Thursday, 23 November 2017

Open Thread (now with image)

Thank you.

An Independent view of 'Newsnight'

What with (a) incorrectly captioning footage of King Felipe VI of Spain with the name of his father Juan Carlos, and then (b) getting the year of the Queen and Prince Philip's marriage date wrong by ten years, and then (c) with Emily Maitlis mistakenly conferring a generalship on Emmerson Mnangagwe of Zimbabwe, and now (d) the programme wrongly using a clip of Jeremy Corbyn responding to this year’s Spring Budget instead of Wednesday's Autumn Budget, Newsnight has certainly had its fair share of foot-in-mouth incidents over the past few weeks. 

And now, to make matters worse (for them), the Independent's media guru Ian Burrell has gone and applied a friendly boot to the programme's abdomen in a piece suggesting that, for all its virtues, it's no longer "a must watch" and that it looks to be at severe risk after its two main champions - Ian Katz and James Harding - announced that they were heading for the hills.  

I did smile at Ian Burrell saying that Newsnight "can feel like a less punchy version of Channel 4 News, which shares its London liberal outlook and beats it in awards ceremonies and viewers". Even Ian Burrell of the Independent acknowledges that Newsnight has a "London liberal outlook". 

Of course, Newsnight still has its defenders (and I think me and Rob will have to agree to disagree on this one): 

Truthy McTruthface?

The scene that captured the public's attention above all this week was the moving scene with the pilot whales and the dead calf. Here's David Attenborough's script for the segment:
Surviving in the open ocean has always tested animals to the limit, but today they face a new additional threat: Plastic. Just over 100 years ago, we invented a wonderful new material that could be moulded into all kinds of shapes and we took great trouble to ensure that it was hard-wearing, rot-proof and virtually indestructible. Now, every year, we dump around eight million tonnes of it into the sea. Here, it entangles and drowns vast numbers of marine creatures. But it may have even more widespread and far-reaching consequences. A pod of short-finned pilot whales. They live together in what are, perhaps, the most closely knit of families in the whole ocean. Today, in the Atlantic waters off Europe, as elsewhere, they have to share the ocean with plastic. A mother is holding her newborn young. It's dead. She is reluctant to let it go and has been carrying it around for many days. In top predators like these, industrial chemicals can build up to lethal levels, and plastic could be part of the problem. As plastic breaks down, it combines with these other pollutants that are consumed by vast numbers of marine creatures. It's possible her calf may have been poisoned by her own contaminated milk. Pilot whales have big brains. They can certainly experience emotions. Judging from the behaviour of the adults, the loss of the infant has affected the entire family. Unless the flow of plastics and industrial pollution into the world's oceans is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come. The creatures that live in the big blue are perhaps more remote than any animals on the planet. But not remote enough, it seems, to escape the effects of what we are doing to their world.
The Times reports that the BBC has been accused of "not making clear that it had no evidence linking the calf’s death to plastic" despite having made the dead calf "the main focus of a section of the documentary devoted to marine plastic pollution". 

Worse, the BBC's main 'defence witness' has spoken out on behalf of 'the prosecution': 
The BBC admitted yesterday that it did not know how the calf had died. It claimed the link to plastic waste had been endorsed by Paul Jepson, a vet specialising in whales at the Zoological Society of London who advised the Blue Planet II team. Dr Jepson told The Times that no samples were taken from the dead calf. He said it could have died from a natural cause or chemical pollutants could have been a factor.
Now it's certainly fair to note that in that large chunk of prose quote above you will find the words "It's possible", whereby the BBC added a two-word note of caution and, thus, gains itself a little scientific respectability...

...but... many viewers would have taken them on board having heard the long plastic-focused commentary which surrounded them, spoken in earnest tones by the mighty Sir David Attenborough no less? And especially whilst in the middle of watching something so moving for several minutes (with its emotionally-charged orchestral and choral background music)?

The comments below the Times piece are fascinating. They broadly divide into two camps. The first accuses the BBC of fakery. The second says, yes, it may be fakery but it's fakery in a very good cause - i.e. it's a necessary white lie to promote an urgent message about the damage we're doing to ocean life with our plastic waste. 

