Thursday 31 May 2018

Open Thread

Middle-aged open thread. 

The BBC profiles George Soros

The BBC has a new profile today of the famous George Soros - the man who (Putin-style?) is interfering in the British Brexit debate by pouring some of his billions into a new 'second referendum' anti-Brexit campaign group dedicating to overturning the referendum result and stopping Brexit. 

Let's look at how the BBC frames its profile of him by quoting the profile's first four paragraphs. 

And, were this an old-fashioned English exam paper question, the question here might be phrased:
Do you detect any bias on the reporter's part here? If so, in what direction and how is that bias communicated? (3 marks)
OK, your time!:
Hungarian-American businessman George Soros is one of the world's most renowned, and philanthropic, financial investors. 
Earning his fortune through shrewd financial speculation, he has spent billions of his own money funding human rights projects and liberal democratic ventures around the world. 
In recent years, that funding has made him a target of the world's nationalists and populists, who have painted him as a master-manipulator of democracy. 
Much of the criticism aimed toward the 87-year-old has been criticised as having anti-Semitic undertones.
Well, I'd say that the first paragraph is favourable to Mr. Soros. It uses positive language ("renowned", "philanthropic") about Mr. Soros and includes no balancing negative terms. 

The second paragraph, which could have been unfavourable to him by reminding British and Northern Irish readers of his role in attacking the UK's currency in the early 1990s (to his own advantage), merely uses the positive phrase "earning his fortune through shrewd financial speculation" - the word "shrewd" making all the difference there - and then continues the flow of positive language with words emphasising his "philanthropy".

In the third paragraph, we get a description of his enemies ' - "the world's nationalist and populists" - and those rascals "have painted him as a master-manipulator of democracy". (Note the loaded language there: "painted him", "master-manipulator". It can be inferred from that that the reporter doesn't accept that characterisation of Mr. Soros). 

And, following straight on from that, comes 'the killer paragraph' about how "much of the criticism" of  the poor, frail, elderly 87-year-old person, "has been criticised" - N.B. BBC 'degrees of separation', 'some say...' etc, in action here) "as having anti-Semitic undertones"...

...thus, 'logically', connecting the criticisms from "the world's nationalist and populists" with those unnamed people responsible for the "anti-Semitic undertones" - i.e. implying via 'much' that most of George Soros's critics are antisemitic. 

A balanced account might say he has poured billions into realising his personal vision of democracy. His supporters say XXX but his critics say XXX. But no, this article asserts he is a philantropist, skirts over how he has made a personal fortune from crashing currencies, and does not query Soros's own description of his efforts. His critics are described as nationalists and populists as though they are somehow opposed to democracy.
Now, I've been disgusted for ages about the tone of some of the criticism of George Soros I've read, which most certainly has been antisemitic (or verged very heavily towards it), but most of what I've read (especially from here in the UK) hasn't been in any way antisemitic, simply sharply critical. 

What of? Well, of his pouring billions into projects that many if not most UK, US and EU citizens oppose - e.g. mass immigration (for his EU and UK critics especially) and his opposition to Brexit (for his UK critics especially). 

Why shouldn't people criticise him for that? 

The context of this article is Mr. Soros launching 'Best for Britain'. It's a deeply 'divisive' intervention from Mr/ Soros, and of course it's bound to draw heavy criticism.

For the BBC to publish a profile of him, specifically published to mark that launch, and for it to begin in such a biased (sympathetic) fashion is surely yet another clear cut piece of evidence to be added to the case against the BBC's claims of impartiality.

If the BBC reporter who wrote this piece didn't vote 'Remain' in the EU referendum I'll eat every hat Lord Ashdown owns.

Piecing the story together

Oh no, I thought, on seeing the BBC News website headline:

Is this a BBC producer getting in trouble for egging on Frankie Boyle to make one of his more 'outrageous' anti-royal jokes? 

But no, the 'man' in question was just the usual Islamic fanatic preparing murderous terrorist attacks on the UK monarchy, shopping centres, the British army, sports stadiums and the UK's Jewish community.

Now, as Not a Sheep notes, the BBC's online coverage has previously focused on Prince George and the sports stadiums and hasn't previously mentioned his calls for attacks on Britain's Jews.

Even this article gives his intent to attack the UK's "Jewish communities" just two words. 

Reading about the story elsewhere, the would-be terrorist also called for other children's ice cream to be poisoned (a particularly troubling detail the BBC's account misses). 

The Daily Mail also has the horrifying detail that the ISIS fanatic "taught at the Mohamadi Mosque in Nelson, Lancashire". That's my dad's old town and I note that none of the BBC's online reports about him in recent months goes further than saying that he's from Nelson. That said, Dominic Casciani did call him "a teacher at a local mosque in Nelson" on BBC One's News at One (though he only mentioned the threats to Prince George and nothing else). 

You always have to read around quite a bit these days to get a proper picture of events.

And, within a short space of time, the story is now slipping out of the main headlines on the BBC home page. It's now in 11th place. 

In the view of the ECU

For those who think The Two Peters (Hitchens and Oborne) are onto something when they complain about BBC bias towards the Syrian rebels, well, the BBC has conceded a fairly minor point to them and one of the Peters (Hitchens) is almost pleased:

The BBC's ECU (nothing to do with the EU, by the way, despite what you might think. It means Executive Complaints Unit), has published a short statement about its ruling about BBC One's News at Ten:

I do like the "In the view of the ECU, this sufficed to resolve the issue of complaint" bit there. That's very BBC! 'It may not be the complainant's view, despite the complainant being right, but it's ours and that's that!'

