Tuesday, 25 July 2017

"Doing a lot of good work in that area, isn't she, Justine Greening?"



For a powerfully-argued counterblast against the government's plans to allow people to pick their own gender without a doctor's diagnosis - and specifically to allow them to change their own birth certificates (from male to female, female to male, or either male female to 'X') - please read Brendan O'Neill's piece about it at Spiked

And once you've done so please go on to read the BBC News website's report about those plans. 

The thing you'll immediately notice about that BBC report is that it gives the government's side of the argument (quoting extensively from Justine Greening) and then gives the views of people who agree with the government's plans. 

Everything, from the chose of parties quoted, to the direct quotes used, to the article's sub-headlines, to the Getty image chosen, presents these plans in a positive light. Everyone seems to agree that 'it's a very good thing, and about time too!'

And yet, as Brendan O'Neill proves, not everyone does agree that it's a very good thing. A lot of people will think that it's a very bad thing. Brendan himself calls it "Orwellian":
Britain is going full Orwell. The Tory government is proposing to include in the Gender Recognition Bill the ‘right’ to alter the sex on one’s birth certificate. So if a 32-year-old man decides that he is in fact a woman, he could be able to go to the General Register Office and insist that the word ‘Boy’ be erased from his birth certificate and replaced with the word ‘Girl’, or ‘Female’. Even though he was not a girl when that certificate was drawn up. Even though the midwife who declared ‘It’s a boy!’ when he was born, and the birth registrar who later wrote the word ‘Boy’ or ‘Male’ on his birth certificate, were telling the truth. That truth, that publicly recorded truth, that national truth, would be replaced with a lie. We’ve entered Ministry of Truth territory. The memory hole is real
The wholly one-sided BBC report gave no sense whatsoever that anyone might think that the government's plans are wrong-headed and dangerous. 

And that tells you a good deal about the BBC's bias towards social liberalism. 

It probably never even occurred to the reporter behind that piece to even think of seeking out a counter-balancing view. 

******

Incidentally, in trying to check out whether this BBC report was typical of the BBC's coverage (it was), I came across the following example from Sunday morning's Breakfast. Guest Margaret Doyle was doing the paper review and discussing this very issue with BBC presenter Christian Fraser. Here's how that part of their discussion ended:
Margaret Doyle: There's a bit of controversy over it but I think that the broad thrust of this government is to push forward that agenda of liberalisation and equality and say, well, maybe we need to change how we look at transgender, just as how we have changed also the way we look at homosexual relationships.
Christian Fraser: Doing a lot of good work in that area, isn't she, Justine Greening?
Margaret Doyle: Yeah. 
It probably never even occurred to Christian Fraser that his expression of a personal view there was even remotely controversial or in any way lacking in impartiality. It could hardly be less impartial (however much you may agree with it). 

Trouble ahead

“The al-Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount” is how Tom Bateman introduces his report about Israel removing those ever so incendiary metal detectors from Islam’s third holiest site. Well, that’s one way of looking a it.

For once a topic involving an Islam-related controversy wasn’t assigned to Mishal Husain on the Today Programme. Nick Robinson (£250,000-£299,999) struggled. Re-naming (and imaginatively relocating) the infamous trouble-spot: “Alaska Mosque”, and  if I’m not mistaken generously allocating well-known Palestinian peacemaker Manuel Hassassian one extra “ass”, he handled the topic bravely.

Manuel Hassassassian

The news that Israel is removing the metal detectors from al-Aqsa was unexpected. Looking through the online press reports and skimming various below the line comments one finds a predictably mixed response. 

 *******

What is journalism like? 
Some of the stuff I read this morning is barely comprehensible. In most reports the stabbing incident in the Israeli Embassy in Jordan and the subsequent release of the Israeli security guard (from where? By whom?)  was so poorly explained that no-one could have properly understood who did what and why. The leftie press evidently sympathised with the perpetrator, almost absolving him of responsibility by calling him a teenager or 'teen'. 

The Guardian has this: 
“The announcement came shortly after the evacuation of all Israeli diplomats from the embassy in the Jordanian capital, Amman, following an incident in which an Israeli security guard shot two Jordanians including a teenager who had allegedly stabbed him with a screwdriver.”

Leftie newspaper Haaretz (Israel’s very own Guardian) has this:
“The Israeli government was faced with an additional crisis on Sunday when an Israeli Embassy guard in Jordan was barred from leaving the country after shooting dead a Jordanian teen who tried to stab him

However, in my opinion the most cogent report was in the Washington Post. It was the only one that made sense throughout.  With far more clarity, their account of the incident calls the perpetrator a Jordanian workman, which is surely more objective and less emotive:
“On Sunday, a Jordanian workman of Palestinian descent used a screwdriver to stab and wound an Israeli security guard at the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman. The guard shot and killed the assailant and killed another Jordanian, reportedly an innocent bystander.”
This video from JPost was on Facebook



******



The way the “al-Aqsa incident” is being explained varies greatly. The BBC’s version is so dumbed down I won’t even bother to address it. I’ll leave it to primary schools, who might like to use it for year 6 comprehension. (Do schools still do ‘comprehension'?)


Several reports amplify the so-called ‘threat to al-Aqsa’,  so-called because the Muslims believe the Jews are about to destroy their holy site and replace it with something Jewey.

There’s no smoke without fire as the saying goes, and there are indeed some religious Jews  campaigning for the right to pray there. Why this is seen as the end of the world is inexplicable to most rational people, but rationality doesn’t come into it. The status quo, whereby Jews can visit but must not pray, is being upheld by the present Israeli government and will be for the foreseeable future.
 The threat to al-Aqsa is imaginary and a whopping great pretext for rage.

The incident that provoked the metal detector fiasco was also reported in ways that suited the appropriate agenda.

