Thursday, 18 December 2014

Moving on

Following on from the previous post...

Though there's doubtless a general tendency in this direction among the mainstream media as a whole, it surely says something significant about BBC reporting in particular that this morning's Today programme didn't follow up on one of its main stories from yesterday. 

After trailing the ruling of the Al-Sweady Inquiry on Wednesday morning's Today - featuring a discussion with BBC reporter Caroline Hawley at 6.35 and interviews with John Wilkinson of Public Interest Lawyers and General Sir Mike Jackson at 8.35 - this morning's Today opted against featuring a follow-up discussion. Very brief mentions in the newspaper reviews were all Today listeners heard about it. 

So, we had plenty of pre-report speculation yesterday but no post-report analysis whatsoever today. (And, yes, I've checked).

Today had clearly decided to move on.

And that process of moving on started yesterday. On Radio 4 the story was covered on both The World at One and PM but by the time of The World Tonight it had been dropped as a topic for discussion. On BBC Two's Newsnight, which only last week was majoring on the findings of the U.S. report into 'torture' and the U.K's possible complicity with torture, also decided against discussing it. (Where was Newsnight regular Phil Shiner last night?) They too had clearly decided to move on.

And yet on certain stories, such as the Delilah rugby row, they can take at least two or three day to move on - not just around six hours.

Other media outlets aren't moving on so quickly though. As pointed out on the last thread, the Telegraph's defence editor Con Coughlin believes that the BBC owes the British Army an apology for its own past coverage of this story. He targets, above all, a 2008 edition of Panorama where Phil Shiner & Co. were given a platform to peddle what the programme itself, at the very end, conceded were somewhat extreme claims

Curiously (and somewhat surprisingly) the BBC, at the time, featured a large-scale collection of viewer reactions on its website, and it makes remarkable reading. Typically, it begins by concentrating on supportive comments by British Muslims and craftily crowds a 'balance' of opinions at the top before revealing as you go further down the page what the vast bulk of commenters actually thought - that the BBC had utterly disgraced itself by broadcasting a piece of sensationalist rumour-mongering. There were plenty of accusations of anti-British Army BBC bias too.

Moving on...

After reporting on the siege in Sydney, the BBC's reluctant Sydney correspondent Jon Donnison also appears to have quickly moved on.

After one day of coolly dispassionate tweets about the attack (all avoiding any mention of the perpetrator's name or any hint of an Islam-related motive), he's now back to emotive tweeting on the subject that really matters to him - the Palestinians: 
Despite being moved to Australia by his BBC bosses, Jon Donnison evidently refuses to be made to move on from Gaza. 

He is obviously obsessed. (As am I by his obsession), #notmovingon.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Taken by surprise

David Vance at Biased BBC posted early this morning about his sense that the "BBC [was] limbering up for a new bout of blackening the reputation of the British military today, ahead of the publication of the Al Sweady Inquiry report. I heard a BBC journalist intone this morning that on some occasions Iraqi combatants were…..gasp…SHOUTED at. Oh the horror".

Well, the five-year Al-Sweady Inquiry - a £31 million public inquiry - finally found today that the claims that British troops murdered, mutilated and tortured Iraqi detainees are “wholly and entirely without merit or justification” and the result of “deliberate and calculated lies” from Iraqi witnesses and detainees driven by a desire to smear the British military.

In line with David Vance's expectations of their expectations, the BBC appears to have been completely caught off guard by this judgement - as if they were already prepared with 'the headline and the story' before the report had even been published.

First version
Al-Sweady Inquiry: UK soldiers 'mistreated detainees'
2014-12-17 11:05:03 UTC
British soldiers mistreated nine Iraqi detainees after a 2004 battle, a public inquiry into alleged abuse has ruled.
Second version
Al-Sweady Inquiry: UK soldiers 'mistreated detainees'
2014-12-17 11:35:34 UTC (31 minutes later)
British soldiers mistreated nine Iraqi detainees after a 2004 battle but allegations of murder were "deliberate lies", a public inquiry has ruled.
Third version
Al-Sweady Inquiry: UK army murder claims 'deliberate lies'
2014-12-17 12:10:06 UTC (35 minutes later)
Allegations of murder and torture made against British soldiers by Iraqi detainees were "deliberate lies", a public inquiry has ruled.
As someone tweeted this morning:

Well, the answers to Mark's questions are: (a) Sky News; and (b) quite probably.


Update 18/12: A similar change occurred between The World at One and PM on Radio 4 on Wednesday afternoon.

An inquiry has found that British troops in Iraq mistreated detainees after a battle ten years ago, but it described allegations that soldiers were guilty of murder and torture as "deliberate lies".
After 5 years and more than £25 million, an inquiry finds that claims that British soldiers tortured and murdered Iraqis were "deliberate lies": "This was, in fact, a shameful attempt to use our legal system to attack and falsely impugn our armed forces." 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Just to let you know...

