey Foundation. 
  • a speaker should never inflame or offend the audience or insult others and this, by definition, means that propaganda is ruled out absolutely from the outset.

The speakers had obviously been tutored by a speech and drama coach to substitute arm-semaphore for communication skills. Mannered gesticulation is just as distracting and off-putting in school-age speakers as it is in adults.

I would bet that the real criteria that influenced the judges was the degree of virtue-signalling within the topic, and I’d like to bet that there were a few BDS enthusiasts and BBC devotees in the ranks of the local panel. 

The speaker who deserved to win by a country mile because of natural charisma and personality (which shone through despite all that hideous formulaic coaching) was  Usama Shahzad.

He should have gone through to represent that school, not the libellous hateful propaganda that seduced the judges.   Do read Edgar Davidson’s articles for a fuller version of this story.

What the media won't report

This video is called "What the media won't report' (that's one good reason for posting it here)

Saturday 28 May 2016

Open Thread

Sorry, blogging is proving next to impossible at the moment for both me and Sue, and I will shortly be going away for two weeks.

(Even bloggers go on holiday, and I've found an amazing bargain online - an astonishingly cheap 5-star hotel in a trendy new Middle Eastern resort called Raqqa. Never heard of the place myself, but apparently lots of Brits have started holidaying there in recent years. It's 'up-and-coming', according to the both the website ( and the BBC's Lonely Planet guide.

I received a really lovely email a month or so back from the hotel's owner, a chap called Abu Kafirkiller al-Britani. He seems to be a fellow Brit, which is nice - especially as it means we might just get a full English breakfast every morning (fingers crossed!). He says he's looking forward to seeing us. I told him about the blog. Can't wait to try out the local wines!

So here's ITBB's first ever Open Thread. Please feel free to fill it.

For EU referendum-related matters, please also see News-watch, where David Keighley is continuing to provide almost daily detailed posts (and he's fully open to comments too).

Rupert in the lions' den

If you're thinking of watching Nicky Campbell's The Big Questions tomorrow (and may the Lord have mercy on your soul if you are!), The Times Literary Supplement blog has a piece about it by one of the people who will be appearing on it: Christian writer Rupert Shortt.

I say "appearing on it", but the piece make its clear that the episode of TBQ to be broadcast tomorrow was actually recorded last Sunday, so he's already "appeared" on it. Rupert is describing his experiences on a programme the BBC hasn't yet broadcast. 

I had absolutely no idea TBQ was pre-recorded a week in advance. When you watch the Marr show and see Nicky's plug near the end of it, you see Nicky, his guests and his studio audience as if 'live', ready and waiting to spring into action five minutes later, just-as-live on BBC One. I'd also assumed there were 'live'. Not a bit of it it seems. Another little bit of BBC artifice, apparently.

Anyhow, I'm gathering from Rupert's piece that he found himself in the lions' den, so to speak. That wouldn't have been a surprise to regular TBQ viewers, but it seems to have been a big surprise to Rupert himself (bless him!):
Though promised “an in-depth encounter with more time than usual” by a Corporation researcher, I was largely relegated to the role of spectator. Apart from bowling me a googly (“Aren’t religions by definition exclusionary?” – a question almost impossible to answer in a nutshell), Campbell gave me no opportunity to speak at all. Instead, the baton was passed again and again to the shouters and mud-slingers, especially on the atheist side. One of the more constructive non-believers was kind enough to note the oddness of all this in a message to me afterwards. “Nicky is very uneven-handed in terms of the people he turns to”, this person wrote.
None of that, in fact, will surprise regular (or even occasional) TBQ viewers, and "shouters and mud-slingers" sums up much of the programme's regular invitations list to a tee.

It's all par for the course, frankly.

(P.S. The rest of Rupert's piece argues various religious points that I don't agree with {being a non-believer}, but enjoy hearing {being a very-slightly-regretful non-believer}, and I see his point about how his way of thinking gets repeatedly marginalised by the overwhelmingly secular BBC which confines religion to pigeon holes like Songs of Praise and Thought For The Day {his examples}.

...and Sunday, Sunday Morning Service, Prayer for the Day, Choral Evensong. Beyond Belief, etc {my extra examples}).

Time for a change of job, Jeremy?

True story...

I've just been catching up with today's From Our Own Correspondent. I saw the website blurb saying there were stories from the Middle East, Afghanistan, Italy, Malawi and Turkey and wondered if 'from the Middle East' meant 'about Israel' (as if so often does with FOOC). 

