Today Programme

Geert Wilders: the ‘maverick’ damned by BBC reporting

Geert Wilders: the ‘maverick’ damned by BBC reporting

The Dutch politician Geert Wilders and his Freedom political party (PVV) stir up strong sentiments.

He is renowned for his stance that Islam in his country is responsible for major social divisions and has lead to the radicalisation of young Muslims to the extent that they are joining terrorist organisations.

Mr Wilders is also strongly against the EU and openly advocates departure.

He has a strong following and PVV is the third largest party in the Dutch Parliament with 24 seats, having won over 15% of the vote. PVV , like UKIP, is also expected to win significant numbers of seats in the May 22 European elections, perhaps becoming the biggest single party from the Netherlands.

Because of his stance against Islam and the EU, many in the left in Britain view Mr Wilders as  ‘far right-wing and ‘extremist’ and seek to bracket him with intolerance, racism and potential civil unrest. This article in the Independent is typical .

And how does the BBC treat Mr Wilders?  Well, they don’t openly vilify him. But…

In this item, filed this weekend, BBC  online correspondent Anna Holligan is keen to say he has a good chance of improving his standing in the European elections and can ‘claim that he is the only politician unafraid to discuss the real concerns of Dutch voters. .

But the rest drips innuendo , and is clearly designed to establish  that a primary goal is to ‘stir race hatred’ and that he is a ‘maverick’  who has fomented a ‘race row’.  None of Mr Holligan’s construction  – apart from the ‘maverick’ label – accuses Mr Wilders directly; it is done entirely by association.

Ms Holligan deployed a less subtle approach when she wrote about Mr Wilders’ alleged attack on the Moroccan community back in March.

She pitched her story as a classical race row – and gave most prominence to claims from the Dutch Moroccan Alliance (SMN)  that his remarks were similar to those by Hitler about Jews; that he had crossed a line in targeting a specific group of people.

BBC online boxed a quote that typified her approach, a quote from an SMN spokesman: “Now he has gone a step too far it’s very scary and potentially dangerous”.

Ms Holligan also noted:

“Mr Wilders’ comments came as exit polls from local elections in The Hague revealed that the anti-Islam, anti-immigration PVV was running neck-and-neck with the liberal-leaning D66 party.  In the end, the PVV was narrowly nudged into second place in The Hague, winning 14.1% compared to 15.4% secured by D66. But the result, and the enthusiastic response to his anti-Moroccan rhetoric, will galvanise Mr Wilders ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.

“He has consistently campaigned on an anti-EU ticket, blaming “the monster in Brussels” for stealing Dutch politicians’ ability to make decisions about how the country should be run. The PVV is the fourth largest party in the Dutch parliament but leads most national opinion polls.

“Mr Wilders’ popularity has rocketed over the last 10 years, after the murder of anti-Islam politician Pim Fortuyn spurred a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment in a country once famous for its liberal and tolerant attitudes. In 2011, Mr Wilders was acquitted of incitement after being accused of encouraging hatred towards Muslims”.

None of this says directly that Mr Wilders is a racist, but that is clearly what is inferred – he is popular because of his attitudes to Islam and Moroccans  and for his illiberal and intolerant attitudes, which are carefully bracketed by Ms Holligan  with leaving the EU.

Buried carefully in Ms Holligan’s account is that Mr Wilders had actually called for the deportation only of Moroccan criminals, amid increasing concerns that they were responsible for a growing crime wave.

News-watch records show that Mr Wilders is routinely treated in this way, and that there is a consistent attempt to link his anti-EU stance with racism.  In a feature in broadcast by Today last December,  for example,  Mishal Husain noted that Mr Wilders was trying to start a new anti-EU political party in the Netherlands.  But In the report which followed, Gavin Hewitt focused almost entirely on his anti-Muslim stance and asked primarily if he was aiming to stoke up tensions ‘that might be difficult to control’.  Mr Wilders denied that he was, but Mr Hewitt said that there were ‘plenty of people’ who said he did stoke up tensions ’between communities’.

The full transcript is below.

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, Today, 13th December 2013, Geert Wilders, 8.51am

MISHAL HUSAIN:                     The controversial Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, is attempting to start a new political party, bringing far right groups together on an anti-EU platform.  UKIP’s Nigel Farage was one of those invited to join, but he’s so far shied away from the project, due to the inclusion of the French National Front.  Our Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt, has been speaking to Geert Wilders.

GEERT WILDERS:         I believe that we have very few things to benefit from the European Union. I believe that a growing amount of voters feel that we pay a lot of money to Europe, but that at the end of the day we are not in charge of our own laws, of our own borders, of our own money, of our own money, of our own budget, and people want to change that.

GAVIN HEWITT:           You say you want to fight the monster in Brussels.  Do you want to bring down the European Union?

GW:     Yes, as a matter of fact, I do, in a way that I would like the Netherlands to leave the European Union.

GH:      You’re Eurosceptic, but the leading Eurosceptic in the UK, Nigel Farage from UKIP, he’s shunning your new alliance, isn’t he?

