Thursday, 30 April 2015

Tonight's BBC One's Question Leaders' Special - and BBC bias

Blogs are meant to be topical (though we originally tried to buck that trend), so I'm going to post my raw observations of tonight's BBC One election extravaganza...

These are the notes I wrote as I was watching (and, as I say, they are 'raw')...


BBC One's Question Leaders' Special this evening featured David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. (Nigel, Nicola and Leanne will appear later).

The BBC audience tonight, as you'll probably be aware by now, was meant to be (according to the BBC) 25% Conservative, 25% Labour, 25% Liberal Democrat and 25% 'others' (Green, UKIP, nationalists & 'undecideds'). 

How are they behaving?

Well, they are certainly vocal. There's lots and lots of partisan applause and some heckling. 

David Cameron, appearing first, got some tough questions from the audience - and most of the questions and questioners were critical. 

David Dimbleby was quite tame here. 

There was some heckling for David Cameron, especially over 'zero hours' and his refusal to debate directly with Ed Miliband, plus some laughter at his 'harking' back to Labour's record. And the early questions all came 'from the left'. 

However, he also got lots of strong applause to counter the 'lots of strong applause' from those in the audience attacking him...

...and an audience member then tackled the PM 'from the right' over the NHS, saying we're pouring too much money, too much of our GDP, into the thing.

[Mr. Cameron (being a British politician) said he was wrong. The audience member said, 'I disagree'. The audience laughed.] 

Another audience member then also tackled the PM 'from the right' over immigration and the EU. 

This was all proving quite fair. David Dimbleby, however, then introduced a typical BBC pro-immigration point:
First of all, we looked at the figures on this. Under 6% of EU nationals in this country claim benefits,. Of any kind. So you're saying stopping that is going to hugely reduce the number...
Factually (pace our discussion on an earlier thread) the stats may be correct, but still, how typical, don't you think, of the BBC that David Dimbleby's first 'fact-check'-to-hand was....a 'pro-immigration' stat?

The discussion went on. DD, to applause (and laughter) mocked DC for his 'double-talk' over the coalition with the Lib Dems, and the audience applauded against him...

...and then, in contrast, very loudly for him (with cheers and whistles) for his response.

Ed Miliband was up next...

Ed is doing his thing - sounding like his Dead Ringers imitation at times. The questions are critical, and - my goodness! - the audience is whooping and hollowing against him. He's being repeatedly heckled.

"It's a great question, Shirley", says Ed, sounding even more like his Dead Ringers imitation. He gets loudish applause, but his following answer get lots of heckling and an interruption from David Dimbleby.

Oooh, tough crowd! 

An audience member then accuses Ed of "lying", citing Crash Gordon's selling of our nations's gold. The audience member persists, and Ed squirms. ("But, look...").

The next audience member, to considerable applause, also damns Labour over borrowing (and its record). Ed does his Dead Ringers thing, rhetorically, and gets a fair amount of applause in response. 

Next? Labour "misleading" us over the SNP? Applause. Ed: "Let me repeat this point to you". No applause, but strongish applause for saying 'no' to the SNP.

Ed's joke about not liking the idea of Dave and Nick getting together in a "darkened room" gets a laugh. (It made me laugh too.)

Audience member, correcting Ed's mispronunciation of her name, asks Ed about the EU. Ed goes into full Dead Ringers  full mode. Alisha (with some help from DD) then demands to be given her point of view on the EU. Loudish applause for Ed for ruling out an EU referendum. 

The next audience member attacks the "savage cuts" over education. DD swiflly moves on. The next audience member attacks Ed over the EU and trust. (Small applause for Ed's reply).

The same audience member who attacked the "savage cuts" is then invited back in by DD, attacking the "savage cuts" in FE again. Ed agrees with her, unsurprisingly.

Next audience member: "a carte blanche to see the welfare budget rocket"? (Laughter at her "over here" joke".) Ed's long response? No applause. The questioner questions him further. Ed waxes lyrical over green technology. DD interrupts and, following some applause for Ed from the audience, questions him over the IFS's criticisms. The next audience member sticks up for the private sector against Ed's expensive proposals. 

The next audience member - a businessman - attacks Ed over his zero hours policy. The audience applauds.  DD says the evidence shows that people like zero hours. The audience member pursues his point. Ed answers and gets strongish applause.

