Tuesday 31 October 2017


I've learned a new word today: trifecta.

I learned it from Stephen Pollard after he tweeted:

He was talking Newsnight editor Ian Katz's decision to dump the BBC for Channel 4.


And in other news...Sarah Montague is packing her bags and swapping jobs with Martha Kearney. (It's like Game of Thrones at Today these days). 

Sunday 29 October 2017

Belated catch-up

I kept my eye on the blog while I was out of office. Not a lot, but just enough. Indulge me while I revisit some topics that Craig amply covered in my absence. (Or scroll past)

Number one was the episode of Question Time in which Jacob Rees-Mogg did his own side a disservice by quoting from, of all things, a dodgy article in the Sun. Shame, really, when there were umpteen more reliable sources he might have cited. Name one? Well, I can’t think of one right now. Ask me again some other time.
Accusing the BBC of tagging most positive domestic news stories with ‘despite Brexit’ without having specific examples at your fingertips is to walk into a well-worn trap. Best avoided. J R-M should have known better. No good relying on a faint hope that ‘everyone will know what I mean”, is it? He should have cited something more reliable. This blog for example. “Is the BBC Biased?” is not just any old BBC-bashing site. We are reasonable and fair, and we engage with our critics. (At least Craig does). Still, Jacob R-M  has probably never even ‘eard of us.

Next, HIGNFY. I haven’t watched this programme for ages. The humour is so *Laboured* - but I spotted a clip containing some uncharacteristic quips as described here by Craig. 
After the usual hilarious banter from Hislop and Co. about the discredited MP for Sheffield Hallam,  Jared O’Mara, chairperson Rhod Gilbert (of the annoyingly raspy voice) said: 
“In his comments, Jared O'Mara has been homophobic, xenophobic and sexist. Worst of all, in the eyes of the Labour Party, he doesn't have a bad word to say about Jews.”
The embarrassed gasp from the audience (and the cringing faces of the team) said something about the current labour Party’s “perceived” antisemitism. But what? 
On one level, (the groan/gasp) was because there *is* such a thing as antisemitism in the labour party. 
On another level, they groaned it was because the audience doesn’t think there is any such thing… as per the Chakrabarti report. Let’s call it the Alexei Sayle school of thought 
But on a more subtle, double bluff kind of level, the embarrassment could have been related to a rumour that the only ‘parliamentary’ issue that Mr. O’Mara has properly applied himself to is the anti-Israel / pro Palestinian cause.  So, if this is the case, he does have some bad words to say about Jews after all. However I suppose that’s a bit too convoluted for your average HIGNFY audience.

Now for the story I would have addressed at the time, but for circumstances beyond my control. It is, of course, the BBC’s non-coverage of the Israeli Judo debacle in the UAE. I think there’s more to this story than one might think. 
Do you accept that the BBC is more than averagely interested in sport? (Okay, I concede that most of the media is pretty interested in it too.) Whatevah.
Not only is there massive coverage of sport on the BBC website, but each sport, including Judo, seems to have its own section.  Who knew? Not me - (I do now, of course.)

But about this particular incident, not a squeak. That is, despite the pages and pages of reports covering it on a plethora of platforms; try a simple Google: “Tal Flicker”. It's gone viral.
Most comments I’ve seen praise this young man’s dignity.  Several blame the International Judo Federation, or whatever the body calls itself, for allowing this to happen. 

How ever did 'they' (the IJF / UAE) get away with it? 
I was trying to imagine what the BBC might say to justify ignoring the story altogether. It wasn’t on their sports page. It wasn’t even on their Judo page. 

They might claim that only G.B. results are appropriate for the BBC to report, which I suppose is fair enough. But it wasn’t even reported as a news story.  I mean it was a controversial, unsportsmanlike incident with, dare I say it, ‘racist’ overtones. It wasn’t the only incident of that ilk, either. You’d think it would make one of the BBC’s many spin-off departments. Magazine? Trending? But no. Not a sausage. 

Maybe someone should alert Mike Wendling in case he hasn’t heard.

Loaded language

"Rages", "tirade" and "outburst"...and we're only a headline and two paragraphs in!

Only connect

A Dead Ringers joke about Libby Purves's Midweek on Radio 4 was that the sainted Libby would always manage to find some extremely convoluted way to connect all of her random guests (say an astronaut, a novelist, a stamp collector and a homicidal maniac) and thereby create a happy web of interconnectedness between them. 

Dead Ringers's Libby would doubtless have been delighted by a prominent feature on the BBC News website this weekend by the far-left Greek journalist Maria Margaronis entitled Savitri Devi: The mystical fascist being resurrected by the alt-right. It brilliantly manages to connect a Nazi (Savitri Devi) to Golden Dawn and Richard Spencer (no great stretch), and then to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi, linking them all in one wide web of mystical fascist evil.

Now, Maria is quite careful in her wording about Mr Bannon in particular (and, having Googled around, I can find nothing that directly connects him to the Nazi Savitri Devi. Can you?) but certain BBC journalists  - like the BBC's White House reporter Tara McKelvey - are being less cautious in response:

No, Tara, Maria didn't say that. She only very strongly implied it. (And that's not the same thing - at least legally-speaking).

