Saturday, 29 December 2012

BBC Correspondents Look Back Again...In Embarrassment

Just an update on a previous post, BBC Correspondents Look Back...In Embarrassment....

Last night saw the broadcast of this years BBC Correspondents Look Ahead, again presented by Owen Bennett Jones. Mark Mardell, Lyse Doucet and James Robbins returned to face the music over last year's many, many awry predictions and to lay out their predictions for 2012. Sadly Paul Mason, whose prognostications were in a league of awryness all of his own, was a no-show (being replaced by Stephanie Flanders). Was he otherwise engaged, or just too embarrassed?

The programme didn't entirely avoid airbrushing some of the wrong predictions from last time but, all in all, they did an admirable job in 'fessing up. James conceded he'd had a below-average year and Mark was made to squirm over some of his predictions - gales of laughter surrounding his off-target man-to-watch from last year!

I was intrigued to hear Owen say, "A rather unkind blogger put up a comment the other day saying we don't need any wild predictions on this programme because all the predictions are badly off-the-mark so it's not a necessary category" - which, I believe, is a free paraphrase of a crack of mine from that post. 

I was also intrigued to hear Owen say, "I hope you enjoyed listening to that and agreed with some of it and kept notes or digital records so that everyone can be held to account." 

I will be doing precisely that. 

Rather disappointingly, however, this year's predictions seem to have been made in a much greater spirit of caution, with a greater number of safe bets being made. There were few examples of the correspondents really going out on a limb this time. Surely reading my hatchet-job on their last set of predictions hasn't spooked them into playing safe?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Whose Bias Is It Anyway?

Is this an example of bias, or am I guilty of confirmation bias here? As they say on all the best entertainment shows, 'You decide!':

When I used to blog about Radio 4's Broadcasting House I would point out some of presenter Paddy O'Connell's little biases (as I saw them), including the way his obvious love for the N.H.S. would seep into some of his BBC work. Here's an example:
Sunday, 29 November 2009

Broadcasting House today was not without its laughs and presenter Paddy O'Connell was mostly on fine form - and it read out in full Shelley's wonderful Oxymandias. It was not beyond criticism however. (Sorry Paddy, I may be feeling benign today, but there are limits!).

During his benign interview with Labour health minister Mike O'Brien, in the wake of Dr Foster's report on poor hospital standards, Paddy intervened to proclaim the glory of our beloved National Health Service (may it live forever): "Absolutely. And let me go further than you have. Millions of treatments are carried out with great skill, professionalism, and people are very happy. And our listener will want us to say that." Another ritual proclamation of love for the divinely-inspired NHS. The NHS may do great things, and I have experienced a few of them, but I've also recently heard a few horror stories from my friends in recent weeks that suggest that rank incompetence and rudeness are surprisingly common within the organisation and causing considerable distress. So Paddy, don't presume to speak for your listener.
Paddy's love for our national health service manifests itself from time to time on Twitter too:

From Jan 2012:
Dear NHS thank you for fabulous care and star nurses for a very old man at William Harvey Hospital Ashford

From Sept 2011:
After years of surgery, chemo, surgery and chemo, a friend is now cancer-free! Thank you nhs 

The news today about the appalling abuse of patients at an NHS hospital in Worcestershire is the latest story to show the other, worrying side of the NHS - the side they didn't show during the Olympic Opening Ceremony. 

Since writing the post above (three years ago), I seem to have been hearing story after story of rude, cold, neglectful or less-than-competent-sounding NHS treatment from relatives, friends and colleagues at work, some of them (or some of their nearest and dearest) facing serious illnesses. Not one of those people has (as far as I'm aware) complained officially about their or their loved one's treatment at the hands of NHS staff, so they won't be showing up on any official NHS figures.

How typical is this? My local NHS trust has been in the news over the last couple of years for some serious lapses in its quality of service, so this may be partly region-specific. (My "region-specific"!) Still, it is surely a concern. 

Having heard the story on Radio 4's 8 o'clock news bulletin, it crossed my mind that Paddy O'Connell might try to smooth the story over if he covered it (an hour or so later) on Broadcasting House. It crossed my mind because I knew that I would be listening to Broadcasting House today and because I have long been of the opinion that Paddy (charming as he is) is just the sort of impartial BBC presenter who allows his biases to influence how he does his job as a BBC presenter.

That's a bias of mine. It means I think things like that when I should, perhaps, be thinking more about the story itself. That troubles me. 

Every report I've seen about the Worcestershire NHS trust story (from the Guardian to the BBC News website) mentions the acronym "NHS" in its coverage of events at the Worcestershire Acute NHS Hospital Trust. Not once - from the introduction through to the programme's paper review take on the story - did Paddy O'Connell say "NHS" as he covered it (deliberately?)....that is until Paddy's three paper reviewers offered their own, occasionally painful experiences of under-par NHS hospital treatment, mingling them with more positive takes. Given the negative turn of the conversation as it proceeded, Paddy then intervened to pick up on one of those more positive takes:
"Is it possible that what we heard from Brian, both can be true. You can have people who believe that the NHS has saved their life, has been fabulous with very caring nurses and you can have stories of abuse - exceptions! It's possible in something this large for both to be true at the same time, I imagine."
Quite true, though how exceptional are those "exceptions"? Note also that Paddy's language in describing what those who are grateful to the NHS closely matches his own. 

So, is this BBC bias? Or blogger bias? Please take a listen and decide for yourselves if Paddy was sticking up for the NHS, and sticking up for it for reasons of personal bias, or if I really, really, really need to stop myself from interpreting everything in terms of BBC bias.

P.S. Talking of confirmation bias, here (hot off the presses) is a truly confirmation bias-soaked comment from Biased BBC on the subject:

Note the bBBC’s none-too-subtle attempt to link the present Health Secretary to the failings of Worcestershire NHS under the Labour government. Compare and contrast the first line of the reports:
bBBC ( Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he is “disgusted and appalled” at accounts of patient neglect at a hospital in Worcestershire.
ITV News ( A hospital trust will apologise to the families of 38 people who suffered what human rights lawyers have called “appalling” failures of care, following successful legal action.
Even the Grauniad ( didn’t stoop as low as the bBBC: A hospital trust will apologise to the families of 38 people who suffered what human rights lawyers have called “appalling” failures of care, following successful legal action.

So "Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he is “disgusted and appalled” at accounts of patient neglect at a hospital in Worcestershire" is a "bBBC" attempt to smear a minister in the Conservative-led coalition government? Only on Planet Confirmation Bias!

The Tabloid Reporter Delusion

As it (almost) says on the tin...

Is the BBC biased?

...and other media-related matters
Everyone loves a piece about Richard Dawkins. Some newspapers love to wind their readers up with regular Richard Dawkins stories. Threads then fill up with massed regiments of anti-Dawkins and pro-Dawkins commenters, insulting all and sundry and generally having a high old time. Everyone's a winner with a Richard Dawkins piece. So, here's a post about Richard Dawkins. (You know you want one!)

