Sunday 30 April 2017

“We need a coup!!”

It stars Maxine Peake, undoubtedly a terrific actress (sorry, “actor”) who first came to our attention playing the comedic role of “Veronica” in Channel four’s early series of Shameless. 

She’s a communist by the way, and a pretty vocal one with it. 
 She does manage to get herself cast in dramas that have a distinctly ‘lefty’ message, the most cringeworthy of which was “Silk”  (God, that was bad) and she is proud to be known as socialist/ communist and a pro-Palestinian activist 

So I look forward to her portrayal of “Sara Rowbotham, the sexual health worker who repeatedly reported her concerns to the police that the girls were being abused – and was repeatedly ignored”  and I couldn’t help wondering how she would cope with a script that would confront, head-on, the religion of the perpetrators; but I don’t think it will be an issue. By the looks of it they’ll avoid dealing with it  altogether.The Guardian explains:

“It does not focus on the abusers, but the abused: three working-class girls betrayed by the council, the police, and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as the men who stole their lives. The girls were written off by the agencies that should have protected them, because their lives were chaotic and they did not present as ideal victims.”

Fake history

BBC drama, something I rarely watch, does seem (from comments I keep reading on various sites) to be an area of the BBC's output where the bias is especially blatant, and where certain kinds of messages keep getting pushed, often not very discreetly.

This week's episode of Doctor Who, for example (the one BBC drama I usually do watch - and which is very much back on form again), was intended by its 'showrunner' Steven Moffat to deal with the issues of racism and the "whitewashing" of history, and to do so by "bending history". As Mr Moffat put it himself, quite openly:
History is always whitewashed. How do we manage to have a diverse cast despite that? The way that we did it was … [to just] say that you will see people of different colours there. In fact, there were. People all didn’t arrive in the twinkle of an eye. It is bending history slightly, but in a progressive and useful way.
"Bending things in a progressive and useful way!" could be the BBC's new slogan, couldn't it?

The episode was set in 1814 in London, and this was an early bit of dialogue:
Bill: Wait, you want to go out there?
The Doctor: You don't?
Bill: It's 1814...[Pointing to her face] Melanin. Yes? Slavery is still totally a thing.
The Doctor (sadly): Yes, it is.
Bill: It might be, like, dangerous out there.
The Doctor: Definitely dangerous. 
That is certainly "bending history slightly". It ignores some quite significant things in British history. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act had been passed in 1807, abolishing slave trading in the British Empire. Patrols were sent to the African coast to arrest slaving vessels and captains were fined £120 for every slave transported. The West Africa Squadron, part of the Royal Navy, was established to suppress slave trading. By 1811, three years before the Doctor and Bill landed in London, slave trading was made a felony punishable by transportation for both British subjects and foreigners. So slavery was not "still totally a thing" in 1814's London, and this seems to have been "bending history" more than just "slightly"....

....but as the programme was doubtless also doing so "in a progressive and useful way", who cares if it's not entirely true and something of a slur on our country's history? Certainly not too many at the BBC I'd guess.

It's the same old song

The programme, under Mark Mardell's strong and stable leadership, has established itself (at least here and at News-watch) for being among the most relentlessly biased programmes about Brexit across the entire BBC, and regular readers might recall this kind of re-cycled introduction to past posts:

I could have easily trotted that out again today. (Oh, I have done!) Yet again a long string of EU figures and pro-EU journalists/experts piled on the angst and agony for the UK over Brexit for most of the programme (about twenty minutes or so) before, in the last five minutes or so, a pro-Brexit interviewee (Kwasi Kwarteng) appeared and got interrupted by Mark Mardell - and, for good measure, got interrupted by another anti-Brexit interviewee too (Baroness Helena Kennedy), with (for good measure) the Baroness and the BBC man teaming up at one point to tell Mr Kwarteng he was wrong. Plus, Mark Mardell's tougher questions went exclusively to Kwasi Kwarteng. The whole thing seemed very far from impartial. 

Of course, this wouldn't matter if The World This Weekend did other editions which balanced things out by biasing them the other way, piling on the pro-Brexit positives for about twenty minutes then giving an anti-Brexit interviewee a bit of a hard time for a few minutes. But that never happens. It always happens the same way, and that particular anti-Brexit bias happens often - and I've listened to every edition since the EU referendum was first called. 

After last week's half-programme Brexit-bashing interview with Tony Blair, maybe TWTW can devote the whole of next week's edition to an equally easy-going interview with Nigel Farage to try (somehow) to begin redressing the bias. As. If. 

An election like this election is not an election for soundbites, really, but I feel the hand of the BBC on my shoulder

Politicians speaking in cliches, slogans and soundbites has become one of the most familiar features of modern politics over the last couple of decades or so. 

Such phrases, endlessly repeated, get up the noses of many voters but they must also hit home with many other voters, which is why politicians doubtless persist with them so doggedly. 

"Take back control!", "We stand for the many, not the few", "Education, education, education", "Drain the swamp!", "Yes We Can! "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", "Fixing the roof while the sun is shining", etc, etc, etc. 

