Monday, 29 December 2014

Freedom of Speech

If you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend spending some time (it’s quite long) watching Tommy Robinson’s speech at the Oxford Union.

Although I’d already seen most of the clips he used to illustrate his talk, they’re still powerful. The Stacey Dooley one stands the test of time. (I wrote about that documentary “My Hometown Fanatics”  on B-BBC. (Feb 28th 2012) ) Of course the clip that Tommy cherry picked was the bit where Luton’s most objectionable Islamists were out in force, ignoring Stacey Dooley’s annoying attempts at even-handedness, as well as a comedic  - perhaps unintentional - moment when the camera lingered on a huge slice of cake, untouched, that had been set before a young lady peering at it through two holes in her black full-faced burka. How on earth is she going to eat that? Viewers were not to find out.  

Other clips he used to illustrate his talk included statements from people intimidated and victimised by Muslims, a punch in the face through a car window from an enraged Muslim in a nightie, and the film about Tommy and cousin Kevin's ‘charity march’, which shows atrociously ham-fisted policing that resulted in the aggressors being protected and the victims arrested. 

The entire speech was constrained by ‘prison licence’ restrictions, which decree that Tommy Robinson must not mention certain things on pain of being rearrested and returned to custody.
 True to form, the usual suspects objected to the very idea that Robinson should be given a platform to declaim his fascist views. (!)

From the Gates of Vienna site
As reported here last month, Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, was sent back to prison for 28 days. The ostensible reason for renewing his incarceration was that he had reported via Twitter that there had been death threats against his family. Considering that his original prison sentence had been for “mortgage fraud”, jugging him again on the Twitter pretext to demonstrates the political nature of his prosecution and imprisonment.
Mr. Robinson believes that he was returned to prison to keep him for participating in a debate at the Oxford Union on October 24, at which he had been invited to speak. Now that he is out, he is preparing to take part in this month’s Oxford Union debate, despite the fact that he might be sent back to prison for doing so.We just received this brief report from a source close to Tommy Robinson:Tommy Robinson was released from prison (again) on Friday 14th November, and appeared in court on Monday 17th November.After he was released, we re-arranged Tommy’s debate at the Oxford Union for the 26th November. Tommy was visited by the Probation Services and informed that if he attends this debate, he is not allowed to talk about Islam, Mohammed, or the Koran. If he does he will be recalled to prison.Tommy is still determined to go and explain why he cannot debate certain subjects, and express his concerns that his freedom of speech is being silenced with the threat of prison when NONE of the above topics relate to his ‘mortgage fraud’. Tommy feels that this is the way they are going to handle things now to try and silence him.Please help us make as many people as possible aware of the games that the government are playing in an attempt to keep him from speaking out.
The double standards of a crazy mixed-up judicial and governmental system that bans people from entering the UK who they fear might incite racial hatred or social unrest by speaking against radical Islam, yet protects or ignores the likes of Anjem Choudary, apparently a state-funded individual,   who calls for Sharia law and instigates civil disobedience in the name of  disdain for the UK and the infidels who live there.

Tommy Robinson, sporting an extreme Kim Jong-un haircut, spoke instead about ‘the original reason for initiating the EDL’. The fact that this necessitated mentioning Islam has probably not gone unnoticed, so we’ll have to see if he stays out of prison.

There has been a great deal of discussion about freedom of speech recently. People are up in arms about North Korea’s sour reaction to the film industry’s comical portrayal of their dear leader and the subsequent 'hackmailing' activities. Silencing Tommy could be seen as a step towards the thin end of a similar wedge. Even the squeamish Sarah AB seems to be wondering about  that.

Even though he stumbles over the occasional word, Tommy is undeniably eloquent. He definitely got the better of Jeremy Paxman on at least a couple of occasions.

The discussion on the Harry’s Place thread, mainly around Sarah AB’s agonising over whether or not Tommy Robinson is against radical Islam (a good thing) or Islam per se. (bad) Since no-one agrees on what is or isn’t the real Islam, this is a slippery concept, which cannot definitively be grasped.
Tommy has certainly been at pains to explain that he’s not against all Muslims in the best ‘some of my best friends are etc.’ tradition, but some commenters remain unconvinced, and others are against Islam in all its guises, if for no other reason than its inherent antisemitism. Which is quite a different matter from saying one hates all Muslims.

But you’re not allowed to say stuff like that these days. 

Unfortunately they haven’t yet released the Q and A session that followed the speech, but I understand that they intend to do so eventually. 
Tommy was clear, throughout the speech, that he was trying to persuade the audience to put themselves in the shoes of a  native Lutonite, and I think it was quite obvious that he doubted any of that particular audience would find that at all easy. The questions they asked might have shed more light on that., and it’s a pity that he felt he needed to spend so much time explaining - justifying- the EDL, because the nitty gritty is not so much the justification of the EDL or Quilliam, but the disturbing effect that mass Muslim immigration and the establishment's pandering to it is having on Britain. I hope the Oxford students aren’t too PC to recognise this.

