Saturday 31 October 2020

Second Half of October Open Thread


Turn off the Hawkshead to Coniston road and settle down on a bench overlooking Tarn Hows, ready for a brand new open thread. Thanks for keeping us going with your comments. 

Labour Party matters

Someone pointed out the other day that it takes first-hand experience of a given subject or incident to expose how distorted ‘news’ can be. Personal involvement in any story jolts you into that illuminating, lightbulb moment when you suddenly realise how partial, one-sided or misleading ‘the News’ often is.

I looked back at our archive and found “On a Loop.” It's a shame, but it’s as relevant now, at the tail end of 2020, as it was in 2012. Here’s the gist:

Most pro-Israel bloggers like myself would find life much simpler if there were no Palestinian civilian casualties, no settlements, no disputed borders, no ultra religious Jewish extremists making claims on behalf of God. But, proceeding further down that path, it would be easier for us if Israel stopped protecting its citizens as assiduously as it does so that we could produce heart-rending footage of injured Israelis. We could make our case more effectively if the ‘apartheid wall’ was dismantled and the suicide bombers provided us with some photogenic carnage. How much easier life would be for we Israel supporters if Israel was swept into the sea altogether and we could make the case for Israel all day long, unopposed. Then we’d be laughing. 

I’m not writing about the Middle East today. Not directly - but as usual the Middle East’s presence is felt in the shadowy form of a big fat elephant. It’s the very thing that hasn’t been properly scrutinised in the context of the crisis in the Labour Party.

The EHRC report has come down hard on Corbyn’s Antisemitic Party. Because of the obvious need to stick to ‘facts’ and not to be derailed by squabbling over subjectivity and ‘feelings’, the commission pared a litany of submitted grievances against Corbyn’s Labour Party right down to substantive issues only; straightforward matters of legality. You know, actual breaking of the law.

While this approach concentrates the mind, it also lets a whole lot of flotsam through the net to muddy the waters and clog up the works. It’s sad that the EHRCommission took (or had to take) the factual, ‘substantive only’ tack, sticking to indefensible, irrefutable, “Illegality-only” evidence - in order to convince their opponents of the validity of the report. Of necessity, the emotional stuff, the real, true racist stuff had to be sidelined, just because of the enormity of the opposition. As Paul T Horgan says: 

The EHRC report) takes no account of Corbyn supporters targeting a chant calling for Israel to be destroyed at Jewish demonstrators protesting against anti-Semitism. Verbal abuse against Jewish people at party meetings and conferences is not counted. The party members who hounded Jewish woman MPs such that they had to leave Labour is not included. The Labour members cheering Chris Williamson on when he complained that the party was ‘too apologetic’ over anti-Semitism are not part of Corbyn’s claimed statistic.

There are several aspects to this saga. Number one is Keir Starmer. He’s a politician, which I suppose is some sort of an excuse in itself. A 'par for the course' type of thing. 

So when he was exposed at the time of the last General Election, doing rather more than toeing the party line by explicitly assuring Andrew Marr that he’s 100% behind Jeremy, his current posturing (strong, decisive leadership - grovelling apologies to the Jewish community) starts to look decidedly 'realpolitikish', however much we might wish it were otherwise.

Nevertheless, for now, let’s give the benefit of the doubt to Sir Keir, if you like. Just please don’t let him do any more kneeling.

All of a sudden everyone in the Labour Party not committed to the ultra-left is deserting the sinking ship. Even Jeremy Corbyn’s protégé Angela Rayner gave a brave account of herself on Newsnight, standing firm under Kirsty Wark’s mildly fierce searchlight. I mean, “how are you going to get yourself out of that?” is a question going begging. 

And Shami in your ermine robes, wherefore art thou? Oh yes, and Seaumas Milne. Why so shy? No-one holds him to account do they? Perhaps the BBC’s conspicuous lack of curiosity about Milne is related to his former associate editorship of the Guardian.

So now that the Corbyn supporting faction and the equivocators who were well on board with Jeremy Corbyn’s Antisemitic Party during the good times are jumping ship. It wasn’t me! they shout in unison. 

Which brings me back to the elephant in the room. Israel.

Melanie Phillips has: 

Much of the bigotry against Jews expressed by Labour members is tied up with the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel.

However, there is general bafflement in Britain over the association of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment, with a widespread belief going way beyond the Labour Party that the claim of antisemitism is being used to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.

I blame the media for the decades of partial reporting that thrust ammunition into the hands of the haters.  It allowed the very word ‘Zionism’ to stand for evil. Why, the word itself is almost an anagram of Nazi. If you could stomach listening to Chris Williamson screeching at Andrew Neil you’d know what I mean. 

The Balen report was suppressed by the BBC at the cost of several hundred thousand pounds (of my money.) If the Labour Party can be skewered by a forensic, facts-not-feelings inquiry, why cannot the BBC?

Could the EHRC investigate the BBC and examine the not-very-subtle “anti-Israel” agenda that all the usual BBC stalwarts and equivocators are now carefully distancing themselves from, as they turn to interrogate their Labour party counterparts?  All of a sudden Mishal ‘homemade contraptions’ Husain and company are getting all self-righteous on behalf of ‘the Jewish community’. 

Has the BBC taken the oath? Has it sworn to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or will selected bits of it do?

Each time we spot another heartfelt “what about Israel’s ’treatment’ of the Palestinians!?” followed by another possibly well-meant but utterly misguided attack on Zionism (and therefore Jews) it originates from some agenda-driven, holy, high-up employee of the Associated Press or Reuters parachuting some agenda-driven hack into some godforsaken theatre of war to fulfil a tailored and tacitly preordained brief. That’s according to Matti Friedman

Should the media care to tell the whole truth it would expose the true nature of the Palestinian Cause. The very existence of Israel must not be accepted as justification for any of the disingenuous Palestinian grievance-mongering we’ve been force-fed by the media, yet ‘getting rid of Israel’ is the stated aim of Palestinian zealots, Hamas and its supporters, however unpalatable that truth might sound to virtue-signalling, Western, pro-Palestinian advocates and BDS activists. 

