Wednesday 29 November 2017

A retweet is not an endorsement!

“Donald Trump, POTUS, has been sharing videos - reTweeting videos which were originally made by the deputy leader of a far right group in Britain called Britain First. Ah, many people regard Britain First as a fascist organisation - certainly on the far, far right, and these tweets purport to show Muslims committing crimes.

Okay, it’s true. Many people do see Britain First in the way Neil described, and yes, the videos are unverified, so they may be less than accurate. (But, hey, as the BBC is wont to say, retweets are not endorsements.)
“He retweeted three posts by a Jayda Fransen today. i assume when he woke up this morning, Washington time. The posts include unverified videos tilted ‘Muslims destroy a statue of Virgin Mary, Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches - I think you get the sense of the kind of things there -  
Franzen is 31, I think she’s the deputy leader of Britain First, she’s facing four charges  - she’s currently out on bail - facing four charges of causing religiously aggravated harassment as part of a Kent police investigation into the distribution of leaflets and the posting of online videos during a trial at Canterbury Crown Court in May. 

This might sound like clutching at straws, but being charged by Kent police isn’t exactly conclusive proof of guilt. Why, only a few moments ago Paul Bacon, the solicitor for  Michael Stone, the man imprisoned for a brutal murder that now appears to have been committed by Levi Bellfield, was on BBC News telling the world that Kent police have lost evidence and been decidedly unhelpful to his investigation.

It’s a bit disturbing, too,  that Andrew Neil (purportedly) hasn’t heard of Britain First, since the BBC made a documentary about it - featuring Jayda Fransen and co. - only a couple of years ago. . Isn’t that a tiny bit remiss of Saint Andrew?  He’s supposed to be on top of the news, surely.
“She’s also due to appear in court in Northern Ireland, charged with using threatening and abusive language in a speech she made in Belfast in August. Mr Trump has 46.3 million followers who will have now been sent these videos from Britain First.

I think I’m right in saying, you may know better - that the man who murdered Jo Cox - who struck her down in cold blood - wasn’t he shouting ‘Britain First’? 

Yes, Andrew, as everyone but you seems to be aware. 
“Brendan Cox, the widow,(sic) has tweeted ‘Mr. Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours, spreading hatred has consequences; the president should be ashamed of himself.”  
In addition to the bizarre nature of the president of the greatest democracy in the world doing this sort of thing it’s a real problem for the British government now, is it not?”

Laura Kuenssberg says everyone would find this completely and utterly repellent. The conversation moved on to the issue of Trump’s forthcoming visit.  Needless to say, everyone present was not enthusiastic. 

Several people have remarked that it doesn’t really matter if the videos are accurate or not, because they represent the sort of thing that does actually happen. 

However, that is the very defence used by Charles Enderlin of France 2, who was responsible for publicising the clip of Mohammad Al Dura all those years ago. If you don’t know the story, Google Philippe Karsenty

And, yes, such things do have consequences.  For example, Daniel Pearl’s murder was ‘justified’ by his killers as revenge for Al Dura. That iconic image has been round the world many times while the truth is still having difficulty tying up its bootlaces. So, yes, if you’re in a position of responsibility you need to be truthful and you need to be accurate. Such a pity Trump chose to reTweet dodgy videos of Muslim aggression when there are plenty of genuine ones available. 

Of course we mustn’t forget Jon Donnison’s infamous tweet, which did such a good turn for the Israel-bashing brigade, and his apology was too little too late. In fact, let’s not forget the way that the BBC wallowed, and still does, in unverified footage of “what Israel is doing”, yet I haven’t heard anyone from the BBC condemn this for “having consequences”.  The BBC is unrepentant, where indirectly stirring up antisemitism is concerned. It’s ‘Islamophobia’ that must not be encouraged.

The rise in antisemitism in the UK coincides with the increase in the Muslim population, but I haven’t heard Andrew Neil getting vocal over that. Israel-bashing has become mainstream at a time when Jeremy Corbyn is interviewed respectfully and his past and present affiliations with antisemitic groups is no longer an issue with the BBC’s two Big Andrews.  

Instead of examining the logic of his own position, Andrew Neil views anti-Islam advocacy as fascistic and far, far right, when logic tells us that the opposite is the case. It’s Islam’s hatred of Jews that most strongly resembles ‘Nazi’ hatred of Jews, whereas  anti-Islam sentiment is based on a preference for western-style democracy and freedom. Acknowledging this is presently deemed politically incorrect by the people that run the BBC. 

Of course the circumstances behind those examples of ‘fake videos’ are very different, but there’s enough similarity in the weakness of the argument (that "It doesn’t matter because we know that sort of thing goes on anyway!") to dismiss it out of hand. Yes, it does matter. Trump should never have done it, and really, he should give Twitter a rest altogether. 

That doesn’t let Andrew Neil off the hook though. The one thing that stands out (for me) most of all is that Andrew Neil sees critics of Islam as ‘fascists’ and far, far right.  Is he unaware that Islam’s teachings about Jews bear a striking similarity to that of the fascists and the 'far, far, right' of 1930s Germany? In fact they are near identical. For anyone who values western democracy, criticising Islam’s worst excesses and most antithetical tenets is entirely rational. Hating a religion and hating a people are very different things and equating Islamophobia with antisemitism is cowardly and wilfully ignorant. 

Sunday 26 November 2017

Open Thread (now with newish image)

Guess which UK daily newspaper's foyer in Fleet Street this is? 

Thank you.

Into dark places


The strange interface between the traditional media, social media and 'fake news' came together this week in a startling story. 

An American vlogger who goes by the name Reallygraceful is absolutely furious at the BBC for dismissing her claims of a paedophile ring operating on YouTube.