Tracking the report via the TV Eyes archive, I believe that the offending reporter (reporting the UN perspective) was Nick Bryant. 

Paul Mason strikes again

Fans of everyone's favourite far-left ex-Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason might enjoy the following...

As reported in today's The Times, George Osborne's Evening Standard stands accused (by openDemocracy's James Cusick) of promising "six commercial giants (including Uber and Google) 'money-can’t-buy' news coverage in a lucrative deal, leaving millions of Londoners unaware of who’s paying for their news". The Evening Standard strongly denies this, but that hasn't stopped Paul Mason from making demands on Sarah Sands, the editor of the Today programme (and previously the editor of the Evening Standard):

A flaw in Paul's argument was quickly spotted...

...followed by gales of public hilarity. (Oh Paul!)

Incidentally, this story (or non-story) is arousing a lot of interest from prominent commentators on Twitter but not, as far as I can see, from the BBC yet. (Not even the not-very-shy-and-retiring BBC media editor Amol Rajan).

P.S. A conspiracy theorist has just told me, possibly or possibly not via BBC Trending's Mike Wendling, that the BBC is protecting anti-Brexit cheerleader George Osborne and his Evening Standard here because George is doing such a good job on the Brexit front. Should I believe that conspiracy theorist? 

Tuesday 29 May 2018


An American woman tweets a picture of herself and her two year old son.

You might think nothing of that but another woman at the Guardian regards it a malicious act (and, being a photo of a white mother and her white son, thinks it's racist too). 

Yes, seriously.

Even the Guardian's online commentariat found this very hard to swallow and have been calling the Guardian reporter out in large numbers...

...but (h/t DB) a 'Senior Reporter at BBC Stories' called Megha Mohan didn't just fail to call the Guardian writer out on that but instead chose to endorse her views by not only tweeting a link to the Guardian piece but also name-checking its writer author and quoting her too (without any distancing/balancing caveats): 

Is this the tip of a BBC iceberg?


Now I see, Googling around, that the BBC has also posted an online article about this (inevitably).

I've not read it yet so I don't know which way it will go - if it goes any way.  So this is 'live blogging'...

Clicking into it the headline is US child migrants: Ivanka's mother and child photo sparks backlash, and the piece begins:
As the daughter of one of America's most divisive presidents, Ivanka Trump is no stranger to controversy. 
But on Sunday, she sparked backlash by sharing a photo of herself holding her two-year-old son, Theodore.
i.e. the daughter of the 'divisive' president 'sparks' (i.e. causes!) a backlash. 

I think I can already guess where this is going (not so much 'slut-shaming' as 'daughter-of-Trump-shaming'!)...

Reading on...

We then get two paragraphs outlining 'the prosecution case' against Ivanka followed by two paragraphs saying that Ms Trump hasn't yet responded to the criticisms and had previously said she'd not work against the administration's policies (points that also help 'the prosecution case'). 

Then comes a section headed What prompted the current outcry? and if you expect the suggested answers might include 'anti-Trump hysteria spreading into hatred against Trump's daughter' and 'media groupthink' then think again...

...because the entire section is spent reinforcing the concerns of critics of the present US government's migration policy, especially as regards child migrants - complete with a link to a BBC video report headlined The missing - consequences of Trump's immigration crackdown (which is just the kind of report you'd expect from such a headline). The entire section is also part of 'the prosecution case'. 'The defence case' doesn't get a look-in.

What's next? Well, a section headed What are social media users saying? And, guess what? Yes, 'the prosecution case' wins out again by a large margin. The BBC reporter here gives us a 4:1 ratio of tweets against Ivanka. The one pro-Ivanka tweet is introduced by saying, "However, not everyone linked the post to the debate on immigration, with some praising its beauty."

Next comes a section headed What has the government's response been? Is this going to be the 'balancing passage'? Well, no. Within two paragraphs President Trump is getting it in the neck for "incorrectly" blaming the Democrats and a "fact check" by the Associated Press is then cited 'proving' the Trump administration to be the bad guys. And then various previous government statements are outlined before the closing image bearing the caption 'Around 700 minors have reportedly been separated from their parents by US immigration authorities' with a child's hand shown grasping a metal fence. 

The BBC has thrown so much detail at us here that it's hard to cling to the fact that there are at least two ways of seeing Ivanka's tweet of her and her son: One is to see it as a harmless photo of a mother and son; the other way is to see it as a malicious political act. 

If you support the first point of view you'll invite people to view the tweet and see it as a lovely tweet. If you support the second point of view you'll make it all about what Ivanka's critics claim it was about. 

The BBC here made it all about what Ivanka's critics claim it was about. It was a partisan piece, little better than the Guardian piece much criticised by those Guardian readers.

Did Megha Mohan write this piece? 

P.S. Katty Kay, the face of the UK in the US, is also on Ivanka's case today:

Oddly, it also seems to debunk itself. 

Please read it for yourselves and see what you think. It reads to me like a would-be carefully-hedged smear. 

The image turned out to be from four years ago, when Barack Obama was president. 

Despite being 'fake news', it trended 'bigly'.

I was hoping to read something from Mike Wendling & Co. at BBC Trending about it, who usually love a 'bigly'-trending bit of fake news. But I just somehow knew that Mike Wendling & Co. at BBC Trending, however much it was trending, would not be interested in it. And they haven't been (so far).

