Sunday 31 January 2021

"But can I just look at some elephants please?"


Sarah Vine, wife of former Environment Secretary Michael Gove, tweeted this tonight: 

Tuned in to watch a bit of David Attenborough but am now being subjected to propaganda. Yes, I know: humanity is an evil plague on the planet. But can I just look at some elephants please? #PerfectPlanet

Of course, the answer to Sarah's question is, 'No, you can't just look at some elephants. This is the BBC'.

Wonder if Michael was watching and felt the same way?

Lukwesa is the bearer of good tidings


Talking of Lukwesa Burak...

Straight after Dharshini's latest performance on the BBC News Channel, Lukwesa turned to something completely different. 

And I've never seen a BBC News Channel newsreader look so happy about announcing something. She beamed with what looked like delight, and her voice became excessively loud and giddy with seeming excitement. 

Now what could have so lifted Lukwesa's face and voice into the stratosphere and beyond? Well, a bit of identity politics, that's what!

The actual words really don't do justice to just how over-the-moon she gave the impression of being. (Of course, she could have been faking it). It was quite startling. That woman in the big pink frock on North Korean news couldn't have looked happier if Kim Jong-un had opened a new nuclear weapons factory. 

Anyhow, here's the news wot did it:
The UK's largest umbrella organisation for Muslim groups has elected a woman as its head for the first time. 
Zara Mohammed, who has a background in human rights law, is not only the first woman in the role, she's also the youngest. 
She said she hoped her election as Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain would inspire more women and young people to come forward to leadership roles. 
Not only is she the first woman in the role, she is also the youngest and the first Scottish person to be Secretary General. 
Great honour to say that the new Secretary-General herself, Zara Mohammed, has joined us here on BBC News. Thank you for joining us, and huge congratulations to you.

So the deeply dodgy MCB has gone woke? Hmm.......

It's the way she tells 'em


Following on from a post earlier today (to narrow it down, this one: Some people might say...)...

BBC One's early evening news bulletin stuck with the BBC template of the day with Clive Myrie introducing the CPTPP story and asking Dharshini David (in an incredulous tone of voice) "We have just left the European Union, now we want to join another trading block?"

That question struck ex-MEP Roger Helmer (watching and tweeting) as a very poor one:

For heaven’s sake, after the Brexit saga do they still not know the difference between an FTA and a political union?
Dharshini, probably not giving Roger's non-BBC groupthink distinction even a second's thought and evidently being very fond of her joke from earlier, responded "And one with an even less catchy name, of course, Clive". 

A career in Radio 4 comedy beckons.


Immediate Update: And it continued on the BBC News Channel later, though with a different newsreader, Lukwesa Burak. 

(Clive Myrie had probably slipped out to the morgue again).

And Lukwesa's question to Dharshini, again adopting an incredulous tone of voice as if it's something laughable that's being mooted, said "We've heard Liz Truss there. Very hopeful. BUT....We've just left a huge trade bloc and we're applying for another!?"

Dharshini, adopting an even more incredulous tone of voice, replied: "We've just left one that's literally on our doorstep [ed - that "literally" is questionable] and we're talking about applying to one that's thousands of miles away! And it has a far less catchy name than the EU as well".... which she laughed. At her own joke.

They really aren't that keen on us joining the CPTPP. Or leaving the EU. They're never going to get over it, are they?

P.S. Please also see earlier comments here

The BBC turns down a 'Times' FOI request


More BBC-related Freedom of Information (FoI) news tonight, courtesy of Matthew Moore of The Times...

The Times has had an FoI request rejected by the BBC - personally, by the outgoing BBC chairman no less: 

Sir David Clementi has blocked the release of the BBC’s licence fee collection strategy in one of his final acts as chairman. 

The document, understood to set out plans for maximising revenues from the compulsory levy, was approved by the BBC board last year. In response to a freedom of information request from The Times, the broadcaster confirmed that it held the paper. However, it declined to disclose it on the ground that publication would “prejudice the conduct of public affairs” and “inhibit the free and frank exchange of views”.

The BBC, despite being "free and frank", turns down an awful lot of FoI requests.

Let me just jump in...


Talking of David Buik, his reaction to today's The Andrew Marr Show was this:

David Buik: Well done Liz Truss for standing her ground in good humour against a cantankerous Andrew Marr! My word this seasoned inquisitor wears his heart on his sleeve!

And the leader of the Conservative group in the London Assembly wasn't too impressed with Mr Marr either:

Susan Hall AM: Andrew Marr, you are a disgrace. You apologise gently when interrupting your other guests but barge in all through your interview with Liz Truss. Bring on GB News - Andrew Neil treats all his guests the same regardless, as I am sure the station will. 

One of the problems was that Andrew Marr had a lot of questions to get through and Liz Truss was his final interviewee, with time running out. She - unusually for politicians on TV - was actually answering his questions, but whenever she continued saying something interesting Andrew Marr interrupted her to tick off yet another 'gotcha' question off his list. He seems to be forever chomping at the bit to get in, even when she'd barely begun answering. It made for frustrating viewing. 

Also very noticeable was the remarkably negative take Andrew Marr was pushing throughout the bit on the UK's plan to join the CPTPP, and his heavily pro-EU angle too. Despite the need for political interviewers to ask 'devil's advocate' questions, wasn't this OTT?