I'm all on board with the plastics campaign, but this kind of slipperiness with the truth still makes me feel uneasy. I'm not an 'ends justify the means' man when it comes to such things.

Update: There's more on this at The ConversationIt’s great that Blue Planet II is pushing hard on plastic pollution in the oceans – but please use facts, not conjecture. The professor there (who first raised the alarm about the programme) also regrets the BBC's recourse to "fakery". 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The New Denial

Regular readers of ITBB will have read Douglas Murray’s piece in the Spectator “Beware the modern-day heretic hunters”, and very likely they will also have read Sarah AB’s post on H.P. and viewed the video and listened to the secretly recorded audio from “that interview” . 

This is about the latest kind of denial.  Gender-denial, as espoused by a Canadian uni  professor, described by one viewer of the YouTube video as a “bald something-year-old Canadian (who) sounds like a 19-year old girl from California”. 

Gender denial is an extreme interpretation of the non-binary, non-gender-specific politically correct pronoun-related dictum. Thou shalt not offend the trans. 

Following this dictum to its (il)logical conclusion requires total deconstruction of the conventional structure of language. It requires you to use the plural for the singular, as in 'they / their' instead of the potentially offensive 'he / she' or 'his / hers'.

It also threatens all those languages that ‘gender define’ inanimate objects.  No more 'le' and 'la', no more gender specific word endings. Come to think of it - life could be a lot easier. No more need for non essential ante-natal scans, for a start. Is it a boy or a girl? Who cares. It’s a they. And feminism, poof! All gone. No more gender quotas. No more all-wimmin shortlists. Bye now, all you socially constrictive constructs that are put there to trip people up.

Do listen to the video and the audio if you’ve got a spare hour or three. 
I might have mentioned this before, but some of our oldest, most established utility companies have already transitioned by stealth from relative sanity to gender-fluid pronoun madness. “Your engineer Neil is on their way”. 

May I just say that the clip from Canada’s “The Agenda with Steve Palkin” above is utterly bonkers. 

To a Brit like yours truly Canadians speak like Americans, apart from the pronunciation of “ou” as “oo”. Everything’s fine  until “about” suddenly becomes “aboot". Then you get the giggles, which interferes with the gravity of the debate and lends a slightly hysterical aspect to it.

Professor Jordan Peterson, who has been cruelly labelled ‘alt-right’ by the new order, seems to be the only sane person present, but he undermines the purity of his eloquence a teeny bit by the nuclear-level fury that he is obviously struggling to keep a lid on. (And who wouldn’t be?)

The only other contributor who had some sensible observations to make, a convincing-looking trans,  (man-to-lady) all but obliterated her argument with seductive eyelash flutterings and a very distracting palette of simpering, sexually-suggestive lip-pursing gymnastics. 

The rest of the debate was almost other-worldly, I thought. 

However there is a side, vis-a-vis no-platforming, that needs to be taken very seriously. One way of approaching this question is to cite prime examples of candidates that deserve, indisputably, to be no-platformed, and discuss.  Bringing up topics (or people) that are deemed beyond the pale - Hitler being the most obvious one - immediately shows that it all boils down to a matter of opinion. One man’s terrorist etc etc.
We didn’t like it much when the Labour Party fringe debated “The Holocaust, yes or no”? It seemed utterly offensive and beyond the pale.
Would anyone bother getting worked up about a debate called “Flat Earth, yes or no?”
No, because they’d be confident of a reasonable outcome for the simple reason that the foolishness therein would speak for itself. 
But these days, we can’t rely on any such thing.

One little thing that surprised me was that the BBC actually reported the undercover recording incident etc. on their 'US and Canada' page.  (It has now been displaced.) I didn't expect to find anything, but...
“A Canadian university is being accused of stifling free speech after it scolded a teaching assistant for airing a debate on gender-neutral pronouns.
Wilfrid Laurier University chastised Lindsay Shepherd for showing her class a televised debate featuring Jordan Peterson, a transgender-rights critic.
Mr Peterson has gained fame online with the alt-right for slamming "PC culture" and the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
Many in academia have rallied behind Ms Shepherd and criticised the school.”

