Fair trade 4 kidz.

The treatment of the just-ended “Fair Trade Fortnight” on the Children’s BBC website could do with one or two words of dissent from the chorus of approval. The treatment of trade issues as a whole on the CBBC website is one long hymn of praise to the anti-globalisation movement.

This piece, “What is Fair Trade?” presents the “fair trade” initiative as an unquestioned good. Children would never guess that there are respectable arguments against the project: for instance that by disguising price signals it encourages African farmers to ride for a fall. The farmers get a false impression that coffee or chocolate is a safe bet when this isn’t true. This post from the Adam Smith Institute blog by Alex Singleton has more. Incidentally, that post is so straightforwardly written that it could be understood by a young audience. It gives an impression of the sort of pro- free trade arguments that the BBC could put on its children’s website to balance the anti-free trade arguments it does provide – if the BBC were so minded, which it isn’t.

I don’t want to be too critical of the young authors of this report, “Think twice when you buy a chocolate bar.” Encouraging children to think and write about current affairs is a good thing, and it is a rare thirteen year old that knows anything whatsoever about economics (although, come to think of it, the CBBC website does nothing to alleviate the general ignorance when it could do so quite easily). Still, a responsible grown-up should have been found to either edit out or add a correction to the piece of misinformation with which Imogen and Juliette conclude their report:

When you eat non-Fairtrade chocolate, it may have come from a cocoa farm where they use slaves.

Were the authors older I would call that scaremongering. Modern chattel slavery is a phenomenon of marginal, traditional and isolated societies. It is not an issue in the more developed and cash-based African economies that produce chocolate and coffee for Western consumers. Furthermore the proportion of farmers participating in “fair trade” schemes is tiny; to suggest to children that to buy non-fair trade chocolate, i.e. the vast majority of the chocolate on sale, is to be guilty of abetting slavery is irresponsible. I don’t blame Imogen and Juliette for not knowing this. I do blame their BBC editors.

The next page I looked at in the four-page CBBC section on trade issues is called “Why do some people protest?” There isn’t a page presenting any arguments against the protestors.

I personally am not a big fan of the World Trade Organisation, or of any trans-national bureacracy. But even I wonder why this piece “What is the World Trade Organisation?” gives the first half of the page to an Orwellian-sounding description of the WTO’s supposedly awesome power, the second half to yet another list of reasons why some people protest against it, and no space at all to its defenders. Nor was there a link to the WTO website to let viewers see how the organisation itself defends its existence.

In this page, “What are transnational corporations?” we finally had half a sentence suggesting that this trade stuff might be useful sometimes:

Such companies can provide work and enrich a country’s economy – or some say they can exploit the workers with low pay and destroy the environment.

That little whisper of praise was of course instantly quashed by an anti-globo riposte.

The two links provided are to Fairtrade itself and a body affiliated to Oxfam called Make Trade Fair. As I mentioned above, there were no links to the WTO itself or to any robustly pro-trade organisation. It is a measure of how biased CBBC’s approach is that Make Trade Fair looks pro-trade in comparison. At least it acknowledges that trade can lift countries out of poverty.

Trade is basically good. Countries that trade a lot get rich. Countries that do not trade stay poor. Trade happens because both sellers and buyers want it to happen. You would never guess from the CBBC treatment of the subject that these opinions are held explicitly by most economists and politicial leaders of the democratic right and left and implicitly by the billions of people who engage in international trade.

Rather the CBBC treatment is dominated by the views of a loud and ignorant minority.

BBC Reporting by numbers#2:

If saying anything remotely critical of Islam, criticise another religion first.

As reported by 21st March World at One on BBC Radio 4, al-Qa’eda issued a statement after the Madrid bombing, part of which said

You [the West] love life, we [al-Qa’eda] love death

World at One decided this was worthy of discussion, which I though was surprising. The BBC tells us constantly how ‘peace-loving’ Islam is.