Back in 2006, the aforementioned Richard Dawkins (have I mentioned him yet?) published his famous polemical book about religion, The God Delusion. In Chapter 9, he recalled a Q&A session after a lecture he had given in Dublin where he was asked by a member of the audience for his thoughts on the Catholic priestly sex abuse scandal in Ireland: 
I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience (composed, admittedly, of Dublin intellectuals and presumably not representative of the country at large).
As you can see, Richard was hardly unaware even as he wrote that chapter that he had engaged in a little spur-of-the-moment hyperbole - the sort of thing that can lead him very easily into being misrepresented, quoted out of context and then being forced to defend himself against those misrepresentations years later.

He continued (in The God Delusion) by quoting a letter he had received from an American woman, brought up as a Catholic - a letter that had rekindled his memories of that Q&A session in the Irish Republic. As a seven-year old girl a schoolfriend of the woman had died in tragic circumstances. Because the girl was a Protestant, she believed (because of her Catholic upbringing) that her little friend had gone to Hell. At the same time she was also abused by her parish priest in a car. Richard Dawkins quotes from the letter she wrote to him:
"Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares."
What lessons did Richard draw from this?
Admittedly, the sexual fondling she suffered in the priest’s car was relatively mild compared with, say, the pain and disgust of a sodomized altar boy. And nowadays the Catholic Church is said not to make so much of hell as it once did. But the example shows that it is at least possible for psychological abuse of children to outclass physical....I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.
A thought-provoking argument, that can be generalised. Is it, for example, also appropriate to describe as 'child abuse' the inculcation of Palestinian children to hate Israeli children and to believe that killing them is a religiously-sanctioned and morally right thing to do? Is it 'child abuse' to dress them in Hamas terrorist uniforms and give them toy rocket launchers and guns and, thus, encourage them to idolise terrorists? Is it 'child abuse' to put those children in harm's way during a conflict, using them as human shields or propaganda weapons whenever they are accidentally killed or injured? Is it 'child abuse' to tell them that suicide bombing is martyrdom and will ensure them a place in Heaven? Is it 'child abuse' for Islamic scholars, preachers, politicians and media outlets to push these messages into the ears of their children, again and again and again?

The extracts from The God Delusion were been raised by Mehdi Hasan during an interview with Richard Dawkins, held at the Oxford Union and broadcast last night on Al Jazeera. If you can face 45 minutes of Mehdi Hasan, it's well worth a watch. Again, the audience is generally receptive to Richard's defence of those comments on Catholic child abuse.

Now, I have to say that even though I - and presumably you - can see what Richard is getting it, he doesn't exactly help himself with the way he puts things sometimes. Mischievous people can very easily quote you out of context and put the blackest interpretation on what you have said....


'Being raised Catholic is worse than child abuse': Latest incendiary claim made by atheist professor Richard Dawkins
By Daniel Martin |

  • Incendiary: Richard Dawkins

Incendiary: Richard Dawkins

Raising your children as Roman Catholics is worse than child abuse, according to militant atheist Richard Dawkins.In typically incendiary style, Professor Dawkins said the mental torment inflicted by the religion’s teachings is worse in the long-term than any sexual abuse carried out by priests.He said he had been told by a woman that while being abused by a priest was a ‘yucky’ experience, being told as a child that a Protestant friend who died would ‘roast in Hell’ was more distressing.Last night politicians and charities condemned the former Oxford professor’s views as attention-seeking and unhelpful.
If anything's "incendiary" here, it's this Daily Mail article. Please put protective gloves and a gas mask on before reading it! 

Can you see what the Daily Mail reporter did there? He .. quoted .. Richard .. Dawkins .. out .. of .. context. Hard to believe of a tabloid journalist, I know, but there you are! 

Few of those reading Daniel Martin's article would be aware that Richard Dawkins hadn't just made those remarks and that this wasn't exactly news - a point Richard himself makes on his own website:
Following a recent report in the Daily Mail, various twitterers are horrified at what I am alleged to have said about child abuse. It was in The God Delusion published in 2006 and distributed in more than 2 million copies and therefore hardly red hot news. 
As well as risking misleading its readers about the context of Richard's remark, the Daily Mail article then misreports Richard's statements, alleging (wrongly) that he says Catholic teaching is worse than "any" sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests. Even the quotes for the Al Jazeera interview used in the Mail article undermine that bit of dubious reporting

Reading what Richard Dawkins actually wrote shows that he wasn't (and isn't) making any such blanket statement. As so often, Richard has now been forced to defend himself against (deliberate?) misunderstandings....which he only partly left himself open to:

Incidentally, I was myself sexually abused by a teacher when I was about nine or ten years old. It was a very unpleasant and embarrassing experience, but the mental trauma was soon exorcised by comparing notes with my contemporaries who had suffered it previously at the hands of the same master. Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe ­– in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.

Anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research, and I would be interested to hear from psychologists whether there is real evidence bearing on the question. My expectation would be that violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse, especially by a family member such as a father or grandfather, probably has a more damaging effect on a child’s mental well-being than sincerely believing in hell. But ‘sexual abuse’ covers a wide spectrum of sins, and I suspect that research would show belief in hell to be more traumatic than the sort of mild feeling-up that I suffered.
The argument here is, of course, a highly controversial one and many of you are going to strongly disagree with what Richard Dawkins is saying. But he is not saying what that Daily Mail article says he is saying and it's surely far better to disagree with what someone actually says than with what some rabble-rousing article (wrongly) alleges he said?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

BBC Correspondents Look Back...In Embarrassment

A long-standing BBC Radio 4 New Year tradition has been the annual BBC Correspondents Look Ahead special, where a handful of the corporation's star news reporters get together to predict what they think is going to happen over the following twelve months. 

One of its fun features is the initial run-through of what they foretold the previous time and how correctly - or spectacularly incorrectly - they foretold it! The presenter usually makes them blush a bit then points to some of their successful predictions, thus proving that BBC correspondents are shrewd commentators after all. However, as a devoted year-in-year-out listener to BBC Correspondents Look Ahead, I have noticed a certain tendency not to remember some of the most embarrassing predictions from the previous year, so it might be interesting (he says optimistically) to look back at the last edition of the programme in advance of this year's edition and mark the BBC reporters' scorecard for them (thus saving the presenter a job). It's nearly Christmas, so such an act of charity is surely just what's needed.

The presenter last time round was Owen Bennett Jones. His team were the BBC's North America editor (has he ever reported from Canada?) Mark Mardell, Newsnight economics editor Leon Trotsky Paul Mason, roving Everywhere correspondent Lyse Doucet and BBC diplomatic editor Kate James Robbins. My favourite was Paul Mason, whose ability to get his predictions and analysis wrong puts even Karl Marx to shame. 

I'll ignore the initial recap of the previous year's prediction, except to note that OBJ's recall of Mark Mardell's somewhat awry 'name to watch', Mitch Daniels - the Republican Mark tipped in the race to be selected as the GOP's candidate to lose to Barack Obama - drew the ever-so-(not)-impartial comment from Paul Mason:
"Mark, you're being too polite here. 'He wasn't crazy enough' is the answer." 
That's perhaps what a few fair BBC listeners might have been thinking but, by my understanding of BBC impartiality guidelines, Paul's intervention there was a revolutionary-exile's-air-miles-to-Mexico away from being an impartial BBC comment! 

