Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Open Thread With The Gigantic Hare

Yes, I know it's a rabbit, but if it was good enough for the creators of Bugs Bunny...

Thank you all so much for your comments. Please keep them coming.

And if you prefer reindeer to rabbits, please read this from News-watch's David Keighley:

It tells of how Lord Lawson achieved a victory against the BBC over inaccurate reporting and how the BBC then mangled their 'apology' so much as to make it seem like a Pyrrhic victory. 

Of George Villiers, Charles I, Donald Trump and Andrew Marr

Charles I (l); Charles I (c); Charles I (r)

Andrew Marr has a startling piece in the Evening Standard headlined 'Basic civility and respect must prevail over the rule of the mob'. 

In it he argues that we are now approaching the same situation that prevailed in the reign of Charles I in the years leading up to the Civil War thanks to social media. 

Back then it was inflammatory words on pamphlets and ballads and cartoons and news sheets inciting the mob; now it's inflammatory posts on Twitter and Facebook. Back then it was the Duke of Buckingham; now it's Jo Cox. Fake news then; fake news now. Polarisation then; polarisation now. 

The piece ends:
And it’s dangerous. In a new book about Trump’s America, two political scientists from Harvard, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, discuss “How Democracies Die”. In it they emphasise the importance of not just political rules but how we behave. These “soft guard rails” include mutual toleration or “the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals”. Got that, Donald? 
So yes, we need basic civility and some mutual respect even when we disagree. This is going to be a difficult year. The last thing we need is a spitting arms race of abuse. History, as so often, tells us why.
I very much agree that basic civility and respect are very valuable things, but I think his historical analogy-drawing is overblown. We do need to tone it down but we are not in a pre-Civil War situation. 

(Or am I being too blithe? After all we could have a government headed by Marxists and near-Marxists in the not-too-distant future - and no one was expecting that a couple of years ago, or for much of the past century).

Naturally Donald Trump is Andrew's main present-day bogeyman here.

The funny thing is that, at work, I keep hearing friends and colleagues openly hoping for the assassination of Donald Trump. The constant demonisation of Donald Trump is something that might lead to a Duke of Buckingham type of situation too (and one that one Brit has already tried).

Has the BBC exactly covered itself in civil, respectful glory on that front, Andrew? 


Becca. Not from Hereford

It's not news that Question Time audiences are like gardens - i.e. they tend to contain plants - but it remains a fascinating feature of the programme that political parties of all stripes are stilling trying to stack its audiences in their favour, bussing in loyal activists from across the kingdom. 

The next step happens if and only if 'the plant' is called to speak. Then 'the plant' quickly gets 'outed' on Twitter for being a political insider and not just an ordinary member of the public. 

The viewing public, of course, remains blissfully unaware that they've been duped.

(Or do they? Won't many viewers suspect that these people might not be quite what they seem?) 

This last edition of Question Time from the strongly Conservative seat of Hereford featured a young woman denouncing the Conservatives over the NHS, to rowdy applause from swathes of the audience. 

It turns out that she's called Rebecca Shirazi, a Labour Party candidate for Camden council and a party activist in Tulip Siddiq's Hampstead and Kilburn constituency.

Why was she in faraway Hereford that evening? (Hmm. Not so tricky, that one!)

What can Question Time do, if anything, to stop this kind of thing happening? 

Does it matter? Should they even try? Isn't it part of a vibrant democracy that political parties will try to rig audiences on the country's main TV political debate show? 

All Roads Lead to Morecambe

The 'For Sale' sign makes it even funnier

Apropos of nothing, just some interesting facts about roads I learned today the way the BBC so often 'learns' things - by reading someone else's article!....

According to the Ordinance Survey Open Names database there are 788,340 roads with a name in Great Britain. Alphabetically, these range from Aachen Way in Halifax to Zurich Gardens in Bramhall.

'Road' is the most common suffix for road names, accounting for some 20% of the them, beating 'Close' at 15%, 'Street' at 10%, 'Lane' at 8%, and 'Avenue' at 6%.

The most common road name is 'High Street' (there are 2,453 of them). 'Station Road' is second, followed by 'Church Lane', 'Church Street' and 'Mill Lane'.

For those with a low taste in humour, there's a Fanny Hands Lane in Ludford, Lincolnshire and a Burnt Dick Hill in Boxted, Essex.

Oh, and 30% of the road names in Blackpool are 'Avenues' - a shocker given that Blackpool never really strikes me as being particularly tree-lined. 

(Blackpool, incidentally, is a seaside town which truly merits a Trumpian epithet - unlike its more northerly rival Morecambe. I suspect the US President would, in contrast, find Morecambe great, so great.) 

All credit though to Ed Jefferson for this fine, not-at-all-geeky piece of research. I love this kind of thing. First-class-travelling Trot Michael Rosen and his 'Robin' Dr Laura Wright will surely be inviting you for a chat on Word of Mouth soon (or should be doing)!

[P.S. As this is the internet and you never know who's watching: This post doesn't commit a hate crime against Blackpool. It was a joke. I don't really think it's a s*i*h*le, though others are free to disagree!].

Recommendation Time

"How YOU doin'?"

Simon Evans, the only right-wing comedian in the BBC Radio 4 village (and, no, unlike Daffyd from Little Britain, he's probably not imagining that!), has a new series of Simon Evans Goes to Market going out at the moment on Radio 4. It's not your run-of-the-mill, predictable BBC comedy show. I came away having laughed a bit and having learned a lot, this week about the big social media corporations. It was genuinely illuminating. Very good!