The Washington Post sets it out briefly and simply thus:
“Netanyahu and his supporters said the metal scanners were needed after three Arab Israeli gunmen smuggled homemade machine guns into the al-Aqsa Mosque compound on July 14, then shot and killed two Israeli policemen at the site, which both Muslims and Jews regard as holy.”

If you’ve been following the story you’ll also be aware that the two murdered policeman were not ‘Juze' but Druze, and they were actually on guard duty to protect the worshippers at al-Aqsa. You couldn’t make it up, as they say on the interweb.

The diplomacy behind the decision to remove the metal detectors is set out by the media in various ways too, but again the Washington Post article is the easiest to understand. 

Commenters regard Israel’s decision as capitulation and a sign of weakness or pragmatic and wise, depending on their political stance. One thing comes up a lot, which is the fact that metal detectors are currently part of everyday life all over the world. In these dangerous times the necessity for security measures that inconvenience us all are in no small part due to the ubiquity of Islamic terrorism. (could you make that up?)

In its latest bulletins the BBC has reversed the naming of Jerusalem’s infamous flashpoint. In a later report it’s now being called “Temple Mount, known to Muslims as  al-Haram ash-Sharif.” 
(The news is currently moving down the charts.)

Obviously, when the metal detectors are disposed of the Israelis intend to install more subtle, even more dastardly security apparatus, which will do nothing at all to alleviate the Palestinians’ primary grievance, the Judaisation of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. 

There will be trouble ahead.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Open Thread


More Random Thoughts


It's proving very difficult to focus on BBC bias at the moment. The time for posting is proving harder and harder to find, and without the time to do proper research it feels as if I'm dipping in - and I really don't like just dipping in. I like nailing things down, with hundreds and hundreds of nails and twenty varieties of hammer. I feel that only when you listen to every edition of a BBC programmes (like Mark Mardell's The World This Weekend or Dateline London) do you get to appreciate that it is possible to work out how BBC bias actually functions and, with enough time and energy, to prove it.

I've proved it (beyond doubt) to my own satisfaction and, maybe, to yours but why don't I feel that I've proved it beyond anyone's reasonable satisfaction. Why? Because I haven't systematised it enough probably. Timings for every Brexit-related segment showing the massive disparity I know there's been (on both The World This Weekend and Dateline London) between the time given for pro-Brexit voices and anti-Brexit voices would help. Listing every question put would also help. And, yes, counting interruptions would help too. As would focusing analytically on the words used. Anything else? 

Is nailing things down as tightly as possible actually necessary though? Why shouldn't just 'dipping in', saying it how you see it, be enough? Doing so might make more of an impact than timing and counting?

Answer (after blinding flash!): There's room for both. If only there were time for both. Or time for anything really.

******

Yolande Knell

There have been some horrible events in and around Israel in recent days. I've seen some of the BBC reports. One from Alan Johnston - back (to my surprise) as a BBC Middle East editor a decade after his kidnapping by Palestinian terrorists (prompting claims of Stockholm syndrome after his release) - showed violence from Palestinian rioters in Jerusalem and the Israeli response. It contrasted sharply with Yolande Knell's much-broadcast and very gimmicky report which used only images of the Israeli authorities responding (to something) with skunk water, stun grenades, etc, and Yolande (twice, because of the gimmicky repetition) fleeing from their tear gas. No violence was shown from the Palestinians. It was as if Israeli was just using force for no good reason.

The most gruesome event there in recent days has been the murder of members of the Salomon family eating a Sabbath meal in celebration of their newborn grandson in the Israeli settlement of Halamish. The teenage terrorist knocked on their door, they opened it, he began stabbing them, murdering the grandfather, his daughter and son, and injuring the grandmother. The grandchildren were rescued. Not untypically, the human details of the Israeli family and their story, including their names, haven't been included in the BBC's online report of the attack.

This sort of thing raises serious questions about BBC reporting, doesn't it?

******

Meanwhile, down the road in Tel Aviv, Radiohead - ignoring Ken Loach and all manner of other BDS campaigners - performed their longest concert for years this past week. Thom Yorke was typically gnomic but (just as typically) left no doubts about where he stood. "A lot was said about this, but in the end we played some music", he said. (And Radiohead will be back in Israel next year). The BBC's write-up, Radiohead defy critics to play Israel, began like this:


The rest of the article wasn't so bad though.

As Israelis say to all those terrorists who keep trying to slaughter them, "This is what you'll get/This is what you'll get/This is what you'll get/When you mess with us"...


******

And talking of musicians, Daniel Barenboim's anti-Brexit speech at the Proms has drawn a lot of flak, most incisively from Douglas Murray at The Spectator. We know that the BBC were aware in advance of an earlier pro-EU bit of point-scoring by pianist Igor Levit and allowed it to go ahead, so what did they know about Mr. Barenboim's pro-EU speech in advance? What did they say to him about it? And what's coming next? And who's doing the Last Night this years? Maestro Guy Verhofstadt? 

Mr B's two concerts - Sibelius, Birtwistle and Elgar (both symphonies) - were excellent though. I even ended up re-listening to the Birtwistle three times. 

******

Radio 4's Dead Ringers is provoking some comment this series. There's no doubt, from Twitter, as to which new 'character' has been its main talking point. It's chirpy "Brexit Bulldog" David Davis, whose negotiations skills usually end up in his death. (He even ended up in Hell last week). The cartoonish nature of the Brexit Bulldog's self-delusions and self-induced disasters are hard not to laugh at. It's proving popular because it's essentially an old-fashioned comedy routine (despite being put to an anti-Brexit purpose). Is it effective satire? Well, it may be 'fake news' but it might still make Mr Davis a laughing stock with Radio 4 listeners, however representative (or unrepresentative) they are - though I (with hope in my heart) credit many of them with the ability to differentiate Mr Davis from his Dead Ringer caricature. 