The first topic up for discussion was the likely fate of Bashar Assad of Assyria. Owen Bennett Jones predicted that he was safe and that the danger had passed for him. James Robbins thought that OBJ was wrong and that by the end of 2012 Bashar's people would be starting to desert him. Now that's looking like a good prediction to me. Lyse predicted he wouldn't "survive the entire year." Well, she's still got a few days to go to spare her blushes! Still, pretty sensible stuff...until Paul Mason entered the debate, that is.

Newsnight's clueless Wolfie Smith impersonator gave BBC listeners this inspired insight about the Syrian conflict:
"There is this other elemental force, isn't there? People power!"
OK, Paul. "People power!" being the explanation of the Syrian civil war? Hmm, best stick to tweeting Laurie Penny perhaps?

Predicting "social unrest" in Russia and Iran throughout 2012, Paul ended with the question, "So where do the sources of support come from from a regime like Assad any more?" Well, throughout almost the entirety of this year, from Russian and (socially restful) Iran...and China...and significant sections of his own people.

James Robbins thought it was "possible" that the revolutions in the Middle East would spread to Central Asia. Er, no.

Lyse Doucet informed listeners that it wasn't just an Arab Spring it was also an African Spring and posited the possibility of the nine very long leaders left in sub-Saharan Africa being swept away too. She was cautious in her predictions though. She specified Uganda (wrong) and Senegal (correct, but in democratic elections which the outgoing President Wade conceded with grace).

Paul Mason then gatecrashed the discussion is his way...bring up the Occupy protests and predict "the urban poor" moving against the system in the United States. Er, no, Paul. Didn't happen. Dream on!

Mark Mardell worried about what would happen "if Obama loses". A lot of people would feel "disenfranchised by the media, by the corporations", he said. "The system...doesn't work any more", he added, agreeing with Paul Mason. "Hmm," someone else added.

What of that U.S. election? Mark predicted that Obama would "win, very narrowly". James Robbins agreed. Lyse hmmed her agreement too, though she regretted the lack of the "excitement" and "magic" that made the 2008 elections so special.

They all got the outcome correct, though it was only fairly "narrowly" in the end. Owen Bennett Jones then quoted the bookies' prediction: A 51% win for Obama. Well done, bookies!! Mark then predicted an "ugly mood" if the "very, very hardline" Right lost the election. Well, that hasn't really happened, has it?

France? The bookies gave Sarkozy only a 39% chance of winning. Did any of the panel think he could win? "Nope", came the reply. Correct, but....not one of them foresaw just how close Sarkozy came to proving them all wrong. His losing margin was smaller than that between Obama and Romney. Paul Mason crowed that Sarko was actually at 32% in the polls, "which is surprisingly high", and predicted a Hollande-Le Pen run-off. Er, no, Paul. "I'll go out on a limb on that", he said. Shouldn't have done, Paul, really shouldn't have done! (At least Lyse Doucet noted that there wasn't a great well of enthusiasm for M. Hollande.)

Onto Russian. Lyse, would Putin win or lose? "Win. Narrowly", replied Lyse. Result? Putin 63%, his nearest rival? 17%. So, that's "Win. By a Tolstoy-novel-page-count" and another "Er, no" for a BBC correspondent. James Robbins sounded much surer that it would be a win for Putin, given...well...that it's a Russian election. Narrow wins don't tend to happen in Russia, Lyse.

China next. "Remarkably little coverage" was predicted by Owen Bennett Jones for this year's leadership change. That's something for a BBC presenter to say - as, presumably, he also meant it about the BBC. There was, it turned out, quite a bit of coverage after all this year. Hu's now the leader of China (on first base, so to speak?). Er, no, it's...that chap with's Wikipedia when I need it? ..... Xi Jinping, of course. Owen Bennett Jones said that everyone (in the world) said it would be him. It was him. Everyone was correct. No prizes to anyone there then.

OBJ gave us a quick profile of Mr. Xi. "He's not Berlusconi anyway", chipped in Paul Mason.

Talking of whom (Paul Mason, that is)...the ever-inaccurate predictions of Paul Mason continued. He "could see" lots of countries becoming protectionist against China, especially if a major incident sparked something off. No major incident, Paul, and no great wave of anti-Chinese protectionism either - yet. So, that's yet another "Er, no" for the Newsnight economics guru then.

The others complained about us in the West (do we ever get anything right in the eyes of BBC reporters?) overemphasising things from our own perspective (tut, tut!), such as going on about the lack of freedom of the internet in China (which, ironically, Paul Mason was doing on Newsnight this very week!!). They then piled in with their other thoughts, such as that the Chinese people might follow the Tunisian example and start losing their fear of/start "taking it out on" the government in Beijing. Er, not yet, O wise BBC reporters.

North Korea. James Robbins predicted "that the regime will try to do very little...and not risk throwing the furniture around" in 2012. "There has been a lot of belligerent talk of the possibility of military exercises, of deliberate sabre-rattling, but I think that will be quite restrained."


North Korea defies warnings in rocket launch success

The news of the rocket launch was announced on state TV

Oh well, can't get 'em all right!...or, indeed, most of 'em right!!

Talking of which (again), Paul Mason was unfraternal in floating the idea that communist North Korea might find in 2012 that "durable authoritarianism is probably not that sound". Er, no, Paul. The Great Successor is proving a great success. All hail the Great Successor! - as Lyse Doucet (far shrewder than Paul Mason) pointed out, the Kim Dynasty ain't going anywhere....yet. (Fingers crossed though).

Europe in 2012? Cue Paul Mason. "I think the Greeks will default". Another very confident, very wrong prediction from the master of very wrong predictions.

Fiscal union by the end of 2012? "That's the direction they're going in", said Mark Mardell, hedging his bets wisely. There's "a higher possibility" that Greece will be ejected from the euro, he added, not so wisely. Fiscal union is needed, they all agreed.

Names to watch? Amusingly, when this topic came up OBJ did recall Paul Mason's prediction for 2011 - a German central banker - Axel Webber -, who promptly "disappeared from the scene." Paul really shouldn't go on BBC Correspondents Look Ahead.

Actually, this has just prompted me to seek out his 2011 predictions - which also included his prediction that Sarah Palin's momentum to become the U.S. Republican candidate would keep on growing (er.....), that Ed Balls would begin rousing the rabble against Ed Miliband in 2012 (er.....) and that "there is a new zeitgeist within protest movements in Europe (on the left) and the US (on the right) - new ways of online organising and a new plebeian individualism. I am keen to see what happens." (Er.....)

If you wan't to go back even further, to his 2010 predictions (for 2011)..the fall of the Lib-Con coalition in the UK, the stalling of Sarah Palin's momentum (!!), Greece being driven out of the euro, etc,...well, feel free to click the link above and have a good laugh!

Anyhow, that's enough fun with Paul Mason for a while. What of their names to watch for 2012?

