Your taxes at work:

My parents gave me a watch for my twenty-first birthday and it’s still in use all these years later. Now and then it gains a few minutes so when I got up this morning I thought that I’d do a time check with the BBC’s teletext service before changing the watch and all of our clocks to wintertime. Imagine my shock when I eventually worked out that the Beeb was still on summertime! A few minutes ago they were showing 1338. The rest of the country was at 1238, including those capitalist channels 3, 4 and 5.

Compare and contrast,

Wednesday, 14:25BST:

The Guardian (or is it ‘theguardian’ these days?):

Tories offer qualified terror bill support

BBC Views Online:

Tories delaying terror laws fight

The Views Online article did at least start by explaining:

The Tories say they will back proposed new anti-terrorism laws as MPs debate them for the first time, but will oppose some aspects at later stages.

The party is particularly against plans to allow terrorism suspects to be held for up to 90 days without charge.

The Liberal Democrats are expected to formally vote against the Terrorism Bill at Wednesday’s second reading.

The bill would outlaw “glorifying” terrorism and make it an offence to commit acts “preparatory to terrorism”.

The Conservatives’ decision to back the government at this stage of the bill’s progress through Parliament signals an end to the previously united approach on the issue by both opposition parties.

The increase in the time police can hold terrorism suspects, from two weeks to 90 days.

But oh, that awful headline – so misleading – especially for people who didn’t read the story itself. While we’re at it, can anyone tell me what that last paragraph is meant to say? Does anyone at the BBC (including sub-editors) ever read through what they’ve written before clicking ‘Publish’? We are forced to pay for this stuff you know!

The headline was subsequently changed – it now reads: Terror Bill clears first hurdle – but only as part of BBC Views Online’s questionable practice of completely re-writing existing stories rather than either adding an update or starting a new story. Just one more way of re-writing history as we go along!

It’s compare and contrast time again!

Last November, “The Tories” (as the BBC almost always calls Conservatives – one ‘T’ word that’s not a problem for the Beeboids) complained officially, along with many viewers, about a particularly dodgy item on Newsnight. Peter Barron, Editor of Newsnight, wrote a rebuttal article on NewsWatch, headlined:

Howard special ‘not staged’

Moving forward to August 2005, having investigated itself (no conflict of interest there then), the BBC decided that it was mostly blameless on the main points of the complaint, and, to celebrate, published two articles, one in their main Politics section:

BBC dismisses Howard complaints

…complete with a specially selected photo of Michael Howard (again!) and a typically smug Paxman, and another in NewsWatch, with the spectacularly objective headline:

Tory Newsnight gripe rejected

Although there’s plenty of scope for giving the above articles a thorough fisking in their own right, let us press on with comparing and contrasting the BBC’s scrupulously impartial coverage of itself.

Last week, having investigated itself again following a complaint from a listener, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld the complaint about coverage of the Conservatives, finding that “the significance of the survey had been exaggerated in the bulletin”.

Newswatch reported this decision last Friday, though, strangely enough, with much less gusto than they covered the earlier Newsnight complaint:

Complaints upheld

How bland and unimaginative! It gets worse though, not only did they tack on another upheld complaint (about coverage of landless Brazilians) to the same story, they immediately pushed the Complaints upheld story down the running order by filling the top position with a rather spurious article, A question of sports, about the BBC’s coverage of sport in news bulletins, which could have been published at any other time, and is hardly a lead story anyway.

Finally, just to make sure the upholding of a complaint about coverage of the Conservatives was properly buried, they illustrated the story headline on the NewsWatch page with a picture of a toothless Brazilian (either that or it was another BBC photoshop special of Howard!). The same stunt was pulled in the even more off-the-beaten-track Notes section of NewsWatch – with a picture of more Brazilians, though the spurious A question of sports story was placed second at least.


A new BBC game:
spot the upheld Conservative complaint…

It’s reassuring to know that the BBC is as impartial in covering itself as it is when covering everything else!

Leaving BBC bias aside for a moment,

how about a spot of BBC ignorance, of the why are we forced to pay for this tosh? variety?

In Genette police file for charges our sharp-minded, ever astute BBC journos report:

Prosecutors are to consider whether to charge a man with the abduction and murder of a Devon schoolgirl in 1978.

Genette Tate, 13, vanished while cycling on her newspaper round in Aylesbeare, where she lived.

Devon and Cornwall Police, who have reinvestigated the case, will send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) early next year.

It will ask the CPS to consider whether charges can be brought against Robert Black, 57, for the murder of Genette.

Britain’s longest missing person inquiry began in August 1978 when Genette’s bicycle and papers were discovered lying in Within Lane at Aylesbeare.

