Saturday, 31 May 2014

Good news, hopefully - and some sharp words for the BBC

Damian Thompson in the Telegraph has a sharp word or two for the BBC - and others too:
There are reports that Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman sentenced to death by a Muslim judge for refusing to abandon her Christian faith, is to be freed. The BBC announced it thus: 
Mother facing death penalty in Sudan for abandoning religious faith to be freed
No! That is a lie. Meriam was sentenced to death (as the Telegraph correctly reports) "for refusing to recant her Christian beliefs, and on Tuesday she gave birth to a daughter while she was in prison, and with her legs shackled".
This young mother is – and always has been – a member of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church, an institution centuries older than Islam. The thuggish Sudanese ruled that she was an "apostate" because her father was a Muslim. What rubbish. It was her Christian mother who raised her in her faith. And even if she had chosen to leave Islam and become a Christian, then she would have had every right to do so.
Her ordeal, coupled with the continuing atrocities of Boko Haram, have finally alerted the international community to the fact that the malign influence of Islamism extends far beyond its terrorist aggression towards the West. It is directed at Christians in Islamic countries and is not confined to "apostates".
The wider global Muslim community (if one can speak of such a thing) does not believe in putting into practice the extremists' homicidal agenda. But if it's been campaigning furiously against the slaughter of Christians then I must have missed it.
That original BBC headline now reads Meriam Ibrahim: Sudan 'to free' death row woman.

Billy Bragg, Michael Gove and BBC bias

Melvyn Bragg

Billy Bragg  has had a busy week at the Beeb, appearing on Newsnight one day and on Any Questions the next. (Well, 'fairly busy' anyhow).

His Newsnight discussion about 'Englishness' with Peter Hitchens was refereed, less than impartially, by Kirsty Wark who - as is her way when interviewing a certain kind of artist - kept smiling at him like a schoolgirl with a crush. [Which Side Are You On, Kirsty?]

Similarly, his Any Questions appearance was untroubled by any challenges from Jonathan Dimbleby, ending with a question about protest songs which Jonathan asked him and only him to answer, to cheers from the audience. [Which Side Are You On, Jonathan?]

Any Questions was actually good fun though, despite Jonathan Dimbleby's tendencies to interrupt and challenge 'from the Left', and despite the inevitable 'BBC audience problem'. 

The guests - the aforementioned Billy Bragg, Claire Fox, Trevor Kavanagh and Benedicte Paviot - made a good, varied, not always predictable panel and the discussion was never less than interesting - and, in the case of the 'Of Mice and Men/Michael Gove' question, positively fascinating with some wonderful, inspiring contributions, especially from Claire Fox. 

If you are about to listen to the programme, listen out for the Northanger Abbey bit. Billy Bragg didn't enjoy being taught Northanger Abbey and hammed up his horror at the mere mention of that great novel. As a result Any Questions almost turned into that episode from Blackadder- the Third where the word 'MacBeth' eventually reduced a couple of rich Mockney protest singers to gibbering wrecks as nasty Mr Blackadder kept repeating it to them, again and again and again.  

The 'BBC audience problem' arose midway. 

The programme, broadcast from a state comprehensive school in deeply Conservative Steyning, West Sussex had an audience that applauded left/liberal-pro-EU sentiments and gave only tepid applause (at best, and only sparingly) to right/conservative/anti-EU ones - i.e. a typical 'BBC audience' that seems completely out of place!

The People's Republic of Steyning

Trevor Kavanagh and Claire Fox both sensed that the audience weren't going to be keen on praise for Michael Gove, and said so. They were quickly proved right as boos greeted the statement that Mr Gove was a great education secretary. 

Jonathan Dimbleby then did his irritating 'audience poll' thing about Michael Gove and, unsurprisingly, got an overwhelming anti-Gove show of hands. 

Amusingly, Trevor Kavanagh didn't just sit back and take it though. He intervened and asked his own question to audience: How many of you are teachers? 

From the reaction it seems [over the radio] that quite a few of those Gove critics were indeed teachers - though a somewhat defensive-sounded Jonathan Dimbleby protested that it wasn't a huge number. 

Perhaps Trevor should also have asked them: How many of you are party activists, student activists or trades union activists?

Still, worth a listen. 

P.S. If you were wondering, in the wake of JD's other 'show of hands', yes I've read Of Mice and Men and, er, I can't remember whether I liked it or not. I remember something about a mouse in the Abominable Snowman's pocket, ("I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him".) 

Plus, I can also remember that I liked Northanger Abbey, but I'll grant Billy that it is the weakest link in Jane Austen's major novels. He should have been taught Emma

I had a teenage crush on Emma Woodhouse.


Sometimes a newspaper's commentariat really surprises you. 

There's an article in the Independent about being the BBC being "deluged with complaints that its coverage of the elections was biased in favour of Ukip."
The 1,190 complaints logged by the BBC are thought to be the most the broadcaster has ever received about its coverage of elections.
A further 149 complainants accused the BBC of being unfairly anti-Ukip, while 73 said the coverage was biased against Labour.
There are ten comments beneath this article at the moment. Given that it's the Independent, a left-liberal newspaper, what kind of things would you expect them to say? 

Well, here's what they did say!:
DavidAScottUK 17 hours ago

My hunch is these complaints have been organised by the Labour Party.

Mine too.

Mine three.
Kevin T 16 hours ago

I think every single BBC interview, and indeed every TV interview with a UKIP politician could be summed up as "Are you racists?" If that is preferential bias in the eyes of Labour supporters, I suggest BBC interviewers ask that of every Labour politician from now on.
Maybe if Labour had bothered coming up with some policies related in any way to the European elections, they might have got more coverage themselves. It struck me that they were trying desperately not to let their white working class voters know they worship the EU. 
Ileftindisgustattheleftyswine 14 hours ago

There was merely a reduction in the bile and vitriol the BBC has poured on the head of UKIP over the years - they sense it is a coming power, and they fear it. They are right to do so.
It will not tolerate a guardianesque BBC any longer when it gains influence.
The BBC is a peddler of orthodox left wing bias. That needs to stop. Or it will stop one day, and that would be a great shame for those of us who loathe its political bias, but admire its cultural depth and breadth.
Alan_Honiton 17 hours ago

Complaints for bias in favour of UKIP, complaints for bias against UKIP, complaints for bias against Labour?. No complaints of bias, for or against the Tories (especially the Tories) or Lib-Dems (the ones in Government)? Amazing! That must be a first for the BBC. Methinks these people do protest too much!
Salthepal 4 hours ago

I had expected 'BBC swamped with complaints about UKIP bias' to be all about bias against UKIP. In fact, it was the reverse. However, the figures are roughly two complaints about bias for UKIP for every one complaint about bias against UKIP. Since UKIP got about a quarter of the votes cast, the way the complaints panned out seems about what one might expect. The bias of the audiences to Question Time and Any Questions is another matter altogether. Woe betide any panelist who does not express liberal-minded views.
Alan Davie 5 hours ago

Question Time should be renamed as Ambush Time. Select audiences.
Tom Snood 4 hours ago

and the BBC picks the questions, controls the national agenda. It is the biggest hindrance possible to democracy in this country 
Tom Snood 4 hours ago

Did all these honest decent campaigners against media bias complain when the BBC was deliberately excluding ukip? They're losing and they're whinging!

