Wednesday 28 February 2018

About as watertight as the BBC's oversight gets

A post at Biased BBC this morning speculated about how the BBC would - or wouldn't - cover the Max Mosley story.

It was noted that the BBC website hadn't covered it yet. 

Checking at 5 pm this evening, it turns out that BBC News website published a report about it at 12:05 today, but by 5 pm it wasn't on the Home page or the UK page and was the-last-but-one news story on the Politics page. 

Coincidentally, also at 5 pm. I spotted on my Twitter feed that the Daily Mail had now passed their "dossier of evidence" to the CPS and the Metropolitan Police, so it looks as if the BBC News website might have to disinter their quickly-buried story.

London - A City in Flight (Updated)

A guest post by Loondon Calling....

Science Fiction writers and Futurists have long conjured with the possibilities surrounding Cities in Flight. An early version of the theme, later to be taken up by science-fiction writers, dates back to 1928, the year of Stalin’s first 5-year plan. Georgii Kruticov, a Russian student of architecture  envisaged a city-sized nuclear powered apparatus such as his illustration: 

The idea was seized upon by the generation of mid-century Futurist Dreamers including writer James Blish, who explored the theme during the 1970s in his Cities in Flight series. Here, with the help of anti-matter, complete cities were able to cut themselves free and blast off in order to go it alone in the universe, leaving behind the encumbrance of a dystopian world. At roughly the same time the great American visionary architect engineer and philosopher Richard Buckminster Fuller was proving that these machinations of cities floating above the earth were technically possible by a combination of hermetically sealed tensegrity structures and temperature control. His project  Cloud Nine envisaged huge spherical assemblies tethered to the ground: 

With advances in technology, these early schemes have their recent manifestations, such as an airborne city visualisation from the architect Tiago Barros - Passing Clouds: 

There is a strong similarity of this image with that of high-rise London buildings poking through the clouds: 

What could be easier? A flight into London City Airport, a short hop, an elevator up to the top floor of No. I, Canada Square, and you’ve arrived! Should you stay there, or should you move on to another location above Paris, Rome or New York - or, of course, Brussels?

One of the most recent and vivid iterations of this concept is described in a book by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engine. Here, an idea that London has become acquisitive and uses its new-found capacity for flight to plunder other cities and strip them of their material assets, in a world where, as Buckminster Fuller insisted, resources were finite. The main theory of Municipal Darwinism as described by Reeve, is a predator and prey cycle; if the bigger town is faster than the smaller, the smaller town will be eaten. it's a … game which refers to the fact that the society that engages of Municipal Darwinism is not actually a sustainable means of living.

Mortal Engine is taken from Shakespeare’s Othello: ‘The spirit-stirring drum, th' ear-piercing fife, The royal banner, and all quality, Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war! And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats The immortal Jove’s dead clamors counterfeit, Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone’.

Reeve was required to dumb down his first drafts. From Wikipedia:
… The original drafts were intended to be an adult novel, but after several rejections Scholastic said they might be interested in Mortal Engines as a children's story. In the refactoring the story was simplified, removing several characters and much content Reeve thought would not be interesting to children (city politics)…
In fact, it is the ‘city politics’ aspect of the above that has the most relevance to this post - hence the title: London - A City in Flight. The idea that the BBC promote to overseas listeners that ‘London is the UK, and the UK is London’ is becoming more evident as time passes.

What better metaphor is there than  A City in Flight to represent the BBC and London? Set aside the physicality of the above fictional floating worlds, and we see that this Cloud Nine sphere already exists and is here with us. 

Blish’s anti-matter, which in his factional account allows a city to break loose from the clutches of their host nation, has an equivalence in fake-news post-truth routinely biased reporting - chiselling away at our reliable anchor of democracy. What goes on within this hermetically sealed environment cannot be seen by outsiders, whose opinions are routinely disregarded - it floats unaccounted for above the reality of our traditional existence.

The metaphor can be broadened to include the whole privileged group of the London political elite, these beautiful multiethnic cool people who are welcomed onto Cloud Nine. Their voices are the only ones heard. They live amongst friends in harmony with like-minded folk - secure in the knowledge that they are safe from physical danger and are insulated from unwelcome intrusions. 

Should there be an attack in any form which questions the tribal narrative of their brave new world, then they have overwhelming firepower at their disposal to fight off any challenge. Even the well resourced outsider can expect to succumb to comprehensive obstruction. As a publicly funded organisation, they are stronger than any political party, able to make or break reputations, and adjust or even rewrite history by distorting facts - by use of a supreme control over what information is released.

Again, the physicality of warfare has become out-dated, and is replaced by the launch should it be necessary of an unmatched awesome communications onslaught which leaves no chance of retort. Complaints are pointless as they become blunted and forgotten about by specialist information shufflers. From within the cloud, an elite group of interviewers deliver propaganda messages, carefully scripted for them by an army of role-play modellers. In cases where their chosen Leaders can’t be trusted to carry the message successfully, a video is produced which will deny viewers any possibility of reply or further questioning.

Away from the science fiction to the here and now. In the UK, we are ominously close to the fulfilment of this aforementioned nightmare. The occupants of Cloud Nine are being gathered together, tested and approved of by the BBC and their Government of choice - a Corbyn McDonnell led hard-left Labour one. We have seen over the last week or two how they plan to protect their man by refusal to investigate Corbyn’s past allegiances, which might have sent shock-waves through a well-informed electorate. The BBC are in charge of admission to the cloud and will only allow like-minded politicians. public service heads, fellow broadcasters and journalists, charity chiefs, lobbyists of the right hue, left-wing actors and comedians etc through their gates.

There’s an intriguing and enduring ambiguity to all this. As far as I know, it’s not clear as to whether Georgii Kruticov’s 1928 vision of a City in Flight was intended as a means of escape from the tyranny on the ground below, or whether he saw the same vision as a potentially menacing instrument of hard-line state control.

