Sunday 31 March 2019

As Benjamin Franklin said...

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and that John Simpson would heartily approve of the election of a progressive liberal in Slovakia:

His fellow BBC veteran Hugh Sykes is with him all the way, and adds a further point:

Isn't it nice to see these two BBC old-timers sharing their joy at an election result for once?

Saturday 30 March 2019

"Investigating Extremism on Radio 4"

Freya from 120 db (one of the women featured)

Echo chambers don't just apply to social media - despite what you might hear on Lord Hall's mainstream media. 

As the whole Trump-Russia conspiracy stuff showed, the mainstream media can be just as bad, if not worse - especially because they are meant to be professionals and have vast reserves of money to fund their 'trusted' reporting.

Sometimes, however, the two echo chamber worlds meet. 

Radio 4's Feedback, for example, is increasingly the venting place for the left-liberal section of UK Twitter's collective spleen - at least as far as griping about the BBC and right-wingers, climate change deniers, social conservatives and John Humphrys (etc) goes.

And poor Roger Bolton increasing sounds like a ventriloquist's dummy for such people  - though once, if you recall, he actually said on air that he smelt a campaign behind one such campaign. 

This week's edition began with another collective Twitter outcry from the usual echo chambers: Why oh why was the BBC Radio 4 "giving a platform" to "neo-Nazis" and "friends of Tommy Robinson"? Doesn't the BBC risk "giving legitimacy" to (what Roger called) "such divisive figures"?

The programme in question was the "controversial" (pace Roger Bolton) Radio 4 documentary In the Right, broadcast this past week.

"Should these voices be heard on BBC radio?", asked Roger.

Who were the voices that the echo chamber wanted silenced, even before the programme went out? Well, people like YouTube campaigner Lauren Southern and 'Panodrama' star Lucy Brown (the young lady John Sweeney famously treated to a lot of drinks) - "a former associate of the far-right figure Tommy Robinson", as Roger called her.

Some Feedback commenters though, on actually hearing the programme, felt it uncovered an important, under-reported story - which was also the BBC staffers' response later. 

Again, we're entering 'mad world' territory here. The idea that a (left-liberal) BBC Radio 4 documentary hosted by someone from the (left-liberal) open-Democracy website would be giving such "reactionary" women a free and unedited platform without (left-liberal) editorialising is preposterous.

It was presenter Lara Whyte's personal view ultimately, channelled via the BBC, and she gradually made that view crystal clear.

The programme might have tried to give these 'far-right' women some justice, but that justice would never be anything other than heavily circumscribed by Lara & Co's telling of it.

Now, on the opposite end of social media (nearer to us), there have been very different opinions about this programme. 

(So it's been "controversial" for reasons other than those mentioned by Feedback!).

Though some welcomed the programme for giving the likes of Lauren and Lucy a tiny bit of BBC airtime (the very thing the other side got so cross about), it's been mostly about 'our gals' getting 'stitched up' by the BBC and a presenter - from the Soros-funded openDemocracy website - making her ultimate disapproval of these right-wing women clear.

So, are Lauren Southern and "Nazi necklace"-wearing 'Friend of Tommy' Lucy Brown genuinely far-right and dangerous? Or are they being smeared?

(Lucy, for one, thinks that Lara and the BBC smeared her). 

Such questions, of course, won't concern Roger Bolton's Feedback, because such questions would never arise in the massively-overlapping Venn diagrams that are beginning to overwhelm the programme, and the BBC as a whole. But should they concern us?

A Mad World, My Masters

Dom at a different rally

In the mad mood the country's in at the moment, yesterday found the BBC's Dominic Casciani, of all people, coming under sustained fire from certain (largely leftist) quarters for calling Tommy Robinson "an anti-Islam activist" rather than "a far-right activist" or "a fascist". 

The most common accusation was that by using such language the BBC was "normalising"Tommy Robinson and the far-right, with the more conspiratorial end of this Twitter faction smelling a deliberate BBC editorial decision to so do. 

There are plenty of demands for an apology. 

Such folly is par for the cause these days, but the idea that Dominic Casciani - Dominic Casciani!!! - was trying to do Tommy Robinson a favour and "legitimising hate speech and bigotry" is so utterly barking that every single person who made such a Twitter complaint should seriously consider moving to Barking, buying a kennel, setting up home inside and chewing on bones for the rest of their lives whilst listening to Ozzy Osbourne's Bark at the Moon on a loop forever . 