She made those claims back in February, and BBC Trending wrote a piece about her at the time

The BBC Trending piece, by Mike Wendling, was headlined Despite rumours, there's no evidence of a paedophile ring on YouTube.

It reported claims that Reallygraceful's claims were "overblown" and that the explicit comments posted on perfectly innocent YouTube videos of children were made by "some shady individuals" rather than by "a paedophile ring". The sub-headline (without any inverted commas) was: Hysteria. The BBC piece quoted YouTube saying that it took quick action to remove such comments. 

Now, Reallygraceful (or Grace, to give her real name) probably caught BBC Trending's eye because she apparently previously promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory - "an invented allegation that a paedophile ring which included Democratic Party officials was centred on a Washington pizza restaurant". Mike described Pizzagate as "a politically motivated plot by Donald Trump supporters". BBC Trending is absolutely fascinated by the alt-right (and other misbehaving Trump supporters). 

Grace, as you can probably imagine, is feeling furiously vindicated by this week's widely-reported news that "hundreds of paedophiles" have been flocking onto YouTube to share lewd comments, swap links to child abuse and to groom children. YouTube's "rhetoric about child safeguarding" (cited uncritically in that BBC Trending piece) has been found severely wanting. Top brands have been pulling their YouTube ads.

In her initial anger she implied (at the time) that the BBC's motivation in the BBC Trending piece stems from the same BBC culture which 'facilitated' and 'covered' for Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall et al. I think that goes way too far, and that actually it's 'merely' a case of BBC Trending sniffing out 'dodgy' alt-right types to dangle in front of the public.

Still, it would be good if BBC Trending revisited this story.

Don't they owe Grace an apology? Wasn't the story much more complicated and serious than they originally thought? Didn't they miss a big scoop?

The complicating factor for critics of the BBC though is that the BBC itself was a key player (along with the Times) in uncovering this week's YouTube story - reporting that finally vindicated Grace. 

I believe in angels. Something good in everything I see.

A moment of history

This morning's The Andrew Marr Show will probably be best remembered for the Archbishop of York finally putting on his clerical collar again after Robert Mugabe's fall from power - a wonderful TV moment.

I watched him live as he took it off and cut it up in protest at Mugabe's cruelty back in 2007 - much to the astonishment of Andrew Marr. 

(And talking about astonishment, I'm astonished that it was ten years ago. It really doesn't feel that long ago. Tempus clearly fugit). 

Archbishop Sentamu used the fragments Andrew had kept safe and sound these past ten years to create a moving metaphor about how Zimbabwe needs to proceed from now on: Gluing those fragments together isn't a good idea. A brand new clerical collar is now needed for Zimbabwe. 

I half-wish I could share his faith. I didn't feel happy with myself for reacting so incredulously to his opening anecdote:
I hadn't been able to sleep and suddenly Zimbabwe were very, very strong in my mind. And I said, "Lord, it's been going on for a long time, how does this end?" And then I almost hear a little voice saying, "Light a candle. At the end when it burns out will be the beginning of the end of the government of Robert Mugabe." I lit the candle, told my wife, and it started burning. It went out on the 14th of November. Very interesting. "Light another, and when it goes out, Mugabe will be gone." And that one ran out on the 21st.

Andrew Marr showing non-Brits how long an inch is

For fans of Mr. Marr's Sunday Morning Sermon, here's today's:
Good morning. There's a long tradition about the days after the Budget. Bit by bit, it unravels, and an ashen-faced Chancellor has to scrabble around apologising for his mistakes. But not this year. Philip Hammond has been warmly applauded by the Tory party. Even the Daily Mail withdrew its claim that he was Britain's Eeyore. But, those forecasts - basically that we're all going to be poorer for much . much longer than we thought - show there might be trouble ahead. Bad for Britain, but in pure electoral terms, perhaps, a huge new opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour. I'm joined this morning by the woman many Tories see as their future Prime Minister - the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson. And by a key member of Labour's economic team, Barry Gardiner, on Labour's vision for the economy. Keeping an eye on both of them, the grand wizard of the numbers, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. And remember this? 
John Sentamu: So I'm not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe has gone. 
Well, I've still got the pieces. But now Mugabe's gone, will the Archbishop put his collar back on? And a message to the UK from ABBA. Benny Andersson has got this to say about Brexit;
Benny: We need you in there.
Sir Tim Rice: Why?
Benny: Because it's like, you have a friend, and he says, we I don't want to be friends with you any more. Stay!
I'll be talking to him and Sir Tim Rice about their Cold War musical, "Chess". Plus, we'll have a fantastic tune from three other musical greats: Jools Holland, Jose Feliciano and Ruby Turner. [It was 'Hit the Road, Jack!'. And very good it was too.] And reviewing the papers - the former Tory adviser and head of media for the Vote Leave campaign, Robert Oxley; the writer and commentator Ellie Mae O'Hagan; and the political editor of the Financial Times, George Parker.
Benny and Sir Tim were charming - friends who disagree on Brexit (though only one has a vote here).

And talking of Benny, I've asked Vladimir Putin if he'll rig a poll for me showing that Lay All Your Love on Me is ABBA's greatest song. There was intense debate about that on Twitter last night and no one else - no one!!! - agreed with me that Lay All Your Love on Me was ABBA's best song, so I want Vladimir to put that right for me - and, while he's at it, 'sort' any libtards who said Chiquitita.


A well known massive Tory

Today's politicians were Labour's mellifluous-voiced Barry Gardiner (he really should do Book at Bedtime) and the Scottish Conservatives' clan chief Ruth Davidson. I thought both got a decent grilling, but quite a few Corbynistas on Twitter didn't agree. Cue Marr editor Rob Burley:

etc, etc, etc.