I'd also like to recommend this week's The Infinite Monkey Cage on 'The Secret Life of Birds'. (Forget your 'hatred' of Brian Cox and Robin Ince please!). Yes, the 'secret life' turned out to be mainly the 'sex life', but this programme is so valuable for giving voice to some wonderful scientists. This week it was the University of Sheffield's Professor Tim Birkhead, who did himself great credit, especially for his bit on male ducks - particularly the Argentine lake duck (a veritable Peronist duck if ever I've heard one)..

I'll summarise:

Not many bird species have a penis, but male ducks (including the mallard) have. Their penis isn't like ours though. It's a spiral, explosive structure powered by lymph rather than blood. The male Argentine lake duck (about a foot in length) has an 18-inch penis. The female duck has a complex vagina to match - at the most extreme, three side branches and a very vigorous spiral. The female's vagina spirals in the opposite direction to the male's spiralling penis. If a female is forced upon (raped) she can close her ovary duct and send the male's penis off down a blind alley.

One for Jane Gravy that!

Can you believe your eyes?

Over at Biased BBC, there's a discussion about a BBC video about the 'child refugees' Mrs May had agreed to take from France at M. Macron's behest:

Was whoever edited the video told this would be a piece about immigrant ‘children’? There is a distinct lack of children in the footage. I counted three in the 3:12 minute piece. Two, were carried by an adult [0:09 & 0:15]. (Accept the child – reject the father?) The other was riding a bicycle while photographing?/video calling? from his mobile phone [0:44]. (Bought the phone – carried it from Africa?)
I guess ‘late teens (to give benefit of the doubt) refugees heading to the UK’ would be a less sympathetic headline. Mostly the footage showed adult men.
There was nothing (Did nobody think to ask?) about checking whether the children were actually children as claimed. Nor was there any definition of a child. From the POV of the British government is a 17 year old a child? Surely there are different problems than when dealing with a 5 year old.
BTW what’s with the blanked-out faces [2:57]?

It really is striking just how un-childlike the 'children' in this video look. They look like adult men to me or at best, as deegee says, like boys in their late teens, and it's very disconcerting watching the images of them whilst simultaneously hearing a commentary that repeatedly refers to them as "refugee children". Your eyes aren't seeing what your ears are hearing so your brain (rather than you nose) smells something funny. It's the kind of thing that understandably and rightly breeds cynicism.

Now, reporter Emma Vardy does say in her report that "some newspapers" have previous raised concerns about the age of the children and that other concerns about the legitimacy of their claims to be Syrian refugees have proved justified, but the overall tenor of her piece - and her talking heads (one Conservative, one Labour) - did give the impression of accepting that these people are children. It isn't just "some newspapers" that doubt the age of these adult-looking men, Emma.

As to deegee's final question, "BTW what’s with the blanked-out faces [2:57]?", well, I think we were being shown the famous first batch of 'children' - the batch that proved so controversial in "some newspapers" because of the fact that some of the 'children' looked as if they were in their late twenties, never mind their early twenties or late teens (and, it later turned out, many of whom were men in their late twenties). 

The reluctance to question whether these 'children' are children looks set to be a permanent part of UK public policy and the BBC again looks set not to raise any difficult questions about that.

One who looks on and watches

My copy of The Spectator awaited me when I got home from work last night and, beginning at the beginning, it was interesting to note just how much 'BBC stuff' there is in it, starting with Justin Webb's 'Diary' in which Our Justin pays a handsome tribute to his friend John Humphrys, describes his (partial) fondness for his  regular Twitter critics - especially the astrology correspondent of The Lady - and talks about CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who (as you may recall) recently co-hosted Today. Our Justin deliberately let slip an interesting nugget about the CNN star: "When she guest-presented the Today programme recently, she came with a helper who carried her jacket to the studio". As Justin said, she's now "terribly grand".

Then came Charles Moore writing about Sunday evening's The Coronation on BBC One and how "it never explained or even mentioned that the ceremony in which the anointing and the putting on the crown were framed was the communion" and didn't tell viewers that the Queen's taking of communion during her coronation was considered "too sacred a moment for the cameras to film", thus meaning that "the shape of the service could not be understood". Why did the BBC omit those facts? Mr Moore speculates that one reason could be that "the wholly Christian (and specifically Anglican) nature of the entire thing" might have been "considered a slightly tricky subject" by the BBC - which, if true, would be quite something.

And then came Ross Clark registering some qualms about the possibly highly dire unexpected consequences of concerted action to tackle "the great plastic panic" - a 'panic' provoked by distressing scenes involving albatrosses and whales on Sir David Attenborough's landmark BBC One series Blue Planet II. If nothing else this demonstrates the remarkable power of a BBC programme to rouse certain sections of the public (including me via Springwatch) - and, even more so, politicians (following those sections of the public) - into a determination that 'something must be done' and that 'lots must be said' about doing it. 

And finally (so far, as I've not finished reading it yet) came Rod Liddle discussing BBC Women, via a brief review of a science fiction BBC drama called Hard Sun "where the head of MI5 is a Nigerian woman and everyone else in it lives in a mixed-race family". Rod says this is typical BBC "PC social engineering". Worse, it has an "imbecilic plot". He's not tempting me to watch it. As for those revolting BBC Women, he hasn't any kind words for them either, particularly for the way they tried to get John Humphrys sacked. 
Listen, very stupid BBC Women: simply because you believe something, it doesn’t make it the truth. Other people are still allowed opinions, even if they dare to counter your own. My view about people who work for a news organisation yet have a totalitarian approach to diverse opinions is that they should be sacked immediately. That probably includes one of the leading lights of BBC Women, Jane Garvey. It is fine for Ms Gravy to subject the nation to the outdated, boring, misandrist, middle-class moanfest of Woman’s Hour (which she does on those days when her domestic schedule allows), but heaven forefend if someone challenges the tendentious victimhood rot her show puts out every day. Sack him!
Isn't "the outdated, boring, misandrist, middle-class moanfest of Woman’s Hour" such a good way of describing it? 