Oddly, earlier that day BBC Dominic had been busy mocking UKIP leader Gerald Batten on Twitter for spreading fake news: 
Gerard Batten: There are reports that water cannon may be deployed tomorrow in London, & that some of the police may try to aggregate and provoke Brexiteers. There is always the danger of provocateurs planted to cause trouble. I hope it is not true but I call on everyone present to be peaceful.
Dominic Casciani: Here are some facts rather than “reports”: Water cannons bought by Boris Johnson (as London’s Mayor) were banned by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2015. Then they were sold off. Water cannons have never been used in disturbances in the UK other than NI.
Here are more facts than you cpuld ever want about the unauthorised Boris Johnson water cannons & why they were banned and sold off: Boris Johnson's unused water cannon sold for scrap at £300k loss
And here is the source link setting out government policy on why water cannons are not authorised: Home Secretary's oral statement on water cannon 
Incidentally, tonight's PM on Radio 4 had a very odd feature - a brief (one-and-a-half-minute) sequence of vox pop interviews by Dom C with Leave supporters outside Parliament, ending with one woman demanding that her friend being interviewed ask him where he came from. When he said "BBC", the crowd groaned in disapproval and the woman began chanting 'Fake news!' and 'Shame on you!' and a chorus of 'O Tommy, Tommy' went up. At which point the piece ended. Checking Twitter, I see a lot of clucking going on about it:
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC: Disturbing clip on PM just now when Brexit demonstrators chant “fake news” after Dominic Casciani reveals he’s from the BBC. #trumpian. [Actually it was only one of the women who chanted that. The rest were singing about Tommy Robinson].
Dominic Casciani: I’m afraid this sentiment is emerging more and more in tense situations where some (but by no means all) Brexit supporters believe our coverage is lies and part of a conspiracy of elites.
Paul Waugh. Huff Post: So depressing to hear on PM Brexit protesters ask Dominic Casciani 'where you from?' When told BBC they shout "fake news! Shame on you!'.Those Remainers and Leavers, Tories and Labour MPs, who have perpetuated this Trumpish narrative, should be ashamed of themselves.
Dominic Casciani: There’s an anti news media sentiment building that makes many journalists feel unsafe. It’s influenced by online sharing and we’re not across it. When I and colleagues tried to find out why people came to Parly, most were decent and wanted to have their say. Some were hostile. Two examples: A woman was telling me there was a secret Lisbon Treaty annexe to merge the EU with N Africa. Why were the lying treasonous media “covering up” this Franco-German plot... She couldn’t point to evidence but she wouldn’t have it the plot was an online friction. Another woman (who didn’t shout at me) said the BBC was concealing child abuse up and down the land. This seemed to be linked to the Jimmy Savile mess, but now applied to an elite conspiracy to subjugate ordinary people.
Wesley Mallin, BBC: I’ve also had this. It takes a huge amount of effort to remain polite and professional. Like all conspiracy theorists I tend to ask them to explain the mechanism by which journalists are told to cover up this or that and they usually dry up.
Dominic Casciani: I give them my card and invite them to the newsroom for a cup of tea. I’m a bit disappointed no one has ever accepted the offer!
It's such a mad world that I'm tempted to add a video of the ever-perfect Perfect Day by Lou Reed, to cheer everyone up. I especially like its famous outro.: You're going to reap just what you sow. You're going to reap just what you sow. You're going to reap just what you sow. You're going to reap just what you sow...But instead I'll go with Ozzy:

Emily Maitlis Watch

Thursday night's Newsnight - the last of the week featuring Emily Maitlis - drew a sharply contrasting response from two of the main partisan sides on social media. 

The pro-Remain side was full of praise for Emily Maitlis; the pro-Leave side full of criticism for her. 

That's because she'd spent the programme being much more antagonistic towards her pro-Leave guests than towards her pro-Remain guests, with a particular mocking laugh-in-the-voice that's fast becoming a trademark of her style being deployed against the kind of people BBC programmes like Newsnight seem to disapprove of.

Watch that whole edition and see the first four-way discussion between Jacob Rees-Mogg, Tobias Ellwood, Sarah Wollaston and Stephen Kinnock. In terms of interruptions, challenges and mocking laughter, her treatment of Jacob Rees-Mogg was much more antagonistic. Indeed, it was mostly 'Get Mogg! ' from Emily.("You whipped up hatred and fear", she told him at one point). He was singled out.

And in the closing three-way discussion between David Yelland, Suzanne Evans and former DUP spokesman Christopher Montgomery, Emily was in the former Sun editor's corner and continually arguing with Ms Evans and Mr Montgomery - the latter being the particular recipient of her derisive laugh.

Of course, this was just one edition. You have to judge such things over time. So go back to the previous Emily Maitlis edition, Tuesday's programme, and watch her handling of her first four interviewees - Hilary Benn, Conservative Remainer Steve Brine, Labour's Danielle Rowley and the ERG's Shailesh Vara. (I watched it as an experiment just now, having not seen it yet.) My assumption, having seen the way Emily's been going in recent months, was that Mr Vara would get the lion's share of the interruptions and challenges and be on the receiving end of that mocking laugh-in-the-voice. And so it turned out. He was singled out too.

(The closing journalists' discussion at the end had no obvious Leavers for Emily to go at).

Monday's programme saw interviews from Emily with Labour's Andy McDonald and the Conservatives Nick Boles and the SNP's Joanna Cherry and Labour's Jess Phillips, none of them Brexiteers. As you might guess, it was 'nice' Emily here all the way here, with the derisive tone notably missing-in-action.

Then came a studio discussion between Sir Craig Oliver, Rachel Sylvester, Dominic Lawson, with Mr Lawson being the sole (though pro-deal) Eurosceptic. And thus it began, with Emily going in on the outnumbered Mr Lawson far more than the others, saying "You don't believe that!" with a smirk, "gently suggesting" to him that he was "missing the point completely", etc.

And then came an interview with Suella Braverman of the ERG. What would happen? 'Nice' Emily or 'nasty Emily'? Well, it was somewhere in between, undoubtedly the least helpful-to-the-politician-being-interviewed political interview of the evening, with some interruptions, but not an example of the 'baddest' Emily.

This is the kind of thing that can be quantified over time, of course. Interruptions can be counted. Challenging and non-challenging (helpful, unhelpful and neutral) can be counted. Even derisive laughs can be counted. Such things have been done before...

Yes, maybe April should be Emily Maitlis Watch.


