Just a wee blogule

about BBC editorialising within news items (a habit I often notice and fail to raise consistently owing largely to time constraints). Having reported that Mr Green had been cleared of ‘inciting hatred against homosexuals’, the BBC went on to say ‘He has shown little regret for his comments when addressing the media. He has also said his comments referred to a homosexual lifestyle, rather than individuals.’

Remind me, what was the definition of ‘acquittal’ once again?

The Beeb’s rather lavish and more precise coverage of the Roman Catholic Church’s latest pronouncement concerning homosexuality is something I wrapped into a post about the BBC’s science at my own personal weblog. Please ignore my apparent plug unless this topic interests you enough to follow.

And they say the age of deferential interviewing is dead.

[I wrote most of this post on Thursday 24th. Unfortunately I did not have time until today to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and post it.]

Deference was alive and well when James Naughtie interviewed Joe Wilson on Radio Four this morning. Naughtie started risibly by describing Valerie Plame as a “deep cover” agent – clearly he had no idea what the phrase meant. I laughed out loud, but that isn’t my complaint. My complaint is that throughout the interview Naughtie gave no indication that he had ever read or heard anything other than the standard American Democrat line on this affair. Republican “takes” on the Wilson/Plame affair abound. I referred to this WSJ article to write this post; hundreds of others would have done. Yet my impression is that Naughtie’s only significant source was a quick skim of Wilson’s own book.

All this is very much an American scandal. I don’t claim to have followed it in any detail. This Q & A by Paul Reynolds gives the basic story. (The American Expatriate, who has followed this affair, says it’s pretty good, and given the somewhat acrimonious exchanges on this very issue between Messrs Callahan and Reynolds in earlier AmEx posts and comments, that is not empty praise.) The point I want to make is that I am aware, just from casual mentions and links from Republican-inclined blogs, of all sorts of aspects to the story that don’t seem to have reached the Today programme. For instance it is all over the news that Bob Woodward of Watergate fame has come out and said that he knew Valerie Plame was an agent and it wasn’t Scooter Libby that told him. No mention of Woodward from Naughtie, although of course he did mention Scooter Libby.

When I became aware that this might make a B-BBC post, I scribbled down as best I could various of Naughtie’s words that caught my attention. My transcriptions are reasonably accurate but I don’t know if I can quite get across the extent to which nearly everything Naughtie said came across as being a prompt to allow Wilson to get across some talking point from his message. Because this is a blog about the BBC rather than about US politics, I have concentrated on Naughtie’s supportive questioning rather than Wilson’s answers. Here are some examples:

  • Naughtie asks in tones of sombre shared disbelief at presidential folly, “Why did the president use it?” [i.e. Why did the Persident refer to the disputed claim that Iraq sought uranium yellowcake in Niger in a speech.]
    Wilson answers righteously, as Naughtie must have known he would, “That’s a question for the president.”
    Naughtie responds with a chummy laugh: “Ah, but he’s not here so you’ll have to do.”
  • “What conclusions did you reach?” In principle, questions like this that just encourage the interviewee to talk more are fine – we listen to interviews with people to see what they have to say, after all. But in this interview there was almost nothing else.
  • “So the bureacracy was being harnessed to The Cause?” Naughtie’s speech tone while he said “the cause” was heavily ironic. The only possible answer to this was yes, they were, and that Wilson duly gave.
  • This next one was a contender for the toady of the week award: “Reading your book, it’s impossible to miss almost the sense of shock…” [that anyone would be so wicked.]
  • “Are you still mystified that this happens?” [Again referring to the wicked, wicked ways of Capitol Hill]
  • “Explain (apart from your personal distress) why that matters so much?” Another prompt, this time for Wilson to say how dreadful it was to reveal his wife’s cover. The personal distress bit was said in tones more appropriate to a bomb victim.
  • “When you became a hate figure…” At this point, only my iron digestion, the result of wholesome living, prevented a distressing breakfast time event.

I didn’t expect or want to hear an unremittingly hostile interview with Mr Wilson. But I would have expected to hear one or two questions that raised issues that might at least speed up his heartbeat for a minute. Such as “Why did you tell the Washington Post that you had seen documents suggesting an Iraq-Niger deal (and recognised them at once as obvious forgeries) months before you could have possibly seen them, since they did not reach US intelligence until later – and if the answer to that is a fault of memory, why not extend your tolerance for faulty recall to Scooter Libby?”