The Strange Case of the Missing Retweet

Tweet Queen, Samira Ahmed

I read a comment somewhere this morning saying "Newswatch is just a way for BBC News to just take the subtle piss out of any complainers". 

Unfair or not, cynical or not, Twitter was certainly full of people extracting the not-so-subtle urine out of the first featured complainer on this week's edition

Here's the section in question:
Samira Ahmed: First, it's not always what you see on the news which captures the attention of Newswatch viewers, but when you see it. On Wednesday evening, a football match was showing live on BBC One. If you're interested, an FA Cup third-round replay between Chelsea and Norwich City. Unfortunately, not everyone was interested and when the broadcast overran because of a late start to the game and they go into extra time and then a penalty shoot out, some of them were pretty angry, as the News at Ten became the News at 10:45pm. Here's Deborah Toulson:
Deborah: Last night, my husband and I got home after a long day at work and we do like to sit down and watch the Ten O'Clock News. But it turns out a football match was overrunning and the news had to be displaced by 45 minutes. I just don't think somebody's got their head screwed on. If the football match is that important, put it on a different channel. But I feel news comes before football. 
(A mild example of the Twitter response: "She’s got a whole bloody news channel to watch 24 hours a day! Why cut off sporting drama just because she isn’t a fan of the sport? Hate idiots like that.")

One of the politer Twitter comments telling Deborah where to go (to the BBC News Channel in this case!) was actually retweeted by Samira Ahmed - something that took me by surprise. 

I should have screengrabbed it because it's gone now. 

I believe that she subsequently un-retweeted it. 

If she changed her mind about the wisdom of retweeting a comment attacking a Newswatch viewer, I can easily guess why. It's not a good look for the presenter of such a 'watchdog' programme, is it? It speaks of disrespect for the complainer.

Two views on Trump

John Simpson's talk on yesterday's The World at One ran as follows:
When American presidents speak as forthrightly as this - that was Donald Trump at his inauguration - people assume they mean what they say. But President Trump is different. 
It's taken us a year to understand that when he speaks it's more likely to be mood music than US policy. He's talking not to ambassadors and foreign governments but to the people who elected him. 
Those people believe that what we used to call 'the Third World' habitually takes America for a ride, hoovering up Washington's money and then ignoring what Washington wants done.  
On the first of January this year Mr. Trump tweeted that America was "foolish" to have given Pakistan 33 billion dollars in aid. Cue fury in Pakistan. The President wasn't really thinking about Pakistan. He was thinking about his own followers. Maybe he will cut US aid to Pakistan but that's not at all certain yet. His followers are sick of "political correctness". He was just showing that he knows it.  
The same goes for the remark, assuming he made it, about "shithole" countries. More outrage. But there's no real sign that he's going to change US immigration policy radically. And he won't need to as long as his faithful supporters think this is how he feels.  
Some governments seem to have spotted this. Germany, for instance, believes that US policy remains pretty much what it has been, even over Russia - which was an early worry. So the real problem for the German government is coping with outraged public opinion at home.  
And the most important foreign government of all in this context certainly seems to have realised it. The Chinese government, hosting Donald Trump there, winced a bit when he talked about stopping China taking advantage of the US but it's also noticed that nothing much seems to happen as a result when he speaks, so it's decided that the best thing is to say "We don't agree" and then get on with business as usual.  
And even when Mr. Trump actually does something, leaving the Paris agreement on climate change for instance, he is perfectly capable of musing, as he did the other day, that the US might possibly rejoin it.  
The trouble is, whether or not he thinks this kind of thing matters other people do. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for instance. For the first time since 1956, because of this, the US is no longer regarded as a neutral arbiter between Israel and the Palestinians.  
It's only one issue but it's symptomatic. America's soft power, which used to be dominant in the world, is slipping. Country after country polls show that the perception of the US is turning negative thanks to Donald Trump's unguarded words and tweets.  
But the people who voted him in don't know much about that, or care about it either.
Well, that's one way of looking at it. 

Another is to say that Mr. Trump has been following through aplenty, as in a piece at US News and World Report by a strong Trump critic Liz Mair

According to her in just his first year as President, Donald Trump followed through on his election campaign promises and got a major tax bill passed, rolled back lots of government regulations, achieved some reforms to the Affordable Care Act, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal, pulled the U.S. out of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, (contrary to what John Simpson said) followed through on promises to vastly increase deportations of unlawful immigrants and curb legal immigration, got a revised version of his Middle East travel ban through, moved beyond rhetoric to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and got numerous conservative judges appointed (including a Supreme Court judge).  

So is Donald Trump merely a blowhard, as John Simpson argues, or is he a someone, as Liz Mair contends, who successfully follows through on his promises (whether you like them or not)? 

Racism at the BBC

What Paul says:

No more late nights for James

A swallow I thought I spotted in May last year actually does now make a summer. Newsnight came to its senses after all:

If you want a reminder of the sheer awfulness and partisanship of JO'B's attack on Asra Nomani please click here.  