Sunday 25 February 2018

When the hurlyburly’s done...

It was Rob Burley's final Andrew Marr Show today. Barring a final burst of Twiiter thunder, lightning and rain, the hurlyburly’s now done but has the battle been lost or won? After, all guess what was just about the very first thing I saw on Twitter this morning? Well, this!:

That 'Who not?' was sent to Rob Burley just after his final show ended by the alt-left, BBC-bashing site The Skwawkbox about 10 minutes after Andrew Marr had concluded his closing interview with Liam Fox by grilling him about that very thing - the Ben Bradley apology. That went on for nigh on three minutes and AM ended the interview by mocking Dr. Fox's evasiveness ("Yes but no but yes but no but yet but no. That is how we end"). 

And, as you may have spotted, The Skwawkbox was also passing on a bit of 'fake news' there by saying that the 'corbyn and Spy story' was "all over #marr last wk". It most certainly was not!! Famously, last week's Andrew Marr Show got into a spot of bother from 'the other side' (our side!) by not talking about it after Andrew Marr had dismissed the latest newspaper report about it as "rather thin" during his run-through of the front pages. 

So such nonsense will continue to rain down on Rob's successor, week in and week out. Will his successor be as open to engagement with the complaining public though? I hope so.

Update: Naturally, before signing off, Rob couldn't let that Skwawkbox bit of fake-news Beeb-bashing pass without reply:

And here is Rob Burley's 'sign off' as editor of The Andrew Marr Show:

Sunday's won't be half as much fun without the infuriating but funny Twitter feeding frenzy that surrounds Rob's Twitter feed. Onwards and upwards!

Final Update: Those nice people from Skwawkbox have conceded gracefully. (Well, they've conceded anyhow!):

Saturday 24 February 2018

Mud won't stick

“Only 8 per cent of voters think worse of the Labour leader since the furore over his contact with a Czechoslovakian spy masquerading as a diplomat” 
says Sam Coates in the Times (£)  Who’s surprised?

Did you watch Camilla Tominey on Question Time, (that is if you could bear to listen to John Prescott’s semi-decipherable streams of verbiage, or watch the Asian lady brandishing those scissor-hands menacingly as she performed exaggerated expressions of disapproval) No, Question Time was barely watchable, and the clip from Tominey’s Corbyn speech was a brief highlight amongst a large field of lowlights. It makes no difference whatsoever. Friend of Hamas? Hezbollah? IRA? Press TV? Commie spy? Everything thrown at Corbyn is simply dismissed as a smear; not that his loyal followers would care either way.  

Did you listen to The News Quiz? I accidentally caught part of it. The panellists were amusing themselves with affectionate jokes about Corbyn’s ineffectual spying, but the fact that they ridiculed their hero was probably enough to counter accusations that the BBC’s comedians never satirise Jeremy Corbyn. We learned that Jeremy Hardy has been a friend for years; name-dropping of a most peculiar kind.

According to the Guardian Ken is coming back! Did you know that Ken Livingstone is all set to be reinstated as a member of the Labour Party? He never did anything wrong.

The tide of antisemitism engulfs the Labour Party and it looks as if a great many people are resigned to a Labour Government in the not too distant future.
“But the toxicity of the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party has meant that I have had no choice but to speak out on racism, time and time again. At seven of the last nine meetings, the Kilburn Brent Branch of the party has tabled toe-curling motions singling-out Jews and Israel. Seven out of nine. If that is not institutional racism, I don’t know what is.”
I watched Nigel Slater the other day. He went to the Middle East (Turkey, Lebanon and Iran) because he loves Lebanese cuisine and wants to experience the renowned hospitality of the people. That’s something that people like Nigel Slater always marvel at. Because of their generosity and their aromatic cuisine, he and people like him overlook the antisemitism and more barbaric elements of Islamic culture. 

This is mad, I know, but I always feel instinctively sorry for Nigel Slater. He seems lonely. But at least he has a lovely kitchen, and like Nigella, always has special artisan groceries wrapped up in crinkly greaseproof paper, not like the vacuum-packed and impenetrable stuff from Lidl’s and Morrison’s. Nigel and Nigella - the his and hers of posh shopping.

One aspect of Nigel’s jaunt through (some of) the Middle East troubles me in the same way ex-hostage (in Lebanon) John McCarthy used to when he hosted a travel programme on radio 4. He was always extolling the virtues of Damascus as a holiday destination. Of course, that was way back in the days when Damascus was merely a police state, rather than an out and out war-zone.  He never mentioned that Bashir al-Assad’s spies were everywhere, eavesdropping on every conversation.

But still, nice middle-class people have a thing about Muslim countries and people so hospitable that, no matter how poor, they’ll give a stranger their last sheep’s eye. Well, last week Nigel left Lebanon, where he had been most warmly received by all, Hezbollah was nowhere to be seen and politics was never mentioned but for a couple of oblique references to “the War”. How would he be expected to care that Hezbollah has about 500,000 rockets pointing at Israel? 

Off he trotted, to Iran. Nigel was overcome with joy at the hospitality of the Iranians. And only one teeny little mention of the current regime; something about ‘fun’. ‘Long lost,’ it was. I heard there's no such thing as homosexuality in Iran. Luckily for Nigel.

Don't have nightmares

Some days we just don't feel like blogging, Craig and I. On other days, we feel like it, but can’t. Fortunately for this blog, when Craig can’t or won’t, I can and do. More often than not it’s the other way round. We are to blogging what Mr and Mrs Jack Spratt are to dining.

I most admire bloggers and writers who have the ability and talent to set out a case with as much consideration for an audience with a good grasp of the facts of whatever the matter may be, as for an audience with next to none. Some writers can embrace both without patronising the novice while not dumbing down enough to lose the interest of the aficionado.

