Sunday 31 May 2020

May Open Thread

The moon rises on another open thread. Thanks for your comments and support. 

Watch this space

Referring to his own Spectator article and Charles Moore's piece in the Daily Telegraph, former ITV newsreader Alastair Stewart's Twitter feed yesterday evolved into an interesting conversation. It sounds as if Alastair has been having some interesting conversations with people high up in the BBC.

(The one slight snag with this thread is that it is unusually full of people called Alastair.) 

Alastair Stewart: Charles Moore is a high-Tory & former Editor of the Telegraph. That said, this is powerful: "The best thing for Boris Johnson to do right now is to let the BBC stew in its own existential juice & strike when Covid-19 has passed". Agree or disagree with Mr Moore's analysis, his suggestion to Boris Johnson about dealing with the BBC, post-Covid19, will not fall on deaf ears. Those who have brought this upon themselves might well reflect how they have played into their enemies' hands.
Alastair Bruce: The British Army has Values and Standards to guide conduct of all soldiers. Perhaps this is what you are suggesting here? When I joined Sky News I was taught similar lesson by my mentor & it’s stood me pretty well. Your reference to similar guidance chimes with that sage advice.
Alastair Stewart: Broadcasting has its 'Values & Standards' equivalents: Ofcom regulations & broadcasters' Editorial Guidelines.  Many fine political & investigative journalists have demonstrated important work can be done within them. Their breach is not an act of heroism; it is a suicide dash.
Mike: I used to argue against scrapping the licence fee, as I felt that would help worsen and ingrain bias in broadcasting. But, sustained biased behaviour over the past two years have convinced me we are already in that situation and the fee is indefensible.
Alastair Stewart: You capture, perfectly, the risk that some are taking. I am a passionate supporter of the BBC and want it to survive and thrive. Recent events will not help.
Jonathan: Do you think that the problem of perceived impartiality is magnified somewhat when it’s involving a state broadcaster, one that is paid for by something akin to a tax?
Alastair Stewart: The debate over the license fee leaves the terrain open. I've just had a note from a senior figure at the BBC, terrified that Charles Moore is spot on.
Alastair Newey: I'm with Mike. BBC produces fantastic content but you can sense anti-Tory bias in many of BBC journalists social media presence. Lewis Goodall is a perfect example of that. The question is, why people higher up in BBC don't see it as a problem.
Alastair Stewart: Many do... watch this space.
Really2020?: Who on earth is mentoring the current crop!!!
Alastair Stewart: Impartiality should be front and centre of any journalism/media studies curriculum. If it isn't, institutions taking those students' fees are acting under false pretences.
Nikki Clinton: Important points made by Alastair Stewart on why it’s imperative broadcasting media leave their partiality at the door and give it to us straight, leaving us to draw our own conclusions. We never needed a balanced opinion more than now.
Graham Dish: Agree, but what will drive this to happen? Practically speaking, what policy or regulatory changes will give us this desirable outcome?
Alastair Stewart: Enforcement. Period.
Chris Crampton: May I ask if you've had feedback from within the BBC supporting your view?  It would really help to know if there were at least some of them deeply concerned by all this.
Alastair Stewart: Yes.

Always on Twitter

Twitter-happy Lewis

The Sunday Times quotes a number of former BBC figures today on the subject of the Maitlis affair, of which the most damning comes from an old-school BBC legend:
Sir John Tusa, founding Newsnight presenter: "No editor of Newsnight that I worked with would have allowed that to go through. No presenter would have written anything like that. It is self-indulgence and it does no service to viewers. You can either choose to be a celebrity or you can choose to be a journalist. You can’t be both." 
The paper summarises that into a striking headline:
Emily Maitlis was chasing fame, not the story, says BBC veteran
Other blasts-from-the-past focus on a particular problem with Newsnight, though one that was  ultimately first set in train by BBC management:
Roger Mosey, former editorial director of the BBC: “The BBC’s traditional restraint has been swept away in the age of social media. On-air staff have been actively encouraged to engage with their audiences and to show their personality.”

