|By Chas Jacobs|
Monday, 31 August 2020
High Summer Open Thread
A telling divide
The BBC can cherry pick polls as much as it likes, but this speaks volumes:
So what they're saying is...
On the same theme as the previous two posts, here's a transcript from Channel 4 News on Cathy Newman's interview with Tim Montgomerie and Ed Vaizey.
I'd only add in advance that Mr Vaizey - a former minister for culture - is out-of-date (ill-informed) as far as LBC is concerned. Nigel Farage was forced out of LBC in June.
Cathy Newman: Fair, balanced and impartial, that's the law for anyone broadcasting news and current affairs programmes in the UK. But two new channels are hoping to capitalise on what critics of the BBC have described as its "woke, wet" agenda. One is spearheaded by former Downing Street advisor Sir Robbie Gibb, the other is reportedly being mulled by Rupert Murdoch's News UK. Both insist they will be impartial. Well, to discuss I'm joined now by the former culture minister Ed Vaizey, who's talked of the BBC's "massive public support", and Tim Montgomerie, a former prime ministerial adviser who's accused the corporation of "Guardianista wokeness". And before we start, I should say in the interests of transparency, this is my main job, but every Friday I also present a show on Rupert Murdoch's Times Radio. Tim Montgomerie, it is denied that it is going to be Fox News, either of these channels, so how different is it from what we have at the moment?
Tim Montgomerie: I hope, I don't know, I'm not part of either initiative, but what I would hope would be there would be true diversity in terms of the editorial rooms of these proposed channels. There is a lot of focus, and it is a good focus, on diversity of gender and ethnicity in BBC and I'm sure Channel 4 editorial staff conferences. But where, for example, are the Brexiteers? Where are the people who go to church? Where the people who would take the side, for example, of Israel rather than Palestine in the Middle Eastern debate? What there seems to be a lack of in the main establishment broadcasters in Britain at the moment is the sort of intellectual, philosophical diversity that I think produces programmes that really will understand where the whole country, the whole of the viewing audience, is. If it that is sort of diversity then we will get real impartiality from these channels.
Cathy Newman: Ed Vaizey, do you agree with that?
Ed Vaizey: Yeah, I do - up to a point. I think the comparison of these channels to Fox News is a distraction, although it helps get their news on the news as it were. I think the model is more closely aligned actually to Times Radio and to LBC. I think the people behind the channels have seen, for example, the amazing success of LBC, which is owned be Global Radio, a UK company, and is now thanks to digital radio a national station. And opinion ranges. And the key about LBC is that, on the one hand, you have Nigel Farage, who may be meat and drink to Tim, and, on the other hand, you have people like James O'Brien, who is more of my sort of politics if you like, and that way it sort of achieves impartiality, but each programme has a particular slant, and it it does attract listeners - though there is no doubt at all that these two channels are also potentially looking over their shoulder at Fox News, which is an absolute cash machine for the Murdoch empire and has been proved very lucrative for them.
Cathy Newman: Tim Montgomerie, is opinion really needed? I mean, I accept what Ed's saying. You can be opinioniated, as long as across the board it is impartial and it balances out so you keep within the law, but is that sort of opinion style of broadcasting really needed?
Tim Montgomerie: Not necessarily. But what a broadcaster chooses to report is also a reflection I think of the diversity of who they employ. Channel 4, for example. Recently Krishnan Guru-Murthy had an interview with the head of the Metropolitan Police, and it was an interesting interview, but of all the questions were focused on questions of institutional racism. Those are legitimate questions, but when I saw the interview I thought, 'Where are the questions being asked on behalf of Londoners who are worried about violence or an inadequate police response to the violence?'...
Cathy Newman: (interrupting) Well, I mean, did that happen to be the whole...but Tim, I must interject there. The whole issue of racism is a huge story at the moment with the Black Lives Matter protests, so a legitimate line of questioning to the Metropolitan Police commissioner.
Tim Montgomerie: It is, and I wouldn't deny that for a second. They were very legitimate questions. But a lot of Londoners would also say they're very worried about knife crime and they're very worried about other forms of crime, and those questions were not asked. And I think a different kind of person who was on a channel with a different philosophical background might sort of have said before that interview was made, 'Aren't we going to ask about these questions, which worry Londoners just as much as questions of racism?'
Cathy Newman: Without getting into a discussion about Channel 4, we have repeatedly covered issues about knife crime and repeatedly put those questions too. But Ed Vaizey, is this really just a way of bashing the BBC? Tackling the BBC? Should the BBC rather be cherished rather than chastised?
Ed Vaizey: Well, obviously the BBC should be cherished against its detractors like Tim who seem to be obsessed with what the BBC is doing wrong. We should cherish the BBC for a number of reasons. First of all, obviously interviews are driven by the news and you quite rightly point out you can have the Metropolitan Police commissioner on when Black Lives Matter is in the news and you'll have her on when knife crime is back in the news and you'll challenge her then. But secondly, we live in an age of grotesque disinformation, particularly on the internet. We need more than ever our public service broadcasters. And I don't understand, for example, why the launch of these news channels has to be predicated on the fact that they are only good because the BBC is so terrible. That is absolute rubbish. We depend hugely on the BBC in this kind of 21st Century digital age. Around the world people look on the BBC as this extraordinary broadcaster...
Cathy Newman: (interrupting) Tim, I just want to...OK...we are running out of time...
Ed Vaizey: ...and I can't believe we are full of people just denigrating it.
Cathy Newman: Sorry to interrupt. Just want to get Tim Montgomerie to respond to that cos...Do you think the licence fee should be scrapped? Is the BBC failing us, or is it a jewel in the crown?
Tim Montgomerie: Despite what Ed says, I actually do want the BBC to continue...
Ed Vaizey: Good!
Tim Montgomerie: ...but a poll yesterday in the Daily Mail...and by 52% to 17% the people who pay that licence fee think the BBC is too politically correct. If those people who really believe in the BBC want to save it, that problem needs to be addressed and not pretend that it doesn't exist.
Cathy Newman: Thank you. Tim Montgomerie and Ed Vaizey, I'd love to carry on talking...
Ed Vaizey: So would I!
Cathy Newman: ...but thank you both very much. We will. Yes, thanks very much for that.
The Battle of the Generations
And it wasn't just Nick Robinson...
I see that Newsnight policy editor Lewis Goodall entered the fray too - while simultaneously continuing his feud with former BBC head of news/Mrs May spokesman Sir Robbie Gibb.
Earlier yesterday he tweeted the following:
I’ve been trying to think of a way to show that often, when someone attacks the BBC or other broadcasters for not being impartial it’s really because it’s saying something they don’t want to hear and would rather have their own views reflected back at them. Well, here we are.
