Due respect? Due for a change more like.

Below I asked What’s the difference between an interview and a sketch?, as helpfully demonstrated by Brian Wheeler of BBC News Online. By way of a related follow-up: What’s the difference between new news and old news?

Unfortunately, News Online don’t provide an answer this time. Surprisingly, the same Gorgeous George Galloway puff piece, last updated on Friday 13AUG04 (allegedly!) is still featured on the main BBC News Online Politics page – over two and a half-weeks later – in a nice highlighted box near the bottom, with a picture of George (in full flight, “Sir, I salute your courage, your indefatiguability” etc., etc.) and the words “Due Respect? George Galloway says he is building a new labour party”, along with, it seems from this undue exposure, the tacit support of BBC News Online!

In the interests of thoroughness, I’ve looked at the timestamps of all the pages featured on the News Online Politics page. The Galloway puff-piece is dated August 13th. The next oldest article is an anodyne piece about the size of the civil service, dated August 19th. After that, everything else is dated from the 25th to the 31st of August (with two exceptions – they being ‘see also’ type links to the lead story about Tony Blair).

So, how much longer is Gorgeous George’s puff-piece going to stay in the BBC spotlight? The only thing we can be sure of is that someone at the BBC likes seeing George’s mug sitting there on that page.

Update: Within twenty to thirty minutes of this post going live the News Online Politics page to which it refers was updated, replacing the George Galloway feature with a link to another Brian Wheeler article, this time about fox hunting. Just shows we’re not alone – don’tcha just love ’em!

Update 2: For those who require proof beyond my word for this, take a look at Google’s cache of the News Online Politics page. Google’s version is dated Sunday, August 29th, 23:52GMT 00:52UK (i.e. Midnight Sunday/Monday) – and look, there’s George’s mug jutting out at the bottom (until the cache is updated or the BBC nobble Google!).

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

I was saddened very much by a letter in yesterday’s Sunday Times*, concerning the horrific judicial murder in Iran of a sixteen year old girl, Atefeh Rajabi, because, it appears, she annoyed the so-called judge at her so-called trial for the so-called crime of “acts incompatible with chastity”.

Googling for the story produced a number of supporting accounts, including this one at Iran Focus. Reports of the case were also highlighted by Amnesty International UK last Tuesday, 24AUG04. Later I read an article about it in The Sunday Telegraph, Death and the maiden in Iran*, by Alasdair Palmer.

As Palmer says, “can you imagine the response if a 16-year-old girl was executed for having sex in Texas?”, or for that matter in any number of countries around the world?

Which begs the question, given that the BBC’s much-vaunted Monitoring Unit at Caversham brings us news round-ups from radio, television and press around the world, such as this one from the Middle East, Press relief at Najaf deal, why haven’t they apparently picked up on the tragic case of Atefeh Rajabi? And if they have, why hasn’t it been investigated and reported by the BBC yet?

They can hardly claim they don’t have time to cover Atefeh Rajabi’s story when they find time to cover stories like, to pick an example from Sunday evening, Thai capital elects new governor.

Last year, the case of Amina Lawal, sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, under Nigeria’s Sharia law, was covered extensively by the media, including the BBC. I wonder why that case was different? Perhaps it was because her story caught on, so for any major broadcaster to ignore it would have looked rather obvious. Perhaps it was because her sentence was yet to be carried out (mercifully she was acquitted after her second appeal). Perhaps it was because there was more hope of sanity prevailing in Nigeria than in Iran.

I look forward to the BBC proving me wrong in this instance – the more light that is shone into dark corners, whoever those corners belong to, and however uncomfortable it is for them, the better.

Update: Iran Focus has a lengthy update to this tragic story, with more background material and a photograph of Atefeh Rajabi. Still no noticeable coverage at the BBC though – disappointing, especially since they were so quick off the mark to cover up their extended George Galloway promotion when that was highlighted on this blog.

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As a special B-BBC August bank holiday bonus,

here are a few repeats of a classic BBC News Online error – this one being one of my all-time favourite examples of the ignorance, laziness and inability of BBC News Online journos and their editors (who should know better – assuming they actually read what they edit)!


Rock stages show of strength

[Peter Caruana, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister,] had earlier declared that Gibraltar was “at a crossroads in its future” and called for a future for the island that would be “free of threats, harassment and cajolement”.


Gibraltar deal in offing

The government has admitted what was widely suspected by the people of Gibraltar, sovereignty could be shared with Spain.

There have already been demonstrations this year, bringing most of the island out onto the streets to protest any move to change the status of the island.


‘Killer link’ in missing sailor inquiry

British detectives are in Gibraltar investigating the case of a Royal Navy sailor who disappeared while serving on the same ship as a convicted “serial killer”.

Simon Parkes from South Gloucestershire was a radio operator on HMS Illustrious when he disappeared in December 1986, after visiting bars on the island.


Blair accused of Gibraltar ‘stitch up’

The British and Spanish prime ministers meet to discuss a possible deal on Gibraltar. But the local population is deeply suspicious of plans for the island’s future.

