Thursday 30 March 2017

BBC World News: Always championing the truth

It’s not like me to post more than two pieces in one day but I couldn’t help bringing you BBC Watch’s latest article
I wasn’t particularly aware that if you are accessing the BBC website from outside the UK, you get adverts!

The advert featured here really tickled me! “BBC World News: Always championing the truth”
"We know you value the truth, and so do we. Our new TV advert examines what it really means to be a trusted news source. It highlights the elements at the core of rigorous journalism, which enable us to uphold the promise of being independent, impartial and honest. Always striving to champion the truth whatever obstacles might come our way."

Pity; Blogger won't let me embed the video. You'd have enjoyed it. This image will have to do. 

When you've always championed the truth........

Beyond our Ken

Oh dear. The Daily Politics featured the Ken Livingstone inquiry. Is Ken bringing the Labour Party into disrepute? Do Bulgarian flower-pickers shit in the woods?
Will Ken be reinstated? 

Jo Coburn had a go at Jonathan Rosenhead (vice-chair of “Free Speech on Israel” which I assume is an Israel-bashing group of self-hating Jews and other antis) She reminded us that Ken went into this whole business (digging himself deeper each time he appears in public) whilst defending Naz Shah whose antisemitic Tweet she had already, rather remorsefully, apologised for. Ros Altmann also reminded us of that.

If Hitler did co-operate  (the Haavara agreement) with the Zionists in his early pre-extermination-camp period, it merely represented the first stage in ridding Germany of the 'Jewish pest'. 

It was antisemitism, wholly antisemitism and nothing but antisemitism.

We can dance with semantics on the Rosenhead of a pin till the cows come home, but it’s still antisemitism, but the labour Party is in disrepute either way. They may as well reinstate him. It can’t make the Labour Party much more obnoxious than it already is..

Andrew Neil made a funny joke at the end.

Nothing to do with the BBC

Warning. This post does not contain flashing images or scenes of a sexual nature, but it has very little to do with the BBC.

For once Harry’s Place has the kind of guest post that chimes with me. I’m no right winger, (supporting Israel deems me such, so I understand) but nor am I a socialist or a Labour Party supporter, especially now, and I have reservations about the Tories. (and UKIP) I think I do lean right though.

However, the somewhat frosty post-Brexit reception given to any brave “Leave” sympathisers on that site seems to have frightened off a few names, if only temporarily. 

I’d never heard of “Martin in the Margins” before. This readable piece by Martin Robb ”Reflections on Brexit Day” is well worth the few minutes of your time it takes to read it through.  

I wish I could have written something half as eloquent myself. (Interesting books in his bookcase by the way) Almost everything he says strikes a chord with me; he even makes a passing reference to our friend David Goodhart.

The only thing thing that genuinely still worries me, and has done all along, is the calibre of those in whom we must put our faith when we do eventually *take back control* and regain sovereignty and self determination. 
Yes, we do have a vote, and our MPs and aspiring MPs are theoretically more accessible than unelected Eurocrats. But still. 
Take a look at the opposition. If that’s the best we can do, I despair.
 When Jeremy Corbyn stood up yesterday and thanked Theresa May for letting him have an advance copy of her speech, then proceeded to demand answers to questions she had specifically answered in the speech he’d heard just moments before, the text of which must also have been in the aforementioned advance copy, one wondered how people like Gisela Steward and, I don’t know, there must be some normal people still in that party, could sit there without tearing all their hair out.

I don’t want to single out specific passages of Martin Robb’s piece because it’s all so relevant, but I urge you to click, and for once follow the invitation “Do read it all”.

Vote Laura

I was only half listening to David Davis talking to John Humphrys this morning because I was reading an absorbing piece on the iPad at the same time (more of which later.)
I don’t have time to listen again, so I hope I’m not being too presumptuous  in making a wild guess, which is that they mentioned Theresa May’s “blackmail”.

I’m no businessman, but I understood that negotiations generally consist of bartering, i.e., pitting “things you’ve got” against “things they want,” and vice versa. This also includes withholding ‘things you’ve got” unless or until your bargaining partner reciprocates, so to christen this ‘blackmail’ seems gratuitously hostile.

However, that’s by-the-by. (I love old-fashioned phrases that no-one uses in conversation) I did wonder, though, why the BBC thought it necessary to bring on Laura Kuenssberg after the interview to reinterpret it for us. 

I think Laura Kuenssberg is a smart cookie. I saw her on the Daily Politics yesterday giving a summary of what the EU is up against in global terms, which indicates that she’s got her head screwed on ok. But the fact that every political utterance ever made on the BBC has to be filtered through the prism of Ms. K. seems wrong.  In other words, she’s… I don’t know….. unelected. 
I suppose this observation applies also to Faisal Islam on Sky too.
What are we, Dumb? 

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Not quite cricket

I just picked this story up via Not a Sheep. Spotted it in our sidebar. 

The BBC takes an interest in domestic violence; it’s the kind of story that’s often featured in the Victoria Derbyshire show. Maybe it already has been.

The BBC chose to focus its report on a domestic abuse charity’s criticism of the leniency of the sentence. (18 months’ suspended) The charity said that the judge’s comments showed “Shocking ignorance”.