He then linked to a Mail on Sunday front page story headlined Top Tory launches rival to 'woke wet BBC'...and that 'top Tory' turned out to be none other than old nemesis Sir Robbie Gibb (who repeatedly criticises him for showing bias).
Lewis isn't, however, being either fair or accurate in reflecting the aims of what Sir Robbie's new outlet, GB News, seemingly intends to be, which the direct quotes in the MoS piece make clear:
'The channel will be a truly impartial source of news, unlike the woke, wet BBC. It will deliver the facts, not opinion dressed up as news.'
'Everyone who works for GB News will have total commitment to quality journalism, to factual reporting and to impartiality.’
There’s been an effort for a while by some to try to make scrutiny and partiality one and the same. Needless to say, they are not. Indeed lack of proper scrutiny is the worst partiality a journalist can be guilty of.
He's talking about criticism of his own reporting of course, which he evidently sees as very much being about "scrutiny" not "partiality".
Hmm, but if the target of your "scrutiny" is focused overwhelmingly in just one direction only it can still be "partial", can't it Lewis?
Thankfully, his usual echo chamber on Twitter was invaded by hordes of critical voices, many emerging among the 'most-liked' comments. A lot of them cast doubt on his own impartiality.
Alastair Stewart, another veteran broadcaster Lewis Goodall fell out with over impartiality, also responded (seemingly taking Lewis's tweets personally) by suggesting Lewis is being "disingenuous and desperate" :
If I object to a lack of impartiality from BBC staffers - or anyone else working for any Ofcom regulated network - it is because I object to a lack of impartiality.
I don't want to hear my views, instead, or anyone else's.
Any other suggestion is disingenuous and desperate.
Lewis will doubtless continue to drag the BBC into these kinds of argument though and, of course, go on having his own say on everything under the sun - unless new DG Tim Davie does something about him.
Leaving only his toenails behind
- Dear Ofcom, please ignore Nick's ramblings. He’s really not qualified to speak on our behalf, even though he thinks he is.
- Does a biased, socially elitist, metropolitan public service broadcaster completely out-of-touch with working class people improve democracy? Send your answer to Ofcom and 10 Downing Street.
- Surely "debate" is best served by providing more than one opinion?
- Perhaps those who are scared of this new channel are merely recognising that the wider public have never shared their flavour of opinion?
- I'm not wild about the idea. But it was sadly inevitable given the blatant lib-left bias of the BBC and Sky News over recent years. We've lost impartiality in our news coverage; it's a shame that it's come to this, but a counter-balance is long overdue.
- Heaven forbid it might not conform to the “correct” opinions mandated by the the BBC? The fact that you can’t see, or simply don’t care, that your woke hive mind, has ruined BBC impartiality, is precisely why we all now need to seek diversity of thought elsewhere.
- Without a doubt if it balances the left wing bias of the BBC and Sky News. Can't wait.
- How worried is fake news BBC? THIS worried.
- If it includes Andrew Neil, I can't wait. He was the BBC's best presenter and questioner and highly thought of by the viewers. Freezing him out was a big mistake for the BBC. How stupid to get rid of one of their biggest assets.
- The BBC created the gap in the market. If you are feeling threatened by the competition then you should have thought about that before.
- I find TV news unwatchable now, as I know do many others.
- Are you saying that situation should continue, and because we don’t like what you’re offering, we should be deprived of any alternative?
Tuesday, 25 August 2020
Losing the plot
This isn’t directly related to one specific incident of BBC bias but I’d suggest that the BBC’s long-term anti-British and Islamophillic message has influenced the Government and is behind the appalling decision to “genuflect to their arch-enemies by refusing to support their greatest ally, the United States, in its resolution to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran.“
This interesting article Appeasement: The European Sickness by Col Richard Kemp, and another posted last Thursday by Douglas Murray The Foreign Office has lost the plot in the Middle East highlight the same thing. Why is this so-called Conservative government acting like a load of wobbly lefties? We might as well have voted for Jeremy Corbyn.
Last Friday the UN Security Council rejected any extension of the arms embargo on Iran. That embargo — imposed in 2007 — began to get phased out after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But a ‘snapback’ provision was put in place intended to allow the return of all such sanctions should Iran violate the terms of the deal. Iran has been violating those terms for some time, but on Friday, when the United States hoped that its allies would join it in deploring this fact, only the Dominican Republic voted with it. The UK, like France and Germany, chose to abstain. On the question of whether Russia and China should once again start selling arms to Iran, this country apparently takes no view.
It would be nice to be able to say that this was peculiar. But it isn’t. In the same week that Britain abstained at the Security Council the US brokered an historic deal elsewhere in the Middle East. Under its supervision, the United Arab Emirates and Israel signed an agreement to normalise relations. The Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, has now invited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed to visit Jerusalem. As the economic and diplomatic benefits of normalisation become clear, other countries in the Middle East are expected to follow suit. Deals like the UAE-Israel agreement are part of a larger attempt to find unity among states wishing to avoid Iranian dominance. Hence President Rouhani’s threatening condemnation of the UAE for its ‘treacherous’ actions. There are rumours of Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia at some point joining the UAE’s acceptance of reality.
There must be something in the water that’s turning everyone into self-hating imbeciles of indeterminate gender. Is it the plastic beading we’ve ingested? Is Covid-19 a message from God - a cull? Pestilence and plague be upon us. I think I’ll have to start going to church or should that be synagogue? No, it would probably have to be mosque.
The only heartening thing is that the comments below such articles (in the so-called right-wing press at any rate) which used to be peppered with antisemitic innuendos now seem to have mellowed. Now the comments are mainly pro-Israel with the odd racist troll chipping in here and there.
This sea-change was especially notable below the line in a piece by Stephen Daisley Have Arab nations forgotten about Palestine by accepting Israel?
Instead of the usual sneers and anti-Israel snarks, the general tone was positive and supportive of Israel. Maybe more people are getting bored with the Palestinians than ever before. And what is it about the so-called right-leaning press? They have gone all woke and lefty too. The Times is promoting Caitlin Moran for all it’s worth and many people are not keen. Her prose is sparky and entertaining but her attitude is more Guardianista than many an actual Guardianista.
Why on earth is The Times using Sara Tor? She’s a poor writer, but is a Muslim and has written affectionately about the charity called Islamic Relief Worldwide.
The section's sub-heading is: ‘Swift action” don’t all laugh at once. Btl comments were held up for hours, but the ones that eventually crept through were as critical as they could be bearing in mind the heavy moderation that is deemed necessary.
To Hell in a handcart; amen.
Monday, 24 August 2020
**** ** **** *** ***** and ****, *********! will be broadcast by the BBC after all. Sort of.
I might be wrong in how I'm reading this tonight, but I think the BBC has been clumsily canny in the way it's now - this very day - trying to have its cake and eat it over the Last Night of the Proms row.