Writing critically about Islam is especially tricky. How can you avoid instantly branding yourself as an Islamophobe at one end of the spectrum or an appeaser at the other? The readership will want to know if you’re speaking from ignorance or experience, knowledge or bigotry, and even if they think they’ve got the measure of you, they’ll probably still take away a predetermined message. Especially so, since the current excuse that ‘everything means what you want it to mean’ has been handed to them on a plate along with the handy bitesize epithets ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative truth’.

Immersing oneself in certain internet sites leads to a kind of ‘Reds under the bed’ type of paranoia. It works for radical Islam as well as radical anti-Islam. And yet, and yet. 

Take the films of documentary maker Zvi Yehezkeli, and Arabic-speaking Israeli Jew who has gone ‘undecover’ to make several alarming films about the Islamic infiltration of European countries; Malmo in Sweden, Marseilles and Paris, Molenbeek in Belgium and more. Some of the documentaries were filmed several years ago, and they feature footage of Theo Van Gogh before he was murdered and Anjem Choudary before he was imprisoned. Sadly, Channel 4’s “Undercover Mosque” seems to have been a one-off. These documentaries may give a one-sided view of the subject, but one should bear in mind that the mainstream media is presenting us with  the ‘other side’ almost as an assault.

It is alarming that the western media is deliberately ignoring or playing it down this threat. Just as it took years before the media and the establishment  admitted what was happening to local ‘white’ girls in the Muslim-heavy parts of cities here in the UK, the mainstream media is persistently campaigning to normalise abnormal cultural practices and excuse inexcusable, imported, antithetical values. They believe they’re doing this in the name of cohesion, terrified of all-out civil war, but their tacit encouragement can only exacerbate the inevitable in-house intifada.

Richard Landes studied of the al Durah affair in forensic detail, exposing one of the most an egregious examples of Pallywood. Here is his critique of the BBC and CNN. You’ll see Yolande Knell and Stephen Sackur.
(Sorry for crashing the sidebar but I don't want to fiddle with the video.) Big H/T to Elder of Ziyon

 Don’t have nightmares.

Denis MacShane gives a BBC programme the thumbs-up

Readers may recall the former Labour Europe minister Denis MacShane

He was always - and remains - a strong Europhile, and has a book out now called "Brexit, No Exit. How (in the End) Britain Won't Leave Europe". 

Well, he's one of that minority of a minority of a minority (like Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell) who thinks, or pretends to think, that the BBC is pro-Brexit. 

He rather gave their real game away though as far as such criticisms are concerned when he said a couple of days ago, "The complacency of the London pol-media-biz establishment esp BBC that referendum couldn't be lost was remarkable". 

He wants the BBC to stop being "complacent" and become even more engaged in the fight against Brexit.

Denis is, of course, never able to disguise his pleasure when a BBC programme does exactly what he wants the BBC to do. He's long been a fan of Mark Mardell and his The World Thjs Weekend, for example and, Chris Morris's Radio 4 series Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed has proved to be another  such programme:

Having heard Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed I can well guess why Denis MacShane enjoyed it so much. Denis MacShane could pretty much have written it himself.

"Although the claims lacked evidence..."

In praising Samira Ahmed's presentation of the BBC's Newswatch in the last post, I wrote "nor would she openly prejudge the main subject of her programme by openly giving her own view of the subject in advance - as Roger Bolton did here".

Well, it turns out that that's not quite true...

This week's Newswatch covered the "Agent Cob" story and, to its credit, put across a number of viewers' opinions that many hereabouts will appreciate being aired on the BBC.

Naturally, the BBC's response was along the lines of 'We got it about right', but at least these criticisms of the BBC have been given airtime on the BBC itself.

However, Samira engaged in a little steering of the audience herself by saying "Although the claims lacked evidence...some Newswatch viewers thought...".

Still, at least she didn't go anywhere near 'the full Roger Bolton' here:

Samira Ahmed: First, for the past week, many of our national newspapers have featured headlines such as "Corbyn the collaborator" and "Corbyn urged to reveal his Stasi file." Allegations that the Labour leader had questionable contacts with a Czech diplomat and agent in the 1980s emerged from files held by the Czech security service archive. The Labour leader called the story "nonsense" and accused the newspapers covering it of "lies and smears". But not all Newswatch viewers were so dismissive of the claims. This anonymous telephone caller thought they were at least worthy of an airing on the BBC:
You've covered the story regarding Donald Trump and the Russia investigation ad nauseam for months and months and months on end but there's nothing on BBC News, even though it's featured very prominently in the newspapers, and I'm a bit staggered and a bit flabbergasted by this.
Although there were some mentions of the story on BBC News, it didn't feature on the main television bulletins until a brief mention on Tuesday, and then gained more prominence throughout the week. By Wednesday on the Daily Politics, Andrew Neil tackled the subject to much acclaim.
Andrew Neil: The Defence Secretary says Mr Corbyn has quote, "betrayed his country". In what way?
Steve Baker: Well, the Defence Secretary has chosen his own words. I mean, the point for me about this debacle is that we believe...
Andrew Neil: No, has he betrayed his country?
Steve Baker: Well, Jeremy Corbyn is, I think, a grave danger to this country, I believe, but that's because...
Andrew Neil: Has he betrayed his country?
Steve Baker: But that's because of the ideas in which he believes and what that would mean for our economy and our society if he were elected.
Andrew Neil: But people have all sorts of ideas. But your Defence Secretary, our Defence Secretary, the Defence Secretary of this Government, of our Government, has said the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition has betrayed his country. In what way has he betrayed his country?
Although the claims lacked evidence and were firmly denied, some Newswatch viewers thought it was too little, too late from BBC News. Lynette Smith asked on Monday, "Why have you not even passed comment? Admittedly they are only allegations, but you were quick enough to cover showbiz stars when years-old allegations of sexual abuse were laid at their door". And Barbara Stevens had the same question: "Why has there been no headline coverage based on the allegations? Surely this is a matter of public interest".  Well, we put that to BBC News and they told us:
BBC News has covered this story and Jeremy Corbyn's response in a range of our output. The BBC correspondent in Prague interviewed both the director of the Czech secret service and the former agent who made the original allegations.

