Saturday, 26 May 2018

Open Thread

Middle-aged open thread.

In which Mark Mardell goes after the anti-EU press

If you're a regular listener to The World at One you will know that Mark Mardell has a thing about Brexit. He loves it - every twist and turn of the process, warts and all.
                         Sarah Montague, The World at One, 24 May 2018

The latest edition of Mark Mardell's Radio 4 series Brexit: A Love Story? was remarkably biased, even by the standards of Radio 4. 

It looked at the influence of the press on public attitudes to the EU and only focused on the right-wing press that published critical stories about the EU: The SunThe Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail.  (It didn't consider the role of pro-EU newspapers like the FT or The Guardian.)

It featured four pro-EU 'talking heads':
  • Ken Clarke
  • Sir Max Hastings
  • Jeff Meade
  • Jacki Davis
and only one Leave supporter:
  • Kelvin MacKenzie
(and didn't he quickly express buyer's remorse?)

All four of the pro-EU 'talking heads' were critical of the right-wing, anti-EU press, helping build a strongly-directed narrative - that the right-wing, anti-EU press, with their exaggerated or made-up stories, filled the nation with a relentless diet of anti-EU stories and, thus, soured our love affair with the EU.

And who was 'in the dock'? Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch and, above all, Boris Johnson. 

It's quite extraordinary that no alarm bells rang at Radio 4 over its long section on Boris Johnson. To have all four pro-EU 'talking heads' criticising him or (at best) damning him with faint praise and to have no supportive voice defending him is surely indefensible. In fact, the whole thing came across as a sly hatchet job.

And what sort of 'balance' did Kelvin MacKenzie provide? Well none really, given that KM exuberantly painted a picture of his former newspaper The Sun which portrayed its EU coverage as playing it for laughs - i.e. of consisting of "fun" stories which played fast-and-loose with the facts in the interests of entertaining Sun readers. Mark Mardell himself could hardly have scripted more 'helpful' remarks. 

This was all appallingly biased. Twitter was ablaze with enthusiastic comments from pro-EU listeners recommending it to each other. If Radio 4 can't see that then there's something very wrong with their bias filters. 

I'm assuming a later episode of Brexit: A Love Story? won't be considering the BBC's role in advancing the EU's cause over the past few decades. If such a programme was ever made and a similar approach to balance was taken but in the opposite direction (yes, I know we're entering the realms of fantasy here) then the equivalent 'talking heads' to achieve the same level of bias in the other direction might be, say, having John Redwood instead of Ken Clarke, Peter Oborne instead of Sir Max Hastings, and Michael Gove and Sarah Vine in place of Jeff Meade and Jacki Davis. Imagine the uproar! (It will never happen so imagining it is all we'll ever be able to do). Who would be that imaginary report's Kelvin MacKenzie though? One things clear though: It certainly couldn't have Mark Mardell as its presenter. 

...albeit with somewhat biased prose

I was driving to work the other morning and heard a John Simpson op-ed on Today about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un's on-again-off-again-possibly-on-again meeting and was struck by his tone. He even made a crack about John Bolton's hair and moustache being different colours. ("John Bolton - he of the differently-coloured hair and moustache"). But even that was nothing as compared to Anthony Zurcher's op-ed on Donald Trump's letter to Kim for the BBC News website. Here's one brief example:
The business letter template kicks in again in the closing paragraph, albeit with somewhat tortured prose. "If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write". We have operators standing by!
If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 I suspect the BBC's coverage of her administration would have been pretty much irony-free, indeed respectful approaching reverent. 

Radical bid

Everyone's a critic....

Dark Times

Here's presenter Kirsty Lang on this Tuesday's Front Row
Because we live in dark times, don't we, as you say, global warming, war in the Middle East, Brexit, Trump, I mean, Arifa, does writing comedy feel frivolous do you think?
"Brexit" and "Trump" may feel like 'dark times' to those who feel negatively about them but, of course, many other people feel positively about them, and surely a BBC presenter shouldn't be describing either as 'dark times'?

Another beauty

One of the beauties of Twitter (not a phrase you often hear) is that it opens up BBC journalists to two-way traffic, comment-wise - unlike, of course, when they report on, say, the BBC's News at Ten or Today where they can be as sarcastic or as biased as they like and no one will embarrass them by immediately calling them out over it live on air. Poor Jon Sopel learned that lesson yesterday after tweeting a sarcastic comment about former Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka. He got swift public feedback from his target:
Sebastian Gorka: The NoKo Summit has been cancelled. What now? With Nigel Farage on LBC.
Jon Sopel: My guess - You will say Donald Trump was absolutely right to pull out....and then when it's confirmed that it's back on you will say Donald Trump was absolutely right to go ahead.
Sebastian Gorka: Do you pre-judge all people? Or are you only prejudiced when it comes to those who do not share your political proclivities? Asking for a journalist who doesn’t think he’s know it all.
Jon Sopel: It's Friday. It's Memorial weekend. The sun is shining. It was said with a twinkle in my eye, a smile on my face and and bonhomie....

"In our viewers' minds"

Very interesting Newsnight interview with Steve Bannon the other night. Newsnight has received a lot of flak for daring to 'platform' a 'far-right' voice like Mr. Bannon but that's only to be expected these days. 

As for matters relating to the title of this blog, perhaps the most interesting intervention from Emily Maitlis was this question:
In our viewers' minds you are the man who has driven a nationalistic, divisive, dangerous, arguably racist agenda right into the mainstream. You've emboldened white supremacists. You've allowed, as one person put it to me, the Ku Klux Klan...
What, all of them?

Not on the BBC, not anywhere...