Peter Barron, former Newsnight editor: People at the BBC are concerned that journalists are more interested in breaking stories on Twitter than their own platforms. The nature of Twitter is driving broadcasters to be more eye-catching and that is leading into problematic territory.” 
The Sunday Times also includes a column by Matthew Syed. This is the paragraph that particularly stood out for me from it:
Matthew Syed, The Sunday Times: This is why the corrosion of the BBC’s reputation for impartiality is of unusually grave importance. I happen often to agree with the editorial stance of Newsnight, but even I can see how its bias is wrecking the credibility of the entire institution. This isn’t about the coverage of Dominic Cummings per se, but a slow-motion car crash that has been unfolding for months, its journalists making the tragic (but common) mistake of conflating the virality of its social media posts with the credibility of its analysis. This could yet destroy the BBC itself, turning a great organisation into a facet of polarisation rather than a bulwark against it.” 
That "slow-motion car crash" looks set to continue unless senior management at the BBC get a grip on it. Some Newsnight journalists are still posting on Twitter, heavily, seven days a week - which, it must be said I passing, surely can't be good for their mental well-being. The programme's policy editor Lewis Goodall even put in a Saturday night appearance this week to have his say on Dominic Cummings again - and only on Dominic Cummings. (I don't think he's had a day off for weeks).

Did the BBC prevent John Sweeney from profiling Seumas Milne?

"posh, minor aristocrat Stalinist" Seamus 

I didn't know, until Sue informed me yesterday, that the famous John Sweeney now co-hosts a podcast called 'Last Call'. 

He presents it with an American journalist called Michael Weiss, and the pair of them call their double act 'Two Boozy Hacks'. (As far as John Sweeney is concerned, I think we can all guess why!) 

Their latest episode is called 'Labour Pains' and features former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as a special guest. It last about an hour.

Unexpectedly, I must say that I enjoyed it. They all came across as rather charming.

John was on the pinot grigio, if you're wondering.

(In fairness, I did once write, "Do you know who I'd really like a night-out with? Yes, Panorama/Newsnight star reporter John Sweeney. He sounds great fun. I'd specifically like to be his all-expenses-paid-for guest", and I stand by that.)

The serious bit comes in the last quarter of an hour when they turn to Labour antisemitism. As you'd perhaps expect, having spent 18 years at the BBC, John Sweeney seems to have fully imbibed the general BBC resentment towards the State of Israel, and even has a Jeremy Bowen-like personal grievance against it, but was still distressed at the influx of the antisemites into the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

Also interesting was their discussion of Mr Corbyn's director of communications, Seumas Milne. This was John Sweeney's boozy ramble on the subject:
I need to share with our three listeners my class hatred here in that I was brought up...we lived in in Manchester, and then when I was ten we moved down to Hampshire and I went to a grammar school. And Seumas Milne went to Winchester College. And it is comically posh. And its also where...most of the Cambridge spies when to Winchester. And then here's this almost comically absurd Stalinist who went to Winchester College. He is the voice of the Labour Party. And the problem I had when I was a BBC journalist was 'Can I please do a profile of Seumas Milne, in the way that I was allowed when I worked at The Observer, to do profiles for the BBC about Alastair Campbell and his shenanigans with Rupert Murdoch, blah, blah, blah, blah?', and it was impossible to get through. So, although Seumas was a posh, aristocratic Stalinist, people were afraid of him and it was impossible for me at the BBC to do a proper profile of the guy. 
Now that's very interesting, isn't it? The BBC didn't want to let John Sweeney do a proper profile of the avowed Stalinist-communist director of communications for the leader of the Labour Party. Was it just because they were afraid of Seumas Milne (and the Corbynistas)? Or was it also because, for some strange reason, the man's extreme politics didn't particularly worry them?