It was about this time last year that I posted a piece beginning...
Lest you think the title of that last post followed by an ominous silence meant anything well, no, it didn't...only that the pre-Christmas rush has left little time for blogging and, despite there being so much of importance going on in the news and in the world of BBC reporting, this post is just to say that things will be very slow here in the coming couple of weeks (well on my part anyway), bursting out anew in 2014...
Well, the pre-Christmas rush is proving even more of a rush this year and it's only going to get worse. Friends, family and two (visiting) three-month old babies will be taking up most of my free time, so there's going to be very little time for blogging - again despite there being so much of importance going on in the news and in the world of BBC reporting at the moment. 

As Sue is struggling to find any free time whatsoever at the moment too, things are likely to be very quiet here for the next couple of weeks or so. 

Apologies for that, but we will strive to burst out anew again in 2015. 

Last year's pre-Christmas 'out of office' post turned into a festive carol-filled Christmas party - well, actually, a history of Christmas carols. This year - as it's been a grim day news-wise - we'll have to make do with a few festive jokes instead: 
Santa was very cross. It was Christmas Eve and nothing was going right. The elves were complaining about not getting paid overtime. The reindeer had been drinking all afternoon and the sleigh was broken. Santa was furious. ‘I can’t believe it!’ he yells. ‘I’ve got to deliver millions of presents all over the world in just a few hours, all of my reindeer are drunk, the elves are on strike and I don’t even have a Christmas tree! I sent that stupid little angel to find one hours ago! What am I going to do?’ Just then, the little angel opens the front door and steps in from the snowy night, dragging a Christmas tree. ‘Oi fatty!’ she says. ‘Where d’you want me to stick this?’ And thus the tradition of angels atop the Christmas trees came to pass.
A mafioso’s son sits at his desk writing a Christmas list to Jesus. He first writes, ‘Dear baby Jesus, I have been a good boy the whole year, so I want a new…’ He looks at it, then crumples it up into a ball and throws it away. He gets out a new piece of paper and writes again, ‘Dear baby Jesus, I have been a good boy for most of the year, so I want a new…’ He again looks at it with disgust and throws it away. He then gets an idea. He goes into his mother’s room, takes a statue of the Virgin Mary, puts it in the closet, and locks the door. He takes another piece of paper and writes, ‘Dear baby Jesus. If you ever want to see your mother again…’
Did you hear about the dyslexic devil worshipper? He sold his soul to Santa.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Gallimaufry for a Sunday evening

noun - a confused jumble or medley of things.
"a glorious gallimaufry of childhood perceptions"
mid 16th century: from archaic French galimafrĂ©e 'unappetizing dish', perhaps from Old French galer 'have fun' + Picard mafrer 'eat copious quantities'. (Not to be confused with Gallifrey, fictional home planet of Alastair 'Shuttity-up' Campbell).  
We had a curious work's Christmas party last night. For some strange reason they chose to put on a barbecue for us. In December. At night. On a car park.

That's the "unappetizing dish" bit.

Still, I "had fun" and "ate drank copious quantities". Perhaps as a result of that, this post might possibly read like "a confused jumble or medley of things", and it might (Gawd forbid!) take most of the day to write.


This morning's Broadcasting House featured a very funny four-minute 'introduction' to BBC Radio 4 (by comedian Jake Yapp) for the benefit of those contestants on BBC One's Pointless who failed to get a single right answer in a round devoted to BBC Radio 4 - something which must have really galled the folk at BBC radio 4. (Mustn't laugh!)

Now, if you don't laugh at The Archers bit then there's no hope for you!

The result is a bit sharper than might have been expected, nicely skewering Woman's Hour's queasy swerving between (and betwixt) radical feminism and discussions about shoes, and then the self-same programme's dull, worthy, right-on choice of books:
Jane Garvey: Here's a reading from a memoir of someone who grew up being gay in a working class town with a father who didn't understand but finally came to a state of acceptance:
Narrator: I hear the door slam downstairs. It's my dad. I turn up my Erasure tape.
And Jake is no less acute on the dull, worthy, right-on Afternoon Dramas that ruin many a weekday afternoon Radio 4 schedule:
Neil Nunes: Now it's time on Radio 4 for some drama. Set in present day Kabul, 'The Swans have Burst' tells the story of a young woman's struggle to reconcile the modern world and her traditional values.
(Sound of a muezzin's call to prayer)....
Young Afghan woman: When I was a little girl the stallholders in the market called me 'fatki', which means 'unbelievable cliche'.
Neil Nunes: 'The Swans have Burst', written by Tristran Fraser-Dunlop. If you're still with us, well done.