Mark Mardell nominated the "charismatic" Bo Xilai - the man who was reinventing Maoism - for a key role in the Chinese politburo. Well, Bo was certainly someone to watch. Instead of winning a high place in the politburo, he actually plunged headlong from grace following the scandal around the death of Neil Heywood. He was expelled from the Communist Party and his wife convicted for murder. I'm not sure that can count as a point on the Mark Mardell scorecard.

Paul Mason nominated Ron Paul, the U.S. libertarian Republican candidate. "I think he's going to do very well. That's my prediction". Well, "very well" was a considerable overestimate. Mr. Mason specified the Iowa caucus as Mr. Paul's potential breakthrough moment. Mr. Paul came third behind Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney. So, er, no, Paul...and Mr. Paul.

Lyse Doucet nominated the Emir of Qatar. Again, Lyse proved herself the BBC reporter to watch on this programme. Yes, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has, indeed, played a big role in pushing a game-changing agenda in the Middle East throughout 2012. Full marks for her.

James Robbins nominated President Santos of Colombia, predicting major economic strides for his country in 2012. I've no idea whether this prediction came true or not (not being an expert on Colombia's economy), so it's time to google...."Colombia economy 2012". Click 'search'.........

Colombia posts weakest quarterly growth in 3 yearsThe Andean country's gross domestic product grew just 2.1 percent in the third quarter from the year-ago period - its slowest pace since the third quarter of 2009 - and well below analysts' expectations.
The result was also much slower than the 7.5 percent expansion recorded in the same quarter last year.

Dear Lord, can't these BBC reporters predict anything right? (Ha, ha!) Well, that's as nothing compared to James's next prediction:
"....Hugo Chavez, who I think stands stands to lose the presidential election in 2012."
Wrong again!! Chavez won. All hail Hugo Chavez!

Owen Bennett Jones nominated Bilawal Bhutto, son of the late, lamented Benazir and the current leader of Pakistan, President Zardari. He predicted that Bilawal would be "pushed forward" this year as his father sank into ever greater political difficulty. A quick google suggests that 2012 hasn't brought about much of a change at the top of the Pakistani political tree and that Bilawal hasn't progressed much beyond where he was at the end of 2011.

Lyse turned to Afghanistan and Pakistan too and feared that things would get even worse in 2012. Worse than 2011? Better? The same? I can't say.

James Robbins came in to predict "I don't think President Zardari will survive in office", which which can notch up as yet another prediction that went somewhat astray, given that President Zardari most certainly did survive in office. (There are about nine days still to go though, so fingers crossed, eh, James!!)

OBJ predicted that Imran Khan would, if Mr. Zardari fell, become his successor (in power terms if not as president). Not yet, Owen, not yet. (Hopefully, not ever, not ever.)

Paul Mason brought in Iran and predicted that "the unrest of a generation" would result in something giving at some point there. Not in 2012 it didn't, Paul. And you're sound like a stuck record now. Power to the people! It's kicking off everywhere! Occupy, occupy, occupy!

As for a Israeli or U.S. airstrike against Iran, James Robbins said the U.S. would prevent military strikes against Iran in 2012. Mark agreed. Paul Mason talked about the "uprising youth" of Iran again - as is his way. Stuck record.

Israel-Palestinian peace process? Lyse quoted Gramsci. James Robbins predicted nothing would happen until after the U.S. elections. Paul Mason (by this stage of the programme fast becoming a parody of himself, as well as a stuck record) talked of the "street protest movement" in Israel (remember them?), and said "But it's not over". (Er, well, it actually was, Paul, pretty much).

Good news stories for 2012? Well, James Robbins talked of "signs of real progress" in Ivory Coast and "the countries that have been the beneficiaries of the Arab Spring." I can't comment on the Ivory Coast but James's "beneficiaries of the Arab Spring" (now known as the Arab Winter) can hardly be said to be "good news" any more, and its beneficiaries don't feel like beneficiaries any more either. Egypt until Morsi? Tunisia under Ennahda? Oh, happy days - not!

Paul predicted a bottoming-out of economic graphs in America (such as the house price graph), which seems essentially correct. Wow, he sort-of got one right! He then predicted the continuing relentless rise of the BRICS. Well, that was a bit of a no-brainer and a very easy prediction to get right. Strangely enough, he didn't quite get it right, failing to foresee the recent widely remarked economic slowdowns in Brazil, Russia, India and China. They will probably start spurting forwards again, but nothing is guaranteed - and Paul Mason failed to foresee that their "relentless rise" might not be quite as "relentless" by the third quarter of 2012 as everyone (everyone?) was assuming.

Lyse's heart was warmed by "the young people" of the world. "They are the future". (Someone should write a pop tune about that). She also likes the internet and social media. "I want to celebrate that," she said. Amen, sister.

Mark Mardell's heart-cockles were warmed by Burma.

The next section was "WILD PREDICTIONS!" - as if most of what had gone before hadn't been full of wild predictions!

Mark's wild predictions: The Republican field would look so grim that Jeb Bush would be forced to come in and will win & that Einsteinian physics would be overturned by the Large Hadron Collider.

James's wild predictions: Britain will top the Olympics medal table for a few hours by winning the first gold. First hypothermia death at a health spa (something to do with snow showers).

Paul's wild prediction: "Prime minister Berlusconi" makes a comeback. The technocrats fall. (I don't think he was being serious. Oddly, this looks like his best prediction - as it could be about to come true!!)

Lyse's wild prediction: The Taleban will stop their assassinations & come to the negotiation table.

Owen's wild prediction: Hamza Bin Laden could become the new leader of global jihad.

Finally, "things we haven't dealt with." The war on drugs. "The people think it's a nonsense", said Mark Mardell of the American people. Lyse is dismayed.  Climate change? No one took that up. Boko Haram in Nigeria mentioned but no predictions made.

So, there you have it - an absolute deluge of dismally inaccurate predictions from the sage analysts of the BBC!

I'm really looking forward to this years BBC Correspondents Look Ahead to hear the presenter list all these many, many wrong predictions made the corporation's BBC's star reporters last time round. Lyse Doucet did OK, but poor, poor, poor Paul Mason is going to be blushing redder than the flag of a communist youth movement by the end of it, surely?


There's an article on the BBC News website by Bahman Kalbasi of BBC Persian, New York, concerning the fierce row over the probable nomination of former Nebraskan senator Chuck Hagel to be President Obama's new defence secretary. Mr. Hagel holds views that are causing concern in some pro-Israel quarters. He supports dialogue with Hamas, for starters, and is reported to be unhappy at the labelling of Hezbollah as a "terrorist organisation". He's also made some remarks about the "Jewish Lobby" which have proved controversial, as well as having adopted some fairly doveish positions on the subject of Iran. 

The New York Times's take on the story can be read here and will provide much of the necessary background for you - and before coming to the BBC's article, you might also want to get the full flavour of the debate: Ari Lieberman at American Thinker puts the case for the prosecution here while Chemi Shalev of Ha'aretz puts the case for the defence here. Please read both and then form your own judgement.

I needed to read all three of those articles after reading the BBC piece as Bahman Kalbasi's report begged so many questions. It just wasn't anywhere near informative enough, leaving BBC website readers (like me) largely in the dark as to why Mr. Hagel might be proving so controversial. This seems to be quite a common problem with BBC News website articles these days. They can sometimes appear to be as tight-lipped as a nervous clam at a Mafia all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. You often find yourself needing to read well beyond the BBC to get the full flavour of too many of their under-cooked stories.

As for bias, well, Bahman's article left me in little doubt as to which side he's on. On the one side he presents a mixture of "pro-Israeli groups and neo-conservative centres" launching "a massive and somewhat unprecedented campaign" against Mr. Hagel, including a "prominent neo-conservative pundit" who "rails" against Mr. Hagel. That pundit "charges" something and a pro-Israel organisation "quickly" produces a video against Mr. Hagel. Against these railing and knee-jerking neo-conservative detractors stand moderate, expert supporters, including "more centrist pro-Israeli groups such as J Street and the Israel Policy Forum", "prominent former diplomats", "experts", etc. None of Mr. Hagel's supporters are said  to be "railing" about anything and are quoted at respectful length. "More centrist", by the way, is an interesting (some might say "controversial"!) way to describe J Street, which is more commonly called "liberal" (by supporters) or "left-wing" (by critics). 

So it's a biased BBC article then. Do you agree?

Thursday, 20 December 2012

On a Loop

I wrote this some time ago, I think during Operation Cast Lead, and I can’t even remember if I ever posted it on Biased-BBC. I did post several similar pieces, and they still seem relevant, especially now, what with recent events upping the ante (or should I have said the ‘anti’).

Defending Israel is not the same as screeching "Israel right or wrong."

Most pro-Israel bloggers like myself would find life much simpler if there were no Palestinian civilian casualties, no settlements, no disputed borders, no ultra religious Jewish extremists making claims on behalf of God. But, proceeding further down that path, it would be easier for us if Israel stopped protecting its citizens as assiduously as it does so we could produce footage of a several cute injured Israeli children. We could make our case more effectively if the vocal majority had their wish and the apartheid wall was torn down and the suicide bombers picked up where they left off, providing some bloody carnage. How much easier life would be for we Israel supporters then. In fact, if Israel was swept into the sea altogether, what a doddle supporting Israel would be. We’d be laughing.  Or rather the Israel-haters would.
But so far this hasn’t happened, and we have a tough time making our case, which is that Israel may well do some things we would not do, some regrettable things that we find hard to defend. But facing what Israel faces, the intelligent view is that it has behaved with remarkable restraint. As yet we in the UK are not up against what Israel is up against, and who knows what we would do if we were.
What we “apologists” can do is point out the unfair and unjust way Israel is portrayed by the BBC.
The latter part of that essay concerned Operation Cast Lead specifically, so I won’t confuse matters by including it. The issue that currently causes  the most difficulties for pro-Israel advocates is still the same. Even before Netanyahu’s decision to announce permission for more construction, the settlements seem like an indefensible act of defiance.  Israel’s point of view is rarely given an airing. The justification for settlement building is intricately bound up with the minutiae of land swap arrangements that have been negotiated and agreed upon by both parties in the course of various peace talks, but to those unaware of the details, granting planning for more settlements at this point in time just doesn’t look good, largely due to the PA’s cunning insistence that Jewish settlements are the obstacle to peace. The notion that the Israelis are eating into ‘Palestinian land’ so that by the time the two state solution comes to pass Palestinian land will be chocablock with Jews is a simplistic way of advancing the notion that the Israelis don’t want peace. However, it disregards many factors never aired on the BBC. If we want to investigate we must search pro-Israel literature.

With their decision to impose preconditions before entertaining the idea of coming back to the table the PA very shrewdly gambled on a cert. They knew no-one would mention the fact that prior to this conjured-up demand there had in fact been a prolonged freeze on settlement construction, during which they still refused to negotiate; their confidence proved well-founded as they knew it would be. The media let them get away with this particular demand without insisting, on behalf of the ‘international community’ and on behalf of reason, that the only kind of precondition that would have genuine legitimacy would be that the Palestinians recongnise Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence against it.  Their refusal to do so is the real and only obstacle to peace.
However, for the very reason set out here by Anthony Julius, Israel’s badly-timed announcement of permission for new settlements amounts to a kick in the teeth to Israel’s non resident supporters.

“Now, the idea that Israel could so recklessly squander such small goodwill as it has acquired, in consequence of stopping the campaign in Gaza when it did, and arriving through the massively overplayed Morsi intervention, and some kind of semi-stable ceasefire—the idea that it could recklessly throw that away by a gratuitous announcement of a further enlargement of settlements, is almost incomprehensible to me, and deeply, deeply dispiriting. But there it is. “ Anthony Julius.

I wrote the following some time ago, but I might as well flesh out the issue by including it here; it sets out some of the reasons given in defence of the settlements.

Who has legal title to Judea and Samaria AKA the West Bank?  Lawyers cite the San Remo Resolution of 1920, which has never been superseded. Technically, Israel still has the legal title.

The argument usually goes:
Every single country in the world except Israel considers the settlements illegal under international law. 99.9% of people on the planet say so.” However, even if those percentages were correct (they’re not) ‘international law’ differs from genuine, legally binding law.
“The international consensus has never recognised Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem” But the international consensus is only that. A consensus.
It is assumed that Israel’s motivation for approving settlement construction is inherently belligerent and sneaky, and primarily designed to create ‘facts on the ground’. On examination, that accusation looks like another myth that became a ‘fact’ through constant repetition. For one thing ‘facts on grounds’ are not irreversible. The Israeli government is prepared to dismantle Israeli settlements if it has to. Of course, the withdrawal from Gaza didn’t do Israel much good, so why would anyone believe that dismantling more Jewish settlements would increase the chances of peace?
Certain areas are referred to as “Palestinian Land.” Also - “Occupied Territory” or “Illegally Occupied Territory”. People forget that instigating wars involves risking loss of territory as well as loss of life. “Land for peace” is a useful negotiating tool, but if you happen to lose territory as a result of your own aggression, you can’t just ‘have it back’ for nothing, as though your war-mongering had never happened. However, the Palestinians assume they are uniquely entitled to demand this, and judging by past performance, if unconditional withdrawal from disputed territories were indeed granted by Israel in a crazy gesture of self-sacrifice, the Palestinians would simply see it as a sign of weakness. They’d surely pocket it and ratchet their demands up a notch.
I am no expert on the topography of the area, but my understanding is that, with the exception of a small number of rogue settlements deemed illegal even by the Israeli government, the new construction that has caused the latest ** brouhaha is within previously negotiated ‘Jewish’ areas, which formed part of mutually agreed land swap arrangements.  That has conveniently slipped the minds of the BBC and the MSM. In other words the settlement building that is such an affront to Cameron and Clegg is confined to settlements that are within the so-called ‘green line’ and don’t represent expansionist maneuvering or land-grabbing, a fallacy routinely implied by the Israel-bashing brigade.

