BBC Bias

Kathy  Gyngell: In the BBC’s Alice in Wonderland world, criticism by MPs compromises its impartiality

Kathy Gyngell: In the BBC’s Alice in Wonderland world, criticism by MPs compromises its impartiality

Biased Today, biased yesterday and biased tomorrow,  the BBC  has much to answer for over its uncritical and inadequate EU coverage.

More than any other news outlet the BBC shapes and moulds public opinion. Over the years, it has inspired an unwarranted public confidence in the EU. It has been responsible for conveying a sense of the inevitability and necessity of British membership

Had it not so determinedly stuck to its view that the EU was ‘a good thing’,  a fact of life that anyone in their right mind should accept,  Britain might not be in the mess it’s in today.  We might not have uncontrolled immigration; we might be able to deport who we want when we want; and we might still have a vibrant fishing industry. That’s just three of the many areas over which we have lost national authority at great cost.

The  House of Commons all-party EU Scrutiny Committee’s report, published yesterday, which accuses  the BBC of ‘falling down severely’ in its obligation to provide impartial coverage of the EU, raises these questions.

Its findings confirm what many of us have been arguing for years – that BBC coverage of EU matters is deplorable, that it has a ‘concerning’ pro-EU bias, and that Eurosceptics have been given inadequate airtime.  Specifically the MPs criticise Lord Hall for failing in his role as the BBC’s editor-in chief .

All this rings a profound bell with me, just as does the arrogance of the BBC’s response.  The crux of it is that the BBC cannot be criticised because (in their perverse world) any criticism by MPs (however valid it may be) constitutes a breach of the Corporation’s independence. It can’t be seen to follow MPs criticism – no, not even if it is right.

I wonder which Propaganda (sorry Press) Officer there dreamed this excuse up as he pondered the embargoed document before publication? I know that nothing should surprise me but I am amazed that Lord Hall signed off such a response for release. Perhaps for this particular editor-in-chief,  intent and belief are adequate substitutes for whatever is actually broadcast.  During his appearance before the Committee, his claim that the desire for balanced output “ran deep” within the BBC and that he believed that this was being achieved now, sounded like weasel words.  It isn’t being achieved.

This is far from the first time that the BBC has stonewalled criticism about its EU coverage.  I have in my files copies of an ongoing correspondence with Helen Boaden, the then Controller of Radio Four, back in the early 2000s. Like today’s BBC spokesperson, her response that the Corporation provided extensive and impartial coverage of European and Parliamentary issues was (or should be, she thought) sufficient unto the day.

Boaden refused to consider the consistently logged, timed, comprehensive transcript evidence and analysis,  that we (Minotaur Media Tracking) sent her, as evidence.  In her thinking no external monitoring of BBC output could or would ever constitute evidence – however objective or impartial – because the BBC editorial process meant that the BBC was always impartial – and therefore above criticism. It’s surprising to find she has a degree in English literature;  the concept of tautology could not have featured in her studies.

Despite Lord Wilson’s subsequent critical report, despite the cumulative log of evidence of BBC bias by News-watch, despite the fact that this is far from the first time that the BBC has been called to account, the BBC never wavers in it pre-programmed ‘Boaden’-style response. It refuses to harbour any self doubt – not a smidgeon.

Lord Hall has taken a leaf out of Ms Boaden’s book. “As Lord Hall told the committee, we are and will be impartial in all matters concerning our coverage,” the BBC spokesman said.

James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News and `Current Affairs, was not backward in going on the offensive either. His ‘Aunt Sally’ was that if the public was going to trust the BBC to report on politicians impartially it had to be clear that BBC journalists weren’t “asked by politicians to come and account for what they do and in effect do the bidding of those politicians”.

True to form the Today programme thought there was nothing to defend either.

In its own inimitable way yesterday morning’s edition of Today devoted 8 minutes to a Mark Knopfler record plug but nothing to the EU Scutiny Committee’s report that just happened to criticise the BBC on a subject of fundamental importance to every British citizen!

This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman

Photo by John Christian Fjellestad

The Cliff Richard affair is damning evidence the BBC cares little for journalistic standards

The Cliff Richard affair is damning evidence the BBC cares little for journalistic standards

The economical-with-the-truth Broadcasting Corporation – that’s the conclusion of a new report into BBC behaviour.

In response, the Corporation has brushed aside without even a flicker of acknowledgement the findings of one of the UK’s most senior policemen over their disgraceful conduct in vastly inflating the importance of the raid last summer by South Yorkshire Police on the home of Sir Cliff Richard.

This is despite the fact that former chief constable Andy Trotter, who retired in 2014 from his final role as head of the Transport Police, is one of the UK’s leading experts in handling the press.   Trotter cut his teeth in this sector at the Ladbroke Grove train disaster, and at his retirement was the Association of Chief Constables’ lead on media relations.

On that basis, his credentials in terms of understanding the needs of the press and the delicate complexities in the flow of information from the police to the outside world are impeccable. They were honed in the white-hot crucible of deeply tragic events such as 7/7 and at the highest levels of policing.

Trotter was asked by the police commissioner in South Yorkshire to investigate the raid on Sir Cliff.

As I have previously reported extensively on TCW, the raid went ahead despite being based on the flimsiest of evidence, and – even more disturbing – in full collusion with the BBC who treated it as a major news event, complete with helicopter shots. The scale of the coverage conveyed the impression that the singer had been convicted of major crimes.