The latest slogan - the Tories' "strong and stable leadership" - is, for some reason, proving to be particularly irritating to some people - the final straw, it seems. I'm hearing snide remarks about it across the BBC, including from BBC presenters. 

Andrew Marr, as already noted, began his programme today by mocking its use, and his interview with Theresa May also began with him trying to get her not to use it ("Can we agree, to start with, that the one thing that voters deserve in what you yourself have said is going to be a very, very important election, is no sound bites?", "But no slogans, we can agree?", "Strong and stable leadership?"). He'd also mocked the phrase when trailing his programme on BBC Breakfast at 7.30 this morning.

Oddly, the immediate effect of this was that if prompted her to make use of her "strong and stable" cliche even earlier than she doubtless would have done! ("Well, there’s a reason for talking about strong and stable leadership and having a strong and stable government. It’s precisely because this is the most important election the country’s faced in my lifetime. It’s about the future of the country. It’s about the national interest" - which, if you think about it, is just one political cliche after another!).

And on this afternoon's The World This Weekend, Mark Mardell began his closing joint interview with Baroness Helena Kennedy and Kwasi Kwarteng MP by introducing them and then saying, "And both, I'm sure, are far too clever to say 'strong and stable' even once." (It didn't work. Mr Kwarteng used it twice).
They really seem to be trying to stamp it out. Why is it their business to do that though?

"Anyone out there?"

An intriguing glimpse into present-day BBC journalism here, sent out on Twitter by Mark Mardell earlier today:

Does that look as bad to you as it does to me (or am I missing something)? 

More Marr

I've written before about Andrew Marr's views on the Iraq War (and the various ways they've manifested themselves on the BBC over the years), so this morning's closing exchange with Theresa May didn't strike me as being entirely motivated by disinterested, devil's advocate questioning but by his belief that the Iraq War was wrong and his continuing anger at being "misled" about it at the time (as he himself put it last month): 
Andrew Marr: And you have raised again and again the question of Jeremy Corbyn. Can I put it to you that when it came to one of the most important votes that we've had in recent times, on the Iraq war, whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, he was on the right side looking at history, and you were on the wrong side. You went into the voting lobbies behind Tony Blair and voted for the Iraq War that had so many disastrous consequences, and he did the unpopular thing and stood against it. On that at least he was right and you were wrong. 
Theresa May: If we look at the choice in this election, the choice people will be making is who do they want to see as Prime Minister? Who do they want to see leading the Brexit negotiations? Who do they want to see defending this country? Jeremy Corbyn has shown is that he's not prepared to stand up for defence of this country and his economic policies simply don't stand up...
Andrew Marr: If you knew then what you know now, would you still have voted for the Iraq War? 
Theresa May: Well, that's a hypothetical, Andrew. You can only vote...
Andrew Marr (interrupting): Well, it was fairly clear.
Theresa May: any point in time on what you know...
Andrew Marr (interrupting): Do you regret voting for it?
Theresa May: I voted in the way I thought was right when that vote came into Parliament. 
Andrew Marr: But he was right on that and you were wrong. Isn't that the truth? 
Theresa May: I voted in the way I believed was right when the vote came to Parliament.

For fans of stopwatches and calculators everywhere (2)....

And also continuing something we started last week (if you can stand the excitement)...

Today's enchanting edition of The Andrew Marr Show featured two big political interviews.

By my reckoning: The one with the Lib Dems' Tim Farron lasted 9m 38s and contained 6 interruptions; with the one with the Conservatives' Theresa May lasted 23m 46s (almost exactly the same length as the Jeremy Corbyn last week) and contained 25 interruptions.

Using my old 'interruption coefficients' - where you simply divide the number of interruptions (made by the interviewer) by the length of the interview and the higher the interruption coefficient (I.C.) the tougher the interview - that works out today as (drum roll please!): an I.C. of 0.6 for Tim Farron and an I.C. of 1.1 for Theresa May -  meaning that Theresa May fared worst, interruptions-wise, at the hands of Andrew Marr today. 

Slotting those into our new running total, that makes (in descending order of interruption activity from Mr Marr):

Paul Nuttall, UKIP - 1.6
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour - 1.2
Theresa May, Conservatives - 1.1
Tim Farron, Lib Dems - 0.6
Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru - 0.5 

Congratulations to Paul then (so far)!

And as for the content of those interviews...

The Tim Farron interview looked at: His 'difficult first week', including the gay sex controversy; tuition fees; possible coalition deals; the number of seats the Lib Dems need; Tony Blair and a possible 'progressive realignment'; and Boris Johnson's sister switching to the Lib Dems (over Brexit).

Percentage-wise, that's 23 % on 'the campaign so far', 13 % on domestic policy (tuition fees) and 64% on party political/election matters (coalitions, seats, realignment, etc). 