Melanie Phillips says:
Their outrage could be seen as a fabricated, heavily embroidered type of outrage; histrionic outrage that has little or no justification.
However, given that Abbas and Co. have succeeded in making a critical issue out of settlement building when in fact it’s much more of a symbolic issue, and given that settlements are perceived as a manifestation of Israeli intransigence, it does seem that poorly timed announcements of new planning approvals are at least insensitive in terms of public relations, on the part of the remarkably image-unaware Israelis. ***
Cameron and Clegg called continued settlement building  “an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise on which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years.
Negotiations which have taken place for Years and Years? 
If Israel saw fit to make a rash gesture of goodwill and reinstate the freeze on settlement-building in accordance with these apocryphal preconditions, where would that leave the small matter of the  negotiations formerly known as The Road Map: Phase 1? 
“Why on earth does the expansion of Jewish housing in the suburbs of Jerusalem have any impact on a putative two-state solution?In all previous negotiations, the inclusion within Israel of what is clearly no more than Israeli natural growth and suburban sprawl was considered relatively uncontentious by the Palestinians. And why are the Jewish ‘settlements’ considered such a make or break issue, when they amount in total to no more than between one and two per cent of the disputed territories?”
From the Road Map: Phase 1 circa 2003:

Phase 1:Ending terror and violence, normalising Palestinian life, and building Palestinian institutions (present to May 2003)  In Phase I, the Palestinians immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence according to the steps outlined below; such action should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by Israel.
Palestinians and Israelis resume security co-operation based on the Tenet work plan to end violence, terrorism, and incitement through restructured and effective Palestinian security services. 
What was supposed to be the first stage of the peace process has been conveniently air-bushed under the carpet and down the pan of room 101. The Palestinians were supposed to renounce violence and terrorism, and recognise Israel as a Jewish state. First stage!
If anything genuinely does merit the status of “precondition”, those requirements do. How can there ever be lasting peace without them?
So the Palestinians want to skip everything they find hard to swallow, namely renouncing their precious violence and terrorism, and impose more palatable preconditions-to-talks of their own. What’s more they they seem to have persuaded Cameron and Clegg, Obama and uncle Tom Cobley to go along with it too. Not to mention the BBC.
When the Palestinians realised that the world was prepared to go along with the assertion that settlements were the obstacle to peace they must have thought all their Christmases had come at once, so to speak.  A mammoth delaying tactic, handed to them on a plate. They themselves say that they have no intention of living side by side, two states for two peoples, happily ever after. It’s no secret that a future Jew-free Palestinian state is but a stepping-stone to a future Jew free Middle East. Furthermore, the Palestinians say that they require East Jerusalem as their capital and no Jew will be allowed to set foot in a future Palestinian state. Why aren’t Cameron/Clegg and their advisors affronted by this?
Why doesn’t the BBC ever show the public exactly how Palestinian television indoctrinates their viewers? It’s freely available on the internet. Why don’t they show some episodes of Hamas TV for children, Forfar the Jew-killing mouse? How about a documentary that highlights the warmongering Jew-hating Palestinian education system, showing precisely what the obstacles to peace really are?

** Not the (2012) announcement.
*** deja vu all over again.

Most pro-Israel bloggers like myself would find life much simpler if there were no Palestinian civilian casualties, no disputed borders, no ultra religious Jewish extremists making claims on behalf of God and no provocative announcements about more settlements. That’s where we came in.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Allan Little's Choice is Made

Following on from the post before last.....

Having just listened to Europe Moves East, I would say that the programme concentrated on Polish-German relations to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. There were many interesting insights into the relationship between the two countries, especially those into the Kohl administration's hopes for new friends in the East to make Germany a country entirely surrounded by friends for the first time in its history. Yes, the growing warmth between the two is a wonderful thing. Truly wonderful.

So Czech, Hungarian or Latvian Euroscepticism wasn't on the agenda at all. Poland is the East, as far as Europe Moves East was concerned. 

British Euroscepticism was on the agenda.  There were many, often sustained criticisms of British Eurosceptic attitudes towards the EU from several of Allan's 'talking heads'  throughout the course of the programme. Unfortunately, British Eurosceptics themselves were nowhere to be heard, so no defence of their position was heard. That was much as I expected from an Allan Little documentary on the EU. 

The one concession to Euroscepticism came in the form of a very brief, one-off appearance by Marek Migalski from the Poland Comes First party. In less than a minute he was gone. Still, at least he was there - even if you might have missed him had you sneezed at the wrong moment! I have to say I expected no concessions whatsoever to Euroscepticism from Allan Little. 

His Euro-enthusiast countrymen, Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, and Jan Rostowski, the Polish finance minister, were the true voices of Poland for the programme; indeed, Allan at one stage actually averred than generations of Poles spoke through Mr. Sikorski.  Mateusz Koracki, the young Euro-enthusiast tour guide, also appeared - as above. 

At with Europe's Choice, it was the familiar diet of pro-European voices advancing Allan Little's pro-European-sounding narrative -  Joachim Bitterlich, Helmut Kohl’s advisor; Dietrich von Kyaw, former German ambassador to the EU; and Jörg Müller-Kindt, an enthusiastically pro-EU businessman, represented the Germans.  Élisabeth Guigou, advisor to President Mitterand, was there for the French. 

The sign of bias I was particularly looking out for was who was chosen to speak for the UK. There, criticising Mrs. Thatcher, admiring the course of European advancement and acting throughout as one of Allan Little's main 'talking heads', was Sir John, Lord Kerr, former UK ambassador to the EU - one of Britain's leading Europhiles, serving as Chairman of the [pro-EU] Centre for European Reform, Vice-President of the [pro-EU] European Policy Centre and a Council member of the [pro-EU] Business for New Europe. Quite an unbalanced choice, wouldn't you say? Shouldn't we have had a counterbalancing, Eurosceptic British voice to balance him out - and answer the many criticisms of Britain Euroscepticism (including repeated digs at Mrs. Thatcher) being made at intervals throughout? I think we should.

The other 'talking head' was the historian Anne Applebaum. I thought it was quite unusual that Allan Little missed out one bit of biographical detail about her that would surely have been relevant to the discussion - a detail I suspect most Radio 4 listeners would have been completely unaware of. Anne is married to one of Allan Little's other talking heads, Mr. Sikorski - the foreign minister Allan Little says speaks for generations of Poles. Anne Applebaum added no note of Euroscepticism into the mix, somewhat unsurprisingly.  

And it's to Anne that we now turn. As she herself wrote in the aftermath of the success of her husband's party in the last Polish elections, "Poland might just be the most pro-European country in all of Europe right now." She wrote that in an article about her husband's homeland called Europe's only fan? Allan Little's focus on Poland and Poland alone of all the ten Eastern Bloc accession countries risked misleading listeners into assuming that Poland is necessarily representative and that its Euro-enthusiasm is a particular headache for us heel-dragging Brits. Our Czech Eurosceptic friends may have had something a little different to say, had we heard from them. 

As with Europe's Choice I found myself alternating between feelings of interest and feelings of exasperation - the latter arising from the sense of been repeatedly hit over the head with a metaphorical handbag wielded by Allan Little. The handbag he was so relentlessly whacking against our poor pates contained the message that the European Union is the agent of something wonderful - the coming together of Germany and Poland. Indeed it may be; however, that doesn't mean that the European Union (as now constituted) is necessarily a good thing as a whole, nor that we should all be rejoicing at its wonderfulness.  