No trace of Genette has ever been found, but detectives discovered that Mr Black was in the area at the time she went missing.

All well and good, and then they conclude with:

Police have held three lengthy interviews with Mr Black in Yorkshire where he lives.

It’s certainly true to say that Robert Black lives in Yorkshire, but stopping the story there make one wonder if having an interest in current affairs, reading newspapers and even just watching the news is still required for BBC journalists and sub-editors these days, for you see, with a little more effort, as little even as typing “Robert Black” into Google and clicking ‘I’m Feeling Lucky!’, even the most otherwise ignorant of BBC journalists should have been able to track down Black’s current address (and hence the rest of the story):

5 Love Lane


West Yorkshire


…to be precise, where he has been resident, courtesy of Her Majesty, since his conviction in 1994 for the murders of three other young girls, Susan Maxwell, 11, Sarah Harper, 10 and Caroline Hogg, 5.

Next they’ll be trying to tell us that Gibraltar is an island!

N.B.: The BBC’s story is timestamped 18:04BST yesterday, and was featured on the front page of News Online until 02:05BST this morning, before being relegated to the West/South West corner of the England page, whilst drivel like Women ‘can’t cook to save their lives’, says celebrity chef, which has been front page ‘news’ since 10.35BST yesterday, remains.

Update: Just in case anyone thinks that publishing the above address is encouraging mob-rule, please do click on the Her Majesty link before complaining! Black is in more danger from his nearest and dearest, with whom he lives, than he is from anyone else. Nor is the matter sub-judice. Even if it were, it is inconceivable that Black’s existing record would go unmentioned in court if there is a trial. His 1994 murder trial depended on the admission of his 1990 abduction conviction as ‘similar fact evidence’.

Update 2 (3pm): The Beeboids have now sneaked back while no one was looking and stealth edited the final paragraph to read:

Police have held three lengthy interviews in Yorkshire with Mr Black.

Nice to know you’re out there paying attention, but would it have been too much to do the decent thing and mention the murder of the young girls for whom Black is currently incarcerated, as you’ve done before?

Was Grandad in Iraq on his own?

Well, the thought crossed my mind when I read John Simpson’s apologia for Saddam, in which he maintained that the British in Iraq during the 1920’s and the reign of Saddam were comparable.

To quote Simpson:

‘Saddam Hussein’s notion of governing a restless, difficult country like Iraq was that it could only be done with ferocity.

In that he was no different from the presidents and kings before him; no different either from the British, who had the mandate from the League of Nations to run Iraq after 1920, and who used some ferocious tactics to try to protect their rule.’

There are a number of sleights of hand in this article, but I want to concentrate on a matter of fact. Simpson avers of the British that:

‘They took over, full of the conviction that as the most powerful military nation on earth, with the best political system in human history, the Iraqis would be delighted to be ruled by them.

Within six months the British were negotiating a way out, and after twelve years (imperial powers hate to seem to be cutting and running) they gave up the mandate and left.’

Of course there is the obvious attempt to humorously parallel the US notion of not cutting and running from Iraq, but notice that Simpson said ‘they left’ (in 1932).

Because I happened to know that the British did not in fact leave in 1932. They gave up the Mandate offered them by the League of Nations then. In fact throughout the 30’s they maintained a military presence, and my Grandfather was part of it, being a navigator in the RAF. I have photos of 1930’s Mosul that I’m longing to get online and will one day.

So Simpson is simply wrong to say the British left. In fact, as was their wont, they signed a treaty:

‘It provided for the establishment of a “close alliance” between Britain and Iraq with “full and frank consultation between them in all matters of foreign policy which may affect their common interests.” Iraq would maintain internal order and defend itself against foreign aggression, supported by Britain. Any dispute between Iraq and a third state involving the risk of war was to be discussed with Britain in the hope of a settlement in accordance with the Covenant of the League of Nations. In the event of an imminent threat of war, the two parties would take a common defense position. Iraq recognized that the maintenance and protection of essential British communications was in the interest of both parties. Air-base sites for British troops were therefore granted near Basra and west of the Euphrates (where my Grandfather was), but these forces “shall not constitute in any manner an occupation, and will in no way prejudice the sovereign rights of Iraq.” This treaty, valid for 25 years, was to come into effect after Iraq joined the League of Nations. On Oct. 3, 1932, Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent state.’

As for the British being as bad as Saddam, I don’t see the Iraqi government offering Saddam’s henchmen any airbases just now, do you?

The way to quell dangerous rumours is by consistently reporting the facts as fully as possible.