 The BBC’s report describes the violence in some detail, but omits certain odious remarks Mustafa Bashir had made to his wife. According to the Express he berated her for wearing western-style clothing, called her a slag and her friends “English slags”.
I presume the BBC felt it was preemptively heading off a potential Islamophobic backlash, in the name of social cohesion. 

However, it emerges that the judge’s principal reason for dishing out such a lenient sentence doesn’t apply. Mr Bashir lied. The cricket club that had supposedly offered him a professional contract has ‘never even ‘eard of him’.

Monday 27 March 2017

Forwards Updated

The Daily Politics had David Goodhart on. He was given their ‘Soapbox’ platform, to plug that book. 
It must be tedious having to explain his innovative sociological theory again and again, every single time you’re on the bleeding BBC. 

David Goodhart and a passer-by (probably a 'Somewhere')

There are the Somewheres and the Anywheres. The Anywheres are educated and cosmopolitan and the Somewheres are parochial and a bit thick. 
But we, the Anywheres, he explains, mustn’t dismiss the concerns of the Somewheres. If you haven’t read the book, he says, you might assume there’s no nuance, but there is; it’s complicated. 

I haven’t read the book so I mustn’t be judgmental, but if the poor old Somewheres (like me) are guilty of preferring security and familiarity, I suppose the Anywheres prefer insecurity and unfamiliarity. Unattached to the old-style norms, the Anywheres are pioneers of the forthcoming post-everything era. 

I don’t know if it’s only Somewheres that have worries about the rising presence of Islam but I’m sure it’s all addressed in the book, even if it’s all euphemistically couched in language about minority communities.


I don’t want to look as though I’m obsessed with David Goodhart and his book “The road to Somewhere” so I’m updating this post rather than creating yet another post on the topic .
I think I ought to refine my comments, such as they are, because I’ve now read the interviews he gave to Kathy Gyngell over on TCW
I’m beginning to think that the media hasn’t served him well, what with their (and his) exploitation of the provocative soundbite, his invented terms the Anywheres and the Somewheres.” 

Those terms still sound trite and patronising. Even though he modifies these definitions, as he did on the Daily Politics Soapbox, (and has done over a few yearsidentifying the Somewheres as “less educated” is undeniably disparaging. 

Maybe he needed to invent special new terms in order to publicise his book. (I once saw Nigella Lawson doing a book signing in a deserted Bristol superstore) 
Well, I suppose the media has to have something controversial upon which to hang an item, but it does tend to work against one in the long run.

it is indeed true that the Conservative party ‘seems to have gone completely liberal on this issue” and on several other issues, too. 
Mr. Goodhart’s observations about the family, feminism and the way the Conservative government has caved in to the massive pressure from the ‘progressives’ are entirely worthy. His controversial views on mass immigration (not a wholly positive thing) seem pretty bold, too, for a left-leaning think tankist and author.
David Cameron’s enthusiasm for “gay marriage”, Theresa May’s “Terrorism - Nothing To Do With Islam”,  the government’s lack of support for the institution of marriage and the stable family unit show how far left the Conservatives have gone. What with the implosion of the Labour Party, what else could the Tories do but move into the vacuum?
Has David Goodhart has moved in the opposite direction?   Kathy Gyngell has read the book, including the chapter on the destruction of the family. She describes it as excellent.

There. I needed to say that.


If Douglas Murray sees fit to appear on TBQs, who am I to sneer ? 

Still, most people see the programme as sensationalistic and pugilistic. Poppy and corny; it provides light relief from the heavy religio/ political programming on either side. Jeremy Kyleisation of the Sunday morning ‘God’ slot. 

True, TBQs’s front row is usually full of the BBC’s go-to controversialists, but last Sunday morning, despite the presence of Anne-Marie Waters and Peter Hitchens who looks increasingly like a parrot, no-one got heated enough to get Nicky hushing everyone and begging them not to all talk at once. Perhaps in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist incident people felt slightly less obliged to tiptoe round the religion of peace, but it was interesting to hear the claim that unless the perpetrator is caught in the act crying “Allahu Ackbar,” citing Islam as a motivating factor in a given terrorist attack is speculative and uncalled-for.

Less platitudinous was the second Big Question about confidentiality within the Catholic confessional, and is it/should it be sacrosanct?

Nicky Campbell seemed to be working on the assumption that all paedophile priests must have gone behind the black curtain to confess to a colleague at some point, reliant on celestial confidentiality and redemption, and exemption from hellfire without all the fuss and bother of going to prison. 

Not being a Catholic, I know not if holy fathers treat each other like doctors and dentists do, but I always thought that the confessional was designed to absolve the guilt / scare the bejesus out of lesser mortals, like children and the subservient.

In an age of counselling and psychiatric therapy, is priestly absolution an efficacious method of dealing with guilt and shame? The TBQs debate danced round the issue without tackling the fundamental business of original sin, confession and absolution, concepts which seem like hangovers from the dark ages, which, sorry Catholics, should be done away with..

Sunday 26 March 2017

Open Thread

Welcome to British Summer Time! And if the daffodils are making you think about BBC bias, please add your reflections below...

Guess what? (updated)

And talking of News-watch, their latest in-depth investigation of the BBC's Brexit coverage is a long-term study of BBC Radio 4 in action - specifically Today's dedicated business coverage. 

Unlike the likes of Cardiff University, News-watch have (correctly) taken the maximal approach and covered every business spot on Today over a six month period. 

In summary, the stats show that of the 366 guest speakers featured:
192 (53%) were negative about the impact of Brexit
114 (31%) were neutral contributions
60 (16%) were positive about the impact of Brexit
In other words, "there were three times more anti-Brexit speakers than pro-Brexit ones invited by the BBC to participate in the prestigious slot". 

And, to make matters worse, a mere 2% (10 contributors) were with supporters of withdrawal from the EU. 

The striking thing about this study is that, unlike Cardiff University, all the data on which the findings are posited is laid out in exemplary detail in the report's appendices, available for everyone (BBC detractor or BBC defender) to see and react to. So if the above stats seem astonishing, then just look at the evidence and prepare to be astonished.

I have to say that as someone who often drives to work hearing some of those Today business slots, the feeling of being in the presence of bias is quite powerful - and this report, complete with detailed summaries of every business slot, shows why: It's not just the guest selection, it's also the framing of/steering of the debate in a negative direction by the BBC reporter/interviewer. (The case studies showing this are rather fascinating).

It will be very interesting to see the BBC's reaction to this report's damning and (I'd say) difficult-to-dispute findings.

Update: The Express has an article about these findings.

Further update: The report is also covered by the Sun, and the paper has an editorial about it (alas neither, as far as I can see, yet online). The article quotes the BBC's characteristically arrogant-sounding response. (It sounds to me as if they didn't take too kindly to News-watch's findings):
This flawed analysis is from a group with a slanted perspective and the BBC's coverage has impartially presented an accurate reflection of the business community's viewpoints. 
The BBC has and will continue to cover Brexit in a responsible and impartial way independent of political pressure. The job of impartial journalism is to scrutinise the issues and interrogate the relevant voices, not advocate for a position.
It's precisely for this reason the public trusts the BBC.
You'll note that the BBC spokesman doesn't care to spell out any of those 'flaws'. As with my 2009-10 interruptions stats, they seem to think that a simple dismissive wave of the hand is all that's needed.

And, of course, News-watch isn't asking for the BBC to 'advocate for a position'; it's showing that Today offered a heavily-unbalanced range of speakers and was simply asking for them to report fairly and impartially.

Another update: The Daily Telegraph has an article about the findings as well.

"A moment of calm and clever reflection"

Sayeeda Warsi was on The Andrew Marr Show this morning arguing that the Westminster attack had nothing to do with Islam. People from all religions can carry out violent acts, she said, and Masood "was a violent Christian long before he was a violent Muslim". She also condemned the government's "obsessive focus" on "Islamic ideology" - a term she regards as "not factually correct" - and wants to see the present Prevent strategy replaced by a new strategy which will better engage with Muslims.

Now, you may have thought that her contribution was the usual, predictable guff from the baroness but Andrew Marr ended the interview by gushing:
A moment of calm and clever reflection. Sayeeda Warsi, for now, thank you very much indeed for talking to us.
He'd already described her new book as "eloquent". 

Another poll

Here's an opinion poll finding from YouGov:

Besides the bizarre (but probably inevitable) 9% who think the BBC was biased in favour of Brexit, the interesting statistic here is that only 30% of voters think the BBC behaved impartially over Brexit.


Andrew Marr's introduction this morning:
Good morning A simple hire car. A knife - and they're not hard to buy. And a deranged man who fits no easy pattern. Isn't the truth that sometimes it is completely impossible to stop acts of terrorism, and we need to learn to live with that unhappy fact?
Do we know he was "a deranged man"? 

Saturday 25 March 2017

Further reading

Other BBC-related news this week concerns James Purnell's call for the BBC to be given top billing over rivals like Sky, Netflix and Amazon in TV guides, and for this to be enforced by law. This is something that News-watch's David Keighley describes elsewhere [see below] as "patronising, droit de seigneur" behaviour and an attempt to "steamroller Parliament". 

Also, as well as that letter from over 70 MPs calling for the BBC to get a grip over its Brexit coverage, former culture secretary John Whittingdale has warned that MPs might "escalate" their concerns about the BBC to Ofcom if the corporation fails to stop its negative bias over Brexit - though, to quote David again, Ofcom might not be the tiger Mr Whittingdale hopes it will be:
The focus of Ofcom boss Sharon White seems, however, to be elsewhere. At an Oxford media conference earlier this month her main concern was ‘diversity’ and the lack of older women on BBC screens.  Another major problem is that the Ofcom Content Board, which will be the final court of appeal in complaints about BBC output, is chock-full of ex-BBC figures.
Both of those stories came from the Daily Telegraph.  

Over at The Conservative Woman David Keighley himself reports the outcome of his complaint to the BBC about their coverage of the death of Arkadiusz Jozwik shortly after the Brexit vote - a death the BBC's initial reporting linked closely to claims that the Leave vote on June 23rd had resulted in a rise in hate crimes, presenting viewers with the idea of a frenzied hate-filled gang of youths targeting a Polish man. The police, however, later dismissed the 'hate crime' claim and one boy has now been convicted of manslaughter. David pursued the BBC doggedly through all the stages of the BBC's complaints process (Complaints Unit, Editorial Standards), eventually reaching the stage so many have reached before - receiving notification that his complaint is "not upheld" and won't be taken any further. "Surprise, surprise!", as David says. 

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has a story of BBC 'fakery'. According to the paper, the producers of Reggie Yates's series Hidden Australia wanted to show Aborigines drinking to back up their 'ravaged by alcohol addiction't theme and then "panicked when they realised they didn't have enough footage of drinking", So they roped in some footage of a wake as a 'party scene'. The BBC has apologised for misleading viewers and removed the programme from the iPlayer. The BBC's apology does, however, make it sound as if the independent production company behind it was to blame. It has "banned" them as a result, according to the Mail.

The Mail has a piece today about how unfunny viewers found last night's Comic Relief. I didn't watch it myself so I wouldn't know. We did the usual Comic Relief collection at work but, oddly, no one (and certainly not me) took up the suggestion that we all come to work in our pyjamas. I have seen one clip of it though that made me laugh - though it wasn't an intentional joke. Click here and view the top video. (It involves Russell Brand, though there's no swearing). 

Oddly the sharpest criticism of Comic Relief comes from an article in The Guardian by David Lammy MP. He criticises Comic Relief for perpetuating patronising stereotypes about Africans: 

He points out that many African countries have been doing well recently - and not just as a result of Western charity - with life expectancy and GDP rising significantly in the majority of them. As I didn't watch this year's Comic Relief I can't say whether his characterisation remains true, though it certainly fits with my memories of watching it in years gone by.

Now, all the 'right-wing papers', of course, covered the MPs' open letter about BBC bias, not very favourably for the BBC. The 'left-wing' papers, equally 'of course perhaps', rallied to the BBC. Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror accuses the MPs of trying to "gag" the BBC and calls its "a dumb move" and the Guardian's media editor Jame Martinson accuses the MPs of "blaming the messenger". Though the far-left isn't keen on the BBC, the centre-left still seems fully on board. 

Talking of far-left critics of the BBC, the New Statesman has an interview with the famous Laura Kuenssberg. 'She treads very carefully' is all I'll say about that. 

And at the right-wing equivalent of the New Statesman, the Spectator, there's that Rod Liddle piece which Sue wrote about yesterday. As Sue said, it seems to echo much of what we've been saying to a striking degree. (And I agree with pretty much everything he writes there, even down to his praise for Carrie Gracie).

Plus he tells (or re-tells) anecdotes from his days as a BBC editor (on Today): of the then BBC’s controller of editorial policy who told him that people like us who complain about pro-EU BBC bias are "mad"; of the BBC Brussels office knocking down stories of EU "bureaucratic profligacy and incompetence" because they were so pro-EU; of the BBC chief correspondent who wrote a book about European populists called "Preachers of Hate"; and of his being told that only one person at Newsnight had voted Leave (which is one more than expected!).  

That's enough 'further reading' for today.

End of the (date)line

End of an era on Dateline London today. It was Gavin Esler's final show. He announced that he's leaving the BBC. He was there at the very start of the BBC News Channel (looking a wee bit younger).

'Tory Kuenssberg'

Laura Kuenssberg is in trouble with the Corbynistas on Twitter again. They were absolutely infuriated by this tweet on Thursday:

They accused her of scoring cheap political anti-Corbyn points (and, of course, of being a "Tory"). 

Among the more restrained reactions were:

  • Wow! How low will you stoop to smear the man?
  • Using this situation as an excuse to attack Corbyn is nothing short of disgraceful. Have some respect, Laura, and take a day off.
  • This sort of tweet should be from a personal account - not via @BBCNews
  • Aren't you supposed to be unbiased? Cheap, politically-biased shot that does you and the BBC no credit.

Plus, apparently from a non-Corbynista:

  • I'm no fan of Corbyn. But was this tweet really necessary...?

They do have a point, don't they?

Pause for Thought

You know the one where we complain that the BBC is usually way behind other media outlets when it comes to naming the attackers in an Islamist terrorist attack, well, Channel 4 News (of all people) inadvertently sounded a corrective warning about going too soon with names this week by reporting the wrong name for the Westminster terrorist. 

I saw that unfolding on Twitter. People began putting the wrong name out there. It began spreading like wildfire. I spotted some well-known journalists on my timeline starting to draw conclusions based on the wrong name. Then the controversial ex-Newsnight reporter Secunder Kermani (now a BBC Pakistan correspondent) interjected on Twitter:

Shortly after it was tweeted that Channel 4 News was naming names. Jon Snow announced it straight away. Simon Israel reported it. And then it all fell apart for Channel 4, with audible screech marks being applied as the programme went on and an apology being aired the following day.

That came a few hours after a salutary experience I had at work. The first I heard of the attacks was two guys talking about something on the news. One of them said that the BBC was behind with the story. The other said that the BBC isn't very good at breaking news. They both then agreed that this was because the BBC is a more responsible broadcaster than other media outlets and that they check things before reporting them, and that checking things takes time. They both thought that this is a good thing.

That, of course, made me think at the time that the BBC still has the trust of a lot of people and that the BBC's defence for this kind of delay in reporting things like the suspect's name - that it's them being a more responsible broadcaster than the rest - does (and will) clearly strike many people as not just a good defence but also the only right-and-proper way for a broadcaster to actually behave. 

Channel 4's humiliation will only have reinforced that feeling with such people...

...and will have given pause for thought to others too (like me).

However, the BBC also has a record of not holding back like a responsible broadcaster. It can speculate as wildly as anyone when it (wrongly) suspects (say) a 'white, right-wing' attacker

Moreover, the BBC's record of censoring vital details on these kinds of story has a long and undistinguished history. 

This blog has laid out countless examples of such behaviour (some examples here and here and here and here), and that goes beyond being a responsible broadcaster and pursuing a 'verify, then verify again' approach to breaking news into out-and-out massaging of stories in pursuit of an agenda - usually, in this case, to 'promote social cohesion'.

That is where the bias lies.

On Countryfile

As you'll doubtless already know, Countryfile found itself in the firing line for anti-Brexit bias at the start of the week following a report on last Sunday's edition

The Daily Express, which appears to be in hot pursuit of Countryfile at the moment, picked up on the outrage of some on Twitter and the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph duly followed suit. 

The Daily Express scuffed its attack rather by blaming the wrong presenter, Adam Henson, rather than the man responsible, Tom Heap. Bizarrely, though published several hours later, the Daily Mail did exactly the same thing! - leading me to guess that the Daily Mail writer pretty much copied the Daily Express's article without bothering to do much checking. (After many hours the Mail {online} edited the article to change the name, without printing any acknowledgement that it had done so!). At least the Telegraph got the right man from start. 

It all allowed Tom Heap to ignore the substance of the complaints and laugh it all off:

It made me smile because, as a Countryfile fan, I remember Adam and Tom appearing on a special (from some Countryfile event) and joking that people can't remember which one is which - though that's no excuse for lazy journalists of course. 

As for the substance of the complaints, there's no question that this was a heavily one-sided, negative piece of reporting from Tom Heap. The balance of voices was entirely one-sided and Tom's narrative was cut from the same cloth, reinforcing the negative points being made.

The added irony of that was that Matt Baker introduced the second report by hinting that there would be some balance ("But is it really as bad as some seem to think?") but it never materialised. The second report was as full of people who seem to think its "as bad as some seem to think" as the first report was. There wasn't a positive anywhere to be found. 

I can well understand then why pro-Brexit people poured onto Twitter to complain and anti-Brexit people poured onto Twitter to tell pro-Brexit people that they can't handle the truth. 

Of course, the BBC would say that this is a one-off and judge Countryfile's Brexit coverage over time, but if a report's so biased in its own right, surely that overrules the 'one off' argument?

That said, Tom Heap last got into trouble for anti-Brexit bias with the Express and some people on Twitter for his report from Spain on the 5 March edition, but, to be wholly fair to him, he barely touched on Brexit (though he mentioned climate change a few times) and focused more on possible positive developments for farming courtesy of UK science, so not every complaint against him holds water:
No matter how innovative we are, extending the UK growing season of iceberg lettuces through the winter is never going to be economically viable. There's just not enough sunlight. So if we want them on our shelves in December and January, we're going to have to continue driving them across Europe to get here and that's not helping in our battle with climate change. And then there's Brexit. We don't yet know the future trade deal, but import tariffs are a possibility, so if we can't rely on produce from Europe, could science help us out?
Anyhow, here's a transcript of last week's edition. Please judge if my complaint about it holds water:


MATT BAKER: Now, agriculture is an industry that relies on migrant workers but with Brexit on the horizon, there are worries that we could be facing a severe labour shortage. Here's Tom. 
TOM HEAP: Growing, harvesting and processing our food is a big job. And even at this time of year, there is plenty to do. A small army are preparing for the summer strawberry harvest. The fruit may be quintessentially British, but most of the workers are not home-grown. And on farms across the UK, the changing seasons will bring thousands more European workers. 
ANTHONY SNELL: Well, we're a sort of medium-sized soft fruit business. We grow about 1,000 tonnes of strawberries and about 300 tonnes of raspberries. At this time of the year, we have about 50 to 60 workers and they start arriving here in early February and then once we start picking, in early May, we'll boost up the workforce up to 300 and then it gradually reduces during the autumn time. 
TOM HEAP: Herefordshire soft fruit grower Anthony Snell says it's a British success story, which could be derailed if migration restrictions are introduced. 
ANTHONY SNELL: This isn't anything to do with migration or immigration - this is just seasonal workers coming over here, working hard, benefiting our economy and then going home. TOM HEAP: Put simply, would this farm, on anything like this scale, exist if you didn't have these workers? ANTHONY SNELL: No, there's absolutely no doubt we'd be in serious trouble if we didn't have our seasonal workers coming here. We would be out of business. It would be absolutely catastrophic to our industry. TOM HEAPCould we not go back to the way it used to be, when students and others used to work seasonally, you know, summer jobs in the fields? ANTHONY SNELL: No - the horticulture industry is a very specialised industry. We can't just have people just turning up and picking. You know, we have to train our workforce, these are skilled seasonal workers and there just isn't the British people who want to do this work, although we'd love to employ all British people. 
TOM HEAPHis concerns about recruitment are backed up by a recent National Farmers' Union survey. It showed that this time last year, before the Brexit vote, about a quarter of farmers had problems filling seasonal vacancies. But by September, the ready supply of workers was drying up and all growers had recruitment problems. High numbers of overseas workers are present across farming and not just picking and harvesting. Highly qualified jobs like vets are affected too. At this Cotswold dairy farm, two vets are being trained to carry out TB tests - a vital part of modern cattle farming. The trainees are Cristina from Spain and Olivio from Romania. Their tutor, Ana, is Spanish too. 
ANA CANGA: We have vets coming from Portugal, vets coming from Greece, vets coming from Czech Republic... 
TOM HEAP: In fact, nearly a third of all vets in the UK were trained overseas. And in public health work, like food safety and abattoir inspections, almost all the vets are from outside the UK. 
TOM HEAP: So, is it simply the case that vets from Europe are filling the jobs that British vets don't want to do? ANA CANGA: Exactly, that is what happens. The British vets don't want to work in those fields. TOM HEAP: And for you personally, Ana, you've spent 17 years here, what do you feel about it? Do you feel worried? ANA CANGA: I am, yes, because I have a partner here with me and we are looking for a home to buy. And at the moment, we don't know if we can afford to have a mortgage for 20 years because we don't know if I can stay in this country for that long.
TOM HEAPOthers we spoke to say the fall in the pound since the Brexit vote has put some people off coming to Britain. The poor exchange rate means the most skilled pickers will earn around 75 euros less each week than a year ago. According to the National Farmers' Union, the migrant worker situation is a crisis in waiting, so what's being done? Well, that's what I'll be finding out later. 


MATT BAKER: Agriculture in the UK employs large numbers of overseas workers and with Brexit on the horizon, there are warnings of a severe labour shortage. But is it really as bad as some seem to think? Here's Tom. 
TOM HEAP: Every year, the UK horticulture industry employs around 75,000 seasonal workers, half of them coming from abroad. We're so reliant on workers from overseas to pick and process our produce that it's claimed that, without them, the horticulture business could collapse. And it's not just seasonal workers - farming employs plenty of foreign people who live here all year round, including many of our vets. The concern is that Brexit could mean restrictions on the number of foreign workers coming into the UK, so what can be done? Well, the minister responsible for farming, Andrea Leadsom, recently told farmers that technology has the answers. And for some labour-intensive fruit and veg jobs, we've already made great strides, from GPS-controlled tractors to robot weeders. But could machines replace thousands of seasonal workers? Earlier I met Herefordshire soft fruit grower Anthony Snell. This production line is processing frozen blackcurrants and, like his pickers, most of the workers are from across the European Union. 
TOM HEAP: What's going on here? ANTHONY SNELL: What we're doing now is sorting all the organic blackcurrants and they're going through their final process. TOM HEAP: They're picking out the duff ones? ANTHONY SNELL: They're picking out all the bad ones. The whole horticultural industry is spending a lot of time looking at mechanisation and robotics and everything but there's only a certain amount we can do. You saw us processing organic blackcurrants through a stringing processing line. TOM HEAP: "Stringing", that's a good word. Is that the machine that was shaking them all? ANTHONY SNELL: That's right. It's rapidly vibrating the frozen berries and knocking off the little bits of stalks and everything, clean and ready for your yoghurt. TOM HEAPYeah. Is there any more you could do in this packing side? ANTHONY SNELL: Well, there is, we're looking all the time because we are worried, we arre very worried about the future with the availability of labour. But basically, for the main tasks in horticulture, for picking and in strawberry crops, we need seasonal workers to pick our crops and we can't just replace them all with robots because it's a very specialised job. It would be a pretty clever robot to really replicate all the skills that our staff have. 
TOM HEAPSo what is the solution for the fruit and veg industry? I've come to Barfoots in West Sussex, a huge UK-based international vegetable grower. Three-quarters of their workers are from overseas. 
TOM HEAP: OK, Ewa, what are we doing here? EWA: I need 24 strings to have for one plant, yeah? TOM HEAPThese are the strings for the chillies to grow up. EWA: Yes, it's for the chillies to grow up and I put the thing in the up... 
TOM HEAPEwa is from Poland. She's been here six years.
TOM HEAPYou're very quick. Can I have a go? EWA: Yes. Yes.TOM HEAP: Once round... Oops. EWA: Yes. Then where next? TOM HEAPSecond time... I'm getting the hang of this. EWA: Yes. Very good. TOM HEAPIt'll be done by Christmas if I carry on like that. TOM HEAPGiven the choice, she'd like to stay. EWA: It's a nice job and no stress. TOM HEAPGood money? EWA: Yes, for me, it's better money than I was in Poland. Yes, yes. TOM HEAPAre you worried about anything in the future? EWA: Sometimes I worry about Brexit, yes, because I stay here. TOM HEAPYou want to stay here? EWA: Yes, yes, yes. 
TOM HEAPThere is hope for permanent workers like Ewa, but at the moment, their future here still remains uncertain. There's also a sense that the penny is starting to drop in government regarding seasonal workers too. Brexit Minister David Davis recently said Don't expect the door will suddenly shut. It won't." And the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said just last week "We will need European workers to come and work here for many years to come". Ewa's boss is Barfoot's MD Julian Marks. He says growers and all their workers need a solution and they need it soon.
TOM HEAPHow worried is the whole horticulture industry about labour? JULIAN MARKS: I think the industry is worried in the short term - for 2017 and in general, there is some uncertainty as to whether we'll be able to source enough people to meet the requirements for the 2017 harvest. TOM HEAPReally? Even for this year, there's already a worry? JULIAN MARKS: Even for this year, we're seeing the number of applications from individuals falling, and falling rapidly, as they make choices about where they go to work. 
TOM HEAPThe industry is suggesting its own solution - a new visa system to allow seasonal workers to come to the UK in a controlled way. But again, it's needed quickly. 
JULIAN MARKS: A seasonal permit system is absolutely critical. We need, in 2017, a trial of the scheme which could be applied in 2018. That would then, at least, create certainty for returners and for individuals coming in 2019. TOM HEAPDo you think government get the urgency? JULIAN MARKSI think they're constantly battling the political requirements of immigration and the issues surrounding that and often, perhaps, the economic importance falls away. TOM HEAPIt sounds like they don't get it. You're being too polite to say so. JULIAN MARKSAm I being too polite? Well, they need to get on and do something in 2017. 2018 will be too late. 
TOM HEAPDespite Julian's concerns, the government this week said there will be no workers' scheme in 2017 as employers still have access to EU labour, though it will keep the situation under review. But as for when we leave the European Union, the future still remains uncertain. 


Sammy Wilson - not a Tory

It's interesting the lengths some will go to to discredit criticism of the BBC. 

The Independent has the headline, "Many MPs who complained about BBC's coverage of Brexit are 'hardline Euro-climate sceptics'". It cites a "report" by the pressure group DeSmog UK claiming that 18 of the 72 MPs who signed the letter condemning the BBC's Brexit coverage are 'hardline Euro-climate sceptics'.

Well, for starters, the DeSmog folk are just the kind of trustworthy analysts who think that Sammy Wilson of the DUP is a Conservative MP:

“Within this group of hardline Euro-climate sceptics are also Conservative MPs, David Nuttall, Andrew Bridgen, David Davies, Richard Drax, John Redwood and Sammy Wilson – these men have voted consistently against measures to prevent climate change and have previously rallied against the BBC’s coverage of the topic,” DeSmog said

and the Independent is the kind of (online) newspaper that fails to correct them over that.

The Independent is also the kind of (online) newspaper that misuses the word "many" in its headline. Given that a simple bit of subtraction tells us that if 18 out of 72 MPs are part of this "hardline Euro-climate sceptic" tendency (as DeSmog and the Independent claim) then that means that 54 out of 72 MPs (probably) aren't - and that's "many" more than those who are. 

The headline should, therefore, have read:  "A few MPs who complained about BBC's coverage of Brexit are 'hardline Euro-climate sceptics'".

That open letter

On that letter to Lord Hall from over 70 MPs, here's the letter in full:

Dear Lord Hall,
RE: BBC Coverage of Brexit
Brexit is the most important political challenge facing our country. Bearing in mind the new Royal Charter’s first ‘Public Purpose’ is to impartial news, as national broadcaster the BBC has a special obligation to ensure that it reflects available evidence and the balance of argument on the subject as fairly as possible.
We believe the BBC has fallen far short of this high standard. No doubt the BBC often nurtures first-class journalism but its position depends on trust. If politicians and the public don’t view it as an impartial broker, then the future of the BBC will be in doubt.
When Sir David Clementi, the incoming Chairman of the BBC, gave evidence to the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee in January, he insisted that the Corporation’s treatment of Brexit after the referendum had walked “a good path down the middle” – despite acknowledging that fewer viewers than ever now trust its coverage. We know many Leave-voting constituents have felt their views have been unfairly represented. This phenomenon is weakening the BBC's bond with the 52 per cent who voted Leave and all who wish to make a success of the decision made.
In particular, the Corporation’s focus on ‘regretful’ Leave voters, despite there being no polling shift towards Remain since the referendum, has led some to believe it is putting its preconceptions before the facts. Meanwhile, the posturing and private opinions of EU figures are too often presented as facts, without the vital context that they are talking tough ahead of the exit negotiations.
It particularly pains us to see how so much of the economic good news we’ve had since June has been skewed by BBC coverage which seems unable to break out of pre-referendum pessimism and accept new facts. Some of the signatories of this letter shared many of the concerns about the economic impact of Brexit, but all are delighted to find forecasts of immediate economic harm were at best misplaced. So-called ‘despite Brexit’ reporting may be expected of a partisan press, but licence fee-payers have the right to expect better.
The BBC has a much larger market share than any newspaper – it runs the most-used news website in the country, on top of its television and radio coverage. This, as well as viewers’ belief in its neutrality, means that BBC bias can have a substantial effect on national debate. BBC coverage also shapes international perceptions of the UK: we fear that, by misrepresenting our country either as xenophobic or regretful of the Leave vote, the BBC will undermine our efforts to carve out a new, global role for this country.
We are therefore asking you to take steps to correct these flaws in the BBC’s coverage of our EU exit at the earliest moment.
Yours etc.,

And this is the coverage it received on Today:

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’, 21st March 2016, MPs’ Letter on BBC Post-Referendum Negativity, 7.52am