Is 'More or Less' biased?

Of course the question everyone is asking (well, 100% of the people writing this post anyhow), "Does Radio 4's More or Less have a political bias?", could be answered through statistics (which would be fitting.)

What could be done is to examine all the subjects covered [or all those segments that explore politically-edged subjects] and see whose stats are being debunked/defended in each segment of the show and then infer which side of the political spectrum would most like the programme's conclusions. If more right-wingers than left-wingers, or vice versa, are debunked/defended then a bias might be revealed after totting up the numbers. Sounds reasonable doesn't it?

There is a subjective element brought in by the act of judging which side of the political debate will most welcome the segment's conclusions but if the judging is made transparently it can be disagreed with and the results corrected.

Let's try it out on this week's edition, which began by discussing the left-wing economist Thomas Piketty's use of data. 

Piketty is much preferred by the Left than the Right, given his message on capitalism's failings regarding even widening equality and his calls for a wealth tax. More or Less gave a tentative 'thumbs up' to Thomas Piketty here. That would have pleased the programme's left-wing listeners more than its right-wing ones. So that's 1 for 'the Left column'.

Next the programme thoroughly debunked a politically-charged claim by the housing charity Shelter that "We use as much land for golf courses in England as we do for homes", in order words that the needs of the well-heeled are privileged over the needs of the not-well-heeled - a claim that resonates with left-wingers more than right-wingers. More and Less laid out why Shelter was talking out of its ar.. dark door. So that's 1 for 'the Right column' then.

Next the programme made Today's Mishal Husain look rather silly over the latest "violent video games cause violent acts" debate, when she plugged away at a particular line of questioning and ignored her expert guest's statistical points - and More or Less made it clear that they believe they are sensible statistical points [as, indeed, they are]. The professor was questioning the claim that violent video games may have played a part in causing recent high-profile acts of violence. This argument isn't one that fits into an obvious partisan political framework, though concerns about violent video games have traditionally tended to be more associated with conservative attitudes rather than liberal ones, so that may slot another 1 into 'the Left column'. [Bit dodgy that one though]. 

Then came the Guardian's leaked 'Britain is becoming more racist' report that got such widespread coverage, including on the BBC. More or Less debunked the claim and pointed to failings in the Guardian's reporting of the story. That can be put pretty confidently into 'the Right column' then.

The totals then would be 2 in 'the Right column' and 2 in 'the Left column', which - as far as this week's edition is concerned - indicates a balance of debunkings handed out to the Left and the Right. Which is just how it should be on the 'impartial BBC'!

Of course, to do it properly would entail listening to at least a whole series of More or Less as one single episode isn't enough to judge the matter - as the BBC is itself very keen to point out whenever bias is proven to exist within a single episode of a ongoing series.

The Piketty Affair rumbles on

This week's More or Less weighed into the heavy-weight spat over left-wing French economist Thomas Piketty's use of stats in his bestselling tome Capital in the 21st Century

Prof. Piketty argues that capitalism inevitably leads to increasing levels of inequality and that a progressive wealth tax is needed to tackle this problem. People may have vigorously disagreed with his solution but no one doubted his data, which was universally praised as being of great value and taken as being true... 

...until Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times, did what no one else had thought to do and examined those much-trumpeted data sets. He found them seriously wanting

His article sent Prof. Piketty's many opponents on the Right (like me) into a delirium of delight and many of his admirers on the Left (like Paul Mason) into a sour frenzy of defensive rebuttals. The Spectator gloated; the Guardian glowered. 

What happened next? Well, Thomas Piketty entered into debate with Chris Giles and vigorously defended both himself and his data, while Mr Giles stuck to his guns. The debate goes on. 

Looking at the UK media coverage though, the balance of the debate seems to be swinging back the Frenchman's way, though not all the way. [See Howard Reed in the Guardian and the Economist's 'Free Exchange'.] Tellingly, the initial 'glowerers' keep talking about the story while the initial 'gloaters' have gone rather quiet on the subject (except me!).

More or Less, hosted by Chris Giles' colleague at the FT Tim Harford, seemed to come to pretty much the same conclusions as Howard Reed and the Economist - namely, that the flaws, such as they are, in Prof Piketty's data sets, aren't serious and that his interpretation of that data [though not necessarily the political consequences he draws from them] remains broadly correct. 

In other words, it came down - broadly-speaking - on Thomas Piketty's side, evidenced by the programme's trajectory - from Chris Giles to Thomas Piketty's rebuttal to left-leaning Australian economist Justin Wolfers' closing verdict. 

Is that down to left-leaning bias on the programme's part or simply because that's just where the story is at the moment? From the looks of things, it's the latter. 

Where will this deeply politically-charged statistical row go next? Are the Frenchman's supporters now the ones gloating too soon?

Well at least his use of data is being closely examined now and not simply taken as sacred text, and that's got to be a step forward for everyone.

[More on More or Less later but it's a sunny Saturday morning, so it will have to wait.]

Friday, 30 May 2014

'Newsnight' - 26-30 May

It's time to find out what's been going on at Newsnight this week. What stories did they choose to report? How did they frame those stories? Who did they interview?

Monday 26/5
European election special
"There's no arguing with Nigel Farage's much-trumpeted claim today that his party has "pulled off something unprecedented". He's right. They have. But what does it all mean? The established parties dismiss the United Kingdom Independence Party as a one-man band but now the bandwagon is really rolling. Will an upsurge of protest transform politics in this country or is it just a flash-in-the-pan? Bank Holiday Monday entertainment from the latest incarnation of the political panel because there is no over-estimating the distress UKIP have caused the established parties.
Michael Heseltine: "I think there are racists among them. I notice the National Front has disappeared so where it gone? I've heard enough speeches by UKIP members to make me wince with embarrassment."
"And they're not alone. Anti-integration and anti-immigration parties are on the march across Europe. Will the political establishment listen to them?" Panel discussion with Neil Hamilton, deputy chairman of UKIP; Phil Collins, former speechwriter for Tony Blair; Tim Montgomerie, The Times; & Miranda Green, former Liberal Democrat advisor. Then interview with Lord Heseltine (Conservative). Finally, interview with Daniel Hannan MEP (Conservative) & Noelle Lenoir, French Europe Minister (2002-4). 