(No wonder such Blairite masters of spin like James Purnell thrive there. This could have come straight out of the Alastair Campbell/Peter Mandelson triangulation handbook.)
They may have been far, far too clever by half though.
A typically huffy statement today from the BBC listed the items in the Last Night, and it included Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory (and Jerusalem and Vaughan Williams's Lark Ascending).
The news even had the Defund the BBC campaign claiming a rare people's victory over the BBC.
But, from what I'm reading, the people haven't won yet.
It seems that the BBC aren't going to broadcast the words of Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory - the very thing their 'woke', barely-known female Finnish conductor apparently deplores - and that the orchestra will be playing, karaoke-style, without voices.
I have my doubts about this though, as it would be very unusual for the (non-white, 'woke') South African soprano Golda Schultz (a singer unknown to Wikipedia, but the night's star singer) to be denied the opportunity to dazzle by singing Rule, Britannia!, but you never know with the BBC these days.
Whether she sings it or not will, I think, be the deciding factor here. If she doesn't sing the famous singalong words, then the BBC will have sided with the 'woke' brigade. If she does sing them, then the BBC will have chosen to resist the 1/10 of the population via a 'woke' black singer.
I can't see a clear sign of which way they're going on this, so it bears watching. I'm still betting she doesn't sing it.
And - despite my beloved Vaughan Williams and his (non-jingoistic) The Lark Ascending being on the programme (shall I predict now that the BBC presenters will push his socialism?) - Elgar has been ditched as the time-honoured master orchestrator of Parry's Jerusalem in favour of Errollyn Wallen.
Who she, you might ask? Well, she's a black British composer probably best known for Mighty River, which "explores themes of slavery and freedom", a piece that features spiritual tunes in a pleasant, tonal, easy-listening, modern classical orchestral garb. Her music isn't off-putting (see her rather romantic and pretty cello concerto), so hopefully her orchestration of Jerusalem won't annoy too many people...
...which I'm guessing is precisely what the BBC is betting too.
Which brings me back to a point I've made before...
Errollyn Wallen's music suddenly, this year, became ever-present on tick-box-fixated BBC Radio 3. (My lockdown WFH Radio 3 morning obsession led me to realise that.) I must admit I hadn't a clue who this Errollyn Wallen, whose music kept being pushed my way, was. It took me ages to Google her. Only then did I realise why BBC Radio 3 was so heavily pushing her. So I'm not in the least surprised that the tick-boxers at the BBC Proms dropped Elgar for Errollyn. If I'd any sense I should have bet on that three months ago.
I suspect this story has further twists to come, but that's my take for now.
Update: And it has.
As I was posting this, the BBC News website published a report tonight:
Sunday, 23 August 2020
An absolutely extraordinary period for Newsnight
Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark on cancel culture, equality and Paxman“Newsnight is now more about being a quiet assassin than a musketeer.” Interview by Decca Aitkenhead (Sunday Times Magazine)
Kirsty Wark? The Kirsty whose warks are even more indistinct than her bites? The Kirsty whose diction is so adenoidal that all her consonants are slurred together into one semi-intelligible whine?
No! Stop it now! Tell me I’m not subscribing to the Guardian!
“After watching her present Newsnight for 27 years, many of us probably feel like we’re old friends with Wark. The 65-year-old is the show’s great survivor, having outlived the gargantuan ego of Jeremy Paxman, and endured the nadir of the Evan Davis years, when viewing figures sank so low that many feared the flagship BBC Two show would be axed. In 2018 Wark applied to become the new Question Time presenter, but was beaten to the job by Fiona Bruce.
Today, however, Newsnight is once again on fire, reignited by a new all-female team led by Emily Maitlis and editor Esme Wren. Its coverage of the Covid crisis has been agenda-setting, breaking stories from PPE shortages to domestic abuse, so I wonder if Wark is rather relieved not to have got Question Time. She beams.
“Well, Newsnight’s going through an absolutely extraordinary period just now. I would have loved to have done Question Time. But I am so happy to be on Newsnight now.”
It’s unusual to be a show’s bridesmaid for 27 years and never the bride. Wark deputises for Maitlis, alongside Emma Barnett, but says the arrangement suits her fine. “Emily’s a fantastic lead presenter, but it’s very much a team programme, and we complement each other very well.” I wonder if she thinks it’s a total coincidence that Newsnight is enjoying a dazzling renaissance in the hands of an all-woman presenting team, under a female editor. She hesitates. “Erm, it probably is. But what makes me sad is the idea that it should be in any way exceptional.” She allows a mischievous grin. “Because we didn’t notice for years when all men were presenting programmes, did we?”
I’m channelling Papa Lazarou again. Or Tubbs. “Noozenight? Renaissance? What is this Ren — eh - sanse?” No, we’re back in Royston Vasey and Decca Aitkenhead is giving me a very aitken head indeed.
Guess who's broken BBC rules again?
Young Lewis is at it again...
Don't criticise your colleagues, Fran Unsworth warns with a massive wag of her finger. Does Newsnight's out of control policy editor care? Of course not.
Here he is 'liking' a tweet calling for support after the lady in question fell out with Andrew Neil last night. Lewis lent her his hand against his BBC colleague:
He's playing the BBC like a fiddle and they don't seem to dare anything about him - especially as there are now plenty like him at the BBC who will doubtless be rooting for him.
P.S. For the BBC's sake I've sent all the details of this to Guido Fawkes to add to their Lewis Goodall collection.
Roll over, Jeff Randall!
BBC getting a little highbrow and elitist here https://t.co/9aBJP6MrbX— Dominic Frisby (@DominicFrisby) August 23, 2020
The Sunday Times: "Rule Britannia faces axe in BBC’s ‘Black Lives Matter Proms'"
|The wide-awake Dalia Stasevska|
From the huge tidal wave of extremely hostile criticism already sweeping over them for merely "agonising" over the question, the BBC would be very wise not to allow a 'woke' Finnish conductor to have her way and cancel Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory from The Last Night of the Proms.
As Sunder Katwala observed earlier today:
- There is clear evidence this is generally unpopular. [A YouGov poll last month found that 69% wanted the Last Night to continue to include these songs, 11% wanted it to no longer include these songs, with 20% saying they didn't know].
- It has not been called for by anti-racism campaigners. It is projected onto them by a small number of well-wishers [such as this conductor, and doubtless some voices within the BBC].
- Most ethnic minority Britons will probably see the row as a big distraction from anti-racism campaigns.
Saturday, 22 August 2020
Questions of free speech, David Irving and Dalia Gebrial, the BBC and Sky
|Dalia Gebrial, Novara's new champion|
This may be an incoherent ramble, but I'm going to indulge myself nonetheless. And if you can help me out, please do. It's Saturday, and I've had a hectic week...
