Great Minds

, but also on-message left-leaning anti-war media organisations think as one. And the time-lag here between a report in the Sunday papers and a report on the BBC was?… nil. Funny how when the same newspaper and others have reported the scandal of Iraqi-oil-for-peace-activists the BBC has waited, and waited, and waited, and then reported a scandal… in France. This is not to mention the fact that this dilemma was freely discussed at the time. In the light of this debate it would be extraordinary if the actual men who were to take the responsibility and the consequences of the fighting on the ground in Iraq had not sought absolute clarity from their political masters, who in turn sought it from the legal men. This looks grey and unnappetising, like old news reheated- and no more tasty now than it was then. The moral self-righteousness of the oil funded ‘stoppers’ and the even more self-righteous ‘If you’d only paid me I’d have made more noise’ types like Clare Short knows no bounds. The BBC is goading the British public to assauge its own injured pride. [BTW, this morning the BBC’s approach has been driven home to me by watching that pinnacle of the modern establishment, David Frost]. InstaUpdate: Indeed.

Giving some more credit where it’s due.

Recently I criticised the BBC for its coverage of Robert Mugabe’s birthday party– and I suggested that it was part of a trend. Others disagreed. My view is that very often the BBC acts as though they are a court of law- seeing their job to present the unfolding evidence of history fairly. The trouble is that that often means twisting material to fit arbitrary (though satisfying) lines of justice. It’s overreach. It also implies the introduction of the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ into journalism. Now (to simplify), historically in Britain and the West the idea has been that people in the ‘Third World’ just don’t do things in the right way- so the BBC stands aloof from all that, and redresses the balance by being suspicious of Western politicians instead (keep in mind: the purpose of this post is to praise the Beeb). The main impact of this is felt in the language the BBC uses in its reports. Moral equivalence means that Ken Livingstone’s London congestion charge and Robert Mugabe’s land confiscation have been scrutinised in similar terms as ‘policies’. There is no way this can be good reporting.

It’s true though that this ideological tendency is not the only force at work. The Beeb has a craftsman’s commitment to journalism, and its own ethos of humanism. Hence this article from the award-winning Hilary Andersson includes much that rings true. The video accompanying the article contains the magic words

“For almost a quarter of a century Robert Mugabe has been prepared to use violence to hold on to power”

Here’s responsibility placed where it genuinely rests, and the whole article revolves around demonstrating that Mugabe is at the epicentre of Zimbabwe’s ordeal, actively fomenting trouble with brutal youth training camps:

The Zimbabwean government says the camps are job training centres, but those who have escaped say they are part of a brutal plan to keep Mugabe in power.

The only trouble I have is that this is from a Panorama programme (Panorama: Secrets of the Camps will be broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 29 February 2004 at 2215 GMT ) and therefore a major blip in their coverage. This qualm is intensified by the sense that it is being billed as revelatory, when common sense combined with observation could tell us that Mugabe was relying on gangs of primed thugs to maintain himself in power- not exactly the point of the documentary, but not inconsistent with it. Will we be back to ‘cabinet reshuffles’, ‘corruption crackdowns’, ‘policies’ and ‘land reform programmes’, and farm invasion violence that just may have a relationship to Mugabe’s regime, when the dust dies down? Will we be hearing about more ‘vintage’ Mugabe from the BBC? I’m not suggesting they like him, but that there is a complacency in the reporting of an extraordinary situation. If journalism can’t be interested enough in Zimbabwe to describe it with detailed, scrutinising care and a bit of anger at what others suffer, then no part of Africa will benefit from the interest of the Western media.

A Smorgasbord of ‘Cheesy Shallowness’

: the BBC finds more uses for licence-payer’s money by antagonising God and atheists in mind-numbing global television mallarkey. This excellent article in the Guardian rips it into such very fine shreds you won’t even feel tempted to see how bad it is and boost the viewing figures.