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Language Emily!

While I'm still catching up and remembering things I meant to blog about earlier, the latest edition of Newsnight used some interesting language in its main Brexit report. Emily Maitlis and Nick Watt variously use the terms "a hard Brexit", "a moderate Brexit" and "Brexit hardliners in [Mrs May's] Cabinet" in their piece about Justine Greening, Amber Rudd and Damian Green's apparent plan to beat off Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

I raised my eyebrows at that. 

And then Emily moved on to the Italian political scene and the possible Five Star Movement-Lega-led new 'populist' government coalition there. 

Our Emily was straight in there with "The party started by a clown is about to govern Italy with a party of the far right". 

And - to the consternation of people other than just me - she later compared the coming-together of what she called "the alt-left and the firm right" to the idea of Momentum and UKIP forming a governing coalition in the UK. 

She also cited the horseshoe view of politics to claim that the extremes of right and left were converging, united by their Euroscepticism and pro-Russian sentiment. 

Now, I'm not a high profile BBC presenter (lest you thought I was) but even I know that the Five Star Movement isn't particularly close to the ideological place where Momentum sits - though an imputation that they're both rather cult-like might have held if she'd thought of explicitly pushing it. (Did she implicitly push it?) 

The Five Star Movement declare themselves to be neither left nor right, and surveys (of the kind I avidly read) show that their supporters range widely from those who also refuse to except traditional political labels (by some way the largest group) to smaller numbers of (in decreasing order) left-leaners, centrists, and right-leaners. 

To call them "alt-left" is peculiar. (Is it original to Newsnight? Or did they lift it from somewhere else?)

And I recall that, until recently, the Five Star Movement shared the same EU grouping as UKIP and that Nigel Farage and Beppe Grillo got on well, and that the Five Star Movement hasn't (at times) been too far from the Lega on the immigration issue. 

So when Emily described these 'populists' as "chalk and cheese" she seemed to be forgetting the slices, or maybe chunks even, of Gorgonzola that they seem to have in common.

And I've read enough about the Lega to know that simply branding it "far right" is too simplistic. 

Italian politics is confusing and not, I think, readily amenable to simplistic BBC groupthink, such as Emily displayed throughout here.

This was all very 'BBC', shoehorning all of these Eurosceptic populists into a maelstrom of prejudiced BBC labelling. 

And then came the two experts, both broadly pro-EU, neither sympathetic to the populists seeking to rule Italy.

Yes, all very 'BBC'.

Tweet, tweet

Meanwhile, our old blogging friend DB is still out there in the badlands of Twitter, binoculars at the ready, watching BBC twitterers going about their daily activities and faithfully recording their Twitter deposits (for science's sake). 

It certainly is a bit rum for a senior BBC reporter to derisively tweet snowflake symbols to someone else

And as I follow Mike's Twitter feed I know it's far from the first time that he's tweeted derisively to and/or about the alt-right like this. It's a real habit of his, and - as DB says - it really is pretty much all one way. Maybe his alt-right targets deserve it but, nevertheless, it still makes him look like an activist rather than a scrupulously impartial BBC reporter.

And, of course, the never-knowingly-non-derisive Anthony Zurcher has been in action too. Here he is following up on a CNN tweet:

Yes, there's the BBC man saying that President Trump's language - using "animals" to describe a violent gang - "edges towards the language of genocide". 

But, as DB replied to him:

And, of course, Anthony Z wasn't the only BBC reporter pouncing on this. Here's the BBC's senior foreign affairs reporter, their World Affairs Editor, John Simpson sending forth an ever-so-impartial retweet:

The thing about this is that all three senior BBC reporters - Mike Wendling, Anthony Zurcher and John Simpson - have been known to reflect their Twitter views in their 'proper' BBC reports (though I must add that Mike Wendling was impeccable on his Radio 4 documentary last year - as we noted at the time). They don't always hang up their 'coats of one opinionated colour' at the BBC office door. 

And they are meant, as per BBC guidelines, to maintain the impression of BBC impartiality on social media too, so there's even less excuse for this kind of thing (especially given how many people read their tweets).

Update: Justin Webb has an interesting article in The Times about 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' in the media. He could be talking about many of his BBC colleagues. 

Views my own

Caroline Wyatt

The World This Weekendpresented this week by Caroline Wyatt, ran a long segment today on antisemitism in the UK (now and then) with a particular focus on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Furious Corbynista activists immediately took to social media to accuse the BBC of "propaganda not news," of "making it all about Labour", of "weaponising" antisemitism against Labour, of "having an agenda", and of "despising Corbyn".

But elsewhere I've read an equally furious comment from 'the opposite side' (and from someone I like) saying that this was a "hit piece" against Jews and Israel and is that blamed Israel for causing antisemitism and gave Corbyn's Labour a clean bill of health.

The former used such words as "disgraceful" to describe the piece; the latter called it "appalling".

So was this report a partisan hatchet job on Corbyn's Labour or a defence of it? And did it "weaponise" antisemitism spuriously or did the report actually come close to being antisemitic itself? And is this 'complaints from both sides' proof that the BBC must be getting it about right?

Well, I think this time the 'complaints from both sides' argument actually holds water (for once). And, putting on my oh-so-impartial blogger's hat, I believe from the evidence before me that Caroline Wyatt actually made a valiant attempt here to be both thoughtful and fair, and that she succeeded.

