Saturday, 29 August 2015

Four Thought

One of the clearest demonstrations of where BBC Radio 4 is coming from came from that remarkable three-and-a-half-year run of  episodes of Friday night's A Point of Viewwhere (despite lots and lots of passing political opinions - quite a lot of them strongly left-wing ones) not one speaker spoke from a right-of-centre perspective until Roger Scruton came along. 

My quip at the time was that A Point of View graphically demonstrated BBC Radio's own point of view - not that it was really a quip, more a statement of fact.

The other BBC Radio 4 regular that invites such quips is Four Thought - the 13-minute weekly Wednesday night spot (that, very occasionally, spills out into other spots on the network). 

Listen to it regularly or look back through its extensive archive and you'll find, beyond even the slightest glimmer of a doubt, that Radio 4's Four Thought is overwhelmingly (nay, almost exclusively) dominated by left-of-centre voices and left-of-centre preoccupations. The 'BBC bias' is palpable and somewhat outrageous.

That's not to say that all episodes of Four Thought are left-of-centre politically, because quite a lot of them aren't political. 

But, nonetheless, a heck of a lot of them are - and a review of the 187 episodes currently available shows that, in contrast to many clearly expressing left-of-centre views, next to none express obviously right-of-centre views (especially the recent ones). 

Please just review the Four Thought archive for yourselves though. 

On, say, the public's hot topic of the moment - immigration - you'll see that all the programmes dealing with the subject have featured strongly pro-immigration voices or positive stories about immigration. The views of the vast bulk of the public, as shown by opinion poll after opinion poll who express reservations about mass immigration, are entirely excluded.

Isn't that remarkable for a publicly-funded broadcaster that's meant to represent the broadest range of British public opinion?

Now, none of this is to say that many of these programmes aren't interesting and rewarding. Many of them are. Some, indeed, have been fascinating and wonderful. It's just to say that the programme, as a whole, has a massive leftwards bias.

For example, just working back through recent episodes,...

...this week's edition featured someone complaining that black women are still under-represented on British TV. 

Last week's edition had a Labour-advising economist criticising 'the whirlpool economy'.

The previous week had a pro-immigration academic talking about how we need to think differently about citizenship. 

The week before that had an anti-big business type denouncing 'big charity' for being too like big business. 

The previous two episodes were apolitical. The week before those, however, had a Quaker speaker questioning the value of success, ...

...preceded by a Muslim speaker 're-interpreting' British responses to terrorism,..

...preceded by a left-leaning commentator making the "progressive case for authority",..

...preceded by pieces calling for reform of animal welfare, describing how feminism can be reconciled with Islamic faith, telling of how a Yemeni got stranded in London, complaining that there's a "prejudice" against East European migrants, arguing that drugs should be legalised...

...etc, etc, etc.....

You can check all of this out for yourselves. I'm not in any way exaggerating. (If you think I am, please show me why).

Yet another QED regarding BBC bias, I'd say. Wouldn't you?

A Saturday night smorgasbord (Part 2)

And on we go...


I have to say that James O'Brien isn't growing on me as a Newsnight presenter. 

I don't appear to be alone. In recent days I've seen his interview style described (on Twitter) as varying between "patronizing questions and leading questions" and his "modus operandi" in general being characterised as "abuse, smearing and pretending he is some kind of genius". Others have been less kind. 

An example of JO'B's use of leading questions could be seen with his interview on Thursday's Newsnight with John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International on the migrant crisis - or "refugee" crisis as Mr Dalhuisen terms it. ("So the only way that this could be assuaged is for them to be, for want of a better word, welcomed?"). 

Contrast that with his later interview with UKIP's Douglas Carswell, where he pounded away, repeatedly interrupting, trying to make the point that people in low-immigrant-dense constituencies tend to be (unreasonably) anti-mass immigration. Or with his relentless interrupting of Corbynite Labour MP Cat Smith on Friday's edition.

[Vis-à-vis our Cat, our next-door-neighbour MP for Lancaster...she sounded surprisingly cocky for someone who squeaked in as a Labour MP, just defeating the sitting Tory MP (despite polls predicting she'd win by an absolute landslide)...and she only managed that thanks to the total collapse of the Lib Dems, the sharp rise of UKIP and most Lancaster voters not having the slightest clue what she actually stands for.]

Now, maybe Cat and Douglas deserved to be relentlessly interrupted by James O'Brien (they weren't admitting what he wanted them to admit), but I always think it's very bad form for a BBC interviewer to do what JO'B did to Mr Carswell on Thursday - namely contradicting him and not allowing him to respond, moving onto the other guest and changing the subject:
Douglas Carswell: We often argue in UKIP that we need an Australian type system of immigration. That is to allow us to choose people with the skills we need to come and work here and contribute. If you look at the detail of some of these figures it shows that for every one non-EU job created over the past year there have been 35 EU jobs created. That clearly suggests - unless anyone's going to suggest that Europeans are 35 times more able - it clearly suggests that actually the system we have at the moment is preventing us from recruiting the brightest and the best from around the world.  
James O'Brien: And, of course, if you look at the detail of the Australian points system you'll see that in per capita terms the rate of immigration is about twice as high as it is into Britain at the moment.... 
Douglas Carswell: It, it... 
James O'Brien [pointing at Fraser Nelson]: I just want to put to Fraser Nelson...
That's a BBC interviewer forcing his views on his audience, isn't it?


Anyhow, at least we can take some satisfaction in seeing 'hard man' James O'Brien's obvious discomfort later in that same edition on having to eat a dead squirrel live on TV.

That was when Newsnight well and truly jumped the squirrel. 

