Monday, 19 February 2018

Watertight oversight - 'Cob' and the BBC

Please bear with me on this one (as I weave my way through my thoughts on this), and please also try to remember that not all tl;dr posts are really 'tl', and that (maybe) they should be 'r' after all...

Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail has excoriated the BBC for "ignoring" the allegations about Jeremy Corbyn being "a Czech ‘asset’" - and agent codenamed 'Cob', approved by the Soviet Union in the dying years of the Cold War: 
Far more worrying is the way the all-powerful BBC has hitherto avoided Sarkocy’s allegations, which have been met with vehement denials by the Labour Party. If you relied on our public service broadcaster for your news, as about half the nation does, you wouldn’t know anything about ‘Cob’. 
I watch and listen to the news on BBC television and radio almost obsessively, and I have picked up only two fleeting references [on a Today newspaper review and The Andrew Marr show yesterday - the bit where Andrew called the story 'rather thin] to the extremely grave charges against Mr Corbyn. All I can find on Auntie’s voluminous website is a tiny mention of a newspaper report....
There may have been other passing references, but it can be fairly stated that the BBC has done its utmost not to give this story wider circulation even though it contains the mind-boggling suggestion, of course unproven, that as a young MP Jeremy Corbyn betrayed his country.
Oh Stephen! Much as I like and admire you and much as you may have a point here, the canny BBC's tradition of 'watertight oversight' means that it was never going to be that easy for a critic of the BBC like you here (though please bear with me!)...

...and, sure enough, Dino Sofos, Senior Social Media Producer at BBC News, found a 'gotcha' answer for you (and, specifically, for Guido Fawkes) :

And so did Rob Burley, the Ed-Sheeran-averse editor of The Andrew Marr Show:

So (apparently) John Pienaar's Radio Sunday show covered it "at length", and so did today's Daily Politics. 

QED for the BBC? (Not really. See below).

And, similarly, when Guido Fawkes asks, "Any chance the BBC will cover it properly now the PM has commented?", the BBC will point to a report on BBC News website this evening headlined Corbyn should be 'open' on spy's claims - May and say 'Yes, we did report it'.

Ah but....

...(long sigh).... the venerable tradition of BBC 'watertight oversight', just check out where on the BBC website the BBC published this headline story (and where it's stayed ever since). [You'll have to click the image to enlarge it, and then you'll see that the BBC hasn't made it a prominent story.] Yes, it appeared near the exit door of the BBC's Home page, so to speak. But, yes, they have reported it on their Home page, so....'watertight oversight' kicks in and the BBC is off the hook.

Or is it?

Read that BBC report, however, and it's mostly 'the case for the defence' as far as Jeremy Corbyn is concerned.  The caption to the opening image puts Jeremy's case for him, rebuttals of the claims against Mr. Corbyn get the lion's share of the reported speech, and the BBC itself gives its own imprimatur to those rebuttals. Plus the whole report is full of 'health warnings' ("claims", "alleged", "reportedly", "possible") about the claims against Mr. Corbyn.

The BBC, rightly or wrongly, is essentially rubbishing the story here - 'belatedly reporting it and frantically trashing it', unkind folk might say!

As I'm wary of taking the BBC on trust these says (even those BBC people I like), I've also checked out Dino and Rob's claims. 

As for John Pienaar on Pienaar's Politics, yes, the story was discussed - for fully 5 minutes - but John Pienaar himself immediately rubbished those claims that Jeremy Corbyn might have been an agent for the Soviet Bloc by describing them as "pretty absurd" and ended the big discussion (twently minutes later) by saying, flippantly, "this story may be going absolutely nowhere but it doesn't stop us talking about anything!" - both of which statements clearly signalled to the Radio 5 Live listener that the BBC's Deputy Political Editor personally doesn't reckon much to the story. 

As for the discussion itself, two defenders of Jeremy Corbyn (Labour's Peter Dowd and pro-Labour journalist Jenni Russell) rubbished the story for nearly all of and then, just before the end, the Sun's David Wooding got a brief say and voiced some criticism of Mr. Corbyn's past. 

So, yes, Pienaar's Politics did devote a whole segment of the programme to the story yesterday, though John Pienaar began and ended his programme's coverage of it by strongly suggesting his own sense that the story doesn't amount to much and doesn't really merit reporting, and - separately - the 2:1 imbalance of the discussion (made worse by David from the Sun getting far less time than either of the two Labour-defending guests) didn't really cover this segment in impartial BBC glory either, did it? 

So, Pienaar's Politics is classic BBC watertight oversight in action. 'See, we discussed it after all!' , says the BBC. Yes BBC, you did. But HOW did you discuss it on this rare occasion when you seemingly reluctantly consented to finally discuss the story? That is the question.

As for The Daily Politics, well, yes, they too did discuss it today, as Rob said. ('What took them so long?' I imagine many people crying). Did they, as Rob contends, discuss it "at length"? Well, I think Rob is definitely stretching it there! So how long did they discuss it for? For 3 minutes and 2 seconds.

And Jo Coburn began the segment by stating, "Our man in Prague has spoken to the head of the Czech secret service archive who has reiterated that there's absolutely nothing in the archive to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn was an informer but he was a 'person', according to her, 'of interest' to the secret service."

Again, this is classic BBC watertight oversight in action. The story that many people claim the BBC is "ignoring" is then (after those complaints have been pouring in for days) finally discussed on the flagship Daily Politics...albeit for just three minutes and with the BBC presenter sounding a very strong 'health warning' about it from the word go.

So there we are. The BBC - like the Guardian but unlike several right-wing papers - isn't buying these claims about Jeremy Corbyn.

And it's not encouraging you to buy them either.

And what does that say about 'BBC impartiality'?

For a firmly non-BBC take on all of this you might want to read the latest article from Douglas Murray. It's quite a 'think' piece.