Leading human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, whose leftist sympathies would normally make him an ally of the Corporation, was so outraged by the BBC’s conduct that he described it as a ‘conspiracy to injure’ the singer.

The BBC’s response, of course- as it always is – was to deny with sullen insolence any wrongdoing. In their stance, they were unfortunately aided and abetted by the publicity-seeking Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee. He conducted an over-hasty inquiry with incomplete evidence and decided that the over-the-top elements of the raid were all the fault of the police.

Subsequent leaks of   conversations between the police and the most senior BBC news management figures involved in the raid show that Vaz’s conclusions were nonsense – the BBC, in effect, conspired with the South Yorkshire cops to make it a no-holds-barred news circus, the impact of which was bound to damage and humiliate Sir Cliff to the maximum extent.

Trotter’s report on the events has not been formally released. It has been obtained as the result of a freedom of information requests and accounts are now available in the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Mail.

According to both, Trotter is deeply scathing about South Yorkshire police’s actions for breaking basic media-relations police rules, and says that officers should never even have even confirmed to the BBC that they were investigating Sir Cliff. The decision to work with the Corporation in planning the raid was therefore wholly wrong.

But his conclusions about the BBC are even more damning.  According to the Yorkshire Post report, Trotter decided that the Corporation’s account of events simply does not add up. He believes they effectively conned the South Yorkshire Press Office into working them with them on the story by not being straightforward about their sources.

Of course, journalism is to some extent about wheeling and dealing and the darker arts of persuasion. But here, it seems, the BBC was hell-bent on nailing Sir Cliff – irrespective of the strength of the evidence – and therefore they conned the force into panic reactions. What happened subsequently has been described as ‘shocking collusion’ to besmirch the singer’s reputation.

Trotter has made six recommendations for change about how South Yorkshire Police should deal in future with press relations and all have been fully and instantly accepted.

The BBC, however, does not give a damn.  Its response to his report is that Keith Vaz found no evidence of BBC misconduct or errors of judgment and therefore they have no response whatsoever to his allegations. That amounts to arrogant complacency.

In other words: Car crash? What car crash? BBC lawyers have, it can be guessed, advised Lord Hall and his senior management that if they admit anything, it will open the doors for Sir Cliff to claim very substantial damages. That could be on the cards.

But that’s not the point. The BBC Trustees are charged to ensure that in return for its massive public financing, the Corporation acts with integrity and the highest journalistic standards. As the full picture of BBC conduct in this sordid affair gradually unfolds it is clear that this is emphatically not the case. But not only that: they don’t give a damn about standards.

The Guardian, predictably, is trying to exonerate the BBC for the way they behaved by splitting hairs over the implications of what the Trotter report actually  said– but the overall facts speak for themselves. This was disgraceful conduct.

Photo by Music News Australia

Springshot: The Great European Disaster Movie

Springshot: The Great European Disaster Movie

Scratch the surface of almost any BBC statement about ‘impartiality’ or ‘bias’ and you unearth a rather an unpleasant smell.

The BBC says no EU money was used in the making of its Sunday night pro-EU extravaganza The Great European Disaster Movie, which depicted  in ludicrous, extremist terms  the total disintegration of civil society across the continent, if, God forbid, the EU was forced out of existence.

Note the weasel words: ‘in the making of’. The reality is that post-production, the film-makers Bill Emmott and Annalisa Piras – both of whom are pro-EU fanatics – have told the outside world they are receiving EU money for the transmission of the film in other languages. So put another way, it is an EU propaganda project.

And the BBC were co-producers of that film.

What’s also not clear is who did fund the project. It was made by Piras’s company Springshot Productions, and that means its financing is totally opaque. Things here don’t add up. It’s unlikely that the budget of a project of such scale and production standards would be anything less than £1m, and yet Springshot is tiny. According to the company website, it has made only one other film, two years ago.

The point here is that it is only larger production companies turning over millions a year that can afford to make glossy hypothetical dramas – and they don’t generally make money, which is why they are so relatively scarce. Someone with deep pockets and a deep desire to spread massively pro-EU propaganda was behind it. The BBC should tell us who this was so we can make up our own minds about the decision to show it.

It seems that someone, somewhere in the higher echelons of the BBC hierarchy has a guilty conscience, because immediately after it was shown, a very rare occurrence happened, the BBC equivalent of a Blue Moon. In a Newsnight special hosted by Robert Peston,  two genuine EU ‘come outers’, Mark Reckless, the Ukip MP, and Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist, were fleetingly allowed to make some of the arguments in favour of withdrawal and to explain why the claims by Emmott and Piras were preposterous.

Unlike the unremitting one-sidedness of the film, the views of Reckless and Hitchens were of course offset, notably by a spokesman of the Greek Marxist party Syriza, who agreed with Emmott in ascribing all the current massive economic problems of the EU to nasty ‘austerity’.

There are other BBC-related problems in this film which only surface with digging. Emmott, a former editor of the Economist, and Piras, an Italian who worked as a foreign correspondent in London for many years, are clearly united in their huge desire to ram the need for the EU down our throats.

They are so fanatical that they have set up an organisation called The Wake Up Foundation, a so-called charity, the main aim of which – though clothed in high-flown language – is as another vehicle to spread their EU bile. A feature by Emmott on their website in which he compares Nigel Farage to Silvio Berlusconi typifies the approach.