Views my own

“This isn’t our Homeland say envoys angered by TV thriller” says a headline in the Times. (£) So Pakistani diplomats don’t like the portrayal of Islamabad in channel 4’s drama Homeland.  
“A grimy hell-hole and war zone where shoot-outs and bombs go off with dead bodies scattered around.”
Okay. That is pretty much how I think of Islamabad, (though I’ve never been there) I thought. Always willing to test an argument by turning it on its head, I asked myself whether there was a parallel between this and the way Israel and/or Jews are relentlessly maligned in TV dramas. ‘We don’t like it up us’ I thought, so why should we tolerate it in the opposite direction? Hmm. The Times editorial  - yes, they’ve editorialised it - says the maligning has been done before  (It’s a Wonderful life; The third Man) but concludes that although a bit of artistic license is a fine thing, it should be accompanied by a disclaimer.  
“Film noir is all very well, but the literal minded have rights and reasonable expectations not to be misled. Creative artists should heed them.” 
Echoes of “Views not my own”  and where have we heard that before.
I’m still not convinced. I enjoyed that series of Homeland and I agree with critics who said it was a return to form. 
One observation though. That ubiquitous malady ‘bipolar’ is being exploited and, yes, maligned, for ‘artistic purposes’ all too often.  It’s getting almost as much of a writer’s get-out clause as ‘and then I woke up’.
And isn’t our perception of Islamabad and Pakistan in general down to a combination of the actual news and the way the media delivers it?

So that brings me to Eric Pickles and his announcement about some new money going towards combatting antisemitism. Jews are being issued with bullet proof vests and hard hats. Not really. But there is talk of extra protection for Jewish schools. I mean, that’s a bit of a sticking plaster on a tumour kind of principle. So in the Express, where this is being reported (it was on a news bulletin but isn't on the BBC website so far) they’re calling it a ‘crackdown’  
The most interesting thing to me (as it often is on this topic) is the gist of the 'below the line' comments. To date there are 121. Most of them attribute the rise in antisemitism to mass Muslim immigration. Apart from a few ‘the Jews control the media’ and  “Look what’s happening in Gaza”,  something has sparked off a collective inclination to speak openly and negatively about the changes that mass immigration has brought about. 
Antisemitism isn’t solely and simply emanating from the Muslims though, is it? 
It’s the ‘metropolitan intelligentsia’ the 'Guardianista', the left-leaning liberal or whatever you want to call it. It’s the BBC. Look what’s happening in Gaza? Yes. We do seem to have to look at it quite a lot. Almost exclusively through the eyes of people who have - if not antisemitic views of their own - then sympathy with those that do. The BBC is one of the main propagators of this obsession with the Palestinians. We see it on our screens to a degree that can only be described as disproportionate. Why no comparable obsession with the women and children killed hurt and maimed in Syria? Iraq? Suicide and terrorist bombings in Africa? and dare I say it - Pakistan?

What was it that the Egyptians are accusing the three Al Jazeera journos of ? “spreading false news and aiding a terrorist organisation.” Neat charge.

While I’m at it (blogging) I must just mention an article I took the trouble to copy out in full for the benefit of anybody who can’t access the online Times, then saw that the author, Gregg Carlstrom, had also filed it here. Damn.  Anyway. 
Gregg Carlstrom is a free lancer who often puts a negative spin on stories about Israel so I was surprise to read this piece, which doesn’t shy away from making a connection between Isis, which the majority will openly condemn, and Hamas, which some of us will not. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.


I might not have wasted my time after all. I can't access the online article in the Australian paper today (you've reached your limit, you non-subscriber you!) so in case that's happened to anyone else here goes.

Threats to artists raise fears of Isis coming to Gaza

A campaign of threats to kill artists and writers for “insulting Islam” has heightened fears that affiliates of Islamic State have arrived in the Gaza strip.

“Wilayat Gaza”, allegedly an ally of the jihadist organisation in Iraq and Syria, warned women to show “chastity” and respect Islamic dress codes. In another communiqué, it threatened to kill 18 writers and artists for denigrating the religion, calling some of them apostates and others promiscuous.”

“The fears of jihadist infiltration have been underlined by two bomb attacks in the courtyard of the French cultural centre. Both took place when the building was empty. A group calling itself Islamic State in Gaza claimed to have carried out the first attack; no-one has claimed responsibility for the second. Dunya Ismail, a feminist activist was the first intellectual threatened with death, in a statement on December 3rd.

“In the beginning it was scary because it’s the first time I’ve been threatened by an Islamist movement that was unknown [here]” she said. “We do have this sort of ideology in Gaza”

She asked Hamas, the territory’s rulers, for security but they refused. Hamas then tried to disperse a protest she organised with other intellectuals listed in the statement.
Israel has repeatedly tried to link Hamas, which promotes a radical Islamist ideology, with Isis, although no concrete links within the movements have been found. Hamas says that the claims are part of an Israeli plot to discredit the Palestinian organisation, against which it fought a war in Gaza during the summer.
Asked about the apparent Islamic State threats and its lack of response, Hamas officials said that the perpetrators were likely to be lone-wolf troublemakers.
“The people who wrote this letter are troublemakers. They’re trying to put rumours into Palestinian society.” said Eyad al Bazm a spokesman for the interior ministry in Gaza. “There is no Islamic State in Gaza.”
Ms Ismail claims that members of Hamas might be making the threats, using the language rhetoric of Isis, to scare people. “I wondered could it be Hamas using the name of Isis? “ she asked. “It’s a way for them to put pressure on the world.”
Tensions between Hamas and Israel surfaced again on Christmas Eve when Israeli forces struck targets in Gaza after its troops came under attack by Palestinian snipers on the border.

Tayseir Smeiri, the head of Hamas’s border reconnaissance unit, was killed in the Israeli strike, and one Israeli soldier, of the minority Bedouin Arab unit, was seriously injured in the sniper attack.
The radicalisation of Islamist operatives in the lawless Sinai desert, next to Gaza, has also led to fears of a jihadist presence in the territory, which has been left even more impoverished since the summer war. Ansar Bait al-Magdis, a militant group based on the neighbouring Sinai peninsula, pledged allegiance to islamic State in the autumn.
The past 18 months have driven Hamas almost to the point of insolvency. Egypt destroyed hundreds of the smuggling tunnels on which Hamas relied for tax revenue.
Government employees in Gaza have not been paid since the spring and the slow pace of postwar reconstruction is turning a growing number of Palestinians against Hamas.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the organisation said that it would be difficult to keep Gaza calm while security forces were going unpaid. Ms Ismail said: “This [series of threats against intellectuals] is to threaten the people of Gaza, and the world, that there is something called Isis. Hamas wants to say ‘Isis will replace us so don’t put pressure on us’ (and warn that) Gaza could become like Syria or Iraq.”