Friday 23 February 2018

Fisking 'Feedback' on the BBC's Brexit coverage

Whatever reservations some of us might have about Samira Ahmed's Newswatch and its usefulness (though I'm glad it exists and that it's to the credit that the BBC broadcasts it), I really don't think it can be credibly denied that its teeth are a heck of lot sharper than its Radio 4 equivalent, Roger Bolton's Feedback...

...or that the otherwise very opinionated, censorious Samira Ahmed does a far, far better job of concealing her own views than Roger Bolton ever manages to do.

For example, Samira would never begin an edition of Newswatch like this: 
Roger Bolton: Hello. It's nice to be back. Nothing much has happened at the BBC since we've been off-air, just a little local difficulty about gender equality and presenters pay and the usual accusations of leftie-liberal bias. Oh, and the BBC is now the prime target in the age-old political game of 'Shoot the Messenger'. The reason? This:
BBC newsreader: Senior ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss what the government wants from the final Brexit deal. 
Roger Bolton: Yes, Brexit.
Note the dismissive, mocking tone of "the usual accusations of leftie-liberal bias" followed by the emphatic, preemptive, opinionated, even-more-dismissive defence of the BBC in "Oh, and the BBC is now the prime target in the age-old political game of 'Shoot the Messenger'" (specifically in connection with the BBC's coverage of Brexit).

Yes, Samira Ahmed (however opinionated and illiberal she might be on Twitter, or in newspapers, or in magazines, or on other BBC programmes) would never glibly mock viewers' concerns on Newswatch itself.

She's a professional.

And, likewise, nor would she openly prejudge the main subject of her programme (such as the BBC's impartiality over Brexit) by openly giving her own view of the subject in advance - as Roger Bolton did here. 

We were less than a minute into the first episode of  a new series of Feedback today and already the presenter's own bias had completely scuppered it for me, impartiality-wise.

I can still see the point of Newswatch, but, really, what is the point of Radio 4's Feedback


That was, of course, just the introduction to today's Feedback and Roger, in true BBC style, might have come over 'all impartial' later. 

Did he?

(Go on, have a guess!)


So let's move on to his introduction to main segment:
First, what is the point of trying to make a balanced and impartial programme about Brexit? The country is so divided that members of the same families aren't speaking to one another, and the generations and the nations are split down the middle. Facts are scarce and always contested, and fears are omnipresent. So I admire the courage and ambition of Chris Morris who, this week on Radio 4, began a third series of Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. Subjects covered include: medicines, potatoes and Gibraltar. As with Brexit itself listeners, were deeply divided in their responses...
Professors of English Language could use this a case study of how to skew an argument in a certain direction before either the pre-interview listener comments or the interview itself had even begun. 

The opening rhetorical question was obviously intended as a preemptive sigh on behalf of Chris Morris.

The next sentence is hyperbole.

The third is loaded.

The fourth (beginning "So I admire the courage and ambition of Chris Morris...") is another blatant signal of where the 'impartial' presenter stands.

The fifth sentence is descriptive.

The sixth is a variant of our old 'complaints from both sides' friend...

...but the vox pops then featured did NOT show a classic 'complaints from both sides' situation, or that the audience was particularly divided. A man called Alan criticised Chris Morris's programme for being pretty relentlessly negative about Brexit. All of the other criticisms weren't bias-related. And none of the others went all 'Lord Adonis' by claiming the reverse. 


And then came the interview with Chris Morris. 

Well, as with Chris's previous series of his Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed, I found this one to be a severe test of patience because of its overwhelming negativity about Brexit. I intend, time permitting, to spell out why at huge length over the coming couple of weeks why I've found the latest series so biased (as I've done with previous series), but what interests me here - besides Chris Morris's utter blindless to his own bias - is Roger Bolton's questioning. 

Note how feebly Roger represents the views of Alan. 

And note how, intentionally or unintentionally, he weakens him even further by turning him into a straw man with his suggestion that Alan would say "And, of course, you've got to trust our governments" (shades of Cathy Newman 'So you're saying' there!)

And note how Roger tells Chris "You are right to point out it's a problem" before employing an emphasis on 'he' to say that he - Alan - would say something else. [Rhetorically-put: 'You're right but some bozo would say...']. 

Poor Alan strikes me as being the fall guy for pro-Brexit BBC bashers here. Roger isn't helping him.

And note how the 'complaint from the other side' is presented with much greater clarity and conviction...

...and by misstating the argument...(19 anti-Brexit economists v 1 pro-Brexit non-economist, as if Patrick Minford & Co. aren't economists.

And note how Roger then amplifies that marginal, hardline Remain view about BBC false balance' yet further with his  2+5=4' v '2+2=5 stuff...

...and how he then again sympathises with Chris about how "very, very tricky" his position is. And under how much "pressure" he is.

And Roger's final line, however jokingly, one final time expresses sympathy with poor put-upon Chris too. ("I hope he's getting well paid for it").


As for Chris Morris's replies, well, he's obviously sticking to his guns and conceding nothing..

...except (in classic BBC style) in conceding that the 'false balance' Remain hardliners complain about might be "a problem"!

His one concession, you'll note, goes in just one direction. 

He's content - despite knowing how much it infuriates people who want Brexit - to say he thinks concentrating on the worst case scenario is justified because....well, because "that shows that we're taking Brexit seriously"...and it's a massive "challenge".  

Hmm, I'm not sure that will reassure people that the BBC is being impartial here!!

And I don't think the two questions he cites as being the ones to ask - 'What are your concerns?' and 'What are your worries?' - will convince such people either. Couldn't he, in his 'road-testing', have also chose the questions 'What are your hopes? and ' What good things are you expecting?' as just-as-valuable questions? 