We heard from David Feldman of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (and vice-chair of Shami Chakrabarti's much-criticised review into Labour Party antisemitism), three worried Jewish shoppers in Barnet, Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust, Tanya Sakhnovich and Sajid Mohammed from a Nottingham food bank, Angie Mindel of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the outgoing resident of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush and the national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement Peter Mason

If we were to draw up a 'balance sheet' (so to speak), in one column (the anti-Corbyn column you might call it) I suppose we would have to put those three worried Jewish shoppers, Dave Rich, Jonathan Arkush and Peter Mason and in the other column (the pro-Corbyn column you might call it) would be Angie Mindel and David Feldman. Tanya and Sajid might arguably also go into the second column as they equated antisemitism with so-called Islamophobia. 

All in all, I think it was a reasonable spread of opinion (if you're into that kind of thing).

What do I know though? I'm just a bean-counting blogger. So, putting on your impartial blog reader's hat, what do you think? Did Caroline Wyatt disgrace the BBC here or do it proud (or neither)? 

Professor Jordan B. Peterson Week at the BBC

It's been Professor Jordan B. Peterson Week at the BBC (Radio 4 - Start the Week; Radio 3 - Free Thinking; Radio 2 - The Chris Evans Breakfast Show; and BBC 2 - The Daily Politics). 

The main structural difference between the two I heard - Start the Week and Free Thinking - was that Free Thinking was a one-against-one encounter (Philip Dodd v Jordan Peterson) while Start the Week was a four-against-one encounter (Tom Sutcliffe, Louise O’Neill, Hashi Mohamed and Lawrence Wright v Jordan Peterson). Free Thinking, being fairer in its set-up, was the more interesting and enjoyable discussion. It was good to hear two minds grappling with each other. Start the Week left a much sourer taste in the mouth

"Don't Hate the Debate"

The following video from BBC Teach, which the BBC says is "suitable for teaching 14-16s", discusses the hot topic of immigration...


...provoked a strong attack from Nigel Farage in the Daily Telegraph under the headline The BBC is poisoning our children's minds with pro-immigration claptrap

Nigel has a point. The BBC Teach video begins:
Think immigration’s a recent thing? Think again. Because, you see, you’ve got the Celts, the Romans, the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings, the Normans, the Flemish, the Irish, black Britons and Jewish people. Yup, we were multicultural long before curry and carnival. It’s in our DNA. There’s no such thing as a pure Brit, despite what some flag wavers would have you believe. The average one is just 36 per cent Anglo Saxon. Migration did step up after the Second World War, when people arrived from all over the colonies. Places like India, the Caribbean, Pakistan, Uganda and Kenya. Then we joined the EU, which meant we could easily move to Paris, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, and that people there could come here. Some people come fleeing war or poverty. Others, because we have a better music scene. But it’s only the past 20 years that have seen more people come and go. Even so, you can’t open a paper without some people giving it large about immigration.
Does the BBC really think that this video demonstrates its impartiality?

P.S. Why is the Jewish character Mr Bean with a comedy moustache?

Play for the Day: 'A Difference of Opinion'

Act One

Enter Media Guido and Rob Burley of the BBC, through different doors.
Media Guido: The probability of six guests selected at random all being remain supporters is 0.03125 - amazingly Peston has managed it.
Rob Burley: It’s not June 2016. Ex- Remainers are members of a Brexit delivering government and a Brexit supporting Labour Party. This measure is silly.
Media Guido: Brexit is still the main subject of discussion in politics, this is a political discussion show with six guests, none of whom campaigned for Brexit. You think drawing attention to that is silly. No further questions m'lud.
Rob Burley: I think the measure is wilfully designed to distort. Parking a specific programme I have no involvement with, I suggest we stop measuring as if it’s June 23rd 2016. It’s just not.
Trap door opens. Stephen Colvin rises, delivers heckle and descends again.
Stephen Colvin: (to Rob Burley) You are an embarrassment. The discussion is very much alive and it is up to so called impartial broadcasters to demonstrate it. 
Trap door closes. Exit Media Guido. Enter BBC Waste, stage right.
BBC Waste: Brexit still prism through which everything seen & decisions taken (govt policy shaped by opinions of those for or against within cabinet). Naive to think those who publicly back don't privately what to demur or seek to modify. Silly of BBC to ignore. Measure entirely appropriate.
Rob Burley: Disagree. Nuances of these issues reflected in the coverage but to base balance on position of guests pre-referendum is neither desirable or practical.
BBC Waste: Further difficulty with this position is this is the position BBC (rightly) adopts for aportioning airtime to political parties. But now not referendum views?
Rob Burley: We did in, yes, the referendum.
BBC Waste: Do love a robust courteous debate. Yes. Those attacking the BBC should also acknowledge the impossible task they have to balance. Good for Peston/ITV and others to be mindful of optics though. Looks bad. And very easy to  criticise.
Exit BBC Waste, stage right pursued by a 'Like' from Rob Burley. Enter Andy #FBPE, stage left.
Andy #FBPE: Therein lies the problem with the BBC...they think it was all over in 2016 and choose to ignore  both reality and the ongoing debate.
Rob Burley: That’s precisely the opposite of the point.
Exeunt omnes. Enter Tim Montgomerie. Turns to face audience. 
Tim Montgomerie: It’s not silly. BBC way of measuring balance classifies likes of Amber Rudd, Damian Green and Keir Starmer as pro-Brexit and that’s well short of giving the 52% the representation they deserve.
Curtain falls.

Will there be an Act Two?

In praise of Emma Barnett

Emma Barnett

Here I was this morning tuning into The Andrew Marr Show after a post-wedding evening do last night (no, not that wedding) and hoping for a bit of restful political interviewing only to find Emma Barnett going after her guests like a magpie after a fledgling. Her style of interviewing is bracing to say the least. Piles of feathers lay strewn over the studio floor by the end of the programme. Shifting animal comparisons, she also has a fascinating cobra-like way of staring fixedly at her victims before, during and after she asks her questions.