Sunday, 28 December 2014


Various fleeting thoughts have been floating across my mind today, falling like snowflakes...


Firstly, Maureen Lipman on Broadcasting House describing the British media's coverage of the Syrian conflict:
I've seen no pictures. I've seen nothing on 24 hour news. I am well accustomed to seeing every rooftop that descends in Gaza because that's where all the reporters are, in the same hotel, all chatting away and all swapping photos. But as far as Syria's concerned, they're all absolutely petrified to do anything or report on anything. 
That seems to me to be a pretty good description of the BBC's reporting of the Israel-Palestinian conflict as compared to its Syrian coverage.

That's not to say, however, that the BBC hasn't devoted a lot of website space and airtime to the Syrian conflict. Quantitively-speaking, it's given more time to it than it's devoted to Israel-Gaza (pace BBC Watch), but, still, qualitatively-speaking, its Syrian coverage has been largely at one remove (despite Jim Muir presence, and Mishal Husain, Jeremy Bowen and Lyse Doucet's very-fleeting visits) while its Gaza coverage, earlier in the year, was an all-hands-on-deck-plus-the-kitchen-sink BBC free-for-all, and panned out exactly as Maureen described it.


That said, who in their right mind would blame the BBC for preferring to remain close to the receiving end of carefully-targeted Israeli military action rather than placing themselves in targeting range of the intended mass-murderousness of either Bashar's men or Caliph Bagdaddy's boys?


Maureen (and why not 'Dame Maureen' yet?) also wants us to take in many more Syrian refugees, comparing their present plight to that of the the refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the late '30s. 

My anti-mass-immigration hackles sprang up straight away but, given the fight-or-die viciousness of the (until-shockingly-recently-Nazi-war-criminal-harbouring) Assad regime and the much scarier and completely undisguised genocidal intent of the Koranic idealists of Islamic State (and their barely-less-murderous killalikes), that's hardly scaremongering, is it? 

The area, as Israel knows all too well (though BBC viewers might not), is full of antisemites, and in the area (and beyond) the dangers for non-Muslims are rocketing towards the farthest reaches of the worst imaginable. 

So what are we to do?


That said (again), some BBC reporters, most notably Mishal Husain, may be using their position to advocate for a much greater granting of refuge status to Syrian refugees (particularly Muslim ones) by the UK government, but we must remain very careful about who we're letting in. We shouldn't be letting in Islamist sympathisers fleeing Assad-controlled areas...

...a fear I don't hear being highlighted by the BBC. 

So what to do?


On related matters, there's a fascinating Radio 4 documentary on the BBC i-Player at the moment called Terror and the Oxygen of Publicity. It comes courtesy of the BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera. 

I strongly recommend it.

It gives a potted history of terrorists' attempts to exploit the media and the controversies surrounding how media organisations respond to those attempts. Does "reporting the news" sometimes risk "giving publicity to terrorists"?

Gordon Corera does a good job on the whole. His programme is definitely one of the BBC's more illuminating takes on the issue of terrorism and the media and it really made me think - so much so that it would take too much time to blog in full my reactions to it (so you'll have to judge it for yourself). Plus, he really did seem to be trying to air the issues fairly -  even, from time to time, challenging his mainstream media colleagues. 

That said, I noted the contrast between the way he interviewed the BBC boss (who really did say that the BBC has got it completely right) and the way he interviewed the social media boss. He was far, far sharper with the social media spokeswoman. 

Please listen to it for yourself though (and gird your loins in advance for that smug BBC boss).


As far this week's The World This Weekend (Radio 4) is concerned (hosted today by its old presenter Shaun Ley rather than its new presenter Mark Mardell, who was doubtless otherwise engaged eating whole turkeys in one gulp and platefuls of mince pies at one sitting), it was good to hear a professional pilot talking about the missing Indonesia-to-Singapore airline (though not good in the sense that he held out very little hope for the poor passengers and their families, bless them). 

Then novelist Margaret Atwood talked about the future. For an esteemed novelist she's an oddly dull speaker - so much so that I almost nodded off...


And while I'm on...why oh why oh why (as they say on Points of View) do people on BBC-bashing/right-leaning blogs keep defending RT (aka Russia Today) as if their lives depended on it. 

Yes, it provides an outlet for plenty of very-un-BBC points of view, but it is (and, yes, it absolutely is) a propaganda tool of the Russian government and, though it may occasionally strike a chord with the distrustful Right (including me), it often veers into wild 'truther' territory and complete far-Left lunacy - all, cynically, in aid of Russia's national interest. 

RT is not better than the BBC. 

RT, the Russian fifth column in our midst.


Alan at Biased BBC - who (very unfairly) got told off by one badger-hating commenter for being sarcastic  (ha, ha! that commenter should try some of my posts - they'd completely flummox him) - posted a piece today about yet another pro-immigration "sob story" published on the BBC News website

The reporter, who Alan very gallantly doesn't name and shame, is the BBC Asian Network's Catrin Nye, above  (who we've covered before). 

I've been reading Catrin's Twitter feed and her collected reports on Journalisted and it seems to me that she's a very typical BBC reporter - liberal-minded, pro-immigration, sycophantic towards Muslims, not keen on UKIP or the Daily Mail, etc, etc, etc.