Isn't the positive worth road-testing as much as the negative? 

And our Chris is very fond of the word 'experts' - rather provocatively so. His tone made the intent of his provocation clear. 


Please feel free to call this post a sledgehammer to crack a nut...

...but for BBC Radio 4's flagship 'watchdog' programme to discuss the crucial question of bias and for its presenter to dismiss it and mock BBC critics at the start and then for that same BBC Radio 4 presenter to conduct a biased pro-BBC interview with the BBC reporter supposedly 'in the dock' is  beyond being funny. It disgraces the BBC, doesn't it?

Please listen for yourselves here or read, at leisure, our transcript below:

Roger Bolton: Well, I'm now joined by Chris Morris, presenter of Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. Chris, why are doing the programme? Because Alan Giles says, "It's just all based on supposition".
Chris Morris: I think that began with the desire to get away from some of the political maelstrom, the daily mud-slinging, as you heard from one of the contributors there. A lot of the coverage in the media is about the politics of Brexit. To begin with - it's changing a bit  now - but there was less about the practicalities of Brexit. And when we were asked to do this programme - essentially 15-minute bite-size chunks (not just for Radio 4 but of importance for a podcast audience as well) l said, well, I'm happy to do so long as it as doesn't sound like 15 minutes of the Today programme because there's plenty of coverage of the politics of Brexit elsewhere on Radio 4.
Roger Bolton: But that's not a surprise because this is essentially about judgment about the future, isn't it, and, going back to Alan Giles's point, it's supposition. So where are the facts that you can, if you like, you know, bring out?
Chris Morris: Well, there are plenty of facts in  there. I agree that what is difficult is the debate around economic forecasting, because by its nature that is something which is essentially trying to predict the future. Now, maybe it's done by people who have expertise in economics, but it's still a prediction of the future. But let me give you one example: a programme we did this week about medicines. There are thousands of medicines which are currently registered in the UK, and if we leave the European Medicines Agency pharmaceutical companies will have to move the registration of those medicines to elsewhere in the EU to continue to be able to sell them. That's a fact. They've told us that, and they're going to do that fairly soon. Similarly with the nuclear medicines, we heard Alan complaining that it's just about supposition, Well, the people we were talking to - with the chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, a representative of the British Nuclear Medicines Agency - these are people who I don't think have axes to grind. They are experts in their field...
Roger Bolton: But Alan's point would be: Well, this is the worst case scenario. And, of course, you've got to trust our governments. They're not going to do anything suicidal like this. They're are right to point out it's a problem but he would say the assumption is it's an insuperable problem. 'Be more optimistic!' That's what he'd say.
Chris Morris: In some cases it is the worst case scenario, but I think that shows that we're taking Brexit seriously. We're assuming it's going to happen and I think it is without doubt the biggest change this country is facing in decades and, so, I think we have a responsibility to road-test it. And by road-testing we can say, well, we go to the people in various sectors - whether it be medicines or the nuclear industry or potatoes - and say 'What are your concerns?' and 'What are your worries?' and then we explore them.
Roger Bolton: Now, there's a lot of criticism about balance, in it's simplified form, because some people would say, 'You've got 19 economists saying this is potentially disastrous, and you've got one non-economist saying 'No, it won't be' and the BBC will have one person representing the 19 and another person representing... what? In other words, you are simply going tit-for-tat and the public is no wiser. Is that a problem with what you're doing, this almost artificial sense of balance?
Chris Morris: It can be. And I think when it comes to our coverage of...One of the reasons why we wanted to avoid politicians is that we didn't want to have a say, well, if we're talking to that person from this party we have to talk to somebody from another party. So we have gone to what we believe are experts in the field. Now everyone has an opinion. I understand that. That's natural. But I think, as a journalist, you do have to make a judgment whether you think the opinion that somebody brings to the table is valid, and that's what we're trying to do.
Roger Bolton: So you're not impartial between right and wrong? If somebody says to you '2+5=4' and the other says '2+2=5' you say 'One's wrong; the first one's right'? You have due impartiality -where it's, as it says, it's due. That is very, very tricky in such a toxic political atmosphere.
Chris Morris: It is very tricky but we're not, in this series, trying to say 'Brexit is good' or 'Brexit is bad'. We are trying to test what Brexit might mean.
Roger Bolton: How much pressure are you under? You're obviously under pressure from those, as it were, outside the BBC who have passionate views about this, and the various campaigning groups. What about within the BBC itself?
Chris Morris: You know, we have what I would say are robust editorial discussion all time. As we should, I mean, I'd be disappointed if I didn't have editors who say, 'Are you sure you want to say that?'. That's part of the process of journalism. In some ways, because you've got people saying 'Are you sure this is correct? Are you sure you're comfortable saying this?', it sharpens the editorial process. I mean, I was based in Brussels - two different postings for eight years. We had that all the time in coverage of the European Union. And my argument about the EU has always been: I don't really care whether you love it or hate it you but you should take it seriously.
Roger Bolton: Well, let's look at the way you presented the programme because Rosalind Fox talks about 'gimmickiness'. She thinks you've gone too far. When you listen to some of the things you've done, including some of those puns - 'cheesy' would describe one or two of them! - do you think you did go too far?
Chris Morris: No, I think it's been deliberate. I think it's sort of knowingly cheesy, if you like. I've done hundreds of hours of very serious, very sober broadcasting on the EU and on Brexit. If you look at a lot of the audience research we get , it's (a) that people are a bit bored of the political mud-slinging. Some people get turned off by the 'He said. She said'. And this is an attempt just to present it in a different way. I accept that some people won't like it. That's fine. It's their right to have that opinion. But I think it's not patronising the audience - which I think was the suggestion from one of the callers. I think which would be patronising the audience would be playing fast and loose with the facts. We are as scrupulous as we can be that we get the facts right, that we try and have a bit of fun with the way we present them. I think we should always be looking at different ways to present things because we know there's a big audience out there that we don't tap into yet, and we want to do that.
Roger Bolton: Chris Morris, the presenter of Radio Four's Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. I hope he's getting well paid for it.