That said, Dead Ringers is also presenting us with an impersonation of John McDonnell - another of its new regular characters - and making him out to be a mentally unhinged Marxist who is trying (and failing) to appear cuddly. His every attempt to talk about his allotment turns into a murderous Maoist diatribe against the bourgeoisie. 

******

I'm still, of course, keeping up with Dateline London. I noted the way centre-right commentator Alex Deane (quite superb as ever) was introduced as a "Conservative commentator" while far-left commentator (and Corbyn fan) Rachel Shabi was introduced as a "Middle East expert". That was very flattering to Rachel. If she's really a Middle East expert then I'm hoping to be called 'an expert in loop quantum gravity' some time soon. "Middle East expert" my posterior!

Nothing new under the sun



As regular readers will know, however variable the levels of bias might be on some BBC programmes, there's one programme that can pretty much always be relied upon to be biased, particularly on the issue of Brexit: Mark Mardell's The World This Weekend.

I can't think of a BBC programme that's even comes close to being as relentlessly biased in one direction over such a long period (except for Today, the World Tonight, Newsnight and PM, etc). 

It's pretty much guaranteed that whenever Brexit is a featured topic, TWTW will find a negative angle about it and proceed to steamroller that angle over its listeners' ears for much of the programme.

Several previous posts have begun with variations on the following theme:


It's like a cookie-cutter template (for them and for me!). 

So how did Mark Mardell open the show today? With these (entirely characteristic) words:
Welcome to The World this Weekend. This is Mark Mardell. The head of the powerful association representing German carmakers is worried about the way Brexit is going, and he's hardly alone:
Voice 1: What would help us would be decisions and fast decisions.

Voice 2: Policymakers in Berlin are surprised and worried about the extent of confusion and the somewhat incoherent messages that come out of London.

Voice 3The importance of the European Union for German confidence is much higher than the importance of a bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom.

Voice 4: We are actually preparing for tariffs. It would worsen our business.

Voice 5: I miss the traditional British pragmatism and I see more and more ideological points of view which make pragmatism very difficult.
We've been to Stuttgart and Berlin to hear the views of German industry, and we'll talk to former Conservative cabinet minister Owen Paterson.
Yes, it was déjà vu all over again.

Once again, Mark Mardell trotted off on a foreign jaunt (lucky him!), loaded us poor listeners down with voice after voice after voice after voice bemoaning Brexit (a section which went on for well about twelve-and-a-half minutes), and then granted a brief right of reply to his pro-Brexit interviewee (which lasted about three-and-a-half minutes) - and, yes, Mark did interrupt him!

It really is always like that with TWTW when it comes to this issue (except for those occasions where there are only anti-Brexit voices).

Belated interjection (by Sue)
Craig gave me permission to say this. I didn’t hear the programme, but I think we could be shooting the messenger this time.

The vox pops Mark Mardell selected do faithfully echo the opinions I heard during my own foreign jaunt; unfortunately we’d probably rather not hear these views.

I spoke to British passport-holders resident in Germany who were very worried. They were uncertain about their future status, their entitlement to healthcare and social care should they need it in old age.

Their policymakers were telling them that messages coming out of London were ‘somewhat incoherent’. I don’t think their media covers Britain’s case for Brexit the way ours presents the case against, if at all.

“The importance of the European Union for German confidence is much higher than the importance of a bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom.” says vox pop 3.

That’s what I meant when I said in my earlier post: “their ideological (pro EU) position trumps all concerns and worries over trade issues. In other words, even if they do ‘need us more than we need them’ trade-wise, they’ll happily suck it up for the sake of the Union. They say unity within the EU reigns supreme, even more so now with Macron onside.”
 
What Mark Mardell did was to give us a realistic impression of public opinion from the other side of the channel.
You may argue that he should have made more of the solitary pro-Brexit voice you say he featured, but we do get to hear pro-Brexit arguments from our own pro-Brexit British MPs, if not on TWTW from Mark Mardell. We do see Liam Fox and David Davis on our screens and there are plenty of pro-Brexit voices to be seen, heard and read in the British media.

Because of this, the BBC might argue that balance is achieved ‘over time’. If that’s their case, it could have been made clearer, but we can’t expect every single thing to be counterbalanced by an opposing view each and every time it is uttered.

I felt the British pro-Brexit arguments (their ‘other side of the coin’ ) were lacking in Germany, or absent altogether. The impression I had was that they thought all the intransigence was on our part.

Another thing that took me by surprise was the vehemence with which they protested that the EU had offered David Cameron an exceptionally reasonable deal, and they couldn’t understand why we rejected it.

Maybe the BBC is being clumsy with its presentation, but I think we need to take a step back and accept that reporting the German POV is not necessarily anti- Brexit propaganda.



From the Theatre of the Absurd...


Rob Burley

As the summer silly season is soon to be upon us, it's time for another selection of Twitter exchanges between Andrew Marr editor Rob Burley and his critics. 

I always enjoy these, and transcribing them as if they were dialogues from a play only brings out their comedic value even more (I hope).

Enjoy!

*****

Rob Burley: #marr line-up taking shape - our main guest, he's had a big year, the Labour leader @jeremycorbyn.
Michael Liddle: At what point in the show will Marr be sucking up to the tories?
Rob Burley: Strange reaction to news that we are interviewing Jeremy Corbyn this Sunday on #marr.
Michael Liddle: Marr always sucks up to the tories. He loves them. Show well past sell by date.
Rob Burley: Ironically, he speaks very highly of you Michael.

*****

Rob Burley: Recap! Jeremy Corbyn, Liam Fox, Anna Soubry, Gisela Stuart, Seb Coe, Ethan Hawke, Toby Young, Audra McDonald. #marr #marrmusic Sunday BBC1.
Reidar Vasbund: Managed to get a fair few wankers on this week - well done!
Rob Burley: Another satisfied customer.

