Monday, 30 June 2014

Not another Promise

There’s quite a bit of hype about the upcoming eight-parter called The Honourable Woman to be aired starting Thursday on BBC2. It’s a drama/thriller  set against the background of the Israel Palestine conflict.

I can hear “Oh noes” erupting all around. Is it going to be another version of Peter Kosminsky’s ‘The Promise’, which purported to educate us about the history of the region as well as the modern day situation? Predictably Peter Kosminsky’s history was his story, as opposed to the actual story. His subsequent appearances on virulently anti-Israel discussion panels underlined what we already knew, but the unsuspecting audience did not.  So will  Hugo Blick’s offering be as bad as some of us fear?

One or two phrases that Alan of B-BBC has picked out from the press publicity  do not auger well.
The British protagonist’s father is a baddie - a Zionist gunrunner no less, so not a good start. The cryptic direction “Not too much sand” alludes to the fact that it will have to be dumbed down enough so that the UK audience can get their thick heads around it, and the warning “Don’t kill too many children” is too flippant a piece of advice for comfort. As Alan says, we’ll have to wait and see.

Myths of Muslim Britain

The other day, Craig examined a book written by a radio producer called Innes Bowen who turned up on  radio 4's “Sunday”. Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in BrentHere’s what she said re the Cardiff-born jihadi.
The thing that the people who go have in common really, it's a shared set of ideals. They're young. They're idealistic. And if you look at that video yesterday you can see in this case certainly not stupid, very intelligent young man, and on that video he's appealing to other Muslims to a sense of duty. He's making them try to feel that they have a sense of duty to go to Iraq and Syria, and that is the ideology which is inspiring some people to go.
As Craig says, that does sound a bit too ‘BBC’ for the likes of we cranky old Islamophobic bigots, and the fact that Peter Oborne gave it an admiring review in the Telegraph all but confirmed the understandable assumption that it was only to do with “dispelling myths” about British Muslims, as the BBC is wont to do, more fool it. 

Only, here’s a review in the Times by Dominic Kennedy (£) which gives a different impression:
A compelling study reveals that so-called leaders of the Islamic community are not only self-appointed but tend to come from marginal sects

There has always been a riddle about Salma Yaqoob, the eloquent former leader of Respect and Question Time panellist. Where did this fearsome political operator come from? The answer to that and other puzzles about British Muslims is in this gripping study by Innes Bowen about the rival sects in Islam.

Here the text fades away and asks you to dish out your dosh, which many of you won’t do, so here’s more.

“Ms Yaqoob, it emerges, was a member of Young Muslims UK, an Islamist group that spawned Liberal democrat and SNP parliamentary candidates. The group’s roots are in Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party that imposed Sharia on secular Pakistan.
Bowen is struck by the grip that sectarian groups with overseas origins still have on a British-born Muslim population that is growing in size and religiosity. So-called Muslim community leaders are not only self-appointed,but, as Bowen shows, tend to come from these marginal sects."

So if this review is anything to go by, and the strap line by the way is:
 "A compelling study by a BBC Radio 4 producer reveals that so-called leaders of the Islamic community are not only self-appointed but also tend to come from marginal sects with origins overseas."
Whaddya make of that? Did Peter Oborne cherry pick the only “optimistic” passages to suit his pro-Islam agenda
 “ ...there is no contradiction between Muslim identity and loyalty to the British state. 

...over time there is no fundamental contradiction between Islam and the modern Western state.” 
Or is this simply an example of people projecting their own wishful thinking onto whatever comes their way?

Teenage lack of angst revisited

Everything's depressing me at the moment - the latest grim news from Israel, the proclamation of a new Caliphate, the shocking verdict on Rolf (OMG, Rolf!!!), accidentally hearing Ed Balls on The World at One, and coming across Eddie Mair's baby jingle thing for the umpteenth time on PM - so that's the reason why I'm cheering myself up this evening by listening to Morrissey and The Smiths. 

(I could have chosen Leonard Cohen but, no, Morrissey will do.) 

I've actually been listening to 'The Smiths' Greatest Hits' for the last three days (he confesses, in time-honoured blogger style), rediscovering my teenage self - or, more accurately, not rediscovering my teenage self, as I didn't like The Smiths back then. (I liked things like 'Japanese Boy' by Aneka). 

I'm now quite liking the The Smiths though: 'The Boy with the Thorn in his Side', 'Panic', 'How Soon is Now?', 'Bigmouth Strikes Again', 'Ask', 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', etc. (Most of you will probably still side with Aneka, and Morrissey remains a mass of pleasant/unpleasant contradictions of course.) 

Here's 'Bigmouth' in Tel Aviv back in 2012, flying the flag for Israel (to the disgust of certain people):

I see tonight that Douglas Murray is reporting the claims of Labour MP Khalid Mahmood that 1,500 "British" Muslims are now fighting in Syria - three times as many as are serving in the British Army. (I'm betting that starting statistic won't be be conspicuous across the BBC). Is that one for 'Panic' or 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now?' Both, I think. 

Oh dear, I'd better put on some more Morrissey....

But, it's also good to heed the wise words of Sparks: "Lighten up Morrissey"...and lighten up Craig.

A bang or a whimper

No sooner was The Big Questions getting into its stride under the masterful chairpersonship of Nicky Campbell than the series ended. I’m not even joking now. 
Don’t let’s forget that not so long ago that programme was such a shambles that watching it turned you into a voyeur, like when you stumble upon Jeremy Vine (update: I think I meant Kyle) and are momentarily transfixed.

However, it’s gone and now there’s Sunday Morning Live. 
I don’t know why we lost Samira Ahmed, who was rather good, and got instead Sian Williams who sports the roundest face ever to be televised.

Like TBQs SML has three topics and a panel, but even so the format is weak and wibbly wobbly. The discussion is less interesting and more superficial than TBQs, and were it not for the audience’s vote, which always goes resoundingly and gratifyingly against the panel’s moral guidance, the outcome would be completely inconclusive. 

The roundness of Sian’s countenance gave “Are British Muslims complacent about extremism?” a distinctly comical air. Also comical were the passers-by who scampered incongruously back and forth outside, visible through a window behind Sian. They had an air of  “thank God we’re not stuck indoors with you and Yasmin Alibhai Brown.”

Since her infamous spat with Rod Liddle, to whom and of whom she proclaimed her loathing, thrice, on air, Yasmin Alibhai Brown seems to have been granted yet more airtime. It looks like she’s been bestowed ‘freedom of the BBC’  for gallant services to the ratings. Grazing rights, maybe and a big symbolic key?

She explained with deep frown, jabbing hands and much sorrow, that she had failed to secure funding for her ‘idea’, which was to examine the brains of extremist Muslims in prison. Muslim parents are confused, she added.

