Thursday, 25 August 2016

Strictly Come Mocking

In other news, the BBC is about to make a one-off 'mockumentary' about a well-known political figure who has recently retired from the scene. 

The actor portraying the aforesaid politician calls him "a gift for parody".

Ah, how I'm looking forward to What a Balls Up! - a hilarious spoof on the fall and rise of Ed Balls, one minute losing his seat in the 2015 general election, the next reappearing (like a tangoing phoenix) on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. 

The Radio Times is reporting that the show will include an angle which focuses on his marriage to pixie-like failed Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper. 

If only...and of course not. 

In reality, it's all about Nigel Farage. Apparently, they are going to make him part-Basil Fawlty, part-Enoch Powell (and you can guess where that's going to go).

And yes, alas, apparently his wife really will be brought into the mockery too.

Which other well-known politician would the BBC do this to? 

Astonishingly, reports even say "If the episode is a success it could be given the green light to be turned into a full series".

Just imagine that with your 'BBC impartiality' hats on!

Unsuspecting readers might still be hoping that this is a merely a bit of very black satire on our part, but, unfortunately, it isn't. The BBC really are intending to do this.

The BBC are truly beyond parody.

Did Mark Easton make a beeline today towards Leave voters who come across as uneducated and/or racist?

The first post-Brexit edition of the BBC's Newswatch (1 July) featured a complaint that BBC reporters, post-vote, had been "making a beeline" to film Leave voters "who come across as uneducated and/or racist". The complainant called that "unhelpful".

The BBC's Head of Newsgathering, Jonathan Munro, dismissed this charge and implied that it was in fact the complainant who was actually engaging in unhelpful stereotyping:
On the 'uneducated' point, we need to talk to the whole of our audience, whatever their level of education might be, and the gentleman who made that point there is making a judgement about them that we're not making.
Exhibit A in the case against the BBC was an Ed Thomas report for BBC One's News at Ten which focused on the fears of Eastern European migrants in Leeds juxtaposed with the views of various anti-immigration voters, including a self-declared fascist with 'England' tattooed on his neck and a swastika tattooed on his eagerly-displayed biceps. The latter provoked most controversy with Newswatch viewers, but Jonathan Munro protested the BBC's innocence over it and implicitly criticised Newswatch for even raising it:
In the clip you showed at the beginning of the compilation you showed one interview with a gentleman with a swastika tattoo. That was filmed in Canvey Island for an edition of the Ten O'Clock News a couple of nights ago. We ran two reports on that programme talking to ordinary people in ordinary walks of life - one from the north-east of England and the other from Canvey. I think in those reports we must have interviewed 10, 11, 12 different people. One of them was a tattoo...You chose to show that. I don't think that was a representative sample at all of what we did, and if you look back at the programme the vast majority of people in those two reports were would you might call, to be honest, normal, everyday, ordinary people with perfectly valid and honourable intentions, whichever way they voted.
Mr Munro was so confident-sounding that I initially missed the fact that he was factually incorrect.

Yes, there was a report from Canvey Island that night but "the gentleman with a swastika tattoo" didn't appear in it. He was in the other report - the one from Leeds.

And watching that report again suggests that Mr Munro was being somewhat disingenuous.

Besides Swastika-Guy, the two other "everyday, ordinary people" who voted Leave and were selected as 'vox pops' in that Leeds report were (a) "a second-generation immigrant...frustrated at Europeans arriving in a place he calls 'home'", and (b) a chap called Wayne who wants migrants to "go soon as possible" and who was led by Ed's leading questions and narrative build-up into sounding like a racist empowered "by the Brexit vote".

(Click on the link above to see for yourselves). 


I remembered this Newswatch exchange after watching tonight's News at Six.

It was Mark Easton's strikingly biased report on the risks posed by a post-Brexit reduction in EU immigration that brought it back to mind.

Mark 'reported' that agriculture, the hospitality sector, the care sector, construction and the NHS faced serious risks from a post-Brexit reduction in EU immigration. "Shortages" and "collapse" could result, said Mark. (It was a typical Mark Easton report).

He then stopped off in Leave-voting Rochester to canvass the views of three 'vox pops'. 

Did Mark Easton "make a beeline" to film Leave voters "who come across as uneducated and/or racist" here? 

Well, here's the first pro-Leave/anti immigration 'vox pop' in Mark Easton's report tonight: 

And here's what he said:
I think they should all go back to where they belong really, cos our country's ruined now, innit? There's no houses for us. There's no jobs.
Next came a lady who said:
I'd like them to do what we voted for really, which is to make it much lower, much fairer, a points-based system. 
A perfectly reasonable point - though I suspect, like many a viewer, I didn't immediately catch what she'd said as I was too busy gawping at her remarkably unhealthy-looking teeth - quite the worst-looking set of teeth I've seen on TV for many a year.  

(I'm sure she's an absolutely lovely person and I feel awful for writing that, but I really don't think I would have been in the minority among News at Six viewers in thinking in such a shallow, unkind way about her teeth).