And it did so courtesy of Newsnight editor Ian Katz's old chum at the Guardian, George Monbiot

It's not the first time Ian has invited George onto the show to air his latest moonbattery. His plans to expunge the Lake District of sheep and 're-wild' the fells got him an invite soon after Mr Katz took over. And here he was again, following on from his latest piece in the Graun extolling the thrill of eating a recently-deceased grey squirrel and his parallel dislike of conventional animal farming. 

So there was the Moonbat himself, wielding an axe and butchering a squirrel live on BBC Two, with James O'Brien looking on and then trying to eat 'one we prepared earlier'. 

James introduced George Monbiot, at the start of the show, as "the nation's favourite environmentalist".

All very odd.


As this is a smorgasbord, I really ought to include something about Sweden

Sweden has been much in the news recently, with BBC reporter/commentator after BBC reporter/commentator noting that Sweden has taken in far more migrants per head of population than we have (a point always made at our expense).

I may be missing something but what none of those BBC reporters/commentators ever points out is that Sweden has a population of 9.5 million and an area of 449,964 km². We have a population of 64.1 million and an area of just 243,610 km². 


Anyhow, matters Swedish came to the attention of other commenters about BBC bias through a recent BBC TV report from BBC Breakfast's Graham Satchell

It was another of those reports, featuring attractive migrants cast amid glowing Swedish scenery and various pro-immigration voices, including a Swedish mayor. It also (very briefly) featured an opposing voice, introduced as being "hard-right". 

Well, the Sweden Democrats (the party of the "hard-right" lady featured) are pretty hard-right (though much less than they used to be). However, it struck me that Graham didn't give us any political label for the featured mayor. I had to Google her to find which party she represents (the centre-left Social Democrats).

'Bias by labelling' is a common bugbear of those concerned about media bias. This was surely a case of it, wasn't it?

You may also remember Graham Satchell from his reporting of the Rotherham abuse scandal. I certainly remember one report (which I've just found again) where the Muslim angle was only mentioned in connection with fears of a backlash - an absolute BBC classic of its kind. 


So far, so typical of the BBC in this smorgasbord. However, sometimes something unexpected happens....

....such as a BBC reporter expressing the view that it's a very good thing that the UK isn't part of the EU's Schengen Agreement on the free movement of people. 

That shocker came on Monday's The World at One and emerged from the mouth of the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner (about 27:35 in): 
I think that one of the problems here is that in the Schengen Area - which, thank God, Britain is not a member of - but in Schengen you can pass across border with no checks in theory...
Thank God indeed, Frank!

And if you think that's weird, please try getting your head around Jon Donnison posting a piece from a libertarian perspective, denouncing the nanny state in Australia. Yes he grounds his piece in the opinions of the only Ozzie libertarian MP, but (as is his way) JD doesn't disguise where his own sympathies lie - and they aren't where I expected them to lie:
And for me personally, I have to say Australia is without doubt one of the most rule obsessed and bureaucratic places I have ever lived.
We all know he's not a great fan of Australia but, still, criticising the country from a 'Classical liberal' position is just about the last thing I'd ever have expected from JonDon (though obviously not the last thing I'd ever have expected - which is him reporting it from a pro-Israeli position!)

A Saturday night smorgasbord (Part 1)

Having spent much of the past fortnight away from the world of blogging, it's time for a post (or two) that randomly gathers together most of the stuff I would have posted if I'd had the time - or at least as much of it as I can remember.

So here goes....

I read a comment somewhere alleging that the BBC's reporting of the 'living wage' had undergone a 180 degree turnaround since George Osborne made it government policy in his summer Budget. 

Before then (and over many years), the complaint went, reports on the BBC about the 'living wage' were very strongly skewed towards the idea, incessantly highlighting calls for it to be introduced. After the Budget, however, the complaint continued, the BBC suddenly began promoting anti-'living wage' stories. 

Such things are hard to check, but I've tried to do so. Using a combination of the 'search' function on the BBC website and Google, it's possible to see if the BBC News website has done as the complainant claimed it has. 

I've found plenty of pieces spotlighting calls for the introduction of a 'living wage' before July this year but no pieces spotlighting calls for it not to be introduced. (If you find any, please let me know). However, since the July Budget, there have been several reports spotlighting calls for it not to be introduced: 

National Living Wage will 'damage care homes' (one month after the last one)

As far as I can see (and I've checked and re-checked this to see if I'm missing something), the complainant was correct. The BBC appears to have abruptly taken against the 'living wage'. 


Simply putting it down to 'left-wing bias' won't work, giving that these articles are promoting the arguments of those opposed to a popular left-wing idea. 

Putting it down to knee-jerk 'anti-Tory bias' would work much better, if you believe that many at the BBC are shamelessly opportunistic enough to do such a party political thing (presumably from a Labour/Lib Dem perspective).

Or, as some say, maybe it's just the BBC doing it's 'anti-government' thing ('anti-any-government'), and acting as a self-appointed opposition? 

Or, as others (usually on the Left) say, maybe it's the BBC doing its 'anti-change' thing, always opposing something new?

Whatever, it's a real shift of focus from the BBC and an interesting phenomenon. Something must account for it. But what?


As I was driving to work on Monday morning, listening to Today, I heard another of those BBC reports about the migrant crisis, this time reporting from Hungary.

The BBC reporter, Nick Thorpe, presented us with the work of Migration Aid in Budapest - a group helping incoming illegal immigrants there. We heard from an activist with the organisation (denouncing the Hungarian government's new fence with Serbia). We also heard from various migrants (who Nick Thorpe called "refugees"), including one from Afghanistan passionately demanding to be treated as a human being.