For goodness sake, Donald Trump - whose tweets they follow - even tweeted about it, gloatingly. And they've still managed to 'miss' it!

And I think that's easily explained: It was a clear example of 'fake news' from the anti-Trump camp, and it doesn't embarrass the people they enjoy seeing embarrassed so they choose not to report it. 

As Simon the Cat says: Simples!

Monday 28 May 2018

When Emily Met Steve

More Bank Holiday Monday reading, maybe: Emily Maitlis, writing in The Times about her interview with Steve Bannon. It includes such things as this:
Moments before we record, my phone alarm goes off, to remind me to set the record button. I smack it off, sweating and mortified, realising in seconds that the opening chorus of Hamilton will start blaring out. It tells the story of a mixed-race immigrant who becomes an American founding father — could I wear my liberal bubble credentials any more overtly?

‘Little Englander’ stereotypes

For a systematic analysis of bias in Radio 4 comedy please take a read of Andrew's new piece at News-watch, Dead Ringers clang out their anti-Brexit bias

Here's a brief extract:

‘Little Englander’ stereotypes 
The sketches lampooning David Davis and Nigel Farage were predicated on links between anti-EU sentiment and xenophobia, an association repeated regularly on BBC news and entertainment programmes over the last two decades. 
In his Dead Ringers incarnation, David Davis was cast as the ‘Brexit Bulldog’, noting that it was just ‘one year to go till we march up to Johnny Foreigner’, while explaining that he only speaks two languages, ‘English and slightly slower, louder English for when I’m on holidays.’ At one point he referred to an imaginary EU national as ‘Pedro’. 
Similarly, the script for Nigel Farage featured the former UKIP leader referring to an EU border guard as ‘Fritz’, stating that he didn’t ‘bloody well care’ about the Irish, and stating that unless the Brexit issue was sorted he would ‘unleash the kind of hell not seen since my local introduced Peroni on tap’ – the inference that he would dislike the Italian beer on account of its nation of origin.

Same as yesterday

Tuning into Today (rather than Radio 3's Breakfast) at 8.10 for 'the big interview' I find that the BBC is still making the calls for the liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland its 'main story'. How much longer will they do so?

Sneaky populists

Being (for some reason) fascinated by the goings-on in Italy, tonight has - from what I've been reading - been quite something.

The pro-EU president has provoked a full-blown constitutional crisis by refusing to agree to the appointment of a Eurosceptic economy minister (Paolo Savona) chosen by the would-be, new, democratically-elected Five Star/Lega coalition government - and, fascinatingly, it's the (allegedly left-leaning) Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio rather than the (allegedly far-right) Lega leader who is is now leading the calls for mainstream centre-left President Sergio Mattarella to be impeached for refusing to appoint the Eurosceptic minister. 

President Mattarella's move might prove disastrous (for the likes of him) by fuelling the far-from-ridiculous narrative that elites are looking for ways to circumvent democratic outcomes that they deem unacceptable. He says he vetoed Professor Savona's appointment because it was his "duty to protect the savings of Italians".

And how did the BBC report this extraordinary turn of events on their main evening TV bulletin tonight? Well, (briefly) like this:
Newsreader: The latest attempt to form a coalition government in Italy has failed. The man designated as the new Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, now says that he can't take up the role because the President won't approve his cabinet. Our correspondent James Reynolds is in Rome. So what happens now?
James Reynolds: The President may appoint a new, non-populist Prime Minister who may not last all that long. This is now a real clash between President and populists. It's about Italy's relationship with the European Union. The populists had wanted to appoint a finance minister who'd said in the past that Italy should prepare to leave the euro. The President vetoed this appointment. He essentially told the populists you cannot just sneak Italy out of the currency it helped to create. You'd need to have a proper national debate about it first. Perhaps the only solution right now would be early elections in which for the first time Italy's membership of the euro and its relationship with the EU may really be up for discussion.
Newsreader: Thank you.
I don't think that gave much of a sense of the drama of the situation and, unlike the reports I've been reading elsewhere, this BBC report here prioritised the pro-EU president's point of view - his claim, as paraphrased by the BBC's James Reynolds, about "sneaking Italy out of the currency it helped to create" - rather than that of "the populists". Why not quote Luigi Di Maio? 

Sunday 27 May 2018

Bias on demand?

Yesterday's Irish referendum result (after voting on Friday) backing liberalisation of Ireland's abortion laws has still been the story for the BBC today. The politically-focused programmes on Radio 4 - Sunday, Broadcasting House and The World This Weekend - all majored on it; indeed, BH was a 'Special' broadcast from Dublin. 

The World This Weekend was the one where the focus, signalled in the news bulletins earlier, shifted most emphatically to the calls for Northern Ireland to hold a referendum, against the wishes of Mrs May's proper-uppers in the DUP. 

And the most-viewed news bulletins - those on BBC One - have been leading with those calls all day. The BBC's new Ireland correspondent Emma Vardy was talking on tonight's BBC Weekend News about Northern Ireland being seen as "drastically out of step". 

The BBC decided to make those calls their main story. They could have chosen otherwise. 

Pure opinion

Meanwhile, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East Editor, has been sounding off away from the BBC at his usual non-BBC haunt, The New Statesman

(Come to think of it, how has that 'progressive' magazine managed to avoid a name change? 'Statesman' in 2018? #MeToo). 

The Impartial One does his usual thing. He begins by making the Palestinians of Gaza sound like victims and the Israelis look like their oppressors. He then praises those critical of Israel. 