GW:     Well, I have a lot of respect for Nigel Farage.  I think if you hear and speak what he says he is a politician that I admire a lot.  Of course, I know, you are correct that he is very hesitant in joining the party and working together.  I hope, however, that after the European elections things might change.

GH:      You have said that Islam is not compatible with the Western way of life.  But haven’t Muslim communities become part of the European way of life?

GW:     Well, indeed, I believe that Islam is an inferior culture.  I’m talking about the ideology here, not about the people. I know that a lot of Muslims are law-abiding people whose concern is to have a good life, a good education for their children and a good job and I have nothing against them.

GH:      Do you feel a personal responsibility not to stoke up tensions that could, or might lead to an atmosphere that you might find it difficult to control?

GW:     But I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything coming close to that. A responsible politician I believe never stirs up any problems in any society.

GH:      But there are plenty of people who will say in some of your comments you do stoke up tensions between communities.

GW:     Well, you asked what my intention is, I can only give you an honest answer, from Geert Wilders, I’m not speaking on behalf of anyone else.  My answer, my honest answer to you is, no, I’m not, I’m staying far away from anything that has to do from stirring up anything.

Photo by FaceMePLS

Today editor Jamie Angus: Voice of Prejudice?

Jamie Angus was appointed editor of  Radio 4’s flagship Today programme almost a year ago, in May 2013. Monitoring by Newswatch has shown that a highlight of his tenure to date is that the programme devoted 83 minutes to items on Nelson Mandela on the day of his death – the highest total for any single topic since the introduction of euro notes and coins on January 1, 2002.

Under his watch, too, his main and highest-profile presenter, John Humphrys, has declared that he believes the Corporation has been guilty of ‘bias by omission’ –  that is, excluding key figures from appearances in the debate about key topics such as the EU and immigration.

So who is Mr Angus? He  had previously worked for the BBC World Service, where he held ‘senior editorial roles’. He was also editor of  R4’s World at One, and briefly – in the wake of the Savile and McAlpine debacles  – acting deputy editor of BBC2’s Newsnight.

But the web in general  – and the BBC’s own website –  is curiously silent about him. He seems to have risen without a trace through the BBC’s ranks. Apart from a spasmodic and rather boring BBC blog, he has virtually no web profile at all. That must be through choice and careful management.

In fact, his only public recorded utterance was on his appointment  to Today, when he said the programme was at the heart of Radio 4 news and central to what the BBC offered its audiences.

Whatever his background, behind the scenes  he is now making rulings that nail his colours to the mast.  The Biased BBC website reports that, in effect, he has declared that the debate over ‘climate change’ is over. The background is that listeners were worried that those who challenge climate alarmism hardly ever appear on his programme, as was evidenced by a recent very rare interview with the widely-known sceptic, the former  Chancellor, Lord Lawson on February 13. Mr Angus wrote in response:

‘The BBC’s reviewed its coverage of climate change and climate science, and it has set out some admirably clear guidelines for us to follow. We are able to put on air people who take a differing view from the majority view of climate science. However, that coverage should be proportional, and I think that any reasonable listener who listened to Today’s coverage of climate change, across the past three months, would probably find that Lord Lawson was the only climate sceptic, if you like, who’d appeared in that period. And I think, you know, when Justin and I and the programme team discussed that interview, we thought we’d allowed it to drift too much into a straight yes-no argument about the science. And of course the settled view of the expert scientists is just that – settled, and I believe that our coverage reflects that, over the long term.‘

Put another way, Mr Angus says that he, his fellow editor, the BBC  as a whole and his programme team, have  decided:

·         The issues around ‘climate change’ are known and decided because that’s what the majority believe and because it’s ‘the settled view’ of ‘expert scientists’.

·         It’s a big favour putting on Today anyone who disbelieves the science is settled, because such appearances should be ‘proportional’ to point 1.

·         Climate change debates on the programme, on the very rare occasions they do occur, should not allow a simple  ‘no’ perspective – because yet again, the science is settled.

What this actually means is that anyone who disagrees with the party line, if they appear at all,  will be pushed to the margins of Today and not allowed to argue, especially if it against the majority verdict.  Of course, the BBC Trustees, in their infinite wisdom,  have already separately and definitively decided that climate science is settled. The only surprising element of Mr Angus’s unquestioning obeisance is the Orwellian, mechanistic, dictatorial tone. And, whoever Mr Angus is,  he appears not to have the faintest glimmering of an understanding that science is not, and never has been,  decided by ‘majority views’ but by the facts.

That, as Christopher Booker notes, may be the BBC groupthink, but it’s not the real world.

Mandelson gets open goal to attack EU Referendum

Mandelson gets open goal to attack EU Referendum

One interview sequence is rarely definitive proof of BBC bias. But a recent Today feature about the private member’s bill to commit to a referendum about membership of the EU comes very close to it – and it has now become the subject of a complaint to the BBC.

The interview sequence in question, broadcast on January 10, also underlines vividly what Newswatch surveys repeatedly show: that editors and interviewers give most space to those who want closer ties to the EU and sideline, limit or disrespect the arguments of those who do not.

Update: Lord Pearson of Rannoch and the MPs Philip Hollobone (Conservative) and Kate Hoey (Labour), have lodged a formal complaint about the feature on the ground that it was ‘a striking piece of BBC bias at a crucial time in the debate about the EU referendum’. The full correspondence on the matter can be seen here.

At 8.10am, in the front page slot, Evan Davis interviewed Michael Dobbs – the Conservative peer guiding the private member’s bill through the House of Lords – and Peter Mandelson, the former Labour minister and spin doctor who, it transpires, believes that a referendum should not be held because it would be ‘a lottery’.

Both men were actually on air for about the same time. But the way they were treated was emphatically noteven-handed. One crude measure is that Lord Dobbs had just 250 words to put his case across, while Lord Mandelson had more than 750 to elaborate his anti-bill arguments. The difference in treatment went much deeper, in that Evan Davis allowed in some depth (without interruption) Lord Mandelson’s attack, both on the need for the bill and the reasons why advocates were supporting it.

But I leave you to decide for yourself why – the full transcript is below.

What leaps out is that Lord Dobbs was asked primarily about how he would vote over the bill and whether the measure was a waste of time on the ground that it would be the next Parliament that actually decided the matter. In consequence, he had only two short opportunities to explain why he was introducing the legislation.

After a brief initial question to Lord Dobbs about why he supported the bill, Mr. Davis quickly moved on to what was clearly his main focus – how Lord Dobbs would vote and whether the measure was a waste of time because it would be the next Parliament that determined whether the referendum would actually be held. Lord Dobbs managed to deliver only 250 words (about 95 seconds) about the reasoning (essentially that it was about giving people choice) behind the bill. His argument was heavily curtailed by Evan Davis’s interventions in which he put instead the points about how Lord Dobbs would vote.

By contrast, it was clear from the start that Evan Davis wanted Lord Mandelson to have space to put across his detailed reasoning why the bill was essentially ill-conceived, was Political grandstanding, and was a waste of Parliamentary time. In the end, he was afforded the opportunity to deliver three lengthy sequences amounting to more than 750 words in which he advanced his case that the bill was primarily designed to try defuse the UKIP threat.

On the face of it, elements Mr Davis’s approach to Lord Mandelson were adversarial, in that he suggested that the pro-EU case was not being put very well. But on closer analysis, his questioning actually delivered a framework for Lord Mandelson to plough on expansively with his substantive points. It seems clear, too, that Mr Davis had no desire or intention to interrupt in any significant way. For example, when Lord Mandelson, made the sweeping and politically partisan claim that the bill was grandstanding and playing to the UKIP gallery, why did not Mr Davis intervene to suggest that UKIP actually had popular support and this might instead be seen as something that aimed to give British people (as Lord Dobbs had suggested) a definite opportunity to express their opinions?

This all adds up to a striking example of BBC bias at a crucial moment in the debate about a referendum. And it fits closely with the longer-term and more detailed analysis by Newswatch, which shows consistently that those in favour of the EU almost invariably get the most space and most favourable framework to advance their views.

Full radio transcript here
Photo by Nicholas Smale

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

Newswatch reports show that Today does not give EU ‘come-outers’ the chance to properly air their case.
When they do appear they are usually bracketed with ‘Loonies’, or given no chance to explain their support for leaving the EU.
Today presenter Evan Davis continued the tradition when he interviewed this week (November 18) Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes about his decision to support UKIP in the 2014 Europe elections. Mr Sykes – who announced his decisions to the Daily Telegraph – said he had decided to resume his political donations because UKIP was the only party clearly campaigning for withdrawal from the EU. But on Today, Evan Davis conducted in an interview that was so crammed full of interruptions that the longest Mr Sykes was allowed to speak was 94 words, about 35 seconds. In an interview lasting five-and-a-half minutes, Mr Davis interjected 35 times…once every 10 seconds.
The transcript here reveals the full gory story.  Read for yourself .
Of course it’s the job of a Today presenter to be adversarial and political donations must be subjected to scrutiny. But this was battering ram questioning that would have been appropriateif Mr Sykes was contemplating an illegal act rather than giving to a mainstream political cause he believed in.
The transcript shows that that Mr Davis deliberately set out to prevent Mr Sykes from explaining either his decision to support withdrawal as a political cause or his reasoning why he thought current policies do not chime with public opinion. It was only the third interview of a clear supporter of withdrawal in the latest Newswatch monitoring period, which is running from mid September until the EU Council meeting in December.

Photo by Astral Media

Latest Newswatch report: Today ignored UK Withdrawal from the EU, but gave multiple airings for those who want stronger EU ties.

The latest News-watch report shows that Today went out of its way to give those who were opposed to change in Britain’s relationship with the EU – including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – multiple platforms in which they had clear time and space to advance arguments in favour of their views, including the hotly disputed claim by Europhiles that 3.5m jobs would be lost if the relationship with the EU was fundamentally changed. This assertion went unchallenged by the Today presenter.