Far more concerning about the Wake Up Foundation, however, is that one of its trustees is Richard Sambrook, who is a former head of BBC newsgathering and Director of News, who was moved sideways to the World Service at the end of his BBC career because of question marks in some quarters in his judgment relating to the BBC’s handling of the fall-out from the Iraq war.

Sambrook, after a spell as a public relations advisor, re-surfaced as a Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University.  His department was commissioned by the BBC Trustees in 2011 to conduct research linked with the Stuart Prebble inquiry into whether the BBC was covering EU-related issues in accordance with the Charter.

That research, as has been reported by Kathy Gyngell on TCW, was ineptly conducted and as a result gave the wholly false impression that BBC news programmes gave adequate coverage to eurosceptic and withdrawalist opinion. Not only that, the main person who conducted the research had recently received a substantial slug of EU cash from the EU for a project designed to ascertain how the EU might better project itself.

So, put another way, the BBC commissioned a rabidly pro-EU programme from a programme making duo who have close professional and organisational links with a former Director of BBC News who, in turn, has been appointed by the Corporation to tell the outside world – on a supposedly ‘objective’ basis – how balanced and impartial the BBC’s output in relation to the EU is.

The linkage raises several awkward questions.  Was Sambrook directly involved in the making of the European Disaster Movie? Was he involved in any way in persuading the BBC to show it and to become co-producers? To what extent is he involved in the dissemination of the pro-EU propaganda of the Wake Up Foundation? Were the BBC aware of his links with Emmott when they commissioned his department to do the Prebble survey?

Something in the state of Denmark, if not rotten, smells very fishy indeed.

Now the BBC’s official historian joins the vendetta against the Iron Lady

Now the BBC’s official historian joins the vendetta against the Iron Lady

It is not clear from Google how Professor Jean Seaton became official historian of the BBC. But she was appointed to that dizzying status in 2001 – and she is without doubt perfectly suited to the role.

Why? Well because of her impeccable Labour credentials.  What is it about the Corporation that even its mysteriously-appointed ‘official historian’ is a card-carrying Guardianista?

Seaton is the widow of former Labour ‘intellectual’, MP, and historian Ben Pimlott. She is a regular contributor to the Guardian in defence of the Corporation, and she clearly believes in her many books of media analysis from her lofty role as Professor of Media Studies History at the University of Westminster that the BBC is the only bulwark against those nasty, encroaching hordes of the free-market media.

She has now turned her attention to the Thatcher-era BBC. And in line with much of the central mission of the BBC itself, her primary aim in Pinkoes and Traitors – The BBC and the Nation 1974-1987 appears to be trash the reputation of the Iron Lady.

And in an extract in the weekend press, she certainly delivers.  This is a claws-fully-out attack from someone who clearly hates Thatcher with a vengeance and has old Kinnock-era scores to settle.

The charges against her are multiple and multi-layered. Foremost, according to Seaton, she hated the BBC because it would not tell the story of the Falklands War or the battle against terrorism in Northern Ireland in the way she wanted.  As a result, she was rude to BBC staff, thought the Corporation was scheming against her, and delighted in humiliating BBC interviewers. She flounced out of studios.  Seaton throws in that Mrs T had the temerity to be truculent and aggressive towards BBC management figures, refused to talk properly or rationally to them, did not know what she really wanted in terms of reform,  but and above all wanted her own way.

Professor Seaton claims in reaching this verdict that she has talked to many BBC people and delved deep into the archives. But the conclusions are exactly what might be expected by a Labour historian of the era – so she might just as well not have bothered.

There is also a glaring inconsistency in her picture. She has apparently unearthed from the archives something not previously known: that the disastrous Labour Winter of Discontent government had devised a plan to end BBC independence, replacing the licence fee with funding through general taxation.  In her blind mission to rubbish Thatcher, it seems to have passed under Seaton’s radar that actually, the Labour party of Harold Wilson and his heirs was viscerally against the BBC and wanted to curb its journalism in a way that no Conservative government has ever attempted.

In fact, when Thatcher was elected in May 1979, her government actually rejected the Labour plan for socialist-style state control and instead, Mrs Thatcher – despite her frequent grumpiness about BBC conduct and reporting – actually acted decisively to continue the licence fee.

Subsequently, as I have written recently on TCW, she did decide the BBC needed reform through taking advertising. But it was pressures from within the Conservative party that prevented this from happening.

It was 1985 before she acted on the plan by appointing the Peacock Commission – and here, she made the fatal mistake of also allowing the appointment to that body of former Guardian editor Sir Alastair Hetherington.  When it finally reported, the fire had been turned decisively away from the BBC and towards reform of ITV.  So Mrs Thatcher – far from wrecking the BBC – actually saved it in 1979 and was thwarted in her efforts to achieve even the most minor reform.

Another part of Seaton’s analysis seriously lacks credibility.  I worked at the BBC for a substantial part of this period (1978-85). Part of my role entailed regular attendance at planning and briefing meetings of the most senior BBC editors at Lime Grove and at Television Centre. I thus had a ringside seat observing the Thatcher-BBC battles that Seaton claims were dominated by Thatcher’s irrational, vicious petulance.