This Times story covers the Birmingham riots which killed one man on Saturday. A second man was shot dead in the same area on Sunday, but it is not clear whether that was related to the riot. The starting point for the riots was an alleged rape of a 14 year old Jamaican girl by a man or men of Pakistani origin. I say “alleged” not merely to cover myself legally – there is, so far, no hard evidence that the rape happened or even that the girl exists.

Inter-communal riots started by rumour of rape. The pattern is age-old. Equally familiar to history is the fate of the innocent man cornered by a mob and killed not for anything he had done – so far as is known the man who was stabbed was simply returning from a night at the cinema – but for having the wrong coloured face. Cold comfort it may be to his relatives, but modern liberal democracies are by historical standards rather good at preventing riots or nipping them in the bud when they do occur.

Why is this? One reason may be that literacy and a free press ensure that we have many sources of reasonably accurate news to hand. Most people in the West nowadays simply have a more accurate picture of the world and are less susceptible to false rumours. When the rumours of crimes turn out to be true we are also able to be reminded that the actions of one member of a group are not the actions of all. Say what you like about the mainstream media, it is notable that those groups most cut off from it are most prone to riot.

That was a longer than average preamble. I thought it worthwhile to explain exactly why despite having no particular criticism of more recent BBC coverage of the riots, I thought it so unhelpful that the first story I saw, on Ceefax, was so evasive. Unfortunately I didn’t note the words of the story down, but it mentioned Birmingham, “disturbances”, a dead man and an alleged rape. The whole structure of the story made it obvious to anyone with half a brain that what had happened was a race riot but there was no mention of race. The nearest it got was a mention of “the community”. “Community” in modern parlance usually signals a pointed lack of it. Anyone wishing to know what had actually happened in Britain’s second city had to go to the newspapers.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. They may mean well but that trick only works in the short term. Yes, I know why they do it. One wants to avoid a situation where, for instance, a burglary by a white is reported simply as a burglary but a similar burglary by a black is reported as a burglary by a black. It is correct to avoid an undue focus on race in reporting general news. But these were race riots. Not to report the very thing that defined the two sides is not prudent, it is dishonest. It is treating adults like children. Worse yet it feeds the very paranoia that it intends to dispel. People think, “What else aren’t they telling us?”

The BBC is quick to report

news stories about the outraging of Muslim sensibilities, such as “US Guantanamo guard kicked Koran“, or the latest insult in Afghanistan.

Stories of outrages against Christians fare somewhat worse. The continiung demonstrations by thousands of Muslims outside a Coptic church in Alexandria, the stabbing of a nun and the reported (by this Coptic weblogger) deployment of army units against the demonstrators are nowhere reported on the BBC News website.

Although the story’s passed the BBC by, Al Quaeda have apparently picked it up.

UPDATE 22/10/05 – the BBC have now picked up the story – at 2.19 this morning.

“Countries turn back on Hollywood”

says this BBC headline.

Other possible headlines not used by the BBC:

“People worldwide love Hollywood, governments don’t.”

– since the article itself admits that 85% of world spending on cinema tickets goes on Hollywood productions. This story is about some new UNESCO convention that gives governments, notably the French government, more power to attempt to circumvent the spontaneous preferences of their people and to make yet another doomed attempt to make them like subsidised national art instead.

Or how about this headline:

“UNESCO tries to control flow of ideas” – the option the EU Referendum blog goes for. Helen Szamuely writes:

Louise Oliver, the US ambassador to UNESCO, pointed out that the Convention could well be used by dictators to control what their citizens can read or see. Never let it be said that the BBC could get worked up about that sort of censorship.

BBC’s Guerin To Leave Middle East

, according to

An internal corporation email sent on Monday revealed that the 39-year-old, who has come under considerable fire for a perceived anti-Israel bias in her coverage, will leave Jerusalem in December to start a new posting in Johannesburg.

While Israel government press office director Danny Seaman said the corporation, rather than any one person of having been guilty of “shoddy” journalism with regards to Israel, he told TJ: “Unfortunately, despite personally liking her, she didn’t always uphold the standards of balanced and unbiased journalism one would expect.”

The announcement of former Bafta-nominated Guerin’s leaving comes weeks after the departure of another controversial correspondent Barbara Plett, who last year said she cried as a dying Yasser Arafat was airlifted from his compound.

The article concludes:

Looking to the future, Seaman said: “We hope that BBC will send an individual of professional standards worthy of journalism if not the BBC.”

I hope that the BBC will also send “an individual of professional standards worthy of journalism if not the BBC” to Johannesburg too!

There are no signs of the departures of Barbara I cried for Arafat Plett or the charming Ms. Goering being reported on the BBC’s Newswatch site or announced by the BBC Press Office yet.

Thanks due to Ritter for the TJ link from a comment thread below.