There's another point of view to hers, and she should wise up to it and bear it in mind while reporting.


Not being snowed in I've got to go back to work tomorrow. Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day!

The Unbelievable Lie

It contains a sarcastic passage on the subject of BBC bias, from which it's probably safe to assume that he doesn't believe it exists and that the BBC is just super.

His own experiences of working for the BBC must have helped him reach that conclusion, for if there's one thing you can say about topical BBC comedy programmes, it's that they're always studiously balanced and politically neutral. 

You never find David Mitchell, for example, mocking the Daily Mail, UKIP, posh Tories and Christians without also sneering at the Guardian, Labour Party, Greens and Muslims. 

And for every Marcus Brigstocke, Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy, Russell Howard, Andy Parsons, Stewart Lee, Mark Thomas, Rufus Hound or Shappi Khorsandi there's a...there's Count Arthur Strong count? (ed - No, he's not real).

The thing about satire is that it should have the ring of truth to it. David Mitchell's satire is ruined here by its closing punchline, which has absolutely no ring of truth to it whatsoever because the BBC never, ever apologies.

Left and right unite to condemn BBC bias
It was a British political consensus not seen since the second world war. All 47 parties represented in the House of Commons came together to condemn the public service broadcaster’s relentless and shameful partiality.
“They just advance the views of a blinkered and unaccountable media elite,” said the prime minister. The leader of the opposition agreed: “The British public have a right to expect balanced reporting, not the editorialising of TV insiders.” They were among 500 MPs who signed an open letter to the director general, who responded by asking: “In whose favour do you think we’re biased?” This was condemned as a divisive and trouble-making response.
“What’s clear is that we’ve agreed to differ over that issue,” retorted David Cameron, “but over the key issue, the issue of bias, we’re completely united.”
The BBC apologised. 

UPDATE: Curiously, as I was writing this post I was also catching up with this morning's Broadcasting House on Radio 4. Just as I was pressing the 'Publish' button, Paddy's panel began their contribution to the programme. First up came a veteran Radio 4 comedian. The immediate butt of his humour? UKIP. 

That veteran comedian was Barry Cryer though, so I'll forgive him, especially as he was soon doing what we want from Barry Cryer - making us laugh.

This is him recycling a very funny old David Frost anecdote:
There was a wonderful story of the late Denis Thatcher arriving at Paddington in a rush, and he had a ticket but not a reservation. So he got on this train. It was packed from front to back, and he wandered all down the train looking for a seat.
Suddenly he came to some empty seats and he thought, 'What's this?'. And on the window was a sticker that said, 'Reserved. Reading Psychiatric Hospital'. So he thought, 'I'm all right till Reading' and read his paper.
The train stopped at Reading and people got on and sat round him, the party from the hospital. And the man in charge said, 'Hang on, we've got one too many here. I must do a headcount' and he went '1,2,3,4...who are you?' And Denis said, 'I'm the husband of the Prime Minister', and the man said, '4,5,6.7...'!

Celebrating women bishops

This morning's edition of Sunday was a celebration of the Church of England's historic decision to appoint woman bishops. 

It was guest-hosted by the BBC's religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt. Her studio guests  - two Anglican vicars, a Jewish Orthodox feminist and the vice-president of the Islamic Society of Britain - were all women too. There was also an interview with Justin Welby. 

Everyone was highly enthusiastic about the move. There was much talk from Caroline of "diversity" and whether the Church "is finally an equal opportunity employer", plus considerable use of the word "conservative" to describe those still opposed to the move.

Indeed, traditionalist opponents of women bishops were much talked about but largely absent. Liberal voices dominated the discussion to the almost total exclusion of that other point of view. The brief exception came during a report from Trevor Barnes during which the BBC reporter talked to two such 'conservatives' and adopted a very different tone to that prevailing elsewhere - a more questioning, challenging tone, putting them both firmly on the defensive. (They got about two minutes or so in total).

I see that several 'conservatives' have already taken to Twitter to condemn this edition as "unbalanced" and "particularly partisan" and it's hard to disagree with that. 

Such broadcasting doesn't do much to confront the perception that the BBC - and its flagship Radio 4 religious affairs programme above all - has a very pronounced liberal bias on such matters. The fact that most of society and the Church and, very probably, both you and I may strongly agree with them here still doesn't make it right, does it?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

And finally...

...before I go to bed...

...yet more examples of BBC reporters tweeting from the Left, courtesy of the ever-diligent DB at Biased BBC.

First, here's BBC Senior Broadcast Journalist Megha Mohan:

And, second, here's one from one of the BBC's regional Middle East editors, Lina Sinjab (familiar from her reporting from Libya - her home country if memory serves me right):

Such opinions really do seem to be 'in their genes'.

'Dateline London' - the end of year edition

As I've spent many a year writing about Dateline London - proving its past bias (if I say so myself) whilst conceding that it has got somewhat less biased over time - I felt duty bound to tune in to today's end-of-year edition and found, thankfully, that it was one of those (increasingly common) episodes where people actually disagree with each other. 

In the past, the programme's largely left-leaning guests would simply congregate around a left-of-centre fulcrum on any issue and see-saw around it with nary a dissenting right-wing voice in sight (except Janet Daley every six or so weeks, as a sop to BBC impartiality).

The bias used to be outrageous, and it would be silly (and dishonest) to say it hasn't improved somewhat over the past couple of years or so - and, who knows, maybe even as a result of my seemingly endlessly complaints about it. (I know that a couple of its regulars read us from time to time.) 

Today's panel was a fairly traditional one, consisting of four of the programme's regulars - Janet Daley from the Right, Marc Roche from the Left, Nabila Ramdani from the Left, and Stryker McGuire from journalistically-impartial-yet-very-obviously-liberal-(in-the-American-sense) side of American politics.