....I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, as the BBC is ideologically pro trans. The report is brief but fairly accurate, apart from the dodgy bit about the 'alt-right'. (Should the BBC use such elastic terms without including the customary scare quotes ?)  Interestingly, it refers to her as "Ms Shepherd" throughout. 

What did surprise me was Sarah AB’s rather pompous criticism of Douglas Murray. I thought he was spot on.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Andrew Marr Show (featuring Rob Burley) - a Percy Grainger-style Ramble


As you know, there's nothing I love more on a Sunday...
...even more than my family and friends, Sunday dinner, not being at work, getting a lie-in, cats, Countryfile'Wine, Women and Song', Rod Liddle's Sunday Times column, Bells on Sundayand (above all) it not being Monday...
...than reading The Andrew Marr Show editor Rob Burley's Twitter exchanges with his viewing public. 

I'd like to do a Rufus Norris and turn them into a National Theatre play. (I'd supply the rhymes though, not Carol Ann Duffy).

Now there's no doubt that Rob is very loyal to the BBC and, yes, he can leave the odd tricky question hanging in the air which deserves an answer (such as this one, regarding a dodgy but allegedly explosive IPSOS Mori poll), but, to his continuing great credit, he does engage at length with many of his critics and tries to meet their criticisms - as befits the fact that he's also the editor of Samira Ahmed's Newswatch - and he does so with no little panache and plenty of good humour.

(And I know that some of you get as much of a laugh out of reading his Adam West-era Batman Zap! Pow! Bam! exchanges as I do.)

Reading his exchanges today, however, has been almost as wearying for me as it must have been for him. He's been at it for hours, batting off ridiculous criticism after ridiculous criticism.

They've been off the scale, craziness-wise. I've actually found myself seriously sympathising with a BBC editor. (Shock! Horror!). He's faced an avalanche topped with a tsunami topped with an iced cherry of beyond-belief-crazy complaints.

And his crazy exchanges have given me pause for thought on several fronts. 

I recently pledged to feature fools from 'my own side' in posts like this but the curious thing about Rob's 'feedback from the Twitter public' today was just how one-sided the criticism was. I wanted to, but I couldn't find any examples from 'my own side' to shame. The lazy beggars just haven't bothered.

I really couldn't find such examples. (I saw a comment on a blog elsewhere but that was the exception that, for me, proved the rule, and it was so tepid that it wasn't even worth shaming).

And I'm not special pleading here. Pretty much every criticism today came from the Left - or more accurately (from my researches) the far-Left (not that they'll see themselves as such). 

Where has the Right gone in its criticisms of The Andrew Marr Show? In my early blogging days, it was almost always the Right who slammed the programme but, nowadays, I see only a very few right-wing regulars each week on Twitter - less than a handful - criticising the programme (although, to do them credit, they do usually put a lot of effort into their criticism). And even other blogs of this stripe (so to speak) barely bother to drill into the Marr show's output anymore - and haven't done so for years.

Yes, newspapers (like the Sun) might occasionally fire a misguided missile in the programme's direction, but it's the far-lefties who are mainly leading the charge these days. 

What does this mean? And given that it's 'only Twitter', does it actually mean anything much? 

Well, it could mean, as the left-wing horde on Twitter argue so very vociferously, that The Andrew Marr Show is now a 'Tory' programme, and that Andrew Marr is 'a Tory'.

(Peter Hitchens, incidentally, entered into that very debate today:


The very curious thing about this though is that I heard Andrew's introduction this morning....
Good morning. It's Budget week. Crucial choices for the Chancellor, the government and the Tory party. We used to agonise about the level of public debt. Well it hasn't gone away - 88% of GDP, compared to, for instance, around 50% when Denis Healey went cap in hand to the IMF in 1976. We are up to our eyes in debt. And so the extra spending demanded by so much of the country - for welfare, pay, health, you name it - can only come from two places: higher taxes paid by you or yet more debt piled on debt. The Chancellor joins us this morning. But who is he? Is he "Spreadsheet Phil" or "Handout Hammond"? And his opposite number, Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, is demanding an emergency budget for Britain. But has this man ever seen a spending commitment he doesn't like? 
...and thought, "That's quite a right-wing statement (except for the apologia for Denis Healey!)". And I did think that John McDonnell got a tougher ride than Philip Hammond - more interruptions, more snarky remarks ("It sounds a bit like a magic card trick this"), etc. 