Both Sue and I almost got round to writing about an Afternoon Drama a couple of months ago but, for various reasons, let the matter go (at the time). Time to make amends for that:

It was a play called The City of Tomorrowwritten by the poet Glyn Maxwell. It was meant as a hommage to Under Milk Wood but sounded more like a hommage to Ken Loach. 

It started with a politically radical child being rudely patronised by an oafish Tory MP at a school speech day and ended with a pair of pantomime, UKIP-type baddies asking an elderly lady to sign a petition against allowing "people ‘not like us’" into the area. The elderly lady, remembering a Jewish refugee girl from her childhood, noisily ripped up the petition, and (for me) the word 'agitprop' instantly sprang to mind. As did the phrase 'Radio 4 drama'.

The acting took me back to my own school days. I came 30/30 in my Drama exam. I was playing a frightened elderly man hearing someone mysterious approaching his room. I had only one line - "Who's there? Who's there? Who is it?" - and had been working diligently on my 'elderly man voice', all croaky and quavery, in advance, ready for my big performance. Marlon Brando-style, I'd even been using my gran's walking stick to get into character. Unfortunately, on the big day, I went blank and completely forgot my line. Hence 30/30.

I'm re-living that traumatic experience for you now because both Sue and I observed that the elderly lady in this radio play would have made my childhood 'elderly man voice' (had I actually delivered it) sound like acting worthy of Laurence Olivier. And, on top of that, there was a schoolgirl character with a staggeringly unconvincing working class accent ("'ere, oo the 'ell speaks like tharhht, Westside, innit?")

Phew, glad to have got that off my chest at last!


Back to BH's mockery of Radio 4, and this not-inaccurate take on John Humphrys:
Twenty eight minutes to nine. Time for me to get all cantankerous and belligerent and try to 'point score' with someone over an issue I don't fully understand, and that I'll probably start moralising over as well. (Angrily) I don't understand why young people are looking at pornography in the first place! 
Now, that is what he's like, isn't it?


And then there's Jake's take on Radio 4 comedy:
Neil Nunes: This is Radio 4, the home of radio comedy, simply because we're the only people who have the budget for it. Perhaps we shouldn't sound so smug. Time now for 'The Oxbridge Chronicles':
Audience: Hurrrrayyy!!!!
Hugh Punt (speaking quickly): Hello, we're a cavalcade of young, white men who speak reasonably fast and deliver a script that's been so laboured over it might as well have been...CARVED OUT OF MARBLE!...with a vocal delivery that has the subtlety of a snooker ball smashing into a row of teeth, giving the audience nice, easy cues for...WHEN TO LAUGH! All that effort and expense, all that fretting, totally wringing out any instinctive comedic flair leaving you with a contrived morass of puns and tired observations. Doesn't matter though cos all our mates are...IN THE AUDIENCE!
Audience: Hurrrrayyy!!!!
He forgot to mention though that many of the 'tired observations' concern politics - relentlessly left-wing politics - and largely consist of bashing UKIP, the Conservatives, social conservatives, opponents of mass immigration and, of course, oh my God, the Daily Mail!


Oh dear, I've allowed myself to get waylaid by a rare Harry and Paul-like bit of BBC self-mockery there so, as Billy Bragg favourite used to sing (maybe), 'Back to life, back to reality'...and something more serious...

Andrew Marr's paper review this morning over on BBC One began, as ever, with Andy's own run-through of the newspaper front pages, ending with the Mail on Sunday's front page attack on the BBC for choosing to broadcast a highly controversial short story by Hillary Mantelpiece as part of its Book at Bedtime - the one which fantasises about assassinating the late Margaret Thatcher.

Lord Tebbit is understandably angry about the BBC's decision, calling it "sick". Nadine Dorries is, perhaps, more opportunistically angry about it too (though you probably shouldn't read people's souls so quickly perhaps and maybe she's genuine too). 

Andrew Marr, as is his way, was somewhat dismissive, describing it as the Mail being "cross" with the BBC and adding "We probably won't be talking about that at great length" before moving on to his guests and, indeed, never mentioning it again. Had he been as keen on Mrs T as me he might not have been so 'intensely relaxed' about it. 

I have to say that I've got a conflicted knee-jerk response to this. 

My instant knee-jerk reaction - as it was when I first heard about the short story existence - was one of disgust. Hilary Mantel betrayed very bad taste in writing the story in the first place and the BBC is hardly betraying much less bad taste in choosing the broadcast the piece barely a year after the lady's death. 

But, my knee then jerked back in the opposite direction. When it first came out I thought that, however disgusting I might find it, if a writer wants to express her disgusting fantasies about killing my favourite (recently-deceased) prime minister, well, that's her own affair - Voltaire and all that. Bad taste isn't necessarily a bad thing in a writer, and we on the Right shouldn't be as censorious as some on the Left are about such things, especially when it's a work of fiction.