A poll the BBC probably won't be tweeting about

So according to the latest YouGov poll...

...nearly half of Leave voters think the BBC is biased against Brexit and only 13% of them give the BBC believe the BBC to be unbiased over Brexit. 

Not surprising that of course - though the 5% of Leave voters who think the BBC is pro-Brexit is quite something!

The more interesting finding is that - despite Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell - there's no equivalent result among Remain voters. Nearly three times as many Remain voters think the BBC is unbiased. And most startling of all,  more Remain voters (14%) think the BBC is anti-Brexit than pro-Brexit (13%) - so Lord Adonis and Alastair Campbell are a minority of a minority of a minority here!

Wonder what the BBC Press Office will say about this one?

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Did you see this coming?

Looking at Twitter this afternoon/evening, there are (literally) thousands of people with Twitter handles like 'Despise the Tories' or with '#FBPE' after their names or who more generally identify themselves as supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and/or the Labour Party who are joining together to sing an exultant hymn of praise to a BBC interviewer - namely Andrew Neil.

It's amusing (to me) just how many of them begin their praise for Andrew Neil by writing 'I've been critical of Andrew Neil in the past but' and 'I'm no fan of Andrew Neil but...' or 'I confess to not being your greatest fan, but...' or 'I don't particularly warm to AN but...' (and many other variations thereon) before immediately going on to say 'I applaud you today' or 'this was very good' or 'fair play to him with this interview' or 'Biff! Take that, Baker' or 'or 'this is brilliant journalism from him here in skewering Steve Baker' or 'this is a lesson in political interviewing - well played!' or 'credit where it’s due'. (And 'credit where credit's due' is proving particularly popular).
From zero to hero, it seems!

And this is why:
Naturally, Rob Burley has seized the moment:
Alan White: Can someone pls fetch a bodybag for Steve Baker we have a casualty here.
Sianushka: "The real scandal is the outright lies and disinformation that your Tory colleagues are spreading". I rarely say this, but well said Andrew Neil.
Rob Burley: Some welcome converts to Andrew Neil's interviewing skills. Will be good when people praise him when it's their side being put under pressure by him. He does it to everyone, irrespective. 
Rob Burley: Those who oppose BBC covering "Czech spying" story should watch back Andrew Neil interviewing Steve Baker on The Daily Politics today - scrutiny of a story, even one that is apparently damaging to "your side", helps reveals whether there's any evidence and can be hard for your opponents.
James Mills: I have criticised Andrew Neil in the past, but here he does a v. good job pointing out the absurd unfounded smears being made at Cabinet level.
Kevin Schofield: So he’s only OK when he’s giving Tories a hard time? Andrew Neil is equally tough on politicians from all parties.
Rob Burley: This. Exactly. 
And so has Andrew himself:
Tory Fibs: Full credit to Andrew Neil. He just demolished the Tories for sinking to new lows in their Corbyn "Soviet Smears".
Mo Ansar: Fair play to Andrew Neil. I've been a staunch critic when I don't agree. I cannot deny him when he's on the money. This is how you cross-examine. Fearsome.
Andrew Neil: I’m on the money even when you disagree!


BBC One's News at Ten reported on the 'Cob' story last night, devoting a whole 15 seconds to it. Here's what they said about it in full: 
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn has warned the press that "change is coming," as he accused them of publishing "lies and smears" over his contacts with a Czech spy back in the 1980s. He suggested the reporting showed how "worried" media bosses were by the prospect of a Labour government. 

Irony Klaxon!

And so are you, BBC Radio 4!

Tuesday 20 February 2018

On not trusting Mark Easton

If anyone knows who the blonde lady on the left is (and which party she represents) please let me know. She's a missing link in this post.

Last night's BBC One News at Ten featured a report from Mark Easton. 

I've long been in the habit of treating reports by Mark Easton with suspicion - especially if they've got anything to do with Brexit or UK regionalism (please see here for why I'm suspicious about his reporting on the latter. I class him as an advocate for UK regionalism rather than a neutral reporter on the issue).

This report dealt with both subjects, so I was doubly suspicious. 

In this mood, I thought I'd better transcribe the whole thing and then try to judge whether I'm wrong to keep on distrusting his reporting:

Newsreader: The leaders of nine British cities, among them Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol, have held talks in Brussels today with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The city mayors insist they're not interfering with the UK Government's negotiations but they want to make the case for more European money and power to be devolved to the UK's regions and nations after Brexit. Our home editor Mark Easton reports.
Mark Easton: They've not been able to get a meeting about Brexit with the UK Government, but today the leaders of British cities, both those that voted Leave and Remain, travelled to Brussels to talk to the man on the other side of the negotiating table, the European Union's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council: Really important to emphasise that we're not here to undermine the Government's negotiations. Brexit is happening next year. The cities have got a really clear agenda in terms of how we can move things forward on behalf of our citizens. And we're here to start the ball rolling today. 
Marvin Rees is Mayor of Bristol, where almost two thirds of voters were for Remain. He believes local people want to be reassured that, in its talks with the EU, central government will reflect the concerns of this proud trading city.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol: The voices of cities, the voices of particular sectors, even, are not being heard, not being sought, and not being reflected. Our job, as city leaders, is to make sure that those voices are heard and that it's not just a Westminster Brexit. 
The boss of this precision engineering company says EU membership has protected quality and reduced red tape. The kind of Brexit Britain negotiates is vital, he says, for his business.
Andrew Varga, managing director of Seetru Engineering: Central government is very removed from our concerns. They don't have time to understand the detailed, very detailed issues that affect us. We are looking for a mechanism to get our voice heard. 
The argument of leaders in cities like Bristol is that Brexit is an opportunity to devolve power away from the centre. For local people to take back control from Westminster, as well as Brussels. For more than an hour, Michel Barnier listened to the concerns and the hopes of city leaders representing a quarter of the UK economy. But, for them, the Brexit negotiator they really want to talk to now is in London.
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council: From this, we will go back to Government and say, look, we have an enormous amount to contribute to the discussions, to the negotiations. Let's get around the table and talk urgently, because the clock is ticking. 
Britain's Department for Exiting the EU says it does meet with stakeholders from local and regional government. But these city leaders say they want to make sure that power and influence over Brexit is not only in the hands of a Westminster elite. Mark Easton, BBC News, Brussels. 