'Whatcha gonna do about immigration?', asks the next questioner. Ed's reply gets some applause. "I don't believe it's prejudiced...."

A heckle follows...'why don't you set a target?' 

Something of a 'whoop' follow for a soundbite, but is immediately followed by some heckles...

The End..

Well, er, not actually the end...Nick Clegg was up next. OFF!


Oh my! The lefties on Twitter are fuming. The righties on Twitter - and on certain blogs - are grudgingly praising the BBC for being fair.

And understandably so. This wasn't yer typical BBC audience. It seemed reasonably balanced between right and left (like the electorate at the moment, if the polls are to be believed).

The Cardiff Uni crowd will probably "randomly" sample this programme for their next survey though. So wait and see how they skew it to their ends.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


American researchers have found human brains imitate the speech patterns of other people, even complete strangers, without meaning to.
They say a humans want to “bond” with others, even when a voice cannot be heard or, somewhat embarrassingly, even if another person is a foreigner.
Scientists from the University of California, Riverside, found the subconscious copying of an accent comes from an inbuilt urge of the brain to “empathise and affiliate”.

Well, we all knew that didn’t we? Look at George Galloway with that hilarious 
Scots/Paki-ese that comes forth whenever he’s addressing his core voters.

Well. I don’t think many of us will be able to stomach the whole of Ed’s cringe-making chat with Russell Brand, but according to the clip that’s been bandied about all over the BBC this morning, Ed’s been doin’ a lo’, lo’ of empafising.   You go’’a do it, aincha?  Let’s be clear.

How old do we have to be to tolerate the BBC’s output? About thirteen and three quarters?  Last night’s election-themed Newsbeat showed that young people have confused the government with Mum and Dad - bank of. Turn the bankers into food-bankers!  Interest? Not interested.

Russell Brand has a YouTube channel for some reason, I imagine for his activism and some sour, un-fun comedy. 
The clips of the MiliBrand interview remind me of Ali G and Tony Benn, but without Sacha Baron Cohen. No irony, just pure humourless Ali G, and Ed as the sucker.
Or, for pantomime dameness, Edna Everage, but without the backstage support of a Barry Humphries,  Ed still as the sucker.

Someone said Ed believes if it gains him a few votes, it will be worth it. If not it will provide endless mockery for evermore, like Neil Kinnock slowly falling into the sea backwards. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

That 'Newsnight' report on immigration: BBC Complaints responds

Duncan Weldon

David Keighley, writing at Conservative Woman, also found that report to be a shocker:
On planet Beeb only bigoted plebs worry about immigration
The BBC’s blizzard of election-related stories that spin immigration as a topic that doesn’t matter is impossible to track. Lift almost any stone and there’s another example.
A Newsnight feature last Thursday was billed by presenter Emily Maitlis as ‘a long hard look at the subject’.  The full transcript can be read here.
This, it transpired, was a special piece of BBCspeak. It meant that Newsnight – led, of course, by former Guardian executive Ian Katz- was about to deploy its own form of spin to show in yet another way that those British plebs who support tougher immigration controls are deluded bigots and xenophobes.
David make a lot of good points, but the passage that really stood out for me was this one:
Next, Weldon turned to that old BBC device, the vox pop, a range of voices from members of the public.  Many years ago, when I did my basic training as a BBC reporter in what is now the Langham Hotel, I was warned that these can never be – and should never be projected as – a balanced or objective view of public opinion. They are only ever a subjective snapshot.
Weldon apparently now works according to very different rules.
The sequence of three voices was gathered, selected and edited by him with all the subtlety of a jackhammer to show that those with views against immigration are bigoted xenophobes for no other reason that they hate foreign languages and shops selling foreign goods. On the other hand, his pro-immigration contributor made a reasoned response, making the point that immigrants are ‘different brains from different parts of the world’, who set up new businesses and who have a wide range of skills.
Weldon then said that if this selection of ‘public opinion’ (which this most certainly was not) was ‘nuanced’, the view of business was ‘fairly’ clear’... 