When campaigning organisations commission polls you kind-of expect the results of the poll to back up their position, even if the poll is conducted by a reputable polling company.

So if, say, the People's Vote campaign or the Leave Means Leave campaign commissions a poll and the results reinforce their respective positions, then it's easy to feel wary - even if the polls are just as scrupulously-conducted as any other poll and, in all probability, just as reliable - or unreliable.

You always need to look at the question though.  One of the questions Leave Means Leave put via ComRes a few days ago ran as follows: 
Some have described the government's approach to Brexit as a 'stitch-up'. Reflecting on this, do you agree or disagree with the following statement?:
Organisations like the BBC seem to be in favour of remaining in the EU and fail to give an impartial view on Brexit
Now, there's undoubtedly a 'leading' quality (or two) to that question. I'd prefer a simple 'Do you agree or disagreement with the following statement? The BBC reports Brexit in a biased way' kind of question (complete with follow-up questions), with none of that framing. 

But, it's a question nonetheless and it was conducted by ComRes in their usual way, so - for what it's worth - the results are as follows:

42% agree that the BBC has a pro-EU, anti-Brexit bias
25 % disagree
33% don't know

BBC UK editor Richard Burgess on protests (again)

Here, from this week's Newswatch, is a transcript of the interview with the BBC UK editor Richard Burgess. He's talking about the BBC's coverage of protests. Enjoy!

Shaun Ley: From the Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests movement, protesting for several months in France, to the now frequent demos across the UK, which are on subjects including climate change, supporters of such events demand and expect media coverage. To what extent should the BBC comply with their wishes? Well, one of those responsible is the BBC UK editor Richard Burgess, and he's with me now. Thank you very much Richard for coming into the Newswatch studio. What are the criteria you use to determine what demonstrations to cover and how much coverage to give them? 
Richard Burgess: Well, I don't think there are exact criteria, but I think there are a number of factors that you take into consideration. Scale is obviously one of them, which we saw with last weekend's march, a major march with a lot of people on it, that's something you've got to take into account. But I think there are a number of other factors around, is this a matter of national significance, is this is a live issue at the moment, and could the march lead to change in the future? So you take all those into account, but obviously there's the other factor, which is what else is going on on that day, what else is happening on the news agenda? 
Shaun Ley: You mention scale, and this is a very contentious issue with marches in particular, isn't it? I mean, last weekend, the organisers were saying they had more than a million people, the BBC was saying, I think, hundreds of thousands. How do you make that call? 
Richard Burgess: Well, I don't think you can ever absolutely say how many people are on a march, by their very nature, they are fluid events, people join, people leave, people move around, they're over large areas. It's almost impossible, if not impossible, to give an exact number. What we do is we obviously have people on the ground who will make an assessment, which is what we did at the weekend. And they were talking about, you know, how densely populated the march was, so we talked about hundreds of thousands, we talked in kind of, broad estimates. And then on the figure of a million, which the organisers were saying, we attributed that figure to the organisers whenever we used it. 
Shaun Ley: Difficult, though, isn't it? And it can be very politically charged, I mean one thinks of the Trump inauguration a couple of years back, that became a really serious issue about whether the media had distorted the numbers, had downplayed the numbers. You have to be really careful on this, don't you? 
Richard Burgess: I think that's right, and I think that's why we do talk in kind of broader terms, and when there are more definitive figures, we attribute those to the organisers or maybe to the authorities, although interestingly, the Metropolitan Police didn't put a figure on it at the weekend, and I think that's because they recognise the difficulty of putting figures on and the political sensitivity around those figures. 
Shaun Ley: You were candid in saying at the start of the interview that one of the things that can affect coverage is what else is happening in the news, there are lots of other things, it's going to get squeezed, if there aren't many other things, it may be something it's quite easy to fill airtime with. That's a difficulty, isn't it? Because you can spend the money, the resources, you are under an obligation then, live trucks, camera crews, producers, to get your money's worth for the licence payer. 
Richard Burgess: Well, not necessarily, I don't think there was a real issue at the weekend because of the size of the march and the issue that it was addressing. Which is... 
Shaun Ley: (interrupting) What about more generally, because there are lots of other demonstrations which the BBC covers, whether demonstrations on the future of the NHS, for example, or the Tommy Robinson demonstration outside the BBC's Salford headquarters? 
Richard Burgess: Again, I think we make decisions based on those criteria I talked about before, in terms of the scale and whether it's an issue of national significance, and what actually happens on the march as well is also a consideration. And then we will make a decision based on the news agenda that day, and sometimes we commit resources to staff and it doesn't get on, and that's - that's the business of news. 
Shaun Ley: I wonder what effect the referendum has had, because it's kind of created a very powerful sense of the will of the people. It's something politicians claim, we're speaking for the will of the people on either side of the argument. The protesters also say the same. Doesn't that perhaps require the BBC to develop a bit more of a careful judgment on this, because it is used so much to be, if you like, an emblem of a wider public feeling, rather than just those people who have turned up in a particular day for a particular project? 
Richard Burgess: I think you're right, and I think we do our best to reflect the range of opinion around Brexit. We know it's an extremely divisive issue, we know that it's a polarising issue for many of our audience, and one that people feel hugely passionately about. And so our aim as an impartial broadcaster is to give air to those opinions - not to create a false balance, but to fairly represent the views across the nation. 
Shaun Ley: What about other protests? I mentioned, in introducing the Gilets Jaunes protests, the Yellow Vests protests in Paris in particular. I mean they've been happening every weekend for months now,. We've covered them a lot on the News Channel. Some weekends, they are fairly quiet protests, other weekends, like the one when the Champs-Elysees was attacked, became much more newsworthy themselves. How do you make that call? Because I know it's not on your brief as home editor, but for BBC News in general, that's is a difficult judgment - which weekends we cover it, and if we cover it it because it's violent, are we in a sense creating encouragement for demonstrations to take a particular turn? 
Richard Burgess: I think that's a good point, and I think you need to be careful not just to cover protests when they turn violent or because they are particularly great pictures around fires in the Champs-Elysees and what have you, as you were saying. I think with our coverage of that, we've always tried to put it into the context of the wider political and social debate that's happening in France at the moment, and I think that's what's of interest to our audience around that story. 
Shaun Ley: And will you think carefully about the next Brexit protests, if there are any, how you cover them? 
Richard Burgess: Yeah, we do always, and we're careful how we cover them, the amount of coverage we give to them, and a range of voices that we feature throughout them. 
Shaun Ley: BBC News UK editor, Richard Burgess, thank you very much for coming in for Newswatch.

