Sunday, 30 June 2013

'PM' With a Vengeance

Time for another trawl through a week's worth of Radio 4's PM.

Maybe the apocalyptic imagery used in last week's post was nearer the mark than might have been expected given that Eddie Mair seems to have vanished off the face of the earth, Rapture-like, and that we poor sinners were 'left behind' with Carolyn Quinn and Jane Garvey (the 'two beasts'?) Or maybe Eddie was just on holiday. Occam's Razor suggests that the Rapture is the likelier explanation. Anyhow, the programme seemed duller without him.

Oh, and Ritula Shah turned up on Saturday. You can always tell it's her by the way she says 'Afghanistan', 'Taleban' or 'Pakistan'. She suddenly turns from posh English to ethnic South Asian, then reverts straight back to posh English again.

Is there lots of match-winning evidence of BBC bias here? You'll have to read all the way through to find out (yeah, like you're going to do that!!) - and even then you'll have to make your own mind up.

Saturday 30/6

1. Armed Forces Day: David Cameron says we should talk to the Taleban

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt was the PM (for PM) in Camp Bastion for Armed Forces Day. She spoke to two soldiers serving there first, both of whom have just become fathers. She asked them what Armed Forces Day means for them? They appreciate it.

Then we heard a clip from an interview between the BBC's Carole Walker and David Cameron. Carole asked the PM what British people would make of us talking to the very people who have been responsible for the deaths of so many British soldiers and whether the withdrawal of Western troops would be seen by the Taleban as an opportunity to re-seize power one way or another. Both reasonable questions, I would say.

Then the programme discussed the comments of  Lieutenant General Nick Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, who told The Guardian that it would have been more successful to have negotiated with the Taleban in 2002. Ritula Shah discussed it with Sir William Patey, former ambassador to Afghanistan, asking him if he agreed with Lt Gen Carter. He didn't really. He said he's not so sure it was a missed opportunity. It was a victor's peace at the time and the Taleban would have been unlikely to have been there to talk to even if we'd wanted to talk to them. He said that hindsight's a great thing but there's no use dwelling on the past and we are where we are. [Quite!] A political settlement now, however, is urgent but all those criticising the Western and Afghan governments for tardiness are forgetting the Taleban's extreme reluctance to negotiate and the divisions within the Taleban that are exacerbating that. This was in response to a question from Ritula suggesting that the Taleban's reluctance to negotiate is a stumbling block. [A BBC interviewer laying the blame on the Taleban - whatever next!] Sir William thinks the Taleban are awaiting the outcome of the 2014 Afghan presidential election to see who they will be dealing with, rather than dealing with someone who won't be around much longer. He then agreed with Ritula's point that part of the problem in Afghanistan is that we took our eye off the ball during the Iraq War.

2. President Obama pays tribute to Nelson Mandela on a visit to S. Africa

...or as President Zuma put it, the first black presidents of their respective countries. Mike Wooldridge of the BBC reported on the tribute and on the latest news of the ailing former leader.  Over the backdrop of a choir singing an uplifting and beautifully-harmonised song, the BBC man said "Choirs pass by to offer a haunting, spine-tingling backdrop to the many ways people come here [the hospital] to show their support for Mr Mandela...." No discordant notes were heard from either the choir or Mike Wooldridge.

Then Ritula talked to Richard Dowden of the Royal Africa Society about U.S.-South African relations. He described the uneasiness that resulted when the Soviet-allied communists largely took over the ANC in the 1960s and '70s. The West said they didn't like apartheid but were "very unwilling" to impose sanctions or help the ANC, with America passing a law to prevent ANC members from coming to the U.S., regarding them as terrorists. American trade with Africa is around a $120 billion a year whilst China's trade with Africa is £166 billion this year. China's advantage is that it doesn't criticise African leaders over human rights, he said. President Obama is concentrating on trade and smoothing over the past history, but the ANC leadership still speaks in those old revolutionary terms. [That doesn't bode well for the future, does it?]

3. Floods in India

The effects of the deadly floods in northern India continue, with many thousands still stranded and some 3,000 people missing. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reported on the devastation there. A rescued British tourist describes how local villagers came to his aid and praises their resilience and kindness.

4. Heart problems and pain-killers

The medicines regulator the MRHA had told people with heart problems to stop using diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug. Dr Sarah Branch of the MRHA was interviewed to explain why. She says it's not a new risk and that they've been advising this for some time, but a new review has confirmed the risk.

5. Wimbledon

Laura Robson goes through. The BBC's Alison Mitchell tells Ritula all about it.

Friday 28/6

1. Ian Brady loses his tribunal bid to be transferred back to prison

The BBC's Judith Moritz reported. Jane Garvey then said, "Well some have questioned the cost of Brady's hospital treatment. One Tory MP said this week, 'He should rot in jail'." Instead of having that debate though, she asked a clinical psychologist at Ashworth, Mike Berry, whether the right decision has been made (i.e. to keep him at Ashworth). Unsurprisingly, he said 'yes'. They then discussed whether it's possible to fake mental illness, and whether Brady was doing so. The tribunal procedure was then explained. It's extremely rare for it to be public, he said. There's only been one other example of a public tribunal. So why has Brady's been public? Because he wanted it to be. He's enjoying the massive publicity he's getting, said Dr Berry. [Well, yes, and PM might have been making him even happier by making him their lead story. Still, could they really have done anything else?] 

2. Arrests have been made at the Vatican bank

The BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey gave us the background and updated us on the news. Pope Francis is getting tough, apparently. David likes Pope Francis. So much more his cup of Catholic tea than Pope Benedict.

[Away from PM, I see that Damian Thompson of the Telegraph, who adopted a 'Don't panic!' position when Pope Francis was elected, chiding his fellow Catholic traditionalists for their worries about the new pope, seems to be panicking now. I had a feeling this moment would come. Damian has been quiet about the new pope for a while now, after his first burst of self-willed enthusiasm].

3. Performance data for individual surgeons published

So far it's only vascular surgeons in England, but there's much more to come. "But as ever with statistics they might not be quite a simple as they seem", said Jane. She spoke to More or less creator Michael Blastland about them.

Michael Blastland thinks it's good that the NHS is publishing this information. We can see, for example, that some surgeons are performing hundreds of these operations and they have "an extraordinarily low" mortality rate....BUT "the problem with them is, in a word, chance." He cites one surgeon who appeared on the front page of The Daily Mail whose run of fatalities was purely down to a chance grouping within a long line of otherwise successful operations. As this surgeon did a lot of operations it's statistically quite probable that such a short runs will arise by chance - a run that can look "incriminating" to a casual observer (or to casual reporters at The Daily Mail). So these figures need to take into account the number of operations a surgeon is carrying out: Some only carry out a few; some carry out hundreds.

Then there's the complexity of the operations or the initial state of the patient. Risk adjustment is needed, as the severity of the patient's condition isn't factored into today's figures. So some surgeons will deal regularly with patients in a bad condition while others will deal with easier cases. Part of that might again be down to chance. At the other end, some surgeons who do very few operations and have no mortalities might look great but aren't necessarily the people you'd want to go to. A superficial, "spurious league table" use of these statistics would be a bad thing, said Michael Blastland - damaging to individuals and misleading for patients. An interesting piece. 