Duncan's 'welcome' tweet from Newsnight's editor, Ian Katz

Following my own post last week - and making use of every character of the BBC Complaints procedure's 1,500-character limit - I dispatched the following complaint to the BBC:
I want to complain about Duncan Weldon's pro-immigration Newsnight report. 
He claimed that "public opinion is nuanced". No, it's overwhelmingly against mass immigration. 
He then said that the view of business is "fairly clear", featuring the CBI saying immigration is a big help and really important for us (pro-immigration). 
He then said, "It's often said that immigrants are coming over here and taking our jobs, but that isn't necessarily the case" (pro-immigration) and suggested that immigrants not only take jobs Brits don't want but that, by doing so, they create jobs British people do want to take up (pro-immigration). 
Then he said, "Most academic surveys have concluded that there isn't actually a link between British unemployment and immigration" (pro-immigration). 
He then said on wages that things are "more nuanced" and there's "academic disagreement" but, despite that, "there's broad agreement that the impact on the average is marginal" (pro-immigration). 
And as for those surveys claiming that lower earners are adversely hit while higher earners are least adversely hit by mass immigration, well, he said, "the effects are small, and those most likely to be hit are those most-recent migrants" (pro-immigration). 
He then said it's "a sign of success" that people want to move here  (pro-immigration). 
He then concluded that "despite what the academic work suggests" (pro-immigration) some people still feel "uncomfortable" about immigration. 
Please account for this bias during a general election campaign.

Duncan's 'CV', according to the Daily Mail

The BBC Complaints department's response was surprisingly quick...though it becomes less 'surprising' after you've read it, given that it obviously took very little time and effort to write!

It runs as follows:
Thank you for taking the time to get in touch with regards to Newsnight on 22 April.
I understand you felt the programme was biased towards the opinion of pro-immigration. 
All BBC editors should follow our election guidelines, which say:
"There is no area of broadcasting where the BBC's commitment to due impartiality is more closely scrutinised than in reporting election campaigns."
The guidance says journalists must "deliver to audiences impartial and independent reporting of the campaign, giving them fair coverage and rigorous scrutiny of the policies and campaigns of all parties".
It’s not always possible or practical to reflect all the different opinions on a subject during an individual programme or report. Instead, our editors are expected to cover the range of relevant and significant views on an issue over a reasonable period of time, usually a week during an election period. We don’t take a position on any view of any political party. We aim to make sure they are heard and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience.
I will, nonetheless, include your feedback on our daily report which is made available to all senior management and programme editors. Your opinion is important to us, and is essential to the performance of our service. Please let me assure you that you are crucial in current and future decisions made within the BBC.
Again, thanks for bringing this to my attention.
Kind regards
BBC Complaints

A BBC Complaints handler, with a stack of my complaints behind her

Yes, she sounds really grateful for me bringing this to her attention, doesn't she?

What can really be said about this? It's nothing more than a perfunctory, cookie-cutter response that must have taken the lady from the BBC Complaints department all of 15 minutes to copy-and-paste from elsewhere. It doesn't even begin to be an adequate response, does it?

Merely parroting official policy and asserting that BBC editors carry it out doesn't in any way answer the point that this particular report was a heavily pro-immigration-biased piece for a senior Newsnight reporter. All the balancing out over time in the world won't change that fact or make up for it...

...unless Duncan Weldon (or another of his BBC Newsnight colleagues) does another report this week which just as heavily biased in the opposite direction.

And that ain't going to happen.

Screen-grabbing the BBC

This was the complaint I sent in about it:
Your piece about UKIP's Kim Rose, "UKIP "sausage roll" candidate Kim Rose quotes Hitler", which began, "A UKIP parliamentary candidate has said he does not regret quoting from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf at a hustings", was extremely biased.
The headline is misleading for starters. Even the Daily Mirror's headline, "Ukip candidate compares EU to Adolf Hitler days after being cleared of sausage roll 'bribe'", makes what the story is really about clearer. Your headline appears to smear UKIP by hinting that Mr Rose is pro-Hitler.
Then your piece says, "Mr Rose was previously questioned by police for providing sausage rolls at a campaign event" and later, "Mr Rose was recently called in for police questioning over allegations he tried to influence voters by giving away sausage rolls at a party event featuring snooker star Jimmy White. Electoral Commission rules state food and entertainment cannot be provided by candidates to "corruptly influence" votes."
This is very lazy journalism. Even the Daily Mirror makes it clear that the police dropped their investigation into Kim Rose. Your report could have misled BBC readers into thinking he was still being investigated for corruption.
Please can you address this matter.