 Injustices and suffering, abuses of human rights, all the stuff that the Pro-Palestinian justice warriors are so virulently passionate about when they blame it on Israel, emanate in reality from the Palestinian leadership’s corruption and religion-based racism. The people are sacrificial lambs; expendable currency in the war against the Jews on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn’s friends, Hamas, the PA., Iran etc. 

The so-called Palestinian cause was seeded with hatred of Jews. It flourished in the West alongside Tony Blair’s legacy of mass immigration and it took hold in left-wing politics through Islam-friendly expediency. Now antisemitism disguised as Pro-Palestinianism is actually fundamental to the contemporary Labour Party’s remit. How are you going to untangle that, Sir Keir?

Tuesday 27 October 2020

On Coyotes, BBC Radio 4, the Guardian and the Booker Prize

Listening to Radio 4's book group asking questions to Booker Prize-shortlisted author Diane Cook on last night's Front Row made me cringe. The whole thing sounded socially awkward. The four women chosen to put the questions, alongside presenter John Wilson, weren't professional interviewers for starters. They were just Radio 4's idea of four 'Everywomen' - three English women who sounded exactly like every other person's idea of a typical Radio 4 listener, plus a woman from south India with a dodgy phone connection. (The latter was invited, I kid you not, to reflect 'the world'). So their questions were, understandably, ineptly put. They were literally embarrassing to listen to. 

But isn't that the nature of the beast? What do you ask an author whose book you didn't like? And what if you don't like the heroine she's so subtly invented and who she likes but you don't? And worse, what if you really did like her book? What do you say then that doesn't sound clumsy or banal or hideously sycophantic? 

Asking questions of writers or artists or directors or composers that don't led the amateur questioner into a deep, dark, dirty ditch of their own hapless making is something I suspect many people would find fiendishly hard. I certainly would find it hard, and I'm sure my questions would be just as toe-curling, or stomach-churning, as the ones put by the ladies chosen by Radio 4. 

Hats off then to professional interviewers who get away with it, day after day - especially if they do it with aplomb. 

Even the pros can get it in the neck though. 

The same edition of Front Row featured an interview with Sofia Coppola. She's got a new comedy film out, starring Bill Murray, called On the Rocks. The clip the programme played from it made me laugh. It sounds like a very funny film. But John Wilson's interview with the director didn't go down well with some listeners. 

I read an exchange on Twitter expressing grave disappointment in John for asking too many questions to Sofia that related to her father, Francis Ford. This escalated (as things do on Twitter) into claims that John Wilson had been "patronising and sexist".

But I thought John Wilson asked decent enough questions. Given that the film was about fathers and daughters, and that Sofia Coppola features in a soon-to-be-released revamp of her father's Godfather III, it's surely not that wicked a line of questioning? And if you're getting from the horse's daughter's mouth an insider's take on what could be a truly major movie event - a remake of Godfather III by Francis Ford Coppola including his daughter Sofia Coppola - why wouldn't you ask her about that as well as about her own film? You'd surely be a poor excuse for an interviewer, in my view, if you passed up that opportunity for a golden scoop by simply asking her to go on and on promoting her latest comedy, however fabulously funny it might be.

Going back to the start of the programme (and this post) however, Diane Cook's Booker-nominated debut novel sounds like the kind of novel that would win the Booker Prize - telling a dystopian tale of a planet Earth brought to its knees by human beings. Plus it's apparently a novel with plenty of "harrowing" passages - though there's supposed to be plenty of balancing beauty too. (I'm not sensing many jokes though).

I wouldn't really know what it's like yet, as I've not read it. All I've done is to look up Diane Cook and read a Granta piece by her from 2018 called On Coyotes

Granta labels it a 'four minute read' but it took me well over ten minutes because I was relishing every section, every paragraph, every sentence, and many of the turns of phrases and individual words. And I've re-read it too.

It is very much On Coyotes, though it avoids mentioning the indefatigable Wile E. Coyote - which places Diane higher up food chain when it comes to writers avoiding the cheap and the obvious. I for one wouldn't resist the urge. I'm the sort who'd probably even add a picture of Wile E. to the top of any post I did that even barely mentioned coyotes. 

There's absolutely nothing cheap about Diane Cook's writing in this piece though. I don't know which bit to quote, it's so perfect. (What more do you want from a writer?) So I'll just ask you to click the link and read it for yourself, in full. 

I then went, on my new guiding principle of moving beyond my usual reading rounds, to Guardian review of Diane Cook's novel and found a Guardian reviewer with the oddly Guardianesque name Hephzibah Anderson writing:

At the novel’s start, they [heroines Bea, "a sometime interior designer", and Agnes, her young daughter] have been in the Wilderness for three years and its harrowing opening scene tells you all you need to know about the extreme toll it’s taken: alone, Bea crouches with her stillborn baby, covering her with wilted leaves and sagebrush branches. For all its horror, it’s an understated moment – there is no keening lament, just cricket song and the soft tread of coyotes. 

"And the soft tread of coyotes". Ah, OK. I'll have to quote the beginning of that Granta piece in full after all:

Across the lake in Montmorency County, Michigan, we heard the rhythmic bark of some animal. So rhythmic and so prolonged that we turned to the sound to try and make sense of it.

‘Was that a dog?’ my friend asked.

It was a bark to be sure. But.

‘It seemed too fast to be a dog,’ I said. The barks had such little space between them that I thought perhaps it could be an owl barking, thinking of the saw-whet’s escalating toots and how fast they get, a bit like a bouncing ball settling down to the table.

We were just about to conjecture some more when down the shore we heard a great cacophony.