Anyhow, Maria and Tara aren't the only ones busily connecting things at the moment. There's a piece at the Guardian by Carole Cadwalladr today which almost as brilliantly manages to connect "Trump, Assange, Bannon, Farage" in "an unholy alliance". 

Reading it, I believe the headline writers seriously undersold the piece. The headline should have read, "Cambridge Analytica, Trump, LBJ, Assange, Bannon, Bigfoot, Farage, aliens, Putin, Leave.EU, the Loch Ness Monster...bound together in an unholy alliance". 

An invite to the Newsnight studio is surely winging its way to Maria and Carole as we speak, and it's surely safe to say that the late, lamented Libby Purves (still thankfully very much alive at The Times) wouldn't have had to work too hard to harmoniously connect them.

Ask the audience

Here's one I'm not at all sure about, so what do you reckon (if you don't mind me asking)? 

I'm seeing lots of complaints (from left and right) that the BBC is using loaded language against the Catalans who favour independence from Spain. 

One term that's getting people's goat is "separatists," which some see as a negative term, while others dislike the use of "rebellious", saying it is echoing the language used by the Spanish government and, therefore, not neutral. 

Many also strongly object to the language being used by the BBC about Carles Puigdemont, saying that terms like "ex-leader", "former president of Catalonia" and "sacked" are biased as Mr. Puigdemont is still the leader of Catalonia until the moment he and the Catalan people decide otherwise and that this is the BBC once more parroting Spanish government propaganda (or, if you prefer, echoing the British government's position).

What do you think? Is this loaded pro-Spanish language from the BBC or merely the BBC using language that factually reflects the facts as they are on the ground?

Context to Catalonia

Here's a transcription from this morning's The Andrew Marr Show of the very interesting interview with historian Antony Beevor on the subject of Catalonia, posted purely for the sake of posterity.

AM didn't get it off to an entirely accurate start, mistakenly asserting that George Orwell fought "for the anarchists" - something Antony Beevor ever-so-discreetly corrected him over later - but, still, there were lots of illuminating ideas here, and the interview has rightly earned the programme a good deal of praise on Twitter, along with requests for more historians to be invited!

Naturally, a number have disputed some of Sir Antony's statements - interestingly from more than one side. On one side there have been people saying he's not a proper historian for saying that Catalonia was a "country" until the early 18th Century (something they strongly deny was ever the case). On the other side there have been people denouncing him as an "Establishment historian" who is belittling the Catalan independence movement by saying it's losing support and that last week's declaration of independence was provoked by panic. And, opening a third front (so to speak), some communists have denounced Sir Antony for 'lying' about the massacre of Trotskyists by communists during the Spanish Civil War saying, "It was never the case" (even though it was Andrew who first raised the point).

Anyhow, baring all of that - or none of that - in mind, here's the transcription. I suspect, from the questions and the answers in the closing section of the interview, that those who favour the Catalan independence cause will be less pleased about this interview than those who oppose the cause. Those 'urgent' Catalan independence supporters (as AM described them) are apparently heading for collapse and the Spanish are handling things as well as such things can be handled. And people have 'a lot to lose' from a Catalan breakaway (as AM put it).

Andrew Marr: Now, we've been talking, as you've just heard, about Catalonia. We all understand that this is now a confrontation between Madrid and the northern separatists, but what can be difficult to remember is just why feelings run so deep. This goes right back to the 1930s. Many people will remember George Orwell's Homage To Catalonia. He was describing his time fighting for th anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. And I'm joined now by one of this country's prime historians of that war, Antony Beevor. Welcome, Antony Beevor.

Antony Beevor: Hello.

Andrew Marr: Can we start off for people who don't understand the history of this a little bit about why the Catalans feel separate?

Antony Beevor: Well, the Catalans did have their own country and even their own mini-empire back in Medieval times, and it was only really from 1716, after the War of the Spanish Succession and the great siege of Barcelona in 1714, that they were fully brought under the control of Madrid. And it was the first Bourbon king, Philip V, who actually brought this to pass, and this is why they're very reluctant to accept the rule of the monarchy.

Andrew Marr: So they were effectively invaded and grabbed. In modern times, of course, they were mostly on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and most people who go to Barcelona now think it is a very lovely, sun-kissed place with excellent food and so forth should remember what it was like during the Spanish Civil War, as the epicentre of the fighting.

Antony Beevor: Well, it was, and in fact Franco and his generals thought that they would win Barcelona easily but in fact the most desperate fighting took place in the first days, in July 1936, when the generals tried to take over, and they were defeated basically by the anarchists, but also by the POUM, who were sort of semi-Trotskyists who George Orwell was fighting with.

Andrew Marr: Yes, absolutely. And that's the same period when there were terrible massacres of left-wing Trotskyists and anarchists under Stalin...

Antony Beevor: By the communists...

Andrew Marr: By the communists, based on Russia. So a lot of fighting. And these divisions go deep into Catalan society. Which side were you on in the war? I notice that a lot of people mention that Mr Rajoy, the prime minister in Madrid came from a pro-Franco family, for instance, whereas the Catalan leader came from the other side. So these are still deep divisions inside Catalonia?