4. A play about Patrice Lumumba

The BBC's Rebecca Jones reported on the first stating in Britain of a play about the Congolese independence leader who was assassinated in 1961 - A Season in the Congo by négritude pioneer Aimé Césaire (from 1966). 

5. Wimbledon

The latest from Wimbledot.

6. Imams giving a sermon in various mosques around the country about sex and grooming

DJ Nihal was in an Oxford and told Jane about his phone-in show, live from the city today. He said they'd had to move venue three times because the previous venues said they wouldn't talk to them. They'd found it "very, very difficult" to get [Muslim] people to talk about the issue on the radio. One venue pulled out when "a group of men" turned up and told the venue "in no uncertain terms" not to take part. "So clearly there's some way to go to lifting the lid on this, and a lot of secrecy around", he said. The audience who did come were keen to get it across that this culture of secrecy "is endemic". They talked to Councillor Altaf Khan (googling shows him to be a Lib Dem) and Julie Siddiqui of the Islamic Society of Britain. The Lib Dem said religion and race are "irrelevant", while Julie Siddiqui said, no, there's actually a pattern of this type of on-street gang grooming being done by men from a similar background. Audience members supported the view that the [Muslim] men of Cowley Road have dodgy attitudes towards women and sex.

Interestingly, Nihal said it was mostly women speaking. Few men wanted to speak. He said they "seem to be in denial in many ways". He described the Lib Dem councillor as being from the school of "see no, hear no, speak no evil" and said that Julie "gave him a roasting, absolutely annihilated him". You can listen to the whole programme here. There's no doubting whose side Nihal's on! [The right side].

7. The Scottish government is introducing a 5p levy on plastic carrier bags

750 million carrier bags are handed out in Scotland each year - 150 for every man, woman and child. The BBC's David Henderson described the SNP's plans and its reasoning, then outlined the mixed response of shoppers and retailers. The objections of small businesses were described too. The vox pops from a supermarket split 2-1 against.

David said that the number of bags handed out in Wales has dropped by 96% since charging began, and that in the past decade the Republic of Ireland has seen a 90% drop. So "there's some evidence" that it has an effect, he said. [I should say there is, with those percentages!] Jane asked him if he was a bag-for-life man. He sounded a little lost for words at that, then said he took his own bags. [I'm not convinced about that!]

8.  Country v city

A new study comparing rural Wiltshire with S.E. London has found that Newham, London is a more friendly place to live than Devizes. Simon Fisher, deputy chief clerk of Devizes, and Sir Robin Wales, the major of Newham, discussed the matter. Mr Fisher didn't recognise the picture of Devizes being painted. Sir Robin said Newham is "dynamic, young, diverse", and he "likes that sort of thing". "It's the most diverse place in the world for its size and yet 87% of people say we get on well together." Jane asked Simon Fisher if there was much diversity in Devizes. He "had to say" that the town is "predominantly white and predominantly middle-class." (He sounded a little sheepish about that). The diversity in Devizes concerns the range of activities that go on there, he said. Jane says she finds London people "incredibly friendly" "but perhaps because most of us are not from London". Sir Robin praised street parties and free musical tuition, which Newham provides - despite it being "the second most deprived place in the country". [Ahhhhhhh, diversity!!]

It took a fair bit of googling to find the actual report this was based on - it's called Charm Offensive: Cultivating Civility in the 21st Century and it's by the Young Foundation, an organisation that is - in its own words - "determined to make positive social change happen". Its four authors are Phoebe Griffith, Will Norman, Carmel O’Sullivan...and Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal and Bow. A London Labour MP helping write a report which finds that people in diverse yet solidly Labour Newham are so much nicer than people in Conservative-voting Devizes, Salisbury, Trowbridge and Cambourne? Hmmm. It always pays to look into such things.

Update: I should also have also checked up on Sir Robin Wales and pointed out that he is, of course, a Labour Party politician.

9. Previously on PM....

'Great to hear Jane Garvey'...a commenter complains about 'geographical ignorance' as it's "perishingly cold" in winter in Spain, so gimme me winter fuel allowance...another says in goes down to -9 in Avignon for days on end, so "why the hell shouldn't I be entitled to my winter fuel allowance?"...a commenter wants "to stick up for the World Service" - "I'm delighted if my licence fee pays for it"..."as a pensioner I strongly object to the World Service being paid for out of my licence fee"...a commenter wants Ian Brady to be allowed to remove himself from this world instead of being kept alive at the taxpayers' expense...Brady's explanations are repulsive, we provide him with an audience, "the do-gooder liberals" are to blame, he should have been hanged...a commenter recalls the 'voices of the departed' series last week...another "really enjoyed it" too...another wondered about the power of smells...a commenter hates a particular 'rogue fork' that stains his shirt...a commenter objects to hearing Pippa Middleton described as "a dignitary"....another calls Pippa "a nobody" (charming!)...bats..."do do enormous damage..."..."I heard the words 'do do'". Snigger...the best way to get bats out of a church is to confirm them!...EU regulations aren't responsible. They're our regulations...Robert Peston: "I used to believe he was the most annoying man on the Beeb. I now believe he should officially be declared a national treasure"..."totally silly but most enjoyable"...another commentator wants to teach him dowsing...another wants his 'I do want to be beside the seaside' released as a mobile phone ring-tone.

Thursday 27/6

1. Five members of Oxford grooming gang sentenced to life in prison

For those who keep an eye on this sort of thing, the news bulletin mentioned that the abusers were "mainly of Pakistani heritage and their victims were white", though nothing in the subsequent reporting that made further reference to this, nor to any possible religious aspects to the case. The BBC's Mike Sergeant reported on the sentencing and the subsequent police and CPS statements. 

2. Danny Alexander announces new infrastructure projects of £100 billion

Jane Garvey discussed this with the BBC's Ross Hawkins, who reported on Danny Alexander's "long plans and big boasts", as he put it, and Labour's response. We also heard a response from a local businessman warmly welcoming one of the announcements. He was "delighted". Jane then interviewed Dr Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce, who continued to give the business response, saying that businesses "appreciate" the government's middle-term vision but want to see outcomes. "Successive governments" have "a patchy record" he said, saying that civil servants haven't got enough expertise in the area. Plus there's local opposition, etc. Other countries do it faster. Business and the public get frustrated. Speed, urgency and delivery are needed, he said. The A14 and A19 and M20 are his key priorities. 

3. The UK didn't go into a double dip recession last year after all

Stephanie Flanders explained. So, we didn't have three consecutive quarters in a row where the economy shrank over 2011-12 after all. She said that she herself was saying at the time that the economy was "broadly flat" and that the tiny percentages involved always meant that revision was liable to revise away the double dip. The economy wasn't broadly flat; it was "actually flat" - ie 0% growth over consecutive quarters. She said that's what economists like herself always thought anyhow, so it's not important economically. But it is important politically, she said (without spelling out why). "Well, I guess if we made news of the non-event originally we do have to now to make it clear about the non-event really having been a non-event", she joked. The economy, however, due to the initial depth of the recession, has still lost around 4% since the one-and-only recession began in 2008 [under whose premiership?] and the recovery may have been even weaker than we thought - though the recent optimistic signs aren't negated by that. She said the puzzle about why one million extra jobs have been created in the private sector in spite of the weakness of the recovery is only deepened by these revised stats.  

Stephanie gave herself a clean bill of health here regarding her own economic judgements. I await Paul Mason's self-assessment with interest. He was actively predicting a double dip in 2012, even before it didn't happen. 

3. George Osborne and Burgergate

George Osborne tweeted a picture of himself, man-of-the-people-like, eating a burger while writing the spending review. A social media storm broke when it transpired that he was eating a posh person's burger. Jane compared the story to a The Thick Of It plot-line (not unjustly). She then discussed tales of politicians getting it so wrong by pretending to be ordinary with the pleasingly-named Benedict Pringle, "an expert on political advertising". Benedict said the problem here came because no one really believed George Osborne would be enjoying a cheese burger spontaneously. It "reeked of inauthenticity". "Yeah," Jane said, seemingly agreeing. He suggested Boris getting stuck on a zip-line worked because it showed him to be "normal, fallible and jolly all at the same time". He recalls another cringe-worthy incident though - John Redwood mouthing the Welsh national anthem, badly. 

4. Wimbledon

The latest from Wimbledot.

5. Nelson Mandela vigil

Gabriel Gatehouse reported from Pretoria on the almost festive mood, as crowds celebrate his life and legacy. He reports on one of his daughter's attacking the foreign press's intrusion into the family's privacy, especially the way they are making getting in and out of the hospital so difficult (said Gabriel, whilst standing outside the hospital). She compared them to "vultures". Gabriel passed on to report the "respect and love even" from the people of Pretoria for "the man who's come to living embody [sic] the better side of human nature" - a generous tribute of his own from the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse.

6. Libyan militias have become the country's biggest security threat

Andrew Hosken of the BBC reported from Benghazi on the murderous behaviour of the militias who led the revolution but have now aroused huge resentment for their constant interference in people's lives, their bombings and shootings, their criminality. Most people in Benghazi "are in despair about the security situation". What an absolute mess it all sounds! With the civil war in Syria, the ongoing protests in Egypt and all the Palestinian pop idol coverage, Libya has been rather forgotten about in recent months. [Well done us for going in there and helping make all this possible! Roll on Syria!!]

7. Divorce rates among over 60s have shot up

Baby boomers are much more likely to separate and, in a tribute perhaps to Jane Garvey, PM did a  Woman's Hour-like feature on the issue. Jane phrased the question interestingly enough: "Is this a sign of renewed passion for life, as people live longer of course, or a ticking time-bomb that could ultimately leave many people leading a lonely old age?" A new report from the charity Relate wants  [surprise, surprise!] the government to intervene to support older people in maintaining their relationships. We heard from its director Ruth Sutherland and from Sue Plumtree "who left her husband when she was 60 and says she's never looked back". Ruth Sutherland attacked government policy for being "based on 1950s relationships, which just don't exist any more." [Yep, sounds just like Woman's Hour.]

8. A rare bird killed by a wind turbine

The story of the poor White-throated Needletail - a very rare visitor to our shores and the world's fastest flying bird - being killed by a wind turbine whilst being watched by eager bird-watchers on the Orkneys has been a much-discussed topic this week. The bird has only ever been seen ten times before in the UK. We heard from David, one of the bird-watchers, who described the bird and then described what had happened.

I was left wondering how many birds get killed by wind turbines each year. If so aerially-gifted a bird as the White-throated Needletail can be killed in this way, how many less-nimble birds (swans, birds of prey, sea birds) get killed each year? What do environmentalists have to say about this? How many birds die by flying into nuclear power stations in comparison, eh? 

9. Michael Fabricant, MP

A report from the BBC's Becky Milligan, starring the lusciously blond Conservative MP Michael Fabricant - and, yes, she did ask him if it's a wig! The jokey tone of the piece, despite  a little talk of UKIP and Andy Coulson, made it hard to judge whether it was sending Mr Fabricant up or celebrating his eccentricity - and, boy, did he ever come across as eccentric! Was it biased against him or in favour of him (and, therefore, his party)? Or neither? Who knows! Apparently it forms part of an ongoing series of 'lunches' with Becky. It wasn't lunch though. He took her to dinner instead, with wine. His suggestive remarks to the waitress were left in: "I'm not sleeping with anyone tonight, unless I'm sleeping with you!" 

1. UK Spending Review

Of all the angles that PM could have chosen to headline about the government's Spending Review, it was the "no public pay rises for the public sector" one they went with. I read quite a few other news sites that day and this one was very much the BBC's choice of focus. After the BBC's Gary O'Donoghue outlined the measures announced by George Osborne, Carolyn interviewed an expert - Andrew Lilico, "managing director of Europe Economics" - who gave us his "assessment". Andrew  Lilico largely criticised the spending review from the Right, criticising high public spending, ring-fencing and increased money for the NHS and saying that having 6 million people on out of work benefits is an enormous failure of policy. I've long criticised the BBC for not giving us any up-front information about the party political background of their independent experts, usually Labour Party members. Were I to do so here I'd say that Andrew Lilico is a well-known Conservative Party supporter. Not being officially affiliated to the Conservative Party, however, you can probably see why they didn't need to mention that here. 

And talking of Conservatives....after the BBC's Nick Robinson (no, I didn't mean him!), came an interview with Conservative minister David Gauke. My old interruption coefficient malarkey (the number of interruptions divided by the length of the interview - in principle, the higher the number the tougher the interview) would mark this as a 1.1 (6 interruptions in just over five and a half minutes), i.e a rather tough interview.  

2. Julia Gillard ousted by Kevin Rudd in Australia

The BBC's Nick Bryant described it as "an ongoing soap opera" which looks as if it's been directed by Quentin Tarantino. The role of gender and misogyny was only one of Nick's themes. He suspects conservative leader Tony Abbott could be the ultimate winner of today's events. 

3. Wimbledon

The latest from Wimbledot.

4. UK Spending Review

Carolyn talked to Joe Twyman of YouGov who says that 59% recognise that spending cuts are necessary but 58% say they're happening unfairly while 46% say they're bad for the economy. As to whose to blame for the current cuts, 37% blame the Labour Party while 27% blame both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party and only 24% blame the Conservative Party. Not brilliant news for Labour then.

And talking of Labour, Yvette Cooper was up next for interview, thus balancing the interview with David Gauke. Getting an almost identical amount of time but one extra interruption, the interruption coefficient here was 1.3 - so an even tougher than that with Mr. Gauke (which feels about right giving Carolyn's pressing of her). 

5. Funding of Community Sports 

The Olympics legacy, the need for more investment, etc...This saw an interview with Mike Corden of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club. He's not happy. Carolyn Quinn's opening question told us that the programme was well aware of that in advance: "You heard there the optimism about the money, the legacy, but what about the people you feel are missing out?" He expressed his criticism about that and about the closure of several facilities in the area, away from London. Carolyn interviewed him supportively and said the programme would follow up his story.

6. US Supreme Court clears the way for same-sex marriage in California

Paul Adams reports from Washington on the day's events. We hear from several happy supporters of the move, but we also heard at some length from Rev. Rob Schenck of the Evangelical Church Alliance, who opposed the move from a traditionalist point of view but now counsels understanding in the wake of the decision. 

7. Does the cutlery you use influence the taste of the food you are eating? 

New research suggest the size, weight, shape and colour of cutlery does indeed have an effect on flavour. Charles Spence of Oxford University, one of the report's authors, was on hand to explain...except that he wasn't on the end of the line. So Carolyn and the BBC's Becky Milligan tried the experiment out for themselves, without getting very far. Thankfully their munching sounds were interrupted by the arrival of Professor Spence, who said the people experience cheese as being 6% saltier when tasted from the knife rather than from a fork. When eating yoghurt with a silver spoon rather than a plastic spoon, people tend to experience it as creamier and more expensive-tasting, and they like it more too. Implications for dieticians include that giving people a smaller spoon tends to make people eat less. [The spoon in that picture above, incidentally, makes me want to eat some ice cream]. 

Tuesday 25/6

1. Further "revelations" about the police's behaviour after the murder of Stephen Lawrence

BBC correspondent Danny Shaw updated Carolyn on what she called the latest "revelations" - and the discussion between them proceeded as if they were revelations rather than mere allegations. I would have preferred a much stronger signalling of the 'allegations' or 'claims' part of the story, until we can be sure that  they really are 'revelations'. Danny said that the Met appears to have twice bugged/illicitly recorded meetings between Stephen Lawrence's friend Duwayne Brooks, his legal representatives and senior police officers at his solicitors' offices in London around 1999-2000, without the consent of either Mr Brooks or his legal representatives, apparently with authorisation from a senior officer at the Met. Danny paraphrased the response from the Met which said the the matter is being looked into before. He then speculated on the purpose behind the bugging, recalling Mr Brooks's unfortunate history with the Met, but ultimately couldn't see what purpose could be served by such a course of police action. The illicit nature of the recording, however, "suggests something underhand". This all sounded pretty damning of the police. If it's true.

Carolyn then interviewed one of Duwayne Brooks's lawyers, Jane Deighton, who said she had no idea they were being recorded, then quickly added "In fact we don't yet know if it was being recorded" - something which took my a little by surprise given that Danny's account had made it all sound much more concrete than that. Like Danny Shaw, she couldn't fathom any possible reason either, saying that that makes it "quite sinister" and even more "worrying". Is it part of "something much bigger"? She said the irony here was that the police, who requested the meeting, asked them to keep the contents their discussion confidential. Carolyn recalled that the whistle-blower undercover officer Peter Francis has alleged that attempts were being made to smear Duwayne. "This looks like it could be another strand of that, do you think? In your view?" asked Carolyn, rather in the manner of a leading question. Yes, Jane said, there does seem to have been a sustained attempt to undermine Duwayne Brooks's reputation. She's now seeking to find out if it's true that such illicit recorded were made ("Were there covert recordings?") and, if it is, how many and who authorised them. "If it's true, it's scandal and, if it's true, he wants and needs to know now that it's true," she said. All that "if it's true" talk from Jane Deighton finally prompted Carolyn Quinn to round off the discussion with the words, "And, as you say, if it's true, these claims, allegations, still to be investigated". There should have been more of that in her initial discussion with Danny Shaw.

If the allegations are true then that's further proof that the police were behaving illegally, and it is indeed a scandal. 

2. Ian Brady heard in public for  the first time since 1966

The BBC's Dominic Casciani describes Brady's [publicity-seeking] appearance at the tribunal. Duncan Staff, author on The Lost Boy and expert on the Moors Murders, then gave his opinion. 

3. Wimbledon

The latest from Wimbledot.

4. Edward Snowden: Where is he?

The BBC's Gordon Corera updated Carolyn on the whistle-blower's latest apparent whereabouts then Max Seddon of the Associated Press recounted how he and other journalists had flown to Cuba in the hope of a scoop - the arrival there of Mr Snowden - but found no Mr Snowden. Such larks!

5. Why should British people pay (for the BBC World Service) through their licence fee for services designed for overseas services?

That was the question Carolyn posed, though the interview that followed quickly moved away from any hint of scepticism on that front. From next year, the BBC World Service is to be funded from the TV licence fee instead of by the Foreign Office. Funds of £245 million are necessary, Carolyn said, informing us that (according to the latest figures) 192 million people tune into the World Service - its highest figure ever - and the audience for the BBC's global services (radio, TV and online) is 256 million people. Carolyn put her question to Peter Horrocks, head of the BBC's global news division. You will be gob-smacked to hear that he's a big fan of the World Service and that the thinks the British public are generally supportive of the World Service too, adding that most Brits already assumed (wrongly)  that the World Service was funded through the licence fee.

After one short question on the 'Why should British people pay...?' issue, Carolyn's line of question changed to cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts, with her posing questions from the 'these austerity cuts are so hard for the BBC' line and Peter Horrocks replying from the 'yes, 'these austerity cuts are so hard for the BBC but we're handling them well' line. In in all, her interview with Mr Horrocks cannot be said to have reflected the concerns of those who might take a dim view of the World Service, the licence fee or the BBC's global ambitions - and there are quite a few people out there with concerns about such things. In fact, I'd say Carolyn's questions largely reflected the concerns of BBC employees. 

6. Broadband internet in the countryside

The government is spending over half a billion pounds on getting broadband internet into rural areas and intends to have it done by 2015 "but a survey which has been shared with this programme suggests that the cash has yet to start flowing". The BBC's Ross Hawkins reported. FOI requests by the Countryside Alliance sent to every council in England (with all but six replying) resulted in only two saying these received any money at all and that a mere £3 million about of that £530 million has been so far been spent. We heard from Sarah Lee of the Countryside Alliance who welcomed the scheme but regretted the lack of action so far. No minister was available, but a government spokesman's statement was read out saying that "the delivery stage" is only just beginning, councils don't get paid up front and that this is only to be expected. He said the "vast majority" of  projects will be completed by the time of the election. 

However, Ross's next 'talking head', telecoms analyst Eddie Murphy of Priory Consulting, doesn't share the government's confidence that the infrastructure will be lined up by that time. "He's not alone" in that uncertainty, said Ross. Councils share his concerns too, pointing to the time it took to get authorisation from Europe on this and that only one firm - BT - has put in a bid to carry out the work. Another concern is that the responsible civil servants may not have the "commercial nous" to deliver the project. "One pressure group survey does not a disaster make but there are plenty of being inside government asking now whether the high-speed internet project is moving nearly fast enough", Ross concluded. [Nice of him to label the Countryside Alliance so clearly as a "pressure group". If only the BBC did that more consistently.] 

7. Are bat droppings doing damage to our churches?

Yes they are, says Tory MP Tony Baldry, and he's blaming European Union rules. But is he right that some places of worship are becoming "unsustainable" because of the corrosive effects of bat faeces and urine? Carolyn talked to Julia Hanmer of the Bat Conservation Trust, who (even before she opened her mouth) I suspected to be pro-bat. She says many churches get on very well with their bats. She wants local experts and bat volunteers to advise and help effected churches. She suggested that churches with a problem cover up their susceptible parts whenever the church isn't in use and get local bad volunteers to do a yearly deep clean. She didn't think the legislation needs to be changed. I suspected she wouldn't. 

8. Robert Peston fills another gaping hole in his knowledge by learning how to be a Punch and Judy man 

After learning landscape painting Robert now learned how to swazzle - i.e. to use the device which makes that distinctive rasping sound associated with the voice of Mr. Punch. That's been a "dream" of his for some time, apparently. So, what's the way to do it? Well, 'Prof' Glyn Edwards, a swazzling veteran, was on hand. Robert sounded positively delighted as the prof told him the way to do it, advising him not to swallow his swazzle for starters. "That's the best thing I've ever done", said Robert, collapsing into fits of laughter afterwards. They then sang "I do like to be beside the seaside"  together - which was quite something to hear and which the BBC should immediately release as a single. Prof Glyn Edwards said that this was probably about the quickest he'd ever heard anyone pick up the way to do it before, so well done Robert Punchon! "A professor is born!", said Glyn. There's a related video here. Robert Peston's famously individual style of delivery could become even more distinctive should he decide to stick with the swazzle. I doubt I'm to the only one who would appreciate hearing the sound of him using his slapstick on James Naughtie. This feature made me laugh. 

Monday 24/6

1. Did police attempt to smear the family of Stephen Lawrence?

After Carolyn provided the background, summarised the allegations and presented clips of various interested parties, before the BBC's Danny Shaw provided some background on the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), the undercover unit alleged to be involved by The Guardian and Channel 4. It was set up by the Met in 1968 after the Grosvenor Square demonstrations in London against the Vietnam War. "A very shadowy organisation", Danny called it, saying its focus was on anti-war protest groups, anti-nuclear protest groups and Irish terrorists. The group was disbanded in 2008. A "small number" of its members went over to  the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), set up in 1999 and having a remit across England and Wales and with links to Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is now being subsumed into a new unit called the National Domestic Extremism Unit. The NPOIU looked at extreme animal rights groups and far-right groups like Combat 18 [Danny didn't mention Muslim extremists, though - according to Wikipedia - that was part of its remit too], but whether it also looked at the sort of things the SDS looked at is "hard to tell". He said there are "bound to be" undercover officers in "anti-capitalist groups" too. [It all sounds good to me!] Oversight measures have been strengthened in recent years, he said.

Carolyn then talked to Lord Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Mr Macdonald, whilst repeated saying "if it's true", said if it's true then "it's sick policing", coming on top of the allegations about the theft of the identities of dead babies by police officers and of undercover officers having sex with their targets. He simply doesn't know whether it's still going on or not and wants a single judge-led inquiry. [Yeh, another massively expensive public inquiry!!!] The police aren't the best people to be investigating the police, he said.

2. Brother of the victim held over French Alps murders

The BBC's Jane Peel reported on the latest developments in the story of the Surrey Iraqi family.

3. How released extremist Islamist UK prisoners are dealt with

Carolyn's introduction: "Although numbers are hard to come by, experts estimate that over the last five years between 50 and 100 individuals with extremist Islamic views have been released from prison. And in the wake of the Woolwich attack renewed attention's been placed on how we deal with radicalised individuals." The BBC's Chris Vallance reported on the work of The Unity Initiative, a charity founded by Sheikh Ali Abdul Qadir al-Tahiri that has the blessing of Michael Clarke of RUSI - and of the BBC's Chris Vallance, it has to be said - and which aims to "turn Islamic extremists towards peace". "Islam is peace, Islam means peace", says one of its members, previously convicted of Islamist violence. Their members still express their unhappiness with Western foreign policy though. Hmm.

4. Wimbledon

The latest from Wimbledot, Dot Davies.

5. Silvio Berlusconi given a jail sentence for sex with an underaged prostitute

The BBC's Alan Johnson reported. He doesn't think this trial has necessarily written off Silvio Berlusconi's political career. He still has plenty of supporters and is now ahead in the opinion polls. (Ol' Silvio that is, not Alan.) Then Carolyn interviewed Bill Emmott of La Stampa, an Italian centre-left newspaper. Bill Emmott, a former Economist editor, has long been a critic of former PM Berlusconi but he didn't give an especially jaundiced commentary here.

6. A lesser know opera by Gershwin staged at the Cotton Club in Harlem

Who knew about Blue Monday by George Gershwin? I only knew about Porgy and Bess, and thought that was his only opera. That ain't necessarily so though. Blue Monday is an early short one-act 'jazz opera' (from 1922) in Italian verismo style, originally written to be performed by blacked-up white performers though now, like Porgy and Bess, only sung by black singers. The BBC's Damian Fowler reported from New York about its new staging at that famous Prohibition era nightclub. Having just listened to it, it's not at all bad. (There's a tune in there that anyone who knows Gershwin's even earlier Lullaby will recognise).

7. The Domestic Violence Disclosures scheme, Clare's Law

Carolyn talked to Superintendent Phil Owen of Greater Manchester Police about the scheme which allows people (men as well as women) to check out their partners to see if they've got a violent past. It was named after Clare Wood, murdered by her former boyfriend - a man with three convictions for violence against women. Superintendent Owen said that 52 women had been informed of such violent since the scheme began there last year. We then heard the experiences of a lady from Wiltshire who used the scheme, found it a life-sayer and was happy to help raise awareness of it. Clare's Law sounds like a very good thing and Superintendent Owen's wish to promote the scheme got a very good boost from PM here.

8. The Art Everywhere Project

Talking about promoting schemes, this was a plug for a project that aims to put 50 British art works on posters around the country. Richard Cork, art critic of The Times, is all for the idea, though he wasn't entirely on board with the all-Britishness of the scheme. He's a big fan of Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, which he says looks like "a modern Expressionist masterpiece" (in terms of its brush work).

He also likes Turner's The Fighting Temeraire (who doesn't?).


So there you go again. Another week of PM. Did you spot masses of BBC bias? Can't say I found much, but if you did, here's the site for you: BBC Complaints.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Snubbing Thugs and Banning Bloggers

Even though what I am about to say is only indirectly related to the BBC, the presupposition is that the BBC is largely responsible for the politically correct constraints that stunt our thinking. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Melanie Phillips has written about Theresa May’s ill-advised decision to ban Geller and Spencer. It seems the government has caved in to pressure from the likes of  Tony Lloyd and Nick Lowles, two of the most disreputable individuals ever to have influenced a Home Secretary.

'making your world secure'

Melanie Phillips explains what a bad move this is, and I agree with her, but with one reservation. She says:
I do not support the approach taken by either Geller or Spencer to the problem of Islamic extremism. Both have endorsed groups such as the EDL and others which at best do not deal with the thuggish elements in their ranks and at worst are truly racist or xenophobic.”
Many people think Geller is generally out of order and a loose cannon, and perhaps a slightly fewer number think Spencer goes too far, and in the process of denouncing him deliberately spin and re-interpret selected quotes of his, to strengthen their case and justify Theresa May’s ban. That is another matter. 

