Thursday, 27 January 2022

New Year Open Thread

Happy New Year 2022! 

Thanks for staying with us in 2021 and thank you, as always, for your comments.

Good Riddance, But Now What? by Ogden Nash

Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.
Tonight’s December thirty-first,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark! It’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year.

A new arrival

I just saw a tweet from the BBC News Press Team that said:

I also saw this from the lady herself:

As you do when you see such things if you blog about the BBC, I clicked around and read the BBC Media Centre press release about Jennie Baird's appointment. It quotes Rebecca Glashow, President of BBC Studios Americas, saying “Jennie is a digital heavyweight in the constantly evolving news media landscape, her appointment reflects our ambitions to further reinforce our global news team and double down on our commitment to providing a world-leading digital offering” and plugs how “trusted” the BBC is and how it has “no point of view”.

Another thing you do as a blogger about the BBC these days is to check the BBC recruit's Twitter feed, like an archaeologist, to check if they have “no point of view”. 

Jennie Baird's Twitter feed is quite interesting in that respect. I'd say that she has a point of view. 

Here she is in the run-up to Donald Trump's election victory in 2016:

  • Donald Trump as frontrunner = sign of apocalypse.
  • Got it. Racists for Trump.

And after the election:

  • This is what it was like watching Brexit returns. Disbelief.
  • I'm disgusted by everything today. A plurality of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton but Democrats seem to be falling into line 4 Trump. WTH.
  • White people at trump hq on TV claiming they're "taking our country back." I'm sick. I can't believe this.

And on the events of January 6th 2021:

  • Watching the news and fielding texts reporting new covid cases from friends/family, it feels like the Trump Era has reached its inevitable conclusion: chaos and plague.

She apparently votes Democrat, tweeting in 2013:

  • Everyone loves John Blankley. [Democrat candidate in Greenwich, Connecticut]. Wish he had won his election in Greenwich. 

And seems generally pro-Democrat:

  • The economy does better when a Democrat is in office. [2015]
  • Hard to imagine any of the Republican candidates holding their own against Hillary Clinton [2015]

I think she'll fit in nicely at the BBC. I suspect she'll share many a latte with a whisper of cinnamon with Emily Maitlis.

Dirty Jews; what price 'Never Again'

Well, it’s Holocaust Memorial Day again.  What is that? Let the  BBC explain it to you: 

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day - an event that happens every year to remember the millions of Jewish and non-Jewish people who were killed by a group called the Nazis, during World War Two. Find out more with our guide.

I’m probably being hypersensitive, but my antennae twitch when I hear the qualifier “all forms of” attached to alleged racism. (note ‘alleged’ and note the hedging-your-bets phrasing: “millions of Jewish and non-Jewish people”.)  

Does that imply ‘millions of Jews as well as millions of non-Jews?’ Why is it always “antisemitism-and-all-forms-of-racism” but never “Islamophobia-and-all-forms-of etc? I mean, is Islamophobia so abhorrent that it doesn’t require the oblique implication that  your grievance is nothing special.”


The Bus Rolls On.

The saga of Oxford Street bus-gate rumbles on. The BBC has been investigating itself again and finding itself innocent. Not exactly innocent your honour, but not completely guilty either; only ‘partly’. Just a bit. A little bit antisemitic, you know, for balance.

Which do you want - the short-form or the long-form version of their findings? 

Anyway, the BBC has added an / some (must be especially careful with our singulars and plurals) updates and amendments to the report.


“……….Since publication of that amendment, the claim a slur could be heard has been disputed by Hebrew speakers and others. In response to criticism of the reporting the director general of the BBC instructed the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU), which is editorially independent from BBC News, to investigate a number of issues relating to the original reporting of the incident and the subsequent dispute over whether a slur could be heard.”

and they’ve kindly inserted a link to the ECU (Executive Complaints Unit) ruling, see above.

Melanie Phillips goes into more detailThis is never-ending saga is an example of the Beeb digging itself deeper into its sorry little hole, but the Jewish press isn’t about to let it go without a robust counter-attack.

"It is a travesty that the BBC thinks that it can toss the Jewish community a bone by upholding minor elements of our complaint while defending almost the entirety of its reportage and conduct over the course of this abominable saga. Sadly, this sort of stonewalling is exactly what British Jews have come to expect from our public broadcaster.

GB News has spoken.



There’s the Muslimness issue. I haven’t addressed it on the blog so far because my ‘phobia’ might interfere with my perceived objectivity. (If there were such a thing as 'my perceived objectivity') 

All I will ask is - what’s the difference, if any,  between the two antis? Namely anti-Muslimness and the dreaded Islamophobia? I don’t know, but maybe ‘Muslimness’ implies an unacceptable degree of religiosity (behaviour that manifests (negatively) as adherence to certain Islamic “dos and don’ts” within the religion) such as homophobia, antisemitism, misogyny and assorted illiberal attitudes and prejudices that affect one’s objectivity.

