Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

This excellent leader column from The Telegraph sums it all up really:

Compare yesterday’s reports with those by the same commentators during South Africa’s first democratic election. Then, too, there were many technical problems: electors who were not properly registered, voter intimidation, long queues. But these things were set in their proper context, as the backdrop against which the moving drama of people casting their first ballots was being played out. No one suggested that the clashes between IFP and ANC supporters in Zululand undermined the whole process. No one argued that the backlash by a handful of black homeland chieftains and Boer irreconcilables made South Africa unfit for democracy.

Looking to hang their doubts on something specific, the cynics focus on the ejection of the Sunni Arabs from their traditionally dominant position, and the prospect of a permanent Shia majority. There is plainly some truth in this analysis. A combination of sulkiness and intimidation has led to large-scale abstentions among those who prospered most under the old regime: Saddam’s townsmen in Tikrit, for example, seem largely to have stayed at home. Meanwhile, the Shias, sensing that they may be the masters now, have flocked to the polls in huge numbers. None of this, though, is an argument against conducting a ballot. To return to our earlier parallel, no one contended that the likelihood of a permanent ANC majority – or, to make the analogy more precise, a permanent black majority – invalidated the concept of South African democracy. No one wrote sympathetic pieces about the plight of the Afrikaners as they lost their hegemony.

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Another example of the subtle bias at BBC News 24. In a report on the Balfour Beatty/Railtrack trial, the reporter made sure to get this comment from the prosecutors into the report:

Mr Lissack also told the court the crash was a “catastrophe” which marked the beginning of the end of wholly privatised railways in Britain.

This wasn’t particularly germane to the charge, but because it came after the reporter’s making sure that the prosecution’s claim that the rail network was riddled with dangerous faults had been quoted, the impression created was that only a fool would allow “commercial interests” to look after the railways.

Will the BBC ever provide anything like this news from The Times:

Total subsidies are now running at £5 billion a year compared with about £1 billion in real terms under British Rail. The taxpayer’s contribution to the average ticket has risen from 25 per cent five years ago to 55 per cent today.

P.S. I’m watching the BBC News 24 talking to Carla Lane, the former writer of pretentious sitcoms, and now an animal rights campaigner, about the proposed new laws to stop animal rights protestors. The reporter said to her that “This is fair enough, surely?”, and seemed genuinely surprised when Carla – looking pretty mad, it has to be said, and speaking a bit like Ozzy Osbourne – disagreed. Scientists only have a right to be protected from violence, not anything else, such as continual harrassment in their daily life, she said. (There was then a good response from a scientist.)

(Not a bias issue, really, just interesting).

Looking for the exit

Others have posted about use and abuse of casualty statistics on last night’s Panorama programme. It is odd that the BBC should reportedly promise not to broadcast what they then nevertheless did. The body of the programme was in keeping: emphatically-presented bad news for the coalition, about all the many obstacles to the coalition’s finding an exit strategy

‘to let them withdraw from Iraq in reasonably good order with at least some of their war aims intact’

It all made an unlikely prelude to John Simpson’s closing remarks. Any viewer who turned off before the end would have concluded that the BBC thought coalition failure likely, or even inevitable. John, it would seem, thinks otherwise:

However it would be wrong to conclude from all this that the process is bound to fail. In fact, I think it is bound to succeed. It’s just a pity that it has been so badly botched by so many people along the way.”

John has more insight than some in the BBC and this may represent his exit strategy for them from the situation in which their coverage of the last two years has placed them. If, a few years hence, Iraq has not subsided into chaos or a brutal regime like Saddam’s, they could still claim that the process of moving from Saddam to the present was so badly botched by so many people that it nevertheless fully merited all the hostile coverage it got.

This strategy could allow the BBC to withdraw from the Iraq issue in reasonably good order with at least some of its aims intact. It will face some difficulties, not least because it has been, and will probably continue to be, so badly botched by so many in the BBC along the way. However it would be wrong to conclude from this that the process is bound to fail. In fact, within the BBC itself at least, I fear it is bound to succeed. Less so with me, however. The Iraq war would be unique in military history if it had no foul-ups. But I shall rely on sources other than the BBC to tell me what they were.

[All quotations noted from memory after the programme.]

Stealth edit alert… Stealth edit alert… Stealth edit alert –

Further to the posts below about the BBC’s erroneous reporting, they have at last quietly published an item, BBC apologises over Iraqi figures, on their hidden away Newswatch and Notes and Corrections pages (I don’t know why they have two slightly different ‘error correction’ pages).

They have also replaced the link on the Panorama pages to Iraq data ‘includes rebel deaths’ with the even more anodyne Iraq Health Ministry Figures. The difference between the two pages? The original page contains the “The BBC regrets mistakes in its published and broadcast reports” apology up front, the replacement page omits any form of apology and adds a lot of obfuscatory blather. Seems like today is another good day for burying bad news.