*****

Rob Burley: We'll also review the papers and beyond with @anna_soubry @GiselaStuart and @toadmeister - last #marr of the Summer. Sunday 9am on BBC1.
Gary Barker: So two Tories and brexiteer, and that's what the BBC counts as balanced these days #marr
Rob Burley: We're interviewing Jeremy Corbyn in the main slot Gary but press on...
Gary Barker: Er.. So why not have him review the papers too? Press on yourself.
Rob Burley: You want Jeremy Corbyn to review the papers and do the main interview? Would you like him to play us out on the spoons too?
Gary Barker: Reminds of the days when you used to have Margaret Thatcher's press secretary reviewing the papers. Things never change.
Rob Burley: To be clear, your view is that anyone who a) disagrees with you or b) isn't Jeremy Corbyn shouldn't be on the show...
Gary Barker: Let's be clear about this - you manage the show, I don't, what you say goes, I just pay for the privilege of your bias.
Rob Burley: I'm curious - how has me booking Jeremy Corbyn as the main guest tomorrow demonstrated bias? In what direction?
(Sir) Craig Oliver: (interrupting) Actually it's 2 Brexiteers (3 if you count @jeremycorbyn) vs 1 Remainer.
Rob Burley: Oh don't you start.
Gary Barker: Last week paper reviewers: Jane Moore of the Sun, former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika and Iain Duncan Smith - again two from the right.
Rob Burley: That's your assessment of Jane Moore, think she's always pretty even-handed and often not party political at all.
phil63*‏: (interrupting) Come on Rob you have to admit paper review is mostly loaded to the right.
Rob Burley: I don't accept that at all or "admit" any such thing.
Gary Barker: Week before that Tory MP Heidi Allen, Tim Stanley from The Daily Telegraph, and Naomi Klein an author. Come off it.
Rob Burley: A) do you know about Naomi Klein's politics or just that she is an "author"? B) is Allen wholly loyal to party leadership?

*****

Rob Burley: We'll also review the papers and beyond with @anna_soubry @GiselaStuart and @toadmeister - last #marr of the Summer. Sunday 9am on BBC1.
Simon Vessey: 2-1 in favour of the Tories to review an overwhelmingly RW press. Colour me shocked.
Rob Burley: Jeremy Corbyn is the main interview Simon, the full list is on, er, Twitter.
Barney Farmer: (interrupting) Three good reasons to stay in bed.
Rob Burley: Didn't need to know this Barn, but grateful for the update nevertheless...

*****

Joe Guardiola‏: Party political broadcast on behalf of the Hard Right!
Rob Burley: Featuring Jeremy Corbyn!!
Julia Macfarlane (BBC): (interrupting) There's no pleasing some people...
Rob Burley: Truth.
Tim: (interrupting) I guess @RobBurl thinks 6 or 7 hard right guests balance out one Jeremy Corbyn.
Rob Burley: Well last week, for example, we had a partisan Lab, a partisan Tory and a person on neither side.

*****

Mr Eton Oldboys MP‏: Any chance of delivering a non Tory Bias program on #marr I personally am getting sick to the back teeth with Tory propaganda from you.
Rob Burley: Yeah, the main interview with well known Tory Jeremy Corbyn was blatant bias.
Mr Eton Oldboys MP‏: Rob, I was truthful and factual with my tweet to you, I would have expected the same from you in your right of reply. I really didn't expect sarcasum as a reply, Jeremy Corbyn is not a Tory as we both know, surprised you never asked him about the IRA. Rob I must admit I expected better from you... please dont even try to defend your weekly Tory propaganda show, start earning your money.
Rob Burley: Is this your real name?
Mr Eton Oldboys MP‏: Rob, would you care to reply to me in a non sarcastic manner, to a question related to the Tory Bias of the Marr Show.
Rob Burley: Yep, we're not biased. Our main interview was with Jeremy Corbyn. We have pro-Lab panellists all the time.
Mr Eton Oldboys MP‏: Thank you for engaging with Mr Oldboys I only tweet truth and facts which has attracted a very large audience by twitter standards 52K. Rob, I actually enjoy your show, and It helps with my Political Debates on twitter, could we have more questions on the £1.8tn Tory Debt?

*****

Martin Hoscik: Only just seen today's show on catch-up, top and revealing interviews with Corbyn & Fox. Good end to the series!
Diane Claire: Except that Gisela Stuart & Toby Young prevented from responding to Anna Soubry's Brexit nonsense. Spoilt unusual 2 to 1 in favour of Leave.
Rob Burley‏: Sorry Diane - this was unfortunate. We ran out of time. I wish we hadn't and can see why you are annoyed. Apologies.

*****

David Mills: When are you going to balance Seb Coe with Steve Ovett?
Rob Burley: Now there's a sofa chat.

*****

Andy Shaw: How much time do these odd balls spend tweeting @RobBurl?? Most don't make sense. I'm by a pool on hols so have time to ask??? Bore off.
Rob Burley: Have a beer for me Andy!


Update: A bonus gem....

Anarchist_1968: What sort of respectable news program brings on Murdoch journalists like Hawke, who disseminates lies on a daily basis?
Rob Burley: Ethan Hawke isn't a "Murdoch journalist." He's a movie star
Rowena Kay: Is he thinking of Sun journalist Steve Hawkes?
Rob Burley: I don't know who he was thinking of Rowena.
    [Craig - Anarchist_1968's tweet was so ridiculously stupid I'll admit that I thought it was an obvious fake. Checking out his Twitter feed it turns out it wasn't. He really did tweet that in all earnestness. Seriously, who needs satirists any more?]

Andrew Marr, BBC bias and Brexit - A Short Study (Part Two)



Last Sunday, ITBB carried out a short analysis of the Brexit-related questions/comments put by Andrew Marr during all of his one-to-one political interviews over the previosu three editions and found, though if wasn't entirely black-and-white, there was a clear and significant anti-Brexit bias taken overall. It's only right-and-proper then to round that off by subjecting these weeks questions to exactly the same scrutiny.