Real news?

The final item on today's The World This Weekend was a feature about 'fake news'. 

As you might expect from the BBC, this present day issue was framed as being exclusively a problem with social media. Indeed, the piece ended with Jonny Dymond saying, "The headlines...the real news...again".

To put it far too simplistically, the world is increasingly divided between those who think that 'fake news' is a serious problem associated with the mainstream media and those who think it's a serious problem associated with social media - and the BBC, naturally, is very much in the latter camp.

Nick Robinson, would-be doughty defender of the BBC, has a Mail on Sunday piece today headlined Vladimir Putin is using fake news just like tanks and missiles...and from Brexit to Catalonia his goal is to weaken the West. It's also entirely in line with the view that it's social media which is the problem and that the mainstream media is the real, trustworthy media. 

Now, I've absolutely no doubt that Vlad the Imputin is trying to undermine the West and that social media is one of his government's key tools - and Nick's "Now, I’ve learned, there are concerns that Russia is even fuelling anti-vaccine campaigns on social media" is alarming, if the concerns he's "learned" about are justified - but I still think his (biased) slip is showing here.

This is the kind of piece which includes such rhetorical gambits as:
So far, there is no firm evidence the Kremlin tried to, let alone succeeded, in bringing about Brexit. However....
I am not arguing that those who backed Brexit or Scottish independence fell for a foreign plot. But...

(And please read this comment from the Open Thread about Nick's piece too).

My Twitter feed, incidentally, is full of people disagreeing furiously about the Mail on Sunday's lead story concerning claims that the pro-Brexit Legatum Institute think tank is under the malign influence of Putin's government and, through it, that the Russians were linked to "Boris and Gove's Brexit 'coup'".  Some think it's fake news. Others think it's real news.

Andrew Marr (in my view rightly) handled the story cautiously this morning:
Finally, the Mail on Sunday there, quite a complicated story about an alleged link between Brexiteers and Russians and so forth, but you have to follow quite a lot of dots to work it out. 

"Says nearly everyone except Britain"

Here's Jonny!

Today's The World This Weekend began with Brexit, and Jonny Dymond's introduction struck me as being exactly the kind of thing that the BBC's Newswatch programme was on about a week or so ago: the sense viewers have that BBC reporting "is constantly knocking British negotiators, looking for failure". 

Please see what you make of Jonny's framing of the issue:
The clock was set running last Friday. 10 days, said the European Union Council President, for Britain to make progress on all issues if it wanted to get on with the trade talks bit of the Brexit negotiations. Ireland got an especial mention, just in case it had slipped the memory of the British government that the Republic and its border with Northern Ireland were one of the big 3 issues of the pre-trade negotiations stage. Both sides insist they don't want a resurrection of any kind of border but Britain says that Northern Ireland must, as a constituent part of the UK, follow England, Scotland and Wales out of the Single Market and the Customs Union. That, says nearly everyone except Britain, means a border - certainly not Cold War style, probably not in the way it was during the Troubles, but a border nonetheless. That the Irish government does not wish to see. Suggestions waft over from Irish politicians only to be met with silence from the British government.
Now, I must admit that I heard the bits in bold after thinking, 'So the EU sets a clock running and we're just meant to jump, are we Jonny?'. Then came the bits I've highlighted in bold. 

Both struck me as "knocking British negotiators".

Am I right about that? Should I put in a complaint about it to the BBC?

Saturday 25 November 2017

Fergal Keane - Our Man in Africa

Fergal, failing to notice the camera in front of him and looking dreamily into the middle distance

Seeking to lift the profile of their Africa coverage the BBC have recently made the famous Fergal Keane their Africa Editor. 

He's already had the stroke of luck to be doing a to-camera BBC piece at the very moment when Zimbabwe's parliament received Mugabe's resignation letter and erupted with joy (or relief), with MPs quickly running up to talk to him.

Right historic place, right historic time, but still lucky. 

Fergal's From Our Own Correspondent piece this morning was very 'Fergal', sweeping in its scope, ringing with memorable phrases (though I can't quite recall any of them specifically at this moment), and absolutely crystal clear in its sense of who the good guys and bad guys of recent history in that neck of the woods were (Western colonialism and apartheid bad; African liberation heroes good) - except for the USA and the Soviet Union in the Cold War, both of whom were as bad as each other.

His starting point was this fascinating photo from the early 1980s of some of the strikingly-dressed leaders of 'the Frontline states' (plus the SWAPO leader): 

ZZ Top's inspiration for their 1983 classic Sharp Dressed Man

From left to right, there's Sam Nujoma (later president of Namibia), Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola - heroes to some, a rogues' gallery to others, a mixed bag to me. 

Fergal was clearly closest to the first camp there. I smiled at him merely calling the sharp-suited Mr Machel's early '80s Mozambique "socialist" and his leaving-out-an-awful-lot statement that Mr Dos Santos has just resigned the presidency of Angola. (He'd been there for 42 years and very successfully raised corruption to a masterly art form). He did say that old Julius had ruined Tanzania's economy but not why. Bob Mugabe, however, got it in the neck for being far more egotistical than the others - that being his downfall. He'd outlived his welcome (despite being in power five years less than Angola's Dos Santos, who only left office a few months ago).

'Sweep' rather than 'detail' has, fairly or unfairly, always struck me as being Fergal's thing.

There are a lot of very interesting things happening in Africa at the moment from what I can see - varied, complex things. If Fergal Keane can restrain himself from emoting, hunting out sob stories, trying to be 'award-winning', and, above all, forcing his predictable outlook onto everything he reports he could be in for a fascinating time. And so could his audience.

So fingers crossed!

Big Cat Diary

Sir Bill Cash (centre). Kate Hoey (bottom left). And the rest.

