Talk of Gavin Esler reminds me that last week's Dateline London discussed Boris Johnson and the niqab.
In time-honoured Dateline fashion all four members of the panel agreed that Boris was a bad 'un. They were all equally scathing of him. Eunice Goes said his words were "very dangerous" and "utterly irresponsible". Henry Chu accused him of making things worse for a vulnerable group in society. Abdel Bari Atwan got very het up (as is his way) and used the word "racist". And Polly Toynbee (as is her way) rampaged through a whole dictionary of condemnatory words - "offensive," "dangerous", "disgusting", "malice" - in her rant against the former foreign secretary.
That was a panel whose views were utterly predictable on the subject and should easily have been foreseen by the programme's production team. Where were the alternative voices to provide balance? How could this clear breach of the BBC's legal duty to be balanced and impartial be allowed to happen? Was it just "coincidence" that four very likely critics of Boris Johnson were chosen as guests given the topic for discussion?
And presenter Shaun Ley framed it as "Boris Johnson...supports the freedom to cover your face but manages to insult the Muslim women who do it", thus couching it as a statement of FACT that it was insulting to the Muslim women who where niqabs. He didn't even say, "some think" or "according to some". Doesn't this show that the presenter was himself betraying bias against Boris Johnson?
Just sent this complaint to the BBC about Dateline London just been on BBC...this makes me so angry and I know complaints however evidenced always receive sneery replies denying it all. Still its just about all you can do aside from #bbcswitchoff.
I would like specific answers to each of the following elements of my complaint.
1. The presenter asked "as an ex editor of the Jewish Chronicle how badly has this been handled by the British Labour Party?".....the BBC has a legal duty to be balanced and impartial. This is clearly a breach of this duty. The question is couched as a statement of FACT that it has been badly handled and that the only question is how badly. And who better to ask than the ex editor of a newspaper that has already made its position very clear on numerous occasions.
2. In addition to the presenter being himself clearly biased against Corbyn all four of the guests were equally scathing of him. There was NO challenge to any of this as there was no alternative voice to provide balance. How could this clear breach of the BBC's legal duty to be balanced and impartial be allowed to happen? Was it just "coincidence" a very likely critic of Corbyn was chosen as a guest given the topic for discussion?
3. There was both lack of balance and fairness when one of the guests referred to Corbyn's "body language when he rolled his eyes". The presenter then jumped in to say it showed Corbyn wasn't taking it (antisemitism) seriously...when in fact Corbyn rolled his eyes in sheer frustration at being asked for the umpteenth time about the circumstances around the wreath laying...nothing whatsoever to with him not being bothered about antisemitism.
I have complained to the BBC before about bias and lack of balance/impartiality but without doubt this is the worst and seemingly pre-planned example. Is it any wonder that #bbcswitchoff trends worldwide?
He's a Corbyn supporter and one of the BBC's fiercest and most prolific critics on Twitter.
Now, of course, I cheekily 'borrowed' some of Pete's language in re-drafting my own bit, though most of it was already written in my usual way - and it's broadly true (if I say so myself).
It would be wholly true had I also mentioned Shaun Ley's two brief interjections - one quoting Rowan Atkinson's defence of Boris, the other stating that Boris Johnson agreed with the panel that such outfits shouldn't be banned - which could (correctly) be presented as evidence of some attempts at balance, but otherwise my criticisms are correct and to the point (again if I say so myself).
Last week's Dateline should have included at least one guest who might have been expected to defend Boris Johnson or to take a different line from the rest of the panel (and Boris) on the burka/niqab question, and Shaun Ley made it a FACT that Boris was attacking the women (rather than their clothes) and was 'insulting' them (rather than 'making a joke') in his framing remarks.
So I think my complaint holds. And I will send spruce it up, make it formal and send it to the BBC to see what happens.
What about Pete's complaint about this week's edition though?
...(though before answering that, I must just say to his "I know complaints however evidenced always receive sneery replies denying it all", welcome to our world and I feel your pain about the BBC complaints process!)
...Well, the BBC will probably respond with the following points - even the pit-nicking final one (seriously, I think they will):
- Pete misses out Shaun Ley's introduction, which gave Mr Corbyn's defence in detail and was delivered straight and, so, can be said to cancel out his later remarks..