Tuesday 27/5
1. European election aftermath: "The leaders of the European Union are meeting tonight in the aftermath of an election which saw many of their citizens blow the institution a resounding raspberry. But are they listening? 
Mark Urban: "Well, you'd like to think so, but there are signs here tonight that plenty just want to carry on regardless."
Interview with Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative) & Ska Keller MEP, leader, European Green Party.
2. CapitalismMargaret Thatcher: "Popular capitalism is a crusade, a crusade to enfranchise the many in the economic life of Britain."
"Oh yes? Does capitalism have to be like this? Is there another way of creating an exclusive capitalism? The boss of John Lewis certainly thinks there is." Interview with Zanny Minton Beddoes, economics editor of The Economist & Charlie Mayfield, chairman, John Lewis Partnership.
3. Nigeria: "The hundreds of girls kidnapped in Nigeria are no closer to rescue tonight. The Nigerian army claimed this morning it knew where they were and just wasn't recovering them because of the risk the liberation mission might pose to them, but tonight 'Newsnight' has discovered that this may be a long way from the truth. Boko Haram, the group which wants to impose a medieval Islamic caliphate in Nigeria and which seized them, meanwhile continues its murderous campaign with more attacks to today."
4. Tracey Emin: "Got a million to invest? Why not buy Tracey Emin's bed? We'll talk to her about the nuttiness of the art market and whether she's got any better at making her bed." Interview with Tracey Emin, artist.
5. Protecting the Awa community in Brazil: "And Justin Rowlett joins the Brazilian forces taking measures to try and protect its indigenous peoples from the predations of the modern world." 
    [closing credits: the online Russian artist, Svetlana Petrova, who puts a fat cat in famous paintings]

Wednesday 28/5
1. Lib Dem plot: "A very bungled coup. Vince Cable's comrade crashes out of the Liberal Democrats after his plot was foiled. But how much did Dr Cable know? We'll ask a Lib Dem minister just what is going on." Interview with Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrat).
2. Racism: "Sorry statistic suggest a growing number of us say 'yes' to a question that was a taboo. We'll be discussing: 'Are you a racist?'" Interview with Girish Mehta, father & Binita Mehta (Conservative), daughter.
3. House price bubble: "The reassuring thing about bubbles is that in the end they burst, but the Bank of England is currently trying to decide whether it's better to pop what looks very much like a property bubble in some parts of the country on purpose or let the madness continue, crossing their fingers that it will slowly deflate on its own. As our economics correspondent Duncan Weldon reports, it's not altogether a straightforward choice."
4. David Marquand on capitalism: "Our obsession with house prices and wealth is one of the reasons why, according to one of the Left's most prominent intellectuals, we are all, more or less, on our way to Hell in a handcart. David Marquand has influenced politicians from Roy Jenkins to Gordon Brown over the last few decades and his latest book 'Mammon's Kingdom' paints the UK as a greedy society fixated on cash that cannot go on as it is." Interview with David Marquand, author 'Mammon's Kingdom'.
5. London taxi row: "Need a lift? An Uber battle is brewing as London's driver take on the new cabs on the block - the ones using phone apps to capture a ride. Our technology editor tries to work out what's fair".
6. Maya Angelou: "My life ain't Heaven, but it sure ain't Hell./ I'm not on top, but I call it swell./ If I'm able to work and get paid right/And have the luck to be black on Saturday night".
"No question. She knew how to live. Maya Angelou's celebrated voice falls silent". Interview with Tayari Jones, author & Ben Okri, poet and novelist.
7. Why is the England Football team rarely successful?: "Oh, and one more think tonight:
Stephen Hawking: "I am Professor Hawking and on 'Newsnight' tonight I will reveal my scientific analysis on how to win the World Cup in Brazil".

Thursday 29/5 
1. Chilcott Inquiry: "The government and the Iraq Inquiry come to a deal which means the totality of what Tony Blair and George Bush said to each other in the lead-up to war will be forever secret. Instead we'll have 'gists' and 'quotes' from a very special relationship. Without the whole truth will the whole inquiry be a sham? I'll be asking Tony Blair's friend, Lord Falconer." Interview with Lord Falconer (Labour), Lord Chancellor 2003-07.
2. Apple buys Beats: "If you want to be cool you have to have 'Beats' by Dr Dre on your ear so Apple have taken it one step further today and have bought the whole shebang, the whole company for $3 billion in their biggest acquisition ever but distinctive and expensive as the headphones are, it's apparently the Beats' music streaming service, the biggest rival to Spotify, that's proved irresistable".
3. Englishness: "UKIP won the Euro vote with a particular, and it's not one this man [Billy Bragg] ascribes to. [Clip of Billy Bragg singing]. Billy Bragg is here to argue with Peter Hitchens over the value of Englishness." Interview with Billy Bragg, singer & Peter Hitchens, 'Mail on Sunday'.
4. British 'collusion' with the Brazilian dictatorship"As Brazil prepares to welcome the football fans to the World Cup we reveal the role Britain played in shoring up the country's 21-year dictatorship".
5. Arianna Huffington: "Reading Arianna Huffington's C.V. is so exhausting I had to lie down in the 'Newsnight' office for a few moments....But now she's admitted that she's exhausted too and she's written a book about it. 'Thrive' is all about making sure you're success isn't dependent on money and power, which for the vast, massive majority of the population it probably isn't. So is this a rich woman's problem?" Interview with Arianna Huffington, chair, Huffington Post Media Group.
     [closing credits: Billy Bragg performing 'A New England']

Friday 30/5
1. Sexual violence in India: "The rape and murder of two teenage cousins in India highlights once against the entrenched problem of sexual violence towards women in the country. I'll be asking the campaigner Gita Sahgal why some politicians and police seem incapable of treating women as equals". Interview with Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space.
2. Newark by-election: "In next week's Newark by-election the Conservatives will be trying to keep UKIP from storming the citadel".
Steve Smith: "At least one illustrious toff has had his nose bloodied here in Newark in the part. Charles I surrendered the town to a people's army back in the Civil War, and he was never the same again. Could a similar fate be about to befall David Cameron?"
3. Racism in Northern Ireland: "Northern Ireland's politics are unlike any in other parts of the United Kingdom but there's now evidence of a disturbing further dimension. Stormont politician Anna Lo is the UK's only parliamentarian of Chinese origin and she was the first vice chair of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, but now she says she's had enough of racist abuse by loyalists and sectarianism and is getting out of Northern Irish politics and perhaps out of Northern Ireland itself, her home for more than thirty years". Interview with Anna Lo MLA (Alliance Party).
4. Ed Miliband and the newspapers: "Ed Miliband says he no longer reads the British newspapers. Is he out of touch or ahead of the curve? I'll be asking some of Fleet Street's finest and the bureau chief of Miliband's favourite website". Interview with Sir Harold Evans, editor 'The Sunday Times', 1967-81; Elinor Goodman, political editor, Channel 4, 1988-2005; & Carl Cannon, Washington Bureau Chief, RealClearPolitics.
    [closing credits: a U.S. spelling bee].