A new Ant and Dec?

A little light relief:

The lady on the right is Sherelle Jacobs of the Daily Telegraph, and she has now responded to her new-found fame:
Apparently my "intense stare" and flyaway hair (due to cameraman messing my hair trying to fix my loose earpiece at the last minute 👎) BBC Breakfast on Thurs morning has belatedly gone viral. I will try to smile more on TV in future. And pack my hairpins 😝.

Interesting choice of words

They have history

Fans of Daniel Sandford, Home Affairs Correspondent for BBC News, might enjoy his tweeted reports from one of the two Westminster pro-Brexit protests yesterday:

  • The music currently being played from the Tommy Robinson/UKIP stage in Whitehall is Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody sung by Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara.) I am not sure what TR's policy is on Zoroastrianism.
  • While the Tommy Robinson/UKIP crowd are waiting for their rally to start Tommy Robinson has taken to the stage to play the "Panodrama" online documentary, presented by Tommy Robinson. Yes from his point of view it all appears to be about him today.
  • Tommy Robinson has just been introduced at his/UKIP's rally as "our national hero". The man who called Tommy Robinson "our national hero" is UKIP's Alan Craig.
  • Tommy Robinson now talking about US politics, journalists and comedians he hates, the Syrian bullying case. We seem to have got off the Brexit topic.
  • [Photo of Tommy Robinson]. Red-faced with rage. Losing his voice.
  • The leader of UKIP Gerard Batten takes to the stage (sponsored by Tommy Robinson) to the sound of "The Great Escape".
  • The UKIP leader Gerard Batten is speaking on a Tommy Robinson-sponsored stage in front of a Democratic Football Lads Alliance flag.
  • UKIP's Gerard Batten: "We need now to behead the political class, politically at the ballot box." Interesting choice of words.
  • Protestor who has it in for “CPR”.

When driving into a tree becomes a strong temptation

  • Jesus. Radio 4. Marcus Brigstocke doing a Brexit “comedy” slot on Radio 4 for half an hour. Exactly as you’d expect. Clichéd anti-Brexit rubbish. Totally unfunny too. I’m tempted to drive my car into a tree at high speed to end the misery.
  • The good news is I changed the radio channel. The bad news is I got Wave 105 FM blasting out Phil Collins. Now where’s that tree?
  • Honestly BBC comedy. Is this the best you can do? Tired old, clichéd rubbish rehashing the same material that seems prevalent with all your “woke” “comedians”. Not funny. Not interesting. Not original. Try harder to spend my money on something better please.

"Supposed to be entertaining" was one four-word phrase from the script, and it might serve as a four-word summary for Giles Wemmbley Hogg Goes Off... Article 50 as a whole.

If you didn't hear it, here's a sample. Marcus plays Giles, "Budleigh Salterton’s biggest idiot". Here he's just received an in-person delivery of fudge from Mr Figgis, a local fudge manufacturer:

Sir Michael: Excuse us Mr Figgis, we were discussing the dreaded B-word. Brexit.
Mr Figgis: Oh, I don't know about any of that. All my fudge is made right here in Devon.
Sir Michael: So you'll be fine then after we leave?
Mr Figgis: Oh yes.
Giles: Course he will. Traditional Devon fudge. Right Mr F?
Mr Figgis: That's right. The sugar comes in from Malta and the vanilla's all from Cyprus. I get the cellophane wrapper from a factory in Estonia. Good value they are.
Giles: But what about the labels with the thatched Devon cottage on?
Mr Figgis: Oh, they're off the internet, all printed up in Ireland. The gingham frillies on the lid all come from Croatia. The jars are French.
Sir Michael: What did you decide on polling day?
Mr Figgis: I voted leave.
Sir Michael: Why was that?
Mr Figgis: Cos David Cameron left his kid in that pub and George Osborne has those small little eyes.
Sir Michael: Of course.
Mr Figgis: Mind you we might have to shut the fudgery down now.
Giles: WHAT!!!
Mr Figgis: Sorry Gilesy. We even contended with the supply chain uncertainty and the risk of a  WTO tariff regime, so SME's are struggling to carry through forward investment.
Giles: WHAT!!!
Mr Figgis: And Mrs Figgis broke the big pot on Wednesday.
Giles: But the fudgery CAN'T close! I mean, it's what Devon's all about! I won't let it close!