When it comes to parliamentary select committees BBC high-ups must fear Bill Cash's European Scrutiny Committee most of all. 

In the last parliamentary session it contained many a Leave-backing lion, ready and willing to sink both teeth and claws into any passing BBC editor hoping to graze peacefully on the Westminster savanna.

Well, the committee's new post-election complexion is now known and I'm guessing that BBC bigwigs will be even more loath to appear before it than before, simply because there are even more lions this time around. 

As 'panels' go this is like a mirror image (or a photographic negative if you prefer) of the stereotypical BBC Remain-biased 'panel'. It's 10-6 for Brexiteers:
Sir William Cash - Leave
Douglas Chapman - Remain
Geraint Davies - Remain
Steve Double - Leave
Richard Drax - Leave
Marcus Fysh - Leave
Kate Green - Remain
Kate Hoey - Leave
Kelvin Hopkins - Leave
Darren Jones - Remain
David Jones - Leave
Stephen Kinnock - Remain
Andrew Lewer - Leave
Michael Tomlinson - Leave
David Warburton - Leave
Dr Philippa Whitford - Remain
Admittedly many of the lions - and the zebra - aren't well know to the public, and I must admit to having only heard of seven of them, but they seem, from Googling around, to be passionate types (from both sides), so it could well be quite a feisty committee.

If, after my big build-up, BBC executives actually end up escaping with a gumming then these are the very people we should hold responsible for failing to hold the BBC to account over their Brexit coverage.

What next?

Just returning to Newsnight and Emily Maitlis getting HM the Queen and Prince Philip's marriage date wrong by ten years (saying - twice - that it was 1937), Samira Ahmed's Newswatch featured the following comment from a viewer called Cedric. (And it made Samira chuckle too).
No. The year was 1947. Surely it should have been apparent that Princess Elizabeth would not have married at the age of 11? Who checks facts? And surely Emily Maitlis's common sense should have told her that none of this could be be true? 
What next? An article about Prince Charles visiting the troops on the Western Front? 

Paul Lewis apologises. Tony (also from 'Money Box') absolves him and hands him five 'Hail Mary's.

Not Martin Lewis

The BBC's bad month when it comes to their reputation for accurate reporting surely reached its nadir this week when Money Box on Radio 4 rightly found itself on the receiving end of a sharp tongue-bashing from both Houses of Parliament.

It must be said though that today's Money Box was exemplary when it comes to 'fessing up and apologising for its mistake (though note the little sting in the tail at the very end).

Only a full transcript will do:

Tony: Hang on a minute, Paul. Before you move on from the subject of Universal Credit we need to discuss this. This is the Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke in the House of Commons on Thursday:
David Gauke: I saw that report on Money Box. It was confused. It was misleading in its alarmist tone. It was inaccurate in the numbers it was using.
TonyTwo hours later in the House of Lords Baroness Buscombe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Work and Pensions, was asked a question about unjustified criticism of Universal Credit, and this is how she replied:
Baroness Buscombe: Indeed. I think my noble friend is referring to the Money Box programme with Paul Lewis where they said 100,000 people would not receive something over Christmas. That is so wrong. My Lords, we are looking to Money Box at the moment to actually correct that, to apologise. I've always put a lot of trust in that programme, and I say this loudly and clearly to Paul Lewis: Now the jury is out.
TonySo the jury is out Paul, and we haven't even heard from your defence.
Paul Lewis: No. Thanks Tony, Well, last week I did say that up to 100,000 people might end up receiving reduced Universal Credit or even no Universal Credit at all over Christmas. Now if Money Box gets something wrong we admit it, and, in fact, it's not as many as that number. So I have to plead guilty to that.
Tony: And how did that happen?
Paul Lewis: Well, first I assumed that the income assessment period, that determines the amount of Universal Credit claimants get, I assumed it was the same for everyone - a calendar month, so the 1st or the 30th of the month or whatever. Now I don't know why I assumed that because I have to say colleagues on the Money Box team told me that wasn't right. But if Universal Credit did work like that then all claimants paid weekly would be affected over Christmas because there are five Fridays in December. Now the fact is the assessment period is different for everyone. It's determined by the day you apply for Universal Credit, and normally lasts a full 30 or 31 days after that.
Tony: So claimants can have five weekly pay packets in one monthly assessment period which will reduce their Universal Credit entitlement?
Paul Lewis: Exactly. but it doesn't coincide necessary with the calendar month. It will happen to all of them four times a year but exactly when depends on when their assessment period started. So some people will undoubtedly receive less Universal Credit  over Christmas and New Year, but by no means all of them.
Tony: So how many?
Paul Lewis: Well, the 100,000 figure I used wasn't accurate. That was calculated from Resolution Foundation statistics about the number of weekly-paid working people coming onto Universal Credit rather than those on it now. In fact Department for Work and Pensions tells us now it's around 67,000 who are paid weekly and also get Universal Credit. Now they will have five weekly pay packets for four months out of the 12 months in the year. So it's reasonable to assume a third of them will be affected in any one month and, in fact, the Department told us yesterday it's 25,000 people who will be affected in December. Most of them will get some benefit but less than usual. So that's it, Tony. If you were on the the jury what would you say?
Tony: I'd say guilty of some mistakes, but you have apologised, so I recommend a week's detention and bring your Universal Credit homework!
Paul Lewis: Yes, I've been doing that all week, and apologies to anyone on Universal Credit who was in any way unnecessarily alarmed. The DWP says people with questions about their claim can ask a question via their online journal, speak to their own work coach or call the Universal Credit Helpline - and that number is on our BBC Money Box website. The DWP also stressed that the Universal Credit system is working as it should. People who earn more in a month get less benefit, and it stresses that even if their benefit is less their total income will actually be more in the run-up to Christmas, though I have to say advice charities tell us this variability makes budgeting on a low income very difficult.