And thus ended another week's worth of Newsnight. 

'Newsnight' - 26-30 May: Coda

The post above was the objective version. Here's the subjective one.

Monday's edition saw a UKIP spokesman being ganged up on by representatives from the three established parties before Lord Heseltine was given the platform to swing into action against UKIP, yodeling 'racists!' as he did so:

A report from Chris Cook featuring three continental Europhiles followed. 

Hmm, not very balanced so far. Still the closing discussion between Dan Hannan and a French Europhile allied to the Socialist Party redressed this failure slightly.

Tuesday's edition featured another Major era Tory veteran seen as being broadly pro-EU, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and pit him against the pro-EU leader of the European Greens. Following on from Monday's imbalances, this wasn't good, was it?

Then it was onto capitalism. Even though Paul Mason may have gone, ex-Guardianista-led Newsnight still likes talking about capitalism. 'Ethical capitalism' is the thing, apparently.

Next came 'revelations' that the Nigerian government hasn't been telling the truth, again suggesting that the Beeb doesn't seem very keen on the Christian-led, centre-right Nigerian government for some reason.

Then it was on to Tracey Emin and, classic Guardian territory, the plight of 'indigenous peoples' in Brazil.

Wednesday's edition led with the Lib Dems' little local difficulty before plugging that now widely discredited leaked report - leaked to the Guardian - about 'rising racism' in the UK.

'Newsnight' actually debunked it but did so, in true BBC style, with a report from Oldham showing Muslims and white non-Muslims expressing mutual warmth towards each other and then interviewing a charming immigrant father and his equally charming British-born daughter.

After a former from former TUC guy Duncan Weldon on the 'house price bubble' came another 'Newsnight' piece on capitalism, plugging a book by left-wing intellectual David Marquand, another critic of laissez-faire capitalism.

A row between the London taxi drivers' union and a wicked multinational came next, followed by a reverential tribute to left-leaning writer Maya Angelou. 

Stephen Hawking featured in the 'quirky bit' at the end, talking England's chances in the World Cup. (He doesn't reckon much to them).

If you think all this sounds rather like the Guardian on TV, then you ain't heard nothing yet: Thursday's edition featured Billy Bragg, Arianna Huffington (a book plug) and a somewhat 'smoke-without-fire' report insinuating British wickedness in backing Brazil's right-wing military dictatorship in the '60s and '70s. The BBC's old Iraq War obsession got a replay too, plus Ian 'Cool' Katz's technology obsession found another outlet. Ah but, 'the only right-winger in the BBC village' was on discussing Englishness with Billy Bragg. Yep, Peter Hitchens. 

Newsnight has ignored the much-discussed horror stories of the Pakistani women bricked to death and the pregnant Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy, but tonight's edition led with the horrific story of the two girls viciously raped and murdered in India. A human right's activist was egged on by Kirsty Wark to attack her country's politicians in the wake of the recent elections.

Potential trouble for the Tory 'toffs' in Newark came next, with lots of mockery of UKIP for 'harking back to a mythical England that never was', 'turning the clock back' and 'not having "a very inclusive view of the nation"'. The Lib Dem candidate got a little ribbing. The Labour candidate wasn't mocked  at all though (lucky man). 

After a discussion about "disturbing" racism - and anti-Muslim prejudice - in Northern Irish politics, exclusively from unionists/loyalists apparently (in contrast, Martin McGuinness was "very sympathetic"), Miliband's expression of a lack of enthusiasm for British newspapers was given Newsnight's light treatment before being generally discussed.

And thus ended another week's worth of Newsnight. Wasn't it biased, eh?

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Paying tribute

This run of frivolous posts now ends. It's time to get serious again, and pay tribute to the late Maya Angelou. (It's what everyone's doing, especially at the BBC, and Is the BBC biased? refuses to be left out.)

Maya Angelou meant a lot to me. Yes, I've never read a word of anything's she's ever written - or had the slightest inclination to do so until today - but I recognised her name when the news of her death broke (having heard it many times before on the BBC) and I felt the need to rush onto the internet to tell you so. 

I learned from the BBC that she didn't believe white people were real when she was young and that she was proud to be black on Saturday nights. I saw that on last night's Newsnight, shortly after the feature on racism in the UK. 

It made me search my own white soul and reflect that - in contrast to Maya - I've never doubted, not even for one single minute, that people of another race are real human beings. Unlike Maya, I even knew they were human when I was young! (I was precocious like that). 

Plus, I really can't remember ever having given a thought to being a Caucasian-Englishman on the evening before Sunday, never mind having been proud of the fact, regardless of how many glasses of Shiraz I'd had. (I'm sophisticated and European like that, pace Mark Easton).

In the wake of the BBC's many, many tributes to the lady on PM, News at Ten, Newsnight and Today (etc, etc, etc), here's Is the BBC biased?'s tribute to the late, great Maya Angelou - a transcript of her appearance on The Simpsons. 

I feel that this is an honest tribute because I like The Simpsons and this is my closest ever personal encounter with Maya Angelou:
Kent Brockman: Alright, does anyone have a question for our panel that's not about how much money they make? [The audience’s hands go down]
Lenny [at the microphone]: Uh yeah, I'm a techno-thriller junkie, and I'd like to know, is the B-2 bomber more detectable when it rains?
Kent Brockman: Oh, what do you think, Tom Clancy?
Tom Clancy: Well, the B-2…
Lenny: No, no, no, I was asking Maya Angelou!
Maya Angelou: The ebony fighter awakens, dabbled with the dewy beads of morn.
Moe: Maya Angelou is black?!!
Maya Angelou: It is a Mach-5 child, forever bound to suckle from the shriveled breast of Congress.
Lenny: Oh, Maya, you're a national treasure!


I must just comment on a couple of posts from Alan at Biased BBC

Firstly, one of my most toe-curlingly embarrassing memories of school was being most reluctantly dragooned into a Sixth Form performance of Summer Nights from Grease. Bad idea, bad execution, bad memories. 

I had vivid flashbacks of that whilst watching this effort from the team at BBC Breakfast

I will have nightmares again no doubt will Bill Turnbull, for many years to come.

David Cameron will have been pleased the BBC wheeled on EU enthusiasts Tony Blair, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine to portray the victory of Ukip as a ‘populist’ aberration. 
The PM entertained BBC news chief James Harding at Chequers, telling him – according to Broadcasting House talk – that he relied on the corporation to provide an antidote to the Eurosceptic views of some newspapers and voters. 
Will Cameron also make sure his BBC friends retain, if not improve, their very generous £3.6billion licence fee deal, up for renewal in 2016?
[Mr Blair and Mr Clarke were on Today and Lord Heseltine was on Newsnight.]