We also got an opinion (yes, an opinion!) from the BBC reporter, echoing Migration Aid's feelings about the Hungarian authorities:
In these Hungarian stations you can witness the best and the worst sides of the Hungarian reaction to this crisis. Many stories of the indifference or even the hostility of the authorities, but also a remarkable outpouring of generosity from the Hungarian public. 
Nick Thorpe is the BBC's Central Europe correspondent. According to Wikipedia,
Thorpe joined the BBC in 1986 as Budapest Correspondent, and was the first Western correspondent to be based there, and has continued to report on Eastern Europe ever since. In 1989, he joined The Observer newspaper as its Eastern Europe Correspondent, returning to the BBC in 1996. He has also written for The Guardian and The Independent newspapers. 
It figures.


I'm not the only one to have spotted this, it appears, but...

The BBC has a very peculiar attitude to race stories in the U.S.

When a fatal incident involves a white person killing a black person (or black people), the BBC is straight onto the race angle like an albino ferret up a jet-black drainpipe (if ferrets ever go up drainpipes. We know they go up trousers, of course, but drainpipes? I might email David Attenborough to find out).

On the evening of the murder of the white U.S. TV reporter and her cameraman by a black former colleague, I read reports on Sky News and other places showing the murderer's calls for a race war. Now the killer may be a mental case, but that hasn't stopped the BBC before if there's a race angle involved, yet - as others also noted - the BBC News website that evening merely reported (in one paragraph) that their was a racial grievance on the killer's part. Nothing else. Sky quoted (with appropriate redactions) the killer's expletive-filled social media comments mentioning the Charleston killer and the 'bringing on' of a race war.

The BBC was holding back.

That night's Newsnight also merely mentioned the race angle in a sentence before passing on to debate how the media should report stories where the killer films his own atrocity. That night's The World Tonight on Radio 4 also debated how the media should report stories where the killer films his own atrocity but its segment on the story went even further than Newsnight and ignored the race angle completely.

All very odd. But also, all very BBC. It's as if some kinds of racism are too 'hot' to condemn (cf Yasmin Alibhai Brown).

Why Mo Farah pulled off the triple-double

This week's Dead Ringers was a bit of a dud (no offence), but this bit made me laugh:
Gabby Logan: Mo, a win in your next race could make you the first athlete in history to achieve a triple-double. What's your secret?  
Mo Farah: Well, I've always kept it under my hat but as you asked nicely, miss, I'm happy to reveal my secret to success: I move my legs really fast. 
Gabby Logan: Right, but surely it can't just be that?  
Mo Farah: Well, of course, obviously I don't just move my legs really fast. That would be silly. I also make sure my feet are really fast as well. 
Gabby Logan: Genius. And how do you recover from falling over, like you did in the semi-final?
Mo Farah: You know, it was tough but I always remember what my coach taught me. He said: If you almost fall, just don't and then run really fast to the end.  


Even by the usual biased standards of Dateline London today's discussion of the migrant crisis was extraordinarily one-sided. 

If you want to watch four people mounting their high horses, saying exactly the same thing and then vigorously nodding in agreement with each other, then this edition is definitely for you. 

Part of the problem was the usual Dateline problem - that the chosen panellists all came from a particular political position. There was Yasmin Alibhai Brown of The Independent (who, famously, never dismounts from her high horse), Rachel Shabi of The Guardian (who's proving quite a keen rider of high horses too), Chinese writer Xue Xinran (who, according to Wikipedia, "frequently contributes to The Guardian and the BBC") and mild-mannered Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times (who got surprisingly hot under the collar today). 

There wasn't a single note of disagreement between any of this on this issue. Not one. In fact, they ended up repeating each other on several occasions. 

For those who can't bear to watch it, here's a brief flavour of what each of them said:

Rachel Shabi - "People don't risk life, they don't risk death, unless they're desparate for life. And the only possible reaction to this should be, "Hello. Welcome! How can we help?" That shouldn't even be a debate. It's baseline". 
"Not recognise the benefits of an influx of different kinds of people into your country seems horribly short-sighted and narrow." 
"I completely agree with this idea. You don't follow public opinion. You lead it. You create it. You inspire it." 
"You don't hear Lebanon going on about net migration and being "swamped" by migrants, do you? So." 
Henry Chu - "I think in terms of migration and immigration, just look round this table." 
"Now what you're seeing are people who are risking their lives in incredibly dangerous situations in order to do so - and you only do that when you're being pushed. And it's not simply because you want to have a better salary. It's because you want to live". 
Yasmin Alibhai Brown - "Even now white Europeans and those with white ancestries in Europe feel they have the right, the entitlement to go where they wish - often for frivolous reasons even - and yet we are denying that basic human right to those who have no other option." 
"You don't follow public opinion. You actually try to challenge it and change it".  
"Babies are dying here!!"
Xue Xinran - "It's not just that we should treat them as humans. There's no question. It doesn't matter what the political view." 
"And the other thing which is very important: We should think about our foreign policy". 

And what of presenter Gavin Esler? Did he provide any counterbalance to this overwhelming diet of righteous indignation and political consensus-building? 

The short answer to that is, no. 

Here are his contributions to this section of the programme in full:

The horror of some 70 people suffocating in the back of a locked truck, their decomposing bodies found in Austria, brings home the desparation of hundreds of thousands seeking a better life in Europe. That human tragedy comes as the British government is forced to concede its plans to reduce net inward migration to fewer than a hundred thousand a year have failed, with the highest number of immigrants ever recorded. Can governments ever get a grip on immigration or is it an uncontrollable natural human impulse to pursue a better life, or save your life in the case of some people? I mean, admittedly that's conflating refugees, migrants and other terms, but it does seem that Europe - for all its riches, all its wealth - does have a clue how to handle this. 
There's been a lot of talk here and elsewhere about 'pull factors' - why people come - but actually the 'push factors' are the ones that seem to be in the case of the horrible case in Austria and those coming from Syria. That's what's moving people. They're being pushed.
But from all you've said and Rachel's said, if you look at the opinion polls in Britain immigration is seen as one of the top concerns that people have, so if you're right that we should just say, you know, "Who are we as a people?", people are saying "We don't want these people coming here". That's what they're telling the opinion polls. 
"I know YOU'VE had comments about..." [to YAB, after Henry Chu said he's hasn't had comments about coming over here as an immigrant] 
"Tired, poor, huddled masses." 
What do you make of the comments from the White House on Friday that this is destabilis...that this is not just the product of the destabilisation of the Arab world but it risks destabilising Europe itself? I wasn't quite clear what the White House meant by that, but it's...certainly they do, both in terms of political backlash, because Angela Merkel did say those things this week and she was booed.
And Lebanon...and Jordan. 

