Sunday, 26 April 2015

"The horrors! The horrors!”

One of the most bizarre comments I've ever heard from a BBC presenter came from David Eades on The World Tonight this January. 

All this week The World Tonight's Beth McLeod will be talking to the people you hear a lot about in this heated debate but rarely hear from.
By that he meant immigrants.

Unless David was merely being disingenuous or purely propagandistic, that pronouncement must rank among the most inaccurate statements ever made by a BBC presenter, given that the BBC has been absolutely relentless in getting us to hear the voices of immigrants - especially the nice ones with distressing back-stories. 

I was put in mind of this again today by a comment from Guest Who at Biased-BBC:

Guest Who
@bbcnewsnight has posted this harrowing tale:
Three teenage migrants describe the horrors they saw on the way to Europe
Thing is, it seems these… migrants… appear to have made their way through most of Africa to get to a warzone, to pay some scumbuckets for a roll of the dice chance at a better life in Europe by illegal means.
Just what… is the BBC proposing here? 


Continuing to follow things through...

You may recall that we here at ITBB have been following Norman's Wisdom - an election feature on Radio 4's Broadcasting House starring dog-loving, hyperbole-prone BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith.

For newbies, the story so far is, basically, that Norman has used two out of his last three Norman's Wisdom features to have a go at one particular party, namely UKIP. 

His first talk was on Joey Essex not knowing much about politics, something Norman felt was a warning to all hacks and politicos, giving that most people don't live in the Bubble they live in. 

His second talk focused on the collapsing stage backdrop at UKIP's press conference, signifying how UKIP's vote appears to be collapsing now, given all the pressures and added scrutiny brought by the election. 

The third talk mocked Nigel Farage for criticising the BBC during the BBC One leaders' debate. (Politicians are unwise to criticise the BBC, he argued. Ed Miliband has shrewdly learned that less, he added). 

The question we left you with last week, therefore, was:
Anyhow, so who's Norman going to have a dig at in the final couple of episodes of Norman's Wisdom? Two unhelpful pieces on UKIP down, two more to go perhaps? 
Well, this week's feature focused on negative campaigning and, to be fair to Norman, UKIP weren't on the receiving end of most of his digs. That was the Tories. 

Four clips and a concluding passage citing the Tories' negative campaigning over 'Bad King Alex' and the SNP's possible influence over shrewd Ed placed the Conservatives firmly in his firing line today. 

And, to be even more fair to him, Norman did (very briefly) cite a couple of Labour examples (and I do mean very briefly). 

I, myself, would have placed Labour's 'cunning plan' over accusing David Cameron of causing the crisis in the Med as the starting point of this piece - though I could well be biased in the opposite direction to Norman. 

That said, Norman still managed, somehow, to make UKIP the centrepiece of his talk today! I'm classing that as three weeks in a row. 

A single poll has apparently shown that UKIP has conducted the most negative campaign of all. Norman illustrated that with a clip of Nigel Farage saying that UKIP is now being positive before listing a lot of negative things - doubtless before moving onto and dwelling on at length the positive...though Norm, naturally, cut off the clip before than happened, rather making Nigel look a little bit silly...

Oh Norman, anyone would think you're biased!

One more week to go. Will he be able to resist another dig at UKIP next week?


Lest I be accused of negative campaigning myself, let me add that I loved the rest of Broadcasting House today. It was a pleasure to listen to.

The 'Baroque concerto' featuring slowed-down bird song was absolutely magical (and something I could have listened to for much, much longer), and the regular election chat with Lord Peter Hennessy and John Sergeant was as entertaining as ever.

Today they discussed politicians' dread of appearing out-of-step with the national religion - the NHS - and there were some fascinating archive clips, including one from Clement Attlee (whose voice somewhat surprised me) and one from Winston Churchill (whose voice didn't) claiming credit for the Conservatives over the founding of the NHS...

...and, it turned out, with good reason: The NHS was envisioned by the war-time coalition (following Liberal Beveridge's report) and a Conservative minister draw up the bill to bring it into being. Churchill's Conservatives were ready to enact it if they won the 1945 election. They didn't win it, of course, and Labour did. And Labour - even during this election - have been claiming proprietorial rights over the NHS ever since. BH made it clear that the Tories (and Liberals) have just as much right to claim ownership of it.

And, gosh, there was also a delightful feature on old-fashioned swearing - prompted by Sir John Major's use of "merry hell" to describe the impact an SNP-Labour post-election 'understanding' might provoke.

Heavens to Betsy, some of the phrases they were laughing at are ones I and my family have used within recent decades.

One of the words they mentioned was "bloody". There was something of a scandal when Shaw first put it on the stage in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, but now no one bloody well seems to care about its use any more, which is a bloody shame...

...and which gives me the opportunity to share a story I've told Sue before:

On a coach trip to Harrogate twenty years or so back, me and my girlfriend were sat in front of two talkative old chaps from Barrow-in-Furness (lovely place, wouldn't want to live there - even if you paid me). Almost every sentence contained either a "bloody" or a "bugger". (You may think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not). Whether they were talking about the "bloody vicar" (who came very well out of the story actually, if I remember correctly) or the sheep in the fields we were passing - "Look at them buggers!", one of them said (no, really!!) - those two time-honoured swear-words were as natural to them as breathing. They were terms of affection. They even used them in connection with their kids. [It really tickled my funny bone at the time].

What other blog about BBC bias provides your with stories like that?

Aggravated crimes

Further to Craig’s excellent review of this morning’s Andrew Marr, I thought Boris’s performance was a bit of an anticlimax. His most notable quality is his refusal to be intimidated by the Marrs and Paxos of the media world when they turn on that haughty superiority (in Paxo’s case) and a kind of hectoring irritability in Marrs’s, both of which seem to get the better of other politicians.

Boris shares that quality with Nigel Farage, come to think of it. Neither of them are in awe of the self-regarding BBC titans, and they both still manage to retain their personal charm whilst determinedly ‘not having any of it’. 

However Boris was more bumbling than decisive today; the stand-out moment was when he said to Andy something like:  “As a lefty BBC journalist you would say that.”

People should say that more often. As for Ed, well, if he keeps saying ‘let’s be clear’ we can only assume it’s an admission of being unclear hitherto. 

I wish all politicians would stop saying “It’s the right thing to do”. They might get away with “I believe it’s the right thing to do” -  but who needs to be told what the right thing to do is by a politician. Let us decide that for ourselves please.

I do find the constant probing about possible alliances and allegiances tedious. We know premature confirmation of future allegiances would have undesirable ramifications for the voting.  The politician can’t answer in any meaningful way, so why must the interviewer keep trying to wheedle it out? Ed’s outright denial of Labour tying a post-election knot with the SNP was so obviously a tactic that it was pointless.

There is one question I’d have liked put to Mr. Let’s-be-clear.

In the Labour manifesto:  
We’ll take robust action against hate crimeAs a country, we must stand together to eradicate hatred, prejudice and intolerance, rather than letting it spread. A Labour government will develop a cross-government strategy on hate crime, from schools to social media, to tackle the growth in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We’ll ensure hate crimes are properly recorded, including incidents of Islamophobia, as is currently done with other types of crime.

A future Labour Government is committed to outlaw the scourge of Islamophobia by changing the law and making it an aggravated crime, according to the Party’s Leader Ed Miliband.
“We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime,” Miliband told the Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi in a wide ranging exclusive interview.“We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country,” he said.Labour Party Manifesto pledged to take a “zero-tolerance approach to hate crime” regarding the growth of Islamophobia as well as anti-Semitism. “We will challenge prejudice before it grows, whether in schools, universities or on social media. And we will strengthen the law on disability, homophobic, and transphobic hate crime,” it said.

So what is it to be? Is a Labour government going to make ‘Islamophobia’ a hate crime? 

ASBO for Craig, prison for me? 

Andrew Marr v Ed Miliband

Even before the Spectator called The Andrew Marr Show out on that false fox-hunting quote, Andrew Marr had been on the end of a lot of charges of 'bias' for his inconsistent interviews with party politicians during this election - especially for his much tougher interviews with George Osborne and David Cameron, compared to the significantly softer ones with Harriet Harman, Nicola Sturgeon and Vince Cable. 

Even without the calls for a public apology, today's edition was always going to be heavily scrutinised for bias - especially as the 'big interview' today has been with Labour leader Ed Miliband. 

As I wrote last week:
Next week, Ed Miliband will be the main attraction. It will be very interesting to see what kind of interview he receives. To avoid charges of inconsistency and bias, Andrew Marr will have to go at him very hard indeed, questioning him closely on a wide range of policy issues and pursuing any evasive answers as tenaciously as he pursued George Osborne last week.
Well, frankly, I don't think he did go at him very hard indeed, question him closely on a wide range of policy issue or pursue any evasive answers as tenaciously as he pursued George Osborne a week earlier.

Having to be consistent myself, I have to say though that on a simple count of interruptions though, Ed was interrupted some 36 times - the same as my count for David Cameron. 

However, and this is where the main flaw in the interruption-counting method of bias detection come in. Today's interview was full of half-made, unassertive interruptions, including a few 'but, but, but, buts...' that went nowhere - unlike the sharply-pointed questions and criticisms in last week's 'big interview'. It's as if Andy knew that his interruptions were being counted (as he undoubtedly does) and was boosting his own total by making lots of phoney semi-interruptions (making a show of activity). It also made it very hard to count accurately. (It's usually quite easy).

Boris Johnson, sitting on the sofa with Ed Miliband at the end, also said he thought the Labour leader had actually been given a soft interview. Now, he would say that perhaps, but was he right?

Unfortunately, we are mostly back to 'tone' here (with all of its subjectivity). I felt the interviews with David Cameron and George Osborne (especially) were much more challenging in tone. Andrew Marr sounded really fired up, as if he was having a proper go at George Osborne. He sounded only a bit less fired-up in pursuit of Cameron. With Ed Miliband today he seemed much less intense, pursuing him over the SNP but not sounding anywhere near as frustrated that he was getting nowhere fast than he did with the Tory chancellor. He repeatedly told his Tory interviewees that they weren't answering his question. He made only one such comment today to Ed - and even them rather gently (making Ed smile).

I also thought it was quite surprising that, having Boris and Ed on the sofa together, that Andrew's questions (about non doms and the charges of 'backstabbing his brother') were put to Boris. I'd have expected him to pursue the potential next prime minister more at that point (if he was going to pursue anyone).

As for "questioning him closely on a wide range of topics", well, that didn't really happen either.

Last week,  David Cameron was asked about why his party won't be able to win a majority, why his party's campaign is stuttering, whether he'd step aside if his party didn't win a majority, whether he'd do a deal with UKIP, about his government's failings over housing, about whether the Tories are a party of the rich, about whether his favourite sport in fox-hunting, about whether welfare cuts are hurting poor and vulnerable people (with two personal cases being raised), on why food banks have massively increased on his watch, on whether foreign nationals are the ones getting the new jobs, on where that £8bn for the NHS is coming from ("I didn't get far with your chancellor"), and on whether the Lloyds shares policy has been announced many times before and is "another Conservative bribe".

This week, Ed Miliband was asked about a deal with the SNP and whether he'd be a legitimate PM if he lost the vote in England and Scotland, about borrowing, spending and what he'd cut, about where union-sponsored Labour MPs might revolt against any cuts, about why there's never been a proper apology for the over-spending during the last Labour government and, finally, on his rental policy when all economists agree "Just doesn't work" - i.e. essentially three subjects.