The Theresa May interview looked at: The use of soundbites (like 'strong and stable'); whether her government represents continuity or change of direction; cuts to public sector workers' pay; food banks; the effect of welfare cuts on working people; if austerity was a good thing; school funding cuts; the triple tax lock; social care; the pensions triple lock; Sir Philip Green; Brexit; the rich and tax; her views on the gay sex row; Tory election fraud; and if Jeremy Corbyn was right about the Iraq War.

Percentage-wise, that's 9% on soundbites, 5% on a possible change of direction, 34% on cuts, 21% on tax and spending, 19% on Brexit, 2% on gay sex, 4% on Tory election fraud and 6% on the Iraq War/Jeremy Corbyn. 

Compare those with the one last week with Jeremy Corbyn: 37% on foreign policy and defence, 13% on party political matters, 8% on bank holidays, 19% on private v public in the NHS and schools, and 23% on Brexit).

This all rather takes me down to the 2010 election when I did a similar study of the final three Andrew Marr interviews with the (then) three biggest party leaders - Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The amusing thing looking at the stats from then and comparing them with the latest stats is that, both times around, process rather than policy dominated the interviews with the Lib Dem leaders, and Andrew Marr's interview with the Tory leaders concentrated most both times on the issue of cuts (it took up 67% of the David Cameron interview). He's certainly consistent in that respect!

Introductions (2)

Well, here (hot off the presses) are this morning's introductions, beginning at the beginning with Andrew Marr's main introduction:
Good morning. She's been Prime Minister since July, and there has been, in effect, one single message - I'm Theresa, trust me. But now it's different. She's gone to the country asking for her own mandate, and there is just such a lot we still don't know. This morning, in her first major television interview of the campaign, the Conservative leader Theresa May. The words 'strong and stable' won't I'm sure pass her lips once! And it's been a bruising first campaigning week for Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats. In theory, he should be able to scoop up many of the 48% who voted to remain. I said 'in theory', Tim! And paper reviewers crossing the spectrum - from Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, to The Guardian's Owen Jones. And neatly sandwiched between, the Johnson who's jumped. Breaking her silence, Rachel Johnson on why she's joined the Lib Dems. Plus, Damian Lewis has been telling me how an ex-president gave him advice on playing a bad-boy billionaire. All of that coming up soon. 
As for the introductions to each political interview, here's the one for Tim Farron:
Now, this election was supposed to be the Lib Dems' great opportunity to rise from the dead and speak for the millions who voted to remain inside the EU. Instead, and rather bizarrely, Tim Farron's opening days were side-tracked by a row over whether or not, as a committed Christian, he believed gay sex was a sin. So, can he recover? Well, Tim Farron joins me now. 
and here's the one for Theresa May:
And now I'm joined live in the studio by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. Good morning.
Who came off best there? Who came off worst? How do they compare to last week's introductions? (I'm still keeping my powder dry on those till the election, and I'll let you keep on judging in the meantime).


We BBC bias watchers probably laugh at some things most other people don't laugh at. 

This morning's Broadcasting House paper review featured the man who founded BBC Three. His opening words were, "Well, I love The Observer. It's my favourite newspaper", which made me snort derisively and mutter to myself, "You don't say!". 

My feeling of merriment was based on the fact that I assume that all BBC employees, except Andrew Neil, will inevitably cite either The Obverser or its sister the Graudian as their favourite newspaper, whether asked or not, 

I just thought I'd share that with you.

Going out with a bang

This morning's Broadcasting House featured the sound of Mount Etna just prior to its latest eruption as part of the programme's wonderful 'slow radio' segment. Paddy announced it as the sound of "rock melting". 

It's an extraordinary sound and I would never have guessed it was the noise of lava in action had I not been told. It sounded more like a stream of reindeer bells flowing while a gargantuan reindeer stag panted periodically in the background. (Ed - Nurse!)

The programme ended, as promised, with the sound of what happened next (recorded by a BBC reporter): Etna erupting. 

It also featured a correction from Paddy (which must have spoiled the fun for him somewhat): "A correction: Our slow radio was not "rock melting", and many listeners pointed out it was the sound of lava solidifying and then shattering".

Still, an extraordinary sound.

Three Girls

Here's some quite surprising news...

As reported by the Mail on Sunday, the BBC is planning to broadcast a drama about the Rochdale grooming scandal over three consecutive nights in mid-May. 

The paper quotes a programme source saying:
The drama shows that there was something racial about the way that this gang of Asian men chose these white girls to abuse, like they were just meat. 
(From the Mail article it's pretty clear that the word "Asian" will be the preferred term.)  

Whether the drama will also examine whether there was "something religious" as well as "something racial" about the way the (Muslim) gang chose their (non-Muslim) victims is looking unlikely, at least from the write-up in the Mail.

The paper also goes on to say something striking, and includes another quote from that programme source: 
The £3 million drama will be screened over three consecutive nights from May 16 but the BBC is said to have considered delaying it until after the General Election.  
‘There has been a lot of concern about showing it before the Election because Right-wing groups like the EDL or Ukip may use it to their own advantage,’ said a programme source.
That certainly sounds like the kind of thing the BBC would do. 

A vote-winning policy?