Antony Beevor: Well, they are deep divisions really throughout Spain. You find so many families where one side came from Franco's side and the other side came from the republican side.  But for the Catalans, I think the most appalling crime of all was the way that the Gestapo handed over the president of the Generalitat, LluĂ­s Companys, to Franco, and he was then executed in 1940.

Andrew Marr: We think of fascist leaders as being 1940s characters, but actually, of course, in Spain it goes much, much later, right up to the 1970s. And after he wins the civil war, Franco really represses Catalan autonomy or independence, doesn't he?

Antony Beevor: Yes, as with the Basque Country as well. He did not want any form of separatism in any part of Spain. And that is also one of the reasons why after Franco's death it was terribly important with the constitution of 1978 for there to be a certain reassurance, shall we say, to the army about the centrality and the unity of Spain.

Andrew Marr: Absolutely. And now we're in this situation where it's all thrown into alarm again. What are your reflections? You know Spain very, very well, and what is happening right now, and the urgency with which the Catalans seem to be demanding independence.

Antony Beevor: Well, what one is seeing, to a certain degree, is that the urgency is actually prompted by the fact that they are losing support for independence. The latest poll shows that actually it is 55% against and only 41% or 42% in favour of independence. And they know they're losing control and this is why there's that much more of a push over recent days.

Andrew Marr: I was reading another historian, I won't say the name, another historian who was suggesting in yesterday's papers that Spain might be on the brink of actual violence and the beginning of a Yugoslav-style break-up.

Antony Beevor: I don't think so. I don't think we're going to see a sort of Catalan version of Eta emerging or anything like that. I'm always rather alarmed in Spain when journalists say, 'Are we facing another Spanish Civil War?'. The conditions are totally separate. I really don't think that...I think Spain is a very mature democracy. I think they probably handle things as best they can in the circumstances.

Andrew Marr: And of course Catalonia is a very wealthy part of Spain. People have a lot to lose.

Antony Beevor: Well indeed, and this is rather like, say, the Northern League in Italy and other independence movements, who are much more interested in paying less taxes. I think on the whole many of the historical arguments tended to be used, if you like, as an emotional support to basically what are rather self-centred (quite often) reasons for independence.

Andrew Marr: So we're in a kind of 'Read the book, don't look at the crystal ball' moment but, nevertheless, at this moment what would you expect for the next few moves?

Antony Beevor: Well, I think we're going to see more or less a collapse. There's going to be a split within the Catalan movement. The extreme activist side, which was already holding Puigdemont a little bit hostage, I think that's going to break away and we're going to see a certain...

Andrew Marr: A fragmentation.

Antony Beevor: A fragmentation. But also, I mean the very fact that you've got 55% supporting the central government and its call for elections means, I think, that we're going to see a calming of the situation, rather than a threat of another civil war, far from it.

Andrew Marr: Antony Beevor, it's been great talking to you. Thank you very much indeed for coming in. 

Into the Labyrinth

Peter Hitchens's Mail on Sunday piece today contrasts how hard it is for most complaints to successfully pass through the eye of a needle that is the BBC's labyrinthine complaints process with just how easy it appears to be to get a happy result out of the BBC if you're complaining about the BBC allowing 'climate sceptics' onto programmes and then failing to do the decent thing and pour boiling hot oil over them throughout. Along the way Mr H. gives a neat description of the BBC complaints process for the rest of us mere mortals:

A disagreement between The Sunday Times and Mishal Husain

The Sunday Times says:

Mishal Husain says:

Saturday 28 October 2017

A story that hasn't caught the BBC's attention

A story I've been seeing all over my Twitter feed but which hasn't caught the BBC's attention is the remarkable story of Tal Flicker, the Israeli judo gold medal winner at a Grand Slam tournament in Abu Dhabi. who sung the Israeli national anthem quietly to himself after his UAE hosts refused to raise the Israeli flag or play the Israeli national anthem. Everyone from Ruth Davidson ("Unbelievably dignified in a really horrible situation") to Marina Hyde of the Guardian ("Shame on the @IntJudoFed for allowing Abu Dhabi to host") has been commenting on it. Where are the BBC on this one?

Have I Got Martin Selmayr Jokes For You

Jared O'Mara, 2006 (band website - as per HIGNFY)

It's been a while since I've watched Have I Got News For You but Sue persuaded me to give it a go this week. It was surprisingly even-handed in its mockery - and made me laugh.

It's probably a sign that I take my duties as a blogger about BBC bias far, far too seriously but I made a list of all the butts of their jokes this week and, yes, it's an eclectic lot:

Kim Jong-un
The Welsh
Southern Rail
Martin Selmayr
The Daily Mail
Donald Trump
Michael Gove
Chris Heaton-Harris
Jeremy Corbyn
Jared O'Mara
Angela Rayner
Jacob Rees-Mogg 
Jeremy Corbyn
Xi Jinping
Donald Trump
Richard Madeley

Some were predictable, others less so. Who'd have thought they'd have mocked the EU's chief knuckle-grinder Martin Selmayr? Or had a right good pop at Labour over Jared O'Mara?

Interestingly, there was a joke about the latter which provoked the BBC studio audience into a loud collective gasp. Some laughed, some sounded uncomfortable. Heads turned.
In his comments, Jared O'Mara has been homophobic, xenophobic and sexist. Worst of all, in the eyes of the Labour Party, he doesn't have a bad word to say about Jews.