Sian was also confused, and turned to Daniel Johnson, addressing him as Leo and asking if he agreed that we fail to understand Muslim youth and that is why they’re turning to radicalism? He thinks the Muslim community has to take responsibility, specifically in ‘our’ mosques. Has everyone except me got a Mosque now?

Leo McKinstry was more forthright.  
Here’s where I get disrespectful. Look away now if you’re easily offended, but I’m sure the sofa was silently pumping air into the two panellists sitting at Sian’s right. The pressure is probably calibrated so that at the end of the programme they are fully inflated, whereupon depending on the vote they either tragically burst, or deflate, noisily phutting around the ceiling. We don’t get to see this because the Sunday Politics comes on.

I normally support Camilla Batmanghelidjh. I like the way she endeavours to understand antisocial and destructive behaviour rather than dishing out Sharia-like punishments willy-nilly, but today something seemed to have gone awry. Every time the camera went to her she and her outfit had expanded; her head-to-toe Carmen Miranda costume covered everything including most of both her hands. Only her glasses had nothing to do with fruit. Specsavers, have you no imagination?

I was surprised to hear that Camilla only saw the good side of Islam, the side that gives structure to the lives of disenfranchised Muslim youth, when ‘normative’ Islam is the antithesis of everything she espouses (understanding, creativity, self expression, humanity etc etc.) 
It must be those blinkers that the BBC hands out before participants go on air. Does she genuinely think Islam is the one and only religion that is getting kids off drugs? WTF? (as they say on the interweb.)

Who wants to know what Jimmy Osmond thinks about anything, let alone Mormon-ophobia, an imaginary phenomenon known only to him.

As Sian calls time on the vote (although you will still be charged) you just know the public will ignore the panel and vote overwhelmingly YES, the Muslims ARE complacent, which they duly did.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Running orders

The BBC, Sky and ITV have some shared news priorities this lunchtime on their respective news websites, but also some striking differences. 

Here are their respective running orders for you to compare and contrast at your leisure:

Radical Islamic Preacher's Family In Asylum Plea
Iraqi Troops Strike Back In Tikrit Offensive
England Fan Bites Supporter's Ear Off In Brazil
Teen Gang-Raped After Walking Through Woods
Rates 'May Return To Pre-Recession Levels'
Policy Chief Hits Out At Miliband's Leadership
All Staff Get Rights To Work From Home
Sir Elton Says Jesus Would Back Gay Marriage
Security Door Kills Girl, 3, At Ice Cream Shop
Brazil Fan Dies During Penalty Shootout

Tikrit rebels 'push back Iraq army'
Prince 'wanted more grammar schools'
GPs who miss cancer could be named
'Scores trapped' in India collapse
Metallica: Glastonbury 'sensational'
Labour in £30bn local funding plan
Britain should stay in EU, CBI says 
Interest rates 'could return to 5%'
North Korea 'test-fires missiles'
England fan's ear 'bitten off'
Final day of Hong Kong 'referendum'

Iraqi forces strike back at Isis fighters
England fan had ear bitten off after Uruguay World Cup game
Labour's policy chief criticises Miliband for 'cynical' reforms
GPs to be 'named and shamed' if they fail to spot cancer signs
Police hunt men after teenager, 17, gang raped in woods
Prince Charles asked Blair's govt for 'more grammar schools'
Interest rates 'likely to hit 5%' within a decade
Councils could 'reinstate' weekly black bin collections
Miliband: Juncker vote a 'real danger' to British economy
Dolly Parton to grace Glastonbury stage on final day

Catholic social attitudes, gay marriage, Nigeria, "Islamophobia", the living wage and then gay marriage again

This morning's Sunday talked about Catholic social attitudes, gay marriage, Nigeria, "Islamophobia", the living wage and then gay marriage again.  

First up, Catholic matters. (It wouldn't be Sunday if it didn't discuss Catholic matters!). The topic today were the early results of a Vatican survey into Catholic views on social matters. Ed Stourton talked to liberal Catholic commentator Fr Brian D'arcy about it. Ed said "people expect and hope there will be...change" as a result of it, and Fr Brian said "I hope...there could be a better pastoral approach" as a result of it.

Then it was onto the subject of gay marriage in the United States. "We'll hear from Christian conservatives in the United States", Ed said about this section at the start of the programme. Well, so we did, though the report from the BBC's Matt Wells actually split 4:2 against Christian conservatives, with the two conservative voices sandwiched between four liberal voices. One of liberal voices talked of "scary right-wing rhetoric", after which we heard some scary right-wing rhetoric on the issue from a US pastor. (Are they no reasonable-sounding conservative opponents of gay marriage out there?) 

Next it was onto Nigeria and another interview with Dr Stephen Davies, the former canon of Coventry Cathedral, who is helping in the attempts to free the abducted schoolgirls there. He was very insistent that the violence there now is not a Christian v Islam thing, merely a political thing as various political forces sponsor Boko Haram to stage anti-Christian attacks to help them in the upcoming elections. He says that many of Boko Haram's original supporters are horrified at its behaviour. Those who merely wanted a return to the pure Islam of the time of Mohammed are beginning to split from it, he said.

More Islam next. A listener email was then read out saying that we should dwell more on "the peaceful side of Islam". Another email was against women bishops.

More Islam next. To mark the start of Ramadam, Sunday invited in Tell Mama's Fiyaz Mughal to talk about his organisation's latest report into "Islamophobic hate crime". Alongside him was Usama Hasan of Quilliam. It was a friendly discussion. Fiyaz said there was a "very large spike" after the murder of Lee Rigby. Dr Hasan accepted that there's been a "rise in Islamophobic hate crime", but - at Ed's invitation - also discussed Muslim-on-Muslim violence, specifically Muslim "extremist" attacks on Muslim "moderates". He's received "serious death threats" himself. Fiyaz agreed that there is "intra-Muslim hate". They then discussed the "symbiosis between far Right" and what Fiyaz described as the "resistance" to it from "small" section of Muslim community. Usama said there's "no such thing as a Muslim community", only "Muslim communities" and that saying otherwise helps the far-right. Fiyaz said that's a "valid" and "fair" point, and agreed that lumping all Muslims together only helps the far-right to smear Muslims.

Then it was onto another familiar Sunday subject - the campaign for a "living wage", specifically "the moral challenges raised by the Archbishop of York's report into the living wage", as part of the Living Wage Commission's campaign. Trevor Barnes reported. We heard a fair range of opinion (3:2 in favour of the living wage), though it was another classic Sunday sandwich - lay out the 'liberal side' first, then give the 'conservatives' a say, then end with the 'liberal side', here in the form of a Slovakian immigrant grateful for the living wage. 