Or “What do you say to the criticisms made of your behaviour by the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including several Democratic senators? This Committee said that nepotism had been involved in your wife’s recommendation of you for the Niger mission, when you had said that she had had nothing to do with it.

Or “If breaching your wife’s cover was so bad for you how come you immediately leapt into print to breach it more widely? Anonymity is a continuum, not a glass that breaks once and forever.”

Or Naughtie could have alluded to the fact that although Wilson has always said that Iraq did not buy uranium from Niger, he has become strangely unclear over the question of whether Iraq sought it – another point brought out by the Senate Intelligence Committee. But not by Mr Naughtie.

Biased BBC on BBC Newsnight last night:

Biased BBC in the background of a Paul Mason Newsnight report about ‘Web 2.0’, online companies that are making serious cash, with B-BBC, co-incidentally or not, on screen as he mentions the possibility of people seizing back control from large corporations. View via Newsnight’s pages until Monday night (B-BBC is 15’15”-18″ in). Thanks to commenter SiN.

Liz Pike, BBC News 24, 2.21pm today:

“Well for those of you wanting more news on the weather, I’m sorry, but for obvious reasons we need to spend more time on the George Best story. Police in Cornwall have set up a Gold Control, and for those of you like me who didn’t know what that was, it’s a special incident control room…”

Oh dear. The passing of George Best is noteworthy, but the reality of Hundreds stuck on snow-hit moor is surely pretty urgent here and now for anyone travelling in the south-west, particularly with the evening commute fast approaching! While we’re at it, surely anyone who’s watched rolling-news coverage of any major police operation or the BBC’s own documentaries would have heard the phrase ‘Gold Control’ before, let alone a professional BBC journalist.

BBC News Online reports that

BBC defends ‘digital face’ trails, following four hundred complaints about them. They write:

The BBC has defended its adverts for digital TV following criticism from viewers who found them frightening.

Is that an official admission that these ‘trails’ are actually adverts? In common with many telly-taxpayers, I’m sick of the amount of advertising the BBC has loaded onto BBC1 and BBC2 over the last few years. It used to be that the lack of adverts on the BBC was used as a justification for the telly-tax, but those days are long gone.

“They have generated an encouraging level of enquiries, which has vastly outnumbered the amount of complaints received,” a spokeswoman said.

That’s the same lame excuse peddled by dodgy-advertisers everywhere!

“It is designed to be upbeat with cheerful music,” it continued, adding that the trails were not screened near children’s programmes.

BBC heads: ‘Upbeat and cheerful’, or scary and sinister?

If they’re so ‘upbeat’ and ‘cheerful’ why avoid children’s programmes?

However, one viewer complained to the BBC’s Points of View website that the image was “disturbingly psychotic”.

“It makes me feel queasy thinking about it,” wrote another contributor, while a third described it as “absolutely horrible”.

Quite. I don’t know about you, but the BBC’s digital ‘faces’ remind me of the stacks of skulls in photographs from the killing fields of Cambodia or Rwanda – stacks and stacks of individuals, born, nurtured and loved by someone, only to end up senselessly murdered in the name of political ideology or ethnic cleansing. Brrrr.

Missing in action: Brussels publishes list of the first pan-European crimes

– has anyone seen or heard anything of this important story on the BBC? Anthony Browne, reports:

BRUSSELS unveiled detailed proposals yesterday that would for the first time create a body of pan-European criminal law and force member states to punish citizens who transgress it.

The ruling means that for the first time in legal history, a British government and Parliament will no longer have the sovereign right to decide what constitutes a crime and what the punishment should be.

Also unseen and unheard on the BBC are:

  • Kennedy failed to declare free flights:

    CHARLES KENNEDY is expected to be subjected to a Commons investigation over his failure to declare more than £30,000 of free flights from his party’s most generous donor, who is wanted by police in America.

  • Marlowe’s Koran-burning hero is censored to avoid Muslim anger:

    …producers of Tamburlaine the Great have come under fire after censoring Christopher Marlowe’s 1580s masterpiece to avoid upsetting Muslims.