For a split second, I thought it was the loons looning out their warning call: a ghostly yodel which a few days earlier I’d almost mistaken for the bugle of an elk. We were, after all, very near the elk capital of Michigan. Just as I was about to whisper loon, I heard the unmistakable eerie yips of the coyotes answering back to what must have been a family member.

And now read on, It gets even better...

Saturday 17 October 2020

The First Open Thread of Autumn

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us again, and the gathering swallows will soon be twittering in the skies like so many BBC journalists. 

Where are the open threads of spring? Ay, Where are they? Think not of them. Autumn hast its open threads too — and here's the first. 

Thank you for your support and comments.

"BBC incitement to baseless hatred"



The headline of Melanie Phillips's latest piece sums up her point punchily:

The BBC's problem is worse than "wokeish" bias. 
When it comes to its approach to Israel, it incites baseless hatred

She doesn't believe that the next BBC chairman, whoever that may will, will make inroads when it comes to changing "the BBC’s appalling treatment of Israel":

For years, it has presented Israel in the most distorted way, portraying it falsely as the rogue state in the region while downplaying or ignoring the attacks on Israelis and the incitement and antisemitism that are daily features of Palestinian Arab life.

And she details an extraordinary piece of broadcasting from BBC Arabic that "whitewashed" Ahlam Tamimi - a notorious Palestinian terrorist who murdered 15 people, including seven children, and injured more than 130 in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. The piece "sympathetically presented" the story wanted to tell about herself" and was titled with her name and the words "Your voice is loud and clear". Lasting six minutes, it was "framed as a sentimental human interest story" which "whitewashed the murderous activities" of her and her terrorist husband and "presented them as victims of censorship and the Americans". It ended with a plea from the terrorist to Jordan's King Abdullah. Melanie writes:

The media watchdog CAMERA UK has observed that the programme made no criticism of either of the Tamimis. None of those who were murdered in Ahlam Tamimi’s terror attack was mentioned. The item said she was merely “accused of involvement” in the Jerusalem bombing (despite her own public admission of the crime) and failed to mention the reason for her husband’s imprisonment at all. 

The true wickedness of the Tamimi item is that it was broadcast on the BBC’s Arabic service. The BBC’s foreign-language services have a global reputation for broadcasting supposedly factual, trustworthy information to countries where objective news is in short supply. 

Yet this item gave a platform to a heinous terrorist to spout her propaganda, thus confirming the lies about Israel and the west that incite the Arab world to hatred and violence. More specifically, it added to the mythology around her in Jordan which, despite its peace agreement with Israel, has a population consumed by hatred of Israel and the Jews and for whom the murderous Tamimi is a rock star.

"This is hardly an isolated example", she adds, citing other examples, before concluding:

These are but a tiny sample of the BBC’s institutionalised hostility towards Israel. For years, it has uncritically recycled Palestinian propaganda as innately credible and true, while treating demonstrably factual Israeli statements as mendacious propaganda.

It systematically downplays or disregards Palestinian attacks on Israelis and generally treats any eruption of violence as a story which only “kicks off” (as one BBC reporter said gleefully during an escalation of hostilities) when Israel retaliates with force. Israeli victimisation is simply not seen as a story at all.

When Israel is forced to defend itself, the BBC frequently portrays its armed forces —the most ethical and human rights-obsessed military in the world — as monstrous child-killers and aggressive destroyers.

The immediate and demonstrable effect on the British population is hatred of Israel and a spike in attacks on British Jews. It is no exaggeration to say that when it comes to Israel, the issue is not BBC bias. It is BBC incitement to baseless hatred.

The BBC is regarded around the world as a byword for objectivity and accuracy. That’s why its departure from those ideals is so pernicious.

Perhaps the most chilling thing about it, though, is this. BBC executives are genuinely, painfully aware of the news outlet’s unique power and reach, and of their duty under its founding charter to uphold objectivity and fairness and hold the line for the middle ground.

But they are simply unable to process the fact that they view Israel, among other issues, through a profoundly distorting ideological prism. And that’s because they believe implacably that the positions they hold are unarguably objective and fair, that they do represent the middle ground, and that therefore by definition those who claim the BBC is biased are themselves extremists and can be safely disregarded.

In other words, BBC group-think is a hermetically-sealed thought system. Which is why, if whoever takes over at the top wants to restore the once iconic BBC to elementary standards of objectivity, fairness and decency, they will have their work cut out for them.

The full article can be read here

And a further startling article on the background to the terrorist story above and the BBC's involvement with it can be read here.

"Recognising the pain of the past and the lingering ambient racism we don’t get to feel"


Ellie Harrison

A decade ago I remember a lively chat in the comments at Biased BBC about Countryfile's Ellie Harrison after she appeared on The One Show sporting an impartiality-busting CND T-shirt. 

Some complained about BBC bias, but others said they'd forgive her anything and claimed they hadn't even noticed the political T-shirt covering her bust. 

Of course, that's truly appalling #everydaysexism, guaranteed to make all of us self-respecting feminists (female or male or whatever) lunge for our handkerchiefs and our smelling salts. 

Anyhow, Ellie - endlessly leg-flashing and ultra-conspicuously blonde - thrived and prospered at the BBC whilst simultaneously flagging up her fulsome commitment to feminism in media interview after media interview.

And now she's approaching that perilous age where many a brave woman before her has been controversially, and lawsuit-inducingly, dumped into the Countryfile thresher for becoming middle-aged, and has clearly gone ostentatiously out of her way to hit the headlines by talking divisive, BBC-friendly, 'woke' drivel about racism and the countryside

(My sexist friends tell me she still looks great, so I'm sure she'll be safe for a few years yet. And, in response to the criticism about them dropping women for reaching middle age, the programme disinterred Radio 4's Charlotte Smith - one of those they'd culled in 2009 to bring in young, pretty Ellie).

Here's a flavour of what she said:

I spooled through the comments [to the report], which broadly came in three flavours: ‘I’m not racist so there is no racism in the countryside’; ‘I’m black and I’ve never experienced racism in the countryside’; and importantly, ‘I have experienced racism in the countryside’. 