Finally it was back to gay marriage (and another Sunday favourite - a good old Anglican row) and an interview with Reverend Andrew Foreshew-Cain, vicar of St Mary with All Souls, who has just defied the Anglican Church and gone through a gay marriage with his long-term partner. Alongside him in the discussion was Alan Wilson, the pro-gay marriage Bishop of Buckingham. Bishop Alan was even more critical of his fellow bishops than Rev Andrew, saying they've "painted themselves into an extraordinary corner", behaved in a way that's "almost like bullying" and done a "a very stupid thing". Bishop Alan was wholly supportive of Rev Andrew. Ed Stourton was obviously aware of how biased this looked so insisted at some length that they had tried to get another bishop to appear but none would do so. [Did it have to be a bishop though?]

Nothing much here then, is there, to undermine Damian Thompson's claim that "Radio 4's Sunday programme offers perhaps the most undiluted liberal bias to be found anywhere on the BBC"?

Still, the sun's shining again (visibly) and the birds are singing and the power drills and loud lawnmowers that make sunny Sundays what they are don't just plug themselves in....

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Saturday Live

You would have to have a heart of stone not to find yourself warming to parts of Radio 4's morning-hogging Saturday Live

At the same time you'd also have to have a brain made out of mashed potatoes not to realise that the programme has palpable designs upon us.

Saturday Live is very obviously, actively, seeking to warm the cockles of our hearts.

Gratitude, love, sorrows, youthful enthusiasms, affectionate memories, etc, are the strings upon which Saturday Live plays so well.

Similarly, you'd have to be a complete curmudgeon not to be beguiled by its main presenter - the gentle, good-natured, gay, ex-Communard, Anglican vicar, the Rev. Richard Coles - and you'd surely have to be Jeremy Paxman not to be beguiled by the programme's regular 'thingummyjig', JP Devlin - someone who could find a touching human interest story in a discarded kebab (and probably will sometime over the coming weeks).

The show's female co-presenters change. Today's co-presenter was Suzy Klein (a Radio 3 type). I've always liked Suzy Klein...

"Mmm, Suzy Klein!"

Today's edition, featuring Tony 'Man and Boy' Parsons as its main guest, included many a good thing that played upon the receptive harp-strings of our hearts - Tony Parsons' memories included. 

There was a piece about the carpenter-descendant of King Richard III who is making a coffin for the recently re-discovered car-park-loving Yorkist usurper, the regular 'thank yous' from listeners, the 'Inheritance Tracks' of bee-hive-sporting two-hit-wonder Mari Wilson [remember Just What I Always Wanted?] and pub-landlord-turned-comedian Al Murray's surprisingly personal take on the Imperial War Museum. All interesting. 

Yes, Saturday Live has palpable designs on us. 

Entirely incidentally I'm sure, we also heard the poetry of a Shropshire schoolgirl - Mia Cunningham. Mia is Shropshire's first 'young poet laureate'. She appeared with her Guardian columnist granddad, Paul. [A Guardian columnist and his granddaughter on the BBC? Bring me my smelling salts!] 

Her poem for Saturday Live ran as follows - and, blessedly, I don't even need to transcribe it myself as the Saturday Live website has printed it all for us - in full. 

I will admit to being shocked - shocked! - to hear to hear a poem in favour of multiculturalism being broadcast on the BBC - yes, ON THE BBC!!!:
When I talk about Shropshire 
When I talk about Shropshire it all comes down to the people,
English, European, Asian, Bajan and Caribbean.
Immigration is part of Shropshire’s cultural dedication
to everyone willing to participate in our landscape’s evolution.

Save our countryside! The Shropshire Hills will stay alive
with the sound of music like Bangra, Reggae, Soul and tribal beats.
Shout it from the rooftops, sing it in the streets.

I’m just a Shropshire Lass... so raise your glass to difference,
Chalk or cheese, birds or bees, come rain or shine,
Make Shropshire yours, I’ve made it mine.
Similarly, I was taken aback to find that Saturday Live had a feature on Glastonbury - the music festival no license fee money is ever spent in funding hundreds of well-heeled BBC employees to party at (at our expense)...oh, my goodness, no!...

Not as nice as he looks

....and a feature, no less, about the founder of the first Glastonbury festival - that nice communist composer Rutland Boughton, courtesy of his charming grandson. 

Having a sideline in writing about obscure British classical composers, I think I know something Saturday Live doesn't (apparently) - that nice old Rutland rejoined the Communist Party member at the height of High Stalinism [its most anti-Semitic phase] and was more-Stalinist-than-Stalin in denouncing such 'disgraces to music' as Shostakovich and Prokofiev. So call me a traitor to the memory of Stalin and communism, but I'm nowhere near so taken with Rutland Boughton as a human being as his grandson (totally understandably) or Saturday Live (much less understandably).

And..."Aha, poems in favour of multiculturalism, Guardian columnists and features in favour of communists! !! What, them, the BBC, with their reputation?!?"

My favourite bit though came after the 10 o'clock news, when Tony Parsons was asked (by Suzy) whether he was a feminist. He said he was, and that's why he hates the way some women are forced to dress like Darth Vador on British streets. Nice, liberal Suzy very quickly cut across him, seemingly trying to laugh such thoughts away with a light-hearted change of subject. Tony finished his though nonetheless. Nice Rev Richard took a very, very long intake of breath. Tony then mocked the Guardian. Panic appeared to set in and, whoosh, the subject changed faster than Batman and Robin's underpants!

Good old Saturday Live - lovable, left-liberal Saturday Live!

Pushing Atwan up a hill forever

Not Polly Toynbee

Alas, poor Sisyphus! - punished by being forced to push an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action for eternity. Thank the gods that that poor man's only a Greek myth!

Still, it could be worse: He might have been forced to watch Dateline London for ever and ever. For his sins.

Today's edition began by discussing David Cameron, Mr Juncker and the EU. 

In an ideal world where the makers of Dateline London really cared about being 'BBC impartiality', they would have made sure that the assembled panel would offer some variety of views on a controversial matter like this. Instead we got pro-EU French writer Agnès Poirier of the left-wing magazine Marianne, pro-EU British writer Polly Toynbee of the left-wing Guardian, pro-EU Palestinian leftist Abdel Barri Atwan (again) and Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times. 