It's especially rum, isn't it, because the BBC hasn't shown any reluctance to 'properly profile' the Conservatives' director of communications. He was on the end of a full-length, thoroughly one-sided hatchet job earlier this year, fronted by Emily Maitlis. 

(What is it about his public antipathy towards the BBC and his role in winning the EU referendum for Leave and the 2019 general election for Boris Johnson that so excites the BBC's hostility towards Mr Cummings?)

Anyhow, cheers!

Saturday 30 May 2020

Ms Valiant-for-Truth

There's quite a striking revelation from Anita Singh in today's Daily Telegraph

She quotes a letter to a complainant from the head of the BBC's complaints unit, Jeremy Hayes, in which Mr Hayes objects to Emily Maitlis's interviewing style during a March 2019 interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

Mr Hayes writes that the interview "cast more heat than light" and describes Ms Maitlis's "failure to cast light on matters" as "regrettable", doing "little to aid audience understanding of the issues discussed". 

He even appears to sympathise with the complainant's description of Emily's laughter as "mocking" (a hallmark of her style we've commented on quite a few times before). 

The same article also notes that the Newsnight presenter remains unabashed about her behaviour, sharing the following tweet demanding that her employers show her more respect:

Such brazen behaviour suggests that Charles Moore, also writing in the Telegraph, has it right. It's a win-win situation for her. What matters to her is how well what she says and does goes down with the people who really matter to her - her colleagues and her Twitter followers. She's clearly soaking in their admiration. Plus, for all her present discomfort, she will be doubtless also be relishing the increased fame. And, given what happened to Naga Munchetty...
Ms Maitlis might well win...a reprieve, perhaps slightly qualified by bureaucratic mumbling about “fresh guidelines” on BBC impartiality on social media which have been commissioned from its former Director of Global News, Richard Sambrook. Then Ms Valiant-for-Truth will have prevailed against the “suits” and the Government. She will have been allowed to state, as fact, that Dominic Cummings did break the rules and that Boris lied. Even if she loses, and the ruling against her stands, she is most unlikely to be demoted, let alone sacked. The suits will be portrayed as having given in to Government pressure. In due time, Emily will be promoted to a show with more viewers than Newsnight, or hired by a rival channel.

More on the BBC's re-hiring of Richard Sambrook

[Richard] Sambrook was asked by the board of Channel 4 to do a similar inquiry into bias on C4 News, though it was all a bit rushed. His report - kept secret - concluded there wasn’t enough diversity in the backgrounds and outlooks of people on the programmes, especially senior staff. 
Among Sambrook’s recommendations was that the programme make a “senior counter cultural appointment” - either a top presenter or editor - to balance “the uniformity of editorial attitude and approach in the [C4News] newsroom”. I’m not sure that would have worked.
“Senior counter cultural appointments” at, say, Newsnight? It's an intriguing suggestion, but I'm not sure it would work either. Such outsiders would probably get a very frosty reception. 

Pouring oil on the flames

Three CNN journalists - a reporter, a producer and a cameraman - were arrested yesterday while broadcasting live. Another CNN reporter reporting nearby wasn't. 

As CNN covered it live and reacting live they began speculating about a racist motive. The reporter who wasn't arrested is white, they said; the reporter who was arrested is "not white", they said. Soon they were tweeting along the same lines:

I don't quite swallow this whole though because I've watched the original clip in full and seen that both the arrested producer and the arrested cameraman are also white - something which, at the very least, surely complicates the insinuation of racism on the arresting officers' part.

CNN reporter

CNN producer

CNN cameraman

Other journalists added their 'likes' to this race-based take:

Is this an example then of a major broadcast media outfit unnecessarily racialising a story and other media outlets then falling in with their contentious - and possibly inflammatory - angle?

Do you know what you're talking about?

I know this clip is already on the GF site, but it’s so cool I wanted it here too. 