The programme is now available to listen to. Please do. 

The Two Faces of Tunisia

Douglas Murray has written a thought-provoking post about the 'Arab Winter' over at The Spectator. Its starting point is the man Sue and I have been keeping a careful eye on for some two years now, ever since we both heard his daughter being courted by Paddy O'Connell's Broadcasting House back in January 2011. He's Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the guiding light behind post-revolutionary Tunisia's election-winning Islamist party, Ennahda. 

Mr. Murray is scathing about Britain's role in helping his rise to power and goes on to describe the sheikh's influence on the North African country in this way:
Since returning to Tunisia this Brotherhood leader and leading Hamas fan, has – through his leadership of the major Brotherhood party in the coalition – helped to lead Tunisia down the road of Islamic fascism.
Douglas Murray reports that Mr. Ghannouchi has recently taken part in a Tunisia-based ‘International Conference in Support of Palestinian Prisoners in the Jails of the Zionist Occupation' - a conference so closely tied to Hamas that the Palestinian Authority (Mahmoud Abbas's lot) were only invited as ‘observers’, provoking them to boycott the event in response to this snub. Having sat alongside a convicted Hamas terrorist who helped orchestrate the murder of eight Israeli children in a suicide bombing on a pizza restaurant, Sheikh Rachid went on to make the following statements:
‘Every day, the ummah is getting closer to the liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine…’

'Allah, permit me to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, or [grant] me martyrdom at Jerusalem’s doorstep.’
Not very moderate remarks, are they? And yet 'moderate' is the word that keeps getting applied to Rachid al-Ghannouchi and his Ennahda party - not least by the BBC. And that's been going on for some time.

Shamelessly plugging an old comment of mine from a Biased BBC Open Thread from the early days of the 'Arab Spring', he's how I heard the afore-mentioned appearance by Mr. al-Ghannouchi's daughter at the time:
Craig has commented 16 January 2011,19:54:40
George R's predicted likely Islamist takeover of Tunisia may be about the get the BBC's blessing if this morning's Broadcasting House (Radio 4) is anything to go by.     

The programme put in a call to the daughter of one of the exiled opposition leaders and, almost inevitably, it was an Islamist politician: "Yusra Khreeji is the daughter of Rached Ghannouchi, the chairman of the Tunisian moderate Islamist En Nahda movement".     
When the likes of Paddy O'Connell call an Islamist movement "moderate", we know from experience that this probably needs taking with a large pinch of salt.  Does a "moderate" man really believe that Zionists are plotting to take over the world? Sheikh Ghannouchi does:       
"The Zionist project wants to inherit our Ummah and inherit the West itself. It wants to lead the world. After (the natural shift of) the center of civilization from London to Washington, it wants to move it to Orshalim (Jerusalem) and destroy all other civilizational and religious projects we have today."     
Paddy O'Connell asked Ms Khreeji nothing about her father's ideology.    
 Sue was soon on the case too:

Political turmoil in Lebanon poses a serious threat to the stability of the region, but in an erratic tribute to impartiality, the BBC reports the utterances of Hassan Nasrallah, being scrupulously careful to avoid taking sides.

Kevin Connolly thinks the appointment of a pro-Hezbollah PM is a way out of Lebanon’s immediate political crisis, with the caveat: “It is an uncomfortable outcome for the US, which denounces Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation and reflects the growing regional influence of the movement’s sponsors, Iran and Syria.”
The Syria/Iran infiltration of Lebanon may not worry the BBC, but then they wouldn’t be worried by the content of this article by Michael J Totten.
“Hezbollah had 10,000 rockets before the war in 2006. Now it has between 40,000 and 50,000. Some are stored in warehouses. Others are hidden away a few at a time in private homes.”
Hezbollah positions itself amongst houses and mosques because they know the Israelis cannot retaliate without killing civilians.
“Its fighters and officers wear no uniforms. Only rarely do they carry guns out in the open.”
The BBC should be very alarmed at what is happening in Lebanon, not complacently telling us that the political crisis is over.
The Foreign Office is reported as stating that they have no objection to dictators being overthrown, but they’d prefer it if they were replaced by secular rather than religious governments. For example, “democratically,” as in Lebanon. What? Are my ears deceiving me?

Does this mean that the Foreign Office thinks that Hezbollah, having murdered the Lebanese Prime Minister, refused to accept responsibility for the murder, promised to cut off the hand of any accuser, embedded a massive stockpile of arms within civilian areas and in mosques, not to mention being dedicated to the destruction of Israel – does the foreign office or a spokesperson thereof, really hold Hezbollah’s roughshod trampling over the Lebanese government as an example of democracy, desirable for Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen et al ? And to add insult to that salty wound William Hague has gone off to suck up to Syria.
I wrote here about the BBC’s decisive action over a film produced by Christopher Mitchell. They abandoned it.

Allan Little's Choice

This isn't really a topical blog but I'd like to make a few observations on a programme that will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this evening. It's Allan Little's latest BBC documentary on the European Union, Europe Moves East

It sounds rather as if it will be a follow-up to his major Radio 4 series from earlier this year, Europe's Choice . This (you may or may not remember) was the subject of a post of mine from a couple of weeks ago where I argued that despite taking on a hot political subject - the history of the euro - the programme featured not one single British Eurosceptic (despite there being several attacks on British Eurosceptics in the course of the series) on any of its three episodes; instead, it piled on pro-EU enthusiast after pro-EU enthusiast (several of them from Britain). Only in the third and final episode did a Eurosceptic voice (from Finland) make an appearance, and his remarks were undermined by Allan Little's commentary.  The central thesis of Europe's Choice was that the euro crisis had been caused by too little EU intervention, due to Germany not wanting to throw its weight around enough – a highly Europhile contention. At the end of that post I anticipated this new documentary, wondering what it would be like. 

Well, we've already had a foretaste of tonight's broadcast. The BBC News website is prominently featuring an article based on the programme, written by Allan Little himself. 

My alarm bells are already ringing. The range of commentators looks as if it will include many of the same cast-list of strong pro-Europeans as appeared last time round - ranging from John, Lord Kerr to Joachim Bitterlich, Helmut Kohl’s advisor; from Dietrich von Kyaw, the former German ambassador, to Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. The online article is also unremitting in its presentation of "the EU as liberator", securing the former Soviet Bloc nations into the democratic European family. John, Lord Kerr is saying that the Eurosceptic Brits got it wrong. Mr. Sikorski is calling for Germany to lead in Europe and for more EU intervention.  Dietrich von Kyaw is emotionally wedded to the European Union. And a young Pole is quoted endorsing their pro-EU sentiments too:
Generally, Central Europeans do not feel they have merely joined the European Union, they feel they have fulfilled a destiny disrupted by war. It is a sentiment echoed by the young. 
So, it's looking like being another Allan Little documentary on the European project that will annoy British (and European) Eurosceptics while delighting British (and European) Europhiles. It looks as if it will be just as biased.