Next he complains that his pet subject (Israel and the Palestinians) has been neglected in recent year before painting a picture of the border protests which reinforces his initial binary portrait (oppressed Palestinians, oppressing Israelis). 

His own vaguely unnerving trip through Israeli security follows. 

Then, in contrast to the sufferings of the Palestinians (according to JB), comes the contrast: the Ivanka-led US embassy in Jerusalem launch. ("Many were middle-aged, in good shape, and expensively dressed. They looked rich and my guess was that they were generous donors, to Israel, or President Trump, or both.") The talk there of peace was, Jeremy opines, "misleading". 

Hamas is given the alternative description of "the Islamic Resistance Movement", though - oddly - not described as being considered a terrorist organisation by many (the EU, the UK, the US, etc). 

Yes, Hamas organised the demonstrations, he concedes, before going large with the buts. "But is wrong to claim that Hamas ordered thousands to risk their lives at the fence. They had plenty of reasons of their own to protest" - unemployment for instance. 

There won't be peace until Israel and the Palestinians agree to share the land, and "history shows" that Israel's "military occupation" won't work in the long term, he says. 

The present leaders - Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu - aren't the right people: MA is too old and unable to galvanise his side; BN is "good at using the language of peace but his actions belie his words", according to Jeremy. And the piece ends by continuing Jeremy Bowen's point about the abysmalness of President Abbas and PM Netanyahu by gloomily saying:
The next generation of leaders might be no better. If so, they will condemn their children to more hatred, insecurity and death. 
It may be at The New Statesman but it's nothing new for Jeremy Bowen. His BBC reporting from Israel/Gaza a couple of weeks back was entirely in tandem with this piece. 

Right, wrong or otherwise, it's pure opinion, isn't it?

(You may have to gird your loins and read the piece via the link to make sure). 

More worthiness

Talking of Radio 4 over-worthiness...

Listening to this morning's Sunday, can you guess which angle Radio 4 chose to take when interviewing the new President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl? Yes, the feminist angle. (She's a woman!). Couldn't more be done?

And when the Royal Wedding preacher Bishop Michael Curry was interviewed, some of the questions put to him were from the anti-colonialist angle (linking the British Establishment to slavery, etc).  

And, yes, the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid really was discussed from the angle of how Liverpool supporters are embracing the Islamic faith of Mohamed Salah - with both BBC presenter and BBC reporter openly rejoicing on the positive consequences for social cohesion. (They played us the chants of Liverpool supporters saying they'll pray in mosques too, as if it's good enough for Mo Salah it's good enough for them.) I'm not exaggerating about the enthusiasm expressed by the two BBC people here - as you'll hear for yourself if you listen to the programme. 

And, though the closing discussion about the Irish abortion referendum was balanced, guest-wise, the opening segment on the same subject was a procession of rejoicing Irish people from the pro-choice side. I lost count. I'm guessing though that we heard from around 15 celebrating pro-choice supporters in a row. Cheers and all. 

The life of the most prolific Thought For The Day speaker on Radio 4, ex-BBC, Labour peer and former Methodist leader Leslie Griffiths (who passed away this week) was reviewed by friends and admirers.

And Quilliam ( Foundation co-founder (with Maajid Nawaz) Ed Husain was interviewed about his new book The House of Islam: A Global History. Ed argues that history shows that Islam is wholly compatible with the UK, but that UK Muslims must get out of their comfort zone, take a stand and vigorously reject Salafis and Wahhabis as not being real Muslims. Sunday challenged him on that latter point. 'Isn't such a call unfair to UK Muslims?' was the Muslim grievance-card angle pursued. 

And even the piece on a project recreating sailing journeys from our Celtic past - which I liked the sound of - featured a section on Morecambe Bay (the UK's finest bay, according to Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un and Jon Sopel) where refugees and asylum seekers were thought about in concerned tones, and the project's worthiness projected to Radio 4 listeners. 

It was BBC worthiness overkill.

And, like a masochist, I sat through it from start to finish (to serve you, dear reader!)


Worthiness is a fine quality but too much worthiness can become wearying - especially for others.

I find that listening to too much Radio 4 can result in high levels of worthiness fatigue. Like Queen Victoria about Mr. Gladstone, I sometimes feel as if they speak to me as if I was a public meeting.

Their worthy intent is so obvious, clunking even, as to be increasing off-putting - and off-switching.

I know I'm not alone in that. Quentin Letts of OMG The Daily Mail famously fled Radio 4 to Radio 3 a few months back. And Daisy Waugh (yes, a member of the Waugh family - Evelyn, Auberon & Co.), has written a piece for the i in which she moans about "dismal" Today and how it contributes to depressing the nation:
Waking up to the Today programme is like being woken each morning to a long ticking-off from an eternally disapproving Scottish grandmother. It’s to have a slow feed of misery dripped into your unconscious brain whose overriding message always, every morning, is this: whatever it is the human race has been doing, the human race has been doing it wrong. And it is our responsibility, as decent citizens, to listen, and feel bad and worry.
That said, she's feeling a bit better at the moment:
Some fantastic news then, for the mental health of our nation. Figures reveal that the Today programme has lost 65,000 listeners this quarter. I have a feeling it was the po-faced #metoo coverage that tipped it. Or at any rate that’s when a lot my friends (male, female and neutered) realised they couldn’t tolerate the sanctimonious tub-thumping and faux arguments any longer, and finally tuned out. It’s also when I switched off, and broke the habit of an adult lifetime.
Poor Today. I don't think it's anywhere near the worst at Radio 4 these days, especially since Sarah Sands took over and made it much frothier...

...and that might be a sign of something because it's not just Quentin, Daisy & (for other reasons) me making for the exit from Today, it's also 'the other lot'. Tim Walker, pro-EU journalist, said today (to the applause of the #FBPE crowd):
Long chat with old BBC friend who tells me  BBC Radio 4's Today - with listeners bailing out in their tens of thousands - is now seen as a ‘problem.’
And former BBC regular and left-wing economist Will Hutton has jumped ship too (and, in the process, also jumped a passing shark):
Radio 4’s Today audience is switching to Radio 3. Perhaps British public is not as right wing as its presenters and new editor casually assume as they take their cue from Daily Mail. Time for the team to think for itself? As it used to?
Complaints from Both Sides probably won't be must consolation for the BBC here.

Whither Today? Whither BBC Radio 4? 

Changing the culture

Sheila Dillon, on today's The Food Programme, noted that the BBC Cook of the Year Award used to be called the Best Dinner Lady or Man Award. "We've got more PC since then", she added. (I'll say!)

What struck me about the BBC Cook of the Year Award (from what I heard on this programme) was that it's not what I imagined it to be. It's a much worthier thing than being merely an award for great cooking. It's about "changing the culture" according to Sheila. 

And, thus, this year's finalists work with (1) prison inmates, (2) asylum seekers/refugees and (3) cancer sufferers - and lovely people they sound too. 

BBC and Sceptre

If there's one thing the BBC does well (and the BBC still does many things well) it's covering major royal events - despite the glaring exception of the BBC's 2012 Diamond Jubilee coverage, which was widely considered a fiasco. 

I agree, for example, with what seems to be the general sentiment that their coverage of the Harry-Meghan wedding was excellent. None of my royalist friends at work found anything to object to, or even thought of finding anything to object to. I can well imagine that 18 million of HM's UK subjects watched it, someway or other, mostly on the BBC.

Republicans (of the anti-monarchy rather than the elephantine US kind) accuse the BBC of "fawning" and being "sycophantic", and are doing so again tonight as BBC One marks 65 years since Her Majesty's coronation by re-broadcasting an hour-long programme called The Coronation (see here) soon followed by Countryfile 'Royal Special' from Windsor.

This is an odd one as far as BBC bias matters are concerned. You wouldn't expect left-liberal metropolitan BBC types to be royalist - and the BBC Twitter accounts I follow show that many if not most of them are deeply cynical about the monarchy (just as expected) and enjoy cheerily quipping at the monarchy's expense.

But I also see BBC people - often including the self-same cynics - then exulting in just how good the BBC is at covering such events and sounding as if they're cheerfully getting caught up in the royal event themselves.

So, adopting a hand-wringing pose, should the BBC be biased in favour of the British monarchy when a small but not negligible proportion of the population is in favour of abolishing the monarchy? 

Well, we are a constitutional monarchy, and most people still seem to support the monarchy. (Declaration: I'm an arch-royalist). The BBC must reflect that and play its constitutional part. If sentiment changes and we become a republic then the BBC should support the new republic and play its new constitutional part.

As they say on exam papers, discuss (if you want to)...



I know Sunday is usually the day for an Andrew Marr Show ft Rob Burley post here at ITBB, but BBC Executive Editor Rob has (quite rightly) been exercising his prerogative to ignore the usual mass seething of left-wing BBC critics who attend each and every edition of his former baby.


He chose (on Twitter) to criticise Gary Neville instead. 

Big mistake. His Twitter timeline is now full of furious Gary Neville fans fulminating against him. 

Maybe R Rob should stick to beating up Corbynista haters of Andrew Marr. He's very good at that. And it would probably be far, far less stressful that beating off those massed ranks of angry Nevillistas (who, from the looks of it, make the Neville family of the War of the Roses look like Countryfile-watching, sherry-sipping wallflowers).  

(Note to self: Never post a piece here at ITBB that's rude about Gary Neville. We think Gary Neville's great and don't mind him being a miserable git one bit. In fact we applaud him without reservation for being such a miserable git. 

Second note to self: Remind Sue of that when she gets back off her well-earned holiday). 

As a blogger about BBC bias I do find the weekly Twitter tumult about The Andrew Marr Show fascinating (as you probably know). It's like looking in an inverted mirror from ten years ago and seeing the Left now reflecting back, with uncanny precision, the language and style and way of conspiratorial thinking of the Right back then, even down to the rude puns on political opponents' names and the particularly personal jibes against females (especially journalists) of the opposite political persuasion. Astonishingly (and I really didn't see this coming) a surprising number of these left-wing anti-BBC types are now starting to call for the scrapping of the licence fee.

(I assume, maybe wrongly given that I can't fathom out quite what they want and suspect they can't either, that they want a wholly tax-funded state broadcaster run by a Corbyn government that will ensure the right kind of BBC impartiality).

The bulk of what I saw today can be summarised thusly:
(1) Left-wingers (in their many hundreds) raging that Jacob Reece-Posh - a hateful far-right Tory backbencher from the pages of The Beano - was invited on. The BBC are bigging him up, like they bigged up Boris and Nigel Farage. The BBC are not just Tory they're far-right, and pro-Brexit. They invited JRM on to promote their right-wing, pro-Brexit agenda. Etc. 
(2) Left-wingers (in their many hundreds) ranting about Isabel Oakshit being on the paper review. She's a vile, ugly, right-wing woman who was dressed in scruffy tracksuit bottoms/pyjamas. The BBC's obsessed with her. She's never off the BBC. She's nasty. Her and Jacob Reece-Posh -  it's all too much! Pro-Brexit, right-wing BBC bias. Etc.

