Sunday, 18 March 2018

Open Thread

Please find attached a brand new Open Thread (with a link back to the last one here if you're still catching up).

This week's Open Thread features a map of the rivers of Wales. 

Many thanks for your continued support, and (as my Google Translate says) cael penwythnos da!

A one-way street

This morning's Sunday on Radio 4 closed with a discussion about the Government's Green Paper on integration. 

It featured Professor Ted Cantle of the Community Cohesion Foundation and Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain. 

Mr. Versi broadly welcomed the Green Paper but was concerned about its "inappropriate" focus on the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities (particularly over poor English language skills). 

This (particularly thanks to presenter William Crawley maintaining that focus) became the main talking point of the whole discussion. 

Professor Cantle agreed with Mr. Versi about the inappropriateness of singling out the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, calling the media's focus on 'Muslim communities' "very unfortunate". 

They both agreed that integration should focus on "all communities" and be "a two-way street". 

William Crawley also invited Miqdaad Versi to discuss "Sharia courts", saying there has been "a lot of press coverage of that section of the report this week". 

Mr. Versi liked what the Green Paper says about them. 

A comment I saw elsewhere sums up my view of this discussion: "If only BBC Radio 4 Sunday had asked some more testing questions (ie proper journalistic questions) rather than a series of invitations to be politically correct".

Brace yourselves!

Oh no, not again! đŸ˜‰

How did they manage to put that communist-red top on Jane Moore?

And Brexit-hating lawyer/activist Jolyon Maugham QC - Twitter's loudest legal voice - is upping the pressure on the BBC before jetting off on a plane and going out of communication...:


Rob Burley isn't having it:

Framing the debate

  • Join us at ten from Brighton where with calls from across the political spectrum for a second Brexit vote we ask whether the people should have the final say on the terms of the deal. 
  • Today on The Big Questions, should the people have the final say on the Brexit deal?
  • The debate over who should have the final say over the Brexit deal continues to rumble on. This week the campaign group Best for Britain launched a legal challenge to make the government concede a second vote on Brexit. This comes on top of the private member's bill tabled by the Labour MP Geraint Davies calling for a second referendum on whatever the Brexit deal turns out to be, plus a call from Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Greens, for a people's poll on the final deal because of its possible effect on Northern Ireland. Last year, Gina Miller's private action against the Government secured the right of Parliament to a final vote on the Brexit deal. But given the ever-changing demographics of the UK, where those who were most likely to have voted for Brexit are being steadily replaced by young people, who overwhelmingly favoured staying in the EU, we ask, "Should the people have the final say on the terms of Brexit?" 

Questions, questions!

A Tale of Two Stories

You may have read BBC Technology correspondent Dave Lee's BBC News website report Facebook suspends controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica yesterday, or the Home page report on it yesterday evening headlined Trump campaign data firm accused of harvesting Facebook data, or even the write-up about The Observer's front page story about it on James Stephenson's favourite page of the BBC website, The Papers, this morning. 

Of if you don't bother with the BBC News website and were merely watching the BBC News Channel then you'll have seen the Observer Cambridge Analytica story discussed as one of the chosen items by Professor Jon Tonge on this morning's BBC Breakfast paper review and later by Rachel Shabi and Anne Ashworth on the BBC News Channel's 9.40 am paper review. You'll have seen the report on the story on the channel within the last hour.

Or if you were watching BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show then you'll have seen it discussed by Owen Jones and Jane Moore, and Andrew Marr ask Boris Johnson about it. 

So when the famously honest Alastair Campbell tweets the following this morning - 

- you can see he might not be correct. 

Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror's latest front page headline - Stopping Sex Gangs 'Too Much Trouble' - Telford Police insider's horrifying claim against force - has been "given a miss". Once again, it wasn't even shown on The Andrew Marr Show, never mind mentioned or discussed. 

That said (just like last Sunday), it is, however, mentioned on James Stephenson's favourite page of the BBC website, The Papers, and BBC Breakfast interviewed the National Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who seemed particularly keen to tell us not to focus on the "Asian descent" grooming gang aspect of the story but to think of child abuse as being a much broader phenomenon and one that mostly takes place in the family home. I'd have hoped that Naga would have put the remarkable claims in today's Sunday Mirror about police attitudes in Telford to Mr. Bailey but, alas, she didn't.  

Licence fee payers to the rescue!

According to The Times, "The BBC is considering footing tax bills for hard-up presenters as it braces itself for disclosures in the Commons that some face crippling demands from HM Revenue & Customs".

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Emily had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. `What a funny watch!' she remarked. `It tells the day of the month, and doesn't tell what o'clock it is!'

`Why should it?' muttered the Hatter. `Does your watch tell you what year it is?'

`Of course not,' Emily replied very readily: `but that's because it stays the same year for such a long time together.'

`Which is just the case with mine,' said the Hatter.

Emily felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. `I don't quite understand you,' she said, as politely as she could.

`The Dormouse is asleep again,' said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hatgate (2)

Jess Brammar

The acting co-editor of Newsnight responds to Owen Jones:

Jess Brammar:

  • Ok, it’s Saturday & I’m in the hairdresser but my phone is having a meltdown so I’m going to address this - I’ve been staying out of it because I haven’t been in the office since thurs afternoon, but here we go...Newsnight didn’t photoshop a hat.
  • Our (excellent,hardworking) graphics team explained the image has had the contrast increased & been colour treated, usual treatment for screen graphics as they need more contrast to work through the screens. If you look you can see it’s same hat in silhouette.
  • Apparently (forgive me for passing on tech details I don’t understand firsthand) some detail might also have been lost with it going through the screen and then being filmed back through a camera, again the standard effect on images on that big back panel.
  • And finally, the Russia background was a rehash of one Newsnight used a few weeks ago, for a story about Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary
  • By all means criticise Newsnight. That’s healthy, and we will always welcome people like Owen Jones coming on the show to criticise us from our own studio. But no one photoshopped a hat.

Owen Jones:

  • Hi Jess, firstly lots of respect for you. The photo of Williamson is in a suit and his photo remains clear. There is no shortage of photos of Corbyn in a suit. A photo was selected which was as Leninesque as possible in combination with a red Kremlin background.

Jess Brammar:

  • RTing you in interests of openness! Don’t want to get into a twitter spat, and need to switch off twitter now, but happy to give your views a full airing. And you can say what you like about NN, you certainly will be invited on again.

Owen Jones:

  • In addition, the photo of Corbyn has clearly been touched up, making it look Soviet poster-esque in a way Gavin Williamson did not. You'll be aware, too, of a context of Corbyn being demonised all week as a Russian stooge. Which this background clearly blatantly reinforces.
  • (Finally I thought you'd left already but massive congrats on your new job!!!)


The offending 'Newsnight' graphic

Owen Jones has been complaining in recent days about the lack of left-wing voices on the BBC News Channel. Meanwhile, though he himself may not have been on BBC News Channel either, he was on Radio 4's The World Tonight on Thursday, BBC Two's Newsnight yesterday and will be on the Andrew Marr show tomorrow. so he's not doing that badly out of the BBC.

That says, he reckons he "may not be getting a BBC Newsnight invite ever again" after last night's squabbling and is demanding that they "must apologise in full and unreservedly" for their "outrageous photoshopping of Jeremy Corbyn as a Russian stooge". 

Here's what happened last night:
Evan Davis: Owen, do you think Jeremy Corbyn has paid a political price this week for his position?
Owen Jones: Well, the media framing has been a disgrace, and I have to say that includes your own programme. Yesterday, the background of your programme, you had Jeremy Corbyn dressed up against the Kremlin skyline...
(Evan laughs) 
Owen Jones: No, no, it's good to make this point...
Evan Davis: Yeah, no, make your point.
Owen Jones: Dressed up as a Soviet stooge...
Evan Davis: It was a real picture of Jeremy Corbyn.
Owen Jones: You even photoshopped his hat to look more Russian. I have to say, whether or not.
Evan Davis: No, it wasn't photoshopped.
Owen Jones: It was.
Evan Davis: It was real. It was him in front of the Kremlin. It was a provocation. Yep, yep.
Owen Jones: People should complain to the BBC about that kind of thing, and if it's not your Graphics department responsible, it's whoever signed it off...
Evan Davis: Just a sec. It was a real picture of him and we placed him in the Kremlin, yeah.
Jenni Russell of The Times returned to the theme later:
Jenni Russell: I didn't watch your programme last night, but , clearly, if you take a photograph taken years ago in a different context and you put it up there...
Evan Davis: It was a provocation to a discussion and it was a balanced discussion.
Jenni Russell: Images matter...
Evan Davis: The discussion was balanced.
Jenni Russell: So I agree with him about that. 
On Owen's claim "You even photoshopped his hat to look more Russian" and Evan's denial, well, judge for yourselves:

Update: Here's an example of some of the 'proofs' flying around Twitter that Newsnight photoshopped that hat and which are causing such a Twitterstorm against the BBC (click to play! - and apologies for the sweary language):

And the mockery is well underway:

(You might have spotted that Trumpton missed out the Russian ambassador to the EU there!)

In both directions....

Andrew Neil is a little scamp

James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, on the BBC's Telford coverage (again)

James Stephenson

So, this week's Newswatch with Samira Ahmed carried the BBC's second big interview of the day with James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, about the BBC's coverage/lack of coverage of the Telford Muslim grooming gangs scandal. 

How did this one go?

Well, I think Samira Ahmed did a decent job. I did wonder if she or someone in her Newswatch team has been reading this blog. She was right in there with that "15 second read" point about Tuesday night's fleeting mention on the story on the BBC's News at Ten, momentarily putting Mr. Stephenson off his stride. 

And it was interesting to hear from Samira Ahmed that the BBC has received "hundreds of complaints" about the BBC's Telford coverage - a sign, I think, of the scale of the public's disgust at the BBC over this and why the News Editor of BBC News and Current Affairs felt the need to go on both Feedback and Newswatch on the same day to defend the Corporation's honour. 

In that light I doubt that his complacent "No, I think we are doing the right thing" line will have gone down too well with viewers. 

As an aside, in that complaints response from the BBC to Tabs at Biased BBC, BBC Complaints replied that:
On Monday, our paper reviews again linked to the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror’s analysis of the investigation, followed by detailed articles which were on our News website front page.
Given that so many people insisted that they'd never seen it on the BBC News website's Home page on Monday, I thought that was untrue but couldn't think how to prove it. James Stephenson has now (inadvertently) proved that it was untrue whilst trying to slyly skate over Samira's point: 
Samira Ahmed:  I was wondering, when did the story appear on the front page of the website? 
James Stephenson: So, there was a story on the website on Monday. That was on the England index. 
In other words, it wasn't on "the front page of the website", it was only on the England page - just as the BBC's critics said.

Also, when James Stephenson says "And it was widely covered in our paper review, prominently on the Sunday", he's seriously over-egging the pudding. That was five paragraphs near the bottom of what was originally a long paper review page (they pruned it later in the day to take out all the images of the front pages), and that that was the sum total of the BBC's online coverage of the story that day before burying later articles (on Monday and Tuesday) in 'Shropshire' (or 'England', if we take Mr. Stephenson's word for that). And don't forget, the Andrew Marr show didn't even put the Sunday Mirror on its table of newspapers, never mind mention or discuss it last Sunday. 

Anyhow, here's a transcript of the whole thing:

Samira Ahmed: Now, last weekend, the Sunday Mirror said it had uncovered Britain's worst ever child grooming scandal, with claims that up to 1,000 girls had been abused since the 1980s. Over the next two days, other newspapers followed that up extensively. But there was only limited mentions on BBC News. Scores of people wondered why - with one of them, David, leaving us this phone message on Tuesday morning:
Hi, I woke up this morning to the horrific stories about the child abuse in Telford, so I thought I'd go on to the BBC app, which I use regularly. And lo and behold, there was nothing about it. Your top five stories on the website. There's one about pork pies and one about the danger of Chinese takeaways. Are you going to cover this scandal? 
The BBC was accused in the press of ignoring the story, and Adam Paulson agreed, writing...
I hope the BBC will provide a full account of their decision not to cover the latest Telford revelations. As it is, it looks like an egregious and appalling lack of editorial judgement.
Andrew Vaughton e-mailed... 
It seems the BBC is no different to the local authorities and police in turning a blind eye to an extremely important issue that is clearly in the public interest. Shameful. 
Well, on Tuesday, the Victoria Derbyshire Show interviewed a victim of child exploitation in Telford. But it wasn't until Wednesday that BBC One bulletins ran a report on the subject, from Sima Kotecha. 
Sima KotechaNight-time in Telford. Recent reports say up to 1,000 girls could have been sexually abused in the town over the last four decades. The police here say at the moment they are dealing with less than 50 cases. 
For many though, the BBC's reaction was to little, too late. Trevor Bell thought... 
It is an absolute disgrace how BBC News has suppressed coverage of the events in Telford. If it has been white males who had committed these acts, it would have been lead story for days.
And Robert Leather tweeted this question...
Can you explain the BBC's lack of response?
Well, let's put that to James Stephenson, the BBC's News Editor, who joins me now. Can we start with... The story broke in the Sunday Mirror. When did the BBC national news think it worth reporting? 
James Stephenson: So, immediately we could see that it was a good and strong piece of journalism by the Sunday Mirror. And it was widely covered in our paper review, prominently on the Sunday. And we saw it was a story that we needed to follow up, and we began to do that. So as early as Monday morning, the Victoria Derbyshire Programme was leading its output on this story. And later that day, The World at One interviewed the leader of Telford Council to challenge him about what was going on. 
Samira Ahmed(interrupting) Which is radio. 
James Stephenson: So, we quickly saw it was a story that needed to be covered, and that it needed our original reporting effort to follow up, and that's what we did. 
Samira Ahmed: We heard from a viewer there who said he used the news app. I was wondering, when did the story appear on the front page of the website? 
James Stephenson: So, there was a story on the website on Monday. That was on the England index. There were various developments in the story as the week has gone on. I'm sure you've seen and the viewers have seen how the story has developed. So, the initial suggestion was that possibly 1,000 victims, and that was based not on hard information, but on an extrapolation based on work with an academic. So, we pursued it. And we weighted the story. We looked at it in depth. And it's probably worth saying, to address your point directly, that we're in the middle of this huge spy drama and scandal, the poisoning scandal in Salisbury, and that's consumed a huge amount of our airtime, as has the death of Ken Dodd, and then later in the week Stephen Hawking. So even in a busy news period, this has been an exceptionally busy news week, and we've tried to cover the Telford story in the mix amongst all of the other things that we've been doing. 
Samira Ahmed: I suppose audiences would say, a really busy news week, this is a really important new story. 
James Stephenson: That's certainly true. And I'd like to sort of challenge an idea that I think probably viewers might be left with by the sequence they've just seen. This is a scandal that's been unfolding in Telford over many years, and we have been covering it in great depth and with great prominence during that time. So, the Operation Chalice brought to life the scale of abusing in Telford. There was then the criminal prosecution, which saw seven men being sent to prison a few years ago. So, we have consistently been reporting this story as it's gone along, and we've done so again this week. 
Samira Ahmed: The TV bulletins are where millions of people go expecting to be told what are the big, important stories, and it wasn't until Wednesday, three days later, that there was an actual report about Telford on the national bulletins. Why? 
James Stephenson: So, it was covered in brief on the News at Ten on Tuesday night... 
Samira Ahmed(interrupting) A 15-second read. 
James Stephenson: Well, some stories...We have a relatively... As I've already explained, we've got a very busy news period and there's a limited number of stories we can cover. The reason it became a network TV bulletin story on Wednesday was because of partly our journalism. So, we interviewed the police in Telford, we interviewed a social worker in Telford, it was raised at Prime Minister's Questions, and the Prime Minister reacted to it. So, even, as I say, in this busy period, that obviously deserved the attention that it got on the main TV bulletins that day. 
Samira Ahmed: You will know what BBC viewers are saying, and we've had hundreds of complaints into the BBC. It's that it looked like the BBC felt awkward giving this story prominence because it was about white victims and Pakistani-heritage abuses. 
James Stephenson: I know that's a view that some people hold. I really don't think it's the case. We've done a great deal of coverage of this area of abuse, both in - and this terrible story in Telford, but also elsewhere in the country. The BBC has just won a Royal Television Society Award for the excellent documentary, incredible documentary, about abuse in the north-east of England, based around Newcastle. That was the second story in the TV news three weeks ago. So we've done a great deal of work on Rotherham, where a lot of this stuff initially - this terrible situation came more fully to light. So we've certainly committed to covering what is a harrowing and terrible story, and we've done it consistently over time. 
Samira Ahmed: You will know, because Newswatch has debated it before, that coverage of the previous grooming scandals with this racial element, viewers every time feel the BBC runs shy of reporting these stories prominently. Do you think the BBC needs to have a rethink about how it runs and reports on these stories? 
James Stephenson: No, I think we are doing the right thing, and I think we are very determined to get to these terrible and dark and difficult stories, not just this one, but across the whole range. What I do think is true to say is that before the full nature and scale of what was going on in Rotherham and Rochdale and Oxford and other places came out, there was not as great an understanding of how, you know, profound a problem and how deep this ran. And I think - so if you go back a decade, I think you can definitely say that the story or the issue didn't get the attention it probably deserved at that point, and that is something everyone has had to reflect on. 
Samira Ahmed: James Stephenson, thank you. 

A date for your diaries

Courtesy of the BBC Media Centre:

BBC Radio 4 marks a year out from Brexit 
On 29 March, with one year to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, Radio 4 will broadcast a number of specialist programmes under the theme Britain at the crossroads. 
This day of programming will go beyond the detail of the negotiations, and the drama of Westminster politics, to explore Britain’s future role and place in the world - and that of our European neighbours. 
Gwyneth Williams, Controller of Radio 4, says: “A year before Britain is due to leave the European Union we want to consider what this moment might mean in the broadest terms. We have reshaped our schedule and, drawing on Radio 4’s flagship news programmes with analysis from our current affairs and documentary teams, we will attempt to assess its significance in terms of culture, politics, history and economics.” 
The Today programme will start the day by co-presenting from a factory in the North East and will feature reporting and interviews from the around the UK. Following this at 9am a lengthened episode of The Long View will consider moments in history when Britons faced a new and uncertain future after a break from the established order. At 9.45am the fourth episode of The Channel - a series of five essays running throughout the week - explores the waterway that both links Britain to, and separates it from, Europe. Contributors to The Channel across the week are Professor Sanjeev Gupta, Professor Dominic Rainsford, writer Alba Arikha, historian Dr Renaud Morieux and journalist Christine Finn. 
An extended edition of World At One, presented by Martha Kearney, will consider Britain’s post-Brexit place in the global order; our role, our values and our alliances. In addition, the programme will be launching a new 12-part series called Brexit: A Love Story? Each episode will look at one event during the UK's membership of the EU, retelling the story of a fascinating and complex relationship - and asking whether the tensions and contradictions which ultimately led the UK to choose to leave the EU were evident from the beginning. 
At 4.30pm is The Brexit Lab, where Iain Martin talks to policy-makers, experts and campaigners about the ideas which could come to fruition after 29 March 2019 - both in the short and long term. From the way we work to the environment, he asks how we could do things differently if the UK is no longer bound by EU rules, and asks how much appetite is there for new ideas across the political spectrum. 
At 8pm is The EU After Brexit, where Radio 4’s Bottom Line and Briefing Room combine in a special hour-long programme to look at the future of an EU without Britain. Evan Davis meets Jean-Claude Trichet - formerly president of the European Central Bank- and is joined by a panel of business leaders from across the EU. David Aaronovitch will look at the EU’s political future - asking what a more deeply integrated bloc on its doorstep means for the UK. 
Ending the day is The World Tonight. Over the next year The World Tonight is following four very different businesses as they prepare for Brexit and the opportunities and problems that it will pose. On 29 March Paul Moss will introduce listeners to the four firms that we’ll be hearing from at regular intervals across this critical year.

Friday, 16 March 2018


What’s the point of Hardtalk? The blurb says:
In-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered as famous personalities from all walks of life talk about the highs and lows in their lives.
Well, you’d never guess that Sackur’s guest Ahmad Tibi was the same fellow that appears in this clip. 

If you have the stamina you can read BBC Watch’s two-part deconstruction of the interview, here and here

The first problem one has is that this outrageous figure is being treated respectfully when he is obviously a fundamentalist religious extremist; racist, duplicitous, grievance mongering, and very privileged to occupy a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Peace ? forget it.

The other problem - or problems - lie within the interview itself, and all the omissions and sundry economicals with the actualitĂ© that Sacker allows to slip through the net. 

So what of it?

Well, as a certain BDS activist might say, it’s just another brick in the wall. 

James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, on the BBC's Telford coverage. Do you believe him?

I was waiting for tonight's Newswatch with Samira Ahmed to tackle James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, about the BBC's coverage/lack of coverage of the Telford Muslim grooming gangs scandal, but tonight's Radio 4 Feedback with Roger Bolton got in there first. 

It is to the BBC's credit that they broadcast such self-flagellating interviews, but such things raise as many questions as they answer.

Listening to it, I was alarmed by the tone of Roger Bolton's introductory framing. 

It included dismissive language about "social media" being "awash with accusations" against the BBC and about "Twitterstorms" accusing the BBC of being too over-cautious and "PC" in its coverage/non-coverage of the Telford paedophile gang scandal.

Curiouser, however, was his weird language of "alleged widespread sexual abuse in Telford" and the use of "claimed" as far as the "Asian" background of the bulk of the grooming gang perpetrators is concerned. Are such things still in any doubt?

So I expected the worst but, to be fair to him, Roger then went on to also do himself credit by putting to the BBC high-up some of the questions I wanted putting. 

He even raised the 'religion' question - without, however, daring to name the religion (Islam)!

As for James Stephenson, News Editor, BBC News and Current Affairs, well, he certainly talks a good talk. 

And, yes, his basic message was the usual and depressingly predictable 'We got it about right'.

But, still, I think he made a pretty good fist of defending the indefensible. He said all the right things, and sounded as if he was being sincere, and some of his points struck me as being reasonable.

His fixation on the Victoria Derbyshire show's strangely mawkish coverage as the 'evidence of impartiality' of choice was cleverly chosen.

But I think the picture he painted of the BBC's coverage is woefully short-sighted and complaisant. His idealistic-sounding assertions about what the BBC 'did' aren't, for the most part, in tandem with the reality of what the BBC actually did (or didn't!). He was just asserting the BBC's impartiality. 

And, I'm afraid, I don't buy his cherry-picked examples of the BBC 'doing the right thing' (backed by Roger Bolton). They are pretty rare cherries, and - if he's being truly honest about it - he should have admitted that. 

And I don't buy his claim that "we are not shying away from these kind of difficult issues. We are advancing towards them". This blog this week (and in previous weeks, months and years) has, I think, providing copious evidence to the contrary. 

Anyhow, please judge for yourselves by reading on and thinking about the following transcript:

Roger Bolton: Hello. Did the BBC under-report the sexual grooming and abuse scandal in Telford? Social media is awash with accusations that the BBC is running scared of the story for politically correct reasons. The corporation's news editor is here to respond...

We begin with a Twitterstorm with the BBC at the centre. The charge is that the news division failed adequately to cover a story about the alleged widespread sexual abuse in Telford in Shropshire, and that it did so because it is politically correct and afraid of charges of racism, since it is claimed by the Sunday Mirror that many of the offenders come from an Asian background. This story appeared in the paper under the headline 'Britain's worst ever child grooming scandal exposed'. The Sunday Mirror went on to suggest that up to 1,000 young girls were abused as the authorities had failed to act over a period of 40 years. On Wednesday Superintendent Tom Harding, who is in overall charge of policing in Telford, said he feels the story had been "sensationalised" and significantly disputes the figure. The Sunday Mirror's abuse story was picked up by a number of news outlets but, initially at least, not by the BBC -  though it was mentioned in the online newspaper review. This lack of coverage was quickly picked up by, amongst others, Nigel Farage on Twitter, Nick Ferrari on rival Radio station LBC, and in a column in the Spectator by Douglas Murray titled 'The BBC's shameful silence on the Telford sex scandal'. Cue a furious exchange of tweets as thousands of people pitched in, on both sides: 
  • The BBC ignores a paedophile scandal involving more than 1,000 girls over 40 years in Telford. Even the local BBC website ignores it, presumably for fear of racial controversy.
  • The BBC have done interviews with actual victims. It is shameful that people are trying to use the abuse of children in Telford just to attaFck the BBC with no concern for the victims of abuse.
  • I have undertaken a long journey. I've argued for public service broadcasting. I value Radio. But I finally cannot switch on Radio 4. The BBC has abandoned Brexit voters and have ignored Telford. It no longer has a moral compass. 
And even when it was pointed out that the BBC had covered the story - online, on the Victoria Derbyshire show, and The World at One on Monday and then on Woman's Hour many felt it still wasn't enough. As tweeter St.John Smythe put it:
  • The near-silence of the BBC on a story about the abuse and rape of hundreds of young women is a disgrace. It's clearly in the public interest. The BBC are no longer fit for purpose.
So was the BBC slow to cover an important story and did it not give it enough prominence when it did? Questions for James Stephenson, the BBC's News Editor who joins me now. James Stephenson, were you late coming to this story?
James Stephenson: I really don't think we were. And I know that's suggested by other people but I don't think it's the case. If you look, for example, at the Victoria Derbyshire programme at 9 15 on Monday morning, it was leading on that story, as it happens, led again with it the following day. The World at One, as you've already said on Monday, interviewing the local council leaders. So I think the answer is 'no'.
Roger Bolton: But all of those things are on Monday and Tuesday. The Sunday Mirror comes out on a Sunday, and they're making the point in the evening bulletins, or even if they look at the BBC News website - I have a copy in front of me - that story is not running. Why?
James Stephenson:  So, yes, you make a fair point there, and the Sunday Mirror did a great piece of work, and they've talked to a large number of people in Telford and, credit to them, they've tracked that story over quite a period. With stories like that we need time to check them, put our teams on them, put our correspondent on them, work on them. I think it's a reasonable amount of time for a Sunday story to be coming back strongly with our own content and our own journalism it on by Monday morning. You would be the first to acknowledge that it's important for journalists when they are presented with a story that they they do their own work on it. We put our own journalism together, and then we run it. And I think that's what we've done in this case.
Roger Bolton: You seem to be suggesting that it's not very important for the BBC to be first. You want to be accurate. If necessary, you're going to wait 24 hours. But, on the other hand, you're a news organisation. Everybody goes to you first when they hear this story...when they heard about this story on (sic) the Sunday Mirror, and on Sunday they want to know what you think.
James Stephenson: We definitely aspire to be first, and I think if you...a fair-minded listener would  see that we are on many occasions the first with with original journalism. In this case the original journalism wasn't ours. It was the Sunday Mirror's - and credit to them. When you're following up a story the process  of following up - particularly a complex and difficult story - then you need to get that right and you need to publish when you're ready.
Roger Bolton: But there is widespread concern - you may say it's not well-founded - but on issues where there is a racial element the BBC is very reluctant, or very nervous, about getting involved. Was the fact that in this case a number of the alleged perpetrators were from an Asian background? Do you think that did have an impact in slowing down what you were doing because you are particularly concerned about race relations?
James Stephenson: No. This is an important piece of new journalism but the story and the scandal and the horrors really of what's unfolded in Telford have now been brought out over quite a period. And if you look at the BBC's coverage, we have given full coverage to the unfolding revelations of the terrible things that have happened in Telford - most significantly, most prominently, I would say, that the outcome of Operation Chalice that, as you know, was launched in 2011 and gave rise to prosecutions and a conviction of seven men in 2013 - and we covered that prominently, as you would expect. And, no, there's absolutely no question of us flinching away from difficult areas. I'd say the opposite. I think we are committed to going to the most difficult stories in the UK and around the world and covering them as clearly, as fairly, as accurately as we can, difficult or otherwise.
Roger Bolton: Now some of our listeners think, again, the problem in the background here is the religion of some of those involved, and they want to know: what are the editorial considerations in deciding when to mention an accused person's race or religion in stories about grooming and sexual abuse? 
James Stephenson: Well, this is one of the more challenging areas of editorial decision-making and it's a matter of judgement. And the judgment is about where it's relevant. Where it's relevant to the story we include it. Where it's not relevant we don't. And, you know, that's easy to say; it's actually quite hard to implement  because you have to make the decisions based on the facts as they are presented, as they appear, in a particular story.
Roger Bolton: Can we look at another aspect, about the white working class again? And, again, an allegation, for example, made by Lucy Allan MP, who said this week that the BBC is "not strong on standing up for white working class" and, again, the suggestion is that in the case, this case we've been talking about, the fact that the girls involved were white working class made the BBC less interested in them.
James Stephenson: Again, I don't think that is the case. I mean, obviously, Ms Allan is the MP for Telford. She is entitled to her view. She's pushing rightly at these issues. But I don't think it's a description that I recognise. We're committed to honest, accurate, fearless journalism - and going where that takes us.
Roger Bolton: But you have acknowledged in the past....former Directors General have acknowledged in the past...I'm thinking now of Mark Thompson...about the dangers of a groupthink. a liberal groupthink. With the best of intentions. But it can permeate newsrooms. And we have in our audience still this suspicion that the BBC is part of that groupthink. And you've got to deal with that suspicion, haven't you?
James Stephenson: We absolutely have. And I'm sure that's part of the reason why you've chosen to take on this subject on the programme today. We have looked long and hard at our own coverage and our own understanding of these issues, and I can really give an assurance that we are not shying away from these kind of difficult issues. We are advancing towards them. And, yes, you're right to say that in any organisation, and any journalistic organisation, any newsroom, there's a danger of people having a shared view of stories. We work really hard, as part of our our commitment - which is a genuine commitment to impartiality - to challenge our own thinking, to be open to other's input and other sources. And that includes external contributors who challenge what we're doing. And they ask the kind of questions that you're asking about 'were we fast enough?' 'did we consider it to be important enough?' 'was it prominent enough?'. Of course, we've been a period of extraordinary news - and not just in recent weeks but in this week itself - so the space in setting up some of our more prominent output has been squeezed. I really do discourage people from the idea of thinking that there's some hidden agenda. Our agenda is journalism. And we don't always get it right, but we are always seeking to do an honest job.
Roger Bolton: Our thanks to James Stephenson, the BBC's News Editor.

Is the IFS biased?

Here's something I thought you might enjoy from Charles Moore's latest Spectator's Notes:
Saturday’s Guardian carried a long interview with Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. He came across as a well-informed, public-spirited man. He did not come across as impartial. He seemed a typical social democrat. He thinks more public spending is better than less, doesn’t like first-past-the-post politics because it weakens the middle ground, and wants tax penalties for second homes. Above all, he is anti-Brexit: ‘The economics are obvious. If you make trade with your richest trading partner more expensive, you will make yourself worse off.’ He says there is no economic case for Brexit, just a ‘controlling-immigration case’ (no mention of the key sovereignty/democracy case). Mr Johnson is entitled to all these opinions, but he and his IFS are given lots of BBC airtime as unbiased experts. Yet they are just as viewy as the IEA or the Centre for Policy Studies. The difference is a) that they don’t declare it and b) that their ‘objective’ beliefs chime with those of the BBC. To think that the case for Remain is an objective one and the case for Leave isn’t is the most out-and-out Remainer view of them all. Neither case is objective, nor should it be. On its website, the IFS describes itself as having, during the referendum, provided ‘a vital impartial voice in the debate’. It is bad for our public culture that such flat untruths can be smugly asserted by people earning their livings as ‘experts’.

A BBC reply

Tabs at Biased BBC complained about the BBC's coverage/lack of coverage of the Telford story and has posted part of the BBC's response:

The BBC News website published the front page of the Sunday Mirror on March 11, linked to the article and contained a commentary on the paper’s 18-month research. On Monday, our paper reviews again linked to the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror’s analysis of the investigation, followed by detailed articles which were on our News website front page: 
We’ve also covered the reaction from the local Council, MPs and charities like the NSPCC. The item was further covered across the BBC as follows: 
– Radio 5 Live’s ‘Emma Barnett’ and ‘5 Live Drive’ programmes spoke to our Radio Shropshire reporter and covered the issue – BBC Two’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ had a live interview with a child abuse lawyer on the subject, as well as one of the victims – BBC News at Six, Ten and News Channel all covered the story this week, as have Midlands Today bulletins – Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’ and ‘Six O’Clock News’ both had items, and local radio heard from the leader of the local council in Telford. 
We have previously reported on Child Sexual Exploitation in Telford on a number of occasions, including the last call from Lucy Allan MP for an independent inquiry:

Hmm. As I've written a lot about this this week, I'll just content myself with saying a little more here about two programmes I've been monitoring this week....

When they say that "BBC News at Six, Ten and News Channel all covered the story this week", that surely proves the disingenuous nature of this BBC reply.

The story had been raging since last Sunday morning and the first time BBC One's News at Ten covered it was a brief mention on Tuesday night's programme at 10.25 (which I quoted in its 49-word entirety earlier in the week) - and that's been it so far. BBC One's News at Six has also covered it just once this week, on Wednesday evening's edition; though that was a two-minute report by Sima Kotecha.

Yes, both programmes "covered the story this week", but just once each, and one of them for just a few seconds. Is that really properly "covering" a story?

I wonder if James Stephenson, News Editor for BBC News and Current Affairs, will trot this one out on tonight's Newswatch

Update on 'Update'

Buried in Kent?

For those saying that the BBC isn't reporting the attack on Britain First leader Paul Golding, well they are. It's on the England & Kent pages of the BBC News website. Of course the BBC (along with every other mainstream media outlet) is holding off on reporting the social media claims (rumours?) that Mr. Golding was attacked by two Muslim inmates. 


The article underneath the main story on the BBC News website has now been nudged aside to make way for a new report about Telford, which is now the BBC's 'second story'. Very curiously, the piece was published 5 hours ago, presumably on the BBC 'Shropshire' page, but has only appeared on the BBC's Home page now. Why?

It looks to me as if the BBC is now making an effort to appear to be doing the right thing. Maybe all the criticism is finally getting to them (especially if it's now coming from MPs).

The report itself, incidentally, has just changed - within the past ten minutes. I clicked to refresh the page and the third paragraph in the previous version, "Police have previously disputed suggestions the issue is ongoing", has been replaced by "Police said they were currently working with about 46 people at risk of CSE". (Newsniffer caught the edit too).

Update (12.20): Following on from a post yesterday, the article has been edited again and now contains the following passage:
West Mercia's Police and Crime Commissioner said he had "sought clarification" on reports that a memo by the force in 2013 said some child sexual abuse victims had "consented". 
The wording has been criticised in the Mirror for appearing to blame victims, and PCC John Campion has said he thinks it was a "poor choice of words".
Mr. Campion, incidentally (and not reported in this BBC article), was one of the ten men who told Amber Rudd that no inquiry into Telford grooming was necessary (according to Lucy Allan).

Update (12.50): And now the report has gone from the BBC Home page.

It lasted three hours then.

Treading on eggshells

The BBC News website this morning has this as a very prominent item (just under the main headline):

When you click into it you find it's a long piece looking at child sexual exploitation in the light of the Telford grooming scandal. 

It focuses on how the victims of grooming are seen. 

It makes little mention of the cultural element of the grooming gangs phenomenon and makes no mention whatsoever of any common religious aspect to the profile of the paedophile gangs. This is how the piece deals with the issue:
While some of the most high-profile cases of CSE have involved gangs of men with Pakistani heritage abusing white girls, Dr Beckett points out that there is "no typical CSE case".
It looks, therefore, as if the BBC is continuing to tread on eggshells when it comes to reporting these kind of scandals.

Update: The BBC has changed the image and caption now. Their Home Page now shows this:

There's a 'Downfall' parody for all seasons!

Talking about the BBC News website, it's got a handy primer for those who can't tell their Slovakias from their Slovenias following the resignations of the prime ministers of both countries this week. I have to say, however, that Hitler & Co. explain it much better though here (though beware! Hitler does get a bit ranty at times):

Open Thread

It's time for a new Open Thread. Many thanks for all of your comments.

As part of this blog's mission to inform, educate and entertain, here's Loondon Calling to explain the accompanying image:
Memorial to Benjamin Britten, Aldeburgh, proposed by Architect HT ‘Jim’ Cadbury Brown after Britten’s death, but never realised. 
The story surrounding the memorial is interesting. It was envisaged as a huge hulk of wood, maybe driftwood washed up from some distant shore, standing on the beach with two holes in the top designed to sing out the two emphatic notes from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes, when the wind blew fiercely enough through it to generate these eerie sounds. Like a huge organ pipe on the beach, it might play hauntingly to the residents of Aldeburgh. It would remind them of the mystery and uncertainty that lies out at sea, beyond the horizon. Sadly, this idea was never realised.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Very Random Thoughts

The four corners of the planet Mercury

If you didn't listen to the Boris Johnson interview on Today this morning and hear John Humphrys's heavily insistent line of questioning (as mentioned in an earlier post), you really should - if you feel up to it...

...and then try to relate John's relentless pursuit of an already dubious point about President Macron opposing Mrs May to the four corners of the earth (and, given his relentlessness, very possibly to the four corners of Mercury, Venus and Mars as well) to the brutal fact that all of his thunder and lightning was subsequently rendered ridiculous by France's ringing backing for the UK's position over Russia.

So much sound and fury from John H. to so little purpose!

There was a strong whiff of 'fake news' about the BBC's reporting of this - as Andrew Neil suggested (though not in quite so many words).

I suspect - perhaps with my tin-foil hat on, perhaps not - that this was the BBC pushing their 'Brexit is harming the UK and the UK is losing its global influence' thing - something which has turned out to be far from true, given that the US and European countries have swung very firmly behind us over the Skripal affair, #despiteBrexit.


Talking of 'fake news'...

Tonight's BBC One News at Six ran a feature about the BBC's latest 'School Report Day'.

Its theme this year has been that very thing - 'fake news', and the BBC have been going into schools telling pupils to be wary of fake news, especially on the internet.

The BBC as the purveyor and protector of 'truth' and 'reality'!

As a conscientious blogger, I worked my though their various BBC News website features and found nothing objectionable, bias-wise. It was just largely obvious and reasonable good advice (albeit in no way meant as being advice for pupils as to how to treat their consumption of BBC news, other than a few strong hints that the BBC is a 'good guy' here). 

The one bit where it strayed into political matters was the 'Recognising Fake News' video (with its youth-friendly loud music and gimmicks) where the BBC's new main man Amol Rajan cautioned pupils against believing politicians who cry 'Fake news!' in order to deflect attention away from their failings.

Hmm. Wonder who Amol was nudge, nudge, wink, winking at there? 



There have been two widely reported breaking news stories about the Grenfell Tower disaster today.

The first concerns the conviction for fraud of a woman (Joyce Msokeri) who pretended to be a Grenfell survivor whilst claiming that her fake husband died in the fire. (She's not the first person to have been convicted of this kind of fraud when it comes to Grenfell).

The second concerns a new report which found that a fire door installed in the tower block was only able to hold back the flames for around 15 minutes - just half the time it was supposed to work for.

Only one of those stories - the second - made it onto tonight's BBC One News at Six.

An editorial decision was obviously made not to report the first story on the BBC's main early evening news bulletin. Wonder what their thinking was there?


My timeline today has again been full of people criticising Agent Cob for his confused contortions over the 'Russian poisoning' story.

And however sensible you might think some of his questions have been (and about his positing of 'rogue elements'), Our/Their Cob certainly has veered all over the place over the past couple of days or so.

(I personally think he's been genuinely all over the place rather than being dishonest).

Again BBC One's News at Six left potential PM Jeremy and his party's travails out of its reporting equation tonight, for some reason.


Tonight's Question Time has caused controversy by including an RT presenter (Afshin Rattansi) on its panel (alongside an actor, an EU bureaucrat, a Labour front-bencher, a Conservative minister and, perhaps, a fluffy kitten).

Some are asking, 'Why invite on someone from the Russian state propaganda channel, especially at this time? Aren't the BBC siding with our enemy?'

Other are objecting to the RT man's antisemitic past on social media. Shouldn't the BBC no-platform him?

As a free speech man, I'm firmly of the 'no, of course it shouldn't' point of view here. Let him be heard, and (if needs be) let him be heckled and robustly challenged.

Will he get the full David Dimbleby/QT-'Nick Griffin treatment' tonight?


Talking about antisemitism, The Independent has an 'exclusive' tonight: Frontrunner for Labour's next general secretary 'gave work to someone suspended by party for antisemitism'.

If true, that should be a lead story on every media outlet, including the BBC. The antisemitic nature of the tweets of the suspended woman is beyond question (even down to 'Jews having big noses' comments).

If the likely next Labour general secretary ignored this and gave a job to this woman in full knowledge of her antisemitism then the BBC should surely make a massive deal of it (the way they used to if even the most obscure UKIP candidate for a local council seat ever said anything even remotely racist-sounding or batty)?


'Let's have a look at what you could have won'

The super, smashin', great Jim Bowen died within a day or so of his hero Ken Dodd, and was (to me) a 'local lad made good'.

He taught at Lancaster Road School in Morecambe, and used to own the fine (wonderfully-rural) Royal Oak pub halfway between Morecambe and Hornby along the Lune Valley and, for a while, owned Morecambe FC (The Shrimps) despite being a lifelong Blackburn fan.

I'd quite forgotten until I read the obituaries (if I ever actually knew) that he had a brief fling with the BBC. His Radio Lancashire show lasted about three years until they made him resign for "making a racist remark on air", as the BBC News website's obituary put it.

For obituaries, however, if you can read it beyond the paywall, the Telegraph's obituary of Our Jim is unbeatable. It's wonderfully wry but warmy, and a masterly piece of writing (albeit with the odd forgivable factual error). It relates his short BBC past in a slightly more charitable way:
From 1999 Bowen worked for BBC Radio Lancashire, presenting a magazine programme with Sally Naden called The Happy Daft Farm. When he was sacked in 2003 for using the expression “nig-nog” on air, he protested that in his part of Lancashire, it meant nothing more than a nitwit.
(That '2003' is the factual error. The BBC actually pushed him out in 2002).

It quotes a classic Bullseye moment:
“Hello, Ken, and what do you do for a living?”
“I’m unemployed, Jim.”
“Smashin’, Ken, super.”
 You really couldn't beat a bit of Bully.