I'm glad to see that Alan adds the caveat "if it was found to be true" because no one else seems to be reporting this, and the same doubts crossed my mind.

If true though this could be the most incendiary story to hit the BBC, regarding BBC bias, for many a moon. And it would be at least as incendiary for Mr Cameron.

So, are David Cameron (and the government) and James Harding (and the BBC) in cahoots to do down the Eurosceptic point of view?

Other questions are: Will anyone ever collaborate Ephraim Hardcastle's "Broadcasting House talk"? Will Parliament be investigating this?..and...Is it all a Daily Mail fantasy?

Come on Ephraim, give us fire not smoke! Less tittling please, and more tatting!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Going for Gold?

ITV's Tom Bradby had something of a scoop today when 'a senior government source' told him that Sebastian Coe is "the clear front runner" [just like he was in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics] to take over from Chris Patten as Chairman of the BBC Trust. 
There are a few hurdles left to clear and obstacles that can be placed in his way, but I am told he is interested and that he enjoys the firm support of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Given that this is basically a Number Ten appointment, that should more or less settle it. 
The prospect of one Conservative peer replacing another Conservative peer as head of the BBC Trust has already got the massed hordes of the left-wing Twitterati up in arms, squealing "#BBCBIAS!" at the top of their shrill voices and bemoaning the fact that this would be the second time that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has appointed a Conservative peer to head the BBC Trust.

It's a little more complicated than that of course. 

If appointed Conservative Lord Coe would take over from acting BBC Trust chairman Diane Coyle who, controversially, advised Labour on competition policy from 2011. She, of course, is holding office following the resignation of Conservative Lord Patten. Lord Patten succeeded Sir Michael Lyons, a former Labour Party councillor, who in turn followed Sir Michael (now Conservative Lord) Grade, the BBC Trust's first head.

There's an awful lot of politics (of the Conservative-Labour variety) there, isn't there?

What if the BBC and the government were to choose from outside the political elite/establishment box though? 

I admit it's vanishingly unlikely [100% unlikely in fact] but, were it to happen, I'm officially ruling myself out of contention, here and now. I'm too politically partisan [as some of my recent posts probably made clear].

Sue, on the other hand, isn't politically partisan at all [well, not in a party political way anyway]. She would make a great Chairwoman of the BBC Trust. 

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that she might be a little too busy to take it on, but we can all keep our fingers crossed nonetheless, and - if it happens - don't forget: You read it here first. (And so much then for Tom Bradby and his so-called 'scoops'!)

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Goings-on in the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets

I see that the perfectly proper goings-on in the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets, where Sheikh Luftur Rahman (the district's founding father) won re-election with 99.2% of the vote, have finally caught the attention of the state broadcaster of the former colonial power (Great Britain).

BBC Radio 4's Today reported the story this morning. 

It featured two British Labour activists and one British Conservative activist alleging voter intimidation outside polling stations and illegalities within polling stations (h/t Zoe Conway of the BBC). 

PM continued the story this evening and, in the ample form of Eddie Mair, interviewed the returning officer of the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets [soon to be renamed "the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Halal-lets"], one 'Comical John' Williams. 

'Comical John' said that everything was for the best in this best of all possible boroughs. There was nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

Eddie went for him like a West Highland Terrier with novelty false teeth. 

Now, to me - a plain-speaking, black-pudding-loving Northerner who never goes to Blackburn, Burnley or [God forbid!] Bradford [in Yorkshire, pah!] - such allegations, if true, are wholly remote from my experience.

Yes, folk in Lancashire it's true [in the Jeremy Bowen sense of the word] may occasionally cheat in cheese-rolling competitions and have been known to intimidate fellow ferret-racers in ferret-racing competitions, but claims about this kind of thing seem kind-of incredible to me.

For example, it's reported that police officers are actually stationed outside every polling booth in the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets to prevent voter intimidation. Just think of that! 

Well, all I can say is that it makes you glad to live in Britain, it really does. That sort of thing would never happen here, thank God!

Going back to the BBC though, there were two curious things about both the Today and the PM accounts though which caught my attention today: (1) the way all the speakers [at least in the clips broadcast by Today] refrained from naming the candidate benefiting from the alleged intimidation and illegality and (2) the absence of the name 'Luftur Rahman' from both of the BBC pieces. 

I presume that must be something to do with the fact that the official count in the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets is still ongoing, unbelievably, five days on, incredibly, with declarations still pending, stupifyingly, plus that the accursed Mossad-controlled Electoral Commission is now investigating the perfectly proper goings-on in the People's Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets. So maybe both programme's couldn't name the candidate alleged to be benefiting from such goings-on - whoever that might be - for legal reasons. 

If so I would like to state that the last-paragraph-but-one in no way linked Sheikh Luftur Rahman (may He live for a thousand years) with the BBC's allegations in any way shape or form. Not that that even needs saying, obviously, of course, it goes without saying, and perish the thought.

In matters completely unrelated then, Yapping Alibi-Groan's Independent has boldly gone where no BBC Radio 4 programme has gone before today, and given us the full allegations made by one of the people the BBC interviewed today. 

It makes eye-opening-yet-balanced reading, raising serious questions yet offering possible answers...

...unlike the BBC News website's report on the story, which is about as revealing as an official Saudi strip-tease act - a 'Nothing to see here' piece if ever there was one. [Really, please just read the Indie article and the BBC article and let your jaws drop at the difference.]

My election slogan: If you didn't laugh, you'd cry.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Easton Europeans

BBC Home Affairs editor Mark Easton was doing his pro-EU/pro-immigration thing on BBC One's main news bulletin this evening. 

Allow me to paraphrase: Our history is one of waves of European migration. We've always resented European invasions though [except for William of Orange's invasion in 1688 - which Mark forgot about], but now we're much more continental in our ways than we realise. 

Yes, we've changed. We used to be naff, now we're sophisticated - so sophisticated and European that the continentals are now flocking here to enjoy our new-found European sophistication. 

Happily for Mark, his first 'talking head' - former Fabian Society boss Sunder Katwala, now with 'Britain's Future' - agreed with him about all this. 

We then learned that the rich, broadsheet readers and graduates feel more 'European' now than they did ten years ago, while the poor, tabloid readers and those with no qualifications feel less connected to Europe - according to a BBC/Ipsos MORI's survey. 

From the figures quoted (21% 'more European', 18% 'less European'), I spotted an unspoken statistic [unspoken by Mark Easton that is]: that we BBC One viewers weren't given much of a clue as to what the remaining 61% of respondents think. 

Then came three 'vox pops' and, to me, they all sounded like pro-European/anti-Eurosceptic voices. 