Fair do's

Lucy Manning

As March 29th came and went, the BBC's special correspondent Lucy Manning, attending yesterday's Leave protests outside Parliament, put it well:
Lucy Manning: They wanted it, voted for it, won it, but didn't get it. 
And Laura K put it pretty well too:
Sophie Raworth: Let's go back to Laura. We had been expecting to stand here and be counting down to 11 o'clock tonight, when the UK officially left the European Union. That hasn't happened. Who knows when it will happen? It really is quite a moment. 
Laura Kuenssberg: It is Sophie. 
And, of course, for Theresa May it was a promise that she made to the public, time and time and time again: "We will leave the European Union on the 29th of March". 
That process that she triggered was something then that Parliament itself voted for. 
And of course at the General Election not so long ago, in the long history of Britain's tangled relationships with the EU, both of the main parties committed to leaving, and then in Parliament a huge majority of MPs voted for this to happen. 
And at the very least, wherever blame lies, whoever made all of the different miscalculations, the fact is that Parliament has not been able to deliver to the country something that itself promised would happen. 

Thursday 28 March 2019



I've resisted this for so please forgive me...but I just can't contain my inner Katty Kay any longer. So:


Here's a new headline from the Spectator today:

Who wrote this piece? I kid ye not, it's the BBC Paul Wood, the BBC reporter most intimately associated with promoting the Trump-Russia conspiracy theories on the BBC! 

"Why didn't we see this coming?" he ends his piece by asking!

To repeat myself:


To quote a much-mocked-but-ever-more-pertinent phrase, you couldn't make it up!

"But is a mea culpa required? Perhaps. Perhaps not", Paul writes!

[Obviously, the answer on Paul's part was very, very clearly 'Yes, a mea culpa was required, especially on my part as I'm as bad if not worse than any of them, and I am very, very sorry and will try to do better from now on or leave the BBC and seek a more suitable partisan job'].
Satire is dead! Self-reflection (at the BBC) is dead! BBC reporting is a sick joke!

And I see comments are turned off below his Spectator piece (so far)!

I wonder why!!!

Another legal disaster for the BBC (and long-suffering licence fee payers), thanks to libellous BBC reporting

Corrections and Clarifications

Mr Speaker might well advise the BBC's Paul Wood to take a soothing medicament, or a sedative, or to take up yoga, or to practise zen, restraint and patience, or to become Buddha-like after the awful week he's had.  

Little did I suspect, after name-checking him on Monday as "the BBC reporter most intimately associated with the Trump-Russia conspiracy theories", that the 'bad news' for him from Robert Mueller's report (seemingly debunking much of his journalistic work over the last couple of years or so) would be followed so swiftly by this second heavy hammer blow:

The BBC's report doesn't name the BBC reporter in question but The Graudian's report does. And, yes, it was Paul Wood. 

[Bold lettering required!]

His BBC News website/BBC News at Ten reports of 23 May 2018 (claiming that the Ukrainian president bribed Donald Trump's lawyer for access to the US president) aroused the wrath of the Ukrainian leader.

Mr. Poroshenko then sued the BBC for libel in the British courts and won.

Paul has, thus, landed the BBC - and, thus, BBC licence payers - with the bill for the Ukrainian president's damages and legal costs.

Oh dear, what a falling-off! In his days of reporting from the Middle East Paul Wood struck me as being one of the BBC's best reporters. And now it's come to this.

A spot of serious soul-searching is obviously needed from the BBC's Paul Wood.

And a spot of serious soul-searching is surely also needed from the BBC. Did they encourage Paul here? Could it be a consequence of institutional anti-Trump bias at the BBC?

Also, such flagrant lapses seem to becoming significantly more common at the BBC, so the Corporation needs to stop being so insufferably complacent and get a grip. 

You may say that he's a dreamer...

(h/t DB)

A certain veteran BBC reporter lays his coat of views at the door of the BBC, apparently. But on Twitter....

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Open Thread

Apologies if things are a little quiet hereabouts for a while, but please pour yourself another large glass at the BBC licence fee payer's expense and settle down with your favourite slippers for the latest open thread.


Mark Easton gets rapped over the knuckles by the BBC

Browsing through the latest BBC ECU findings, I though you might be interested in this one:

BBC News (10pm), BBC One, 21 August 2018: Finding by the Executive Complaints Unit 
The bulletin included a report on the possible effect of Brexit on import-export traffic through Dover. A viewer complained that the reporter’s statement “210 million containers a year will be potentially added to those requiring customs checks” was misleading. 
The 210 million figure reflected the HMRC estimate of the annual number of additional customs declarations resulting from Brexit, including crates, drums, boxes and cases as well as intermodal freight containers. However, the context would have given the impression that it referred to intermodal containers only, which was misleading.
Further action
Journalists have been reminded to be careful when they attempt to reduce complex statistics to a more understandable overall picture and to ensure that in doing so the pictures match the conclusion they have reached.

Naturally, I was curious to find out who the "misleading" BBC reporter was. Using the Wayback Machine, it turns out to have been the BBC's home editor Mark Easton.  

Monday 25 March 2019

Has BBC Reality-Checker Chris Morris been caught out again? (Spoiler: Yes)

Chris Morris, or Peter O'Hanraha-hanrahan?