So there’s work to do. Even a single racist event means there is work to do. In asking whether the countryside is racist, then yes it is; but asking if it’s more racist than anywhere else — maybe, maybe not.

Until this point [the Black Lives Matter campaign], I believed ignorantly that me being not racist was enough. I believed that I should keep quiet and listen to black people. That’s because I read and loved every Alice Walker book as a teenager, have watched Oprah every day since I was a youngster . . . it wasn’t my problem.

There is a big and crucial difference between being not racist and being anti-racist. At times in the past I have given measured and polite replies to people — sometimes close to me — who had said racist things. But being anti-racist means being much clearer that it isn’t acceptable.

It’s our individual work to wrap our heads around history. The work also includes recognising the pain of the past and the lingering ambient racism we don’t get to feel. It means acknowledging that we have benefited from the past, the behaviours of many generations ago.

My favourite bit there was where she said, in signalling her virtue about racism whilst simultaneously signalling her virtuous recognition that as a white women she still needs to signal much more, "That’s because I read and loved every Alice Walker book as a teenager, have watched Oprah every day since I was a youngster". 

That's still making me chuckle. It's the kind of line a truly great satirist would write. 

Except, of course, it's not satire.

Though it may disappoint a certain, male segment of the Countryfile audience, I'm sure Ellie will realise what she has to do: check her white privilege, leave Countryfile and make way for someone better suited to tick BBC boxes.

The programme has been giving black and ethnic minority presenters a big push in recent years, but exponentially more still needs doing. 

Hopefully, on their Christmas special this year, a newly-roasted John Craven will be served up for the endlessly diverse newcomers with stuffing and parsnips and horse chestnuts and a festive gravy made from a freshly-composted Tom Heap - something that would make a great cover for the 2021 Countryfile calendar.

Is Baroness Hoey being lined up to be the next BBC chairwoman?

Kate Hoey:The next BBC chairwoman?

Have any of you been mooted as the new BBC chairman yet? Pretty much everyone else has, if you believe the papers. 

The latest headlines concern the Europhile former chancellor and 'man of a hundred jobs already', George Osborne. Having failed to land the plum Royal Opera House job, the Daily Telegraph's Choppers now claims the Government is "lining him up" to replace Sir David Clementi. 

There are lots of 'woulds' and 'ifs' in the article and Christopher Hope adds that "some government sources" have "downplayed" for the ex-chancellor's chances. The piece ends by saying, "Mr Osborne declined to comment" and "The Daily Telegraph understands that he has not yet been approached about the role". 

So frankly we're barely any further on that when George Osborne was first mooted weeks ago. 

Andrew Neil, for one, doesn't reckon much to the story. "I bet he's not", he tweeted in response to the headline about Mr Osborne being "lined up" by the Government. 

Anyone who wants drastic surgery to save the BBC won't be looking to Mr Osborne, who would be almost as bad as David Dimbleby. Michael Portillo, Trevor Phillips or Sir Robbie Gibb would be better bets. 

No one's mentioned Kate Hoey though, have they? Should we start a rumour here in her favour and pass it onto the Telegraph? Yes, let's! I've a feeling "some government sources" might possibly have mentioned her at some stage, and she'd be great. 

Saturday 10 October 2020

BBC Media Action funding


Charlie on the Open Thread notes the BBC's own chart showing the funding for its charity arm Media Action. The latest figures on its summary page are for 2017-18. It's very interesting who funds BBC Media Action:


Counting down from most to least, the funding comes from:

Other grant income - £6.6m
Donations from individuals and companies incl. gifts in kind - £5.7m
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) - £5.5m
Department for International Development (DFID) - £3.8m
European Commission - £2.7m
Gates Foundation - £2.2m
UNICEF - £1.6m
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency - £1.3m
UN Development Programme - £1.3m
British Council - £1m
USAID - £0.9m
BMB Mott Macdonald - £0.8m
UN Population Found - £0.8m
Global Affairs Canada - £0.7m
US State Department - £0.5m

It's intriguing that £12.3m comes in under 'Others'.

There's a later, more detailed breakdown on Media Action's 2018-19 annual report - which, if I read it correctly, suggests some shifts in funding from one year to the next and gives some account of those 'Others' (click to enlarge):

David Dimbleby Stands Up


The BBC News Press Team has recently put out the following tweet:

David Dimbleby tells  BBC Newscast he is considering a bid to become the next Chairman of the BBC after being "horrified" when he read that Charles Moore was allegedly being lined up for the role.

His "horror" at the prospect of Lord Moore becoming BBC chairman is as nothing compared to mine at the thought of David Dimbleby becoming BBC chairman. When I first read about it my hair stood on end, I writhed, I struggled, I burst out with a shriek and found myself lying shivering on the floor with terror, trembling in my every limb. I saw a face of unspeakable smugness moving out of the darkness, slouching towards Broadcasting House. 

I still might [apply], depending on who comes forward. Boris Johnson, we know, wants to bring the BBC to heel. We don’t want a chairman who connives in that ambition.
("We", eh?)

He continued:
I was horrified...not because of his political views, but because he hates the BBC. No politicians have ever liked the BBC, the BBC is a thorn in the side of government and that’s its job and therefore it’s always disliked by governments. So when it was announced, and I gather absolutely it was his intention that Johnson was going to put Charles Moore in, at that point... I was going to put my name forward to be chairman.
Note how he then immediately contradicts and exposes himself:
I didn’t want somebody with Charles Moore’s views, as I’ve read them over and over again in the Telegraph and Spectator, his views on gay marriage, his views on race relations, to become chairman... his appointment as chairman would have been a malign intervention by the Prime Minister and I’m glad it fell apart. You want somebody in charge of the BBC who is sympathetic not to the BBC as an institution but the idea of the BBC, to the concept of the BBC as reflecting the whole sort of richness of British life.