I thought it especially nice that 'Tony' from Money Box, despite finding Paul Lewis guilty, then gave him credit for apologising. 

Wouldn't it be lovely if, whenever we get something wrong at work, one of our friends and teammates (preferably lower down the pecking order) would publicly salute us for apologising (preferably in front of as many people as possible)? If they were paid to do so though, it wouldn't be as gratifying. 

Bias complaints against Evan Davis and Eddie Mair upheld

Evan Davis, sitting on the BBC's naughty step

This week's Feedback ended with Roger Bolton saying:
Finally, last week under pressure from Ofcom, its new regulator, the BBC agreed to publish the number of complaints it receives each fortnight and to reveal which individual programmes had over 100 complaints. We promised to keep you up-to-date with those that concerned radio. Well, the corporation has now published the first wave and...[drum roll]...O bathos! As yet no radio programmes have reached that bar. How inoffensive! The corporation must try harder.
It's quite surprising to think that, say, Today has received fewer than 100 complaints over a fortnight. People are always complaining about Today without, it seems, ever actually complaining about it (if you know what I mean!). 

According to the Guardian, only two BBC programmes have received over 100 complaints - Have I Got News For You and Strictly Come Dancing. 

There are, however, a couple of intriguing passages in that Guardian piece relevant to the main theme of this little blog of ours. 

The BBC has also revealed that a complaint regarding due impartiality and bias against Radio 4’s PM, which is presented by Eddie Mair, was upheld. The complaint related to an episode on 8 June, but details of the issue raised was not provided.
And secondly, 
An episode of Newsnight was also ruled to have bias in its coverage of the French presidential election, giving the impression that the host Evan Davis favoured Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen. The BBC’s executive complaints unit, which handled the complaint, said: “Newsnight has been reminded of the requirements of due impartiality, so that the perception of its coverage matches its intent.”
The Eddie Mair one is mysterious. The BBC isn't saying how Eddie fell foul of the BBC's rules on bias. 

The Evan Davis one is much less mysterious. The only mystery there is why he's not received such a telling-off before!

Is it Maoist to complain about BBC bias?

Back in April, I looked into a tweet by Tim Montgomerie that asked "Are all presenters of Radio 4's Week in Westminster Remainers?" and found that, though they weren't all Remainers, Tim did have a point about the balance of Remainers and Leavers. 

Out of the 26 episodes between the EU referendum and then only 2 episodes had been fronted by an open Leave supporter (Peter Oborne) while 14 episodes had been fronted by open Remain supporters. 

Tim has returned to the fray today with another such tweet

Well, the regular presenters when I last looked in April were: Steve Richards, George Parker (FT), Tom Newton Dunn (Sun), Helen Lewis (New Statesman), Peter Oborne (Daily Mail), Anushka Asthana (Guardian), Isabel Hardman (Spectator) and Jim Waterson (Buzzfeed). Since then there's also been Anne McElvoy (Economist), Paul Waugh (HuffPost) and Sam Coates (Times). 

Tim remains wrong about "not one of them" backing Brexit, given that Peter Oborne is still a regular presenter, but the overall balance - especially with the likes of Steve Richards, Tom Newton Dunn, Helen Lewis and Anne McElvoy being on - remains very heavily pro-Remain and he still has a point....though making it is, apparently, "Maoist":
Tim Montgomerie: Nine (I think) regular presenters of BBC Radio 4’s #WeekinWestminster. Not one of them back Brexit. At least five are Remainers.
Nick Cohen: Tory Maoism (cont).
Tim Montgomerie: Poor Nick. Can’t tell the difference between a Brexiteer wanting balance on a publicly funding broadcaster and a communist tyrant of an undemocratic superstate who killed millions.
I've never thought of myself as a Maoist before just for complaining about BBC bias. That said, I'm off out in a few minutes (despite the wintry showers) to advance courageously under the guidance of the red flag of Mao Zedong thought, and do a bit of shopping.

(P.S. If any of the 70% of 16-24 year olds who Survation found had never heard of Mao are passing by, please write to your present or former schools and complain!). 

Some things never change

A rose among four thorns

I've not done a post about Dateline London in a while, but today's Brexit discussion was so typical that it deserves a brief mention.

Pro-Brexit blog favourite Alex Deane found himself up against it (as he almost invariably does). He was very definitely the odd man out on the panel. Annalisa Piras (of The Great European Disaster Movie fame), Stefanie Bolzen of Die Welt and Bloomberg's Stephanie Baker all piled on the Brexit-related doom-mongering - and piled in on Alex too! And, making it four-against-one, presenter Jane Hill joined in as well, making it a mass assault on the impertinent Brexiteer.

Good old reliable Dateline!

Was yesterday's panic at Oxford Circus really "weird"?

There was an exchange on Today this morning between John Humphrys and BBC reporter Andy Moore about the panic at (and around) Oxford Circus yesterday afternoon. Andy Moore called it "hysteria" and an incredulous-sounding John Humphrys said it was "weird" that a bit of a punch-up (if punch-up it be) led to such "great panic", and that the panic itself was "slightly frightening". As a result, I think this tweet from Spiked applies to Today too:
The Twitterati are mocking the panic at  Oxford Circus today. But violent Islamists have slaughtered 36 people in Britain this year: young girls, revellers, tourists. So people are a little on edge. The media might prefer to forget these acts of mass murder but the public doesn't.

Friday 24 November 2017

Another atrocity

I've been vaguely aware for a while, especially after reading about various atrocities in Pakistan and the hyperactive assault on ancient Sufi shrines in Mali, that Sufi Muslims (the mystical ones) have become yet another of the seemingly endless prime targets for vicious fundamentalist Muslims. 