Organisers say more than one million people joined the demonstration, which called on the Government to hold a second referendum.
   (Christian Fraser, Beyond 100 Days, BBC News Channel,       7.37 pm tonight)

So, according to 'the impartial fact checkers' Full Fact (who, to to put it mildly, weren't helpful to the Leave campaign during the EU referendum), "there almost certainly weren’t a million people on the People’s Vote march".

They put the number at "between 312,000 and 400,000". 

I grinned at the Guido Fawkes write-up of this as it goes on to say:
Not that it stopped the BBC’s risible “Reality Check Correspondent” Chris Morris from endorsing their claim of a million. 
Being Is the BBC biased? I needed quotes from Chris Morris to back that up.

And, yes, checking TV Eyes, there he was blabbing away - even today (at 3.17 pm and 5.51 pm on the BBC News Channel) - parroting that "they estimate there were a million people on the streets calling for another referendum" and "we had an estimated 1 million people outside this building on Saturday".

Guilty as charged then.

Yes, here's the BBC's chief reality-checker who doesn't always check the reality of things - especially when it seems to suit him not too.

I think they call that 'bias', don't they Chris?

Is the BBC racist?

Ms Barnett

This is from the open thread just now:

The exact quote, from Emma Barnett this morning, runs as follows:
Having survived a failed leadership coup at the weekend, Theresa May is still your Prime Minister. She's also entertained 13 white Eurosceptic men at Chequers yesterday to no apparent avail, including Jacob Rees-Mogg's 13 year-old son.
As you've probably heard, Emma is joining Newsnight as one of the programme's three main presenters. The others are Emily Maitlis and Kirsty Wark. And Newsnight's editor is Esmé Wren. 

As you may have spotted, they are all women. (Of course they are!) 

But - tellingly - they're also all white

The obvious Emma Barnett-style question that arises from this is: Is the BBC racist? 

Why not have Tina Daheley as main presenter, with Naga Munchetty (who's already guest-presented the programme) getting an enhanced role. And, as Newsnight has a time-honoured history of poaching people from the Guardian, why not have Afua Hirsch instead of Emma Barnett as the third-string presenter?

You know it makes sense, BBC!

The Hollow Men

Anthony Zurcher?

T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men ends with his most famous lines of poetry: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."  

The Hollow Men of Lord Hall's mainstream media must have been thinking something similar when the news of the Mueller report's findings came through last night. 

The New York Times at least didn't try to sugar the pill for its readers this morning: 

So is this going to provoke some urgent soul-searching on the mainstream media's part? 

I'm very intrigued to see what Paul Wood writes about it next. He's invested so much in ever-so-impartially giving the claims credence that his take on what went wrong with much of the mainstream media reporting on the subject - including the BBC's reporting and his own reporting - would be riveting to read.

Will such soul-searching take place?

I turn, as we all surely must do, to the beating heart of the BBC - the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson. He's surely the weather vane for the BBC here.

And - alas, not unsurprisingly- we see him reaching for straws and rolling on regardless. 

  • "Being (apparently) cleared of collusion with Russia may help Pres Donald Trump win re-election.  But Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal says even if there’s not enough evidence to prosecute him for criminal conspiracy, questions remain over whether Trump has been compromised."
  • "Anne Applebaum, Washington Post: Russia made extensive efforts, through hacking emails as well as information warfare, to help Trump win in 2016. Members of the Trump campaign knew this in advance. Trump publicly called on Russia to release information that would hurt Clinton."

I suspect he's going to be highly representative of Lord Hall's mainstream media. 

Sunday 24 March 2019

Lord Hall says calling the BBC 'mainstream media' is "an assault on freedom of expression"

The lordly Tony Hall, Dee-Gee of the Bee-Bee-Cee, turned into Mr. Boombastic last week (as Scooby's friend Shaggy would doubtless say). 

Giving the Lord Speaker's Lecture on Wednesday last week, he told people like us to stop using the phrase "mainstream media".

Why? Because "it’s an assault on freedom of expression": 
The phrase, “mainstream media”, is now a term of abuse - used by people of all political persuasions. Traditional journalism is painted as part of the problem rather than the solution. This really worries me. 
Ultimately, it’s an assault on freedom of expression. And our duty to seek out the facts - without fear or favour - no matter how inconvenient they might prove to be. 
I think he's being complacent. Indeed, maybe Sue and myself should set up a side-blog called Is the BBC complacent? (with an especially redundant question mark).

The way traditional broadcast outlets, all mainly employing like-minded people from similar higher socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, feed in packs on so many stories in barely distinguishable ways (from Trump to Brexit), like the clique to end all cliques, makes for an unhealthily complacent echo chamber where the likes of Lord Hall can feel at ease but from which many, many people feel deeply disconnected. That clique needs a name, and 'mainstream media' does the trick beautifully

It may not be a comfortable term for the likes of Lord Hall, but by disconcerting him - and his like - it's definitely doing its job. 

And, of course, it's possible to flip his hypocrisy and claim that it's "an assault on freedom of expression" to try and stop people like us from using resonant phrases like 'mainstream media'. 

Is Lord Hall so wrapped up in his BBC comfort blanket that he just can't see any of this?

Well, tough luck Tony. The phrase 'mainstream media' is here to stay. And as they say in mainstream American movies, 'Deal with it!'. 

Now, who to believe?

The Tories also took umbrage at this Newsnight-inspired item:

The Government replied:

Yet again our healthcare authorities have to correct really irresponsible scaremongering over Brexit. Last one I saw was Gary Lineker. This time it’s... the BBC.
(though as someone replied, "If Leo Varadkar IS the EU then Gary Lineker IS the BBC").