("You", eh?)

I bet a lot of BBC types will be hoping the Government goes soft and makes their dreams come true and appoints him. He's a nightmare candidate for someone wanted to reform the BBC though. He's almost as satisfied with the BBC as he is with himself.

Sunday 4 October 2020

Transcript - 'Newswatch', BBC News Channel, 2/10: Interview with Mike Wendling


Samira Ahmed: Hello and welcome to Newswatch with me, Samira Ahmed. Coming up... With protests and conspiracy theories abounding from coronavirus to QAnon, how to separate truth from fiction. We talk to Mike Wendling from the BBC News anti-disinformation unit. Last weekend saw the latest in a series of protests against mass vaccination, the compulsory wearing of facemasks, lockdowns and other coronavirus restrictions. Crowds in London were addressed by David Icke and Piers Corbyn, but Pauline Pauley watching Saturday's BBC One bulletin was prompted to ask:
Why was the anti-lockdown protest in central London not covered on tonight's bulletin? This was a major incident with over 15,000 protesters, yet you chose to ignore it. WHY?"
The protest was covered elsewhere on the BBC, including on the News Channel, but events like it have prompted similar complaints in recent weeks. Demonstrations across the country have seen claims that coronavirus does not exist or is not fatal, and also posters promoting QAnon, a bizarre theory that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite paedophiles. BBC Trending has been looking at the role of social media in news for some years, but earlier this year, the BBC set up an anti-disinformation unit specifically to examine conspiracy theories and the propaganda being spread on online forums such as Facebook. Its establishment concerned Joanne Dean, who tweeted:
This seems very sinister to me. It really isn't the role of the BBC 'Anti-Disinformation Unit' to sit in judgement of what people think. 
And Neil H also dismissed what he called the "Soviet-style, Pravda" disinformation unit. 

Well, one of the editors of that unit, Mike Wendling, joins me now. And Mike, you wrote a book about the online rise of the alt-right in the run up to the election of Donald Trump and had been reporting on conspiracy theories as editor of BBC Trending as well, so, thanks for coming on. Why did the BBC feel the need to set up this separate unit? 
Mike Wendling: Because basically, in the world of social media, we find that conspiracy theories, disinformation, misinformation, often from individuals, groups, even nations spreads faster and farther than ever before. It's systematic and thus we need a systematic way to look at this and report on it, and to help people sift fact from fiction. One of the correspondents that you mentioned said that we are wanting to police what people think. That's not true at all. We don't want to make people think a particular way. We want to give them the facts, we want to equip them with the facts so that they know what they think. 
Samira Ahmed: Coronavirus has obviously sparked a lot of conspiracy theories. We saw it in that protest in London last week. What sorts of work has the unit done on that issue? 
Mike Wendling: The World Health Organisation called what happened in the wake of the pandemic an infodemic. Basically, a flood of information. Not all of it was accurate, in fact, a lot of it was not accurate or unproven or scientifically unsound. What we've been doing is we've been trying to help listeners and viewers and readers navigate some of this stuff, and to find out who is driving a lot of the viral misinformation, as well as the disinformation that's been sparked by individuals or groups, and we've even traced it back to some governments. People have died because they have gotten bad information, they've gotten wrong information about the virus. They've taken drugs that were fatal, they've taken treatments that didn't work, they've sought treatment because they heard things online about the virus that were untrue, and a whole range of things have happened to people with negative consequences because of things that they read online. 
Samira Ahmed: With something like the QAnon conspiracy theory, is there a danger of giving that the very attention it craves? 
Mike Wendling: Absolutely, and we always think carefully before we amplify any particular conspiracy theory or any particular influencer who's pushing a conspiracy theory. We have a pretty simple task, and one of the things that is involved in that task is whether it meets a certain sort of threshold. Is it going viral across platforms? Are not hundreds, but maybe thousands, tens of thousands, millions of people seeing it? Once it gets to a particular level where it's that widespread, and also when it's causing real-world harm, because we know that QAnon, people linked to the QAnon movement and with QAnon beliefs, have been either accused or convicted of violent acts. When it reaches that sort of level where there is actual harm involved, it's kind of our duty to take a look and do some responsible reporting around that. 
Samira Ahmed: To take a recent example, there were all kinds of slanderous conspiracies being spread around ahead of the presidential debate particularly about Joe Biden. What did the unit do about those? 
Mike Wendling: Well, yeah, that's very interesting. I mean, the specific rumour that we're talking about is that Joe Biden was wearing an earpiece and somehow being fed what was being said in his ear. We broke that down, we looked at the claims. We consider that actually, the earpiece conspiracy theory has been leveled at presidential candidates from both US political parties for the last 20 years. We found no basis in facts for this when we reported on it. We reported it on BBC online and on our TV and radio outlets. We look at things from a variety of perspectives. It's not as if we're only knocking down the things that might look at Joe Biden, might make Joe Biden look bad. Obviously, the President has been diagnosed with coronavirus just in the last few hours. We have seen an explosion online of conspiracy theories and unfounded rumours related to that, and we're busy reporting on that right now. 
Samira Ahmed: Mike Wendling, thanks so much. 
Mike Wendling: Thank you. 

The Sunday Papers


The Crook O'Lune (near Morecambe)

The Sunday papers have arrived on my laptop, so here's a selection of today's top stories:

1. Charles Moore isn't going to be the next BBC chairman

The Sunday Times reports that Charles Moore has ruled himself out of running for BBC chairman on "personal" grounds. He's not even applying. Unfortunately. Incidentally, John Simpson isn't impressed with the way the paper has covered this:

Last week's Sunday Times reported that Boris Johnson wanted Charles Moore to be the chairman of the BBC. Today, in a much less prominent story, it says Moore has ruled himself out, on personal grounds.'

The Sunday Times is behaving like the BBC there. 