Open Thread

All tracks lead to a new open thread. 

A kind reader suggested this image for an open thread and provided me with the background to it:
This is a painting by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson The Soul of the Soulless City (‘New York - an Abstraction’) 1920. An extract from the Tate write-up: New York - an Abstraction was painted in London after Nevinson's return from New York in 1919 and before his next visit in October 1920 for a second exhibition at Frederick Keppel & Co. The poor reception of this exhibition may have accelerated Nevinson's disaffection with the city. His growing embitterment is perhaps reflected by the change of title. Originally exhibited in 1920 at the Bourgeois Galleries, New York, as New York - an Abstraction, it was retitled The Soul of the Soulless City in the Faculty of Arts Exhibition, Grosvenor House, London, in 1925 probably at Nevinson's instigation. The new title may have been a reference to Karl Marx's comment that religion was the 'heart of a heartless world'.
Thanks for all of your comments.

Just a reminder...

Just a reminder: the BBC's World Affairs Editor is as impartial as impartial can be...

Hair-raising matters (again)

Contrasting hairstyles

Whilst catching up with Mark Mardell's Twitter fan mail from the Corbynista Left and anti-Brexit hardliners, I spotted another fan (albeit a more qualified one) - this time an anti-Israeli obsessive called Richard Sunningdale

Richard was tweeting, via Mark Mardell, to the BBC's James Reynolds about a news bulletin report broadcast on the 13th February edition of The World at One

Richard began his tweet by saying:
@jreybbc Good report.
But anti-Israel Richard (as ever) wanted more: 
 - but you did not mention that Israeli troops had shot #AhedTamimi s brother in the head beforehand. Which rather contextualises Israel's acusation (sic) that Ahed was inciting violence. 
Richard, as is the way of people who live their lives on Twitter, was factually wrong about it being Ahed Tamimi's "brother" who was shot in the head beforehand. It was Ahed's cousin.

Now, what was it about James Reynolds's brief report that so appealed to anti-Israel Richard (despite it not going far enough in its anti-Israel bias for him)?

Well, this is James Reynold's brief report in full:
Ahed Tamimi arrived in court with her hands and feet in cuffs. She's being tried as a minor, so the judge ordered the session to take place behind closed doors. Journalists and diplomats were ordered to leave, to the frustration of the Tamimi family who'd wanted observers in court. Prosecutors argued that the 17 year-old is guilty of assault and incitement. Her family and her defence say that she was simply resisting occupation against a much more powerful enemy. Her trial will continue next month if found guilty and Ahed Tamimi may face more than a year in prison. 
As regular readers will know, Ahed Tamimi is a young female Palestinian activist, groomed by her hardline father since around the age of 12 to take part in high-profile anti-Israel protests. Her extended family contains two murderous terrorists and the family as a whole, including young Ahed, haven't been shy in their support for terrorism against Israelis - hence the incitement part of her trial.

So what to make of James Reynolds's report and anti-Israeli Richard's (qualified) enthusiasm for it?

Well, for starters, pro-Israeli folk could easily reverse-weasel Richard and demand that BBC James provide the context I provided in the last-but-one paragraph of this post - something that James didn't provide. 

But as for why anti-Israel Richard otherwise approved of this BBC report, well, I don't think that's hard to guess. The language of the piece gives it away. 

It starts with the image of girl being taken into court "with her hands and feet in cuffs". And then we're told that she's "a minor", and that the judge has "ordered the session to take place behind closed doors". "Journalists and diplomats" are "ordered to leave" (a loaded play on the multi-faceted word 'ordered'). The family feel "frustration" as a result. One side says that a 17 year-old girl is guilty; the other - two groups of people - say that she's "simply resisting occupation against a much more powerful enemy". And if found guilty she could "face" more than a year in prison. 

So here's the idea of a "simply-resisting-occupation" girl who slaps and kicks a soldier and who is then taken into court "with her hands and feet in cuffs" and who is subsequently prosecuted "behind closed doors", beyond the sight of "journalists and diplomats", and to the "frustration" of her family and her defence team. It really doesn't sound good at all - especially IF PUT THAT WAY. And now she "faces" prison.  

The language reporters choose and they way they frame their reports remains key and I don't believe any of it simply on trust anymore. 

That said, no wonder anti-Israeli obsessive Richard found that such a "good report". It surely raises doubts in the minds of people who might otherwise be neutral or sympathetic towards Israel about Israel's actions here. 

Omissions there certainly are, but are there any factual errors? Not that I can see. The bias is all in the framing, the loaded language and those telling omissions.

I think this James Reynolds piece pleased anti-Israel Richard for obvious reasons - i.e that it was biased against Israel - but I would appreciate your take on this.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Mark Mardell and his admirers

Mark Mardell must feel blessed.

He's just about the only BBC reporter/presenter to be on the receiving end, week in and week out, of complimentary tweets concerning his impartiality as a reporter.

(Jeremy Bowen is another of these rare beasts).

I noticed this unusual trend a year or so ago and have been following it, and I've found a bit of a pattern. See if you can spot it too from this very representative sample:

"Got a lot of respect for you as a journalist" (from Marx Media
"I like @BBCMarkMardell  Intelligent.  Knows and understands Europe" (from David Randall #FBPE)
"BBC News on TV, radio & website is dead & buried. Main culprits: Radio 4 Today prog #r4today  BBC TV #bbcaq. However, give @BBCMarkMardell & BBC #r4 'The World This Weekend' a listen - Sunday at 1pm - Investigative balanced journalism inc. Brexit" (from BremainInSpain)
"Been catching up with the political programs I've missed, partly due to oversleeping. But switched on @BBCRadio4 in case Mark @BBCMarkMardell is presenting the Sunday edition of #wato. He is. So I'm listening to that now. #RespectGoodBroadcasters" (from Tom Delargy #StopToryBrexit #PCPEU)
‏"he's a class journo..." (from tudor lomas, anti-#brexshit citizen of nowhere)
"@BBCMarkMardell hon exception" (from Jenny Cooper #FBPE)

Perhaps not coincidentally, the criticism he gets on Twitter (and he does get some) overwhelmingly (indeed almost exclusively) comes from pro-Brexit people, and/or right-wing people. 