Here's a transcript of that section of the interview:

Andrew Marr: Right, let’s turn to trade. You’re announcing today this Trans-Pacific partnership you want to join. Of the eleven countries who are members of it, we have already got trade agreements with most of them. So far as I can tell, you haven’t got the faintest idea what this would do to our GDP if we manage to get into it, which is still some way away. 
Liz Truss: This is a group of countries which represents nine trillion pounds of GDP, and the point is they’re fast-growing countries....
Andrew Marr: Sure...
Liz Truss: So, countries like Mexico and Malaysia are shooting up the global league tables. There is more demand for fantastic British goods like Scotch whisky or cars...
Andrew Marr: So...
Liz Truss: What this deal will do is it will reduce tariffs on those key industries, it’ll mean that they are able to sell more goods into those countries and ultimately deliver jobs and growth here in the UK. But the key....
Andrew Marr: (interrupting) And what the exports to those countries total for the British economy, in total, is about 8.4 per cent, which is the same as Germany by itself. In other words, this is very, very small beer compared to leaving the EU. 
Liz Truss: That’s what it is at the moment, before we’ve got those tariffs reduced, And it’s 110 billion pounds of exports, Andrew. And the point is it’s growing. What we need to do is be putting in place the policies that are going to deliver for Britain in 2030-2040...
Andrew Marr: OK, so...
Liz Truss: ...when the global economy will look very, very different. And you talk about the existing deals we have already...
Andrew Marr: (interrupting) So leaving the...Let me just jump in...
Liz Truss: I wanted to answer the question.
Andrew Marr: Leaving the EU takes about four per cent off our GDP, according to your own figures, your government’s own figures. Four per cent. What is the figure for what this would give us back? 
Liz Truss: Well, I wanted to answer the question you asked me last, which is we’ve already got deals with a lot of these countries. That is true, but we don’t have some of the advanced data and digital chapters, we don’t have the advanced services chapters. We’re the second biggest services exporter in the world, so this deal will go further and faster...
Andrew Marr: OK...
Liz Truss: areas where the UK has huge strengths, whether it’s robotics,...
Andrew Marr: (interrupting) So we don't know what...
Liz Truss: ...whether it’s computer games...
Andrew Marr: ...this would do on GDP? The reason I might be a little suspicious is that you’ve done trade deals with New Zealand and Australia, or you’re about to do so, and if you look at the government’s own figures the effect on GDP is really, really small. Indeed, on New Zealand your own figure says that we might actually be poorer as a result of doing this free trade deal. Why would we do a free trade deal that would make us poorer? 
Liz Truss: Well, that isn’t true...
Andrew Marr: But...
Liz Truss: What all of these deals do is they give new opportunities to British business that they don’t have before, by lowering barriers, by making it easier to export their goods. And you can make...
Andrew Marr: (interrupting) Liz Truss, I’m sorry, you say it isn’t true, but your own government says, and I quote, ‘the impact of a UK-New Zealand trade agreement would be limited, with a central estimate of minus nought point one per cent in scenario two, equivalent to a decrease of 200 million pounds.' I ask you again, why would you do a free trade agreement that actually made us poorer? 
Liz Truss: Andrew, that is a – one of many different scenarios [Andrew Marr sniggers loudly] that analyses the geographical impact. What it doesn’t look at is the future growth of these economies. And New Zealand is a relatively small country, but it’s a very influential country. And the important point is here we’re working with those leading democratic nations to help set global standards in areas like digital and data, challenge unfair trade practices from the likes of China, and build a better world trading system. And what we know is trade leads to growth...
Andrew Marr: Yes, absolutely...
Liz Truss: We know that the more open our economy is...
Andrew Marr: So...
Liz Truss: ...the faster it grows. And we know in the future it’s going to be the Asia-Pacific counties in particular...
Andrew Marr: So, OK...
Liz Truss: ...where the big markets, the growing middle class markets are for British products. So no one’s got a crystal ball. Of course British businesses will need to reach out and take these opportunities. But what I am doing is I am creating the opportunity for low tariffs,...
Andrew Marr: So...
Liz Truss:... removing those barriers so they can go out and do that. 

After all those questions from the 'EU membership is better than CPTPP membership' angle, Andrew then moved straight a bit more Brexit negativity, and more 'gotcha' attempts:

Andrew Marr: So what about all those small businesses that are reaching out and trying to trade with the EU at the moment and are finding they are being throttled day by day by new red tape? Whether it’s musicians, cheese makers – you’re a cheese queen yourself – cheese makers are very, very upset. The Cheshire Cheese Company, for instance, says that they are going to be destroyed by non-tariff barriers. We’re talking about fishermen, we’re talking about farmers, right across the British economy we’re seeing lots and lots of small businesses dealing with the reality of Brexit trade regulations and finding themselves on the edge of going under. What do you say to those people? 

It would probably have served the viewing public better if - especially given the time constraints - the bulk of the interview had been devoted to the CPTPP question instead of cramming it in, and spending most of that going for (would-be) headline-grabbing 'gotcha' attempts. 

Some people might say...

David Buik, a man who knows a thing or two about the global economy, was watching BBC One a few minutes ago and then took to Twitter:

David Buik: Really negative take by BBC News on the UK applying to join a free trade area made up of 11 Asia and Pacific nations, Sneering comparison to EU. From little acorns do great big oak trees grow! We've left the EU. Please get over it! Shoulder to the wheel - EVERYONE!

This is what he saw and heard:

Ben Brown: The Government has announced that Britain wants to join a trade partnership of 11 countries including Australia and Japan. The partnership is known as CPTPP. It was only formed in 2018 but could offer tariff-free trade with a host of countries in the Pacific. Well, our Global Trade Correspondent Dharshini David is here with me now. Dharshini, some people might say, why have we let the EU to join another big global trading block?

Dharshini David: One that's thousands of miles away when we've only just shaken off the dust from the one next door. And don't forget as well, this has got a far less catchy name than the EU. And on top of that, Germany buys as much of our exports as all those 11 nations put together. And when you consider we already have trade deals with seven of them, economists say the gains to businesses and consumers in the short run is going to be pretty limited. But the Government says that this, the first major move since Brexit on the trade scene, is about the UK 's future ambitions, about growing those ties with the fastest growing markets and deepening our links when it comes to stuff like robotics and banking and advertising. We don't talk a lot about digital and services in general but those really are our strengths right now. But the big prize would be if other big nations, for example, the US, joints, then we get an American trade deal almost by the back door and it creates a more powerful bloc. But this is going to be a very long process. We are just at the start. We don't even know yet what the Government's wish list is, and talks will have the start after we get those. And who knows, on that list we could have demands perhaps for a more catchy name!