A large range of subjects were covered - from UK politics, to the Middle East, to US-Cuba and US-Russia - and a contrasting range of opinions offered, occasionally annoyingly,  just as it should be. 

The only sour notes for me (as a pro-Israeli blogger) arose from Nabila Ramdani's repeated, unchallenged rants against Israel.

Surprisingly, despite their astonishing vehemence, no one - not presenter Maxine Wawhinney, not even Janet Daley - spoke up to rebut them.

Two of them came during the central portion of the programme. The final one came at the very end of the programme, given the Israel-hater the last word and leaving her anti-Israel smears hanging in the air while Maxine thanked everyone for their contribution.

I'm still gob-smacked about that.


Oh, and while I'm getting things off my chest, like some BBC-obsessed Chippendale...

I was driving home from work the other day listening to, of all things, Michael Rosen's Word of Mouth on Radio 4.

As I was listening, it suddenly struck me - in a Chippendale-like revelatory flash - that I must surely be listening to exactly the kind of rarefied, politically-correct conversation that goes on prior to some logic-defying, self-righteous, right-on, Right-baiting pronouncement of the kind beloved of local councils, student bodies, arts councils, BBC committees, etc - i.e. just the sort of thing that Richard Littlejohn keeps telling us we couldn't possibly make up. 

The title of the episode pretty much says it all: Ebola: How should we talk about it?

Michael Rosen, playing the part of the po-faced presenter, steered his guests to condemn insufficiently right-on media headlines and comments: It's wrong to say this, as it implies Western superiority; it's wrong to say that as it implies African guilt. We shouldn't say this, we shouldn't say that, etc.

If you didn't know better you'd think he was some sort of bossy, censorious Trotskyist extremist rather than a loveable children's author and BBC presenter. 

Actually, it's a strange thing, when you come to think of it. One day I'm driving home listening to Michael Rosen and his left-wing, almost invariably politically-tinged take on language, the next I'm driving home listening to Laurie Taylor and his left-wing sociological chums and their left-wing, almost invariably politically-tinged takes on everything else under the sun. All courtesy of BBC Radio 4. 

From Their Own Correspondent

Please imagine for a minute that the BBC is biased, and biased in the way we and Sue believe it to be...

Then please imagine what kind of stories such a genuinely biased BBC would choose for its Christmas edition of the never-ending From Our Own Correspondent...

Were I to guess blind, I'd guess that it would have to include a report from Bethlehem which blames the numerical decline of Christians in Bethlehem purely, and without balance, on the adverse effects of "the Israeli occupation". 

My experience of past BBC behaviour leads me to expect that - Yolande Knell, for example, and her poor Palestinian shepherds, from a few years ago, abiding in the fields, watching the Israeli settlers by night.

This weekend's festive edition of From Our Own Correspondent duly led with that very thing, courtesy of, yes, Yolande Knell.

Her piece, all in all, had been full of festive cheer up till its mention of "the Israeli occupation" (even though Bethlehem is run by the Palestinian Authority and isn't occupied) - three Christmases (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox), bagpipers (via British rule), jolly Palestinians being self-deprecating, etc...

...and then, wham!, came the attack on Israel. 

The other topics, if you're wondering, were.....inspiring, racist-stereotype-defying Roma/gypsies in Hungary; the Nazi underbelly of the Vienna Phil's much-loved New Year Day concerts; how the BBC's Trending editor hates New York's brash consumerism at Christmas; and something about French food.

That does sound very 'BBC', doesn't it? 

Actually, the gypsy story did seem like a genuine 'good news story', and the history of the New Year's Day concerts in Vienna, as reported by Radio 3's Squire Trelawny, is full of dark echoes (and Norman Lebrecht has been covering such things incisively for years); and...

...well, my enthusiasm runs out there. The BBC Trending guy sounded like an unfunny David Sedaris [whose Christmas piece for Radio 4 this year - his first published piece - was very, very funny], and I can't remember anything about the French food item. 

Despite the extraordinary, damning revelations that keep coming out of the archive about the Straussfest in Vienna over the festive period (did you know there are actually three such concerts each year?), I still love the thing, so, altogether now...

Darr darr deee darrrr (wait for it!)..DA!!....da Da...da Da/...dar dar dee da.DA..da Da..da Da...

"Muslim viewers want more programmes... where they see themselves"

When the BBC appointed a Muslim to be its Head of Religion in 2009, concerned voices (at blogs like Biased BBC) wondered whether he might start advancing his own Muslim faith. 

Bearing that in mind, Ian Burrell of the Independent has a scoop:
BBC’s head of religion Aaqil Ahmed calls for more ‘literacy’ at the top 
"Muslim viewers want more programmes... where they see themselves"
IAN BURRELL   MEDIA EDITOR  Friday 26 December 2014 
The head of religious programmes at the BBC has complained that a lack of diversity and religious literacy at the top of British public service television is letting down modern audiences.
Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, complained of a “lack of religious literacy” in modern society and said viewers from minority faiths complained that television often failed to understand their beliefs and reflect them in its output. “We have got to do better,” he said.
Mr Ahmed noted that census statistics showed that 2.7 million people in Britain and about one tenth of babies are born into the faith. “What [Muslim viewers] want is more programmes that explain what they believe in and more programmes where they see themselves,” he said.
Highlighting the lack of religious diversity at senior levels of the industry, he said: “I’m not the first person to commission religious programmes for the BBC or Channel 4 but I’m the first person to have done [programmes on] the Koran and the life of Muhammad.”
Noting that the UK is also home to substantial populations of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, Mr Ahmed said religious-based programming was a way for the BBC to connect with minority audiences. “One of the things we have seen in the research is that these hard-to-reach audiences think that religion is important,” he said.
Though (being charitable) it may partly be down to the way Ian Burrell structured and worded that passage, it does seem nonetheless, doesn't it, that Aaqil Ahmed's concern for the feelings of minority faiths is overwhelmingly focused on just one of those faiths - his own Muslim faith? The others (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews) seem like afterthoughts. 