Kate Adie's introduction didn't preview the Middle East story, so I ploughed on. It came as the final item and began, innocuously enough, with Kate Adie talking about how anniversaries are increasingly being used as pegs by media outlets. 'Is it going to be a WW1 anniversary?', I wondered. 

Then she announced the name of the reporter doing the 'FOOC' piece: Jeremy Bowen. I groaned. 'Oh God, here we go!', I thought. 'What anniversary is he going to choose? Something I/P-related?'. 

And then he began:

Sixteen years ago this week my friend and colleague Abed Takkoush was killed by the Israeli army...

And, yes, the whole piece went through his trauma and his accusations against Israel yet again. It was unbelievable (only figuratively-speaking). 

Given the widespread impression that the above incident coloured his whole approach to the I/P conflict, was it wise for FOOC to have indulged him once again? 

Pro-Palestinian types on Twitter are full of praise for his 'dispassionate' reporting today.

Isn't it about time someone did something about Jeremy Bowen?

It's the End of the Age of Aquarius

Alas, alas! It didn't turn out to be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius after all. Today's Dateline London reverted to its old ways. 

All four of its invited guests (Abdel Bari Atwan, Agnes Poirier, Michael Goldfarb and Yasmin Alibhai Brown) were left-wingers (of various hues). Again.

So, yielding to despair perhaps, I now think I must say: "I don't think I'll ever live to see the day when the programme invites four right-wingers to make up its panel. Bari's big, bushy moustache, even more than Hell, will have to freeze over before that ever happens."

That said, I still enjoyed it. Here's why (if you care):

The discussion about Brazil, the World Cup, those doctors, the WHO and the Zika virus found the programme's two most annoying guests, YAB and Bari, squaring up to each other (which was entertaining if not edifying). YAB gently mocked Bari for being a conspiracy theorist. Bari's friend Gavin Esler then gently mocked her back when she (without realising it) began sounding like a conspiracy theorist for the other side of the argument. What larks!

And, being Dateline, the closing segment was all about that ghastly Donald Trump and how poor Hillary might best deal with him in debates. (I think I've caught its general tone by describing it like that). 

In a week where concerns about possible serious legal problems for Hillary hit centre stage for a wee while (even - to some, small degree - in the BBC's reporting, briefly), those legal difficulties weren't even mentioned in passing. It was all about that nasty, nasty Mr. Trump and how Hillary might perform against him in debate. Agnes P was bullish about Hillary's abilities; the rest less so. 

Oddly, the usually loquacious Bari kept quiet for the most part during the traditional BBC Ten Minute Hate against the Republican presidential hopeful until entering late on, oddly, to compare The Donald to Hillary. The odd thing is that he did so favourably to The Donald. Bari's point? He's got personality; she hasn't. 

What was that all about? Bari's admiration for strong, male rulers with impressive heads of hair/impressive moustaches might, perhaps, have been coming out again...

...but, of course, being Bari, it's also perfectly possible that he sees Mr. Trump as less solidly pro-Israel (seeming) than Mrs. Clinton. 

The most interesting section for me, however, was the central section on Libya and the Mediterranean migrant crisis. 

Everyone agreed (and who can blame them?) that regime change there (courtesy of Mr. Cameron and M. Sarkozy, with backseat driving from Mr. Obama) was a big mistake. 

Bari blamed the West for everything. YAB blamed the West too. Agnes raised her elegant French eyebrows towards both of them, whilst conceding they might have a point. And Michael Goldfarb (ever the defender of President Obama) defended President Obama. 

So far so predictable, but...

(1) Bari told us that 3 million Libyans are now refugees in Egypt and Tunisia. As the internet has told told me that Libya has a small 6 million-or-so population, that's a heck of a lot of Libyans fleeing next door. I didn't know that (if it's true). 

(b) Yasmin Alibhai Brown pre-declared that she was going to give an "emotional" rant - and duly did so, railing against wicked West for failing to help the bulk of the Libyan population which, she said, was fleeing en masse across the Med out of Libya. Her fellow guests - and even Gavin Esler - forcefully point out to her, in response, that very few Libyans were actually crossing the Med. (They were moving sideways, so to speak, into Egypt and Tunisia.) It's mostly sub-Saharan/Horn of African people who are making that crossing, they said. YAB, looking as if she realised she'd been well-and-truly fisked, gave up on her point (and, for some strange reason, that made me smile.)

