Thursday 31 December 2020

11pm Brexit Hour, New Years Eve 2020

Well, it says it all.

The websites of the Sky News and ITV News made the upcoming, historic 11pm break from the EU their lead stories in the run-up to 11pm. The BBC News website kept the story in fourth place. 

Typically sour from the BBC. 

11pm strikes. History is made. The BBC moves the story to first place.

ITV (at 11.07pm) goes with Big Ben bonging and a picture of Downing Street: 
Sky  (at 11.08pm) goes with Big Ben and a new chapter:
And the BBC (at 11.09 pm) goes with a police van and a police officer talking to a lorry driver stopped at the border and talk of 'separation':
I rest my case, M'lud. The BBC has surpassed itself. 

And with that, good night, cheers and a Happy New Year from snowy Morecambe!

Update (11.40pm): Still up. The BBC has just changed its picture:

Happy New Year again!



Meanwhile, over on BBC One, the BBC News at Six's Reeta gave us this cheery (fourth-place) headline:

The end of a nearly 50 year marriage. At 11pm tonight, the UK leaves the trading bloc of the EU.

Ah, yes. We all love a wedding. We all admire long marriages. We're not so positive about divorces. What a headline!

It later became:

At 11 o'clock tonight, the United Kingdom will complete its transition from the European Union's single market and customs union - bringing an end to a partnership that lasted almost 50 years. 

We all like the idea of partnerships. And now this one's now no more. 

It's all so sad! I don't think Jane Garvey will be seeing too many empty champagne bottles strewn around Broadcasting House tonight, unlike in 1997. (Maybe the odd vodka or absinthe bottle?).


And what came next? 

The BBC's Alex Forsyth reviewing in fast forward the past 4+ years (starting, in true BBC/Remain style, with that bus with the £350m for the NHS slogan they think sums up the Leave campaign), and then  came her first 'talking head' - a butterfly farmer in Stratford-upon-Avon who exports butterflies to the EU, who doesn't like the "uncertainty" and whose opening words are "This Brexit malarkey". 

Then came a clip of Hilary Benn railing against Brexit, followed by two more 'talking heads': pro-Brexit Iain Duncan Smith and anti-Brexit Hilary Benn (again). 

Alex ended with:

The ports and borders may be the first to feel the impact in coming days and weeks ['impact' implying something negative hitting you]  but whether time for rejoicing [positive], regret [negative] or resignation [negative] this is the start of a wider change in our relationship with those across the Channel. Alex Forsyth, BBC News.

Yes, really


I was curious to see, with just a few hours left till the Brexit transition period ends, quite how BBC Radio 4's Six O'Clock News would mark the approaching momentous moment. 

Would they opt for a positive angle, a neutral angle or a negative angle? 

I expected negative of course, and got it:

As the Brexit transition period comes to an end tonight, those trading goods between the UK and the EU are looking nervously to the future. The trade deal with the EU, which has signed into law last night, ensures there will be no tariffs or quotas but many businesses and hauliers are concerned that they will have to file new paperwork. Our transport correspondent Caroline Davies has been talking to some of them some of them. [Ed - Of course she has!]

Let's remember this moment too: 

This is how BBC Radio 4 chose to mark this historic day - by sticking with what it's been doing, relentlessly, for four and a half very long years, and focusing only on the negative side as far as Brexit is concerned.  

Emily Maitlis scores a hattrick


I wonder if Emily Maitlis now tops the charts for most 'Upheld' complaints over the past couple of years as far as the BBC goes? 

(Maybe she's aiming to get into the Guinness Book of Records?)

In September 2019 the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit upheld a complaint against her for her "sneering and bullying...persistent and personal" interview with Rod Liddle. 

In May 2020 the BBC found her to be in breach of their impartiality guidelines again over her (in)famous Newsnight Dominic Cummings monologue. 

And in December 2020 - on Christmas Eve to be precise (sneaked out the day before Christmas, when the Brexit deal was agreed and major new Covid lockdown measures announced, some nine months on from the original programme) - the BBC released their latest ruling against Emily Maitlis for her March 2020 documentary, Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story

Remarkably, they cleared her over impartiality but ruled against her over accuracy.

The News-watch complaint itself ran as follows:
This programme set out to explore the career, character and thinking of Dominic Cummings, with contributions from a range of critics and admirers. A viewer complained that the programme overall was biased against Mr Cummings (lacking “sufficient balancing opinion”), and gave the impression “That he was prepared to be recklessly violent towards political opponents; that he had ‘tribalist’ ‘neo fascist’ prejudice against Muslims; and that he was a liar who grossly misrepresented statistics in order to further his political aims”. The ECU considered the complaint in the light of the BBC’s editorial standards of impartiality and accuracy.
And this is the ruling against Emily Maitlis:
The attribution of prejudice against Muslims related to a sequence which included the following quotation from a paper entitled “How Demographic Decline and its financial consequences will sink the European Dream” published by a think tank directed by Mr Cummings: “The consequences of economic stagnation coinciding with rising Muslim immigration cannot fill anyone familiar with European history with anything other than a sense of apprehension, at least, about the future of the Continent”. The ECU agreed that, in the context of this sequence, the quotation tended to support the impression complained of. In the think tank paper the quotation stood in a context which pointed to Europe’s relative difficulty in integrating immigrants, rather than anything connected with Islam, as the source of tension, and the paper itself concluded “There is little reason to be optimistic about Europe’s capacity to avoid a growth of extremist political activity, or its desire to avoid the traditional response of polities in crisis – blaming foreigners”. In the ECU’s judgement, the quotation would have conveyed a different impression in the programme if more had been done to reflect its original context. As this risked misleading viewers, there was a breach of the BBC’s standards of accuracy, and this aspect of the complaint was upheld.

The BBC is notoriously poor at making concessions over such things, and now Emily Maitlis's failings have forced the BBC into admitting that its critics were right three times in the last year and a bit alone. You'd think they might take action.

Fear not though, if you're worried for Emily. I'm sure - as usual - that the full force of the BBC won't fall on her head and that she'll be allowed to carry on regardless. She's a world record to win after all. You go girl!

The Beauties - BBC Bias à propos US Politics


A Guest Post by Arthur T 

I have made the point recently that the BBC’s news gathering and broadcast is more biased in the US than in the UK. From top to bottom, the BBC have allowed their dislike of President Trump to pervade every pore of news reporting as they seek to ridicule him. Jon Sopel just couldn’t wait to label his nemesis ‘loser’ as the BBC declared Biden victorious in the November 3rd Presidential Election. 

The above screenshot from the other day has replaced the US Election feature on the BBC News website US and Canada pages. What caught my eye was the Sopel and Maitlis Americast: Review of 2020. I thought ITBBCB? might review Sopel and Maitlis’s podcasts, one in particular: 'Hunter Biden’s Laptop, Why the media isn’t covering a story Trump wants them to’, a podcast from 21st October - just two weeks before polling day. Craig has very kindly made a transcript:

Jon Sopel: Let's go onto the topic of conversation that Donald Trump would love to be talking about. It's a complicated story, but it seems that someone got hold of a laptop allegedly containing emails written by Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden's laptop, which apparently he had taken in for service. He had forgotten about it. Owner of the shop looks at it, thinks 'Oh, those are interesting emails', sees if the FBI are interested, they're not, and it ends up in the hands of Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and in the hands of Steve Bannon, former campaign director at the last election. And they have touted it around. They have tried to give it to Fox News. Fox weren't interested. Then it ends up being published by The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper. And the suggestion, I think, at the most is there may have been a meeting organised between Hunter Biden, who was then a director of this Ukrainian energy company Burisma and his father Joe Biden, then the vice-president, to meet a couple of the executives. But it is a screenshot that has been taken. And the reason a lot of people are very suspicious about this is that no one's actually examined the hard drive to see whether the screenshot has been doctored in any way. And so that it why a lot of news organisations have been treating this story with suspicion. It ain't Hillary Clinton's email investigation of four years ago when the FBI announced two weeks before polling that they are investigating her. This is a laptop that has kind of washed up and, you know, it looks may all be genuine but it looks like it's dirty tricks as well. 

Emily Maitlis: But the interesting thing is, you said that Fox News wouldn't cover the story but Fox & Friends, the chat show, did talk to the President about this because this is fertile ground, as Sopes said, for him and they said, "What are you going to do?", and he said, "I think we ought to get the Attorney-General William Barr and ask him to investigate". Now that is an extraordinary step, you know. Just think about that in sort of political overreach terms. You're actually going to get the Attorney-General to investigate Hunter Biden,...

Jon Sopel: For corruption.

Emily Maitlis: ...your opponent's son, for corruption. Let's not forget, the last time Donald Trump asked somebody to investigate Hunter Biden for corruption it was the Ukrainian government, and it got him into the impeachment scenario. So this is something that you kind of, you does sort of make you think it's a whole different league of playing politics. And really the cards are on Bill Barr, who has not shown himself to have an enormous spine in standing up to this president, and to see how far he will go in playing this game.

Jon Sopel: Well, I thought there was a fascinating moment where Donald Trump is on the tarmac, he's about to go off to one of his rallies, he's about to board the plane, and Jeff Mason, who's a very well respected agency reporter who covers the White House beat, asks the President about the allegations and calling for a corruption investigation and this is what Donald Trump said: 

Jeff Mason: Your campaign strategy seems to be to call Biden a criminal. Why is that?

Donald Trump: He is a criminal. He's a criminal. He got caught. Read his laptop. And you know who is a criminal here? You're a criminal for not reporting it. You are a criminal for not reporting it. Let me tell you something, Joe Biden is a criminal and he's been a criminal for a long time, and you're a criminal and the media for not reporting it.

So, you guess, a real sense of the President's mood that he thought that they had gold dust. Interestingly, this occurred last week. That's when the story broke in The New York Post. And it was the night of the duelling townhalls, where we did the podcast afterwards, and Donald Trump didn't mention it once, as if to suggest that Donald Trump didn't really believe quite what was being reported. But here you have the White House correspondent for Reuters being accused of being a criminal because he obviously has doubts about the veracity of the story of this laptop and how it came to be in the hands of Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon.

Emily Maitlis: The Zurch, do you think that if it was flipped more papers would be picking this up? If it was a story about Trump would more papers be more inclined to be latching onto this? I mean, that's obviously his allegation in that clip, so maybe we should, you know, air it and we should analyse it?

Anthony Zurcher: Giuliani definitely shopped it around before he ended up with  The New York Post. And I think there were some legitimate concerns, as you mentioned, from even outlets like Fox News about where this laptop came from and the story behind it. Obviously, back in 2016 The New York Times had no problems and media outlets had no problems poring over the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign team and reporting on them. So in that case it was flipped and we saw what happened. I think maybe this time around there's a little more reluctance on the part of mainstream outlets to run with things that are of questionable sourcing. And there are a couple of things, as you pointed out, in these emails - if they are legitimate - that raise some questions. The one about the Ukrainian businessman thanking Hunter Biden for the opportunity to meet Hunter Biden's father. Of course, that could just have been a handshake at a public event. The Biden campaign has denied that there is anything on the official schedule for it. And then there was another one, a 2017 email where a Chinese associate was paying money to Hunter Biden's company and a business associate of Hunter Biden's said that $10m was going to be set aside, given to Hunter Biden for The Big Guy. And Fox News said that The Big Guy was Joe Biden. So the question is: Did Joe Biden get any money from that business deal? But then again, you know, Donald Trump has clear business dealings with China, we've learned from the The New York Times a bank account in China, so I don't know if the attacks that we see from the Trump side are going to be able to strike home here. It will come up in the debate though, I'm sure of it. 

Jon Sopel: Oh, I'm sure. The debate is going to dominated. I would think that Donald Trump is going to go on and on about this, because that way it will have to be picked up by network news bulletins in a way that the allegations haven't been hitherto. Donald Trump's calculation will be, look, if I talk about the border wall or I talk about whatever it happens to be it's not going to get much purchase. If I want the subject to be Hunter Biden, Burisma, corruption, his father, the best way to do that is, you know, saturate bombing the debate with these allegations. And I think the Biden campaign will be thinking long and hard about what the response should be in the debate to all of that. Does he get drawn into this debate or does he try and make a brief statement and move on? It's tricky. Tricky for Biden.

Anthony Zurcher; And I want to drive home the point, right now there's no evidence that Joe Biden did anything untoward, either in his dealings with Ukraine or in his dealings with China. Although I think it's clear that - it's something we knew before but we know again if we take this laptop at face value - it's clear that Hunter Biden was capitalising on his connections to power and his last name in order to sign business deals, which, unfortunately, in Washington is kind of an age-old tradition, and it is certainly not limited just to Hunter Biden.   

Emily Maitlis: I think you could probably say it's really inclusive of the Administration itself, could you?

Anthony Zurcher: Yeah. I think that's safe to say. Yes. 

The tone throughout is to make light of the laptop story - passing it off as unimportant. Zurcher in particular asserts that ‘there's no evidence that Joe Biden did anything untoward, either in his dealings with Ukraine or in his dealings with China.’ He offers no supporting evidence for this point of view, and neither does he offer any evidence for his claim ‘in Washington is kind of an age-old tradition, and it is certainly not limited just to Hunter Biden.

Emily Maitlis: I think you could probably say it's really inclusive of the Administration itself, could you?

Anthony Zurcher: Yeah. I think that's safe to say. Yes.

In two short sentences he absolves Biden of blame and accuses POTUS of corruption. That’s BBC bias pure and simple, coupled with a loathing for President Trump. As we know, Zurcher, Sopel and Bryant get nowhere near the White House. Most broadcasts are from the pavements of DC far enough away to know only what they are fed through US MSM channels. 

James Delingpole in TCW and now Josh Glancy The Times’ Washington Reporter have finally broken ranks and admit to believing that the laptop story was by no means trivial, but in fact crucially important.

Agenda? What agenda?


There was a discussion on the old open thread yesterday about last night's BBC News Channel seemingly pushing the 'The Government is not acting fast enough or hard enough' line over coronavirus. 

Looking back (with the help of TV Eyes), yes, there was Laura Kuenssberg asking Boris Johnson what she's been asking him and others at the Downing Street briefings incessantly in recent weeks: 

Laura Kuenssberg: Many children now won't be back at school this time next week, more people are going to be living under the limits near lockdown, ambulances are queueing outside hospitals and there are more daily coronavirus cases than at any point. Hasn't the government again just been too slow?

And that was soon followed by a BBC-BBC discussion along similar lines:

George Alagiah: Vicki, I read somewhere that now three quarters of the population is under either tiers 3 or 4. I mean, that is going to open up the accusation that, yet again, the Prime Minister has acted too late? 

Vicki Young: Yes.

Go back a week earlier, to the moments before a previous Downing Street briefing (23 December), and here's BBC health correspondent Catherine Burns:

Katherine Da CostaThat is the concern about getting on top of it now. And experts have always advised that with a pandemic it is better to go in quickly, act fast, be proactive rather than reactive. And that has been a criticism of the government, that it was too slow to go into lockdown back in the spring, and then again into the autumn. And that is why the pressure was ramping up about restrictions over Christmas, that they felt that originally it was going to be five days of mixing with household bubbles, that has obviously now been reduced to one day for lower level tiers. And even now some experts saying, don't wait until Boxing Day to bring in tighter restrictions, it is going up too quickly, to get it under control, you need to do something sooner rather than later. 



I'd tie this into something related. I almost posted  this on Monday, but will post now instead, so please see what you make of it:

Monday's The World at One began with Jonny Dymond saying:

The Government still plans to re-open schools in England next week. 

My ears pricked up. That sounded to me like one of those uses of "still" which imply that the Government is being stubborn.  

Jonny continued:

But will the new variant coronavirus force its hand?

Advocacy? The BBC pushing the ''The Government is not acting fast enough or hard enough' line again, and pushing for schools in England to remain closed? Or not advocacy, merely posing questions?  It would be hard to rule definitively from that, but not perhaps from what came later:

Jonny Dymond: The problem is pretty simple. For all the preparations that teachers have made over the past six months,  children at school mix pretty freely and transfer the virus to each other. Chuck in the understanding that the new variant of the virus is as popular with teenagers as it is with older folk and you can see why in regions with hospitals already straining giving transmission a helping hand looks a pretty curious way forward

And what about this?:

The staggered return with testing was mandated before the Government knew of the power of the new variant, before family Christmases were cancelled, before nearly half the UK ended up in near lockdown. Given the fast-moving circumstances, should the plan change once again?

Or this?:

How do you feel about this at the moment? At the prospect of hundreds of thousands of transmissible children, if you will, returning to schools in a week's time?

Monday 28 December 2020

The Christmas Open Thread


It's beginning to feel a lot like time for a new open thread  

Thank you for your comments and Merry Christmas! 

Who to believe?


Erasmus, as per Hans Holbein the Younger

A recent piece on the BBC News website headlined  Erasmus: What could happen to the scheme after Brexit? and written by BBC Reality Check's Anthony Reuben has been described today as showing "the BBC's pro-EU bias both blatant & unrestrained...written wholly (& ultra-sympathetically) from the EU viewpoint...Could have been written in Brussels." It certainly only cites pro-Erasmus points, including a House of Lords report that "warned the benefits of the Erasmus programme would be very difficult to replicate with a national programme as the government is planning" and which claimed that "vocational education and training would stop, and that leaving Erasmus would 'disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities'". 

Is this true though? Googling around, I found an LSE post from 2017 by Charlie Cadywould that, while being in support of the UK staying in the Erasmus scheme, does have some issues with it, saying:

It has a real problem reaching people from deprived backgrounds, ethnic minorities, and those who don’t go to university. The scheme has been expanded to include a vocational element, but it represents a miniscule portion of the Erasmus programme, which is still dominated by university students. If we look just at the raw numbers of Brits who participated in Erasmus to study in 2015, 11,981 (86 percent) were enrolled in higher education, compared to 1,943 (14 percent) participating in vocational education or training.

However, while higher education study placements typically lasted for the best part of a year – the average length was 211 days of funded study – vocational learners typically only spent two or three weeks abroad. In fact, when the total number of days funded through Erasmus in 2015 is aggregated, less than 4 percent went to those enrolled in vocational education and training programmes.

Anthony Reuben of the BBC's Reality Check evidently took Baroness Helena Kennedy & Co's word for it that Erasmus disproportionately helps the disadvantaged and has a key vocational element. I think Charlie Cadywould's analysis suggests the reverse is true and that it actually favours "elites" and those attending universities on non-vocational courses. 

Inaccuracies - accidental or deliberate


Fact-checking the BBC might become a new cottage industry. The BBC News website has a daily Covid-19 page. On Christmas Eve they reported on the third national lockdown in Israel and wrote, "The clampdown comes days after Israel began vaccinating the general population against the novel coronavirus." As Hadar at Camera UK notes, Israel has not begun vaccinating the general population, only healthcare workers and over-60s so far. Maybe the BBC should re-focus on getting the basic facts right first?

Of course, when it comes to Israel, inaccuracy isn't always accidental. For example, The Jerusalem Post reports today that Robert Beckford, presenting an edition of the BBC World Service religious affairs programme Heart and Soul called 'Black Jesus' (oh, yes!), repeatedly and anachronistically described Jesus as "a first-century Palestinian Jew", despite Jesus being a Galilean Jew. Mr Beckford was, of course, signalling  his 'radical' position there. 

More reality checks


When Sir Ivan Rogers (former Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union) claimed in 2016 that a final trade deal with the rest of the EU might not be done for 10 years, and might ultimately fail, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg said:

This is perhaps a reality check of just how hard these negotiations might prove


I thought of Sir Ivan again a couple of weeks ago after Edward Stourton popped up on Paddy's Broadcasting House to preview The World This Weekend and announce "a bit of a scoop" - an interview with the elusive Sir Ivan. 

Ed then recalled another of Sir Ivan's predictions - his "warning" two years ago of "an accidental no deal, because the two sides didn't understand one another". 

"Those warnings look very prescient this morning," said Ed Stourton. 


When The World This Weekend arrived Ed described Sir Ivan as "a consistent prophet of the risk of no deal", and here's how their interview began:

Edward Stourton: We're joined now by a man who has been warning us all that a no-deal end to this story was pretty likely, and he's been warning that pretty consistently ever since the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Four years ago this month Sir Ivan Rogers, then Britain's representative at the European Union, warned Theresa May that agreement with the EU could take as long as 10 years and might never be achieved. He resigned after his advice was leaked. And I suppose we'd have to say, Sir Ivan, that you were right.


Sir Ivan replied, "Well, I take no pleasure in saying that." 

Well, I had a feeling that this sycophancy on Edward Stourton's part would come back to bite him, and I take great pleasure in saying that.

John Simpson forgets Morocco

As mentioned by Sisyphus on the open thread, the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson was as factually slipshod as ever yesterday. 

His disapproving take on Donald Trump's foreign policy allowed the President just "one foreign policy success": "getting two Gulf states plus Sudan to recognise Israel". 

John Simpson had obviously forgotten Morocco. 

Incidentally, I wonder if the way he names the two presidents here will be a foretaste of things to come? 

"Donald Trump" - 3
"Joe Biden" - 5
"Trump" - 3
"Biden" - 0

Anyhow, here's a transcript:

Joe Biden: America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it. Once again at the head of the table. 
John Simpson: Now that Joe Biden is about to take over the White House and Donald Trump's moving out, governments right around the world are heaving sighs of relief. I'm not actually walking into the real Oval Office! This is an exact replica in a Norfolk film studio much used by Hollywood movies. But when Joe Biden sits at that desk for the first time, he's going to be taking charge of a country whose standing in the world hasn't been as low as this in decades. Right around the world there are fences to be mended and alliances to be built up again. 
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador toe the UN nominee: America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back. 
John Simpson: That means taking the lead in NATO again after four years of complaints about other members plus threats to cut America's contributions. And another major priority, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, which Donald Trump said damaged American interests. Joe Biden hopes to revive the nuclear agreement with Iran, which Trump tried to kill off. Iran, the big European countries and Britain are all enthusiastic. Trump's one foreign policy success was getting two Gulf states plus Sudan to recognise Israel. Trump sided strongly with the Israelis and cut aid to the Palestinians. How easy will it be for Joe Biden to be able to change this? Even more important for him is how he'll approach Russia. The Russians meddled in the 2016 US election and seems to have hacked into some of America's most fundamental secrets. 
Anthony Gardner, former US Ambassador to the EU: There's a lot of unfinished business with Russia. I think together with the UK and Europe we'll have to again sit down and decide what kind of serious signals do we send to Russia that its behaviour must indeed change. We have at max four years, probably two years, to really do things together with our allies. 
John Simpson: And there is the most complex problem of all, China. What should Joe Biden's approach be? 
Senator Chris Coons, US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Work with China. Compete with them in a persistent and forceful and effective way. Be prepared in the event there is conflict, but always be willing to cooperate with China on some critical issues that are right before us like combating global climate change, dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. 
John Simpson: At 78, time isn't exactly on Joe Biden's side. But for the outside world, he has one huge advantage. He isn't Donald Trump.



How fascinating that Her Majesty the Queen's 2020 Christmas message beat everything else to win the annual Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (Barb) ratings prize on Christmas Day! 

Though she crossed channels, on the BBC figures alone Good Queen Elizabeth beat Call the Midwife, the revived Blankety Blank, Strictly Come Dancing and Michael McIntyre's The Wheel by almost a million viewers. 

The licence-fee-funded BBC claimed victory over its commercial rivals though because it got all the the non-royal top spots, with ITV's Coronation Street coming into sixth. 

Alas for the BBC though, former Christmas ratings giant Eastenders fell behind ITV's Emmerdale - and even behind the BBC programme BBC defenders are allowed to hate: Mrs Brown's Boys

Still, here's Kate Phillips, the acting controller of BBC One, crowing about the ratings:
BBC One had the most popular show on Christmas Day as audiences escaped to Poplar for the Call the Midwife special. 
I’m really proud of the range and quality of programmes we’ve shown across this special day. BBC One entertained the nation and provided something for everyone to enjoy after a particularly difficult year.
Don't forget though Kate. "Everyone" didn't watch your channel. 

Far from it in fact: All the four non-royal BBC programmes in the Top 5 ranged between 5.43 million and 4.66 million - under 10% of the UK population. Back in 1986 Eastenders on Christmas Day claimed 30.15 million viewers. Is 5.43 million for your top Christmas Day show this year really something to crow about, Kate?

Oddly, because of family circumstances, I did watch The Wheel and Blankety Blank. (I know!)

Not news


One of the 'big' BBC-related stories this weekend was that an as-close-to-zero-as-an-infinitesimal-number-of-people-can-ever-get-without-actually-being-zero out of a near-70 million UK population - a vanishingly small number of people with far, far too much time on their hands - complained about there having been no black choristers in the 13-strong choir during the annual live BBC King's College Cambridge Christmas Eve carol service. And, thus, a complete non-story became a story.

Limited speculation


The BBC was reporting yesterday that seven people have been killed in a knife attack in Kaiyuan in China's north-eastern Liaoning province. The BBC report says that "the motive remains unclear" and adds:

Violent crime is relatively rare in China, but the country has seen unrelated knife attacks in recent years. They have usually been carried out by people living with mental illness, or seeking revenge against officials or individuals known to them.

Hmm, in their hasty speculation there have they deliberately 'forgotten' the  2014 Kunming terrorist attack already? Called "China's 9/11", that was a coordinated knife rampage carried out at a train station by a group of Muslim Uighur separatists and resulted in 31 innocent deaths and 143 being injured.  

Of course, it probably doesn't have anything to do with that, but if a news organisation is going to speculate (as the BBC did here), why omit it? It's not as if China's relationship with Xinjiang isn't in the news at the moment. Since that atrocity, China has since carried out horrific repression against the Uighurs on a scale not seen in the country for decades. 

A curious historical fact, incidentally: remote Kaiyuan was the Manchurian birthplace of Sheng Shicai, the pro-Soviet warlord who ruled Xinjiang with a Stalin-like grip from 1933 to 1944. With Soviet help, he 'purged' - i.e. murdered - up to 100,000 people, mainly Uighurs, following an Islamic uprising. The odd thing is that Sheng fled to Taiwan with the Kuomintang in 1949 after the communist takeover and  lived there in comfortable retirement until 1970. Killing Mao's brother during the Second World War after the Soviets turned on him probably helped make his mind up.

A "great spy"


RowZ was most definitely kidding us not on the open thread the other day when he pointed out that on Boxing Day on the BBC News Channel Ben Brown ended an obituary with the words "That great spy, George Blake":

Thank you so much for talking to us about that great spy, George Blake. And an extraordinary life. 

Hmm, I'd have said "infamous traitor" rather than "great spy". 

Checking TV Eyes, I see that the BBC News Channel throughout that day had been using the word-for-word formulation, "Russia gave him medals and much praise but, to Britain, he is the Cold War traitor who escaped justice." Very even-handed!

Sunday 27 December 2020

After four years of fraught negotiations and as the deal was about to be announced...


Tim Shipman's long Sunday Times piece today describes the big day at Downing Street, in which the BBC apparently had a truly surreal walk-on part:

Johnson got a good night’s sleep and got up for a run with his dog Dilyn. But he began to lose patience. A senior figure at the BBC spoke to No 10, urging it not to announce the deal during the broadcast of the corporation’s big Christmas Eve film, Kung Fu Panda. About 12.30pm Johnson spoke again to von der Leyen and said: “We really need to get this over the line now. We’ve got to get Frosty and his team home for Christmas.” An hour later Frost WhatsApped the prime minister to say: “I think we’ve got there.”  
Johnson called and said: “Go and close it out.” Twenty minutes later there was a video call with von der Leyen. Johnson asked: “So do we have a deal, Ursula?” She replied: “Yes, we do.” Downing Street staff at the back of the room burst into spontaneous applause.

Saturday 26 December 2020

Chris Morris Day continues...

Sticking with the BBC's Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris...

I'm reviewing his performances on the BBC News Channel on Christmas Eve and have come to the bits where he responded to the two press conferences announcing the EU/UK deal - the first from the EU, the second from the UK government. 

Both performances absolutely epitomise the BBC's reporting of the two sides over the past four and a half years.

After the EU press conference, the BBC presenter and Chris Morris reviewed what Michel Barnier and Ursula von der Leyen said. 

Words like "interesting", "fact", and "highlighted" were deployed, along with several uses of "said". 

Their remarks were presented without criticism, or countering points, or distancing words. It was all very respectful. 

Then Chris belittled concerns about fishing.

In contrast...

After the UK press conference, the BBC presenter reintroduced Chris Morris with the words, "I want to speak to Chris Morris, who has been sitting with me listening to those news conferences, and listening to Boris Johnson in particular, and was quite keen to just pick up on a few of the things that you heard". 

Guess what happened next? What precisely was it that Chris Morris was "quite keen" to say?

Yes, the BBC's reality checker-in-chief launched straight into 'reality checking' Boris Johnson, picking up on something the UK PM said and disagreed with it. The phrases "ignores the fact" was quickly deployed. 

A long litany of negative points about what Brexit means the UK then followed, plus more "I'm not quite clear where the argument comes" towards positive claims about the post-Brexit future. 

Then came more negative stuff about what we'll be losing regarding access to EU crime databases. 

And then, to conclude, "I think both sides will try as hard as they can to move towards a situation which suits both of them. Obviously, as much cooperation as possible but it won't be quite the same as being inside the tent." 

There's not a doubt in my head that Chris Morris wishes we were still "inside the tent". His entire reporting leaves no room for doubt about that.

Feel free to mention Sherlock, and bears in woods, and the exact faith of popes...



Just to end today's string of Chris Morris posts, here's a complete transcript of one of the BBC Reality Check chief correspondent's contributions to the BBC News Channel on the morning of Christmas Eve. It oozes bias:

Unreal predictions

Or what Chris Morris got wrong....

Ben Cobley, author of The Tribe, made a good point this morning on Twitter:
The world would be a much better, saner place if we all had our predictions replayed back to us every now and then. Predictions are a way of expressing our preferences while sounding knowledgeable. For elites, they are a way of standing ahead of others, pre-empting us.
Let's test that on the BBC's chief reality check correspondent, Chris Morris. 


This is a BBC News website article he wrote dated 5 December 2019, just prior to the last year's general election. 

It began in classic BBC Reality Check mode, debunking a Conservative minister and saying he is factually wrong:
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has said there was not "a single doubt" in his mind that the UK would "have agreed and finalised a very ambitious deep and comprehensive trade deal" with the European Union (EU) before the end of next year. 

That's when a post-Brexit transition period is due to come to an end. 

""Because there's already an agreement, there's already an agreement in principle. It's there," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 

But this is not the case.
The BBC's reality checker-in-chief continued with a classic bit of BBC finger-wagging against Brexiteers:
While "Get Brexit Done" may be a good campaign slogan, slogans don't make trade agreements. 
Later in this same article, however, Chris Morris moved from ruling on reality in 2019 to predicting reality in 2020, and wrote: 
Ratifying any agreement before the end of next year would take several months, so the negotiations themselves would need to be completed by the summer.
Doesn't he "sound knowledgeable" there?

Now though we can rule on him and say: 

But that was not the case. 

Negotiations were actually completed at the start of winter 2020 (Christmas Eve) and ratification now looks very likely to follow very swiftly, most probably in several days or a very few weeks, not several months.


Let's continue with another article from 2019, this one from November:
One other thing: as well as negotiating with the EU, the UK would also need to sign up to a series of trade agreements round the world to replace those it has as part of the EU.

All of that could take up most of the next decade. It won't be done when the UK leaves the EU - it will only just have begun.

Wrong again. By Christmas Eve 2020 the UK had secured trade deals with 61 countries plus the EU

This seems to me to perfectly illustrate Ben's point that "predictions are a way of expressing our preferences while sounding knowledgeable". 

The BBC's Chris Morris's surely got this so badly wrong because he wanted to believe it would be painfully hard for the UK to sign up to trade deals around the world, and that is down to his feelings about Brexit.

Boxing Day matters


Hope you had a lovely Christmas Day. Thank you for keeping the blog so well-fed with comments. There's been a lot going on, hasn't there?


1. Yes, BBC newsreaders on BBC Radio 4 really are repeatedly saying "France has confirmed its first case of the new variant of coronavirus which originated in the UK" this morning - which is poorly-worded at best, and 'fake news' at worst. The BBC has previously acknowledged that the variant may well have originated outside the UK and merely been detected here first by our well-equipped scientists. At least they're not calling it "the English virus"...yet.

2. Watching the BBC Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris making countless appearance on the BBC News Channel on Christmas Eve made me think of 'Why the long face?' jokes, usually made about horses. Chris had a long face on all day. After all his endless scaremongering 'on behalf of reality' over the years, here was the thing he had been so relentless down on for years coming to fruition, against all his gloomy predictions. Never was a long face more easily explained. His misery later got translated into a very negative piece on the BBC News website containing plenty more gloom. He's still carrying on regardless, and will be allowed to do so by the BBC.

3. I read recently that June Sarpong OBE, the BBC's part-time diversity chief, has recently been made a trustee of the Donmar Warehouse. Her irresistible, seemingly limitless rise continues. Despite that she's talking about "the unfairness baked into our system" in Daily Telegraph today and using the highly divisive phrase "white privilege": 

I don’t for a single second say that all white people are privileged. Of course not. But there are benefits even if you come from a low income and you’re white. You’re never judged on your race. You may be discriminated against because of class, you may be discriminated against because of your age, you may be discriminated against because of gender, size, etc, but you will never be discriminated against because of your race and that in itself feeds into the concept of white privilege.

Bring on the satirists! 

4. Lewis Hamilton is guest-editing Radio 4's Today today. and talking 'race' as much as 'races'. Even former ITN stalwart Alastair Stewart, a massive fan of Lewis, has his reservations though:
On the big issue of black history, I'd have preferred to hear Lewis Hamilton challenged by a critic, than in conversation with the like minded David Olusoga. He could easily have dealt with it. 

5. Returning to the theme of an earlier post which listed the recent questions put by BBC Politics reporters at the Downing Street press conferences and found that they were remarkably consistent in the pushing the 'The Government is not acting fast enough or hard enough' line over coronavirus, well, the last one before Christmas brought a double dose of that from BBC political correspondent Leila Nathoo. This is what she asked Matt Hancock & Co:

23 Dec: LEILA NATHOO, BBC: You've just said when it comes to coronavirus that it's better to act sooner but the Prime Minister said on Saturday that the new strain was present across the country, your chief scientific advisor said on Monday that it wasn't possible to stop it spreading beyond the South East. and you're only announcing today the widening of Tier 4 within the South East and East of England and only from Boxing Day. Haven't you wasted valuable time in trying to get ahead of the new strain of the virus? And if I may to Dr Harries, you talked about yet another more transmissible strain being identified from South Africa. How confident are you that the new four-tier system is strong enough to tackle that?

Wonder how many tiers would satisfy the BBC? 

One year ago today...

It's a year ago to this very day that Charles Moore, under the headline It’s the BBC that is in need of a Reality Check, took a scalpel to the pronouncements of the BBC's Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris. 

Lord Moore wrote this last Boxing Day:
One of the minor agonies of the Brexit process since 2016 has been the existence of the BBC’s Reality Check, usually presented by Chris Morris. Rather than arguing the issue with political leaders, Morris gives ex-cathedra pronouncements on where the truth lies, which are then unquestioningly accepted by his flock of fellow-BBC staff. Funnily enough, his version of reality seems always to coincide with the view from Brussels.
He then related a specific example from Christmas Day 2019's Today programme:
On the Today programme yesterday, Morris was asked by a deferential Mishal Husain to pronounce on whether “Get Brexit done” was misleading. He said, in essence, that it was. He complained that the slogan gave the “impression” that everything would be settled by 31 January 2020, whereas in fact the Tory “rush” for a trade agreement by December 2020 was itself unrealistic.
As so often, Charles Moore (who would have made a great BBC chairman) summed it up beautifully:
When (and before) Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, BBC experts kept telling us that the EU would never reopen negotiations or offer Britain better terms than those they had given Mrs May. Yet they did, very quickly.
Yes, BBC journalists have been at least as bad as any other 'experts' in predicting the future. 

My favourite example was Katya Adler in October 2019 saying that there was "a vanishingly small likelihood of a [withdrawal] deal" just days before that very deal was agreed. And she made her reality-defying prediction with such a swagger of confidence that it made me wonder if she could ever be taken seriously again. 

She said:
Nobody wants to be the one that says it's not going to happen. But it's not going to happen. Maybe, maybe, there is a 0.0000-0.3% chance that it will happen.
The current proposals on the table are not acceptable to the EU, full stop. Let's be honest about that. The chances of getting a deal now, between now and the EU leader's summit is zero, let's be honest.
Of course, she was taken seriously again because no BBC people ever pointed this out to her and she never publicly acknowledged how wrong she'd got it. Her own ex-cathedra pronouncements on where the truth lies continued to be unquestioningly accepted by her flock of fellow-BBC staff. And, just as funnily enough, her version of reality also always seemed to coincide with the view from Brussels.

Both Chris Morris and Katya Adler were in action last week, carrying on regardless.

"Let man and beast appear before him and magnify his name together"


I'm not sure if anyone could go there this Christmas, but if you did go to St. Mary's Church, Iffley in Oxfordshire you would find the Nativity Window, designed by John Piper, and fabricated by David Wasley. 

COCK - Christus natus est (Christ is born)
GOOSE - Quando? Quando? (When? When?)
CROW - In hac nocte (On this night)
OWL - Ubi? Ubi? (Where? where?)
LAMB - Bethlehem! Bethlehem!

The cock's on top of the world because he's escaped from a medieval story / carol ultimately starting with St Stephen but transforming over time into a tale of two dining men, one of whom begins bragging while carving the fowl. He says he'll do it so thoroughly that "not Peter nor our Lord Himself could put it together again". Big mistake to brag in a medieval story!: The cock got his feathers back and began crowing, and both men became lepers. (What a heartwarming Christmas tale!) 

What's even more fun is the if you read the Latin words spoken by the animals they resemble the noises the creatures themselves make.

Thursday 24 December 2020



Shayan Sardarizadeh, a BBC journalist investigating online disinformation, who covers fake news and disinformation for BBC Monitoring, BBC World Service and BBC News alongside Marianna Spring and Mike Wendling, tweeted the following 'breaking news' overnight:

One commenter replied that this isn't actually a new video, and a moment's Googling confirms that. This very video was posted on YouTube on 18 December 2018 and is still on there, beginning with the words Shayan quotes:

Wonder if Shayan's colleagues will 'reality check' this for him, or will it be left to us online types to point out that this BBC disinformation unit guy is literally spreading fake news, presumably because he couldn't be bothered to check and wanted it to be true?

Sunday 20 December 2020


Just looking back on all the recent questions put by BBC Politics reporters at Downing Street press conferences, I'm spotting a recurring angle. Can you see it too?

19 DecLAURA KUENSSBERGThere were calls for you to drop the plans for Christmas last week, just a few days ago, but on Wednesday you told me and our viewers it would be inhuman to change the plans. Now that is exactly what you have done. Aren't there are millions of people whose plans have just been torn up who are entitled to feel that you have left this too late and caused them more personal disruption and upset by doing so? Can I ask the medics, you have shared the analysis of this new variant and you mentioned Porton Down have been looking at this in an earlier press conference this week. Can you say if Porton Down have completed their assessments of it? Professor Chris Whitty, if someone is packing a bag right now, trying to leave the south-east by midnight tonight, what should they do? 
16 DecLAURA KUENSSBERG: You are telling the country today to exercise extreme caution but you are still allowing a five-day period to go ahead when people from all over the country will be able to get together. Wouldn't it now be safer, clearer, and perhaps braver, to ditch the plan to relax the rules over Christmas? And, Professor Whitty, can I ask you, have you done any modelling of what the impact this period might have on the diseases, and if there are models, can you share what you think the effect of people getting together might be on how the pandemic spreads? 
16 DecVICKI YOUNG: Can I ask you first of all, given the rapid rise we're seeing in certain areas of the country, should you be rethinking plans to relax the rules over Christmas? And a question to Professor Whitty as well, are you comfortable with the plan for Christmas and, secondly, news today or a new variant of coronavirus will sound very alarming to lots of people watching at the moment. Could you tell us a little more about it and some of the possible repercussions there might be from it? 
26 NovLAURA KUENSSBERG: Some people watching might wonder what's going on. You have said this week people will be able to travel all over the country at Christmas which will bring risks but now you are clamping down again. What was the point of the national lockdown in England over the last four weeks if more people are moving into tougher restrictions than before? If I can ask the medics, would it be safer in your view if more people were in Tier 3 and are you concerned about some doubts being raised about the Oxford vaccine?  
5 NovVICKI YOUNG: You criticise political opponents who called for the furlough scheme to be extended and now you've done it. What do you say to those who've lost their jobs because you didn't provide that certainty earlier? And to Sir Simon, NHS staff are again facing huge pressure. Do you think the Government should have had a more cautious approach over the summer about lifting restrictions? 
31 OctLAURA KUENSSBERGYou were told by your own scientists many weeks ago that you would have to take national action in order to save lives. Prime Minister, what took you so long? And to Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick, you've always been clear that taking early action would have the greatest chance of success in controlling the spread of this disease. Do you think that people may have lost their lives unnecessarily because of the delay? 
22 OctLAURA KUENSSBERG: Firstly to you Chancellor. The problems with the first version of your jobs scheme that you've re-written today were obvious to many people in industry from the start. Why do you keep underestimating the help that people really need? Sir Patrick, can I ask you if you agree with Scotland's chief medical officer who's told families there's no question of a normal Christmas and they should plan to celebrate digitally? And Prime Minister, this week you've been to war with leaders in the north of England, you're still leaving some workers on two-thirds of their wages or telling them to claim benefits, and cases of coronavirus keep on rising. Is this really the kind of leadership you think the country deserves?
If you do agree with me that they have both been pushing one angle very strongly, well, they've certainly got their way least as far as Christmas goes.

Saturday 19 December 2020

Nick Bryant sums up the BBC's view of the year


The final From Our Own Correspondent of 2020 ended with an unusually long item by Nick Bryant, the BBC's perma-tanned and opinionated New York correspondent. 

Given its length and placing, it was clearly chosen to represent the BBC 'at its best'.

It strove for effect and I suspect it will be 'award-winning', given its content - and the applause it's already receiving from the usual people. 

I will try to summarise it for you, as it absolutely reeked of BBC bias:  

Nick's mum "called it" early: 2020 "has become a byword for all that was wrong, the worst year ever".
Nick himself thought that the vast bush fires in Australia and "the enormity of the climate emergency" were going to be the big story of 2020, and the start of a new era [a great reset so to speak]. He said the fires were such a catastrophic event that he felt they "would separate 'the past and the future' into 'the before and after'".

But then along came Covid. 

A long passage about how the virus has changed the personal lives of 'people like us' ended with him talking about 'our' "lofty vantage point of privilege" ('us', "the fortunate few") then led to chastising reminders of the plight of the poor and the migrants of New York struggling to put bread on the table and middle class New Yorkers queuing for food parcels. 

[It really is quite insufferable when genuinely privileged people like Nick Bryant put on a righteous, condemnatory tone of voice and take the moral high ground and start lecturing listeners - as if he's smugly appointed himself our conscience, and self-absolved himself by doing so].

And then came this resounding, very FOOC statement:
Just as poverty became a propagator of the pandemic, the pandemic became a propagator of poverty.
That's one of those mighty phrases FOOC writers often come out with, but is it true? 

Take the first clause: In what way was poverty "the propagator of the pandemic"? Surely, it came out of an increasingly affluent China and was spread by "the fortunate few" travelling around the globe?

As for the second clause: It's certainly true that poverty is being propagated - and is likely to 'propagate' a massive amount more as time passes, especially if lockdown continues, widens and deepens - but by what is the propagation being done by? By the pandemic itself? Or by people imposing severe lockdowns?

Anyhow, then Nick Bryant launched into a series of political points, all reflecting the BBC mindset to the very last dotted i and last crossed t. 

He argued that:

(a) The world needs multilateralism not unilateralism. 
(b) Nationalism is "myopic". 
(c) The United Nations has been "sidelined" by the major powers (a bad thing).
(d) The World Health Organisation has been "ensnared" in politically-motivated criticism (also a bad thing).

Then came a particularly striking passage: 

He said that "a strong body of evidence" suggests that countries run by female leaders (Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern, etc) handled the crisis "more expertly" (no one every mentions Belgium when that claim is made), and then said this:
By contrast countries governed by presidents and prime ministers who surfed the populist wave with a macho swagger often did poorly.

He openly named "Donald Trump's America, Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil and Boris Johnson's Britain" as his three examples of such "macho" swaggering populist surfers, then sneering:

The virus could not be sloganed away.

It's a way of thinking many share, and many don't. Quite why licence fee payers who fall into the latter camp should have to stump up for his opinions (or prejudices) is an obvious question. 

He later returned to the Trump theme, saying that the Trump administration's management of the outbreak...:

...may come to be seen as the most catastrophic domestic policy failure of the past 100 years.

He then claimed that Covid exposed "two duelling realities" in America, "one based in fact, the other in scienceless fiction" [a very binary, black-and-white view of things, don't you think?]

And on it went, though China's Xi being mean to Australia and misinformation being "the scourge of the online world", till Nick ended by talking about his new baby daughter, born amid "anti-racist protests" and the joy this has brought him.

So - award please! - he's now full of "intense and conflicted emotions of dread and fear and joy", of memories for those who have lost their lives of feelings of being "thankful for the magic of new life and grateful for making it to the end".

Congratulations to him on his new daughter. Hope she has a lovely life. I only hope her father doesn't tell her too many scary stories.

It really is extraordinary how the BBC can claim to be impartial when its senior reporters are given free rein to write and broadcast such one-sided, contentious stuff. 

Thursday 17 December 2020

December's First Open Thread

It's been a funny old year, and there's still a month to go of it. 

Thanks for your comments and please keep commenting (after the old thread runs its course).

Dom, Doom

As noted on the open thread....

Is that Godzilla I see stomping down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament to mark the new year and Brexit? No, it's just the BBC's home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani. He's in fancy dress as Private Frazer from Dad's Army and breathing fire ever so impartially (as ever). Just look at his language here:
Less than 350 HOURS now from full-flavour Brexit. Here are the facts about how the UK will crash out of a host of security, criminal justice and crime-fighting tools keeping you safe. [Translation: You're doomed! DOOMED!] Police will lose lose many of these even if there is a deal. The UK will be ejected from the European Arrest Warrant (although it does have its critics); it will have a totally unclear relationship with Europol and its joined-up cross-border organised crime investigations.

SIS 2 - jargon name for a massively important database providing millions of insta-alerts to frontline policing and border security: Criminal on the run in Europe? Possibly in the UK? SIS 2 sends the alert. Home Office has no choice but to unplug the UK's connection.

European Investigation Orders. Police in the UK can send a request to another country's police for help on a job. The receiving officers *must assist within a deadline* unless there's an exceptional reason not to. The position from Jan? A diplomatic begging letter, no guarantees.

This morning, Steve Rodhouse, one of the top bods at the National Crime Agency underlined the loss of capability that comes from the SIS 2 switch-off. The UK, overnight, will have to delete 40,000 EU records currently sitting in the UK's Police National Computer.

He says investigations will take longer and serious criminals will not be held to account "as quickly". The UK is pinning its hopes on Interpol's system filling the SIS gap.

But this is what Steve Rodhouse said this morning: “It is right for me to raise the prospect that there will be some EU member states in some circumstances who don’t use Interpol alerts... If the UK doesn’t have access to SIS 2 that provides a gap." Last week, someone well-positioned on these matters inside British policing gave me their analysis and predictions about losing these security and criminal justice tools. Their first response began "We are [insert expletive]."

But 'for balance' 🤣:

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC last Sunday that UK security would improve after Brexit - but he also said the UK still wanted access to some of these EU tools as part of “common sense co-operation”.

“The big win for us is control over our own borders,” said Mr Raab. “If you look at denial of entry, if you look at deportation powers, if you look at control of our borders, in that respect, we will have far more control, and that will have a security dividend.”

I think Twitter's Mike Love captures this well:

I read this, and then wondered how this could possibly have been written by a BBC employee and not the Remain campaign.

Dom's been getting away with this kind of thing for two decades now. We've quite a substantial archive on him.