Agnès Poirier praised Mr Juncker and said he wasn't dangerous and attacked David Cameron for "bullying", mocking "The Charge of the Right Brigade". Atwan described David Cameron's actions as "strange". Henry Chu said Cameron hadn't been "smart" here by not playing a "long game". Gavin Esler said, "But if he was playing a long game the Conservatives would be within the European People's Party, the EPP, which is the majority centre-right grouping in Europe". "Right," said Henry. Polly Toynbee then denounced Cameron for always playing "the short term quick advantage", called him "ignorant" about the process, with Gavin Esler chipping in, "There were even debates about it! Public debates about it! In English!" to back her up. "I know!", said Polly. Cameron was "asleep on the job", ranted Polly, calling him "completely incompetent". Atwan said, "But he's damaging the national interests of his country". "Absolutely," said Polly. Agnès Poirier attacked British "tabloid propaganda" on the issue. Polly Toynbee said leaving the EU would be "disastrous" and denounced David Cameron again. "And everyone will lose," said Agnès. "Yes," agreed Polly. Polly then said that Mr Juncker is the sort of uncharismatic guy people need. Agnès agreed. Atwan then agreed with her, and denounced Tony Blair. Gavin Esler moved on. And I switched off.

Unlike Sisyphus, I'm not forced to watch Dateline London for eternity. I could, very easily, if I so choose, never - yes NEVER - see Abdel Barri Atwan's Saddam-like face ever again, and never have to sit through such outpourings of BBC-harnessed leftist consensus-building ever again either.


Some demagogue

Dateline London might strike you as a funny old show to have harped on about for so long. I would imagine that very, very few people in the UK ever watch it or know it even exists, BUT it is one of the BBC's flagships news programme to the world as a whole. It is the public face of serious BBC TV current affairs to potentially vast numbers of viewers outside the UK. What would those viewers make of Britain, as seen though the prism of the endless parade of sneering leftists who infest Dateline, under the only-fitfully impartial chairmanship of Gavin Esler?

Dateline London remains perhaps the most consistently biased programme on the BBC. It has got better over the years though, perhaps (I might hope) as a result of my endless lists about it (both here and at Biased BBC). A greater number of Conservative-minded British voices appear on the programme than used to do, when you could go a couple of months without one (which nothing but British left-wingers appearing as guests), but the Left (British or otherwise) still dominates to a degree that is hardly compatible with the BBC's editorial guidelines. Plus, Abdel Barri Atwan remains the most regular guest by some margin (despite his record of extremist remarks, especially about Israel).

As I've said before the idea behind it is a wonderful, interesting one. The way it usually pans out in reality may please Guardianistas around the world, but it's not impartial BBC broadcasting in any way, shape or form.

It either needs radically overhauling - with a new presenter, a vast influx of new guests, and a huge determination to balance the panel appropriate to each edition - or it needs scrapping. 

'Today', Lord Lawson and the BBC Complaints Unit

Evidence from the latest IPCC report?

Here's one that will wind some of you right up!...

According to the Guardian, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit has apparently upheld a complaint against the Today programme for inviting Lord Lawson on to discuss climate science without undermining him beforehand. Grauniad environment blogger Hugh Muir writes:
It still sends a frisson down the spine of certain producers to give airtime to the former chancellor Lord Lawson so that he can chip away at the widespread scientific agreement over the causes and impact of climate change. The temperature is always a little higher with a heretic in the room. And yet this route towards excitement has its dangers. As the go-to guy in the thinktank of his own creation, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Lawson was called in February to the studios of the Today programme for debate with Sir Brian Hoskins, a climatologist from Imperial College London. Things did not go as they should, and the broadcast became the subject of a complaint from Chit Chong, a Green party activist. Reviewing the broadcast, the BBC's head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, took a dim view. "Lord Lawson's views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research," Steel says, "and I don't believe this was made sufficiently clear to the audience … Furthermore the implication was that Lord Lawson's views on climate change were on an equal footing with those of Sir Brian." And they aren't. Sceptics have their place in the debate, Steel says in his provisional finding, but "it is important to ensure that such views are put into the appropriate context and given due (rather than equal) weight." Chong is only partially satisfied. He'd like a right of reply and perhaps a balancing programme. And others say "due weight" should mean not having Lawson on at all. Still, Rome wasn't built in a day.

For a less than impressed response to all this please read David Keighley's take at Conservative Women(h/t #88 at Biased BBC):
Enter Fraser Steel, the BBC’s complaints chief. And in jaw-dropping, nakedly Orwellian fashion, he has now ruled that Chit Chong was right.  According to a leaked report of his findings in – surprise, surprise, The Guardian – Mr Steel has said that Lord Lawson’s views on climate change alarmism ‘are not supported by computer modelling and scientific research’ He reportedly concludes:
“I don't believe this was made sufficiently clear to the audience... it is important to ensure that such views are put into the appropriate context and given due (rather than equal) weight."
If this is true, let’s not mince words. What this means is that because the BBC has decreed that climate change alarmism is proved by ‘consensus’, Lord Lawson, and those who doubt the BBC’s alarmism, should not ever be given equal airtime to put their case, if at all.
And it also raises the ludicrous prospect that before any such broadcast involving an opponent of alarmism, there should be editorial comment that such views are not supported by consensus. So in future, this, in effect, is what must happen (if Lord Lawson is ever asked to appear again):
John Humphrys: “With me now is Lord Lawson. I have to tell you first that the BBC has decided that the point of view he is expressing is not backed by scientific facts because a consensus of scientists tell us that this is the case. Now Lord Lawson, what do you think about this matter?”
I have worked as a journalist in different ways for almost 40 years and I have never heard anything so chillingly against the concept of free speech. I don’t know anything about Fraser Steel or his background because the BBC website says nothing about him other than that he is head of the complaints unit.
But what we now have is an army of BBC bureaucrats armed with stop-watches and their own brand of prejudice measuring every damn piece of BBC broadcasting to see if it measures up to the Corporation’s Own Version of The Truth.
David says he doesn't know anything about Fraser Steel's background, but Alan at B-BBC looks to have ferreted out something quite interesting about him. In his BBC Declaration of Personal Interests (2010) Mr Steel declares himself to be a "Non-executive director and chair of the board (unpaid)" of "UK Immigration Services", "a small firm of licensed immigration practitioners". That, Alan suggests, raises questions about his impartiality, especially given how many complaints about the BBC's immigration coverage must come his way. That Declaration of Personal Interests, however, also contains the following (agreed with his manager at the time, Caroline Thomson, by the looks of it)
These activities are undertaken outside BBC time and do not conflict or cross over in any way with his work as Head of ECU. In the unlikely event that an editorial complaint related to one of these bodies, Fraser would remove himself from all involvement in the case. 
Hopefully, Alan will dig some more into the matter. (I've tried just now but got nowhere). 

'Newsnight' - 23-27 June

Newsnight production team meeting (Chris Cook, bottom left; Ian Katz, second from bottom left) - picture courtesy of J. Paxman.

So what stories Newsnight chose to report this week, how did they frame them and who did they interview?