Everything Ian Murray says can equally be applied to many of the BBC’s semi-ignorant pronouncements and mantras. A typical example is when the BBC regurgitates half-understood gossip sourced from pro-Palestinian propaganda concerning Israel’s plans to ‘annex the occupied West Bank’. 

‘She would say that,’ you may be thinking; but when I looked into it I too thought we’d have more luck relying on Jeremy Bowen to educate us on the finer points of epidemiology (or indeed Uganda’s opposition party) than to clarify the term ‘annexation’ in the context of ‘Israel, Territory and International Law’ in any manner at all, let alone an impartial and erudite one.


The FT's global China editor James Kynge is certainly right to call it "extraordinary" that the UK is "broadening its offer of visa rights to 3m people from Hong Kong, up from 300,000 previously". 

I'm also guessing he's right that Beijing is "likely to be incensed". 

This is a huge story, with so many potential ramifications.

And Harry Coles of the Mail on Sunday is surely also right to say that it "seems bizarre this is being all but ignored by so many broadcast outlets".

(Not that I've been following it particularly closely either, it must be admitted.)

That commitment from the UK Government to allow in so many people - if events demand - surely necessitates serious and urgent discussion. 

And public consent.

To bring in so many people could be excessively costly - especially as we're beginning to come out of lockdown, and appear to be about to suffer the unprecedentedly severe economic aftermath of lockdown. What would it mean for housing, public services, etc? 

And we are already - never mind what the BBC's Mark Easton says - a crowded country. 

But I can also see huge benefits from having lots of pro-British, democracy-loving Hong Kongers living alongside us - as well as the moral and emotional rewards of us doing a very good thing and rescuing the people of our former colony - to which we have such strong ties - from totalitarian Chinese rule. 

So what is to be done? 

Personally, I'd welcome them with open arms, but I might not be in the majority over that.

Again, public consent is the key thing here. Or ought to be. 

Back to 'core blog' matters: Is Harry Cole being fair about the UK's broadcast outlets? 

Looking just at the pro-immigration BBC, as we tend to do (given the blog's title), and using TV Eyes to catch up...

I see that BBC One's News at Ten on Thursday night just about covered it. It was mentioned in the last five minutes of their 35-minute long bulletin. The BBC's John Sudworth described what was going on in Hong Kong and Dominic Raab was shown stating the UK Government's commitment. No eyebrows - metaphorical or literal - were raised about the numbers of potential immigrants. (Very BBC! It takes me straight back to their biased behaviour in advance of the waves of EU migrants in the mid 2000s and the influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants in the mid 2010, both of which the BBC got badly wrong). The only hint of editorialising came when John Sudworth called the UK Government's decision a "surprise" announcement. From the tone of how he put that (impossible to transcribe) I gathered that he considered it a pleasant surprise. 

And, to give them their dues, Thursday night's Emily Maitlis-free Newsnight found time to sort-of cover the story. The estimable Mark Urban...(what on earth does he really make of all the recent, hot-headed, activist-style Newsnight stunts? Might he be a future whistle-blower?)...provided a clear overview of the situation in Hong Kong. The UK's offer was, however, mentioned almost in passing and no eyebrows - metaphorical or otherwise - were raised about it. Yesterday's Newsnight didn't touch the story.

And yesterday's BBC Breakfast and all of the main BBC One news bulletins also ignored it completely. 


Massive events happening in a faraway territory about which we know something and the BBC isn't making a great deal of it then. Why? 

The UK Government commits us to potentially letting in up to 3 million people from Hong Kong, if needs demand, and the BBC doesn't bat an eyelid. Why? 

The Humber Bridge at dawn and dusk

Here are some beautiful photos of the Humber Bridge from Andrew Locking to brighten up your morning (though if it's anything like here, it's already pretty bright):

Friday 29 May 2020

Credit where credit's due

Today's Downing Street briefing, led by the highly fluent Rishi Sunak, did the attendant journalists great credit.