The reply from the BBC Complaints department runs as follows:
Thank you for contacting us regarding the article entitled 'UKIP "sausage roll" candidate Kim Rose quotes Hitler'.
We understand you feel the headline is misleading and the article comes across as biased against UKIP, in particular making the point that you don’t believe it clarifies that Mr Rose is no longer being questioned by Police regarding 'treating' of the electorate.
On this latter point, the article does state that “no further action was taken against him” and includes a link to the story where we reported as much, so we don’t believe this point is unclear in this article or that it suggests that charges were brought or that questioning is continuing.
Your objections to the headline aren’t entirely clear in that Mr Rose was asked if he regretted the comments, including quoting from Mein Kampf, after criticism. He explained that he did not, our headline reflected this and we cannot see anything in this headline which suggests that he is pro Hitler or that its formulation was otherwise unreasonable given the facts of the story.
The BBC does not seek to promote or lobby against any particular Party, our staff are very aware of the importance of impartiality when working on your behalf.
We would like to reassure you that we have taken your comments on board and sent them to our Editors and News teams, as well as senior management and the Executive Board. We have included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and this ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform our decisions about current and future output.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.
Kind regards
BBC Complaints

I will admit to experiencing something of a double-take on reading this part of that BBC reply: don’t believe it clarifies that Mr Rose is no longer being questioned by Police regarding 'treating' of the electorate.
On this latter point, the article does state that “no further action was taken against him” and includes a link to the story where we reported as much, so we don’t believe this point is unclear in this article or that it suggests that charges were brought or that questioning is continuing.
The main point of my original post was that the article didn't state any such thing anywhere - and I read it and re-read it to make sure it said that before I sent my complaint. 

Was I mistaken?

As the BBC Complaints guy says, the article does indeed state
Mr Rose was recently called in for police questioning over allegations he tried to influence voters by giving away sausage rolls at a party event featuring snooker star Jimmy White, though no further action was taken against him.
Electoral Commission rules state food and entertainment cannot be provided by candidates to "corruptly influence" votes.
The quotes on my original post, however, ran as follows:
Mr Rose was previously questioned by police for providing sausage rolls at a campaign event....
Mr Rose was recently called in for police questioning over allegations he tried to influence voters by giving away sausage rolls at a party event featuring snooker star Jimmy White.
Electoral Commission rules state food and entertainment cannot be provided by candidates to "corruptly influence" votes.
I copied and pasted those from the BBC article. And I know I did. So, obviously, someone at the BBC went in at some stage and edited the article in order to add the get-out clause saying, "though no further action was taken against him". 

Quite when this done is impossible to say, given that the BBC website's move to a new system has rendered the invaluable Newssniffer site dead in the water. Newssniffer used to capture and track all the edits (including stealth-edits) made to BBC articles. It also showed the time the changes were made. Alas, no more.

Now, as said earlier, I re-checked that article before I sent my complaint, so the BBC's editing-in of "though no further action was taken against him" was unquestionably made quite some time after the original article was published. 

Was it edited after my complaint was received? In response to my complaint (or other such complaints)? We'll never know, will we?

That the original article - at the time it was visible to most readers on the BBC website - did say what I said it said can be proved by the fact that I 'screen-grabbed' it four hours after it first appeared:

It was very lucky that I did, or some people might have believed the BBC rather than me.

(Note to self: Always screen-grab the offending BBC article from now on). 

Incidentally, I don't really buy the rest of the BBC's response either. 

The BBC's headline was much less self-explanatory than the Daily Mirror's and could have been open to misinterpretation. 

And I really don't see how "UKIP 'sausage roll' candidate Kim Rose quotes Hitler" "reflected" the fact that "he explained that he did not" regret the comments. All I can see it "reflecting" is that UKIP's sausage roll candidate Kim Rose quoted Hitler!

I am not impressed.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Evan Davis v Nicola Sturgeon

Well, Evan Davis was back on BBC One tonight with his latest Leader Interview, featuring a leader the vast majority of UK voters can't vote for - Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP.

Tone-wise, it could hardly have been more different to Evan's last BBC One interview (the one with the leader of UKIP).

(If any cybernats moan about this, they seriously need help and deserve to be afforded no credibility whatsoever ever again).

Evan and Nicola got on like a house on fire. It was all pretty good-natured, with Evan and Nicola laughing at each others jokes, sparring light-heartedly and, generally, treating each other with kid gloves. (Evan even echoed some of her comments). 

She seemed to enjoy it. As did he.

There was lots of discussion about the SNP's attitude towards Labour and how things might work with Labour after the election, plus other post-election scenarios.  A bit of stuff about how she feels about London and who she'd support in, say, an England-Germany match, plus some stuff about what she'd like to be remembered for after her long career in politics, many years hence.

There were lots of interruptions (34, by my count - putting her ahead of Ed but behind David and Nick - and way, way behind Nigel's 55), but it still was a million miles away from the hostile tone of last week's interview with Nigel Farage - full of joshing, fencing, and pushing without bruising. 

He didn't imply racism (even anti-English racism). He didn't have a dig at SNP candidates or supporters. He didn't personally have a go at Nicola Sturgeon. He didn't, even for a second, dig into her economic policy (that fiscal 'black hole' for example), or anything else about her manifesto. He didn't seek to embarrass her with clips from the past, or an endless stream of potentially embarrassing quotes (just one from Alex Salmond, if I recall correctly). He didn't cite Paddington Bear against her nationalist standpoint. 

Evan's interview with Nigel Farage felt hostile, as if Evan were seeking to ruin UKIP's reputation.

This interview was pathetically soft in comparison because, I suspect, Evan doesn't care about the SNP as much as he cares (negatively) about UKIP - meaning that he's guilty of a bias against UKIP. It was just a prime-time interview with the leader of the SNP for him. Not personal.

Watch it for yourselves though please. 

Why not tweet this?

In the light of the previous post...

If you're on Twitter, please tweet this:
"The BBC was an outlier" giving more time to Miliband than Cameron, say @Stephen_Cushion, @sambrook,Cardiff, #bbcbias
It's exactly 140 characters.

Why Cardiff University's claims of BBC 'right-wing' 'impartiality' are not to be believed

The work of Cardiff University's Media department is continuing to provide comfort to BBC supporters in 'refuting' claims of a left-wing bias at the BBC and to be cited as 'proof' of a right-wing BBC bias by some left-wingers (especially on Twitter). 

Cardiff's 2012 report, 'proving' the BBC to be right-leaning, anti-European and anti-Islam (yes, I know!), was expertly debunked in a Civitas study by David Keighley and Andrew Jubb.

David and Andrew got into the statistical nitty-gritty of the Cardiff study and found it wanting. (I provided a summary here.)

The worrying thing about that Cardiff report though - with its fatally flawed and, frankly, bizarre methodology - was that it went on to form the academic underpinning of the major BBC-funded Prebble Report into BBC impartiality, which found (by and large) that, yes, the BBC is impartial. 

Statistical trashing is all very well, but the ad hominem approach seems to work better.

The lead authors of the original report, part-funded by the BBC, were: Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Richard Sambrook, and Mike Berry. 

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen was director of the Prebble content analysis project, and worked previously for the European Commission on a report investigating how the media were reporting the idea of greater European integration and why the UK was sceptical about it. She's also written for the far-left Red Pepper

Richard Sambrook was the former Head of BBC News until 2008.

Mike Berry, who acted as chief spokesman for the report, is Greg Philo's partner-in-arms at the campaigning, far-left Glasgow Media Group. He's not a fan of Israel - to put it mildly. 

Yes, ad hom arguments are generally considered fallacious, but if these people's methodology has been shown to be highly dubious (at best) and their findings seem to fly so insanely in the face of reality, then - given their backgrounds and beliefs - maybe there really is something to be said for the ad hom approach after all, don't you think?

Later, the top bod at the Cardiff Media department, Justin Lewis, earned the admiration of some on the Left by using those original findings to condemn the BBC for being right-wing.

Playing the man rather than the ball, I then checked ol' Justin out and found him to be very left-wing too (the kind of professor who is openly anti-capitalism and thinks Muslims get a raw deal from the British media).

Curiously, however, he exempted (not explicitly, but by not mentioning them) the BBC from that latter criticism (well, could he really pretend otherwise?) and he writes articles with titles like, A monster threatens UK broadcasting? It's Sky, not the BBC. Hmm.

Why am I regurgitating all of this recent history again? Because the Cardiff profs are back.

The Guardian has published their latest election 'findings' (repeatedly) and left-wingers on Twitter are linking to it gleefully, saying it disproves charges of left-wing bias at the BBC.