So who's right - Newsnight or the DHSC? Well, I'm quite unable to say (not being an expert on such matters), but I can say that it's not unusual (as we know) for the BBC, including Newsnight, to go with alarming/alarmist warnings about Brexit as main stories.

In passing, however, Newsniffer shows that it took the Newsnight reporters in question - Ben Chu & Marianna Spring - nearly 24 hours to get their main talking head's job description right. For the first 21 hours of their BBC News website report she was identified as "Saffron Cordery, the chief executive of NHS Providers" until they edited the piece and she became "Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers". That's a long time to correct something as simple as that.

Another curious Newsnight fact here (just as an aside, and while I'm on) is that both reporters - Ben and Marianna - came to the BBC via left-leaning papers, namely The Independent and The Guardian respectively.  (Someone with a name like 'Marianna Spring' just had to have worked at The Guardian!}. Will that manifest itself in their reporting?

A sob story swallowed by the BBC

BBC image

So what have I missed this past week?

Well, for starters various Conservative MPs took umbrage with the BBC after an interview on the Today programme with a headmistress from South London where she claimed to have cleaned the toilets and served in the canteen at her school because of budget cuts. Various newspapers, however, reported that the school’s accounts showed that the cleaning budget rose by £27,000 in the year 2017-18 and that her own salary rose by at over £10,000. And when she told The Sun (in response to such points) that the pupil population of the school has increased significantly since 2017, The Sun looked at the official figures and found that the school had fewer pupils in 2018 than the year before. It's quite a story!

Now, the BBC defended the Today programme, saying "We are confident this interview complies with our editorial guidelines", and adding that she was questioned and pressed. And, in fairness to the BBC here, how could her interviewer know that she was being economical with the truth if - as happened - she insisted what she was saying was true?

Here's a Twitter exchange on the matter: 
James Cleverly MP: She forgot to mention, when telling the story about how money was so tight that she was forced to clean toilets in her school, that her cleaning budget has risen 90% in a year - and she's had a £10k pay rise.
Alex Deane: I remember this interview. It really stuck with me because after she asserted that the sky was falling in it was put to her that funding is actually up. Her only reply, which the presenters naturally found unrebuttable, was “I am not making this up.” Well...
Melindi Scott: Radio 4 Today treated her like a messiah.
Alex Deane: They did at least ask her the question. She effectively asserted “it is true, as I am saying so.” Without further particulars it would have been very difficult for the interviewer to out and out call her a liar.
Melindi Scott: The point at which she was discussing the funding of her school theatre should possibly have rung alarms.
I agree with Alex. The interviewer couldn't really call her out.

However, if we can excuse Today, what about the BBC News website? 

The story is still up: 

A head teacher says she has had to scrub the toilets, clean the school and work in the canteen because of school funding shortages on schools. 
Siobhan Lowe, head of Tolworth Girls' School in Surbiton, south London, spoke of the embarrassment of not being able to fund support for her pupils. 
She says she has already sold off land, cut subjects and a deputy head post to stay afloat, as budgets tightened.
And Newssniffer shows that her tale was made the main angle on the story for the BBC after that Today interview - with the headline changing from Heads angry at minister's school funding 'snub' to Head teacher talks of cleaning loos amid funds shortfall. Even odder, seven days later the headline changed again to Head teacher talks of cleaning toilets in funding shortage - the only change made to the article in that final version.

So why hasn't the BBC website updated this article to put the points found out by the newspapers about the 'toilet-cleaning head teacher'? Why didn't the BBC check the facts of the story themselves, instead of just regurgitating it whole? 


The cacophony of voices all jabbering at the same time which erupts every time I click on the home page of our homely blog at the moment may seem deeply irritating - and it ruined my attempts to enjoy that Rolling Stones video I posted earlier - but it's almost as though it was meant to be, written in the stars, or as if we intentionally designed it (which we didn't') as a artistically magnificent metaphor to sum up the hapless state of Parliament at the moment or the babble of similar-minded voices being incessantly poured into our heads by the BBC at any moment. Or whatever.

To compliment it, here's some Charles Ives (which echoes the effect to perfection) as various military bands march past each other playing different tunes at the same time:

Of course, none of you will ever manage to listen to this wonderfully haywire music while browsing the blog given those voices endlessly chattering away. 

As far as conceptual art goes Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have nothing on Is the BBC biased?

Careless Whisper

Agnes Poirier

Denis MacShane: Is it true that on Andrew Marr both Emily Maitlis and Tom Newton Dunn ignored in their paper review the tiny fact of 1 million filling central London? This is part of prob of whole London elite media and BBC handling of Brexit/EU.
Tom Newton Dunn: No it isn't. You could try watching it before tweeting? Less fun I appreciate.
Quantum Tarantino: It was certainly discussed. But it was the French lady who emphasised it, seemed less so from you and EM. Only thing AM said was to remark on the witty signs.
Rob Burley (to Quantum): So what!!!? We are now examining every micro exchange in the hunt for bias. When the show had references to the march and questions on it throughout. It’s bananas.
Andrew Marr (to Denis): C’mon Denis. It was in the very top of the programme, extensively discussed in the paper review and mentioned in every single interview. This BBC bashing is just getting absurd. I’d expect better if you.
Rob Burley (to Andrew): Not sure why, it happens every day.
Denis MacShane (to Andrew): I was told only Agnes Poirier emphasised it in contrast to EM and TND. If untrue and the two Brits focused on march I apologise. Yday BBC 17h50 TV news treated a million marching in London as same weight as a few dozen w Farage in Midlands.
Iain Dale (to Denis): Why do you tweet such utter bollocks when you clearly didn’t watch it?
Rob Burley (to Iain): Good question and rather well put.