Going south

...breaking news...breaking news...breaking news...

Former Labour-high-flyer-turned-high-kicker Ed Balls has been commissioned by the BBC to present a three-part series from the American Deep South. His specific purpose is to talk to Trump voters there.

As Ed isn't someone you'd naturally expect to find it easy to feel empathy towards US conservatives he's probably going to have to work hard to avoid turning out a very predictable BBC narrative here. 

Will he succeed? Will he even try?

Roger Harrabin spanks Lord Lawson of Blaby

(h/t Alan at Biased BBC)

Aw, that's nice! The BBC's environment (activist) analyst Roger Harrabin is showing empathy towards his beleaguered colleagues at Today (where his reports feature regularly) after their recent "spanking" at the kinky hands of BBC Complaints:

Naughty, naughty Lord Lawson! Stop saying things!

But Roger is nothing if not wholly supportive of his bosses' apology, and not above handing out a "spanking" of his own:

As Harry Enfield's Self-Righteous Brother Frank would shout, "Oi, Lawson and the GWPF, no!!!!" 

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

You should know who by now

More Rob Burley, Andrew Marr Show editor, versus the world (of Twitter), here (as ever) presented in the form of dialogue from a West End theatre play:

ROB BURLEY: #marr in the morning: Jeremy Hunt, Diane Abbott, Sir Antony Beevor, Owen Jones, Isabel Oakeshott plus (unpictured) music from Jason Isbell.
BEN DAVIES: Another show, another appearance for Oakeshott. Amazed she's given such freedom to express her horrid views. Down there with Hartley-Brewer.
ROB BURLEY: First time she's ever been on Marr as it happens, but let me guess: you disagree with her opinions?
ROB M: I bet he has no problem with Polly Toynbee on every week though.
ROB BURLEY: Which she isn't obviously. [To Ben Davies] In summary, you prefer Owen to Isabel. Which is fine but not a reason not to include Isabel. Oh and I'm for freedom to express views. You say they're horrid that's well, your opinion, which you have the freedom to express.
BEN DAVIES: Her views are purposefully flammatory, with a lot of misleading conjecture. I'd much prefer someone that talks strictly facts.
ROB BURLEY: So, in summary, your views are better than hers?
BEN DAVIES: Simply, a factual show discussing important matters should reflect factual analysis and evidence.
ROB BURLEY: AKA your views.
BEN DAVIES: Facts aren't views Rob. They're by definition true. She has a tendency for flammatory/incorrect dialogue. We'll see what she says tomorrow.
ROB BURLEY: You won't like what she says & will say you have better facts. You've someone you DO agree with on though so why not just go with it?
WILL HOPKINS: Oakshott represents a fringe of the political spectrum. She gets more airtime than all the left wingers combined, which is mainstream.
ROB BURLEY: She's on with Owen Jones.
WILL HOPKINS: Yes, @OwenJones84 and @rachshabi are the only left wing commentators I ever see. This is how you are perceived, whether you like it or not.
ROB BURLEY: By you Will. Whether you like it or not.
PREMITROM: This has become a form of sport for you Rob :)
ROB BURLEY: If you like. It's a crap sport though, I prefer football.

"Good guy misogyny"

This is very Woman's Hour:

In other words (as Lord Kinnock might put it), "Should men who say they like overweight women being overweight still be condemned because, being men, they can never be right (even though obesity is famously a feminist issue)?"

There was lots of talk, via Jane Garvey, of "the social media gaze", of "objectifying", of things "not being fair", of "body positive" matters, and of "good guy misogyny", etc. Jane said, "Indeed", and everyone lived happily ever after. 

John Simpson reflects

This morning's anniversary special from Today saw the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson looking backwards and forwards. 

His remit was to discuss the key global shifts that have taken place over the sixty years since Today began broadcasting in 1957.

You might have expected the collapse of the Soviet Union and of communism in Eastern Europe to have featured, and the rise of Islam as a serious threat to world peace to get a mention, but neither of those appeared here. 

Still, he was as interesting as ever on China, told a neat anecdote, and his personal reflections on Britain and America in the 1950s were striking (to say the least).

As you may recall, he got into a spot of bother recently for moaning that Britain "no longer feels like (his) country anymore". Well, if this is anything to go by he didn't feel at home in this country back in the 1950s either (a fascinating angle into a way of thinking that is quite alien to my own. I've never felt like rejecting my own beloved country. Cue strains of Vaughan Williams)...