The first of those Guardian pieces found that David Cameron was granted "by far the most airtime of the party leaders in the first two weeks of the campaign" by the media as a whole, but praises the BBC specifically for focusing more on policy than their rivals. 

The second of those Guardian pieces - a piece I'd urge you to read as a masterful example of studiously biased academic reporting - found that "BBC and Sky News’ election coverage featured Conservative sources speaking for longer than those from other parties" but that Channels 4 and 5 gave the Tories even more airtime. [Ed: Tory 'Channel 4 News'? Jon Snow on Cardiff Uni's Line One!] 

Even this leftist-outpouring-dressed-in-the-cloak-of-academic-'impartiality' was honest enough to report something that must really have stuck in their throats to have to report: They described the BBC as "an outlier", in that the BBC gave "more time to Miliband, who made up 24.3% of time leaders were speaking on screen, compared to 21.9% of time for Cameron". 

Still, "Nigel Farage appeared in more image bites on the BBC than David Cameron", so that's evidence of BBC pro-UKIP bias, eh?

The Guardian pieces as a whole, however, were consistent with the spirit of the 2012 Cardiff report and Justin Lewis's later comments. They portrayed the broadcast media (Channel 5, Channel 4, ITV, BBC) as essentially right-leaning, but - despite some criticisms - the BBC came out as the least biased of all (if still right-leaning).

And who were the Cardiff University authors of these two Guardian pieces? Former BBC head of news Richard Sambrook and his colleague Dr Stephen Cushion. 

Now, Dr Cushion is new to me. Is he a Cardiff Media department with a non-BBC background - unlike Richard Sambrook? 

Er, no. He was brought in by the BBC to work on two BBC Trust impartiality reviews into the reporting of post-devolution Britain and three BBC-funded reports into 24-hour news.

And as for the three other Cardiff Uni people credited on those Guardian articles as helping with the latest research - Richard Thomas, Allaina Kilby and Marina Morani - well, here's PhD student Marina (on the Cardiff Uni website).

I'm going to quote the whole of this because I suspect you'll enjoy it.

I haven't made this up. This isn't satire. This is the real thing:
It has commonly been noted how Italy shifted in the last decades from being an emigration country to a migrants destination. The presence in the peninsula of a few million of immigrants calls for the urge of communication means that take into account the contemporary multicultural society.
In recent years a number of “intercultural media” – newspapers, magazines, radio programs, websites, online TV – have been created in order to provide alternative sources of information and new representations avoiding the use of cultural stereotypes and stigmatizations which too often affect the mainstream media language.
Among various initiatives, the study will focus on a selection of independent websites where foreign origin together with autochthonous Italians are engaged in producing and sharing information, news, video, stories, experiences, expectations.
In the first phase of the research I intend to build a comparison between the image of the immigrant population emerging in national media and the alternative social representations that these progress media aim to construct and promote.
In the second phase I will analyse the contents of the most effective online projects in their attempt to offer diverse representations on immigration issues. With regard to methodology the main methods will be critical discourse analysis and content analysis of written and audiovisual texts. An important part will be dedicated to the narrative and rhetoric multi-modal constructions.
The use of language here not only counters cultural stereotypes and generalisations but also turn them into new positive representational worlds where “the immigrant” is regarded as persona and “active subject” of the media production.
Well, I think we know where she's coming from! (And Mike Berry, Justin Lewis & Co. would surely approve).

As for Allaina Kilby...well, here's one for David Preiser (and it's based on her university thesis): Jon Stewart has made us laugh at politics – and restored our sanity. (Nothing 'incriminating' UK-wise though so far). 

And as for Richard Thomas (who writes discourses entitled From Executive Remuneration to the Living Wage: Pre and post-crisis discourses of income distribution on UK television news), well, just allow me to quote his Twitter blurb:
Richard Thomas @rich_thomas99
Writer for All Out Cricket. Doctoral researcher into income inequality, wealth and poverty in the media.
Call me a running-dog capitalist lickspittle if you like, but I'm guessing where he's coming from too - and checking out the rest of his Twitter feed I'm sticking with that hunch.


A university media department stacked with BBC insiders and leftists produces a couple of studies of BBC bias which find that the BBC is the least biased broadcaster, even though it has a right-wing bias.