To me this painted a picture of a diverse group of UK city leaders ("the leaders of British cities, both those that voted Leave and Remain") going to talk to the EU's top negotiator. All goes well, and M. Barnier "listens" to their "concerns and hopes". 

This is contrasted with their shabby treatment by the UK Government. As the report keeps on stressing, the UK government has (unlike the EU man) so far refused to listen to their "concerns and hopes". 

The report's point seems to be: Why won't the UK government listen to them?

Mark Easton's language is very striking. Note how he uses Leave language ("take back control" and "elite") and turns it against Westminster - the very parliament Leave campaigners wanted to restore sovereignty to. Even the random pro-EU businessman Mark brings in (for what reason???)  echoes this language ("Central government is very removed from our concerns").

As a result, the UK Government is made to look like the bad guy and M. Barnier a good guy.

Isn't this just Mark Easton pushing the cause of these nine city leaders? 17 words for the other side of the argument ("Britain's Department for Exiting the EU says it does meet with stakeholders from local and regional government") doesn't seem like proper balance to me.

More pointedly, isn't this just Mark Easton pushing his own views on regional devolution yet again?

Curiously, while writing this post, it struck me that it might be worth checking out exactly who these "leaders of British cities, both those that voted Leave and Remain", are - especially given Mark Easton's track record. I've believe I've identified eight out of the nine, namely the Labour leader of Leeds Council, the Labour leader of Birmingham Council, the Labour Mayor of Bristol, the Labour leader of Cardiff Council, the Labour Mayor of Liverpool, the Labour leader of Newcastle Council, the Labour leader of Nottingham Council, and the Labour deputy leader of Manchester Council.

I'm sure you'll be able to spot a pattern there!

The final one, I presume, must represent Glasgow City Council, but I can't find any evidence that the SNP leader of that council, Susan Aitken, was present. (She's certainly not the mysterious blonde in the photo at the top of this post. Ms. Aitken doesn't look anything like her - unless she's dyed her hair, lost some weight and changed the bone structure of her face). 

Shouldn't Mark Easton have made at least some kind of nod towards telling his audience that these are local leaders every one of whom belongs to parties opposed to the UK government (mainly if not entirely Labour), and that their criticism of the UK government could perhaps be seen in that light too? 

Hmm, so, no, I'm not giving up on feeling suspicious about Mark Easton's reporting any time soon then. I think this report absolutely reeked of a BBC reporter's personal agenda-pushing.

What do you make of this report? Do you agree? Am I wrong?. (If I'm missing something, please let me know).


And, thanks to Humourme in the comments below, we now know that the mysterious blonde who met Michel Barnier is Olivia Blake, Labour deputy leader of Sheffield Council.

So, yes, every single one of Mark Easton's apparently diverse "leaders of British cities, both those that voted Leave and Remain" turns out to be from the Labour Party.

And that makes BBC News at Ten's claim that the leaders of nine British cities were involved with the meeting with M. Barnier, among them Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol, FAKE NEWS!

SNP-run Glasgow (the tenth of Core Cities ten citiesweren't involved. (I knew it!!!) .And, yes, it was Labour-run cities all the way...

...something Mark Easton 'forgot' to mention.

(Apologies for the crazy Blogger emphases here!)

Further Update: This gets fishier and fishier...

A very reliable source has informed me that Mr Varga "is not random at all" and that he's been "flaunting and touting his anti-Brexit views on the BBC" for some time, including on Today....

...and I've been given a transcript of a Today interview from October 13th last year which shows Mr Varga sounding off against Brexit very strongly - e.g.:
Lucy Burton (BBC): And is this something you blame entirely on Brexit? It sounds like it . . .
Andrew Varga: Yes, yes, no, no question.  No question. These are...this is uncertainty at the moment, it’s all due to uncertainty at the moment.

It's striking that it's only been the Guardian, various local papers and the BBC who've made anything much of this story.

That makes it all the more intriguing. 

Mark Easton trotted over the Channel with these exclusively-Labour Party 'Core Cities' folk (without telling BBC viewers that every single one of them was Labour).  His report showed him reporting from Bristol in connection with the Labour Mayor of Bristol's gripes about a "Westminster Brexit" before both him and the Labour Mayor Bristol re-appeared, across the English Channel, in Brussels, and his report ended with the words "Mark Easton, BBC News, Brussels". 

Hmm, so Mark Easton was obviously involved in this even before they went to Brussels.

So the obvious questions about Mark's involvement here are: (a) But how involved and (b) why? And (c) how early and (d) who instigated it?

Mystic Craig strikes again (maybe)

Talking of Marks at the BBC (as we were in the post now bumped up above this one!)...

One I trust vastly more than slippery Mark Easton - namely Newsnight's Mark Urban -  has been digging into the 'Corbyn=Czechoslovak spy' story

And, yes, as I result of what I've read from Mark (on Twitter) this afternoon, I'm going to go out on a blogger's limb and firmly predict (with no other evidence yet to to support it other than knowing what the BBC is like) that...

...drum roll please!...

...yes, Newsnight is finally going to report the story tonight - and, even more,  is actually 'go big' with it.

And why do I think that? Because Mark has sounded the 'All Clear' for the far-left Labour leader. 