....and as for present-day America, well, don't even go there sister!:

Mishal Husain: Well John Simpson, as the World Affairs Editor, has had the task of interpreting many of those events for BBC audiences here and around the world, and he's with us now in the Wigmore Hall. John, there's a difference between how we see the big moments and how overwhelming the big news stories can seem at the time, and the benefit of being able to look back over 60 years so, so what are the key shifts do you think in the time that this programme's been on air, globally? 
John Simpson: I suppose the most important one is is what's happened to the United States. I went to America first not in '57 but five or six years later, actually just a few months before the assassination of President Kennedy, which I think was the trigger for the kind of slow descent of the United States. You cannot believe how far ahead of the world, the rest of the world, America was at that time, in every single way, and so far ahead socially compared with a place like Britain. I remember thinking...I was a young teenager...I thought, "Whatever is the point of going back to Britain? It's like going back to the Middle Ages from here", and it was only because my visa ran out that I did come back. I think I would have stayed. You do not feel that now about the United States, a country where there are so many child brides, where executions are frequent and barbarous in many states. It's all changed. 
Mishal HusainAnd in terms of what was happening here at at that sort of time in...Britain was in the process of giving over its colonies, so many countries being independent around the world. The Middle East was if not in turmoil certainly pretty dramatic then, as it is now? 
John SimpsonYeah, I mean I suppose you could say the Middle East is one area which is recognisably the same as it was back in 1957, still no real sign of a solution; in fact the very notion of the solution seems further away than it did, well, perhaps not in '57, but than it did 20 years ago. Yeah, I mean, things have changed hugely in the rest of the the world. 1957, European colonialism was still quite a powerful force and large parts of Africa, parts of Asia, still run by by colonial forces. And a good friend of mine went in for a job as a colonial officer in Africa in about that time and he said, rather nervously, "Will Britain still have an empire in Africa?", and man who interviewed him, the grandee who interviewed him, said, "I can assure you you will still have a job by the end of the century", and he was out of it within a few years. 
Mishal HusainNot just a difference but a transformation's been what we've seen in China in that time, and that's something you've reported on a lot. As you look forward is this the century that is, if not China's, then certainly Asia's century? 
John SimpsonWell, I mean, that must be, I suppose, the likelihood. It's just I've got my doubt about it, that the doubts which I've had, because I watched the massacre in Tiananmen unfold in front of my eyes...I've never been able to forget that...but I've always had a slight doubt about China's ability to kind of develop and extend its political thought beyond just the immediate political needs. And now, you know, just in the last few days, President Xi Jinping has taken effectively sole control, his thought is being taught in universities, and it looks to me like, perhaps, storing up trouble for the future. 
Mishal HusainJohn Simpson, thank you.

Sharing the joke

One of the curious things about the furore over Michael Gove's tasteless Harvey Weinstein joke is that Mr Gove's tastelessness was matched by Lord Kinnock. 

'The most-loved Welshman of them all' (as he's universally known) chipped in, "John goes way past groping...way past groping!". 

Twitter didn't like that much either and wanted him tarred and feathered for his misdemeanour.

That being the case, just compare the BBC News website's account with Sky News's account of the same story. 

Both, understandably, devote most of their articles to lengthy criticism of Mr Gove but Sky also gives over two paragraphs and a tweet to criticism of Lord Kinnock. The BBC's report, in contrast, merely quotes Lord Kinnock's joke in passing and devotes no paragraphs or tweets to criticism of him, so from the BBC's account you would never know that anyone had complained about him.

What that means I'll leave you to judge, but it's a marked difference and something must account for it.

Feathers flying and ad homs - update

For more on those 'feathers flying and ad homs' launched against News-watch by the BBC and their allies, please take a read of David at News-watch's response to it all, wherein the folk at Mr Soros's Open Democracy get a taste of their own not-so-marvellous medicine and questions are asked of the BBC.

Outrage on Twitter

Twitter exploded this morning. (Ed - you don't say?

Michael Gove made a tasteless joke on Today and Nick Robinson tweeted about it. 

The Govester has since apologised...

... though calls for him to drowned as a witch or burned alive in a huge wicker man on the outskirts of Brighton are continuing apace.

(Both punishments are far too good for him in my opinion. For this kind of 'joke' only hanging, drawing and quartering will suffice.)

Meanwhile, Nick Robinson has been getting it in the neck too, merely for tweeting about it. He's not apologising though (surprise, surprise!):

And, as Dan Hodges, says, why should he?

Ah, the crazy world of Twitter! Yes, stick with blogs folks!!

Now, I rather suspect that Nick's reasons for tweeting that crack of Michael Gove's weren't entirely pure and that he was possibly mischief-making somewhat in that he must have known that a Twitter Apocalypse would ensue and descend upon Mr Gove for it. He probably didn't guess, however, that he'd end up getting swept up by the unforgiving storm as well. Oh well, how sad, never mind!

Anyhow, Nick's obviously recovering from his experience and is now re-tweeting things like this:

Celebrate good times, come on! (Let's celebrate)

Pop open the warm Prosecco! Emily Maitlis is getting a pay rise! 

According to the Daily Mail, Our Emily is going to get at least £50,000 a year more, putting her on an equal footing with Evan Davis at over £200,000 pa. 

That's one large pay rise for BBC woman, one giant pay rise for BBC womankind.

Those fearing that the BBC might cut back on excessive pay for their top male talent rather than increase the excessive pay of their top female talent will be heartily relieved. 

The BBC is making welcome strides towards offering excessive pay awards to all of its top talent, regardless of gender. 

Emily and Evan are worth every penny of it, of course. I make it somewhere equivalent to the cost of 1,375+ licence fees that they'll each be getting for presenting Newsnight every year. (In comparison, the UK Prime Minister - whose job is far less important and high-pressured than Emily's - costs around 980 licence fees a year.)