I've always been a hardline fan of free speech as probably the key component of a flourishing democracy.
In my callow youth I was the kind who'd argue that, except for the obvious 'shouting fire in a crowded theatre' type of things and death threats, pretty much everything should be allowed, from any political angle. I was more Spiked than Spiked.
I even held to that sacred principle on such things as Holocaust denial. I found it unfathomably extreme when some European countries criminalised it, even despite my knowing their early 20th Century histories.
My logic? Such views will be out there in the world, so it's better to let bad opinions be exposed to the light of day, challenged and refuted. The disinfectant of truth would see them off.
To put it metaphorically: If a David Irving pops up, there'll soon be plenty of Deborah Lipstadts along to whack him on the head with facts and other proofs.
Ah, it was quite easy to be naïve back then! This was the time before my beloved internet, when such people were known of, but little heard from due to a lack of easy opportunity.
Poisonous books rarely got published and the slow-moving poison-pen letter was just about the only possible mode of trolling in those days.
I simply wasn't aware just how many fools, fantasists, and feral beasts - and people with very strong feelings who aren't necessarily stupid or bad, just overly passionate and wrong and overly willing to distort the truth to get their way - were out there in the world just sitting and waiting for the internet to be invented to allow them to post their fact-free, assertion-heavy, often spiteful, frequently malicious and increasingly deliberately fake 'says on the world', and then have them liked and spread by thousands upon thousands upon thousands of others across the world.
Many of these now travel so fast and carry so far and wide that they make Covid-19 look like a slouch, though - also like Covid-19 - they aren't quite an all-killing danger yet.
That said, the number of shouty David Irvings of Untruth out there are now at the stage where they are threatening to outnumber the quieter Deborah Lipstadts of Truth.
I think we're on a precipice.
And alongside came all the academic, Marxist-inspired philosophies, taught widely in universities, that dumped on objective truth and said that 2+2 no longer needs to equal 4 if it's merely a power-derived construct.
From them flowed a consequence: If it works against your nasty opponents to dismiss 2+2=4 and if you can make it seem a bad thing to even say that 2+2=4 then you win, despite being wrong.
JK Rowling and others (maybe even the BBC's departing Dame Jenni Murray?), for example, have found that saying 2+2=4 in the transgender debate is a costly thing to do.
Whole BBC programmes these days feature voices saying nothing other than that 2+2=5.
David Collier made me think about this in a piece he wrote last week about people perverting Wikipedia - and similar sites - for political ends by adding malicious untruths to posts or changing quotes.
Naturally, the Israel-loathing antisemites are among those at the forefront of doing this, and doing it with especial ferocity. (Antisemites, in particular, put Covid-19 to shame.)
Why wouldn't they though? It's so easy, especially if the guardians are sleeping.
The big question is: What happens if the truth-tellers are "outnumbered and outgunned" by the untruth-tellers? - something that, I think, is very much what's happening now.
In the case of Jews facing lies about themselves or about the State of Israel, he says it's now an "endless whack-a-mole game that Jews are left playing":
There are just 15 million of us – perhaps just 10,000s are in some way politically active online. We cannot mobilise an entire people. In the other corner are 100,000s, if not 1,000,000s – some part of online gangs explicitly set up to swarm and distort the truth.
Can Jewish people trust that they, and their friends and allies, aren't facing such steep odds in the world beyond social media - the world you'd hope actually matters - and that most people still don't attend to the pervasions of truth pumped out on Twitter, Facebook, the newer social media sites - and even the actually rather admirable Wikipedia?
And what if reputable mainstream broadcasters amplify the untruths and platform the untruth tellers, and even sympathise with some of them? (I'll refrain from mentioning Jeremy Bowen's recent rumour-mongering here).
My naïve younger self would have thought that was a no-brainer: Bring 'em on, expose them, discredit them, job done. And behind that was the unthought-through assumption that the reputable mainstream broadcasters - however biased they might be - would somehow remain unstained by the poisonous authors and the poison-pen letter senders and their modern-day equivalents and be on the side of 2+2 equaling 4.
But that seems not to be the case because the stain is spreading into the mainstream media, and at a startling rate in certain areas.
The moles that needing whacking are now pushing up hills on mainstream TV and radio and, being tolerated and increasingly sympathised with, are now - as a result - flourishing.
Can you imagine a BBC 'reality check', for example, that debunks the anti-scientific nonsense promoted by BBC Teach that there are over 100 genders? Would anyone at the BBC dare? Safer to keep your head down and let the Emperor's new clothes be regarded as beautiful fabrics of truth, beyond question.
Similarly, the 'nabka' nonsense about the birth of Israel has been encouraged by the BBC treating it as if it's "gospel truth" of what actually happened. The BBC is there every year marking it, giving it credence.
I continue to maintain a good deal of my early, unfettered enthusiasm for free speech and my hope that one day, somehow, soon, fingers crossed, very soon, the moles will be whacked more easily and kept underground - something amplified by the feeling that far more censorious BBC types might well agree with a lot of this - but my enthusiasm is being severely battered.
There's been a related debate on my Twitter feed today about why outlets like the BBC and Sky give a tiny, extreme, dishonest, far-left site like Novara Media such a prominent platform. A newer, younger model of Novara's ubiquitous Ash Sarkar got trotted (or Trot-ed) out today on Sky News, namely one Dalia Gebrial:
“I’m interested to see how the judge was able to give such an unusually long sentence”— Jay Motty (@JayMotty) August 21, 2020
“Well possibly because he killed 22 children and their parents at a pop concert”
Now, this is a different matter. Ash and Dalia won't be having their freedom of speech taken away if they aren't invited on the BBC and Sky on an over-regular basis, especially as they're part of a tiny, extreme organisation. They just won't be being given a platform way beyond what they merit - like nearly everyone else in the country.
They should, in my view, be kept at a far greater arm's length than they are now (almost as far as Jayda Fransen) from the BBC's centre of gravity.
The distorting factor there is that the nice, moderate UK had a unique, peculiar, EU-referendum-influenced wobble in 2017 and let a far-left, terrorist-friendly extremist soaked in antisemitism come within a whisker of power (though he lost then, and lost far harder in 2019), thus moving the centre of gravity for a time towards a position the UK should never have come within a country mile of. It was a hellish lurch to the extreme-left, yet the BBC and Sky seemed to take it almost in their stride.
It's time for the BBC and Sky to reassert their fetters on the far-left and treat it as they treat the far-right.
Not that they will - especially given the influx of people who won't find Ash and Dalia or Aaron Pastrami at Novara Media beyond the pale because they think in a similar sort of way.
As commenters occasionally ask, what are "we" going to do about that? Any suggestions, other than whacking more moles?