A Good Liberal Education

can be enhanced by reading the opinions of those you strongly disagree with. That’s why I looked into the Today Programme website to see what I could glean from their extended feature about Jenny Tonge (the LibDem former front-bencher who lost her job after demonstrating her ’empathy’ for suicide bombers, and then visited Israelis and Palestinians at the invitation of the Today Programme- producing an article on the main BBC website). Despite appearing to listen carefully, Tonge had a serious case of mental lock-jaw when it came to appreciating clear explanations of the position of ordinary Israeli citizens. I found the text of her diary for the Today Programme and discovered that the World Website ‘Viewpoint’ looked to have altered a number of things that she said, perhaps to make them more acceptable to the range of viewers that would come to read it. This is one of the worst examples:

‘Some of the rantings have truth in them, but it is all so negative’– Tonge about Israeli citizens’ opinions, in the ‘diary’ on the Today Website.

‘Some of the Israeli arguments had truth in them, but it was all so negative.’ – Tonge on the BBC Website.

So the BBC, and possibly Tonge herself, feel it is equivalent to exchange ‘rantings’ with ‘arguments’? The next time I read or hear on the BBC of President Bush, say, being ‘forced’ to ‘defend’ the ‘argument’ for war in Iraq, I will have to bear it in mind that that they could mean, say, ‘desperately’ ‘resorts’ to ‘ranting’.

Matthew Leader


If you ever needed confirmation that the media has a clear editorial policy regarding what they want you to focus on and what they want you to ignore, check out today’s Israel news. Last night, BBC News had a full report on the Hague hearing regarding the legality of the separation barrier, but did not even mention that 8 people had been killed and 60 wounded in a Jerusalem suicide bombing that very day. One can only imagine the connections and commentary that would be made were 8 Palestinians killed and 60 wounded on the day before they presented evidence at the Hague against Israel. And certainly one would think that it would be germane to connect the bombing story to the barrier story, since the former is Israel’s stated reason for the latter. Yet, as you will see on their website, there is nary a word about the bombing, although four separate stories discuss the barrier proceedings.

Token of a Changing Tide?

These two reports- one from the BBC and one from the Telegraph– have different ways of describing a change in the TV rights’ ownership of the University Boat Race. Reminds me of one or two of my breakups in fact. One thing’s sure: the Boat Race was an audience drawing event that has been a fixture in the sporting calendar in this country for many years, and the BBC will no longer be involved after 2004.

The Trenchant

Melanie Phillips
is on her Today programme watch again over a really one-sided and skewed debate on Mr Blair’s notion/wheeze/policy (randomly generated options, delete to taste) on drugs testing in schools. Personally I’m relieved to find someone sceptically-minded who can listen attentively to large portions of the programme, but I suppose Melanie has what it takes. It’s as she says: a good example of the Beeb’s distorting lens, though the odd Libertarian might not be all that enthused since we all (yes, even me) find it easier to listen to voices we agree with. Evidently that was true for the Beeb presenter as well, who seemed strangely becalmed (almost sedated, in fact) while listening to the pro-drugs fellow, while being inflamed to the point of rudeness by HMG’s representative. (via Stephen Pollard. Thanks also to Rob)

It’s Not Important But…

What does it take to make the World Edition Webpage? Well, if your country (here, Japan) has controversially sent troops to Iraq, even a domestic military accident is newsworthy (raises profile, see?). Similarly, if you’re part of the artsy-fartsy British film industry (for which we must all give thanks and write letters to our MP supporting), expect to find your minor hard luck story represented.

Too Hungry For Words

. I sometimes see a BBC report and remember that the BBC World Service is funded by the UK Government’s Foreign Office. I’ve remarked on muted, even vaguely admiring reports about Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and been jogged to remember all the wrangles that have gone on in the Commonwealth, with South Africa arguing Mugabe’s corner. Today is Mugabe’s 80th Birthday, and he’s enjoying a party with thousands of guests in his home village that ‘was followed by a lavish meal’ according to this BBC report. Unfortunately they don’t take the trouble to mention that millions of Zimbabweans are believed to be enduring hunger- something they reported at Christmas without mentioning the name ‘Mugabe’. The closest they get to spoiling the party is mentioning that there is an economic crisis in Zimbabwe- but hunger gets not a mention, or even a link. Yet this isn’t even a ‘let them eat cake’ scenario- because all the cake, along with all the agricultural land, is for Mugabe and friends. Sunday Update: The BBC reports some hopeful (wishful?) news from Zimbabwe.