"Get Corbyn!"

Last night's Newsnight was yet another Labour leadership special. 

This one was based around a couple of focus groups, gathered by one of the BBC's pollsters-of-choice - Ipsos MORI's Ben Page. 

Both groups consisted of former Labour voters from a couple of marginal constituencies (both of which went to the Conservatives in the general election). Some hadn't voted Labour since the Blair years, and most expressed warm views about Tony Blair. 

Neither group seemed overly impressed by any of the candidates to begin with, though Yvette Cooper eventually won them round. Alongside Andy Burnham, she was judged the best of a bad bunch. Liz Kendall, in contrast, was universally trashed and Jeremy Corbyn dismissed or mocked. None of them could see Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister and none would vote Labour because of him.

If you know anything about Twitter, you will probably be able to guess what happened next: Hordes of self-reinforcing left-wingers leapt onto Twitter's echo chamber to (a) insult the people in the focus groups and (b) denounce 'BBC bias'. 

Some of the wilder ones accused the BBC (including presenter James O'Brien!) of being Tories pushing a Tory agenda. Others said the BBC was intentionally pushing 'the establishment candidate' Yvette Cooper. The conspiratorially-minded even asserted that the BBC was actively conspiring with the Labour Party establishment to trash Jeremy Corbyn.

One popular gripe was that the Newsnight focus groups were unrepresentative (ironically, given that Twitter's self-generated "focus groups" are surely about the most unrepresentative 'selectorate' imaginable), consisting of "stupid" former Labour voters, "Tories" and Blair fans.

What these leftist Twitterers surely missed was that these people were deliberately chosen to represent the sort of people who voted in large numbers for Tony Blair but then turned away from the Labour Party over the course of the 2000s, many swinging back to the Conservatives (thus allowing the Conservatives to win those two seats back). (The question was: Would any of the present Labour leadership candidates win then back? The answer was: Probably not - and certainly not Corbyn.)

A related gripe was that some of the focus group members didn't know the names of the Labour candidates and, thus, were unrepresentative "morons". 

As anyone who watches Politics rounds on BBC One's Pointless will know, however, most people wouldn't know their Jeremy Hunt from their Tristram Hunt. Most voters aren't party political animals. Any self-respecting pollster would have to ensure that such voters were represented in such focus groups.

What did seem puzzling to me though was the clips of the candidates shown to give the focus groups a sense of where each of the candidates was coming from. 

The clips of Liz Kendall could hardly have been less helpful to her. Those selected for Jeremy Corbyn also seemed unhelpful, showing him as being nothing but negative. The Andy Burnham clips were reasonably OK (from his point of view), while the selection of Yvette Cooper clips could hardly have been more helpful to her, making her seem passionate and compassionate. (If a golden aura had suddenly appeared on screen around her I wouldn't have been surprised!)

Was this strange selection of clips a sign of BBC pro-establishment/pro-Labour establishment bias (backing Yvette Cooper)? Or pro-establishment/pro-Labour establishment bias (backing Yvette Cooper) on the part of Ipsos MORI? Or just a mirage, with no bias whatsoever? 

The strange thing is though that when you step away from the detail and look at the whole picture, the whole thing could very easily seem like an establishment stitch-up - Jeremy Corbyn getting the full Nigel Farage treatment, as it were. 

If the BBC could do it to the 'populist Right' before the general election, they could certainly do it to the 'populist Left' before this Labour leadership election, couldn't they?

What story will be heading the news agenda today?

The contrasting news priorities of the UK's three main broadcaster websites are interesting this morning.

Sky News leads with the latest family seemingly heading out to Syria... does ITV News (wonder if their choice of the phrase "be heading" was an intentional pun on some ITN wag's part? Unlikely!).

The BBC, surprisingly, isn't leading with the departing family, relegating that story into fourth place. 

Less surprisingly, the BBC thinks a News Corp story about Rebekah Brooks's possible return is the second most important story in the world. (Memo to BBC: It isn't). 

A lecture from the BBC's Chris Morris

Do you ever get the feeling that you're being lectured to by the BBC?

I'll quote two excepts.

The first tells us to get a grip and get some "perspective":
"We can't cope!" is the collective cry from across Europe, as the huddled masses spill onto its shores and scramble over hastily-assembled razor wire fences.
"The numbers are too great. It's biblical!"
A little perspective, however, would not go amiss.
This may be Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War Two, but it is nothing compared to the challenges facing neighbouring countries in the Middle East.
Take a look at the numbers in Turkey. In Jordan. In Lebanon.
There are millions of people seeking shelter, in countries that have far fewer resources to help them cope.
The second, somewhat in the manner of a Biblical parable, contrasts those who "see" an "overwhelming moral imperative to act" (presumably Germany and Sweden) with those "who wants to close their eyes and wish the migration crisis away" (presumably meaning the UK):
No-one can fail to be moved by the tragic stories of sinking ships and shattered lives. The gruesome discovery of 71 decomposing bodies locked inside a lorry in Austria is only the latest in a shameful saga.
Politicians say enough is enough. Something must be done. And they mean it.
But for every European who sees an overwhelming moral imperative to act there may be another who wants to close their eyes and wish the migration crisis away.
 Impartial BBC reporting? Well, it doesn't seem like it to me.