And for any of you who might be thinking that Muslim voices are presently over-represented on the BBC's religious affairs output, Aaqil clearly disagrees: 
“What [Muslim viewers] want is more programmes that explain what they believe in and more programmes where they see themselves”.
So it's probably safe to assume that we can expect to hear much more about Muslims and Islam on the BBC under Aaqil Ahmed's continuing watch.

A Tracey (rose) between two 'Today' presenters (thorns)

Guest-edited by ex-Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn, part of the show seemed like business-as-usual Today, with stuff about the Middle East and cyber attacks, and a typically over-aggressive interview with a Tory minister from Jim Naughtie...

...but for much of the time, thanks to Tracey, it seemed as if Today had been taken over by Radio 1's Newsbeat. 

Tracey chose subjects which (in her 52-year-old eyes) reflect the concern of young adults - subjects such as fanmail, whether the internet can help young gay people come to terms with their identity, whether young adult fiction is taken seriously enough, and whether children in care are made independent too soon or whether they should continue to be cared for until they are 21 (or 25). 

I will admit that these aren't really subjects I usually give a great deal of thought to (as a 45-year-old man); after all, I don't send fanmail to famous people, I don't use the internet to come to terms with my sexual identity, I don't read young adult fiction, and (in the spirit of Bono) I've never (thank God) been in care. 

So, as a result, I had to focus hard on what I was hearing in order to avoid drifting away - as hard as the proverbial supermodel faced with the word 'concentrate' on a bottle of orange squash. 

I think it was worth the effort though, and I warmed a lot to Tracey Thorn. 

(Yes, I know I should denounce her and all her works in true curmudgeonly blogger fashion, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Miracle on 34th Street, Nick Frost (the most Christmassy-named actor of all time) on Doctor Who, all the festive booze, perhaps...)

That said, I suspect Jim Naughtie's excessive belligerence towards Liz Truss MP wasn't just his natural anti-Right-wing bias coming out, more a case (at least for today) of him rebelling (however unconsciously) against all of Tracey's attempts to be positive and against her focus on the kinds of things that people like him and me (despite our divergent politics) find it so, so hard to relate to (for good or for ill). 

And it was even worse for Jim. He had to listen to some pop music...

....namely a Today exclusive...

...a gorgeous new cover by Tracey Thorn (with her ex-EBTG husband Ben on piano) of a beautiful old B-side by Kate Bush, Under the Ivy.

Laughing at North Korea and sexist jokes

Steve Evans, the BBC's correspondent in Seoul, was on Today this morning talking about North Korea's latest fulminations against that U.S. comedy film which mocks its (very) big baby of a leader.

The North Koreans have gone too far this time though, way beyond minor things like mass executions, horrific gulags, three-generation family punishments, threats of nuclear war, and the like. Yes, they've said something racist about President Obama and not even the BBC feels it can be neutral in the face of that level of offensiveness. It's wrong, and BBC reporters like Steve Evans are saying so.

Steve himself enjoyed the film at the heart of the story. He thinks it's a good film. He laughed at it, and even admitted to laughing at what he described as its many "sexist" jokes - though he added that he probably shouldn't have done so...

...which is a very BBC way of thinking. Why shouldn't he laugh at sexist jokes? Why all the public hand-wringing?

Of course, there's a whole world of even more po-faced offence-takers out there just gagging to be offended (some, no doubt, at the BBC itself), so maybe his caution is understandable.

Cue some righteous academic on Twitter:
Hmm, not so sure comparing Barack Obama to a monkey [something the North Koreans apparently do all the time] is all that "unintended", especially given North Korea's obsession with racial purity. But then again I'm no North Korea-defending academic, so what do I know?

Still, in the spirit of the BBC's reporting of those UKIP supporters who say the kind of things right-thinking people (like those at the BBC) reckon ought never to be said, can we please start a Twitter storm to get Steve Evans sacked for admitting to laughing at sexist jokes, when (obviously) he should have remained as stony-faced as that Rosa Klebb-like auntie of Fatboy Kim throughout every single one of them, and then publicly registered his unqualified disapproval of them on Radio 4 like a good boy? 

No, come to think of it, let's not do that sort of thing. Ever.

Anyhow, here are some North Korea jokes which might not be to Mr Wibberley's taste but at least he can breathe a little easier knowing (in advance) that they aren't sexist:
"So, how's life in North Korea?"
"Well, I can't complain."
North Korea is back online after internet outage. Sources say South Korea changed the wifi password.
Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" has been banned worldwide following fears it may piss Adolf Hitler off.
So Kim Jong-un is claiming he personally hacked into Sony's servers in retaliation to them broadcasting a spoof interview. Is there no end to this Olympic gold Medallist's talent?
The bad news is that North Korea have built an atomic suitcase bomb that they could slip into this country. The good news: Ryanair lost it.

Why Hugh Sykes no longer likes 'Newsnight'

Here's a Twitter discussion you may have missed. In it a veteran BBC reporter reveals his feelings about Ian Katz's new-look 'Newsnight':

Friday, 26 December 2014

Questions and answers

I see Lucy Winkett has been quiet this year. No stunt to highlight Israel’s ‘apartheid wall’ . The plight of (non-Palestinian) Christians in the Middle East seems  to be concerning the media,   but apportioning the bulk of the blame to “ *Islamic State” (*not the real Islam) still leaves room for a goodly share of the blame to be directed at Israel for the convenience of the BBC-educated Israel-basher.