And some people still think that ad hom critiques are always wrong?

Harvest time

Apparently some people had complained that the BBC hadn’t reported Israel’s contribution to the international aid effort after the terrible earthquake in Nepal.
But they had reported it, albeit in a rather low-key fashion, lumped together with some other countries under the heading ‘pledges’. The IDF said it was sending the 260-member mission to provide immediate search and rescue assistance and medical aid.
 "An advanced multi-department medical facility, equipped with approximately 95 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies from Israel and a medical staff of 122 doctors, nurses and paramedics, will be rapidly established in the city of Kathmandu to provide medical care for disaster casualties," the military said.”
 As soon as some of Israel’s most vitriolic detractors got their claws into this information they had to turn something that was in danger of looking like a positive - into an extremely nasty negative
They condemned the Israeli aid initiative as self-serving,  hypocritical - and remember the rumour about organ harvesting that was doing the rounds during the Haiti disaster? Well, that too. 

So we’ll have to wait and see if the BBC manages to report Israel’s contribution to the rescue mission in Nepal more fully. Given the BBC’s fixation with the Jewish State, you might think someone in an editorial department would be interested enough to mention it. It’s not worth holding your breath though.

By the same token, I was thinking about Andrew Marr’s apology, which did seem to have brought on an involuntary spasm, quite like the one that beset Norman Smith when he was unexpectedly confronted with an awkward question. 
Whether tis nobler to bluster through or take a short coughie break, that is the question. 

Anyway, Andrew did apologise, and I’m thinking, if we can’t accept an apology with good grace, are we, too, turning a positive into a negative, and being disingenuous, truculent or ungrateful? 

Are we committing the equivalent of a blood libel? Hmm.  Hold on; before I answer that I must deal with some problematic phlegm.

One for Nigel Farage to keep note of...

This exchange at Biased-BBC needs sharing:

A Conservative local election candidate who said she could never support “the Jew” Ed Miliband has been suspended.
Nasty, nasty, xenophobic Tories!!!!!
Blimey, they’re getting as bad as the UKIP – I bet this was some typical stuffy old ex-colonel from the shires in a blazer…
‘Gulzabeen Afsar, a council candidate in Derby, made the comment on Facebook. In a post, she said: “Just can’t take Mr Ed Miliband seriously!” and later said “Never ever will I drop that low and support the Al Yahud!”. Al Yahud is Arabic for “the Jew”.’

Roland Deschain
Strange. I read about that story yesterday, yet it seems that only now has it made it to the BBC website. I say “seems” because had the link not been provided above, I’d still be blissfully unaware it was on the BBC as it isn’t given any link on the main news or indeed election pages.
Now had it been a UKIP candidate, we all know things would have been a lot different.

Here, to prove Roland Deschain's point, are screengrabs of the BBC News website homepage and the election page, taken (by me) a couple of hours or so after he made that comment:

As you can see (if you look closely enough), that story of Conservative councillor Gulzabeen Afsar making what sounds for all the world like an anti-Semitic remark doesn't feature on either of the BBC's main online news portals reporting the general election. You will only find it if you click on the 'England' sub-section of the General Election page. 

The BBC certainly seems to be downplaying this story, doesn't it? 

Why though? 

Is it because, as Nigel Farage says, the BBC (and others) tends to be much more interested in reporting such stories if they involve UKIP, and tends to gave the other parties a much easier ride (or ignore them)?

Or given that the BBC isn't usually particularly shy about reporting racism when it comes to the Tories either, could it be that highlighting a story about a Muslim councillor making an anti-Jewish crack might not be good (in the BBC's eyes) for 'community cohesion'? Could that be the reason why they aren't giving the story as much attention as you would normally expect them to do?

Given that stories about sausage rolls and 'breaking Godwin's Law' during an election hustings can make the main BBC online headlines, why isn't this story considered important enough to do so? Why is it being relegated to the online equivalent of the inside pages (somewhere around page 14!)?

Update: Snap! 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

"The horrors! The horrors!”

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

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

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

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

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


Continuing to follow things through...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh Norman, anyone would think you're biased!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aggravated crimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASBO for Craig, prison for me? 

Andrew Marr v Ed Miliband

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Andrew Marr apologises

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 April 2015

"Galloway, be praised!"

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

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

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

Back to the Future at 'Dateline'

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


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

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

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

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

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

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