Friday, 28 August 2015

BBC Three announces seasons on 'Guardian' obsessions

Media Centre announcement: featuring a young woman

As you may already have read...

...the BBC Media Centre has announced a brand new 'season' of 'seasons' for BBC Three which absolutely blows the concerns of 'people like us' right out of the water. 

No one will ever be able to say that the BBC is 'the non-inky version of the Guardian' ever again...

Yes, BBC Three will be broadcasting a 'season' of 'seasons' on British history (including a landmark series on Englishness), on love and marriage, and (more controversially) on the rape of non-Muslim girls by Muslim grooming gangs in several English towns and cities...


Er, now, of course, you all know the BBC well enough by now to know that the above is a totally sarcastic lie from start to finish. 

BBC Three would never broadcast such a 'season' of 'seasons', would it?


So here's what BBC Three's brand new 'season's actually comprises: "seasons on race and gender".


Really, we should all just rest our case at this point, shouldn't we? Pack up our cases, having provided a final QED, and go home?

"Race" and "gender", these days, aren't our concerns, are they? They're more the stuff of endless Guardian articles, aren't they? 


The BBC Media Centre lists six programmes on 'racism'. One focuses on post traumatic stress disorder in London gangs (yes, really. That's not a joke!). Two focus on far-right groups (the KKK and Britain First). The other three focus on racism: "Is Britain racist?", "Ferguson One Year On" and "The Worst Things I Have Ever been called".

As the main BBC voice of this 'season', Reggie Yates, says:
I'm incredibly proud to be part of this season. You might think issues with race and racism are from the last century but sadly not. In some areas tensions surrounding race are as pronounced as ever. 
According to other media sources, the BBC "are  planning to prove that the nation is still prejudiced towards ethnic minorities".

Familiar BBC stuff.


As for the 'gender season', well, in the exact words of the BBC Media Centre':
Being a woman or a man in the UK today. Finding your way as a transgender person, or gay or straight person in 2015. Being exploited for sex online. Victims of violence and rape. All are topics covered by a series of films exploring gender and sexuality today.
As a parody of PC-speak, that couldn't be bettered, could it? Except, of course, that it's not a parody.

The BBC, sadly, is increasingly beyond parody, isn't it?

Falling victim to 'BBC propaganda'?

When the BBC reports harrowing stories of migrant deaths, as they did on tonight's News at Six, you'd obviously have to be morally sick not to feel any sympathy for those deeply unfortunate people.

The past couple of weeks of BBC reporting (when I've largely kept away from blogging and, to an lesser extent, BBC reporting) have (from my experience) been absolutely dominated by such stories. 

On the fairly rare occasions when I've tuned in to the BBC's coverage, BBC reporters have been prominently reporting migrant 'tales of woe', adhering to the BBC's new principles of suffusing their reports with 'compassion', pace Lyse Doucet...

...and I must say that I've been, on more than one occasion, emotionally 'moved' as a result (minus the inverted commas).

James Reynold's lead report on the News at Six tonight focused on the horrific discovery of dozens of dead migrants (including women and children) in an abandoned frozen food lorry in Austria. 

It was full of such compassion. James explicitly asked us to imagine how it would feel to be in the back of such a truck...

...and I have to say, watching it, I felt upset as a result. And I don't for one minute think I was wrong to do so.

I also watched ITV's main evening news bulletin tonight. 

Interestingly, unlike the BBC, ITV didn't lead with the migrant deaths (in Austria and the Med). 

ITV lead instead with the plight of British employees, as a result of a computer glitch at HSBC, leading to lots of people not getting their monthly wages on time. 

After watching the BBC, who devoted most of the first half of their bulletin to those mass deaths of migrants, I found myself thinking: "Why are ITV leading with that?" 

Was I wrong to think that? Was it actually right that ITV led with something which directly effects the lives of many more British people than the (distressing) deaths of an uncertain number of migrants in Europe and the Med? 

You may have a certain answer to that but I really don't think I do. 

I even watched tonight's BBC News at Six with mounting anxiety. 

Part of me heard James Reynolds 'emoting'; part of me heard him simply reporting (as you well might if you found yourself reporting such real-life horror stories).

I definitely did hear him saying that the dead people in the lorry were hard to identity and then saying that an identity card had been found proving that one of the dead people was Syrian (and, thus, a refugee from the hellish war there) before then going on to imply (and, actually, I  mean 'assert') that all the migrants in that truck were Syrian refugees. (Listen on the iPlayer while you can to prove that).

Then I heard James Robbins, in the studio, 'setting it all in context'. He conceded that some of the influx might be economic but said that most of the people attempting to reach Europe are refugees from conflict. 

Then it got confusing. 

James Robbins showed a map suggesting that some of the migrants come from Africa (a line, as far as I could see, from Sudan and South Sudan through Eritrea to Ethiopia) before pivoting onto a map of Syria, mentioning four million refugees from the conflict there...

...thus leaving me (as a viewer) with the distinct impression that Syrian refugees (obviously the most deserving of refugees) comprise the bulk of the present wave of immigrants crashing on Europe and the UK's shores...

...and an Austrian (centre-right) minister was then shown saying that Europe should get its act together to make things better, and Britain's fears were also reported (sounding rather trivial in comparison).

BBC reporting or BBC propaganda? You decide.

Surprise/no surprise

After a brief pause in blogging, I'm not exactly sure that I want to return to my 'comfort zone'....