Their economics spokesman Patrick O'Flynn is quoted in various papers giving the reasons behind his party's new policy:
There are three key reasons why the TV licence has had its day. 
The first is technological advance meaning the very idea of charging people a poll tax to be able to watch a screen has become obsolete in the era of Amazon, Netflix and online streaming. 
The second is that prosecutions for non-payment are taking up huge amounts of court time and criminalising many otherwise law-abiding people who are simply strapped for cash. Single mothers are particularly badly hit. 
The third and for me clinching reason is the BBC’s record of political bias, whether over Brexit, the debate over mass immigration, climate change, penal policy, the US Presidential election coverage or a host of other issues.

Saturday 29 April 2017

Flags of inconvenience (updated)

The closing song by The Cranberries on last night's The One Show struck a discordant note - or two. 

Alas, that was partly because the singer, Dolores, was somewhat out of tune

(I feel for her. I'm apparently tone-deaf when I sing, in that I think I can sing but truly, truly can't. I once belted out Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now' to a very rude Karaoke game at a friend's party. The game flashed up a running commentary. I remember "Ouch!" and "Don't give up your day job!".)

The other discordant note came from there being an absolute mass of EU flags (well over a dozen of) being waved behind the performers, with just a single Union Jack for company. 

The social media response was huge and instantaneous. Large numbers of Leavers took to Twitter to ask countless variations on the question "WTF?" while, simultaneously, many a Remainer (including one with the tell-tale moniker Remainy McRemainface‏) took to Twitter to admire all the EU flags, or to gloat at the Leavers, or to do both. 

So what were all those EU flags about? Were they stage-managed by the BBC - and, if so, for what reason? Or were they a stunt (a 'photobombing') by pro-EU activists? 

It was all very strange.

Update: With a very strong tip of the hat to Quelly in the comment below, it's now clear that this was a stunt by pro-EU activists, namely a group called EU Flag Mafia - the same people behind the Proms pro-EU flag campaign last year.

They are jubilant about their One Show action and are, indeed, calling it "a stunt":

Have I Got Tigers For You

This week's Have I Got News For You saw (Establishment lackey) anti-Establishment hero Ian Hislop making a suggestive remark about BBC bias. 

The first segment had focused its satirical mockery on Labour - which, to my mind, is quite unusual for the programme. 

Of course, all of that mockery focused personally on Jeremy Corbyn (which surprised me a good deal less). 

There then followed a short burst of mockery for Tim Farron over the gay sex thing.

And then came the utterly charming mockery of an 84-year old UKIP lady...a "would-be councillor in Glasgow". 

When they mock UKIP, even an 84-year-old woman who isn't even a councillor (and who only wants to be) is obviously fair game. 

Oh, how the audience laughed at her!

(Makes you proud to pay the BBC licence fee, doesn't it?)

At this point Ian began chomping at the bit to have a pop at the Tories, saying:
Are there no questions about the Conservatives at all? Is that the new BBC policy?
The typical metropolitan BBC comedy audience burst into huge applause and cheers. (They must be the same kind of people who tweet about the BBC being 'Tory' on Twitter).

Ian was being very helpful to the BBC there. ('Complaints From Both Sides' and all that.)

Kirsty Young, however, said that the Tories would get their share of the mockery soon enough - and so they did,...

(And they kept a little more till the very end when they did a 'Jacob Rees-Mogg is posh' joke.) indeed they did the previous week when mocking of those very Tories dominated the first few minutes of the programme (with Ian in his element) and mockery of Jeremy Corbyn (personally) was a mere passing whim.

Still, I laughed quite a bit at this week's HIGNFY - especially at the statue of the tiger mascot of the Siliwangi Military Command in Indonesia. The police there had commissioned a statue to represent the fierce and noble beast which they'd chose to represent everything they stand for...

and this was it: 

When asked why did the statue didn't end up looking like the ferocious beast it was supposed to resemble, the police spokesman said it was because "the artist was not that good".

Update (h/t a reader): Now, for a truly fierce beast from an artist who is good, here's Percy Metcalfe’s magnificent Lion sculpted for the Palace of Industry at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924:

"Injecting a bit of realism"

Another beauty?

And, on a similar front, the following report from Damian Grammaticas on tonight's BBC One early evening news bulletin reported the remaining EU's position whilst framing it in terms of Angela Merkel's talk of British "illusions". Damian then added, without appearing to quote either directly or indirectly, and thus giving the impression that he was 'telling it how he sees it'...:
What EU leaders are most worried about is what Angela Merkel has called "illusions" on the British side about what can be achieved in Brexit negotiations. This process today is about injecting a bit of realism into the debate: The EU's red lines. 
Then came a clip from a Mrs Merkel press conference where our Damian, like Chris Morris before him, was shown NOT exactlasking the German leader tough questions from the opposite standpoint (the British pro-Brexit standpoint): 
What illusions do you think some in the UK harbour?
Further EU points followed, from EU spokesman and Damian himself, all pointing to the difficulties for the UK. Anyone waiting for a British pro-Brexit riposte or some points from the BBC reporter putting the counter arguments (for the sake of balance)...


