Saturday 8 September 2018

From Their Own Correspondent

I first began listening to From Our Own Correspondent in my late teens, back in the '80s, and I rarely missed it for years.

I liked the stories, from places familiar and unfamiliar, and I liked the way the BBC's storytellers told their stories, and I also liked learning facts about places, and the history and politics of those places, and FOOC was useful for that. 

I wasn't much troubled by questions of bias back then. 

Nowadays, however, I'm a much less frequent listener and questions of bias are (as you probably know) somewhat less far from my mind, so I have to ask - if any of you have an opinion on the matter - if you think the programme has changed as much as I think it's changed in recent years? Or is it me that's changed? 

Take today's edition, for example. 

Standing back and looking at it as objectively as I can, I can see that it still features BBC journalists who can certainly tell a good story in a stylish fashion. Today's programme included three such people: Lyse Doucet, Nick Thorpe (a master of prose) and Gabriel Gatehouse. 

Lyse Doucet's piece concerned the silent Yazidi villages of Iraq. It was powerful stuff, full of compassion, and it made me feel for the Yazidis (though, that said, I've long been sympathetic to them ever since Islamic State being persecuting them and have believed from the very start that they are the sort of refugees we should be protecting and giving refuge to). Its authoritative staccato style of delivery felt very familiar too, following (as it does) in a long FOOC tradition of that kind of delivery. (Perhaps cynically, it brought to mind Chris Morris's On the Hour/The Day Today and its satire of the language and style of war reporting). Maybe, however it was more emotive than FOOC pieces of old and less fact-focused.

Then came the rest of the pieces - a piece about Catholic sexual abuse in Chile which pretty much gave, in passing, a free pass to (liberal favourite) Pope Francis (Linda Pressly); a feminist piece about India (Vivienne Nunis); a piece from Colombia which somehow turned into a piece about indigenous peoples being spot-on about climate change (Nick Thorpe); and a piece from Sweden which equated the trolls of Scandinavian legend with supporters of the Sweden Democrats and racism (Gabriel Gatehouse) - and I just groaned.

It's like being repeatedly hit over the head with a very biased wet haddock.

Has this kind of agenda-pushing always been a part of FOOC or is it a recent thing?


  1. I have some things saved in my favourites about FOOC, including an item from when the longstanding editor was retiring a couple of years back and composed a farewell piece on the subject of FOOC in the style and essay form of the FOOC correspondent reports.

    I have loads of stuff saved about history of radio and BBC and such. I could look through and e mail you FOOC and anything that seems might interest you.

    On the question of whether it has changed, I do think so, as has Radio 4 generally. But then I undoubtedly have too.

  2. Here is the FOOC retiring editor Tony Grant

    I hope it's the right piece. I haven't access to iPlayer to check.

  3. Here is the 60th anniversary FOOC, recalling some memorable dispatches.

  4. Yes, used to be one of my favourites from long ago...

    Probably my liking of the programme dates back a long way now.

    I think there are a number of problems with the programme:

    1. It has always had an agenda, but now I don't agree with the agenda. In the 60s, 70s and 80s, the agenda was to move the whole planet towards representative democracy, towards Western cultural values, towards free speech and to oppose dictatorships. Now the agenda is to promote multiculturalism and political correctness and to value virtue signalling above free speech and democracy.

    2. 40 years ago, we still knew little in the UK about foreign cultures, except what came to us filtered by the media. Now, thanks to unprecedented levels of mass immigration, we have a close up view of many different cultures. In somewhere like London, well over 100 languages are spoken in our schools and we have communities from every part of the globe from the South Seas to Singapore, from Norway to New Zealand. Whereas previously some sentimental tale of Bedouin hospitality under a starry night sky could enchant with its romance, we now - so to speak - have the Bedouins camped outside our door. And - bad news BBC - we can make our personal judgements about the value of the cultures we see about us, knowing as we do (if we aren't taken in by the PC nonsense) that not all cultures are of equal merit.

    3. We have in the last 20 years had several examples of journalists (with the BBC often in the lead) getting things spectacularly wrong: the misleading presentation of the Arab Spring as a democratic movement rather than a Muslim Brotherhood revolt, the inability to see the East European migration wave, the suppression and misreporting of the "grooming" scandal, the complete failure to see the IS Caliphate coming, the complete failure to see the 2008 crash coming, the complete failure to see the Brexit vote coming, the complete failure to see Trump's victory coming and now the continued obstinate denial of the truth of the negative impact of mass immigration on the housing crisis. Putting it altogether, it's a "Shipman Effect" - they've killed trust too many times so you really can no longer see BBC journalists as kindly, authoritative or even honest, so whereas in the past you might have taken the FOOC reports on trust, now your first thought is: "What's the angle here? Is this honest? Or am I being asked to believe an untrue PC narrative?"

    4. I dimly recall the FOOC of decades past as being more matter of fact, less sentimental and less indulgent (of the reporters, whose emotions are also now a part of the story I feel). I guess that reflects a more empathetic, less "stiff upper lip" age but it doesn't necessarily mean it's more interesting radio.

    5. We can now in virtually an instant can get a whole range of info on the history, literature, culture and religion of a country or a people on any part of the planet and, where there are conflicts, we can hear from both sides. We are no longer reliant on BBC journos to channel such information.

    1. Well said MB, on every point. What you've written absolutely rings true to me, and you've provided a damning and accurate list in point 3. (Good to get it all together).

      "What's the angle here? Is this honest? Or am I being asked to believe an untrue PC narrative?" are exactly my first thoughts on listening to FOOC reports these days.

    2. That said, I saw the following on the FOOC website...

      "Nick Thorpe makes the long journey through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range to reach the Ciudad Perdida - the Lost City which was abandoned by the indigenous people who once lived there when Spanish conquistadors arrived at the Colombian coast in the 16th century.

      "And Gabriel Gatehouse has a mysterious but revealing encounter with a real-life troll in Stockholm."

      ...and hoped they might be angle-free and, above all, that I might finally be able to write something nice about Nick Thorpe. Neither were angle-free, alas.

    3. He's a puzzle, that Gabriel isn't he? Perhaps half of him is pulled to telling the truth and the other half is pulled towards keeping his job. Most of us know that feeling!

    4. He certainly is. I was expecting something akin to his nuanced Newsnight piece but instead it was a history of Scandinavian trolls followed by analogies suggesting that Sweden Democrat supporters are akin to those very trolls, all wrapped around a tale about a present-day 'troll', watched and then chased by Gabriel, who had furtively defaced a poster of a black woman who represents multicultural Swedish progressiveness with an anti-immigration slogan, thus tying all the various trolls in the piece - legendary trolls, SD supporters and racist vandals - together in one neat bundle.

  5. Here from my stash is a blog piece by Tony Grant on how to write a FOOC dispatch:

    And one from a World Affairs correspondent, Humphrey Hawksley:


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