Here's Johnny! (bemoaning a recent, highly surprising turn of events):

Suha and Zeinab revisited

I woke up in the middle of the night and switched on the radio, just in time to catch a familiar voice saying “Suha Arafat”. It was, of course Zeinab Badawi, and I was wondering if this was another case of deja vu all over again; was I hearing the same episode of HardTalk that I’d blogged a while ago? Was it a figment of my imagination, or was it one of those dreams that are so close to reality that you’re wondering, in the dream, if it’s really a dream?
It was “another chance to hear” Suha and Zeinab, for no apparent reason other than, perhaps, to reignite the vexing question of Yassir’s assassination. 

The audio version gives quite a different impression from the full-on technicolor version. No portrait of Yasser leering down from his easel to distract one - no time to ponder over Suha’s flawless make up (has she got a lady-in-waiting or does she do it herself?)

There’s just the conversation. No frills. Because I missed the start of the introduction I wasn’t quite sure if I was hearing an updated version, or whether this was an unadulterated repeat of the January interview.

Suha was still convinced that old Yasser had ingested a dose of polonium in his frugal lunch -  just a little fish or chicken don’t you know -  because he was in fine fettle up to that fatal day. “My husband  was a fitness fanatic”, she said - good diet, abstemious, and the picture of health. We’ll have to take her word for it. He didn’t have aids after all.
Suha was insistent that someone - it must have been a traitorous Palestinian - had slipped the poison into his healthy lunch on behalf of the Israelis.

Healthy diet

I was certain I’d heard that the poisoning theory had been definitively debunked by the French, Swiss and Russian investigators, but at the time of the interview, Suha hadn’t received those disappointing results, and she wouldn’t have liked them very much when she did receive them.  
She’ll be appealing the findings. I don’t know if this is ongoing.

Now that I was able to properly listen, I realised that Suha was saying that old Yasser, the father of the Palestinians -  specifically the father of every single Palestinian child - wanted to establish a secular state.  Confusingly, he had made Suha convert from Christianity to Islam when they were married, secular old rogue that he was. 

 The only aspect of religiosity that concerned her  greatly was the unthinkable prospect of Jews being allowed to pray at the Temple Mount. She thought the very idea was beyond the pale. She got so worked up at the whole idea of Jews praying at the Temple Mount that Zeinab had to calm her down,. ”The Israeli government assures us that it’s not going to happen.” said Zeinab in a calm voice. 

The bit about the money was as dramatic as ever. “Where is it?” asked Zeinab. “Where are Yasser’s millions?” I remembered the gestures with which Zeinab accompanied that question, looking round the room exaggeratedly, as if for a giant safe or a mound of ingots.   

I wonder why the BBC World Service thought it was a good idea to resurrect this peculiar interview, specially since with hindsight the poisoning claim looks so ‘conspiracy theory’.

Why on earth did they do it?

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Confronting antisemitism

The Corbyn phenomenon again. I wish I didn’t have to keep talking about this, but needs must.

No-one ever seems to agree about whether the BBC’s bias against Israel is because of  ignorance or malevolence, or a bit of both. 

We might apply a similar question to Corbymaniacs. Why doesn’t Corbyn’s Islamophilia and his links with antisemites bother them? They must have heard of it, but do they understand the full implications of it? Is it that they do know and they do understand, but they just don’t care?  Or is it a bit of both?

A well respected journalist based in the south west - the arts editor of the Western Morning News, has written an article which I think typifies one important strand of pro Corbyn thought. He expresses his admiration for Corbyn without any mention of the words ‘antisemitism’, ‘holocaust denial’, or ‘friend’. I have no idea what he thinks about Corbyn’s “friends” but I would guess that he generally sympathises with the Palestinians, in the way most of the BBC-educated left do. Not all that interested, but if pressed, or at times when we’re all subjected to blanket media coverage of Gaza, they know which side they’re on.

Like Corbyn, his outlook is pure old school Labour interwoven with a smattering of knee-jerk anti-tory prejudice. 
However, there are some valid points in there, and since I know this man is actually a friendly, agreeable guy, I thought I ought to pay him the courtesy of reading his piece ‘without prejudice.’ 

In the first section he sets out his family’s Labour background. “Labour is in my DNA”. Well, I get that. His parents are lefties. Jolly good. So were mine, but I’m not sure if they’d be now, if they were still around. I like to think they’d have moved on.

I understand completely his criticisms of New Labour, and his anger that the current leadership contenders and their ilk have dismissed Corbynistas as ‘extreme’. They are insulted because they see themselves as ‘originals’, the genuine socialists, the traditional left wing idealists. ‘How very dare these ‘tory-lite’ upstarts misrepresent us so!’ they say.

Corbyn and the hard left are the good guys, he believes; they alone support righteous causes, like a publicly funded NHS, re-nationalised utilities and railways and higher taxes imposed upon the greedy rich.  

This nostalgic, retro way of thinking is not solely directed at Labour idealism circa 1945, but also encompasses a kind of Dickensian picture of the Tory.  Tiny Tim starves in the workhouse and the bankers gloat as their millions mount up at the expense of the downtrodden.  

What they don’t acknowledge, blinded, I think, by resentment and inverted class prejudice, is that neither the current government nor the previous Labour government actually fits those long-gone stereotypes - the heartless, nasty, right-wing toffs versus the caring, egalitarian, noble, left-wing, workers.

The fact is we’ve had centre ground politics for some time and society’s inequalities and injustices exist, and thrive, no matter what. It is understandable that Corbyn and his followers don’t like the status quo and want to overturn it.

I can see the problem with inequality. Also, degradation, depravity, moral and social.  Educational mediocracy. Failing schools, dangerous hospitals,  Muslim no-go areas, corruption, drugs, debauchery and people covered in tattoos, or alternatively, burkas.

If Jeremy Corbyn could magic it all away by creating extra money and  fairy dust from thin air I might vote for him myself.

But there are numerous flaws in Corbyn’s politics. Anti-austerity? What is that? It necessarily implies that austerity is a choice, imposed by the haves to punish the have-nots, for spite. Abolishing tuition fees is the promise only the unelectable can afford to make; these fanciful ideas always fail.  The definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein.) 

The railways are indeed a mess. The incompatibility between one company and the next causes endless complications. Utilities are a shambles as well. But public ownership? What about the inertia and the corruption?  There’s no easy answer to problems like inefficiency, lack of motivation, incompetence, which are part and parcel of anything that grows big and unmanageable. Nationalisation might be worth a try, but I bet the big bosses would be as fat as the fattest fat cats that presently run massive institutions, be they private or public, and the workers would be just as exploited. 

Anyway, that’s not really my point. Here are the closing paragraphs from this pro-Corbyn journalist who neglects to mention the antisemitism factor altogether.
“Some argue that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is unelectable. I don’t personally believe that to be true. But even it were the case, would it really be any worse than what we already have? Is an unprincipled Opposition that votes for austerity and welfare cuts any worse than a Labour government that follows any old reactionary route simply in order to get re-elected?
Tony Blair once famously said: “Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile.”The crucial difference is that unlike the discredited former premier who pursued power at the expense of principle, I’d lay bets that Jeremy Corbyn – a man with “fire in his belly” according to my dad – will not sacrifice any of his principles on the road to Number 10.”
But what about those notable articles about Corbyn and antisemitism, which I can’t imagine people like our WMN journalist have missed.  There is the Stephen Daisley piece I highlighted the other day, and a new piece by Louise Mensch in the Jewish Chronicle. Not that someone like our Westcountry writer would likely come across it, and even if he did, I expect anything that comes from a Conservative would be automatically disregarded.
Mensch points out that Corbyn has not made any attempt to distance himself from or confront the rabid antisemitism that some of his followers have expressed, openly, on social media. Silence reigns, apart from a limp request for “no rudeness”

“The majority of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are not antisemites but hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them are. Antisemites form a significant minority of Corbynites and they are among the loudest online. Abuse and Jew-hatred is rife. 
First you have the open loathers of Jews like Alison Chabloz, a performer at the Edinburgh Fringe who tweeted a quenelle then said that Jewish people brought pogroms on themselves. You have those who said Liz Kendall was “a servile zionist cow”. You have Fred Litten, who tweeted “Hitler was right and we were wrong”. You have the commenter on my blog reporting on Mr Corbyn’s meetings with antisemites who said that the Holocaust was fake but added, wistfully: “I wish there were six million less of them”. 

Next, you have people who are antisemitic but do not know they are. Perhaps these are more worrying. “What, are you saying that all Jews, not just the business owning rich ones, hate Corbyn?’ one man asked me. “Nothing wrong with denying the Holocaust, history is written by the victors,” said another. “Zyklon B was used for delousing." Another, a Scottish nationalist who likes Mr Corbyn, replied to a tweet saying he had called for an inquiry into 'Jewish donors to the Conservative party' with 'About time!'. (In fact, Mr Corbyn had supported an inquiry into 'Zionist' donors to the Conservatives, but every name mentioned at the event when he endorsed this was Jewish.) The antisemites are drawn to Mr Corbyn like a moth to a flame. “The Nuremberg trials were for show,” said Matthew Lees. Susan John-Richards, a deselected Tory councillor in 2010, now supports him because of her antisemitism. “All Jews are intermarried anyway,” she says. “Jews and Zionists own the whole world.” She also believes in the blood libel and that “9/11 was an inside job”. 

Respect Party suppporters of George Galloway have flocked to back Mr Corbyn. Adnan Sadiq, for example, condemned by the Corbyn campaign in the Sunday Times for his tweeting, worked for Mr Galloway in Bradford. Joanne Stowell, formerly a staunch Respect supporter, is now a huge Corbyn fan. “We’ve had the Holocaust rammed down our throat by by Zionists forever ensuring only Jewish suffering counts”, she said.

Another prominent social commenter whom our journalist must surely have come across is Owen Jones, who has written in the Guardian. “Antisemitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it.” 
This reminds me of Mehdi Hasan’s article in a similar vein. Two people who have  virtually made a career out of Israel-bashing have suddenly decided to distance themselves from accusations of racism. 
Owen sets out a reasonable explanation of how antisemitism usually manifests itself, then, as one of Corbyn’s most high profile supporters, he “confronts it” - “it” being Corbyn’s antisemitic leanings, accusations thereof. He defends his hero in the way you’d expect. 
“The Labour leadership frontrunner, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a long-term supporter of the Palestinian justice movement. He could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years. Some of these people were antisemitic. And while the vast majority of people involved in the movement are – like myself – driven by a passionate support for self-determination, there is a minority that indulges antisemitic tropes. These ideas have to be defeated.”

I always wonder why people so passionately in favour of self-determination for Palestinians are fundamentally against self determination for Jews. 

It’s all very well Corbyn saying that he finds antisemitism (and of course Islamophobia) deeply offensive, but that’s not nearly enough. He needs to acknowledge it and condemn it when he sees it, just like he says everyone should do.

Various left-wing Jews who support Corbyn have written to the press, saying  he has nothing to apologise for, but since his  associations and affiliations have drawn out such overtly antisemitic comments from a his supporters,  he surely does. He has got something to apologise for. Very much so.

Again, is it because he doesn’t really know what post-Hitler antisemitism is, or is it that he knows, but doesn’t care? And the same goes for those unreconstructed post-war Labour supporters who want to dismantle capitalism, like my friend from the Western Morning News. No-one likes admitting that they’re racists, but it’s high time they looked in the mirror and  'confronted' themselves.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

John Whittingdale on BBC bias: "Do I think there is general bias towards the left? No"

John Whittingdale advancing on Broadcasting House (as imagined by  Roger Bolton of 'Feedback')

The BBC's 'nemesis' John Whittingdale has been speaking at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Here are some of the things he said, as quoted by the Independent and the Guardian:
This idea that there is an ideological drive to destroy the BBC is just extraordinary, the people rushing to defend the BBC are tilting at windmills, they are trying to have an argument that has never been started, certainly not by me. 
Britain's image abroad is enormously strengthened by the success of the BBC. 
Do I think there is general bias towards the left? No. 
For the moment, the licence fee or something like it is the best option.

I’m not convinced that people feel that it is right that the BBC Trust decides if the BBC has got it right or wrong. We haven’t decided yet whether to give it to Ofcom, but Ofcom do carry out that function for other broadcasters and certainly there is an argument … I would say Ofcom are doing a good job in terms of regulation of complaints over Channel 4 and over ITV. I think they probably could do it for the BBC. Whether that’s the right outcome, we haven’t yet decided but a lot of people do hold that view and have expressed it.

"The BBC: Some of the news, some of the time"

Same old, same old (h/t ObiWan): 

Which of the following reports (one from Sky, one from the BBC) do you find more informative? 

BBC News report:
Manchester girl, 16, pleads guilty to terror charges

A teenage girl has pleaded guilty to two terror offences including possessing "recipes for explosives" and a bomb-making guide. 
The 16-year-old, from Manchester, admitted the charges at the city's Magistrates' Court. 
She was arrested in April following an investigation by the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. 
The inquiry also led to the arrest of a boy, 14, who admitted involvement in a plot to attack police in Australia. 
The court heard that phone data retrieved by police showed the pair exchanged more than 2,000 WhatsApp messages a day before being arrested. 
No evidence was found that the girl was aware or played any part in the Anzac Day plot or any plan to harm others or incite terrorism in the UK or elsewhere, the court was told. 
Anarchist Cookbook 
The girl, who cannot be named, admitted two counts of possessing a document containing information of a kind likely to be of use to a person preparing or committing an act of terrorism. 
She used her school's IT system to search for information on Jihadi John, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and images of Michael Adebolajo, who killed Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013. 
Analysis of her mobile phone found instructions for producing a timed circuit, a document about DIY bomb-making and the Anarchist Cookbook 2000. 
The girl also had images of guns, knives and grenades. 
Photos of a dead child and an execution were also recovered, the court heard. 
The judge warned her that his sentencing options would include "immediate custody". 
She was bailed until sentencing on 15 October. 
Her bail conditions include ban on travel outside England and Wales, and on applying for travel documents.

Sky News report:
Schoolgirl, 16, Admits Two Terror Offences
The teen had bomb-making instructions and an image of a child with the words: "I will be the one who slaughters you o kuffar."

A schoolgirl has admitted terror charges after bomb-making recipes were found on her phone - along with pictures of dead children, executions and Islamic State propaganda. 
The 16-year-old pleaded guilty to two terror charges when she appeared at Manchester's main youth court. 
The court heard the girl used her school IT system to source information on 'Jihadi John' and images of Michael Adebolajo, Lee Rigby's killer. 
She also had images of a dead child, IS executions, guns and knives and jihadi terror 'heroes', including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.   
Wearing a headscarf and striped cardigan, she was excused from sitting in the dock.  
Instead she sat on a bench in front of the judge, flanked by her mother, an uncle and her solicitor. 
The girl spoke only to confirm her name and age and she pleaded guilty to two offences under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000. 
She was granted bail by Judge Khalid Qureshi, who agreed to adjust her bail condition of reporting to police to allow her to attend college.  
The girl's bail conditions include a 9pm to 7am curfew, reporting to police three times a week. 
There is also a ban on applying for travel documents or a passport, and a ban on travelling outside England and Wales. 
Judge Qureshi warned her that because of the law, his sentencing options would include immediate custody. 
He added: "The youth offending team will want to interview you and your family. 
"It is very much in your interests you are open and honest with them about what's happened, if you are able to tell them why you got involved in what you got involved in. 
"I will be asking you some questions directly about your conduct, your behaviour, why you think it has happened. I need to try to understand why this happened." 
The girl was held by police in April following an investigation by the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit. 
She told police that a chemical recipe in her sketch pad was in response to a Blue Peter programme on fireworks. 
Analysis of her phone found instructions for producing a timed circuit, a document about DIY bomb-making and the Anarchist Cookbook 2000. 
The girl also had publications by terror group Islamic State and images of guns, knives and grenades. 
Images of IS flags and quotes including "I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah" and "Only Jihad No Democracy" were also found. 
Photos of a dead child, an execution, and people about to be beheaded were recovered. 
Another image of a female child carried the words: "I will be the one who slaughters you o kuffar, I will be a mujahid." 
The girl was arrested at the same time as a 14-year-old boy. 
He pleaded guilty last month to encouraging attacks on police officers during an Anzac Day parade in Australia. 
Phone data retrieved by police showed the pair exchanged more than 2,000 WhatsApp messages a day before they were arrested. 
But no evidence was found that she was aware or played any part in the Anzac Day plot. 
The 14-year-old boy sent thousands of instant messages to Australian Sevdet Besim, who shared his admiration for the IS terror group. 
The boy faces sentencing at Manchester Crown Court on 1 October. 
He is being held in a youth detention centre in northwest England. 
Among the messages the boy sent to Besim, 18, was one which said: "Suggest you break into someone's house and get your first taste of beheading." 
Besim, who is awaiting trial in Australia, replied that that seemed "a little risky".

I can do no more than quote the commenter at Biased BBC who first spotted this contrast:
The BBC: Some of the news, some of the time.