Then came a pro-immigration voter....

....who made a longer, more impassioned and much more eloquent case for mass EU migration, echoing many of the points Mark Easton himself was making earlier - though without the veneer of BBC impartiality, of course.

Watching it, I felt just like that initial complainant to Newswatch. It did seem to me as if Mark Easton had very carefully selected which three 'vox pops' he put into his report here. But I could also hear my own inner Jonathan Munro saying:
On the 'uneducated' point, we need to talk to the whole of our audience, whatever their level of education might be, and the gentleman who made that point there is making a judgement about them that we're not making.
Am I the one in the wrong here for thinking really bad things about the uneducated-sounding topless guy and the woman with the disjointed, yellow teeth (the two anti-immigration 'vox pops')?

Did no such wicked thoughts cross Mark Easton's mind, even for a single second, when he selected them for his report and then juxtaposed them with an eloquent, 'normal-looking' pro-immigration guy? 


Given Mark Easton's past record, I'm not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about that. He can be a highly manipulative reporter, and this felt highly manipulative to me. 


And, moreover, what is Emma Jane Kirby's Brexit Street series for PM if not the initial complainer to Newswatch's point writ large?

That entire series so far has been"making a beeline" towards Leave voters "who come across as uneducated and/or racist". 

Onwards and sideways?

That famous bit of New Labour spin. Now you see him, now you don't. (He wasn't there). 

As you'll all doubtless already know, former Labour Culture Secretary James Purnell might be about to move from being the BBC's Head of Strategy to being its Director of Radio (replacing the famously genetically-impartial Helen Boaden). 

The story confuses me somewhat as I can't work out why such a move would bring a greater risk of bias on the (former?) arch-Blairite's part. 

Being 'Head of Strategy' for the BBC sounds to me like an even riskier position for a (former?) political partisan to hold than 'Director of Radio' - and he's (apparently) moving on from that risky post.

Unless I'm missing something. 

Still, the speculation is that Mr Purnell is now being readied for the top job - to replace Lord Hall. 


David Keighley, at The Conservative Woman, writes interestingly about the background to all of this. 

His potted profiles of the people responsible for deciding Mr Purnell's future - the BBC's little-known executive board - are very intriguing, and highly suggestive of the kind of person you need to be to help run the BBC from behind the scenes. 

I don't think I'm in with much of a chance.

How to use a wet towel

On a much-needed lighter note, I did enjoy this week's Profile on Radio 4 from John-Peel-impersonator Mark Coles.

It was on the subject of 'the lady of last week', Laura Trott.

Among the many striking factoids featured I was particularly struck by how superstitious R Laura is. 

She has a lucky hairband, a lucky bracelet (which her mother gave her), a lucky toy dog which she always carries with her - and a lucky towel. 

It has to be a wet towel, and she stands on it before every race. 

I think I ought to start standing on a wet towel before blogging. Would there be fewer posts like this if I did? Or more?

More impressions of an evolving news story

According to the ever-reliable News Sniffer, the BBC finally reported the name of the suspect in the murder of Mia Ayliffe-Chungram (Smail Ayad) at around 3.30 am (GMT) this morning (some twelve hours after many other mainstream media outlets.)

It was a brand new report, and its first version said: 
"It has been reported that shouts of "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is greatest" - were heard during and after the attack."
Curiously, some 35 minutes later, the article was then updated and all mentions of "Allahu Akbar" disappeared.  

The article went through two further revisions (at 4.50 am and 7.45 am), both of which also failed to mention those cries of "Allahu Akbar". 

A final revision (at 11.45 am) reintroduced reporting of those cries (over 12 hours after my post saying that the police had confirmed that the man did indeed shout "Allahu Akbar"):
(Police) have confirmed that a man shouted "Allahu Akbar" during the attack, but said there is no indication that radicalisation or political motives were involved.
Though still a lead story when I looked before going to work this morning - and confirmed by a commenter on the last thread who saw it in No. 2 position on the BBC News website at around 6.30 this morning - I didn't see the story when I clicked on the site at lunchtime and it had vanished back to the Australia page by 4 o'clock this afternoon.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Impressions of an evolving news story

After getting in from work (just after 4 o'clock). I clicked on The Times website (as I usually do, having paid for the privilege) and spotted the paper's second story. My heart sank. A young, female British backpacker had been stabbed to death in Australia by a man shouting "Allahu akbar".

Reading around, it turned out that the young woman in question, Mia Alyliffe-Chung, was from Derbyshire. A 30 year-old-British man had also been stabbed, and a dog killed too. The suspect was said to be French. A bizarre detail in several reports was that he'd been singing the French national anthem before bursting in, shouting "Allahu akbar", and beginning his stabbing rampage. Many reports suggested that the man was infatuated with Mia. Several mainstream outlets named him as Smail Ayad (a man with a Muslim surname).