Mehdi Hasan has resurrected that tired old “analogy”: ‘What if Mary and Joseph tried to get to Bethlehem today?’  (answer: They’d get stuck at an Israeli checkpoint) 

Sounds like a joke in a cracker.

The Washington Post has a counter speculation.  (answer: They might get murdered by Palestinian terrorists)

(Of course Mehdi is primarily famous for downright moonbattery, but occasionally he’ll come up with a smidgeon of sense, which puts one in mind of his friend Peter Oborne.  
Mehdi is a poor man’s Peter Oborne. In a slightly different league, certainly, but parallel. In comparison with his overall output, Oborne’s antisemitic outbursts are few in number, whereas with Mehdi the reverse is the case - the posturing and childishness is the norm and episodes of wisdom are rare.  Of course Oborne’s ‘lapses’ (his obsession with the Jewish Lobby etc.) are all the more damaging, whereas whatever credibility Mehdi might have possessed fled with the grovelling letter to the Mail and the infamous cattle video.)      

Much of the media stubbornly chooses not to attribute the persecution of Christians and other non Muslim faiths, including “lesser Muslims”, to the rise of political Islam throughout the Middle East. That would mean incriminating Islam, and would necessarily include Hamas and Fatah.    Instead they begrudgingly admit that the problem is associated with Islam, but solely confined to the not-the-real-Islam branch of Islam. 

Oh well. The zeitgeist is so anti-Israel these days that the BBC’s anti-Israel attitude has become publicly acceptable. Yesterday’s dinner table fashion has obviously trickled down. Which brings us back to Knell.

Leila Sansour is a (half) Palestinian Catholic. I wonder what she made of the Pope’s platitudinous Christmas message. He condemned religious violence, (who wouldn’t?) and called for peace in the Middle East (ditto)

Hadar at BBC Watch was the first to point out that by promoting the film ‘Open Bethlehem” Knell has surely breached the BBC’s impartiality rules for employees -
“It is essential that BBC staff, BBC correspondents on non staff contracts and freelances known to the public primarily as presenters or reporters on BBC news or current affairs programmes do not undertake any off-air activities which could undermine the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. Nothing they do or say should bring the BBC into disrepute. No off-air activity, including writing for newspapers, magazines or websites, writing books, giving interviews, making speeches or chairing conferences should lead to any doubt about the objectivity or integrity of their work for the BBC. If BBC journalists, presenters or reporters publicly express personal views off-air on controversial issues, then their editorial or on-air role may be severely compromised.”

Judging by the trailer for the film, it looks distinctly ‘cheesy’. My guess is that it’s a clunkingly sentimental collection of half-truths and  cinematic cliches. I haven’t seen the film of course so I may be wrong. Please don’t take my word for it. (As if!) 

I might as well get all chummy and mention Daphne Anson’s post as well as Craig'sWe’re all promoting each other, obviously, rather like Knell, Sansour, her hubby Nicholas Blincoe (former adviser to Nick Clegg) and the BBC’s own cutting edge wit and Middle East expert Jeremy Hardy. 
(+ John Donnison and a few other BBC staff e.g. Rana Haddad.)

Bonding over cups of Yorkshire tea, Knell and Sansour chat about promoting Open Bethlehem, the film about Israel’s “asphyxiation of a little town with a world mission behind a wall that stands for all that is wrong.”

Sounds like a song lyric for Mohammed Assaf.  

 When not advising the deputy prime minister, hubby Nicholas devotes much of his time to various forms of anti-Israel activism. Meanwhile Jeremy Hardy is busy cracking hilarious jokes about the Jews on the BBC, starring in Sansour’s cutting edge political drama “Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army” and hosting an informative Q.A. about Open Bethlehem.  
Leila Sansour is furiously Tweeting about it all, and petitioning for an inquiry into the BBC’s pro-Israel bias. 

Good luck with that. If they ever hold such an inquiry, will they release it?  
Another topic for a Q & A.

A BBC reporter on PEGIDA...and on Twitter

Damien McGuinness told John Humphrys that, even though the movement (PEGIDA) contains "a lot of right-wing extremists", its protests aren't really about what the protestors say they are about - namely the Islamisation of the West. Instead, he argued, "foreigners" are being made "scapegoats" for other reasons - a bundle of grievances about immigration more generally, low pay and pensioner poverty, and disenchantment with the politicians and the media. 

There may be some truth in this, but given that everyone agrees that confrontations between Kurds and Salafists on the streets Germany gave the movement its initial impetus [something which Damien didn't mention], simply dismissing the idea that creeping Islamisation (and the violence which flows from it) is provoking genuine concern in Germany just doesn't ring true.


Like many a BBC reporter, Damien McGuinness is highly active on Twitter and uses Twitter as part of his BBC reporting. ("BBC correspondent covering Germany" is his tagline). His tweets and re-tweets follow an unsurprising pattern.

If you have a read of them (as he intends you to), you'll get a good sense of his concerns. 

Just from the last month, his dislikes appear to be PEGIDA, Putin, UKIP, the French Right, the American Right (the latter pair contained in a single re-tweet describing them - in French -  as "disturbed and crazy"), the German Right, the Ukrainian far-Right, the Azerbaijani government, and David Cameron's EU and immigration policies, while his likes appear to be Angela Merkel (though not her allies), anti-PEGIDA protestors (he re-tweets an Occupy, hacktivist supporter called "Global Revolution"), the BBC, Britain's membership of the EU, immigration, Jeffrey Sachs (the Keynesian economist) and women's progress in the boardroom.