It makes you so proud of the BBC!

Oh Donald!

Those impartial BBC reporters have been busy tweeting their usual kind of thing in recent days - 

- and one thing about reading their Twitter feeds is that they most definitely don't reckon the Washington Post's revelations (about the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC part-funding the sensational dossier into Donald Trump's doings in a Russian hotel) amount to much. They're sticking with the Russia-Trump collusion stuff instead. In fact I can only find one figure of equivalent prominence at the BBC reckoning anything much to the WaPo's findings:

The first reply to that tweet made me smile:

Update: Here's another one, concentrating on the really big Trump story:

Violence from both sides

And while I'm giving credit where credit's due to BBC Trending's Mike Wendling, it's only fair that I do an update on something I wrote a month ago today:

Well, that Radio 4 'special' was broadcast last Monday. Entitled Political Violence in America, it looked at the violence of both the far-right and the far-left.

On the Milo question, very little of that interview was played - less than a minute. 

All in all, however, it struck me as being a fair take on the matter. Both sides got a hearing.

One amusing thing (well, it amused me!) was that the Antifa woman Mike talked to after a melee at one protest, who was making much of the violence from the far-right against her and her fellow campaigners, was almost immediately afterwards arrested and charged with inciting a riot. And when Mike arranged a meeting with her at a later date (after she'd rang him up jubilantly having got a far-right event cancelled) she wasn't able to make it because she'd now been arrested on suspicion of battery and resisting arrest!

Cock-up not conspiracy

Nick Bryant, brandishing

Watching BBC One's News at Six last night, there was Nick Bryant live outside the US National Archives enthusiastically brandishing a document:

And there is this fabulous document from the CIA station in London talking of an anonymous phone call to a British newspaper, the Cambridge News, 25 minutes before JFK was killed, as his motorcade was going through the streets of Dallas, telling a reporter to ring the American embassy because there was going to be big news in the offing. That is intriguing. It could be completely irrelevant, but it shows that this document dump which was supposed to kill off the conspiracy theorists could end up actually fuelling them.

"The caller said only that the Cambridge News reporter should call the American embassy in London for some big news and then hung up", said the released memo

Much of the world's media got very excited about that yesterday. Unfortunately for them, this piece of breaking JFK conspiracy news was actually not new news at all. It had been breaking JFK conspiracy news back in 2013 though (or even the late 1970s/early 1980s). 

I found this out from glancing at my Twitter feed this morning and seeing a tweet from BBC Trending's Mike Wendling linking to a 2013 report in the Hertfordshire Mercury - sister paper to the Cambridge News

The article in full runs as follows: 

Mike Wendling excepted here, I have to say that yesterday's reporting of this part of the JFK documents release story makes much of the world's media look like lazy, incompetent buffoons, all getting heavily excited about this memo but failing to check whether it's actually anything new or not. 

And, yes, I'm putting this down to a worldwide media cock-up rather than a conspiracy!

Friday 27 October 2017

'Question Time' on BBC bias

For anyone who wants to savour last night's Question Time discussion on BBC bias (and Brexit), here's a transcript of the relevant section:

DAVID DIMBLEBY: But I want to go on to a question from Sheena Brown, please. Sheena Brown.
SHEENA BROWN: Should Mark Carney and the BBC admit Brexit will happen and get behind Britain instead of deprecating our nation and continually weakening our bargaining stance? 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: Well, that admonition of course comes from something that Jacob Rees-Mogg himself said this week when he called Mark Carney "one of the enemies of Brexit. He's opposed it consistently" and called the BBC "the Brexit Bashing Corporation." Alex Salmond, is that how you see things? 
ALEX SALMOND: No. I disagree with the question from the lady. What weakened Britain's negotiating stance was to invoke Article 50 and to go into a time-limited negotiation where we couldn't afford to have no deal. As soon as we did that, we placed every single card in the hand of the other 27 European Union countries, represented by Michel Barnier. I don't think... I mean, I think we could have the Angel Gabriel negotiating for us and we wouldn't get a decent deal. I actually rate David Davis rather highly, I think he's able, but his disagreement with the Prime Minister this week exemplified the problem he's got. On the one hand, he has to say and pretend that no deal is possible or even semi-attractive and then he has to say it might go down to the 59th minute and second of the 59th hour, or whatever it is. And then he has to say, well, of course we said there was going to be a vote in the House of Commons before that happened, which technically of course then wouldn't be possible. What it exemplifies is this time-limited negotiation, which we blundered into, without securing a positional deal at the end of it because all of the time the clock is working for the other 27. That's what's weakened the UK's negotiating position, not anything that the Governor of the Bank of England has said. 
ALEX SALMOND: Well, I mean, of course I always defend the BBC! 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: I don't remember that during the Scottish referendum? 
ALEX SALMOND: Well, that's the whole point...
DAVID DIMBLEBY: [interrupting] Did you defend the BBC then? I don't think so.
ALEX SALMOND: Let me put this way, if I can give you half a compliment. I think the BBC were much less biased during the Brexit referendum than they were during the Scottish referendum. There you go! 