Yes, from his digging, all's apparently coming up smelling of Bohemian, Moravian and Slovakian roses for Agent Cob...
  • 1/3 spoke to some fmr British spooks about the Corbyn 'Czech spy' claim. They consider it nonsense, 'he had no secrets to give away' says one, E. Bloc officers in London 'had a pattern of exaggerating the importance of their contacts' says another
  • 2/3 most intelligence agencies define an agent as 'under control', or 'taskable', say former spooks, & having had full access to Czech StB files post cold war, MI6 evidently do not consider Corbyn met that definition
  • 3/3 one former case officer jokes Corbyn 'may have been naive in his contacts [with a Czech spook] but I'm not looking for any more evidence of his naivety'.
  • p.s. British intelligence officers had the run of Czech & Stasi files at the end of the Cold War + Mitrokhin gave them the KGB's crown jewels. For many years they've had the evidence who betrayed what and to whom.
After its most respected reporter has now found the Labour leader innocent of being a Soviet bloc agent, shall we take bets on how long Newsnight will spend on the story tonight, having spent no time whatsoever on it up till now?

What do you reckon? No time at all? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? More? 

Guido Fawkes, however, isn't sounding the 'all clear' and is continuing to do its own digging.

If Newsnight takes the impartial high ground and doesn't much a lot of Mark Urban's researches today, after ignoring the story for nigh on two weeks, I'll give them credit tomorrow. 

I really doubt they'll be able to contain themselves though.

We'll soon know.

Update: And the answer is: They didn't cover it. I'm about as 'mystic' as 'Mystic Meg' herself!

Mad World

I agree with Julia:

More's to the point, why is this on the BBC News Home page? Is it 'news'? And should the BBC be encouraging such lunacy by making such a big deal of it?

Further Reading

If you feel that our esteemed 'Brexit Bulldog' David Davis has been rather letting people with the name 'David' down today with all his Mad Max talk, then please have a read of another David - namely David Keighley at The Conservative Woman:

David's piece looks at how "the Jo Cox label" became "a BBC dog-whistle fulcrum to bring on a raft of people – including especially Brendan Cox himself – who wanted to attack those who were perceived to be against her saint-like espousal of causes such as open immigration, Remain (in the EU), and cultural diversity". 

Mad David?

David Davis is a seasoned politician and I'm sure he's much, much wiser than me when it comes to the art of politics so I probably shouldn't lecture him but I can't help feeling that he's made a big mistake by even raising the possibility that post-Brexit Britain could be a “Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction”. The enemies of Brexit were surely bound to pounce on such language and make hay with it. 

And pounce they most certainly have, and the fun has already begun.
Chris Bryant MP: Somehow the line that Brexit won't plunge us into a Mad Max dystopia isn't very reassuring.  #Imagineiftheyhadjustputthatonthebus. 
Jay Rayner: I don't know about you, but that's me reassured. (Still, I'm stockpiling petrol, chainsaws, and a fine collection of leather chaps; better safe than sorry, eh). 
Lord Falconer: Boris’ speech suggests building bridge across Channel, Davis’ speech says post Brexit UK won’t be as bad as Mad Max. 27 are currently fixing  negotiating guidelines. What must they think of our govt? 
Alex von Tunzelmann: I for one am certainly not now panicking and working out how to distil drinking water from my own bodily fluids. 
The Guardian immediately made David Davis: Brexit will not plunge Britain into 'Mad Max dystopia' their main headline last night, and they were closely followed by the BBC doing the same thing, with the headline Post-Brexit UK won't be 'Mad Max-style world' and a photo of a worried-looking David Davis alongside it:

This morning's BBC Breakfast put it like this:
Britain will not be "plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction" after it leaves the EU. That's what the Brexit Secretary David Davis is expected to say in a speech he'll make in Austria later today. 
And one of the presenters said:
And it does seem an extraordinary use of language, to be talking about Mad Max, even if he is saying that is not what will happen.
Well, yes.

And Emily Maitlis, on last night's Newsnight, outlined the story and then laughed, asking "So that's good news?"

P.S. Former Newsnight economics correspondent Duncan Weldon puts it like this:


And for that minute a blackbird sang...

typical blackbird song phrase

This morning's Tweet of the Day on Radio 4 looked at my favourite bird - the blackbird. I agree with every word of what Professor David Rothenberg said and, being the dutiful blogger that I am, I thought I'd post a transcription of it for your delight:
The blackbird is incredibly musical and beautiful, and the best book is in Danish by Torben Dabelsteen, although most of his articles are also published in English, about the way they use sound back and forth. I believe every year they start relearning their song in that they kind-of build it up again, so towards the end of the season they're better. And yet it's so melodic, it's so much using the intervals that humans recognise as musical. And they're so different from each. Each blackbird sounds different from every other blackbird, and that's quite fascinating It's why birdsong is different from a bird call. Bird calls, you can quickly decide what they mean - this means "Watch out, a hawk is flying overhead!"; this means "I'm hungry!" - and they have very specific short meanings that are much more like words, much more like language. But these songs are more like performances. They have a beginning, a middle, an end. There's this whole emotional shape. And you can't reduce it to its function. You can't say, "I've explained the song away by saying it for attracting mates and defending territories". The musical shape and form is still there. It can't be denied. There's nothing controversial or irrational or unscientific about saying that birds are making music. It's just quite likely to be true. 
One year, only a few year's back, I would listen to a blackbird singing just on a tree or a wall near our back door and I listened as his tune got better and better as the season went on. His tune always began with the same little melodic hook and then, jazz-like, went its own sweet way. The next year he began again. The melodic hook at the start was a little more sophisticated but it was still recognisably the same tune and the improvisations thereon where unquestionably more sophisticated still. So practise makes perfect, even with blackbirds! Unfortunately, I found him dead soon after, so never found how his song developed over the course of a second year. I suppose I should have called him 'Charlie Parker' but didn't. I called him Percy. True story.