Excluding the hard left who have adopted a bizarre political alliance with Islam and think banning Geller and Spencer the right thing to do even though they don’t encourage banning violent Jihadis, people who think the ban is ridiculous and who denounce radical Islam (or criticise Islam itself) yet religiously distance themselves from the EDL because of ‘thuggishness’, reveal their own ignorance of a particular type of “white working class”. This is where I take issue. Melanie says Geller and Spencer’s “endorsement” of the EDL wields a serious blow to both writers’ credibility, which has: 

split the defence against Islamic extremism, and handed a potent propaganda weapon to those who seek falsely to portray as bigoted extremists all who are engaged in the defence of the west against the Islamic jihad.”
It could be argued that her outright dismissal of Tommy Robinson and the EDL also “splits the defence against Islamic extremism etc etc.”
Despite the similarity between his arguments and their own, people who refuse to entertain the validity of Tommy Robinson’s position because he hasn’t succeeded in reining in his followers seem hypocritical. Particularly when that view comes from those of the left whose entire political views revolve around establishing equality for the working class. 
They expect, nay demand, that poorly educated, relatively inarticulate so-called yobbos whose 'lifestyle choices' are blighted by inferior schooling and lack of opportunities -  the very deprivations the political left specifically decry - behave like middle class liberals, forming an orderly queue and singing Kumbya. It’s as though they’re blaming them for what, in the next breath, they say is unfair. Condemned for being what they are, merely because of 'social immobility', lack of opportunity, bog standard education, etcetera. 
In fact they’re highlighting their own insularity. Some members of the EDL do have tattoos and shaved heads. They can be crude, rude and boisterous. Some of them have been to prison. But that doesn’t alter the fact that they don’t like the change that has befallen towns like Luton and feel, understandably that the character of their hometown has been stolen from under their noses. They don’t see why they should tolerate the unfamiliarity, uncertainty and insecurity they foresee as the UK’s future, or be arrested for making a stand by cheekily walking through was has apparently been demarcated aMuslim area” -  “In our own country!”    
The EDL are guilty of actively demonstrating as an expression of their frustration, unlike their passive detractors or counterparts like me who can only moan and blog. 

They have taken the initiative and are doing something, therefore they deserve to be listened to rather than denounced by those who likewise bemoan the government’s capitulation, who argue nicely and politely against all institutional kowtowing to Islam, who also  see the change that has befallen towns like Luton and cities like London and fear the unfamiliarity, uncertainty and insecurity that awaits us, but who nevertheless determinedly and yobbo-phobically distance themselves from the EDL.
There are also yobbo-phobes amongst politicians and the BBC/Guardian axis who, for the sake of social cohesion, insist that most Muslims are moderate and harmless. 

For the sake of social cohesion they might also assert that violence, sexual grooming, misogyny and homophobia are a distortion of Islam, they might tolerate antisemitism because they believe it is understandable, they might  overlook intolerance, rudeness and exploitative sexual practices from Muslims lest they offend any of them. This group objects only to what it calls “radical” Islam, and it insists that its opposition to the EDL is based on the inaccurate and disingenuous declaration that they “hate all Muslims”.
So the EDL and Tommy R are rejected and vilified as racists by people from all sides; defenders of free speech, opponents of the Islamization of the UK, deniers of the Islamization of the UK, people who support violence if it’s needed to defend, for example, Israel and people who oppose violence especially if it’s needed to defend Israel.   
Certainly there are truly racist and xenophobic elements everywhere, but not necessarily exclusively confined to the the ranks of the EDL.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ode to Joy?

Several news outlets have printed an article by Darko Bandic and Dusan Stojanovic of the the Associated Press entitled Little joy in Croatia as it enters the EU

The article says that support for EU membership is at 60%, which is not as high as might be expected. Ten years ago, when the country first sought entry to the EU that figure stood at 85%. Moreover, even that 60% figure masks the fact than only 49% of Croatians believe their country will gain benefit from membership. The reporters give voice to the fears of the 51% who don't share that optimism, though they balance that will more optimistic voices (albeit only cautious optimistism). notes something similar:
Fireworks will light up the skies over Zagreb and other Croatian towns as part of the celebrations, but for many of the country's 4.2 million inhabitants, membership of the EU has lost its sparkle.
The poll it quotes paints an even less enthusiastic picture:
Recent surveys show that support for Croatia's EU entry is now just above 50 percent, while only one of seven Croatians wants fireworks and concerts to celebrate EU membership.
The Daily Telegraph similarly reports on "the doubts and apprehension of many over the decision to become the bloc's 28th member, particularly at a time of deep economic and political tensions within the EU". 

Its polling data suggests still less support for EU membership:
At a referendum in January last year, 66 per cent of votes cast were in favour - but as turnout was just 43 per cent, only a minority of Croats actually voted to join.
The latest polls show that less than half of Croats now favour joining the EU, with support at around 45 per cent.
I've been reading about this sort of thing for a few weeks now, so I was a little surprised to find the BBC's Kate Adie heralding a report from Mick Webb of (freelance writer for The Independent and former BBC editor) on this morning's From Our Own Correspondent with these words:
The European Union may not have had the best press in some member countries recently but in Croatia it seems there is enthusiasm at the prospect of joining the Euro club...Mick Webb tells us that Croatians are hoping that becoming part of the European family will help them deal with such matters as high unemployment and an economy languishing in recession.
...which, indeed, turned out to be the positive picture Mick Webb painted in his report of the feelings of Croatians towards membership of the EU, with a strong preponderance of hopeful voices being heard. 

Now, I believe the BBC still has a problem with pro-EU bias and I think this is another piece of evidence for that. ("The European family" indeed!) FOOC seems more enthusiastic about the benefits of Croatia's EU membership than the Croatian people themselves.  

An anti-science bias at 'Question Time'?

Further to Sue's post the other day regarding Russell Brand on Question Time....

Martin Robbins, The Lay Scientist at The Guardian, has published an interesting graph about the BBC's Question Time, based on analysis of all the guest appearances on the programme between May 2010 and June 2013:

He titled his blog 'Everything that's wrong with BBC Question Time in one graph', although he did qualify that with "Okay, so perhaps not quite 'everything'" soon after!

(The two scientists, if you were wondering, were Lord Robert Winston and Colin Blakemore - both Labour Party supporters).

Martin's accompanying commentary is decidedly Guardianesque but a blog his article links to offers a less familiar perspective - and another interesting graph:

Callum Hackett is concerned about media apathy towards science and finds the BBC's Question Time to the a prime example of what's wrong:
Unfortunately, like so many other news sources on the screen and in print, Question Time indefensibly neglects scientific and academic opinion, while shamelessly promoting the opinions of popular entertainers, which are either equally or considerably less valuable on important matters of government policy.
Scientists account for a mere 0.5% of Question Time guests, averaging about one appearance per year. 

Why might this be a problem? Here's Callum take:
I think this lack of a sensible, fair approach to programming is symptomatic of a larger problem that has infested the political system for some time. The UK government, for example, is largely occupied by career-politicians who have been involved with law, the media, or are arts graduates with little experience in other professions. Yet, for a complex, multi-faceted nation utterly dependent on science and technology to run successfully, we require a substantial number of scientists, engineers, academics, economists, doctors, and other well-educated professionals in parliament. Of course, we cannot fault the system if such people are not running for office, but we know all too well that political consultations with unelected representatives of these professions are often ignored in favour of party ideology.
The BBC, while maintaining a façade of openness and equality, is part of this problem, as is most of the media. On its prime political programme – hardly a show that attracts viewers looking for low-brow entertainment – they give regular voice to actors, singers, comedians, and TV personalities, but give hardly any time at all to the members of our society who shape the forefront of our collective knowledge and work on the technologies that may aid our economy and save our planet.
On this page, the BBC’s Deputy Head of Political Programmes in 2005, Ric Bailey, made it clear that one of their primary considerations is the tenor of debate: “The “non-party political” panellists primarily are chosen, we hope, to be lively and interesting and to add a different dimension of expertise or opinion.” There is a faint hope for the mention of “different dimensions” to give scope for inviting scientists or other under-represented figures, but the BBC has a clear bias towards ensuring “lively and interesting” debate by inviting people who more likely to be ideologues and closed to critical, empirical analysis. This is easily demonstrated given the fact that the political opinions of almost every panellist can be accurately predicted before they voice them on the basis of the party or newspaper or cause that they represent. Question Time is not a platform for considered debate where people use facts and reason to reach honest conclusions, it is a vehicle for publicising unconsidered opinions where the audience can agree with people who share they preconceived opinions without anyone actually changing their mind. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s just one depressing glimpse at a broken political system that infects wider culture – one that thrives on misinformation, under-education, and blind faith in party ideology.
I would certainly agree that scientists deserve greater representation on Question Time, and add that the audience deserve this too. Politicians and entertainers could quite easily shed a few spots to make space for them.  

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Rule books

The head of the BBC's newsroom Mary Hockaday recently told Newswatch's Samira Ahmed, "We don't tell our reporters. We don't give them a sort of rule book for language". She said that in the wake of the Oxford grooming trial, when the BBC News at Six had been criticised by viewers for failing to use the word 'Muslim'.  

As Sue pointed out a couple of days ago, however, the BBC certainly does have rule books for its reporters vis-à-vis language - such as its suggested language guide for coverage of Israel and the Palestinians. 

Mary Hockaday's comment came back to me again as I was reading an article in The Scottish Sun which says: 
BBC chiefs are to tell staff not to use words like “break-up” in their reports on independence — after complaints from Alex Salmond. 

A guide will be issued to journalists after the corporation was accused of bias in its coverage of the 2014 poll.
Reporters will be told to cover the debate sensitively and avoid using terms favoured by Yes or No camps.
The climbdown follows talks between the First Minister and BBC chairman Lord Patten. A Beeb source said: “We will publish a guide that makes clear the need to use appropriate language to demonstrate we are impartial.
So there's another rule book regarding its reporters' use of language from the BBC!

Mr Salmond, the SNP and other 'Yes' campaigners for the 2014 independence referendum had objected to the way the BBC uses the words "separation" and "divorce" and the phrase "break-up of Britain". 

The SNP have now welcomed the BBC's decision to discourage the use of such language.

The Scottish Sun notes, however, that SNP-favoured phrases like "a normal European state" and "Westminster government" are likely to be discouraged too.

As the BBC is charter-bound to be politically impartial, this seems to me to be a wholly creditable course of action on the BBC's part. I really can't see anything wrong with it. The corporation's reporters should be encouraged to think about how they're phrasing their reports before they speak or write for the BBC. 

The risk, I guess, is that a measure of spontaneity is lost and, worse, that reporters could end up tangling themselves up in absurdity as they fumble around for les mots justes, desperately trying to avoid breaking the new rules on the spur of the moment. Presumably live on-air reporters will find it hardest. (Those who are biased will doubtless find it particularly hard!)

Some might object (if the Sun's report is fair) to the BBC's apparent caving in to SNP pressure, but the fact that the BBC seems to be working to ensure that biased language from both sides is avoided is surely a reasonable counter to that criticism.

BBC Complaints and Clarifications

For fans of the BBC's labyrinthine complaints procedure, here are a selection of this month's Corrections and Clarifications from the BBC Complaints website.

A visitor to the site complained that the item was misleading in three respects.  The reference to Israel having been “carved out of land populated by Palestinian Arabs” gave the impression that there had previously been no Jewish inhabitants of the area, the reference to Israel being “in control” of movements in and out of Gaza ignored the fact that Gaza has a border with Egypt which is not under Israeli control, and the identification of “whether or not Israel should exist as a country” as one of the “unresolved issues” was inaccurate and misleading. 

Bearing in mind the degree of simplification appropriate for an item intended for children, the ECU found that “carved out of land populated by Palestinian Arabs” was duly accurate to reflect a situation in which Arabs formed a substantial majority of the population and the Israeli claim was not based on recent occupancy, while the impression that Israel exerted total control over Gaza’s borders was counteracted by other information (both verbal and visual) in the item.  However, the ECU agreed that, in this context, the reference to “whether or not Israel should exist as a country” gave a misleading impression of the options on which efforts to achieve peace in the area have focused.
Partly upheld

Further action
The programme team edited the online video and will be mindful of the need for absolute clarity in any future attempts to condense such a complex story for the Newsround website.

We received complaints from viewers who felt Russell Brand was an inappropriate choice of guest during the newspaper review section of the programme. 

Response from The Andrew Marr Show
The newspaper review is a forum for a range of different people to give their take on the stories in the newspapers that weekend. The programme uses a mix of journalists, commentators, politicians and other public figures and sometimes features entertainers. Russell Brand, although known to many as a comedian, has been vocal on a number of social and political issues. With that in mind the programme’s producers felt that Russell Brand might contribute positively to the discussion, bringing a fresh eye to the stories in the news. Several viewers have commented that they appreciated someone outside the usual mould of those chosen to review the papers: others have urged us to stick to the more traditional format. We appreciate that he’s proved a divisive figure, but feel it was worthwhile hearing from him on this occasion.

In an interview about the figures for the Government’s Work Programme to be released later that morning, Nick Robinson said taxpayers were “slightly better off” because benefits were not paid to participants in the Programme.  A listener pointed out that participants do in fact receive benefits, and argued that the scale of the error was such that there should be a broadcast correction.

The statement was incorrect, and Nick Robinson corrected it on his blog and Twitter page during the day.  However, the error didn’t come to the attention of the Today team until later in the week.  The ECU agreed with the Today team that, while there would have been a good case for broadcasting a correction soon after the item, the passage of time had rendered such action inappropriate. Nevertheless, the error represented a breach of editorial standards.

Correspondents will be reminded that the relevant programme teams should be notified when an error is acknowledged or corrected.

We received complaints from viewers who felt presenter Andrew Neil was too aggressive during his interview with the leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson. 

Response from Sunday Politics 
The English Defence League has been demonstrating across the country in significant numbers following the Woolwich murder, and also stands accused by some of having inspired (or even be directly responsible for) the recent increase in Islamophobic attacks. Also, six men were recently convicted for having tried to detonate explosives at an EDL rally. Given that background, we decided to interview the EDL’s co-founder, spokesman and leader Tommy Robinson in order to give viewers a chance to understand more about the organisation through a testing interview. We believe the interview was editorially valuable.

As with all Sunday Politics interviews, we seek to present a true picture of the subject and the subjects under discussion with meticulous research and robust interviewing. This was the approach we took with this interview.

The item covered the history and ideological outlook of the group, its attitudes to Muslim Britons, its reaction to Woolwich as well as Mr Robinson's political and personal history, which was relevant material given his criminal convictions and the allegations of criminality on the part of EDL members. Given that the EDL is not a political party but a loose organisation, discussion of the character of the group and its leadership is particularly relevant. It was a robust interview, as our viewers would expect, given the importance and significance of the issues being discussed.

Mr Robinson was given ample time and space to reply to Andrew Neil’s questions. He was shown video and stills of himself, and other EDL members, and again was given time and space to respond.

Mr Robinson had 15 minutes on BBC1 on one our flagship political programmes and had the opportunity to put his case forcefully and clearly which he did. It is true that towards the end of the interview, Mr Neil and Mr Robinson talked over each other a few times and we appreciate some viewers may have found this frustrating. However, we believe the interview was fair, forensic and well conducted.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Apocalypse Later

The BBC Academy College of Journalism has updated its guide on reporting matters related to Israel and the Palestinians.

As soon as I opened the page the following passage leapt out because its guidelines are being flouted, day in, day out; flouted with such frequency that one may be surprised to learn that such guidelines exist. Producers, scriptwriters and commissioning editors must be unaware of them too.  

‘Middle East expert’ Some ‘experts’ may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another, even if they have no overt affiliation. It is preferable, where time and space allow, to provide a lengthier indication of the contributor’s views on past issues so that the audience might calibrate his or her statements for themselves.In all reporting we should avoid generalisations, bland descriptions and loose phrases which in fact tell us little about a contributor or event. The phrase ‘Middle East expert’ implies the BBC thinks this person's views have weight and independence. If we can defend that judgement - that's fine. If not it may be better to avoid the phrase.Overall, we should seek a precise description - for example, what job does this person hold? Who employs them? Where do they stand in the debate?
Has the BBC been following those guidelines? They say Ignorantia juris non excusat (ignorance of the law does not excuse), so an unequivocal mission statement like the above, dedicated to transparency and clarity, is tantamount to a confession. Each time extremists such as Abdel Bari Atwan or Ghada Karmi are introduced as ‘experts on the Middle East’, perhaps with “editor of Al Quds” or “research fellow at Exeter University’ innocently tagged on, the BBC is guilty of opacity and bias by omission.  Anyone who didn’t know any better would get he impression that they are impartial.  All that’s missing is the epithet *innocent face*. 

But this particular BBC failing applies across the board. It’s not limited to matters M.E.  BBC  folk are complacent and content with their own political biases and, cue annoying advert, ‘they don’t even know it.’ Take, for example the ubiquitous adjective “right-wing” as applied to “think-tank”, or  “far-right” applied to anything or anyone opposed to Islam.  Left-leaning is the BBC’s meridian, and that’s that.
It makes the following sentence even more nonsensical on oh so many levels.  
“Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.”

There’s a whole thread on Harry’s Place that deals with defining Terrorism. Sara AB says:
“I think it is reasonable to see some of the actions associated with anti-Muslim bigots as ‘terrorist’, though these are not at the worst end of the spectrum generally,”  
Now we’re into semantics, I think she should start a thread to define ‘Bigot” too.

The BBC’s policy is never to use the word ‘terror’ unless it’s a quote. I’m not sure if this is because of difficulty with the precise definition - does it apply to any violent act in the name of  a war or cause, perpetrated by an unofficial, (i.e. illegitimate ) soldier/political activist? Or even a threat or incitement - nobody seems to know. 

But in any case the big deal they’ve made out of using a euphemism in order to avoid making a value judgement does little more than draw attention to the fact that they ARE making a value judgement. Each time they call an obvious terrorist a militant it’s the biggest display of a value judgement one could ever hope to encounter.

What they fail to recognise is the obvious fact that the whole of the BBC’s output is a kind of value judgement. It’s the selection of certain matters that are deemed newsworthy, and by the same token, those that ain’t.

The result of the BBC’s failure to report vital information was demonstrated on Thursday. Melanie Phillips created a minor furore when she attempted to enlighten the Question Time audience about the religious mania that motivates the Iranian Ayatollahs, viz the coming of the Mahdi, which first necessitates an apocalypse (to befall upon us, predicted to occur in 2022 if I’m not mistaken) 

How far-fetched is that? Well, it is far-fetched, and that’s precisely why she was telling them it’s useless to think one can negotiate rationally with Iran. Hoping that Iran’s secular movement will somehow seize power seems almost as far-fetched. 

But the BBC QT audience knows nothing about matters concerning the Mahdi, the apocalypse or the aspirations of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Hosseini Khamenei, because the BBC deems that kind of thing  less newsworthy than, say the triumph of a Palestinian ‘Cinderella‘ winning Arab Idol

Because the whole Twelfth Imam business is one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up‘ scenarios, the baying -  nay, braying mob booed Melanie Phillips for saying what she said. With the aid of the BBC they are convinced that the reasonable thing to do is to ‘reach out’ to Iran with the open fist of friendship, otherwise known as capitulation.

The BBC audience is led to believe that the religious Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas, Hezbollah and other fundamentalist Islamist organisations are ‘just like us’ because people like Yolande Knell are oddly unimaginative. Despite being sent to far-flung regions as  professional reporters, they remain inherently parochial.  I think it must be something to do with belonging to the BBC ‘family’. Like in the Peggy Mitchell Eastenders of long ago. It’s Fambley.

Melanie Phillips’s exasperated outburst  became a bit of an internet sensation. She accused the British public of being ignorant and imbecilic for pooh-poohing her suggestion that Iran needed to be neutralized. Since she was on the BBC, she stopped short of directly attributing the audience’s ignorance and imbecility to the BBC’s failure to disseminate the facts surrounding Iranian irrationality.

People are strangely passionate over matters about which they know next to nothing. They don’t even know they don’t know, however, simply because they think it’s possible to learn all there is to know by listening to bits of news on the BBC.

I stumbled upon one blogger’s critique of that episode of Question Time. The blogger is “a guy in his early 30′s(sic) who’s trying to make a go of this whole writing business.” (Keep trying.)
I might as well give him a link because no-one is going to be swayed by someone who addresses his readership as lemmings.

HOW TRIVIAL OF YOU! HOW IGNORANT OF YOU!” was her [Melanie Phillips’s] next line and with it went any hope that the show might remain tenuously anchored in reality. “
opines early 30s guy, with a swagger. 
part of me is quite pleased to see that Mel’s back and as unhinged as ever” 
he says later. This Mad Mel mantra is a poor excuse of an argument. I’m waiting for one person to justify it. Even the heckler who shouted “Paranoia” was unable to flesh out his argument.

One thing 30s guy got right is that Question Time is terminally compromised by the frantic drive to make sparks fly by choosing an outspoken panel. That now takes precedence over inviting guests whose presence would increase the likelihood of a productive debate. 

The mischievous decision to invite Russell Brand onto the panel proved more of a damp squib than a sparky controversy. Few people could be arsed to react, even though he was supposed to be in disgrace and  expunged from the BBC’s speed dial. Whose idea was it? Who cares; it was stupid. 
Another under 30s blogger, not a fan, wrote about it on Huffpo.
“The crux of the problem with Question Time is its tendency to invite modish comedians or generally thick TV folk on the show, to answer questions with populist twaddle. This is designed to placate a loud yet clearly unthinking audience, who frequently hold such absurd positions with unbelievable self certainty that they are reminiscent of flat earthers.”

Yup. I’m with him. Why does Russell Brand sound like Ali G with a smattering of Bluebottle? 
“Drug addics should be trea’ed in a compassioni’ and empafa’ic - empafe’ic way.”  
Indeed.  What time is it Eccles? Question Time, my good fellow. I got it writted down on a bit of paper.