.... will have been left waiting. It was the EU's case, presented as "firm" and "very clear", all the way.

P.S. Though ITV's coverage this evening reported much the same thing, they did at least cite the views of Theresa May and David Davis and described the EU summit as "a carefully staged show of unity" - and that's a good deal more than the BBC did. 


Hm. Here's an exam question based on the opening of tonight's BBC One early evening news bulletin. (I'll let you decide it it's a good one).

Which of the following (if any) do you think are more biased in their way of putting it than all the others? (There may be more than one answer). And, if so, in which direction(s)? Or are they all equally impartial?

The second part of the questions is: And which one of them do you think the BBC actually used tonight?
  1. Good evening. The President of the European Commission has said that many people in Britain are underestimating the difficulties of Brexit. 
  2. Good evening. The President of the European Commission has claimed that many people in Britain are underestimating the difficulties of Brexit. 
  3. Good evening. The President of the European Commission has warned that many people in Britain are underestimating the difficulties of Brexit.
  4. Good evening. The President of the European Commission has told fellow EU leaders that many people in Britain are underestimating the difficulties of Brexit. 

Not speaking truth to power

This afternoon's EU Summit press conference, starring Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, featured a question from a BBC journalist, Chris Morris. 

Did Chris emulate the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, Jon Sopel & Ian Pannell in 'speaking truth to power', as they all did so ostentatiously with Donald Trump? Did he put 'tough', 'cheeky' provocative questions to the EU's powers-that-be and make them recoil with disdain or fury?

Er...not exactly. In fact, quite the opposite:
Prime Minister (of somewhere): Thank you. I now open the floor to questions. We'll start with the gentleman in middle here. Chris?  
Chris Morris, BBC: Thank you, Prime Minister. It's Chris Morris, BBC. And there's obviously been a lot of concern growing about a potential gap in expectations between London and the rest of the EU about how these negotiations are going to proceed. Mrs Merkel, as you know, spoke about illusions in London this week. Can you give any clarity about what the problem is? Is it about the size of the actual settlement? Is it about the fact that, Mr Tusk you seem to suggest, that you haven't had a serious British proposal yet on the issue of citizens' rights? And, secondly, was there anything in the debate today between the 27 which surprised you? Or is your unity so absolute that there were no surprises at all?
As Diane Abbott was wont to say of Keith Vaz, "Slurp, slurp!"

"Little Tim"

If there's one bias that even BBC insiders will sometimes admit to it's that the BBC has a strong social-liberal bias - though, of course, that's also true of many broadcast media journalists well beyond the BBC (though we don't pay for them via a compulsory licence fee).

One of the odder events of last week seemed to manifest that: namely what Stephen Daisley at The Spectator called "the cruel hounding of Tim Farron" over his views on gay sex. 

Though it was Channel 4 News (in the form of Cathy Newman) and ITV (in the person of Robert Peston) who really set this fox running, the BBC sounded the tally-ho too, most strikingly in a report/interview with Mr Farron by Eleanor Garnier which appeared on BBC One's News at Six last Tuesday. The report's introduction was accompanied by this photo of the 'shame-faced' Lib Dem leader:

The tone of the reporting was of Tim Farron finally 'fessing up after "having declined to answer the question" or having "refused to answer this question" despite being asked about it "again...and again":
It's taken him almost two years, since becoming the leader of the Lib Dems, to clarify his position. But the pressure has increased since the election was called. 
- and it was explicit about his Christianity ("Mr Farron, who's a Christian...", "the Lib Dem leader, a committed Christian...", "your Christian belief"...). 

Plus the questioning was accusatory:

  • So, what's changed in the last 48 hours that you are now able to say that you don't think gay sex is a sin, yet for the last two years you have very blatantly swerved the question? 
  • So you were either misleading people before, or you are misleading people now. Which is it? 
  • Isn't it just that it is your Christian belief, and you didn't want to admit it? 
  • So this is blatant electioneering? 

Some have wondered, doubtless reasonably, whether a non-Christian politician would ever be asked such questions (especially the third one). 


Tim Farron, of course, got called all sorts of things last week - "bigot", "homophobe", etc - but at least someone at the BBC was prepared to stand up to him - though naturally not over the gay sex issue.

And the word which broke the camel's back for that particular BBC presenter? Alex Deane's use of the word "little" to describe the Lib Dem leader on last night's The Papers on the BBC News Channel. 

Martine Croxall took great exception to him calling Mr Farron "Little Tim"; indeed, she gave him such a prolonged, schoolmarmish dressing-down that she might as well have just told him to go and stand in the corner and stop being such a naughty political commentator. She just wouldn't let it go. (Alex took to Twitter straight after and began, "Well, that was weird".)

Though it might well make you cringe, you can watch the whole thing unfold by clicking this link to the programme (if I can get it to start at the right time).

It's well worth watching. I've never seen anything quite like it before. 

Ofcom (update)

Kevin Bakhurst

If you recall, last October a study by News-watch found that 10 out of the 13 members of the new Ofcom board charged with being the independent court of appeal for complaints against the BBC had close links to the BBC themselves. 