I found her both very impressive and fair, and most people seem to agree (at least if Twitter's anything to go by - and it always is) - that is, of course, with the predictable exception of the Corbynistas who obviously didn't enjoy seeing their man (silver-tongued Barry Gardiner) getting taken down and torn apart. (eg. "Emma Barnett's shameful haranguing of decent Barry Gardiner looked personal & vindictive; by comparison Tories just aren't gone after personally like this on the Marr Show. Illustrates once again the BBC's failure to abide by political impartiality in its political offerings"). Even the anti-Trump former CIA head General Michael Hayden didn't get the easy ride I expected him to get, with Emma putting the case for President Trump with surprising gusto (and you don't often see that on the BBC).

So well done Emma Barnett!

Frankie Boyle says the BBC edited out his criticisms of Israel

Frankie Boyle was on the receiving end of plenty of Corbynista fury for devoting half of his latest programme to discussing antisemitism in the Labour Party. He's a sell-out apparently, and George Galloway even swore at him on Twitter. 

The other half of the programme was given over to the Royal Wedding, and Frankie wasn't exactly polite about the Royal Family. 

He later quipped about the reaction (on Twitter):
New World Order on player. We talk about The Labour Party and The Royal Wedding. Had a lot of complaints about not showing sufficient respect to our natural leaders, but the Royalists have been fine.
This further tweet is intriguing though:
There were, of course, various jokes in this weeks’s New World Order monologue about the situation in Gaza, and about Israel being an Apartheid state. Edited out for reasons nobody has yet explained to me, despite assurances to the contrary.  
Of course, the same people are now accusing the BBC of being a pro-Israel propagandist.

The BBC could have edited his anti-Israel bits out because of reasons of time. Short show, lots of guests.

Questions of language and balance

Talking of complaints from both sides...

This week's edition of Newswatch (only on the BBC News Channel last night due to today's Royal Wedding coverage) featured complaints about the BBC's coverage of the violence on the Gaza-Israel border. 

Samira Ahmed said that "hundreds" had complained that the BBC's reporting had been pro-Israel, and the programme then featured two examples of such complaints. Both focused on BBC headlines. The first said the BBC headline calling it a "clash" was a disgrace and that it was a "massacre" of "unarmed protestors, some of whom were children". The second objected to the headline use of the word 'defending' (as in 'Israel was defending itself') and say that in using it the BBC was "playing [its] part in this atrocity and supporting future atrocities".

Then Samira said that "hundreds" had also complained that the BBC's reporting had been anti-Israel, again featuring two examples of those kinds of complaints. The first complained about the BBC using the word 'protest' to describe the Palestinians' "war-like actions at the Gaza border" and saying it should have been called a 'riot'. The second said the BBC's coverage was "unrelievedly from the Palestinian point of view" and that Israel faced "a massed invasion" that, if successful, "could easily have resulted in the murder of many Jews".

Complaints from both sides then, and it's interesting that it was the BBC's choice of language that was the main thorn of contention from both sides.

Next came a BBC statement. As you won't be surprised to hear, it didn't admit to any failings on the BBC's part: 
Perceptions of what happened are split and fiercely held, as reflected by weighted terms such as massacre, invasion, riot and murder. The role of BBC News is to explain to audiences with sensitivity and impartiality what is happening in this complex conflict and why, whilst hearing from a range of different voices. We are committed to continuing to report and analyse the ongoing events in an accurate, fair and balanced way.
As so often with such 'complaints from both sides' questions, the big question is - as both sides can't be right - is neither side right and the BBC, thus, justified in its self-regard? Or is one side right and the other wrong and the BBC, thus,  not justified in its self-regard?

Sue and I - impartially or otherwise - have previously had our say on some of the BBC's latest coverage and we both think BBC anti-Israel bias seeped through strongly, especially in the contributions of Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, and we've laid out our case over various threads.

I'd just add to my earlier transcription posts, that none of the BBC One main bulletins (One, Six or Ten) included what for those pro-Israel people who originally felt disturbed and even disgusted by Israel's security response proved a game-changer: Hamas's claim that over 80% of the Palestinians killed that day were Hamas members. (As you know Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organisation by the US, the UK and the EU and many others). Wasn't this an engineered-by-Hamas 'mass martyrdom' stunt which sucked in all the Jeremy Bowens of this world? BBC One News viewers were unlikely to consider that given that the BBC circus quickly moved on. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Just saying

BBC Three is "just saying"... (and, of course, just taking the opportunity to have a wee pop at Donald Trump. Or are they just being patriotic?)...

#FBPE Follies

As diligent observers of the BBC News website, you'll probably have noticed that the BBC News website's front page yesterday had yesterday's news ('Pickles and Lilley among former Tory ministers to get peerages') that that the Government has nominated nine Conservatives to go alongside a nominee from the DUP and three nominees from Labour as new members of the House of Lords. The BBC News Channel and the main BBC One news bulletins covered it too. Today - the day after - that news has understandably slipped off the BBC's home page. Cue indignation from the #FBPE Brigade this morning:
Anthony Sumner #FBPE: Theresa May stuffing the Lords with Brexiteers gets no mention on the BBC front page this morning. Nothing. Parliamentary system: subverted. The BBC: Silent. Very Concerning: Understatement.
Baz Smith #FBPE: This is not acceptable - BBC failing the people.
Terry McKeown: BBC news arm now a disgrace.
(Rob Burley of the BBC replied to the last one, "What about the rest of our body?").