The lady at the centre of the controversy, Nusrat Ghani MP, doesn’t seem to have been embracing the more negative aspects of the aforementioned non-objective definition, so the whole thing seems somewhat ‘conjoured-up’ to me, coupled with the fact that this kerfuffle and partygate itself, is old news.



As it’s Holocaust Memorial Day I’m including something about the rise of antisemitism in general - perhaps not directly, but certainly fundamentally related to the BBC

This article appeared in a fashion mag of all things. One I’d never heard of. Glamour Magazine. It somehow makes me think of Elton John in massive platform shoes.

Horrible as this was, most of the antisemitism I have encountered on campus hasn’t been from my fellow students but from my teachers.

Yep. The antisemitism present and rising in our universities is appalling. The primarily left-wing march through the institutions. What price ‘never again’.

One of the most obnoxious, university-based perpetrators of this is an ITBB  favourite, Ghada Karmi. 

She is an academic, and her upside-down version of history is currently popular throughout anglosphere academia. Another thing - even our favourite TV personalities like Robert Rinder are noticing it.

Last week, I was talking to a friend whose sons happen to love falafel. She was telling me how her boys recently went to their favourite restaurant in Golders Green to eat a load of them. As they sat outside munching, they spotted a car slow down in the road. Suddenly, the driver unfurled a Palestinian flag, screamed “dirty Jews!” and drove off.


Dirty Jews.

This brings us full circle; “ Dirty Jews” 

That abusive ejaculation, which sounds familiar, illustrates my contention that the BBC’s Oxford Street mis-perceived ‘slur’ -  namely that the enhanced audio contained the unlikely phrase “Dirty Muslims” - is a typical example of projection. It also substantiates the proposal that BBC staff may have misheard the phrase as a result of the “Apollonian tendency” [described as] the mind’s inclination to create order or meaningfulness, especially when encountering unfamiliar information.   

Barry Cryer - Laugh In Peace


As regular readers will know, my reasons to listen to BBC Radio 4 have fallen away in recent years. Another reason has sadly left us today...

Barry Cryer has made me laugh for most of my life. 

His laugh rang out as distinctively as Sid James's over more than half a century.

Indeed, this very blog has been known to celebrate his jokes over the years, so much so that we've been almost part of his fan club.

So from the ITBB archives:

From 2014, some ISIHAC new dictionary definitions that tickled our fancy enough for us to transcribe them for your delectation:
alter ego - a priest who's full of himself
tamper - what you take on a Yorkshire picnic
gladiator - an unrepentant cannibal
Plus some suggestions for titles of films like to prove popular with an audience of dog-lovers:
  • Hawaii Fi-Do
  • Arselick and Old Lace
And in 2015 we transcribed two jokes from his appearances on Broadcasting House, the first featuring one of his legendary parrot jokes:
A woman walked into a shop to buy a parrot, a beautiful blue-and-gold job, and she said to the man, "How much?", and he said, "Twenty quid".
She said, "Twenty pounds? He's beautiful."
He said, "Well, I have to be quite frank with you. It's got a bit of form. It's got a bit of history. He was in a brothel and, to put it delicately, he's got quite an extensive vocabulary."
She said, "I'll take a chance on that", took the parrot back to her flat, took the cover off. The parrot looked round her flat and said, "New place. Very nice".
Two daughters walked in. The parrot said, "New place. New girls. Very nice indeed."
And her husband walked in, and the parrot said, "Hello Keith."
The second concerned a different bird:
It reminded me of the story of a man who shot a golden eagle, which is a preserved species. And he was up before the magistrates and was permitted to make a statement, and he said, "I'd no intention of shooting that golden eagle. I was shooting a pheasant and in a split second the golden eagle flew into my sight. Complete accident".
And they thought, "That's quite an explanation", and out of curiosity one of the magistrates said, "What did you do with it?"
He said, "I ate it".
And the magistrate said, "What did it taste like?".
He said, "Rather like swan".
And we transcribed him again back in 2014 telling an anecdote:
There was a wonderful story of the late Denis Thatcher arriving at Paddington in a rush, and he had a ticket but not a reservation. So he got on this train. It was packed from front to back, and he wandered all down the train looking for a seat.
Suddenly he came to some empty seats and he thought, 'What's this?'. And on the window was a sticker that said, 'Reserved. Reading Psychiatric Hospital'. So he thought, 'I'm all right till Reading' and read his paper.
The train stopped at Reading and people got on and sat round him, the party from the hospital. And the man in charge said, 'Hang on, we've got one too many here. I must do a headcount' and he went '1,2,3,4...who are you?' And Denis said, 'I'm the husband of the Prime Minister', and the man said, '4,5,6.7...'!
And also from 2014 - which must have been the blog's Year of Barry Cryer - came two more parrot jokes that exercised our chuckle muscles:
(1) A couple going out for dinner, and she's in the bathroom trying on a new dress, and she came out of the bathroom and said to her husband, "Does my bum look big in this?" He said, "Oh be fair, love, it's quite a small bathroom".
(2) A parrot in a cage in the window, and a woman walked past in the road, and the parrot said, "You're a fat cow", and she was outraged and complained to the parrot's owner, and he said, "Behave or I'll sellotape your beak up". So the parrot stopped. And two hours later the same woman walked past the window and the parrot said, "You know what I'm thinking."
So here's hoping that, as God and St. Peter perform Things Can Only Get Better in a heavenly game of Swanee Kazoo and the cherubim and seraphim dispute Mornington Crescent moves, Barry's laugh rings out like a clarion for eternity - as Humphrey Littleton once described it, "like a chicken trying to lay a rugby football".

For Holocaust Memorial Day

As Sue notes in a post above, today is Holocaust Memorial Day. 

Before work today I was re-reading something I wrote for my old classical music blog Serenade to Music back in 2012: Scherzo triste - The Music of Pavel Haas. Pavel Haas was a Czech/Jewish composer, a pupil of the great Leos Janacek, and - in my view - an unsung master. His dates, alas, were 1899-1944. He was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  

I'm going to post one of his pieces for you: his String Quartet No. 2, 'From the Monkey Mountains', Op.7 of 1925.
If you were impressed by that then wait until you try Haas's String Quartet No. 2, 'From the Monkey Mountains', Op.7 of 1925, where the undoubted traces of Janáček's two great string quartets (The Kreutzer Sonata and Intimate Letters) don't in any way detract from a remarkable achievement. There are four movements, of which the first, Landscape, is closest throughout to the teacher's idiom. The second, Coach, Coachman And Horse, however, has a remarkably original main section that will surely get you pricking up your ears! The slow movement, The Moon And I..., is certainly mysterious - and very beautiful. As for the final movement, Wild Night, well that holds a surprise which I won't divulge. It's a musical first too, historically-speaking. I'll just say that if you were in any doubt about the Chinese inspiration behind the piece, you won't be after hearing this part of it! Yes, Haas certainly had a sense of humour. (There's more evidence for that in the rather inebriated-sounding second movement of the Wind Quintet, Op.10 of 1929). This superb work should be in the repertory of most string quartets, though I suspect I can guess why it probably won't be (as I'm sure you can too).

My teasers there still stand. You'll have to listen to it to find out!

But whereas many, like the BBC, are happy to confront antisemitism in Nazi Germany - and the rest of the past - the focus must also be on antisemitism now. This happened last night, in London, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day:

Rumbling on

There have been yet more twists and turns this week in the story of the BBC's reporting of the antisemitic incident on Oxford Street where some Muslim youths spat at and threw shoes at a bus containing Jewish teenagers, also shouting abuse and directing Hitler salutes at them.

The BBC's Executive Complaints Unit [ECU] partially upheld complaints against it, amending their online report again and adding a second correction. The ECU found that the reporting didn't "meet the BBC’s standards of due accuracy" and "also lacks due impartiality in failing to reflect alternative views".

Presented like that you can see why some newspapers are reporting this as an "apology", but the "Partly upheld" status of the complaint signals that the BBC is holding its shaky ground on some fronts; indeed, the more I read it and saw all the usual BBC weasel words, 'ifs and buts', etc, the clearer it became that the BBC was actually excusing itself of all but minor things, doubling-down on the major things and providing cover for itself.

I didn't know where to begin to deconstruct it but, thankfully, a masterly critique of the BBC's slipperiness has already been written. Yes, a read of Melanie Phillips is needed - and she's free to read on this. She calls it "a shocking defence of the indefensible".

Then came the twist that Ofcom have decided to investigate this themselves. Given that Ofcom has ruled against the BBC just once more than never in its time as regulator I won't be holding my breath, but I suppose a degree of optimism is reasonable given that Ofcom mustn't be entirely satisfied with the BBC's response for them to launch their own inquiry into the BBC's coverage. 

It's quite a thing that, on the eve of International Holocaust Day, the BBC is under investigation by Ofcom over their reporting of antisemitism. 

[Shades of the antisemitism-riddled Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn].

And it gets weirder. 

The much-admired CST (Community Security Trust) - doughty defender of the UK's Jewish population - has accused the BBC's ECU of misrepresenting and misquoting them, and using them as cover. 

And Marie van der Zyl, the head of the Board of Deputies, has accused departing BBC head of news Fran Unworth of making “highly inappropriate comments” about Jewish communal organisation during a meeting last week, writing to Tim Davie to demand disciplinary measures be taken against her. Ms van der Zyl said that Fran's comments were a “not very subtle way of saying that ‘you lot are all the same.’” She also said that Mr Davie didn't say anything to correct Ms Unsworth, just kept quiet. 

It's quite a mess. At least the BBC haven't commissioned Shami Chakrabarty to whitewash their behaviour yet. 

Monday, 24 January 2022

A very sad story

This is a very sad tale of multiple tragedies.  My intention here is primarily to focus on the BBC’s conduct, but also to recount a bit of a story. 

Michael Rosen is one of the BBC’s most treasured contributors, and as Craig reminded me, his radio programme ‘Word of Mouth' is interesting and exceedingly listenable. 

He has broadcast several first-hand accounts of his near-death experience due to Covid-19 - the bad one - and has expressed his sincere gratitude to the NHS and explained how well they treated him.

He experienced a devastating personal loss several years ago when his eighteen-year-old son died suddenly of meningitis. He wrote so movingly of it at the time that I very well remember feeling deeply sorry for him and his family.

However, he is also a keen Corbynista, and I do recall the below-the-line contributions he made to Harry’s Place, back in the days when that was an ideologically left-leaning, and if you’ll pardon the anomaly, a pro-Zionist website. He was, back in the day, a bit of a troll, as his comments were somewhat provocative and, well, troll-like. Agent provocateur is the phrase I’m a-lookin' for.

Another red flag was raised (for me) when I noticed that Rosen was a fan of the self-confessed antisemite Roald Dahl, whose own family had to issue a posthumous apology on his behalf, in order to shift more of his merchandise. (Most kids, including mine, like Dahl’s stories. I think the stories have a bitter and twisted subliminal agenda,  but I did read them aloud to my own children - metaphorically hanging my own personal antipathy to the author on a peg at the bedroom door.

If you’re interested, Rosen was in a spat with TCW’s Laura Perrins in 2016 on the Beeb’s Daily Politics hosted by Jo Coburn, when the left-wing Momentum movement was more of a thing.

That roughly sets out my feelings about Michael Rosen. However, there is another and even sadder part to this unfolding tale. It gets bizarre. 

Michael Rosen saw something on Twitter he didn’t like. It was the kind of thing people do online, poking fun at people like Jeremy Corbyn by way of some nifty photoshopping. 

Someone on Twitter had doctored a picture depicting the magic grandpa apparently reading to some schoolchildren, originally a photo-op created to demonstrate Corbyn’s cuddly ‘Grandpa-ness. 


The book in the Tweet had attracted Rosen’s attention because it was Rosen’s own popular Bear Hunt-themed children’s book - but with a twist. The book’s cover had been substituted for another image - The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion - and, obviously to everyone but Rosen, intended as a dig at Corbyn’s antisemitism.

Rosen didn’t see the joke. He took umbrage, bigly. Not only that, but he somehow interpreted the Tweet itself, and therefore the tweeter, as being antisemitic. As to how he worked that out, nobody has so far offered a credible explanation. As far as I can tell, it was a massive inversion of the actualité and if anything, a combination of gaslighting and self-denial.

This is where the BBC comes in. Last May, the BBC put out an article on their website. 

Michael Rosen condemns Northumbria Uni lecturer's manipulated image tweet,  illustrated with a jokey pic of Rosen peering smilingly through two huge piles of his books.

The article is sparse. It doesn’t name Rosen’s accusé, but alludes to him as “Northumbria Uni lecturer.”

The content of the article implies that the Uni Lecturer is an antisemite and Rosen’s ridiculous accusation is reproduced in the form of a quote. 

The book's author, Michael Rosen, has condemned the tweet as "loathsome and anti-Semitic". The member of staff has been approached for comment

The BBC is careful to stress that Rosen is “not in favour of anyone being sacked over this”.

Whatever you make of this poorly constructed article, it certainly lacks logic and is so badly explained that it leaves an impression diametrically contra to the actuality.

Although Rosen was gratuitously magnanimous about the sacking, the University in question did what universities as employers do these days; they dealt with it with predictable unsupportiveness and wokeness typical of present-day academia. 

So now the University Lecturer is dead. We are not aware of what has happened but one can speculate. He was 38 years old for God’s sake.

Peter Newbon received hate mail and was bullied online in wake of tweet about Jeremy Corbyn

A coroner will investigate the sudden death of a Jewish academic “remorselessly bullied” on social media after he was accused of anti-Semitism by one of Britain’s best loved children’s authors. 

Peter Newbon, 38, a father of three young girls, died a week ago in the wake of a Twitter “pile on” that had left him feeling under pressure, according to friends. He was found dead last Saturday. 

His partner, Rachel Hewitt, said his death had left her “broken into a million unbearably painful pieces”. 

“Through his work as a senior lecturer in the humanities at Northumbria University, which he joined in 2012, Pete inspired students with his passion for Romantic and Victorian literature. 

"In his political campaigning, particularly against anti-Semitism in Labour, he showed bravery, integrity, and a fierce sense of right and wrong. His friends have told me they loved his gentleness, goodness and irrepressible humour.”  

The North Yorkshire and York coroner court is due to open an inquest at a later date.

I’m sure Michael Rosen feels pretty bad now. One hopes so. But the BBC hasn’t quite got round to reporting this tragedy yet, and one does wonder how they’ll pitch it, when and if they do.

Sunday, 23 January 2022

Remembrance of Recent Mamories...

Times change. 

Long gone are the days of Sir Robin Bowtie, Charles 'Hot Cheeks' Wheeler, Eric Morecambe of Morecambe fame, counting-in-and-out Brian O'Hanra O'Hanrahan, and Martin 'Man In The White Pants' Bell. 

And the days of John Simpers (Liberator of Kabul) and Dame Kate Adeeee of the Beeee Beeee Ceeee are numbered too.

We now live in the BBC Age of Marianna Spring, named after the BBC's senior disinformation reporter, where 'look at me!' selfies from BBC staff are legion. 

Indeed - as a sexist might say - one of the least onerous curses of tracking BBC bias on Twitter is that of being inadvertently obliged to see numerous BBC females posting endless selfies of themselves, frequently pouting

Cue: Industrial-scale lipstick, huge close-up smiles, gleaming teeth to outshine the work of an ancient Greek dental hygienist siren, clingy dresses so tight they'd put conscientious boa constrictors to shame, legs stretching to infinity and far, far beyond, and, most of all, GLAM. 

They love themselves, these BBC ladies, bless them. And they absolutely love all the appreciative 'You look beautiful' relies too. 

I'd love to know what Dame Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey, now departed, make of all this. Whither old-school BBC feminism?

Here's a tweet this very evening from BBC Trending boss Mike Wendling's underling and star reporter Marianna tweeting about her hair:

Call me old-fashioned, but her wonderful hair wasn't the only thing I noticed. I also noticed her smile.

And, even as an impartiality fan, I really, really don't want to see her boss and possible puppet master, Mike Wendling, for balance's sake, glammed up in tight lycra showing off his BBC-friendly 'lower man rack'. 

The bulk of the replies to Marianna's tweet tonight are of this kind:

  • You look fantastic. I'm so happy I've found someone such as yourself who is focusing on the harmful effects of online conspiracies and abuse. Thank you for your work.
  • Green suits you. Thanks for your hard work x
  • Looking lovely!
  • Fab hair. Looking forward to watching the programmes.

As far as mainstream outlets go, media-wise, it's a different, less serious and less intelligent age perhaps, despite - in the BBC's case - its present licence fee funding. 

Paging poor, increasingly-cancelled, ex-BBC regular Germaine Greer. Wonder what she makes of all this? 

I rather miss Germaine, lost from the BBC during the Trans wars. 

Introspective Post (with parsley sauce)

As it's Sunday night and my Sunday dinner [pork with crackling, roast potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and parsley sauce, if you were wondering] is digesting, I'll post something I was going to post much earlier in the week. 

Despite things improving, it still holds true [including my Disqus problems]. And you've continued to 'mind the gap':
My trusty old laptop, which has seen me through a lot of blogging, decided to take against the letter 'e' the other day. 
Now, there have been novels in the past - Ernest Vincent Wright's 1939 Gadsby and Georges Perec's 1969 La Disparition - written entirely without the letter 'e', but I don't think a blog about BBC bias can be written without it. 
After all, I'd have to refer to *mily Maitlis and L*wis Goodall and Mark *aston and Mik* W*ndling and Gary Lin*k*r, etc, and it might looks as if I was swearing about them. 

So I've gone onto my reserve laptop and can't get back into Disqus yet to reply to the discussion on the open thread. So I'll do it here instead:

Things are undoubtedly getting worse with the BBC, and to a startling degree. I thought they were getting a bit better in the early 2010s, but things began deteriorating again after 2016 and have spiralled downwards over the past couple of years at a dizzying rate, especially in recent months.

It used to be fairly manageable keeping up with it, but it's getting harder almost by the week to wrap a mere blogger's cerebral cortex around it. At this very moment I'm looking at everything's that gone on over this past couple of days and almost despairing about even beginning to sum it up, never mind do justice to it.

This is where you, dear readers, come in. 

When we withdrew last year, you stepped in. 

In preparing my favourite post of last year - 2021 in a Nutshell - I drew heavily on your comments on the open thread, especially for the missing months. 

You barely missed a thing. 

So please keep commenting and pointing things out - when you've the time and the inclination.

As you've been saying, we may be small but it's good to have another separate, distinct, manageable gathering place for sharing what we've all heard and seen, alongside other likeminded sororal and fraternal sites. 

I still believe we're a very useful resource with a fascinating and ever-expanding archive, like a village library - even if much of what we've been saying for years is now pretty mainstream and even though we've probably been superceded.

And, of course, it's a library with lots of beautifully-crafted, profoundly-thought-out and often very funny pieces by Sue, highlighting matters that really matter. She's the George Eliot of ITBB compared to my George and Weedon Grossmith.

So onwards!

And thank you again. 

Gordon's still alive!!!

I wrote a piece last September about how Radio 4's Sunday “likes giving Gordon Brown a platform to promote his causes”, noting that he'd been “granted the Sunday bully pulpit no less than three times over the past year, pushing his agenda with the BBC's help”.

“It's all very Sunday”, I wrote. “In the years that I've covered them, they've always had their favourites and put them centre-stage.”

I then called Gordon Brown “their living saint among UK politicians.”

I repeat all this because Gordon Brown was back on Sunday once again this morning pushing a campaign (and an online petition) to compel the UK government to give more aid to the Afghans. 

[He's forever wanting to give our money away.]

Ed Stourton's questioning - or more accurately 'questioning' - was very helpful to the former prime minister.

And so it continues!

Talking to people

This morning's Sunday programme on Radio 4 returned to the subject of the antisemitic attack on a synagogue in Texas. 

As that attack was perpetrated by a Muslim man from Blackburn, the BBC attempted some bridge-building between the Jewish and Muslim communities there: 
Edward Stourton: We asked two people from Lancashire's Jewish and Muslim communities to reflect on what happened. Saima Afza is a Muslim from Blackburn. She's a former local councillor and a former Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire. Jeremy Dable is Jewish and lives in Preston. He used to be a member of the town's interfaith forum. 
Though doubtless well-meaning, it struck me as a rather pointless exercise. 

It involved the wrong people. 

Saima is a former Labour councillor who fell out with some male Muslims in her party because they didn't like her progressive views on homophobia, racism and sexism. Jeremy ran as a Liberal Democrat in several council elections, and led an interfaith forum, campaigned against the far-right and was involved with a refugee support group. 

[I had to Google around to find most of this out. Sunday told us only what I quoted Big Ed saying above].

Saima and Jeremy are nice, BBC-friendly people - as liberal a Muslim as you can get, and a liberal Jew. They could even be on Thought For The Day

These aren't the people from either community who need bridges building between them. Particularly as Jeremy ran an interfaith forum, reaching out to each other was just the kind of thing they'd naturally do anyhow. 

This is typical BBC, talking to 'people like them', people who the BBC can relate to, & thinking that they are in some way representative of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Blackburn.

Rachel Burden, Jeremy Corbyn & antisemitism

A Survation poll back in 2018 found that 85% of British Jews believed that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. And as Tam Heinitz writes:
Now it might feasibly be argued that such evidence as there is does not constitute conclusive proof that Corbyn himself is antisemitic. Certainly it would be right to acknowledge that he strongly disputes such an assertion.
But given the Mural, the Wreath, his comments about Hamas and Raed Saleh, his associations with Paul Eisen, his glowing Foreword to an antisemitic book, his comments about British Zionists lacking a sense of ‘English irony… despite having lived here a long time, probably all their lives’, not to mention the Labour Party under his leadership being found guilty of harassing and discriminating against Jewish members, there is, to say the least, a feasible case for the prosecution.
And that is why the Campaign Against Antisemitism has complained to the BBC because on 12 January, Breakfast presenter Rachel Burden interviewed businessman John Caudwell, who called Mr Corbyn  “a Marxist and antisemite”.  Later, towards the end of the programme, she apologised to 5 Live listeners:
I should have challenged him on the particular allegation of antisemite [sic] because there is absolutely no evidence that the leader of the Labour Party at that time, Jeremy Corbyn, was or is antisemitic. He had to deal with allegations of that within his party but there is nothing to suggest that he himself as an individual was. So I apologise for not challenging more directly, I should have done, and I want to emphasise there is no evidence for that at all.

Au contraire, Rachel. Au contraire. 

The whistleblower returns

The Spectator's pseudonymous BBC whistleblower is back again.

This time he criticises his employer for “hypocrisy” over Partygate, arguing that the looming elephant in its coverage was that the rules themselves were the problem causing ordinary people so much grief during the darkest days of lockdown and that the BBC played a deeply helpful role: 
Hearing of parties at No. 10 undoubtedly rubbed salt in people’s wounds but these wounds were not caused by ‘partygate’. This wasn’t acknowledged by a single BBC presenter. How could it be? Throughout the pandemic, the BBC has used its platforms to proselytise about every Covid rule and restriction, inducing the public to see unquestioning compliance as a virtue and dissent as sociopathic selfishness.
When it comes to the coverage of ‘partygate’, I find myself wincing at the level of hypocrisy shown, not just by Boris — but by the BBC. It’s pretty clear the PM didn’t want to go down the route of lockdown rules and restrictions. He sowed the seeds of his own destruction and the misery of millions when he bowed to pressure from panic-stricken advisers who had convinced themselves that the repressive example of Communist China must be followed. Once this route had been taken, BBC correspondents pressured the government to go further and further, obsessing over the details of how to correctly follow every rule to the letter, irrespective of the impact on transmission...But the BBC can’t admit this because by doing so it would have to concede that by throwing its full weight behind the lockdown approach, it too should bear responsibility for the harms it caused.

None of that is really whistleblowing. This, however, gives a proper glimpse behind the scenes: 

And this slanted stance continues, evidenced by the BBC’s recent coverage of Novak Djokovic’s ordeal at the hands of the Australian authorities. Djokovic was characterised as the villain rather than a victim. And while much was said of the tennis player’s eccentric attitudes towards vaccinations, reporters displayed a marked reluctance to question the ethics of Canberra’s Covid zealotry or the longer-term implications for international sport, travel and bodily autonomy in general. Talking to colleagues about the tennis player’s plight gave an insight into the Covid groupthink endemic in BBC offices. One called him ‘an idiot’ for declining a coronavirus jab. Another showed barely contained contempt for the unvaccinated, making clear they would welcome any measures that excluded those who decline jabs from wider society.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Fran's last outing

This week's Newswatch is worth a transcript. 

It featured outgoing BBC director of news and current affairs Fran Unsworth and got a bit 'meta' towards the end when the usefulness (or otherwise) of Newswatch was discussed. 

And it got odder still when Fran did what many a BBC editor on Newswatch has done before: She didn't answer Samira's question about editors avoiding the programme when big stories break and then asserted "we have the most robust complaints process as well".

Anyhow, enjoy!


Samira Ahmed: Hello and welcome to Newswatch with me, Samira Ahmed. Not for the first time, the BBC's political coverage comes under fire for an alleged lack of balance. We asked Fran Unsworth, soon to leave the corporation after four years leading its news division, about impartiality, accountability and making the most of a shrinking budget. It's been a significant week for a BBC, with Monday's announcement from Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries that the licence fee would be frozen for the next two years. BBC chairman Richard Sharp reacted like this:
Richard Sharp: What it means for the BBC is with less money in real terms we are going to have to address how we do what we do differently. and there will have to be changes and consequences. If you diminish capital resources, there are going to be effects. Now, the BBC has already had ten years of real reduction by about 30%. 
The news department has not been exempt from those cuts with an £80 million savings target to be met by this year. And that's meant job losses in areas such as political and business news. Some viewers have been detecting an effect on the output over recent months, with Hannah Fearn tweeting: 
Hannah Fearn: Well, what do you know. Turns out journalists do a really important job and can't just be slashed without impact on quality and breadth.
Well, let's talk to Fran Unsworth, who first joined the BBC in 1980, starting in local radio, but who rose to become its director of news and current affairs and she retires next week. Thank you, Fran, for coming on Newswatch
Fran Unsworth: It's a pleasure. 
Samira Ahmed: Would you say you're leaving BBC News in a better place than it was when you first started working here? 
Fran Unsworth: Well, it's a very different place than when I first started working here because, of course, we do so much more output. So, when I joined BBC News, it was just radio and television. And now, there is the website, there's social, there's the app, there is continuous news TV, radio continuous news, so there's a lot more of it. 
Samira Ahmed: So, is that better or worse? 
Fran Unsworth: It's better in that I think we are responding to what people want and how they live their lives and how they don't want to just kind of make an appointment to see news or to listen to news. They need it there, instantly so it's better in that respect. Is the quality of what we do worse or better? I think the quality of what we do is actually incredibly good. 
Samira Ahmed: You mentioned quality but, as you've heard, some people think there has been a loss of quality because of the cuts that you've had to make of the past few years. Recently, the BBC admitted it had been a mistake to interview the lawyer Alan Dershowitz after Ghislaine Maxwell's conviction. Do you accept that with fewer experienced journalists in the newsroom, mistakes like that are going to happen more? 
Fran Unsworth: Well, mistakes do happen - I'm not going to deny that - but I think in that particular case, it was less to do with cuts, to be honest, and more to do with Covid! It was also 28 December, it was night. I think the teams, actually, are quite thinned out, there's no doubt about it, but that's not because of cuts so much as because of where we are between Christmas and new year. 
Samira Ahmed: Really? People thought you should have just Googled Alan Dershowitz, you'd have known you shouldn't be putting him on air in that context. 
Fran Unsworth: Well, possibly - actually, I think there was - I think the teams now know that actually, they could have avoided it by doing some kind of more considered handovers to each other on it. But - and we admitted it was a mistake and dealt with it. Mistakes happen - they do - but I don't necessarily think there are any more of them now than when I joined the BBC nearly 40 years ago - or if there are, it's probably a factor of having so much more output. 
Samira Ahmed: After this week's announcement on the licence fee, BBC News is going to have to make more cuts, it's a tough time. Is it time to just cut a whole programme or a service like say, Newsnight
Fran Unsworth: Well, it might be something we would want to look at. but obviously we are in the early stages of what this licence fee settlement means. We have planned quite carefully over the past few years. As you've alluded, in news, part of our modernising news plan was - it wasn't just about taking money out, it was in order to us to shape news for the future so that we could have more impact with what we were doing across a greater number of platforms and also put digital at the heart of our commissioning process. Now, it's not for me to second-guess my successor's views about if there are any further cuts expected of the News division, where those might be. I'm sure that she will come in and have a look around and think about it. But where we start from is what are the audiences that we need to serve, and how do we need to serve them? 

Samira Ahmed: Let's pause there for a moment, Fran, because since you've been in post, you've faced as busy a news agenda as most journalists can remember. And this week was no exception with the temperature at Westminster raised to fever pitch. 
Huw Edwards: Tonight at 10:00, we are live in Downing Street after a day in which Boris Johnson faced a wave of calls for his resignation. 
Reporter: Is it all over, Prime Minister? 
Well, we mentioned on last week's programme complaints that the BBC's coverage of those Downing Street parties has been "excessive" and "biased" against the Prime Minister. And those continued this week, for instance with this phone call:
Woman: I'm ringing to complain about the amount of news on Boris Johnson. It's about time you stopped being judge, jury and executioner. I think as for the BBC being impartial, I most certainly don't think you are. 
As ever, though, others see another side to the story, and Philip Pooley agreed that: 
Philip Pooley: So called BBC impartiality is a myth.

But he went on:  

Philip Pooley: Any honest assessment of news coverage over the last few years will clearly show a bias against the Labour Party and pro-government reporting.

You have been in news for a very long time so complaints like that - one side and then the other side - won't come as a surprise, but does it feel to you like the polarisation of political views has become kind of nastier? 
Fran Unsworth: Um, it's a really interesting question, whether it's become nastier. It certainly feels more polarised, yes. And it certainly feels as though people kind of want to default a bit to their own echo chambers sometimes. And if they don't see the views that they agree with reflected then I do think they perceive us as being biased. But, you know, our job is to hold a national conversation. Our job is to show people that there is a whole range of views on every subject. I don't subscribe to the view that just because we are getting hammered by both sides - one set of the audience sees us as biased and the other from another political perspective sees us as biased too - we must be getting it right. I don't buy into that idea. But I do think that the whole nature of discourse has been quite impacted by social media, for instance. It's become pretty robust. It's become quite difficult, well, very difficult for some of our journalists, in fact, who are repeatedly subjected to online abuse of the most horrible, vicious nature, quite often. Misogynistic. And I could - Laura Kuenssberg, Marianna Spring - and I think that's what I have seen change over the course of my career. 
Samira Ahmed: It's interesting you say that, because we do get complaints from viewers that they feel BBC political journalists are often putting a personal spin on stories, and I wonder if that compromises the BBC's commitment to impartiality. 
Fran Unsworth: Yes, it would do, and that's why we brought out social media guidelines, to remind our staff that we need to be cautious in the social media space about your insertion of your own political views and political opinions. Because if we are not impartial, there is no point to us. We can't charge a licence fee off everybody in the UK if we are not impartial. And it's beholden on all of our staff to remember that and to act accordingly in that way. 
Samira Ahmed: Stay with us again, Fran. We want to talk about another of the principles behind BBC News, which is accountability. And we want to talk in fact a little bit about Newswatch itself. This programme started in 2004 after the Hutton Inquiry which strongly criticised the BBC over its coverage of the lead up to the Iraq War and the death of the government scientist David Kelly. In response, Newswatch was established as part of an initiative to make BBC News more accountable. But viewers regularly question whether it is truly fulfilling that role. Here's Howard Price:
Howard Price: Does Fran Unsworth think there is enough accountability to licence fee payers, when very often we are told that 'no one was available to come on the programme' or 'a BBC spokesperson (anonymous) has issued this statement' and then a statement is read? Isn't the attitude of the BBC management that 'we are always right' and that 99% of the time they will ignore all criticism?
How would you answer that?
Fran Unsworth: Well, we obviously don't take the view that 99% of the time we're always right. and I will admit that we don't always get everything right. We actually, I think - executives from News do appear on Newswatch quite frequently. 
Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) Hmm, not a great hit rate, I would say. We've checked, and on the big stories, you're not coming on. 
Fran Unsworth: Well, we normally would give a statement if an executive isn't available. But I would also say it's not the only bit of accountability that the BBC has in place, of course. We have Feedback on radio. And we have the most robust complaints process as well. Which means that anybody can write in a complaint and get an answer to it. 

Samira Ahmed: Under your tenure, there's been a number of controversies involving BBC News management, such as the revelations about Martin Bashir and the row over Naga Munchetty's comments on Breakfast about Donald Trump. What's your biggest regret? 
Fran Unsworth: Oh... LAUGHS. I've got quite a few, to be honest! Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn't it? You look back and you say, "Oh, if only I'd taken a slightly different decision there." I'm not going to go into them here, but believe me there are some things I wish I had done differently over the course of my career. It would be arrogant and blind of me not to recognise that. 
Samira Ahmed: Fran Unsworth, thank you for coming on Newswatch
Fran Unsworth: Thank you very much. 



Update: Talking of odd things...

This bit of the programme caught my eye (see transcript above): 

I was curious and checked it on Twitter. Unless I'm missing something, rather than reacting to event in recent months, Hannah Fearn tweeted that way back in March 2020: 

This leads me to wonder: Rather than Hannah Fearn being a viewer who contacted Newswatch over this, did Newswatch simply come across her tweet on Twitter and NOT realise it was nearly two years old, and then just put it out, without checking? If so, that's very strange behaviour on Newswatch's part.