No 'complaints from both sides' for Mark Mardell then.

I suspect that the people quoted above will have broadly enjoyed Mark's report from a Labour gathering in Leeds today (starring Owen Jones, Angela Rayner, Jasmin Beckett and Aaron Bastani).

It started at an anti-Brexit protest, and Mark later pushed their cause with Aaron Bastani.

And the claims of bullying (being reported today, but not pushed far by Mark) were dismissed by his 'talking heads'. Everyone's happy, apparently (except about Brexit). A jolly lady said everyone in the hall was "jeering". She meant "cheering", but an ironic malapropism got in her way.

But after the Labour bit came and interview with former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Maçães about the concept of 'Eurasia' and Mark introduced him as being "positive about Brexit" and someone who "sees an opportunity for Britain".

I wasn't expected that.

Curiously, however, Mr Maçães didn't say anything to that effect whatsoever. I was expecting to hear something positive about Brexit from him and it never came.

All we got, instead, was Mark and his strangely targeted questions.

It's the oddest interview I've heard in a while. It's as if Mr Maçães was talking about what he wanted to talk about and Mark Mardell was pushing an agenda at a complete tangent to what Mr Maçães was actually saying.

We got Mark talking about "Britain and Europe", and suggesting that the Chinese want to impose a European Court of Justice-style overseeing body and that we could end up in a worse-than-the-ECJ situation, and that talk of 'Eurasia' is Putin-like talk....and Bruno Maçães completley failing to pick up on Mark's agenda.

Mark Mardell was talking Brexit, Bruno Maçães wasn't.

Please listen to it for yourselves though. Maybe I'm missing something.

Another view

Laura Perrins

On the subject of Brandon Cox, this is quite a statement from Julia Hartley-Brewer:

And what do you make of this from Laura Perrins in response?

  • What the story about Brendan Cox reveals is how ruthless and dishonest the MSM, especially the BBC are. They knew about these allegations (see @JuliaHB1) and yet were happy to use him 2 push anti-Brexit agenda.
  • The BBC&MSM knew Brendan Cox was in a weak position to begin with, and eventually would have been brought down. It is why he didn't run for Jo Cox's seat. They didn't care about that or the two young children in this family.
  • Brendan Cox was useful 4 the BBC at the time. Now, he and more importantly the family are just collateral damage in this entire anti-Brexit agenda. Some1 else will come along for them 2 push.
  • The BBC also used Brendan Cox to push the increase in hate crime agenda when we know the evidence is weak. The image of him they put across was dishonest. They manipulated the public for the last 18 months or so. Now the extended family have to pick up the pieces.
  • The BBC and the use of Brendan Cox and the family as a whole, in such circumstances known to them at the time, is despicable and disgusting. They knew the further destruction of this family was inevitable. BBC didn't care.

Nothing to see here!

Unintentional comedian Paul Mason tweeted what Frank Carson would doubtless have called "a cracker" this morning. His tweet began reasonably enough: 
The Telegraph’s “spy” smear  @johnmcdonnellMP is literally fake news. 
but then his tinfoil hat went straight back on again:
The whole operation seems co-ordinated from Tory HQ...
Lovely use of the word 'seems' there, Paul!

Now, Brother Paul isn't the only one who doesn't reckon much to the Sunday Telegraph's lead story today:

They've also got the story about Jeremy Corbyn and the Czech agent. I should say that this has been comprehensively and absolutely denied as "lies and rubbish" by all of the politicians concerned and it does seem, reading through it, fairly thin." 
and Martine Croxall & her fellow paper reviewers judged it to be a "non story" on the BBC News Channel last night

So that's that then for the poor old Sunday Telegraph it seems! 

"Whatever else it is it's a sad, sad story for him"

There was a striking statement from Andrew Marr this morning, during his run-through of the newspaper front pages:
And finally the Mail on Sunday, the interview there with Jo Cox's widower - a very sad story actually, given what that man has gone through. Whatever else it is it's a sad, sad story for him. 
That echoes what he said last week, when he again called it "a sad story".

This was followed by an even more striking gesture: His paper review chose not to discuss the Mail on Sunday story.

Brendan Cox has been interviewed twice by The Andrew Marr Show. I suspect that Andrew & Co. have developed protective feelings towards him and that they would say that they were just being "nice and friendly and human" by drawing a veil of sympathy over his fall from grace. 

Martine Croxall

Last night's The Papers on the BBC News Channel, presented by Martine Croxall, were also notable for their treatment of this story. They did discuss it. In the first paper review, Martine began by saying, "Oh right. Here we go. Mail on Sunday", looking and sounding as if she was talking about this story with a heavy heart. And in the second paper review, she said, "Let's start with the Mail on Sunday, and Brendan Cox" and then she sighed. Both times she immediately took issue with the Mail on Sunday:
Oh right. Here we go. Mail on Sunday. '"Yes, I was a sex pest" confesses Jo Cox's husband'. This is Brendan Cox, "sensationally admitting"...This is not quite what he admitted if we read the quotes...
Let's start with the Mail on Sunday, and Brendan Cox. (Sighs). We have to take issue though, straightaway, with the headline. "Yes, I was a sex pest, confesses Jo Cox's husband". He didn't say that in this article.
She also said that of Brendan Cox's the phrase "years later" to describe now as compared to then - when the alleged incidents took place - even though they are alleged to have occurred in 2015 (2-3 years ago), and read out in full the Jo Cox Foundation's tribute to Brendan before saying, "So he's taking a step back because he does not want this [the 'inappropriate behaviour'] to get in the way of all of that [the Jo Cox Foundation's good work]".

