Sunday, 17 December 2017

Open Thread

Just in case posts from Craig and / or Sue are sporadic during the frantic season, here's a new Open Thread.

Breaking news

Really, it's sometimes difficult to know what to make of media reporting these days. 

The horrific news that a female UK diplomat has been murdered in Lebanon is being widely reported, but different news outlets are reporting or, in some cases not reporting, different aspects of the story.

You read the Sky and ITV websites and they report speculation about a sexual motive.

You then read the BBC website and they don't report speculation about a sexual motive. 

And then you turn to Mail Online and their headline is British female embassy worker is found dead in Beirut after being 'raped, strangled and dumped by the side of a motorway'

Obviously, the BBC is aware of this speculation of a sexual motive for the murder but is choosing not to report it. 

Is the BBC suppressing an angle to the story that they should be reporting, or is the BBC exercising restraint and behaving responsibly in not reporting that angle until it becomes more than mere speculation?

Or could the BBC be holding back, awaiting news about who murdered Rebecca Dykes, before they report that angle?

A Marry Christmas to Andrew, Rob & the Gang

A festive Andrew Marr

Mr. Marr's final Sunday morning sermon of the year - the one for the third week of Advent - began:
Good morning, and welcome to our last show of the year. What a year it's been! Back in 2016, we had Brexit, we had Donald Trump's election, and all those bloodthirsty leadership tussles. And we thought, "Wow - 2017 is going to be a lot calmer than that." But then what happened? The unexpected general election, its unexpected result, a weakened but resilient Prime Minister struggling on, and the drama of the Corbyn surge. 2018 is going to be really, really quiet.
Oh, wouldn't that be lovely? I like quiet. And peace.


Now here's a familiar kind of exchange for 'people like us'. Someone complains about a particular bias on one particular edition of a BBC programme; the programme's editor, in response, asks to be judged over time and over a number of editions:
Rob Burley: At 9am a great #marr coming up with review of 2017, today's news discussed by Tim Shipman, Emma Barnett, Rachel Johnson plus Diane Abbott, David Gauke, James Norton and the BBC Singers. BBC1 in forty minutes time...
Tim Montgomerie: #Marr not even trying to represent Leavers anymore.
Rob Burley: As long as you don't count people like Nigel Farage, Kate Hoey, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Camilla Tominey, Michael Gove, Isabel Oakeshott, all guests in recent weeks...I mean I could go on...This is also, of course, based on the idea that Cabinet ministers who are enacting Brexit don't count if they voted Remain in 2016. So the PM doesn't count apparently.
And never the twain shall meet, apparently.

I do think that for the end of year review a pro-Brexit voice would have been a good idea. I've agreed with the thrust of Rob's main point many times before, but having no pro-Leave voices on the sofa at the beginning and the end (when the same three guests gathered, and one was the passionately anti-Brexit Rachel Johnson) was surely a miscalculation, balance-wise - and especially in an 'end of year review' segment? 

Who's this?

Andrew Marr's review of the papers began with this:
And now to the papers, the front pages as ever, and we've got somebody who thinks that Rees-Mogg is a sex god on the front of the Sunday Times apparently. 
"Somebody"!? That's the lovely Toff (Georgia Toffolo) no less, deserving winner of this year's I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!. I'm guessing Andrew isn't an I'm a Celebrity fan, despite the show having featured Kezia Dugdale and Stanley Johnson this year - and a Rob-Burley-length list of politicians in previous years. (I was hoping for either David Cameron or Robert Mugabe to be on the show this year too, but alas it never happened. Maybe next year). Andrew seems to prefer Strictly Come Dancing though, saying "I'm sure we all watched that" (Not me!), but he added, "Strictly has become a personality contest I think, and everybody loved Joe." (Over to Sue for that one?) 


Hmm, noting the Observer's front page, Andrew Marr talked of concerns about Mrs May "leaning too far towards Boris Johnson...[and after stumbling on the name 'Corbyn', his next headline]...and that lot". That's nice! 


And if you were wondering why the BBC wasn't focusing on the Mail on Sunday's lead story - the one about Corbyn supporters sending abuse and threats to a Tory MP and his pregnant wife - well, let Andrew explain: 
There's a story about Corbyn (sic) trolling a Tory MP on the front page of the Mail on Sunday, but I have to say this story is rather lacking in names and details. We probably won't give it a lot of attention. 
The Mail's own explanation for why its story "rather lacking in names and details" is that it's "to protect mother and child from further abuse", which isn't unreasonable I think.

(I learned the MP's name from Corbynista Ellie Mae O'Hagan on Paddy's Broadcasting House. She had no such qualms.)


As for Boris's interview with Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times, Andrew commented:
That's more or less what Theresa May said in the Florence speech, but now there is a clear gap. We're not allowed to use words like 'hard' or 'soft' and all the rest of it, but there is a clear gap between those people who want us to stay as close as possible to the EU - the kind-of convergers or the Continental Shelf party - and those who want to turn their back on that and look out to the rest of the world - the Deep Blue Sea party. Is that a fair assessment? 
That piqued my curiosity. What does he mean, "We're not allowed to use words like 'hard' or 'soft'"? Who's "not allowing" him? Surely not the BBC? 


Someone who bores Boris's sister

Rachel Johnson described Mrs May's piece in one of the papers today as "a MEGO" piece - a term used at the FT apparently, meaning "My Eyes Glaze Over". (That made Andrew laugh). Is there an ear-related equivalent for, say, radio interviews with David Miliband (the most boring radio interviewee in the history of political interviews), or Radio 4's You and Yours? "MEBUS" (My Ears Bung Up Spontaneously) perhaps? 