And the stealth edit? In my post below I mentioned how the BBC’s erroneous reports were destined to become established ‘facts’ (at least for ignorant journalists and leftie axe-grinders), citing an example already on the BBC itself – Killings hit run-up to Iraq vote, which included the statement “Casualty figures obtained by the BBC suggest coalition and Iraqi forces may be responsible for up to 60% of conflict-related civilian deaths in Iraq”. But lo, look again – that statement is no longer there – now you see it, now you don’t!

Once more Google’s cache confirms the BBC’s sleazy stealth editing – the same page, Killings hit run-up to Iraq vote, is there in Google’s cache, exactly the same except for the inclusion of the BBC’s egregious error in the cached copy, both with the same timestamp – Saturday, 29 January, 2005, 05:53 GMT. Shameful stealth editing dishonesty – yet again.

Further to Scott’s post below about the BBC’s Panorama wannabe exposé

that has instead been exposed itself (as promptly reported here by B-BBC commenters 24hrs ago), it is notable how quiet the BBC has been in fessing up to such a monumental and dangerous cock-up.

They claimed, in the name of their World Affairs Editor, John “Liberator of Kabul” Simpson, that, coalition troops in Iraq are killing more Iraqis than the so-called insurgents are.

On the Panorama section of BBC News Online their page advertising the programme, available via Google’s cache BBC obtains Iraq casualty figures (courtesy of USSNeverdock), concentrated heavily on the claim about coalition deaths:

The data covers the period 1 July 2004 to 1 January 2005, and relates to all conflict-related civilian deaths and injuries recorded by Iraqi public hospitals. The figures exclude, where known, the deaths of insurgents.

The figures reveal that 3,274 Iraqi civilians were killed and 12,657 wounded in conflict-related violence during the period.

Of those deaths, 60% – 2,041 civilians – were killed by the coalition and Iraqi security forces. A further 8,542 were wounded by them.

Insurgent attacks claimed 1,233 lives, and wounded 4,115 people, during the same period.

Panorama interviewed US Ambassador John Negroponte shortly before it obtained the figures. He told reporter John Simpson:

“My impression is that the largest amount of civilian casualties definitely is a result of these indiscriminate car bombings.

But, as it turns out, the BBC’s interpretation of the figures was quite wrong – the figures include people killed by the so-called insurgents, yet the BBC attributed these deaths to the coalition, and then made their erroneous claim about the extent of deaths caused by coalition forces. Worse, according to Reuters, the BBC went ahead reporting these claims even after they were told that their interpretation of the figures was wrong:

Iraq’s health minister said the BBC misinterpreted the statistics it had received and had ignored statements from the ministry clarifying the figures. (Emphasis added).

As with the Bhopal hoax a few weeks back, this is a story that wouldn’t have got so far if the situation were reversed, if the claims were not about coalition caused deaths. A few basic questions and some pause for thought would have seen the story spiked long before it got on air – but, as with the Bhopal hoax, it seems that this is another story that matched what the BBC wanted to say – that was too good to check properly.

As you might imagine, this is a dangerous error to make – it gives support and encouragement to the fundamentalist head-hackers and Baathists who wish to tyrannise Iraq, as well as to home-grown stop-the-war moonbats. It’s the sort of error that risks becoming established fact, that becomes a cause-celebre against which all manner of atrocities can then be justified.

So how has the BBC made good their error, to prevent it from becoming established fact*? Have they broadcast on air apologies to correct their falsehood? Not that I’ve seen. Have they published an apology prominently on their website? Not that I’ve seen. Have they published an apology on their hidden away Newswatch or Notes and Corrections pages? Not that I’ve seen. So much for NewsWatch will publish all mistakes of a serious nature across the BBC’s platforms – TV, radio and on the web!

So, what have they done? Well, they’ve replaced the Panorama page (i.e. buried the evidence) mentioned above with the rather anodyne Iraq data ‘includes rebel deaths’, where “The BBC regrets mistakes in its published and broadcast reports” is as far as they go. And that, of course, is hidden away on their Panorama pages – not on their front page or even on their Middle East pages. Hardly open and honest. Michael Grade, the BBC’s Chairman seems to agree that the BBC has to be more honest and admit its mistakes and be less defensive about doing so. Well Michael, this story would be a good place to start.

* Too late – it’s already an established ‘fact’. Lee Moore points to this on the BBC: Killings hit run-up to Iraq vote (“Casualty figures obtained by the BBC suggest coalition and Iraqi forces may be responsible for up to 60% of conflict-related civilian deaths in Iraq”), while Mick points to this crap on MichaelMoore.con. Quelle surprise.

Last night, while taking a break from the Sky News’

excessive sports coverage and irritating trailers for itself (“In America…”, aaargh…), I switched over to BBC News 24. Between 3 and 4am they reported “In Britain, the Conservative’s have launched their latest campaign poster on immigration”, voiced over a tight shot from below of Liam Fox up a ladder with a paste bucket – then back to the presenter, without actually showing a shot of the poster (which is why politicians do posters these days). This was quite in contrast to the blanket coverage of Labour’s new posters a couple of weeks ago. So, the ‘balanced’ BBC can claim they’ve covered the Conservative’s poster, even though they’ve treated the two main parties quite differently. Perhaps the BBC didn’t like the message on the poster – It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration. Yes, I expect that’s it – complete anathema to the BBC.