Of course, it's easy to mock such people for arriving a day late and then complaining that the BBC didn't report something when, if they'd arrived on time, they'd have seen wasn't the case at all and that the BBC reportedly it widely and prominently. 

And it's also easy to mock them for accusing Mrs May of "stuffing the Lords with Brexiteers" when she's actually stuffing the Lords with people who supported Remain (only Peter Lilley being a Brexiteer), though they may now support her Brexit plans.


Oh, actually there isn't a 'but' here. #complaintsfrombothsides.

East is east, and west is west...

When BBC One's News at Six kicks off with the Government's decision to place the East Coast mainline into public ownership (as it did on Wednesday) and the BBC's Transport Correspondent begins her main report on the story you would at least expect her to get the most basic facts right - or for the programme's editors to have spotted any particularly gruesome bloopers beforehand and corrected them. But Victoria Fritz's report on Wednesday began like this
They say bad luck comes in threes. Well, the Government will be hoping this is the last time it has to step in on the London to Glasgow line. Just three years after its latest privatisation, the East Coast rail line is heading back to state control.
The East Coast mainline, of course, goes from London to Edinburgh. It's the West Coast mainline that goes from London to Glasgow (via Lancaster).  

Standards are slipping at BBC News.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Did you see that atrocious Question Time

Well, they’re not boasting now. As Bob Monkhouse famously nearly said. 

Without suggesting that there should be a basic IQ test before the public is granted admission, is it too much to expect some sort of crowd control to defuse what Andrew Neil might call expressions of social unrest? Dimbles seems unconcerned. I think he’s lost the will to chair. Would it be proportionate to suggest riot police and live fire but only as a very last resort?

I mean the sheer stupidity of some of the participants on both sides of the border desk beggars belief. I don’t blame Hamas Momentum - I blame Israel the BBC. 
“Will the Israeli government be held accountable for their crimes against Palestine?”
What sort of question is that? What is this “crimes against Palestine”? I was told this edition of Q.T. took place in Kensington, London. But I see a last-minute change of venue meant it was actually from Royston Vasey and - was the questioner, by any chance …Tubbs? It was surely authored by Tubbs. 

“What we saw this week was a massacre!” 
announced the Guardian’s Aditya Chakrabortty. “Britain should review its position on selling arms to the Israelis” he continued, muttering something about internal repression. (Where and by whom he did not specify.) In fact, the contributions from the anti-Israel contingent seem to have everything vaguely accurate; but in reverse.

Dimbles wondered, 'how could the Israelis be held accountable?' and I’d estimate that a disproportionate percentage of the audience would settle for Hamas getting its wish.

The questioner then stated that Israel "keeps kicking out Palestinian families who have lived there for over fifty years". I assume Yolande Knell would be willing to verify that fact.

“Horrific,” said Bernard Hagan-Howe. “The Israeli government should accept an investigation by an impartial body such as the UN,” he quipped with deadpan wit.  

“The border is illegal, first of all” began an assertive lady, “and, um, um, nobody is saying Hamas have the right to kill people. Secondly, the Palestinian people have their... 
(reads from a pre-prepared list) 
“…their poultry, their olive trees, their cattle, their children - there are fourteen-year-old boys that wet themselves at night time, in nappies because they’re frightened that the IDF are going to come in and take them in the middle of the night”.    
“That land is illegal!’” she ended, with a flourish

Odd that. I may be wrong, but understood that Hamas is digging tunnels to facilitate that very thing, And wasn’t kidnapping Israelis one of Hamas’s prescribed ambitions? (Presumably, the ones that hadn’t already had their hearts ripped out.)  We never got to hear what had happened to the poultry, cattle etc.

‘The man at the back there.’ What is he like? Very animated, you can tell, as he barely pauses for breath as he delivers his 'opposite of the truth' rant. 
People say that Israel has a right to defend itself it does but the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves, right? And you talk about selling arms. […] Stop the arms sales to Israel, make sure the aid is going to the children that are being shot and I’m not being funny, there are people being kicked out of their houses, they got no bread and water!! They have to defend themselves, they need bread and water and they keep saying it’s Hamas, it’s this and that.  It’s all Israel, and the first thing Netanyahu tweeted as soon as Trump was in charge - ‘that is it. No two state solution’ - Israel never wanted a two-state solution they want an actual greater Israel project and they want nothing to do with Palestinians they want to clear them all and it’s people like you, that’s a disgrace to the two-state solution. 

But where on God’s dear earth has he and most of the audience (and panel)  got hold of these post-truth facts?

I wonder.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018


The transcriptions below may not make for scintillating blogging but I hope you find them useful nonetheless.

Transcript: BBC News at Ten, Tuesday 16th May 2018

Newsreader: Tonight at Ten: More funerals in Gaza for the Palestinians killed in the deadliest day of violence there since 2014. As the burials go ahead for those shot dead by Israeli forces, the UN condemns what it calls the "appalling deadly" events. We report on the hospitals under pressure in Gaza, as the international community calls for an end to the violence. 
Jeremy Bowen: Politicians and diplomats abroad call for peace but real peace talks ended - failed - a long time ago. 
We'll have the latest from Gaza, and on today's emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. 

Newsreader: Good evening. More funerals have taken place for the Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in Gaza yesterday. An emergency session of the UN Security Council has heard condemnation of both Israel and the militant group, Hamas. Today marks the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of people fled, or were expelled from their homes, when the State of Israel was established. Our Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, sent this report from Gaza. His report contains some distressing images.

Jeremy Bowen: On the border the soundtrack was anti-Israeli songs, not gunfire. 24 hours after the killing, the big protests have stopped, but tyres were burning and Palestinians looked warily towards the Israeli positions. Enterprising traders brought refreshments. So what's next? The Israelis deal with the international political fallout; the Palestinians have 60 dead. Politicians and diplomats abroad call for peace, but real peace talks ended - failed - a long time ago, and with the current generation of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, there is no chance of them being revived. The Israelis started firing tear gas. The crowd by then, including many families, was getting too big. And the young men were getting too close to the border wire. On the other side, the Israelis say they're in the right. 
Jonathan Conricus, IDF: We are not here looking to create casualties of Palestinians, that is not our aim. We are simply here to defend what is ours. We are defending our sovereignty, our civilians that live in close proximity, against an onslaught, led by a terrorist organisation that is using civilians in order to penetrate into Israel. 
Much of Gaza's rage is born in places like Beach Camp, still a home for refugees 70 years after more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes by newly independent Israel. Palestinians call it "Nakba" - catastrophe. 70% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees, stuck fast in history. At the Al-Farooq mosque, Yazan Tobasi's funeral was much quieter than his death - shot through the eye during the protests. His body was wrapped in the Hamas flag. He was 23 and his friends were there to bury him. There were tender moments. Israel says it told them to stay away from the border and Hamas is responsible for what happened. His friend Mohamed El Bahrawy said Yazan had worked at the hospital, without pay, because of Gaza's collapsing economy. Poverty and grief breed anger. And so do the deaths of children. A family gathered for another funeral. It was for Leyla Al-Ghandour, who was eight months old. She had a weak heart and when she inhaled tear gas, she died, her family said. Children make up half of Gaza's population. Six were killed on Monday, according to the Ministry of Health. Her mother Mariam was in a pit of grief. At Shifa, the main hospital, wounded men were being transferred to Egypt for surgery. Inside, they were still treating casualties from the protest. This boy is 16. All day, I've been asking Palestinians if Hamas forced them to risk their lives at the protests. No one said yes. "I did it because Jerusalem is Palestinian," said Qadir Arras, unemployed, 24-years-old. This is the busiest time at the hospital since the 2014 war. 
Dr Ayman Sahbani, Director of Emergency Services, al-Shifa Hospital: As a human being, I speak, it is horrible to think about. If you saw it yesterday, that situation, it is horrible. Crying, bloody, pain, painful... What's happening? 
After the protests, it seems that many people are hoping for some kind of turning point. But the fundamentals of this conflict don't change. Jeremy Bowen, BBC News, Gaza.
Newsreader: Jeremy was focusing there on the hostility between Israel and the Palestinians, which has long centred on the land and the borders created following that war that led the establishment of Israel back in 1948 . Our chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, takes a closer look now at the history of the continuing struggle. 

Lyse Doucet: A history of the people on the run time and again. 1948, the Arab-Israeli war and the creation of Israel. Tens of thousands of Palestinians fled to Gaza, many forced from their homes. A narrow sliver of land became known as the Gaza Strip. Its borders defined by the positions of Egyptian and Israeli forces, separate from the West Bank when the 1948 ceasefire was declared. And for the next 70 years, Gaza's future would be shaped by its neighbours - most of all, the State of Israel. In 1967, in the Six Day War, Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, started building Jewish settlements on the best land, including along the Mediterranean. And then, decades later, a promise of land for peace. The last settlers and soldiers would leave in 2005, proclaiming the end of Israeli occupation, but Israel kept control of all borders, land, air and sea. Gazans called it 'the world's biggest prison'. But Palestinian politics played its part, too. The next year elections brought the militant group Hamas to power, pushing out Fatah, the main Palestinian faction. It pushed Gaza towards a growing confrontation with Israel, and a tightening blockade which created a growing humanitarian crisis. In the last ten years, three wars, and in between, efforts to ease Gaza's blockade, But never enough. And never enough aid. At the UN Security Council today, this same calls for restraint, and the US stood by its ally: 
Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN: I ask my colleagues here on the Security Council, who among us would accept this kind of activity on your border? No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. 
And the same calls to return to peace talks: 
Karen Pierce, UK ambassador to the UNWe see negotiations towards the two state solution is the best way to end the occupation and to meet the national aspirations of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. 
Gaza's fate has been sealed, literary, by its borders. The only route to a better future, through negotiations. But that's now further away than ever. Lyse Doucet, BBC News.
Newsreader: Lyse Doucet, our chief international correspondent, on the continuing hostility between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Transcript: BBC News at Ten, Monday 15th May 2018

Newsreader: Tonight at ten, dozens of Palestinians are shot dead by Israeli forces, as America opens its new embassy in Jerusalem. At least 52 people have been killed in the bloodiest day of violence for years after the embassy's controversial move. More than 2,000 people have been injured in the clashes. Israel said it was acting in self-defence. The violence flared as the Embassy's opening ceremony took place - attended by President Trump's daughter and son-in-law. Israel's prime minister called it a glorious day. 
PM Netanyahu: President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history. 
Mustafa Barghouti: Nothing will break us. Not Netanyahu, not Israel, not the United States. 
The White House has blamed the Palestinian group, Hamas, for inciting today's protests. We'll have the latest on the unfolding situation.