Praise from Caesar! As well as calling Mrs May "resilient" in his opening sermon, Mr Marr called her it again during the paper review: 
I used the word 'resilient'. She's like one of those fairground things, where every time you knock her she comes straight back up. There is perhaps a growing sense that she is able at least to keep going when lots of people, lots of men, would have given up at that point and stormed off in a huff, resigned... 
Andrew playing the 'male feminist' card there I see!

With an occasional Woman's Hour presenter, Emma Barnett, on the sofa, perhaps he felt the need to appease the vengeful feminist goddesses of BBC radio.


Hmm. When Rachel Johnson talked of us leaving the EU and going off "the cliff edge", Andrew segued on to the next story, saying "Well, some people in the country agree with you because there's a new poll today from the Independent, Emma?".  That new poll, plugged by BBC broadcaster Emma Barnett, shows 51% backing Remain and just 41% now backing Leave. Andrew then added, "Of course, we've had polls going in lots of different directions and there's another poll in the Sun. This is just one poll, but there may be some sense the mood of the country is changing." Hmm.


Diane in a Mao suit. (An early Christmas pressie from John McDonnell?)

What a pleasure it was to see Diane Abbott back on our TVs! I've so missed her car crash interviews. Thankfully, she was fully back on form this morning. Without once batting an eyelid, she stalled the interview more than once, went the wrong way round not one but two roundabouts, scraped several cars, performed a u-turn amid incoming traffic, overtook Andrew Marr on the brow of a hill and ended up (as ever) in a hedge before getting out and walking away as if nothing had happened. JC supporters on Twitter erupted in delight, lauding her for her wonderful driving skills and, loudly questioning why's she not yet been given the advance driving licence they think she richly deserves.

Update: I read elsewhere that others didn't see it this way at all.

Naturally, the lefties on Twitter felt that Andrew Marr had been a 'total biased Tory' and disgracefully mean towards poor Diane while going soft on 'his fellow Tory' David Gauke.

Meanwhile, on another BBC-critical blog, I also read righties saying that Andrew had been 'fawning' towards Diane and "intentionally unable" to challenge her silly points - and that the programme apparently "always" ends with "one of those black oil drum groups...or a nice bit of Bollywood",  which it most certainly does not. They would surely have been extremely pleased today though to learn that the show ended with a lovely traditional Christmas carol and that there was not even one 'person of colour' in sight to disturb their delicate sensibilities!

The "truth tellers" speak!


David Gauke was on too.


The closing carol was The Holly and the Ivy, sung by the BBC Singers. I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to my favourite of my own ITBB's posts for more on that piece:


Of course, you're probably really wanting some Rob Burley action on Twitter. And, as it's nearly Christmas, who am I to deny you that pleasure?

Laura C: Andrew Marr  just cannot help himself from making his personal views heard on #marr. He also commented that he cannot see Brexit being stopped. He's obviously unaware of the latest poll which sees support for #Remain take an 11 point lead on Leave.
Rob Burley: Erm, he was talking about that poll at the time. But otherwise your argument is watertight.
Laura C: Thanks for that. I’ve stopped watching his biased interviews so I wasn’t aware of that.
Rob Burley: Don't let the facts get in the way.
Laura C: Which facts?
Rob Burley: The facts about the interviews you don't watch anymore.
Laura C: I ask again: which facts?
Rob Burley: You make assertions about interviews you don't watch. If you watched you would know lots of facts about the actual interviews.
Laura C: .1. I stopped watching as of today so I have a fairly good idea of Mr Marr's interviewing style and biased approach. 2. I ask for the 3rd time: which facts?
Rob Burley: Well, you don't know anything about the facts of today's interview but it turns out you are actually a loyal viewer. Until this week. So thanks.
Laura C: I really cannot see what you're trying to say. I would have thought you'd have better things to do than split hairs with an ex-loyal viewer. Good to see the Beeb spends our licence fee in such productive ways.
Rob Burley: I'm doing this in my spare time.
Laura C: Maybe your spare time would be better employed ensuring Mr Marr stops using right-wing derogatory terms to describe Remainers. His language resembles that of publications like the Express and DM. Many of us expect better from #BBC.
Rob Burley: We are endlessly told we are pro-Remain or pro-Brexit or anti-Remain or anti-Brexit. We aren't these things.

Who's this?

Martin Diggins‏: Andrew Marr, please explain why you gave credence to the latest #Remoaner poll (sample size 1509) whilst ignoring this petition (sample size 112,893 and counting)? FakeNewsBBC
Rob Burley: We reported a poll - chosen by a reviewer - in the paper review. We pointed out it was one poll and others said something else. A petition is self-selecting so utterly useless as a test of broader opinion although it does tell us lots of people care about an issue.
Gadgee Gerry‏: I missed #Marr today so was it: 1. Forensic #Marr interrogating @UKLabour, 2. #BBCOneShow style #Marr  fawning over #Tory spokesperson
S0S1Z‏: Nah, David Gauke got spanked.
Rob Burley: 1. and also forensic interrogating David Gauke but why not tweet about something you missed anyway?
Gadgee Gerry‏: It's called choice.
Rob Burley: Yeah obvs up to you if you watch it, but if you don't and then have a go...
VanityByNature: Despite talking puppet Andrew Marr's best attempts to obfuscate Labours position, Diane Abbott was calm, precise, accurate and reasonable on everything she said on #Marr. Looking great too!
Free The Press: If only Andrew Marr would grill the those actually NEGOTAITING #brexit as much as he relishes questioning Labour on something they have no power over, and are not in charge of negotiations for. Dear Andrew, newsflash.. its the Tories who are leading negotiations
Rob Burley: Please see last week's interview with, erm, the UK's Brexit negotiator
Free The Press: Please note that I used the word 'grill'... not interview...Maybe you guys should note the difference between the ways you GRILL Labour.. but only INTERVIEW your #ToryChums
Rob Burley: I think we do matey.
Free The Press: Of course you do.... chum!  I'll give you a tip... next time a #ToryChum sits on the couch (especially one with as important a role as Davis)... Just imagine its a Labour politician sitting there (say..Diane Abbott for example ) and act accordingly 
Rob Burley‏: We already treat them the same way. Could your perception that we are harder on those you agree with have something to do with you agreeing with them?
Free The Press‏: Could your perception that you have no biases against Labour have something to do with you agreeing with Tories?
Rob Burley‏: You have no idea of my views on anything.
Free The Press‏: Yes I do... you've expressed a few of them here. One view is that the BBC is unbiased... and, yes, its an amusing view 
Rob Burley: What views have I ever expressed?
Free The Press‏: Here's one: …
Gotta go now. I'll reply when Im back
Rob Burley: These aren't me expressing political views. Because I don't. Soz.
Stanga‏: #Marr never asks about Tory policies, since there are none.
Rob Burley: Apart from today, and the week before that, oh yeah and the week before that and...
Mohammed Shafiq‏: Rob when you are attacked from both sides you know you are doing something right.  Have a good Sunday.
Andy Coll: Any chance of #Marr doing his job like a journalist and not a cheerleader? I suppose not. Decent journalists in other countries get at the truth, sometimes tragically giving their lives in the question. It would be shameful to describe Marr as a journalist so I won't again
Rob Burley: If you think we went easy on welfare issues today then you must have missed the programme.
Alladin Noons: There was me thinking David Gauke had been given a good run round the park by Andrew Marr. 
Rob Burley: Stop thinking, thinking is the mistake you are making.
Wan Ke Wanqa‏: The Andrew Marr who was a supporter of SCLV, an old comrade of John McDonnell, the man who is married to a prominent Labour peers daughter?...that Andrew Marr?
Ethel‏: Sounds like I 'missed' the same old crap this morning. Marr giving Tories far too much time and constantly talking over Labour bods. Same old, same old.
Rob Burley: Nope, whoever told you that is having you on.

What, no reindeer antlers?

Overview: Other than contributing licence payers' money to The Diane Abbott Christmas Fund, what WAS the point of having her on for a rerun of her 'I Know Nothing!' interview on #Marr in October 2017?  Devoid of ANY answers to ANY questions, this was down to the usual Abbott standard.
Rob Burley: Well , we don't pay politicians to come on but carry on...
Jason Bournemouth‏: Decent interview of Gauke from #Marr. I'm as surprised as anyone.
Rob Burley: Well you haven't been paying attention then, but thanks.
Jason Bournemouth: Alas Mr. Editor, I can only match your casual dismissal  by telling you to fuck off.
Rob Burley: Jason seems nice.
Tesh: How did you and Marr vote in the referendum. Leave or Remain?
Rob Burley: None of your bloody business.
Rob Burley: Merry Christmas from team #marr @RobBurl @AndrewMarr9 @laurawbbc @Jason_Keen - see you on January 7th!
CraigMorecambe: Merry Christmas to you too!

Light entertainment


Nothing to do with BBC bias really (well not much), but I read a couple of comments at Biased BBC this afternoon concerning the dastardly anti-Brexit activities of "My Lord Matlock Brown". 

I scratched my brains for a while, having never heard of him, and then Googled around and found it was actually the infamous Lord Malloch Brown, of Gordon Brown Era 'fame'. (Oh, I remember that bounder all too well!). 

My well-scratched brain then set about thinking how that particular Freudian slip on the B-BBC commenter's part might have come about.

So, Kelly Holmes-like, I donned my deerstalker, reached for my magnifying glass, called Nigel Bruce (rather than Martin Freeman any day), and set out (over 1500 m) in hot pursuit of the answer. 

I recalled that Mark Steel's latest (very funny) episode of Mark Steel's in Town came from Matlock/Matlock Spa, and it all then became elementary. 

Yes, that B-BBCer must have heard that very edition of Mark Steel's in Town, and it must still be fresh in his mind. 

I further deduced that that B-BBC commenter must be a closet Mark Steel fan - though I bet he'd never dare admit that at Biased BBC!

I myself have been open about my Mark Steel enthusiasm here before (despite deep differences with the old commie politically), so I'm not afraid (he says with an over-cocky flourish of his violin bow) to confess that my deduction as to the B-BBCer's likely thought processes were based on having listened to that very episode myself. 

(I recommend it, if you've not heard it. Yes, Mark labours the main joke a bit, but it's worth labouring). 

My ulterior motive for mentioning all of this was merely to add to the festive jollity of this pre-Christmas/mid-Hanukkak weekend, by posting (purely in the interest of disinterested blogging, and because it made me laugh a lot) a classic ITBB distillation of a Twitter thread which Mark Steel himself described as "so funny" today

It's a list of 'curses' on someone (a politician) who the Tweeter really doesn't like. 

Given that the BBC Radio 4 comedian who is recommending it is a Radio 4 comedian, I bet you can (if you think about it for while) quickly guess just who the particular politician in question is likely to be. 

Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on, see if you can guess it right!

(The answer is here: Answer!)

Mark, Man of Steel (Stalin?)

Ignore that if (like me) you rather like that particular politician and just enjoy the 'curses':

  • I hope his boiler breaks down.
  • I hope he loses his car key, and getting it replaced is a costly bureaucratic nightmare.
  • I hope the delivery he was waiting for arrives when he's at the sorting office picking up the delivery he missed two days ago.
  • I hope his favourite pub gets turned into a Zizzi.
  • I hope his bank makes him change his online banking password to something he'll never remember, and he has to go through a needlessly complicated reset password procedure every time he tries to log on.
  • I hope he goes to a toilet in a shopping centre, has a shit, then realises there's no toilet paper.
  • I hope he puts a washload on, forgets about it for two days, and when he finally opens the machine all his clothes have attained a permanently damp smell.
  • I hope he has to spend a day repeatedly going back to B&Q.
  • I hope he gets home hungry, puts a ready meal in the oven while he has a shower, then comes back downstairs 25 minutes later to find he didn't turn the oven on.
  • I hope the chip in his passport breaks, so he has to stand in a queue every time rather than going through the e-gates.
  • I hope he drops his phone in the urinal, leading to it only working intermittently, but being fine when he takes it into the phone shop to see if he can replace it for free under contract.
  • I hope he gets a cotton bud stuck in his ear while trying to dewax it, then has to explain it to a nurse who keeps saying: "You do know it specifically says not to do that on the box, don't you?"
  • I hope he spills a glass of red wine on his carpet, then when frantically trying to clean it, knocks the table, sending the rest of the bottle onto another bit of the carpet.
  • I hope, while wrapping presents, he slightly misjudges the amount of wrapping paper needed, and has to start over again. Then, when there's one present left, to run out of wrapping paper.
  • I hope he's horrifically hungover and gets stuck in traffic with a really chatty taxi driver who just won't take the hint.
  • I hope Windows 10 does a massive update on his computer when he's trying to print out tickets at the last minute.
  • I hope he's away for bin day after Christmas, and his neighbours don't put his bin out for him.
  • I hope his favourite Quality Street is discontinued.
  • I hope his hotel room has really inadequate curtains, and there's a streetlamp directly outside.
  • I hope there's a little icon at the top of his phone, indicating that he has new messages, but he never has any new messages and doesn't know how to make the icon go away.
  • I hope he has to wait in all day for an electrician, and when the electrician finally arrives, he doesn't have the part needed and it's too late to go and buy one.
  • I hope he loses the pub quiz by one point, following an answer that is technically correct, but the quizmaster won't allow it because it's not what he's got written down.
  • I hope he changes mobile phone service provider to save £5 a month, then realises the reception is really poor in all but the least used room in his house.
  • I hope he orders a lot of furniture from John Lewis that he thinks will be delivered ready-assembled, but actually requires a whole weekend of flat pack self-assembly.
  • I hope he cuts his lawnmower cable while mowing the lawn, spends £75 on getting an electrician to repair it, then immediately cuts it again in a different place within three minutes of restarting lawnmowing duties.
  • I hope he gets a document that's slightly too big for the drawer in the filing cabinet it belongs in, meaning he has to change his entire filing system to accommodate it.
  • I hope his credit card company blocks his card as a precautionary measure every time he tries to use it abroad, even though he repeatedly tells them he spends a lot of time abroad for work.
  • I hope all the chargers for his electrical devices require slightly different connections.
  • I hope the alarm on his phone has failed to go off on at least two occasions, so that he's now eternally paranoid about it not working, and can never get to sleep when he's got an early start the next day.
  • I hope all supermarkets remove his favourite sandwich from their Meal Deal.
  • I hope every time he fills in a passport application form, he absent-mindedly puts the current year instead of his year of birth, then has to go back to the Post Office the next day to get another form.
  • I hope that when he's using the self-service checkouts at the supermarket, he always has just one item that requires age verification, and that it always takes him at least five minutes to catch the attention of a member of staff.
  • I hope he orders pizza over the internet, then has to phone 45 minutes later when it hasn't arrived, and the local Domino's branch clearly missed the order coming through.
  • I hope he goes to the zoo and all the good animals are asleep inside where he can't see them.
  • I hope every hotel he stays in signs him up to their marketing email list, despite insisting they won't when he gives them his email address.

Partial reporting

News in The Mail on Sunday that a Conservative MP has been sent death threats and his pregnant wife threatened after the MP heckled Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister's Question Time has spread into other newspapers' reporting of Mrs May's condemnation of threats and abuses against MPs. The top comment under that MoS report reads, "Funny how the likes of the BBC don't report this." When I read the lead story on the BBC News website this morning, I won't be derailed on Brexit - May, I noticed that the subheading reads 'Death threats' and thought, 'Well, maybe the BBC has reported this after all'. But alas no. Unlike, say the Telegraph or the Independent (both of which report the MoS's story whilst reporting Mrs May's comments), the BBC only focuses on the disgusting threats against anti-Brexit Conservative parliamentarians. 

Saturday, 16 December 2017

'Newswatch' Interview with James Harding (Transcript)

For transcript lovers everywhere...

Samira Ahmed: James Harding, thanks for coming on Newswatch. Let's start with Brexit. You were Director of News during the EU referendum - a very divisive time for the nation. Looking back now what do you say to the many viewers who thought the BBC was actually essentially acting as part of the Establishment and clearly favouring Remain? 