DAVID DIMBLEBY: Right. Shami Chakrabarti, you go next and I'll come to you in a moment. 
SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: With respect to the questioner, I do think that on this one the Bank of England and the BBC are a distraction from the real problem here. They are not responsible for negotiating Brexit, it's the Government and it's the Government that is failing in that responsibility. Mark Carney... We know that David Dimbleby is all powerful, but he is not negotiating Britain's exit from the EU. The Government is divided. The Government is chaotic. The Government has no plan, and we are in jeopardy as a result. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: Jacob Rees-Mogg?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Thank you. Well, first of all, why I have criticised the Governor of the Bank of England and continue to do so, is that during the Brexit referendum he made the Bank's views of Brexit clear in a way that he never does in a general election. He didn't give his view earlier this year on what Mr Corbyn's economics plans would do to the United Kingdom, but he did express a view on Brexit. That seemed to me to politicise the Bank of England and besmirch its reputation. We trust the Bank of England to be apolitical, to be independent, not to be the creature of whoever happens to be Chancellor...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] What was it he said that particularly offended you? I mean, he said the risk to leave could possibly include a technical recession, didn't he? That's right?
JACOB REES-MOGG:  He warned that there would be a technical recession, but that is a recession...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] A technical recession isn't a recession, is it, actually? It's a 'temporary recession', I think it's called, isn't it? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: All recessions have so far been temporary  in the whole of history...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Well, it depends on the timescale.
JACOB REES-MOGG: A technical recession is two quarters of GDP declining. He said that, he was completely wrong. The Treasury was worse. It said there would be between 500,000 and 800,000 jobs lost purely on a vote to leave, not actually anything happening...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] And the BBC? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Dear Old Auntie. The BBC, how many times have we heard "in spite of Brexit?" In spite of Brexit, a record three million jobs have been created since 2010. In spite of Brexit, unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. 
SHAMI CHAKRABARTI[interrupting] What kind of jobs? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: In spite of Brexit, England defeated the West Indies at Lords. I mean it is... ..it is again and again. 

DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Sorry, do you actually...can you actually specify an occasion when you've heard that? You say that, but have you got a quotation? I've got some other quotations which I was going to get on to. Have you actually got a quotation?
JACOB REES-MOGG: I've got other quotations...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Have you got quotations saying, "in spite of Brexit?" 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, you just have to listen to the news...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Well, that's a generalisation, have you got a specific..?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well. I think anyone who has listened to the news recently has heard the "in spite of Brexit" terminology and...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Are you sure?...
JACOB REES-MOGG: ...I think the audience knows that. 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Yes, the audience seems to agree. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: No, they're shaking their heads there. But you've found one! 
JACOB REES-MOGGThe Sun carried out a survey... 
ALEX SALMOND:  [interrupting] Debate's over! 
JACOB REES-MOGG: This is quite important because The Andrew Marr Show has had 84% of its people on being anti-Brexit. 129 interviewees against, 33 in favour. The balance of the BBC has been against. And actually, I disagree with something Alex Salmond said. I think during the referendum campaign the BBC behaved very well and tried extremely hard to be independent. It got such a shock when we voted to leave that since then I think it has behaved very badly. And I think that the situation we're in terms of negotiations is exactly what you would expect. We have the two-year time limit, which if we hadn't exercised Article 50, the vote would simply not have been implemented. The government had to exercise Article 50 and is now getting on with it. And of course it's an argument. That's the nature of the negotiation. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: The person there on the left, and then I will come to you, Germaine. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: You say about the Bank of England, Mark Carney getting involved, and how he shouldn't be involved. But actually he wouldn't get involved in a general election because if we're not happy with a government, five years from now we can vote them out. With Brexit, this is an entire lifetime. It's going to take a lifetime to fix this situation, however it goes. 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Which makes it even more important that he should have been impartial. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: And the man up there. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: With respect, I think the BBC have been biased against Brexit. I think that during the referendum campaign what you often did was you got someone very intelligent to speak on behalf of Remain and you managed to get someone less intelligent to speak on behalf of Leave. I personally believe that...
ALEX SALMOND: Not you, Jacob! 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: Germaine Greer?
GERMAINE GREER: Well, it's a funny old world, as Mrs Thatcher said. We don't really like bankers very much. They seem to have got us into a terrible mess, and by way of getting us out of it, they got us to pay for it, and it's going on like this. We don't seem to have enough money to do any thing. But the crowning glory comes when we can't find a citizen to run the bloody Bank of England, we have to go to Canada. Now, why did we do that? [To Jacob Rees-Mogg] Why didn't you get the job? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, as the gentleman at the back said, I'm not intelligent enough. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: I said you are intelligent. 