I don't doubt that she was trying to be 'nice and friendly and human' too towards someone she feels sympathetic towards.

Of course, as you'll know, plenty of others feel very little sympathy for Brendan Cox. You only have to read the comments under the Mail on Sunday article to know that.

And the criticisms of Andrew Marr and his editor are already coming in, some measured in tone -
Hi @RobBurl I’m curious to know why #marr felt the need to express sympathy for Brendan Cox considering he’s only got himself to blame. No one else.
Thought @RobBurl perhaps it cld be useful to suggest to editor of @newswatchbbc to interview the editor of #Marr about when why and how stories are selected to be covered or not on newspaper reviews (for legit editorial or legal reasons doubtless) but just help deflect critics. [Ed - For those who don't already know, Rob Burley is also the editor of BBC Newswatch!]
- others less so:
Defender of sexual abuse, and you’re the editor! Shame on you!  #partofthecoverup
Rob is yet to reply.

Update: Rob has replied:

"We don't dictate to the reviewers which stories they must do. They chose".

That's fair enough, and answers that charge:
MrMacphisto #JRM4PM: He’s admitted it and resigned since last weekend, which I think is newsworthy. Or am I missing something? Tony Young treatment was rather different I recall.
Rob Burley: It was in the news and we reported the front page. The reviewers didn't chose the story. That's it.
And one of the paper reviewers, the Sunday Express's Camilla Tominey, has backed Rob up:
As a reviewer I can confirm we didn't choose it - we felt it had been done last week and that there were other stories more relevant to the public. 
As to Mr. Marr's overt expressions of sympathy for Brendan Cox, it will be interesting to read Rob's take on that too.

Further Update: Actually, Andrew Marr himself has saved Rob the need and responded first:

It's admirable that Andrew has responded to viewers' concerns (just like his editor), though it must be said that the comments (in response to his response) could be going a lot better for him (e.g. '"Sorry if taken the wrong way"= it's your fault for not understanding. Unbelievable' and 'Still no condemnation of his behaviour!').

Further Further Update: On things go...


Andrew Marr is making the news again. (See posts above). But today's programme should be best remembered for him describing the women's skeleton in the Winter Olympics as "basically a supersonic tea tray." 

I'm guessing that was a reference to this from Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me:

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Of 'Newsnight', wrens, the 'Evan' treatment and Barack Obama as Homer Simpson

As you may already know, Newsnight is getting a new editor. 

Three months after Ian Katz leaped, loudly purring, onto the lap of Channel 4, the BBC has appointed Esmé Wren from Sky News as the tattered BBC flagship's new editor.

According to Guido Fawkes, Esmé is "the right choice out of the final two" (a somewhat ambiguous wording, either giving her the thumbs up or damning her with faint praise - though I think it's meant in the 'thumbs up' sense):
The internal candidate was Louisa Compton of Victoria Derbyshire and Newsbeat – it would have been nurses pay and preferred pronouns every night had she got the gig. Congratulations… 
Ms. Compton herself is now leaving for Channel 4.

That said, External Esmé, before going to Sky, was a Newsnight producer, so she isn't entirely new to the BBC - or to this particular BBC programme.

It has to be said though, however.....(Ed - Does it? Really?),.....that Newsnight presently isn't that far from being "nurses pay and preferred pronouns every night" already.

This past week alone saw Monday's edition lead with a major item on police stop and search and its effects on young black men; a feature on Tuesday about social mobility and education; a section on Wednesday about gender and science; a piece on a worthy-sounding dance event (xenophobia, multiculturalism, how Brexit is building walls) on Thursday; and the issue of a universal basic income (as backed by Ed Miliband) on Friday. 

You can take the ex-Guardian deputy editor out of the programme but you can't take the Guardian-like spirit out of it, it seems. 

Or can you? And, more importantly, can Esmé? 

And, regardless of any of that, can she get the programme's very many missing viewers back, or is Newsnight a lost cause only watched by a few hundred thousand political obsessives and a handful of hardcore BBC bias-obsessed bloggers (like me)? 

It's not that Newsnight can't pull of some very good things from time to time, and plenty of OK things too, and Jess Brammar and Dan Clarke have done a decent job of keeping things ticking over and I rather enjoyed skimming through their programme this week...

...but you just know, even before you've watched it, that a joint interview with Daniel Hannan and Sir Vince Cable will, if conducted by Evan Davis, see pro-Brexit Mr. Hannan get the full 'Evan' treatment - challenges and interruptions - while the anti-Brexit Sir Vince gets a much chummier kind of 'Evan treatment' (though Evan didn't go so far as to actually stroke him)...

...and you'd never be surprised when Newsnight treats the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama (widely mocked this week) as beyond-criticism works of wonder. The Barack one, if you need reminding, was the one where Homer Simpson faded into a hedge (or so people keep telling me)...

...or when Trump-related matters come up, and the guests invited on to discuss the Trump-Russia thing are Anne Applebaum (critic of both Trump and Putin) and Niall Stanage of The Hill (a self-declared 'liberal'), both sing from much the same hymn sheet.

To hope or not to hope, that is the question. Possibly. If anyone still cares.


Raging Bull

Someone has been making waves this week, and it would be remiss of a blog like this not to crack open the popcorn and chronicle it. So here goes...

Continuing his Ovid-like metamorphosis into a rampaging bull (or maybe even the Minotaur), Baron Adonis, of Camden Town in the London Borough of Camden has been charging at the BBC all week.