Monday 23/6
1. British Muslims fighting with ISIS: "They're young, British and fighting for ISIS. Who's persuading teenagers from Coventry to fly to Syria and pursue jihad? We ask their parents." 
Rahim Kalantar: "The imam of the mosque who lives in our area, he organised classes for them after evening prayers. He encouraged them. He sent them down this road."
Studio interview with Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Muslim Council of Britain; Lord Carlile, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation 2001-11; & Shiraz Maher, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. 
2. Journalists jailed in Egypt: "Now this was the day the three Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in the notorious Cairo Jail for six months had expected to walk free. Instead they were met with seven-year prison sentences, one longer - a stark reminder of the baffling, incomprehensible Egyptian legal system and its attempts to censor press freedom. The men had been accused of supporting the ousted Muslim Brotherhood and of spreading falsehoods through their reporting. Al-Jazeera has called the sentences "outrageous" and they've been condemned by the U.N. Secretary General and more." Interview with Michael Greste, brother of Peter Greste [the ex-BBC reporter imprisoned today], then with Sue Turton, correspondent, Al-Jazeera [sentenced to ten years, convicted in absentia]. 
3. Interview with Mandela's former private secretary: "And she was the Afrikaner racist who went on to become Mandela's most trusted confidante. She watched him deal with Thatcher, Zuma and Jeremy Clarkson." 
Zelda la Grange: "First of all, when Jeremy walked in he said, "Oh Mr Mandela, have you ever had a lap dance?" Now a person of that age doesn't really know what a lap dance is".
Interview with Zelda la Grange, former private secretary to Nelson Mandela.

4. Polish-British tensions over Europe: "The f-word is flying in Polish. We hear what Poland's foreign minister thinks of our PM's Europe policy." Interview with Peter Lilley MP (Conservative) & Roland Rudd, chairman, Business for New Europe.
5. Chinese tennis player: "Li Na is the second most highly paid female athlete in the world. She's Chinese and her rise in the tennis world has followed the same trajectory as China's rise on the world stage. She's already won two grand slams. She graced Centre Court earlier today. In her only television interview she talked to Katie Razzall ahead of Wimbledon". Report including interview with Li Na, tennis player. 

Tuesday 26/6
"A special edition of Newsnight on the phone hacking trial"
"A scandal for once worthy of that name. Hacking closed the country's biggest paper, told how the secrets of the royals, the wealthy and the vulnerable were stolen, and may have put one of the Prime Minister's former lieutenants in jail. 
David Cameron: "I was given assurances that he didn't know about phone hacking. That turns out not to be the case, and I was always clear if that happened I would apologise, and I do so unreservedly today".
"He may be happier that his close friend Rebekah Brooks is cleared. She said she didn't know what was going on. So how did she get to the top of News International?"
Michael Wolff, biographer of Rupert Murdoch: "Rupert did say to me, and this would be an exact quote. He said, "She social-climbed her way up my family."  
"On tonight's Newsnight we'll hear from victim, politician and the journalist who first broke the story". 

1. Discussion with Steve Hewlett, The Guardian/BBC Radio 4 Media Show.
2. Report from David Grossman, Newsnight's Technology Editor, about the day's events.
3. Interview with Harriet Harman MP, Labour & John Whittingdale MP, Conservative.
4. Report from Steve Hewlett profiling Rebekah Brooks.
5. Interview with Nick Davies, The Guardian.
6. Interview with Ulrika Jonsson, hacking victim.
7. Report on the possible consequences of the Hacking Trial by Steve Hewlett.
8. Panel interview with Rich Peppiatt, filmmaker and former tabloid journalist; Nick Ferrari, journalist; Baroness Onora O'Neill, philosopher; & Isabel Hardman, Spectator.

Wednesday 25/6
1. Phone hacking Trial: "Rupert Murdoch flies into town tomorrow. What repercussions for his business here after yesterday's verdict? The Murdoch Empire has gone from strength to strength. Tonight we ask what fallout this trial will actually have. One of his fiercest critics is here." Interview with Tom Watson MP (Labour) & Felix Salmon, Senior Editor, Fusion.
2. Iraq: "Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected calls for a national salvation government to help counter the offensive by ISIS. In his weekly televised address he warned that forming an emergency unity government could go against April's parliamentary elections and represented an attempt to end the democratic experience." Discussion with the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse.
3. British Muslims fighting in Syria: "Some call them terrorists. He says he's there to help. An exclusive interview with the British man who fled to Syria to fight".
British Muslim fighting with al-Qaeda: "For who that think foreign fighters are terrorists I'm not going to sit here and debate with you or ask you not to call me a terrorist."
Interview with unnamed extremist British Muslim fighting with al-Qaeda in Syria. Then interview with Prof Fawaz Gerges, LSE.

4. Wonga: "Wonga invents a fake law firm to write threatening letters to its customers, so we invent one of our own and write back".
5. Right to die: "Campaigners seeking the right to die without risk of their loved ones being prosecuted lost their challenge in the Supreme Court today, but in a significant ruling the Supreme Court concluded it does have the power to declare the law which criminalises acts of helping someone to take their own life as incompatible with human rights. And the court issued a direct challenge to parliament to consider legalising assisted suicide or see judges stepping in." Report including interview with Paul Lamb, 'Right to Die' campaigner.
6. The biting footballer: "The teeth marks on Chiellini's left shoulder beg two possible explanations: either he walked backwards into Luis Saurez's mouth or else the Liverpool striker has been at it again. Suarez has form when it comes to biting. It appears to be the third time he's chomped an opposition player in anger. He could now face a ban from the rest of the World Cup, even for two years some people are saying - and no doubt aching frustration from his team-mates. But there could also be a hefty economic cost to the biter as sponsors threaten to abandon the striker they have now nicknamed 'Jaws'." Interview with Andrea Furst, sports psychologist.
7. 'Newsnight apology': "A clarification now: An earlier feature of the programme suggested Rupert Murdoch was flying to this country to be questioned by police. Although it's understood the Metropolitan Police are planning to talk to Mr Murdoch it was wrong to imply any interview was imminent."

Thursday 26/6
1. Iraq: "Bombs land in Iraq, dropped by Syria. As the country's future looks more bleak was our past involvement in 2003 a mistake?"
Jack Straw: "It was in retrospect, yes, I say, but what I'm also seeking to do is to evade or avoid my responsibilities for having made that decision".
"The Foreign Secretary at the time tells us, 'We got it wrong'. We're live tonight in Baghdad".
Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC: "The Iraqi Prime Minister has told the BBC he welcomes those Syrian air-strikes as he struggles to hold his country together". 