I'm not exaggerating there. I saw more than a few tweets about Isabel Oakeshott being vile and ugly from morally superior people who, often in the same tweet, themselves posted vile and ugly comments about her being vile and ugly. And the number of people 'punning' on her surname and replacing '-shott' with '-shit' was quite astonishing. (They might say 'great minds think alike' of course!). 

And, of course, lots of left-wing people were stridently complaining that Jacob Rees-Mogg and even Damian Hinds got a lot less challenges and interruptions from Andrew Marr than Labour's nice Jonathan Ashworth. I suppose I should do my old thing and count the interruptions but I'm pretty certain the Ashworth & Hinds interviews were roughly as tough as each other. The JRM interview was, I think, a bit tamer - perhaps because, as those moaning Corbynistas were the first to say today, JRM isn't a frontline politician. Unlike Mr. Hinds and Mr. Ashworth, he's a backbencher. 

And no, O Corbynista hordes, Andrew Marr wasn't saying that Jacob will be the next PM. He was saying that the bookies make him their favourite. And, despite what you first thought, that's not really the same thing, is it?

(I probably shouldn't have asked that question. A few Corbynistas on Twitter think this blog's posts about The Andrew Marr Show show us to be a pro-BBC blog that will defend the BBC at all costs.) 

Nice to see Andrew Marr back and looking well though. He's no Emma Barnett of course. Only Emma Barnett is. Or Andrew Neil.


I know that some people hereabouts (naming no names, but elsewhere from ITBB) aren't too keen on posts highlighting BBC activity on Twitter. But Twitter (however much we may dislike it) matters. 

And BBC reporters are bound by impartiality guidelines even when they're tweeting. 

And many of them not only put their BBC credentials into their 'Twitter handles and bios', they use their Twitter feed - just as the BBC encouraged them to do - as a key part of their official BBC reporting. (And they use it to plug their books too).

So it most certainly isn't incidental or trivial if a BBC reporter - especially a senior BBC reporter - betrays a strong political bias on Twitter.

Senior BBC high-ups in recent years (Helen Boaden, Mary Hockaday) have sent our emails to all BBC staff sternly warning them not to embarrass the BBC by sounding off on social media, but their stern injunctions still haven't hit home with many a prominent BBC journalist... 

...which is why, among many other BBC reporters, it's good that Monkey Brains, Peter, me (if I say so myself) and others are keeping a close eye on the Twitter feeds of certain high-profile BBC journalists. 

And so, I'm glad to say, is our old friend DB - still digging away, still confronting BBC journalists. (DB was largely responsible for forcing Helen & Mary to send out those finger-wagging emails to BBC staff about the need for them to keep their biased gobs shut).

And it's especially significant when the Twitter bias matches the reporting bias of the BBC reporter. It shows that they haven't hung their opinions up (like coats) at the door, Hugh Sykes-style

No one who reads Jeremy Bowen's Twitter feed, for example, will find the slightest mismatch between the direction of bias blogs like this claim about him there and the direction of bias we claim for his reports on BBC TV and radio. (At least he's consistent!). 

Ditto John Simpson.

The one mirrors the other.

And the same goes for blog favourite Anthony Zurcher. His Twitter feed reads like a long string of sarcastic jibes/barbed criticism about/of Donald Trump. (I have to say he's pretty good at them, however biased they may be. And his largely on-side, partisan readership love them too.) His BBC reporting (online, on TV) is also no different - ironic, opinionated, one-sided. (So he's consistent as well).

So if you, dear reader, spot other egregious examples of BBC reporters bringing shame on Helen Boaden, Mary Hockaday and their successors please keep posting them. 

Another of our old blogging friends, David Preiser (USA), was working on a book about BBC tweets the last I heard of him (though I spot him from time to time commenting, in disguise, at The Spectator). I hope he's well and happy. And if he's still working on that book all the better!

Michael White on BBC bias

Michael White, former political editor and associate editor of The Guardian, makes a point this afternoon about BBC bias:

I think he's spot on about that.

Saturday 26 May 2018

In which Mark Mardell goes after the anti-EU press

If you're a regular listener to The World at One you will know that Mark Mardell has a thing about Brexit. He loves it - every twist and turn of the process, warts and all.
                         Sarah Montague, The World at One, 24 May 2018

The latest edition of Mark Mardell's Radio 4 series Brexit: A Love Story? was remarkably biased, even by the standards of Radio 4. 

It looked at the influence of the press on public attitudes to the EU and only focused on the right-wing press that published critical stories about the EU: The SunThe Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail.  (It didn't consider the role of pro-EU newspapers like the FT or The Guardian.)

It featured four pro-EU 'talking heads':
  • Ken Clarke
  • Sir Max Hastings
  • Jeff Meade
  • Jacki Davis
and only one Leave supporter:
  • Kelvin MacKenzie
(and didn't he quickly express buyer's remorse?)

All four of the pro-EU 'talking heads' were critical of the right-wing, anti-EU press, helping build a strongly-directed narrative - that the right-wing, anti-EU press, with their exaggerated or made-up stories, filled the nation with a relentless diet of anti-EU stories and, thus, soured our love affair with the EU.

And who was 'in the dock'? Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch and, above all, Boris Johnson. 

It's quite extraordinary that no alarm bells rang at Radio 4 over its long section on Boris Johnson. To have all four pro-EU 'talking heads' criticising him or (at best) damning him with faint praise and to have no supportive voice defending him is surely indefensible. In fact, the whole thing came across as a sly hatchet job.

And what sort of 'balance' did Kelvin MacKenzie provide? Well none really, given that KM exuberantly painted a picture of his former newspaper The Sun which portrayed its EU coverage as playing it for laughs - i.e. of consisting of "fun" stories which played fast-and-loose with the facts in the interests of entertaining Sun readers. Mark Mardell himself could hardly have scripted more 'helpful' remarks. 

This was all appallingly biased. Twitter was ablaze with enthusiastic comments from pro-EU listeners recommending it to each other. If Radio 4 can't see that then there's something very wrong with their bias filters. 

I'm assuming a later episode of Brexit: A Love Story? won't be considering the BBC's role in advancing the EU's cause over the past few decades. If such a programme was ever made and a similar approach to balance was taken but in the opposite direction (yes, I know we're entering the realms of fantasy here) then the equivalent 'talking heads' to achieve the same level of bias in the other direction might be, say, having John Redwood instead of Ken Clarke, Peter Oborne instead of Sir Max Hastings, and Michael Gove and Sarah Vine in place of Jeff Meade and Jacki Davis. Imagine the uproar! (It will never happen so imagining it is all we'll ever be able to do). Who would be that imaginary report's Kelvin MacKenzie though? One things clear though: It certainly couldn't have Mark Mardell as its presenter. 

...albeit with somewhat biased prose

I was driving to work the other morning and heard a John Simpson op-ed on Today about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un's on-again-off-again-possibly-on-again meeting and was struck by his tone. He even made a crack about John Bolton's hair and moustache being different colours. ("John Bolton - he of the differently-coloured hair and moustache"). But even that was nothing as compared to Anthony Zurcher's op-ed on Donald Trump's letter to Kim for the BBC News website. Here's one brief example:
The business letter template kicks in again in the closing paragraph, albeit with somewhat tortured prose. "If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write". We have operators standing by!
If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 I suspect the BBC's coverage of her administration would have been pretty much irony-free, indeed respectful approaching reverent. 

Radical bid

Everyone's a critic....

Dark Times

Here's presenter Kirsty Lang on this Tuesday's Front Row
Because we live in dark times, don't we, as you say, global warming, war in the Middle East, Brexit, Trump, I mean, Arifa, does writing comedy feel frivolous do you think?
"Brexit" and "Trump" may feel like 'dark times' to those who feel negatively about them but, of course, many other people feel positively about them, and surely a BBC presenter shouldn't be describing either as 'dark times'?

Another beauty

One of the beauties of Twitter (not a phrase you often hear) is that it opens up BBC journalists to two-way traffic, comment-wise - unlike, of course, when they report on, say, the BBC's News at Ten or Today where they can be as sarcastic or as biased as they like and no one will embarrass them by immediately calling them out over it live on air. Poor Jon Sopel learned that lesson yesterday after tweeting a sarcastic comment about former Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka. He got swift public feedback from his target:
Sebastian Gorka: The NoKo Summit has been cancelled. What now? With Nigel Farage on LBC.
Jon Sopel: My guess - You will say Donald Trump was absolutely right to pull out....and then when it's confirmed that it's back on you will say Donald Trump was absolutely right to go ahead.
Sebastian Gorka: Do you pre-judge all people? Or are you only prejudiced when it comes to those who do not share your political proclivities? Asking for a journalist who doesn’t think he’s know it all.
Jon Sopel: It's Friday. It's Memorial weekend. The sun is shining. It was said with a twinkle in my eye, a smile on my face and and bonhomie....

"In our viewers' minds"

Very interesting Newsnight interview with Steve Bannon the other night. Newsnight has received a lot of flak for daring to 'platform' a 'far-right' voice like Mr. Bannon but that's only to be expected these days. 

As for matters relating to the title of this blog, perhaps the most interesting intervention from Emily Maitlis was this question:
In our viewers' minds you are the man who has driven a nationalistic, divisive, dangerous, arguably racist agenda right into the mainstream. You've emboldened white supremacists. You've allowed, as one person put it to me, the Ku Klux Klan...
What, all of them?

Not on the BBC, not anywhere...

Sunday 20 May 2018

Language Emily!

While I'm still catching up and remembering things I meant to blog about earlier, the latest edition of Newsnight used some interesting language in its main Brexit report. Emily Maitlis and Nick Watt variously use the terms "a hard Brexit", "a moderate Brexit" and "Brexit hardliners in [Mrs May's] Cabinet" in their piece about Justine Greening, Amber Rudd and Damian Green's apparent plan to beat off Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

I raised my eyebrows at that. 

And then Emily moved on to the Italian political scene and the possible Five Star Movement-Lega-led new 'populist' government coalition there. 

Our Emily was straight in there with "The party started by a clown is about to govern Italy with a party of the far right". 

And - to the consternation of people other than just me - she later compared the coming-together of what she called "the alt-left and the firm right" to the idea of Momentum and UKIP forming a governing coalition in the UK. 

She also cited the horseshoe view of politics to claim that the extremes of right and left were converging, united by their Euroscepticism and pro-Russian sentiment. 

Now, I'm not a high profile BBC presenter (lest you thought I was) but even I know that the Five Star Movement isn't particularly close to the ideological place where Momentum sits - though an imputation that they're both rather cult-like might have held if she'd thought of explicitly pushing it. (Did she implicitly push it?) 

The Five Star Movement declare themselves to be neither left nor right, and surveys (of the kind I avidly read) show that their supporters range widely from those who also refuse to except traditional political labels (by some way the largest group) to smaller numbers of (in decreasing order) left-leaners, centrists, and right-leaners. 

To call them "alt-left" is peculiar. (Is it original to Newsnight? Or did they lift it from somewhere else?)

And I recall that, until recently, the Five Star Movement shared the same EU grouping as UKIP and that Nigel Farage and Beppe Grillo got on well, and that the Five Star Movement hasn't (at times) been too far from the Lega on the immigration issue. 

So when Emily described these 'populists' as "chalk and cheese" she seemed to be forgetting the slices, or maybe chunks even, of Gorgonzola that they seem to have in common.

And I've read enough about the Lega to know that simply branding it "far right" is too simplistic. 

Italian politics is confusing and not, I think, readily amenable to simplistic BBC groupthink, such as Emily displayed throughout here.

This was all very 'BBC', shoehorning all of these Eurosceptic populists into a maelstrom of prejudiced BBC labelling. 

And then came the two experts, both broadly pro-EU, neither sympathetic to the populists seeking to rule Italy.

Yes, all very 'BBC'.

Tweet, tweet

Meanwhile, our old blogging friend DB is still out there in the badlands of Twitter, binoculars at the ready, watching BBC twitterers going about their daily activities and faithfully recording their Twitter deposits (for science's sake). 

It certainly is a bit rum for a senior BBC reporter to derisively tweet snowflake symbols to someone else

And as I follow Mike's Twitter feed I know it's far from the first time that he's tweeted derisively to and/or about the alt-right like this. It's a real habit of his, and - as DB says - it really is pretty much all one way. Maybe his alt-right targets deserve it but, nevertheless, it still makes him look like an activist rather than a scrupulously impartial BBC reporter.

And, of course, the never-knowingly-non-derisive Anthony Zurcher has been in action too. Here he is following up on a CNN tweet:

Yes, there's the BBC man saying that President Trump's language - using "animals" to describe a violent gang - "edges towards the language of genocide". 

But, as DB replied to him:

And, of course, Anthony Z wasn't the only BBC reporter pouncing on this. Here's the BBC's senior foreign affairs reporter, their World Affairs Editor, John Simpson sending forth an ever-so-impartial retweet:

The thing about this is that all three senior BBC reporters - Mike Wendling, Anthony Zurcher and John Simpson - have been known to reflect their Twitter views in their 'proper' BBC reports (though I must add that Mike Wendling was impeccable on his Radio 4 documentary last year - as we noted at the time). They don't always hang up their 'coats of one opinionated colour' at the BBC office door. 

And they are meant, as per BBC guidelines, to maintain the impression of BBC impartiality on social media too, so there's even less excuse for this kind of thing (especially given how many people read their tweets).

Update: Justin Webb has an interesting article in The Times about 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' in the media. He could be talking about many of his BBC colleagues. 

Views my own

Caroline Wyatt

The World This Weekendpresented this week by Caroline Wyatt, ran a long segment today on antisemitism in the UK (now and then) with a particular focus on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Furious Corbynista activists immediately took to social media to accuse the BBC of "propaganda not news," of "making it all about Labour", of "weaponising" antisemitism against Labour, of "having an agenda", and of "despising Corbyn".

But elsewhere I've read an equally furious comment from 'the opposite side' (and from someone I like) saying that this was a "hit piece" against Jews and Israel and is that blamed Israel for causing antisemitism and gave Corbyn's Labour a clean bill of health.

The former used such words as "disgraceful" to describe the piece; the latter called it "appalling".

So was this report a partisan hatchet job on Corbyn's Labour or a defence of it? And did it "weaponise" antisemitism spuriously or did the report actually come close to being antisemitic itself? And is this 'complaints from both sides' proof that the BBC must be getting it about right?

Well, I think this time the 'complaints from both sides' argument actually holds water (for once). And, putting on my oh-so-impartial blogger's hat, I believe from the evidence before me that Caroline Wyatt actually made a valiant attempt here to be both thoughtful and fair, and that she succeeded.

We heard from David Feldman of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (and vice-chair of Shami Chakrabarti's much-criticised review into Labour Party antisemitism), three worried Jewish shoppers in Barnet, Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust, Tanya Sakhnovich and Sajid Mohammed from a Nottingham food bank, Angie Mindel of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the outgoing resident of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush and the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement Peter Mason

If we were to draw up a 'balance sheet' (so to speak), in one column (the anti-Corbyn column you might call it) I suppose we would have to put those three worried Jewish shoppers, Dave Rich, Jonathan Arkush and Peter Mason and in the other column (the pro-Corbyn column you might call it) would be Angie Mindel and David Feldman. Tanya and Sajid might arguably also go into the second column as they equated antisemitism with so-called Islamophobia. 

All in all, I think it was a reasonable spread of opinion (if you're into that kind of thing).

What do I know though? I'm just a bean-counting blogger. So, putting on your impartial blog reader's hat, what do you think? Did Caroline Wyatt disgrace the BBC here or do it proud (or neither)?