The first - the one who got the longest soundbite - was very enthusiastic about 'Europe', ending with the words "I love Europe", while the third slammed us for being "hypocrites" about Europe, ending with the frankly bizarre words, "We've always withdrawn when the thing's got a bit tough." [Really?!? The Hundred Years War? The Napoleonic Wars? The Crimean War? WW1? WW2?] 

The problem with making a clinching point about BBC bias here is that I couldn't make head nor tale of what the second 'vox pop' said. 

I got the closing half - " Europe. We've got to be, haven't we?" - but not the first, which sounded for all the world like "I fibbly crispy wife in Europe." I've tried listening back about twenty times to try to decipher what he said, but I'm now torn between "I fibbly crispy wife in Europe" and "I fibbly crispy life in Europe." 

So he could have been making a Eurosceptic point, but "We've got to be, haven't we?" suggests not. 

I think we can be pretty certain though that Mark Easton's proselytizing tendencies came to the fore again in this report.

Election analysis

I suppose I should say something about the BBC's election coverage last night as I stayed up watching the News Channel until the results from my own region came in [UKIP 3, Labour 3, Conservatives 2], but there's not really very much to say. However, as no blogger has ever been put off by having nothing much to say...

David Dimbleby was there as usual, sitting down, doing what he's been doing since Mr Pitt won his first election. 

Emily Maitlis was doing her 'walking around, looking glamorous' thing. 

Jeremy Vine was performing his Peter Snow tribute act, prancing around over expensive computers graphics. (Hope he wiped his shoes first!) 

Old Boggers was there doing the stats alongside Old Kellers from YouGov [Mr Baroness Ashton], and a fetching young lady professor. 

Various politicians from the three loser parties promised to listen, praised their own useless campaigns, and said it would all turn out all right come the general election when UKIP would vanish in a puff of tobacco. 

On the bias front, there's nothing really to report from those first few hours...

...except the somewhat weird fact that they were all too busy concentrating on the humiliation of the Lib Dems getting beaten into fifth place by the Greens without it every quite seeming to click with them that this was probably rather good, newsworthy news for the Greens. (If memory serves me right it was Isabel from the 'Speccie' who finally got round to making that point.)

I sniggered at one point when a somewhat distracted David Dimbleby reacted (like someone with very slow reflexes to a tap on the knee) to the results of the Sunderland count, saying, "Good. So that's our first result in from Great Britain." 

What made me snigger was that Nick Robinson had just finished talking about the BNP and saying that "this looks like the moment when the collapse is confirmed". 

I thought at the time that if some mischievous soul at the Daily Mail put Nick Robinson's BNP comments and David Dimbleby's 'Good' side by side it might look as if DD was saying 'Good!' about the BNP's collapse - which (unless you were half-asleep already) he clearly wasn't. 

My switch-off point came after the speech from the top-scoring Labour MEP for the North West region. She declared that the vote was a ringing endorsement of Labour and Ed Miliband from right across the North West (yes, she really did say that). Given that Labour had only got 34% in the North West, that meant that 66% of us hadn't given Labour and Ed Miliband a ringing endorsement. Bloody politicians!

How was it for you?


Twitter is like a hyperventilating dawn chorus this morning, full of the sound of left-wingers loudly blaming the BBC for its its 'promotion' of UKIP, its downplaying of Labour's 'success', David Dimbleby's Bullington Club past, its bias against the Greens - and there are links galore to Owen Jones in the Graun. Twitter always overflows with wildly inaccurate accusations of #bbcbias of course (unlike this blog of course). 

Supporters of the Green Party, in particular, are going crazy at the BBC over one incident last night, accusing the corporation of calling their party a 'niche boutique party'.

In fact, it wasn't the BBC at all. It was Isabel Hardman of the Spectator and Andrew Rawnsley who called them that.

Still that won't stop 'em. It never does.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Random thoughts

I've just switched on the BBC News Channel and I'm glad to see that they're leading with the murderous attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels. As a serious news organisation, that is right and proper - and all credit to them for it. So it the BBC One evening news.


I was reading Evan Davis in the Spectator. As befits a BBC wallah, he professed himself to  be equally torn between a left-wing economist, Thomas Piketty, and a right-wing economist, Deirdre McCloskey, on the issue of equality and capitalism. 

As regards M. Piketty, the darling of the left-wing chattering class (even according to Newsnight), one passage stood out from Evan's piece:
Only the brave would dare argue wiith his pages of tables and charts, his equations and dense prose.
Well, Evan Davis - former BBC Economics Editor - might not have been brave enough but Chris Giles of the Financial Times certainly was and, as a result, found an extraordinary number (and range) of errors in M. Piketty's tables, charts, equations and dense prose. 

A Nobel prize for Chris Giles please!

That FT article of his is an absolute tour-de-force [and you can read it for free if you haven't used up your eight Paywall lives at the paper], an extraordinary achievement for a British journalist, suggesting that the conclusions drawn by M. Piketty - and widely accepted by the British media - are, at the very least, unproven and, at worst, completely and utterly wrong.

Why did none of the economic geniuses at the BBC ferret out these errors? Why did they just accept them?

Newsnight devoted much of its 30/4 edition to discussing Thomas Piketty's 'findings', without demur, so it was good to see the its 23/5 edition reporting Chris Giles' severe fisking - albeit briefly and near the end of the programme - and just as good to see the much-anticipated Duncan Weldon, Newsnight's new ex-TUC economics correspondent, reporting it.

It all rather looks though as if Evan's dilemma - being torn between M. Pinketty and Deirdre McCloskley - has been solved. If I were you, Evan, I'd go with Deirdre.


I very much enjoyed favourite BBC philosopher Michael Sandel's 'Why vote?' edition of The Public Philosopher this week. 

It was like hearing Socrates in the forum putting on an American accent and raising all manner of outlandish yet strangely pertinent questions about the state of democracy in modern Britain. The result was weird yet revealing.

I was amused though to hear him conclude, from various questions, that his audience was far from being representative of the British public. 

For starters, nearly all of the audience at the L.S.E. (by the sounds of it consisting of L.S.E. students and professors) said they intended to vote in this week's elections. Very few said they wouldn't be voting - and, as we know, that's extremely unrepresentative.

Oh for the days when David and Jonathan Dimbleby, Nicky Campbell (et all) dare to say something similar about their programme's highly political audiences!


Interpolated addition to post: By a curious coincidence I'm now catching up with Paddy O'Connell's Broadcasting House broadcasting from a tent at the Hay Literary Festival. He's talking to Labour's Alan John 'bout stuff, and asked the former minister about what percentage of the audience he reckoned had voted this week. He reckoned, going off the national average, some 34%.

Instead of phoning a friend, Paddy asked the audience. He reckoned around 80% put their hands up to say they'd voted.

Another unrepresentative BBC audience then!