Though there has been one change to Ofcom's Content Board since then, it has simply reaffirmed the body's BBC links, with James Thickett, former Controller of Business Strategy at the BBC, being replaced by a very familiar name to BBC watchers - Kevin Bakhurst, former Deputy Head of the BBC Newsroom and Controller of the BBC News Channel, as well as Editor of the Ten O’Clock News. (He was forever on the BBC's own Newswatch telling us that the corporation had got it about right about whatever it was he'd been brought onto the programme to defend). 

I was thinking of this again because of an excellent comment at Biased BBC yesterday which included the following paragraph:
At time of writing 9 [he'd missed the past links of Dr. Zahera Harb to BBC Arabic, not mentioned on the Ofcom websiteof the 13 members of the Ofcom Content Board responsible for overseeing the BBC’s impartiality are ex-BBC employees. This is untenable. The arrangement is comparable to the hypothetical scenario of suing someone for libel only to arrive at the court to find that most of the members of the jury are ex-employees of the accused. This would never happen, for good and obvious reasons. In my opinion those charged with judging the BBC’s impartiality should be people with no previous employment at the BBC, and their judgments should not be subject to review by ex-BBC employees anywhere in the Ofcom management chain.
Though maybe asking for no people with previous employment at the BBC might be going too far, the point about the sheer scale of the Board's personal links to the BBC is an important one, and the commenter's "hypothetical scenario" makes for a sharp analogy.

It's all Greek to me

Clytemnestra (Mrs Agamemnon)

It should go without saying that the BBC is, despite the bias we mainly focus on here, still capable of producing many a delight and a few fair wonders. 

My non-work/non-ITBB recreation time this week (of which there was quite a bit) included listening, despite myself, to last week's Drama on 3 on Radio 3: Iphigenia in Crimea - Tony Harrison's gripping take on Euripides's Iphigenia in Tauris. I stuck with it and, in the end, thoroughly enjoyed it.

No dumbing-down there then from BBC Radio 3. 

I'd never seen it before, but it's what Wagner would have called 'Gesamtkunstwerk' (total art work), and I will admit to having become quite obsessed by it...

...despite the slightly jolting fact that Baldrick from Blackadder (Sir Tony of Robinson) is a prominent - and very recognisable - member of the chorus. So here's how I heard it: 
Chorus Member 1: Clytemnestra, we come to you as we would to our clan-chief.
Chorus Member 2: It is right that we honour the wife of the clan-chief when the man-lord himself's not here on the throne-stone.
Chorus Member 3: Is it good news or firm news?
Chorus Member 4: Or merely a cunning plan? I've got a cunning plan, my lady.
Clytemnestra: Like mother, like daughter. May last night's good news give birth this dawn-light to a day like her mother. What I've got to tell you is beyond what you'd hoped for...
Chorus Member 4: A turnip, my lady?
Clytemnestra: The Greek armies have taken the city of Priam.
Chorus Member 3: Taken Troy? Did my ears hear you right?
Chorus Member 1: My eyes fill with tears, tears of sheer joy.
Chorus Member 4: I'll get a little turnip of my own.
Clytemnestra: The cycle is broken and hope starts to happen, and a life-lot that's lucky gets crowned with the laurels. 

Friday 28 April 2017

Meltdown over Israel

Brendan (extra Brownie points for not being a Jew) O’Neil has written a hard-hitting but amusing blog on “Jewish News”. 
It’s about antisemitism on campus again.  “This never-ending meltdown over Israel is the distress of fools” is the title.
You see, Mark Regev, the former spokesman for the Israeli Government and now Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, was invited to speak at SOAS about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. 

However, the good folk at SOAS feared his presence on campus would cause “substantial distress” to the SOAS community.

O’Neil alludes to the “cravenness”  of academics who demand the silencing of speakers they disagree with and call for the expulsion from campus of anyone who “thinks differently from them” and he writes:
“The irony is that anti-Israel activists talk about “Israeli Apartheid”, yet they enforce a discriminatory system against all things Israeli. They treat that nation’s professors, artists, politicians and produce as poisonous almost, liable to warp minds — or cause substantial distress — and therefore deserving of censorship or destruction. They single out Israeli people for nasty, censorious treatment, and then have the front to accuse Israel of having apartheid attitude.”
These are worthy arguments, and the recent descent into snowflakery in the academic world almost beggars belief.

However, there is one aspect of this that we shouldn’t  overlook. 
Fist of all we might ask - Who are the people who would be so distressed at the sight of Mark Regev? 

If they’re from a cultural background that traditionally hates and fears Jews, no amount of verbiage from a Jewish Israeli will bring them round, whether it’s about the prospect of peace in the Middle East or anything else under the sun. Their hostility is irrational and innate and they will cling to it come what may.
The ones that don’t come from such a background, but are nevertheless distressed by the sight of Israelis on campus have been seduced by the sheer passion of those that do, and in the absence of any rational counter-arguments from the likes of the BBC they, too, have abandoned reason. 

