Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Second-class articles

I’m not the only one who’s keeping an eye on Gregg Carlstrom, the freelancer who writes articles about Israel for the Times. 
I see CiF Watch’s Adam Levick also noticed yesterday’s article in with the alarming headline  “Israel set to make Arabs second-class citizens.” (Page 32 under the section called “World” )  (£) It wasn’t just the font size that made the piece look alarmist and sensational. 

Some time ago this writer’s household had to cancel a subscription to the Telegraph after one too many obnoxious pieces from Peter Oborne. I wrote to the paper to register our dismay.  Not long afterwards the marketing department rang, as they do, to try and lure us back. Why, they wanted to know, had we left? 
“Peter Oborne,” said I. 
“We’ve made some editorial changes,” they said,  temptingly. “New editor and that. We’re more left-wing these days.”

Hmm. I wonder if Gregg Carlstrom is  going to prove to be the Oborne that broke the camel’s back. As Oborne is to the Telegraph, so Carlstrom is to the Times? I hope not.

I don’t expect Carlstrom was responsible for the headline, and I must admit that it did make me read the article more attentively than I otherwise would.  I have to say the actual headline bore little relation to the content (muddled) Neither did the somewhat gratuitous picture of Palestinian farmer Fadel Halawa, deceased, apparently shot by the IDF.

Does the name Carlstrom have the whiff of the jackboot about it or is it just me and the paranoia? Anyway, the piece begins: 
After an angry debate, the Israeli cabinet endorsed a controversial bill declaring the country a Jewish state, a move that will alienate the Palestinian minority further and push the government closer to early elections.The bill affirms that Jewish law should inspire the Israeli legal system, and reserves other “national rights” for Jews, including the right to immigrate. If passed by the full Knesset, it would become a “basic law,” akin to a constitutional amendment.”

I see the online version has another illustration. 

A Palestinian boy plays inside the wreckage of a car in Gaza city (next to houses that were destroyed)AFP/Getty. 

What is going on here? Blimey. Anyhow the boy, who looks about 6 years old, appears to be delighted. 
Are these pictures trying to convey a message? Oh dear.

Actually, at this stage the debate in the Knesset was just that. A debate. No apartheid law has been brought in. It’s a debate about democracy, equal rights, the nature of the ‘Jewish’ State and discrimination. A debate that would be unthinkable in any Islamic state, at which the world doesn’t seem to bat an eyelid.
According to Carlstrom: “The version approved yesterday will not bring immediate changes but experts say  it will make it easier for the Knesset to approve discriminatory laws and for the high court to uphold them.”
Don’t we just love ‘experts?”
The article includes some ‘background’, political. (“It’s the upcoming elections, stupid” ) as well as the customary emotive statistics, hence the illustrations. 

So is this another step towards the “Judaization” of which Yolande Knell and co write so disapprovingly? Is it mere provocation for ongoing Palestinian fury?

The BBC hasn’t reported any of this, so far as I can see (perhaps it has mentioned it on the World service?) but Al Jazeera had a fairly even-handed discussion about it which included a mention (from the anchor) of the elephant in the room, i.e. the Islamic nature of Israel’s neighbours.

Watch out for it on the Beeb.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A Haaretz take on Mossad, courtesy of Fergal Keane

If you follow matters Israeli you will probably be aware of the wide range of political opinions within that unique Middle Eastern democracy. You'll probably also be aware that some positions are less popular with the Israeli public than others. 

Knowing what you do of Israeli politics, what would you make of a BBC programme about Mossad that only featured:

Knowing what you do of where the bulk of Israeli public opinion lies, would you say that was representative? 

Well, I certainly wouldn't.

That, however, was precisely the cast-list of today's episode of Fergal Keane's Terror Through Time: Mossad, the Wrath of God - a short potted history of the Israeli security agency.

The result was, by and large, fairly predictable: a portrait of Mossad as a ruthless, sometimes cruelly fallible organisation, complete with unfavourable takes from a pair of Palestinians, a modicum of hand-wringing from the three liberal-minded Israelis and an largely disapproving overarching take on the organisation courtesy of Fergal Keane...

...much as might have been feared in advance.

The seven deadly sins of tweeting about politics

As you probably don't read The New Statesman very often (he says, doubtless making wild assumptions about you), I thought I'd share this with you. It's best read at the Staggers itself so that you can see the examples in all their sinfulness

It follows another Twitter #bbcbias onslaught from Labour Party activists...

The seven deadly sins of tweeting about politics 
As #CameronMustGo hashtaggers are tweeting their fury about the fact that mainstream news outlets haven't picked up their online campaign, it's time to look at the worst sins committed by those who take their political insights to Twitter.

Accusing the BBC of bias for not reporting things that... aren't stories
Although this particular sin has been heightened today by #CameronMustGo tweeters attacking the BBC for refusing to pick up on their hashtag campaign, it is a time-old, enduring trope of angry political tweets. If the Beeb doesn't mention Some People Being Angry at the Prime Minister, whether it's stated in a hashtag or via a handful of people protesting somewhere, it is accused of rightwing bias. If it does anything else, it's accused of leftwing bias.

Failing to understand the point of the House of Commons chamber
This is a particularly popular genre of political tweetery: taking a screenshot of MPs debating in the Commons, and commenting on how heartless and detached they are because not all 650 of our representatives are present for whichever debate the tweeter has seized upon. Even if it's a late afternoon adjournment debate about the capacity of the West Anglia Rail Line.

Saying "this keeps being removed" when it really doesn't
A nefarious internet conspiracy is inevitably pointed out whenever someone makes a meme of a politician of the ruling party being ripped apart, usually by a civilian wide-eyed with sincerity, on television. For some reason, many users decide that Twitter's staff can be bothered to rake through its billions of tweets to delete a minor skirmish from the Daily Politics on a Tuesday in order to protect the reputation of a little-known UK government minister. And they beg you for a retweet.

Tweeting a picture of a politician you admire/Owen Jones beside a big block of text
A particularly offensive Twitter sin, mainly due to the fact that the font is always terrible on these things. Someone somewhere sits and transcribes a favourite quote from a respected heavyweight politician, or a junior shadow minister, or Owen Jones, highlights it all and hits Tempus Sans, and then watches their treasured work take flight among fellow Twitter sinners.

PMQs verdict/review/in short – and then just listing your party's attack lines
If watching Prime Minister's Questions with Twitter by your side, it is common practice to give your snap "verdict" on the exchange. This means politicians and supporters of both Cameron and Miliband's parties give us the same review each week: summing up their party's attack lines. Sometimes "privatising the NHS" is exchanged for "tax-cuts for millionaires", but each week is pretty constant.

Nazi/Communist references
This is the GCSE school of politics tweets: linking rightwing parties with Hitler, and leftwing parties with Marx.

Orwell references
Well, really it's just the one reference: They "looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again... ". A favourite accompanying picture for this one is the Prime Minister with a pig for a face, but it can equally be used to say something cynical about the Labour party. 
I'm not sure this kind of thing just applies to Twitter.

Red faces (and noses) at the BBC

I was reading recently that Majestic Wines has been having a bad year share-wise, falling by some 30%. 

Still, at least one British institution has been doing its bit to keep Majestic Wines flourishing - the BBC.

The BBC has run up quite a bill at Majestic Wine. Monkey has been passed a Freedom of Information request from What Do They Know which reveals the corporation spent £43,000 on alcohol “with the BBC’s single preferred supplier Majestic Wine PLC” over the past year. That excludes spending on booze for “production-related purposes (e.g. in the case of an end of series party)” says the BBC in its response, because “the information requested falls outside of the scope of the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature” It goes on to say that “the BBC has a rigorous expenses policy which has been progressively tightened and we are careful to ensure value for money”. Will they be switching their booze shopping to Lidl or Aldi like everyone else, then?

Discs, desert islands, and cowpats in Islington

There's a rather lovely tribute to Desert Island Discs in today's Times from Melanie Phillips: 
The show itself — invented in 1942 by Roy Plomley, who presented it for a mere 43 years — is a national institution. In its gentle, droll and panoramic way it provides a window into British culture. Plomley wrote in his original submission to the BBC that castaways would include “dance-band leaders, actors, members of the Brains Trust, film stars, writers, child prodigies, ballet dancers and all sorts of people”.
Its wide sweep of guests from all walks of public life, including many who are distinguished in their own field but are relatively unknown to the general public, has introduced listeners to whole areas of knowledge and fresh cultural worlds they are delighted to discover.
With its ability to educate, inform and entertain, Desert Island Discs is arguably the one show that defines the BBC, remaining faithful like no other to its core principles and retaining its original format.
The Today programme on Radio 4, which started in 1957, has changed in format, style and content. TV’s Question Time, which started in 1979, did not originally include so much audience participation and certainly no comedian on the panel. As for The Archers, which started in 1951, its attempt to reflect politically correct reality has made its storylines as likely as a cowpat in Islington.
Yet Desert Island Discs remains unchanged. No such show today would supply the mythical island with the Bible and Shakespeare. In that way it is an island in itself, resisting the rising seas of I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother and other such cultural effluent.
Its genius is that it allows each of us to fantasise about our own eight discs and being on our own desert island, alone and thrown on our own resources. Would we master our circumstances or allow them to master us? Are we survivors or expirers?
As in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Desert Island Discs enchants us with its isle full of noises “that give delight and hurt not”, and on which we delight to dream.

'Tweet of the Day', with Hugh Sykes

Hugh Sykes has long been one of the BBC's most opinionated reporters. For those of you (like Sue) who aren't Twitter aficionados and, therefore, only get to hear Hugh's opinions on the radio, thus missing out on all of his Twitter pensées, here's a small selection to show you what you're missing.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Can I ever be as hip as Mark Mardell?

As per the previous post, can we simply do a Mrs Merton here and ask, "So, Denis, what first attracted you to the BBC's pro-immigration/pro-EU Mark Mardell?" 

Today's edition of The World This Weekend did feature a range of voices on matters of EU immigration [and, yes, it was that kind of immigration which was the focus of the coverage rather than the much more 'dangerous' topic of non-EU immigration].

We heard vox pops expressing disdain for the main political parties, a headmistress describing the growth of non-English speaking children in her school (now over 50%), a Portuguese immigrant who says UKIP are racist, various (mainly Conservative) members of the Bruges Group, Eurosceptic (but non-withdrawalist) Conservative MP David Davis and, finally, Dateline London regular Stryker McGuire. 

Why would Denis MacShane (arch-pro-EU, pro-immigration) approve of that cast list, even with all of those Conservatives? Was he, because of that range of voices, disinterestedly admiring the programme's commitment to impartiality? Or did he detect a bias he liked?

Well, I imagine he felt that the Bruges Group members did their side few favours, especially the woman who launched a quite extraordinary attack on the viewing habits and lifestyles of...well, of people like 'white van man'. And this weekend of all weekends, following the Emily Thornberry affair. 

Although she might well have been right that such people should stop watching crap TV and start thinking about the EU instead [although some people may be able to watch I'm a Celebrity and hold a view on our EU membership], it sounded snobbish. Unfortunately for her, her 'posh' voice may not have helped. She sounded like Margo from The Good Life having a really good rant. 

I bet the World This Weekend team couldn't believe their luck. I bet Denis MacShane laughed his head off on hearing it, and anyone listening at Labour HQ might well have popped open one of their many champagne bottles.

Denis MacShane would have also enjoyed the UKIP-denouncing Portuguese immigrant in the lovely-smelling eating place. (Diverse Food R Us). 

He would also have liked the way that Mark Mardell's introduction to the vox pops bit about how we all hate the main political parties wouldn't come as wholly good news to UKIP either - even though what those people said was, by and large, clearly much more favourable to UKIP than towards the other parties. 

And we know he approved of Stryker McGuire's contribution. Stryker, of course, will be familiar to fans of 'Dateline London'. He's one of the regular cast on that programme and his views aren't out-of-the-ordinary there, even though he's one of the more cautious guests in expressing them. In his short audio essay today he (cautiously but clearly) said that we Brits, having lost our empire, are now looking inwards. He used to feel that Britain wholly benefited from immigration but he now sees us worrying about it, and dividing over it, and our mindset may not be as flexible as the American mindset, which - because it's such a huge country - always yields to immigration in the end. He sounded rather wistful about our fate.

Yes, I can see why Denis MacShane would have enjoyed all of that.

While we're on the subject of today's World This Weekend, the programme did deal with the Emily Thornberry affair [cue another Twitter storm from Labour activists] but did so in an unusual way, by interviewing hip photographer Tom Hunter.

Tom is quirky and appeals to the Guardian.  He likes people flying England flags, as it's no longer a racist National Front kind of thing but more of a fun, football-related thing. He also likes people putting up OTT Christmas displays outside their houses (as, indeed, do I - and the more colourful the better).

Tom is best known for this image, which Mark Mardell talked to him about - and tweeted about - today - his Vermeer-like photograph of a squatter, Woman Reading a Possession Order:

And, keeping with being hip, the programme ending with Mark Mardell expressing his bias against the Beatles...Yes, the Beatles. He doesn't like the Beatles. He thinks they're rubbish...

He did make it clear though that he does like the ultra-hip Flaming Lips.

I will admit (high court judge-like, Bruges Group lady-like) to never having heard of the Flaming Lips before today. Googling them, I now know they're the kind of group that hip people like.

So if I now immerse myself in Flaming Lips songs I too could eventually become as hip as Mark Mardell?

....Hmm, to be as hip as Mark Mardell, what greater ambition could a man have?....

Well, I've been listening to the Flaming Lips for two hours now and, yes, I'm becoming hip. I liked that Tom Hunter photo, and many of his other photos too. I've been comparing a Bruges Group lady - many of whose views I agree with and who sounded perfectly good-humoured - to Margo from the Good Life......

Give me two more hours and I'll be 'following' Denis on Twitter, waving an EU flag, buying Owen Jones' book on Amazon, putting up a Russell Brand poster, and applying to join the rest of the Labour activists booing UKIP and the Tories, the Tories, the Tories on Question Time.

Mark Mardell gets the thumbs up from Denis MacShane

If you feel that The World This Weekend today has had something of a pro-immigration/pro-EU bias since Mark Mardell took over, here's a recommendation that probably won't persuade you out of your belief:

Freedom of speech: Tommy Robinson and Anjem Choudary

Talking (which we weren't) of biases beyond the BBC, this piece by Sarah AB at Harry's Place is typically thought-provoking - and not a little alarming:

Ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson has been released on bail following his conviction for mortgage fraud but, despite their being no political aspect to his conviction, the terms of his release are alleged to include prohibitions on speaking about Islam, Mohammed, or the Koran. If he does he will, apparently, be recalled to prison.

Sarah says:
If true, this clearly goes way beyond the original condition that he avoid contact with members of the EDL. I am not sure what justification there is for banning Tommy Robinson from discussing any of the proscribed topics.  He should be able to speak freely on these issues.  If what he says is wrong or bigoted, I am sure there will be other speakers who can point this out.  I certainly don’t always agree with Tommy Robinson, but I very much doubt he is likely to say anything as hateful or offensive as the stuff Anjem Choudary regularly comes out with – as readers will probably know, he has recently had his bail conditions softened, allowing him to preach.
One would think the people making these decisions were secret counterjihadists, for they play into their narrative, and don’t help Muslims, or those opposed to anti-Muslim bigotry, one jot.

Islam in Kenya, Israel and Britain...plus food banks

Among other things, this morning's Sunday on Radio 4 discussed the claims by senior Kenyan and Israeli politicians that the latest atrocities by Islamic terrorists signal that a "religious war" is developing. 

The programme struck a sceptical note about that. 

William Crawley discussed the situation in Kenya with BBC correspondent Anne Soy. Unfortunately, a bad phone line made it increasingly hard to catch much of what she said. William managed to make the familiar point though that "many Muslims across the world will regard the circumstances of this attack as a hideous distortion of Islam".  

The situation in Jerusalem was discussed first with Cardinal Nichols then with Cambridge University's Dr Wendy Pullan. 

William Crawley introduction to that discussion stated that "atrocities have been committed by both sides". Similarly, Cardinal Nichols worried that extremist groups on both sides are becoming the main protagonists and wanted "both governments" to show "leadership". Moral equivalence hung heavy in the air.

Dr Pullan, introduced as a Cambridge university historian and author, said she doesn't "buy into" the claims that a "religious war" is developing. She argued that the other issues - disputes over identity, land right and "a very prolonged occupation" - have not been displaced by the religious angle, though that angle remains far from unimportant. William Crawley noted that she was "calming down the rhetoric". She went on to say that, for her, Jerusalem is where "the occupation comes to a head". 

Wendy Pullan signed a letter from Cambridge academics calling for the boycott of the French multinational Veolia for being "complicit" with Israel. She's not, therefore, quite the disinterested academic Sunday would have us believe. 

The programme also featured a glowing appreciation of "the birthplace of Islam in Britain", the newly reopened Quilliam mosque in Liverpool. Britain's first mosque originally opened in 1889 (on Christmas Day). Everyone in the report was delighted that it had re-opened and rejoiced in its symbolism. 

Then it was onto Islamic extremism in British schools and a report by Trevor Barnes from one school which claims to have dealt with a plot to radicalise the curriculum. The report's intended message was meant as a positive one, showing moderate Muslims working against the extremists and defeating them. 

This morning's Sunday wasn't all about Islam though. We also heard about an apparently disreputable Hindu guru in India and the influence of gurus within India, about the delightful comic singer-songwriter Jake Thackray, about a lovely husband and wife who (together) have volunteered for over 100 years, and - a familiar Sunday theme - about 'food poverty'.

The latter took the form of an interview with Chris Mould of the Trussell Trust who argues that delays in benefit processing and low wages are resulting in record numbers of people using their foodbanks. This, of course, is politically sensitive stuff and the government hasn't taken too kindly to the Trust's previous pronouncements on the issue. William Crawley read out a government statement this morning rejecting the Trust's latest findings and Mr Mould angrily rejected their criticisms. 

We've heard quite a few times over the past couple of years on Sunday from people who share Chris Mould's position. It would be good to hear from someone who shares the government's scepticism about the Trust's analysis of 'food poverty' in Britain, though whether that will ever happen on Sunday is rather doubtful.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Tom Gross on the BBC's attitude to Israel

Here are some interesting comments about the BBC's reporting of Israel from former Daily Telegraph reporter Tom Gross, taken from an interview featured on the Israeli media site Nana 10

He was speaking about the mistakes made in media articles about Israel in the wake of the terrorist murders at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem:
- Of course the media should be critical of Israel when it's deserved but they shouldn't hold Israel to a standard that they don't hold to any other country in the world, even to themselves. 
- The mistakes have a context. Often the bias is subconscious, so that people are not even aware that they're being biased. In the past there was an analysis done of mistakes in the New York Times about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every single mistake was against Israel. Something like 17 mistakes were made against Israel. Zero mistakes were against the Palestinians. The journalists themselves and the news anchors need to try and be balanced or fair. I mean that's part of the job.
- I'm in touch which quite a lot of senior editors and I myself pointed out mistakes to them in private meetings and they kind of brushed them aside. They don't care. It's not only errors to do with today. We saw on the BBC an interview with morning with Naftali Bennett and the BBC presenter said "Take that down. Take that down. We don't want to see that picture". Now, you have to understand, the BBC this summer showed pictures of dead Palestinians day after day, hour after hour. Much worse pictures. And there is a kind of unspoken policy at the BBC that when Palestinians are victims they show the pictures in their bloodiest form but when Jews or Israelis are victims they don't want to see any pictures.
- Certainly Israeli government officials could do a better job at public relations. There's no doubt. However, the amount of coverage, the amount of attention this small country receives is out of all proportion to the size and importance of the country. So even with the best spokespeople in the world Israeli spokespeople would still have a difficult job at dealing with the sheer quantity of journalists asking questions. Part of the questions have to be asked: Why, for example, this summer, the BBC had more reporters in Gaza than they had when Britain helped to invade Iraq in 2003, and Baghdad and Basra? In other words, the BBC had more foreign reporters in Gaza than they sent to Iraq and Afghanistan in wars that British troops were fighting in. And they would say, some of them, that it's not because they are against Israel. They would say it's because they care so much about Israel. Maybe that's what they say but I have my doubts about it in many cases. 

A case in point

Following on from the previous post...

Here's how the Sky News website begins its report on  the latest Islamist atrocity news:
Dozens of passengers were forced at gunpoint to profess their faith and were separated into groups, according to local policemen.
Al Shabab militants have hijacked a bus in Kenya, with gunmen singling out 28 non-Muslims and shooting them dead, according to police.
Here, in contrast, is how the BBC New website begins its report on the same story:
Suspected members of the Somali militant group al-Shabab have killed at least 28 people in an attack on a bus in northern Kenya, officials say.
The bus was travelling to the capital, Nairobi, when it was stopped in Mandera county, near the Somali border. 
The Sky News report spotlights the religious (Islamic) character of the terrorist acts whereas the BBC News report leaves that out of its headline and opening paragraphs.

Here's how other sites report the story:
The GuardianDozens killed in Kenya bus attack, say policeOfficials say al-Shabaab militants from Somalia hijacked bus in north of country and killed 28 non-Muslims on board
The TimesNon-Muslims massacred in Kenya bus hijackAl-Shabaab militants have hijacked a bus in Kenya and killed 28 non-Muslims on board, singling them out from other passengers.
The Daily TelegraphAl Shabaab thought to be behind massacre of passengers on bus in northern KenyaAt least 28 feared dead in attack near Somali border
Al-Shabaab militants from Somalia hijacked a bus in Kenya's north and killed 28 non-Muslims on board after they had been singled out from the rest of the passengers, police officials said Saturday.
The IndependentKenya bus attack: 28 non-Muslims killed after being unable to recite Koran in suspected al-Shabab attackSuspected al-Shabab militia have killed 28 people on a bus in Northern Kenya, officials say.
The BBC is clearly the only one downplaying the religious element in the Islamist attack in Kenya by refusing to report that information right at the start of its main online report.

This is an example of what David at Five Minutes for Israel outlined the other day:
One of the first things a Media student learns is how way a news article is structured.  In the so-called inverted triangle structure the main points of the story , the five W’s – who, what, when, why and how should be right at the top while less essential elements can be relegated further down – and cut without losing the story’s essential meaning.
As readers, even if we don’t have the benefit of university training, we learn to recognise the structure. The closer information is to the top of the page the more important it is.

In the BBC article, it's only in the fourth paragraph, if you were to read the whole story, that readers are told of the horrific religious aspect of the massacre.

Why did the BBC do that there? Why did it downplay the 'attack on non-Muslims' element? Is it not another example of Frank Gardner's "very, very careful" BBC reporting of matters relating to Muslims, not wishing to confirm that these Islamist terrorists had an Islamic 'reason' for what they did? 

Poking accusatory fingers

This week's Newswatch featured an interview with the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner, who gave a revealing insight into the way the BBC thinks, especially regarding the way the corporation seeks to differentiate its reporting of domestic British jihadi terrorists from that of other media outlets:
Of course, if it happens over here we have to be incredibly mindful of the law and judicial process, and particularly not the prejudice any trial. Now, I can remember back in the early days in 2002 when I started covering this stuff having come back from the Middle East, there would be lurid headlines in the press about ricin plots on Tube trains and, I mean, the press would be pretty slapdash and quite bigoted sometimes and I think we, the media, have to be very, very careful not to poke accusatory fingers at people or communities who don't deserve it.
It's certainly fair to say that Frank Gardner and the BBC have been "very, very careful" not to poke accusatory fingers at one particular community - the 'community' from which almost all the terrorism facing us now originates.

So careful in fact that the BBC is often well behind the curve compared to other media organisations when it comes to reporting and investigating such stories. And after they do get round to reporting them, the BBC then often seems to be either downplaying or sanitising them.

It's also notable that, apparently somewhat like Gordon Brown with Mrs Duffy, Frank Gardner appears to feel that the well-founded fears about Muslim violence from within our own country, as reflected by the press, are "quite bigoted". 

The crazy world of Twitter

Former head of the Young Britain Firsters Nick Robinson and his deputy fuhrer (if Twitter is to be believed)

The crazy world of Twitter just keeps getting crazier, and the mainstream media are getting ever more caught up in the madness. 

Take this non-story from yesterday's Daily Telegraph by Steven Swinford: 

Nick Robinson in series of robust exchanges with critics after being photographed in 'selfie' with Britain First candidate

Nick Robinson, the BBC presenter, has admitted he made a mistake after unwittingly having a "selfie" taken with candidate from Britain First, a spin off from the BNP.
The presenter was subjected to a backlash on Twitter after being photographed during the Rochester by-election campaign with Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First.
Some users called on him to resign for the "shameful" photograph, while others suggested that he was a secret supporter of the far right group.
In a series of robust exchanges Mr Robinson said that he didn't realise who she was, telling one of his critics to "grow up".
Mr Robinson said: "Lesson of the day. Never agree to have selfie taken without first checking who's asking. Shame but my mistake."
I agree with Nick - or at least the bit where he told someone who suggested he's a secret support of Britain First to "grow up". 

That, however, is the problem with Twitter in a nutshell. It is full of people who should be told to "grow up". Instead, their daily tantrums, which seem to spiral into hysterical hue-and-cries at the drop of a hat, are indulged. A sense of proportion is forgotten, and apologies  forced, careers ruined, heads made to roll, often for merely 'causing offence' or making innocent mistakes (as with Nick Robinson here). 


Talking of which, a vocal section of the Twitterati are up in arms about this morning's Today too. They "have never been so angry about #r4today reporting" as they were this morning for "hammering" Labour when the story should (for them) have been the Tories losing the by-election, The programme is a "Tory mouthpiece" with a "complete imbalance of coverage":

So, there you go, the view from another planet:  The BBC is obsessively pushing the Emily Thornberry tweet story to help out the Tories. They are following the right-wing Tory press. They are also pushing UKIP. And it's all typical BBC bias.

Of course, the fact that Emily Thornberry is the only senior politician to have resigned in recent days and that she was condemned by Labour MPs including her own former boss Ed Miliband for her tweet makes it big news. Today likes reporting political resignations because resignations are big things in the world of Westminster politics (the Westminster Bubble). That's something doesn't seem to have crossed these tweeters' minds.

Now, of course, some of this anti-BBC tweeting may be mere politicking (i.e. Labour people pretending to be outraged on behalf of Labour) but I suspect a lot of it is genuine partisan stupidity.

Still, this stuff is almost completely dominating the BBC news and current affairs-related portions of Twitter comment with very rare right-wing counter tweets. If Twitter is, as they say it is, now a rapidly growing news source we can expect the gathering hue-and-cry against the BBC from the pro-SNP, anti-Israel, anti-Tory, and UKIP, pro-Green (etc) brigade to grow ever louder and ever more influential, however groundless it may be (and usually is).

Forewarned is forearmed, perhaps.

James Naughtie wangles himself another classical bit

One definite example of presenter bias on Today is the way James Naughtie manages to smuggle pieces about classical music onto the programme. He's been getting away with that for years!

This morning's Today featured an interview with Prof. Colin Blakemore concerning an experiment being carried out by researchers from three universities into how we engage with music. Volunteers have been attached to various measuring devices and their heart rates, sweat levels and micro-movements have been monitored over the course of the 15 hours of Wagner's Ring cycle.

The researchers were watching out for the unconscious indicators of how engaged, excited or emotionally affected the volunteers were in order to try to work out how Wagner's music arouses audiences. 

The result, which pleasantly surprised Jim, was that by the time the volunteers had got to the middle of the third opera, Siegfried (which, by my reckoning, would be some eight and a half hours in) the newcomers to the music were as emotionally engaged as the aficionados. 

The implication, I guess, is that, for those new to it, Wagner's music can cast its spell on you if you listen to it for long enough (for hours and hours and hours).

Whether this is really something that startling I'm not sure. I've long found that immersing yourself in particular composers, singers, groups, even if they are completely new to you, always wins you round to them if their music has enough character, complexity and variety for your to keep finding fresh things in it.

Is there some connection to the mental processes involved in brainwashing?

Anyhow, if you've a spare 15 hours, a few scientists and some medical equipment then strap yourself in and off you go!... 

P.S. I made the mistake whilst uploading the above video of landing on part of it and pressing play - the bit (for aficionados) where that big lummox Fasolt is getting all misty-eyed over the fragrant Freia - and have now got stuck on listening to it. There's over 14 hours to go. Must stop, must stop...got to go out tonight.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What's going on?

Do people who spend too much time watching BBC bias develop unusual yet uncanny senses, like long-eared bats? Or do they just become batty? 

Please see what you think here. 

I've just clicked on the BBC News website and spotted that its third story is Wigan's Whelan in anti-Semitism row

The story is that Wigan F.C. owner Dave Whelan, defending newly-appointed manager Malky Mackay over his "racist, sexist and homophobic" texts (in the BBC's words), told the BBC's favourite newspaper that "Jewish people chase money more than everybody else" - which is about as blatant and extraordinary an anti-Semitic statement as you can get. 

My initial thought was that it was wonderful that the BBC was spotlighting this story but, being a long-term BBC watcher, I then quickly began wondering why. Was it just a case of the BBC doing the decent thing? After all, they don't usually bother with stories of present-day anti-Semitism, so why would they be reporting this story so prominently, especially when no other UK media organisation, other than the Guardian, is presently doing so? 

What's going on?

Now, I'm woefully uninformed about football matters these days so I know little about Dave Whelan, but my immediate instinct was to type "Dave Whelan Labour", "Dave Whelan Tory" and "Dave Whelan UKIP" into Google Search two see if Mr Whelan was (or wasn't) political. (I always suspect a political motive where the BBC is concerned.)

It turns out that Dave Whelan is a Tory donor (£1 million at least).

I kind of knew that would be the case if the BBC was reporting it so prominently (or that he would be a UKIP donor) and, similarly, I kind of suspected that it wouldn't be the case were Mr Whelan a Labour donor, or a Muslim.

Is this, as my cynical instincts tonight tell me, a case of the BBC leaping first into the frame (for once) to report a present-day case of anti-Semitism only because the culprit is a high-profile Conservative Part donor?

Are they really that biased? Or am I batty?

Update 23.36: Sky News are now reporting this.


That said, one of my least favourite Labour MPs, Emily Thornberry, got into some trouble today for Tweeting/jeering at white-van-driving English patriots in Rochester.

As I discovered through checking out the veracity of comments at Biased BBC [as is my way] that the BBC, unlike other UK media outlets (including, surprisingly, the Guardian), was failing to report the growing row on its website [and, yes, it really was at the time]....

...until tonight, when Ms Thornberry resigned. That story now leads the BBC News website, as it does the Sky News website, Telegraph website, ITV News website and Guardian website.

The BBC has caught up.

Is that really a case of "That said"? Or merely a case of the BBC being forced to report a story it had so far (for some reason) failed to report? #rhetoricalquestions? 

For the record, here's a cut-and-paste job on the BBC News website and Sky News website for you to compare and contrast (below the 'Read more' fold...oh, it's a while since me and Sue have used that!)..

The BBC and Har Nof

Just to add a few thoughts to Sue's post on Tuesday...

Geeta Guru-Murthy's brutally short interview with Israeli Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett (apparently immediately following an interview with a Hamas spokesman) has drawn a lot of criticism.

The rudeness of a BBC presenter interviewing an Israeli minister is nothing new. However, it can still take you back when it comes in the immediate aftermath of a shocking terrorist incident like the Har Nof attack. Nothing seems to inhibit the Israeli-baiting tendencies of some BBC (and Channel 4) interviewers when they have an Israeli spokesman in their sights.

Nor is the BBC's pushing of a false but potentially damaging allegation against Israel anything new either (cf Jon Donnison). Here Geeta Guru-Murthy pushed the discredited but potentially inflammatory Palestinian charge that a man who recently committed suicide was murdered by Israel. Again the shock of this fallacious whataboutery comes in its timing. Untrue as it is, she was straight in there with it (without batting an eyelid).

The part of the interview that has provoked the most controversy however is the moment when Mr Bennett held up a photograph of the scene of the attack which included one of the victims. Geeta Guru-Murthy curtly interrupted, saying “Sorry, we don’t want to actually see that picture: if you could take that down.” (You'll note the lack of a "please" there).

I myself am loathe to see such images broadcast without warning, but - putting aside the presenter's rudeness - the thing many (including Hadar at BBC Watch and Alan at Biased BBC) are finding galling and hypocritical is that the BBC clearly felt few qualms about broadcasting equally graphic images during the recent Gaza conflict, including footage from a morgue - footage fronted by the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen.

Talking of who...

Jeremy Bowen himself wrote a BBC News website article 'explaining' the background to the attack which seems to me to typify his reporting. His focus isn't on the victims of the attack but on the grievances of the Palestinians, beginning with the failure of peace talks.

His phrasing of the passage about the "calls from hard right-wing Jewish nationalists" for Jews to be allowed to pray inside the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount compound gives unjustified credence to the Palestinian scare-mongering over the issue and undermines the Israeli government's firm - and firmly believable denials (given their past record) that any such move would be permitted.

In contrast, the Israeli charge that Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have been inciting violence over the issue (by calling for "a day of rage" and praising recent terrorists as "martyrs") are undermined and President Abbas given a free pass and presented as a moderate "who has said many times that he is against the use of violence" - a moderate faced by an angry public.

Then it's settlements, settlements, settlements...and, according to Jeremy Bowen, the Israelis are being beastly by now building on Palestinian-populated land and naming settlements in an archaic way ("City of David") .... "Armed settlers", "the expanding community of Jewish settlers", "protected by armed guards paid for by the Israeli government".... All of it (to coin a phrase) amplifies the grievances of the Palestinians.

I read Jeremy Bowen's article at about the same time that I read Sky News' Sam Kiley's take. At least Sam Kiley notes that "On the West Bank, knife attacks on Jewish settlers have become routine". (He also notes that the Har Nof attack "looks like something from an Islamic State manual of terror").

At least Jeremy Bowen occasionally feigns impartiality. That cannot be said of his fellow BBC Middle East correspondent Sydney correspondent Jon Donnison whose pretence gets ever less disguised, especially on his chosen medium, Twitter.

The Haaretz-reading BBC man's endless emoting about Palestinian suffering and point-scoring against Israeli politicians/spokesman increasingly knows few bounds. His latest BBC-emblazoned tweets on the issue (from unrepresentative Israeli left-wingers and like-minded BBC colleagues) make it clear where he stands (not that BBC reporters are supposed to 'stand' anywhere):
Plus a couple of retweets:

Spot the Difference

(h/t Bishop Hill): BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin's latest BBC News website article, timemarked "20 November 2014 Last updated at 07:33", contains the following passage:

A cached image of an earlier version of the same article, bearing the identical timemark, says something a little different:

It looks as if Roger Harrabin had second thoughts about using such loaded language to describe Nigel Lawson's organisation and enacted what we tend to call in these parts a 'stealth edit'. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Intolerable Bias

The BBC’s conduct over the recent outbreak of violence in Israel has been worse than ever. Today a parade of commentators, one after another, have reacted to the synagogue murders 
with a begrudging half-hearted condemnation swiftly followed by the kind of justification that they know the public will swallow, namely that violence is understandable because of Netanyahu, ‘the occupation’ and the settlements. 

We even  had to watch Ben Brown interviewing an individual named Ismail Patel from Leeds ‘Friends of Al Aqsa’ who couldn’t even bring himself to condemn the murders, and Rachel Shabi of the Guardian who attributed all the violence to provocation  by belligerent, far-right Jewish activists who demand the right to pray at ‘Al Aqsa’  and of course the occupation.

Sabri Saidam from Fatah condemned Israel on Al Jazeera and on the BBC, Mustafa Barghouti  was able to make outrageous accusations including blaming Israel for the murder of a Palestinian who was thought to have committed suicide. 

Ever since Rabbi Glick was shot because he had been campaigning for Jews to be allowed to pray at their holiest site, the BBC’s reporting has been wracked with omissions and bias.

The BBC and the British press are not the only ones who use the term ‘right-wing’ pejoratively, and they’re not the only ones who applied it to Rabbi Glick. 
What’s the definition, though? Some use it as shorthand for ‘intolerant racist’.
Anyone with the slightest interest in the topic could easily find videos of Rabbi Glick praying, in Arabic, alongside a group of Muslims. 

They appeared to be positively pally with each other. Yes, that was a pun. So he wasn’t a Muslim-hating racist but a friendly, rather gentle, respectful individual who’s ‘right-wingery’ was merely in his religiosity and his desire to pray at the Jews’ holiest site.
Why, one might wonder, should Jews not be allowed to do that? I understand that it was part of a deal by a former Israeli government who handed control of Al Aqsa  back to the PA. It was an   an act of ‘reaching out’, a gesture, which in hindsight looks futile to say the least.

Astonishingly, though the BBC’s initial reporting would describe the Al Aqsa / Temple Mopunt compound as the third holiest in Islam and the holiest in Judaism, no-one batted an eyelid at the obvious imbalance of the situation.   

“Mr Abbas's office issued a statement saying: "The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it."

So why didn’t the BBC report the incitement that all the other non-anti-Israel media is full of? Mahmoud Abbas’s blatant incitement, calling for days of rage, asking Palestinians to defend Al Aqsa by whatever means; the handing out of sweets, praising and glorifying Palestinian terrorists who succeeded in murdering Jews and martyred themselves in the process.

At the moment The BBC is appallingly biased. It really is intolerable.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Confusion over the Cardiff jihadist

There is confusion tonight about whether Nasser Muthana, the Cardiff-student-turned-Islamic-State-terrorist, actually appeared in the latest IS murder video carrying out an atrocity against captive Syrian soldiers. 

It was reported last night that his father, Ahmed, had said he thought it might be his son in the video and that he disowned him and believed he should be executed in return ("a head for a head"). He said such things to the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, all of who reported them. The BBC website also reported it today (or at least some of it, as I don't recall the "head for a head" bit), though I spotted that they did so on their Wales page. It was nowhere on their home page or UK page when I looked this lunchtime.

Mr Muthana Snr now no longer believes that it was his son in that video, and the BBC has been at the forefront of provoking and then reporting this change of mind. A BBC Wales reporter showed him the photos which persuaded him otherwise. Their first report announcing the father's change of mind (which appears to have been the BBC's first report on the breaking story)  has now been followed up by a second online article based around a friend of the young jihadist. The friend also says the killer in that video isn't Nasser Muthana. (The article is at pains to point out that the friend condemns IS).

I will note in passing that both BBC articles imply that the Daily Mail is guilty of misreporting here, and that they fail to note that the Evening Standard and Guardian also interviewed the father and reported pretty much reported the same things as the Mail - but I guess that's the BBC's particular animus against the Daily Mail at play there.

But, as things stand, it's looking as if the BBC might have got it right on this one. (Their reports have that bullish quality which suggests they know they're right.) Others have been looking more closely and coming to the same conclusion as Mr Muthana and the BBC, including Shiraz Maher:
As things stand, however, the BBC remains pretty much alone in reporting these denials. The Guardian and Daily Mail haven't updated their stories yet.

Update 18/11: As of 7am this morning, the BBC are sticking with their take on what the terrorist's dad said and the Guardian and Daily Mail are sticking with theirs. All have undergone updates overnight.

Also, given the BBC News website's initial underplaying of the above story, it is revealing that this morning they have placed the following story as their fifth story on the News homepage:
Alleged extremist left 'stateless'
A Muslim convert who has been stripped of his British citizenship due to alleged extremism says he has been left stateless and appeals to the Supreme Court.
Reporting the grievances of alleged Muslim extremists seems to bother the BBC more than it does other UK media outlets - and, I would imagine, most members of the British public.