2. Jimmy Savile: "The decades of Jimmy Savile's depravity are revealed by an official inquiry. We'll ask how he was able to get away with it for so long." Interview with Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline & Dr Peter Jefferys, Independent Inspector of Broadmoor 1983-89.
3. BBC Monitoring: "What have your license fee, the intelligence agencies and this posh house in the country got in common? More than you might think"..."Eastenders, Radio 3, Newsnight of course,websites, natural history programmes and even The Great British Bake-off, if you're into that sort of thing. There's a very long list of what your £145.50 license fee pays for. What might surprise you is what is also on that list - an information-monitoring service that does work for the government intelligence service, including providing information that most BBC journalists cannot see. BBC Monitoring has existed for decades but last year the government stopped paying for it leaving you to pick up the bill and now Newsnight has learned BBC bosses fear that's compromising the corporation's independence." Interview with James Purnell, Director of Strategy and Digital, BBC.
4. Cameron facing defeat over Juncker: "What happens if you vow to fight something to the end then it ends badly? Well, David Cameron is probably about to find out when the candidate he deplores becomes, as expected, the new President of the European Commission - that's despite his objections and concerns over Jean-Claude Juncker's drinking, splashed on the front page of tomorrow's Telegraph." Discussion with Mark Urban.
5. Jack Straw: Interview with Jack Straw MP (Labour), Foreign Secretary 2001-6, about Cameron, Juncker and Europe, & the whether the invasion of Iraq is responsible for the current turmoil in Iraq, whether it was a mistake, and what should now be done about Iraq.
6. America and soccer: "And they may have lost to Germany but they have done rather better than England. Is it time at last to get behind America's bid for World Cup glory?" Interview with Rodney Marsh, ex-England and Tampa Bay Rowdies striker & Marc Fisher, Senior Editor, The Washington Post.
    [Closing credits; Will Farrell in Brazil].

Friday 27/6
1. Cameron, Juncker and the EU: "Well that went well! The new President of the European Commission is a card-carrying, cognac-swilling fully-paid-up member of the Brussels federalist Establishment. So where's your reform agenda now, Mr Cameron?"
David Cameron: "If I say I'm not going to back down, I won't. This is going to be a long, tough fight and frankly sometimes you have to be ready to lose a battle in order to win a war".
"Conservatives old and new will be hear to tell us what the Prime Minister does for an encore." Interview with Esther de Lange, Vice President EPP group, then interview with Sir Malcolm Rifkind  MP (Conservative) & Daniel Hannan MEP (Conservative).
2. Why London's state schools are England's best: "London state schools used to be a byword for mediocrity and under-performance. Now the capital is the best place in England to go to school, especially if you're from a poor background. We're not exactly sure why. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is about teachers' love lives. Chris Cook reports".

3. The importance of portraiture: "Who gives you the visual truth in the age of Photoshop and cosmetic surgery - a snapper with the camera or the artist with the brush? 
Jonathan Yeo, artist: "25 years ago portraits were so far out of fashion there was genuine debate about whether they might become extinct. I believe, in a snapshot-saturated world, people are looking to artists to reveal something deeper about themselves."
A report by Jonathan Yeo. Then interview with Nadav Kander, photographer & Jonathan Yeo, portrait artist.
4. Dylan Thomas: a newly-discovered poem (a drinking song?) read by Tom Hollander, beginning...
When Mr Watts-Ewers
(Licensed to sell
Beer, wine and spirits
And tobacco as well)
Advertised in the papers 
He would open that night
His brand new hotel
The town had a fright.
Mr Out-Measure, 
Who kept the Bull's Head,
Wept like a baby
And took to his bed.
Mrs Lil Jenkins 
Of the Old Pig and Swill
Sacked all the barmaids
And was sick in the till.

Incidentally, before Tom Hollander read that poem Andrew Neil (for it was he) made the following quip:
That's it tonight, because the 13 year olds have got to get to bed. And if they are 13 year old let me tell you there's lot of underaged drinking going on here and they're not aging well.

Who's giving feedback to 'Feedback'?

Since that remarkable interview between John Humphrys and Roger Bolton on Feedback (back on 14 March), where Mr Humphrys outlined his reasons for saying that the BBC had "a liberal bias" and Mr Bolton argued against him rather testily, Feedback has dealt with the issue of bias on a number of further occasions.

In the closing weeks of the last series of the programme, they focused on criticisms of the BBC for inviting 'sceptical' non-scientists like Lord Lawson to give their views on climate change. So far in this new series, Feedback has discussed (a) criticism of the BBC for giving UKIP too much airtime and (b) criticism of the BBC for failing to cover a 50,000 strong march against the coalition's cuts

All of these are familiar claims of BBC for those who follow Twitter, if not to those who tend to follow blogs like this. They are criticisms from people who don't believe that "liberal bias" is the problem and that the bias - if it lies anywhere - lies in the opposite direction. The complaints about the BBC's 'non coverage' of that anti-cuts march, for instance, have been legion on Twitter (that, and the huge number of ongoing complaints about BBC anti-independence bias in the Scottish referendum debate).

Were I of a conspiratorial frame of mind I might say that Feedback, whose presenter has always been open in stating his personal belief that the BBC doesn't have a liberal bias, is actively pushing this counter-argument. Are they trying to show that claims of liberal bias are nonsense? 

Of course, it could just be that there really have been lots of emails to Feedback complaining about these very things. After all, as I said earlier, the anti-UKIP/anti-coalition-cuts brigade have certainly been out in force on Twitter in recent weeks complaining incessantly about both things and their kindred spirits among Radio 4's large listenership are just the sort of who would write to Feedback about it. 

And maybe far, far fewer people who complain about liberal bias at the BBC on blogs like this - or below the line at the Telegraph, Breitbart London or the Spectator - actually wrote to Feedback to complain about anything relating to bias. If so, Feedback's failure to cover 'our kind of criticism' of the BBC would be understandable and 'we' have only ourselves to blame. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Get Hewlett

One of the Guardian's media writers, Steve Hewlett, is now the BBC's go-to-man for media-related stories. 

This isn't exactly news. After all, he'd already become a BBC regular as regards media-related stories even before they invited him to present Radio 4's The Media Show

Since then he's frankly verged on the ubiquitous (on the BBC) whenever any major media story breaks - whether it be the Newsnight scandals, the phone hacking trials, the Patten-Thompson row, you name it. 

Now, I don't think he does a bad job by any means but the BBC's over-reliance on his opinions surely isn't helpful. One voice should not be so dominant, however reasonable-sounding that voice may be.  

This thought struck me again after this morning's Farming Today covered the BBC Trust's newly-released report on the BBC's coverage of rural affairs (discussed on an earlier post). 

There are any number of people Farming Today could have contacted to discuss this report but, no, they chose to do what Radio 4 as a whole tends to do on such occasions - ring for Steve Hewlett. 

Even though I now pretty much take Steve Hewlett's ubiquity for granted, even I was taken aback by this. Couldn't they have put just a few seconds of thought into thinking of someone other than Steve Hewlett to provide their 'expert' commentary on the report? Well, obviously not and, as a result, BBC listeners were again presented with Steve Hewlett's 'authoritative take' on a media-related story - and only Steve Hewlett's take.