James HardingI think that the referendum was, of course, an incredibly polarising time, as you say, Samira. But actually what's interesting is, of course, we've had complaints from both sides. And what we try to do, and I think when you look back and you look at the coverage, what we actually did do, was set about trying to explain what the choice was, trying to report out what the choice was. If you look back over the last few years, there have been an extraordinary number of democratic moments - two referendums, two general elections, a host of others around the world. I think one of the real lessons of the last few years is you can't predict what's going to happen. You can't rely on either political predictions or polls, and that means for us we have to do what we're here for, we've got to make sure that people get a sense of what the choice is. And that's what we really tried to do in that referendum, and that fact that was country was then and in some places remains polarised by that outcome is obviously reflected in the way that people respond to the news that they're getting.

Samira AhmedYou mention the need for the BBC to provide informed news about that issue, and there was a big accusation from many viewers that the BBC was in fact, during the referendum, too timid in calling out things, notably statistical claims being made by one side or another that just weren't true. 

James Harding: Well, that's brilliant, because your first two questions say, 'On the one hand,  the BBC was too Establishment; on the other hand it didn't do enough to make the case for Remain', so...

Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) No, it was just not calling out statistical claims.

James Harding: No, no. Listen! Firstly, many people come on Newswatch and we make an account of ourselves. There's no question at all, the BBC and, as a news organisation, a group of journalists, what we set out to do is to try and understand the world that's presented to us and make choices, and in that there is no question at all that the BBC has to make judgments, and we do. I suppose that on the issue of statistics, the specific question you're asking about numbers, actually, we made a very clear choice to try and challenge those numbers, question those numbers. And more than that, we didn't do it in a sort of ad hoc way, we took something called Reality Check, right, which was our system for fact checking, we really increased the resources, the number of people working on it and we've made that a permanent part of the way in which we cover politics and policy. So, rather than actually stepping back from analysing statistics and numbers, we've actually stepped into it. 

Samira Ahmed: Related to that, there was an issue about false equivalence. So in the case of Brexit people felt that there was an overwhelming percentage of economists who believed that Remain would be a better result but that the BBC was finding an economist to go on the other side. And to some extent the same with climate. 

James Harding: Well actually, you're exactly right. So the way that we really began to understand this issue of false balance - that's false equivalence, false balance - is this idea that every argument must have an 'on the one hand, on the other hand' and the truth is it doesn't. Not every argument has an 'on the one hand, on the other hand'. And when we were looking at climate change, particularly around the science of climate change, that wasn't the case. And one of the reasons why I think we thought very carefully in the context of the EU referendum was precisely because we learned our lesson as regards false balance about climate change and the science of climate change, so... 

Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) So there is a new policy now on climate change, how you report it?

James Harding: No, that's actually been the case for many years. Actually it pre-dates me. One of the lessons that we learned the better part of a decade ago was actually to think more seriously about how we measure, not the arguments over the response to climate change - people can have political views on that - but the arguments over the science and the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists, the overwhelming majority, were very clear about the scientific causes and consequences of climate change. 

Samira Ahmed: I just think that some viewers and listeners will be confused because they are wondering why people like Nigel Lawson have been on the Today programme in the past couple of months. 

James Harding: So, as you'll remember, there are two issues here, Samira, really well worth understanding, because there are people who accept the science of climate change but argue that the responses should be different and there are some people who don't accept the science. Our job is to report the science and then to enable the discussion about policy, about the responses, but not to confuse the two. And where we've got into trouble, and where we've had to stand up and say 'Sorry, we got that wrong' was where we've confused the two.

Samira AhmedWith hindsight, should the BBC have done representation of different political views differently? We've had many complaints from some viewers over the years about, for example, too much Nigel Farage. 

James HardingSo, I think it's a really good and important issue, this, and one that we spend an enormous amount of time thinking about. So, if you got into the team, for example, on Question Time, which would be a good place to start, we are really careful in trying to think about where we hold the programme, so we get the best possible spread of audiences, who's on the panel, not just in the context of who's on the panel on a particular Thursday night, but who's on the panel over the course of a year, over the course of an entire political or electoral cycle. So, we do really think about it a great deal. And actually if you look over time, if you look over all of the BBC, what we call 'output', all of the BBC programmes, it's something that we think really, really carefully about. Actually, if it's all right with you, I think there's something different that is really worth thinking about. It's not about the representation of political parties, it's about the representations of views and personal points of view that are not necessarily captured by political parties but are captured by groups of people or individuals who feel as though their voice should be heard on the BBC. One of the things we've really tried to do is change that too. And I think if you look where news is going, if you look at what's happening, not just in our big bulletins and programmes but what we've been doing in mobile and online, you can see that there are those voices, those stories being told in a way that was never the case before.

Samira AhmedTrust in BBC News has been eroded under your watch, hasn't it? 

James HardingWell, actually, it moves. So the truth is with trust, it moves. I think that obviously I arrived here on the back of Savile and McAlpine, and those were big issues facing the BBC and confidence in BBC News. Actually, that trust and confidence was significantly restored. But you're right, there's also a very profound argument going on around trust in the media generally in the light of what's happening politically. I don't just mean party politically, I don't just mean Brexit and Trump, I mean the extent to which people feel as though they're seen by, if you like, the system, by politicians, by the media - and, yes, that's something we've really got to think about. I think that when I came here the issue facing the BBC was about trust and confidence in our journalism in the light of what had happened. Could we go out and do investigative reporting? Could we go out and do controversial stories, stories which required deeper analysis? And I hope that we've shown, both in the UK and around the world, we do that. I think the point that you raise raises a different issue, which is 'How are we going to do more, particularly for younger audiences, particularly for people between the ages of 16 and 34?'. That's a big challenge that we've worked on and it needs a lot more work in the years to come.

Samira AhmedIn your resignation letter, you said you were going to set up a media company with a clear point of view. Does that mean you think the BBC's aim of impartial news isn't working in the age of fake news? 

James HardingNo, no, it doesn't. It means exactly the opposite. It means that the BBC's offer is working and should be what it is, which is impartial, but not necessarily taking a position. The public funds, we are funded by the licence fee payer, and everyone who pays the licence fee, I think, has a decent expectation that the BBC should operate in such a way that it reports what's happening but doesn't take a position, doesn't take a stand in the way in which newspapers or websites or other individuals might do. No, actually, I really believe in it. And if you look at the BBC's trust, the BBC trust levels are so much higher than any other news organisation. That's the simple fact. And we still have to keep on working on trust, but it is the thing that is the most impressive about the BBC and the public's relationship with the BBC. 

Samira Ahmed: You were tasked with a plan to cut £80 million from the news budget for the BBC. How much of that plan have you done? 

James Harding: When I arrived here we were on the back end of a five years' savings programme and we continued that. Actually the first year was a £50 million set of savings. And the BBC has been generally cutting its funding of news and current affairs in order to be more efficient and live within our means. You know, what happened in recent years was that we had essentially a frozen licence fee and so, as you can imagine, there was an increased cost of things. We had to make savings. We're doing that again now, and we're in a process where we are gradually identifying places where we can make savings...

Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) So basically it's still being worked out? I mean, it hasn't happened, has it?

James Harding: Well no, it hasn't happened but it will be worked out, yeah.

Samira Ahmed: Gender. The shocking scale of the gender pay gap was revealed this year with many male journalists on far higher salaries than women doing equal work of equal value. Why did you let that continue? 

James Harding: I think that this is an absolutely critical relationship for us in our relationships with our audiences, but also with the teams of people working at the BBC. So as you many remember, Samira, actually we didn't let it continue. We started very significantly and seriously seeking to change the BBC. So five years ago, when I joined the BBC, and I know I'm following up the work of many other people, five years ago what we set about doing was looking at the teams of people who were on air and on camera and the mix of people that we had on air didn't reflect and didn't come close to reflecting I felt the audiences that we've got. And, as you've seen, the mix of people who are now editors on air, our correspondents around the world, and the (?) of our programmes has fundamentally changed, and our mix has changed too. So off-air - i.e. the people who produce and edit programmes - has changed significantly too. When I joined...

Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) What about pay?

James Harding: Can I...let me finish! I'll come to pay, because you're completely right to raise it too. When I joined we looked at the situation where there were just about a quarter of the senior editors and managers were women. We've changed that. Now it's nearly 40%. We've still got a way to go, don't get me wrong, we've still got a way to go but you can change an organisation and when you look on the 6 O'Clock or the 10 O'Clock News, when you look at our programmes or you listen to our programmes today, you're seeing a very, very different group of people, and I'm sure that will continue. Now on pay that too we addressed. You may remember in 2016, in the spring, I announced what was called 'a news pay review' and we started making a number of changes. Now those changes were incremental, they take time, people understandably are on contracts, you have to make changes over time, but we have been making changes and in the course of this year what Tony Hall and I and others have set out to do is say, look, we want to be in the forefront of organisations in the country, not just the media but across all businesses. We want to be a place where we have real confidence that we have equal pay, fair pay for people across...

Samira Ahmed: (interrupting) So we are going to get equal pay? That's all people want to know!

James Harding: Hold on, hold on, hold on! Not only are we going to get it, we have equal pay. If you look, we did a full equal pay audit which showed there is equal pay across the BBC. We have a gender pay gap which is much smaller than other industries. We want to get it down to zero, and we're committed to doing that by 2017.

Samira Ahmed: So there is a gender pay gap, which is not exactly the same as 'We have equal pay'?

James Harding: No, you're exactly right...

Samira Ahmed(interrupting) Well, you've said that you want to explain it but I think we'll let viewers make up their own minds about that. I have another question about gender, but a very specific one. The first female political editor was employed under your watch, Laura Kuenssberg. Why do you think she has been getting unprecedented levels of vitriol and hatred? 

James HardingI don't know. I think it's shameful that she is, because she is an unbelievably impressive journalist. She is one of the most extraordinary journalists I've ever worked with. If you look at just the thoughtfulness, the diligence and the quality of the work, I'm just amazed that people are so personal, even if they don't like the politics they see in front of them. The fact they're willing to attack Laura - admittedly in different forms, mostly online - the fact they're willing to do that, I find is really shocking, and is bad for the way in which journalism is conducted and public debate. So, all I can say is that I know a few people do this. I do also have to say that I'm in a happy position that many people come up to me and say what an extraordinary job she's doing. And so I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that there are a huge number of people who recognise what an exceptional journalist and brilliant political editor she is.

Samira Ahmed We get lots of complaints from viewers that the BBC is anti-Jeremy Corbyn and is focused on Labour Party divisions. Do you agree that the BBC has collectively failed on the whole to treat him fairly and seriously? 