If Biased BBC were still updating their In Their Own Tweets collection, there'd be quite a few potential candidates for inclusion here from our Damien. 

Yolande Knell promotes a pro-Palestinian film

I'm no longer surprised at hearing about BBC presenters and reporters trading on names as BBC employees and engaging is a spot of moonlighting from time to time. Just as long as they take the money and don't say anything they shouldn't say (as prominent BBC representatives), that seem's fair enough to me - and admirably entrepreneurial of them too.

However, what if they take part in an event that promotes something that's highly controversial in their own field of reporting? 

What is Yolande Knell doing getting herself involved in the promotion of this controversial pro-Palestinian film? 

As per the estimable Daphne Anson in the comments field at BBC Watch, a possible clue might be provided by Ms Sansour's Facebook page:
Another great evening at a packed Crouch End cinema. This time the Q&A was chaired by BBC Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell with whom I bonded three years ago over Yorkshire tea which had to be carefully rationed in Bethlehem as there were limited supplies of it in town- basically, her cupboard and mine.

Also as per Daphne Anson (at her blog), Yolande has also been tweeting about the film too:
Now, we don't know what Yolande Knell said at the event. She may have remained studiously 'impartial' in her hosting of the event, or she may have behaved in a completely biased way.

Nevertheless, her mere presence at the promotion of such a partisan pro-Palestinian film is highly questionable, isn't it? And she does seem determined to give this film her seal of approval.

Doubtless BBC Watch and others will be referring the matter to the BBC to see if Yolande Knell has breached editorial guidelines here.

UPDATE: Sue has been Googling around and spotted some of Ms Sansour's Other Helpers. (As have I.)

They include far-Left comic Jeremy Hardy, former Tablet deputy editor (turned Catholic Voices founder) Austen Ivereigh, trainspotter Irvine Welsh, Waking  the Dead scriptwriter Nicholas Blincoe (married to Leila, director of the documentary Jeremy Hardy vs The Israeli Army), the Guardian, and BBC journalist Rana Haddad.

Boxing Day hangovers, crashed pips, and Sally Bercow's husband

Who knew Mishal was that short?

Today had its first guest editor of the season today - Sally's husband, Mr Speaker Sir, John Bercow.

The programme didn't run entirely smoothly. The 8 o'clock pips were crashed, the sports presenter (Sonala Shah) repeatedly stumbled over her words (one name in particular), eventually putting it down to having a hangover ('champagne fever'), and James Naughtie was heard in the background asking "Who's guest editor tomorrow?" during Mishal Husain's closing interview with Mr Bercow. [Did he really not know? Or was he (Jeremy _unt-like) quietly giving vent to his inner feelings about Mr Bercow's performance?] 

John Bercow got to interview Myanmarese opposition leader Ong Song Sue Chee (as she's known to people who can't be bothered to check how to spell her name, possibly due to 'champagne fever'). He also spoke to Roger Federer, his tennis-playing 'hero'. Frankly, he shouldn't give up his day job though (showing off during PMQs). His interviewing style left a lot to be desired. He even made James Naughtie sound un-pompous in comparison.

His main theme was democracy - more especially the question of whether our parliament is "not the most up-to-date" and, therefore, needs to "move with the times" (as Mishal Husain put it) by embracing 'digital democracy' (like Estonia) and 'e-government' (like South Korea). 

John Bercow's own commission is investigating such matters and though he was, BBC-like, framing it as a question it was very clear, no-less-BBC-like, where his sympathies actually lie on the matter. He's an obvious fan of the idea. 

It was, therefore, funny when another of his chosen interviewees - Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales - was asked by Nick Robinson for his views on electronic voting. Jimmy Wales said he was against it and explained why. Mr Speaker was asked for his reaction to that and expressed his surprise - though it was his disappointment that come across most clearly. You'd have had to have a heart of stone not to have laughed.

Mr Speaker's own chaplain, the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, did Thought for the Day and the editor of a games magazine, Keza MacDonald, reviewed PMQs. (She wasn't impressed). 

The main topical news story of the day for Today was parcel delivery company City Link going into administration. The programme's news bulletins framed it from the angle of the anger of the RMT union at the shabby way the news of the resultant redundancies broke on Christmas Day and an RMT official (Mick Cash) was duly invited on to denounce the company and the venture capitalists behind it. That might be taken as evidence of anti-business bias on the part of Today, or just as the latest development in the story as it broke the previous night and the RMT's reaction was the latest turn in the story. A business professor (Joshua Bamfield of the Centre for Retail Research) appeared later to put the story into some kind of context, and did a good job of it.  

We also heard about Boxing Day shoppers, the weather, the tenth anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami, and about a heart-rending and highly-fraught legal case in Ireland over a brain-dead woman who is being kept on life support in order to protect her unborn child - a consequence of Ireland's country's 'pro-life' laws. The Irish Independent writer interviewed on the latter, Dearbhail McDonald, personally supports the calls for the life support to be switched off and for the law to be reformed to prevent such a situation arising again - views she has expressed on Twitter and through her articles. She didn't express them openly on Today though. Whether her views were known to Today when they invited her on can only be speculated about, but I find hard to imagine a strong pro-life Irish journalist being invited to appear by herself, merely 'as a journalist', and treated in a non-confrontational way, during any Today interview on this kind of subject.

There really wasn't very much bias on this morning's Today but, still, I thought I'd fill you in on what happened just in case you missed it (due to a hangover perhaps) and wouldn't be able to sleep tonight as a result. Now it's off for a mince pie and a festive far-too-early port-and-lemon. (Will Sonala Shah be having one too? Hair-of-the-dog, and all that?)