Ben Brown: All right. Indeed. Dharshini, thank you very much! 

Though they was some balance in the middle, the framing was certainly negative here (and not without hints of sarcasm) and I'd say David Buik has a point, wouldn't you? 

Shades of 2009....

According to The Mail on Sunday, Labour's shadow business secretary Lucy Powell claimed her BBC TV licence on parliamentary expenses, thus charging it to us taxpayers. 

I think the very words Ms Powell began a tweet with yesterday might be appropriate here: This will, rightly, anger many. 

"I’ve always been quite critical of my voice and I’ve been told it’s like a foghorn, and grating, but it seems to be working on radio, which I’m really delighted with"


Sticking with The Sunday Times, the paper's Katherine Forster has given Naga Munchetty a highly sympathetic interview

She says the BBC presenter has a "no-nonsense likeability" off air as well and on air and is taking to her new Radio 5 Live show.

"I’ve always been quite critical of my voice and I’ve been told it’s like a foghorn, and grating, but it seems to be working on radio, which I’m really delighted with", says Naga.

We're also told, among other things that,  "like her nemesis Trump, she is a “slightly obsessed” golfer — she has a handicap of seven — and is desperately missing the green."

I was unaware that her husband's name is James Haggar, so if she had taken his name she'd have been Naga Haggar. 

On interviewing politicians Naga says:

Politicians are in a very tricky situation and I don’t think we should blame anyone for not having a crystal ball. But our viewers are more than capable of recognising when someone doesn’t answer a question. One of the most powerful things if someone still won’t answer is to say, ‘You haven’t answered that question, but let’s move on’.

The top-rated comment below the article isn't quite as enthusiastic as Katherine though. It reads:

I'm afraid I don't share the writer's crush on Naga.  She is not a good or hard interviewer she is just rude.  She starts an interview with a negative statement then tries to shoe horn the questions to justify the comment.  She usually fails.  She also makes comments about her fellow presenters.  If they make the slightest mistake she draws attention to it, so, no not a fan.

Nudge, nudge

Gillian Reynolds, the doyenne of radio critics (as I seem to always call her), reviewing a Radio 4 programme called The Disrupters, which "tells stories of business success and failure", also in today's Sunday Times, said something in passing that struck me as being quite interesting. She was saying that Editorial Director of BBC News Kamal Ahmed's reorganisation of BBC radio news showed that he was no good at either teamwork or admitting mistakes (well, he is BBC after all) but at least he has nerve: "I will admit it certainly required nerve to nudge quite so many outstanding reporters, Mark Mardell for one, into early retirement." I wasn't aware that we have Kamal to thank, though I don't think Gillian herself approves of Kamal's "nudging".

Running hot and cold


Camilla Long in The Sunday Times writes today about how last Tuesday, prior to the EU uniting most of the British Isles in fury, "anti-Brexit stories were still running hot and cold on the BBC website":
We learnt, for example, how poor shoppers were being charged more for goods from the EU. 

One woman paid a whole £30 extra for earrings from Greece. 

“My model car cost £12 more,” moaned Londoner Sascha Grillo. “Second-hand pottery on eBay was more expensive,” ran another sob story. 

I bet the average person who voted leave must be feeling devastated knowing that used pottery, model cars, designer leather goods and gold trinkets are costing people in London ever so slightly more.
Camilla isn't wrong. 

And in the days between Tuesday and Friday's EU fiasco, the anti-Brexit stories kept on coming, with one particularly ironic one - NI Protocol 'obstructs free movement of military' - coming on Friday itself.  We also got Brexit causes ferry travel issue for guide dogsBrexit difficult for my firm - Samantha CameronBrexit means NI eels can't be sold in Britain and Post-Brexit plant problems are an 'urgent issue'.

Saturday 30 January 2021

Next Month


If you stayed up to watch the highlights of Crystal Palace v Wolves on Match of the Day you'll doubtless have caught Gary Lineker putting on an earnest expression and saying: 

Starting on Monday is LGBT-Plus History Month, and across the BBC, we'll be telling the stories of sportspeople who've helped shape attitudes.

So that's February '-ism' taken care of.

Blackpool Council complains about Mark Easton pushing a narrative

Misery on the sea-front

This morning we posted a transcript of Mark Easton's News at Ten report from Blackpool without being aware that Blackpool Council had denounced it - and the BBC - in no uncertain terms earlier in the week.

(It was also broadcast on the BBC's News at Six and on the BBC News Channel).

There are some serious allegations against the BBC here:

The Leader of Blackpool Council has condemned the BBC for its “wholly misleading” coverage of COVID-related death rates in Blackpool. 

The corporation broadcast reports on its main news channels suggesting that Blackpool had one of the highest death rates in the country, but did not take into account local factors such as age of the population, which distorts comparisons with other areas. 

Although these “standardised” rates, which take those factors into account, were provided to the BBC team, demonstrating that Blackpool had relatively low rates compared to other parts of the North West, they chose not to use them

Cllr Lynn Williams said: “We are dismayed by the BBC’s coverage. It was very apparent from the get-go that they had a particular narrative in mind and did not want to engage with anyone who might cast doubt on that narrative. We offered to put forward our Director of Public Health to give the programme team the right context but again they chose not to accept. 

“The end result was a wholly misleading report, without any real purpose and was an affront to all of those people who are working so hard to protect vulnerable people in Blackpool from the impact of the pandemic. As a resident of Blackpool, I am tired of this sort of lazy journalism that repeatedly misrepresents the town

“Whilst the BBC might argue that the broadcast was about Lancashire in general, it was very clearly rooted in Blackpool, creating a false impression about the resort and its response to COVID. It is somewhat ironic that a news item that purported to be about inequality was in itself so unfair and unbalanced.” 

Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health for Blackpool Council, added: “We went to considerable lengths to try to explain to the BBC journalist that the statistics it was so intent on using were out of context. Had they used the recognised Age Standardised rates of death due to COVID, the figures show Blackpool at 199 compared to a North West average of 207. 

“Using a different set of statistics to support a pre-ordained narrative is irresponsible and can only alarm people and undermine those who are working tirelessly in the community. 

“Had the BBC wanted to portray a more balanced picture, it could also have pointed to Blackpool having the lowest infection rates across the whole of Lancashire, currently standing at 280 per 100,000 of the population compared to 423 for the North West and 403 for England respectively, or to the speed at which we have rolled out one of the UK’s biggest vaccination hubs at the Winter Gardens. Sadly, that was not part of the agenda.


That was posted on 27 January, a day after Mark Easton's report. Wonder if the BBC has responded yet?

That old Mark Easton favourite - the person on the mobility scooter (with Blackpool Tower in the distance). There was another one later.

For ease of comparison, here's that transcript again:

Mining a story

(h/t StewGreen)

The BBC's (environmental activist) environment analyst Roger Harrabin often gets accused of behaving like a campaigner, and sometimes it's hard not to see why. 

He certainly not a fan of a new coal mine in Cumbria and has written four separate BBC News website articles about it in just over two weeks:

14 January

Government defends Cumbria coal mine green light

The government’s chief planning officer has defended its recent decision to allow a new coal mine in Cumbria.

19 January

Coal mine go-ahead 'undermines climate summit'

Britain's climate change leadership is being undercut by a government decision to allow a new coal mine in Cumbria, MPs have warned.

24 January:

Climate change: Six questions about the Cumbria coal controversy

Pressure is growing on the prime minister [sic] to ban a new coal mine in Cumbria.

30 January:

Climate change: Minister rapped for allowing Cumbria coal mine

The government’s climate change advisors have rapped ministers for allowing a new coal mine in Cumbria. 

One thing that made me chuckle is that the line "Environmentalists have reacted with astonishment and disbelief" turns up in the both the latest and the earliest article. Roger is certainly doing his bit for recycling.



As you've been noting in the comments, the BBC's Europe editor Katya Adler hasn't been having a good week. 

This tweet caused considerable controversy the other day, as it simply wasn't true that the Johnson government had "berated" the EU:

Rather like the EU itself last night, Katya backtracked yesterday in what is probably the nearest we're going to get to an apology from her:

(She could have claimed it was an "oversight"!)

And now she's put her foot in it again - h/t richard d

She was on this morning's Today programme talking about how the fears of dwindling supplies of jabs in the EU are being realised, with several countries running low, and said:
Partly this is to do with pharmaceutical companies not honouring contracts, particularly AstraZeneca, with which the EU has a big row at the moment...
There was no "allegedly" or "they claim" in there, or anything like it. It was stated as if it were a fact.

As richard d says:
That is an unsubstantiated claim by the EU, apparently completely refuted by the copy of the contracts (which have now even been obtained in an unredacted version).
I've seen a lot of comments overnight saying that unredacted version especially (released through another blunder by the EU commission) shows that the contract surprisingly vague. Some have suggested that the contract was poorly-worded. (Another EU blunder?)  The EU's claims about what it says about AstraZeneca's commitments to the EU remain open to question and hotly disputed.

Was this just badly-worded from Katya Adler then, or has she bought into the EU version of events and was parroting it again? 

Another Tale of Two Headlines


Here's a cryptic BBC headline: 

Fire breaks out at asylum-seekers barracks

What does that mean? The use of the passive tense suggests it could have been accidental (an unattended chip pan, some faulty wiring). But it's ambiguous and could also mean it had been started deliberately. But if the latter, by whom? By racist local residents attacking the asylum seekers maybe? Or by the asylum seekers themselves?

Ah, read on!...

"The fire began [passive tense again] after "upset" residents "caused a bit of a ruckus in the dining room", a charity said."

So it was the asylum seekers ("residents"). But a supportive charity says they were "upset" and it was only "a bit of a ruckus", so no big deal by the sounds of it:

Contrast that with this far more instantly understandable Daily Mail headline:

Another contrast is that the BBC uses the term "asylum seeker" while the Mail used "migrants".

Different agenda I suppose.

That said

Talking about Lewis Goodall (as I always seem to be), his Twitter feed last night was characteristic: 

  • Absolutely extraordinary. A trade border on the island of Ireland has been created at the stroke of a pen in Brussels - and yet no-one there thought to tell anyone in Belfast or Dublin. 
  • Throughout the Brexit process there was (justifiable) criticism from Dublin and Brussels that the British government seemed insensitive to the particular problems of Northern Ireland and the problems around the border. Now the shoe is firmly on the other foot. 
  • That said, it is possible to think that the EU is behaving very badly but also recognise that the post-Brexit relationship (and how new it is) does build in a certain instability in the EU/UK relationship and (as many of us have pointed out) an especially perilous position for NI, as it is, betwixt and between the two. We’re [seeing] some of those dynamic play out. 
  • The fact is, this is going to happen a lot. Northern Ireland’s status is now deeply uncertain. The new order post-Brexit hasn’t even been completed, let alone embedded. Every crisis is going to stress test them and the players involved. It’s inherently quite unpredictable. 
  • In amongst all of the vaccine news and the EU/UK/NI discord it’s been easy to miss the news yet another appalling day of deaths. 1,245 added to the official tally. 104,371 now. The 7 day average only just beginning to edge down. 
  • We’ve become part-inured to these numbers. They’ve become part of the background noise to the day, save for the big thresholds like 100k. But they remain exceptionally high. Profound questions to be answered about whether sorrow could have been prevented.
  • I didn’t think It’s a Sin could be a more sublime bit of TV making but the nod to the Resurrection of the Daleks has made me giddy.