This isn't a criticism of Steve Hewlett. It's a criticism of a mindset all too common at the BBC, a mindset that often results in predictable reflex-actions - such as speed-dialing Steve Hewlett whenever a BBC Trust report comes out. 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

'Tory' Jeremy Paxman says 'Newsnight' is 'made by 13-year olds'

This is quite something (h/t Sue):
The former host says his Conservative leanings made him a lone voice on the show as the younger producers wanted to change the world.
So, Boris was being quite shrewd then in joking that Paxo was "the last remaining one-nation Conservative in the BBC" on Jeremy's last edition of Newsnight. [Actually, I remember Boris joking about Jeremy being a Conservative in a Newsnight interview a year or two back too. Do you?]

The Telegraph article continues:
Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, about his book on the First World War, he answered questions from the audience about his memorable tandem bike ride through the streets of London with Boris Johnson, which featured on the final programme.
"I have to be frank, I suppose I am a one-nation Tory, yes," Paxman admitted. "Look, Newsnight is made by 13-year-olds. It's perfectly normal when you're young that you want to change the world.
"The older you get, the more you realise what a fools' errand much of that is and that the thing to do is to manage the best you can to the advantage of as many people as possible."
Paxman, who has had to be politically impartial throughout his journalism career, added of the interview: "It's complete b------s, of course, typical Boris."
On the question of whether he truly was the last Conservative at the BBC, he began to answer before stopping himself.
"If I had to...are there any members of the press here?" he said, at the sold-out event. "I think I'll plead the fifth on that one."
The public event also saw Paxman share his opinion of modern politics, saying: "I am in favour of governments getting out of people's lives. Particularly foreign government."
"The closer you can take decision-making to the people affected by those decisions, the better."
Europe, he said, had been the source of "nothing but trouble for us", and joked Belgium as a "pointless little country".
Well I never! Fancy the young makers of 'Newsnight' being out to "change the world"! (How would that square with BBC impartiality?)

Anyhow, so who will replace David Cameron as Conservative leader? Boris or Paxo? William Hill and Paddy Power await your bets.

BBC Trust Impartiality Review: BBC coverage of Rural Areas in the UK

The latest BBC Trust's report into BBC impartiality is out today. Its author is Heather Hancock, ex-civil servant and former chair of the BBC’s rural affairs committee. You can read it in full here

I suspect you won't be surprised to hear that the report finds that the BBC's coverage is impartial, but there are concerns too.  

Here are the main points:

Positive findings

• Overall, the BBC’s coverage of rural areas in the UK is duly impartial. There is no evidence of party political bias, and a wide range of views is aired. 

• In controversial stories, the BBC’s approach is impartial and its reporters use language that is fair and neutral. 

• In the devolved nations, coverage of rural affairs is strong, with a good spread of interviewees and a nuanced understanding of the issues. 

• Network factual programmes which focus on rural matters, such as Countryfile and Farming Today, are very highly regarded and broadcast a wide range of opinions and thoughtful analysis. 

• Network factual programmes that travel across the UK, such as Question Time and Any Questions?, air opinions and stories from rural areas that are not otherwise heard at network level. 

• In the devolved nations, audiences are appreciative of their own national output and consider the BBC reflects their lives in a way that is authentic and honest. 


• The wide spread of voices and opinions that can be heard on some programmes that focus on rural issues is largely absent from network news and current affairs output and from more general network factual programmes. 

• Rural news items originating in the English regions will too rarely be perceived as significant enough to be carried at network news level. 

• The limited coverage of rural issues in network news and current affairs and in network factual output has led to a deficit in the BBC’s coverage of rural affairs in England. 

• This is a source of frustration for audiences in rural England, while audiences in urban areas in England appear to consider rural issues are not relevant to them. 

• Regional sensitivities, for example in the West Country, receive scant attention at network level yet are as significant as those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

• Some rural audiences across the UK feel the BBC has both a metropolitan bias and a London bias. 

• At network level, a small number of charities and organisations have a disproportionate influence on the coverage of rural affairs. 

• News reporting tends to focus on conflict and adopt a binary approach – favouring stories that are about protest. Trustees note that audiences repeatedly say they want to understand more about the underlying story. 

Update 28/6

I thought I'd simply list all the bullet points listed by the report itself here, so that you could see for yourselves what the report actually said before all the interested parties started spinning it in one direction or the other.

Now I'm adding a report from Nick Hallett at Breitbart London, published yesterday, for you to compare with that list. Just look at how Nick Hallett spins it all in one direction. He reports only the negative findings of the BBC Trust report and never even so much as hints at any of the positive ones - such as the key finding that the BBC deals with rural affairs in a duly impartial way.

I think this is a classic example of 'selective reporting', and I can't say I approve. It gives Breitbart readers a distorted impression of Heather Hancock's report.

Why would you do that as a reporter? (I think I can guess).
The BBC’s coverage of rural issues has been criticised by its own governing body after it commissioned a report into the organisation's metropolitan bias.
The report reveals that UK's public service broadcaster’s news and current affairs programmes often fail to reflect the wide range of opinions in rural Britain, treating the countryside as little more than a place of leisure.
Led by former civil servant Heather Hancock, the report criticised the BBC’s over-reliance on a few organisations as sources for stories and views, with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) being singled out as the most used organisation.
Ms Hancock writes: “It is inappropriate for [the RSPB] to have been the unprompted first response for all but three of the BBC programme makers or journalists to whom I spoke. There are many other bird and wildlife charities: the British Trust for Ornithology, for example, did not feature as a source in any of the material we reviewed.”
She also writes that BBC journalists are often not sufficiently wary of the underlying agendas of such organisations. “the RSPB is both a source of expertise and a campaigning organisation and the BBC must be mindful that such bodies seek and benefit from publicity to build support and finance to their cause.
“This demands due challenge by BBC journalists, and a perceived lack of push-back or questioning has been very much noted by other organisations who want to contribute to the BBC on rural affairs.”
The corporation is also criticised for focussing {sic} too much on environmental subjects, with social and economic stories under-reported. The report says the BBC too often seeks to include celebrities in rural news stories.
Also criticised is the corporation’s reporting of country sports, such as hunting and shooting, which it calls “an area of tension and deep conviction”. The BBC is wrong to take a “binary” approach to these issues, giving undue emphasis to stories of conflict, Ms Hancock writes. It should instead do more to explain the facts behind the debates.
One insider told the Times: “One of the main points in the report is that the BBC does not seem to respect the experience of the wider population of England. In Wales and Scotland the BBC’s current affairs is much more satisfactory. It’s in England where the metropolitan bias starts to creep in.
“It feels like the BBC is looking from London into the countryside as a place of entertainment and leisure, and not at the wider social and economic diversity present in rural areas.”

