About ten years ago, when I was an occasional below-the-line commenter on Biased BBC, a pseudonymous here-today-gone-tomorrow fellow-commenter disagreed with a criticism I had made of the blog, (perhaps impertinent, but sincerely meant.) He replied to me with something like. “Why don’t you go away and start your own blog? No-one would read it.”
I took that as a put-down rather than a genuine suggestion, and I found it rude and quite hurtful at the time, but in retrospect it was also funny, because obviously, Craig and I did eventually start a blog; admittedly, a comparatively obscure one, but the page view stats indicate that plenty of people read it. (Okay, so some of them are bots.)
The launch of this blog was delayed because of a long drawn out period of indecision over what to call it. We dithered over this for ages. We thought we should include ‘BBC’ and ‘Bias’ for the sake of search engine optimisation, but the title we settled on was deliberately worded in the form of a question.
We wanted to differentiate our blog from the Biased-BBC blog, which someone once described as having bagged “the best domain name evah”. That may be true enough, but we thought the assertive, ‘settled-question’ title invited rants from people who’ve heard or seen something on the BBC they personally disagree with, which seriously dents the blog’s credibility. I mean, there’s bound to be the occasional bias on the BBC in some shape or form; it’s just that a reasonable balance is required. As the saying goes: “remember! journalists are humans too.”
At the time, we saw our chosen title as a genuine question. At the risk of sounding like Jeremy Corbyn, we wanted a conversation. But we’ve all been on a proverbial journey, and nowadays it’s almost a given that the BBC is biased, albeit with minor disagreements about the precise nature of the bias. Overall, it’s generally accepted that the thrust of the BBC’s editorial bias is ‘left-liberal’ or ‘Metropolitan bubble’. You know, anti-British, anti-Brexit, and anti-Israel with antisemitic implications.
To date, the question in the title of this blog is still relevant, but in a completely different sense than the one originally intended. It’s no longer a genuine question, but it’s more appropriate than ever now, in the sense of that well-worn and unmistakably sardonic query about the religion of his holiness. Not to mention bears. It’s sardonic. “Is the BBC Biased? / Do bears shit in the woods?”
Originally we gave ourselves leeway by including the caveat “any other matters etc”. So it seems we’ve travelled, the long way round, from trying to discourage personal rants with little immediate connection to actual BBC bias, all the way to not only allowing such rants but giving them prominence, like I am about to do right now.
Melanie Phillips is a person you’d like to have on your side. Her defence of Israel is unparalleled in its eloquence and clarity. She can deftly deconstruct an argument and make her point with breathtaking precision and economy of language. Therefore it’s doubly disappointing to see that she has taken a strange and blinkered path over the Tommy Robinson fiasco.
It’s pretty obvious that she’s au fait with the legal intricacies of the case. She is married to an eminent legal beagle. He is even the BBC’s go-to legal expert. Perhaps this is why she can’t seem to see the wood for the trees over the Tommy Robinson affair, which is doubly puzzling because the media’s demonisation of “Tommy” bears quite a similarity to its demonisation of Israel.
In her recent article, which she has titled: THE TOMMY ROBINSON CIRCUS OF FOOLS she falls into the very same elephant traps as the ones she so cleverly exposes and demolishes when they happen to have been laid by the anti-semites and anti-Zionists one might find in the Guardian.
The first alarm-bell rang over her use of pejorative language, which she criticises when she sees it used by others. In the very first paragraph, she uses the term “crowing”. As soon as I read that word my heart sank.
”His supporters are crowing that this (his release) proves they were right all along.”
If that word was the ‘giveaway’, then the general lumping together of ‘his supporters’ and the accusation that they were ‘crowing’, heralds the straw man she constructs next. A portrait of Robinson’s supporters as one homogenous bunch of brainless far-right football hooligans and thickos.