DAVID DIMBLEBY: Camilla Tominey?
CAMILLA TOMINEY: On Mark Carney, I think the main criticism is he got his economic forecasting on Brexit wrong. He talked about the recession, regardless of whether it was technical or actual, and in fact there's been five consecutive periods of growth. I think growth is up 1.9%, which was not what the Project Fear brigade were predicting. On Brexit in general, BBC bias, I think there's two Brexiters on this panel and three Remainers. I don't know whether you've had a panel that's been majority Brexiters, have you, David? 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: We have. We have. 
ALEX SALMOND: How about the average intelligence? 
CAMILLA TOMINEY: Average intelligence, I can't comment on at all, being a lowly journalist, rather than a lofty politician. But I would suggest that actually when we speak to our readers on both sides of the democratic divide, mostly people just say, "Will you get on with it. "Just get on with Brexit. "Stop posturing, stop fighting between yourselves". And the notion of it being a minority as well, overwhelmingly in Parliament people voted to have the referendum in the first place. Overwhelmingly in Parliament, people voted to trigger Article 50. Overwhelmingly, 80% or more of the electorate voted for parties that supported Brexit. So just do it! 
SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: But it's the government has to just do it, not Mark Carney and not the BBC. 
CAMILLA TOMINEY: Well, it's not just the government, is it, Shami? It's also the EU, who, despite this conciliatory offer from the Florence speech are digging in their heels. Even though a deal for them is mutually beneficial. This is what is lost in a lot of the rhetoric. Do the German car industry seriously want to shoot themselves in their own feet by not having a free-trade agreement with the UK? That would cost the German car industry alone 29,000 jobs. The trouble is, the Remain argument, I'm afraid, it fails, because everybody knows deep down that if we do get this 'cake and eat it' scenario, we can have free trade with Europe and we can have free trade with the rest of the world. That is infinitely better. 

DAVID DIMBLEBY: [to Jacob Rees-Mogg] But it's your Chancellor of the Exchequer, isn't it, who says a cloud of uncertainty over the current negotiations acts as a dampener on the economy? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: This is such an opportunity. When we leave, we can set our own tariffs. Tariffs set at the European level make food, clothing and footwear more expensive. They are the highest proportion of the poorest in society's expenditure. If we can get rid of those tariffs, we help the worst off in society. That is a real benefit...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] So why does your Chancellor of the Exchequer not accept this and sound so gloomy? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Because all the Treasury forecasts assume that instead of cutting tariffs on the rest of the world, we raise tariffs against the EU. That is completely insane. The Treasury's forecasts are even worse than the Bank of England. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: You. Yes, sir. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Can I just say to Mr Salmond, you are being deliberately disingenuous. You say we should have gone to the EU and sorted something out before we activated Article 50. You know as well as I do that we weren't in a position to negotiate until Article 50 was activated. 
ALEX SALMOND: Yes. I think at that stage, this is earlier this year, the EU were desperate to have Article 50 invoked. There's no reason for the government to do it. The government should not have invoked Article 50 until the transitional period was agreed...
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3[interrupting] But we couldn't do anything with Europe until we activated Article 50. I
ALEX SALMOND: It's like who blinks first. And unfortunately it was the UK Government. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Why did they do it? They didn't have to invoke Article 50. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: [over hubbub of voices] All right...Let's not go back over that ground. Let's go to another subject... 


It was fascinating to watch David Dimbleby's persistence in pursuit of those objecting to BBC bias, and it was interesting to see Dimbleby Snr replaying Dimbleby Jnr's tactics against Charles Moore on Any Questions

Yet again a Dimbleby demanded specific examples of the BBC using the phrase 'despite Brexit' and the BBC-accusing panellist failed to provide any. 

The Dimblebys appear to be well aware that despite huge amounts of the BBC's reporting implying the phrase 'despite Brexit' the actual words 'despite Brexit' have almost never been used by a BBC reporter/presenter (despite numerous assertions to the contrary). All manner of Dimblebys will always have BBC critics on the run if those critics persist in asserting that the BBC keeps using that very terminology when it doesn't.

Jacob Rees-Mogg also quoted, of all things, that rubbishy Sun survey about the Andrew Marr Show and its guest selection - the one with the incorrect percentages, the fatally-flawed methodology, the total absence of transparency and Benedict Cumberbatch. Of all the statistics to cite, why on earth did he quote that load of old nonsense? It's enough to make you put your head in your hands and despair. (Still, as most people won't know it was a rubbish survey - including Jacob R-M himself it seems! [* see update below] - he probably got away with it).

And then Camilla Tominey tried the "I think there's two Brexiters on this panel and three Remainers. I don't know whether you've had a panel that's been majority Brexiters, have you, David?" question - which was another bad move because it allowed David Dimbleby to say, with no small amount of smugness, "We have. We have". And he can afford to be smug about it because they indeed have had panels with majority Brexiters!

Not the finest quarter of an hour that critics of BBC bias have had but, nonetheless, given how the points they were making might well have resonated with sections of the viewing public, maybe it worked for them after all. After all, what do I know?

* Update: It doesn't seem so after all. Here's Andrew Marr Show editor Rob Burley registering his exasperation with JR-M on Twitter:
  • 1) When the Sun published its cooked up Marr "bias" story @Jacob_Rees_Mogg was quoted. So I contacted him to explain the faulty methodology.
  • 2) Told him they counted the PM - as well as Benedict Cumberbatch - as Remain. Can only assume he thinks that is how they should be counted.
  • 3) For clarity, the Sun counted as Remain or Leave based on pre-referendum position not current position (which is obviously nonsense)...
  • 4) The Sun also didn't check whether the interviewee was even talking about Brexit. Hence them counting Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • 5) Now this categoric nonsense is repeated as fact to millions to by an MP. Brilliant.
P.S. 20:00 27/10: Guess which phrase has popped up this evening in a headline on the BBC News website?