All the preening prima donnas of the press pack were rested today. The room was left to the adults.

And, from the BBC's Faisal Islam and Sky's Ed Conway and the Telegraph's Anna Mikhailova to the chap from the Daily Mail and the other chap from the Hull Daily Mail, they all asked the Chancellor good, tough questions - questions I bet most of the watching public actually appreciated them asking.

Maintaining impartiality

Hiring Richard Sambrook to review how the BBC “maintains impartiality on social media, amid concerns that journalists are discrediting the corporation by revealing their opinions” is a bit like getting the Supreme Court of Injustice to adjudicate on the lawfulness of something Lady Hale isn’t keen on. As soon as anyone cites the Cardiff University study as definitive (on BBC impartiality) they’re on a sticky wicket.

“Maintains"? I think that train left the station some time ago. 

Never mind “social media”, what about directly on the *actual* BBC? Surely everyone knows the BBC acts as an unofficial wing of the Labour Party?   Do we just have to take that into account forever because that’s the way it is?  Or will someone somewhere do something about it?

“Of course, plenty of media figures are open about their political views. Several have left Newsnight in the past and pursued modestly successful careers in Left-wing activism. 
[...] “After the declining standards of recent years, I know many who no longer bother to appear on Newsnight when asked, and not just when Maitlis is presenting. Many believe it has increasingly come to resemble the unwatchable Channel 4 News and, more importantly, they feel that it is no longer worth it. Fifteen years ago, when Jeremy Paxman was the presenter, being on Newsnight was an event for guests and viewers alike. Commentators would come off air to find their phones buzzing with congratulations or commiserations.
Today, the buzz has long stopped and the programme has now come to feel like it is being broadcast into a great silence.”
Douglas Murray is a fine fellow, but even he is not as BBC-geeky as some of us. Holding Jeremy Paxman up as a representative of ‘better times’ strikes a bit of a bum note with me. Maybe go back much further and try, say, Robin Day?

Anyway, it’s a bit sad being BBC-geeky. So I’ll leave it there.

Summary of complaint (in full)

The BBC has spoken (again):

Newsnight, BBC Two, 26 & 27 May 2020
27 May 2020

Summary of complaint

We received complaints about the introduction to the programme.

Our response We would like to make absolutely clear that Emily Maitlis was not ‘removed’ or ‘suspended’ from last night’s programme, despite much speculation to the contrary. She herself has tweeted that she ‘asked for the night off’.

The BBC must uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output. We reviewed the entirety of Newsnight on Tuesday May 26th, including the opening section, and while we believe the programme contained fair, reasonable and rigorous journalism, we feel that we should have done more to make clear the introduction was a summary of the questions we would examine, with all the accompanying evidence, in the rest of the programme. As it was, we believe the introduction we broadcast did not meet our standards of due impartiality. Our staff have been reminded of the guidelines.

Newsnight has a long-established and recognised reputation for excellent journalism, for scrutinising arguments and for holding power to account, which it does on a daily basis, including the night in question.

Our editorial guidelines allow us to make professional judgments but not to express opinion.

The dividing line can be fine, but we aim to say so if we think we have overstepped the mark.

The introduction to Newsnight was intended as a summary of the issues that would be explored, with all the supporting facts and evidence, in the programme. But as broadcast, it risked giving the perception that the BBC was taking sides, and expressing an opinion, rather than being impartial.

It said that ‘the country’ was ‘shocked the government cannot see’ Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules; that he ‘made those who struggled to keep the rules feel like fools’.

But there are some who do not share this opinion, nor think that the issue is a ‘scandal’ or the Prime Minister has displayed ‘blind loyalty’.

By presenting a matter of public and political debate as if the country was unanimous in its view, we consider Newsnight risked giving the perception that the BBC was taking sides - or that the introduction constituted the presenter’s opinions, rather than a summary of the journalism which would follow, which explored these issues rigorously and fairly and, crucially, with the supporting evidence.