(c) Michael Goldfarb, in trying to counter YAB's fallacious assertions about those crossing the Med from Libya, instead put the 'they are desperate, poor Africans seeking a better life' point about those sub-Saharan/Horn of African folk. That morning's Today (just after 7.30), to its credit, had shown, however, that Michael G is wrong. Those huge numbers of sub-Saharan/Horn of African folk aren't, by and large, the poor of their respective countries. They are the much-better-off of those countries (those with enough money - a lot of money! - to make the journey). Some of them are coming, said the Today 'experts', just to experience the thrill of the bright lights of Western Europe....and to his credit, Gavin Esler very briefly alluded to part of that point in response on Dateline today (without embarrassing Mr. Goldfarb).

And that's that. (Not the best way to end a post perhaps, but it's all I've got).

Sunday 22 May 2016

Wrongly claimed

Tonight's BBC One evening news bulletin began with the following headline:
Referendum battle lines are drawn over the Health Service and the chances of Turkey joining the EU. With controversy over what future migration levels might be David Cameron clashes with one of his own ministers on whether Britain could veto Turkish membership. The head of NHS England says the Health Service would be effected in a UK exit caused an economic slowdown. We'll be exploring the latest arguments from the two sides, with less than five weeks to go.
The bulletin (courtesy of BBC reporter Alex Forsyth) quickly - and explicitly - ruled who was right and who was wrong over that Turkey 'controversy': 
Sitting on Europe's south-east flank, Turkey's now at the centre of this referendum battle. Its role in tackling the migrant crisis has renewed talk of it joining the EU, and that's allowed those who want the UK to leave to raise questions about immigration and security. Like this minister [Penny Mordaunt] who today wrongly claimed the UK had no power to stop Turkey joining.
So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Penny! (according to the BBC).

We then got clips of Dave and Boris both saying (in the past) that Turkey should join the EU.

Then Alex did a 'Reality Check' for us. She 'made it clear' that Turkey wasn't going to be joining the EU any time soon. And blog favourite Prof. Anand Menon (the one who did that massively pro-EU series on the EU for The World at One) then duly appeared as Alex's 'talking head' to say (correctly) that the UK has traditionally been Turkey's biggest cheerleader as regards its entry into the EU and to emphasise the point that it's not "anywhere near becoming an EU member". And Alex then capped that by saying of Turkey's prospective EU membership, "It is in fact [emphasis hers] some way off..." (BBC message reinforcement on overdrive, I think, here!)

So relax about Turkey! (And don't, whatever you do, mention that Turkey has already been granted free visa access to the EU as part of the panicky EU-Turkey migrant deal!)

And then it was onto Steven Simons warnings of the dangers to the NHS from a Brexit.

The bulletin gave Mr Simons' warning (on the Marr show), then featured a clip (from a week ago) of Bank of England governor Mark Carney saying leaving the EU would result in a recession. Ellie Price of the BBC said that Mr Simons (unlike those Leave campaigners) took Mr Carney's warnings "very seriously" and cited his own warning about 130,000 EU NHS workers quitting the NHS in the wake of a Brexit. Ellie called his intervention "highly significant" and "highly political" - and "highly unwelcome" for some. She then, for illustration of the last point, featured a brief clip of Lord Owen (of David Owen fame) huffily making an unpleasant personal attack on Mr Simons (accusing him of making "a very considerable mess of" running the NHS). Then came a clip of a Vote Leave campaign video and its "claim" that leaving the EU would relieve pressure on service and free up extra resources with that famous £350 million a week figure - at which the BBC's Ellie said; 
That's a figure Remain campaigners point out is inaccurate when you factor in the rebate Britain receives for its EU contributions.
Ellie then ended with a 'they say this, they say that' thing, oh so impartially.

Now if that's impartial, then I'm one of Boris's bananas.

Let me finish my point!

I was toying with the idea of switching over to ITV after Andrew Marr and before Andrew Neil  to see what Peston’s show was like (I hear David Cameron was a guest) but when I saw who was on the front row of TBQs I stuck around to see what Adam Deen, Douglas Murray, Peter Hitchens and Kate Smurthwaite would have to say. 

The question was to do with the ‘Prevent’ strategy. “Is countering extremism compatible with freedom of religion?”. (No-one even agrees about the exact definition of extremism, so the  programme was doomed to go nowhere)

Today’s representatives of Islam were Dr. Rizwaan Sabir (Lecturer Liverpool John Moores University) and Mohammed Khaliel. True to form, they were pugnacious and reluctant to let anyone else speak, but that’s probably why the producers invited them on. Half the precious air time was wasted by people asking if they might be allowed to finish their point.