But it was Andrew Marr who picked up on Mr Hammond's "There are no unemployed people" 'misspeak': 

And the BBC quickly made a headline story out of that:

And I've noted plenty of occasions when Andrew Marr has gone after Tories much more than their Labour equivalents.

And didn't Tory-Trot Andy also say this?
But there is a real sense of cutting edge on the Labour side now, a real sense that the Conservatives are in their last days. The sense of self-confidence I suppose from McDonnell and Corbyn has been much stronger since the election than for a long time.  
This could mean that The Andrew Marr Show is genuinely - as BBC editors on Newswatch would put it - 'getting it about right'.

And, yes, I believe they certainly are getting it about right on their guest selection (and will produce figures to prove it if you really, really insist), and, yes, I think that Andrew Marr is much, much more conscious of the need to appear balanced than he used to be back in my intense monitoring days of 2009-10 when I found him so wanting.

So is that why Righties are so marginal to criticism of the show today? Because, being fair-minded (fingers crossed), they no longer see it as a big problem (even though they may instinctively still dislike it)?

Now, of course, being 'marginal' doesn't necessarily mean 'wrong', and we've featured criticism of The Andrew Marr Show over the years (despite being far less ideologically right-wing than some of you think we are).

Could this be 'complaints from both sides' territory then?

Not necessarily, of course. One side's complaints could be grounded in truth; the others in complete nonsense. And these complaints from 'the other side' today have been groundless (considered over time especially) and, often, frankly semi-unhinged (no offence!). Plus, as I said earlier, those criticisms have very largely come from the far-Left - people who may be particularly ideologically-minded. 

Another funny thing that struck me (in the non-amusing sense of 'funny'), however, is that the way that the Left complain about BBC bias these days is often uncannily similar to the way the Right used to complain about BBC bias.

Change a few names and details around and they could be exactly the same people complaining. It's quite uncanny at times - and it's something fiery partisans from either side are very unlikely to notice. 

As someone who's read and written blogs about BBC bias for nearly a decade I know the language and thought-processes backwards, especially as one who shares them at times, so - stepping back - I've been staggered at the closeness of language and thought-process between parts of the Right and parts of the Left when it comes to attacking the BBC over bias - especially the conspiracy theories about the BBC being in the pockets of the Tories or Labour (to taste), or (at least) acting in their respective opposing party's interests. 

Again, that doesn't necessarily mean that the BBC isn't in conspiratorial cahoots with either of the big UK parties. It just means that one conspiracy theory at least must be wrong.

And none of that precludes the possibility that, due to the BBC's selection process, BBC employees might be much more likely to vote one way than the other (a very real possibility in my view), or that they are (unconsciously or semi-consciously) engaged in a groupthink willing-to-power of one of the big parties.

Another thought: The fact that I'm being nice to The Andrew Marr Show here will no doubt (if they ever notice it) be used by the far-Left as evidence that the programme is indeed biased towards the Right. 

That's the world we live in. That world's motto?: 'You can never be considered fair-minded in this world unless you reinforce our worldview'.

In that spirit, let me state that I find The Andrew Marr Show these days to be free of egregious bias. I think both Rob Burley and Andrew Marr are genuinely trying to be impartial. And I approve this message.


And for those longing for a bit of Rob B action on Twitter, here are some of the latest gems:

Mark Phillips: Contrast the interview techniques. @johnmcdonnellMP speaks and #Marr butts in relentlessly but hammond vomits compulsive lies and he gets free rein to spout drivel. Tory loving bbc showing true colours again
Rob Burley: Codswallop
Mark Phillips: Don't like the truth do you, tory boy in denial.
Mark Phillips: Lest we forget this little gem from our 'genius Chancellor'. 1.4million must be figment of our imagination then...
Rob Burley: As pointed out by, err, Andrew Marr.
Peter Martin: To err Is Andrew, to forget divine
Mark Phillips: For all of err, two seconds right at the end. When it could have been centrepiece of whole interview
Rob Burley: It couldn't be the centrepiece because we didn't know he was going to say it Mark.
Mark Phillips: He could've laboured the point and made some capital out of this but #marr ignored it
Rob Burley: No he returned to it Mark. How can he both refer to it, mention the 1.4m AND "ignore" it?