This is not a question of apportioning blame to anyone.

It is a question of accountability to our audiences.

Our audiences hold the BBC in high trust, not least because we hold ourselves to exacting standards, and we do not want to forfeit this by ignoring our own rules.

Commentary (Craig)

The BBC's official response begins, oddly, by defending itself against the misplaced claims spread by Twitter and the Guardian that Emily Maitlis had been suspended and removed from hosting Newsnight on Wednesday. We BBC-geeky types here got that right on Wednesday night, and guessed the truth - a hissy fit. I'm assuming the BBC started this statement with that side issue because it's an easy place for them to start.

That said, the BBC is sticking to its guns and stating - rightly - that Emily Maitlis's monologue/introduction didn't meet the BBC's "high standards" of due impartiality and that Newsnight was guilty of "ignoring [the BBC's] own rules".

Yes, the complaint summary uses the weasel-words phrase "it risked giving the perception", but I suspect that's a case of sugaring the pill - as employers probably
do when making public their rebukes to employees. 

And I like the fact that the BBC spells out some examples of why Emily Maitlis's language failed their impartiality tests, though it misses others, such as the particularly egregious use of the word "lazy" in her criticism of Dominic Cummings's use of the phrase "the elite" (noted by Sue).

The BBC points out that "some" don't share Emily Maitlis's opinions on the matter - which is certainly true. She wasn't speaking for the nation, only part of it (though even if she was speaking for most of it, it would still breach BBC guidelines on impartiality). 


"This is not a question of apportioning blame to anyone". Why not?

That's the key thing, I think. The BBC isn't apportioning blame. They aren't suspending Emily Maitlis, or Esme Wren. Or taking any meaningful disciplinary steps to punish those who broke the rules. They are merely wagging their fingers and slapping wrists. So Emily Maitlis, Esme Wren, Lewis Goodall, et al, will surely just carry on now. 

And it's not as if Emily Maitlis hasn't brought the programme into disrepute before. The BBC had  to apologise to Richard Tice and Rod Liddle because of her hostility towards them. 

And as Rod Liddle notes, after the BBC apologised to him for her being overly personal in her hostility towards him, the BBC said it wouldn't happen again. 

Well, it has happened again, and Emily Maitlis and Newsnight appear to be getting away with it again. 

Yes, their egos might have a bruise or two, but that's it really it seems. 

They've basically (it appears) escaped scot free. 

It's all words and no action from the BBC, isn't it? Is this anywhere near good enough?  

An op-ed and a monologue.

“Good evening, Dominic Cummings broke the rules. The country can see that. And it's shocking the government can not. The longer ministers - and prime minister - tell us he worked within them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be. He was the man - remember - who always 'got' the public mood. Who tagged the lazy label of 'elite' on those who disagreed. He should understand that public mood now: one of fury, contempt and anguish. He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools. And has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them. The prime minister knows all this. But despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls, and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it. Tonight we consider what this blind loyalty tells us about the workings of Number 10. We do not expect to be joined by a government minister. But that wont stop us asking the questions.  

The people who defend Emily Maitlis’s monologue by claiming she was “merely telling the truth” are wrong. The monologue was riddled with opinion. 

There is some confusion here. In the above transcription we have, "it's shocking the government can not.”  Whereas in another one I find: "It’s [the public is] shocked that the government cannot…
If the former is accurate, then who’s to say what the country can and cannot see? Is it Emily Maitlis’s place to judge whether something *is* shocking? If the latter is correct, it’s still presumptuous to speak for the country.  I suppose she could legitimately have said “I’m shocked”, (still a breach of impartiality, but honest at least) otherwise it’s just spin. 

Calling the whole affair a ‘scandal’ is also an opinion, and in this particular context the term ‘lazy’ is simply an opinion, not ‘a fact’.