The BBC News website had the story on its home page, though it was at the bottom of its main headline stories (in 12th position) at the time I saw it. It reported the "Allahu akbar" shout from the start but didn't dwell on possible motivations, briskly saying:
A French suspect, 29, who allegedly said the Arabic phrase "Allahu akbar" during the attack, was arrested.
Police are treating the incident as a murder case, not a terror attack.
They are investigating a number of possible motivations, including drugs misuse, mental health issues and extremism.
It didn't report the suspect's name either (in the public domain from around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, as far as I can see) - nor much else about him.

It seemed to me, given what I'd read elsewhere, to be playing the story down for some reason.


The story was the third item on BBC One's News at Six, however - which could hardly be construed as 'playing it down'. I was reassured.

Reeta Chakrabarti gave it the following introduction:
A 21-year-old British woman has been stabbed to death at a backpacker's hostel in Australia. She's been named as Mia Alyliffe-Chung from Derbyshire. An unnamed 30-year-old British man was severely injured in the attack and is in a critical condition. Ppolice say the suspect, who is 29 and from France, shouted 'Allahu akbar', meaning 'God is greatest', during the attack at Home Hill in Queensland. Sophie Long reports.
That was pretty straightforward, factual reporting (even down to translating "Allahu akbar" correctly). 

Strangely, however, Sophie Long's report immediately contradicted it somewhat by reporting the following about that allegedly "unnamed" 30-year-old British man:
30 year-old-Thomas Jackson from Cheshire, was also seriously injured.
That, of course, was just a simple (if eyebrow-raising) editorial cock-up.

Much of Sophie's report, from outside Mia's old school, focused on the attractive, popular personality of the murdered woman. Her friend and a former teacher paid tribute to her. 

As to the motivation of the suspect. Sophie Long had just the following to say:
A 29-year-old French national has been arrested. Police say they're investigating an act of individual criminal behaviour that's unrelated to race or religion, despite the comments he made. 
She then featured a clip of Steve Gollschewski from Queensland State Police saying: 
It is alleged the suspect used the phrase 'Allahu Akbar' during the attack and when arrested by police. Whilst this information will be factored into the investigation we are not ruling out any motivations at this early stage, whether they be political or criminal.
As with the online report, that was very brief and lacking in much of the detail found elsewhere. Plus, again, there was again no mention of the name 'Smail Ayad'.


Feeling confused (after watching that BBC One bulletin), I then Googled around and watched the police press conference in full (on an Australian news site). Queensland's Deputy Police Commissioner Gollschewski made a statement and then took questions. 

I felt even more confused afterwards. His statements seemed to me to veer one way and then the other. He talked, for example, of it being "alleged" that "the suspect used the phrase 'Allah Akbar' during the attack and when arrested by police" during his initial statement to the press but then, under press questioning, was emphatic about it being "confirmed" that the suspect did indeed use those words. Police technology caught the suspect doing so (presumably during the arrest rather than during the attack - though DPC Gollschewski didn't make that clear either). Why say "alleged" before going on - under questioning - to say (more than once) that it's actually a "confirmed" fact? 

Here are the relevant extracts (with times related to the linked video):
0.22 Steve GollschewskiThe investigation is still in its early stages and more details are expected to become clear as it unfolds. However initial inquiries indicate that comments which may be construed as being of an extremist nature were made by the alleged offender. It is alleged that the suspect used the phrase 'Allah Akbar' during the attack and when arrested by police. Whilst this information will be factored into the investigation we are not ruling out any motivations at this early stage, whether they be political or criminal. Investigators will also consider whether mental health or drug misuse factors are involved in this incident. 
3.14 Steve GollschewskiThis is not about race or religion. It is individual criminal behaviour. 
4.35 Steve Gollschewski: The motivations for it our unclear. As I said there are many...or a number...of different circumstances that could be at play here and our investigation is trying to determine what they are.
5.59 Journalist: What more can you tell us about what he yelled out? Ar what point did he make those comments? 
6.06 Steve GollschewskiThat's all a matter for investigation.  It has been confirmed that the phrase as I indicated - 'Allahu Akbar' - was uttered...and we have confirmed that. The rest of the phrasing, and anything he said, is subject to the investigation and unclear at this stage. 
6.19 Journalist: How has that been confirmed?
6.20 Steve GollschewskiYes it has.
6.21 Journalist. No, how, sorry?
6.22 Steve GollschewskiPolice were wearing body-worn video. 
7.04 Steve GollschewskiWe're working very closely with our partner agencies to make sure that if there is any indication that this has an extremist slant to it or this person had been radicalised that we will be able to discover that. At this stage we have no evidence for that.

By now (around 7 o'clock) further news outlets were reporting the suspect's name as 'Smail Ayad'. 

Curiously, however, the BBC News website had (at around 7 o'clock) dropped the story entirely from its home page. It wasn't even on its World page. I hunted and found it again on the Australia page, where it was still the lead story. I found that shocking.

Now, checking again (at 20.30), even more curiously, the story has just reappeared on the BBC's home page. In fact it's reappeared as the site's third main story. And it's a brand new report

Its opening paragraphs reads:
The family of a British backpacker stabbed to death in Australia have paid tribute to an "amazing young woman with an adventurous spirit".
Mia Ayliffe-Chung, from Derbyshire, was attacked at a hostel in Queensland by a man allegedly shouting "Allahu Akbar", Arabic for God is great.
The 21-year-old's family said she was "a rare person who saw beyond race, creed and belief".
They said she would not have wanted to be the reason for "any hostilities".
Police are treating the incident as murder, not a terror attack.
I felt ashamed of myself (rightly or wrongly?) for thinking that the third and fourth paragraphs there were exactly what the BBC would want to report at a time like this - especially when followed by the fifth paragraph. 

Scrolling down a bit, this new report then presents another brief take on Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski's statements, choosing to make a particular comment to journalists (in the Q&A session after his statement) - the one about it not being about race or religion - the focus of its (the BBC's) reporting of this part of the story:
Queensland Police have arrested a 29-year-old French national, who was taken to hospital with non life-threatening injuries.
Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the attacker appeared to have acted alone.
"This is not about race or religion. It is individual criminal behaviour," he said.
He said police were aware of the alleged comments of an "extremist nature", but were investigating several possible motivations, including mental health issues and drug misuse.
That particular focus, obviously, echoes the sentiments contained in the report's opening paragraphs.

The rest of this new report focuses on Mia - her life and her personality. 

Smail Ayad's name is still not being given by the BBC here (as of 20.30).


The BBC News website seems to me to be behaving as if it has an agenda here. But what agenda, beyond the familiar, ever-present 'It's nothing to do with Islam' angle? 

What are the BBC doing here?
  • They are focusing very heavily on the victim (something that doesn't usually happen - and which is entirely welcome).
  • They are saying very little about the suspect (and not giving his name).
  • They have been carefully editing Steve Gollschewski's comments. 
  • They have downplayed the story on their website then 'vanished' it only to 'reappear' it and make it prominent when an angle arose which chimes closely with BBC values.
The heavy whiff of BBC manipulation seems to be at play here, yet again - especially in this latest website report.

What is the truth here?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

And...Diane Abbott???!!?!!!

Radio 4 may be starting to make a habit of asking Remain-supporting non-BBC journalists to present important documentaries about Brexit. 

We've already had two editions of strongly pro-Remain Times writer David Aaronovitch's The Briefing Room, and tonight came Economist editor Anne McElvoy's How We Voted Brexit. She's also openly stated that she voted Remain (on Newsnight and on Twitter). 

Thankfully Anne McElvoy did a very good job tonight. Unlike David Aaronovitch, she played an understated role and gave us a fair range of voices, with Iain Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, Gisela Stuart and Matthew Elliott on one side, and Alan Johnson, Will Straw, Paddy Ashdown and Diane Abbott on the other. (I couldn't quite place Jonathan Marland - who made a very short contribution anyhow).

I enjoyed it, and I note that Twitter is recording praise from both sides - though some Corbynistas are crying foul.

One Corbynista complained that Alan Johnson had been allowed a five-minute rant against Jeremy Corbyn (it was about a minute and a bit - though Mr, Johnson did accused Mr. Corbyn of "treachery") and that Jeremy Corbyn hadn't been given the chance to respond because of BBC bias. 

What that Corbynista didn't point out to his Twitter followers was that the assault on Jeremy Corbyn from Will Straw and Alan Johnson may not have been answered in person by the sainted, train-loving Jeremy but it was answered (as convincingly as ever) by...

Well, I think it's best to let Andrew Neil introduce her in the appropriate way...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Crossing the Line. How much freedom of speech should religious extremists have?

“Why do I watch SML?” I ask myself this nearly every week. I might answer “For several reasons.” 
(Inner dialogue, you understand.)

Firstly, there’s the sweet and sour factor. You know, the cringeworthy element that used to make us keep watching The Office from behind the sofa. Not a good analogy, really, because the Office made us laugh and you can’t say SML does that. 

Next, there’s the excitement of seeing who’s on the panel. Like with TBQ - you spot your favourites straight away. Douglas Murray, and, and, and…… well, you get the drift. 

Then there’s those contributions from the public. (You! ) Tommy reads out a few banal and mostly puerile messages from unidentifiable commenters. He often reads them inaccurately, which is all the more bizarre because we can read them for ourselves from the giant screen. 

When he’s done, Naga or host-of-the-week turns back to the panel, which always continues as before; slightly embarrassed by the crude interruption, pretending it didn’t happen like a fart at a formal dinner.

I can see why the BBC keeps asking the public to join the conversation - but the fact is that the public’s contribution rarely adds value, and what’s more, often goes the ‘wrong’ way. Remember that audience poll they used to run - they scrapped it when the results were so consistently contrary to the BBC’s agenda that it became a bit of a joke. Entertaining though it was for we contrarians.

Anyway, while politics has been temporarily ripped from the Sunday morning schedule, we are grateful for SML. It’s all we’ve got.

Naga Munchetty has gone up in my estimation. She seems better suited to her role as SML host than she ever did when sitting on that sofa beside a male co-anchor, addressing the lightweight, chatty, gossipy items that dominate ‘Breakfast.’ 
Samira Ahmed also seemed to blossom when she quit Channel Four and started doing more intellectually demanding things at the BBC. I don’t compare them solely because they’re ‘ethnics’, or ‘women’, but because they both seemed to have spent a long time being under-utilised. 

Anyway, this morning’s discussion really suffered from SML’s constraining format. Too many topics squashed into too little time. At least they didn’t have anyone Skyping from a remote location, with their huge head on a huge screen, looking menacing while waiting to speak.

The main topic was about freedom of speech and Anjem Choudary’s recent conviction. 

The obvious retort would be “None” because most of us define religious extremists as anti-British, anti-democratic and dangerous. But of course it’s not as simple as that. There are many shades of religious extremism - and ‘freedom of speech’ is considered to be one of our fundamental rights. You can’t start clamping down on one person’s freedom of speech without compromising another person’s freedom of expression.

So SML confined itself to this one particular case, where Anjem Choudary was found guilty of incitement to actual killings. In particular, of supporting I.S. and encouraging others go to Syria and chop people’s heads off. This is where he appears to have crossed that crucial line.

Why Choudary didn’t join his ideal Islamic state himself is not clear; perhaps because he had a wife and family to claim benefits for? (rumoured to be £25,740 P.A.)

Chris Phillips, ‘Terror and security expert’ spoke first. He described Choudary as a revolting man - probably not a good enough reason to put him away - but he’s glad he’s finally been jailed as he has caused enormous damage to this country, but that “no-one actually knows how many deaths were the result of his words.”

It seemed kind of obvious that it was a jolly good thing Choudary has been locked up. All the more surprising, then, when Luke Gittos (solicitor) emphatically disagreed.
“I think his conviction is an outrage. I think he’s been locked up for what he believes and what he thinks”. 
He thinks it’s ridiculous to claim Choudary has caused any deaths. “he merely declared his support for ISIS in a pub with his mates, and made a bunch of loony videos on Youtube’.

Now that seems slightly at odds with Choudhry’s fanatical Islamic beliefs. I’m well aware of his early boozy, druggy, womanising days when he was a student known by his mates as ‘Andy’. But did he really still go to the pub with his ‘mates’ and say something rash about ISIS whilst under the influence?

Anyway, the solicitor felt he should have been left to express his nutty ideas and let them face public scrutiny, (much as he was doing now, perhaps?)
'Censorship pushes such ideas underground, where they cannot be challenged,' he said.
Of course he didn’t consider the actual danger of challenging such ideas - a danger faced by all, including dissenting Muslims.

The next speaker was Henna Rai, from ‘Women Against Radicalisation Network’. She cited the killers of Lee Rigby, and said Choudary was responsible for ruining the lives of many by inciting and encouraging young people to go to Syria, and spreading venomous lies and vitriol about Islam. 
“We need to protect the most vulnerable” she said, “and tell them the truth about what Islam really is.” 
So, another agenda, squeezed into an already overflowing time-frame. 

Last to speak, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, one of the regulars on this kind of programme. He explained that as a trained lawyer Choudary was clever enough to sail close to the wind, and got caught only when he crossed the line.  Freedom of speech trumps everything and it’s only ‘crossing that line” by inciting people to violence that can justify putting Choudary in prison.

That’s quite a platitude, but the argument, which boiled down to finding an explicit definition of ‘incitement’, was worth developing. 

The solicitor said there was no evidence that Choudary incited anyone to violence, so the conviction came close to imprisoning people merely for what they believe and think. He said that Lee Rigby’s killers couldn’t have been ‘ordinary men’ who ‘suddenly got radicalised’ after hearing Anjem Choudary preach. They must have been predisposed, I suppose is what he meant. 

That theory deserved a rigorous unpacking, but instead Ms Rai went down another path, the one that takes us to “I.S. does not represent ‘True Islam’.”

The solicitor (Luke Gittos) acknowledged that Choudary’s religious principles perceive the man-made construct ‘democracy’ as artificial, and he admits that Choudary’s religion denies others (women, infidels etc) freedom of speech. Gittos believes that if we deny Choudary the freedom of speech and make a martyr of him, we only succeed in ‘proving his point’.

The sort of faultless logic that is all very well in theory, but in not in practice. 

They did touch on the matter of radicalisation in prison, something that Michael Gove was beginning to tackle and his successor has pledged to continue.

The news that Choudary might be confined to some sort of isolation in prison met with the panel’s approval, apart from the lone voice (Gittos) who claimed we’re about to change our whole way of life (by imprisoning people for thought crimes) just for the sake of one or two deranged individuals. 
He certainly had a point, but seemed to be in denial over the rise of radical Islam in Europe and the rest of the world. Here we are teetering on the brink of the clash of civilisations.