P.S. Others are having this very discussion today:
Kristian Niemietz: Get Corbo's commie kids off the telly. If you're doing a programme on communism - fair enough, get someone from the Pastrami Show. That's their topic. But why are these people always wheeled out as experts on absolutely everything under the sun? From legal matters to trade policy to foreign policy to history? It's bad enough to have someone from the New Economics Foundation talking about economics, which is like inviting someone who writes horoscopes to talk about astronomy. But there, I can at least see why you'd do that. They have "economics" in their name, after all. So fair enough. I'm absolutely not advocating credentialism here. I'm NOT saying that unless you have a degree in X, you shouldn't be allowed to talk about X. If you routinely write about X, then as far as the media is concerned, you're an expert on X. And that's absolutely fine. What I'm saying is that Corbo's commie kids constantly get invited to talk about stuff that EVEN THEY wouldn't claim to have any expertise in, and that they've never done any work on in the past. No matter how shoddy. There's just an automatic presumption that they're experts on everything. Some suggest that this is because most media figures sympathise with the communist agenda of the Pastramistas, but until proven otherwise, I'll stick to a more mundane explanation: The media just wants to be cool with the kids. And they know that the kids think communism is cool.
Mark: I disagree. We should, in the interests of free speech, give them equal air time. Then the public can really see what unbalanced arguments they put forward.
Kristian Niemietz: It's not a free speech issue. Nobody suggests they should be banned, or no-platformed. What I'm saying is that in a more rational world, there would be far less demand for commie nonsense. They should be standing outside of tube stations, trying to sell the Socialist Worker.
Mark: I think we're in agreement. My point was their arguments, when widely ridiculed by the bulk of the population, would ultimately dump them outside the same tube station.
Kristian Niemietz: Then you have a lot of faith in the general public, which I don't have. In 2017, they nearly put Corbo & Co into No. 10, and I'll never forgive them for that.
Mark Collard: Seems like there’s a good PhD dissertation to be had on the curious relationship between Sky News and Novara Media—what’s the nature of the relationship? How do Sky News staff justify their heavy reliance on Novara? What’s the impact of the relationship on public opinion?
Kristian Niemietz: Title: "The Daily Ash. How the much-despised MSM rolled out the red carpet for Corbo's cool commies".
What a relief
Nearly everyone in the non-leftist press and online has given up on the BBC, but due to popular demand (!), we soldier on.
This report in The Times (which I’ll reproduce here for the fun of anyone who doesn’t subscribe) doesn’t appear to be of interest to the BBC.
Islamic Relief Worldwide: UN and British taxpayers donated millions in funding
When a leader of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) was forced to resign last month after describing Jews as the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs”, Miguel Moratinos was horrified.
In a statement from his New York office, the Spanish diplomat said that he “unequivocally” condemned the many “loathsome social media posts” by Heshmat Khalifa, disclosed by The Times.
He described the comments as “toxic, racist pronouncements that are an affront to human dignity”.
Mr Moratinos’s views carry weight. He is the high representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations on Combating Antisemitism (UNAOC).
In the most recent decade for which IRW’s accounts have been published, from 2009 to 2018, the UN gave the global charity £24.1 million. IRW’s total income in that decade was £967 million. The money also included £20.4 million donated by the EU and £4.8 million from Sweden, Switzerland and Spain.
Over the same period the British taxpayer, through the government’s Department for International Development, gave IRW £8.2 million. It has given the charity no money since 2015.
Much of its additional income is from public donations to the Birmingham-based parent charity or through funding sent to affiliate branches in 16 countries including America, Australia and Germany. The money is used to support emergency aid and development programmes in more than 40 countries.
Since it was founded in 1984, IRW says that it has helped more than 120 million people. In its most recent annual report, IRW said that in 2018 it provided an emergency response to 3.9 million people, sponsored more than 60,000 orphans and improved 3.5 million lives through development projects.
It says that its mission is “to provide lasting routes out of poverty, empowering people to transform their lives and serving all communities without prejudice”.
The 2018 annual report said that IRW’s board of trustees directs and oversees the charity and “makes sure that we satisfy our regulatory requirements as a charity”.
Last month, this global organisation had only five trustees. One of them, Mr Khalifa, called Egypt’s president a “pimp son of the Jews” and described Hamas, the militant Palestinian organisation, as “the purest resistance movement” in modern history. A second trustee, Almoutaz Tayara, described Israel as the Zionist “enemy”. Both men have apologised for their comments, made in social media posts from 2014 and 2015. Each said that he does not hold antisemitic views and opposes terrorism.
The charity said that it “sincerely regrets any offence caused” by the Facebook posts, which “contravene the values and principles of Islamic Relief Worldwide”.
The entire IRW board will resign today and not seek re-election.
Correct me if I’m wrong, and I am willing to accept that something about the resignations of the entire board of Islamic Relief Worldwide and the rank antisemitism within the organisation could be buried in some obscure category in the BBC’s vast online maze that I haven’t the energy to ferret out, but when I tapped Heshmat Khalifa and Islamic Relief into the BBC’s online ‘search engine’, all that came up was the 2014 report below.
“Audit 'clears Islamic Relief' of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price (!)
“Britain's biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.
Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.
The charity works with international organisations and governments, such as Unicef and the World Food Programme.
Israel has not responded so far.
Islamic Relief Worldwide works in more than 40 countries.
It started 30 years ago in Birmingham, where it was founded by a group of post-graduate students.
The UK government, through its international development arm DfID, gave Islamic Relief £3.2m in 2013.
The kind of work the charity does ranges from health and education projects, to help with orphans.
But earlier this year Israel claimed the charity was using its donations to fund the Palestinian group Hamas, which it and others sees as a terrorist organisation.
Islamic Relief suspended its work in the occupied West Bank - where the allegations were focused on - and commissioned the audit.'Robust systems'
It says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows "absolutely no evidence" of any link to terrorism.
The audit saw projects run by the charity visited, the organisation's paperwork and procedures were examined, and staff and recipients of aid spoken to.
The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately
Disasters Emergency Committee
The report does throw up some minor accounting and procedural errors, but finds no evidence that funds have been diverted to Hamas or anyone else.
It also details a thorough screening process of staff, donors, and recipients of aid.
The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit - but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.
Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the "sensitivities in the region" it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.
Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.
The UK's Charity Commission, which regulates charities, is understood to have received a copy of the report. It says Islamic Relief has done everything it should in keeping them informed of the Israeli allegations and its inquiry.
The UK government has suggested that they see no reason not to continue their relationship with the charity.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it "has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief's operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories".
It added: "We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories."
Israel's shutting down of the charity in the West Bank has led to its £5m programme in that area ending. The charity say that has had an impact on the 78,000 people it had been helping.