So how does this discussion continue and progress – by talking about Christian martyrs of course, and the willingness of early Christians to kill freely, and be killed. So, that’s all right then – it’s nothing new, nothing to get excited about.

Except this. It’s much less of interest to me when people did 1500, 1000 or 500 years ago – many religions seem to have turbulent pasts. What matters to me is what people do and think now. World at One is a news programme, not a history programme.

It should have been the here and now that was the focus of the discussion, not some equivalence-seeking PC nonsense. Needless to say the Islamic cult of death as exhibited by al-Qa’eda, and supported by many, and it’s roots in scripture, were not examined. It’s simply too hot a subject for the BBC.

A slight mistranslation.

The BBC reports

A Moroccan trainee teacher has been denied a job in Italy because school authorities feared her headscarf might scare children, local media reported.

Put like that, the decision of the authorities in Samone sounds an utterly pathetic example of Islamophobia. The arguments offered by an official trying to defend the decision do nothing to change that impression:

“(Children) might have been scared and it was better not to run that risk,” official Christina Ferrari said.

I imagined her making a ritual gesture to ward off the Demon of Risk plus a genuflection to The Children™ while she said it. Heaven protect the bambini from seeing terrible headscarfs!

Then I thought, wait a minute. Rural Italy is full of women wearing headscarfs. Even in big cities I saw dozens of grannies in black headscarfs. Headscarfs are not, just not, a big deal in Italy. No one could claim even for a minute that children would be scared of them.

I started to wonder if there was more to the story than met the eye.

I think there is. The newspaper La Repubblica is one of the sources mentioned in the story. This is what La Repubblica reported. The first paragraph says:

Una donna di origine marocchina, Fatima Mouayche, 40 anni, sposa e madre di due bambini, è stata negata la possibilità di frequentare uno stage presso un asilo nido di un paese del canavese perché aveva il capo coperto dal chador, il velo islamico.

It’s a quarter century since my Italian O Level, but here goes:

“A lady of Moroccan origin [note that La Repubblica does not deny her Italian citizenship, unlike the self-consciously PC BBC], Fatima Mouayche aged 40, married with two children, has been denied the possibility of attending a [here my Italian gave out] in the Canavese area because she had her head covered with the chador, the Islamic veil.

Thought so. It was a full veil, not just a headscarf. The officials and people of Samone are being parochial and small-minded but they aren’t being crazy: I can see why rural children unused to the sight of a woman wearing the chador might be frightened, particularly if it covers all but the eyes. On my first day of school I was seriously frightened because my teacher came in wearing a black rain-cape. I thought she was a witch. Wisely, my fears were not indulged, and by the end of the day I had learned a valuable lesson: that even people who wore clothes that looked strange to me could turn out to be nice. It is a pity that the children of Samone are being denied the chance to learn the same lesson.

This has been a long post over the mistranslation of just one word. The reason I bother is that it’s typical of the way that BBC doesn’t even serve its own better ideals well. In its anxiousness to present this as a story of utterly mindless racism, and of pandering to children’s transitory fears, the BBC missed a chance to tell a story that would have made the same points about tolerance more strongly through giving some acknowledgment to the fears that need to be overcome.

BBC Reporting by numbers #1

(it’s like painting by numbers, but less intelligent): If an Islamic group commits a terrorist attack, run a story about how the particular ethnic group is ‘oppressed’.

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (20th March) carried a story from their Spanish ‘correspondent’ about the plight of the Moroccan community in Spain.

Let’s start with a Moroccan restaurateur. We are informed about a feeling of suspicion, and

business after the Madrid bombings was down on the Sunday, with fewer customers than usual.

The implication was that the Spanish are boycotting the restaurant out of pique, or are afraid to go anywhere near a Moroccan. We are not reminded that the Sunday in question was election day in Spain, and was three days after the Madrid bombings. These things may have had some affect on restaurant business generally.