James HardingNo, I don't think that, although I do think there is a really interesting lesson in the coverage of Jeremy Corbyn. So what happened was that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, and within the Parliamentary Labour Party there was obviously great disquiet, there was great opposition to him within the Parliamentary Labour Party. And we reported that. We reported obviously not just the opposition to him, but the efforts that were made to get rid of him. There were leadership contests that were precisely about that. The question is, did we get that mix right alongside the mix of changes that were happening within the membership of the local Labour Party, and people who were not members? So, I would say the in course of the 2017 general election, we really DID capture that mood. If you go and you look at the way in which we were covering Jeremy Corbyn's rallies, we were the people saying the polls might say X, but look what's happening in terms of the rallies. We also, I like to think, really got to grips with the questions that were the heart of Jeremy Corbyn's proposal to the country in the nature of the manifesto - once again trying to examine the choice, rather than the horse race. But there is a question which is, from the time that Jeremy Corbyn was elected through to 2017, there are obviously changes within some of those constituency Labour Party, parts of the constituency Labour Party, and there's a politics element of that that is also really interesting, but also to the mood of certain parts of the electorate, and particularly young people. And getting to that and making sure we continue to get to that I think is really important. 

Samira Ahmed: You came from The Times and The Financial Times with no broadcasting experience. You hired a number of people into senior roles with no broadcasting experience from newspapers, and newspapers with overt political positions - so Ian Katz at Newsnight, Sarah Sands at the Today programme. Many viewers have complained that it's undermined the BBC's impartiality. Do you see that? 

James Harding: I don't at all. I think we've been incredibly fortunate to have brilliant people come to the BBC. And just so viewers are aware, of course, you know, this is an amazing place to work.  You know, to work at the BBC is as great a privilege as you can possibly have as a journalist. And it's no surprise people want to come and work here. And, yes, I've had some people who have come from papers, we've been lucky to recruit people from Channel 4 News, from ITN, from Sky, we've had people come from across the world of television and radio and print. And actually we're talking, when you mention those numbers, there are few people. Those people you mention are also actually excellent, and I think we're lucky to have them. We want a BBC surely that people who pay for the BBC should want a BBC that has the best people working for it. 

Samira AhmedBriefly, do you have any regrets? 

James HardingOh, yeah, I'm sure I have a fair few. I'm not sure that Newswatch is the most brilliant place to, sort of, unburden myself of all of them. 

Samira AhmedI think it is. 

James Harding: You think it is?

Samira AhmedLicence fee payers... 

James Harding: Well Samira, all right, let's have a go at it. I think that the... The biggest issues I've got are the one that I raise about how are we going to change an organisation when the behaviour of people around news is changing so fast. So, that's a long way of saying, we still have huge audiences for the 6 O'Clock and 10 O'Clock News, for the Today programme, and for 5 Live and Newsbeat. Yet we can also see people changing the way in they consume news. Are we moving fast enough to make those changes? And not just in terms of the devices, also the way we tell stories. How do we do that? That's one thing....

Samira Ahmed(interrupting) That's a challenge, not a regret. 

James Harding: Well, it's a regret in terms of 'Did we move fast enough? Have we moved fast enough?'. I think, look, the point that you make about making changes about the mix of people on air and off it, I'm really proud that we've moved. I'm really do think we've moved, and I think it's exactly right that the BBC's always under pressure to move further and faster. And again, would I have liked to say, 'I wish we'd gone further, we'd gone faster', yes of course, and I think that's a good thing, and it's a good spur on to the BBC to keep on changing in that way. And there are a host of other things but I'm not going to share them.

Samira AhmedYour successor, Fran Unsworth, is an internal candidate, which some might say reflects perhaps a decision to go a different way for the BBC. Do you have any advice for her? 

James HardingWell, I chose Fran when I joined as my deputy, and she has been an extraordinary person to work with. For people who don't know her, Fran has worked at the BBC for pretty much her entire career and knows and understands it. Most recently she was running the BBC World Service. And what you see with Fran is an incredibly thoughtful manager of people, a really intelligent judge of news, and a fantastic ambassador for the BBC. But most of all, what she has is the capacity to enable great people to do exceptional work. And when you are the Director of News and Current Affairs, that's the thing you really want to do. It's not what you do. The leadership of the organisation is enabling other people to do great things and no-one does that better in my experience, than Fran. So I think she will be a brilliant Director of News and Current AffairsI have loved working with her and I tell you a great, great many people in the BBC feel the same way. So I think of the audience - the viewers and the listeners - I hope will look and see in Fran Unsworth someone who is really committed to the best quality journalism that exists in the UK and, as she's demonstrated as the head of the World Service, around the world.

Samira Ahmed Thank you, James Harding. 

James HardingThank you very much. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Frantastic news?

Fran Unsworth 

So James Harding's replacement as the BBC's new Director of News and Current Affairs will be Francesca Unsworth. 

What do we know about Fran (besides what we can read on Wikipedia)? 

Well, she's a longstanding BBC insider and presently Director of the World Service, and, according to Guido Fawkes, has a "strong grasp of the impartiality rules". 

That latter bit sounds good, but...

She's also been the chair of the 'independent' BBC Media Action charity - and that's the charity, you may recall, which became controversial for its EU funding and its actions in apparently advancing EU priorities.

I'm not sure that anyone's ever quite got to the bottom of that yet, and it still smells bad to me.

She was (is?) also a board member (as per her BBC Declaration of Personal Interests) on the EU's world-embracing Erasmus Mundus programme.

That's seriously odd, isn't it? With all of her many BBC commitments, why on earth did she get involved at such a high level in a major EU project?

You can read about her 'very BBC' views on how to handle the issue of climate change here and here

Interestingly, she criticised Channel 4's Jon Snow for his impartiality-busting emotionalism over Gaza, saying "If one of our presenters had done something like that in a private capacity on YouTube, I'd have had to have said, this isn't really appropriate in terms of your public role as an impartial presenter of BBC news programmes. We take it very seriously." That's good.