It was a different era, and there were still vestiges of a solid, professional desire at the BBC to deliver properly balanced journalism. There was even one editor who I suspected might have voted Conservative, though he would never have had the guts to confirm it to his colleagues. But boy, did those editors hate Thatcher. And while they professed to be ‘impartial’, it seemed to me at the time and in retrospect they delighted in nothing more than when they thought they had got one up on her or her government.

A main issue back then revolved round the redoubtable Sir Robin Day. In his heyday, Sir Robin had been the feared scourge of all politicians, an adroit, highly-skilled interrogator. But by the 1980s his star was beginning to fade. He told me in 1985 (for a BBC syndicated feature) that it seemed to him he had started out as Torquemada, and was now (as humble as) Uriah Heep.

The BBC editors wrung their hands that Sir Robin – still their most senior political interviewer, and the one who therefore handled the key election interviews – was not skewering Thatcher. This came to a head in the famous 1983 General Election Panorama encounter when Sir Robin was clearly flustered and stung when Mrs T called him ‘Mr Day’, rather than ‘Sir Robin’ no fewer than 11 times. Behind the scenes, there was much plotting to oust him for his failure – but his reputation and track record still counted massively, and it came to nought.

Now of course, it was part of the BBC’s job to attempt to skewer Maggie. But this was a disproportionate, concentrated and festering drive for vengeance. And during 1984, another crisis point was reached when the Panorama programme Maggie’s Militant Tendency – the central premise of which was that Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative party had Nazi leanings  – was broadcast.

I was ordered by the then DG’s office on the night of its transmission, when it became clear that some of the journalism involved was suspect,  to tell the media in Watergate fashion that the Corporation ‘stands by its story’.   Eventually, the programme – like so much of Seaton’s vitriol against Thatcher – was shown to be hot air, and substantial libel damages were paid to the MP Neil Hamilton.

Memories are of that bitter defeat, it seems, are long: now the BBC knives are out for David Cameron – and, he like Mrs Thatcher before him, has failed to reform the Corporation. But at least the Iron Lady tried.

Photo by Joybot

Bias by Omission as Romania and Bulgaria Influx Rises

Bias by Omission as Romania and Bulgaria Influx Rises

Happy New Year – it’s the anniversary of when, courtesy of the EU’s Free Movement of Peoples directive, restrictions were lifted on the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians entering the UK.

Latest figures released by the Oxford Migration Observatory show that 250,000 are now here and 47,000 arrived during 2014.  That’s equivalent to a city the size of Wolverhampton – and 20% are jobless.

The inflow of around 50,000 a year, it should be noted, is exactly in line with what Migration Watch predicted in January 2013, and as Sir Andrew (Lord) Green pointed out, are likely to cause huge additional pressures in terms of the ability of our infrastructure and services to cope.

The playing down by the BBC of the likely scale of the inflow from the two countries began in earnest in April of 2013, when Newsnight told us that its own survey showed that Romanians weren’t really interested in coming here.

By commissioning such a poll (not cheap, but, hey ho, it’s only licence fee money) , the programme fired a clear shot showing  the extent editors would go to  spike the guns of those who wanted to raise immigration issues.

Then last January, as the restrictions were lifted, programmes continued the effort to tell us that there would be no repetition of the Polish surge of EU immigrants back in 2004. A good example is  this, filed at the end of January 2014. The reporter tells us he could find only one Romanian family in Peterborough. His approach clearly reflected the corporate editorial angle:  nothing to see.

But it was on May 14 – just over a week away from the poll in the European election on May 22 – when the BBC editors demonstrated the full weight of their desire to discredit those with concerns about immigration. Provisional government figures showed a minor blip in the upward trend in entries from Bulgaria and Romania. Such interim totals should always be treated with caution. Not at the BBC.  Political editor Nick Robinson went to town, as this transcript shows.

For him, and the BBC news machine, it seems this was exactly the ammunition for which they had perhaps been praying.

In the BBC1 6pm and 10pm News that day – in a feature bristling with righteous indignation – Robinson first spoke to a Romanian who told him that all his fellow countrymen who wanted to come to the UK were already here.

Then he inserted a soundbite from Nigel Farage deliberately edited, it seemed, to make him look both immoderate and foolish in his predictions. And finally, just for good measure, he lined up Yvette Cooper , Vince Cable and Conservative employment minister Ester McVey all to say what total tommyrot he – and those with fears about immigration – were talking.

Yvette Cooper kicked off, laying into  Farage’s ‘shrill claims’; Cable  referred to ‘scare-mongering’   and Ms McVey said that the latest figures showed Mr Farage was ‘wrong’.

This was a pivotal movement in the election coverage, as the News-watch report covering the campaign, pointed out. It epitomised the Corporation’s main editorial approach – to seek to undermine wherever possible the case for withdrawal from the EU and the restriction of immigration.

Of course, UKIP surged to first place in the European poll and have since won two by-election victories. Many at the BBC argue, therefore, that this shows that their coverage towards those who have concerns about the EU and immigration is fair.

But this is utter nonsense. Close scrutiny of transcripts over long periods shows that their bias both by deliberate skewing and ignoring key reports and evidence. The electoral victories are being achieved despite constant editorial obstruction.  And maybe also – to an extent – because people see through the bias?

What the new Romanian and Bulgarian figures also show is just how much the BBC is prepared to distort or ignore the actual evidence.

The Oxford Observatory report containing the latest figures was released on an embargoed basis to the media on December 29 at the latest and posted on its website on December 30. The report was mentioned widely and prominently in the national press that morning.  But on the BBC website?  Not a peep. On the Today programme? Zip.

Instead, on Today, we got guest editor Lenny Henry doing his level best – in every way he knew – to accuse UKIP MEP Amjad Bashir of being racist and a traitor to ethnic minorities for daring to want a points system for immigration. Yes, the admirable and good humoured Bashir gave us good as he got – but there was no disguising Henry’s vehement distaste.

Photo by Holidayextras

Wood Drama Shows Liberal Left Bias

Wood Drama Shows Liberal Left Bias

My grandfather was born in 1901, joined the army under age to serve in the trenches of the First World War, then re-enlisted and by the age of 21 was discharged again having served in bloody theatres in both the North-West frontier (modern Pakistan) and Iraq.

He was brought up in grinding poverty in the backstreets of the industrial West Riding, but was a melodious baritone, energetic dancer and a natural comedian. After leaving the army for good, he appeared on the northern music hall circuit with his best friend Billy, but was forced to give it up because my great-grandmother insisted that he find a proper job.

That meant he never got further in his life than being an unskilled labourer. He was unemployed during the Depression, and his last job, when he retired at 65 in 1966, paid less than £5 a week.

But he was a perennial optimist and he loved the idea of success. His heroes and heroines were figures like Charlie Chaplin and Gracie Fields. And so it was that the story of Nymphs and Shepherds, a million-selling record made by a children’s choir in Manchester in 1929 – in the era of the wind-up gramophone – was something that I was aware of from being a tiny tot.  He adored the story of people like him making good, of being able to better themselves.

To him, the recording of Nymphs and Shepherds was a shining example of what ordinary folk could aspire to and achieve if they had discipline, decency, application and the right framework provided by teachers and bosses who cared.

So it with eager anticipation – and with my grandfather firmly in mind, especially as it was Christmas – that I decided to watch Victoria Wood’s ‘The Day We Sang’ musical on BBC2. The previews suggested that this was a bells-and-whistles Boxing Day evening treat, the finest that the BBC could offer.

I should have known better. In reality, this was a crude political tract with every BBC prejudice on display. Ms Wood delivered the bullets – the plot and characters, though based on a real event, were concocted in her imagination – but it was the BBC which provided the lavish budget and put her agitprop class polemics at the heart of its Christmas offerings.

Of course, it was funny and even moving in parts, if in a rather sugary way. An essence of the magic of the choir’s performance was captured. Victoria Wood has many talents and knows how to spin a yarn. But within seconds the grating clichés of characterisation began to appear, and with them, a descent into excruciating parody.

Boo!  One of the key characters you loved to hate was the callous, abandoning father of the lead boy who nearly didn’t make it to the choir’s performance. This archetypal male drone was, of course, off to Canada without a second thought – all he could give to his son as he broke his heart with news of his departure was a gramophone.

Hurrah! Another key feature of the play was that the lead boy was being brought up by a heroine put-upon single mother, surviving against all the odds in post- Jarrow march Manchester and clearly a beacon for us all.  She was a bit dour maybe, and a bit of a killjoy – but that was because she was down-trodden and scared in a world that didn’t care (even thought there was a Labour-led Coalition government in 1929).

Boo –again! The second Mr Nasty, another vital pillar of the plot, was the lead woman’s boss, a callous, brain-free buffoon motivated only by what was in his trousers. He was a Capitalist and therefore devoid of any decent human characteristics at all, and he had led his saintly female employee into personal Armageddon by forcing an affair upon her.  Not quite an ‘all males are rapists’ characterisation – but only a whisker away.

Shock Horror! The male lead, played Mr Nice Guy himself, the singer Michael Ball, was a decent caring male. But here, of course, there was a sting in the tale.  He was romantic and caring in a bumbling, vacuous sort of way – and that’s because actually, like the Capitalist Boss, he had not much between the ears and therefore was incapable of artifice or scheming.

Hurrah -again! For the saintly and put-upon (also by the nasty Capitalist  Boss) secretary who with care, compassion and brilliant human insight ensured that the two leads could continue with their romance despite the male vacuity, domination and unpleasantness all around.

Boo! Too, for the middle class participants in this tale of class warfare. They were boring, self-interested, essentially thick, and their only aspiration was to be able to eat in a Berni Inn.

Nicholas Booth has already on The Conservative Woman over the Christmas period adroitly made the point that BBC drama, along with most of the output, has gone beyond redemption in its bias. What leapt out from ‘The Day We Sang’ in block capitals was how simplistic, uni-directional and in-your-face this campaign has now become, and how bankrupt the BBC is in not offering any alternative viewpoints.

All in all, less subtle than a pantomime.

My grandfather, I guess, is turning in his grave.

 

Humphrys Mea Culpa – More Hot Air from the BBC

Humphrys Mea Culpa – More Hot Air from the BBC

John Humphrys ‘admission’ behind a paywall in the Sunday Times that the BBC has botched and skewed coverage of immigration – and failed to reflect genuine concern and genuine cultural and infrastructure issues, not to mention the malign influence in the equation of the EU –  is a classic and totally meaningless Corporation mea culpa.

Why? Well Humphrys produces not a shred of evidence to back up his claim. It’s a lofty pronouncement from a high priest of BBC journalism to us less lesser mortals, the audience.