So much for the Spanish people, time for the police, who are

inspecting the papers of immigrants in the main square

The police aren’t rounding people up and locking them in cells, just inspecting papers. If felt listening to this that I was meant to see this as oppressive, or sinister, or both. I just saw it as sensible – 200+ people dead, I expect Spain to be in a state of heightened security.

More about the coverage of the killing of Sheikh Yassin

There is a new group blog called Oh, That Liberal Media, somewhat on the model of this one but usually covering US newspapers. However this post mentions this BBC despatch:

The BBC dispatch, however, is astonishingly biased, even considering its source. In about 800 words, there is literally no mention of Hamas’s suicide bombings and, amidst copious quotes from Palestinians, all of five words allocated to the Israeli perspective; the quotation marks around the Israeli Army’s statement that Yassin bore “‘personal responsibility’ for attacks that had killed many Israelis” conveniently doubling as scare quotes. After that, the only mention of Hamas’s violent activities is in the third-to-last graf, a generic mention that “the militant group killed scores of Israelis.”

The other three words representing the Israeli perspective, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Bolm saying that Yassin was “marked for death,” are, so far as I can tell, in fact a months old quote presented as a new utterance, its misuse falsely representing the Israelis in reveling in death and vendetta.

Now when I read the BBC report linked to by OTLM there was the following mention of suicide bombings:

Israel says were responsible for the twin suicide attack in the port of Ashdod on 14 March that killed 10 Israelis.

Whether Harry Seigel of OTLM missed the mention or the BBC did a stealth edit I cannot tell. But I do know the BBC’s track record on stealth edits.

Dash Riprock also comments on a “glowing obituary” for the late Sheikh.


According to Tim Walker’s Mandrake column in the Sunday Telegraph, the BBC disinvited the historian William Shawcross from a debate at the behest of Tariq Ali.

“The two were due to debate the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war on BBC2’s breakfast news programme Weekend 24 yesterday with the affable presenter Simon McCoy. Then Ali seemingly had a hissy fit and said that if Shawcross was taking part he’d pull out.”

The BBC acquiesced. Malcolm Rifkind and Donald Anderson MP came on in place of Shawcross.

Sorry there is no link; I couldn’t find this online.

Ed Thomas’s

new blog Talking Hoarsely will join the list of personal blogs by B-BBC posters just as soon as I summon up the courage to dive into the template.

Ed’s most recent post is headed “Controversy over at B-BBC.” It’s about Patrick Crozier’s post of a few days ago, which was indeed very controversial.

What’s our official collective position, then? Answer: there isn’t one. This blog is a functioning anarchy.

Walter writes from Melbourne

, quoting a BBC article about Sheikh Yassin that says:

“Militant groups like Hamas did initially declare a temporary truce, but that unravelled in July 2003 after Israeli forces killed two Hamas members in retaliation for the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus that left 21 people dead.”

Walter comments:

Note how the BBC has got this deliberately and completely a**-about.

The suicide bomb that killed 21 people was not the end of the temporary truce. It was all Israeli’s fault – they should have just copped the 21 deaths sweet and left it at that. Then we’d still have the truce.

In the BBC’s distorted world view Hamas can murder but that’s not breaking a truce – that’s just all in a day’s work.

Pardon me while I spew.

UPDATE: In the first comment to this post. La Marquise asks, “Does Ian Paisley ever get called a ‘spiritual leader’ by the BBC?”

Driven to Despair.

On the one year anniversary of the Iraq war, we are reliably informed by the BBC that

“many Arab newspapers are deeply unhappy over the continued presence of foreign military forces.”

This is not surprising given the sense of shame many Arabs feel over the downfall of the once proud and powerful regime led by Saddam Hussein. He seemed to be the only Arab leader willing to stand up to George W Bush. But why select only those Arab newspapers with the greatest angst? There are hundreds of newspapers in Iraq which were not allowed to exist or publish under Saddam. Could the BBC not find one of them to quote?