    The censorship sparked condemnation yesterday from senior figures in the theatre and scholars, as well as religious leaders. Terry Hands, who directed Tamburlaine for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992, said: “I don’t believe you should interfere with any classic for reasons of religious or political correctness.”

Bet these would have both got top billing at the BBC if they weren’t about Charles Kennedy and Muslim appeasement…

Update: Bryan comments that the Marlowe story was mentioned on the BBC World Service yesterday, whilst Venichka has spotted the third of these ‘missing’ stories in action on BBC Views Online as Marlowe rewrite ‘draws criticism’, a luke-warm report of The Times story, missing out, for instance, an interesting quote from Inayat Bunglawala, media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, who said “In the context of a fictional play, I don’t think it will have offended many people”.

Meanwhile, the search goes on – has anyone seen or heard anything of the other two stories (the EU one in particular is notable – where is Mark Mardell?) in any BBC media or the Marlowe story on any UK broadcast?

Joined-up narratives: A comparison

Imagine if the BBC created a page entitled The Struggle Against Aids. Imagine if then they included copious stories about linkages between Aids and homosexuality. Imagine if then they took an opportunity to frame a story about rising Aids cases alongside one about indecent and criminal homosexual behaviour, and alongside someone influential’s unmediated and copiously quoted opinion that Aids was linked to homosexual bad behavour. Well, that’s just imagination, isn’t it?

But in the case of Iraq this morning we had this, this and this. Deaths. Abuse. Calls for the US to leave Iraq. Where’s the link between them? What warrants them being interwoven as a headline block? Nothing in particular, unless you’re prejudiced. Stinking biased. An information fascist. That kind of thing.

BBC Views Online’s front page just now links to Women resist ‘honour’ marriages

, a story about violence and threats of violence against the family of five female cousins, now aged 14 to 22, who were ordered nine years ago by ‘village elders’ to be married to the boys of another family in settlement of a dispute.

Whilst BBC Views Online goes into some detail about the tragic circumstances of these unfortunate girls (sadly not uncommon in their part of the world) and their “religious marriage ceremony, called a sharai nikah”, the BBC have, for some unknown reason, managed to omit a crucial word or two of useful background information. Either of these words would have done. They begin with ‘m’ and ‘i’.

Update: Marc of USS Neverdock comments that the BBC’s omission’s from this report go much further than omitting the ‘m’ and/or ‘i’ words. According to the Telegraph, Blood debt women offered up for rape:

A village council in Pakistan has decreed that five young women should be abducted, raped or killed for refusing to honour childhood “marriages”.

The women, who are cousins, were married in absentia by a mullah in their Punjabi village to illiterate sons of their family’s enemies in 1996, when they were aged from six to 13.

The marriages were part of a compensation agreement ordered by the village council and reached at gunpoint after the father of one of the girls shot dead a family rival.

In addition to the sentence on the women, the village council has sentenced to death Jehan Khan Niazi, the father of three of the women, and the fathers of the other two for failing to honour the supposed bond with men whose identities they are not even certain of.

The women have said they will commit suicide if their fathers obey the council.

– the reality therefore is so much more awful than the BBC’s namby-pamby token coverage. Worse, a scandalous story like this doesn’t even get a look in on the BBC’s television news – they’re too busy following every last minute of George Best’s dying days. It’s sad to see a character like Best on his death bed, and it is worth a mention in passing, but it doesn’t (yet at least) merit full-length coverage high up in the running order (like on this evening’s Six O’Clock News) when there are stories like this one or the ongoing famine in Niger that are so much more deserving of our attention.

Whilst watching BBC News 24 at 1.20am

, presenter Deborah Mackenzie introduced a report on Her Majesty’s trip to Malta with:

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth…

What a damn cheek! Almost everyone in the UK refers to Her Majesty as ‘The Queen’, but no, not the other worldly BBC News 24, even though it’s the BBC’s domestic 24 hour rolling news channel, targetted at and paid for by the BBC’s UK telly-taxpayers (as distinct from BBC World, or for that matter, News 24’s own ‘The World Today’ programme).

P.S. Is it just me, or is that moustached twat who pops up frequently on News 24 to exclaim:

This week on Talking Movies…

exceedingly irritating? Still, I suppose he does at least jolt me into changing channel as fast as I can before I get too brainwashed to resist!