Ken Chisholm: Happiness breaking out all over says #Marr What planet is he on? #marrshow 

Patricia Ann Innes: #Marr aggressively interviewed John McDonnell, pressing for exact figures but he’s pussyfooting round Philip Hammond letting him espouse the usual Tory lies about unemployment etc
Rob Burley: I think this is how you perceive it because you like McDonnell more than Hammond.

T!: Watching #marr and it looks like Hammond knew all the questions he was going to be asked. Your state-owned broadcaster at work.
Rob Burley: T! Has a conspiracy theory for you all . .p.s it's b******* . . .
Phil Allan: If it had been Nicola on there, she'd have been bushwhacked with tricksy, sly "unscripted" questions designed to undermine the Nat cause of course. The sooner we have RT as our main source of news the better.
Rob Burley: You ok Phil?

Owen Jones: Just the Chancellor of the Exchequer there, erasing 1.4 million unemployed people out of existence, no biggie.
Williamos: I was willing #Marr to say 'yeah but record amounts of in-work poverty', lol like f^uck he would say that
Rob Burley: lol you missed when he said there is a problem with low paid jobs and wage stagnation
Williamos?: In an entirely different part of the interview.  I was talking about in context of the employment figures, consciously allowing Hammond to crow on about record job creation unchallenged when in work poverty is so high is typically #Marr i'm afraid
Rob Burley: But he talked about the quality of jobs and wages Williamos6, he just factually did!
Williamos: and anyone with a brain could see that Marr was instructed via ear-piece to pick up Hammond on his claim of no unemployment, otherwise he would have called him out straight away as opposed to ten minutes later
Rob Burley: Thank God we have you there to reveal the process. Think Andrew couldn't quite believe he'd said it, "instructed" is an odd choice of word but maybe says something about your position on the world. Presenters have earpieces yep.
Williamos: Come off it, 'couldn't quite believe he'd said it' more like hoped to let it slide until someone said 'hey andrew you better mention that outrageous claim that there's no unemployment,  otherwise you know,  twitter might just go nuts about pro-tory bias in the BBC.
Rob Burley: "Hoped to let it slide" - crazy conspiracist nonsense. Where are you on the moon landings?
Williamos: as i'm a rationalist i know we landed on the moon, they left retro-reflectors on it, any one with the equipment can detect photons coming back if you fire lasers at the moon. Empirical proof. Harder to get that with BBC as they can claim bias is purely in the eye of the beholder
Rob Burley: It's not that you think we were biased that I am complaining about. That's your opinion. It's the insinuations that we have an agenda - wanting to let the unemployment comment slide (despite bringing it up again) etc. that is a conspiracy theory.
Williamos: I'm sorry but I believe the BBC has an agenda to make the Corbyn govt look as bad as poss. Take the BBC running on the Six the fact that Corbyn needed to use his i-pad to look up a figure and every 30 mins bulletin on r4 when no mention of the fact Hammond had got the price of 1)
Rob Burley: Corbyn isn't in government.
Williamos: haha had a feeling you might pick me up on that, semantics dear boy, you know exactly what I mean
Rob Burley: Sorry. 

Controversialink‏: Sp where do you get your stats about there’s over welming happiness in the Uk From? Your mates in the Tories, The Westminster bar, Or Maybe the mushrooms that grow around the Tory Magic Money Tree
Controversialink‏: Thanks Rob That says it all
Rob Burley: Glad to be of service.

etc, etc.

My Country: a Work in Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You tell her, Rabbie!

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

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

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

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

Its theme? The awfulness of partisanship. 

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

Yes really. 

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The less moderate candidate

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

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

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

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

BBC transparency (or the lack of it)

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

It's a fair comment to make

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

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

Friday, 17 November 2017

On Radio 4 Comedy

Sioned Wiliam

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

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

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

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

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

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

Here's part of the script:

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

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

Roger BoltonDo you think Sue has a point?

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

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

And on it went, and....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not one. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The very picture of smug Radio 4 comedy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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