I wander if the decision to drop James O'Brien came before or after Ian Katz's departure from Newsnight back in October last year? His last gig on Newsnight was on 26 October. Did acting editors Jess Brammar and Daniel Clarke make that wise decision, or was it a parting gift from Mr Katz? Twitter suggests it was around 30 October that JO'B was requested to step aside, one day before Ian Katz's departure was formally announced

Hugh Pym and the BBC's NHS coverage

For anyone who's interested, here's a transcript of the main part of this week's Newswatch

Hugh Pym

Samira Ahmed: Now, not for the first time, we are in the middle of a winter of difficulties and challenges for the National Health Service. BBC News has been reporting them with considerable attention. 
BBC NewsreaderTonight at 6:00pm, an apology from Theresa May after new figures reveal pressure on the NHS this winter. From ambulance transfer delays, unprecedented calls to the helpline and operations postponed. BBC Newsreader: A stark claim by doctors: Winter pressures have left patients dying prematurely in hospital corridors. They say safety in A&E units in England and Wales has been compromised at a sometimes intolerable level. 
Doctor: There is a clear emergency and what a number of other observers have clearly described as a crisis. 
BBC Newsreader: One in ten nurses is leaving the NHS in England every year, as the gap between those leaving and joining the profession widens. BBC Newsreader: Hospital consultants in Wales say patient safety is being compromised and that the NHS and social care are chronically under resourced. 
Consultant: We've got patients that are in the department where we don't have space to see them and then we are coming back the next day and some of the patients are still here. It's getting worse every winter, but this is the worst we have seen it. 
Samira Ahmed: Viewer Mike Hill reacted to the coverage he'd seen by writing, "Every year the BBC in January encourages public hysteria by sensationalist reporting - an open door is offered to every medical group, trade union, charity and politician with the same crisis message." And Robert Glassborow put it like this: "I am tired of hearing the scurrilous comments on BBC News programmes running down the NHS, and the annual pressures they are coping with admirably. The nursing staff are demoralised as a result". Meanwhile, Brian Megson declared himself a fan of BBC News, but he echoed those reservations. 
Brian: What I don't enjoy is your constant commentary about the NHS. You start off in December and then you really let rip in January. Every day there's a report about how bad it is, people dying in corridors, not enough nurses, not enough doctors. There's always something wrong with the NHS every day for you guys and you really should stop it. It's a wonderful organisation, why can't you let it be? It's a very big, tough organisation to run for those who are running it and I wish he would stop this obsession and fixation with it. 
Samira Ahmed: Well, Hugh Pym, the health editor for BBC News is with me now. Thank you for coming on Newswatch. There is a sense that the 'NHS in crisis' story comes around each winter. Are you too negative in how you focus on it? 

Hugh Pym: Well, Samira, there's always a balance to be struck, we are very aware of that. The balance between recognising that the NHS does a fantastic job throughout the year and that it's a very popular and well-regarded institution, the staff work extremely hard, but also recognising that if it's under great pressure and staff are feeling the pressure, and that's often what we're being told, then we need to report that. We need to hold the government to account on the performance of the NHS and the management of the NHS in different parts of the UK. Now, this winter, it's been made abundantly clear to us by many people on the front line that the pressure is greater than they've known before, even worse than last year. Many of them think the NHS is underfunded. We've had stories from patients, as well, about very, very long waits in ambulances outside hospitals, and we have a duty to report that. 

Samira Ahmed: You've absolutely made the journalistic case for why this is news. It's about what's abnormal. But is there enough consideration of the cumulative effect of all the stories, that they might actually be hurting people's confidence, and undermining staff morale, which is what some viewers are concerned about? 

Hugh Pym: Well, a couple of the stories that we did, just to highlight, as we've seen just a few minutes ago, the letter from 68 leading A&E consultants, again, on the front line of the NHS, writing to the Prime Minister, saying they have very serious safety concerns, that people could be dying prematurely because of waits in corridors - that letter echoed by consultants in Wales, writing to the First Minister - If that's how they feel in the NHS, then I think we have to report that. And, when it went out on social media, there were a lot of tweets from people in different parts of the NHS, welcoming the fact that senior clinicians were speaking out like that. So, in terms of the negative impact, it's hard to tell with morale, but we have done positive stories about the role of nurses, for example, a whole day of coverage on the very valuable role they play, and also positive stories about how some hospitals, in the face of great pressure, are coping and are having to devise ways of streaming people through A&E. I highlighted a scheme in Ipswich. We've looked at the performance of Luton's A&E, hitting all the targets. A video on our website on that. So I think we do always try to highlight the steps which have been taken to mitigate this pressure. 

Samira Ahmed: It is interesting you mentioned there the day focused on nursing, because it was Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, tweeted that while the BBC's focus was good, he accused the BBC of underplaying the increase in nurse training places. Does he have a point? 

Hugh Pym: Well, we were highlighting the story, which was that last year, the year to September 2017, more nurses had left the NHS than joined it in England. And there was a 3,000 gap, and that hadn't been seen at all in recent years. There was a small gap in the previous year, but it had been positive a few years before that, highlighting the real recruitment and retention challenges the NHS has. Now, the Government's line is, new training places have been set up for a future flow of nurses and we did report that. But they're, in a way, different stories. Yes, planning for the future is one thing, which the Government is trying to do. What was the situation last year? That was illustrated by the facts we quoted from NHS Digital. 

Samira Ahmed: Well, it is very clear from our conversation so far that there is a real political issue in how the NHS is being reported, given the Government and the Opposition say very different things about the funding going into the NHS, and how it is being spent. How much of a challenge is that for you reporting it? 

Hugh Pym: It's a great challenge, because the flow of funding is very complicated. Yes, the Government can say that they've put more money into the NHS, and others can say, including Labour, that it's not enough, and that's of course, in some sense, is a value judgment, but there's an increasing view across different parts of the NHS and royal colleges, trade unions and think tanks, saying that, in England and also the UK, spending is lagging behind what it might be as a share of national income. So getting that balance right and also highlighting the need for the NHS to be efficient, and how it can save money, is always quite a difficult thing to get right. But there is now an increasing debate about the need for a cross-party view on this, involving everyone across society -How do they want the NHS to be funded and social care? Where's the money going to come from, does it need more tax?- on this, of course, the 70th year of the NHS. 

Samira Ahmed: What's interesting is we started off talking about viewers' concern that the BBC is being too negative. But it has also been striking that the BBC's logo for this story is 'NHS Winter', whereas in the past it has been 'NHS Crisis' which the BBC also got criticised for. Some might say, is the BBC being too shy of being as hard as it needs to be on this story? 

Hugh Pym: Well, we've been very careful in our reporting not to use the word 'crisis', and not to brand it as 'a crisis'. It's for others to make that assertion. Many are. Many clinicians as well as politicians are saying it is an NHS crisis. I think the best we can do is state the facts, state what is really going on in hospitals, GPs' surgeries, community health, mental health, right around the UK, state it as it is, make the debate about funding as clear as possible and then leave others to judge how serious it is. But I think no-one can be in any doubt, we have laid out there for viewers and listeners that there is a very serious state of affairs in some parts of the NHS, currently in January, with flu being a major problem. But we need to judge things in the months ahead as to where things go from here. 

Samira Ahmed: Hugh Pym, thank you so much. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Supplementary Opposition

Different version 

"You’ve miscalculated on this one, haven’t you? says Tim Willcox as he begins his hostile questioning of Tzipi Hotovely, aired on BBC World news last August.

What was he talking about this time? you ask. Oh, just a little matter of the Palestinians going ape-shit over metal detectors being installed to obstruct would-be terrorists who need to take weapons inside the Temple Mount compound. 
“We found dozens of knives, slingshots, cudgels, spikes, inciting material, unexploded munitions, stun grenades, binoculars — but we haven’t yet found caches of live ammunition.”
So, just props used by Palestinians for one of their traditional rituals, ‘resistance’. How dare the nasty Jews interfere with a Palestinian cultural practice in their thirdest  mostest holiest site?
“All you’ve done is create and provoke the Palestinians and now under international pressure, had to remove these metal detectors. “ 
says Willcox indignantly. 
“The Palestinians say you are trying to increase your control over the compound, they want the status quo to be continued. Jordan is in charge of it, they want those cameras removed along with every other security measures, they say you are deliberately provoking and taking control of the site which has been managed and run successfully by Jordan for the last fifty years”  
Willcox intones furiously, waving his arms around. How dare you obstruct the Palestinians’ when they feel a little frisky. The Jordanians let them, so why don’t you? What are you? Racists?
It’s not the first time Tim Willcox has paraded his pro-Palestinian proclivities in front of the world, though is it? Even though he had to apologise (must have been under international pressure) when he attempted to justify  another spot of terrorism not so long ago.

The Palestinian cause seems to have become his specialist subject in the eyes of the BBC editorial team.The Israelis have done something controversial, they must be saying. Let’s get Tim Willcox in, he’s the expert

Here he goes again. This time it’s Trump, and his controversial plans for UNRWA
"This is pretty counter-productive, isn’t it? It could actually cause you more security problems"
Hotovely patiently sets out the case against UNRWA, even inventing a new word ‘registrated’ into the bargain. She explains that their (the Palestinians') great grandparents started the war (of independence) and lost ….Willcox is not impressed. 
“Different versions of history of course…. different.." 
Hotovely Interrupts: ”No no no! There’s only one”…. they both talk at once..
Ah. So the BBC does know that there is a version of history other than the “Palestinian” version. That’s something at least. 
“Could you just answer the question though? Of radicalising people, Are you concerned about that?
Why am I mentioning this? you ask. Well, only to  reinforce Jon Sopel’s observation that some journalists see themselves as the opposition. The BBC sees itself as the opposition to lots of things. Particularly Israel. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Flake news

Retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona speaks out about the many and varied flaws in Donald Trump’s personality. He makes some excellent, but rather obvious points. Maybe Trump’s core supporters are being wilfully blind when they defend the most blatant examples of Trump’s narcissistic weirdness, but Flake hasn’t mentioned the benefits that have accrued from Trump’s recklessness. Maybe it takes a madman to shake things up in a way that a politically correct, measured, apparently rational personality could never do. 

Stupid boy!

The Today Programme featured Trump’s Fake News Awards.
Anyway, it amused me so much to listen to Jon Sopel (another beauty) demonstrating a staggeringly un-self-aware analysis of the fake news phenomenon, and for your enjoyment I give you this transcript:

Think of the Oscars, think of the Grammies, it wan’t anything like that! Donald tTump put up a Tweet, linked it to the Republican Party website and you couldn’t find anything out - you got an error message initially, so social media went into meltdown and this was instructive in itself of the whole fake news debate. 
Because the trump detractors said ‘look what a shambles, what chaos and the Trump supporters were saying the site has crashed because there was such huge interest in it.
I’ve spent the last hour, two hours watching the TV - Fox News which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, very right-wing and supportive of Donald Trump has been covering the fake news wars extensively, CNN, MSNBC barely mentioned them and NY Times next to nothing and the Washington Post are reporting it as a total flop. 
The specific incidences are journalists who have got things wrong, and let’s put our hands up, who hasn’t at times made a mistake. The number one on the list of things that Donald Trump found most egregious was from Paul Krugman, known well prizewinning economist who predicted that there would be a stock-market crash when Donald Trump became president. Now, that’s a prediction. Is that fake news? I mean, you know, again, if you are asked to look into a crystal ball there is a 50/50 chance you’re gonna get things right or you’re gonna get things wrong. But this to Donald Trump was the most egregious example because the US Stock-market has gone up 30% in the past year, and Donald Trump, over the past year, a phrase you hear again and again is fake news fake news, you’re all a bunch of liars, it’s untrue. Is that having an effect? Yes it is. if you look at polls a lot of people don’t trust journalists. 
Republicans take the harshest view, they say 68% have a less favourable view of the media compared to 54% of Democrats. 4/10 Republicans say that reports painting politicians in a negative light should always be deemed as fake news. That’s alarming.
I think, in America there is always the post Watergate, post Nixon effect, where every journalist looks at himself/herself in the mirror and thinks I could be Woodward or Bernstein and bring down the president. I think that has changed slightly in the Trump era. To some journalists no longer seeing themselves as holding power to account, speaking truth to power, they see themselves as the opposition. I watched, to my astonishment, a rally that Donald Trump gave, and at the end of it the TV presenter, in the studio, it cuts back to him and goes “Man! That was unhinged! What an embarrassment to have him as our president!” This is mainstream media. Now, could you imagine, Sarah, you coming onto the Today Programme and saying ‘Theresa May, she’s unhinged! What an embarrassment to have her as our Prime Minister” By all means invite guests on who might make that point, but when the news organisation itself is saying that I think it is starting to see itself, not just as holding power to account but as the enemy and I think that plays into Donald Trump’s hands as well. 
So is this all down to editorial decisions then? (said Sarah Montague) 
No. There is commercial element to this too. There is money. Because actually in this present climate, CNN’s audiences, for example, and it was a CNN presenter who talked about the president being unhinged, their audiences are up! Their advertising revenue is up! They are trying to ‘marketise’ the unpopularity of Donald Trump among certain quarters. The NY Times! Their digital subscriptions are going through the roof! Because they are getting more and more people wanting to subscribe to the NY Times. Does that mean they are widening their readership in terms of are they reaching pockets of Republican supporting kind of mid-west America? No, they’re not. What it is, is that more and more liberals think this is the constitution under threat, we think we must subscribe. And so you have people living ever-more in an echo chamber, where the news that they read in the newspaper or they listen to on the radio or they watch on the television are just their own views coming back to them. And fewer and fewer Americans are hearing anything other than what they already believe.


Does anyone watch HARDtalk? It’s usually on TV at unsocial hours. I watched Stephen Sackur's disappointingly lacklustre interrogation of the co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, even if you didn’t.

BBC Watch rigorously unpacks the falsehoods that Zahar got away with in a two-part blog post.

I sense that many of the BBC’s regular viewers are uncertain about whether Hamas is a designated terrorist organisation, and if so, by whom. Sometimes the BBC mentions that Israel deems Hamas a terrorist organisation, and they would, wouldn’t they,  but it’s unclear whether the BBC knows which other countries agree, if any. 

One minute the EU thinks it isn’t …. the next the ECJ decides it is. There’s profile of Hamas on the BBC website that I don’t think even includes the word 'terrorist'. Of course this could be because the BBC is loath to make controversial value judgments. It’s understood that the BBC’s policy is to avoid using the term at all, except within reported speech, or in connection with specific cases of deadly terrorism here or in continental Europe. The BBC won’t use the term when terrorism occurs in Israel (as to do so would imply ‘taking sides’.)  

One might put this apparently selective ruling down to the fanciful, idealised picture of the Palestinians that quietly seeps into the BBC’s language. Yolande Knell, for example, will pay lip service to impartiality by giving us an empathetic version of, say, Bassem Tamimi, and an impersonal, ‘othered’ picture of the Israeli voice she is obliged to include. I believe the general public is not at all sure what to think. Quite a few people seem to be thoroughly bored with the lot of it. They end up wishing a plague on both (Israeli and Palestinian) houses.

Pro-Palestinian activists undoubtedly do see Hamas as freedom fighters, and the numbers who agree are bound to increase as Jeremy Corbyn’s influence widens. Many western politicians regard the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a credible partner for peace, perhaps because they are unaware of his true intentions, though he makes little secret of them. Make no mistake, Mahmoud Abbas says it loud and clear, he wants Israel eliminated and vows he will settle for nothing less. No matter how loudly or how often he says this, the media ignores it or makes sure the true meaning of his words is lost in translation, perhaps assuming everyone would prefer not to know. Like, too much information.

We didn’t see much of Stephen Sackur's HARD talking that the programme promises. It’s all very well claiming that the entire premise of Hamas’s existence is founded on so many falsifications of the actualité that it’s not worth picking up on every single one of them otherwise we’d be here all day. (not that anyone has claimed such a thing) I’m merely preempting possible excuses for a half-hearted performance.

Distilling BBC Watch’s detailed analysis, I offer this: 
The introduction includes a list of cruelties inflicted upon Zahar’s family by the Zionists, seemingly for no reason: 
“My guest today[…]was imprisoned, deported, his home was targeted, family members – including his son killed.”
But he and his Hamas colleagues remained committed to an armed struggle whose ultimate objective they characterise as the liberation of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. “
The word “But” obfuscates here. It should be “and”.  
“To Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and Mr Zahar is a terrorist with blood on his hands.”
To Israel? As Hadar says, Sackur is simply reminding us that 'one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.'  
Not everyone knows that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 so Sackur shouldn’t have let Zahar imply otherwise. Conflicting and confusing BBC reports in the past about the on / off relationship between Hamas and Fatah haven’t been helpful, but at least we now know that there is no reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions. The one thing they do agree on is that they are both committed to a Jew-free ‘Palestine’. I wish a wart on both their noses.

As for Hamas’s new, improved Charter. It isn’t. As far as I know it’s a softened, image-burnishing policy document, not a revised charter. 
Zahar attributes the poor quality of life in Gaza to Israel and Trump, and says it has nothing to do with Hamas “management”. This is untrue. He complains that Israel is somehow interfering with “Our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.” The opposite is the case. Bizarrely it’s actually Jews who aren’t allowed to pray there, and this lie should have been challenged.
More, still. Zahar gets away with accusing Israel of “destroying our medical, our social, our economic life” and says that “nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”
The BBC has never attempted to rectify this widely believed falsehood. Zahar freely admits that Hamas considers the whole of Israel to be an occupation of Palestinian lands.
  “Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.” 
“The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […] 
"We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”
Surely the BBC is obliged to challenge the justification of terrorism? Zahar sees Israel’s evacuation (in 2005) of Gaza as a triumph for terrorism. Does that not merit a robust challenge from the BBC? Zahar declares that Israeli Jews are “foreigners”:
 “These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.”
Even if historically illiterate BBC journalists doubt the Jews’ connection to the land, isn’t this precisely the kind of racism the BBC despises. So why let it go?

As BBC Watch rightly says,
“the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.”
I’ve already touched on the way the BBC ignored the content of Abbas’s speech
The media doesn’t want to know.
“For years some of us have argued that Abbas should be considered instead a political and diplomatic pariah. We have said he is a deep-dyed antisemite, having written his “doctoral” thesis on denying the Holocaust. We have drawn attention to his regime teaching its children about seizing the whole of Israel, and that their greatest goal should be to murder Jews. 
We have circulated the hideous antisemitic caricatures published in his regime’s media outlets. We have pointed out that he and his henchmen have repeatedly said not one Jew would remain in such a state of Palestine. We have referred to his repeated attempts to write the Jews out of their own history by denying their historic connection to the land of Israel, a central feature of the Jewish religion.

“Now Abbas has come out in his true colours in an utterly vile and deranged speech yesterday to the PLO central council. 
“Abbas’s speech should be sent to every member of the British parliament, and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, should be asked how Britain can continue to give any money at all to such open antisemites and Holocaust deniers. She should be asked how the British government can continue to support giving such people a state of their own. She should be asked why the British government has ignored this horrifying reality, and the constant mortal danger it poses for the Israelis, for so long. 
But then, many British people will be unaware of the appalling nature of Abbas’s speech since the BBC chose to bowdlerise it…”

A person called Christine Shawcroft has been elected on to the Labour Party committee responsible for dealing with antisemitism, deposing the person who was committed to ferreting it out. It remains to be seen what line the BBC will  take over this.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

BBC, pourquoi ne signalez-vous pas les critiques du président Macron à l'encontre des organisations caritatives et des activistes?

The Guardian's report on President Macron's visit to Calais goes begins: 
Emmanuel Macron has vowed there would never be another large refugee camp in Calais and warned those people remaining in the area who hope to reach Britain that they were at a “dead end”.  
The French president also accused certain organisations of lying about police brutality and encouraging people to remain in Calais and attempt the crossing to the United Kingdom.
The Telegraph's report on the same story begins: 
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, vowed there would be no return of the so-called "jungle" migrant camp in Calais on Tuesday, as he urged Theresa May to take on greater responsibility for the refugee crisis. 
Speaking in an aircraft hangar in Calais, Mr Macron said: "In no case will we allow another jungle here . . . all is being done so that the illegal passage [from Calais to Dover] is not possible." 
He also attacked "certain organisations" for spreading "lies" - referring to volunteers and charities accused of encouraging migrants to enter Britain illegally, and of fabricating claims of police brutality against them.   
Such groups were "far too great in number" and were "harmful to our collective effectiveness," Mr Macron said. 
The Times (online) tonight includes the following lead headline:

The striking thing when you read the BBC's report on the story is that M. Macron's sharply critical comments about those NGOs, activists and charity workers - groups and individuals who have featured so often, so sympathetically and so uncritically in BBC programmes and reports over the years advancing the migrants' cause -  criticisms which both the Guardian and the Telegraph and The Times make central to their reports, are simply not being reported by the BBC News website. 

Why is the BBC failing to report these criticisms, when even the Guardian thinks they are an important part of what President Macron said today?

The BBC is outdoing the Guardian here - and not for the first time.

Now, it might have been possible to just dismiss this as sloppy reporting on the BBC's part were it not for the fact that, to make matters even worse, the BBC report does (repeatedly) note the criticisms made by such of people against President Macron for being too "hard line" on immigration!

That suggests outright bias to me - and something approaching activism.

The BBC's bias on issues like this is blinding it to the need to report things in full and without spin. (Nothing new there of course). 

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t unelectable after all!

Watching the Daily Politics (yesterday*) a couple of thoughts struck me. 
One: Why did Conservative MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan come in fancy dress? (What as? I’d take a punt at Sandy from Grease.) (the musical) 

Two: I have to question a system whereby Labour MPs like Emma Reynolds have collectively decided to place party loyalty above all else. To a certain extent party loyalty is understandable, I get that. However, when it means continually having to say “I don’t agree with Jeremy, but I respect his decision” it’s quite alarming. Astonishing even. For non-Momentum Labour MPs, (assuming there will still be some) the consensus has settled on an approach that seems to be, ‘well, anything is better than the Tories.’ But when Corbyniste ideas positively endanger the country then it’s time for what people might call ‘a reality check’.

How can the likes of Emma Reynolds (I may be wrong, but she doesn’t come across as an ardent Momentumiste) or, say, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, John Mann or any sane member of eg., Labour Friends of Israel, justify toeing the party line, when the party line is halfway along the road to ruin?

Sunder Katwala of “British Future” looked as though he was about to burst into tears, which might account for the encouraging smiles from both the ladies on the other side of the desk. “Please don’t cry!You can do it” 

Don't Cry!

You can do it!

Reporting the findings of a survey carried out by his group, he revealed that the public takes an extremely nuanced view of immigration. So we’re not such racists as we’re cracked up to be. I was surprised to see that “British Future” is a left wing, pro-immigration outfit which heavily promotes stories about “good” Muslims; no-one hinted at this when he was introduced. 

I didn’t enjoy watching the news editor of Huck magazine (see Dawn Foster’s contribution here)
But as I’m not one of those bigot who are always clamouring for people I disagree with to be no-platformed. I respect his views and will reluctantly suck them up.

* I wrote much of the above yesterday but life intervened, so it was with a nuanced amount of glee that I read this piece in today’s Times
 “Moderate Labour MPs are threatening to quit and sit as independents in the Commons if they are deselected as the left tightens its grip on the party. 
Three Momentum-backed candidates, including Jon Lansman, founder of the pro-Corbyn network, were elected to Labour’s influential governing body yesterday. The leftwingers won the national executive committee (NEC) seats by a landslide, beating moderate and independent candidates including the comedian Eddie Izzard, who came fourth. The result prompted fears among centrists that the left would push ahead with trying to deselect MPs in favour of candidates who were more aligned with Jeremy Corbyn. The NEC presides over Labour’s rule book, guarantees the propriety of its selection process and helps to oversee policy development. 
Branches of Momentum have been vocal about wanting to make it harder for incumbent MPs to be confirmed as candidates for the next general election without facing an open contest. At present an MP needs to win a simple majority of nominations from local party branches and affiliated trade unions and socialist societies in a “trigger ballot”, the vote to confirm them as the candidate. Momentum has proposed raising the threshold to two thirds of nominations. 
Other left-wing backers of the Labour leadership want to go further and introduce mandatory reselection before every general election, forcing incumbents to face challengers."

All traces of glee evaporated when I saw this:
“Michelle Harris has been shortlisted to stand as the Labour candidate in Amber Rudd’s (very marginal) seat of Hastings and Rye.  Her previous form with regard to antisemitism was revealed a few days ago by @GnasherJew, an account dedicated to exposing Labour antisemitism.  One particularly egregious moment came in 2014 when she shared a David Icke post referring to ‘Rothschild Zionist Israel’. “

I wonder if Emma Reynolds will still be rejoicing at the fact that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t unelectable after all. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Slaps in the face

It’s plain that the BBC is ideologically anti-Israel. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. It’s their way of expressing their impartiality. 

Image of amusing mic joke/ gent 2nd left

The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas made a two-hour speech in Ramallah yesterday. The BBC has reported it

Well, when I say “reported it” I mean the BBC told us that the speech took place, but if you happen to be interested in what President Abbas actually said, you’d be disappointed because the bulk of the BBC’s report is about Trump. You’d have to make do with what appears under the sub heading “What did Mr Abbas tell the meeting?”
“Speaking to Palestinian faction leaders in Ramallah on Sunday, he said: "The deal of the century is the slap of the century and we will not accept it."

"I am saying that Oslo, there is no Oslo," he added. "Israel ended Oslo.”

So, what else did Abbas say in his ‘slap of the century’ speech?
Well, to find out you’d have to look elsewhere, say, here ,    here or here or here

EoZ commenter Y K  summed it all up:

“Abbas clearly believes the nonsense he spews. The reason that he keeps spewing it, however, is not due to his stupidity (he's no Einstein, but underestimating him would be a mistake), but to a fact he's very well aware of: that with a few exceptions, nobody in the Western (and even mainstream Israeli) media would actually reproduce his verbal diarrhea in full. What will be presented to the audiences is a version carefully doctored in order to make the guy appear as a tragically misunderstood embodiment of “moderation".

It’s equally plain to see that the BBC isn’t alone in its ideological attitude to Israel. Our MPs are even worse. Alistair Burt is at it now.  He’s not only defending Ahed, but the whole Taimimi clan, with whom he appears to be ‘friends’. So Corby isn’t the only one with mates. 

Burt has stated: “The truth is the soldiers shouldn’t have been there and the young woman shouldn’t have needed to do what she did,” 

As others have pointed out - using the word “needed” in this comment is tantamount to justifying all sorts.

I understand there is to be a parliamentary debate on Hezbollah on 25th of this month, secured by Labour Friends of Israel. All I can say is  - be careful what you wish for.

"Israel Policy Forum expresses its disgust over President Abbas’s words to the Fatah Central Committee delegitimizing Zionism, denying the Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and peddling conspiracy theories about the plight of European Jewry. It is impossible to view Abbas as a viable negotiating partner when he continues to deny ​the ​right​ of the Jewish people​ to their own national movement and when he continues to insist that the basic recognition of a Jewish homeland is the original sin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The injustice of Palestinians remaining stateless cannot and will not be rectified by a fever dream that wishes for a world in which Jews w​ould also be stateless and ​in which ​Israel ​would not exist. 
Words matter, and if Abbas’s commitment to nonviolence is worthy of praise, his commitment to vitriolic rhetoric is equally worthy of condemnation. Abbas’s unhinged screed provides ammunition to those who insist that the sole obstacle to peace is Palestinian denial of Israel’s legitimacy, making his hateful words instrumentally harmful as well as being utterly without merit in their own right. With his distortion of history and denial of reality, Abbas makes himself part of the problem rather than part of the solution. 
Israel and the Palestinians must reach a two-state solution that recognizes both sides’ legitimate claims and narratives, ​and President Abbas must unequivocally recognize these mutual rights if he is to be a credible partner in the quest for peace."
Update: (another)
"Too many media reports whitewashed Abbas’ coverage. Perhaps editors didn’t attach enough importance to the speech to give their correspondents a longer word count, which might account for the short, sanitized reports by Reuters, BBC News, CNN and Sky News. "