Sunday, 19 November 2017

Open Thread (now even plainer)

Thank you.

My Country: a Work in Progress

I watched My Country: a Work in Progress on BBC Two last night. 

This put onto TV a National Theatre play about Brexit by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and director Rufus Norris (both Remain voters). It interspersed acted-out vox pops collected from several parts of the UK (though not London or the South-East) with clips of politicians, all framed by dramatic moments from 'Britannia' and several 'Parts of the United Kingdom'. It ended with the words of Jo Cox captioned against a black backdrop - "We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us". 

Their declared aim was to leave their London bubble and to listen to voices beyond that bubble. 'It's the listening that matters', was the programme's message. 

Was it biased? Did Rufus Norris succeed in his stated intention to leave out his own political views (which are much as you'd expect) and let us listen to a full and fair spectrum of people's voices? 

I think the programme handled the matter of bias well - from the politicians to the vox pops. And I had to smile at the Guardian's account of how Rufus Norris managed to do so:
Norris has been careful to create a balanced picture, to the extent that his associate director has been tasked with counting each speech, and categorising it according to whether it is pro-remain or leave.
That sounds very much like the methodology used by groups like News-watch (and me). It's the good old 'stopwatch'/'number-crunching' technique so decried by the James Hardings of this world. I'm so glad the National Theatre agrees with us about this! (Of course this is the best way to do it, whether to monitor balance or to achieve balance in the first place.)

Anyhow, the Guardian continues: 
The completed script has more leave voices (more than the 52% of votes to leave), in recognition of the fact that more of the audience will come from a remain position.
That Guardian article refers to the original London play rather than the BBC audience, but that's still striking. Rufus himself is then quoted:
“We have been incredibly diligent, making sure that what will inevitably be perceived as our pro-remain bias is properly balanced. We push it further the other way because you understand that the majority of people who will come to see it are likely to be on the remain side, because theatres are seen as a liberal echo chamber".
As are BBC dramas! So it's good to have one that determinedly tried not to be seen as a liberal echo chamber for once. 

My main concern was its mood. It was just so gloomy about where we are now. Yes, the country is divided and there is quite a lot of anger out there and people aren't listening to each other as much as they should be, but the glum faces, the intensity, the anger, the worried Britannia, the wistful variations on Greensleeves playing throughout, were a bit too much...

...and I think that's where the bias seeped through despite its makers' best intentions. I doubt very much that a Leave-supporting poet and director combination would have gone for such a depressing tone, even if they were trying just as hard to be balanced from the other direction and giving Remain supporters the greater say.

Did any of you see it? If so, what did you make of it?

You tell her, Rabbie!

Imagine you're one of those BBC reporter-presenters who uses Twitter as part of their reporting and includes 'BBC' in their Twitter handle. Then imagine that you're also  one of those BBC reporter-presenters who is highly opinionated and one-sided on Twitter. The rules on impartiality that the BBC applies to its employees on Twitter (and Facebook) don't seem to unduly bother such a hypothetical BBC reporter-presenter, and on she steams. 

Say she's based in Washington and reporting about US politics, this is the kind of person who is so partisan that she would tweet huge numbers of tweets and re-tweets about the alleged sexual misdemeanours of a Republican candidate (all critical of him) but would tweet very few about the alleged sexual misdemeanours of a Democratic politician - and many of the latter would be statements by the politician, re-tweets of people praising the politician or the BBC reporter-presenter herself using that politician to criticise the sitting Republican president herself. 

Such is the very behaviour of the face of the BBC in the United States, Katty Kay

The hilarious thing about this is that ultra-partisan Katty has now had the cheek to post a one-sided rant on the BBC News website...

Its theme? The awfulness of partisanship. 

Or to be more accurate,  the awfulness of Republican partisanship.

Yes really. 

She rails against US Republicans and their supporters for being partisan and blindsided by their one-sidedness.

Not for one second does it appear to have crossed her mind that she herself is far from immune from the charge of 'tribalism', doubtless seeing herself as the embodiment of non-partisan reasonableness. And yet here she is posting a BBC News website piece that is itself thoroughly partisan and  blindsided by its author's one-sidedness.

Oh would some Power the gift give her, to see herself as others see her!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The less moderate candidate

Ee bah gum, Scottish Labour has a new leader! Yorkshireman Richard Leonard beat Anas Sarwar to win the post today. 

The BBC's Scottish Editor Sarah Smith informed BBC One viewers this evening that Mr Sarwar "was the more moderate candidate in what was a fractious race". 

I guess that makes Mr Leonard 'the less moderate candidate' - or, to put it another way, 'the more extreme candidate'. 