So, do these show a pro-Brexit or an anti-Brexit bias, or no bias either way? 

As before, I'll add my own verdicts in italics after each list and ask again, "Do you agree with them?"

******

Questions to Liam Fox:
  1. If the first round of Brexit talks in Brussels has been tough and gruelling, it hasn't dampened the spirits of the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. He's in the US for talks about a possible free trade deal, which can be discussed but certainly not signed until after Brexit. America is already the UK's second-largest trading partner, although we currently export more than we import. So when I spoke to Dr Fox from Washington earlier on, I asked him whether we might see more American goods and services coming into Britain. 
  2. The kind of thing that we could get out of this in terms of people watching the programme, consumers, is cheaper food in our supermarkets? 
  3. Right, let me turn to the big area of discussion in Britain recently, which has been transition arrangements with the EU as we prepare to leave the EU. You were talking yourself of these being weeks or months, and then suddenly you have fallen into line with the rest of the Cabinet and said no, a two-year transition period as the Chancellor wants would be completely acceptable. Is that the furthest ambition, I mean is it two years and not a day more or could it be three years? Could it be four years? What's your thinking? 
  4. 36 or 48? 
  5. So, any transition period, in your view, must end by the time of the next British general election? 
  6. So, it could be three more years in your view after the next election? The reason I'm pushing this point is that during that period, we could still be paying into the EU, we could still be under the ECJ, we could still be accepting, to all intents and purposes, being inside the single market rather than alongside it, and to a lot of people that would not feel like Brexit. And you know very well there are people around who want to use the transition period as a way of trying to subvert or avoid the Brexit decision itself.
  7. Looking at the last couple of weeks, particularly in the last week at Michel Barnier's body language and what he has said about our negotiating position, it seems to me that the politics are beginning to get in the way, as it were. Are you worried about the tone that's coming out of the EU? It does not sound friendly at all. 
  8. One of the things that EU negotiators say again and again and again, particularly in private, is that they are not sure who is actually in charge of the British government. Until we have settled the question of who is going to be Prime Minister throughout the period and into the next election, they find it very difficult to know how to negotiate. Is it not time for the Conservatives to think again about who your leader is going to be as we go through this process? 
The questioning here (to a pro-Brexit interviewee) was broadly pro-Brexit. Last week I noted that of the 57 questions/comments put across 7 interviews not one put a positive point about Brexit. The opening questions here did do that, and the sixth question raised concerns that many pro-Brexit people might share. So this provides counter-evidence to the findings of my survey last week. 

******

Questions to Jeremy Corbyn:
  1. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, believes he can become Prime Minister later this year. That depends, of course, on a Tory meltdown in Parliament. But what would it mean for the British economy and our negotiations to leave the European Union? He joins me now. You've got a reputation as a straight talker, clear answers. There was one issue on which you won't give a clear answer. When you're asked if you'd like to see us leave the single market, you can't tell us.
  2. But to be absolutely crystal clear, we leave the single European market because we leave the EU?
  3. So we have to leave the single market?
  4. OK, that's clear.
  5. Some of your colleagues have also made it clear that to get that we would have to accept some version of free movement of people once we've left the EU, a different free movement of people, but some kind of free movement of people. 
  6. Absolutely. So we're outside the EU but to get full access to the single market we accept that there's free movement of people from the EU coming to us and vice versa?
  7. Right, but you wouldn't be stopping people at the borders, asking for their visas? 
  8. So how do you stop that? Under your plan how do you stop that happening?
  9. To be absolutely clear, you don't stop people coming from Latvia or Poland who want to come and work here, you don't stop them at the airport or the border and say, 'Let's see your papers'?.
  10. Sorry, just going back to my original question, would you allow everybody who wanted to come here to come or stop them at ports and airports? 
  11. So if we don't need any more plumbers, you go home again? 
  12. But I'm still slightly unclear. If there was, for instance, some Polish plumbers and we decided we had enough plumbers in our country, would they be stopped and told that had to go home again or allowed in any way?
  13. Can I ask about the customs union because that is another big area? Is your current thinking that we could stay inside the customs union or we would have to leave the customs union entirely? 
  14. Coming back to the Rebecca Long-Bailey remark about having your cake and eating it, I mean there is a choice to be made about the customs union. Inside the customs union we'd have more access to European markets than outside it but if we don't leave it then we can't make these free trade deals with the rest of the world, so basically on which side of the fence do you jump? 
  15. A lot of people watching this are trying to work out whether Jeremy Corbyn is going to save them from Brexit and it sounds very much as if that's not your view. Can I ask about your deep view of the EU. You were brought up, as it were, under the influence of Tony Benn who always saw the EU as a kind of bankers' conspiracy, anti-democratic. He was fundamentally as a British parliamentarian against it. Are you? 
I really can't say that there was any anti-Brexit or pro-Brexit bias on display here. The questions were trying to clarify where Mr Corbyn stood on certain key points. 

Conclusions: Last week I wrote:
Andrew Marr didn't ask all of his questions from just one perspective and there is evidence here of some impartial, 'devil's advocate' questioning. But they were fairly rare moments, and...
(a) Most of the questioning did come from the anti-Brexit part of the political spectrum, despite all but one of the guests being a declared Remain voter, and there was a strong measure of consistency in the viewpoint from which the questions were put. 
(b) The impartial, 'devil's advocate' questioning from the pro-Brexit standpoint came across as halfhearted, perfunctory even, especially in comparison to the often detailed and pointed questions put from the anti-Brexit/pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint.
So, yes, I think overall that Andrew Marr did display a significant degree of bias against Brexit/a 'hard Brexit'.
This week, the evidence points the other way, thus balancing things out somewhat.

It would be good to think that more care was being paid because of last week's study here.

As ever, please feel free to disagree.

BBC journalists rush in...


Oh dear, how easily BBC types fall for fake news about Donald Trump! 

This is supposedly part of a transcript of a New York Times interview between President Trump and Maggie Haberman, and it's apparently 'gone viral' on Twitter:


I spotted it because Rob Burley, editor of The Andrew Marr Show, tweeted about it, advising us to consider it as a Trump quote worth reading - and the balloon stuff certainly sounded like something worth 'filing for future reference': A US president asking, "How does a balloon even stay in the air? Nobody knows". The snag is that it's fake. 

Rob has now deleted his tweet, given that he must have done exactly what I did and started Googling around only to find it wasn't true. For, yes, Donald Trump did not start talking about balloons at the Bastille Day parade (though he did call the parade 'super-duper'). It's a fake transcript. (The real transcript is here). 



Other BBC types weren't as sharp-eyed as Rob, however. BBC business reporter Joe Lynam rushed straight in there (where angels fear to tread):


Oh dear.

Well, everyone else has had their say, so...


Top talent

The BBC 'top talent' salary thing has provoked a right old rumpus. Everywhere I look people have been writing about it.

I haven't had the time to look into it very deeply myself, so I probably shouldn't say anything about it (and don't have much to say anyhow) - but, as this is a blog, that's not going to stop me!

So what's the scandal?

Is it the gender disparity thing?

Or is it that the salaries of men and women at the empire-building BBC are over-high, with overall pay rates 40% above commercial-sector pay for equivalent jobs?

Or maybe the real scandal is the fact that BBC salaries are funded by an over-coercive BBC licence fee - a situation which, astonishingly, found 184,595 people across the UK charged with non-payment of the TV Licence last year - 140,000 of whom were taken to court? And of those (Dame Jenni and Jane, please take note), 101,000 women were found guilty - around three-quarters of the total.

Notoriously, for many a year it's been reported that one in ten of all criminal prosecutions in magistrate courts in the UK concern alleged non-payment of the BBC licence fee. The lack of huge public outrage over that fact remains somewhat bewildering. As far of those prosecutions are concerned, there's obviously something deeply rotten in the state of the BBC.

(Maybe Panorama should investigate. Or John Sweeney on Newsnight.)

*******

Meanwhile (h/t David Keighley at News-watch), a voice curiously missing from the debate has been that of Sir David Clementi, who seems to have become 'The Invisible Man', despite previously having defending BBC stars' high pay. And even more curiously, I can't find anyone in the media (or elsewhere) who's even given him a single thought over the past few days. And he's the BBC Chairman. Quite remarkable.

Ah, but the Evening Standard reported that someone has thought about him after all. MPs are going to grill him and Lord Hall about BBC pay. So he's going to have to say something on the subject. And, it's to be hoped, about BBC bias too. Has he 'gone native' yet?

*******

Hmm. The BBC is advertising for a new managerial role - a Problem Manager. Seriously.


*******

More top talent

The Sunday Telegraph's main headline today is about revolting BBC women:


An open letter calling on the corporation to tackle gender disparity in BBC pay has been signed by the following:
Katya Adler, Samira Ahmed, Anita Anand, Wendy Austin, Zeinab Badawi, Clare Balding, Sue Barker, Emma Barnett, Fiona Bruce, Rachel Burden, Annabel Croft, Martine Croxal, Victoria Derbyshire, Katie Derham, Lyse Doucet, Jane Garvey, Karin Giannone, Fi Glover, Joanna Gosling, Carrie Gracie, Orla Guerin, Geeta Guru-Murthy, Lucy Hockings, Mishal Husain, Alex Jones, Katty Kay, Martha Kearney, Kirsty Lang, Gabby Logan, Annita McVeigh, Kasia Madera, Emily Maitlis, Louise Minchin, Aasmah Mir, Sarah Montague, Sally Nugent, Elaine Paige, Carolyn Quinn, Angela Rippon, Ritula Shah, Kate Silverton, Charlotte Smith, Sarah Smith, Kirsty Wark

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Wages of war

Charles Moore reportedly remarked that the revelations about excessive BBC salaries that were supposed to shame the BBC into curbing them have morphed into squabbles about the gender gap, and will inevitably have the opposite effect. (Levelled up.)

People carping about each other’s pay is a terrible bore. When it concerns riches beyond our wildest dreams, to quote the eminent philosopher Robbie Williams, it becomes part galling, part comical.

One such carpist is our friend Jeremy Bowen (£150,000 - 199,999)  who is not happy.

I hear he’d been tweeting about this so I had a quick look. His Twitter feed is 99% retweets by Our Man in the Middle East of tweets from fans of all shapes and sizes praising his series “Our Man in the Middle East” to high heaven.
People have been riveted. They’ve been bingeing on the podcast, which contains the whole 25 episodes back-to-back, and learning oh so much about the Middle East.

Somewhere in there one senses a whiff of virtue-signalling in relation to their ability to ‘love’ a serious subject, as opposed to, say, watching box sets of whatever the current box-set set are watching.  
It appears that Jeremy Bowen is now, kind of, the idiot’s version of a serious historian - in the Stephen Fry sense. 

In amongst the adulation, there was a request for advice about ‘what to read’,  as a starter if you like, about the Middle East. Our man’s recommendation was a book called “The Arabs” by Eugene Rogan. The title alone signals that the book might not be the epitome of objectivity, at least, on Israel. A little research backs up this suspicion, although a blogger  called “The Angry Arab” is quite critical of the depth of the author’s pedagogical familiarity with Islam. (Reservations on both sides so he must be doing something right (!) ) 

Casting wider - a review by Dr. Matthew Hughes of another of professor Rogan’s books “The War for Palestine” places Eugene Rogan firmly in the category of revisionist historian, which I suppose does little more than confirm my own bias.