He began it by agreeing with a tweet which said that Today is "under Tory management" and "shamelessly pro-Brexit".

Then he continued with statements like, "The BBC largely created Farage" and "The BBC is substantially responsible for debasing political debate and analysis, which led to Brexit. And it is getting worse".

This led him into a Twitter confrontation with Nick Robinson and Gary Lineker:
Andrew Adonis: The BBC is now performing so badly at impartial and fearless news, & the quality of Netflix etc now so much better at drama, I am wondering for the first time in my life whether we couldn’t do better. Sky can keep sport! BBC on ropes. Sport largely gone to Sky. Quality drama gone to Netflix. BBC news increasingly Brexit, weak & simply Govt press releases. If Netflix set up a sharp, balanced News service, what would be left besides local radio, a desert island & a few good foreign correspondents?
Gary Lineker: What a load of complete and utter tosh.
Andrew Adonis: The BBC’s most highly paid presenter?
Nick Robinson: Well there’s the fact we’re the most trusted source of news & the world’s best nature programmes (Attenborough) & most popular entertainment (Strictly & Sherlock) & culture (Proms & Glasto) & sport (Wimbledon & the Olympics). Other than that what has the BBC ever done for us?!
Andrew Adonis: Huge complacency Nick. The country is in crisis, dangerously poor, polarised, fractured and populist, & you want us to throw garlands! This is not where things are at, I’m afraid. And in the view of many of us, you (the BBC) are the midwife of Farageism. And btw, your news website, after a string of complaints today, still hasn’t corrected a disgraceful headline describing the EU as a ‘corpse.’ Is this what you mean by ‘most trusted source of news’?
Nick Robinson: I don't want garlands. I want perspective & an acceptance that in a fractured society the BBC will hear from (& challenge) people you may dislike and/or fear.
Andrew Adonis: Well, I haven’t noticed the challenge, tbh. @BBCr4today now just a noticeboard for government and Farage press releases. Vast uncritical coverage of Boris speech, & total failure to get into the Northern Ireland crisis,just the latest instances.
At the same time, his Lordship was also charging, horns lowered, at Kamal Ahmed and the BBC News website (Kamal entered the maze too). He complained to Ofcom and got nowhere, and isn't happy about it:
Andrew Adonis: Apart from the disgraceful headline - when was the EU a ‘corpse’? - the BBC’s economics editor declares the EU will be ‘without, in the future, Britain.’ But we haven’t left & Parliament is a long way from agreeing Brexit. Yet more Brexit bias! … Sorry to keep on about the BBC debasing public debate, but when was the European Union a ‘corpse’? Germany: I wish I was that lifeless! A disgraceful standard of analysis.
Kamal Ahmed: As you know Andrew, it is a reference to a quote by Douglas Carswell made in 2012. The point is it is not true (if it ever were, economically). I cannot see how a sensible analysis of that economic fact is debasing the public discourse.
Andrew Adonis: Kamal, instead of defending the indefensible, would you please correct this disgraceful ‘EU corpse’ headline immediately & remove the reference to Britain ‘of course’ leaving the EU.
Andrew Adonis: Kamal, your ‘EU corpse’ headline is disgraceful, & justifying it by quoting Douglas Carswell only makes it worse. Since when was Carswell the point of reference for the BBC?! The BBC has got to the stage it doesn’t even realise its pro-Brexit bias.
Andrew Adonis: Dear BBC, I have asked your economics editor to change this disgraceful ‘EU corpse’ headline & correct other bias, but nothing has been done. Can you please do it now before I start formal complaints?
Andrew Adonis: Astonishingly, the BBC is digging in. Kamal Ahmed told me ‘EU corpse’ was fine as a headline because it echoed a Douglas Carswell anti-EU rant of 2012! The Brexit bias is now so deep the BBC doesn’t even realise it.
Andrew Adonis: BBC BIAS: yesterday the BBC ran big story on website with headline describing the EU as a ‘corpse’. I and others complained. The BBC’s economics editor told us to chill because his point of reference was Douglas Carswell quote from 2012. We asked for it to be changed. It wasn’t.
Andrew Adonis: After 24 hours, the BBC has changed the headline on the website story but Kamal has not deleted these tweets on the ‘corpse’ of the EU. Too little, too late, too typical of today’s Brexit BBC I’m afraid.
Kamal Ahmed: Thanks Molly. Headline has been changed. It was not meant to be taken as literal, but as an historic reference that was out of date.
Andrew Adonis: But describing the EU as a ‘corpse’ wasn’t true historically either, Kemal. You shouldn’t take Douglas Carswell as a source of wisdom on the European economy, past or present. This sums up why the BBC has done such a bad job of reporting the EU & Brexit!
Andrew Adonis: I have referred to @Ofcom this disgraceful headline & tweet likening the European Union to a corpse, as a breach of the BBC’s duty of impartiality.
Andrew Adonis: BBC & EU ‘CORPSE.’ Weak Ofcom decline to review BBC calling EU a ‘corpse’ this week, saying BBC complaints process has to be ‘exhausted.’ But when I complained to BBC they did nothing for 24 hrs & didn’t retract. And that was before Farage’s 32nd BBC Question Time was announced!
Kamal AhmedIt’s been pretty torrid on here since @Andrew_Adonis raised the issue. The headline has been changed and I have deleted the original tweet. Journalism has to be read in context - headline and article. I felt meaning was clear. I hope we can keep the debate civil. 
Oh, yes - as you can see from the last one there - he's not happy with Question Time either and has written to Lord Hall of the BBC to complain about it:
Andrew Adonis: BBC largely created Farage. They continue to promote him because it makes ‘good telly’ & they don’t want him criticising BBC on LBC! Pushing politics to the Hard Right out of fear & cynicism. @bbcquestiontime
Andrew Adonis: UKIP have no seats in Parliament but a permanent seat on Question Time and the Today programme’ @bbcquestiontime @BBCr4today
Andrew Adonis: I haven’t been invited on @bbcquestiontime for 8 years. They don’t have space with the reserved slots for Farage & other Brexiters.
Andrew Adonis: Farage’s 32nd appearance on BBC Question Time next Thursday is final straw in the BBC’s degeneration into a Brexit propaganda station. Time for weak @Ofcom to do its job & uphold impartiality.
Andrew Adonis#heshoudbeleftinthepubnotputonBBCquestiontimefor32ndtime!
Andrew AdonisJust written to Lord Hall, DG of BBC, asking if he thinks Mr Farage’s 32nd appearance on BBC Question Time, as ex leader of party on 2% in the polls, is consistent with his duty to uphold impartiality. I’m also seeking retraction of BBC claim this week that the EU is a ‘corpse’.
What's the betting Lord Adonis's 8-year dry spell at Question Time will come to an end very soon?