A nice example of 'bias by labelling' there (even if it's true).

BBC transparency (or the lack of it)

Here's an interesting take on BBC transparency from the estimable Bill Rogers of Trading as WDR (h/t Peter): 

It's a fair comment to make

This week's Newswatch saw Samira interviewing Katya Adler. It began with Katya saying that the sense viewers have that "BBC reporting is constantly knocking British negotiators, looking for failure" is "a fair comment to make." Aha, I thought! But, guess what? It's turns out that it's not the BBC's fault. (It never is on Newswatch). Here's a transcript:

Samira Ahmed: Well, the BBC's Europe Editor Katya Adler spends much of her life living and breathing the Brexit process and she joins me now from Brussels. Welcome to Newswatch Katya. The biggest complaint we get is about perceived bias, a sense that BBC reporting is constantly knocking British negotiators, looking for failure. 
Katya Adler: It's a fair comment to make. It's a comment you would expect to make. As Europe Editor it's my job to put across the European perspective. Now that might come across as anti-UK but actually it's just putting across the other point of view. And as we see these Brexit negotiations become pretty bad-tempered, obviously there's very, very, very differing points of view. 
Samira Ahmed: Taking all that on board, viewers still feel that we don't seem to get the same scrutiny of EU negotiators and their strategy. 
Katya Adler: Since the Brexit negotiations started...I don't know if you're familiar with the Sicilian word - the Sicilian or Italian word - omerta. It means 'silence'. And we're sort of seeing a kind of omerta inside the European Commission building, amongst the many commissioners and amongst EU leaders themselves. They've been told to zip it and only let Michel Barnier, the lead Brexit negotiator, speak about Brexit. At this point in the proceedings, we just don't have that same possibility, the same access, to talk to the main players on the European side, as we do on the British side, to really put those difficult questions to them on camera, or on the record in a radio interview, and I understand that for our viewers and listeners, for the readers on the website, that is extremely frustrating, and it feels like we're not doing our job. But believe me, because that's largely mine as Europe Editor, I am doing that job and I am asking those questions, but the players are not allowing me to do that on the record and that's why I have to quote sources and contacts and EU diplomats. 
Samira Ahmed: A lot of complaints say, actually, there's acres of coverage but very little fact. Why do you spend so much airtime speculating? 
Katya Adler: Many in the UK feel we voted for Brexit, basically it's a done deal, it's happened,  like let's move on with it, let's see some action, and there isn't very much action. And I feel your pain on that one, because we have to deal with that too. So Brexit remains one of the top stories of importance for us in the United Kingdom. So it's going to remain, you know, right up there, and we will have to keep coming back to it as the negotiating rounds proceed - even though, actually, for example, the last Brexit negotiating round, pretty much nothing happened in terms of news, but we had to cover it and we had to say that very little had happened. And that leads you to speculate - and this is where the speculation comes in - will there will be a deal in the end or will we be in a no deal scenario?
Samira Ahmed: How do you feel about the fact that a number of viewers say that the coverage is just too complicated? 
Katya Adler: Then I would say that Brexit is a very complicated issue. Just to name the obvious: What about our financial services industry? What about agriculture, and other goods? And what happens to the label on those goods that say, 'Made in the UK', but actually, between the jar and the labels and the content, it crosses over between the UK and the rest of Europe several times before a product is finished? These are all fiendishly complicated, and that is why, as well as Brexit negotiations, Brexit negotiators, you have lawyers on both sides working on it. So this is dry and detailed stuff, but that is what goes into untangling the UK from the EU, and in the end will go into making a trade agreement between the two sides. 
Samira Ahmed: Repetitive coverage is a big charge. We see a lot of men in grey suit walking in and out of buildings. Is making this coverage different an interesting challenge?
Katya Adler: Well, on a day to day, hour to hour, even week to week level, it can seem really quite dreary, boring, without very much progress. And certainly I can tell you that, yes, here in Brussels I'm surrounded by the EU institutions around the BBC office. They are grey and they are full of people in grey and navy blue suits...I've got my navy blue suit on today just to fit in with all of that...and that can be a little bit difficult sometimes. The way we can lift it is in a different kind of coverage that we have, whether it's my blog where I can get a little bit of colour into it. We have something called Brexitcast - the podcast that goes out every week....
Samira Ahmed: Yes, tell us about Brexitcast. What's the thinking behind it? 
Katya Adler: Well, the thinking behind Brexitcast is twofold really, I think, on the one hand, because, for example, if I have to do 'a live' - like, you know, a Q&A on the Ten O'Clock News, I'm often told, You've got 50 seconds - five zero seconds - in which to get so much nuance in. That's pretty much impossible, never mind trying to get fact and a bit of colour into it. It's very hard. You go on Brexitcast and you've got ages of time to chat with, you know, Adam, who's the host here in Brussels, or Chris, who's the host in London, and there's Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of the BBC. There's a lot of knowledge in there, and there's lot of humour as well, and we are able to get some humour and banter into it. But, yes, as I admit, Brexit is not something where events happen in a fast and furious manner, but it is, nonetheless, a hugely dramatic moment in EU and UK history. 
Samira Ahmed: Katya Adler, thanks for coming on Newswatch. 