(Who truly knows the depth of their distress at the sight of Mark Regev?) 

Test this argument by supposing that the speaker in question was a hate-preacher. Should, say, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi be given a platform on campus? (It’s not such a wild supposition, is it?)  One might indeed wish to no-platform such a person for fear that his passion would persuade or seduce the more vulnerable members of the audience. (If that’s too far-fetched to imagine, think of those gatherings of Palestine Solidarity types who routinely eject Jews asking awkward questions.) 

I don’t relish the thought of, say David Irving’s ideas being given exposure and I’m not ecstatic at the thought of Professor Ilan Pappé and Ghada Karmi influencing gullible students at Exeter University. But there it is. They’re there and there’s nowt I can do about it.

No, the ridiculousness of the SOAS position is not merely a question of no-platforming people who disagree with or think differently from the SOAS community. They don’t merely ’disagree’ or  ‘think differently’. They hate Jews, therefore they hate Israel. Their distress is caused by the prospect of their fear and loathing being exposed for the sheer irrational racism it is.

The eventual outcome of Mark Regev’s night at SOAS was positive. Outside, there were demonstrations by both sides, but the actual event passed without incident. Read Mark Regev’s piece  “Why I accepted invitation to speak at SOAS to put forward Israel’s case.” The fact that he even needed to explain why he accepted the invitation says a lot about the atmosphere on campus, and the fact that he knew it was up to him to put the case for Israel says a lot about the BBC.

Thursday 27 April 2017

Antisemitism on campus

Antisemitism on campus is rife. It turns out that student unions are charities so the Charity Commission is looking into the matter. 

A report about this only went out on the Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning and BBCWatch has covered it already. (!)
I came in halfway through Jon Ironmonger’s report. I missed the intro as well as the footage from the incident at King’s College London earlier this year. But I’ve caught up with it since.

As BBC Watch points out, Jon Ironmonger’s narration includes:
“The Jewish state of Israel is deeply controversial; accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and provoking anger around the world.”
That’s all very well, apart from the fact that the ‘controversy’ and the ‘accusations’ come from the anti-Israel lobby. It’s a bit like me citing one of my own articles to prove that something I said has also been said by ….’me’.

His explanation of the “global BDS movement” contained this little gem:
“BDS pressures Israel to end the occupation of Arab lands by calling for the boycott of Israeli companies and institutions.”
That is so loaded a statement that it’s a wonder it was able to float.  It both reveals and conceals the aim of the BDS movement all in one go. 

Palestinian activists take care to disguise their wish to dismantle Israel and to replace it with yet another Islamic state. But the 5 emboldened words accidentally reveal the truth; they want to end “the occupation”  but as they consider Israel itself to be ‘occupying Arab lands’ (What are Arab lands?) their true aim is more than clear. 

The problem with superficial reports like this is that they take place against a background of disinformation. BDSers justify their anger at “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians” by citing myths and memes based on falsehoods, anti-Israel propaganda and sheer ignorance of history. I doubt that Jon Ironmonger is any better informed than the anti-Israel activists he’s talking to.

We are told that the NUS did not want to comment, and there was no mention of Malia “Zio” Bouattia’s recent defeat in a new election for the NUS presidency. 

At the same time as the enquiry into antisemitism on campus is taking place, a letter signed by a huge number of anti-Israel activists is doing the rounds. The signatories are ‘artists, musicians and people in the arts’, all of whom want to stop Radiohead performing in Israel.
Some of the signatories are prominent figures and well known Israel-haters such as Roger Waters and Ken Loach; others are more obscure.  The most interesting name on the list is is that of Peter Kosminsky, the Bafta winning director of Wolf Hall. 

 In 2011, when “The Promise”, Kosminsky’s Channel 4 drama series was aired Channel 4 gave it the full treatment. 
The publicity surrounding the production promoted it as a drama-cum-history lesson. Channel 4’s International Editor Lindsay Hilsum's Middle East ‘expertise’ was brought in to enlighten viewers who wanted to know what it was all about and there was a ‘livechat’ in the form of a Q & A session, where curious viewers were ‘educated’ by Kosminsky himself. He claimed to be both an impartial observer and a great authority on the conflict.
After a respectable period of silence the mask slipped and Kosminsky started appearing on the panels of virulent anti-Israel /  pro-Palestinian events alongside several other well-known haters.

It’s hard to see how this state of affairs can ever change while antisemitic / anti-Israel myths and memes continue to thrive and the BBC and Channel 4 does nothing to counteract them.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Losses and gains

Sad to lose Eric Pickles, glad to lose David Ward  (and Malia Bouattia

My Conservative woes

Ever since the election was announced I have been avoiding bias-watching and blogging about political programmes. It’s not that I’m not interested, I certainly am. It’s just that I’m incapable of separating my subjective political views from the business of critically objective bias-watching. 
I find it hard to leave my views at the door, so to speak, and as you’ll have noticed, the stop-watch department is in the hands of my co-blogger.