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

BBC News 24 says the militants “did their best” to stop the election. (“Best” not a great choice of words, really). 36 people were killed, which is appalling, but is little different than other bad days in Iraq. No rivers of blood. If that’s the terrorists’ “best”, then the terrorists lost.

Overall, BBC News was subdued, and slightly negative, but not particularly bad. Even they couldn’t edit out all the positive comments from the Iraqi people, and the military spokesmen.

There were some odd phrases, though – John Simpson said “Certainly not a victory for the insurgents”.

Well, no John. It wasn’t. I don’t suppose there’s any chance of “A victory for democracy” from you? I mean, do you think was it a draw?

BBC News on the web actually had the headline ‘Iraq election declared “success“‘, which looks positive, until you realize that the BBC isn’t calling it a success, they’re quoting other people who’ve called it a success.

That particular story ends with this plug:

You can watch John Simpson’s Panorama programme on the state of Iraq on BBC One on Sunday 30 January at 2215 GMT and on BBC World television on Saturday 5 February at 0810, 1210 and 2210 GMT.

This’ll be the Panorama program mentioned in the post below this one, then?

(I will applaud Simpson for his bravery, though – at one point he was looking in trouble with some gunmen in Baghdad. I don’t think anyone’s ever doubted the guy has guts. But hey, Fisk got beaten up – does that mean he’s right? If so, he’s denied that there will be a civil war in Iraq, says Tim Blair, who has an Iraq coverage as good as the BBC’s).

Reporter Caroline Hawley said “The Iraqis have spoken, but we don’t know what they said”. Well, we know part of what they said – it was “Up yours, left-wing Western media”.

P.S. “Head-to-Head” featured Melanie Phillips and David Aaronovitch – can’t complain too much about that! Although Sheena MacDonald managed to say “Are we getting too happy-clappy about all this?” Christ. The Iraqis get to vote for the first-time ever, and because her guests are understandably pleased about this, she wonders whether they’re being simple-minded optimistic fools? Don’t we even get one day to be happy about Iraq?

P.P.S. JohnInLondon in comments notes that the BBC was tagging reports with “First elections since Saddam”. There’s a BBC HARDtalk page here with this phrase.

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Reuters says “BBC apologises for misinterpreting Iraqi death stats”

LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) – The BBC apologised on Saturday for erroneously reporting that U.S.-led and Iraqi forces may be responsible for the deaths of 60 percent of Iraqi civilians killed in conflict over the last six months.

The British broadcaster said on Friday in broadcasts and a news statement that its Panorama investigative show would air a report on Sunday citing “confidential” records from Iraq’s health ministry to support the contention.

Iraq’s health minister said the BBC misinterpreted the statistics it had received and had ignored statements from the ministry clarifying the figures.

“Today, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has issued a statement clarifying matters that were the subject of several conversations with the BBC before the report was published, and denying that this conclusion can be drawn from the figures relating to ‘military operations’,” the BBC said in a news statement on Saturday.

“The BBC regrets mistakes in its published and broadcast reports yesterday.”

A BBC spokesman said the statistics would not feature in the Panorama show on Sunday.

Via Slatts.

Maybe it only feels like bias


Sometimes, given a fair degree of exposure to the endless cycle of enquiries which Tony Blair’s governmental culture has tended to foster, which has spread to many areas of society, I wonder whether in addition to all the cultures of this and that which the enquiries, studies and panels identify, there is a culture of enquiries themselves.

Richard North, giving his view of the recently published BBC-sponsored report on pro-EU bias within, highlighted one classic symptom of a modern enquiry in the report- which found no evidence of ‘deliberate bias’, as though the accusation demanded proof that the BBC’s view on the world had some origin in a dark and smoky (or smokeless, in Beebland) room- the ‘feels like’ clause:

‘ ”In essence it seems to be the result of a combination of factors including an institutional mindset, a tendency to polarise and over-simplify issues, a measure of ignorance of the EU on the part of some journalists and a failure to report issues which ought to be reported, perhaps out of a belief that they are not sufficiently entertaining. Whatever the cause in particular cases, the effect is the same for the outside world and feels like bias” (-quote from report)

We take issue with this. Intended or not, it does not feel like bias. It is bias and there is no comfort in knowing that some of it might be “mindset” – which we have long suspected.’

(italics, brackets and emboldenings mine)

‘A conspiracy to keep an important subject under wraps or a completely shambolic inefficiency, unprofessionalism and ignorance?’

A conspiracy to keep an important subject under wraps or a completely shambolic inefficiency, unprofessionalism and ignorance?

What a choice to be presented with by our national broadcaster! Or any broadcaster, indeed, whether you fund them through gritted teeth or not. Helen Szamuely raises the question through her vivid first hand account of trying to get a eurosceptical word in edgewise.
(ps. at the moment I seem to be channelling the EURef blog in my posts here, which is probably because Helen and Richard have turned a portion of their considerable knowledge and forensic abilities towards such a juicy europhile turkey as Aunty Beeb. Long may they continue to do so.)