Oh, and Today got it in the neck too for not asking Theresa Villiers 'the right questions':
Rainy day in Bristol: Brexiter Theresa Villers on @bbc4today talking Northern Ireland. Will they ask her HOW the border issue can be solved? No, course not.
Andrew Adonis: These points are spot on (& thread). There are deep problems of journalistic confidence & bias at @BBCr4today & @BBCNews. They have been captured by Brexit & fear of the Brexiters.
Rainy day in Bristol: Case study this morning, Nick. 1. Theresa Villiers, ex-Northern Ireland Sec and ardent Brexiter was on. 2. She was interviewed at length about the problems of the N. Ire executive and discussed them in detail 3. However at NO POINT was she challenged about the DUP & May
Andrew Adonis: Case study of the deep problems of bias and lack of journalistic confidence at @BBCr4today & @BBCNews. They are terrified of the Brexiters & getting offside with the Govt.

And this very morning, Lord Adonis is facing down the BBC's very own sword-brandishing Perseus, Andrew Neil:
Andrew Neil: German journalist wrong to say at #MSC18 — Munich Security conference — to Mrs May that French people voted against Lisbon treaty then changed minds, calling it ‘prudent’. When treaty downgraded to ‘reform’ there was no 2nd French referendum. Parliament ratified.
Charles Tannock MEP: So are you suggesting if a fresh deal came from the EU27 with an improved offer to the UK as @HansOlafHenkel is campaigning for UK Parliament could stop A50 & override 2016 Referendum & reverse Brexit?
Andrew Neil: Errrr no. Not slightest suggestion of any of that in my tweet, which was pure;y factual. Are you hallucinating? Bit early for the cooking sherry.
Charles Tannock MEP: I'm just making a more general point that continental countries like France, Denmark and Ireland are more pragmatic than UK in their relations with EU and noone threatened mass insurgency unlike Brexiteers when small majority referenda were reversed. But thanks for responding,
Andrew Neil: Perhaps because, in the end, France, Denmark and Ireland did as they were told, after initial revolts.
Andrew Adonis: View from the BBC: freely expressed will of the French, Danish & Irish people & parliaments is ‘doing what they are told [by Brussels], after initial revolts.’ Pure Farageism from ‘impartial’ BBC political interviewer. @Ofcom
Andrew Neil: Change “told” to “politely but firmly asked to think again” if it makes you feel better. What bit of the narrative is factually wrong? Remember all our hopes of a British Macron now rest with you.
Andrew Adonis: You are brilliant commentator Andrew. But this is obviously unacceptable from ‘impartial’ BBC political interviewer. U only get away with it because BBC News now annexed by Brexiters. It’s why people like me are having to get back into politics, to stop you wrecking the country.
Andrew Neil: Idea BBC News ‘annexed’ by Brexiteers is bonkers of a very high order. Very, very high. Stratospheric, in fact. I notice no factual corrections to my tweet. But I’m delighted you’re back in politics (when did you leave?). You are our Macron. Can I be your campaign manager?
Andrew Adonis: It is factually incorrect to say that the  French, Danish & Irish people & parliaments ‘did as they were told, after initial revolts.’ Farageism of a very, very high order. Stratospheric, in fact. As my campaign manager, would you like to retract this?
Andrew Neil: I changed told to firmly asked to think again. Do I have the job?
Andrew Adonis: I couldn’t possibly afford you on your inflated BBC salary! But please carry on highlighting that the BBC is no longer an impartial state broadcaster - so we can resolve this before the now inevitable referendum on Mrs May’s Brexit terms!
Andrew Neil: I'll do it for free. As public service. Purge of BBC Brexiteers can't wait. From DG down ... to Head of News ... total cull at Newsnight ... don't get me started on Today ... or Sky News ... and these pro-Brexit fanatics at Economist, FT and Guardian - and Times! Heads must roll!
Such thinking about the BBC is obviously spreading. A close friend of mine is just as convinced as Lord Adonis that the BBC is a rabid pro-Brexit poodle of the Tories and keeps telling me to 'open my eyes' to the truth of that fact!

Of course, as Andrew Neil says, that is "bonkers of a very high order". 