Friday, 17 November 2017

On Radio 4 Comedy

Sioned Wiliam

Sioned Wiliam, Radio 4's Commissioning Editor for Comedy, is no mean comedienne herself - at least if her Feedback interview with Roger Bolton today is anything to go by. 

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

She played the part of a parody version of a BBC editor responding to charges of bias and denying everything, but so badly that she ended up making a complete dunderhead of 'herself'. 

She was absolutely brilliant. It's the best satire I've heard on Radio 4 in a long while and her performance couldn't be bettered. I almost believed she was 'for real'. 

Seriously, Sioned should be given her own Radio 4 series. (And, being Radio 4's Commissioning Editor for Comedy, if she can't commission herself, who can?). She has a great catchphrase too - "I don't think I agree". 

Roger Bolton made for a wonderful straight man here too. [And a genuine 'all credit to him' for his probing today].

Here's part of the script:

Roger Bolton: Well, let's turn to a political issue. It couldn't be more controversial at the moment. Sue Cooper wrote to us about Brexit.

Sue Cooper: I have to say that I am deeply disappointed by the way News Quiz has taken a very left wing and anti-Brexit stance. It used to be funny but it is now very biased. And when they start off arrogantly treating those who voted Leave as though they are completely stupid I reach for the 'Off' switch'.

Roger BoltonDo you think Sue has a point?

Sioned Wiliam: Well, I don't agree that it's coming from one position. We have a range of political voices on...

Roger Bolton: [interrupting] Oh no. If you listen to it consistently....I am not taking sides, but it is clear that the majority of jokes are broadly anti-Brexit.
Sioned WiliamI don't think I agree. I mean, actually, if you look at the last series. There were three episodes in which Brexit didn't feature at all....
Roger Bolton[interrupting] No, but when Brexit is raised, on the whole, most people's view would be that the majority of jokes are, if you, like opposed, as it were, against Brexiteers.
Sioned WiliamI don't think I do agree....

And on it went, and....

....News just just just in...

I've been informed by sources close to the BBC that this was not satire. 

It was a real interview. Sioned Wiliam was actually being serious and not - repeat not - engaging in comedy gold after all. 

I'm in shock, and will need to take a break to recover.

That girl, and that former BBC sports reporter who became head of the F.A.

After getting over my disappointment I decided, being a blogger about BBC bias, to put Sioned's Panglossian statements to the test by listening to tonight's The Now Show (which Roger and Sioned moved onto later). 

And, guess what? There were plenty of anti-Brexit jokes from Steve 'n' Hugh but not a single pro-Brexit joke/anti-EU joke. 

Not one. 

Listen for yourselves. Not one pro-Brexit joke and lots of anti-Brexit jokes. (The first five minutes will suffice if you're pressed for time).

And except for one mild dig at Jeremy Corbyn - later 'balanced' by a segment seriously citing his views on austerity and then running with a series of vaguely-anti-austerity gags - the targets were utterly predictable: Trump, Mrs May, Boris, the DUP, Nigel Farage, Brexit, Greggs. (Even Mugabe and Kim Jong-un got off lightly in comparison, Yes, really, they did!). 

Now that I know that Sioned wasn't just pretending to be a completely idiotic BBC high-up, I'm becoming seriously worried about her. 

If she genuinely believes that programmes like The Now Show and The News Quiz are 'balanced' because they invite on people like Hugo Rifkind and Danny Finkelstein, who she went on to name in her defence - despite both of them having voted for us to remain in the EU - then she is seriously delusional. 

Maybe she needs a few months off. May I suggest that she use her presumably huge BBC salary to book into Morecambe's magnificent Midland Hotel and partake of the sea air and the spectacular Lakeland views for several weeks.

She's clearly in need of it. (And I'll buy her a large glass of wine).

The very picture of smug Radio 4 comedy?

And as for The Now Show itself, good grief! Please hire a vet to put me to sleep before I ever listen to it again. 

The new 'talent' really needs to try harder. The old 'talent' is tired. 

And Jake - Mr Jake Yapp - please stop lowering yourself. 

...and then you 'self-censored' that bit of your famous Radio 4 satire when Radio 4 granted you your own one-off...

...and now, garlic and stake readied, you've become a The Now Show regular, simply pandering to the Radio 4 studio audience types . (Sell out!)

I don't blame you actually. Why not? Grab the loot from the BBC licence fee payer and get the BBC Pension Fund lawyers to help you stash most of it in a Caribbean tax haven.

That's my advice, and you'd be wise to take it.

P.S. The Daily Mail has a write-up about this today

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Boom Bang a Bang

Has this ever happened to you? You're enjoying a nice nap at work when someone in your office suddenly shouts 'Boom!' and wakes you from your happy slumbers?

Well, it must be like that many a night at the BBC - at least according to The Sun who splashed today with the 'TV scandal' that BBC News Channel staff are snoozing the night away at BBC licence fee payers' expense. 

A BBC snitch told The Sun that "during a 12-hour night shift some staff do around an hour of work" and sent them a dozen or so photos of BBC staff 'sending exclusive reports from the Land of Nod', so to speak. 

Sir Peter Bone MP (and, one presumes, Mrs Bone too) is aghast.

The BBC hasn't taken this lying down - or slumped over their desks fast asleep either. BBC staff have taken to Twitter en masse to mock The Sun and the BBC Press Office has re-tweeted that poll graphic about trust again, with a Sun-baiting tweak: 

Alas, not one person (not even a BBC editor) ever bothered to shout 'Boom!' when I wrote a truly sleep-shattering piece recently about this very poll, but the fact remains that this BBC-commissioned IPSOS Mori poll is old - and some might say [see what I did there?] ' fake' - news. 

We've had an election in between then and now. Peoples views of the BBC might have changed over the last nine or more months. The BBC's stock could have plummeted. Who knows? 

Yet the BBC Press Office tried to pass the results off as a new poll with new findings earlier this month - like some dodgy restaurateur passing off last week's leftovers as 'a Chef's special'.

Right, you can all go back to sleep and watch the BBC News Channel now........


Some say she ‘resigned’, but never mind. It’s ‘good’ that the BBC reported it, even if they had to cast doubt on it even as they said it. 

Presumably the timorous use of ‘scare quotes’ is to indicate that it was ‘reported speech’ rather than an accidental ‘value-judgement’ on the part of the 'reporter'.
A potential Labour councillor has been removed from the candidate list after being accused of being anti-Semitic.
Nasreen Khan was hoping to stand in next year's Bradford council elections.
The party removed Ms Khan after investigating claims reported on the Jewish News website about comments it said she posted on Facebook in 2012.
The BBC has contacted Ms Khan for comment. Labour said it "condemns all anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms”.

I can’t help noticing that the BBC is careful to tell us that the claims (of antisemitism) were reported on the Jewish News website, using the “distancing” framework:   
“about comments it said she posted on Facebook in 2012.”

Well, ‘it’, being the “Jewish News”,  ‘would say that, wouldn’t they?’ - as would the Labour Party when it said:
"it condemns all anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms”.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

And there's more...

Another lead story on the BBC News website this evening - though nowhere else - is this:

The musician in question will be apologising for Brexit (which he associates with "hate") across the continent of Europe.

Is this really one of the main stories in the world (or the UK) today?

Compare and contrast

I've given this one a few hours as I wanted to see if the BBC would change its angle or not, but as it hasn't...

It's as if the BBC isn't prepared to yield any positive ground to Boris Johnson.

Indeed, if you click into the respective reports, you'll see that this continues and that the contrast becomes even sharper.

From Sky News:

From ITV News:

From BBC News:

That's quite something, isn't it? Only the Foreign Office saying that the meeting has been 'positive' eh?

Why is the BBC News website refusing to report that Mr Ratcliffe said something positive and constructive about the UK's Foreign Secretary today? 

Huw's at Ten

On last night's BBC News at Ten, Huw Edwards could have introduced the Brexit segment like this:
The House of Commons has started to take a detailed look at the legislation designed to take Britain out of the European Union. The EU Withdrawal Bill will end the primacy of European law, but MPs have tabled some 500 amendments, including one which opposes setting a date in law for Britain's departure.
Instead he introduced it like this:
The House of Commons has started to take a detailed look at the controversial legislation designed to take Britain out of the European Union. The EU Withdrawal Bill will end the primacy of European law, but MPs have tabled some 500 amendments, including one which opposes setting a date in law for Britain's departure.