I wrote this last night: 

Even by Lewis's standards this is extraordinary. Concede a tiny bit, suggest equivalence, then put in a 'but' ("That said...") and shift the blame away from the EU onto our Brexit settlement, and tie it all into what you've previous said (thus 'showing' yourself to have been far-seeing along). And then swiftly change the subject and try to re-shift the focus onto your main theme: how bad the UK government is. Then move on...

Was that fair?

Others saw it the same way:

Laura Kuenssberg: EU sources describing decision as an 'oversight'. 
Paul Williams: Even Lewis Goodall wouldn't come up with an excuse for them as bad as that. Even though he is trying to do that right now.
Manchester Man: Nice try at diversion Lewis, tugging at heart strings, but YOU KNOW the big story today is the EU’s vaccine debacle. We don’t need reminding by hacks of the human toll of this pandemic. Your job is to report the big news of the day.

Recurrent themes


Going back to Tuesday...

One conspicuous feature of the BBC's reporting of the moment when UK deaths from/with Covid-19 passed the 100,000 mark was how its high-profiel reporters managed to make it 'about' their pet subjects. 

On BBC One's News at Ten, for example, Mark Easton made it about his perennial theme: how unequal the UK is. 

And, over on Newsnight the same night, Lewis Goodall made it about his perennial theme: how bad the Government is. 

Here are the transcripts: 

Two sides to every story (or maybe not)


It's a bit of a catch-up morning today after a busy week has prevented much blogging. 

It did note this on Wednesday's BBC One News at Ten covering the earlier stages of this week's EU-AstraZeneca row. 

I've colour-highlighted it to show the bits that put the EU's side (in blue) and those that put AstraZeneca's side (in red). I think it shows a considerable imbalance: 

BBC newsreader: The European Union says the drug company AstraZeneca should honour a contract to supply vaccines by using its British factories to make up a shortfall. The European Commission is angry that the company might provide the EU with millions fewer doses than it had initially promised. Our Europe correspondent, Nick Beake, is in Brussels. What is the latest stage of this row? 

Nick Beake, BBCThe EU certainly thinks it's in a very strong legal position and it's asking AstraZeneca to publish the contract that was agreed, but this row is escalated very publicly today. At its heart, the EU believes AstraZeneca is favouring the UK over European countries. AstraZeneca says that isn't the case, it's sticking to the terms of its agreement, and it's pointed out the EU side its contract three months after the UK. That prompted a senior European Commission figure today to say the idea of first-come, first-served is all well and that if you are popping to the local butcher, but not if you have signed a contract for millions of life-saving vaccines. It's also prompted the likes of Germany to call for restrictions or even a ban on EU made vaccines going to other countries, including the UK. The commission is downplaying that idea. I can tell you has been a meeting tonight between the two sides, both using the word constructive, but still the EU is saying that, even though it has not yet approved this vaccine, it wants all of the jabs it ordered to be delivered and to be delivered on time.  
BBC newsreader: Thank you for the latest on that from Brussels. 

"At times the way government comms have attempted to publicly shame individual journalists during this crisis for simply doing their jobs has been deeply sinister. I’d hoped we’d seen the last of it"

Here's a story you may have missed yesterday (understandably)...

The government's black, female equalities minister took umbrage at a black, female journalist journalist yesterday and all hell broke loose on Twitter. 

(When is all hell not breaking loose on Twitter?)

Here was minister Kemi Badenoch's Twitter thread denouncing HuffPost journalist Nadine White:

  • A sad insight into how some journalists operate...On Wednesday, I shared our positive, well-received cross-party video to increase vaccine confidence in the midst of so much disinformation. Last night we heard great news about the Novavax Vaccine which I’ve been trialling.
  • Today, an unfortunate reminder of why there is so much confusion and mistrust. Was in meetings all day yesterday and been made aware of 2 emails received from HuffPost journalist, Nadine White.

  • Disinformation is on the rise, yet HuffPost are looking to sow distrust by making up claims I refused to take part in a video campaign…(which I suggested and promoted!) Even when Labour and Tory MPs work together, some in the media will still look for conflict. 
  • And the main reason I didn’t appear in the video? Because I’m taking part in and promoting vaccine trials.  Given the worst disinformation is that the virus is being “tested first” on black people, I thought it better to avoid mixed messages about volunteering to be tested.
  • I’ve been working with the Government Equalities Office on improving govt communications across all communities especially those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.  The ”important matter” isn’t who is or is not in a video. 
  • It’s that Huffpost publish numerous articles about how Covid impacts black people, yet are quite happy to undermine our efforts to build trust in the vaccine by making absurd claims. Chasing clicks like this is irresponsible.
  • It’s also creepy and bizarre to fixate on who didn’t participate in a video and demand they explain themselves. As a govt minister I have a platform, but it worries me that other people with less of a voice can be smeared in this way.

  • I hope more people will share our cross-party video and help improve vaccine confidence.  It’s about protecting and saving lives not petty politics.

Nadine White's boss at HuffPost, ex-Newnsight Jess Brammar, rode to her journalist's defence:

  • One of my reporters has had to make her Twitter profile private today because a *government minister* tweeted out screenshots of a completely standard request for comment on a story, and accused her of spreading disinformation. Absolutely extraordinary.
  • Young, female, Black journalists receive some of the worst abuse on Twitter, and to behave in this way is extremely disappointing - even before you consider that the person involved is the minister for equalities. We stand by Nadine for doing her job correctly, as she always does.
  • We’re now into the second day of Kemi Badenoch’s feed having an 8-tweet thread alleging that HuffPost and our reporter were “looking to sow distrust” or being ”creepy and bizarre” by asking standard questions of a govt minister. We reject this in the strongest possible terms.
  • Yesterday I wrote to the cabinet office to make a complaint, asking for these allegations to be withdrawn, and for an apology for Nadine, who is an excellent reporter who was doing her job. I had hoped to resolve this quickly to minimise the impact on her.
  • I know Nadine is grateful for the outpouring of support (and common sense!) on here, as am I. Reporters should be able to go about their jobs without fear of something like this happening to them, particularly where a government minister is concerned.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter here, what struck me was how certain of the BBC's most activist journalists couldn't resist entering the fray, all guns blazing:
Rianna Croxford: Solidarity with Nadine White, a brilliant journalist who is getting trolled and piled on today simply for doing her job. Her coverage of the impact of covid-19 on ethnic minority communities has been excellent throughout the pandemic. 
Lewis Goodall: Absolute solidarity with you and Nadine. At times the way government comms have attempted to publicly shame individual journalists during this crisis for simply doing their jobs has been deeply sinister. I’d hoped we’d seen the last of it.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Later January Open Thread


The National Guard are out in force around the blog, so it's time to inaugurate a new Open Thread. 

Thanks for your comments.

"Classic BBC non-apology"

The BBC has issued another 'clarification' today, apparently following questions from The Sun - though the massive social media revulsion towards the BBC over it should have alerted those eager BBC Twitter twitchers a lot earlier:
BBC News Online
25 January 2021

We used the term ‘IRA veteran’ to describe Eamon McCourt’s long involvement in Irish republicanism. We accept that this shorthand formulation could be misinterpreted and it has now been amended for clarity. Mr McCourt is now described as an ‘IRA man’ in our online news report. Related social media posts have also been updated. 

We understand the sensitivities around Troubles’ issues and legacies, including in relation to terminology. Much of this can be contested. No offence was intended and we regret any misunderstanding or upset that may have been caused. 

I agree with this from Mark Wallace though:

Classic BBC non-apology: “We used the term ‘IRA veteran’...we accept that this shorthand formulation could be misinterpreted.”

See how it works? If you think “veteran” is the wrong term for a terrorist, it’s you to blame, really, for misinterpreting. Never the Beeb...

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Colourful language from Christian Fraser


As we know, it's a very, very, very bad thing to say 'coloured people'. 

You've got to put the word 'people' first, move the 'coloured' bit to the end and take off the '-ed' (most important of all), and pop an 'of' bang in the middle, making: 'people of colour'. 

That makes all the difference.

If you're still unsure, please read this BBC Newsbeat article headlined Warning: Why using the term 'coloured' is offensive

Transgress, even accidentally, and say 'coloured' rather than 'of colour', and you seriously risk all hell breaking loose, especially if you're in the limelight.

Enter Christian Fraser at 9:40 pm on the BBC News Channel this very evening, plonked on the other side of the split screen from Katty Kay, and talking to an American person of colour placed between them. 

Here's what Christian said:

I suppose the ultimate litmus test right off the bat is how the country reacts to Covid, because we know there is a disproportionate effect within coloured communities, within poor communities, and it tends to be those communities where poverty is so endemic.

OMG!, as Katty would say (though, in fact, she said nothing here).

Poor, poor Christian. Straight into the Slough of Despond. 

That's his career over, surely?

Let's not forget this from the BBC News website on 11 November 2020:

Greg Clarke: Why FA chairman's comments are so offensive
Warning: This report contains offensive language.

Greg Clarke had to quit for using the term "coloured footballers" while speaking to MPs about diversity and racial abuse against black players. His pro-diversity, anti-racist intent proved irrelevant as far as the baying mob - and the BBC's Newsbeat - went. He was a goner.

Oh, Christian! What can you do to be saved?

And maybe the mouth of hell beckons for Katty too for not speaking out against such a damnable choice of words, live on BBC TV. 

The BBC "retires" the 100+ genders BBC Teach film


Well, well, well, here's a little breaking news...

(I think we may have scooped the mainstream media here).

The BBC has taken down the infamous 100+ genders BBC Teach video. 

I went there yesterday, and there is was. But today it's gone, melted into thin air, leaving not a rack behind:

Checking social media, I see there's already a BBC explication out there - a deliciously passive-aggressive one (with a massive tilt towards the aggressive)!

The BBC says it has "made the decision to retire the film", but spends the rest of its self-justifying complaint response denying it did anything wrong and attacking its critics:

Way to give in, but not give in gracefully, BBC!

UPDATE: It's up on the BBC's Complaints page now, saying the same, even down to the "we have made the decision to retire the film" bit. 

Clearly everyone who complained has been sent a nearly word-for-word version of the BBC's official statement.



In the UK and the USA (and Russia and most of the world), army veterans are overwhelmingly regarded with huge warmth by the public. 

This BBC Twitter headline today, therefore, raised a lot of few hackles for using 'veteran' as a noun and tying it to an IRA terrorist:


"Murderer, terrorist, criminal. Not veteran" sums up the general reaction

The opening paragraph of the BBC News website's report does the same:


Here's a further flavour of the reaction:

  • Veteran, BBC? Sealing your fate methinks.
  • "IRA Veteran". A headline to make you sick from our supposedly national broadcaster. A broadcaster that Irish people can watch for free, but which takes poor Britons to court to force them to pay for itself.
  • IRA murderer is now classed as a ‘veteran’ by the BBC!
  • ‘IRA veteran’ should reading ‘IRA terrorist’. 
  • He wasn’t a “veteran” he was an IRA murderer.
  • "IRA veteran". I think they mean terrorist. Keep paying the licence fee or you could go to prison.
  • Veteran, eh? Well done to the BBC. Never fail to show their colours...
  • "Veteran". Do you think this is appropriate language to describe a member of a terrorist organisation?

Though someone quipped:

  • IRA veteran and Londonderry in the same headline just to make sure they’ve pissed off everybody. #impartial 

#hasthebbcfactcheckedthisyet (starring Mike Wendling)

Here's an interesting exchange (h/t Guest Who at Biased BBC):

BBC Trending: "Fake news has real consequences". Listen to our summary of the last year or so with Mike Wendling and Marianna Spring [linking to BBC Radio 4 - A Year of Misinformation].  