SARAH MONTAGUE: More than 70 MPs have written to the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, complaining about the organisation's Brexit coverage. They say it’s pessimistic and skewed and risks undermining Brexit and damaging the country's reputation. The letter says, ‘It particular pains us to see how so much of the economic good news we've had since June has been skewed by BBC coverage which seems unable to break out of pre-referendum pessimism and accept new facts.’ Well, we did ask somebody from the BBC to, er, er, come forward, come on the programme and be interviewed, they didn’t want to put anybody forward, they do . . . did issue a statement though that says, ‘While we’re always live to our critics and understand passions are running high, it’s the job of the BBC to scrutinise and analyse the issues on behalf of the public, to hold politicians to account - that's what the BBC has been doing, will continue to do and it's precisely because of that the public trusts the BBC.’  Well, we don't have anybody to take the BBC's side as it were, but we do have our media editor Amol Rajan to tell us about this story.  And Amol, what is the beef? What are they particularly so worried about?
AMOL RAJAN: Well, the interesting thing Sarah, is that actually the BBC's coverage of the referendum itself got some plaudits from unlikely quarters, I mean, the Daily Mail wrote in an editorial that they thought the BBC had broadly got the referendum correct, and actually there was a sort of consensus, I think, amongst Fleet Street the BBC had surprised some people in its even-handedness, (fragments of words, unclear) surprised its critics in its even-handedness of the referendum. And what these MPs are saying, 70 MPs, three of them Labour, UKIP’s Douglas Carswell and, as you say Sarah, lots of people who backed the Remain side, including Julian Knight, what they are saying is actually the BBC has, in effect, reverted to type. And Julian Knight is, erm, you know, the, the open letter to a sympathetic newspaper editor is a hardy perennial of public life, Julian Knight himself, the Tory MP for Solihull, a former colleague of mine on the Independent, used to work for the BBC, he knows about how to get headlines, and he’ll be very pleased being on the front of the Mail and the Telegraph today.  And his basic beef and the beef of 70 MPs is that the BBC is, is two things really: one is that it’s excessively sympathetic to the interests of people that live in cities, so a metropolitan or cosmopolitan outlook – people that are more comfortable, perhaps, with globalisation. And the second thing is that, really, as you say, on the economic news that we’ve had since June 23 last year, lots of that economic news on, on jobs, or productivity being surprisingly positive, the BBC's not given sufficient weight or credence to that news because it's so virulently in favour of remaining within the EU.
SARAH MONTAGUE: And is the BBC guilty of that?
AMOL RAJAN: Well, I couldn’t possibly say. And Tony Hall, I’m sure, I’m sure has got strong views on it. I don’t, I don’t, I mean . . . Tony Hall, and I spoke to a senior BBC source last night who said the BBC’s highly vigilant, it’s staying, you know, it’s monitoring its own coverage of this, er, very passionate affair very, very closely. But I think they recognise that letters like these have a couple of different functions: one is to register genuine dissatisfaction and these Tory MPs, and they’re mostly Tory MPs, are, are dissatisfied; the other is to make something of a threat about the future of the BBC, they do, they do say in the letter that the BBC's future will be, quotes, ‘in doubt’ if it doesn’t get its house in order, and it isn’t seen to be a, quotes, ‘impartial broker’. And the third, thing, I think, Sarah, is to create something of an atmosphere, where the BBC feels that it has to operate (fragment of word, unclear) it’s aware of the fact that its opponents are in a sort of mood of watchful scrutiny over it. We are going to have, you know, a very, very tense negotiation with Europe, and I think the 70 MPs led by Julian Knight, and including some Remainers, are saying, you know, if you guys think you're going to be able to get away with stuff that we don’t like, rest assured, we’re not only watching you closely, but we’re happy to mobilise and generate some headlines, if we think you're getting it wrong.
SARAH MONTAGUE:  But Brexit throws up some enormous challenges, which have been covered on this programme and elsewhere in the BBC – they’re not being, from what I understand, critical of the coverage of that, it’s the sort of . . . the everyday, er . . . the economy effectively since the result?
AMOL RAJAN: Yes, and I think, I mean, there’s another story that’s around this morning, which is separate to this letter, which is covered in the Daily Mail, gets a bit of a billing on Page 1, and also top of Page 2, about whether or not Countryfile, which is watched by millions of people, erm, was excessively, or sort of conveyed a pro-EU mindset, when covering the issue of a migrant labour force. And I think the beef that these MPs have with this BBC’s coverage isn’t just restricted to news, it’s a feeling that the Corporation as a whole is infected by an excessively metropolitan outlook. I’m sure that over the course of today, Tony Hall, Director General will respond, but the striking thing about this for me, Sarah, was that David . . . or I should call him Sir David Clementi, who’s the new Chair of the BBC’s new Unitary Board, it’s in effect in, er, in place from the start of April . . . he’s copied on this letter, he’s copied in on this letter. And I think these MPs and the . . . er, the, erm . . . the sort of irate Tories and people like Douglas Carswell and Iain Duncan Smith, who’s another signatory, are basically saying to Sir David Clementi, as he starts his new role, rest assured that throughout your tenure in this job, we’re watching you.
SARAH MONTAGUE:  Indeed, and to have so many MPs, that’s...I mean, it’s...
AMOL RAJAN: (fragment of word, or word unclear)
SARAH MONTAGUE:  . . . there is a significance there.
AMOL RAJAN: It is, I mean, 70 MPs, as you say, they’re, they’re, they’re cross party lines, there’s three Labour MPs, they include Remainers, erm, it’s interesting, I mean there’s over 300 Tory MPs so I suppose the BBC and certainly the senior person at the BBC I spoke to last night would say: the other way of looking at this is they’ve only got a sort of a fifth of the, er, the Tory MPs, or about a quarter. Er, but it’s a significant number, and it’s, it’s unquestionably the case that lots and lots of people in politics, and amongst the public, and amongst the public, (word or words unclear) that the BBC has consistently, er, even if it’s got the referendum correct, it’s got the post-referendum economy wrong. And I think that’s where these MPs are coming from.
SARAH MONTAGUE:  Amol Rajan, thank you very much.