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The BBC’s LOVE AFFAIR WITH BANKSY

The BBC’s LOVE AFFAIR WITH BANKSY

Guest post by Arthur T from Is the BBC Biased?

 

A comment on Is the BBC Biased? a couple of days ago said:

The BBC are displaying their hero worship of Banksy again today. 

Banksy, African migrants and his rescue boat adrift in the Med. It’s a story made in heaven for the BBC metro-liberals. 

Just what is it about Banksy that so attracts the BBC above all other artists?

It’s staggering to find out just how much attention the BBC pay to the day-to-day activities of Banksy, when they hardly ever report on the subjects of any other artist’s work – unless of course their work carries a highly politicised message like Banksy. Even then, by comparison it is a drop in the ocean.

Believe it or not, Banksy has his own page on the BBC News website telling us the latest:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cp7r8vglgj1t/banksy

Entries here are as follows:

  • 29/8/20 Migrants evacuated from overloaded Banksy ship
  • 28/8/20 Banksy funds boat to rescue refugees at sea
  • 28/7/20 Banksy’s works fetch £2.2 m to aid Bethlehem hospital
  • 15/7/20 Cleaners remove Banksy tube art ‘unknowingly’
  • 14/7/20 Banksy dons cleaner disguise to spray paint Tube
  • 17/6/20 Banksy? Yeah I know who he is ‘Louis Theroux and street artist Banksy had a day out watching Peter Crouch play for QPR.’
  • 16/6/20 When Louis Theroux went to a QPR match back in 2001, he met an aspiring street artist called Banksy, and they both saw a ‘lanky, ungainly’ young forward called Peter Crouch play for the home side.
  • 10/6/20 Banksy artwork stolen from Bataclan found in Italy
  • 9/6/20 Banksy has put his suggestion forward for what should happen in the wake of the toppling of Colston’s statue at Sunday’s protest.

etc etc

Away from his own BBC News web pages, Banksy also features strongly elsewhere across the BBC – let’s look at Newsround (aimed at youngsters):

24/2/20 Banksy: Who is the famous graffiti artist?

Banksy is a famous – but anonymous – British graffiti artist. He keeps his identity a secret.

Why does no one know who Banksy is? His identity is unknown, despite lots of people trying to guess who he is.

Why is Banksy controversial? His artwork can be rebellious and is known for delivering political messages.

2 Comments ‘Woah!’ and ‘I think Banksy is Awesome!’

In the Arts and Entertainment pages of the BBC News website:

6/5/20 Will Gompertz has a say:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52556544

‘New Banksy artwork appears at Southampton hospital’

Here, we have the semblance of an art critic’s opinion from our Will, who as we know at ITBBCB? rates art works firstly on their political message (just so long as it’s the correct message), and secondly and then only occasionally, on their artistic merit. Here are some extracts:

The largely monochrome painting, which is one square metre, was hung in collaboration with the hospital’s managers in a foyer near the emergency department. 

It shows a young boy kneeling by a wastepaper basket dressed in dungarees and a T-shirt. He has discarded his Spiderman and Batman model figures in favour of a new favourite action hero – an NHS nurse.

So much for the description. The story moves straight on to the political message:

Paula Head, CEO of the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our hospital family has been directly impacted with the tragic loss of much loved and respected members of staff and friends.

The fact that Banksy has chosen us to recognise the outstanding contribution everyone in and with the NHS is making, in unprecedented times, is a huge honour.

She added: “It will be really valued by everyone in the hospital, as people get a moment in their busy lives to pause, reflect and appreciate this piece of art. It will no doubt also be a massive boost to morale for everyone who works and is cared for at our hospital.

As far as it’s possible to tell from the above image, this isn’t spray painted. The denim effect would be almost impossible to recreate other than by a transfer print taken from a photograph. The 2 D basket, which doesn’t show the return banding, has a lack of perspective to match the figure. The basket also looks out of scale in relation to the size of the figure. We shouldn’t expect the BBC arts correspondent to give his view on the technical aspects of a work, should we?

In reply to Charlie’s question, from OT comments,

Banksy, whose real name is Robin Gunningham, is so liked by the BBC because his work carries a political message more than it does an artistic one. He is a political cartoonist – bang on message for the BBC’s narrative. His work is easily reformatted for printed or webpage imagery. It doesn’t require a second look – there are no details worthy of closer study. His air of secrecy and derring-do seal the deal. He would be the go to number one person to invite to the average Islington dinner party hosted by the Metro LibLeft Beeb programme commissioner. To change the old adage slightly – his work is 90% indoctrination, 10% inspiration.

All of the above doesn’t say much for the BBC’s integrity when they promote to youngsters through Newsround that Banksy’s identity is secret – self-evidently a lie. They say ‘His identity is unknown, despite lots of people trying to guess who he is.’ What a falsehood to promote to young viewers!

Perhaps when the time is ripe, there will be a great reveal in a feature length documentary by Louis Theroux. He is probably staking his claim to that high-earning nugget right now. In the meantime, no doubt the mystery is inflating prices for off-the-cuff napkin sketched by Banksy made during his circuit of north London Beeb dinner parties.

Another benefit of this secrecy is the ‘one stage removed’ strategy adopted by the BBC when they want to avoid scrutiny of their output. Independent think tanks, Cardiff University research or ‘a spokesman said’ are all familiar tactics. The extra plus with Banksy is that his work has to be posted, publicised and then authenticated as a ‘genuine Banksy’ giving ample wriggle-room of deniability should the publicity turn nasty.

All in all, the conclusion must be that the BBC is assisting a commercial enterprise. Books, calendars, posters and other memorabilia must rake in funds for the Banksy brand. The air of mystery, or should we call it deceit, is promoted by the BBC, giving this artist his own pages on their licence-payer funded website, as well as plenty of news and local news coverage.

BBC Bias Digest 1 August 2020

BBC SLAMMED FROM WITHIN FOR USE OF ‘N-WORD’: The Daily Telegraph (£ 31/7) reported that the use by  BBC social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin of the n-word an item broadcast on the BBC News Channel had come under fire from the BBC’s gender and identity correspondent, Megha Mohan, who had stated:

“By not saying the N-word, you send a clear signal that you will not normalise the most violent of language. It blows my mind that this is open for interpretation or being justified – especially at this of all times.”

The article said that the BBC had initially defended the use of the word because it was justified in the context it was broadcast, but had since removed the item from its archive.

 

THE BBC ‘WANTS TO PLAY A BIGGER ROLE IN CHILDREN’S EDUCATION: Anita Singh (£ Daily Telegraph 31/7), said James Purnell, the BBC’s head of radio and education, had signalled that he wanted the BBC to increase its ‘reach’ by making the Corporation take ‘a greater role in children’s education, and had said  ‘the BBC’s online resources’ should ‘replace some of the “traditional” elements of teaching’. This, he claimed, would ‘free teachers to concentrate on pastoral care’.

Joseph Hearty, in the top-rated comment on the story, asserted: “Good God, no! If anyone wonders what sort of approach to education they would adopt just take a look at the Newsbeat section of the BBC website. It’s written by semi-illiterate children and promotes all the usual history-denying, trans-promoting, hijab-wearing, body positive, liberal guff that is exactly the reason people are turning against the BBC in their droves. Do they really think we want them teaching children this cr@p?”