However, there are certain things that I might as well get off my chest. The only credible party at the moment is of course the Conservative Party. That goes without saying. But there are certain things that Theresa May has said that have me deeply worried. Policy issues.
One is her bizarre insistence that it’s only when violence is incited or is being plotted, or after it has taken place that we need to be concerned about Islamic extremism, let alone take action against the perpetrator. It’s plain stupid. As politicians are wont to say - “What kind of country do we want to live in?” 

The  other matter is the ring-fencing of international aid. I don’t even think it’s a vote-winner.
I watched Charlie Webster talking about her near-death experience from a malaria-related complication, and her heartfelt appeal for aid towards malaria prevention, worldwide. She said eradicating malaria is not only do-able, but in the long-term, completely cost-effective. I understand she spoke about this on Capitol Hill recently.

I’m sure there are other worthy causes we might support, and I have no problem with the government aiding genuinely humanitarian causes.
However, the waste associated with present arrangements concerning the distribution of our foreign is shameful. On The Conservative Woman Karen Harradine has written a powerful two-part study of how the DFID money is really spent, which you must read. That topic would make a terrific BBC investigation. You’d think they’d snap it up before Channel 4 gets its hands on it.

Not only the £800 that is being paid (from your money) by the PA as a monthly salary to the murderer of British student Hannah Bladon who happened to be travelling on the Jerusalem light railway when she was stabbed to death by a disgraced and certifiably insane Palestinian man who believed  the act would give him “a way out of his problems”. Which it did - so, not quite so insane after all. That’s Mahmoud Abbas’s peacemaking strategy for you; his preparation for Statehood.

 That particular abuse of foreign aid is absolutely appalling, but it’s not the only abuse Ms. Harradine exposes. The widespread corruption and misuse of British taxpayers’ cash is truly shocking. Do read both articles, part one here and part two here

HARDtalk and the man on the Clapham omnibus

The BBC’s HARDtalk covers a vast breadth of issues. Stephen Sacker sweeps in on all sorts of scenarios and situations, tasked with confronting his prey with a set of penetrating questions designed to expose weakness or hypocrisy. He’s armed with several sheets of paper; perhaps he prepares his own notes or perhaps they are prepared for him by a research team.


Imagine a complex fraud investigation. Just like on TV.
An official body spends hours, days, weeks constructing a watertight case against a devious fraudster whose ‘business’ activities extricated thousands of pounds from customers who cannot immediately tell they’ve been swindled.
Evidence has been seized, statements and counter statements taken, character references concocted and a solicitor painstakingly prepares umpteen charges. Even as the case is ready to go to court the criminal activity is ongoing,
A learned barrister sweeps in from on high and after a cursory glance at the evidence and a last-minute tête-à-tête with the defence, a plea bargain is agreed. Guilty to half the charges and the rest - dropped. Just like that. The upshot: a suspended sentence, not a hefty custodial one as was hoped for.

End of analogy.

Due to being parachuted in with little more than a sketchy overview and a necessarily limited grasp of crucial minutiae, Stephen Sacker is the BBC’s jack-of-all-trades who can only be master of none. (Like that barrister.)
Instead of a bundle of painstakingly prepared evidence, Sacker is only armed with his own research, or that of the BBC. He wades in, woefully ill-prepared, and achieve an inevitably unsatisfactory outcome. I felt this too about Sarah Montague’s interview with Kenneth O’Keefe.

They mean well, but they are only as good as the research they are armed with. They can succeed only as much as that famous passenger on the Clapham omnibus, should he decide to take on an argument he is not absolutely familiar with. 

BBC Watch deconstructs the shortcomings in Sackur's interview with former head of UN ESCWA Rima Khalaf in far more detail than I can. They gave Sackur due credit for the challenges he did make, but like the fraudster in my analogy, Rima Khalif got away with most of her offences.

The woeful inadequacy of another Stephen Sackur episode of HARDtalk has also been mentioned elsewhere on the www. The interviewee was a staunch critic of Islam, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner. Sackur’s principal argument seemed to be  accusing Bruckner of Islamophobia.

I watched Sackur’s latest episode, which was broadcast yesterday. The interview took place in northern Germany and was with the writer Nicklas Frank, the son of Hans Frank the brutal Nazi governor of Poland 1939-1945 who was “hung” (sic) when Nicklas was seven years old. 

Rather than a confrontation, after all there was nothing much to confront Nicklas Frank about, this interview morphed into one of those heart to heart counselling sessions that Victoria Derbyshire specialises in.  The only hook upon which to hang a HARDtalk approach was to question the need for transferred collective guilt and the folly of taking responsibility of the crimes of others.

One point passed by without a challenge from Sackur, one I could really have done with. Nicklas Frank equated criticism of Angela Merkel’s generous refugee policy with the world’s inhospitable response to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. A variant of the Kindertransport / refugee analogy. Interestingly, he also said that he fundamentally distrusted the German character because of a collective refusal to properly acknowledge the crime committed by Hitler (and his own father.) He said ‘the swamp has not been drained’. 

Here endeth the lesson.