He doesn’t say in which interview, with which guests or how or when he arrived at the judgment. Was it perhaps when for the nth occasion, he patronisingly told Nigel Farage he was a corrupt fruitcake and failed to treat him seriously? Or maybe when he and his colleagues deliberately ignored yet another report from Andrew Green at Migration Watch, and instead focused on the risibly skewed findings of ‘researchers’ at UCL who said the total influx of Polish immigrants would be 14,000?   Of which, more, later.

No, this ’bias’ happened at some undefined, mysterious time in the murky miasmic mists of the Blair era. It evidently made Humphrys queasy and uneasy, but back then, he and his chums above and below him in the BBC hierarchy did nothing at all about it.

Now, though, says the great man, the bias is fixed – it’s a matter of regret, but move along there, folks, nothing to see: everything in the BBC garden is tickety-boo.

Humphrys joins in the mea culpa confession stakes political editor Nick Robinson – who said pretty much the same thing at the beginning of the year – former television news chief Roger Mosey (ditto, the year before, but only after he had left the Corporation and was safely ensconced as master of Selwyn College, Cambridge), and former director general Mark Thompson (ditto, the year before that).

All the confessions are eerily similar, as if emanating from a common hand in the BBC equivalent of the Politburo. Roughly, give or take a few commas, they should have been tougher in exposing the Blair government’s undeclared unlimited immigration policy, but, whoops, weren’t, because a) it’s jolly difficult terrain, and b) they were afraid of committing the biggest sins of all in the BBC lexicon:  being seen as racist or a spanner in the works of multiculturalism.

This raises two massively crucial points about the BBC £1bn news operation.

First, Humphrys and those he works with don’t have any real knowledge. What his ‘confession’ seems to be based upon is gut journalistic instinct rather than any form of measurement. And it’s only now, when UKIP is winning by-elections and voters are showing that they do deeply care about the impact of the biggest influx of immigrants in British history that they have seen the light, and then only as a flickering flame of shame in the distant past.

Second, the BBC – from Humphrys downward and upward to the Trustees – will never, ever respond to genuine concerns about bias. Here, the facts are incontrovertible.

Back in December 2004, my organisation News-watch (then Minotaur Media Tracking) was commissioned by Sir Andrew Green to investigate across seven flagship programmes whether editors were paying enough attention and were properly balanced in covering precisely the issue and period Humphrys is talking about – the lifting of the controls (because of changes in the EU) that led to an influx of Poles and others from Eastern Europe.

The meticulous 12,000-word report involved the transcribing of every item in which immigration or asylum was mentioned over a three-month period. Its headline conclusions included this:

‘TODAY – for example, despite broadcasting 30 items on the topic, had only three on economic migration as opposed to asylum. It scrutinised poorly the moves towards the dropping of the UK’s EU veto, and paid had disproportionate attention to asylum seeker problems while not investigating the impact of immigration on the UK.’

With the benefit of hindsight, this could have been a little clearer. What the meticulous research actually spotted was that Today was virtually avoiding escalating immigration from the EU while focusing on the bleeding heart cases of those who were trying to obtain asylum – and mixing the two together as if they were the same thing. This was larded, of course, with frequent direct and indirect accusations of racism.

Other conclusions?

‘In the entire three month period in coverage of immigration, there were only around 20 brief mentions of the figures involved….‘The coverage of immigration, therefore, was carried out with only minimal analysis of one of the key components of the debate…This was rather surprising, given the debate itself – for all political parties – is mostly about numbers.’

And:

‘During the 14 weeks, apart from one brief mention of a planning inquiry for a new centre for illegal immigrants, there was no item designed to examine the impact of immigration on British communities, and little effort to cover why there was concern about immigration.’

Sir Andrew Green presented these findings to then BBC news chief boss Helen Boaden soon afterwards – but she did nothing, to the point that (I am told) Sir Andrew now believes that any form of protest to the BBC news management is pointless.

In other words, despite what Humphrys says, the BBC did have knowledge of the glaring inadequacies of its coverage. His ‘confession’ is thus utter nonsense. It boils down to that there was a disgraceful avoidance by he and the BBC of debate in an area of crucial public importance.

Is the BBC Biased?

Is the BBC Biased?

The answer is that on one particular subject – the coverage of EU affairs – it most definitely is.

For 15 long years, News-watch has been investigating. Our reports deploy the most robust analytical methodology and demonstrate that, for example, over the treatment of withdrawal from the EU, the Corporation’s coverage is outrageously limited and skewed.

The latest report, focusing on the European elections in May, shows that during the entire campaign on the Corporation’s most high-profile news and currents affairs programmes, no supporter of withdrawal was asked a single question about the topic.

Instead, the focus was relentlessly – to the point of persecution – on whether those who supported withdrawal (UKIP of course) were racist, incompetent or corrupt.  The latest full report can be read here.

Over most of those 15 years, the Corporation’s senior management and Trustees have disgracefully refused to engage with this research.

Instead they come up with a whole series of stonewall defences. This includes bunging loads of licence-fee cash to their media chums and former employees  in academia to write rival reports. But their methodology, as News-watch demonstrated conclusively in a Civitas paper, is lamentably poor.

In the process, it has become abundantly clear that despite their protestations, Corporation news mandarins do not have the faintest idea of how to measure their own output. Their approach relies principally on bluster and insults.