Watching tonight's Newsnight on the horrific slaughter of Sufi worshippers in Sinai, apparently by Islamic State groupies, only confirms to me that this is yet another murderous problem provoked by the apparently inexorable spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

We'll doubtless be seeing it in the UK soon, following attacks on the Ahmadiyya and the Shia here.

Tonight's Newsnight also saw Mark Urban - one of the BBC's finest - firmly applying the brakes to one of Kirsty Wark's half-baked assertions. Kirsty boldly asserted that today's attack was unprecedented. Mark, evidently somewhat taken aback, replied that that's too sweeping a statement. 

In fact Kirsty's performance during that entire section felt disappointingly under-researched and knee-jerk (in a "London liberal outlook" kind of way). 

She seemed particularly keen to suggest that military aggression shown by the Egyptian authorities might have been (somehow) ultimately responsible for today's attack. 

In that light I wasn't at all surprised when Colonel Richard Kemp tweeted the following tonight about this particular Newsnight segment:
BBC churning out all these so-called experts to blame Egyptian security forces for ISIS attacks in Sinai. Trotting out many platitudes but no alternative to military solution.

Firm but fair (and rather long)

According to our sidebar there are 145 posts on this blog tagged “Andrew Marr”.  The question is, are we, or have we ever been, unfair to Andrew Marr? (I’m sure Andrew Marr is tormented by such uncertainty)

I began by trying to categorise all 145 under headings like: “positive” “negative” ”value-neutral” -  just as Craig might have done. Then I realised this was too ambitious, too unquantifiable, too time-consuming and a waste of time.

Eventually I deduced that most of this impressive total was authored by Craig. Firm but fair, Craig’s posts brim with stats (can’t argue with stats) and feature several carefully transcribed excerpts from Marr’s most exciting exchanges with ladies and gentlemen from all corners of the political scrotum.

Craig must have a crush on Andy; or maybe it's because Andy tackles lots of potentially bias-laden topics - Brexit, domestic politics, current affairs and other contentious matters. Let’s assume it’s the latter.

Although tagged ‘Andrew Marr,’ many of my Marr-related posts (but a paltry 20-something) contain minimal references to Andy, and are often deeply buried within miscellanies and rambles. However, most of the relevant content fits the “positive’ category. 

I know I’ve made this observation before somewhere - I can’t quite lay my hands on it right now, but the gist of it is that without personal experience one can never truly be sure that reports and articles aren't littered with inaccuracies and omissions, which explains how quickly lies travel round the world before the truth has time to put its clod-hoppers on.

Searching YouTube for something entirely different, I stumbled upon the clip from Question Time in which Owen Jones, looking about twelve, rattled off a litany of wrong information to much applause from his fans in the audience. He got away with it simply because no-one, bar one solitary, but very erudite member of the audience (whom everyone ignored) knew any better.

(I do wonder if little Owen has ever offered an apology, perhaps for asserting that “the siege of Gaza stops basic supplies getting in” or for the melodramatic tale about the child of a “BBC journalist" who was sadly killed buy a misfired Hamas rocket.  How about it, Owen?) 
Owen literally talks out of one side of his mouth.

I suppose that’s why reporters travel all over the world just to say something into a mike, but even being on location is no guarantee of accuracy or impartiality. No siree.

I’ve listened to Andrew Marr on Start The Week, and when chairing discussions about fascinating subjects that I find jolly interesting but know very little about, he’s always on the ball.  Or so it seems to me;  but what do I know?
I certainly didn’t know much about Blood, Guts and swearing Robots, and I found that episode riveting. Andy was all ears (!) asking the right questions and making relevant observations. I didn’t even notice, till just now, that apart from the host, all the contributors were wimmin, so we’re ticking the gender box too. (Written before it was illegal to differentiate by gender)

Anyway, this was a good programme and it had me hooked. That is when Andrew Marr is at his best. So, all good. Well, not quite all. Now for something predictable - Andrew Marr’s lazy, incurious, truly BBC,  pro-Palestinian approach to Jews / Israel. 

I still find it incomprehensible that the BBC has taken this anti-Israel approach so firmly, because it goes against all logic and is contra to all the BBC’s other ideological tendencies. It’s doubly disturbing that someone with Andrew Marr’s obvious ability so blindly goes with the flow.

So as not to waste my abandoned categorising, here’s an example
Andrew Marr said: “I don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn has a single antisemitic bone in his body.

Why? What makes you say that, Andy? Besides continual reiteration of the slogan “I’m against racism in all its forms,” all the evidence points to the contrary. Maybe it’s because Andy knows the old bones well enough to realise that the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is too damned stupid to have such refined opinions.   

It is clear to anyone who is familiar with both sides of the so-called ‘narrative’ that when Andrew Marr tackles this subject he sees things from one particular side. Anyone in the know is aware that Israel’s viewpoint is either misrepresented or in many cases entirely absent from the BBC’s reporting, and, when questioning is framed in a partial, Israel-hostile way, they. Will. Notice. 

I’m afraid I’ve said this before, but Andrew Marr, and his employer must know that another side exists, so why don’t they allow their viewers to (at least) know what it is? Routinely withholding crucial information from the audience is a conscious choice, which amounts to no-platforming by stealth.

Netanyahu’s chat with Andrew Marr is history and I expect you’re bored with it,  but since it has been transcribed for us at considerable effort, please let me explain why it appeared more value-laden to me than it might have to the casual (or the anti-Israel ) viewer.

By the way, you don’t have to read on. I can’t make you. The bulk of my analysis is behind a ‘read more” so that its length and dullness doesn’t inconvenience you.

