Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Never were there such devoted sisters

I have to confess, with sincere regret, (barring an occasional glimpse of Alan Sugar) that I’ve squandered my entire allocation of trash-TV viewing on Gogglebox. 

I don’t watch Strictly, Bake-off, Voice thing, Celebrity or X factory. You name it, I don’t watch it. 

In fact I have watched Gogglebox a mere handful of times, but I like the bleakness, the inscrutability and the unconscious humour, the likes of which we’ve not seen since Mike Leigh’s early masterpieces, which he made before he got caught up in all that anti-Israel silliness.

I suppose, in an ideal world, its association with the Royle Family - the narrators are a clue - should have given the participants a strong hint that they were being ruthlessly, mercilessly lampooned -  if with affection. But I assume the prospect of fifteen minutes (and in some cases considerably more) of fame would override any possible concerns. But are we laughing at them, or with them?

Some of the close-ups of some of the faces can’t have been edited in for any other purpose than to engender dumbfounded disbelief from us, the viewers, at the sheer enormity of the human gormlessness we’re viewing. Not to mention our own voyeuristic gormlessness for viewing it. 
My favourites are the ones who hardly ever say anything. Their bewilderment at what they’re watching - and implicitly at life in general - is a sight to behold. 

And then, suddenly, one of them comes out with something profound. But mostly it just goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction, which I think is what Mike Leigh was striving for, in the early days.

Anyway, this is a preamble to something entirely different. In the line of duty I watched the Channel Four documentary about women who support ISIS. The similarity between the people featured in this programme and Gogglebox was palpabe.  This was the sinister version.

 One couldn’t help but notice the puns on the theme of ‘veiled / unveiled’ and ‘undercover’. The inanity of much of it was the most striking thing about this programme. And the banality. 
I’m surprised that Harry Mount in the Telegraph took it so seriously. The programme, I mean, not the message. 
Let’s start with the amateurishness of the production. We know it’s dangerous for an undercover reporter to show his or her face, specially when it’s anything to do with the ROP. But the TV team will normally deal with anonymity by showing the speaker in silhouette, or filming from an obscure angle. Was it absolutely necessary for ‘Aisha” to dress herself up in that ridiculous garb even when she was not “undercover”?  (!)
The solemn face of the unveiled presenter watching that frantic texting added to the Gogglebox effect. But let’s just ask ourselves - if someone was seriously going under cover in a dangerous situation  - would they have a camera in their handbag? A handbag! 
Especially when the garb they were wearing offered boundless opportunities for concealing goodness knows what beneath its vast blackness.  

I’d guess about 90% of this programme consisted of Aisha’s tube journeys. There was one amusing snippet when she slipped a bottle of water under the elephant’s trunk part of the apparel and took a swig. Another was a man dashing for the train just as the doors closed. 

If there’s one thing it did illustrate, it was that Londoners are completely unfazed by the presence of head-to-toe black-clad apparitions, something they’ve been forced to become accustomed to. Not a sign of that infamous Islamophobic backlash anywhere to be seen.

The meaty bits were there, amongst all the padding. The antisemitism was as clear as clear could be, as was the mumbo jumbo that we’re supposed to take seriously and respect as a religion. The sisters turned out to be as nasty a bunch as they are cracked up to be, if not nastier. The main thing about all this is the inanity, the stupidity, the ignorance of it all. 

The fact that we are afraid of offending the most offensive people on earth is mind-boggling. 
I wonder if it will feature on Gogglebox? Now that is one edition I would like to watch.

Distorting history?

Yesterday's BBC One News at Six contained the following in its opening headlines:
Fiona Bruce: And what bones from 20,000 skeletons dating back centuries tell us about our multicultural past.
Midway through the programme came:
Fiona Bruce: And still to come...Written in the bones. Ancient skeletons reveal how London has been a multicultural society since the very beginning.
Shortly after came the report itself:
Fiona Bruce:  London is known for being a culturally diverse city and now a DNA study's confirmed that that's been the case since Roman times. Researchers at the Museum of London are analysing the remains of more than 20,000 people who lived in the capital 2000 years ago. The first results from four people show were mixed race, another was from Eastern Europe and one was a native Briton. Our science correspondent Pallab Ghosh has this exclusive report.
Pallab Ghosh: It's the most diverse city in the world. People who have their roots from across the globe have made it their home. But 2,000 years ago it was just the same. That history is written in the bones of ancient human remains. This is the skeleton of a 14-year-old girl who lived in London under Roman rule. The DNA in her bones showed she grew up in North Africa. She had blue eyes. Like many living in the city today she was of mixed race and her family had travelled across the globe to be in the capital. 
Caroline McDonald (curator, Museum of London): Even though this was 2,000 years ago the world is still a large place. People are still able to move thousands of miles and we think she may have been part of a military community. 
Pallab Ghosh: DNA was extracted from her teeth and bones and analysed by scientists in Durham and the U.S. The researchers found out about two more of the very first Londoners. Like the 14 year old girl one also had their roots in Africa and the other had Eastern European ancestry.  
Michael Wood (historian): It's a boom town, as I call it, or a boom city...
Pallab Ghosh: As we walk along the ruins of the wall that the Romans built around their new city historian Michael Wood tells me although a lot has changed since then some things have stayed the same.
Michael Wood (historian): It's the most multicultural city in the world and what's great about this is you just get that little hint of today's London in the Roman past. 
Pallab Ghosh: This box contains a human skeleton. There are 20,000 of them here, stretching back thousands of years. Researchers want to analyse as many of these as they can to find out where they came from, how they lived and how they died. Scientists hope to study the remains of thousands more Londoners to get new insights into the history of the capital through their stories. Pallab Ghosh, BBC News, London.
The BBC News website's headline was equally strongly-angled:

And Pallab Ghosh certainly couldn't be accused of understating his story's importance in a roughly contemporaneous tweet:


Sue's comment on an earlier post summed up the tone of the News at Six's coverage:
P.S. And we're being subjected to some very exciting breaking news; the BBC’s sensational discovery that London has always been multicultural.  Deep joy all round. Fiona Bruce is delighted.
And people on Twitter noted the same:

And even some Guardian commenters spotted that the BBC's tone wasn't exactly 'impartial' in spirit:


Various points have been made about the BBC's coverage here, to which I'll add some more.

Alan at Biased BBC has pointed out several other news reports about previous DNA studies that showed that Roman, Viking and Norman invaders left next to no genetic imprint on the British people. Only the Anglo-Saxons did that, and their genetic legacy remains the overwhelming one. 

Such evidence, of course, reflects what we already know (despite what we see in BBC drama programmes, from Merlin to Robin Hood to Doctor Who, of considerable ethnic diversity in Britain's past): that Britain, including London, wasn't multicultural (in the current sense of the word) throughout the 1,500-year period from the end of Roman Britain till the post-Second World War period.

And shouldn't anyone who knows anything about Roman Britain already know that the Roman occupation brought the Roman Empire's ethnically-diverse soldiers, their families and their slaves (which some of these four people might very well have been) to our shores, especially to its cities and military camps, until the occupation ended? (It's not a new fact that the African-born "Black Emperor" Septimus Severus died in York after several years of fighting north of Hadrian's Wall). So quite why Pallab Ghosh believes that this DNA evidence will "literally change history" is beyond me.

(Despite what Pallab Ghosh asserted about the "mixed race" 14-year-old girl, there's no evidence whatsoever that she came with "her family" or that, using the kind of emotive language we associate with the BBC's coverage of the migrant crisis, her and her family "had travelled across the globe to be in the capital". She could have been a slave. Young girls were kept as slaves in Roman Britain (as, sadly, some are again now in modern multicultural Britain)). 

The point being that London may have been diverse/multicultural 'at the start' but not, as the BBC kept saying here, 'since the start', implying an unbroken run of multiculturalism:
"how London has been a multicultural society since the very beginning"; "London is known for being a culturally diverse city and now a DNA study's confirmed that that's been the case since Roman times"... 
That's where the BBC has got this wrong. London has been 'diverse' at two points in its history - at it birth and in the present day. To say it's been multicultural "since the very beginning" is to imply that it's always been multicultural, whereas in fact - once the Roman occupation ended - it almost entirely stopped being multicultural for a very long time.

And to say it's been multicultural "since the very beginning" is also to apply a good deal of spin to the story (even if that particular spin is shared with some curators and historians).

The purpose of that spin can only be to make the idea of a multicultural London sound as if it's been the natural, default state of things in the city since the very start, and that multiculturalism is and always has been an essential part of what our nation's capital city is about.

Plus why use the loaded word "multicultural" at all about Roman London in the first place? 'Ethnic diversity' and 'multiculturalism' are not the same things, and the Roman Empire of Diocletian wasn't the GLC of Ken Livingstone.

Whatever the virtues of having a diverse and vibrant contemporary London (and there are plenty of upsides as well as downsides of course), I strongly object to having history distorted in this way by the BBC for what seems to be its own ideological (pro-mass immigration) ends.

If anyone can show that the BBC wasn't distorting history here, please let me know below.

The right to rant

Nick Cohen penned an article just t’other day, entitled: Nobody will ever forgive the right if they destroy the BBC.

Cohen wasn’t writing primarily about bias. He was arguing on behalf of the BBC and telling us that it is a National Treasure and ‘ya won’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, but he did include the passage below.
 “And, yes, thank you for raising it, I know, there is BBC bias. I accept that Radio 4 will give us left- and extreme left-wing comedians but never their right- or far-right equivalents. You do not have to tell me either that you can find individual broadcasters who are bent. I have as much contempt for them as anyone else. But the point surely is that the BBC has standards that they are failing to meet.”
A crude summary: “ The audience is intelligent enough to recognise (and if necessary tolerate) a bit of bias, because the BBC has its heart in the right place, and its minor flaws can easily be fixed. “

Well, now there’s another article by Nick.  This time he’s addressing the principle of journalistic integrity, impartiality and ranting. He uses the topical example of Andrew Neil’s ‘courageous’ rant, which many people thought of as a long-awaited breath of fresh air. (I must admit I thought it was a long awaited statement of the bleeding obvious). 
Cohen’s article argues that it’s inappropriate for respected journalists to exploit their  privileged position by spouting their personal political opinions, particularly when they’re delivered in full frontal, close-up, talking-head-to-camera packages.

I wonder if there’s anything slightly contradictory in these two pieces, but perhaps that’s a bit nit-picking - Nick-pitting - of me.

The below the line comments are, again, gratifying. (This is happening to me quite a lot recently. Someone says something I don’t like, and then masses of the general public dive in and save me the trouble of clarifying my objections in my own head. Yippee.)

I must point out a couple of things from the comments before I end.

Firstly, several complained that he chose to use Jon Snow as another (equivalent) example of dubious inappropriate ranting. Many below the line commenters pointed out that there is no comparison whatsoever between Andrew Neil’s and Jon Snow’s un-journalistic rants.
Not only was Andrew Neil on the ‘right’ side (and Jon Snow on the ‘wrong’) ....
“Oh dear! You attempt to follow your own lead by the 'impartial' equation of Neil with Snow. Not acceptable. Neil knew evil when he saw it and left us in no doubt where he stood, as every good journalist should. Snow is a newsreader and his anti Israel pro Palestine bias is so obvious my parrot can recite it.
There is simply no comparison. Your attempt to draw one is not convincing.”

....but some said Snow is supposed to be a news anchor, whereas Neil is a political commentator. Some pointed out that Neil confined his criticism to ISIS rather than Islamic extremism, therefore his speech wasn’t courageous at all, and someone else said:
  Incidentally Neil is wrong in supposing that Paris will necessarily continue to be a bright shining light.Demographics win”

Even though the outlook is bleak, at least the tenor of the below-the-line response to this piece was heartening. Positively cheered me up for a few seconds.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Twitter rant made flesh

People who are infuriated by the fact that the BBC bombards the airwaves with lefty comedians usually say they don’t find them at all funny either. 

I have to admit that although real wit has to be based on truth and reality, (otherwise it falls flat and is truly infuriating) some of the folk whose politics we love to hate can be funny with it. Well, I think so. 
One exception; skits and jokes predicated on the assumption that Israel is an evil, baby-killing rogue state.  Jeremy Hardy specialises in these. His natural ability for comedic wit and humour is tainted by his open and rabid pro-Palestine activism. Unfunny, racist and ignorant.

I do like people being silly. Alan Davies, for one, used to make me laugh.   Andy Parsons sometimes comes out with something enigmatic and funny. Bill Bailey raised a smile, once upon a time if I remember rightly. (Or was I thinking of someone else?)

I watch lefty comedians with an open mind, taking my approach from the BBC’s “political views left behind” Twitter policy. I hope to be entertained by the likes of, say, Robert Webb, although his political views are just about the opposite of mine. Which brings me to David Mitchell. 

Brendan O’Neil has written a cracking piece in the Telegraph about the ubiquitous Mr Victoria Coren, which I commend to this house. What also interested me was the below-the-line responses. Heated, they are. Lefties are infuriated by the article and non-lefties are infuriated by the lefties. 

Here’s a taste of Brendan's article:
I’m more interested in what has happened to Mitchell himself during the Peep Show years.He’s metamorphosed from a side-eyeing, witty observer of the weirdness of 21st-century life into a faux-outraged railer against anyone who doesn’t share his outlook.”

“Whether it’s in his fittingly named Soapbox videos for the Guardian or in his hectoring monologues on the dire and mercifully short-lived 10 O’Clock Live, his delivery has lost its early warmth and sweet uncertainty and is now all shouty sermonising. It’s like being stuck in a lift with a drunk polytechnic lecturer. He’s a Twitter rant made flesh.”
Is Omid Djalili a Mountain-out-of-a-Molehill made flesh? Incidentally, you can understand why witty comedians are given a platform to opine on serious matters. Their wit implies intelligence. Weird, or what? 

Commenter Hugh_Oxford (who also said, earlier in the thread: Ah, Marcus Brigstocke. The pied piper of the wilfully ignorant. Or is that Jeremy Hardy?”) had a good rant. I hope he won’t mind me reproducing it here in full. He got a right old hammering for it of course.

"There does seem to be this danger of confusing light entertainers, comic actors and comedians. David Mitchell is a great comic actor. He's a passable light entertainer. But he isn't much of a comedian.Comedians provide insight and tell deep truths. Chris Rock and Amy Schumer in the US, eviscerating and exposing liberal values and contradictions, are great comedians.But because (with a couple of exceptions) comedy is based on deep truths, it's become impossible in the UK. That's because the truth has become a crime. A real comedian would be confronting the absurdities of multiculturalism, Islamisation, our own demographic annihilation, Sweden's suicide, the madness of transgenderism and "same-sex marriage", the hypocrisy of pro-abortionists calling for the abolition of Trident, and so on, and so forth. But the culture of fear and censorship is now so high, these matters cannot be discussed.And it would be hard to make comedy out of these anyway, because living in a dying society isn't funny, and it's hard to create absurdity in a society that is beyond parody. We ARE living in a very dark Monty Python sketch.That's why we are stuck for "comedy" with inane cretins and vapid, tepid, trite leftwing parrots like "Jeremy Hardy", "Sue Perkins" and "Arfur Smith". People whose contribution to the world of actual comedy could be written on a pinhead in four foot letters, whose actual purpose is to provide a background noise and a mild distraction from the appalling reality of the world we now live in."

All the news that's fit to censor? (again)

Regular readers may recall the Case of the Missing 'Daily Mail' Front Page Headline in March this year:

The BBC News Channel's nightly The Papers had failed to feature it during either of their discussions - and that was the prelude to the following day's Today programme completely ignoring the story too.

It was as if it were being deliberately censored. 

I complained, asking:
Given the extensive coverage of the complaints made against the British authorities by the family of the three girls from London who went to Syria to join Isis, shouldn't the BBC have led the way in reporting the Daily Mail's scoop about the apparent extremist links of one of the girls' father, given its obvious relevance to the story?
The BBC replied:
BBC News is aware of the video material said to show Mr Hussen at a rally in 2012 and we have looked into the matter ourselves. 
We didn’t consider it merited a report on its own, but it was included in a TV piece due to run on the evening of Friday, March 27th. Unfortunately, because of other news priorities, including the court verdict in the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher case, it didn’t make it to air. 
However, it is something that we do intend to return to in the future. 
Did they? Having done a Google search (using 'http://www.bbc.co.uk/news' and 'Abase Hussen' from 27 March onwards) I've found just one mention of the allegations against Mr Hussen on the BBC News website - a denial that either he or his daughter are extremists - buried near the bottom of an online paper review from 6 April (after The Times pursued the story):
In the Times, the father of one of the London schoolgirls thought to have travelled to Syria admits he attended a protest outside the American embassy, during which the crowd chanted the word "jihad". 
But Abase Hussen insists he is not an extremist - and neither is his daughter.


All this comes back to mind because last night's The Papers on the BBC News Channel completely omitted another newspaper front page, despite showing those from the other newspapers twice. 

This time, however, it was The Sun's front page that wasn't shown (on either News Channel discussion):

Again, it's hard not to see that as being some kind of deliberate censorship, is it? 

(And that complaint would stand whatever you might think of the quality of The Sun's reporting here).

Update: Or maybe not. Come to think about it, last night's The Papers also ignored the Daily Express and The Independent. It's very unlikely that they were being deliberately censored. So mea culpa then.

Update/ rude interruption: s’cuse me---
................never mind Craig, the Guardian is on the case.  :-)

P.S. And we're being subjected to some very exciting breaking news; the BBC’s sensational discovery that London has always been multicultural.  Deep joy all round.  Fiona Bruce is delighted.

Corrections and Clarifications

The Today website surpassed itself this morning with its description of Lord Dannatt:

Lord Dannatt is actually a crossbench peer rather than a Conservative peer and he's a former Chief of the General Staff rather than a former 'General Chief of Staff'. 

Still at least they got his name right!

On the programme itself John Humphrys got Lord Dannatt's former military title right but, alas, also introduced him incorrectly as "a Conservative peer".

Sunday, 22 November 2015

"Those people who are the so-called jihadists in France don't come from Islam. They come from misery."

It's hard not to bang on, however much you might not want to, when the BBC programmes you are listening to are also banging on relentlessly. 

This morning's Broadcasting House featured a lengthy report from Emma Jane Kirby on how France's young people are reacting to the massacres in Paris. 

At least that was how it was introduced. 

After a moving opening interview, however, it swiftly moved on to focus - at considerable length - on the grievances of France's Muslims, young and not-so-young. 

[Precisely 70.3% of the report was devoted to this aspect of the story. Yes, I counted].

Muslim pupils at France's first Muslim school in "a deprived Parisian suburb", their teacher plus various experts and a group of students all expounded the point of view that France's Muslims are victims - the victims of French secularism, unemployment and politicians' (right and left) politicking at their expense. 

A typical comment, towards the end, from an anti-capitalist philosopher, Bernard Stiegler, will sum it all up and spare you having to listen to it (if you haven't already heard it):
Those people who are the so-called jihadists in France don't come from Islam. They come from misery.
Everyone (after the non-political first interviewee) agreed with that. Everyone. No alternative views were broadcast. Not one

It has to be said, however, that Emma Jane's report isn't unusual. Her BBC colleague Matthew Price has been broadcasting similarly-angled, similarly-loaded reports on Today ever since the morning after the Paris atrocity. I'm sure they both feel good about themselves for having done so. 

Whether their biased reporting distorts their listeners' understanding of the real roots of European and British Muslim jihadism (and many jihadists. including the 9/11 to the 7/7 killers, come from affluent, well-educated backgrounds), however, is the real point here - and that probably depends, to some degree, on the extent to which people only get their news from the BBC.

Sunday Morning Live; curate’s egg episode

I thought today’s SML was the best SML I’ve ever seen. Not that that’s saying much. For once, many interesting points were made by all.

Sian asks: Should Britain join air strikes in Syria?

The whole panel were against hurriedly rushing in to bomb ISIS without properly planning for the aftermath. Even those with pacifist tendencies agreed that defeating ISIS with military force will have to happen sometime, but not before serious consideration is given to the possible consequences.

I have enjoyed watching Emily Dyer’s assertive performances when she’s been on TBQs. 
The blurb on the SML web page doesn’t mention that she’s from Henry Jackson; it describes her as ‘foreign policy and extremist researcher and writer for the Daily Beast’. She seems to know her stuff. In fact her obvious expertise all but sidelined the other contributors. But SML is a religion-based programme so I suppose they have to include the views of a Bishop. (or an Imam) 
Iain Dale was good, and the Bishop - Stephen Cottrel, spoke some sense. Even Owen Jones made some thoughtful comments. 

There was an awkward moment when Anjum Anwar (whose huge intrusive image on the monitor was unhelpful) advocated negotiating with ISIS rather than blanket bombing, unfortunately comparing ISIS with the IRA. In fact she too had made some valid points, but by making that particular analogy she handed Iain Dale an easy point-score, enabling him to say indignantly “Are you comparing ISIS with the IRA? You must be on a different planet!” To which she replied with a wry smile “No, I’m on the same planet as you”.  With that, the panel completely ignored her for the rest of the debate.

They talked about Assad a lot. Owen said the Sunnis must be supported in Syria, though everyone agreed that Saudi-funded mosques are a major source of radicalisation. 

It’s patronising to include over simplified comments and tweets from listeners. If the panel is any good, as they were in this case,  emails from the likes of  ‘Andrew, Manchester’ are irrelevant, and  Tommy (I don’t know who or why he is) can’t even read them out without making mistakes, especially as they’re displayed on a giant screen so we can easily read them for ourselves.

Ditch the giant screen, ditch the vox pops, get some knowledgable, articulate contributors and you’ll have a programme. Otherwise, get rid.


The section about the Lord’s Prayer advert being rejected by cinemas was less gripping. SML didn’t nail it, either. For what it’s worth, I’d guess the cinemas fear audiences will resent being proselytised or preached at. 
Don’t want to put off the punters. Are cinemas having a hard time these days? What with box sets and all. Audiences didn’t like being expected to stand still for the national anthem either. Maybe the CofE were aiming for the success of the popular mash-up ‘Perfect Day’. 
(‘Arfur who art in heaven, ‘arold be thy name’ isn’t a patch on Perfect Day.)

It was amusing to read Harry’s Place on this topic. There were several comments about Justin Welby’s soul-searching over the whereabouts of God, after Paris.  
Like -- he should have thought about that before becoming an Archbishop, or any kind of bishop, what with all the genocides that have taken place while the old man in the sky was looking the other way. Anyway, they’ve exchanged words, Welby and God, and now everything’s hunky dory. 
No offence.

Neighbours (should be there for one another)

This little headline in our sidebar caught my eye:

I thought I’d pop over to have a look and do a quick Google to see what sort of journalist we’re dealing with; so I turned up the collar of my trench-coat, adjusted my trilby and put out my pipe. 

It seems that as well as being a journalist, Sharri is a part glamour-girl and opportunist. She has a track record of sneaking into hospital wards pretending to be a visitor in order to get exclusive stories from victims of terrorism. (Well, she did that once, it is said.) Oh, and rifling through a rival publication’s bins.

What interested me was that the Guardian headline gave off a strong whiff of Israel-bashery.

Were the Israelis heavy-handed, or was Ms Markson doing something extremely self-serving and out of order, and was the fact that so many Syrians were being treated in Israeli hospitals, and that their identities were being kept quite for their own safety more of a story than the grievances of a badly behaved journalist who it seems, had blatantly abused her privilege?

Anyway, the other paper that has reported this incident was a bit more forthcoming.
The Sydney Morning Herald, and I assume they should know, had a somewhat more critical take on Sharri’s antics. 

Has the BBC run many stories about Israelis treating certain people in their hospitals? I understand Mahmoud Abbas’s brother-in-law was treated in one recently, and it seems that Abbas’s own health isn’t too good at the moment. I wonder whether he’ll avail himself of Israel’s expertise or whether he’ll be BDSing it? 

Andrew Marr on Donald Trump and mass immigration

Incidentally, if you were wondering where Andrew Marr's discussion with U.S. Democratic Party pollster Stan Greenberg went next, well here's the answer:
Andrew Marr: Is that kind of very hardline message ringing out across America at the same time?
Stan Greenberg: Well, I think it is ringing out in the Republican Party and it's really I think quite important in trying to look at what's happening in America. We do have a story here that we're looking at about the fury at Trump, Donald Trump, talking about registering Muslims.
Andrew Marr: He actually wants every Muslim in America to be registered. It's like the Jews in Nazi Germany. They're not actually going to have armbands with red crescents, but we're not far away from that in that kind of thinking, are we?
Stan Greenberg: Yeah it's quite crazy, but you should know it's not America. I have a new book as you know, America Ascendant...
Andrew Marr: America Ascendant. And in that book you basically argue that America's liberal traditions, as embodied in this case by Hillary Clinton, will be triumphant over the next decade or two.
Stan Greenberg: Yes, well I think we're at a tipping point moment right now - a huge growth in diversity and acceptance of multiculturalism, belief that the country's better off being diverse, with an immigrant population. The opposite of what you're seeing with Trump. I think the opposite of what you're seeing in Europe, and it's part of why America...
Andrew Marr: And it's an absolutely acid moment for all these Western democracies. We've all become kind of global societies, pulling in people from all around the world. We've grown for that reason. We've got lots of energy from that. But now, this is the first moment when a lot of European countries too are saying "Our borders have got to be closed. Can we carry on with Schengen? Can we carry on with a borderless Europe or is that dream now over?"

"Very hardline", says Andrew Marr

There was a telling moment of what is sometimes called 'bias by labelling' on this morning's Marr show, wherein Andrew Marr betrayed his own views on a matter of controversy:

Andrew Marr: Stan, you've got a story, I think, from the Telegraph that you'd like to show us. 
Stan Greenberg: Indeed I do. This is a story that says that Enoch Powell is right, which brings us back...What Simon Heff... 
Andrew Marr: Simon Heffer, who was Enoch Powell's biographer. 
Stan Greenberg: Yes, and what Simon Heffer writes about is about multiculturalism and about the dangers of multiculturalism taking hold in Britain and how that invites everything we are watching now. And we have to get serious about borders. We have to get serious about bringing people into a common culture...  
Andrew Marr: Is that kind of very hardline message ringing out across America at the same time? 
Simon Heffer's message - either as presented by Mr Greenberg or as actually presented in his Telegraph article - doesn't strike me as 'very hardline' at all. In fact it strikes me as very necessary. And, judging by the comments below Mr Heffer's Telegraph piece, many, many people seem to agree.

...though not, I'd guess, Andrew Marr.


You may have read in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Express or Metro, etc, about Nissar Hussain, a Christian convert who was violently attacked outside his home in Bradford. 

He was beaten with a pickaxe handle by two men while on the way to his car. He's now in hospital with a broken hand and kneecap. 

Both he and his wife converted to Christianity in 1996 and, according to reports, have experienced intimidation and violence from the Muslim community following their appearance in a 2008 Channel 4 documentary on the mistreatment on converts. (It's not surprising that such a documentary was on Channel 4 rather than the BBC).

The left-liberal media, The Guardian, The Independent and, of course, the BBC are avoiding reporting this story...

...though, in fairness, listeners to the BBC Asian Network might have heard about it. Nihal did an interview with Nissar and his daughter Anniesa about the intimidation they've been facing on the channel a few weeks before the attack (on 27th October). If you're not a listener to the BBC Asian Network, however, your chances of having heard about it on the BBC appear next to zero. 

The differing priorities of various news organisations becomes all too apparent when these kind of news stories arise. The tabloids and right-leaning broadsheets go one way, the left-leaning broadsheets and the BBC go the other. Each have their own biases when it comes to choosing what to report and what not to report.

The BBC, of course, is different to the rest in that it's not supposed to have any such biases.

Spanish affairs

This post may seem a bit random but I think I'm onto something, even if I'm not quite sure what I'm onto...

You may recall hearing a lot of BBC reports last year and early this year about Spain's far-left, populist, anti-austerity answer to Greece's Syriza, Podemos, led by the pony-tailed political science lecturer Pablo Iglesias.

The party was sweeping ahead in the polls and might even win the next general election, apparently, and Pablo was all over the BBC.

Here's a typical BBC report from that time by Tom Burridge:

You may have heard of Podemos thanks to the BBC, but have you heard of the centrist, anti-Podemos, anti-Catalan independence Ciudadanos (Citizens) and their pony-tail-free leader Albert Rivera? Have you ever seen or heard them on the BBC?

What with one thing and another, Spain's political 'upheaval' seems to have dropped from view at the BBC in recent months. I've seen and heard next to nothing from there recently, though I did see one report a few weeks back briefly featuring Mr Iglesias (doubtless during a report from Greece!). 

Things have been moving on though and this latest poll is typical of how things stand now, with the centre-right, ruling People's Party firmly back in the lead, the socialist PSOE falling back, Ciudadanos rising to rival the PSOE (and overtaking them in all recent polls) and Podemos languishing after a sharp decline a few months back:

It's odd how things rise and fall in the media's spotlight, isn't it?

Of course, recent events (the migrant crisis, Paris, etc) have been so huge that Spanish party politics, so widely-reported last year (when Greece and austerity were on everyone's minds), has seemed far less important in the past few months. 

Plus, I strongly suspect that pony-tailed firebrand Pablo was always likely to be far 'sexier' as a news story (for BBC types) than determinedly centrist, straight-haired Albert. 

Plus, the BBC may have found the thought of a Podemos-led government (maybe even a Podemos-PSOE coalition)  thrilling. The thought of a Cameron-Clegg-style PP/C's coalition might strike them as altogether less exciting. 


Here endeth this random post.

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra v bigoted British people

The paper reviewer on BBC Breakfast this morning was Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra. 

He was captioned 'Iman and Scholar' rather than 'Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain'.

BBC Breakfast invited him to discuss the aftermath of Paris, especially its impact on British Muslims. The silky shaykh duly engaged in his usual slipping and sliding, inevitably shifting the focus onto the suffering of Muslims and the failings of Western foreign policy. 

Towards the end, however, even the BBC's Roger Johnson sounded rather uneasy about Shaykh Ibrahim's sincerity...

...and that came after the following question and answer, where Ibrahim Mogra characteristically side-stepped what seemed to me to be an attempt (on the BBC presenter's part) to get him to speak about the suffering of the people of Paris and moved straight back to his preferred theme of the plight of Muslims instead:
Roger Johnson: But give us a snapshot of how Muslims are talking to you about what happened in Paris.
Ibrahim Mogra: Well, there is solidarity with the Muslims.
Anyhow, for your interest, here are some extracts this morning's BBC Breakfast paper reviews:


Naga Munchetty: Ibrahim Mogra, imam and scholar is here to tell us what's caught his eye. Good morning.
Ibrahim Mogra: Morning.
Naga Munchetty: Before we start...we will go through the front pages, but you can imagine what's on them now is what happens with Syria, what happens in the battle against Islamic State - all of this, of course, just over a week on from Paris. Can you just give us your thoughts on how you feel...if you feel...the world has changed now in terms of interactions between groups and attitudes amongst people when it comes to Islamic State and how this has reflected on the Muslim community.
Ibrahim Mogra: It's been devastating for us on many fronts. I mean, as human beings we feel the pain of loss of innocent lives. And then to know that it's co-religionists, fellow Muslims, who have been responsible for these horrendous murders and killings. It's even more painful that they've falsely then claimed to have been doing it in God's name.
Naga Munchetty: Hmm.
Ibrahim Mogra: Far from it. This is the work of Satan. They're doing the Devil's bidding. So we distance ourselves from their evil actions. And sadly many of our innocent British Muslim citizens who go about their daily lives are now the target of bigoted people's inability to make a distinction between the 3 million plus law-abiding Muslim citizens of our country and maybe a handful...of course a handful too many...who have perpetrated these crimes.

Roger Johnson: Have you heard...sorry to labour the point, but as you mention it...have you noticed a noticeable increase in hostility towards your community in the last week?
Ibrahim Mogra: Right. I...to be fair, there is a mixture. I think the British public has been wonderful. And we saw that in the aftermath of the London bombings and how people really rallied around and stood with us in solidarity and made that distinction between us and these evil terrorists. And I think the same is happening. And this is one of the, if you like...I hesitate to use this phrase...but the silver lining on this dark cloud that looms over us - that each time these terrorists have perpetrated an act of terrorism it has actually brought us closer together, despite our diversities. So there's a lot of solidarity with Muslims. But at the same time we hear more and more cases of, for example, Muslims who are visibly Muslim, particularly women who wear the head scarf, have been spat at, have had bottles thrown at them. One's been pushing in front of a moving tube train, etc. So we need to be alert to these things and stand up against these bigoted people, otherwise we will be driving more and more people into the hands of the ISIS and terrorist recruiters.


Ibrahim Mogra: Where do we go from here? Well, we know where we've been before. The question is do we want to go back there again. And there is a big call once again to use bombers in Syria and, of course, we're already bombing in Iraq. We've done that before in Afghanistan, we've done that before in Iraq, and more than a decade later we know exactly where we are. Those places are still really in turmoil. So is bombing the right strategy? There is a lot of anger, for example, with regards to drone attacks. Drone attacks cannot be as precise as you want, and this horrible phrase 'collateral damage' is something that we, perhaps, sitting here can afford to use but for the people on the ground...the terrorists themselves have said, 'You kill one through a drone attack, you are creating a hundred others who will replace that one person you've killed'. And then whether we are willing to put boots on the ground, to use an American phrase, whether we will commit our troops to fight on the ground, because following a bombing campaign there's got to be something else done there. ....


Ibrahim Mogra: It's something strikingly different between Muslims and Christians. For example, many of my Christian clergy friends without any hesitation will say they doubted the existence of God and they questioned 'Where was God'?, etc. It's very different for us as Muslims. We have kind of this absolute faith in the presence of God, in good times, in bad times. For Christians...I guess many have said to me it's a sign of their faith if you like to be able to question this.


Ibrahim Mogra: Yes, we're really up against it because I've had young people say to me, "Shaykh Ibrahim, forget all the fatwas, all the rulings that you're giving us from your theological arguments. What do we do when we see innocent people also being killed?" So, in a way, the more force and violent means that we are using to tackle this problem the more we are alienating younger people. And just to add to this complex issue is the fact that we are beginning to see society turning on Muslims who've made this country their own and now are being seen as a threat or as an enemy within. And this can further alienate them and disenfranchise them.
Roger Johnson: Interesting point. And for those not watching an hour ago, we talked at great length about the experience of the Muslim community in the last week and as you say...backlash is too strong a word, but the way in which reactions have come your way, Just, if you can...you kind of touched on it...but give us a snapshot of how Muslims are talking to you about what happened in Paris.
Ibrahim Mogra: Well, there is solidarity with the Muslims, People I hope are finally able to hear our loud condemnation. We have condemned terrorism over and over again, despite the fact that many young people are saying to us "Why are you apologising for things we haven't done? Why are you taking responsibility for something that we haven't done?", but we do it as our religious duty. It is our obligation to condemn these things. At the same time we find alongside the solidarity of the British communities there are numbers of bigoted British people who are targeting innocent Muslims on our streets, on public transport, and that is totally unacceptable. This is yet another way in which these young people will feel that if they're not welcome here, if they're not trusted here, then they might as well go over there and fight.
Naga Munchetty: Again though, as you've said, it's a handful, and a tiny numbers of Muslims who have claimed it's in the name of Islam that they are committing these atrocities and again it's a handful of Britons who are turning on..,and not reflecting the bigger picture that actually there has been a show of solidarity and community in the wake of Paris.
Ibrahim Mogra: It's always a handful of people who spoil it for the rest. In all walks of life we find...I mean if you look at our football stadiums, it's always only a handful who give football a bad name.
Roger Johnson: Ibrahim, can I just pick you up on one word you used before? You said, "It's our duty to condemn it." You're not saying...you're not saying you're only doing it because it's your duty? You're saying it because it's a genuine heartfelt condemnation?
Ibrahim Mogra: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. As human beings...I mean before I'm a Muslim I'm first a human being, and I feel for the loss of life. And at the same time it's a duty to God. The Koran calls on Muslims to speak out against injustice, even if it's against ourselves, our parents and our relatives. So we do it not because there's an expectation from the government or an expectation from the British public or the world that Muslims will condemn this. We do it without being called upon.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

BBC comedy, the EU and BBC bias

This week's Feedback featured a clip from the first episode of the 47th series of Radio 4's eternally somewhat-less-than-side-splitting Now Show - a comedic 'team rant' in favour of the EU and against critics of the EU, 

Unlike the recent 'rants' from Andrew Neil and Emily Maitlis, this particular rant was absolutely nothing new. 

And I'm not just talking about the 46 previous series of the Now Show either. I've heard many a pro-EU rant on BBC Radio 4 comedy shows over the years - or, more accurately, many a rant against critics of the EU - especially UKIP supporters and right-wing Conservatives. 

Left-wing bias on BBC comedy programmes is, of course, hardly news. Even Nick Cohen's recent robust defence of the BBC, which saw very little evil in the corporation, contained this brief aside:
And, yes, thank you for raising it, I know, there is BBC bias. I accept that Radio 4 will give us left- and extreme left-wing comedians but never their right- or far-right equivalents.
But, still, on it goes. 

What is the BBC going to do about it, especially as the EU referendum approaches? Cue Roger Bolton and the BBC's chief political advisor Ric Bailey - whose conversation I will now transcribe.

I can't say that Ric Bailey's tone overly impressed me, and he seemed quite evasive to me at times as well. (And all credit to Roger Bolton for pressing him somewhat here). 

You might also note yet another statement from a senior BBC boss of the BBC's outright refusal to carry out statistical studies - even very simple, routine ones - in order to help monitor and regulate its bias. 

Quite why it's so obvious to Ric Bailey that doing such studies, or even doing a basic count, is absurd isn't explained. He simply caricatures the whole idea, making it into a straw man (or several straw men) and repeatedly sneering at it (as you'll see). 

Frankly, if someone were to listen to all episodes of The Now Show over each series from now until the referendum - as people at the BBC will inevitably do, including the show's producers - it's hardly either time-consuming or rocket science to make a quick note of whether there are pro-EU-biased sections or anti-EU-biased sections in each episode, and then keep a tally. If there are, say, 17 pro-EU-biased sections (of the kind we heard last week) across six series between now and the referendum and 0 anti-EU-biased sections, then there's bias! And simple, cost-free counting will have proved it, won't it? 

Anyhow, here's the transcription:

Roger Bolton: Ric Bailey, will The Now Show be told to make anti-EU jokes in future?
Ric Bailey: Look, comedy and satire are absolutely part of what the BBC has to do when it's covering politics and, of course, when it's covering this referendum. The idea that you do that by numbers and that you count the jokes and then have a sort of grading system for how funny they are...you only have to say it to think how ridiculous that is.
Roger Bolton: But will it require some form of balance? You don't say it's got be 5 for, 5 against, but does there need to be some sort of balance?
Ric Bailey: So, the BBC...every genre has to be impartial. And the word that everybody always forgets when you talk about impartiality is the word "due". And that means thinking about the context in which you are doing the programme. So, a referendum clearly is a very particular context. Now, that's why we have guidelines to spell out what those particular circumstances are, what the context is. But also, different genres give you a different context for how you achieve impartiality.  
Roger Bolton: So in comedy is there any requirement for balance over a period over a controversial subject?

Ric Bailey: Well, like most programmes, there's a long way to go before the referendum. It's a topical satire programme, so its job is to take the mickey out of politicians. take the mickey out of what they say and so on. But the idea that you have to do it in one single programme in a beautifully perfectly mathematically-balanced way would be ridiculous. And the word that gets used in the guidelines for the actual referendum period itself is "broad balance". 
Roger Bolton: But over a period there should be jokes about all sides, not just one side?
Ric Bailey: I always take the view, particularly in comedy, the more the merrier. So, the more you are looking at the whole range of politicians, a whole range of views, and subjecting them to your biting wit the better. Of course, if week in week out any comedy show only took lumps out of one side of an argument or only took lumps out of one particular political party that would not be impartial. But those are the judgements that all programmes make, including comedy, day in, day out, and this is no different. 
Roger Bolton: Well, let's suppose it's 10 or 16 weeks, Before the period starts, when we know the date of the referendum but the so-called campaign period hasn't started, nothing will change? No extra requirements on people to be fair, balanced, to be duly impartial?
Ric Bailey: Roger, my view is: the BBC has to be duly impartial about this referendum. It has to be duly impartial about it today. It has to be duly impartial about it the day before the referendum. There is no difference. Part of the idea of the guidelines is not only to be clear about what impartiality means during that referendum period but it's also to set our the parameters so that programme makers, on behalf of the listeners and viewers, can scrutinise the arguments properly. Sometimes often people think, oh, the guidelines are there to stop broadcasters doing things during these periods. Actually it's the opposite. They're there to set out a broad territory in which broadcasters have the freedom and the editorial judgement. That's the first principle. Editorial judgement must dictate how you approach it. 
Roger Bolton: How well qualified do you think BBC journalists are to cover this issue? Because it seems that James Harding, the director of news, thinks they need some mandatory training. He's going to introduce that. Do you think that's a reflection on the fact that, in the past, the journalists have not been particularly well qualified? 
Ric Bailey: Absolutely not. No, I mean...
Roger Bolton: So why might there be training?
Ric Bailey: Before every election I, as part of the guidelines, talk to journalists right across the board about the particular circumstances of any election or referendum. This is a very important referendum and, whereas most of the time there will be a specialist number of journalists who are likely to cover Europe, this is something that's going to....you've already pointed out, it's already in The Now Show. So lots of people who may not normally be covering this sort of story...It will be part and parcel of their journalism for up to two years. Now, it's really important in those circumstances that we know that everybody understands the issues, the arguments and the very particular context of this referendum.

Getting it about right (again)

Finally in this series of post of this week's Newswatch, here are the answers given by the BBC's controller of daily news programmes, Gavin Allen. They are preceded by my summaries (in the form of questions) of what they were meant to be answers to. I'll let you be the judge of them:

What priorities did the BBC have in the immediate aftermath of the attacks?
It was interesting. It was such a remarkably confused picture initially and, obviously, the key priority is to tell people what we know and to tell people what's happened, to the best of our knowledge at that stage....and, obviously, it was unfolding as each minute, each hour went on...but also what we didn't know. I think the risk is you leap to lots of conclusions, you link different attacks. And so, what we tried to piece together as we went through, the priority was getting people who were there and, obviously, getting our own people to Paris, and also making sure that anyone we did get to Paris was entirely safe, knew the risks, and we had backup, and was all carefully planned.

What about concerns about showing disturbing imagery, uploaded from mobile phones onto social media, without warning?
In a way that's not unique to Paris. As you say, it's always the case, particularly now, with footage from so many people witnessing so many events. It's about verification. And it's also, as you say, about assessing it. When are we broadcasting this piece of footage? Is it appropriate? Is it required? Does it tell a story? Does it help the audience understand what's been happening? 

Shouldn't the BBC have given as much attention to attacks outside Europe, such as in Lebanon?
I think it is a difficult balance and, obviously, you can't conduct news based on death tolls in various countries and whichever has the highest death toll goes higher up the running order. So it has to be a judgement based on what's the impact of any given incident, and also over time. I mean, the incident in Paris clearly has knock-on impacts not just on the families involved and Paris but on migration policy, on intelligence failings, and a whole host of other (sort of) areas to explore. But it doesn't mean we wouldn't explore those Africa, Asia or other huge disasters or tragedies.

Did the focus on fear increase the panic and help Islamic State?
I think at the end of this, an incident in which 129, and it may end up being more, people are killed in the middle of a capital city...it's not the coverage of that that is going to lead to fear increasing, it is the attacks themselves. And while I absolutely understand, we've got to be incredibly responsible, incredibly restrained and careful in how we tell these stories, and tell the background to what happened, the impact of what happened and hear eye-witness accounts. It's not adding fear, it's just reflecting that there is fear. 

What about the tone? Was the BBC too intrusive? Was the BBC Breakfast montage with the sad music mawkish?
It wouldn't pretend it's for everyone. Personally I found it actually...I take the points about it becomes entertaining or drama. I think it was compelling. and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing that it is compelling. It's a chance to pause, reflect on what's happened, and above all reflect on individuals. The danger with an attack or a series of attacks like these is that you talk of big numbers, you talk of geopolitics, you talk of organisations, and you do actually lose sight of the individual people who have lost their lives or been injured in it. And I think by speaking to people who were there at the scene or families of those who have died I think you do get a much greater picture of a sense of the tragedy actually because it has impacted on real individual people.  

Other concerns about the BBC's Paris coverage

Sticking with this week's Newswatch, here are some of the other bouquets and brickbats (mostly brickbats) broadcast by the programme.

I want to record them because, even though they aren't the kind of complaints that blogs like ours are usually interested in, they are quite thought-provoking.

The only bouquet ran as follows:
Thank you for such excellent news coverage from Paris over the weekend. It has represented the best possible standards in news broadcasting, providing calm, balanced news reports, despite very tense and potentially dangerous situations.
          Chris & Joan Ure
The first line of criticism, pursued throughout, concerned the fear that Islamic State (and the like) are only being served by such heavy promotion of the panic/terror they sought to cause:
It must have been very gratifying for the terrorists to see how much fear they had created - not just the damage they'd done directly to the victims themselves but how much they were impacting on the wider society. That would give them a great deal of satisfaction...and feel that their actions are worthwhile. That's exactly the sort of impact they want to have.
          Bernie Stewart
I think if very little was said in the Western media about these events I can only imagine that the leadership of IS or other terrorist groups would be extremely disappointed. They crave this sort of publicity and they rely on it for recruiting others and for spreading that fear and terror which they so much want to do. So I think we have to be very careful that we don't actually do their job for them.
          Dr Richard McCallum 
This is a tricky one. Yes, Islamic State will have been watching this coverage (strange, murderous, religious f*ckers that they are) and they will undoubtedly have been absolutely revelling in it but...

....Mr Stewart and Dr McCallum might also care to reflect on the fact that, whether we like it or not, we now live in a different age - the age of instantaneous social media where Twitter (and the like) will ensure that millions of reports (true and false) will be flying around the world within minutes of such atrocities.

The mainstream 'respectable' media would surely be utterly discredited if they were seen to be censoring stories of such importance on a regular basis, wouldn't they?

The BBC, whatever its other faults, is surely right not to refuse to report the effects of an IS terrorist attack. The attacks have happened, and so have the effects. And in not reporting them, MSM organisations like the BBC would (contrary to what those Newswatch viewers imagine) surely merely serve to encourage IS to become ever more 'spectacular' in their attempts at mass slaughter in order to force their atrocities to be reported.

The second main area of criticism concerned charges that the BBC was being overly sensational:
The events that have happened in Paris over the last few days have been horrific and I don't want in any way to belittle that or diminish it. My concern is that there seems to be a morbid curiosity in reporters pursuing witnesses of the events almost immediately afterwards for their reactions, for their emotions. How do you feel about what's happened? What must you be going through? I think this could be left for some time afterwards.
          Chris Holmes
Another aspect of the reporting of these events that concerned me was the use of a photo montage at the end of a news bulletin superimposed with some very mournful piano music. This seemed really inappropriate at the time, and it sounded more like a dreadful soap opera than real events that have happened.           
          Chris Holmes 
I think much more factual reporting and less emphasis on the huge emotional impact it had on various individuals could have been more acceptable. And it would have been kinder to those individuals. I do question how much focusing on those raw emotions will actually make it worse for them.
          Bernie Stewart
I think there's always a danger of the invasion of privacy at these times when you're looking for people's reactions and immediate emotions. I think that can then very easily move on to almost making it into a drama, something that becomes - for some people anyway - entertainment. It becomes gripping. They want to watch it because it looks a little bit like some of the dramas that we might watch on television anyway. And I think we need to avoid sensationalising or making news such as this into an appealing drama that people actually begin to have some kind of morbid interest in.
          Dr Richard McCallum
I can see the point of the first three criticisms here. Part of me would prefer the BBC to try to stick to facts. However, does coldness and strict 'impartiality' after such an event really appeal to us? Isn't it OK to be moving, if you're not mawkish or propagandist? It's another tricky one.

Dr McCallum's point is even trickier because I really don't want to accept his bleak premise - that lots of people were watching the news of the Paris terrorist attacks for the sake of morbid enjoyment, as if it were a TV drama.

Surely not? Surely people were watching because they wanted - needed - to know what was going on?

It would be very disturbing to think otherwise.