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Uncle Laurie explains why Karl Marx didn't surf

After leaving work at 4 o'clock today, I switched on the radio and heard a cheery fellow confiding with us, telling us a happy childhood story about surfing. 

For about five seconds I relaxed into it. Then I recognised the voice.

It was Laurie Taylor, which meant that I was listening to Thinking Allowed, Radio 4's sociology programme.

My mood changed. 

I really, truly, honestly did think at that point, "How the hell is he going to make something Marxist out of surfing?"

Well, believe it or not, he did.

Uncle Laurie usually starts of editions of Thinking Allowed in this beguiling way but then introduces a sudden political note and, on that pivot, suddenly swerves into full blown Marxist sociology.

Today provided a classic example of that: One minute we were enjoying a nice story about a young Uncle Laurie loving the feel of the surf around his toes, the next minute we were hearing about how surfing has historically been a tool of American imperialism and colonialism. 

Some academic was on, giving - as ever - some interesting vignettes on the subject at hand but then spoiling it all by fitting them all into the rigid straightjacket of far-left sociological thinking.

Twas ever so on Thinking Allowed. 

I don't surf myself. (Morecambe Bay is tidal, but it's not that tidal). Now I'll console myself by thinking that all those fit, active men who surf our the shores of this sceptred isle are nothing but bourgeois reactionary running-dogs of Yankee imperialism. 

This is not a joke: The book that was the subject of this section is called Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing.

Who needs satire.

Bias at the BBC

This afternoon's Media Show on Radio 4, hosted by its regular presenter, Guardian columnist Steve Hewlett, was a hacking trial special. Steve Hewlett himself has been the BBC's lead commentator on the hacking trial. (He was their main reporter on last night's Newsnight too.)  His guests were Guardian journalist Nick Davies, former Guardian editor Peter Preston, former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis, Hacked Off's Joan Smith (formerly of the Independent), Conservative Lord (Norman) Fowler and Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman.

Looking for bias here you could argue that this programme was (a) biased towards the 'broadsheet' end of the press and against the 'tabloid' end (4:1). 

Or you could argue that the programme was biased (b) towards the left (Guardian/Independent) wing of the press as opposed to the right (News of the World) wing of the press (4:1), with guests from the Times, Telegraph and Spectator conspicuous by their absence. 

Could you claim it was (c) party-politically biased though? Well, politically-speaking, one Conservative and one Labour guest must clearly be called 'balanced' - though the Conservative actually scored points against his own side, and it was left to Neil Wallis instead to do the Labour-bashing to balance Harriet Harman's Tory-bashing. Still, we can safely rule that charge out. 

Not so easy to rule out though is the charge that the programme was (d) biased on the thorny question of press regular/Leveson. Four of the six guests were firmly pro-Leveson and pro-regulation (Harriet Harman, Norman Fowler, Nick Davies and Joan Smith) while only two were critical/opposed (Neil Wallis, Peter Preston) (ie. 2:1). 

My conclusions from this are that The Media Show wasn't as balanced as it should have been. An anti-press regulation politician and another anti-Leveson right-wing journalist (the Spectator's Fraser Nelson for example) should surely have been added to the panel - though quite how you would have fitted them all into the half hour provided is a moot point.

Predictably they devoted the entire programme to it, which was probably overkill (though the BBC's coverage of the story as a whole has never lacked for 'overkill') and, yes, may well suggest bias and, yes, Steve Hewlett of the Guardian/BBC Radio 4 Media Show acted as both interviewee and reporter (twice), but, still, Laura Kuenssberg did her duty and gave both of her politicians  - Harriet Harman MP, Labour & John Whittingdale MP, Conservative - tough questions critical of their respective parties. 

And, yes, though separate interviews with Nick Davies of the Guardian and hacking victim Ulrika Jonsson, also tilted things one way (the expected way), the closing debate could not have been better balanced with Rich Peppiatt, filmmaker and former tabloid journalist, and Baroness Onora O'Neill, philosopher, on one side [the pro-Leveson, pro-regulation side] and journalist and LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, journalist and Isabel Hardman of the Spectator on the other [anti-Leveson, anti-regulation]. 

That closing Newsnight discussion is what The Media Show should have been like. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Slanting the news

I always find it interesting to see how different media organisations angle a particular 'breaking news story'. The news today is that Andy Coulson has been found guilty while Rebekah Brooks has been cleared. 

The BBC is leading with news of the verdicts in the 'Hacking Trial'. They have two main headlines about it, heading the two main sections of their home page:
Andy Coulson guilty of phone hacking
Cameron apologises over Coulson 
The various minor headlines linking to related articles beneath run as follows:
Phone-hacking trial updates Live 
Cameron apologises over Coulson 
Cameron 'extremely sorry' 
Blunkett: 'I was near breakdown'
Media scrum outside court
Balls and Osborne on verdict 
Brooks cleared in hacking trial
Hacking charges and verdicts so far 
Note how the guilty verdict against Andy Coulson is very much the story for the BBC. The not guilty verdict against Rebekah Brooks is relegated to 7th place in their minor headlines.

Not so with ITV News which is running the story with the following two banner headlines, and placing Rebekah Brooks' not guilty verdict first:
Rebekah Brooks found not guilty of all hacking charges
PM's 'full and frank apology' for employing Andy Coulson
ITV's three main 'Live news stream' headlines also offer a balance:
Ex-No 10 spin doctor Andy Coulson guilty of phone hacking
Rebekah Brooks cleared of all charges in phone hacking trial
Cameron offers 'full and frank' apology for hiring Coulson
Sky News has four main headlines on the story and balances the two sides of the story:
Cameron Apology: 'I Was Wrong To Hire Coulson'
Hacking: Brooks Cleared But Coulson Guilty
Phone-Hacking Trial Verdicts: Live Updates
What Now For The 'Flame-Haired Empathiser'?
The Times places the good news first but conveys both sides of the story succinctly:
Hacking: Brooks cleared, Coulson guilty
The Guardian places it the other way round, but also gives both sides of the story their due:
Phone hacking: Andy Coulson guilty as Brooks walks free
By their slants do you know them. The BBC's slant seems by far the sharpest, doesn't it?


P.S. From a comments at Biased BBC, it looks as if this particular slant is at play across the BBC:

John Anderson says:
World at One on Radio 4 devoting most of its time to the hacking trial verdicts. All the focus seems to be on Coulson – or rather – or rather, on David Cameron who is guilt of bad judgment but not of any criminality.
There is virtually no focus on the not guilty verdicts on all charges against Rebekah Brooks, her husband and her secretary. They have been prime BBC targets for years now, “guilty until found innocent” – but their innocence is now being swept under the carpet.
By contrast – Sky seems to be balancing both aspects of the verdicts delivered so far.