Tooth2Power: Just read this quote: “Watching the BBC News Channel earlier and the anchor reported that Trump was leaving office with the lowest approval ratings of any US President ever. She quoted a figure of 34%. This is a blatant lie.” #hasthebbcfactcheckedthisyet

Mike Wendling (BBC Trending, replying to Tooth2Power): You'd have to give me the exact citation. However, this is broadly in line with a number of public opinion surveys. As you might expect, some have the number higher, some lower.

Mike Wendling - not only the boss of BBC Trending but also the head honcho at the BBC's disinformation unit - linked his reply to an ongoing tracker from FiveThirtyEight (Nate Silver's famous polling company), presumably in support of his point.

But, bizarrely, when you click on his link it shows that Donald Trump is now at 38.6% and has only ever dipped to 38% in recent years. 

In fact, he's never been at 34% in the long-term poll tracker Mike Wendling linked to, so I'm not sure quite why Mike thought that helped his argument. 

Of course, it's easy to show the boss of BBC Trending undermining his own case - and his disinformation-checking unit's reputation too - with a slipshod link, but what about Mike's own demand on Tooth2Power - because Tooth2Power, it seems, HAS to provide the BBC man with "the exact citation"?

Well, the discussion is still going on:

Tooth2Power: I don’t have to give you anything. And given the citation is from another source I am seeking confirmation upon, and is from the same office as you, maybe you would be so kind as to check if and who said it. And then the surveys you refer to - to assess why this ‘broad’ number chosen. 

Mike Wendling: I was only trying to answer your question. The News Channel broadcasts 24 hours a day so you'll understand I can't watch all programme to find something that you say was broadcast "earlier". Among those surveys I'm sure you'll find a credible source with the exact number. Or did you not really want an answer to your question, and were rather trying to score some sort of political point? In which case I can't help you.


Weirdly enough, I found one example of the famous citation on the BBC News Channel very easily - and without either licence fee funding or a team of researchers:
BBC News Channel (20 Jan, 11:44 am) - Joanna Gosling: Bryan, as we're hearing, the Biden/Harris administration will undo so much of what Trump did through executive order. Also, obviously, Democrats control both houses of Congress and Trump is going out with the lowest rating of any outgoing president according to the polling, 34%. Is he now going to be consigned to history politically? Could he ever come back within the Republican party?

I thought I'd butt in and pass that on to both Mike and Tooth2Power

To help Mike Wendling out even more, I think I know where the divine Joanna (we Craigs are known for fancying Joanna Gosling) - or her scriptwriters - got that from. Brian Klaas, author of The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy, was on BBC Breakfast at 7:17 am and used that very helpful statistic. I'm guessing someone at the BBC picked up on it, liked it, and ran with it as The figure. 


Update 27/1 - It looks as if Mike Wendling, having been given the citation he was asking for, decided to ignore it and take offence instead.

Tooth2Power replied today to Marianna Spring's Radio 4 plug:

Tooth2Power: Can’t wait. But to be accurate, even BBC Radio 4 alone has been doing it a lot more than just a year.

Mike Wendling, having fallen silent, returned to the fray:

Mike Wendling: You go from what appears to be a legit question to outright accusations w/o any evidence or substance. Good bye. 

And Tooth2Power then replied to both me - and Mike Wendling. 

Tooth2Power: No problem here. If possibly elsewhere. Seems things have reached a natural break somehow. Have they for you? Thank you for the facts requested. It was all getting interesting. Then someone seems to have decided it needs stopping. One supposes in that trusted, transparent BBC way.

War and Peace Prizes


A thought-provoking comment from David Collier today (though the massacre itself took place over a month ago rather than a few days ago):

David Collier: Just a few days ago - 700+ innocent people sought sanctuary in a Church in Axum, Ethiopia.

Reports say they were taken outside, shot, massacred,


Not that you'd know. Go search. These people don't matter enough for headlines.

If only the BBC could blame Israel for it!

It got a response from an Israeli: 

Eric Kahn (Tel Aviv): Nay: On today's BBC global podcast they followed a segment about the gross inequality of riches earned during the pandemic with a segment about the inequality if Israel's vaccine rollout vis a vis Palestinians. My impression of the UK continues to erode...

Eric, please be reassured that the BBC doesn't speak for me, or for massive swathes of the UK population. 

As far as the massacre in Tigray itself goes, it's very grim. I now wish I hadn't read about it. 

And the church it took place at - the Orthodox Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion - is one of Ethiopia's most precious, deeply ancient in roots and associated with the Ark of the Covenant. 

And it was carried out, I read, by militias and the forces of a Nobel Prize winning Ethiopian prime minister who the BBC were very 'pro' a couple of years ago. 

At the risk of getting the site banned, it must be said that winning the Nobel Prize soon after taking office and then becoming a warmonger is quite the 'in' thing these days. 

Did Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed look at Barack Obama's Nobel Prize and subsequent airstrikes and military raids on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and, above all, Libya, and think 'I can do even better than that'? 

Wonder if Joe Biden will get the next Nobel Prize (despite his predecessor not starting a war and making peace in the Middle East and winning no prestigious peace prizes) and then start bombing somewhere before the year's out?

Monday 25 January 2021

Computer Says No (again)


We wondered, a day or so ago, how Panorama would get on with their Freedom of Information requests to the BBC regarding the Martin Bashir/Princess Diana affair. 

It would be truly extraordinary if the BBC turned down its own current affairs flagship, but then the BBC is a strange beast. 

The Scotsman newspaper reports today that their own FoI request to the BBC - asking the BBC to provide a breakdown of the number of complaints received by the corporation for each broadcast of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government’s daily televised briefings - has been refused. 

The broadcaster gave The Scotsman the usual response, that the information has to be kept secret for the purposes of “journalism, art of literature”.