However, it's too soon to say. The programme hasn't even been broadcast yet. This article is obviously only a brief (if biased) taster for the full 40-minute long radio programme. Hopefully that will present a fuller, more rounded picture. 

Here are some tests for Europe Moves East in advance, all of which it ought to pass if its reporting is to be seen as impartial:  

- That is should feature some British Eurosceptics to balance John, Lord Kerr. It shouldn't just be another diet of pro-EU enthusiasts such as Timothy Garton Ash, Sir Stephen Wall and Douglas Hurd. If Allan fails to include any such voices (or massively weights his choice of voices in one direction) he can be judged to have failed to give an important voice in the argument a proper hearing - thus failing the BBC's own guidelines for impartiality. If he does include some (and I'm fearing he won't), he should not seek to undermine their arguments in his surrounding commentary - especially if he doesn't also seek to undermine the arguments of his pro-Europeans talking heads as well.

- That it must feature some Polish Eurosceptics to balance the EU enthusiast Radoslaw Sikorski and "26-year-old Mateusz Koracki", the pro-EU Polish youth. It's no good Allan Little painting a picture of a Poland that is wildly enthusiastic about the EU. Poland has been one of the keenest pro-EU countries of the last decade, but the main opposition party in Poland is now firmly Eurosceptic and it's leader, Jarosław Kaczynski, said of Mr. Sikorski, "That man had no right to offer Germany leadership in the European Union." There are other anti-EU parties in Poland too,  such as the League of Polish Families, and other powerful voices against - such as Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the head of the Catholic radio station Radio Maryja. We must hear at some length from their side of the Polish argument too. If we don't, something will be very amiss about this documentary.

- That it should balance its coverage of broadly pro-EU Poland with coverage from the more Eurosceptic Czech Republic. An interview with the Eurosceptic Czech president Václav Klaus - a fine speaker of English and usually happy to be interviewed by British news organisations! - or with Jan Zahradil, head of the the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European parliament (which also includes the UK Conservative Party), is surely a must. Mr. Zahradil's position is particularly interesting. The Czechs have had a traumatic history, just like their Polish neighbours. Why is Euroscepticism strong there? Will Allan Little tell us? If Europe Moves East fails to get to grips with Czech Euroscepticism then I will be suspecting bias.

- That any mention of pro-EU enthusiasm in the Baltic States should also mention the strength of Euroscepticism in Latvia. Only 38% of Latvians believe that EU membership has benefited their, according to the European Commission.

- That the strength of Euroscepticism in Hungary should also be discussed. With the UK and Latvia, Hungary is the country whose people supports EU membership the least. According to the European Commission itself in 2009, a survey asking whether citizens feel that their country has benefited from EU membership found that only 36% of Hungarians thought it had (compared to 34% in the UK). If Hungarian anti-EU sentiment is mentioned will Allan Little present it in all its depth and breadth? (Incidentally, that same Commission report found that even Bulgaria (with 48% approval) was also in the "less than half the citizens believe EU membership has benefited their country" category. Will Allan Little's documentary reflect that too?) The strength of Euroscepticism in Hungary is something that Europe Moves East would be highly remiss not to cover. So will it cover it?

- That Euroscepticism in Eastern Europe shouldn't be tied disingenuously to the far-Right. (Most of the far-Right is Eurosceptic and far-Right parties are gaining ground there). That would be a smear and proof of bias. (64% of Hungarians don't all support Jobbik!)

So, the programme shouldn't be seen to be pro-EU. It shouldn't feature as 'talking heads' merely the same old bunch of pro-Europeans from Britain and Europe as featured in Europe's Choice. It must feature a fair smattering of Eurosceptic 'talking heads' from both Britain and Eastern Europe. It should seek to reflect the depth of Euroscepticism as well as pro-European popular and elite sentiment in several of the recently acceded former Soviet Bloc countries. It shouldn't cast the British Conservatives as being on the wrong side of history without also inviting a 'talking head' to defend the British Conservatives' interpretation of events. It shouldn't be full of grandiloquent gush about the liberating effects of the European Union, without plenty of voices to cast cold water on that point of view.  

These are very reasonable demands, I think. 

If you haven't got anything better to do, why not give the programme a listen tonight (8.00pm, GMT)? Let's see if Allan Little can confound all my fears. If he does, I will be giving him full credit shortly after.


Allan Little has also drawn on some of the same stories found in the online article for a new For Our Own Correspondent piece. His FOOC talk is an emotionally-charged piece that draws again on the experiences of Dietrich von Kyaw, the former German ambassador, to Poland, who has painful memories of Germany and Poland's past and who worked on Poland's accession to the European Union, and then draws a direct line between between those experiences and the hopes for peace embodied (in his his way of thinking) by the EU of young Mateusz Koracki, the Polish tour guide. Allan Little powerfully fuses their horror of past conflicts with their gratitude towards the European Union for bringing peace, presenting their shared point of view to the listener and amplifying it with supportive details from history. Does their argument in favour of the EU become his argument in favour of the EU, given that he doesn't seek at any time to add any authorial words of caution or caveat to their perspectives, merely to project the force of them to maximum effect? (Some uncharitable types might call this 'great pro-EU propaganda').

What raised my hackles here was the introduction to the piece from presenter Pascale Harter. Does this introduction not sound as if Allan Little's piece is meant as an official BBC riposte to all those Eurosceptic types who blasted the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union? (It's best heard to catch Pascale's changing tones of voice, but this transcription should convey a little bit of it):
"The European Union came in for quite a bit of stick recently when it accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. "What achievement!", cried the critics. "The economic crisis has put the whole project in peril!" But is that view shared across the Union or do the more recent members in the East, like Poland, feel differently? Allan Little has met people whose perspective is coloured by a memory of Europe past."
My second thoughts on hearing Allan Little's piece were that it was an argument in favour of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. It may or may not have been deliberately meant as such, but listeners surely cannot have heard it any other way. If you bring up a controversial topic - the question of whether or not the EU should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - and then present a report that gives just one perspective - the shared views of two people (one German, one Polish) who invest their hopes for peace in the EU and credit the EU for bringing and guaranteeing that peace - then you have presented an argument for just one side of that controversy. That much is obvious. Does that mean that the report itself - and, thus, the reporter and the BBC - also answers the Peace Prize question with a "Yes"? Well, obviously not directly. The BBC would probably argue that Allan Little is merely presenting a perspective we in Britain don't hear very often and isn't endorsing it. That he presents it without demur and by amplifying its emotional force might also be defended by the BBC as being what a good reporter who hopes to raise questions in the listener's mind ought to do. That's much more debatable, especially in the context of Pascale Hunter's introduction. If conceded, the problem would then only arise in programmes like FOOC didn't then balance this with other reports which give the anti-EU side of the argument with equal power and also without demur. Have they ever done so?

None of this is allaying my suspicions that tonight's documentary from Allan Little is going to be as restricted in its range of views as the online article and that FOOC report and that it is going to present a pro-EU message with all the communicative force that its presenter can muster whilst downplaying the strong pools of Euroscepticism across parts of Eastern Europe.