However, given that the book of short stories in question contains lots of stories, it remained a very real option for the BBC, knowing the controversy surrounding this book, to have either (a) chosen to broadcast another of the collection's stories in place of this one or (b) held off for another year or so (to show respect to Baroness Thatcher's family) and then broadcast it. The BBC decided to do neither of those things and is ploughing ahead, just over one year on from the former PM's funeral, with its broadcast.

On balance, my knee is still firmly jerking against the BBC here.


Returning to Broadcasting House, that programme's paper review also discussed the Hilary Mantel story, and both of Paddy O'Connell's paper reviewers defended the BBC's decision to broadcast the Mrs Thatcher assassination story on Book at Bedtime

Those guests were regular BBC presenter Anne McElvoy and flautist James Galway - though the famous, ever-chuckling flautist didn't sound overly on top of many of the stories, seamingly preferring to play his flute and try to charm the socks off everyone with his ever-present chuckling.

I must give credit to Paddy here for doing the decent thing and playing devil's advocate. When Mr Galway said that it's up to people if they decide to listen to this, Paddy shot back with the point that, no, it's the BBC's decision to broadcast it that's the point and that many object to that decision.


Hopping back, like a squiffy kangaroo, to the Andrew Marr Show, its paper review featured former Labour postman Alan Johnson and the increasingly ubiquitous Spectator columnist Isabel Hardman.

I say "increasingly ubiquitous", but I don't mean that in a cross way, merely descriptively. Personally, I'd like to see Isabel on every BBC current affairs discussion programme, every day, 24/7.

In fact, even though it ruins my instinctively over-neat sense of where my next picture in this post ought to be placed, I'm going to post an extra-large picture of Isabel here now, on the grounds that Is the BBC biased? shouldn't miss out on her ubiquity - and wouldn't want to (but please don't tell the missus):

Isabel is a Conservative supporter, Alan a Labour supporter. Neither are UKIP supporters. And nor, I think, is Andrew Marr. 

UKIP has had a bad press today. From the BBC to Sky and ITV, and across the spectrum of pro-Tory and pro-Labour newspapers, the latest outburst of 'free speech' from a UKIP candidate (albeit a 'latest outburst' that goes back a couple of years or so now), has seen the party rounded baited again by the massed ranks of the MSM pack, along with the strange, lingering story of Roger Bird and the bird he appears to have rogered. 

Andy Marr introduced this section of the press review with the words...
It has to be said that UKIP are shooting themselves in the foot. Page after page, paper after paper. And you've chosen a great story there from the Sunday Times, Isabel. 
...and Isabel and Alan Johnson duly sniggered at/besmirched UKIP.

But, I'd say - in contrast to Andy - that it "has to be said that UKIP are being shot at by the MSM. Page after page, paper after paper, BBC programme after BBC programme".


Hunger. That's been the BBC theme of the week. The spectre of famine seems to be stalking the land. So, therefore, it's a good thing that Michael Buerk is back from the jungle:
Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the car park outside Craig's Christmas do, it lights up a Biblical famine.
And this morning's Broadcasting House featured the story of a woman who is having to starve herself because she's a single mum with two children, one of whom has a serious medical condition. And, later in the day, the Food Programme, in an episode called Feeding Britain, also focused on hunger in the UK. 

I joke here but the story of the woman on BH was clearly a genuine one and it raised a lot of serious questions. The BBC's Paul Lewis then number-crunched her predicament and found that she is missing out on certain benefits she's actually entitled to but didn't know about. 

My thought here is that the benefits system (obviously) should help people who genuinely need help and are doing the best they can - and especially those who are claiming less than they are entitled to - and if the BBC helps her get her life back on track, then good on them. 

Similarly, though the Food Programme added a rather left-leaning coating to the matter, it was good to hear about imaginative, helpful, non-tax-payer-funded concerns working to help those who need help. 

The whole 'hunger'/food banks issue is one that stirs up passionate feelings and sharply contrasted opinions. Some people think that food banks signify the existence of a genuine problem of hunger in this country. Other think that there's no hunger crisis and that most people are going to food banks only because food banks (and their free food) now exist. 

Personally, I can't make head nor tails of the statistics here but if food banks, relying on people's generosity and in salvaging waste food from supermarkets, help meet a real need (however large or small that need really is) then good on them. 

Is the BBC just Tory-bashing though? Would it be carrying on about hunger, in exactly the same circumstances, if a Labour government was in power?

It's latish on a Sunday evening and I just can't answer that kind of question. (Is that the kind of cop-out politicians could try on John Humphrys?) My instincts would say 'yes' to the first and 'no' to the second, but, on the evidence before me, I just can't say that for certain.


Focusing again on matters of bias (and ignoring any superfluous photos of Isabel Hardman), I've read comments today that the BBC has been downplaying/actively counteracting (in defense of Labour) Labour's part in the rendition/torture/CIA/Democrats/Republicans story.