Meanwhile, there is a wider concern among some development agencies concerning the work of other charities and NGOs in areas where proscribed groups are operating.
Workers in the field fear charities could be forced to limit their work in places like Somalia, Syria and Iraq, because of government and corporate fears that money destined for humanitarian projects in those areas could fall into the wrong hands.
Update 17 December 2014: In a statement, Israel's Shin Bet security agency said it was not possible to respond to IRW's announcement "without an in-depth examination of [the audit's] findings, its scope or who it was carried out by". It said the Israeli government's decision to declare IRW illegal was "based on information that has been accumulated over years, that the fund is a central player in financing of Hamas... [and] on accumulated knowledge and experience in fighting terror and financing of terror organisations".
I’m sorry to reproduce such a long and out of date article, but I kept seeing such emotive language that I couldn’t decide which paragraphs to omit so I’m afraid I left it all in. Not the most ideal format for a blog post I agree. Whether or not any donations found their way into the hands of terrorists or directly funded terrorist activities is beside the point here. The BBC’s article sends a clear message: “The poor little charity = innocent. Spiteful Israel = guilty.”
The UK Charity Commission and the government’s international development arm DfID have a lot to answer for, but the BBC’s anti-Israel bias (which spiked in 2014) and its habitual and ongoing Islam-friendly cover-ups, which existed then and are still going strong are outrageous.
A curious omission
The Daily Mail has a fascinating story today:
Surely the interesting question here is who at the BBC sanctioned the decision to leave Tom Watson's name out?
“On the palm of fate we walk, and don’t know what’s written”
The sad story of Abdulfatah Hamdallah, the 28 year old Sudanese migrant who drowned after trying to cross the English Channel last week, is a tale of shattered dreams. In The Guardian's account, he left the Sudanese state of West Kordofan because life there was "tough" and there was "nothing he could do" in Sudan. He joined his siblings in Libya where they worked as car washers in Tripoli in order to send some money to their children back home. He eventually left for France, travelling via Italy. But, having been in France for some three years and having his asylum claim rejected by the French, he made the fateful decision, even though he couldn't swim, to use an inflatable dinghy with shovels for oars and set off in the middle of the night across the English Channel. The paper quotes Abdulfatah’s last words on Facebook, written in Arabic in June: “On the palm of fate we walk, and don’t know what’s written”.
His death was widely covered, but not - initially at least - well-covered. The media took the false claim that Abdulfatah was 16 at face value, and some media outlets used that for reporting that crossed into open activism.
The first draft of the BBC News website's report on the story made particular play of his wrongly-ascribed age. Here are its first four paragraphs:
A 16-year-old boy from Sudan who disappeared at sea has been found dead on a French beach.
French minister Marlene Schiappa said the boy's body was found on a beach in Sangatte, Calais, on Wednesday.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said the death of the young migrant was a "brutal reminder" that people smugglers exploit the vulnerable.
The Home Office would not confirm whether the boy was trying to reach the UK.
Its headline was:
Channel crossings: Body of teenage migrant found on French beach
In the remaining five paragraphs, Abdulfatah Hamdallah is also called "this child" and classed as one of "the boys camping in Calais".
The report went through eight revisions - all increasingly extremely unbalanced in their focus on criticism of the UK and dismissal of UK government responses - not one of which corrected his age from 16 to 28. The final version is still up, uncorrected, still under the same headline. It's the report most readers will have seen.
The BBC did mention the fact - smuggled it in, so to speak - in a couple of other, later, far-less-prominent articles. In the first, Channel crossings: People smugglers 'not behind migrant death', BBC Paris correspondent Lucy Williamson added a rather sheepish-sounding 'analysis' to it which ends:
But the message from this tragedy is no less shocking, some feel, just because the man who rowed into the Channel using stolen shovels, was not a teenager himself.
Finally, yesterday the BBC website published a further report headlined:
Channel crossings: Sudanese man who died trying to reach UK is named
But TV Eyes confirms that viewers of BBC One's main bulletins have never heard the correction. The emotionally-charged report from Lucy Williamson on Wednesday's News at Ten, for example (which focused on the conditions in the Calais camps, accusations against the UK government and how Abdulfatah Hamdallah's desperate final act was "a teenage retort to police, politicians and laws") contained 6 uses of 'boy/boys' and 5 uses of 'teenager/teenagers/teenage', and there have been no updates since Thursday.
The story has evidently been dropped by BBC One. This isn't untypical of the BBC these days. Whether it was dropped deliberately or simply because BBC News increasingly has the attention span of a gnat is hard to say. But surely it merited a short, on air-correction at the very least?
Is it personal?
Perhaps the most revealing lapse in Lewis Goodall's New Statesman piece about the UK exams debacle is where he plays to the gallery over Dominic Cummings:
It is hard not to dwell on the fact that at the heart of this government is a man who mandates the reading of a book entitled Superforecasting for political advisers, who lauds the scientific method and its predictive capacities, and who has forged a remarkable electoral record through the employment of data to understand how voters think. We cannot know the extent of Dominic Cummings’ involvement in this sorry episode, and it may be that he was not part of it at all. But his approach encapsulates a method of governing that was on full display throughout.
So even though he admits that Dominic Cummings may not have even been involved, he just drops his name in and, thus, associates - or, perhaps more accurately, smears - him with the mess.
It may be "hard" for him not to "dwell on" Dominic Cummings simply because it appears that he's obsessed with the man, though knowing that plenty of like-minded people (his gallery) are similarly obsessed can't help either.
Here are two links that demonstrate that obsession. Just spend a few minutes browsing through them and you'll see that they are neither dispassionate nor balanced:
His pre-BBC tweets with the word 'Cummings'
His BBC tweets with the word 'Cummings'
It may, of course, be personal. Many of you will have seen this at the time but it makes for fascinating viewing even now:
As promised, full 5 mins exchange between me and Dominic Cummings where, among other things, he suggests the Prime Minister intends to go around the Benn Act. https://t.co/JjcpEez1d9— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) September 27, 2019
All this said, who am I to accuse Lewis Goodall of being obsessed about Dominic Cummings? After all, I appear to be at least as obsessed with Lewis Goodall!
It appears that the good news about Israel and the UAE establishing ties might only be the beginning, and that other good news could be coming soon.
It appears that Saudi Arabia is giving its blessing to the deal by allowing flights between Israel and the UAE to cross its air space - something that sounds to me like a definite signal of where the Saudis are heading.
And it appears that Oman and Bahrain are on the point of following the UAE's lead, which would give the Saudis cover to follow suit some time soon.
And, very intriguingly, the post-al Bashir Sudanese government appear to be on the verge too.