- Surely the presenter saying "as an ex editor of the Jewish Chronicle..." in that context is only right and proper. As he might be seen to have a dog in the fight through his former connections, he needed labelling as much so as to inform the audience.
- Ned Temko (the ex-editor in question) is a longstanding Dateline regular.
- The programme's production team might have assumed that Maria Margaronis would have defended Jeremy Corbyn, given that is generally sympathetic towards the Labour leader. Could they have guessed she would have slated his "tin ear" for antisemitism and joined in the criticism? (I wouldn't have guessed so). And, she did also say that the Right was using the antisemitism row as a stick to beat Mr Corbyn and Labour and that antisemitism was more common on the Right than the Left, points Pete doubtless agrees with.
- It was Shaun Ley himself, not one of the guests, who brought Mr Corbyn's "rolling eyes" into the discussion.
So much for the opening flaws in Pete's complaint.
- Pete has a point when he says the question "How badly has this been handled by the British Labour Party?" is a question "couched as a statement of FACT that it has been badly handled and that the only question is how badly".
- It is true that all four guests were highly critical of Jeremy Corbyn's behaviour when it comes to antisemitism.
- Shaun Ley did made a powerful intervention, from his own experience, about why it is that Mr Corbyn's behaviour concerns so many Jewish people.
So, yes, the first point is correct. (It matches and mirrors mine).
The second one is correct too, but only because the left-winger Maria Margaronis was surprisingly critical of Mr Corbyn on the antisemitism question. As I said earlier, the BBC can, I think, reasonably use her known position on the political spectrum (a long way leftwards) to justify their panel selection this week (unlike last week!) and nullify Pete's point.
The third point can be countered by the introduction, where Shaun put Mr Corbyn's side with gusto and, thus, 'balanced things out'.
Thus, only the first point holds.
But what of perhaps the most serious charge against Shaun Ley from Pete: that he "jumped in" to say that the "rolling" eyes "showed Corbyn wasn't taking it (antisemitism) seriously when in fact Corbyn rolled his eyes in sheer frustration at being asked for the umpteenth time about the circumstances around the wreath laying...nothing whatsoever to with him not being bothered about antisemitism"?
Well, I think Pete simply misunderstood what he saw and heard.
What Shaun Ley said, before his last words became indecipherable due to others talking over him, was:
At one point he rolled his eyes I think. So the subtext is...the body language is, "I'm not taking this seriously", whatever the words are and that's part...(indecipherable)...
I take that as meaning that Jeremy Corbyn's "rolling eyes" during that interview "showed" that he wasn't talking the interview seriously (i.e ."I'm not taking this interview seriously"). In order words, Shaun was interpreting the Labour leader's body language in precisely the same way as Pete himself (except, of course, that Shaun evidently felt it made the Labour leader look bad while Pete felt Mr Corbyn was entirely right to feel miffed): that Mr Corbyn was getting annoyed at the interviewer for asking those pesky questions.
Now it could be that Mr Corbyn wasn't taking the interview seriously because he doesn't take antisemitism seriously, but that was far from being implied by Shaun Ley there. So when Pete says...
The presenter then jumped in to say it showed Corbyn wasn't taking it (antisemitism) seriously...when in fact Corbyn rolled his eyes in sheer frustration at being asked for the umpteenth time about the circumstances around the wreath laying...nothing whatsoever to with him not being bothered about antisemitism.
...I think he's simply got the wrong end of the stick and parenthetically projected that interpretation about Shaun Ley meaning 'antisemtism' onto Shaun Ley.
All in all, Pete's complaint doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The BBC would be right to reject nearly all of it.
That said, I suspect both complaints (his and mine) will be entirely rejected, with much talk of 'due impartiality' and 'judging over time'. Well, I have judged the programme over time and it was long had a very pronounced left-liberal bias. (We've got 119 posts about the programme here at ITBB - Lord help us! - as evidence).
Sorry for the long post but I hope this post will prove instructive (if only to me). Pete made similar kinds of complaint to the kinds I've been accustomed to making about Dateline London for many, many years. I think the difference is that his complaints have very little substance.
If you've slogged your way through all of this (and I have to say I've greatly enjoyed it!), then please feel free to have your say as ever below.