I have to say, listening to both the Andrew Marr Show and Broadcasting House, that both Andrew Marr and Paddy O'Connell didn't shy away from questioning their guests about whether Labour people - Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Hazel Blears, etc - should, potentially, be placed 'in the dock' over this matter.

That doesn't demonstrate pro-Labour bias then, but it might suggest anti-US, anti-War on Terror bias, #biasfromtheLeft


And  that, for what it's worth, is pretty much all I've got to say. Everything else I've heard today (which isn't much) has struck me as good BBC stuff - including Roger Scruton's excellent (non-political) A Point of View on Kitsch in the arts and Mark Tully's Something Understood on world-weariness (whoops, as I type and hope to add a link down goes the BBC website, so you'll have to find that for yourself).

Things may get somewhat quieter here at Is the BBC biased? in the coming couple of weeks. Both Sue and I have lots of family matters to deal with (in the nicest possible way), so please bear with us if things occasionally go quiet.

Cue dots.


Harry and Paul on 'Question Time'

As it's a slow blogging day (so far), here's a reminder of Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse's brilliant take-down of Question Time, transcribed (as is the way of this blog) in order to educate, inform and entertain...

David Dimbleby: Er, if I could come to you sir, the gentleman in the red jumper.
The gentleman in the red jumper: Yes, well firstly, if the bankers, the bonuses, the bankers, the bonuses, it's disgusting. And secondly, if the Tories are really serious about it they'd tax the bankers, the bonuses to 90%.
(Audience applause)
The gentleman in the red jumper: If all the Eton Tories went to Harrow School and comprehensives then perhaps we'd still have the grammar schools actually.
(Audience applause)
David Dimbleby: Thank you. That's an original comment. I'm being sarcastic of course. Now, if you're a moronic whinger and you would like to make a fool of yourself in the Question Time audience with a witless, lame remark, next week we'll be at the former Polytechnic of Greybuildings, now, of course, Cambridge Ringroad University. But back to tonight and what the audience think of what they've heard so far. If I could go to you sir, in the blue tie.
The man in the blue tie:  Good evening, Jonathan...
David Dimbleby: It's David. My brother's Jonathan.
(The man in the blue tie is lost for words)
We'll come back to you. Er, you sir, at the back, in the green pullover. Do you have a cliched thought for us?
(The man starts to speak but cannot be heard)
David Dimbleby: No, just let the microphone get to you.
The man in the green pullover: Yes, er, I just don't understand this Tracey Emin art.
(Audience applause)
David Dimbleby: Thank you. You sir, with the sweat, should we try again?
The man in the blue tie (sweating profusely): My question to the panel the panel think...(gulping badly), surely if we've all got to pay for...the ones who...
David Dimbleby: Going to have to leave it there. Gentleman down the front in the blue pullover.
Gentleman down the front in the blue pullover: Does the panel think that Boris Johnson would make a better Boris Johnson than Boris Johnson?
(Audience applause)
David Dimbleby: Thank you. The woman in the pink cardigan with the big teeth.
The woman in the pink cardigan with the big teeth: If the BBC spent more less money on better programmes then it wouldn't be such an insult to the license fee payer.
(Audience applause)
David Dimbleby: And, of course, if you are twitter and tweet then you can twitter and tweet us here at the BBC and I for one, of course, will not look at a word you write. If I could go to the gentleman over there in the funny beige jumper.
The gentleman over there in the funny beige jumper: Wouldn't it be better if the government just admitted they'd got it wrong?
(Audience applause)
David Dimbleby: Thank you, and the sweaty man...One more go?
The man in the blue tie:....
David Dimbleby: No? And now our final question - the lame jokey question which this week comes from Bryan Farnett of Fryan Barnett.
Bryan Farnett of Fryan Barnett: Er, yes David. Erm...if the panel was on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! would they make Jordan or George Osborne (sniggering) eat slugs?
David Dimbleby: Er herherher. David Tory?
David Tory: Er hahahaha. I've never actually wa...hahahaha..but...hahahaha...
David Dimbleby: Baroness Token?
Baroness (Warsi) Token: Well, I also have never actually..hahahaha..but...hahahaha...
David Dimbleby: Ed Silliband?
Ed Silliband: Well, I also have never actually..hahahaha..but I do think there's an important point to make here, which is the Tories, the Tories,  the Tories, the Tories...
David Dimbleby: I'm sorry, I'm going to have to stop you there. We're running out of time...
Ed Silliband: David, if you'd allow me to finish my sentence...the Tories.
David Dimbleby: And finally, funny person and comedian who wants to be taken seriously, Jimmy Gagg?
Jimmy Gagg: Anal sex.
David Dimbleby: Well, we've run out of time, thank God. Next week our panel includes the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the chairman of BP and Dappy from N-Dubz. But from all of us here at the University of Tired, Sheffield, good night.