A clearer demonstration of where personal opinion overrides impartiality is the assumption that ‘the anger’ is directed at the government for prolonging the issue by refusing to bow to (the media’s) demands to sack Cummings, when much of the anger we now see is directed at the media for prolonging it with its persistent demands that Cummings is sacked.

Broadcasting assertive pronouncements about the mood of the public exposes extraordinarily deluded levels of BBC groupthink and the Newsnight crew must by now be aware that much of the “fury, contempt and anguish” is boomeranging back at them.

Maitlis even seemed to be offering free justification to anyone who wants to flout the lockdown strategy. Lastly, that passive-aggressive, pretendy to be hurty snipe about being snubbed by the government was ill-judged. 

Here’s my monologue for the day:

The internet and social media provide a platform to all and sundry to spout their stupid opinions all over the internet - that means people like me get equal billing with experts who know things - but an even bigger downside of unmoderated freedom of expression is that nuanced opinion has disappeared from the normal discourse. Half-measures are extinct. All nuance is now a big bore.

It works like this. Should someone publicly express a belief that - say, Donald Trump’s Middle East strategy is a fundamental improvement on - say, Barack Obama’s Iran-friendly one, it’s taken as read that they also enjoy hideous bling and incontinent, limited-vocabulary midnight Tweeting. 

Similarly, it's hard to uncouple support (in principle) of Boris’s decision to stand by Dominic Cummings from blinkered refusal to spot any flaws in his defence.

However, on one important point, I think Maitlis is correct.  As Dominic Cummings is involved in devising government strategy, a job that necessarily entails gauging public opinion,  misjudging the public mood so badly does damage his credibility. Cavalierly risking a non-essential recreational jaunt, then offering a far-fetched excuse is certainly dumb enough to make me feel uncomfortable about the extent of his influence on government policy.

But still, I hope Boris sticks to his decision. To cave in to the BBC would really signal the beginning of the end or maybe the end of the beginning, and badly misjudging the mood of the public applies equally to Maitlis and the BBC, if not more so (Times (£)) than it does to Cummings.  

Salford, we have a problem

The Times reports today that the BBC is so concerned about their journalists discrediting them by expressing their views on Twitter that they've now hired their former head of news, Richard Sambrook, to look into the problem. 

Mr Sambrook was, you may recall, the co-author of a much-cited, BBC-backed Cardiff University report which 'found' that the BBC didn't just not have a pro-EU bias but 'actually' has a pronounced anti-EU bias. His own Twitter feed reveals him to be anti-Brexit

Wonder what he'll find and recommend?

Ho hum

Andrew Neil has always stood out as being different, almost unique, as far as the BBC is concerned - except, perhaps, for his propensity for expressing his opinions on Twitter.

Here he is last night, responding to a Guido Fawkes piece headlined Nissan Shifts Manufacturing from Europe to UK, #DespiteBrexit:
Imagine the twitter storm tonight if this had gone the other way. It would have been of biblical proportions. For some reason it’s not getting much traction on the MSM either. Ho hum.
And by "MSM" he's presumably including the BBC?

Thursday 28 May 2020

Get Lewis (a stream of consciousness, semi-live post)

After deleting those excitably premature tweets earlier, Newsnight's policy editor Lewis Goodall was slow to start tweeting this afternoon but, after beginning gingerly, is now gathering pace again.

As ever, however, he can't help himself. 

In fairness, he's forever breaching BBC guidelines on the use of social media by 'liking' and 'retweeting' only those who help advance his own views.

And he's already retweeted this from someone from the Institute for Government (Lewis's curious links to which I've blogged about before):

Does it surprise you that he'd retweet someone who finds Durham Police's statement "good in parts and not so good in others" - i.e. someone who only wants to hear what he wants to hear?

I bet I can guess which parts Lewis thinks are good (the word 'breach' in connection to Dominic Cummings at Barnard Castle) and those he things are bad (the words 'might' and 'minor' before 'breach', the word 'not' in connection to breaking guidelines in travelling up to County Durham, and the bits about 'insufficient evidence' and 'no further action').