Suddenly he seemed to be agreeing that as soon as a line is crossed, i.e., by incitement to violence, then it’s okay to punish the accused. So, back to square one and the unanswered question. What exactly is incitement?

Jonathan Romain rounded off the circular debate by reminding us that Choudary has had 20 years of freedom, and by crossing that all important line, was the architect of his own downfall.
However, we must question ourselves, he said. Ask what was the real cause of radicalisation, be more vociferous in challenging extremists and reinforce our own values.

There came a short intervention by Tommy for YOUR tweets and messages  (in which an extreme split has been detected)……… and back to the debate.

The solicitor still insisted that  there was no evidence that Choudary ever directly incited anyone, and that most Muslims think of him as a bit of a windbag and don’t take any notice of him. It seemed as if we were about to embark on another lap of the same circuit. But no. At last we all agree. 

We need more democracy and more freedom of speech. We also need less time-consuming padding on SML if it’s ever going to compete with Sunday morning’s regular fare.

Anti-Christian bias at the BBC?

There's been criticism of the BBC from Christian groups in recent days over what these groups see as the BBC's determination to sideline the Christian faith of Olympic athletes like Usain Bolt. 

The Jamaican is a devout Catholic and always gives praise to God both before and after his races. The complainants say that his faith never gets a mention in BBC interviews and articles.

Plus, they cite things like this: When Usain Bolt fell on his knees to thank God after he had won the 200m in Rio, the BBC presenter talked about it being "a moment to himself"....
....when it was clearly the opposite. It was an act of public worship which would have been condemned as crass and distasteful if it had been an ordinary mortal. But because it is a hero then it has to be explained away as something else.
This morning's Sunday on Radio 4 took on board this criticism of the BBC and went on to discuss faith and sport, including some discussion of Usain Bolt's Christian faith. 

This discussion, however, was prefaced by a clip from a 2012 BBC interview where another famous athlete's faith was discussed. That athlete was Mo Farah and the faith being discussed was Islam. 

If Sunday meant that as Exhibit A for the Defence against the charges of anti-Christian bias from certain Christian groups their case may have misfired somewhat at that point!


These latest complaints are nothing new though. Archbishop Cramner was making the same case against the BBC in 2012

His counter-example (an online BBC article which made a lot of the athlete's Muslim faith), unsurprisingly, also involved Mo Farah. 


Mo, of course, has just taken us to 27 golds in Rio. I suppose we all ought to stop what we're doing for a minute and do the Mobot instead. I'd join you but I'm drinking a cup of coffee at the moment and wouldn't want to spill it.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Summoned by Bells

And now for something completely different (sorry)...

St. Peter's Church, Heysham

I love church bells. I love bells on Sunday, and Radio 4's Bells on Sunday

Bells rarely sound melancholy to me - even the ones I heard last Sunday, floating over the fields from St. John's Church, Silverdale. 

We were busy sticking our family nose into the garden of the late Victoria Wood's old house, situated on an out-of-the-way lane leading down to a lovely cove overlooking Morecambe Bay (house price guess: £400,000?), when they wafted our way. R Victoria would have heard them often. 

Even the single note ones associated with a certain kind of funeral strike me as more consoling than depressing. 

My newly-arrived 'Complete Poems of John Keats' (thank you Amazon) featured a particularly fine poem with a very different take on church bells. (I stumbled across it, accidentally, on first-footing). I suspect Richard Dawkins (who I know is a fan of Keats - though I've never heard him mention this sonnet) might like it too:

In my mildly militant atheist mid-Twenties, I'd probably have adopted that as my poetic anthem, had I known about it. Now, however, I feel 'melancholy' and 'gloomy' that, two hundred years after Keats predicted it (he was a bit premature), the Church (namely the Anglican church) does indeed seem to be dying like an outburnt lamp - and abruptly too. So abruptly, in fact, that it really can be called 'a collapse'. (The stats prove it).

More generally, the sea of faith's "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" is draining away at a rate probably not seen ('wildly speculative historical guess' alert!) since the Romans lost their faith in Jupiter & Co. It's apparently even withdrawing at some considerable speed in the USA now...

...though in plenty of parts of the world, the sea either remains where it was or (the Muslim world especially) is attempting to be a tsunami.

What of  Keats's "fresh flowers" and "many glories of immortal stamp"? I'm guessing he was hoping nature and art would be the drivers of a new and truer spiritual awakening. That still doesn't seem to have happened, and probably never will (though, like Bartok, I'd happily cross myself in both of their names - if you added science and made it a trinity). 

Instead, here in Team GB Land (the Land of Gold), we've got barely-even-half-hearted claims of familiar Christian beliefs from many (hordes of whom still tick the 'Christian' box in the census - including most of my family), plus quite a bit of on-the-hoof spirituality (new paganism included), a small but noisy atheist battalion (plus quieter hangers-on, like me), a benign smattering of believers in Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc, and a dramatically-swelling contingent of Muslims, many of whom are more than happy to fall under their religion's own "black spell" and some of whom, alas, seek to cast that spell over the rest of us too. Their tide still seems to be coming in. 

Were he alive now, would Keats, like me, now feel in need of those church bells (which so dejected him at the time) to lift his melancholy? 

Plus the radiator joys and Lydian airs, of course. 

Closing ranks

You’ll have heard the expression ‘to close ranks’. Not just in military terms, but in situations when personnel in an organisation band together to protect themselves against allegations of wrongdoing. Organisations like the NHS are notorious for closing ranks, and the BBC is famous for it; the history of its complaints procedure is testimony to that. 

Criticism from an outsider or exposure from an insider cannot be a welcome prospect. If malpractice is involved the whistleblower must expect a battle before being taken seriously  or listened to by the powers that be.

Anyway, Honest Reporting’s Simon Plosker has been trying to raise concerns about the impartiality of Luke Baker, Reuters’ bureau chief in Jerusalem whose 60 strong team covers Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. 

Part one of the story can be read here.

Readers who are familiar with this and other pro-Israel blogs and websites (like Honest Reporting) will be aware of many examples of reporting that is heavily  biased against Israel by way of omission, emotive language and selective use of imagery. 

  1. Misleading definitions: Prejudicing readers through language.
  2. Imbalanced reporting: Distorting news through disproportionate coverage.
  3. Opinions disguised as news: Inappropriately injecting opinion or interpretation into coverage.
  4. Lack of context: Withholding a frame of reference for readers.
  5. Selective omission: Reporting certain events over others, or withholding key details.
  6. Using true facts to draw false conclusions: Infecting news with flawed logic.
  7. Distortion of facts: Getting the facts wrong.
  8. Lack of transparency: Failing to be open and accountable to readers.

There is also the issue of Twitter. The BBC encourages its employees to tweet, but stresses that all BBC staff’s Tweets carry a caveat that goes something like: ”Views entirely my own” - e.g. the relatively benign Twitter feed of the BBC’s Palestinian journalist Rushdi Abualouf, who’s based in Gaza: “work for the #BBC what is written here represents my own views.”
(However, Jon Donnison’s highly partisan Tweets aren’t covered by any such disclaimer) 

It’s supposed to be reasonable to expect that we, the audience, accept that the moment he, she or it dons its professional hat, all professional journalists are ready, willing and able to leave their agendas behind. Counter-intuitive, I know; so much so that no-one believes it.

The fact that Luke Baker likes to Tweet is not unusual. That he likes to be controversial is par for the course. Some people come across as controversial on Twitter without even meaning to be.  But judging from his tweets there’s no denying that he sees things through an anti-Israel prism, and the fact that his colleagues have closed ranks to protect him, them and Reuters, is alarming. They even seem to have batted away the questions without even listening to them.

The five examples of Luke Baker's biased tweets cited by Simon Plosker aren’t the only ones he could have chosen. You don’t need to scroll down very far to see several more examples. 

The first signs of the closing of the ranks. 
Reuters executives and Luke Baker himself ‘declined’ MidEastDig’s requests to discuss Honest Reporting’s claims with their representative Richard Behar. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Alix Freedman fobbed him off with a boilerplate response. So they went elsewhere:
“Seeking some insights into Mr. Baker, we reached out to Uri Dromi, who founded and runs the Jerusalem Press Club, where journalists network, attend press conferences, and dine with Israeli newsmakers. In the 1990s, Mr. Dromi served as spokesman of the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres center-left governments.   
“Baker is a serious journalist, and I think he tries to run a serious shop here” says Dromi, who knows him personally. “But the problem is — and it’s not only Reuters, it’s leading papers, both American and European — they come to our briefings and I can tell you from the questions and from talks I have with them, they really think that Israel is wrong. ‘Israel is wrong in what it’s doing.’ And it’s ‘Now let’s tell you a story that fits this framework.’” 
Mr. Dromi adds: “Not only Reuters but also AP, in certain ways they reflect positions of governments.  Reuters reflects not necessarily the British government [Reuters  was historically based in London, but opened a New York City headquarters in 2001], but I think the European point of view.  And in the question of who is to blame for the problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel always comes up as the one who is more to blame.”

I include this reference to AP because I recall Matti Friedman’s essay from August 2014: 
“Between 2006 and the end of 2011 I was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s two biggest news providers. I have lived in Israel since 1995 and have been reporting on it since 1997.”

It was a “must-read” then, and it resonates as much today as it did in 2014. Also his follow-up here
A particularly glaring omission by Western reporters is that they all seem unable to grasp the significance of religion to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

This piece appeared in a recent EoZ post and influential journalists like Luke Baker typify the wilful blindness of those who do not wish to see.

A recent poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, together with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, asked the usual questions from Palestinians about which candidate they would vote for if elections were to be held today.
But they also asked questions that Westerners rarely see: 

94.1% of Palestinians fasted all or nearly all the days of Ramadan and 86% prayed every day. (Keep in mind 2% of Palestinians are Christians.) 

86% are against coeducational secondary schools. 

82% say that the Palestinian Personal Status Law should be either fully or partially based on sharia (Muslim religious) law. 

The only answers that seemed consistent with liberal viewpoints was that a large majority is against marriage for women under 18, and about 2/3 were against having multiple wives. 

The poll didn't even ask the most incendiary questions. In 2013, a Pew poll asked questions in the Muslim world about attitudes towards alcohol, honor killings, sharia, stoning for adultery and other topics, and the results among Palestinians were shocking. Yet this truth about Palestinian fundamentalism and fanaticism is rarely discussed in the media or by think-tanks.  

These results are important to understand. When Westerners say that they will propose peace plans, or fund human rights NGOs, or really get involved in any way in the Middle East conflicts, without knowing the mindset of the people involved, the initiatives are probably doomed. 

Of course, this applies to Israel as well. Of course there are fundamentalist Jews as well. However, the percentage of Jews in Israel with fundamentalist and closed-minded opinions is far lower than that of Muslims in the territories. 

While critics of Israel routinely throw around terms like "theocracy," they rarely apply the same standards to Palestinians.

And whenever journalists and editors report through a pro-Palestinian prism,  sanitising or ignoring the all important religious hatred for Jews, they’re compromising their journalistic integrity and must, one day, be held to account.  

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump

I had to smile at Adam Raphael on today's Dateline London: firstly, for defending teleprompters (and saying that the BBC sacked him because he was no good at reading from them) and, secondly, for telling it straight about the programme he was appearing on.

The programme was enjoying another of its 'ten-minute hates' against Donald Trump when (to a cry of 'Why?' from Jef McAllister) Adam Raphael said that someone on the panel had to defend Trump (before adding that he very much hopes he'll lose the election). 

His defence of Trump was that he'd drawn attention to the "huge disaffected element" in the US that has lost out from globalisation and mass immigration. He compared that to the Brexit vote here in the UK.

He then added:
And frankly the liberal consensus, which I'm afraid we all represent round here, we have ignored it too long. 
Well, he ain't wrong about that. With occasional exceptions, Dateline London is a platform for "the liberal consensus", week in and week out.

(Much like many other parts of the BBC's output).


Last night's Newsnight went on Trump too. Again.

This was another James O'Brien interview with a Trump supporter, and it was a carbon copy of his last interview with a Trump supporter.

The aim was clear: to 'roast' and humiliate the Trump supporter.

And, just like last time, the Trump supporter (Jason Meister) was duly left writhing in agony on the floor.

JO'B even allowed a few seconds of 'dead air' to humiliate the hapless Trump supporter even more.

JO'B's many (left-wing) admirers on Twitter again went into spasms of ecstasy. Their contempt for the 'roasted' Trump supporter was unbounded. Everyone went home happy (except Trump-supporting Jason).


It would be interesting to watch James O'Brien interviewing a Hillary supporter. I suspect it would be very different in tone and content.

Of course, that would require the focus to shift for a few minutes off Trump and onto Hillary...which hasn't happened very often so far (to put it mildly). Hillary has been like the ghost at Newsnight's banquet. (Hillary the Friendly Ghost).

James will doubtless be hoping for at least a couple more interviews with yet more hapless Trump supporters before November. He looks so cool doing them in his sharp suit, to the general applause of Twitter, and seems to really enjoy this kind of thing.

(Some uncharitable types might say he looks very smug about it too, but that could just be his face. We can't help our faces - unless we have plastic surgery).

Heat over light, of course. And not exactly serious broadcasting.

And not really impartial broadcasting either.

But if it increases Newsnight's very low ratings, maybe it's worth it (for them).

"Not defending or vilifying it"

The homepage of the BBC News website has a prominently placed new 'The Reporters' piece:

It's by Shaimaa Khalil, the BBC's Pakistan correspondent, and makes the case for the burkini, ending:
But to me, as someone who wore it for years, it has always meant that I could swim, and in that was a freedom that I still remember and am still grateful for.
Her piece has provoked a heated debate on Twitter, in which she's been participating. There's not been much of a meeting of minds. 

Curiously, however, she seems to believe that her piece doesn't take a biased position on this sensitive issue. 

I doubt anyone reading the piece would seriously think that she's anything other than against a burkini ban though.

The BBC and half the story

Following on from Sue's post...

That BBC article cites French journalist Alexandra Gonzalez's tweets. 

She sent out 6 tweets in quick succession:

including the one highlighted above:
Selon le grand rabbin de Strasbourg, René Gutman, l'homme avait déjà agressé une personne de confession juive à Strasbourg, en 2010 (AFP). 
According to the Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg, René Gutman, the man had assaulted a person of the Jewish faith in Strasbourg, in 2010 (AFP).
So the BBC reporter who wrote that report, and linked to her tweets in it, must have read that particular tweet too. (It's impossible to miss.) It was tweeted at the same time.

That BBC reporter must, therefore, have consciously decided not to report it - even though it is obviously highly relevant to the story.

That, surely, is dishonest reporting.

The BBC report has not been updated since it was first published.