So it was with great interest that I watched the latest defence against the recent big guns Tory attack  when call me Dave and George Osborne accused the BBC of bias and exaggeration in its coverage of the Autumn statement.

The response of the BBC press office?   “We’ll undoubtedly get more criticism from across the political spectrum as the election gets closer, but we’ll keep doing our job.”

Well golly. In other words, sometime in the next six months until the General Election, the Corporation will receive another complaint from someone from the other side of the political fence.

A defence, it seems, based on a new-found capacity of serried ranks of 180 in the Press Office to foretell the future.  The sybils at Delphi would have been envious.

In fact, this argument – that because the BBC is criticised from all sides, it must be doing something right – is perhaps the oldest weapon in the Corporation’s armoury, wheeled out with wearying predictability.

News-watch records show the first use of the tactic back in summer 2000.  In response to a report, they produced two letters by listeners one attacking John Humphrys for pro-EU bias, the second for his anti-EU bias.

There was no additional commentary, but incredibly, Corporation chiefs believed both that it was an-ace-of-hearts trump card, and that it showed that Humphrys could not be biased towards both sides of the argument simultaneously – so therefore he must not be biased at all.

A moment’s reflection shows that such ‘logic’ is utter tosh.   One of the viewpoints could be correct and the other completely wrong.  There is no way of judging the credibility of the two viewpoints chosen. There might have been hundreds more letters supporting one perspective than the other, yet both are given equal weight. And one might have been based on robust fact and research, the other purely on impression.

The second defence, said by media pundits to be ‘unprecedented’, was that the BBC Press Office moved to tackle the Sun newspaper head on , issuing line-by-line rebuttals of two editorials.

The Sun December 2 leader said that, despite pledges of reform, the numbers of senior managers earning more than the Prime Minister continued to rise. The next day, there was a follow-up, this time calling for the licence fee to be scrapped, accusing BBC bosses of handing top jobs to friends of friends, and it tearing into what is said were the ‘left-wing prejudices of this Guardian-reading elite’

The BBC response was every bit as limp as its attempts at fortune-telling described above.  The principal defence – presented without a scrap of supporting evidence but as if it was  unarguable fact – was that the BBC provided ‘programmes and services which the public love’ and a claim that, ‘…at just £2.80 a week per household the BBC provides excellent value for money.’

Well that’s alright then. And as BBC Director of Television Danny Cohen (salary £327,800)says, we must not dare criticise.

On senior management pay, the defence was a classic Watergate ‘non-denial denial’ that perhaps would have made even Nixon blush. The press office said: “…senior manager numbers fell again last year from 445 to 410”. But that was not even the point the Sun had made. The specific complaint was that 91 senior managers earned more than the PM.

In response to the criticism of recruitment and left-wing bias, the BBC argued “We appoint people from a wide variety of different backgrounds – including newspapers from across the political spectrum” It was unclear from the nonsensical sentence construction (or course the BBC doesn’t appoint newspapers to its roles) whether this meant appointments were advertised across a range of newspapers or that journalists from various newspapers were subsequently appointed by the BBC.

This, of course, is an equally unsubtle variation of the two-complaints- from-different-sides prove balance argument. I have no doubt that, somewhere in the Corporation, if you dig hard enough and deep enough, in some dusty corner, there are those who have worked for the Daily Mail. But as this book by former BBC correspondent Robin Aitken brilliantly pointed out, they definitely do not cancel out the liberal-left bias.

Photo by hans s

Kathy Gyngell: We need a road map on how to quit the EU. Don’t expect head-in-the-sand BBC to help

Kathy Gyngell: We need a road map on how to quit the EU. Don’t expect head-in-the-sand BBC to help

Photo by CJS*64 A man with a camera

Why was I not at all surprised to read of the huge shortfall in EU spending of £259 billion pounds? Yes, the one to which, all of a sudden, Britain will be expected to contribute to some £34 billion?

I am talking about that hole in the EU budget that the BBC has kept the British public so abreast of, the one it made sure we all knew about prior to the EU elections.

Of course the BBC did no such thing. It has never fulfilled its mission to ‘inform and educate’ us about our progressive capture by and capitulation to the EU’s changing agenda since we joined, let alone how it spent our taxes.

The BBC’s output from day one has never reflected the importance of the EU in ordinary Britons’ lives – how it spends their money.  I know.  This is what the consistent and painstaking monitoring of its output by News-watch, the BBC bias monitoring website, since 1999 has demonstrated. The unsurprisingly low turnout for the 1999 European election was described sneeringly by Jeremy Paxman as an ‘outbreak of narcolepsy’. And whose fault was that?

The BBC’s lack of interest persisted through important summits as well as the process of creating the new EU constitution.

Awareness of the the EU’s catastrophic finances has been a long time coming.  Yet the evidence that all in the garden was far from rosy was there back in 2001.  Then the EU’s former chief accountant Marta Andreasen refused to sign off the 2001 European Commission accounts for good reason; she said its accounting system was open to fraud.

Her criticisms ignored, Andreasen went public with her concerns only to be sacked for her pains (she was suspended from her job by the Commission for “violating Articles 12 and 21 of staff regulations, failure to show sufficient loyalty and respect”).

Yet, despite her stand, few people in the UK were made aware of this financial catastrophe in the making; not least because of the BBC’s bias and negligence in its reporting of all matters EU.

They kept the British public in the dark by virtue of that BBC default – bias by omission.