The BBC finds itself between a rock and a hard place vis-à-vis “Israel Palestine”. Damned if y’do, damned if y’don’t. There is a huge audience out there to placate and just think of the outcry  if the  presenter was openly sympathetic to the Prime Minister of Israel. (And to a certain extent, the opposite applies)

'From Fact to Propaganda' is back. Rejoice!

Radio 4's From Fact to Fiction, the series where writers create a fictional response to the week's news, is back for another series

Regular readers might recall that we reviewed the last series in some detail after it featured a toe-curlingly awful agitprop mini-drama on the migrant crisis from Shami Chakrabarti (now better known as Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington in the London Borough of Lambeth). 

We found the whole series to be severely biased - so much so that I rather unkindly rechristened it 'From Fact to Propaganda'. 

Of the eight episodes in the last series, 6 'came from the Left', 2 had no obvious agenda, and 0 'came from the Right' - a crisp demonstration of BBC bias in action if ever there was one.

Will this series be as biased?

The first episode this time around was by the same writer who also kicked off the last series: Chris Dolan. (Spooky, eh?)

Last time round it was a rather funny supernatural dramatic fantasy which made the point that there are more important points to worry about than immigration. 

This time round it was a supernatural-tinged short story centred on the bitter generational split apparently existing in our country today.

Both - you'll be pleased to hear - featured passing pops at Donald J. Trump. (Consistent, eh?)

It certainly wasn't Shami-style sledgehammer agitprop, and I do like a good mysterious short story, but it still has to be said that it was pretty obvious where its political sympathies lay and, as a result, I will be marking it as the first 'score on the door' this series and placing it without compunction in the 'came from the Left' column. 

I'm not sure how many episodes are still to come, but it's probably worthwhile tallying things up again and seeing if any Right-leaning voices are given a platform by the BBC this time round. A nice piece of 'balancing' pro-Brexit agitprop from Nigel Farage anyone?

Another clanger

Hat-tip to Peter for this latest (amusing) BBC clanger...

BBC One's 'News at Six' slips on a Banana skin

Historic moment in Zimbabwe

I was just watching BBC One's News at Six and was brought up short by yet another clanger from BBC News.

Introducing the programme's second story Sophie Raworth read out the following:
Zimbabwe has a new President, only its second in 37 years. Thousands of people celebrated in Harare today as Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in. 
Well, that's simply wrong. Mr Mnangagwa is Zimbabwe's third President in 37 years.

They've obviously forgotten President Banana - the one whose name it was made a criminal offence to joke about (for some reason):

Canaan Banana 1980-1987
Robert Mugabe 1987-2017
Emmerson Mnangagwa 2017- 

So another day, another embarrassing blunder from one of the BBC's flagship news programmes.

Seriously, is the BBC getting worse at this kind of thing? I don't remember them making so many mistakes in the past.

Thursday 23 November 2017

An Independent view of 'Newsnight'

What with (a) incorrectly captioning footage of King Felipe VI of Spain with the name of his father Juan Carlos, and then (b) getting the year of the Queen and Prince Philip's marriage date wrong by ten years, and then (c) with Emily Maitlis mistakenly conferring a generalship on Emmerson Mnangagwe of Zimbabwe, and now (d) the programme wrongly using a clip of Jeremy Corbyn responding to this year’s Spring Budget instead of Wednesday's Autumn Budget, Newsnight has certainly had its fair share of foot-in-mouth incidents over the past few weeks. 

And now, to make matters worse (for them), the Independent's media guru Ian Burrell has gone and applied a friendly boot to the programme's abdomen in a piece suggesting that, for all its virtues, it's no longer "a must watch" and that it looks to be at severe risk after its two main champions - Ian Katz and James Harding - announced that they were heading for the hills.  

I did smile at Ian Burrell saying that Newsnight "can feel like a less punchy version of Channel 4 News, which shares its London liberal outlook and beats it in awards ceremonies and viewers". Even Ian Burrell of the Independent acknowledges that Newsnight has a "London liberal outlook". 

Of course, Newsnight still has its defenders (and I think me and Rob will have to agree to disagree on this one): 

Truthy McTruthface?

The scene that captured the public's attention above all this week was the moving scene with the pilot whales and the dead calf. Here's David Attenborough's script for the segment:
Surviving in the open ocean has always tested animals to the limit, but today they face a new additional threat: Plastic. Just over 100 years ago, we invented a wonderful new material that could be moulded into all kinds of shapes and we took great trouble to ensure that it was hard-wearing, rot-proof and virtually indestructible. Now, every year, we dump around eight million tonnes of it into the sea. Here, it entangles and drowns vast numbers of marine creatures. But it may have even more widespread and far-reaching consequences. A pod of short-finned pilot whales. They live together in what are, perhaps, the most closely knit of families in the whole ocean. Today, in the Atlantic waters off Europe, as elsewhere, they have to share the ocean with plastic. A mother is holding her newborn young. It's dead. She is reluctant to let it go and has been carrying it around for many days. In top predators like these, industrial chemicals can build up to lethal levels, and plastic could be part of the problem. As plastic breaks down, it combines with these other pollutants that are consumed by vast numbers of marine creatures. It's possible her calf may have been poisoned by her own contaminated milk. Pilot whales have big brains. They can certainly experience emotions. Judging from the behaviour of the adults, the loss of the infant has affected the entire family. Unless the flow of plastics and industrial pollution into the world's oceans is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come. The creatures that live in the big blue are perhaps more remote than any animals on the planet. But not remote enough, it seems, to escape the effects of what we are doing to their world.
The Times reports that the BBC has been accused of "not making clear that it had no evidence linking the calf’s death to plastic" despite having made the dead calf "the main focus of a section of the documentary devoted to marine plastic pollution". 