Here's a bigger slice of the BBC's waffle:

“Editorial complaints form part of the ongoing review of the standards and quality of particular areas of programme making with a view to further enhancing these standards; the complaints themselves and the information associated with them plays a significant role in helping to inform editorial discussion and decisions going forward.

"In this way, information relating to editorial complaints is used to inform future content and improve the quality of journalistic output. This is an important part of the BBC’s process of creating and improving programmes.

"The BBC, as a media organisation, is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights.

"Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function.”

Well might The Scotsman feeling aggrieved. All they were asking for were the numbers. 

I'm guessing that the BBC finds them embarrassing.



If you were watching the paper reviews on the BBC News Channel last night, you might have caught presenter Lewis Vaughan Jones talking about the snow, and snowmen. Guess what this Lewis calls 'snowmen' though? 

22:44 We'll stick with the front page of The Daily Telegraph seeing as we're there. There's a snowperson there wearing a mask. Very good. Giles, very quickly because we're almost out of time. Did you get out and throw a snowball today?

23:43 OK, let's go back to the front page of The Times, because a conversation isn't really a conversation here without talking about the weather, and that's exactly what we're going to do. The snow. And now the front page of The Times. Unfortunately...This is a lovely story. People out building snowpeople, throwing snowballs at each other. The Times has gone with a picture with a police van in the middle of the snow scene. Lizzie, what's going on?  

Sunday 24 January 2021

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye


The BBC's main defender in print, The Guardian/Observer, has a piece today that comes out very strongly against Andrew Neil & Co. and their new television service(s). 

The first witness it calls in opposition to Andrew Neil's GB News (and another new service) is none other than the BBC's Jon Sopel. 

The Observer introduces his contribution by saying that he "sees the promised channels as a greater potential threat to democracy than Britain’s already openly biased newspapers."

And what is Jon Sopel then quoted as saying by The Guardian/Observer

Well, he's quoted at some length but I can sum it all up in a few words: He thinks that he's getting it about right, and that the BBC and the other existing main UK news channels are also getting it about right. Why? Because, he says, he and they seek to be 'fair' and 'balanced' and don't propagandise. 

Paging Mandy Rice-Davies!

And pull the other one!

I'm surprised Andrew Neil hasn't commented on this on Twitter yet, as far as I can see (and I've checked). Wonder what he thinks of Jon Sopel's appearance in this anti-GB News piece?


UPDATE: On a related theme, and fresh in...SHOCK NEWS!!! The Guardian (which 'some say' is the inky wing of the BBC) comes out in favour of the BBC: 


FURTHER UPDATE: And here's a little Twitter feedback for Jon Sopel:
Martin Daubney: Absolute cobblers here from BBC’s North America Editor who sees new British TV channels as a “threat to democracy”. If the BBC & the rest had been impartial over Brexit/Trump/COVID we might not need alternatives. Bring it on - and let the market decide!
Ella T: The BBC's Jon Sopel said what? Can there be a more biased, warped individual reporting from USA than him? The gravy train for him and his ilk is coming to an end.
Richard Hammonds: Sopel has been a Trump hater from day one. Every single report he makes is negative biased and twisted. Just watch him about turn into the 'love-in' mode for Biden. Utter garbage is the BBC. It is now a propaganda unit not a news outlet.

Shifting the goalposts


Blog favourite Lewis Goodall has, as ever, been in the thick of the Twitter action today.

It all began with John Stevens of the Daily Mail tweeting (following the Andrew Marr show): 

Hancock: UK has vaccinated more people in past three days than France has in total.

Enter Lewis, stage left:

Lewis Goodall, Newsnight: No doubt the UK is doing well on the vaccines front but long term we probably need to realise that the “World Cup of Vaccines” prism isn’t very helpful. Our biggest neighbour not vaccinating people quickly isn’t just their problem, it’s ours too.

That goes for the whole world. If we can see anything at the moment it’s the danger of variants arising where prevalence is high. Those variants may prove resistant or semi-resistant to vaccines. We’re not truly out of this until the planet is, or at least has it under control.

Moreover we might need to revisit how we’re talking about this and say “given one dose” rather than “vaccinated”. Behavioural scientists I’ve spoken to are concerned that the word “vaccinated” while we’re primarily giving one dose risks giving people a false sense of security.

Here's what happened next - with a special callout to Mr Whelk for spotting a particularly sly move by Lewis:


Iain Lees: Ffs grow up, you whiny little man.


redfeathers: Given the flack they took for not participating in the EU procurement scheme, can't really blame them for comparisons with EU.

Lewis Goodall: Think entirely fair for them to point out NHS is doing very well at rolling out and to praise the Vaccine Task Force which has done a great job. But as I say, long term this isn’t going to be solved through one or even several national roll outs. It’s got to global action.

Billy Whelk: Going well... it’s the NHS wot done it. Going badly it’s Boris personally at fault. Is that how journalism works now? This is very poor analysis.


Jill: Why is it? Can’t you for once acknowledge how well we’re doing. Husband had his jab this morning and hasn’t stopped praising the slickness, speed and competence of the people involved. Take a day off from running our country down there’s a good boy.

LGB: He really is an overpaid activist.


Emma Lercy: True. But can you imagine the storm of criticism from press and public if France was doing so many more jabs than UK?  It’s all pretty unproductive commentary but when the media bang on about “worst this, slowest that”, with little analysis and context, it’s inevitable.


David Woodley: So it is no competition? Why then do you in the MSM keep comparing death rates?

Phil: Very much doubt you will get an answer - really does show the underlying narrative that is being pushed.


And my favourite:

Chris Merchant: From the reporter who last year reveled in the "World Cup of PPE" and the "World Cup of Ventilators" and this year is "helpfully" giving us the "World Cup of Cases" and the "World Cup of Deaths".

Lewis is certainly one for shifting the goalposts, when it suits.