And if you enjoyed that and fancy celebrating how funny it was, well...

“We were too institutionally nervous of saying, isn’t immigration getting a little bit out of hand? And can we be critical of multiculturalism"?

Sometimes, especially in the Sunday papers, you find yourself reading one of those long articles wrapped around interviews with someone interesting but, instead of enjoying it, you seem to find yourself mostly whingeing about the arrogant intrusiveness of the journalist behind the article. 

You think: That journalist is only interested in using her subject to appear more knowing, more intelligent, more interesting than her interviewee, stamping her own ego on the interview like a giant 'LOOK AT ME!' sign superimposed on a life-sized cardboard cutout of the chief librarian of a provincial library by a chief librarian of that provincial library...(and often using those kinds of florid simile too)...

You think: Stop showing off, shut up for a minute and let the man speak.

Well, Camilla Long's piece wrapped around an interview with John Humphrys in today's Sunday Times appears to fall very firmly into that category. Camilla appears to to think herself so much wiser about the Today man (and everything else) than the Today man himself. Whether her self-confidence is entirely well-placed seems rather doubtful to me. She still reminds me somewhat of the 'awkward journalist' in that glorious Harry and Paul spoof of Have I Got News For You (and other such shows)

If you can see beyond the paywall you might see what I mean.

If you can't see behind the paywall, however, here's a BBC bias-related section from the interview where Camilla, just for once, places a small part of her indefatigable ego back in the 'pending' tray just enough to allow the Great Harrumph time to repeat his earlier comments about (past) BBC bias:
The main sticking point is the BBC licence fee, which this serious, thoughtful person regards as “essential to the future of the corporation”. But it is recovering from much deeper troubles as well, “an existential crisis greater than it’s ever been”, following “soft” reporting on the EU and immigration.
Over the years, the BBC became “a bit complacent”, too touchy-feely, “a bit pleased with itself”, effectively ignoring the fact that “the country went through massive change. The Labour government underestimated by a factor of 10 the number of people who were going to move from Poland,” a vast uptick in numbers that, among other changes in population, was not sufficiently “interrogated” by the corporation. “We were too institutionally nervous of saying, isn’t immigration getting a little bit out of hand? And can we be critical of multiculturalism," he says.
"We didn’t interrogate immigration rigorously enough. We failed to look at what our job was.” 
Most producers and presenters at the BBC lead “sheltered” lives, making them unable to see the realities of existence in places hugely affected by immigration, for example, where “there’s not a book in the house”. Even he was guilty: “I do remember, vaguely, interviews with ministers at the time and saying, ‘Are you sure that’s all there’ll be?’ And when they said ‘yeah’, accepting it.” Ukip, he says, has “very cleverly” exploited this.
The BBC is not responsible for Ukip but it was “arrogant”, he says, employing people who “thought they knew what was best for the country. It was and still is relentlessly middle-class. Unfortunately. There was a predominant voice and that was the liberal Oxbridge male.” Exactly the sort of people who would fail to interrogate immigration, he says.
John Humphrys again places the problem mostly in the past, and I don't doubt that the bias over, say, immigration was especially strong ten or so years ago (when it was rampant), but such bias, though generally much less overt these days, still persists.

Is it a dolphin in a bathtub though, Camilla?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

How to suffocate "the liberal case for reducing immigration"

The following feature on the same edition of Newsnight focused on immigration. 

The trailed angle was that it would entail "the liberal case for reducing immigration", but the interview with the "liberal" making that case was preceded by a report by Newsnight's policy editor, Chris Cook (formerly of the FT).

We, and others, have found pro-immigration bias in some of Chris Cook's earlier Newsnight reporting and, here, his facts and figures - except for those concerning public opinion - were more helpful to the pro-immigration camp than to the anti-immigration camp. His 'talking head' was Sunder Katwala, the former Fabian Society head who now leads Britain's Future. He's a pro-immigration voice who made a pro-immigration point. A further pro-immigration point from Office for Budget Responsibility board member Stephen Nickell was also cited. He was shown speaking at a parliamentary committee, saying that there's lots of room in the UK for extra immigration - a widely reported comment. 

The main interview was with economist Professor Sir Paul Collier of Oxford University. He began by rather calling out Chris Cook (and, perhaps, other parts of the media) over what Stephen Nickell actually said: 
We just heard a clip from my friend Steve Nickell, who's on the Office for Budget Responsibility. If you'd actually shown a longer clip what he said was the economic effects of migration are basically zero. That, I think, is the honest assessment.
Evan Davis had presented Sir Paul as something who "it's fair to say is not a UKIP supporter", but as someone who still wants to limit immigration. He argued that, as of the moment, "there's nothing wrong with immigration" but, "left to itself" it "tends to accelerate". That means that "diversity is going to keep on rising". No diversity is bad, but so is too much diversity, he said. Sir Paul then said there were three costs to diversity. The first was that people start to behave less generously to each other (such as being less willing to pay for welfare benefits) The second was...

...well, we didn't hear that as Evan interrupted to ask him if by saying the sort of things he's saying he's helping spread "division" - i.e. straight back, so soon after the start of the interview, to the familiar BBC fear that saying such things about immigration might be bad for community cohesion. (Frankly, I'd have preferred to hear points 2 and 3.) Sir Paul replied that he "rather regretted" doing so, as he'd presumed we'd arrived at the point where we could have "a mature discussion" about such things as Jamaican immigrants gangsters spreading their gun culture to British criminals. 

Evan continued questioning from the pro-immigration angle. 

Sir Paul did eventually get to squeeze in his other two points - that after people start to behave less generously to each other then (a) trust begins to break down and and (b) groups start opposing each other, though he didn't get to unpack them before Evan Davis moved on to the EU...

...and Sir Paul's "big" support for the EU. Sir Paul doesn't think the EU causes problems regarding immigration and could help solve them. Evan let him speak (and didn't put a challenge to him from an anti-EU perspective either). There the interview ended.

Now it was good to hear "the liberal case for reducing immigration", but it would have been better if it hadn't been preceded by a pro-immigration-slanted report, and if Evan Davis had allowed him to unpack his ideas a lot more rather than wasting time putting tired old BBC objections about having the discussion in the first place and then getting him to stick up for the EU...and no one mentioned the terrorist threat from Muslim immigrants...but then that's BBC bias for you, isn't it?

The Oxygen of Publicity

One BBC programme I did catch this week was Thursday night's Newsnight

I wish I hadn't. The opening item was as bad a piece of BBC reporting as I've heard in a long time.

The lead story concerned the conviction of 35-year old Runa Khan, a Muslim woman from Luton, for inciting terrorism. She was sentenced to five years for encouraging jihadi activity (including suicide bombings) on Facebook.

Under the editorship of Ian Katz, Newsnight has pursued an active policy of interviewing 'British' Islamist terrorists and their sympathisers. Several Newsnight reporters (Richard Watson, Secunder Kermani, Gabriel Gatehouse, now Rani Singh) have engaged with such people and brought us the results.

Some of their interviewees have subsequently been killed whilst performing jihad abroad. 

From Richard Watson's studio interview with a friend of one of the killers of Lee Rigby (then arrested inside the Newsnight studio), to the same reporter's interviews with Islamist terrorists in Syria, and Gabriel Gatehouse's interview with a Kenyan Islamist terror supporter, and Secunder Kermani's online discussions with members of Islamic State, Newsnight has vigorously pursued the argument that hearing what these people have to say helps us to understand them and, therefore, to think in a more informed way about what we should do about them - despite the opposition of people like Dame Pauline Neville-Jones to giving them the oxygen of publicity in the first place. 

My take on this is that it is OK to broadcast such interviews, but only very occasionally and in a challenging, unsympathetic spirit, and with as much context provided for viewers as is humanly possible - in other words, in the manner of a scientist handling highly toxic material. In no way must the BBC be seen to be sympathetic towards such people. [Radio 1's Newsbeat, if you recall, recently got rapped on the knuckles by the BBC Trust for broadcasting such an interview without sufficient context or challenge]. 

I don't believe, however, that Newsnight has been doing this only very occasionally. They've been doing it a lot, far too much in fact. The concentration on airing the views of the killers, the family of the killers and the supporters of the killers at the expense of the victims does seem to betray a skewed take on the issue.

Thus, this Thursday night's Newsnight covered the story of Runa Khan's conviction by broadcasting a pre-prepared interview with Runa Khan herself. It was conducted by Newsnight reporter Rani Singh, and also involved Runa Khan's (supportive) sister. It was an interview, we were told, which had been recorded last Sunday. We were also told that Rani Singh had interviewed Runa Khan on several previous occasions.

In introducing the interview Evan Davis said that 
Most of us will find it impossible to listen to her without a degree of anger, but can we learn anything about why someone like her loses their way so badly?
That's the familiar Newsnight defence of such interviews, that they aid our understanding...

...but that "loses her way so badly" - an 'understanding' way of putting it - was a sign of what was to come, given that both Rani Singh and Evan Davis (in the following studio discussion) made a surprising amount of her unfortunate background story and struck far too sympathetic an angle (for me).

Rani framed her interview like this:
Runa Khan was born in Bangladesh but has lived for most of her life in Luton. For many years a moderate Muslim her views began to change when she was made redundant and six months later diagnosed with a chronic illness. A former sheltered housing manager she's been at home and without full-time employment for three years.
That did rather present her case as a tragic hard-luck story - a "moderate" Muslim turned "bad, mad and sad" (as Evan Davis put it) by distressing personal circumstances. It risked encouraging viewers to sympathise with her. 

To my astonishment, Evan Davis, during the subsequent interview, then put the same point - that her back story makes her seem more of a "sad" case than anything else - twice, to each of his guests, and, on both occasions, then had to pull back and clarify that he (Evan) wasn't excusing Runa Khan, merely suggesting that this might help explain her actions. 

This was seriously strange stuff from Newsnight, but it was only one part of the strangeness. 

The interview with Runa Khan and her sister wasn't as robust as might have been hoped. Many outrageous, shocking things were said in the course of it and most of them went unchallenged. 

There's much worse though.

Rani Singh told us that Ranu Khan said she didn't want to kill innocent people. She pushed her a little on whether she could be sure that innocent people weren't killed in suicide bombings. Ranu Khan said she couldn't be sure.

Again, that makes Ranu Khan sound less cruel than other reporting of her suggests. 

Anyone who has read around this subject, however, will know that Runa Khan didn't just encourage British Muslims to go and do violent jihad in Syria, including suicide bombings (as the programme reported). If you read around you will discover that she also posted images of her own children dressed as terrorists and that she appeared to defend the murder of Lee Rigby.

Most other reports mention those shocking details. Newsnight didn't, and I'm at a complete loss to know why.

Less surprising was the way Newsnight advanced the line that what Ranu Khan believes in is a distortion of "moderate Islam". Rani Singh challenged her support for jihad by saying, "The Koran also talks about the sanctity of life". 

That line was further advanced by the choice of guests for the following discussion - Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile and Humera Khan of the Al-Nisa Society (writes a lot for the Guardian and Independent). Both were at pains to suggest that Ranu Khan was not reflecting the true Islam. 

Those guests are the final nail in the coffin for this feature. Lord Carlile spoke, as ever, from a fairly-hard-nosed liberal position. Humera Khan showed some sympathy for her near namesake, raised British foreign policy, criticised the authorities for not helping Ranu Khan escape from the route she was taking, etc. Such guests could hardly have been better chosen for put a 'progressive' perspective on this story.

And that's the point about this, surely. That is the angle the programme chose. It's a very BBC, left-liberal angle. It's an angle, however, I very much doubt chimes with the views of most British people. And I don't think it's at all helpful to the British people as a whole either. 

'Question Time' audience selection

Just for the record - and in case you've never seen it before - this is the online application form you have to fill in if you want to join the Question Time studio audience. I've copied-and-pasted it exactly as it appeared when I first clicked on it (in other words, the boxes with entries already filled in are default settings).

As you can see,  they get to know a lot of background about you in advance (if you fill it in honestly, of course):

Thank you for your interest in taking part in Question Time.
We will be contacting applicants on the Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before the programme. Due to the high volume of requests received we apologise that we are unable to call everyone.
If you hear nothing from us please assume that on this occasion your application has not been successful.

PLEASE NOTE: The audience is at the heart of Question Time so we are looking for people who want to ask questions and argue with our panellists rather than just observe. If chosen to attend you will be asked to put forward two questions, one by email and a further question on arrival at the venue.

Join the Question Time audience

We contact applicants on the Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before the programme.
Due to the high volume of requests received we apologise that we are unable to call everyone. If you hear nothing from us please assume that on this occasion your application has not been successful.
The audience is a key factor in the programme and moves the debates forward; if called you will be asked what topics that you would like to discuss and subsequently to provide two questions.
Please note that everyone applying to be part of the studio audience is required to complete this form. The information is completely confidential and only used for the purpose of balance.

*indicates mandatory fields
*Have you been on Question Time before?
*How old are you?
*What is your gender?
*Do you consider yourself to have any disabilities?
If disabled, do you require wheelchair access?
Are you a member of a political party?
If you are a member, do you take an active role?
Are you active in any campaign groups?
*This information will be collected by the BBC and shared with Mentorn producers of Question Time. Are you happy for your details to be retained for up to 4 years so that we may contact you about appearing in the audience of other BBC programmes?
In its FAQs section (written in 2005), the BBC's then Deputy Head of Political Programme Ric Bailey (now the corporations Chief Political Advisor, gave further background detail - including the admission that they sometimes "contact local groups to encourage their members to apply to be in the audience".
How does Question Time select its audiences?
The short answer is: with great care.
People apply through a phone number given on the programme or via the website.
They are then questioned about their views, voting intentions, background etc, in much the same way as an opinion poll.
From that, the producers select a broad and balanced cross-section.
If, from those applying in a particular area, they feel any group or view is under-represented, they will - occasionally - contact local groups to encourage their members to apply to be in the audience.