Actually, the funny thing is that Denis MacShane was broadly correct about the Agnes Poirier/Emily Maitlis/Tom Newton Dunn matter (in that neither of the latter discussed the march), but I've absolutely no idea at all where he got his last claim from (the one about "Yday BBC 17h50 TV news treated a million marching in London as same weight as a few dozen w Farage in Midlands") as it's entirely false. You can still check for yourselves here for a few more hours:

You'll see that the Nigel Farage protest didn't even get a mention in that bulletin and that nearly half the entire BBC 17h50 TV news was given over to the 'PV' march. So did Denis trust what he read elsewhere on Twitter about it without watching it for himself (just like with this morning's Andrew Marr show)? If so, Rob would not approve. And he'd approve even less if Denis simply made it up!

Ah, more 'complaints from both sides' fun!

You Can't Always Get What You Want

First Witch: When shall we three meet again? 
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second WitchWhen the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won. 
Rob Burley, the BBC's head of live political programmes, has been engaged in intense hand-to-hand combat again this morning. Here he is taking on screenwriter and director Paul Dornan.

(I think it's safe to say that no one has persuaded Paul to change his mind here):

Rob Burley: How come the Marr paper review is covering the march yesterday? I thought we were trying to suppress it!!
Paul Dornan: For about 20 secs. Constantly trivialised to be a chat about ironic placards. No conversation about the substance of why 1 million people were asking for on the streets. Nothing at all to boast about Rob. Followed by another 10 mins of Ian Duncan Smith talking unicorns again. For the 1000th time. While the People Vote position got no one. On the day after an earthquake march. Are you proud of the work you do Rob? You shouldn’t be. It’s utter rubbish.
Louise Bayne: But why isn't it in the news? You cannot defend BBC news choice to focus elsewhere. Where are the aerìal screenshots? Where are speeches?
Rob Burley (to Louise): They were on yesterday. When it happened. How long should we run it in the news? Two days? A week? A month?
Rob Burley (to Paul): “While the People’s Vote get no one”. Apart from Nicola Sturgeon who is on the telly now.
Paul Dornan: Are you saying she’s a representative of the People’s Vote campaign? She’s not. She’s on talking about Scotland. Quite rightly.
Rob Burley: She was one of the main speakers at the People’s Vote march yesterday. And she’s talking about it in this interview. But clearly as you are so invested in your position the truth is not the point here.
Paul Dornan: Yes. She spoke. But she’s not a representative of that campaign. You’re so invested in giving an open platform to Brexiteers you utterly fail in your duty to hear from one of the leaders of the biggest national protest in history. That’s dismal journalism by any standards.
Rob Burley: This is one of the more ridiculous tweets I have ever seen. Apparently Nicola Sturgeon - as featured at the People’s Vote rally - is not sufficiently Remain for Paul so therefore the BBC is biased.
Paul Dornan: Rob, are you saying that she - in an interview rightly focused on Scotland- somehow encapsulates the whole people’s Vote position and spoke in total for an event she didn’t organise? Is that your editorial logic? Because that is truly ridiculous.
William Kedjanyi (to Paul): No, but as a supporter of Remaining and a key speaker, she surely acts as a representative does she not?
Paul Dornan (to William): Not if the majority of the interview-which occurred before the march- quickly moves onto other matters, no.
Shaun (to Paul): Paul, who would be acceptable to you as one of the the leaders?
Paul Dornan (to Shaun): Someone from that campaign. Or Andrew Adonis. Or Femi Oluwole. Or Mike Galsworthy. I don’t know these people BTW. Just want a passionate and articulate advocate interested In discussing the issue a million people marched on.
Shaun (to Paul): Lord Adonis, Femi and Mike would all, I'm sure, happily do it but I'm also sure they'd acknowledge the superiority of the elected first minister of a country and leader of a party who clearly back the PV solution. The only person with similar credentials is Caroline Lucas.
Paul Dornan (to Shaun): Absolutely. Except in that actual interview the people’s vote barely got one question. Instead Marr asked about revocation. Brexit in Scotland. No Deal Funding. And a second Scottish independence referendum. In no way was that an interview about the PV. It just wasn’t.
Shaun (to Paul): It was much more important and effective that rather than the friendly puff piece with a sympathetic voice you seem to want they put it to the Brexit Sec and followed up with more questions to force it against its detractors, which they absolutely did.
Paul Dornan (to Shaun): I didn’t ask for a puff piece. Just a true advocate being given proper time to make a clear, well informed case on this issue. Which can then be questioned and interrogated. All we got was something v different. Ah well. Sadly not surprised.


Interestingly, despite what Paul says, the 'People's Vote' was discussed for more than 20 secs during the Andrew Marr paper review. It was closer to one-and-a-half minutes. Plus the Nicola Sturgeon interview began with her talking about the 'PV', the Keir Starmer interview devoted its first four minutes to Labour's position on the 'PV' and the issue was even raised with Stephen Barclay. But, yes, there was no Lord Adonis or Femi or Mike Goldsworthy, so Paul remains dissatisfied. Cue Mick Jagger & Co: