Monday, 23 October 2017

Reading material

In light of yesterday's post Flying Feathers and Ad HomsNews-watch's latest reports are now out and (as ever) open to public inspection:

General methodologies are provided, and each report lays out its particular variations on that methodology as it proceeds.

Please read them for yourselves and form your own opinions as to whether you find them credible and compelling.

Or, if you can't be bothered doing that, you could just take the ad hominem route instead

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Start the Week Open Thread

Just because this open thread is headlined 'Start the Week Open Thread' doesn't mean that you have to confine yourself to comments about tomorrow's edition of Radio 4's Start the Week. That would be silly. So please feel free to comment below on any BBC programme you like. Even Strictly (if you really have to). Thank you.

Feathers flying and ad homs

News-watch has two new reports out today, and the Sunday Telegraph has reported their findings...

News-watch's main findings are:
  • that the BBC invited a third more pro-EU than Eurosceptic speakers to appear during the election campaign.
  • that the BBC, during this period, has placed a heavy one-sided emphasis on the difficulties of withdrawing from the EU.
  • that left-wing voices in favour of withdrawal from the EU were ignored for years by the BBC (of the 5,037 guests speakers on EU matters on Today between 2002 and 2015, only five were left-wing advocates of Brexit - 0.1% of the total speakers on the subject).
The BBC's response has been aggressive (to put it just as mildly): 
We do not recognise the allegations made by News-watch and to describe this as a 'report' would be a gross overstatement for what is a defective and loaded piece of work which wouldn't pass basic academic scrutiny.   
Across the election campaign we heard from a range of voices, provided our audiences with clear and balanced analysis and rigorously scrutinised the issues and this is quite simply as an obvious attempt by a lobby group to discredit the BBC when all we are doing is holding all politicians, no matter their view, to account.
I see that response as a ratcheting-up of the BBC's usual stonewalling whenever reports of this (unwelcome) kind come out - a ratcheting-up made all the easier by that absolutely dreadful Sun 'analysis' of 'BBC bias' on the Marr show and The Sunday Politics. As I wrote at the time:

The 'tally-ho' that went up from the BBC after that Sun survey also went up today. BBC types have been piling in on Twitter to rubbish the findings, despite not having read the reports in full - reports which News-watch will doubtless post in the coming days (as they always do). 

If you want to get the full flavour of the BBC's response today please explore the following Twitter thread, launched by blog favourite Rob Burley:

The "evidence" Rob has for asserting that News-watch's research is "unreliable" comes from one chap on Twitter who attempts to give it an impromptu fisking.

Peter the Would-Be Fisker initially goes for the ad hom approach (as did the BBC spokesman quoted above), checking out News-watch's website, putting two and two together and claiming it's partisan. 

Peter then picks one report and claims it lacks a methodology - even though the said report did have a clear methodology (on page 5) which Peter clearly failed to spot, probably in his headlong eagerness to quickly debunk News-watch.

Peter then says, "As far as I can see, none of these reports have methods section" - even though they actually all have clearly outlined methodologies. (Please check them for yourselves and you'll doubtless  all manage to "see" a good deal further than Peter here!).

Others, like the BBC's business reporter Joe Lynam, took a different ad hom route in trying to debunk News-watch today:

The snag with this one is that it's a very clever ad hom approach. It 'works'. 

As many BBC defenders on Twitter have said today, people who commission polls tend to get the results they want, or why commission the poll in the first place? The mere fact that pro-Leave, BBC-bashing MPs have commissioned this and got a result which proves them to be completely right about the BBC must mean that there's no smoke without fire. Monitoring groups can't be unbiased if they are commissioned. It stands to reason, surely?

Well, the obvious answer to that is that, no, it doesn't stand to reason at all. Not at all. 

The 'ad hominem' fallacy is, well, precisely that: a fallacy. The fact that a monitoring organisation (a pollster, an academic group, an independent monitoring unit) carries out a study on someone's behalf doesn't in itself invalidate anything. All that matters is the the quality and robustness of the evidence. If the evidence is offered transparently and holds up to scrutiny then all the 'ad homs' in the world will fail to refute it because the evidence is (or ought to be) independently verifiable (or refutable). 

Moreover, Joe Lynam & Co. invite another obvious riposte: The BBC's recent landmark impartiality studies, which largely 'proved' the BBC to be impartial, were commissioned by....guess who?...yes, by the BBC.

Aha! Does that invalidate the findings of all of those major BBC impartiality studies which found the BBC to be broadly impartial? By Joe's logic, yes, yes it does. 

And when the BBC commissions a bunch of ex-BBC types and pro-EU leftists and far-left activists at Cardiff University to review its entire output for impartiality and when they 'find' that the BBC has a bit of a right-wing, anti-EU bias but is basically sound and impartial, what's to stop people from 'the other side' playing exactly the same 'ad hom' card and rubbishing their findings on the 'no smoke without fire' principle that no-one-but-no-one puts aside their biases when publishing studies like this - least of all pro-BBC, pro-EU leftists commissioned by the BBC?

What's good for the pro-BBC goose is good for the anti-BBC gander, isn't it?

Now at this point a bit of necessary self-reflection is urgently needed because people on 'this side' are as guilty as anyone else of playing precisely the same game that Joe Lynam and the BBC spokesman quoted by the Telegraph have been playing here. We do it again and again.

And by that I also mean me. I partly rubbished that Cardiff University report (and others from Cardiff Uni) on exactly the same lines, so I'm no better than anyone else in that respect - except for the (blessed!) caveat mentioned below. (But, worse, that's far from the only time I've done it too).

So we all do it, and I don't blame Joe Lynam for trying it on here. We don't like or trust some statistic findings so we busily dig around and find 'Gotcha!' evidence that those responsible for those figures strongly hold a particular point of view and claim, abracadabra!, that their statistics must therefore be unreliable. 

It's so much easier to do that than to drill into the statistics themselves and, with an open mind, try to verify or refute them. 

Now in fairness to myself, I did also criticise the Cardiff survey on its merits too, condemning the extreme narrowness and randomness of its focus on just one week's output from two different years,  and comparing it to much better kinds of analysis, so my doubts about that Cardiff report remain. 

And that's what the BBC defenders ought to do here too, if they can. Do News-watch's findings stand up to scrutiny?

The fact that it's so much easier to take the 'ad hom' approach and try and find out who the researchers are, what their politics are, who backs them, who funds them, etc, and thus 'discredit' them, means, alas, that the 'ad hom' approach will always remain the first port of call for most people.

It's just the way it is (as Bruce Hornsby might put it).

Questions for 'Panorama' from Emily Thornberry

The famous Emily Thornberry

This morning's Andrew Marr show also featured Emily Thornberry, newly sensible-sounding and boring. (Has she been coached?)

You might not be aware though of a letter which Ms Thornberry has recently sent to the BBC  on behalf of a constituent concerning a 2013 edition of Panorama. It was addressed to Panorama editor Rachel Jupp: 

Was 'The Andrew Marr Show' biased over Catalonia?

Andrew Marr groupie Alfonso Dastis

For your delectation, here's a three-handed Twitter exchange this morning between The Andrew Marr Show's editor Rob Burley and a couple of critics. It followed the interview with Spanish foreign minister (and self-declared AM Show fan) Alfonso Dastis:

Euan Anderssonn: Where was the representative from @delgovuk for balance? Why does BBC & Marr consistently only show one side of argument in Spain?
Rob Burley: How have we "consistently" only shown the Spanish side? We have only done one interview which was today! Will be bidding for Catalan Govt.
Euan Anderssonn: Been happening for months. #BBC consistently sides with Spanish Govt, as shown today with no-one from @delgovuk being interviewed
Rob Burley: In a crowded show domestically, we chose today to ask the Spanish Govt to justify actions. Bidding for Catalans. Don't invent conspiracies.
Euan Anderssonn: No conspiracy. I have to pay #BBC licence for your output, so expect balance. You could have easily fitted in interview with @delgovuk
Rob Burley: No we couldn't. And we don't within a single show balance every issue. Think licence fee payers also interested in U.K housing,Brexit etc.
Kevin Rinchey: It's in the BBC charter Rob.
Rob Burley: What? That every show has to be absolutely balanced? Send me the relevant clause.
Kevin Rinchey: I think you've demonstrated my point.
Rob Burley: While you dig the clause out can I congratulate you for googling "BBC Editorial Guidelines".
Kevin Rinchey: I think your digging yourself a hole here Rob or are you saying Marr is just a random platform for some?
Rob Burley: No. I'm saying we interviewed Spanish Govt today and bidding for Catalan Govt. Impartiality not judged on single programme. Stop digging.
Kevin Rinchey: Fair enough Rob. I watch Marr I realise you only have an hour. I really hope you can get someone from @catalangov
Rob Burley: Thanks Kevin. Asking but we can't compel them to. Hope will soon.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Listening to BBC reviewers talking absolute drivel

Donald Trump

It's a while since I've listened to Radio 4's Saturday Review, as I grew impatient with the self-important blowhards then appearing on it, but I began listening tonight...