Worse, the BBC's main 'defence witness' has spoken out on behalf of 'the prosecution': 
The BBC admitted yesterday that it did not know how the calf had died. It claimed the link to plastic waste had been endorsed by Paul Jepson, a vet specialising in whales at the Zoological Society of London who advised the Blue Planet II team. Dr Jepson told The Times that no samples were taken from the dead calf. He said it could have died from a natural cause or chemical pollutants could have been a factor.
Now it's certainly fair to note that in that large chunk of prose quote above you will find the words "It's possible", whereby the BBC added a two-word note of caution and, thus, gains itself a little scientific respectability...

...but... many viewers would have taken them on board having heard the long plastic-focused commentary which surrounded them, spoken in earnest tones by the mighty Sir David Attenborough no less? And especially whilst in the middle of watching something so moving for several minutes (with its emotionally-charged orchestral and choral background music)?

The comments below the Times piece are fascinating. They broadly divide into two camps. The first accuses the BBC of fakery. The second says, yes, it may be fakery but it's fakery in a very good cause - i.e. it's a necessary white lie to promote an urgent message about the damage we're doing to ocean life with our plastic waste. 

I'm all on board with the plastics campaign, but this kind of slipperiness with the truth still makes me feel uneasy. I'm not an 'ends justify the means' man when it comes to such things.

Update: There's more on this at The ConversationIt’s great that Blue Planet II is pushing hard on plastic pollution in the oceans – but please use facts, not conjecture. The professor there (who first raised the alarm about the programme) also regrets the BBC's recourse to "fakery". 

Wednesday 22 November 2017

The New Denial

Regular readers of ITBB will have read Douglas Murray’s piece in the Spectator “Beware the modern-day heretic hunters”, and very likely they will also have read Sarah AB’s post on H.P. and viewed the video and listened to the secretly recorded audio from “that interview” . 

This is about the latest kind of denial.  Gender-denial, as espoused by a Canadian uni  professor, described by one viewer of the YouTube video as a “bald something-year-old Canadian (who) sounds like a 19-year old girl from California”. 

Gender denial is an extreme interpretation of the non-binary, non-gender-specific politically correct pronoun-related dictum. Thou shalt not offend the trans. 

Following this dictum to its (il)logical conclusion requires total deconstruction of the conventional structure of language. It requires you to use the plural for the singular, as in 'they / their' instead of the potentially offensive 'he / she' or 'his / hers'.

It also threatens all those languages that ‘gender define’ inanimate objects.  No more 'le' and 'la', no more gender specific word endings. Come to think of it - life could be a lot easier. No more need for non essential ante-natal scans, for a start. Is it a boy or a girl? Who cares. It’s a they. And feminism, poof! All gone. No more gender quotas. No more all-wimmin shortlists. Bye now, all you socially constrictive constructs that are put there to trip people up.

Do listen to the video and the audio if you’ve got a spare hour or three. 
I might have mentioned this before, but some of our oldest, most established utility companies have already transitioned by stealth from relative sanity to gender-fluid pronoun madness. “Your engineer Neil is on their way”. 

May I just say that the clip from Canada’s “The Agenda with Steve Palkin” above is utterly bonkers. 

To a Brit like yours truly Canadians speak like Americans, apart from the pronunciation of “ou” as “oo”. Everything’s fine  until “about” suddenly becomes “aboot". Then you get the giggles, which interferes with the gravity of the debate and lends a slightly hysterical aspect to it.

Professor Jordan Peterson, who has been cruelly labelled ‘alt-right’ by the new order, seems to be the only sane person present, but he undermines the purity of his eloquence a teeny bit by the nuclear-level fury that he is obviously struggling to keep a lid on. (And who wouldn’t be?)

The only other contributor who had some sensible observations to make, a convincing-looking trans,  (man-to-lady) all but obliterated her argument with seductive eyelash flutterings and a very distracting palette of simpering, sexually-suggestive lip-pursing gymnastics. 

The rest of the debate was almost other-worldly, I thought. 

However there is a side, vis-a-vis no-platforming, that needs to be taken very seriously. One way of approaching this question is to cite prime examples of candidates that deserve, indisputably, to be no-platformed, and discuss.  Bringing up topics (or people) that are deemed beyond the pale - Hitler being the most obvious one - immediately shows that it all boils down to a matter of opinion. One man’s terrorist etc etc.
We didn’t like it much when the Labour Party fringe debated “The Holocaust, yes or no”? It seemed utterly offensive and beyond the pale.
Would anyone bother getting worked up about a debate called “Flat Earth, yes or no?”
No, because they’d be confident of a reasonable outcome for the simple reason that the foolishness therein would speak for itself. 
But these days, we can’t rely on any such thing.

One little thing that surprised me was that the BBC actually reported the undercover recording incident etc. on their 'US and Canada' page.  (It has now been displaced.) I didn't expect to find anything, but...
“A Canadian university is being accused of stifling free speech after it scolded a teaching assistant for airing a debate on gender-neutral pronouns.
Wilfrid Laurier University chastised Lindsay Shepherd for showing her class a televised debate featuring Jordan Peterson, a transgender-rights critic.
Mr Peterson has gained fame online with the alt-right for slamming "PC culture" and the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
Many in academia have rallied behind Ms Shepherd and criticised the school.”

....I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, as the BBC is ideologically pro trans. The report is brief but fairly accurate, apart from the dodgy bit about the 'alt-right'. (Should the BBC use such elastic terms without including the customary scare quotes ?)  Interestingly, it refers to her as "Ms Shepherd" throughout. 

What did surprise me was Sarah AB’s rather pompous criticism of Douglas Murray. I thought he was spot on.