So peace might be breaking out all over between Israel and the Arabs as more and more Arab regimes realise that (a) Israel could be a valuable friend against their enemies (principally Iran) and (b) that the twin Palestinian leaderships - both nice Holocaust-denying Mr Abbas's lot and the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood Islamists of Hamas - are more of a clapped-out hindrance than a help to making the region a safer space to live.
If Israel can then tempt them to treat their citizens humanely, move towards democracy, and work against spreading extremism (including Wahhabi influence) then the world could be a much better place for it.
On blog-related matters, Maajid Nawaz rightly (as he is so often these days) called the Israel-UAE deal "immensely significant" and a "HUGE victory for diplomacy and peace" and says that next up "it must be peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia"...
...to which former Brexit Party MEP Lance Forman replied:
Maajid - why do you think there has been so little coverage of this historic deal in the MSM? I find it bizarre.
Lance isn't wrong. Yes, Jeremy Bowen - the BBC's anti-Israel Middle East editor tweeted about it (with the absolute opposite of enthusiasm) - but he wasn't across the BBC's airwaves talking about it.
And the third Israeli peace deal with an Arab state was reported (as TV Eyes confirms) but as a very, very marginal story.
The paucity of coverage was truly something to behold.
Maajid's reply was:
Punditry is unable to analyse Israel & Trump except through a narcissistic West-centric lens. Which, by definition, “otherises” Palestinians (bigotry of low expectations) while taking a Eurocentric “ownership” of Jews: a combination of domestic antisemitism & foreign Orientalism.
...which, if you strip out the (intentional) jargon, is a very astute observation. It captures Jeremy Bowen & Co's outlook perfectly, don't you think?
Thursday, 20 August 2020
Sir Robbie v Lewis (the re-match)
I don't think Sir Robbie Gibb (the BBC's next chairman?) is impressed by Newsnight's policy editor's latest lapse into opinion-mongering:
Is there anyone more damaging to the BBC's reputation for impartiality than @lewis_goodall ? This is so off the scale I don't even know where to begin. https://t.co/8FzX44QfeH— Robbie Gibb (@RobbieGibb) August 20, 2020
Monday, 17 August 2020
Very well worth reading:
Effie Deans: The broadcast media has disgraced itself
Lance Forman caught my eye with a tweet this morning:
The peace deal agreed between Israel and the UAE has been truly historic and bodes well for the whole Middle East. But there has been so little coverage in the MSM as if they don’t approve of this. Perhaps they’re unhappy Israel has made peace or that it was a Trump initiative?
In fairness to the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen has tweeted about this too - though it won't surprise Lance to hear that he doesn't sound happy about it:
- Going public with relationship good for UAE & Israel. Their enemy Iran gets a message. Their ally Trump gets a foreign policy victory. Netanyahu turns broken annexation promises into a triumph. UAE get western plaudits & hitech deals with Israel. Palestinians lose.
- UAE claims it stopped annexation. Palestinians thought they’d already almost won that argument as Netanyahu seemed to have blinked under huge international pressure. Palestine independence no closer, isolation deeper. Saudis next?
- The principle that Israel’s price for normalisation with Arabs was Palestinian independence was already looking like a pipe dream. Now it looks to be history.
Discussing the BBC’s left-wing bias is mainstream now. It’s a given. I can’t be bothered to reenact the dead parrot sketch, but I’m starting to feel that this blog might cease to be. Its time is up. It needs to be an ex-blog. There’s no future in bringing up examples of bias that a hundred Twits have already Tweeted.
However, here is one example of the BBC’s abject double standards.
If you didn’t already know this, the new arrangement is that Israel will hold off its proposal to bring the parts of East Jerusalem where Jews already live under Israeli law in exchange for normal (cordial) diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE.
“Oh”, said Frank Gardiner. “Israel can still annex the West Bank if it wants to!” He’s not happy. “Annexation is still on the table! What’s so good about that?”
Compare that for one moment if you would, with the BBC’s undiluted enthusiasm for Obama’s Iran deal.
In case you’ve forgotten, that was an arrangement whereby Iran would hold off from developing its nuclear arsenal, (the one with which it intends to obliterate Israel) for ten years,
the bribe being in exchange for the reinstatement of monies formerly withheld by way of (fully justified) sanctions.
“Oh!” said the BBC, “what a good plan! That’s ten whole years of not obliterating Israel, and the good part is that obliterating Israel with the nuclear arsenal that we’ve paid for is still on the table! What’s not to like?”
Is bribing one's enemy to ‘hold off” a good thing, or a bad thing? Depends on who’s doing the holding-off and whether the instigator is Obama or Trump.
Another worrying aspect of the BBC’s coverage of Lebanon concerns Hezbollah. The BBC’s reporting of the explosion (and of the political turmoil) in Lebanon hardly mentioned Hezbollah. After all, Hezbollah has infiltrated Lebanese politics to an alarming degree; the explosion occurred in the Hezbollah-controlled docks. Has the BBC ever reported anything about the 150,000 Iran/Hezbollah rockets pointing towards Israel?
One must conclude that the BBC’s overtly pro-Palestinian advocacy makes it sympathetic to the Iranian Ayatollahs and hostile to the Gulf States, the US and of course Israel. The BBC’s obviously negative attitude towards ‘normalisation’ between Israel and the UAE simply amounts to the BBC opposing peace.
I dreamed a dream
Those hoping for drastic reform of the BBC aren't overly happy at some of the mooted contenders to replace Sir David Clementi as BBC chairman, especially Nicky Morgan and Amber Rudd - Remain-backing figures from the left of the Conservative Party who they suspect will go native at least as quickly, if not quicker, than Sir David did.
Andrew Neil is proving a much more popular choice.
I, personally, like the sound of Sir Robbie Gibb though. He's the Brexit-supporting former BBC head of political programmes who (for his sins) became Mrs May's director of communications.
I'm backing him simply because his appointment would make Newsnight's Lewis Goodall feel highly uncomfortable.
If you recall, he fell out with Lewis on Twitter last year after he critiqued one of Lewis's reports and found that it broke seven of his impartiality tests (it must have been one of Lewis's milder reports!) - criticism Lewis didn't like one bit, biting back with a sneer:
Thanks for this Robbie. Maybe one day, if I’m as impartial as you, I can get a knighthood too.
...to which Sir Robbie replied:
My advice to you is listen to constructive criticism and try and improve.
The thought of Sir Robbie Gibb's first action as BBC chairman being to bring Lewis Goodall into his office for a lecture on impartiality is one I'm finding highly pleasing - especially if Emily Maitlis, Esme Wren and the rest of the Newsnight team are sitting in an adjacent room while it's going on, waiting their turn. (Well, I can dream!)
Sack Jeremy Bowen!
Jeremy Bowen has been on receiving end of a lot of praise on social media in the past few weeks from anti-Israel people for his coverage of the catastrophic disaster in Beirut. (Remember that?)