Now I haven’t been following Tommy Robinson’s output very closely. I haven't seen his ‘live-streamed’ broadcast, I haven’t followed his twitter timeline and I can’t argue authoritatively about whether his own claim that “I was merely reading from the BBC website outside the court" was true, partially true - or a complete load of cobblers.
But I can say that out of all the Tommy-supportive articles I’ve read, not one of them has shied away from admitting that he was a very naughty boy, and that deliberately violating the court’s conditional discharge or suspended sentence (or whatever it was that he was warned against doing) was utterly stupid and counter-productive. Ezra Levant for one has always said as much.
However, in my humble opinion, with regret, I have to say I suspect that Melanie Phillips has misjudged this one by dwelling on legal intricacies to such an extent that the bigger picture has been obscured completely. I think a suitable expression would be that she has lost the plot.
Melanie says of the collective, brainless, conspiracy theorists that comprise Robinson's supporters “there is simply no evidence that will ever persuade a conspiracy theorist that he or she is wrong.”
Now, where have we heard that kind of thing before? It is a familiar lament, and it is only too true. Just not true of the bulk of Tommy Robinson's supporters - the majority I’d contend - of whom happen to fall outside the straw-man caricature she has tailor-made to fit her theory.
She states that these deplorables allege that
“the state had locked him up to stop him speaking the truth about Islamisation, that he had done nothing at all wrong, it was a kangaroo court, it was a secret court, he was a political prisoner treated as an enemy of the state, he had been jailed because the state wanted him murdered in prison, Britain was now under the rule of sharia law, and so on and imbecilically on.”
If that’s not pejorative, manipulative and downright devious language I’m a Dutchman. Yes, Tommy has written a book titled ‘Enemy of the State’. I haven’t read it, but I have read enough about what has happened to this man and his family to know that he was, effectively, a political prisoner. I don’t see myself as an imbecile. Not particularly. This sort of exaggeration and spin is unworthy stuff from such a clever purveyor of logic, morality, and ethics as Melanie Phillips, whom I still admire.
Oh — and guess what. The state hadn’t “sentenced him to death”. It held him in solitary confinement to protect his safety. And Britain is not under sharia law; the courts have continued to uphold the rule of English law by addressing a serious procedural error, as from time to time they habitually do.
I have watched various film clips, mainly via that invaluable source of info, the comments section over at Biased-BBC, in which Tommy poses one particular question Melanie skirts around. Why was he moved from a relatively ‘safe’ prison to one with a disproportionate number of Muslim inmates? Thus leading to his solitary confinement ‘for his own safety.’ By accident, coincidence, or some other well-meant happenstance?
Did he need to be incarcerated in a cell where shit and spit could be pushed in through the window? I only ask because I’d like to know the answer.
And yes Melanie, you and Andrew Norfolk have been saying this stuff for years. And you’ve been marginalised for saying it and dismissed as “Mad”. Tommy Robinson has broken the law, kicked up a fuss, perhaps made himself into a martyr and brought the issue into the limelight. A bit like the suffragettes, when you come to think of it.
“Everything I wrote about all this was true. And yet Robinson is even now still being misleadingly supported by people who should know better, who are still claiming “kangaroo court”, “secret trial” and all the rest of the rubbish, as well as (after yesterday’s judgment) “vindication” and “victory”. Their arrogance is even greater than their ignorance of the English legal system and their consequent utter inability even to understand the words of a judge’s ruling.
Indeed, if you say so, some stupids may well be claiming the things you say - kangaroo court - secret trial etc. Every cause has its unfortunate followers. Even those that insist the BBC is biased.
Your last sentence says it all.
“The current climate of ignorance, gullibility, and unreason is even worse than anyone could ever have imagined.”
And that is just as applicable to Israel-bashers, antisemites, Corbynistas, "literally Communists" and Guardianistas as it is to detractors of “ex-EDL founder Tommy Robinson aka Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon” as well as a few of those imbecilic, crowing, legally illiterate supporters.