The IFS's criticisms of Labour were mentioned but when Ed dismissed them he wasn't doggedly pursued. Nor was his answer about the union-sponsored Labour MPs. He was pursued a bit, however, over his rental policy, and Andy certainly tried to get a concrete answer over what exactly a Labour government's relationship with Nicola Sturgeon would be. 

Obviously, there's stuff in there for The Andrew Marr Show to use to try to deny that this was a softer interview: Andrew Marr did interrupt a lot, and he did raise quite a lot of questions that anti-Labour voters on the right will have wanted put. But the 'softness' of tone and the lack of a comparable tenacity of questioning, makes me agree with Boris: This was a softer interview than the ones with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

You, of course, are free (as ever) to watch it for yourselves and disagree.


Next week, it's Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

Oh yes, Nigel Farage! How on earth will Andrew Marr treat him?

Andrew Marr apologises

Many people will have been watching The Andrew Marr Show this morning to see if Andrew Marr did the right thing. 

He did.
Now, before we go any further - a word about last week's programme. You may have noticed that the Prime Minister looked mildly disconcerted when I put to him a quote about his views on fox-hunting. Well, not surprisingly. It turns out he never said it. I had the wrong information. We should have checked harder. It's my fault, and I have apologised to him. Just as important I'd like to apologise to viewers who have been misled. We can't expect politicians to apologise and then not do it it ourselves, can we? Sorry. And now to the papers...
He then began coughing uncontrollably, quipping (croakily) that it must be because of the apology!

Update: A video of the apology (but not the subsequent coughing) has already been uploaded to YouTube:

Saturday, 25 April 2015

"Galloway, be praised!"

Dead Ringers is another of those BBC exceptions which proves the rule. 

That it is an exception is perhaps proved by the fact that I actually find it quite funny - which for a Radio 4 comedy that isn't I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue is pretty rare.

Here are my favourite bits from this week's edition:
Evan Davis: Hello, and welcome to the exclusive leaders' interviews here on the BBC. I know Paxman's already interviewed the leaders on prime time TV but I like to do everything Jeremy Paxman does, only two months later. I'm joined by Ed Miliband. Hello.
Ed Miliband: Thanks Evan. That's a great question. 
Neil Nunes: BBC Radio 4. And now 'Book of the Week' and Prince Charles reads from his collection of 'black spider' letters. This week, 'Hospitals'...
HRH Prince Charles: Dear Minister for Health, I must complain in the strongest possible terms about the spending cuts to the NHS. I've visited many hospitals in my time and I've noticed simple ways of saving money. For example, why not dispense with the expensive red carpet that seems to be outside every hospital I've ever been to? Apart from anything, they're a trip-hazard. I just don't understand. And why on earth waste money painting hospitals quite so often? There's a constant smell of fresh paint wherever I go. I say to Camilla, who's in charge of their decorating budget, bloody Fergie? And surely the staff need to work harder. Every hospital I've been to, people simply wait around, grinning and waving. I want to shout, "Get back to work, you lazy bastards!", but Camilla doesn't think it would be a terribly good idea. Not once do these grinning fools ever ask about the boil on my back. I've had it fifty years now and it's impossible to get treatment despite visiting three hospitals a week. Why the hell do they think I keep coming in? Yours, HRH, Charles.
Bradford local TV presenter: You're watching Bradford Local Television, bringing you all the news straight from Bradford...Bradford, quite near Leeds...Be upstanding and make the sign of the Big Brother Eye and prepare for a message from our glorious leader...
George Galloway: Salamu alaykum. Peace be upon me. To my loyal subjects, I wish you all a long and fruitful life. May the dove of happiness flutter over your house and go off to crap on the State of Israel. I have come amongst you because I have discovered something vile, something repulsive, something sickening - a rottening stench corrupting our precious city. This: 
Bradford local TV presenter: A voting card! Galloway, protect me!
George Galloway: Once again, our city comes under the threat of democracy.
Bradford local TV presenter: Galloway, be praised! - for his head is shiny like the sun, his beard is long and lustrous and his Jaguar car is without scratches!
George Galloway: That is why I say to my people tonight, enough is enough. Democracy will not be allowed to spread its tentacles into Bradford. So from midnight tonight I am declaring Bradford an independent state. (Canned applause). Thank you, my people for that spontaneous outpouring of joy. As per my announcement, we will drive out the settlers who have entered our land, who have taken our precious resources - settlers from Rochdale, Huddersfield and North Halifax. And to keep the tribes of Bradford pure, men will now, by law, have to have arranged marriages with women born within the A6177. 
Bradford local TV presenter: Praise be the Bradford ring road! 
George Galloway: We will throw off the yoke of the oppressor to create a utopia in my image which will last a thousand years. Oh, and remember, if you are looking for a new carpet or underlay, Dedma Carpets on the Oodley Road, crazy madhouse sale continues right through this bank holiday weekend.

Back to the Future at 'Dateline'

This week's Dateline London on the BBC News Channel (and on BBC World, for any passing non-Brits) reverted to type again.


Lacking a right-winger (no Janet Daley, no Alex Deane, this week), the left-packed panel - Nabila Ramdani, Marc Roche, David Aaronovitch, plus impartial BBC Turkish correspondent Safak Timur - did what left-wing Dateline panels usually do on the subject of British politics: They agreed.

Specifically, they agreed that the Tories were behaving wickedly and foolishly in stoking up fears of an SNP-'guided' Labour minority government. 

Their condemnation of the Tories went on and on. The whole SNP 'scare' is, apparently, just David Cameron pandering to UKIP waverers who - unlike everyone else in the UK (it was said) - care about things like 'English votes for English laws' and the possibility of SNP-'guided' disruption raining down upon us. Such people, we were assured, constitute a very narrow section of British society (though one that, at least during this election, matters a lot to the Tory leader). They and the Tories are, apparently, very, very silly to think that the SNP are dangerous left-wing radicals. David A despaired at their (our?) irresponsibility. 

In fairness to the BBC's Safak here, she did keep her comments vague on this matter - so vague that I couldn't work out what she was actually saying. Therefore, she can't be charged with bias on this front.

That said, she did opine on the migrants crisis in the Med, saying that the EU should be doing more and she dismissed the idea that those migrants ought to be housed close to home. She thinks that's impractical.

On that subject there was more disagreement: EU fanatic Marc Roche stood up for the EU, Nabs Ramdani denounced the West. As both Nabila and Marc would perhaps say: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

An inter-Cameron clan feud?

I must just add something about the tailpiece to today's Today on Radio 4 - an election discussion between (a) side-splitting left-wing comedienne Rhona Cameron, a lifelong Labour voter who's still voting Labour this time despite really, really, really liking Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP (because she lives in London and can't vote SNP); (b) Martin Rowson, the self-declared 'far-left' Labour-defending, Tory-bashing Guardian cartoonist; and, 'for balance', (c) right-wing U.S. humourist P.J. O'Rourke ("the rightwinger it's OK for lefties to like," according to the Guardian). 

Now, I like P.J. too (we've got several of his books on our book-shelves), but he admitted on the programme that he's "not got a dog in this fight" whilst cheerfully mocking UKIP for being like embarrassing elderly relatives (comparing them to the U.S. Tea Party) and those posh Tories for having servants.

He quipped charmingly throughout, but he's an odd choice to be one of Today's regular election pundits, isn't he?

The other two most definitely did have a dog in the fight though. They really, really, really don't like the Tories. No, really, they really don't like the Tories. 

Rhona even described Tories as "cockroaches"...

...sorry, I'm confusing her with Hatey, she merely called them "a cancer". 

And everyone, including Sarah Montague, laughed. 

Funny old world, isn't it?

Update (26/4): The Sunday Express isn't impressed:
Watchdog must get to grips with BBC bias
THE BBC’s election coverage is fast becoming as farcical as W1A.
For in what other world would a political panel comprising a Scottish socialist, Ken Livingstone’s favourite cartoonist and a “libertarian” American satirist be considered balanced? The Right-wing parties must think that with arbiters like Auntie, who needs enemies? 
If David Cameron isn’t being falsely labelled a fox-hunter by Andrew Marr, you can always rely on Newsnight presenter Evan Davis to play the race card with Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband blames the Prime Minister for being directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of migrants and gets away with it. 
If the Corporation honestly believes anyone who opposes uncontrolled immigration hates foreigners then it must be being funded by a nation of racists. The trouble is that the Beeb continues to exist in a bubble, seemingly oblivious to the Britain beyond Broadcasting House and its swanky HQ in Salford. Enough is enough. 
It is clear that the Corporation can no longer be trusted to investigate itself over impartiality. Whatever the outcome of the election, licence fee payers deserve an independent inquiry into the Corporation’s bias. If Ofcom can scrutinise the rest of the media, why not the state broadcaster?

"Thanks again for contacting us"

Meanwhile, over at BBC Watch, Hadar has been tirelessly posting some "classic" BBC Complaints department responses to various reasonable complaints about the Beeb's coverage of matters related to Israel...

(I don't know about you, but I'm spotting a recurring factor there.) 

If your blood pressure can stand it, please give them a read. Even the Titanic had fewer boilerplates.

Proving BBC bias - a case study (Paul Lewis on 'Money Box')

If there's one BBC presenter that everyone seems to like, it's Paul Lewis from Radio 4's Money Box.

Few people have a bad word to say about him, and he's someone who rarely, if ever, gets criticised for bias. He's a wonderful presenter, and a great credit to the BBC, and...

Evan Davis (interrupting): There's a 'but' coming, isn't there? What is it with you Paddington-hating bloggers and your hate-filled 'but's? Surely it's patriotic to be uncritical of the BBC? 

Shut it, Evan! 

But, yes, you're right for once. There is a 'but' coming, because Paul Lewis's interview with UKIP's economics spokesman Mark Hughes today provoked a certain amount of shock from UKIP supporters, both on Twitter (using the #bbcbias hashtag) and on BBC-bias-monitoring blogs. 

Here's a representative exchange on the subject from Biased-BBC:

Radio 4 – Moneybox. 25 April. Paul Lewis interviewed UKIP’s pensions spokesman at midday. One might have expected Lewis to have been his usual forensically-probing, but polite and even-voiced self. But, no. He was sharp-voiced, carping, hostile and argumentative and, furthermore, accused the spokesman of constructing policies to assist in his business. Lewis was more interested in finding fault than providing a fair platform for UKIP. Before this episode, I had considerable regard for Lewis, and it is sad that he reverted to the standard BBC stance towards UKIP.

  • Rob in Cheshire
    I must agree. Paul Lewis has always struck me as a decent and fair financial journalist, but his attitude towards the Ukip spokesman was terrible, the sort of constant interruption and clear bias one has grown to expect from Evan Davis and the like. A big fail for Money Box I’m afraid.

Is this just sour grapes from UKIP-supporting commenters, or is there something in their complaints about Paul Lewis's behaviour today? 

Well, it did seem to me to be an unusually sharp-toned interview from the Money Box presenter, though I have to say that I found it fascinating, and unusual - unusual in that it's extremely rare to hear a BBC interview that actually focuses on, and takes seriously, UKIP's policies, and is prepared to spend time digging into them.


All this is a preamble to a stocktaking piece about how we can actually prove BBC bias. 

A complaint based on the tone of a BBC interviewer tends to get nowhere, as the BBC will simply argue that judgements about tone are highly subjective and that the BBC interviewer in question's tone will have struck many others as just fine and dandy.

Plus they'd tell the complainant to check out that BBC interviewer's other (comparable) interviews, because (the BBC would say) they would show that the BBC interviewer in question either treats everyone like that or shifts his or her tone to match that of the interviewee (especially if the interviewee isn't answering the interviewer's questions).

The complainant could then trawl through all the recent episodes on the BBC i-Player and listen to them, noting the differences of tone. 

In the case of Paul Lewis's previous election interviews - with Danny Alexander of the Lib Dems, Stewart Hosie of the SNP and Labour's Ed Balls - that complainant might well find (as I did) that they were all splendid interviews but that none of them was as sharp and combative as the interview today with UKIP's Mark Hughes.

Would saying so in a complaint to the BBC get them to 'fess up to BBC bias? Not a chance of it. It's still all subjective, they'd reply.

Here then, perhaps, is where statistics might come in. 

A few years back (as old hands here will already know) I did a detailed study of over a thousand BBC political interviews, counting interruptions and then dividing the total by the length of the interview (as 11 interruptions in a 2-minute interview is, obviously, something very different to 11 interruptions in a 25-minute interview). The basis idea was: the higher the resultant figure (the 'interruption coefficient') the tougher, all things being equal, the interview. 

Putting that old idea back into practice on these Paul Lewis interviews produces the following results:

Mark Hughes, UKIP (25/4) - length: 9m 34s, 19 interruptions = I.C. of 2.0

Danny Alexander, Lib Dems (4/4)- length: [9m 59s, 14 interruptions = I.C. of 1.5

Ed Balls, Labour (18/4) - length: 12m 23s, 13 interruptions = I.C. of 1.1

Stewart Hosie, SNP (11/4) - length: 9m 44s, 6 interruptions = I.C. of 0.6 

That shows, if nothing else, that UKIP's Mark Hughes was interrupted almost twice as much, proportional to the length of the interview, as Labour's Ed Balls. And Stewart Hosie seemed to strike it lucky.

Now, the BBC would reply that all this proves is that the UKIP man was interrupted more than the Labour man. They would say (and I know this from personal experience) that this doesn't prove bias. 

They'd also advise you to take context into account: Was Mr Hughes being more evasive than Mr Balls? Was Mr Hughes trying to drag his answers out more than Mr Balls? 

You might, if you're fanatical enough, try to cancel out that 'context' cop-out by monitoring over a thousand interviews and deriving averages for each political party.

By so doing you could derive, as I did for some eight months from 2009-10, a list showing (a) party, (b) the number of interviews monitored and (c) the resultant average 'interruption coefficient'.

In descending order, from highest (toughest) to lowest (softest) the following list duly appeared, showing UKIP and the Conservatives to have been interrupted much more than Labour, Lib Dem or Green politicians. (UKIP, you will note, fared worst of all at the hands of BBC interviewers, interruption-wise):

UKIP (30) - 1.01
Conservatives (619) - 0.85
English Democrats (1) - 0.80
SNP (70) - 0.76
Sinn Fein (9) - 0.71
BNP (4) - 0.65
Plaid Cymru (11) - 0.65
DUP (10) - 0.62
Labour (1054) - 0.59
Liberal Democrats (333) - 0.44
Greens (16) - 0.26
TUV (2) 0.25
SDLP (3) - 0.20
UUP (2) - 0.15
Alliance (6) - 0.03
Respect (1) - 0 

Of course, it was entirely possible that BBC Complaints would still refuse to accept interruptions as a credible measure to monitor bias. They could do so - and did - by the simple act of denying they are a credible measure. 

I still think it is a highly suggestive and, if properly presented for checking, credible. (I posted details of every month's list on my old website). Maybe it should be brought back.

What counting interruptions lacks as a way of monitoring BBC bias, among other things (like a way of quantifying 'context'), is a set of complimentary measures. 

Inspired by David Keighley (of News-watch fame), what if a second measure might be found in working out how much of the interview the BBC interviewer talks for and comparing it with the amount of time the interviewed politician speaks for? 

Obviously, all things being equal, the more the BBC interview talks the less time his or her interviewee gets to talk and that, all things also being equal, would suggest that the BBC interviewer is seeking to dominate that interview - and, thus, that it's a tougher interview. 

That would be easy to do, readily re-checkable and hard to get wrong. And it would be very hard for the BBC to bring 'subjectivity' into it. 

(Plus, if you're a political animal who loves listening to interviews, it would be no hardship. And it would give those interviews an extra, personal edge).

How would that work with Paul Lewis's interviews so far then?

Well, here are the results of my analysis. The smaller the margin between the two scores for the interviewer and the interviewee (unless the former talks more than the interviewee!!), the tougher (all things being equal) the interview:
Mark Hughes, UKIP
PL= 203s (36.7%)
MH=350s (63.3%)
Ed Balls, Labour
PL=213s (28.7%)
EB=530s (71.3%)
Stewart Hosie, SNP
PL=185s (31.1%)
SH=409s (68.9%)
Danny Alexander, Lib Dem
PL=175s (29.1%)
DA=426s (70.1%)
That, as you'll doubtless have spotted, shows that Mark Hughes of UKIP got the 'toughest' interview and Ed Balls of Labour the 'softest' interview.

It also gives an extra edge to the relatively high 'interruption coefficient' for Danny Alexander, by showing that, in terms of the amount of time he got to talk, he didn't do too badly after all. 

By those two measures - counting interruptions (and dividing them by the length of the interview) and working out the balance of dominance in the interview by measuring the length of time the two protagonists spoke for - UKIP's Mr Hughes unquestionably came out worst on both counts. 

Add that to the 'subjective' sense of certain listeners that Paul Lewis's tone was unusually hostile to the UKIP spokesman, and you might - just might - have an argument the BBC will struggle to deal with.

Just one problem though: The BBC's online complaints form has a character limit. That makes explaining all of this and adding all the evidence frankly impossible. 


There's a fly in my ointment though - actually a whopping great bluebottle. 

Radio 4's excellent The Human Zoo, with Michael Blastland, did an election special a few weeks back. It examined how rational people really are, and how all manner of unconscious biases can make us impervious to reason yet prone to being influenced by all manner of non-logical things.

One of the programme's points was that people are staggeringly capable of ignoring or dismissing any stats they don't want to agree with - however watertight those stats may be.

And, worse, what might influence people where statistics fail are...anecdotes. People respond to anecdotes much more than they respond to statistics (if they don't like what those statistics are telling them).

So maybe it's better after all to stick with saying: "Paul Lewis is usually a credit to the BBC, but even he's not immune to BBC group-think, as shown by his much more hostile treatment of UKIP today. His interview with Mark Hughes proves the BBC are biased to the core against UKIP." 

Plus, that would have made for a much shorter post.


According to Julia Hartley-Brewer at the Spectator, (h/t Alan at Biased BBC), Labour pulled off a cynical stunt yesterday morning, and the BBC fell for it. 

They apparently briefed the press - or was it just the BBC? - that Ed Miliband was going to blame David Cameron personally for causing the present mass loss of lives in the Med by destablising Libya. That condemnation never happened - and may never have been intended to happen. Still, it led the news all day. ("One of Miliband’s closest aides justified it to me, with the words: ‘We got into the papers, didn’t we?’", says Julia.)

Whatever the truth of all that, one veteran BBC reporter would doubtless have wholeheartedly agreed with Ed Miliband if the Labour leader had said what the BBC reported he was going to say.

As we know, Hugh Sykes isn't shy of expressing his opinions on Twitter (or in his reporting). Here he is a day before the Labour move...

Bearing down on Nigel

News-watch's David Keighley has written a fine piece about the Evan Davis-Nigel Farage interview at Conservative Woman, describing it as "another clumsy but brutal ad hominem attack":
His [Evan Davis's] approach to the interview was yet another example of the BBC’s ‘painting by numbers’ approach to Ukip.  The main intent was to show that all those who support such policies – and Nigel Farage in particular - are dangerous, bigoted racists.
Accordingly, the tone and mannerisms he adopted were those of a superior, enlightened being dealing with something rather unpleasant adhering to his shoe.

David also notes the staggering amount of interrupting that went on (as we did here at 'ITBB'):
One obvious manifestation of this approach was that he interrupted Farage at least 50 times. Counting the total is quite hard because sometimes there seemed a deliberate desire to stop Farage talking at all, and certainly from presenting an answer that contained detailed reasoning.
Was this simply robust interviewing?  Emphatically not. In the equivalent interview with Ed Miliband by Davis, the number of such interruptions was only 32.  
He then adds another striking measure - a count of the words spoken by the BBC interviewer and his interviewee: 
Further, Davis spoke almost 3,000 words in the Farage ‘interview’ – only 700 fewer than Farage himself.
...which works out as Evan talking for about 45% of the interview and Nigel talking for about 55% of the interview - which isn't quite how interviews are supposed to work, is it?

Incidentally, David has posted a full transcript of the "interview" at News-watch (a great public service on his part).

Here's an extract, just to remind you of one of its lowest points:
ED: (speaking over) I wonder whether . . . I don't know, I just wonder whether there are different patriotic visions and there are certain people you would call liberal Metropolitan elite who have a different vision of Britain. Did you see the Paddington Bear movie last year?
NF: No.
ED: A terrific movie with a kind of . . . a rather sort of moving, in a sense, proclamation of the virtues of multiculturalism which I know you hate because he's a bear and he's different and he feels very at home and he’s made to feel welcome here.
NF: I think, I think . . .
ED: Would that, would that sort of be a ‘Metropolitan elite’ movie . .
NF: I think er . . .
ED: that is kind of a tragedy (corrects himself) a travesty of British patriotism and British values?
NF: Well, I think the fact you throw the word in ‘hate’ like that, as a sort of off-the-cuff comment . . .
ED: But you have (words unclear, ‘lots of insults’?)
NF: as if, as if . . . as if of course Mr Farage ‘hates’ things, what's your evidence for that?
ED: Well you said in your manifesto . . .. You said multiculturalism is divisive.
NF: What is your evidence that I hate it?
ED: But you say (words unclear due to speaking over)...

Woe on Anglesey

I've only been to Anglesey on a day trip, so I'm no expert on the political situation there.

That wouldn't necessarily stop a BBC reporter from sounding off authoritatively, of course. After spending just a few hours in some far-flung constituency, they always manage to sound like experts. we discovered when Today's chief reporter Matthew Price dropped in on Penrith and the Border a few week's back and found a place of woe - cuts, alienation and unemployment (even though the constituency has less than 1% unemployment!).

Katie Razzall went to Anglesey for last night's Newsnight

Her report made Matthew Price's depressing piece for northern Cumbria sound like a holiday brochure. She made it sound like an unbearably grim place to live, full of poverty, unemployment, resentment and food banks. 

She spoke to (1) a young disabled woman who has to rely on food banks whilst living on benefits, and who's suffering even more because of the 'bedroom tax'; (2) a single mum living in a homeless hostel; and (3) an Olympic weightlifter who's having to live with his parents and is on zero-hours contracts. 

They came across as very likeable people, coping as best they can, but were they representative of Anglesey? Or had they been chosen to help Katie paint an emotional picture of the constituency for Newsnight viewers and tell a simple, overarching story of hardship?

According to UK Polling Reports demographics, Ynys Mon (Anglesey), some 85% of voting-age people there are either in work, in full-time education or retired:

And most people aren't homeless either, with owned properties and private properties accounting for 85% of voting-age people there: 

And nor are most voters young (as all three of the people on Newsnight were); indeed, Anglesey has a high population of retirees:

Those demographics do seem to paint a somewhat more 'nuanced' picture than Katie Razzall was painting on Newsnight, don't they? 

As for the politics, the report presented it as being a straight two-horse race between Plaid Cymru and Labour. (The seat is presently held by Labour). 

This does, indeed, look to be the case, though - and looking beyond Newsnight's reporting - Ynys Mon has long had a strong Conservative vote (which split in the previous two elections) and UKIP (whose leader in Wales is the candidate there) have surged dramatically - so much so that Plaid are suggesting UKIP will take enough votes from Labour to give them the seat

Incidentally, if Plaid do win the seat, then Anglesey will gain a former BBC radio producer as its new MP (John Rowlands). 

Who does the BBC's Allegra say is "a very admirably modest politician"?

A tweet from Newsnight's political editor last night...

...drew the following response this morning from the author of 'The Welfare State We're In':

It's back! Friday Night Live (the late edition)

Are we becoming too serious?

If so...

...and as it's the wee small hours of Saturday morning, you're all way more drunk than we are, and we're live here at 'ITBB' (shout out to the girls from Wigan at the back)... are some jokes from an increasingly popular joke site, as recommended by Evan Davis, The One Show and the production team behind Eastenders - or so we hear on Wikipedia (h/t Grant Shapps)...

These jokes may have been nicked from Radio 4's screamingly, blood-vessel-burstingly hilarious The Now Show - the funniest programme since sliced bread (and no less funny than sliced bread)...

...but I somehow doubt it.

Anyhow, or so I was told (though I don't believe myself, m'lud), heeerrrrrrre's Marcus Brigstocke and his funnies (woo hoo!)...
I invited my Muslim neighbours round to sit in the garden for a BBQ. Half way through, I informed the husband that his wife had been unfaithful to him with lots of men. She hadn't but I needed the rockery moving.
Look Turkey, the Germans know what they're talking about. If they say it's genocide, it's genocide.
My neighbour Mohammed had the police called to his home after brutally beating his wife. The court can't decide if it's domestic violence or child abuse.
Little bit of politics, little bit of politics.

Pure Islamophobia there. Over to the Two Rons then. They'll rescue us:  
Ever since I've downloaded Adblock, all the single girls in my area seem to have lost interest...
Disgraceful stuff. I'm completely offended, you're completely offended. I blame Benny Hill. This is Ben Elton. I'm off to the BBC. Good night. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Your boy took one hell of a beating

There are so many credible charges of BBC bias swirling around at the moment that it's hard to keep up with them all.

Still, let's try...

...(and, yes, it was the BBC this time, not ICM - including members of 'Generation 2015', the BBC's youth election project)... a £1,000 bet from BBC presenter Chris Smith (no, not the former Labour minister) that the Conservatives wouldn't win an absolute majority at the election.

According to the Telegraph:
The BBC has been accused of launching a left-wing ambush on David Cameron after a deeply hostile Radio 1 interview in which the presenter bet the Prime Minister £1,000 he could not win a majority.
Appearing on Radio 1’s Live Lounge, Mr Cameron was repeatedly interrupted by audience members and presenter Chris Smith, leading to widespread accusations of bias.
It sounded bad but, as this is a blog called 'Is the BBC biased?, I thought I ought to listen to it before sounding off about it.

Yes, it was a tough ride for the PM (though, to my mind, he took it all in his stride). The audience (twice) clapped points against Mr Cameron and engaged in vigorous debate with him, repeatedly questioning and interrupting him from hostile positions. David Cameron tried to answer their points and didn't (to my mind) do himself an injustice in so doing.

BBC presenter Chris Smith barely got a word in edge-ways - though, yes, he certainly used those 'words in edge-ways' to further bash the Conservative leader.

That was one fired-up, clued-up, but very possibly clueless, BBC audience.

BBC spokespeople subsequently claimed that this audience was - in traditional BBC studio audience fashion - carefully selected to represent a representative cross-section of opinion (plus various undecideds).

Well, it certainly didn't sound (to me) as if a single member of that audience supported David Cameron and his Tories.

The Telegraph seems to have had a point.

Being me, however (and, sorry for that but I really can't help it), I then felt the absolute need to compare that edition with the one with the Labour leader, which took place on Radio One tonight

My take on that is that it wasn't that easy a ride for Ed Miliband either - not as hard a ride as that for David Cameron, but, still, no ride in the park either (to grab the nearest trope) . 

Although two of the questioners attacked Ed 'from the Left' (with one of them expressing the hope that Labour wouldn't fare too badly against the SNP in Scotland), the bulk of the audience's questioning did tackle Ed 'from the right' - and presenter Chris Smith, to his credit, took the lead in doing so. 

That, however, is where this curious programme's curiosity lies. 

Despite the audience questioners today who gave Ed a good grilling (and there were fewer of them than with David Cameron), and despite Chris's contiguous 'devil's advocacy' grilling of the Labour leader, this edition was clearly less hostile towards the Labour leader than the previous edition had been toward the Tory leader.

There was no clapping of points against Ed Miliband, and no mocking laughter (as there was, at one point, against David Cameron); indeed, the audience (in total contrast to the David Cameron edition) took something of a back seat, leaving the BBC presenter to put many of the 'right wing' points (which he did, as I said earlier, in a clearly 'devil's advocate' fashion).

The five pre-chosen questions from the young audience (someone interpolated a sixth one about giving the vote to 16 and 17 year olds) concerned: (1) the likely rout of Labour by the SNP in Scotland, (2) whether we can trust Ed if he can't even be loyal to his own brother, (3) why Labour's lowering of tuition fees will only subsidise the wealthiest graduates, (4) the IFS's report saying Labour would land another £90 billion worth of debt on the country by 2019, and (5) LGBT rights in Northern Ireland. Chris Smith also strongly challenged the Labour leader over the poor standards of the Labour-run Welsh NHS and tackled him over his failure to bring up Libya once during four years of PMQs.

Despite quite a few interruptions, however, there wasn't the out-and-out free-for-all that seemed to erupt (from the BBC audience and presenter) against Mr Cameron.

And Chris's repetition of his £1,000 bet to Ed that Labour wouldn't win an absolute majority either was so obviously tacked on and cursory - and so clearly meant as a riposte to the criticism from the Telegraph (and others) - that it seemed rather to prove his 'guilt' more than it proved his 'innocence'.

Though this wasn't an easy ride for Ed, he wasn't subject to anywhere near the degree of constant pestering that the PM was.

We are, obviously, somewhat is 'shades of grey' territory here, albeit tending (I strongly reckon) towards one side.

The Telegraph ought to be considering this edition too, and also comparing it to Wednesday's edition. (They, however, have their own agenda, and if you don't like it don't pay for it).

I really cannot help thinking, however, that tonight's edition was as tough as it was on Ed. Why? Simply because the Telegraph and other had protested so loudly about the complete one-sidedness of Wednesday's night interview with the Conservative leader...

...- i.e. that protests against BBC bias, if they are high-powered enough, can work (which is both reassuring and worrying).

If there hadn't have been that fuss, would Newsbeat have selected so many critics of Labour (I counted three of them) today? And would Chris have so clearly taken charge and 'played devil's advocate' so vigorously throughout?

Frankly, we'll never know now, will we?

If the Telegraph (and others) hadn't kicked up such a storm would Ed have received a softer ride today? Was Newsbeat embarrassed into being tougher with the Labour leader than they would otherwise have been?

Well, alas, as I said earlier, we'll never know, will we?

Update: The Newsbeat website's own write-up of the Ed Miliband programme is very selective. It concentrates on just three sections - the Libya issue, tuition fees and the SNP threat.

The very interesting (and rather damning) sections on the Welsh NHS and the IFS's report about Labour's likely racking up for a further £90 billion worth of debt clearly weren't considered worthy of a write-up. Nor was the discussion following the second question about trust and Ed's 'betrayal' of his own brother.

Does the BBC downplay scandals involving dodgy Labour candidates?

UKIP often complains that the BBC focuses on its scandal-hit election candidates whilst ignoring or downplaying those from other parties. Some Conservative supporters also seem to feel the same way, believing that Labour miscreants get it much easier from the BBC. 

I was put in mind of this by a comment tonight at Biased BBC:

I Can See Clearly Now
Not on The Six O’Clock News
Labour has suspended one of its General Election candidates…
Sumon Hoque… denied five breaches of the Road Traffic Act, including driving without a licence and being over the legal drink-driving limit.

Well, it may not have been on The Six O'Clock News but, a Google search reveals that there is a short (and I do mean short) article about it on the BBC News website.

The curious thing, however, is that it's rather hard to track down. 

It's not on the BBC News home page. 

It's not on the BBC's Election 2015 page either...

...or, rather surprisingly, even on their extraordinarily busy (and, you'd imagine, comprehensive) election 'Live blog'...

...(and, yes, I've scrolled through the whole thing to check and, yes, the UKIP sausage roll guy is there - inevitably). 

You will, however, find that article about the suspended Labour candidate on the BBC's Scotland page

So, for admirers of the concept of 'watertight oversight', yes, they may be downplaying it but the BBC has reported it.

As the Texan guy from The Simpsons might put it:

[Please imagine me as Mr Burns in that picture.]

Smearing UKIP

Kim Rose

At the time of writing (6.40pm, Friday night), only the BBC News website, the Daily Mirror and the Southern Daily Echo are reporting the latest 'UKIP scandal' (as revealed by a Google search).

The headlines used by the Mirror and the Daily Echo pretty much tell you what the 'story' is about:
Ukip candidate compares EU to Adolf Hitler days after being cleared of sausage roll 'bribe'
UKIP candidate under fire after comparing the EU to Adolf Hitler at Southampton hustings
Yes, UKIP's Kim Rose has broken whatever's the real-life equivalent of Godwin's Law in condemnation of the 'undemocratic EU'. 

The BBC's headline, in contrast to the above, doesn't "pretty much tell you what the 'story' is about" though. 

In fact, I think it risks seriously misleading readers into assuming it's about something very different - and far worse:
UKIP "sausage roll" candidate Kim Rose quotes Hitler
The first line of the BBC's article, written in bold type, doesn't clarify matters either and risks amplifying that possible misconception on its readers' part:
A UKIP parliamentary candidate has said he does not regret quoting from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf at a hustings.
Only as the BBC website reader reads on does it become clear why the UKIP candidate was quoting Hitler (i.e not approvingly). 


A probably unnecessary graphic

And if you think that's bad...

Curiously, the Daily Mirror is much kinder to Mr Rose than the BBC, quoting him extensively and noting straight away that - vis a vis those sausage rolls - the police dropped any action against him:
A Ukip candidate cleared of trying to 'bribe' voters with free sausage rolls last night likened the European Union to Adolf Hitler's 'evil dictatorship'.
Kim Rose, 57, quoted the Nazi dictator's autobiography, Mein Kampf, at a hustings event as he claimed the EU runs Europe like a dictatorship.
The BBC's article, in comparison, omits much of the context and repeatedly mentions 'the sausage roll affair' without mentioning that the police refused to take action against him:
Mr Rose was previously questioned by police for providing sausage rolls at a campaign event....
Mr Rose was recently called in for police questioning over allegations he tried to influence voters by giving away sausage rolls at a party event featuring snooker star Jimmy White.
Electoral Commission rules state food and entertainment cannot be provided by candidates to "corruptly influence" votes.
The last two of those three sentences actually comprise the article's closing sentences. Again,  they seriously risk misleading BBC readers into assuming that Mr Rose is still being investigated by the police for corruption.

That's just not good enough, is it?