Some Israelis were saying to me yesterday well, you know, this is…Netanyahu could do with a war. So while there is – let me stress – no evidence that that is what is in anybody’s mind, that is the way that people think when these sorts of things happen in the region.
Thankfully, the praise was far from universal. Richard Millett responded:
Who were the “some Israelis”? Any names? What’s the point of this comment in the midst of an horrific tragedy?
Mr Millett received no answer.
...but many other theories have emerged including an Israeli attack. The Israeli military said it did not comment on foreign reports. Tensions in the heavily armed border region between Israel and Lebanon are high. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia and political party, threatened vengeance after one of its fighters was killed in an Israeli air strike in Syria. Israel has accused Hezbollah of mounting cross border attacks. If the explosion relates to the wider Middle Eastern conflict it's a serious escalation.
All of this strikes me (as I've kept on saying recently) as being in complete defiance of the BBC's high-profile 'specialist reporter covering disinformation and social media' Marianna Spring's advice: "If you're not sure it's true, don't share!"
I've a theory - not a conspiracy theory I think - as to why Jeremy Bowen shared these untrue things: He's biased, and has a huge, personal grudge against Israel.
Of course he's going to infect the world with the fakest of 'fake news' that paints Israel in the worst possible light. It's what he always does.
He needs removing from his BBC post.
Not a parody
Breaking news from Sky News this morning...
Initial comments could be going better:
- Wow. Top level journalism from Sly News.
- She's holding down her dress in the wind. She later holds his hand. Stop promoting something that's nothing.
- Stooping to new levels...
- What the heck is wrong with you guys?
- Do not repost this! Once is enough!
Camus, the Plague, and the BBC
In his latest Spectator piece Rod Liddle, as is his way, sums up what many of us feel about the BBC so well that he pretty much renders further comment from us superfluous.
And his way with words remains a thing of wonder, e.g. "The distance the BBC travels each day from the values of its core audience will soon be measurable only in astronomical units."
(At the moment I can only dream of being at least 3.9 parsecs away from Newsnight's Lewis Goodall - a man whose unbearable smugness would embarrass Douglas Adams's Zaphod Beeblebrox).
Even Rod sounded somewhat staggered though by Radio 4's latest, 'woke' dramatisation of Albert Camus's masterpiece The Plague.
As he describes it, for no comprehensible reason other than 'wokeness', the main character in the novel - a man - was turned into a woman, and placed in a lesbian relationship with her "wife". The setting, however, remained late 1940s Algeria with "its Arab population" (mentioned in the broadcast) - not a time or a place exactly known for its acceptance of openly lesbian couples or same-self marriages (or - by the by - for its 160,000-strong Jewish population which, having survived Vichy France's collusion with the Nazis over the Holocaust, was then getting driven out following the formation of the state of Israel. As you probably know, there are now no Jews in Algeria).
It's not that a story about lesbian relationships in 1940s plague-stricken Algeria mightn't have made for an interesting original drama, Rod argued, but that this trivialising piggy-backing on Camus has nothing to do with Camus and is simply silly.
Rod quotes the head of BBC audio drama, Alison Hindell, sticking up for the changes on Feedback and saying that they provided "contemporary resonance".
Rod strongly doubted that, suspecting its pointless "contemporary resonance" barely extended beyond London dinners parties hosted by and attended by BBC production teams.
Apparently, according to Rod, Ms Hindell rejects such charges of London/metropolitan-elite-centric groupthink by saying...drum roll...that the BBC will be running A Season of Nigerian Literature soon. Therefore, a season of Nigerian literature proves that the BBC isn't part of BBC, London-based groupthink.
Now, I'm just reading Rod here and enjoying him and nodding my head and raising my eyebrows and pursing my lips at the appropriate moments, but I didn't hear that Alison Hindell Feedback interview myself. Did she really show herself up like that? I think I ought to do her the courtesy of at least checking first...
Well, she certainly did play the "contemporary resonance" defence: "It helped the play feel feel like it was in The Now"...
...but she also raised a "practical" advantage to changing the sex of Dr. Bernard Rieux from a man to a woman: that otherwise the cast would have been all-male and that "voice differentiation and distinguishability" helps "the ear of the audience to follow the story".
That's reasonable. It spoils listening to radio dramas if you can't tell who's speaking because the voices are too similar, though, that said, (a) I can imagine it being far from impossible to differentiate the voices of an all-male cast and (b) I don't think it really answers the question of why it had to be the main character rather than some of the minor, more plausibly changeable characters, who got changed.
(Feedback's Roger Bolton stuck entirely to the change of sex question, not the ahistorical-seeming same-sex in Algeria issue).
Her other defence of why it was "a perfectly legitimate choice" to change the sex of the main character was literally this:
There are a lot of women doctors in the world today.
Interestingly, she said that this was the first time Camus's estate has given its blessing to a radio adaptation - which certainly sounds very much like a French artistic estate doing something French artistic estates rarely do, and (if you accept Camus's estate as speaking for the long-dead Albert) somewhat undercuts the charge that the play goes entirely against the spirt of Camus.
And she argued - quite accurately - that this kind of mucking around with original texts (changing the sex of main characters, using ethnic voices - here a Jamaican voice instead of a French-Algerian voice, etc) is now commonplace on the stage and in radio adaptations, reinterpreting things to fit "the social mores and expectations of the world the we live in today". (The world she lives in, some might say).
Still, the playwright who adapted The Plague for Radio 4, Neil Bartlett, is no novice. He's a man with a long back history, so they didn't just grab him off a far-left street protest. It was a theatrical work first, and featured a female actress as the male main character - the same Jamaican-born actress (Sara Powell) as on Radio 4....
....ah, I'm seeing, casting-wise, light-bulb-going-on, just why Neil would probably be just the man for the BBC at the moment!
Obviously, using one radio adaptation to represent the abyss into which 'woke' BBC drama has fallen doesn't amount to a clinching argument. It's a mere swallow in the wind. But it's a telling swallow nonetheless.
On Rod's point that Ms Hindell rejected charges of London/metropolitan-elite-centric groupthink by saying...drum roll...that the BBC will be running A Season of Nigerian Literature soon...
...well, in fairness to her, that did come about because of Feedback presenter Roger Bolton - a long-time BBC left-winger - raising the 'London/metropolitan-elite-centric groupthink' by asking her, of all things, whether Radio 4 audiences are far too South East England-focused and...guess what?...yes, not what people in the North or Cornwall or in seaside resorts like Morecambe might think, but what BAME listeners might think of that.
Listening to the Radio 4 play itself, my main disappointment was on how pedestrian it was. Camus's The Plague struck me as a profound masterpiece when I first read it thirty years ago. This just struck me as a plodding radio play with intrusive music. 'Why was it so clunking and banal?' was my main question.