2. BBC journalist Martin Bashir "misled" Diana’s brother to secure bombshell interview

So claims The Sunday Times. The paper alleges that Martin Bashir, now the BBC's religious affairs correspondent, "obtained the scoop under a false pretext and by using fake bank statements". It says the allegations "will raise difficult questions for the BBC" as the Corporation conducted its own internal investigation at the time and cleared itself. The BBC says Mr Bashir is "unwell and unable to respond" but has issued a statement reiterating its defence of his behaviour. 

3. Camilla Long on BBC Four's Black Classical Music

In her Sunday Times review column, Camilla Long notes that the presenters (Sir Lenny Henry and Suzie Klein) had "to keep reminding us what dreadful victims these talented people were":

At the end of nearly every scene, there would be a ceremonial confronting of the material, in which they demanded to know from various guests, and I paraphrase, “Why isn’t he more famous? Who were the racists who suppressed his cantatas? You began to think, why don’t they just let the music speak for itself? But as it went on you realised, it wasn’t about the music at all.


4. The BBC tells off Dame Jenni Murray one last time

After her swift, post-BBC attack on the BBC in yesterday's Daily Mail, the Sunday Telegraph quotes the BBC's official response. It's a final dig at the opinionated former Woman's Hour presenter:

We wish Jenni well in her new career as a columnist but the public will understand the importance of impartiality whilst working at the BBC.

5. Michael Gove on Frankie Boyle's New World Order

The Mail on Sunday has an interview with Michael Gove. Here's what he says about Frankie Boyle's New World Order:

You have a group of comedians who engage in a 30-minute seminar informed by Marxist ideas and they think jokes about 'killing whitey' are worth the licence fee, then you have to ask a question. And the question is, why should it be the case that people in Middlesbrough and Mansfield should pay out of their salaries so that Oxbridge graduates can trash their values in that way?

A good question.

Saturday 3 October 2020

tl;dr (but maybe you should? It's more about the BBC seriously misbehaving than classical music!)


Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History on BBC Four, presented by Sir Lenny Henry and Suzie Klein, was much as you'd expect, but worth watching nonetheless. 

You had, of course, to put up with lots and lots and lots and lots of Black Lives Matter-provoked, extremely earnest finger-wagging from Sir Lenny, Suzie & Co. about how bad we are for neglecting all these forgotten black names, and about the lack of diversity in classical music...

And you also had to also put up with Sir Lenny 'being funny', dancing, and fencing, and swooning with unrestrained enthusiasm over the 'neglected' music he was hearing...

But I love being introduced to 'unfamiliar' composers, even if most of them weren't unfamiliar to me, and I did learn some things I didn't know.

And we heard (fleetingly) some attractive bits of music along the way. 

The problem is that the BBC programme massively overstated and distorted its woke-friendly case. 


I know no one (except me) wants to read a post about classical music, even if it's about BBC bias and BBC manipulation, but I'm going ahead with it nonetheless as I think it's important that someone says it. So headphones on and bugles raised...


The first composer they presented as having been wickedly neglected by the 'gatekeepers' of classical music - George Walker - has, if you look at Wikipedia, had a highly successful career throughout his long life. He passed through prestigious school after prestigious school winning diploma after diploma, studied with the greats, thrived as a concert pianist, a respected teacher and an academic, won a Fullbright Fellowship, studied with Nadia Boulanger, won countless awards and achieved a Pullizer Prize. His Lyric for Strings (played twice at The Proms now) "has been one of the most frequently performed orchestral works by a living American composer". 

We weren't told any of this by the BBC. He was merely presented as being badly done-by because it took till 2017 for one of his works to be played at The Proms. 

But The Proms neglects lots of composers. One of my favourite American composers, Alan Hovhaness, received just a single performance at The Proms over the course of his very long career. I'm sure audiences would love works like the Mysterious Mountain Symphony and the Celestial Gate Symphony (the latter containing one of the loveliest tunes ever included in a symphony). 

It was a sign of things to come on this BBC programme. 


After a spot of enthusing over Tudor "multiculturalism", we came to the (British) Georgian era composer Ignatius Sancho. Sir Lenny said his music has "pretty much disappeared". Well, basically every British composers' during the hundred years or so after Handel has "pretty much disappeared" too - with the possible exception of William Crotch (mainly for non-musical reasons).


Another "shunted aside" composer who was "not only as good as their white peers but even better" (as Sir Lenny put it) was Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges - a man contemporaries classed as being up there with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. (A lot of composers were overrated in their day).  

I smiled as Suzie said that his 'centuries-long' neglect had lessened recently thanks to the likes of the 'diverse' orchestra the programme championed championing his music. Maybe, but recordings of Saint-Georges have been coming out in droves for decades now. 

I've always found his music to be attractive, along the lines of Stamitz (similarly neglected now, but respected then). He's no Haydn though. Very few are. 

And, apparently, Mozart possibly nicked an idea from le Chevalier, so it's so unfair that he's known as "the black Mozart". Hm. 

And he's not generally known now because of...guess what?...yes, RACISM!!! Hm. 

What about similarly fine figures like Kozeluch or Gossec? (They've never been played at The Proms.) Or even the mighty, delightful, highly sophisticated Boccherini, a truly neglected composer (except for two short movements from a couple of pieces) - the only composer of the pre-Beethoven era genuinely worthy of comparison to Haydn and Mozart? (The Proms has been fixated on his famous 'Minuet' - the one famous from The Ladykillers).


And then came an "unfairly forgotten" black British violinist who Beethoven wrote a violin sonata for: George Bridgetower (the Kreutzer Sonata no less), before they fell out. Beethoven was always falling out with people. 

This is when things became fully silly. George B's story is very interesting, but who in the name of Haydn knows about all the great violinists of the Beethoven age? 

It's not racism to not know the name of a single violinist from the first decades of the 19th Century. But that was insinuated by this programme. 


As for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was presented - at length - as a victim of racism too, he's someone I've known about for about 30 years. He's also been widely recorded. 

Even the programme told us that his career was a successful one. His Hiawatha was massively popular and widely performed, and he's been performed at The Proms 127 times - and not just Hiawatha

I have lots of old books on classical music and he's given his due alongside the likes of Stanford and Parry as pioneers of the British musical renaissance that reached its fullest bloom with Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius, Holst and the like. None of these books was dismissive of him. I've just reached for my massive 1938 Oxford Companion to Music (Scholes) which - nearly three decades after his death - still described his music as being of "distinction" and found his introduction of African-American themes "a refreshing break from musical conventions". This contradicts Suzie Klein's claim that the critics objected to such things - though it is, of course, merely a snapshot. 

Elgar was an admirer too and gave him a major break, though Sir Lenny Henry talked about the racism he faced over...guess what?...Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory (a very lazy, loaded decision by the programme). 

And a symphony of SC-T's that doesn't have a full score was presented as a sign of neglect because it hasn't been performed or recorded much until now. Lots of such scores are being filled-in or reconstructed in recent years, so why is that proof of racism? (There's a recording of it here by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra under Douglas Bostok, so the BBC's favoured 'diversity orchestra' might like to take a listen to it. It's hardly a breathtaking masterpiece).

Suzie Klein really put on her angriest face to say how disgusted she was about the critical response to SC-T, implying racism - "the history books say it was not up to the standard of his white contemporaries". I've read a lot about him over the years, and I'm not sure if what she's been reading. (I'm guessing certain dusty stuff from the post 1945 era when tuneful music like his was out of fashion in some critical circles?). 

He wasn't up to the standard of Vaughan Williams or Elgar. But very few were. And he didn't live long enough to achieve his full promise. (Even the programme admitted that). And I don't think it's anything like an open-and-shut case that he's been neglected because of racism.

I will admit to having a bee in my bonnet about this now and I've dug out another old book - A.L. Bacharach's 1951 British Music of Our Time, which begins with Stanford, Parry, Sullivan, MacKenzie and Coleridge-Taylor and is by far the nicest to SC-T. It praises his "noteworthy and valuable contribution to world's musical development - the collection of the native music of his music of his own land (his father was West African)", calling it a "personal medium". 

Again, however angry and passionate its presenters and contributors got, this BBC Four programme strikes me as being very far from being a fair and accurate portrayal of the critical reaction to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. 

The programme then played his Othello overture. Sir Lenny enthused, Suzie fumed that she'd never heard it in concert. A VAST number of wonderful pieces - legions upon legions of them - are never heard in concert. "You can't help wondering if his active Afro-centrism has played a part in that", wondered Sir Lenny. I'm sure Sir Lenny couldn't help wondering that, but it doesn't make it true. 


Has Scott Joplin been neglected recently? He was in his time, but has become popular in the last 50 years. This kind-of reversed the main argument of the programme, but they got round that by focusing on his opera not becoming "mainstream" and hinted at racism. Seriously, the number of worthy operas sitting unstaged must go into the many thousands. 


Then it was onto 'hard-done-by' Florence Price

"Try being a black composer and a woman", said Suzie sententiously. 

Florence Price composed lots of colourful, refined, charming knock-offs of Dvorak, splicing the great Czech's magical 'New World' style with black, ethnic touches - spirituals, etc, and Radio 3's been very keen on her music in recent years. 

The thing I took away from the Composer of the Week on her and reading about her is that she had some success - winning prizes, being critically praised, getting her music performed by orchestras, etc - but had a terrible personal life. 

I like her music, but it's hardly first-rate. She's a loveable minor composer. And there are hundreds if not thousands of other loveable minor composers whose music also lies in a semi-coma. But she's now being doggedly lifted into the pantheon for reasons beyond merit. 

Suzie Klein actually said to Sir Lenny that "She, I think, deserves her due alongsides [sic] the top-rate symphonists of her age". (She and Sir Lenny then said, "We love you Florence".) That's just silly virtue-signalling nonsense from the normally sensible Suzie. Florence Price is no Copland, and no Bernstein, whatever the BBC says. 

To repeat: Florence Price is a decent, enjoyable, second rate (at best) Dvorak impersonator, and that's it. I've heard a lot of her music now (thanks to the BBC), and I think and hope I know of what I speak. 

And then Sir Lenny Henry began going all 'conspiracy theorist' and checking online archives for 1950s things involving orchestras and not finding mentions of Florence, putting 2+2 together, sensing there's no smoke without fire, going 'Aha!' and very possibly making 5 (Racism!). (One for Marianna Spring, Mike Wendling & Co.?)

And former BBC presenter Chi-Chi Nwanoku, as a pleasant if unexceptional Dvorak-like string arrangement of 'Oh My Darling, Clementine' was playing in the background, wants mediocrity-made-flesh Florence put into A-level syllabuses and music board exams. Hm.


If you've actually read this through, thank you. You deserve a knighthood or a damehood.

This was a programme I'm guessing Sir Lenny Henry and the BBC's woke brigade pushed the BBC into making. 

It introduced BBC audiences to some decent classical composers, none remotely of the first rank. 

It then used them for polemical, activist reasons and distorted the composers' lives to make them conform to a simplistic narrative. 

This could be proof of a general rule: Drown a BBC programme in agenda-pushing and you ruin that programme and your reputation for honesty and accuracy.

I can see why Sir Lenny would be happy with this, but I can't see why Suzie Klein would willingly sink to this level. 

Oh well. It's the BBC. At the moment, what else would you expect?

Another Bow


Another interesting part of Dame Jenni Murray's Daily Mail piece is where she talks about her £100K salary:

I was astonished to receive such an enormous sum. I was a working-class girl from Barnsley [and used to live in a brown paper bag in a septic tank] and my father could never have dreamt of earning such a vast amount [because he used to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before he went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work]. Nevertheless, I found that the daily rate I had been awarded per programme was still less than those for men who had carried out similar work in earlier years.

The Dame then goes on to talk of those at the BBC who earn less, "working phenomenally long hours for relatively little financial reward". Their pay range is from £36,000 to £64,000, which still makes them all above the national average wage (£29,600). Luxury!

The Dame's Last Bow

Dame Jenni Murray has become the latest in an ever-lengthening line of BBC leavers to immediately follow their departure from the Corporation by launching an attack on it. 

Writing for the Daily Mail today, Dame Jenni makes it plain that her main reason for leaving the BBC was her resentment at being "cancelled" by her bosses over her views on (a) transgender and (b) Brexit. 

She feels they were unjustly censoring her, firstly, by banning her from conducting any interviews about transgender issues on Woman's Hour since she wrote an article in The Sunday Times from 2017 saying transwomen aren't "real women" and, secondly, by banning her from covering the 2019 general election after she wrote a pro-EU essay, also in 2017 (only months after her first rebuke over the Sunday Times article), in which she describes herself crying as the EU referendum result came in. 

She argues in the Daily Mail piece that it doesn't go against BBC impartiality for BBC journalists to have strong views and express them elsewhere just as long as they remain strictly impartial on air - which she says she always did. In other words, she says she hung her views up with her coat at the studio door.

This is fascinating. I'd assumed that the trans issue and the hostility surrounding her Sunday Times article played some role. There's always been a long strain of activism at Woman's Hour, with Dame Jenni at the forefront of it. This campaigning attitude, therefore, long pre-dates the present-day campaigning mood among younger 'woke' journalists at the BBC, so it strikes me as ironic that she found herself out-campaigned by the new crowd. But it's her BBC bosses, who rebuked her and stopped her interviewing on the subject for the last three years of her Woman's Hour career, who clearly irked her most. 

And I'd either forgotten or never spotted that she got into trouble for that pro-EU essay and wasn't allowed to cover the last election for the BBC. Like a blinkered campaigner, she still feels she did nothing wrong there.

What's so striking here is that the BBC did what they are surely supposed to do if a journalist publicly identifies themselves with a controversial position - not just reprimand them for breaching their impartiality rules but take appropriate, decisive action. 

Banning her from covering trans matters and the 2019 general election is unusually decisive action from the BBC. Over trans matters you could put it down to the BBC's terror of the often ferocious, extreme trans mob but the decision to stop her covering the general election because of her public views on Brexit is something different - and, to me, totally unexpected. 

Given that some many other BBC journalists could have been taken off the 2019 general election too for expressing similar views in the past (e.g. Mark Mardell) it does beg the question as to why she was singled out? 

The problem is that - contrary to what Dame Jenni seems to believe - BBC's guidelines have actually been pretty clear that expressing strong views elsewhere on matters of controversy is something BBC journalists should steer clear of - or, at least, tread very, very carefully. She fell foul of those guidelines and was punished. 

Incidentally, Jenni Murray undermined her clinching line that she was always strictly impartial on air, thus showing her total commitment to BBC impartiality, by signing off on her final edition of Woman's Hour with a little feminist speech and a song about what 'a woman' is, which most people interpreted as a two-fingered salute to her trans critics. I doubt she sees any irony in that.

And more irony to end...

Dame Jenni "defies anyone" to know her politics, but I think we can guess something of the views held by the team behind Woman's Hour at least because of the four guests invited to celebrate her BBC career on her final edition - Baroness Helena Kennedy, Harriet Harman MP, Jude Kelly and poet Jackie Kay. All are left-wing, two are Labour Party parliamentarians. That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Anyhow, good luck to her in her retirement. If she is retiring.

A Riot of Sunlight


GWR 6412 heading for Totnes in July sunshine in 2016

The poet Derek Mahon died this week

The BBC quotes the BBC's lachrymose-tolerant Fergal Keane as describing his death as a "terrible loss" and calling him "a master whose words reached me at the darkest moments of life".

Well, this is probably the recent poem he's best known for (well, by me anyhow), and I'm finding it rather uplifting at the moment too. So I thought I'd share it with you. 

So batten down the emotional hatches and don your rational Sou'westers, and look out for that sunshine (if you can):

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Thursday 1 October 2020

Sea Change

 Obviously, someone had to flag this up so it might as well be me. At last, the Conservatives are showing some fight in the culture war

A beautiful noise rang out last week in the wake of the news that the government is considering Charles Moore to become the new chairman of the BBC and Paul Dacre to be the head of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. The noise was the sound of the British left wailing that toys they thought were theirs alone might now (under a Conservative government) finally go to identifiable conservatives.

The former editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger shrieked that ‘this is what an oligarchy looks like’. This and similar tweets were presumably sent from the lodgings of the Oxford college that Rusbridger was made principal of five years ago. Others who screamed themselves sick included BBC employees who briefed that Moore’s appointment ‘would shatter morale. People will leave.’ For there can be no greater way to refute accusations of institutional leftism in the BBC than for the corporation’s employees to threaten to resign en masse in response to a conservative appointment. Elsewhere, Have I Got News For You tweeted that this would be the end for the   BBC. Which is as funny a joke as that show has mustered in the present century.


In case you missed it, Abdel Bari Atwan, the BBC’s favourite political pundit and popular guest on Dateline London offers the Arab world some wise advice on the best strategy for ’victory’: “Terrorism”.

Senior Palestinian-British Journalist: The Taliban Showed That Terror Attacks Are The Way To Defeat The West; The Israel-Bahrain-UAE Agreements May Turn The Palestinians Back To This Path


On the bright side, I have noticed a sea change within the centre-right media/blogosphere or whatever you like to call it.

Not so long ago any Israel-related opinion piece would attract a heavy proportion of negative comments - anti-Israel bordering on antisemitic. But in recent times - probably only a few months, there has been a swing. Now I sense a supportive majority. At last, people have started to get it.