Did you spot it? Yes, of course – Gibraltar is not an island – it’s joined on to the Spanish mainland – hence the border that was closed for many years until it was reopened in 1985 (not uncoincidental with Spain’s desire to join the EEC, as it then was, at least in name), hence the border over which there are still complaints of unnecessary delays and so on.

It’s a very basic, very obvious error – yet BBC News Online journalists make it time and time again. These examples are from a couple of years ago – but there are more in their archive – and other examples that have been fixed (usually after being spotted by telly-taxpayers who write in and complain). But still they do it – they seem to lack a) an interest in general knowledge about the world; and, b) the ability to fact-check their presumptions about the world.

And still we’re forced to pay for this tosh and are expected to believe that the rest of it is accurate!

What’s the difference between an interview and a sketch?

Don’t know? Here’s the answer, as demonstrated by News Online’s Brian Wheeler, a political reporter, oh yes:

One’s a magisterial puff-piece for

Gorgeous George Galloway.

The other’s a comedy piece poking fun at those

UKIP buffoons!

Of course this could just be an unfortunate juxtaposition – Brian has bylined a mere

eleven articles over two and a half years, according to the News Online search tool, so collecting a reasonable sample with which to assess his impartiality might take some time!

Now you see it, now you don’t.

In an article headlined Lib Dems accused of Tory alliance, concerning an email from a Labour candidate to his supporters (helpfully “released officially by the Labour Party” – no journalistic derring-do required) with the usual sort of leftie ferrets-in-a-sack by-election smears (although this time, for once, The Liberal Democrats are receiving rather than giving – and, to quote Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army, “they don’t like it up ’em”!), there was a funny bit near the end that read:

‘Running scared’

And, regarding the forthcoming by-election, [Matthew Taylor, Lib Dem Chairman] added: “This is developing into a clear two-horse race between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with the Conservatives giving up before it has begun – and this e-mail proves Labour are running scared.”

These sentiments were echoed by the Tories, who accused Labour of paranoia.

Ah yes – that would be right – of course ‘the Tories’* would echo the Lib Dems sentiments and their hoary old two-horse race chestnut. No doubt about that at all.

It’s nonsense of course – but the funny bit is that the original article was posted at 14:45 last Saturday. The latest version, without the obvious canard, is dated Monday at 11.27 – so it took the BBC nearly two whole days to spot and correct such an obvious error.

Don’t these people read what they’ve written before they publish it? Doesn’t anyone else at the BBC read it (within minutes or hours, rather than days)? Or does it take until Monday morning when some poor bloody telly-taxpayer writes in for them to finally notice it and fix it? Or did they think they could get away with such nonsense?

I suppose we should be thankful that this one wasn’t given the full stealth-editing treatment. I still look forward to the day when News Online are professional and honest enough to include a log of authors and amendments as part of each story – it’s the only way they’ll be properly and fully accountable to us, their adoring captive market.

* I presume the BBC (in common with everyone else on the left) almost always refer to the Conservative Party and its members as ‘Tories’ because a) it’s easier to sneer the word Tory; and b) it’s a historical insult from a few centuries back.

Perhaps now that the BBC politely refers to terrorists as ‘militants’, lest the sensibilities of terrorists and their supporters are offended, the time has finally come for the BBC, in the interests of their famed balance and impartiality, to drop the term Tory, pejorative connotations and all, too!

An amusing snippet from last weekend’s Sunday Times

* – Dyke to denounce ‘traitor’ governors. Apparently:

The former director-general, who will present a Channel 4 documentary next month to accompany his memoirs, claims his offer of resignation was a token move that he thought would not be accepted.


Dyke believes that, had Davies been present at a second governors’ meeting the next day, he would have argued that there was no need for Dyke to resign.

At this meeting, Dyke was shocked when several governors — including Neville-Jones, Hogg and Ryder, a former Tory chief whip — argued that his resignation should be accepted.

Some believe Dyke may have been a victim of snobbery. He was the Labour supporter with traces of a Cockney accent who met with the disapproval of “establishment” governors.

At the meeting, Dyke’s resignation was accepted by eight votes to three. A week later, the governors met again.

And, get this:

Dyke wrote a letter asking for his job back, arguing there had in effect been a miscarriage of justice as he believed he had a deal that he would not be a second fall-guy after Davies. In the end, Dyke left the BBC with a severance package of £456,000.

Oh, the inhumanity of it all, the snobbery, the poor lamb. Let’s get this straight, Dyke offers his resignation, the Governors accept, Dyke then claims he is a victim of a miscarriage of justice!

Nothing to do with a monumental cock-up, nothing to do with not checking the facts first, nothing to do with backing a dubious story to the hilt, and nothing to do with getting in such a deep hole that there was no alternative other than to keep digging.

What a pillock. If the governors weren’t sure of their decision to ditch Dyke before then they certainly should have been after such a petulant performance. That and the oh-so-rapturous reception of the BBC staff when the People’s Greg walked among them! Bosses should command respect – not hysterical mass-adulation – particularly bosses of large public institutions spending billions of telly-taxpayers money.