 

THE BBC ‘IS LIKE A DISAPPROVING RELATIVE’: An article by Susannah Goldsbrough in the Telegraph (£31/7) headlined ‘The BBC is like a disapproving relative – it doesn’t get entertainment and doesn’t want to’argued that the Generation-Z age group (16-24) is turning away from the BBC towards streaming services because ‘their easy-come, easy-go attitude to entertainment’ is something the BBC ‘doesn’t get’ and ‘doesn’t want to’. For them, she claimed, ‘the BBC is like a disapproving relative’. Though the BBC is ‘serious about holding onto younger audiences’ and ‘wants to compete for [their] day-to-day viewing habits’, she argued that ‘the pillar of the British establishment’ needs to remember that ‘entertainment shouldn’t be a dirty word’.

Craig Byers: Supporters of BBC becoming campaigning organisation ‘are winning’

Craig Byers: Supporters of BBC becoming campaigning organisation ‘are winning’

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?

If you subscribe to it, you may well have read former Head of BBC Television News Roger Mosey’s interesting piece in The Sunday Times last week where he claimed that there’s a “battle” going on at the BBC between older hands who want to stay true to the Corporation’s long commitment to fairness and impartiality and newer, younger recruits who want to make it “more of a campaigning organisation in which journalists shape the agenda to harmonise with their personal views”.
Well, this past week suggested that the newer, younger recruits – the activist reporters – are starting to win.
Now, of course, blogs like this have existed for a couple of decades now, and that’s because some of those older BBC hands weren’t entirely clean on the ‘fairness and impartiality’ front themselves, and some BBC journalists have been shading into campaigning and shaping the agenda to harmonise with their personal views for quite a while now (Mark Easton anyone?), but at least they usually tried to put on a proper show of fairness and impartiality, and knew they had to do so.
Both last Monday’s Today programme and last Monday’s BBC One News at Ten featured reports by BBC journalist Yogita Limaye, and she clearly felt no obligation whatsoever to show fairness and impartiality.
Her pieces were nothing more than concerted efforts to brand Winston Churchill a racist and hold him responsible for the 1943 Bengal Famine.
Writing in this week’s The Sunday Times Tom Mangold, a BBC older hand if ever there was one, called her New at Ten report “biased, partial, unbalanced and filled with the spite and venom of the worst of toxic woke culture now pulsing through the heart of the Corporation” and added that “viewers were left in no doubt that the reporter agreed with her own preferential report”.
If you’ve also been reading about the goings-on (and goings-off) at The New York Times, where younger, more groupthink-driven, openly activist reporters have gained ascendance and are abandoning all pretence of impartiality whilst displaying ever greater unwillingness to tolerate fellow citizens (and colleagues) who don’t think or feel like them, then it’s very possible that we can already see where the BBC is now inexorably heading, and Ms Limaye’s report is an early swallow.
Mr Mosey blames ‘Twitter culture’ for the rise of openly campaigning journalism and the difficulty people who think like him and who are still at the BBC are now having trying to get such journalists to represent both sides of a story, and obviously there’s some truth in that. Without the spell cast on her by Twitter and the lure of applause from the Twitterati, would Emily Maitlis, for example, have ever thought of, never mind dared to deliver, that infamous impartiality-busting monologue of hers? I doubt it. She didn’t used to behave so brazenly. And the arrival of newer, younger recruits like Lewis Goodall – people who live the majority of their journalistic lives on Twitter and give every impression of ‘shaping the agenda to harmonise with their personal views’ while deliberately speaking to their own narrow echo chambers both when they tweet and when they broadcast – has had a noticeable, radicalising impact on programmes such as Newsnight.
But it take two to tango. Let’s remember that Yogita Limaye’s reports were broadcast on two of the BBC’s flagship news programmes, both edited by BBC editors who evidently felt it acceptable to put it all out. If anyone, they should be held responsible for making that decision.
Did they put them out without serious qualms though? Surely they must have known how controversial, indeed inflammatory, they were. In other words, are they on the losing, surrendering side of the battle and putting such reports out with heavy hearts, or (like Newsnight’s Esme Wren) are they now actively aiding and abetting the winning, campaigning side?
I fear the BBC is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.
Tom Mangold: BBC’s embrace of woke culture is ‘fatal act of self-harm’

Tom Mangold: BBC’s embrace of woke culture is ‘fatal act of self-harm’

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
Tom Mangold’s Mail on Sunday piece headlined “I fear that my beloved BBC’s bizarre obsession with a toxic culture of wokeness will end as a fatal act of self-harm” ought to matter to the BBC because Mr Mangold isn’t just any old BBC veteran. He was Panorama‘s lead investigative reporter for many years and has always been held in high esteem. So for him to speak out in such an outspoken way about “the greasy slope down which [the BBC] is sliding faster every day” is really something, and a major sign of just how bad things have got recently. 
 
While expanding on his excoriation of Yogita Limaye’s “biased, partial, unbalanced, filled with spite and venom” anti-Churchill report (see previous post), he adds the words “Never mind the truth”. I doubt he would never the phrase, of course, but essentially what he’s saying is that it was ‘fake news’. 
 
‘What on earth has happened?’, he wonders. After all, the BBC’s charter remains “unequivocal” on its statutory commitment to impartiality. Well, he says, the “holy contract” is now “well and truly broken”. 
 
He seems to believe that Ms Limaye’s late evening report, given the full backing of the News at Ten and Huw Edwards’s “authority and credibility”, was a bone deliberately thrown to the BLM movement. 
 
And the BBC’s doing it, he says, because of its “bizarre obsession with youth, diversity and the ever-growing pressure of woke argument” and because BLM – and “the Twitter trolls, the social media addicts, the young, the immature and the often daft” – have become “the BBC’s recruitment and audience target.” 
 
Why this “‘threatens to become [the BBC’s] final act of self-harm” is because such people are a “minority audience”. 
 
He also quotes another wise old head, Trevor Phillips, saying that “the increasingly woke behaviour by the Corporation is endangering the central justification for special treatment, which is its universal reach.” 
 
All of which is very true. The BBC is alienating its core audience in pursuit of a small demographic that probably won’t be watching it regardless. It’s a sign of the state the BBC’s in at the moment that it doesn’t even seem to see the folly of its position. 
 
The present situation with over-75s having to pay the licence fee from next Saturday is relevant here because 66 Conservative MPs  signed a letter to Tony Hall last week objecting to the BBC’s decision over the licence fee, and added: “We question the need for the BBC to allocate the enormous sum of £100 million on diversity, which with strong management could be achieved for minimal cost”. 
 
Tom Mangold in this article makes a related point: “Tony Hall has found £100 million in an ever-ready slush fund to increase diversity in the BBC. Meanwhile it gets rid of talent such as John Ware and Jane Corbin as permanent reporters from Panorama, presumably to save a bob or two”. 
 
Why is the BBC splashing out such huge sums on diversity? After all, as the Observer observes today, it’s devoting £12m of its commissioning budget “to making diverse and inclusive content” for the next three years, and devoting £100m of the current television commissioning budget to “on-air inclusivity”, and bringing in a mandatory off-screen target for “20% diversity across the networks for new commissions” from April 2021? Because it’s signalling to its new target audience. 
 
Tom Mangold goes on to quote Trevor Phillips saying, “The BBC has to recognise social change, sure, but it is not the institution’s role to lead it.” Well, yes, but that’s not how the young Turks who have been silently taking over at the BBC see it. To take just one example, on being appointed the BBC’s first LBGT correspondent Ben Hunte said “There are a lot of marginalised voices that need to be given a mouthpiece” when he was appointed. He clearly meant that he intended to be that “mouthpiece”. There’s a lot of that about about the BBC now. 
 
Wonder what the bulk of the BBC will think about this? I’m guessing a huge chunk of them are too far gone to care what one of the old hands thinks, especially if it’s in the Mail on Sunday. But some might take it as a proper, serious wake-up call. If they love the BBC as much as Tom Mangold does, what are they going to do about it?

BBC Bias Digest 24 July

PANORAMA PPE PROGRAMME ‘BREACHED EDITORIAL STANDARDS’: A report in the Daily Mail (24/7), said that the BBC,, having initially defended an edition of BBC One’s Panorama programme about the provision of personal protection equipment (PPE) by the NHS, had now admitted that it had breached editorial guidelines. The ruling, by the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), was that the programme, called ‘Has The Government Failed The NHS?’, had broken the internal editorial code ‘by failing to reveal’ that programme contributor Dr Sonia Adesara (who had attacked the Government’s alleged failures in the supply of PPE) was a long-time Labour party member.

The ECU ruling was that ‘the nature and extent’ of Dr Adesara’s political affiliation ‘was such that it might have been relevant to the audience’s evaluation of her contribution insofar as it was critical of the Government, and that it was a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards not to have given viewers appropriate information about it’. The report also noted that the unit had qualified its decision by also stating that ‘her criticism of the Government was in keeping with what might be expected from a doctor with experience of inadequate PPE provision, and that information about her political affiliations would not have called the validity of her concerns into doubt in the minds of viewers.’

 

BBC ‘LIES ABOUT CHURCHILL IN BRANDING HIM RACIST AND VILLAIN’: Writing for the Daily Mail (23/7), historian Dominic Sandbrook claimed that BBC news reports on BBC Radio 4 and BBC One about the 1943 Bengal famine were a ‘smear’ against Winston Churchill, conveying the ‘incredible’ impression, that the wartime prime minister Churchill ‘bore personal responsibility for the deaths of three million people’.  Professor Sandbrook added that, while ‘watching in disbelief’, he  had wondered which historians would be included to counter the arguments of the academics in the report who had asserted that Churchill was the ‘precipitator’ of the mass killings and guilty of ‘prioritising white lives over Asian lives’. He had found that the answer was ‘nobody’.

Professor Sandbrook also asserted that there had been ‘no mention of the complexities of wartime’; ‘no mention of Churchill’s national service’; and ‘no room for nuance’, ‘only a one-sided, almost deliberately misleading account, utterly divorced from context.’

He added:  ‘The BBC’s message was clear. Churchill was a racist and a villain – and if you don’t agree, then so are you.’, He concluded:

‘Are BBC producers unable to see that if they keep lying about Britain’s history, they will lose popular support? Do they really care so little about the truth of our past? And are they really so cocooned in their smug metropolitan prejudices they can’t see how deeply they are offending millions of people? The answer, I fear, is clear. But this will not end well for the corporation’.

 

BBC ‘IS TONE DEAF’: A letter to The Times (24/7), from Janis Pringle from Undy, Monmouthshire, backed criticisms of the BBC management structure voiced by veteran BBC Radio 2 presenter Ken Bruce (£ 21/7).  Ms Pringle contended that the BBC, though a ‘magnificent’ organisation, is ‘sclerotic’ in its ways, and so concerned with ‘pigeonholing’ its audience and so ‘obsessed’ with attracting a younger audience, that it plied its daytime ‘mass’ audience with ‘recycled playlists’ and consigned ‘anything more interesting to the evening’ when younger people are supposed to be listening. She argued that audiences of all ages ‘can cope’ with more variety and wrote of the BBC, ‘. . .that this insults their entire audience seems to have escaped their notice’.

 

BBC ‘NAVEL-GAZING’ AND THE LOSS OF JENNI MURRAY: In her weekly column for the Daily Mail (25/7), Amanda Platell expressed regret that Jenni Murray will be leaving Radio 4’s Womans Hour on October 1, wondering if it was after she ‘enraged…the LGBT lobby’ that she ‘realised the Beeb was no longer her natural home’.

Ms Platell said that ‘the great personalities of the BBC — Jenni, Libby Purves, Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys, both the Dimblebys, Andrew Neil — are disappearing before our eyes’ and that ‘they’re being replaced by navel-gazing, metropolitan chat-show hosts obsessed with a diversity agenda that ignores the views of the majority.’

 

THE NEW HOME OF BBC WALES HAS ‘A LEAKY ROOF’: According to the Daily Mail’s Izzy Ferris (25/7), the newly-opened BBC headquarters of BBC Wales in Cardiff, which took four years to build and cost £120m, ‘has a leaky roof every time it rains’. She writes of the Foster + Partners-designed building, that ‘Cleaners have to get out large buckets to stop the fourth floor from getting soaking wet.’ The BBC said that the leak hasn’t affected the BBC’s operations.

 

Radio 4 Feedback programme mocks Brexit supporters

Radio 4 Feedback programme mocks Brexit supporters

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
Whatever reservations some of us might have about Samira Ahmed’s Newswatch and its usefulness (though I’m glad it exists and that it’s to the credit that the BBC broadcasts it), I really don’t think it can be credibly denied that its teeth are a heck of lot sharper than its Radio 4 equivalent, Roger Bolton’s Feedback
…or that the otherwise very opinionated, censorious Samira Ahmed does a far, far better job of concealing her own views than Roger Bolton ever manages to do.
For example, Samira would never begin an edition of Newswatch like this:

Roger Bolton: Hello. It’s nice to be back. Nothing much has happened at the BBC since we’ve been off-air, just a little local difficulty about gender equality and presenters pay and the usual accusations of leftie-liberal bias. Oh, and the BBC is now the prime target in the age-old political game of ‘Shoot the Messenger’. The reason? This:

BBC newsreader: Senior ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss what the government wants from the final Brexit deal.

Roger Bolton: Yes, Brexit.

Note the dismissive, mocking tone of “the usual accusations of leftie-liberal bias” followed by the emphatic, preemptive, opinionated, even-more-dismissive defence of the BBC in “Oh, and the BBC is now the prime target in the age-old political game of ‘Shoot the Messenger'” (specifically in connection with the BBC’s coverage of Brexit).
Yes, Samira Ahmed (however opinionated and illiberal she might be on Twitter, or in newspapers, or in magazines, or on other BBC programmes) would never glibly mock viewers’ concerns on Newswatch itself.
She’s a professional.
And, likewise, nor would she openly prejudge the main subject of her programme (such as the BBC’s impartiality over Brexit) by openly giving her own view of the subject in advance – as Roger Bolton did here.
We were less than a minute into the first episode of  a new series of Feedback today and already the presenter’s own bias had completely scuppered it for me, impartiality-wise.
I can still see the point of Newswatch, but, really, what is the point of Radio 4’s Feedback?
********
That was, of course, just the introduction to today’s Feedback and Roger, in true BBC style, might have come over ‘all impartial’ later.
Did he?

(Go on, have a guess!)

********
So let’s move on to his introduction to main segment:

First, what is the point of trying to make a balanced and impartial programme about Brexit? The country is so divided that members of the same families aren’t speaking to one another, and the generations and the nations are split down the middle. Facts are scarce and always contested, and fears are omnipresent. So I admire the courage and ambition of Chris Morris who, this week on Radio 4, began a third series of Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. Subjects covered include: medicines, potatoes and Gibraltar. As with Brexit itself listeners, were deeply divided in their responses…

Professors of English Language could use this a case study of how to skew an argument in a certain direction before either the pre-interview listener comments or the interview itself had even begun.
The opening rhetorical question was obviously intended as a preemptive sigh on behalf of Chris Morris.

The next sentence is hyperbole.

The third is loaded.

The fourth (beginning “So I admire the courage and ambition of Chris Morris…”) is another blatant signal of where the ‘impartial’ presenter stands.

The fifth sentence is descriptive.

The sixth is a variant of our old ‘complaints from both sides’ friend…

but the vox pops then featured did NOT show a classic ‘complaints from both sides’ situation, or that the audience was particularly divided. A man called Alan criticised Chris Morris’s programme for being pretty relentlessly negative about Brexit. All of the other criticisms weren’t bias-related. And none of the others went all ‘Lord Adonis’ by claiming the reverse.
********
And then came the interview with Chris Morris.
Well, as with Chris’s previous series of his Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed, I found this one to be a severe test of patience because of its overwhelming negativity about Brexit. I intend, time permitting, to spell out why at huge length over the coming couple of weeks why I’ve found the latest series so biased (as I’ve done with previous series), but what interests me here – besides Chris Morris’s utter blindless to his own bias – is Roger Bolton’s questioning.
Note how feebly Roger represents the views of Alan.
And note how, intentionally or unintentionally, he weakens him even further by turning him into a straw man with his suggestion that Alan would say “And, of course, you’ve got to trust our governments” (shades of Cathy Newman ‘So you’re saying’ there!)
And note how Roger tells Chris “You are right to point out it’s a problem” before employing an emphasis on ‘he’ to say that he – Alan – would say something else. [Rhetorically-put: ‘You’re right but some bozo would say…’].
Poor Alan strikes me as being the fall guy for pro-Brexit BBC bashers here. Roger isn’t helping him.
And note how the ‘complaint from the other side’ is presented with much greater clarity and conviction…
and by misstating the argument…(19 anti-Brexit economists v 1 pro-Brexit non-economist, as if Patrick Minford & Co. aren’t economists.
And note how Roger then amplifies that marginal, hardline Remain view about BBC false balance’ yet further with his  2+5=4′ v ‘2+2=5 stuff…
…and how he then again sympathises with Chris about how “very, very tricky” his position is. And under how much “pressure” he is.
And Roger’s final line, however jokingly, one final time expresses sympathy with poor put-upon Chris too. (“I hope he’s getting well paid for it”).
********
As for Chris Morris’s replies, well, he’s obviously sticking to his guns and conceding nothing..
…except (in classic BBC style) in conceding that the ‘false balance’ Remain hardliners complain about might be “a problem”!
His one concession, you’ll note, goes in just one direction.
He’s content – despite knowing how much it infuriates people who want Brexit – to say he thinks concentrating on the worst case scenario is justified because….well, because “that shows that we’re taking Brexit seriously”…and it’s a massive “challenge”.
Hmm, I’m not sure that will reassure people that the BBC is being impartial here!!
And I don’t think the two questions he cites as being the ones to ask – ‘What are your concerns?’ and ‘What are your worries?’ – will convince such people either. Couldn’t he, in his ‘road-testing’, have also chose the questions ‘What are your hopes? and ‘ What good things are you expecting?’ as just-as-valuable questions?
Isn’t the positive worth road-testing as much as the negative?
And our Chris is very fond of the word ‘experts’ – rather provocatively so. His tone made the intent of his provocation clear.
********
Please feel free to call this post a sledgehammer to crack a nut…
…but for BBC Radio 4’s flagship ‘watchdog’ programme to discuss the crucial question of bias and for its presenter to dismiss it and mock BBC critics at the start and then for that same BBC Radio 4 presenter to conduct a biased pro-BBC interview with the BBC reporter supposedly ‘in the dock’ is  beyond being funny. It disgraces the BBC, doesn’t it?
Please listen for yourselves here or read, at leisure, our transcript below:

Roger Bolton: Well, I’m now joined by Chris Morris, presenter of Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. Chris, why are doing the programme? Because Alan Giles says, “It’s just all based on supposition”.

Chris Morris: I think that began with the desire to get away from some of the political maelstrom, the daily mud-slinging, as you heard from one of the contributors there. A lot of the coverage in the media is about the politics of Brexit. To begin with – it’s changing a bit  now – but there was less about the practicalities of Brexit. And when we were asked to do this programme – essentially 15-minute bite-size chunks (not just for Radio 4 but of importance for a podcast audience as well) l said, well, I’m happy to do so long as it as doesn’t sound like 15 minutes of the Today programme because there’s plenty of coverage of the politics of Brexit elsewhere on Radio 4.

Roger Bolton: But that’s not a surprise because this is essentially about judgment about the future, isn’t it, and, going back to Alan Giles’s point, it’s supposition. So where are the facts that you can, if you like, you know, bring out?

Chris Morris: Well, there are plenty of facts in  there. I agree that what is difficult is the debate around economic forecasting, because by its nature that is something which is essentially trying to predict the future. Now, maybe it’s done by people who have expertise in economics, but it’s still a prediction of the future. But let me give you one example: a programme we did this week about medicines. There are thousands of medicines which are currently registered in the UK, and if we leave the European Medicines Agency pharmaceutical companies will have to move the registration of those medicines to elsewhere in the EU to continue to be able to sell them. That’s a fact. They’ve told us that, and they’re going to do that fairly soon. Similarly with the nuclear medicines, we heard Alan complaining that it’s just about supposition, Well, the people we were talking to – with the chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, a representative of the British Nuclear Medicines Agency – these are people who I don’t think have axes to grind. They are experts in their field…

Roger Bolton: But Alan’s point would be: Well, this is the worst case scenario. And, of course, you’ve got to trust our governments. They’re not going to do anything suicidal like this. They’re obviously….you are right to point out it’s a problem but he would say the assumption is it’s an insuperable problem. ‘Be more optimistic!’ That’s what he’d say.

Chris Morris: In some cases it is the worst case scenario, but I think that shows that we’re taking Brexit seriously. We’re assuming it’s going to happen and I think it is without doubt the biggest change this country is facing in decades and, so, I think we have a responsibility to road-test it. And by road-testing we can say, well, we go to the people in various sectors – whether it be medicines or the nuclear industry or potatoes – and say ‘What are your concerns?’ and ‘What are your worries?’ and then we explore them.

Roger Bolton: Now, there’s a lot of criticism about balance, in it’s simplified form, because some people would say, ‘You’ve got 19 economists saying this is potentially disastrous, and you’ve got one non-economist saying ‘No, it won’t be’ and the BBC will have one person representing the 19 and another person representing… what? In other words, you are simply going tit-for-tat and the public is no wiser. Is that a problem with what you’re doing, this almost artificial sense of balance?

Chris Morris: It can be. And I think when it comes to our coverage of…One of the reasons why we wanted to avoid politicians is that we didn’t want to have a say, well, if we’re talking to that person from this party we have to talk to somebody from another party. So we have gone to what we believe are experts in the field. Now everyone has an opinion. I understand that. That’s natural. But I think, as a journalist, you do have to make a judgment whether you think the opinion that somebody brings to the table is valid, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Roger Bolton: So you’re not impartial between right and wrong? If somebody says to you ‘2+5=4’ and the other says ‘2+2=5’ you say ‘One’s wrong; the first one’s right’? You have due impartiality -where it’s, as it says, it’s due. That is very, very tricky in such a toxic political atmosphere.

Chris Morris: It is very tricky but we’re not, in this series, trying to say ‘Brexit is good’ or ‘Brexit is bad’. We are trying to test what Brexit might mean.

Roger Bolton: How much pressure are you under? You’re obviously under pressure from those, as it were, outside the BBC who have passionate views about this, and the various campaigning groups. What about within the BBC itself?

Chris Morris: You know, we have what I would say are robust editorial discussion all time. As we should, I mean, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t have editors who say, ‘Are you sure you want to say that?’. That’s part of the process of journalism. In some ways, because you’ve got people saying ‘Are you sure this is correct? Are you sure you’re comfortable saying this?’, it sharpens the editorial process. I mean, I was based in Brussels – two different postings for eight years. We had that all the time in coverage of the European Union. And my argument about the EU has always been: I don’t really care whether you love it or hate it you but you should take it seriously.

Roger Bolton: Well, let’s look at the way you presented the programme because Rosalind Fox talks about ‘gimmickiness’. She thinks you’ve gone too far. When you listen to some of the things you’ve done, including some of those puns – ‘cheesy’ would describe one or two of them! – do you think you did go too far?

Chris Morris: No, I think it’s been deliberate. I think it’s sort of knowingly cheesy, if you like. I’ve done hundreds of hours of very serious, very sober broadcasting on the EU and on Brexit. If you look at a lot of the audience research we get , it’s (a) that people are a bit bored of the political mud-slinging. Some people get turned off by the ‘He said. She said’. And this is an attempt just to present it in a different way. I accept that some people won’t like it. That’s fine. It’s their right to have that opinion. But I think it’s not patronising the audience – which I think was the suggestion from one of the callers. I think which would be patronising the audience would be playing fast and loose with the facts. We are as scrupulous as we can be that we get the facts right, that we try and have a bit of fun with the way we present them. I think we should always be looking at different ways to present things because we know there’s a big audience out there that we don’t tap into yet, and we want to do that.

Roger Bolton: Chris Morris, the presenter of Radio Four’s Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. I hope he’s getting well paid for it.

Photo by masochismtango

BBC Chiefs defend anti-Brexit ‘balance’

BBC Chiefs defend anti-Brexit ‘balance’

Two very senior voices from within the BBC bubble – David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, and Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser – have penned a rare and important joint piece for a somewhat out-of-the-way pro-public-broadcasting media site called journalism.co.uk headlined Impartiality and the BBC – ‘broad balance’ in a two-horse race. It concerns the BBC’s coverage of the EU referendum.
It’s a thoughtful piece, well worth reading. And it’s refreshing to read:

We are never keen on the argument that being attacked by both sides shows you must be getting it right. It’s quite possible to be wrong in two different ways, so we always take such criticisms seriously. In any case, few issues only have two sides, so teetering in the middle of the proverbial see-saw is seldom the right place.

That said, after reading the piece through, what will you find to be its main message?
(Shall I save you the trouble?)
Well, get the smelling salts ready folks. Its message can be summed up like this: We think we got it about right.
(OK, you can put the smelling salts away now. False alarm!).
Yes, alas, despite all its welcome hand-wringing, it ends up being wholly and depressingly complacent, always giving the BBC the benefit of the doubt and painting the corporation in the most favourable colours.
Typically, David and Ric dismiss ‘stopwatch’ monitoring of BBC coverage and place their trust in the BBC’s good judgement.
For them it’s all down to the judgements of individual BBC editors to measure the ‘balance equations’ within their particular programmes.
That, of course, doesn’t answer the question of how those individual editors are to police their own editorial decisions.
Nor does it answer the question of how the BBC’s coverage overall can be judged.
To be blunt, I trust stopwatches more than I trust BBC editors. I don’t see why we should take on trust the BBC’s claims that their editors – people like Ian Katz – are unbiased. I used my stopwatches on Newsnight during the referendum and found it was far from even-handed.

It’s also characteristic of such pieces that our two brave BBC bigwigs give examples of what went right (eg. an interview with Douglas Carswell) but don’t give examples of what went wrong.

Plus they place complete trust in their own reality-checking process – something that continues to ring alarm bells with me. The BBC sitting in statistical judgement on hot topics of political controversy, and doing so under the banner of impartiality, is a much more questionable proposition than our two BBC high-ups seem to realise.

So, nice try guys but it really isn’t washing.
Guest post from Craig Byers of  Original post received the following comment from David Preiser:
26 July 2017 at 23:02

What a fascinating exercise in throwing everything at a subject, including the kitchen sink. Much of it is rehashing the usual defense talking points, but the Complaints From Both Sides thing was especially galling.

At first, I was prepared to be refreshed that they dared suggest that just because they get Complaints From Both Sides it doesn’t automatically mean they’re getting it right. Of course then they went on at great lenght to explain how they did.

Nor did the BBC shirk its responsibility to analyse the competing claims of both sides. Extensive use was made of Reality Check, the BBC’s fact-checking brand, in TV news bulletins, as well as online.

No, sorry, this is utter BS. Complaints about accuracy and detail are not the only kind they get, and it’s dishonest for them to pretend it’s the case. As for Fact Check, well, we know how that turned out. Bias by omission, bias by perspective, bias by contextualizing. Dateline London panels aren’t addressed here, nor is the ‘Brexageddon’ programming with no pro-Brexit equivalent, nor is the referendum vote night coverage.

Sometimes the stopwatch isn’t the best judge, but sometimes it is.

This reads like they had a whole list of ‘the usual moans’, with a ready list of defensive talking points. you can tell they sat down and went through some sort of checklist.

They make an interesting point about a referendum being a different animal to cover than other elections, as it’s a single issue. Brexit isn’t a single issue so much as it is a collection of specific issues, but fair enough.

But none of what they said addressed the issue of Laura K. with quivering lip and near to tears, Dimbleby croaking as he told us that sterling had crashed, the obvious anger and disappointment from so many Beeboids out in the field, Nick Robinson basically insulting 17 million people, with every single other reporter repeating his script, sometimes almost verbatim.

Nothing in the article addresses complaints about anything except ‘fact checking’ and time allotments, really.

Fail. I wonder if there’s some way to email a rebuttal to the journalism.co.uk editors.

Photo by Andrew Gustar

BBC SPINS FRUIT FARMS MIGRANT LABOUR ’SHORTAGE’

BBC SPINS FRUIT FARMS MIGRANT LABOUR ’SHORTAGE’

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?

 

A couple of mornings ago Today sent a reporter to a fruit farm in Godalming and brought back a large punnet of Brexit-related gloom. Nick Robinson introduced the report with these words:
There’s a warning today from Britain’s berry growers that Brexit could crush the industry.
Zoe Conway’s report included various hard-working, efficient migrant workers (as she portrayed them) worried about their future, plus farm managers fearing the collapse of their business. One farm owner was asked if he regretted his Leave vote, especially if it leads to what Zoe called a “hard Brexit”. No contrasting views featured in Zoe’s report.
That’s par for the course, of course. But tied in with that piece was the reporting that very same morning of the results of a survey among soft berry producers – a survey the BBC itself had commissioned (for reasons known only to itself but guessable by others).
The main BBC News website report on the survey (by Emma Simpson) is striking for the way it tries to spin its own findings. The BBC’s spin is deeply negative about Brexit and conducive to advancing arguments in favour of retaining free-movement:

UK summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers, with more than half saying they don’t know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.

Many growers blame the weak pound which has reduced their workers’ earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, according to a BBC survey.

The results themselves, cited later in the article, are strikingly at odds with the mood music of the report as a whole:
These results say to me that only 3% of the surveyed farmers are seriously alarmed about “migrant labour shortages’. Another 18% are a bit worried. And what the other 79% (though the figures don’t actually add up to 100%)? Well, they either say they have have enough seasonal workers or aren’t sure if they’ve got enough. In other words, that 79% don’t sound alarmed about the situation, despite the BBC’s alarmist headline.

I think this is a clear case of BBC bias (conscious or unconscious).

And it’s far from being the first time that the BBC has spun its own surveys in a favoured direction.

Who can forget the particularly blatant way the BBC spun its own survey on the attitudes of British Muslims back in 2015? While many other media outlets led with the astonishing finding that 27% of British Muslims expressed  some sympathy with those who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre the BBC heavily pushed the “Most British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals'” angle.
Plus there was some very dodgy reporting by the BBC’s News at Six and the BBC website into young people’s concerns, also in 2015, where both the TV bulletin and the website article omitted all mention of the third biggest concern of the polled young people – immigration. And it was another BBC poll to boot.
And there was Newsnight and the BBC website’s blatant attempts to rig the debate before freedom of movement was granted to Romanians and Bulgarians back in 2013, where the BBC twisted its own survey by pushing the ‘Few planning to migrate to UK’ angle. Others quickly pointed out that the BBC’s own figures actually suggested a massive influx of Romanians and Bulgarians was coming.
As you’ll note, all of the above have immigration as a running theme, whether directly or indirectly. And all of them were spun by the BBC in the same way – the pro-immigration way.

Photo by Ahmad.Helal

CHARLES MOORE SLAMS BBC NEGATIVE ‘GROUPTHINK’ IN REPORTING OF TRUMP

CHARLES MOORE SLAMS BBC NEGATIVE ‘GROUPTHINK’ IN REPORTING OF TRUMP

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
This week’s The Media Show featured a remarkable pair of interviews about BBC bias – especially regarding BBC bias against Donald Trump.

The first interview featured Charles Moore of the Spectator, laying into the BBC’s ‘groupthink’ and the corporation’s lack of even-handedness when it comes to disputing/believing ‘facts’ (i.e. questioning figures from the Trump side whilst simply taking on trust figures from the anti-Trump side), plus making the contrast between how the BBC greeted the election of Barack Obama with how it’s greeted the election of Donald Trump.

The second interview featured James Harding, Director of BBC News. It was one of those BBC interviews when the senior BBC manager essentially says little other than that ‘the BBC is getting it about right’. Even when he sounded as if he was about to concede one of Charles Moore’s points, Mr Harding spun around and refused to concede it:

JAMES HARDING  Erm, I think, let me say two things. One is: I think Charles Moore makes a really good point and made a really good point in that article which is, if you’re going to have an argument about the honesty of the President of the United States in picking a fight with the media about the size of his audience at the inauguration, then you’d better be as vigorous and as keen to monitor the numbers of people who go on marches. And I think that point is not just related to Trump, it’s related to that bigger issue about public protests and how do you make sure that you, you do that accurately?

STEVE HEWLETT:         So do you think there was an element in the BBC’s reporting . . .

JH:          (interrupting) So . . .

SH:         . . . that could fairly be described as ‘uneven’ slightly?

JH:          No, I just think, I think what that is an extremely important thing is (sic) to keep on reminding people that if you’re going to pick a fight over fake news – and there is a fight on all sides over fake news, then you keep coming back to the efforts you make to be accurate.  That’s a really important point. Plus, he quite blatantly side-stepped some of Steve Hewlett’s sharper questions (or, to put it another way, failed to answer them), eg:

SH:         I guess is . . . I mean, this is a very cheeky question . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm (laughs)

SH:         And there’s no reason why you should have a proper answer to it, in fairness . . .

JH:          Can I just say, ‘No I don’t’ (laughs)

SH:      Do you . . . well, that might be the answer. Do you know anybody on the journalistic or editorial staff at the BBC, who is pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) (inhales) So . . .

SH:         As an individual I mean.

JH:        So, so really important . . . there’s a really important thing here, which is that, people inside the BBC, they are all journalists, actually, one of the great misunderstandings about journalists is that there is such a thing as groupthink. Journalists, by nature, have really contrary opinions, they have different opinions, certainly when, when there’s a group of think— er, people who go in one direction, they, by nature, want to go the other direction, you know them as well as I do. Erm, one thing that is true of the BBC is of course, you leave all your personal opinions at the door.

Yeah right!

It was a strikingly weak performance, all in all.
Full Transcript:

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, The Media Show, 25th January 2016, James Harding on claims of BBC Bias against Trump, 4.30pm

STEVE HEWLETT: Hello, he’s certainly been in the news alright.

NEWSREADER:     The White House is accused of telling falsehoods in a battle with the media about President Trump’s inauguration.

SH:         But has the BBC’s coverage of him and his administration been duly impartial?  We’ll hear from the former editor and Telegraph columnist Charles Moore and James Harding Director of BBC News. (Discusses other stories coming up in programme).  So, is the BBC Biased? It’s not exactly a new issue, but it appears to have been given a new lease of life by Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States.  Charles Moore, Conservative commentator and Telegraph columnist wrote a piece attacking what he suggested was the corporation’s one-sided coverage of Trump. Whilst Trump’s attempts to challenge the otherwise low estimates of the numbers attending his inauguration were given a fully rigorous going over, estimates for attendance at the women’s march against Trump, put by organisers into the millions worldwide, were allowed to pass without question. Moore sees this as indicative of a much deeper malaise. In a moment we’ll hear from James Harding the BBC’s Director of News, but first I asked Charles Moore to explain his problem with the BBC’s reporting of President Trump.

CHARLES MOORE:              Everything in the Trump side of things is challenged, not necessarily wrongly so, but it is challenged and everything on the anti-Trump side is not challenged. One of the reasons that Donald Trump is now President of United States is because of the massive counter-reaction in middle America against what they call the Liberal media, and in a way they are right, you know, the New York Times, ABC, CNN, etc, present particular view of the world which is extremely hostile to a certain sort of ordinary American. And the BBC, who Donald Trump describes as ‘another beauty’ is the most important exterior non-American network that also behaves like that. And so what this reporter is, about the figures is, is not actually really a sort of disinterested inquiry into the figures, it’s a battle between the Liberal media and Donald Trump.

SH:         I mean, whereas the New York Times clearly defines itself, or declares itself to be anti-Trump, called him a liar, recommended a vote for Hillary, are you saying that the BBC in some ways sees itself as fighting the, in inverted comas, ‘the good fight’ against the evil Trump?

CM:        Yes of course, it will try to, at least to some extent to present facts properly but secondly because it’s paid for by the licence fee and has a charter which says that it has to be unbiased, so it can’t actually write its own article as it were, saying, you know, ‘We hate Donald Trump’, which the New York Times can, but it does. And I think it’s so obvious it hardly needs description.

SH:         But do you think there are a group of people somewhere in the BBC, sitting around a table deciding that this is the way things . . .

CM:        (speaking over) No, no, no.

SH:         . . . should be done?

CM:        No, no, it’s like all, almost all BBC bias, it’s groupthink. It’s the same people thinking the same thing and it –  by the way doesn’t only apply to Donald Trump, it applies to the assumption made about Brexit, it applies to climate change, a whole range of issues where there is an automatic assumption about what a decent person would feel. And, I don’t regard this as a conspiracy, but I regard it as quite a serious dereliction of duty about reflecting the variety of opinion in society.

SH:         But if you have someone like President Trump, for example, issuing forth with – I think of myself as a reasonably independently minded observer of these things, things that are really demonstrably untrue, or at the very least massively exaggerated, I mean it’s just this weekend we had the inauguration figures, we had his assertion that the media had concocted his feud with the FBI and CIA, when you look back at the tweets he issued around the time, that seems to be just plain nonsense. He then had to go on illegal immigrant voters, that last claim was made without, from what I can see, a single shred of evidence, and even senior Republicans are saying to him, ‘Please stop saying this, it’s going to get us all into a lot of trouble’. When you have someone doing that, is there any other way of dealing with him?

CM:        I think the way you phrased your question shows what you think of President Trump in the first place and therefore confirms my point. By the way, I’m not defending the particular claims that President Trump makes. I personally haven’t criticised in public his tendency to exaggerate, but I think if you, if you think how you might approach other politicians with whom the BBC is less likely to disagree, they let them off, they don’t submit them to the same sort of relentless attack and investigation. He’s been treated like a witness who . . . and prosecution is . . . trying to pull him apart. If you were a challenger to the establishment from the left, the BBC would be welcoming him. So when President Obama comes in challenging a whole enormous range of American attitudes, partly because he’s the first black candidate, he gets the benefit of the doubt, 8 years ago, it’s . . . nobody’s going through all President Obama’s claims about whatever they may have been, because what you’re getting from the BBC is how wonderful it is that somebody has arisen against the white establishment. And now you have a great big white man who’s arisen against the establishment and he’s treated like a monster. This is simply because, or largely because, it reflects the BBC’s world view.

SH:         Do you think that there’s anything the BBC could do to remedy this?

CM:        First of all, I think it could knowledge it, and that would be a start to remedying it. Second, I think it should have an exterior investigation, not of . . .  bias in the sense of cheating, but about mindset, about the way almost everyone in the BBC thinks the same thing, and is therefore – and this is really my biggest objection to it all – so behind the game about what’s happening in world news. It didn’t understand that we were going to vote for Brexit, it doesn’t understand and therefore its viewers and listeners, it’s much harder for them to understand, what the revolt that has produced Trump is all about, because it’s just regarded as wicked, and that sort of bias against understanding, which is a phrase that John Birt used many years ago, is a really serious problem with the BBC which its own authorities and possibly exterior authorities should be invited to investigate.

SH:         So, James Harding, thanks very much for joining us. ‘A bias against understanding’ arising from groupthink, rather than kind of . . . any sort of clear, positive effort to mislead? Do you think there’s anything in that?

JAMES HARDING (sighs audibly) Well, firstly I should say, Steve, I think that having read you and listened to you for a fair few years now, I’m pretty sure that the way you asked the question about Donald Trump would be the way you would asked a question about a politician of any stripe. I mean, part of the job of the journalist is to lean into (fragment of word, or word unclear) people in positions of power. Erm, I think, let me say two things. One is: I think Charles Moore makes a really good point and made a really good point in that article which is, if you’re going to have an argument about the honesty of the President of the United States in picking a fight with the media about the size of his audience at the inauguration, then you’d better be as vigorous and as keen to monitor the numbers of people who go on marches. And I think that point is not just related to Trump, it’s related to that bigger issue about public protests and how do you make sure that you, you do that accurately?

SH:         So do you think there was an element in the BBC’s reporting . . .

JH:          (interrupting) So . . .

SH:         . . . that could fairly be described as ‘uneven’ slightly?

JH:          No, I just think, I think what that is an extremely important thing is (sic) to keep on reminding people that if you’re going to pick a fight over fake news – and there is a fight on all sides over fake news, then you keep coming back to the efforts you make to be accurate.  That’s a really important point.

SH:         (speaking over, fragments of words, unclear)_

JH:          But can I just make . . .

SH:         (speaking over) But when I looked at the website and so on . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         I haven’t seen all the broadcast coverage, but erm, it, it was quite clear, that whereas Trump . . . Trump’s numbers were being taken to task, now, in fairness to the journalists who did that, that might well be because there was direct, concrete evidence that what he was saying simply wasn’t true, or was massively exaggerated. When it came to the ‘millions of people’ quote . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . around the world, I mean, that may simply not be checkable in any meaningful way, but nevertheless, you know, march organisers are renowned for inflating their numbers . . .

JH:          Yes.

SH:         . . . and there was no sign of any scepticism, being . . .

JH:          Yeah.

SH:         . . . shown. Journalistic scepticism I mean, towards that number.

JH:          (inhales) Look, there’s . . . there is a real risk here that we all lose our minds and we disappear into a debate about something that doesn’t . . . matter as deeply as the real changes that are happening in the world . . .

SH:         (words unclear, speaking under)

JH:          (speaking over) But let me just, let me just finish. There is clearly a difference between the President of the United States challenging a piece of reporting that compares the audiences in 2009 with the audiences in 2017. That is a, that is about whether or not President of the United States is using the podium in the White House to try and challenge what looks to be demonstrably true. There’s a second point which is: is the BBC when it makes estimates and any other news organisation to that matter, makes estimates of crowds, is it rigorous enough about those estimates and does it take into account inflation. I’ll just stand back to this for a minute. There is a really important risk here that the media turns into a circular firing squad and starts having such a huge discussion about itself that it misses what are the really essential changes that are happening. And just to take it back to how the BBC is thinking about this is: there are going to be, by the nature of the way in which the new President of United States operates, huge media flare-ups. He’s picked fights with certain networks, he’s had arguments about actors, about shows and these are fantastically interesting. At the same time of course there are really important changes to the way in which United States is operating in the world of trade, in the world of aid and development. One of the things we keep saying in our morning conferences, ‘Let’s keep an eye on those executive orders, make sure we’re really rigorous in understanding . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Okay, (fragment of word, unclear)

JH:          . . .  what the President is doing. And  I think that is really important this, because the media spat actually could distract us from some of the things . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Okay.

JH:          . . .  that are quite important . . .

SH:         We’ll come back to how you’re dealing with him . . .

JH:          Yeah.

SH:         . . . and the things you may have to set up to do things differently given the sort of challenges that he and his regime clearly represent. Erm, but just to go back to one more specific thing, he says in the article, we didn’t hear it in the conversation there, that he says whenever Fox News comes up in the BBC’s coverage, it’s described as pro-Trump – there’s no real argument about that, it is,  unquestionably, pro-Trump and (slight laughter in voice) I’m not even sure Fox News would deny . . . would seek to, would seek to avoid the charge.

JH:          Actually, if you look back through the course of 2015-16, Fox as a Republican-leaning network actually had a quite ambivalent relationship with Donna Trump, it’s changed, obviously . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Well, as of last weekend you were describing him, describing them as pro-Trump. However, when the New York Times or CNN or NBC or ABC turns up, all of whom are in their own ways anti-Trump, they’re never described as such.

JH:          (inhales) I, I think, look, I think . . .

SH:         (speaking over)(fragment of word, or word unclear) You’re not giving the same signal.

JH:          (fragments of words, unclear) And again, this is my point about the media turning into a circular firing squad.  Different networks there would take different views, and, you know, if you look at the way the US media works, it’s different to the way it works here in the UK.  You know, in British newspaper, newspaper editor has control of the run of the news pages, and also the opinion pages, and the leader column.  In the US it’s different.  You run the news pages and there’s a separate group that runs opinions and leaders.  So clearly, if you look at the New York Times, they’ve taken a, they took a very strong pro-Hillary, anti-Donald Trump position.  Reporters there would say, ‘our job is also, in the news pages, to try and report the stories fairly and accurately.’  So, it is a complicated picture, I go back to my point I’m afraid, Steve, which is I think there is a big media argument happening, I don’t want to distract, it to distract us from actually the really key issue . . .

SH:         (speaking over) But, but, but (fragments of words, unclear)

JH:          . . . which is the presidency of Donald Trump.

SH:         But you could resolve these, these, these . . . these are footling in a way . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm.

SH:         I take your point, it’s not . . . you know . . . their nuclear policy appears to be changing, (laughter in voice) rather more significant.  Their policy towards China might be changing, you know, these things are really significant I actually get the point. But simply being even-handed about the way you describe other news organisations, being even-handed about the way that you deal with different claims to numerical accuracy, that’s not a . . . it’s only an issue if someone doesn’t fix this.

JH:          And I guess what I’m saying is some people will make judgements about, particularly, networks, particularly on the TV networks, on the US papers, I think it’s easier to make that point, I think it’s, I think they’re clearer in their editorial position on the President.

SH:         So, do you think the BBC should start describing CNN in matters Trump as being anti-Trump?

JH:          I think (fragment of word, unclear) I think the BBC should, should focus on, on Donald Trump. I think that . . . I think that where you can see particular papers or particular news outlets taking a very clear editorial position, and it’s there in black and white or there in the soundbites, we should make that clear. Where there . . . where, where it’s more mixed, I think that the business of branding and seeking to brand every different outlet is probably a fools’ errand and actually is a distraction from the real story.

SH:         So there are times when you wouldn’t label Fox News as pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) Yes. I think that’s right. And actually, if you look back at our coverage, that’s true.

SH:         Okay.  Just take his point more generally, or one of them anyway, about ‘groupthink’ – this is not the first time this has come up in the BBC, indeed, one of their own reports, run by, it was run by Stuart Prebble, ex-of ITV, and it looks at immigration and Europe . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . and it concluded that the BBC did suffer, in periods, through sort-of groupthink . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . because of the sort of people that the BBC was full of.  It didn’t suggest any active attempt at bias or whatever, but, you know, these are people who grew up in a world where being anti-immigration meant you were rather uncomfortably close to the National Front and neo-fascism. So racism and fascism became very connected with anti-immigration, and so, you know, people just didn’t go there.  So (fragment of word, or word unclear) sort of taken together, the BBC was exhibiting a sort of groupthink.  It . . . is there anything, do you think, in Charles’s argument that over Trump something similar could be happening?

JH:          I, I don’t think . . . I think if you look back at 2016, and people look back and say how do we understand the nature of Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton? Or the Leave victory over Remain? Actually, I think that in both of those cases, what the BBC sought to do – and we were right, to be honest with you, we were quite chastened by the experience of 2015 where, you know, as you remember, I think we discussed it, the experience of the polls, we weren’t reporting the polls, but the polls were reflecting the way in which we were conducting interviews, thinking about the likely outcome of the result. In 2016 I think we went into both . . . er . . . the June 23 referendum and the November election really clear in our mind that there was no trusting the polls, and one of two outcomes was possible in every case. And what we tried to do very differently last year was to make sure that we were not covering the, the race, we were covering the choice.  What we set out very clearly to do last year was to make sure, actually, let’s report the choice. I think that we did that, and we did it extremely carefully . . .

SH:         (speaking over) (fragments of words, or words unclear) The question, the question here . . .

JH:          I don’t think we, we, we (word or words unclear due to speaking over)

SH:         . . . I guess is . . . I mean, this is a very cheeky question . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm (laughs)

SH:         And there’s no reason why you should have a proper answer to it, in fairness . . .

JH:          Can I just say, ‘No I don’t’ (laughs)

SH:         Do you . . . well, that might be the answer. Do you know anybody on the journalistic or editorial staff at the BBC, who is pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) (inhales) So . . .

SH:         As an individual I mean.

JH:          So, so really important . . . there’s a really important thing here, which is that, people inside the BBC, they are all journalists, actually, one of the great misunderstandings about journalists is that there is such a thing as groupthink.  Journalists, by nature, have really contrary opinions, they have different opinions, certainly when, when there’s a group of think— er, people who go in one direction, they, by nature, want to go the other direction, you know them as well as I do. Erm, one thing that is true of the BBC is of course, you leave all your personal opinions at the door.

SH:         So says James Harding.  And we also heard there from Charles Moore.

Photo by dgoomany

Complaints from both sides (again)

Complaints from both sides (again)

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
The BBC must be happy today.

Yesterday came Boris at the Conservative Party conference saying (accurately) that the BBC is sometimes “shamelessly anti-Brexit” before adding (doubtless to the BBC’s delight), “I think the Beeb is the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values”.

Today in strode (Sir) Craig Oliver in The Times saying that David Cameron had pressured the BBC in the other direction for “mistaking balance for being impartial”, demanding that “BBC editors should have been stamping their own independent authority and analysis on the output” (thus echoing the BBC’s very own John Simpson).

Inevitably, in response, in rides the BBC – bugles blaring, banners raised high – crying out its favourite mantra: “We’re getting complaints from both sides; ergo, we must be getting it about right!”…

and Politics Home quotes a BBC source as saying that very thing:

There’s nothing new in people having strong views about our coverage, but the public will notice a distinct irony in the BBC being accused of failing to do enough to stop Brexit on the one hand while being criticised for being anti-Brexit on the other. As we’ve said before, our job is to challenge politicians from all sides and interrogate the arguments. That’s what we’ve been doing and what we’ll continue to do.
Of course, the two complaints are different in kind. The first is saying that the BBC is biased; the second is saying that the BBC is impartial, but too impartial and ought to be taking sides – i.e. its side. Neither is saying the BBC is pro-Brexit (of course, as that would be ridiculous).

Where the BBC’s ‘complaints from both sides’ argument falls down (as so often) is that anyone claiming that the BBC has been either balanced or impartial over Brexit since the referendum result is arguing from a very sticky wicket. (To put it poetically, in the manner of Sir Andrew Motion, “The evidence is strong/That they are wrong”.) The BBC has had a heavy anti-Brexit bias since June 23 (as demonstrated by Radio 4’s Brexit Collection, for example).

And, despite the bias being not as severe before the referendum result, the bias even then still ran overwhelmingly against one side (the same side) – as (hopefully) both Is the BBC biased? and News-watch demonstrated (in considerable detail, and despite honourable exceptions).

Boris was right. The BBC is sometimes shamelessly anti-Brexit.

The campaign from the likes of John Simpson, Mark Thompson, Chris Patten, Paul Johnson of the IFS, Roy Greenslade, Timothy Garton Ash, (Sir) Craig Oliver and David Cameron, etc, however, for the BBC to become even more biased in their direction goes on and is evidently gathering pace. And they are probably knocking at an open door.

Photo by BackBoris2012