Her BBC Media Action/World Service roles have involved her getting involved in public confrontations with the ayatollahs in Iran over their treatment of BBC staff and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's involvement with BBC Media Action. (See here and here).

On her 'very BBC' dismissive reaction to the Centre for Policy Studies' review of the BBC's coverage of think tanks (the CPS found left-wing bias), see here.

She launched a new North Korean service late this year. She told (Breitbart) The Guardian, "We are reaching an incredibly febrile, dangerous atmosphere at the moment about that whole story, and isn’t it terrible for the people of North Korea that the only information that they getting about any of this is that woman who goes on North Korean television every night?".

Ri Chun-hee, North Korea's answer to Fiona Bruce

Francesca's not featured much on our little blog so far though. 

Good luck in your new job Fran! We'll be watching you.

P.S. Fans of people called 'Unsworth' might recall that wonderful ITV sitcom from the late '70s/early '80s called In Loving Memory, starring Morecambe-born megastar Thora Hird. She played Ivy Unsworth, owner of an undertakers' business. We've got a boxed set of it, and it's still funny (particularly when hilarious things go wrong at funerals with coffins). Who remembers the bassoon-heavy theme tune?

Update: Just a little more background on Francesca Unsworth, the BBC's next Director of News and Current Affairs...

Here's something intriguing from David Keighley's archive over at TCW (from 2014), concerning the BBC's much-criticised helicopter-festooned coverage of Sir Cliff Richard's arrest. It looks as if R Fran was heavily involved in that:
In what looks like a carefully organised off-the-record briefing last night, reporter John Plunkett says that it was deputy director of news Fran Unsworth who gave the go ahead for the coverage. The reason? Because the Corporation is ‘coming under increasing pressure in its news operation to beat rivals to exclusive stories’.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Supplementary pieces

It’s hectic chez Sue at the moment, but I’d like to quickly link to pieces that relate to a couple of our earlier posts. 

Time (lack of sufficient) sometimes forces me to combine several issues in one piece and I often have to condense material that I’d have liked to expand upon much more fully. Not to worry; someone far more eloquent has done it so I don't have to.  Here’s Douglas Murray’s article for Gatestone Institute about President Trump and Jerusalem. He compares Emily Maitlis’s appalling Newsnight interviews, first with Ghada Karmi and next with Mark Regev. 
The reaction around the world in recent days has been a reminder of the one central truth of the whole conflict. Those who cannot accept that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel tend to be exactly the same as those who cannot accept the State of Israel. Consider the expert whom the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Newsnight chose to bring on to receive soft-ball questions on this issue. Dr. Ghada Karmi, from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, a notorious opponent of Israel, was inevitably given the sort of respectful interview style that Newsnight presenters generally reserve for when they are interviewing Madonna or some other mega-star they cannot believe their luck at having gotten to speak with. 
Here is what Ghada Karmi had to say -- with no meaningful challenge from the programme's presenter, Emily Maitlis. 
Ghada Karmi: We know that Donald Trump is not a free agent. He is surrounded by pro-Israel advisors, pro-Israel officials. 
Emily Maitlis (BBC): To be fair the American stance towards Israel has not differed particularly from one President to another. 
Karmi: No, because it's always been dictated by Israeli interests. 
Maitlis (BBC): So what are you saying – that he cannot broker peace or America cannot broker peace in the region. 
Karmi: No – of course not. He can't. He's compromised. He is surrounded by pro-Israel propagandists, people who want Israel's interests above any other and he cannot operate as a free agent even if he had the wit to do it.... Why it is so dangerous is because you know one of the first things that might happen -- and watch for this -- is that Israel will be emboldened to take over the Islamic holy places. It's had its eye on the Aqsa mosque for a long time. 
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, when Maitlis then turned to interview the Israeli ambassador to the UK, she adopted a different tone. 
Ambassador Mark Regev was not given these sorts of soft-ball questions. If he had claimed that the Palestinians were planning to bulldoze the Western Wall, it seems unlikely he would have been allowed to say it uncontested. He was in fact treated throughout as though he were simply some well-known variety of idiot or liar, who had no concept of the "offence" (a favourite threat term) that this move by the American President would cause Palestinians.
Ghada Karmi was not challenged on the claim that the Israelis were about to take over any and all Islamic holy places (to do what?), but Ambassador Regev's suggestion that the State of Israel already has its Parliament, Supreme Court and every wing of government in Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem might just be Israel's capital, was treated as though it were the most inflammatory nonsense the BBC had ever heard.

The second piece that filled in gaps  (left by me) concerns another comparison between two interviews by John Humphrys on the Today Programme, 6th December.

Again, the tones employed by the interviewer with the Israeli and Palestinian representatives were 'chalk and cheese'. My post attempted to take on several issues from the same day’s episode, but BBC Watch has posted part one (of a two-parter) that addresses the first interview in detail. 
Needless to say, the hostility of the tone used to question the reasonable sounding Israeli, Nir Barkat, was palpable, whereas Humphrys took Manuel Hassassian’s histrionics in his stride.
There’s a full transcription of the first interview here   - then Hadar Sela gets out the stopwatch and goes into full Craig mode:
Leaving out the introduction, this interview lasted just over four minutes, during which Humphrys interrupted his interviewee on five occasions and spent well over a quarter of the time (1 minute and 14 seconds) speaking himself – including lengthy statements .

I await part two with interest.