NewsreaderGood evening. Palestinian officials say that Israeli forces have shot dead more than 50 protesters in Gaza, on the same day that the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem. More than 2,000 Palestinians are reported to have been injured. Protests have been taking place along Gaza's border with Israel for six weeks but they intensified dramatically today as Donald Trump made good on his controversial election promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - a city that both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their own. The move has infuriated Palestinians not least because it comes exactly 70 years after the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. From Jerusalem here's our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. 
Jeremy BowenPalestinians call these protests the 'Great March of Return'. For many of the young people who rushed the border wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey. Israel used tear gas and bullets. The Prime Minister said the security forces were defending Israel's borders, its sovereignty and citizens. The dead and wounded, he said, were the fault of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that runs Gaza. Palestinians say that their rage comes from Israel's brutality and its denial of their right to independence. Protests and killing went on for most of the day. In Jerusalem, police scuffled with Israeli peace campaigners outside the American Embassy. For what is left of Israel's peace movement, this is a dark day. Inside, the US Marines showed their colours, and so has the Trump administration. It's broken with an international consensus that Jerusalem's status is undecided, so embassies should stay in Tel Aviv. President Trump's daughter Ivanka did the honours. 
Ivanka Trump: We welcome you officially, and for the first time, to the embassy of the United States, here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Thank you. 
Her father appeared on video. 
President Trump: Israel is a sovereign nation, with the right like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. Yet for many years we have failed to acknowledge the obvious, the plain reality that Israel's capital is Jerusalem. 
Ivanka's husband is a senior adviser to her father. They celebrated with Israel's Prime Minister. 
PM Netanyahu: What a glorious day! Remember this moment! This is history. President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history. 
Moving the embassy is a triumph for Prime Minister Netanyahu, it's a promise kept for President Trump, and most Israelis are happy. But so far, there is no evidence to back up Mr Netanyahu's claim that it's good for peace. In Ramallah, on the West Bank, Palestinians demonstrated against what the Americans call the 'new realities', and against old ones. For Palestinians, keys are symbols of the dispossession of 750,000 refugees never allowed back after Israel beat the Arabs in the 1948 war. 
Mustafa Barghouti: We're marching in the best traditions of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, peacefully, nonviolently, insisting on our right for Jerusalem as our capital and for our right of return. Nothing will break us, not Netanyahu, not Israel, not the United States. 

In Jerusalem's old city at the weekend, Israelis distributed flowers to Palestinians, apologising. They were apologising for this: an annual march by nationalistic Israelis through the overwhelmingly Palestinian Muslim quarter. The parade celebrates Israel's capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war. On the streets, the lead-up to today's events has been tense and angry. Mostly it was noise and insults. Sometimes it boiled over. 
Daniel Luria (Jewish settlement activist)Nobody is saying that Arabs can't live here, of course they can live here, but sovereignty is a different story...)
Jeremy Bowen (to Mr Luria, interrupting): You can't say...You find it hard to say the word 'Palestinians', don't you? 
Daniel LuriaThere are Arabs living in this area...
Jeremy Bowen (to Mr Luria, interrupting)Why don't you call them 'Palestinians'? 
Daniel LuriaThere's no reason to. 
Jeremy BowenWhy? 
Daniel LuriaBecause there is no such thing as 'the Palestinian people'. There never has been. 
There's always tension and hatred in Jerusalem and on days like this it is very stark. That's because Jerusalem is right at the centre of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The future of this city is probably the most politically radioactive issue in the entire Middle East. More people will suffer and die if leaders on both sides cannot calm this crisis. The Americans believe that with Saudi support they can persuade Palestinians to accept less than the state they want, but in Gaza nearly two million people live with little hope, less patience and a belief that they've lost enough. Jeremy Bowen, BBC News, Jerusalem. 
NewsreaderIn a moment we'll speak to Jeremy Bowen and to our North America editor Jon Sopel in Washington. But first let's go to Yolande Knell in Ramallah. And, Yolande, the mood there tonight? 
Yolande Knell: Here in Ramallah the Palestinian leadership has declared three days of mourning and a general strike. Those protests in Gaza were on a huge scale and they produced the bloodiest day there since the 2014 conflict with Israel. Tonight, the Palestinian president at his headquarters here, Mahmoud Abbas, has accused Israel of carrying out massacres. He has repeated that the US can no longer be a mediator in the peace process and has called instead for international mediation. What we are seeing at the moment is plenty of international condemnation of what has happened down at the border and international calls for restraint. Both South Africa and Turkey have recalled their ambassadors to Israel. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu though is defending the actions of Israeli forces. But what really remains to be seen is what's going to happen tomorrow when all the funerals take place of those people who were killed. They include several children, one a boy as young as 14. And afterwards you can expect that many of the mourners are going to march back towards those border protest camps. 
NewsreaderJon Sopel in Washington. What has the White House said about today's violence? 
Jon SopelWell, there's been no calls for restraint from the White House. Instead they've put the blame full square on the Palestinian leadership, on Hamas, for what has happened. "We believe that Hamas is responsible for these tragic deaths, and their cynical exploitation of the situation is what's leading to these deaths" - that was from the White House deputy spokesman a little bit earlier. Now, I went with Donald Trump a year ago to Saudi Arabia and Israel when all the talk was of pulling off the biggest deal of them all, bringing peace to the Middle East. But ever since Donald Trump announced his intention to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we hear a lot less about this. An important component though in Donald Trump's decision-making has been domestic public opinion. Yes, the Israeli lobby, but that's not as important as another group. Evangelical Christians have been out in force supporting the President today. They were an important part of his base. 80% of them voted for Donald Trump, 16% voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. That explains a lot of what President Trump has done with the inflammatory consequences there have been. 