Dr. Sabir said there was “no empirical evidence that an extreme form of Islamic Ideology is in fact the cause of terrorism.”

Peter Hitchens made a strangely ill thought-through argument, which seemed to be that freedoms of “thought” should never be impinged upon - including the thoughts and words of proponents of radical Islam - until actual violence is involved. 

He said that acts of terrorism have always been undertaken by petty criminals, drinkers and drug addicts, not theologians or scholars of Islam. You don’t see many imams carrying out their own dirty business, that’s true. They’re too fond of their privileged position in this life to splat prematurely on to the next.
The rather large flaw in his argument is that those freethinking theologians and scholars are in the business of manipulating the petty criminals into doing their bidding, lured by the promise of martyrdom and all those seductive virgins. 
I assume Peter Hitchens can only think this because he fears that his own Christian views might be criminalised, were the Prevent strategy to be applied too rigorously.  He might incur an ASBO.

The thing that never fails to amaze me is the set. Who in their right mind could have deliberately picked the theme of orange, blue, bronze(quilted), blue, yellow, purple, ochre, blue, veridian(quilted), blue, tangerine and yellow vertical stripes as a backcloth to this programme. Even before anyone has said a word it’s highly depressive. 

It’s even worse than Andrew Marr’s new set, with the orange upholstery and the vermillion cushions. 

Good grief.

Introspective post

Although I stand firmly by my BBC EU referendum stats, a little voice in my head is sounding a note of warning. 

My inner voice is telling me that my stats are coming close to suggesting that the BBC is actively and exclusively working for Remain (to exaggerate slightly) and that this must either be (a) evidence that there's a major problem with BBC pro-Remain bias or (b) evidence that I'm cherry-picking.

Naturally, as I said two paragraphs ago (if you recall), I stand firmly by my stats. I've chosen to monitor some major BBC programmes, pre-announced most of what I've subsequently monitored, followed them through after pre-announcing them, and provided full details of the evidence I've found. I don't think I could have been more scrupulous.

And they've showed what they've showed: some pretty striking pro-Remain bias over time.

But, that little voice in my head tells me: "That's not the whole story, is it?"

And, of course, it isn't. 

And for all sorts of unexpected people - from the Daily Mail to Toby Young and Bill Cash MP - to give the BBC a pretty clean bill of health over their EU referendum coverage, there must be more to it than that. What are they seeing?

And there is, of course, more to it than that...

...and I don't just mean Jeremy Paxman's Paxman in Brussels: Who really rules us? (the one the pro-Remain lot are loudly shouting 'Bias!' about).

No, I should have quickly posted about the third instalment of Katie Razzall's Referendum Road feature for Newsnight (from Preston) which, I felt, went quite some way towards showing that she'd moved beyond the pro-EU bias of her first report (and well done her!):

A blogger should always mention such things, so mea culpa for not doing so much earlier.

And (h/t David Keighley) there have been some tough interviews with pro-Remain interviewees (other than those by Andrew Neil!) - such as Friday's Today interview with the European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan (about 2 hours 40 minutes in), conducted by Nick Robinson, of all people. (That's one I didn't hear at the time. It was a scorcher.)

And with Dateline London improving on EU matters (this week's excellent episode featured blog favourite and leading Leave campaigner Alex Deane) and various other things (some of which I may have mentioned), it's obviously not all one way traffic.

Even my Newsnight monitoring (more on which next weekend), shows that the BBC has upped the number of pro-Brexit voices (though they still lag behind). And Friday night's edition did give George Osborne's pro-Remain scaremongering over housing quite a decent fisking.

As ever (even on black and white TV), nothing's ever entirely black and white (except for skunks). 

But what I'm monitoring (BBC News at Six, Newsnight, More or LessDateline, etc) only shows what I'm monitoring. (Not a tautology, in context).

And the resultant stats only show what they show. (Ditto!)

And they are (except, surprisingly, Dateline) showing a pronounced pro-Remain bias.

Plus, my stats are intended as medium-to-long-term studies rather than mere snapshots.

The BBC itself asks to be judged by medium-to-long-term studies rather than mere snapshots. The medium-term studies (here) are going strongly against them; a few of the snapshots aren't.

Make of that what you will.

Here endeth the case for the Defence.