Just watching the BBC One news bulletin as I type. Jeremy Bowen is on, spinning for the Palestinians and what he sees as the Pope's endorsement of the Palestinian cause. He's looking like the cat that's got the cream, and then poured it on a pie full of shrews and sparrows. 

When it comes to Jeremy's, I prefer Paxman and Clarkson. And Brett, the best ever Sherlock Holmes. And Bentham, the stuffed philosopher. Irons, of course. Not so much Vine though.


I bet Paul Mason, now over at Channel 4 News, is wetting himself in anticipation of the Greek far-Left Syriza doing well in the Greek portion of the Euro elections. Duncan Weldon could only ever be an improvement on Citizen Paul. 

Duncan has a stranger way with vowels though. 

He's one of those people who has a strange way of saying certain words. I always used to listen out for the Miliband brothers and the way they both say the word 'years', pronouncing it as 'yars', which I thought made them sound very posh. 

That said I'm northern. My vowels are flatter than Ed Miliband's approval ratings.


As a blogger I really ought to say that 'The world's gone MAD!!!!' more often.

On a recent repeat the BBC censored the word 'girl' from a programme. No really, they did.

A BBC presenter called Mark Beaumont made a documentary about the Commonwealth Games and was filmed losing to a judo champion. The judo champion was a 19-year old girl, so - being a human being of the male persuasion - he joked, "I am not sure I can live that down – being beaten by a 19-year-old girl."

The BBC collectively fainted, and Mariella Frostrup ritually disemboweled herself (in the manner of Yukio Mishima) in protest. He word 'girl' was a goner, henceforth to be know as the g-word.

The world's gone MAD!!!! Well, at least the BBC part of the world.

Incidentally, here's an image of Mark getting his ass kicked by a g***!


Moving onto Broadcasting House, Paddy's talking to the eternally ultra-loyal Labourite Alan Johnson before an unrepresentative BBC audience. Alan's spinning it for Labour. The audience are backing him up, apparently...though maybe not, as a later show of hands shows that a majority (though by the sounds of it only a small majority) don't support Labour.

Alan Johnson has just been saying that Ed Miliband should be true to himself and not try to deny his upbringing (those posh 'yars').

In doing so he did a Tony Blair himself and started dropping t's from the middle of words and popping in a 'working class' "don't" where he would usually say "doesn't":
And I think it would be terrible if Ed star[t]ed to sound like a Yorkshire something like me perhaps with me accent. He don't come from my background. He comes from a different background. That's nothing to be ashamed of.
I've heard innumerable Alan Johnson interviews over the years. He doesn't speak like that normally. Those were put-ons, and that 'don't' really made me laugh (or lol, as the BBC's Jasmine Lawrence might put it).

When politicians attempt to point up their 'authenticity' it never goes well.

I used to use Paddy of pro-Labour bias [as he used to display it on a regular basis], but he certainly didn't show it hear. He put the anti-Ed case with some tenacity and made Alan Johnson work for his pro-Labour spin.


The latest update on the 'My blog list' section on the right-hand side of this blog is from BBC News. It reads 'Kerr quits as manager of Arsenal'.

At the risk of sounding like a girl, I didn't know that Arsene Wenger had already gone. 

Bad thoughts

Since everyone is talking openly about sensitive things at the minute, let’s just mention the Tweeting thing. “My thoughts are my own” isn’t a very effective disclaimer, but even if it were - shouldn’t the similarity of the thoughts that they claim are “their own” ring alarm bells with anyone that cares to give the matter some thought?  Think about it.  
It has to be more than a coincidence that in a massive organisation with millions of staff and a policy of diversity, impartiality and gender equality, practically the entire cadre of BBC Tweeters’ thoughts come from a Labour-supporting Obama-loving, pro Palestinian perspective? 

And, in any case, is it realistic to expect these thoughts to be scrupulously cast aside whenever the professional hat goes on, only allowing them free reign in a strictly unprofessional capacity whilst wearing strictly unprofessional hats. 

Since they seem to Tweet periodically, day or night, it conjures up images of hasty change-hattery. Baseball caps worn backwards come to mind, and beanies. On off, on off, like those props impressionists used to use to denote a change of character. Turn away, turn back, wearing another hat, pair of glasses, false 'tache.

You don’t get those kind of impressionists on television these days. It’s a shame, when you see how lampoonable today’s leading politicos are. Nigel Farage sometimes wears a hat, too. He reminds me of Archie Andrews - just think of all that wasted potential now that impressionists and ventriloquists are out of fashion.  My wistful hat with a feather is making me digress.
Archie Andrews

Nigel Farage?

I don’t believe  that when Mary Hockaday or Helen Boaden sends a memo reminding staff not to do it, that either of them seriously believe not Tweeting in “bias” would solve the problem. I mean they’re saying “don’t get caught” rather than “don’t let groupthink affect your professionalism.” And if they seriously mean that they don’t think groupthink is a good thing for a massive organisation with millions of staff and a policy of diversity, impartiality and gender equality to have, they should get some new ones. Staff, not hats.

Pope in the Holy Land, a Muslim extremist group, the Vicar of Fleet Street, an anti-Semitic terrorist attack in Belgium, NI schooling, and the Pope in the Holy Land again

This morning's Sunday dealt with serious matters pretty much throughout and focused on the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land. 

Both Sue and myself were rather dreading it, but it turned out OK. Please see what you make of it. 

1. "As Pope Francis continues his three day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Samira Ahmed asks if his trip will go any way to revitalising the peace process there?"

Curiously, that question wasn't really asked or discussed. 

First we heard from the BBC's veteran Rome correspondent, David Willey, who described the visit as "a sort of obstacle race for the Pope". He said the Pope would be spending around six hours in the Palestinian territories and then the rest of the time in Israel, with a very packed schedule - so packed that the Pope's visit to Yad Vashem ("a very moving place" David Willey called it) would last just half an hour. He said that the main purpose of the visit is to further Catholic-Orthodox relations on the 50th anniversary of the first meeting between a pope and a patriarch for many, many centuries. 

David Willey said that the Pope won't to able to engage with the public too much in Israel. Most people won't get to see him - even most Israeli Catholics. The latter mainly live in Galilee, and the Pope won't be visiting there. There will be no public masses, only a private mass. Many Israelis would like to see him, said David Willey.

Then it was off to Bethlehem, and Yolande Knell in Manger Square. She said that the Palestinians are hoping he'll give them them a "show of support" and back their calls for an independent state. She said he will stop to look at the "8-metre concrete wall", the "Israeli separation barrier" that has "blocked" Bethlehem off from Jerusalem. He will also go for lunch at a Franciscan convent called Casa Nova where Palestinian families will talk about the "different hardships" facing them, said Yolande.