Israel’s supporters generally see Jeremy Bowen’s commentaries on the Middle East as pedestrian and partisan.







I don’t know enough about the wider issues concerning the Arab/Islamic world to critique Jeremy Bowen’s essays on Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Iran or the Gulf states but on the particular subject that interests me I deeply regret that he is represented by the BBC as the ultimate authority on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He rarely has anything informative to say on Islam or the antisemitism that drives the conflict and keeps it alight.

I do understand why people find his delivery appealing and accessible. 

As we’ve said before, Jeremy Bowen and the BBC seem to think the history of the Middle East began in 1967. Now a whole new generation of ‘experts’ on the Middle East has been engendered and Jeremy Bowen will be in the running for a pay rise.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Something nasty in the woodpile

So talking of things you’re supposed to ‘know’ not to say,

“The term ‘nigger in the woodpile’ is not racist. It may have historical racist connotations and contain an unpleasant word, but it is not itself racist per se, unless the person using it means it to be. I have a woodpile next to my garage. If I saw a black person hiding there and said, appalled: ‘Look, there’s a nigger in the woodpile!’, that would be racist and deeply offensive.”

Back in the politically incorrect days of old, pet owners often named their beloved four-legged friend in a straightforwardly descriptive, if somewhat unimaginative way; for example a black animal might be named “Blackie”. Many a  brown dog went by the name “N-word”.
Did it cross our minds that this was pejorative or more racist than, say, Fido? Or Fenton?




To test out this argument properly I tried to think of a meaningful phrase containing the word ‘Kike’ to see if I would feel offended. I couldn’t think of anything analogous so I inserted the offending word into the woodpile instead of the N-word. It did sound pretty offensive, but without the etymology it was pointless, so I left it. But how are you supposed to decide anything if you cant even go ‘eeny meeny miny mo’? Remember! O U T spells ‘out’ and out you must go.

Brexit. The German view

I’ve been chatting to Germans. Not all Germans, obviously, but people who regard themselves as representative of the vast German middle class.  I was seriously taken aback by the way they regard Brexit. As you might expect, they take an almost diametrically opposite view to the view we are used to hearing here. A mirror image, if you like.
I think they accept what their media says, unquestioningly. They must trust their media more than we trust ours.

Their primary response to Brexit is….. a feeling of deep sadness. They insist they don’t want to punish us and they’re just sorrowful.

They say their ideological (pro EU) position trumps all concerns and worries over trade issues. In other words, even if they do ‘need us more than we need them’ trade-wise, they’ll happily suck it up for the sake of the Union. Unity within the EU reigns supreme, specially with Macron onside. If necessary we are all prepared to cut off our nose to spite our face.


As for the status of EU nationals living and working in the UK and UK nationals living and working in the EU, the German attitude might surprise anyone who had only been listening to the British media. 
Far from a question of EU intransigence, they believe Theresa May snubbed them with her mealy-mouthed proposal, having completely ignored their paper, which contained a very generous offer.
This EU paper, which predated ours, was hardly mentioned in our domestic media, although the Guardian had: 
“The EU’s offer was handed to May on 12 June after consultation with groups representing Britons in about a dozen countries. But it got little attention and was not publicised by Westminster, which was reeling from the surprise election result and then the Grenfell Tower disaster.

And the Guardian also set out the German position on this matter quite clearly here: 
“Theresa May’s proposal to protect the rights of EU citizens after Brexit is so poor, it will badly damage the rights of Britons living in Europe, campaign groups have told the European commission. 
In an official response to the EU Brexit negotiating team, British in Europe and the3million have said that if May’s proposal is adopted it would represent a “severe reduction of the current rights” enjoyed by Britons in Europe. 
Last week they expressed fears that Britons would be the “sacrifical lambs” in the Conservatives’ mission to reduce immigration.”

That’s exactly what they’re saying in Germany.

However, there are only 900,000 UK citizens and expats residing in the EU, while there are over 3million EU citizens in Britain, so one might think that either side rigidly insisting on ‘reciprocity’ shouldn’t be an insurmountable  issue.  If the EU wants to occupy the moral high ground, what’s to stop them from unilaterally granting Britons the rights they are asking for? The main thing Brits in the EU now want is certainty about their future. (Just as the Europeans residing here do.)

If any agreement necessitates using ‘humans as bargaining chips’ then the morality police in the Labour Party can’t really criticise the Conservative government for intransigence, nor should they be able to get away with badgering Theresa May to make a unilateral and unconditional offer of ‘everything’.

One topic about which I didn’t hear much discussion was... migrants. They played down “Cologne”, almost dismissing it as irrelevant, and insisted that Angela Merkel is clamping down hard, with a policy of zero tolerance. Migrants are compelled to go to language classes and obey German law or be deported.

They were as fond of those familiar ‘out of context’ soundbites as we are, though the thrust of the soundbites was a bit of a one-way street. In particular, Boris has incensed them with his ‘cake and eat it’  and his ‘go whistle’. These are things a politician is supposed to ‘know’ not to say.

Having said that, there is this controversial piece in the Spectator by Markus Krall "The EU will be the only loser if it plays games over Britain's departure"
‘This is not about punishing Great Britain,’ declared Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s interim foreign secretary, on his recent visit to London. I fell about laughing, because this is precisely what’s going on. It is as obvious to us Germans as it is to the Brits: the EU cannot tolerate the thought of a successful United Kingdom outside the Brussels sphere of influence because, if that were allowed to happen, others might dare to start thinking about leaving the club too.”

Is Mr Krall representative of anyone other than himself?  I don’t know. I only know how annoying it can be when some ‘self-hating’  individual is quoted to “prove” something that is patently false. 

And in the Times (£) this article about MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel:
“Hans-Olaf Henkel, deputy head of the European parliament’s industry, research and energy committee, warned other MEPs “not to listen” to Michel Barnier, who he said wanted to impose a bad Brexit deal on Britain.”