...only to be brought up short within seconds of the first guest's contribution.

And what was it that made me move towards the off-switch? Well, by this from long-term Saturday Review regular Amanda Craig about Armando Iannucci's new film The Death of Stalin:
I think this is the best film I've seen this year. It's satire at its most savage, and also its most pertinent because we are, of course, living in another age of dictators - whether it's Trump or Putin or Kim Jung-il - and these things are all too horribly real.
Yes, "of course", Trump is a "dictator" worthy of comparison to Stalin and it's definitely "horribly real" that she's so confident in her views about "Kim Jung-il" (sic). And can you believe that no one, not even Tom Service, picked her up on any of that?

The programme's website, incidentally, framed the film in this way:
How funny can a film about the death of the man whose regime saw the murder of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens actually be?
"Hundreds of thousands"? That's one heck of an understatement

More random thoughts

I was driving to work yesterday morning and switched on Today just at the moment where a voice I didn't instantly recognise was interviewing a BBC reporter and describing Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party as "hardliners". I thought, "A clear example of 'bias by labelling' there from a BBC presenter". Then I remembered reading about CNN's Christiane Amanpour being a guest presenter sometime and realised it must be her enjoying her moment in the Today sun. She's certainly no fan of Brexit.

Having her and Remain campaigner Stephanie Flanders as guest presenters isn't helping Sarah Sands give Today a neutral tone on Brexit (or Trump), is it? At least the consummately professional Carrie Gracie (the last of these Three Guest-Presenting Graces) should know how to conduct herself. 


David Keighley's latest piece provides the kind of detailed overview that (alas) I can only dream about offering you at the moment. (So please go and read it, if you haven't already). Its main focus is the BBC's coverage of those 'hate crime' figures, and the way the BBC keeps plugging the alleged link to Brexit. The BBC stood out from most of the other reports I saw in that by not balancing those figures about rising 'hate crime' cases with other figures showing a fall in 'hate crime' prosecutions, making the BBC appear particularly biased (and irresponsible) in this respect. David (naturally) also spotted that, summarising the main BBC website article on the story in this way:
And the reaction? This BBC report emphasises in great detail the rise in number of recorded ‘crimes’, does not enumerate the fall in prosecutions, and has a long sequence about a Muslim ‘victim’ who concludes: ‘I really think it's important for us to report, no matter what.’ Of course.
Of course.

I'm looking out of my window at the wet and windy weather of Storm Brian (yes, it does sometimes stop being sunny in Morecambe, as surprising as you may find that) and I'm thinking, "This doesn't look like a 'Brian' to me". It's more a 'James' I think. (It's making me think of James O'Brien for some reason).


According to the Daily Mail's media editor Katherine Rushton, the BBC has fought "a furious battle" to keep to itself the number of complaints it receives each day. Unfortunately for the BBC, it's now lost that battle and been forced to admit that it gets "nearly 1,000 complaints every working day". Also:
The Corporation would not give a breakdown but last week Ofcom chief executive Sharon White said three out of ten of the complaints it receives about the BBC centre on bias and inaccuracy.
It didn't surprise me in the least that this information had to been extracted from the BBC against the BBC's wishes and with the BBC dragging its feet every single step of the way. It did surprise me a bit that it was only "nearly 1,000 complaints every working day".


It is becoming impossible to keep track of BBC bias. I was reading some comments recently about all the messaging that Eastenders puts out. I haven't watched Eastenders for over twenty years (except a couple of episodes for the sake of this blog), but messaging on Eastenders has long been a given. It sounds to be getting worse though. 

I suspect that lots of BBC One drama comes with added messages (the usual BBC messages) - just like Radio 4 dramas (and The Archers) - simply because on the occasions when I have watched them I usually get the feeling of being whacked over the head with some clunking great fist of a message, as well as countless more subtly inveigled messages (though not subtle enough not to be noticed). Watching them and detailing it is something that I couldn't face doing, even if I had the time (which I don't). And then there's the transgender agenda and the feminist agenda and the race-baiting agenda...and how many more? 

It's all too much. I need to lie down. 


On a brighter note, you really can't beat In Our Time with R Melvyn. This week it was the Congress of Vienna. Tim Blanning of the University of Cambridge was so infectiously enthusiastic (and darned interesting) that I feel he really ought be given a BBC programme of his own. (Watch him turn out to be a fanatic for some cause I don't like, the BBC take up my suggestion and ask him to bang on about that cause, and me repent at leisure). Next week it's 'Feathered dinosaurs'. God bless Lord Bragg, and all who sail in him!


Yes, Newsnight has covered some of the big stories of the week - President Xi (all hail!), murder in Malta, Brexit, party political goings-on, etc - but it definitely does seem to be going down the celebrity interview route more and more often. We've had Mary Blige, Trevor Noah and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden just this week. (The Bruce interview was the only one I didn't really inclined to run to the hills at the mere thought of). Plus, they really do like talking about race. They've been at that a lot again this week.


Most sexual taboos from earlier ages have become acceptable, with the BBC's ardent blessing, but a few still remain - such as zoophilia and paedophilia. Infamously in the 1970s some socially-liberal voices, particularly on the Left, briefly flirted with pro-paedophilia campaign groups (and the BBC was then at the height of its Jimmy Savile era). Surely even the BBC won't dare to go down that route? 


Terry, in an earlier comments thread, reminded me of a curious omission from Suzy Klein's otherwise excellent Tunes for Tyrants: Music and Power with Suzy Klein. As the final episode looked at the Second World War, whatever happened to the most famous WW2 symphony of all, Shostakovich's Seventh (the Leningrad) - a work with a back story of the utmost drama and relevance to the series's main theme? I was expecting it, yet it never came. Yes, I understand the relevance of Walton's glorious Spitfire Prelude and Tippett's pacifist curate's egg A Child of Our Time but to miss out the Leningrad Symphony was a very curious omission indeed. 


Meanwhile back at the Today ranch...

The power struggles and back-stabbing at Today are beginning to make Games of Thrones seem like Last of the Summer WineThey just can't stop sniping at each other. I'm running out of popcorn.


And as Saturday night is music night and Radio 3 has Uncle Jim Naughtie presenting Verdi's Otello, here's Placido and Katia with the love duet from the end of the first act. If you don't know it, it's very, very lovely (and the nearest Verdi got to sounding like Wagner).

Islamic Vikings - an update

All credit to the Independent for updating its readers over the much-reported claim that the Vikings wore Arabic words for 'Allah' and 'Ali' in their burial garments, thus suggesting a strong Islamic influence on Viking culture.

They followed up the story with "a leading expert" in medieval Islamic art and archaeology, who has rubbished the claims saying that there's no Arabic script present at all.

It's a fascinating read and, to my mind, places the Swedish researchers (and the media who reported their claims) firmly in the dock.

The BBC's article on the original story was particularly uncritical of the original claims and overly triumphalist for Islam, but the BBC (unlike the Indie) hasn't yet provided an update. 

Another 'Newsnight' voter panel

All credit to Newsnight for their voter panel on how Brexit is going last night. I feared the worse, given the travesty of previous voter panels on Newsnightbut this was a well-chosen, varied panel of voters from a city (Sheffield) which voted 51-49 to leave the EU. They were all suitably labelled too, presumably for the sake of transparency, on how they voted in the referendum and their declared party allegiances:

Ben  - Leave (Liberal Democrat)
Gillian - Remain (Conservative)
Michael - Leave (Labour)
Roger - Remain (Labour)
Sonia - Remain (Labour)
Janetta - Leave (Conservative)
Carole - Leave (Conservative)
Albert - Leave (Labour)
Richard - floating 

It was a lively, interesting discussion, full of surprises.

"Populist billionaire" poised to win Czech election

What's in a headline?

That's an interesting form of words, and when you click into the BBC News article and read its opening paragraph you find that Mr Babis isn't just a "billionaire"; no, he's "a populist billionaire". (Remind you of anyone?)

The second paragraph of the article focuses exclusively on his wealth, and questions about his questionable past dominate the rest of the article. 

I'm not getting a very positive vibe from the BBC about Andrej Babis here.

In passing we learn that his platform is (in the BBC words) "anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti-corruption". 

Had he been 'pro-establishment, pro-EU and anti-corruption' would the report have been quite as negative about him?

Update, 5.30pm: Breaking news....

Yes, "populist billionaire" Andrej Babis has won the Czech Republic's general election. "Particularly noteworthy" though, the BBC says, is the strong performance of the SPD (Freedom and Free Democracy party) "as the far-right party wants to ban Islam in the Czech Republic".

(I pass this onto you as the BBC website isn't reporting this prominently yet).

Further update: A BBC News Channel discussion between Julian Worricker and Rob Cameron this afternoon saw further labels flying.

Again, Mr Babis was was "the billionaire Mr Babis", "the populist Mr Babis" and "the Czech Trump". The SPD here were the "virulently nationalist, xenophobic, Eurosceptic SPD party led, believe it or not, by a half-Czech, half-Japanese businessman."

Yet another update (22/10): Here's a transcript showing how BBC World News (and, therefore, BBC One) were reporting the results overnight:

BBC newsreader: A billionaire businessman in the Czech Republic has scored a convincing victory in elections to the lower house of parliament. Andrej Babis, the country's second richest man, emerged with 30% of the vote - not enough to govern alone but far ahead of his rivals. A far-right Islamophobic party also made strong gains while liberal, pro-European parties faltered. Rob Cameron has more from Prague. 
Rob Cameron: This is what success looks like for a man who has already tasted so much of it. His business empire controls much of Czech agriculture, chemicals, and the media. Now, he has set his sights much higher. After almost four years at the finance ministry, the Slovak-born business tycoon is on the brink of becoming prime minister. It was a result few had predicted. Andrej Babis's prospects had dimmed in recent months after a string of scandals - two separate criminal investigations into claims he fraudulently obtained EU funds for a luxury resort. He said all of that was a campaign against him, a political witch-hunt by an establishment terrified of his pledge to clean up corruption. "Trust me," he said, and the voters believed him. Populist, mildly eurosceptic, and hostile to immigration despite his non-Czech origins, he has left the established centre-left and centre-right parties in tatters. Instead, a host of new protest parties, including the far-right SPD. They want to ban Islam in the Czech Republic, and also hold a referendum on leaving the European Union. They are unlikely to get one. But attitudes hardening here to the EU, and to migrants, and Andrej Babis has tapped into them

The final results, if you were wondering, look like this:

ANO (centre/centre-right) - 29.6% (up 11%)
ODS (centre-right/right) - 11.3% (up 3.6%)
Pirates (centre) - 10.8% (up 8.1%)
SPD (right/far-right) - 10.6% (up 10.6%)
KSCM (communist) - 7.8% (down 7.2%)
CSSD (centre-left) - 7.3% (down 13.1%)
KDU/CSL (centre-right) - 5.8% (down 1.0%)
TOP 09 (centre-right) - 5.3% (down 6.7%) 
STAN (centre-right) - 5.2% (up 5.2%)

Friday, 20 October 2017

Even handed

I don’t know if I omitted the link to Karen Harradine’s piece about UNESCO in The Conservative Woman, but here it is.

Once again, if you haven’t already done so I urge you to read it. And here’s another good’un by Rod Liddle (£) more or less on the same topic, with a little more info on UNESCO’s outgoing director Irina Bokova. He speaks for many of us. (i.e., me)

A few days ago I wondered about something I heard Nick Robinson saying, which seemed dubious to me. Was I imagining it?  Craig gave him the benefit of the doubt, so I left it. Don’t wanna be too OTT with the paranoia, do we, nit pickers?

However, it concerns Ms. Bokova so I’ll stick it in here just for the hell of it:

“Did anyone hear Nick Robinson talking to the outgoing director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova?
He said to her:
"You use language for protecting a site in east Jerusalem which everybody knows - even (in) the BBC knows - that’s used by Palestinians and not used by Israelis, and therefore is designed to offend"
In other words, obviously the BBC is sympathetic to UNESCO’s relentless campaigning against Israel, but nevertheless “even the BBC knows" that referring to the Western Wall and Temple Mount only by their Muslim names will not go down too well. 
It might be Nick’s way of saying the ‘value-judgement-free’ BBC is conscious of its obligation to  appear even-handed over matters concerning Israel and the Palestinians, so when UNESCO decides to declare another “Palestinian” world heritage site it should choose its words more carefully.
Or, it might have been Nick inadvertently letting the BBC’s default anti-Israel agenda (a value judgement) slip out. It’s just that little word: “even” that gives the game away. In my humble opinion. 

Feel free to disagree.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

But Whatabout the BBC?

Afshin Rattansi was invited to defend “Putin’s mouthpiece” (RT) on Daily Politics with Jo Coburn and Andrew Adonis. Should politicians be allowed to appear on RT? Should they be paid for doing so? 
There used to be a playground saying: “It takes one to know one”.  

It was quite funny listening Jo Coburn complaining of RT’s bias, “ a propaganda arm of Putin’s government”,  and the oleaginous Afshin Rattansi firing back a few lethal barbs at the Beeb during his “whataboutery” defence. 

What fun.

“Just as people are sent to jail if they don’t pay Jo Coburn’s salary”