You can either put their indifference down to their being part of a liberal metropolitan conspiracy whose main concern was to avoid reporting the encroaching powers of Europe.  Heaven forfend that they should thereby antagonise the public and made them more Eurosceptic than already.

Or you can accept the BBC’s own excuse (on the rare occasions that they have ‘fessed up’) that much of what takes place in Brussels and Strasbourg is complex and boring and the British public don’t want to know – the lazy excuse of an organisation that had weakened its own raison d’etre by its continuous dumbing down, as the Daily Mail’s Stephen Glover once put it.

You might have thought that the rise and rise of UKip and Nigel Farage would have forced a reconsideration of the BBC’s  approach to EU coverage.  But no,  the BBC continued to forgive all EU failings in the name of that higher cause  – “Europe – the European idea”; the one that European Council President Herman van Rompuy and his predecessors, all the way back to Jean Monnet, adhere to.

Despite the fact that the demand for an EU exit  is now political mainstream – made all the more so by the former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson’s speech on Monday – the BBC’s coverage remains not just resolutely negative but totally inadequate.  Worse it has continued to smear and sideline Ukip’s best efforts to raise the issue of our membership.

This I believe is why, before Owen Paterson raised it,  there was never any discussion on the BBC of David Cameron’s option of serving notice on the EU – that of invoking Article 50 of the EU’s governing treaties.

Correct me if I am wrong, but my guess is that apart from the Sunday Telegraph’s Christopher Booker, forensic Brussels expert Richard North and Tory MEP Dan Hannan,  few  people in the British Isles would have known this was an option – let alone a strategy.

Whose fault is that?

The Sun thinks we can do without the EU; Ukip’s defiance has changed the game plan. When, if ever, will the BBC catch on?

Yes, I know, Cameron’s promised referendum hangs in the balance of the next election but the pressure to quit the EU is not about to diminish any time soon.

After reading the Telegraph’s headlines this morning, a whole load more people must have been thinking, like me: ‘Wouldn’t it be better to be out before the bill lands on the mat.”?

Ukip, one way or another, may force a referendum sooner rather than later, leaving us with the question of how we are to get out.

Yet, despite Mr Paterson, no one in the BBC is addressing it – anymore that they addressed the EU’s financial black hole.

Have  you heard any discussion of this?  How we get out – outside the hallowed realms of right wing think-tanks?  Certainly nothing serious on the BBC.

Yet, how we do it matters a lot for our future trading prosperity. Never more was there something that we need to get right.

So, since there is no way we can rely on the BBC to inform us, I plan to make my best effort to get an informed debate going – here on TCW.

Soon, I will blog on a lunch-time discussion I attended at the Centre for Policy Studies led by Dan Hannan and founder of the Trade Policy Research Centre Ronald Stewart Brown. It certainly opened my eyes to the question of whether we would be best to negotiate some form of free trade association with the EU or negotiate to stay in a ‘customs union’ on a new intergovernmental basis.

It may sound arcane. It is actually vital that we get it right.

Kathy Gyngell is co-founder of News-watch and co-editor of The Conservative Woman, where this article was first published.

 

So That’s Alright Then, says Tony Hall

Tony Hall, the BBC director general, says he has investigated the BBC’s conduct in the reporting of the searching of Cliff Richard’s home in connection with an alleged sexual offence.

Sir Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Robertson (the latter not known for affinities with the Liberal-Left) are both deeply experienced in the practise and ethics of journalism. Both say the decision by the Corporation to treat the search as a major news event complete with helicopter aerial shots was at best seriously over the top and at worst could be seen as a witch-hunt against the star.

Also seriously concerned are the Commons Home Affairs select committee who have ordered Lord Hall and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire  (who directed the search) to appear before it to explain their behaviour.

Before that, however, Lord Hall Lord Hall has written to Keith Vaz, the chairman of the select committee, stating, in effect, that there is nothing to investigate. He declares:

“I believe that BBC journalists have acted appropriately in pursuing this story. As you rightly say, the media has a right to report on matters of public interest.

“Sir Cliff Richard is one of the most successful British entertainers of all time and has been a prominent public figure for several decades. Investigations into historic sex abuse cases have – and will continue to have – a profound impact on the lives of well-known individuals and the standing of public institutions.

“The disclosure of a sex abuse allegation against Sir Cliff Richard and the police search of his property was clearly a significant story and the BBC was not alone in providing extensive coverage.

“The protection of sources is a key principle for all journalism – from broadcasters to newspapers – and for that reason the BBC will not be providing details about the source. This makes it difficult to answer some of your questions specifically; however, following speculation about this story, we did confirm that South Yorkshire Police were not our original source regarding the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard.”

So, in the BBC’s book – in other words – that’s alright then. Move along there, nothing to see. We decide how we act, what’s in the public interest and that’s that. Not only that, there won’t be any further explanation because we don’t believe it is necessary.

This would be marginally more acceptable if the BBC was properly accountable and subject to genuinely independent control and sanction by a body that took its responsibilities seriously.  The reality is that the only check on BBC journalism is through the BBC Trustees – and, as has been repeatedly shown on this site, they defend the conduct of the BBC rather than act as a watchdog.

The Hall response is par for the course. In effect, he is hiding behind the mock shield of the integrity of BBC journalism to justify what experts clearly believe amounted to a massive breach of ethics and conduct.