Poor old Greg, he just doesn’t get it, does he?

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Not Very Sporting

The BBC anti-Bush sniffer dogs were quick to uncover the story of Iraqi Olympic footballers criticising Bush, and swift to publish. The story was based on a Sports Illustrated interview with team members, and their coach.

The BBC reported:

‘Midfielder Salih Sadir said the team – which won its group stage in Greece – was angry it had been used in Mr Bush’s re-election campaign ads.’ This would have been a good opportunity for the BBC to have used their famous ‘scare-quotes’, but for some reason they missed it.

They also fail to point out that the Iraqi football team are not mentioned in the ad., titled ‘victory’.

It would be clearer to point out, as S.I. pointed out, that Bush ‘is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements.’- even though the Olympic teams of Iraq and Afghanistan are neither obviously pictured or directly mentioned in the ad. Even while sourcing their report with S.I. the BBC manage to make it less clear.

When midfielder Sadir says “Iraq as a team does not want Mr Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,” the BBC fail to make clear that he cannot be speaking for the Iraq Olympic team as a whole- even though he might like to.

One further way in which S.I. outperforms the BBC is in describing the backgrounds of the players. Unlike S.I., the BBC fail to mention that Sadir hails from Najaf- a fact that in current circumstances might seem significant. I don’t think ‘Sadir- from Najaf-‘ would have cluttered their page too much.

Prompted by Zevilyn’s comment below,

about the omission of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from some BBC coverage of China’s Deng Xiaoping centenary celebrations, I had the same thought yesterday, reading an article headlined China celebrates Deng centenary.

The article does mention Tiananmen Square:

[Mr. Hu] praised Deng’s determination to maintain a tight grip on the country despite what he referred to as “political upheavals”.

The BBC’s Francis Markus in Beijing says the argument used during the time of the Tiananmen protests and which is repeated often by Chinese leaders now is that the need for stability is paramount in such a vast country.

But, as you can see, only in a half-hearted way, spouting the Chinese government line, describing what is popularly known as The Tiananmen Square Massacre as the “Tiananmen protests” – with no dates, no background, no details, no mention of who was in charge at the time.

Curious. And yet another area of unbiased, impartial telly-tax funded news coverage worth our scrutiny.

BBC infantilises listeners, exploits the bereaved

. Last week the mother and sister of Private Gordon Gentle, a 19 year British soldier who was sadly killed in Iraq on the day that the Iraqi interim government took control, walked out of a meeting with John Prescott. Here is an excerpt from Minette Marrin’s Sunday Times column* yesterday on the BBC Today programme’s coverage of their trip to London:

Mother and daughter went to Downing Street where they were received not by the prime minister, who is busy on his lamentable holiday jaunts, but by our deputy prime minister — he of the white-water rescue that wasn’t — to express their anger at Gordon’s death and their demand that Blair should resign. They made various other angry accusations and in the end walked out on Prescott in contempt.

That seems to me entirely reasonable in itself. The Gentles are and ought to be free to make their feelings known like any other citizen. But when they were interviewed on the BBC’s Today programme on Friday in the prime political slot at 8.10am, demanding that our troops should be pulled out of Iraq, I found that I was angry.

This was a classic example of the contemporary infantilisation of public debate — a deliberate emphasis on personal feelings rather than on rational, dispassionate adult argument, on the assumption that, like infants, we the public are not mature enough to respond beyond personal feeling and can’t be expected to. This is convenient commercially since the infantile corresponds so closely to the sensational, and there are megabucks to be made out of all that sensational emoting.

There is probably little that one can or should do to stop the independent media capitalising on this or splashing such personal, emotional responses, and it would be a bad day for Britain if protests like the Gentles’ were not aired widely.

But for a public service broadcaster and an influential, reputable political programme such as Today to splash such personal emotion across the airwaves as if it amounted to serious debate is another matter. The BBC should not be taking part in this infantilisation of the listener, least of all when exploiting the bereaved at the same time. It should be a bulwark against the trivialisation of public discourse.

The terrible grief of the Gentles and their understandable anger have no bearing on the rights and the wrongs of the invasion of Iraq or the deployment of troops.

Their dreadful personal loss does not give them any special insight into what is going on in Iraq and certainly no insight that they did not have before Gordon died or that families of surviving soldiers in his regiment do not have. They are entitled to their views but you can be absolutely sure that if Gordon had not died, his mother and sister would have been of no public interest whatsoever. As it is, they teach us nothing.

The death of even one soldier is, of course, terrible. Everyone thinks so. But it can make no difference to my view or yours about the current complexities in Iraq or about the invasion.

The BBC should have had nothing to do with the Gentles, especially as it seems that they may have links with anti-war lobbyists, who may perhaps be exploiting them as well.

The last bit refers, I think, to Tommy Sheridan, apparently a family friend, and a notable Militant (of the traditional non-terrorist variety) from the days of the Anti Poll Tax Union (a Militant front organisation), who has progressed from being a latterday folk-hero/rabble-rouser to the respectability of election as an MSP for the Scottish Socialist Party.

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