And this piece by Mr. Henkel about Euratom, the organisation through which Britain and Europe have co-operated on nuclear power and nuclear science, and this interview with Hans-Olaf Henkel on the Today Programme. 
“A German politician has accused the European Union’s chief negotiator of trying to punish Britain by making a deliberate “mess” of key elements of Brexit. Hans-Olaf Henkel is deputy chair of the European Parliament’s industry and research committee and Katya Adler is the BBC’s Europe editor.”

I’m quite happy to accept that these controversial views do not represent the mainstream German view, but what I found particularly interesting was that when Mr. Henkel had finished the BBC turned to Katya Adler for her interpretation of the interview, as they do.  She gave an accurate summary of the German attitude to Brexit (as understood and described above.) Then she did something quite unusual. She put Mr. Henkel into context, more or less advising us not to take his views too seriously.

(Oh for a BBC employee to do that when we’re being subjected to the views of someone who has been introduced as an expert on the Middle East, but who is in fact an antisemitic, anti-Israel activist.)

She reminded us about who Hans Olaf Henkel  is.

Nick Robinson (£250,000 - £299,999):
"Katya, it’s rare to hear this sort of criticism from a European politician of EU negotiators" 
Katya Adler:  (?)
“That is right. Um We have to have a look at who Hans Olaf Henkel is. I mean I think when it comes to Euratom it’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t agree some solution must be found  to keep the UK at least a close associate member of Euratom for the reasons Mr Henkel outlined, but if we take a wider look at Brexit and the negotiators, I mean Mr Henkel is German, most Germans are devastated about Brexit. We’ve heard from the German finance minister who said the door is always open if the UK changes its mind - the Germans meant, I mean if you look at the trade that we do with the EU, a big chunk of it is with Germany and on a wider level the UK and Germany were traditionally very aligned in EU circles and Germans don’t want the British to go; off the record, many said ‘You’re gonna leave us with the French - please don’t go” but as far as criticising Mr. Barnier for example, Hans-Olaf Henkel is formerly of the Eurosceptic AfD party, not typical, I mean his often negative view of things European."

 Nick Robinson (£250,000 - £299,999)
Katya we’ve got to leave it there."

Gender fluidity within British Gas

I’ve only been away for a couple of weeks (it seems like years) but this seemed odd to me. 
Am I the only one who didn’t know that British Gas now uses gender non-specific pronouns? 
I received an email about an appointment. 

“Our engineer will call” it said. “They’ll be coming on…” Perhaps there was to be a team of engineers? 
But no. It was just one guy by the name of David. (I assumed he was a he, which he was  they were.

The appeal of Chris Evans eludes me

What about those BBC salaries? We should ask Phillip Hammond if he thinks any of the BBC’s brightest stars are overpaid. 

Harriet Harperson wondered “What can they possibly do with all that money? (I wondered that too)
The main take-home point from the ‘market value’ argument is the presumption that all these star performers can simply be bought. 

I can understand, say, Robert Peston being lured away from the BBC by ITV’s offer of ‘his own show’, but the thought of, say, Gary Lineker being so mercenary and dissatisfied with all that dosh, (besides the fee Walker’s must pay him) that he’d ditch the BBC for a higher offer seems truly bizarre. Especially now that he’s so sanctimonious.

Beth Rigby was good on Sky. She was first off the blocks with the topic.

I have to say that the appeal of Chris Evans eludes me and gender equality and diversity wrt the BBC bores me to death.

John Simpson loses his cool (again) on Twitter


As you'll know, the BBC has published the salaries of its highest-earning stars today. The BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson, one of those stars (£150,000 – £199,999 pa), is handling the matter with all his usual sangfroid - and that strict adherence to the concept of BBC impartiality that's become such a hallmark of his time on Twitter:


A lot of Twitter discussion took place as a result, this exchange being the most striking - as Mr. Simpson reacts with grace, good humour and a total lack of pomposity to a certain Kirstie:
John Simpson: Why does the govt actively seek to damage the BBC, one of the few things the world admires about the UK at present, with this pointlessness?
Kirstie: Nothing admirable about the biased news reporting on the BBC
John Simpson: Sorry Kirstie, but I always block people who can't stay polite. Bye.
Peter Ryan‏: What was unpolite about what Kristin [sic] said?
Craig Millar‏: I think she was polite John, unless you took it as a personal jibe.
John Simpson‏:  My colleagues & I do our damnedest to be honest & straight. Isn't it a bit rude to accuse us sweepingly of betraying our basic principles?
Graham Matthews‏: Not if it is true.
Sophie Petzal‏: It isn't true. Balance isn't always nice, and often feels like criticism. The fact many on the right and left cry 'bias' shows it's not.
Graham Matthews‏: You think the BBC balanced in its coverage of Trump?  When @KattyKayBBC sits on MSNBC attacking him every day?
Kate Edmonds‏: I don't hear attack, I hear reporting. The fact that he comes across badly is entirely down to Trump........
Update:

Monday, 17 July 2017

A Comedy of Errors


BBC Watch has an absorbing piece on the BBC News website's reporting (or misreporting) of Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Paris, and the evolution of one article in particular. 

The BBC was evidently copying and pasting from the AFP news agency but still managed to misspell the name it was copying, putting "Elie Barnav, a former French ambassador to Israel" when it should have been "Elie Barnavi, a former French ambassador to Israel". 

And the "former French ambassador to Israel" bit was wrong too. AFP's original French copy had it right, but their English translation got it wrong and the BBC simply copied that incorrect English translation. Mr Barnavi is actually "a former Israeli ambassador to France".

BBC Watch contacted the BBC website and got them to make this and other corrections, which the BBC then did without adding any footnotes to acknowledge the errors in the earlier versions of the report. 

And then, in the final version, the BBC removed all the passages which had caused them such problems earlier.

Oh, the pitfalls of churnalism!