2. "The Islamic Education and Research Academy are under investigation by the Charity Commission amid concerns about comments made by their speakers at campus meetings. Is this organisation a 'hate group' as the Quilliam Foundation claim or have their comments been taken out of context? Bob Walker investigates."

This feature was prompted by a call from the very brave Council of Ex-Muslims. They've issued a report calling for iERA to be designated "a hate group" for its "anti-Semitic, misogynistic and homophobic views". 

Bob Walker's report began by presenting the views of a range of the organisation's (many) critics, beginning with a woman who attended that  infamous UCL meeting where iERA heavies tried to enforce gender segregation on the audience. 

Then came Prof. Anthony Glees from the University of Buckingham who said that iERA is an extremist organisation. 

Next up was Haras Rafiq from the Quilliam Foundation. Bob Walker introduced him by saying that some Muslims critics say the Quilliam Foundation promotes "Islamophobia". Mr Rafiq said that the Islamic Education and Research Academy is an organisation that promotes "hate, racism and xenophobia" and that it is pro-Bin Laden. 

Next was Rupert Sutton of Student Rights. Bob Walker introduced him by saying that his group was backed by the Henry Jackson Society, whose critics call them an "insidious" "Neo-con" organisation. Rupert also criticised the iERA and said that its views are "very socially conservative".

Ibrahim Ali of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, in contrast, broke with the trend so far and defended the Islamic Education and Research Academy's right to be heard on the grounds of freedom of speech. [An admirable position, though I suspect he wouldn't be quite so keen on it for the likes of Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders].

Then Bob Walker went to Kings Cross to speak to Maryam from the Council of ex-Muslims. He said he couldn't be more specific about where he met her, from which Radio 4 listeners were to infer that security fears were the reason. She described iERA as being part of the "far Islamic Right". 

Finally, Bob Walker went to North London to interview iERA's Saleem Chagtai. He said that the organisation espouses "true Orthodox Islam". "We are Islam as it is," he said.

Bob Walker played him three clips of iERA members making extremist statement - (1) a shocking clip of a Hyde Park speaker calling for a Jewish member of the audience to be sent away because of  "his stench", (2) the same speaker calling for adulterers to suffer "a slow and painful death" by stoning, and (3) for apostates to be subject to the death penalty. 

Saleem Chagtai said they are no longer anti-Semites and that the extremists statements made were "pre-iERA" but didn't recoil from affirming some of those other sentiments. He said that the belief in stoning for adultery is "classic Islam" and that belief in the death penalty for things such as apostasy and homosexuality is "Orthodox Islam". He added, however, that it's all "very theoretical" as he doesn't support such measures in this country.

A creditable report from Bob Walker.

3. "Samira meets David Meara, Rector of St Bride's the 'spiritual' home of the media. As he prepares to leave the Church after 14 years, how does he now regard the profession of journalism as the phone hacking trial continues in the Old Bailey just around the corner?"

This was the nearest thing to light relief in the whole programme and, as you'll see, it was hardly light.

Nearly all the papers have gone from Fleet Street now, but St Bride's (and the Fleet Street wine bar!) is a place where journalists still like to meet up.

They talked about the Journalists' Altar, which features photos of journalists. It was set up in the mid '80s, during the hostage crisis in Lebanon, as "a place of vigil and prayer so that they wouldn't be forgotten". It now shows photos of journalists killed or injured in conflicts, plus some of the greats of journalism.

Inevitably, Samira asked him about "Hackgate". He knows many of the people caught up in it, and says that there's been "a healthier balance" recently between the press, the politicians and the police.

As there are fewer journalists  these days and, thus, a lack of job security, and because a lot more journalists now work in isolation, and because of the 'perfect storm' of events about "Hackgate" and the "demonisation" of journalists that resulted, David Meara feels that the pastoral care St Bride'a offers allows journalists to feel better about themselves and their profession. 

Not an uninteresting feature.

The programme then moved on to a shocking news story that 'broke' too late to feature in their website preview...

4. The killings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels

The BBC's Duncan Crawford said that the city's mayor says it was probably a terrorist attack and that three people have been killed - an Israeli couple in their 50s from Tel Aviv, on holiday, and a female volunteer at the museum.

Samira Ahmed asked him if anti-Semitism is rising in Belgium? He said that the Jewish community in Belgium are saying that it reminds them on attack in 2012, Toulouse, where an al-Qaeda affiliate attacked a Jewish school.

Duncan Crawford said there are 42,000 Jewish people in Belgium, half of whom live in Brussels. 

He ended by quoting Benjamin Netanyahu saying that the crime is more proof of the "the endless incitement against the Jews and their state".

5. "Politicians in Northern Ireland are coming under pressure over their failure to promote integrated education. Sixteen years after the Good Friday Agreement why are only 7% of children study at an integrated school."

This was a report from Andrea Catherwood which put the case for integrated education. 

The headmistress of one integrated primary spoke of what they'd achieved so far. Jim McConville (son of Jean, murdered by the IRA) said he's a great believer in educating Catholics and Protestants together. Andrew said they provide "neutral spaces". A student outside an integrated college though notes that despite Catholics in her local community would still stop Protestant friends coming to her house. All four 'vox pops' (from the streets of Belfast) were in favour. Andrea said there's popular support for it too (shown by polls). Grass roots action has resulted in all the integrated schools so far as the two main political parties are unwilling to support it. The report ended with the headmistress say that integrated school are "very, very worthwhile" and "hopeful", and her children singing of sunshine.

A one-sided report then, but Samira said that the NI minister responsible, John O'Dowd [Sinn Fein], was "unavailable for interview", so a short statement from him was read out saying that parents are being given what they want.


6. "The Pope will be accompanied on the visit by two close friends from Argentina, Rabbi Sorka and Omar Abboud, Muslim Director of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue. We discuss the current state of interfaith relationships in Israel and the West Bank."

This was a longish discussion between a Muslim, a Jew and a Catholic - namely Mohammed Dajani, Founder of the Wasatia Movement, Rabbi David Rosen, Director of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, and Rev Father David Neuhaus, Latin Patriarchal Vicar [for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel]. There were no jokes.

There was a a measure of disagreement between the two Davids over the lack of interfaith events during the visit. David Rosen catch himself as being the one pouring a little cold water over the others' enthusiasm, saying that it is "disingenuous" for the Pope to bring along his two friends but for there to be no interfaith events during the whole visit. He also expressed surprise that the Pope isn't travelling to Galilee, where 80% of Israeli Christians live.

Both Mohammed Dajani and Fr Neuhaus were wholly positive about the Pope's visit.

Samira Ahmed asked them, among other things, about the "far-right Jewish attacks" [abusive graffiti daubed on Christian buildings] and noted the drop in the Christian population of Bethlehem since 1990 (from 60% to 18%), but - as is her way - she played it pretty straight throughout to my ears.