Friday, 16 March 2018

Open Thread

Please find attached a brand new Open Thread (with a link back to the last one here if you're still catching up).

This week's Open Thread features a map of the rivers of Wales. 

Many thanks for your continued support, and (as my Google Translate says) cael penwythnos da!


What’s the point of Hardtalk? The blurb says:
In-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered as famous personalities from all walks of life talk about the highs and lows in their lives.
Well, you’d never guess that Sackur’s guest Ahmad Tibi was the same fellow that appears in this clip. 

If you have the stamina you can read BBC Watch’s two-part deconstruction of the interview, here and here

The first problem one has is that this outrageous figure is being treated respectfully when he is obviously a fundamentalist religious extremist; racist, duplicitous, grievance mongering, and very privileged to occupy a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Peace ? forget it.

The other problem - or problems - lie within the interview itself, and all the omissions and sundry economicals with the actualité that Sacker allows to slip through the net. 

So what of it?

Well, as a certain BDS activist might say, it’s just another brick in the wall. 

James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, on the BBC's Telford coverage. Do you believe him?

I was waiting for tonight's Newsnight with Samira Ahmed to tackle James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, about the BBC's coverage/lack of coverage of the Telford Muslim grooming gangs scandal, but tonight's Radio 4 Feedback with Roger Bolton got in there first. 

It is to the BBC's credit that they broadcast such self-flagellating interviews, but such things raise as many questions as they answer.

Listening to it, I was alarmed by the tone of Roger Bolton's introductory framing. 

It included dismissive language about "social media" being "awash with accusations" against the BBC and about "Twitterstorms" accusing the BBC of being too over-cautious and "PC" in its coverage/non-coverage of the Telford paedophile gang scandal.

Curiouser, however, was his weird language of "alleged widespread sexual abuse in Telford" and the use of "claimed" as far as the "Asian" background of the bulk of the grooming gang perpetrators is concerned. Are such things still in any doubt?

So I expected the worst but, to be fair to him, Roger then went on to also do himself credit by putting to the BBC high-up some of the questions I wanted putting. 

He even raised the 'religion' question - without, however, daring to name the religion (Islam)!

As for James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, well, he certainly talks a good talk. 

And, yes, his basic message was the usual and depressingly predictable 'We got it about right'.

But, still, I think he made a pretty good fist of defending the indefensible. He said all the right things, and sounded as if he was being sincere, and some of his points struck me as being reasonable.

His fixation on the Victoria Derbyshire show's strangely mawkish coverage as the 'evidence of impartiality' of choice was cleverly chosen.

But I think the picture he painted of the BBC's coverage is woefully short-sighted and complaisant. His idealistic-sounding assertions about what the BBC 'did' aren't, for the most part, in tandem with the reality of what the BBC actually did (or didn't!). He was just asserting the BBC's impartiality. 

And, I'm afraid, I don't buy his cherry-picked examples of the BBC 'doing the right thing' (backed by Roger Bolton). They are pretty rare cherries, and - if he's being truly honest about it - he should have admitted that. 

And I don't buy his claim that "we are not shying away from these kind of difficult issues. We are advancing towards them". This blog this week (and in previous weeks, months and years) has, I think, providing copious evidence to the contrary. 

Anyhow, please judge for yourselves by reading on and thinking about the following transcript:

Roger Bolton: Hello. Did the BBC under-report the sexual grooming and abuse scandal in Telford? Social media is awash with accusations that the BBC is running scared of the story for politically correct reasons. The corporation's news editor is here to respond...