As for Lord Adonis's various points, the idea that the BBC "largely created Farage" is "bonkers" of an even higher order. The BBC marginalised and belittled UKIP for years. It was Nigel Farage and his party's electoral successes particularly in the Euro elections of 2009 and 2013 that gave UKIP their great leap forward. The BBC had to start giving Mr. Farage a higher profile from that time. For concrete evidence of how wrong Lord Adonis is here, just look at how UKIP were being marginalised back in 2009-10, even after they came second in the 2009 elections. This was my count (at the time) of the airtime given to the various political parties as far as interviews on all the main BBC TV and radio current affairs programmes:  

July 2009
Labour - 60.92%
Conservatives - 24.08%
Lib Dems - 10.82%
SNP - 2.08%
Greens - 0.82%
BNP - 0.76%
UKIP - 0.32%
Plaid Cymru - 0.22%

August 2009
Labour - 6 hours 5 minutes 33 seconds, 52.3%
Conservatives - 2 hours 37 minutes 57 seconds, 22.6%
Liberal Democrats - 1 hour 32 minutes 15 seconds, 13.2%
SNP - 1 hour 7 minutes 6 seconds, 9.6%
Greens - 7 minutes 11 seconds, 1%
Independents - 3 minutes 47 seconds, 0.5%
UKIP - 3 minutes 33 seconds, 0.5%
Plaid Cymru - 2 minutes 42 seconds, 0.3%

September 2009
Labour - 12 hours 25 minutes 26 seconds, 61.51%
Liberal Democrats - 4 hours 5 minutes 10 seconds, 19.98%
Conservatives - 2 hours 52 minutes 1 second, 14.03%
SNP - 19 minutes 35 seconds, 1.58%
UKIP - 10 minutes 52 seconds, 0.86%
Plaid Cymru - 7 minutes 34 seconds, 0.62%
Independent - 5 minutes 16 seconds, 0.43%
Greens - 2 minutes 51 seconds, 0.23%
English Democrats - 2 minutes 47 seconds, 0.23%
UUP - 2 minutes 27 seconds, 0.21%
DUP - 2 minutes 15 seconds, 0.19%
SDLP - 1 minute 56 seconds, 0.13%

October 2009
Conservatives - 10 hours 51 minutes 29 seconds, 43.20%
Labour - 10 hours 42 minutes 41 seconds, 42.61%
Liberal Democrats - 1 hour 45 minutes 39 seconds, 6.99%
SNP - 1 hour 0 minutes 22 seconds, 3.99%
UKIP - 11 minutes 17 seconds, 0.74%
DUP - 9 minutes 2 seconds, 0.60%
BNP - 8 minutes 8 seconds, 0.54%
Sinn Fein - 6 minutes 16 seconds, 0.41%
Greens - 5 minutes 20 seconds, 0.34%
Alliance - 3 minutes 26 seconds, 0.22%
Plaid Cymru - 3 minutes 16 seconds, 0.21%
UUP - 2 minutes 27 seconds, 0.15%

November 2009
Labour - 7 hours 44 minutes 21 seconds (41.1%)
Conservatives - 6 hours 25 minutes 11 seconds (34.1%)
Liberal Democrats - 2 hours 16 minutes 19 seconds (12.0%)
SNP- 1 hour 15 minutes 4 seconds (6.7%)
UKIP - 29 minutes 10 seconds (2.6%)
Greens - 16 minutes 34 seconds (1.5%)
Sinn Fein - 9 minutes 35 seconds (0.9%)
Independents - 8 minutes 1 second (0.7%)
Plaid Cymru - 4 minutes 59 seconds (0.4%)

December 2009
Labour - 56.20% (7h 49m 56s)
Conservatives - 29.01% (4h 2m 40s)
Lib Dems - 11.65% (1h 37m 30s)
SNP - 1.21% (10m 13s)
UKIP - 0.99% (8m 25s)
Independents - 0.65% (5m 40s)
Plaid Cymru - 0.29% (2m 46s)

January 2010
Labour - 54.81% (12h 13m 18s)
Conservatives - 22.81% (5h 5m 13s)
Lib Dems - 12.65% (2h 49m 19s)
SNP - 2.25% (30m 10s)
Sinn Fein - 1.68% (22m 49s)
UKIP - 1.44% (19m 28s)
DUP - 1.22% (16m 34s)
Independents - 0.90% (12m 1s)
Greens - 0.60% (8m 4s)
SDLP - 0.48% (6m 46s)
Alliance - 0.46% (6m 18s)
TUV - 0.46% (6m 18s)
Respect - 0.24% (3m 16s)

The idea that the BBC was responsible for the rise of Nigel Farage is beyond ridiculous. Lord Adonis is simply wrong.

As for the idea that Radio 4's Today is now "just a noticeboard for government and Farage press releases", well, the evidence (stats not anecdotes) say the opposite. Today continues to be heavily tilted in favour of those who aren't pro-Brexit, guest-selection-wise. Lord Adonis is simply wrong. 

And, yes, though Question Time does give Nigel Farage a platform - on average about twice a year (31 appearances from 2000 to now) - the stats also show that the programme's panels remain heavily tilted in favour of those who aren't pro-Brexit. Lord Adonis is wrong again.

On the Theresa Villiers grumble, the interview was about the news that day - serious problems with the NI executive. It wasn't about Brexit. So this amounts to nothing more than Lord Adonis and his Brexit-fixated Twitter friend not getting the discussion they wanted. Not every discussion about Northern Ireland with a pro-Brexit politician has to be about Brexit. It was a short interview too. And if Justin Webb had changed the subject and asked her about Brexit, these same people would then probably have complained that he was giving a pro-Brexit politician a platform to push Brexit! Lord Adonis is simply wrong.

Furthermore, that very edition of Todaywhen it did discuss Brexit, repeatedly saw its business reporter Dharshini David (at 6:22, 6:28 and 8:50) asking questions about Brexit from a negative standpoint - the IMF's "warnings" about Brexit, how Brexit could be an "obstacle" to tech companies, and the "challenges" Brexit poses for the UK's fashion industry, and the main Brexit focus was on an Ed Balls-commissioned report that found that small and medium-sized businesses want us to stay in the Single Market (two segments on that). Did Lord Adonis miss these bit? Guest-wise, Polly Toynbee and Ed Balls were balanced by John Mills and Charles Moore. 

On Andrew Neil's tweets, well, yes, Andrew Adonis has a point. AN is very opinionated on Twitter and his views aren't disguised. If others shouldn't be he shouldn't be either (much as I enjoy his tweets). But Andrew Adonis only has a very narrow point specifically related to AN. Andrew Neil remains the exception that proves the rule on that front. The rest of the BBC tends very heavily in the other direction. Read almost any of the other opinionated BBC Tweeters and you'll find next to no links to pro-Brexit commentaries but plenty of links to anti-Brexit commentaries. By singling him out and making him 'represent' the BBC, Lord Adonis is completely inverting the truth about biased BBC tweets. Lord Adonis is still wrong. 

On that 'corpse' headline, which the BBC later changed, however, yes, I did raise an eyebrow or two myself when I saw that headline, but Kamal Ahmed's commentary beneath that headline was certainly not pro-Brexit. Even some pro-EU Tweeters pointed out the falsity of Lord Adonis's characterisation of his actual piece. ("I read your article through twice after reading criticisms of it especially by Lord Adonis. It was pretty clear to me what you were saying and that it wasn't insulting to the EU or those of us who wish to remain in it. Sadly some may have only read the headlines."). Lord Adonis was right about that headline but, otherwise, is simply wrong again.

All of this is, of course, will be both unpleasant for and pleasing to the BBC. They won't like Lord Adonis's repeated claims of bias against them, but they will relish being able to play the 'Complaints from both sides' card: He says the BBC is pro-Brexit; They say the BBC is anti-Brexit; Ergo, the BBC must be getting it about right.

However, nearly all of what Lord Adonis said here is complete and utter baloney. What sites like News-watch (for example) say, claiming the opposite of what Lord Adonis is saying, is not complete and utter baloney because it is backed up by evidence (and lots of it). So if one side is wrong and the other side is right, the contention that 'we must be getting it about right because we're being complained about by both sides' doesn't hold water.

The BBC joins the usual suspects

The anti-Daily Mail campaign group Stop Funding (Free Speech) Hate has scored another victory with (Centre Parks) Center Parcs withdrawing its advertising from the hated newspaper after Richard Littlejohn published an article there expressing a widely-held, socially-conservative view on the family that children benefit most from being raised by a man and woman. Naturally, the usual suspects went into overdrive in response. 

The BBC News website has the story among its main headlines this morning, unlike Sky News or ITV News. 

The BBC's report about it reads as being unsympathetic towards Richard Littlejohn, calling him "Littlejohn" twice and failing - unlike, say, The Times - to quote the Daily Mail's response. 

The Mail rightly says that the article is not homophobic and that it's a balanced opinion piece (which it is). 

Why doesn't the BBC give the Mail's response?

Taking flight

Is it a 'good news story for the BBC' or a 'bad news story for the BBC' that Quentin Letts of The Daily Mail has fled BBC Radio's 4 Today for BBC Radio 3's Breakfast? Or does the 'good news for the BBC' balance out the 'bad news for the BBC' here? After all, Quentin may be fed up with Today but, instead of fleeing the BBC altogether, has merely taken refuge with yet another part of the BBC, and now feels very happy there?

Quentin's piece in the Mail, which I learned about via Alan at Biased-BBC, struck a strong chord with me because I've also recently stopped listening to Radio 4 whilst driving to and from work and switched to Radio 3 instead - and, like Quentin, I've felt much the better for it.

In fact, instead of blogging about BBC bias, I've spent what little time I've not been at work this week catching up with Radio 3's Breakfast (and other BBC Radio 3 programmes) on the iPlayer, playing the game of clicking on each piece and trying to guess what it is. And, like Quentin, I've found gem after gem after gem after gem. And, also like Quentin, I've especially enjoyed Georgia Mann's presentation (though I'm not sure what Canada's answer to Lord Adonis, Justin Trudeau, would make of her surname, especially if he merely heard it spoken. Would he be reaching for the smelling salts?). 

Arnold Schoenberg walks into a bar. "I'll have a gin please, but no tonic".
Why couldn't the string quartet find their composer? He was Haydn. 
Why did J. S. Bach have so many children? Because he didn't have any stops on his organ. 

Friday, 16 February 2018

Open thread

Crossword clues

Firmly in 'you couldn't make it up' territory...

A lead story on the BBC News website tonight, though slipping down the rankings gradually as the evening progresses (perhaps, as reality dawns on BBC journalists?), is:

Yes, this BBC-headlining scandal concerns a couple of crossword clues by the Derbyshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale...

And, yes, a crossword by the Derbyshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale has been major BBC headline news this evening!

I kid you not. Such things are evidently top news with BBC online editors these days... least if the apparently inexhaustible ranks of the Twitterati rouse enough of a silly, furious Twitterstorm about it....

The offending clues, which brought about the usual mad Twitter frenzy (duly reported by the BBC), are: (a) ‘US negro could become an operational doctor (7)’ and  (b) ‘A sex toy or an effeminate man (5)’.

Hilariously, the Daily Mail (of all media sites) went one step further than the BBC (and, as far as I can see, anyone else) by employing asterisks to 'disguise' the offending word (and got roundly mocked in 'the comments' for so doing):

Now, I'm not bad at doing cryptic crosswords and immediately got ‘US negro could become an operational doctor (7)’ (hint: think of anagrams for 'US negro' which mean 'medical practitioner') but, maybe because of lingering middle-aged naivety and/or conservatism, I'm still (stupidly) struggling with ‘A sex toy or an effeminate man (5)’, and none of the newspapers (**** 'em all!) are giving away the answer to that. I'm at serious risk of not sleeping tonight unless I solve that second clue. Don't tell me though!

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Real Ale (nationwide) has apologised for someone somewhere in their organisation posting such traumatisingly offensive crossword clues.

Incidentally, did you know that 'Plush gold age' is an anagram of 'God help us all!'?