He's betraying his bias again by only pushing points of view he agrees with.


And I also think there are lessons from this Cummings saga as concerns the way the media has handled the whole business. 

Watching the press pack at tonight's Downing Street press conference, they (Laura K, Robert Peston, Sam Coates & Co.) are seizing on the 'might'-be, 'minor' crumb of comfort for them and running with it for all its worth. 

It's groupthink and pack behaviour and guarding-colleagues-backs in full display, isn't it?

(Feel free to disagree).


Ah, I'm falling behind....

Lewis is back and busy, and - gaining confidence (probably from all his many left-wing Twitter fans urging him on) - is editorialising again....
PM: "I note Durham police said they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed." Of course, that doesn't mean Cummings didn't break the rules.
Nor does it mean that he did, Lewis. The Durham Police said he "might" have broken the rules in a "minor" way in just one case, but they dismissed everything else. So that's it, isn't it? 

And now he's in full flow:
Laura Kuenssberg asks Vallance and Whitty for their view on Cummings matter but PM prevents them from answering saying it's just a political matter(!).
An impartial journalist would have left out the "(!)" there. But he's not an impartial journalist.

He goes on:
PM has just done so again. Peston says it's not a political matter but PM won't allow Vallance and Whitty to answer questions about Cummings. Extraordinary.
The word "extraordinary" signals his editorialising there. And the bias is also betrayed by his evident hostility. It's not remotely 'extraordinary' that the PM protected his two civil servant scientists, neither of whom - obviously - would have wanted to get dragged into this latest politico-media feeding frenzy (because, presumably, they aren't allowed to by convention), is it?

Ah, and then the two scientists began to spoil things by thanking the PM for keeping them out of it. They were with Boris and official protocol on that after all. Lewis won't be pleased!

And, yes, Lewis Goodall still wasn't having it and was keeping his eye instead on the main prey:
Jenny Harries wasn't prevented from answering questions about this by Grant Shapps at the weekend Clearly, the impression given is that the PM doesn't want them to answer the question about whether Mr Cummings acted within the rules.
Nice touch that 'clearly' before the word 'impression' there! It tells you what you're meant to think.

And then he turned on the scientists for disobliging him and his colleagues:
Now PM, Vallance and Whitty all ignoring questions about Cummings.  
Problem for Vallance and Whitty is that by not answering factual questions about the Cummings episode and public health, it could be said that that itself is being dragged into politics.
No, that 'problem' is merely a reflection of your own frustration and bias. "It could be said"...Give me strength, Lewis! It IS being said by YOU!!

Then Lewis, rethinking matters, turns on his heels and decides to champion those poor, silenced scientists instead:
Am sure my colleagues won't stop asking Vallance and Whitty the question until they're given a chance to answer...
I'm sure you hope that! You've reverted to claiming they want to be given a chance to answer but the PM is stopping them, despite them evidently wishing to be kept out of your embittered, biased shenanigans.

And now he's back to retweeting people who support his own point of view.



How the hell does he get away with this?

BBC editorial guidelines on what you say on Twitter and how you use your 'like' button and your 'retweet' button are very clear. Lewis Goodall breaks those rules daily.

Those rules are there to stop licence fee payers knowing what BBC reporters think and to preserve the idea of BBC impartiality on matters of political controversy. Lewis regularly drives a coach and horses through the rules in those regards. We usually know exactly what he's thinking.

…Which would be fine on a broadcaster that isn't paid for by millions of people who don't think like Lewis Goodall and don't agree with him on pretty much anything.

He surely knew what the BBC's guidelines said when he joined them at the start of the year, so why is he behaving like this? And why are his BBC bosses tolerating it?


Am I being unfair/biased in going after Lewis Goodall in much the same way that he goes after Dominic Cummings? Is this cruel?

And if it is, isn't it then entirely in the spirit of Lewis Goodall's own reporting?