We begin with a Twitterstorm with the BBC at the centre. The charge is that the news division failed adequately to cover a story about the alleged widespread sexual abuse in Telford in Shropshire, and that it did so because it is politically correct and afraid of charges of racism, since it is claimed by the Sunday Mirror that many of the offenders come from an Asian background. This story appeared in the paper under the headline 'Britain's worst ever child grooming scandal exposed'. The Sunday Mirror went on to suggest that up to 1,000 young girls were abused as the authorities had failed to act over a period of 40 years. On Wednesday Superintendent Tom Harding, who is in overall charge of policing in Telford, said he feels the story had been "sensationalised" and significantly disputes the figure. The Sunday Mirror's abuse story was picked up by a number of news outlets but, initially at least, not by the BBC -  though it was mentioned in the online newspaper review. This lack of coverage was quickly picked up by, amongst others, Nigel Farage on Twitter, Nick Ferrari on rival Radio station LBC, and in a column in the Spectator by Douglas Murray titled 'The BBC's shameful silence on the Telford sex scandal'. Cue a furious exchange of tweets as thousands of people pitched in, on both sides: 
  • The BBC ignores a paedophile scandal involving more than 1,000 girls over 40 years in Telford. Even the local BBC website ignores it, presumably for fear of racial controversy.
  • The BBC have done interviews with actual victims. It is shameful that people are trying to use the abuse of children in Telford just to attaFck the BBC with no concern for the victims of abuse.
  • I have undertaken a long journey. I've argued for public service broadcasting. I value Radio. But I finally cannot switch on Radio 4. The BBC has abandoned Brexit voters and have ignored Telford. It no longer has a moral compass. 
And even when it was pointed out that the BBC had covered the story - online, on the Victoria Derbyshire show, and The World at One on Monday and then on Woman's Hour many felt it still wasn't enough. As tweeter St.John Smythe put it:
  • The near-silence of the BBC on a story about the abuse and rape of hundreds of young women is a disgrace. It's clearly in the public interest. The BBC are no longer fit for purpose.
So was the BBC slow to cover an important story and did it not give it enough prominence when it did? Questions for James Stephenson, the BBC's News Editor who joins me now. James Stephenson, were you late coming to this story?
James Stephenson: I really don't think we were. And I know that's suggested by other people but I don't think it's the case. If you look, for example, at the Victoria Derbyshire programme at 9 15 on Monday morning, it was leading on that story, as it happens, led again with it the following day. The World at One, as you've already said on Monday, interviewing the local council leaders. So I think the answer is 'no'.
Roger Bolton: But all of those things are on Monday and Tuesday. The Sunday Mirror comes out on a Sunday, and they're making the point in the evening bulletins, or even if they look at the BBC News website - I have a copy in front of me - that story is not running. Why?
James Stephenson:  So, yes, you make a fair point there, and the Sunday Mirror did a great piece of work, and they've talked to a large number of people in Telford and, credit to them, they've tracked that story over quite a period. With stories like that we need time to check them, put our teams on them, put our correspondent on them, work on them. I think it's a reasonable amount of time for a Sunday story to be coming back strongly with our own content and our own journalism it on by Monday morning. You would be the first to acknowledge that it's important for journalists when they are presented with a story that they they do their own work on it. We put our own journalism together, and then we run it. And I think that's what we've done in this case.
Roger Bolton: You seem to be suggesting that it's not very important for the BBC to be first. You want to be accurate. If necessary, you're going to wait 24 hours. But, on the other hand, you're a news organisation. Everybody goes to you first when they hear this story...when they heard about this story on (sic) the Sunday Mirror, and on Sunday they want to know what you think.
James Stephenson: We definitely aspire to be first, and I think if you...a fair-minded listener would  see that we are on many occasions the first with with original journalism. In this case the original journalism wasn't ours. It was the Sunday Mirror's - and credit to them. When you're following up a story the process  of following up - particularly a complex and difficult story - then you need to get that right and you need to publish when you're ready.
Roger Bolton: But there is widespread concern - you may say it's not well-founded - but on issues where there is a racial element the BBC is very reluctant, or very nervous, about getting involved. Was the fact that in this case a number of the alleged perpetrators were from an Asian background? Do you think that did have an impact in slowing down what you were doing because you are particularly concerned about race relations?
James Stephenson: No. This is an important piece of new journalism but the story and the scandal and the horrors really of what's unfolded in Telford have now been brought out over quite a period. And if you look at the BBC's coverage, we have given full coverage to the unfolding revelations of the terrible things that have happened in Telford - most significantly, most prominently, I would say, that the outcome of Operation Chalice that, as you know, was launched in 2011 and gave rise to prosecutions and a conviction of seven men in 2013 - and we covered that prominently, as you would expect. And, no, there's absolutely no question of us flinching away from difficult areas. I'd say the opposite. I think we are committed to going to the most difficult stories in the UK and around the world and covering them as clearly, as fairly, as accurately as we can, difficult or otherwise.
Roger Bolton: Now some of our listeners think, again, the problem in the background here is the religion of some of those involved, and they want to know: what are the editorial considerations in deciding when to mention an accused person's race or religion in stories about grooming and sexual abuse? 
James Stephenson: Well, this is one of the more challenging areas of editorial decision-making and it's a matter of judgement. And the judgment is about where it's relevant. Where it's relevant to the story we include it. Where it's not relevant we don't. And, you know, that's easy to say; it's actually quite hard to implement  because you have to make the decisions based on the facts as they are presented, as they appear, in a particular story.
Roger Bolton: Can we look at another aspect, about the white working class again? And, again, an allegation, for example, made by Lucy Allan MP, who said this week that the BBC is "not strong on standing up for white working class" and, again, the suggestion is that in the case, this case we've been talking about, the fact that the girls involved were white working class made the BBC less interested in them.
James Stephenson: Again, I don't think that is the case. I mean, obviously, Ms Allan is the MP for Telford. She is entitled to her view. She's pushing rightly at these issues. But I don't think it's a description that I recognise. We're committed to honest, accurate, fearless journalism - and going where that takes us.
Roger Bolton: But you have acknowledged in the past....former Directors General have acknowledged in the past...I'm thinking now of Mark Thompson...about the dangers of a groupthink. a liberal groupthink. With the best of intentions. But it can permeate newsrooms. And we have in our audience still this suspicion that the BBC is part of that groupthink. And you've got to deal with that suspicion, haven't you?
James Stephenson: We absolutely have. And I'm sure that's part of the reason why you've chosen to take on this subject on the programme today. We have looked long and hard at our own coverage and our own understanding of these issues, and I can really give an assurance that we are not shying away from these kind of difficult issues. We are advancing towards them. And, yes, you're right to say that in any organisation, and any journalistic organisation, any newsroom, there's a danger of people having a shared view of stories. We work really hard, as part of our our commitment - which is a genuine commitment to impartiality - to challenge our own thinking, to be open to other's input and other sources. And that includes external contributors who challenge what we're doing. And they ask the kind of questions that you're asking about 'were we fast enough?' 'did we consider it to be important enough?' 'was it prominent enough?'. Of course, we've been a period of extraordinary news - and not just in recent weeks but in this week itself - so the space in setting up some of our more prominent output has been squeezed. I really do discourage people from the idea of thinking that there's some hidden agenda. Our agenda is journalism. And we don't always get it right, but we are always seeking to do an honest job.
Roger Bolton: Our thanks to James Stephenson, the BBC's News Editor.

Is the IFS biased?

Here's something I thought you might enjoy from Charles Moore's latest Spectator's Notes:
Saturday’s Guardian carried a long interview with Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He came across as a well-informed, public-spirited man. He did not come across as impartial. He seemed a typical social democrat. He thinks more public spending is better than less, doesn’t like first-past-the-post politics because it weakens the middle ground, and wants tax penalties for second homes. Above all, he is anti-Brexit: ‘The economics are obvious. If you make trade with your richest trading partner more expensive, you will make yourself worse off.’ He says there is no economic case for Brexit, just a ‘controlling-immigration case’ (no mention of the key sovereignty/democracy case). Mr Johnson is entitled to all these opinions, but he and his IFS are given lots of BBC airtime as unbiased experts. Yet they are just as viewy as the IEA or the Centre for Policy Studies. The difference is a) that they don’t declare it and b) that their ‘objective’ beliefs chime with those of the BBC. To think that the case for Remain is an objective one and the case for Leave isn’t is the most out-and-out Remainer view of them all. Neither case is objective, nor should it be. On its website, the IFS describes itself as having, during the referendum, provided ‘a vital impartial voice in the debate’. It is bad for our public culture that such flat untruths can be smugly asserted by people earning their livings as ‘experts’.

A BBC reply

Tabs at Biased BBC complained about the BBC's coverage/lack of coverage of the Telford story and has posted part of the BBC's response:

The BBC News website published the front page of the Sunday Mirror on March 11, linked to the article and contained a commentary on the paper’s 18-month research. On Monday, our paper reviews again linked to the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror’s analysis of the investigation, followed by detailed articles which were on our News website front page: 
We’ve also covered the reaction from the local Council, MPs and charities like the NSPCC. The item was further covered across the BBC as follows: 
– Radio 5 Live’s ‘Emma Barnett’ and ‘5 Live Drive’ programmes spoke to our Radio Shropshire reporter and covered the issue – BBC Two’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ had a live interview with a child abuse lawyer on the subject, as well as one of the victims – BBC News at Six, Ten and News Channel all covered the story this week, as have Midlands Today bulletins – Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’ and ‘Six O’Clock News’ both had items, and local radio heard from the leader of the local council in Telford. 
We have previously reported on Child Sexual Exploitation in Telford on a number of occasions, including the last call from Lucy Allan MP for an independent inquiry:

Hmm. As I've written a lot about this this week, I'll just content myself with saying a little more here about two programmes I've been monitoring this week....

When they say that "BBC News at Six, Ten and News Channel all covered the story this week", that surely proves the disingenuous nature of this BBC reply.

The story had been raging since last Sunday morning and the first time BBC One's News at Ten covered it was a brief mention on Tuesday night's programme at 10.25 (which I quoted in its 49-word entirety earlier in the week) - and that's been it so far. BBC One's News at Six has also covered it just once this week, on Wednesday evening's edition; though that was a two-minute report by Sima Kotecha.

Yes, both programmes "covered the story this week", but just once each, and one of them for just a few seconds. Is that really properly "covering" a story?

I wonder if James Stephenson, News Editor for BBC News and Current Affairs, will trot this one out on tonight's Newswatch

Update on 'Update'

Buried in Kent?

For those saying that the BBC isn't reporting the attack on Britain First leader Paul Golding, well they are. It's on the England & Kent pages of the BBC News website. Of course the BBC (along with every other mainstream media outlet) is holding off on reporting the social media claims (rumours?) that Mr. Golding was attacked by two Muslim inmates. 


The article underneath the main story on the BBC News website has now been nudged aside to make way for a new report about Telford, which is now the BBC's 'second story'. Very curiously, the piece was published 5 hours ago, presumably on the BBC 'Shropshire' page, but has only appeared on the BBC's Home page now. Why?

It looks to me as if the BBC is now making an effort to appear to be doing the right thing. Maybe all the criticism is finally getting to them (especially if it's now coming from MPs).

The report itself, incidentally, has just changed - within the past ten minutes. I clicked to refresh the page and the third paragraph in the previous version, "Police have previously disputed suggestions the issue is ongoing", has been replaced by "Police said they were currently working with about 46 people at risk of CSE". (Newsniffer caught the edit too).

Update (12.20): Following on from a post yesterday, the article has been edited again and now contains the following passage:
West Mercia's Police and Crime Commissioner said he had "sought clarification" on reports that a memo by the force in 2013 said some child sexual abuse victims had "consented". 
The wording has been criticised in the Mirror for appearing to blame victims, and PCC John Campion has said he thinks it was a "poor choice of words".
Mr. Campion, incidentally (and not reported in this BBC article), was one of the ten men who told Amber Rudd that no inquiry into Telford grooming was necessary (according to Lucy Allan).

Update (12.50): And now the report has gone from the BBC Home page.

It lasted three hours then.

Treading on eggshells

The BBC News website this morning has this as a very prominent item (just under the main headline):

When you click into it you find it's a long piece looking at child sexual exploitation in the light of the Telford grooming scandal. 

It focuses on how the victims of grooming are seen. 

It makes little mention of the cultural element of the grooming gangs phenomenon and makes no mention whatsoever of any common religious aspect to the profile of the paedophile gangs. This is how the piece deals with the issue:
While some of the most high-profile cases of CSE have involved gangs of men with Pakistani heritage abusing white girls, Dr Beckett points out that there is "no typical CSE case".
It looks, therefore, as if the BBC is continuing to tread on eggshells when it comes to reporting these kind of scandals.

Update: The BBC has changed the image and caption now. Their Home Page now shows this:

There's a 'Downfall' parody for all seasons!

Talking about the BBC News website, it's got a handy primer for those who can't tell their Slovakias from their Slovenias following the resignations of the prime ministers of both countries this week. I have to say, however, that Hitler & Co. explain it much better though here (though beware! Hitler does get a bit ranty at times):

Open Thread

It's time for a new Open Thread. Many thanks for all of your comments.

As part of this blog's mission to inform, educate and entertain, here's Loondon Calling to explain the accompanying image:
Memorial to Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh, proposed by Architect HT ‘Jim’ Cadbury Brown after Britten’s death, but never realised. 
The story surrounding the memorial is interesting. It was envisaged as a huge hulk of wood, maybe driftwood washed up from some distant shore, standing on the beach with two holes in the top designed to sing out the two emphatic notes from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, when the wind blew fiercely enough through it to generate these eerie sounds. Like a huge organ pipe on the beach, it might play hauntingly to the residents of Aldeburgh. It would remind them of the mystery and uncertainty that lies out at sea, beyond the horizon. Sadly, this idea was never realised.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Very Random Thoughts

The four corners of the planet Mercury

If you didn't listen to the Boris Johnson interview on Today this morning and hear John Humphrys's heavily insistent line of questioning (as mentioned in an earlier post), you really should - if you feel up to it...

...and then try to relate John's relentless pursuit of an already dubious point about President Macron opposing Mrs May to the four corners of the earth (and, given his relentlessness, very possibly to the four corners of Mercury, Venus and Mars as well) to the brutal fact that all of his thunder and lightning was subsequently rendered ridiculous by France's ringing backing for the UK's position over Russia.

So much sound and fury from John H. to so little purpose!

There was a strong whiff of 'fake news' about the BBC's reporting of this - as Andrew Neil suggested (though not in quite so many words).

I suspect - perhaps with my tin-foil hat on, perhaps not - that this was the BBC pushing their 'Brexit is harming the UK and the UK is losing its global influence' thing - something which has turned out to be far from true, given that the US and European countries have swung very firmly behind us over the Skripal affair, #despiteBrexit.


Talking of 'fake news'...

Tonight's BBC One News at Six ran a feature about the BBC's latest 'School Report Day'.

Its theme this year has been that very thing - 'fake news', and the BBC have been going into schools telling pupils to be wary of fake news, especially on the internet.

The BBC as the purveyor and protector of 'truth' and 'reality'!

As a conscientious blogger, I worked my though their various BBC News website features and found nothing objectionable, bias-wise. It was just largely obvious and reasonable good advice (albeit in no way meant as being advice for pupils as to how to treat their consumption of BBC news, other than a few strong hints that the BBC is a 'good guy' here). 

The one bit where it strayed into political matters was the 'Recognising Fake News' video (with its youth-friendly loud music and gimmicks) where the BBC's new main man Amol Rajan cautioned pupils against believing politicians who cry 'Fake news!' in order to deflect attention away from their failings.

Hmm. Wonder who Amol was nudge, nudge, wink, winking at there? 



There have been two widely reported breaking news stories about the Grenfell Tower disaster today.

The first concerns the conviction for fraud of a woman (Joyce Msokeri) who pretended to be a Grenfell survivor whilst claiming that her fake husband died in the fire. (She's not the first person to have been convicted of this kind of fraud when it comes to Grenfell).

The second concerns a new report which found that a fire door installed in the tower block was only able to hold back the flames for around 15 minutes - just half the time it was supposed to work for.

Only one of those stories - the second - made it onto tonight's BBC One News at Six.

An editorial decision was obviously made not to report the first story on the BBC's main early evening news bulletin. Wonder what their thinking was there?


My timeline today has again been full of people criticising Agent Cob for his confused contortions over the 'Russian poisoning' story.

And however sensible you might think some of his questions have been (and about his positing of 'rogue elements'), Our/Their Cob certainly has veered all over the place over the past couple of days or so.

(I personally think he's been genuinely all over the place rather than being dishonest).

Again BBC One's News at Six left potential PM Jeremy and his party's travails out of its reporting equation tonight, for some reason.


Tonight's Question Time has caused controversy by including an RT presenter (Afshin Rattansi) on its panel (alongside an actor, an EU bureaucrat, a Labour front-bencher, a Conservative minister and, perhaps, a fluffy kitten).

Some are asking, 'Why invite on someone from the Russian state propaganda channel, especially at this time? Aren't the BBC siding with our enemy?'

Other are objecting to the RT man's antisemitic past on social media. Shouldn't the BBC no-platform him?

As a free speech man, I'm firmly of the 'no, of course it shouldn't' point of view here. Let him be heard, and (if needs be) let him be heckled and robustly challenged.

Will he get the full David Dimbleby/QT-'Nick Griffin treatment' tonight?


Talking about antisemitism, The Independent has an 'exclusive' tonight: Frontrunner for Labour's next general secretary 'gave work to someone suspended by party for antisemitism'.

If true, that should be a lead story on every media outlet, including the BBC. The antisemitic nature of the tweets of the suspended woman is beyond question (even down to 'Jews having big noses' comments).

If the likely next Labour general secretary ignored this and gave a job to this woman in full knowledge of her antisemitism then the BBC should surely make a massive deal of it (the way they used to if even the most obscure UKIP candidate for a local council seat ever said anything even remotely racist-sounding or batty)?


'Let's have a look at what you could have won'

The super, smashin', great Jim Bowen died within a day or so of his hero Ken Dodd, and was (to me) a 'local lad made good'.

He taught at Lancaster Road School in Morecambe, and used to own the fine (wonderfully-rural) Royal Oak pub halfway between Morecambe and Hornby along the Lune Valley and, for a while, owned Morecambe FC (The Shrimps) despite being a lifelong Blackburn fan.

I'd quite forgotten until I read the obituaries (if I ever actually knew) that he had a brief fling with the BBC. His Radio Lancashire show lasted about three years until they made him resign for "making a racist remark on air", as the BBC News website's obituary put it.

For obituaries, however, if you can read it beyond the paywall, the Telegraph's obituary of Our Jim is unbeatable. It's wonderfully wry but warmy, and a masterly piece of writing (albeit with the odd forgivable factual error). It relates his short BBC past in a slightly more charitable way:
From 1999 Bowen worked for BBC Radio Lancashire, presenting a magazine programme with Sally Naden called The Happy Daft Farm. When he was sacked in 2003 for using the expression “nig-nog” on air, he protested that in his part of Lancashire, it meant nothing more than a nitwit.
(That '2003' is the factual error. The BBC actually pushed him out in 2002).

It quotes a classic Bullseye moment:
“Hello, Ken, and what do you do for a living?”
“I’m unemployed, Jim.”
“Smashin’, Ken, super.”
 You really couldn't beat a bit of Bully.  

Not the art of now

The Art of Now. Radio 4 this morning. Not so much ‘art’ and not so much ‘now’ - more an undiluted half-hour of  low-level but unashamedly emotive stigmatisation of Israel.

Of all the wars zones in all the countries in all the world, the BBC has to walk into - -  you probably know what I mean, and it isn’t Casablanca. It’s all very well featuring art in dangerous places, but most  of the 28 minutes of this programme were devoted to art during “wars” in which Israel was singled out as the villain.

And, rather than ‘now” they had to go back to 2006 to feature Beirut. Why shoehorn “Cartoonist and free improvisational trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj” talk(ing) about his work during the 2006 Lebanon war and the problem of exoticising art from warzones", when you could go to hundreds of far more recent warzones, where I’m sure you could find some improvisational musician, dancer or visual artist exoticising something or other. 

And if you must go back in time to find it, there is a wide choice. Surely war zones are not all about Israel? One of the featured thespians appeared to be associated with political activism as much as "making art that helps us question and communicate".  Another contributor was Israeli composer and ex-IDF soldier Mátti Kovler whose feelings of guilt one might associate with the typical left-leaning politics that currently prevail in the world of music. 

Composer Errollyn Wallen’s quavery voice droned on about creativity inspired by life-changing experiences at the hands of warmongering Israelis, with a dollop of Kurdish oppression thrown in to relieve the monotony. Did I imagine I heard that the second intifada was between Israelis and Palestinians?  

There was no balance just another half-hour of the kind of unadulterated grievance-mongering against Israel that the BBC specialises in, hung tenuously on the peg of 'art', and fallaciously on the peg of 'now'. 

One for the diary

Newswatch tomorrow...

So what will James have to say for himself? Will he say: (a) "Yes, your viewers have a point Samira" or (b) "All in all, I think we got it right"?

I know which one I'm expecting.

Katya Adler on reporting about Brexit

Katya Adler

For your information (or FYI, as they say)....

Here's what the BBC's Europe Editor Katya Adler had to say recently to Paul Blanchard of Media Masters about reporting about Brexit for the BBC:

Paul Blanchard: It is the single defining political issue of the generation now, Brexit, isn’t it? And I get the feeling no one quite knows what the hell’s going on. I tune into BBC news programmes for you to tell me what’s happening, frankly.
Katya Adler: I think we will look back and to see how big this really was. But I think you come across different attitudes, so those who think it’s very important and you care very much about it, and definitely if you dip your toes in the Twittersphere then you get those reactions, and that might include people saying, “You’re just part of the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation,” or “You’re just part of the Brussels Broadcasting Corporation,” because people feel so very strongly about this issue. On the other hand, there are also those who just say, “Haven’t we left yet? Why are we still talking about it? And why aren’t we talking about the health service more, and why are we still talking about Brexit?” So I’m aware of all of those attitudes, but my hat also is what’s going on on the other side of the channel and in the Irish Republic as well. So although this is domestically a huge issue – I’m British, this is the British Broadcasting Corporation – I’m very much following what the Europeans are thinking about it, what they’re writing about it and what they’re saying off the record – and I think from a broadcasting point of view what’s been frustrating for me in these most recent phases, is that before the official negotiations began, the so-called Article 15 negotiations as it’s called in Euro-speak, the Europeans, so prime ministers and members of the commission, were extremely keen to be interviewed and now they don’t want to. So I talk to them all the time, and it means keeping in very good contact. But when I’m package making for television, they don’t want to go on air so it’s off the record. So you end up saying things like, “My sources,” or this or that. And of course, in this era that we live in where there’s a lot of talk of fake news, and mistrust in news, and is news just part of the establishment, and that debate that we’re really living now, that’s a problem. Because people are like, “What sources? You’re making it all up, it’s all opinion.”
Paul Blanchard: That’s quite insulting, frankly.
Katya Adler: Okay, it’s my job, partly, to be insulted. If you go out to a public figure and say something… I mean, when I lived in the Middle East, I once received excrement in the post, I have to say that was really the highlight of my career. Insulting? I think when you go out in public and talk about controversial issues, such as I did in the Middle East and now obviously with Brexit, you expect a certain kind of backlash. It doesn’t mean you like it, and it also doesn’t mean that you dismiss it out of hand. I think it’s very important that I do, I mean, apart from the things that are just insane that are thrown at you, but if there is criticism of your coverage, I look at it and think, “Do they have a point?” and then carry on. But recently the Financial Times compared Brexit supporters and detractors to football fans. You know, others would say it’s almost like a religious fervour at times, and I think in that fevered atmosphere I and other colleagues covering the issue, we’re just in the wave.
Paul Blanchard: The issue of Brexit itself cuts across political parties, it cuts across families… like you say, it is quite a tribal thing. Do you take some comfort in the fact that you seem to be equally criticised for being pro-Brexit and pro-Remain, and if both sides are having a go at you for bias, that tends to me to seem that you’re actually doing a pretty good job of remaining neutral and impartial.
Katya Adler: I think that’s generally what one said. I mean, definitely when I was in the Middle East we said, “Well, if we’re getting flak from both sides we must be doing a good job.” I think with Brexit, it changes so much from day to day, and as you say, this this affects British society so deeply, I don’t think I can afford to be flip about it. So it’s not like I look at my Twitter feed and think, “Oh, I’ve got hate mail from Remainers and Leavers, therefore it’s all okay.” I don’t feel that. So I have a look and I listen, I do not engage actually, because I made a decision that again - sorry to keep referring back to the Middle East, but for me it’s comparable in the barrage of accusations that might be thrown at you – but at the time it was very much our policy to answer each and every complaint, apart from the letter I received with excrement in the post.
Paul Blanchard: You wouldn’t have time to do that now.
Katya Adler: I wouldn’t have time to do that, and also I think on the Twittersphere you can just get involved in an endless debate, and I don’t think that’s productive. So I only engage in tweets where a question is asked, like a factual question – in other words, whether it’s positive or negative I don’t engage, but I do read and I take on board, and think, “Do they have a point? Do they not have a point?” and then move on.

Katya Adler on reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Here's what the BBC's Europe Editor Katya Adler had to say recently to Paul Blanchard of Media Masters about her days as a BBC Middle East correspondent:
Katya Adler: What I do like very much with my colleagues here, and I enjoyed that so much when I was in the Middle East, we had a bureau full of lively debate, and that was so important. At the time – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now has disappeared largely from the airwaves actually, it doesn’t get the attention that it used to – but while I was there it was still front and centre. We had Palestinian producers in the office, we had Israeli producers in the office, we had staff that had come from London, people who were more experienced in the Middle East, people who were less experienced in the Middle East, and we would have these huge debates about coverage, and about words, because if you remember when Israel built a barrier between Israel and the West Bank, what do you call it? Do you call it a fence? What do the people of Bethlehem say when they’ve got great huge concrete wall in front of them? That’s not a fence, that’s a wall. Is it a wall in its entirety? No, it’s not. Okay, is it a barrier, then? Ah, okay, so maybe barrier is a more neutral word. Then the Israelis would call it a security barrier. But then that gives a certain…
Paul Blanchard: It’s emotionally loaded.
Katya Adler: Very much. So I found that discussion intellectually very interesting, just as much as I thought I would have enjoyed being a lawyer trying to have those rules and use them to the argument you want to make. And my role in the Middle East was what we call live and continuous, and that is a minefield in the Middle East. That’s a very tricky job to have in the Middle East, because every word is scrutinised. It really is what you say and how you say it, and there are websites dedicated to the BBC and what we say. And so to go live when something just happened in Lebanon or Syria or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a risk. But it was thrilling, because I had to know my stuff. I had to know it.

Andrew Neil criticises 'Today'

Maybe Andrew Neil should set up a blog about the BBC's failings. 

Sam Coates, Times: President Macron switches France position - says Russia only obvious culprit - relief in UK government diplomatic circles.
Andrew Neil: There’s been no switch. The Times simply over-egged the words of Macron’s spokesperson into ludicrous “France defies May” splash headline, for which there was no grounds (though didn’t stop R4 Today parroting the line this morning). I did warn you last night.
I think he must have had in mind John Humphrys's remarkable interview with Boris Johnson at 8.10.

Taking on Putin

Well, I must say that I found John Sweeney's PanoramaTaking on Putin a gripping watch. It was almost like a Cold War spy drama at times. 

It build a strong case that Russia is a sham democracy and  a police state - something we already knew, of course, but it was eye-opening to see just how thuggish and ruthless it actually is. 

It was a distinctly Orwellian moment when the BBC crew (including JS) got arrested for vandalising a memorial to murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov when we viewers knew (and can be sure that the Russian authorities also knew) that a pro-Putin group had carried it out and that the BBC had merely been there filming them. 

And then came the local media's cringingly inept attempts to 'doorstep' John Sweeney, and the far-less-amusing pro-Kremlin TV news reports smearing John Sweeney.

While helping police with their inquiries, a story about me popped up on REN TV, a network that is said to be close to the FSB. The website said that I may be charged with vandalism for the attack on the Nemtsov shrine. I had once met Nemtsov, a brave and very funny critic of Putin. I dedicated my novel about modern Russia, Cold, to him. The idea that I would vandalise a Nemtsov shrine is nonsense.
(Sarcasm klaxon! - If there's one thing you can say for BBC reporters such John Sweeney is that they'd never leap to unjustified conclusions and smear people they disapprove of - and I'm sure Nigel Farage would back me up on that one).

Still, this Panorama could be taken as a warning to all democracies - sham or otherwise: A true democracy doesn't harass journalists. It doesn't follow them, or smear them, or arrest them on jumped-up charges...or, for that matter, refuse them entry into the country because they hold 'the wrong views', or detain them because they intend to interview someone of whom the authorities disapprove



Though the BBC News website coverage of the Telford child abuse scandal has now been 're-buried in Shropshire' under the headline Telford abuse: Victim numbers 'sensationalised' says police chief, the story continues to unfold. The Mirror is now putting the police themselves under its searchlight:
Officers investigating child sexual exploitation in the town were sent an internal memo telling them “in most cases the sex is consensual”
The report says:
A person under 16 cannot be deemed in law to have consented to sex, but the word “consensual” was used to describe offences involving children four times in the memo. 
I see on Twitter that Sarah Champion MP is angry about this:
Police slammed over memo saying Telford child abuse was 'consensual' Grrrr! When will people understand that a child cannot consent?!?
As Laura Perrins of The Conservative Woman says, "This is incredible. Under section 5 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, rape of a child under 13 is a strict liability offence. Consent is irrelevant".

Hopefully the BBC will be asking questions of West Mercia Police about this - though given how they've dealt with the story so far that probably isn't very likely. 

"It's important for people to understand the difference"

There's an article on the BBC News website that's dividing opinion:

For some this is a case of the BBC "normalising regressive cultures again"; for other's it's the BBC living up to its mission to inform and clearing up "misapprehensions" about arranged marriages. 

The BBC reporter behind the piece, Megha Mohan, does indeed have that purpose, having tweeted:

The reaction to this tweet has been split too. She's getting plenty of 'thank yous', but others are accusing her of being "patronising" and complaining that the headline is racist against white people.

Oh 'Eck!

Intriguing tweet from Andrew Neil this morning about RT host Alex Salmond:

So did the BBC give in to that pressure? Did they stop using the phrase "break up the UK" during the Scottish referendum? 

Never argue with a chemist about conspiracy theories

Nothing to do with BBC bias, but here's a fascinating Twitter exchange between a former research chemist and a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan. The former UK ambassador to to Uzbekistan loses and then vanishes in a cloud of nitrogen triiodide

Its startling point is a Craig Murray post in which my conspiratorially-minded former-ambassadorial near namesake argues that "The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam". Former research chemist Clyde Davies read it and thought it didn't exactly hold up to scrutiny.

Here's what happened next....

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

BBC activism (again)

The BBC, via BBC Trending, is showing no ambivalence whatsoever tonight as far as Lauren Southern, Brittany Pettibone and Martin Sellner are concerned. It out-and-out backs up the UK authorities' decision.

I've been surprised at the range of people objecting to the UK authorities' refusal to allow them into the UK on the grounds that (a) they pose no threat of violence to the UK and that (b) plenty of jihadists and jihadi supporters who do pose a threat to the UK are let in.

The BBC Trending article about them is little more than a hatchet job - something signalled by the fact that "far-right" Lauren, Brittany and Martin are repeatedly given the 'criminal' treatment by being constantly referred to merely by their surnames. 

Despite my social media timeline being full of people - many expected, many unexpected, none extreme - crying foul of the the UK authorities' decision to bar these three young people, BBC Trending failed to pick up on any of that (intentionally or otherwise).

Instead, the 'impartial expert' figure in their piece is the far-from-impartial Nick Lowles of Hate Not Hope, who backs up the (anonymous) BBC reporter's hatchet job. 

This kind of piece reads like activism rather than impartial reporting. It's quite astonishing that the BBC allows such pieces to be put out. 

Apocalypse Now

Peering through the curtains this morning at a monochrome world; grey sky, grey everything. On the bright side, at least one doesn’t have to strain one's eyes looking at garish blues and greens. Perhaps a taster of the colourless post apocalyptic world that we might be facing very soon. So before it’s too late, I thought I’d articulate my ambivalent attitude towards the current ‘refusals of entry’ debacle and reiterate the usual accusations against the BBC while I'm at it.

No doubt you’ll have heard about the Home Office’s startling decision to refuse entry to the youthful threesome, Lauren Southern, Brittany Pettibone and  her Austrian beau Martin Sellner. 

There’s the matter of the actual letter, which was apparently written by someone unfamiliar with the English language, and which, to add insult to injury, has sailed through the Home Office’s quality control, if such a thing exists. 

So, is the letter real or fake? Who can tell? One hopes it’s fake, for all our sakes. Otherwise, the Home Office is in serious need of Dame Louise Casey

This banning appears to be extreme overkill on the part of the Home Office. On one level, it hands unnecessary ammunition to those who believe the establishment and the powers that be are colluding to suppress freedom of speech. It’s the familiar “you’re not helping” mantra that emanates from an ominous drive, notably by the BBC, to artificially engineer social cohesion by brushing disagreeable stuff under the rug and hoping for the best.

On another level, the banning itself, which I think I heard being vaguely justified by a claim that it’s to preempt potential terrorism, gives disproportionate weight to the credibility of the threesome’s ability to threaten the fabric of society. Our home-grown antifa louts are aggressive, shouty and troublesome, and they’re triggered by anything they see as remotely right wing. In comparison, the antics of Lauren Southern and co are distinctly benign. They film themselves in self-inflicted confrontations with the enemy. How frightened need we be of that? Their modus operandi is to poke and provoke, and then upload the response, if it’s entertaining enough, on YouTube.  

For one thing, Martin Sellner the Austrian, identifies as an Identitarian. That organisation, which is   described as far (or alt) right, has a sinister whiff of the white supremacist about it. This is where where patriotism becomes nationalism and embraces antisemitism and fascism, when alt-right goes right round the back and comes out the other side as alt-left where it hosts much of the present day's virulent antisemitism. In fact “right” is now such a pejorative term that one hesitates to even say it, but in truth the left is effectively the new right.

Tommy Robinson needn’t diminish himself by orchestrating self-inflicted punch-ups with louts in kaffiyehs and balaclavas because he’s already got the ear of the cognoscenti. And now he’s - dare I say ‘unwittingly’ - volunteered to read out the speech at Speaker’s Corner on behalf of the Identitarian. Let’s hope this particular Identitarian is not so much a follower of traditional Identitarianism as a revisionist one and is solely against open borders and creeping Islamisation. I mean let's hope he doesn't turn out to be full-on white supremacist and antisemitic.  Of course, if the authorities are keeping their customary  watchful eye on ‘enemy of the state’ Tommy Robinson, his rendezvous with Speaker’s Corner might not happen.

So that’s one thing. Ambivalence part one. Here’s a tangentially related case of ambivalence, where I almost hesitate to say something I might regret. But what the hell. I reserve my right to change my mind. 

I read Daniel Sugarman in the Jewish Chronicle decrying the very presence of Katie Hopkins at a Zionist Federation event. What was worse, said Sugarman, is that she was photographed with Mark Regev. 
“The question everyone should be asking is: how on earth could someone with Ms Hopkin’s repugnant views have been able to get within 10 feet of him?
Sugarman feels that the Federation is being tainted by association with a woman who referred to African Migrants as “Cockroaches”. Oh dear, will Katie Hopkins ever live that down? Will anyone ever live anything down? Like Boris’s infamous ”piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” and other context-light witticisms that people ill-advisedly blurt out.  No-wonder some of us are terrified of saying anything in case it’s taken down and used as evidence against us later in the court of public opinion.

As for her repugnant views, well, Katie is after all a professional controversialist, and one might indeed think, with friends like this who needs enemies. But I’d rather have them as friends than enemies, wouldn’t you? Not only Katie Hopkins by the way. Tommy Robinson gets a mention too. 
“……..Or the diplomatic faux-pas just a few months ago when Elad Nehorai, the embassy's Director of Public Diplomacy, approvingly retweeted another far-right activist who likes Israel - Tommy Robinson.”
This antipathy towards Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson indicates a profound misreading of present day British society. It comes across as mere snobbery. These individuals may be rude, they may be rough, but they recognise the antisemitism within Muslim society, and in so doing show a realistic understanding of what Israel is up against, unlike the Islam-appeasing media, the British government and much of the general public, thanks to the BBC.  Don’t knock it, Jewish Chronicle. 

Your attitude may be well meaning in the same way as Lord Dubs who took the view that we have a moral obligation to accept thousands of Muslim child refugees because, Kindertransport. I would cautiously suggest that current circumstances invalidate any equivalence.

Fear of being tainted by association, taking pains to distance oneself from certain personae non gratae, being terrified of aligning oneself with activists against creeping Islamisation, being perceived as less than liberal and less than tolerant is almost understandable, but it panders to the antisemitic saying that “Jews of all people" should have learnt the lesson of the past - and therefore should be sympathetic to and tolerant of all, no matter what. That's logic of a most inverted kind.

Not so long ago many Zionists were falling over themselves to dissociate themselves with the EDL, as the whole argument was taking place on the left’s terms, and they’re still doing it, though now the toxicity lies with the ‘right” and the argument is still taking place entirely on the left’s terms. 

While we’re talking about African migrants, see this page on the BBC website.  The whole page is devoted to demonising Israel.

And here’s a BBC Trending film clip, dedicated to demonising Israel for its treatment of African Migrants. It's presented by an anti-Israel activist from Electronic Intifada called David Sheen.    

To add to my earlier post about the film “Working with the enemy” in the BBC World’d series “Our World” which was an unadulterated piece of anti-Israel agit prop, I offer you BBC Watch’s two-part deconstruction of the film’s content here and here. Do read it.

If there's one thing I'm not ambivalent about it's simply this. There is no justification for the BBC’s relentless and open vilification of Israel.

White privilege

From my social media reading I know that plenty of people think that white farmers in South Africa are in danger of their lives and their livelihoods, and that a Zimbabwe-style persecution is starting there. 

It's not a story that the BBC has been particularly interested in but it's certainly caught their attention today. 

Why? Because Australia has said that it might provide visas for white South African farmers to help them escape that "persecution" - a move you could bet your bottom euro that the BBC would strongly disapprove of. 

And disapprove it quite clearly does.

The BBC News website report about it today puts the South African government's dismissal first and, very strikingly, uses this as its halfway sub-headline:

Note that it isn't even in quotation marks.

And then the BBC then lays out its own opinion (including a Reality Check ruling) under that very headline:

So that's the Australian government told!


Whether you think that Jeremy Corbyn disgraced himself today by siding with Russia against his own country or that Mr. Corbyn was right to question the intelligence regarding Russian links to the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal and urge caution and moderation, it's not in dispute that his comments in the House of Commons this afternoon went down very badly - and just as badly with much of his own party and other opposition parties as they did with the Conservatives. 

The weird thing is that the huge hostility to his remarks is getting huge coverage everywhere other than at the BBC News website. 

From Sky News to ITV News, and from the Guardian ('Jeremy Corbyn under fire over response to PM's Russia statement') to the Telegraph ('Disgraceful!' Anger in the Commons over Jeremy Corbyn's response to Theresa May's statement on Russia), the onslaught against the Labour leader is big news - and has been for two to three hours.

The BBC News website report on the debate in parliament - its second story (behind Stephen Hawking) - is a piece I've followed the progress of all afternoon. Bafflingly, up until a few minutes ago it didn't even mention Jeremy Corbyn.

That was why I first began writing this post a few minutes back. I was going to say how odd it was and then speculate, in true ITBB fashion, about whether the BBC was helping Jeremy Corbyn by downplaying the fury of his own party at his remarks or being rude to him by completely ignoring him, but, since beginning writing this and after refreshing the BBC page, I see that the BBC has now added a couple of paragraphs:
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was jeered by Conservative MPs as he asked Mrs May how she had responded to requests from the Russian government for a sample of the nerve agent so it could run its own tests. 
He condemned the Salisbury incident as a "dreadful, appalling act" and called for multilateral action in response, saying it was a matter of "huge regret" that the UK's diplomatic network had been cut by 25% in the last five years. 
That, I think, firmly settles the matter. 

The BBC - unlike pretty much everyone else - is presenting this as a case of Jeremy Corbyn saying something and only getting a hostile response from the Conservatives.

This is frankly beyond bizarre. Labour MPs have been falling over themselves this afternoon to signal their profound disagreement with their leader. They've been publicly siding with the Government in the House of Commons. To present this as just some 'jeering' Tories responding to Jeremy Corbyn's attacks on Tory cuts is terrible reporting.

Not one else - not even the Guardian - is behaving like this. What is the BBC playing at?

Update (17.40): As pointed out in the comments below, the BBC has a new report about this now which finally reports the reaction to the Labour leader's remarks by other Labour MPs:

What on earth took them so long? Were they stung into it by criticism?

As that headline suggests, it does so from the starting point of Mr. Corbyn's point of view:

Only in the fourth paragraph does the fact that Labour MPs have been heavily criticising Mr. Corbyn begin to appear.