NewsreaderAnd Jeremy in Jerusalem, the worst violence for years seen today. The fear must be, what happens tomorrow?
Jeremy Bowen: Well, there is a real risk it could get worse. I mean, that is the thing. That is the kind of thing that can happen here. You know, those scenes of today, those scenes in Gaza, in the West Bank, and the ones at the new American Embassy, they show the absolute divergence between those two different views of the conflict, what causes it, where it should go, and perhaps as well the ways to solve it. The fact is, that while there are always... The fact is there are two groups here in this land. Two peoples who want the same piece of land. And until they find a way to split it up fairly, between them, in a way that helps both sides, makes both sides makes some compromises, until they get to that point, then they will continue to condemn their children to the kinds of things that they've suffered. I'm talking about Israelis and Palestinians, and the kind of things that their parents and grandparents suffered as well. This is a very old conflict. And there is perhaps a potential settlement to it, but people cannot grasp it. 
NewsreaderJeremy Bowen, Jon Sopel and Yolande Knell, thank you all. 

Into the bubble

The "gaffe" by Ben Broadbent, a deputy governor at the Bank of England, sprang out of comments in a Telegraph interview:
According to Broadbent, the UK hasn’t seen such a slump since the late Victorian era. In the 1880s, economic historians have noted that there was what is termed a “climacteric” effect when “productivity growth suddenly slowed pretty much to a halt”. 
It was similarly severe to the sluggish improvements seen in the last decade, Broadbent believes.

This term, used by economic historians, is borrowed from biology, he says. It essentially means “menopausal, but can apply to both genders”. Put simply, “you’ve passed your productive peak”.
An in-depth explanation of the term had the central bank’s policymakers squirming, Broadbent says.
“I once got an economist into the MPC to explain the origins of the word ‘climacteric’. As soon as he started talking to all these middle aged men – about [how] it means you’re past your peak and you’re no longer so potent – they all said: ‘We understand’.”
You might find nothing objectionable in that, but then you're a reasonable person. Others, however, as is the way of the world these days, 'took offence' and the BBC, naturally, made the resulting row top headline news.

Not everyone shares the BBC's sense of news priorities though - or, for that matter, the Corporation's take on this particular story. Here's Telegraph business writer Juliet Samuel for example:
Insane that this confected “row” is BBC’s second headline, with KamalAhmed editorialising that there are now “questions” about Ben Broadbent being bank governor. Makes me despair for this country. 
Here are some stories that could instead have graced slot 2 in the headlines: 
1. North Korea says it won’t denuclearise and Kim might not attend Trump meeting
2. Italy seemingly on cusp of forming revolutionary new government
3. Trump threatens EU w tariffs
4. Turkey struggling to stabilise its currency
5. May cladding pledge
A Twitter exchange ensued, with Kamal Ahmed himself chipping in (before quickly exiting pursued by a bear):
Mark Watson: It was a really stupid thing to say IMO, raises questions about his rationality and judgement. There are much better phrases that he could have used. Just my opinion of course!
Juliet Samuel: Everyone ought to read the interview. He didn’t say it was menopausal. He said it was “climacteric”, realised that was jargon and then said, effectively, “climacteric means menopause but for both sexes”. I just can’t understand how that’s offensive or inappropriate in any way.
Kamal Ahmed: Bank and Ben Broadbent don't appear to agree with you. Say language was "poor" and caused offence. I did say on #WATO is was important to keep it in perspective, but clear communication is an important part of the job. Even more important if you ever want to be Governor.
Juliet Samuel: Did you read original interview & context? How can it possibly be top news that he tried to explain jargon “climacteric”? Yes Bank apologised to neutralise it precisely because of coverage like this, which legitimises online mobs who would tear Broadbent’s head off for no reason.
Two thoughts on this (1) there’s now an epidemic of BBC journalists giving their opinions rather than simply reporting and (2) Juliet’s thread of alternative news headlines suggests she gets what public service broadcasting could and should still be. 
The World at One even had Jane Garvey, one of the BBC’s own journalists, as a pundit to judge the “menopausal” row.

It's really worth listening to that The World at One to get a sense of what Juliet Samuel and Tim Montgomerie are objecting to.

The discussion about the story consisted of BBC presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed and then chairing a discussion between BBC Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey and a single non-BBC guest - writer Celia Walden. 

Kamal came first, editorialising that it matters because "I think language matters" and going on to say:
You've got to modernise how you talk about things and using 'menopausal' in a pejorative sense like this - i.e. not a very good thing - something that half the population go through perfectly naturally - shows that the Bank has a bigger issue here....
"It is important" he insisted.

His BBC colleague Jane Garvey was of the same mind, calling Mr Broadbent's words "thoughtless", "dismissive" and "hurtful" and insisting that the "language of economics" would have to change if what Mr Broadbent said is typical. She took it personally. Both she and Mr Broadbent are 53, she noted. "I'm a useless old hag but he's a thrusting silver fox", she huffed.  

It was left to the one non-BBC guest, Celia Walden, to break out of this BBC consensus and to bring a little reasonableness into the proceedings. She pronounced herself to be "not remotely offended" and, though calling it "an odd metaphor", was far more put out by people "deliberately working themselves up into states of offence all the time" about frankly nothing. 

When Jane resumed her rant against Mr Broadbent, saying his comment "puts women very much in their place", she drew in Kamal to back herself up, saying "and, as Kamal's already said, their place at the moment is not at the very top of the Bank of England".

And when Kamal was brought back in, he took up Jane's cudgels and re-insisted that "I think it does matter though" and deployed feminist arguments about power relationships and language to answer a point about how using derogatory language about men in such circumstances could be seen as as bad as using derogatory language about men in such circumstances. ("Men of a certain age don't have prejudice working against them. Women do," he said. "So, therefore, you have to use language differently for men and for women.")

The BBC does feel very much like a bubble at times like this.

P.S. Here's BBC Scotland Editor & Sunday Politics presenter Sarah Smith leading the charge much earlier. She's offended!: