The BBC’s former European Affairs correspondent William Horsley ceased being a BBC correspondent in 2007 but still continues to write for BBC Online as an analyst. (He was on ‘Broadcasting House’ this morning, reading his own essay denouncing the Japanese political class. I’m not exaggerating!)

Here he is, writing (at the BBC’s invitation) on their College of Journalism blog last month:

UK media blind with indignation at Strasbourg court

Some extracts will give you a flavour:

Our politicians have set a shrill tone and made some misleading attacks on the supposed mission creep of the Strasbourg court…

Those cries of foul have been amplified in the media. The result is that a hot-and-bothered strand of UK popular opinion is encouraged to believe in a conspiracy of foreigners to force Britons, against their better judgment, to protect criminals over the interests of law-abiding citizens. The ECHR is imperfect – as any court or judiciary may be – but the picture is wildly out of kilter with reality.

How has this hostile caricature of the Strasbourg court as a sort of predatory enemy of British interests emerged in the media?

It is the envy of people in large parts of the world…

What particularly struck me was this passage:

…the record shows that mandatory rulings from the court have helped Britain to improve its patchy human rights record on issues where political or popular opinion had seemed implacably opposed to change.

Examples are the judgements banning corporal punishment; and those requiring changes to the control order regime set up by the Blair government, as well as sweeping stop and search powers for the police.

Thank goodness for the ECHR for allowing a judicial elite to dismiss “political or popular opinion”!

Who would have thought a former BBC European Affairs correspondent was so firmly in the ‘anti-populist’ pro-European camp?

On of the few comments on the CoJo blog says, “I think the BBC should stay out of politics and refrain from inviting its friends to put the BBC point of view.”

Sounds right to me.

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  1. George R says:

    Yes; Labour, Tories and Lib Dems, plus EU-BBC and ,’Guardian’ all advocate the undemocratic legal supremacy of the ECHR.

    We can expect more of this propaganda in the BBC-EU Patten era.

    An alternative view:

    “A double blow for British democracy”


  2. Craig says:

    Robin, ably assisted by DB and several B-BBC commenters, has chronicled the extraordinary activities of Fiona Fox, non-scientist head of the Science Media Centre, ex-Living Marxism writer, apologist for the Rwandan genocide, enthusiastic promoter of the AGW cause and regular poster at the BBC College of Journalism website.

    Re-reading their posts (as linked to above) casts in a fresh light the not-so-fantastic Ms Fox’s latest post on the CoJo site:

    The limits of transparency

    In it she discusses a debate at the Royal Statistical Society, where a former editor of Today (Kevin Marsh) is one of those making the case that transparency can go too far. Ms Fox agrees. Her case is an interesting one but, in the light of this blog’s revelations, it seems somewhat self-serving:

    “I also think a reason I voted for Marsh was that it was so refreshing to hear someone applying a little more critical questioning to the concept of transparency. Like motherhood and apple pie, transparency is good – but the world is messy and complicated and it’s worth shining a light on the darker corners every so often.
    So, for instance, I am in support of all climate data being made available, but we should not kid ourselves that we will all know more about climate science when that data is made public when some of those asking for it are poorly qualified to analyse it.
    And there is nothing like having your own private emails released as a result of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to make you reflect a little on the wonder of FOI.”

    In the interests of transparency, this site of willing volunteers will continue to keep a close eye on you Ms Fox!


  3. Craig says:

    Continuing again to fill up my own thread (!), there’s another recent piece of the BBC College of Journalism website that made me smile. It’s by BBC Current Affairs producer John Mair:

    Is Wikileaks investigative journalism – or even journalism?

    The BBC and the Guardian went Wikileaks crazy at the turn of the year, when the Guardian was publishing daily pieces about the hacks. The BBC had a section devoted to it and wouldn’t shut up about it. Of course, Assange then fell out with the Guardian (moving to the Daily Telegraph) & the BBC hasn’t updated this section since.
    Mr Mair’s piece, published on CoJo four days ago, promotes the Guardian at some length while dismissing the Telegraph in a single sentence. The views of Alan Rusbridger, Grauniad editor, are reported. But, given that he and his paper have fallen out spectacularly with Assange, the tenor of the article is that the Wikileaks revelations, in retrospect, amount to not very much…

    …which wasn’t what the BBC was saying when the Guardian was busy publishing the revelations.

    And to think some people think the BBC and the Guardian are too close for comfort!


  4. Phil says:

    Horsly is offering junk analysis to go with the rest of the junk entertainment the BBC manufactures.

    If a chain of bingo halls or fast food cafes started offering news and ‘analysis’ as a sideline I don’t think I’d bother with it.

    That’s why I don’t bother with the BBC’s news and ‘analysis”.


  5. David Preiser (USA) says:

    That is crazy.  Sticking their noses further into domestic laws is not mission creep?  I guess you’re supposed to pretend it isn’t if the issue involved can somehow be tagged as “human rights” or something else equally touchy-feely.

    The BBC’s groupthink on the EU is revealed there, I think.


  6. sue says:

    Talking of Wikileaks, yesterday Tim Walker’s ‘Mandrake’ column in the Telegraph mentioned Philippa Thomas, one of five BBC staff members on full-salaried sabbaticals. Thomas, who is presently taking a fellowship at Harvard, was the one who disclosed  PJ Crowley’s criticism of the Pentagon for the excessively harsh treatment of Bradley Manning the Wikileaks hacker, outspokenness which cost him his job.
    Crowley felt he had to resign after calling the treatment of Bradley Manning (solitary confinement without his underwear) stupid and inappropriate. (Walker notes that Thomas could have given her bosses a scoop, but instead chose to reveal all on her personal blog.)

    Blimey, if you can’t even call something stupid and inappropriate when it does look stupid an inappropriate, what’s the world coming to?
    And if you can’t even repay your  employer even though he’s already funding you personal self improvement with tax payer’s moolah, well, how ungrateful is that? (says Tim Walker)
    Talking of freedom of speech, have you heard the one about the threat to British Liberty?
    “1) Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK, gets angry about what he reads on Melanie’s blog.
    2) Complains to the PCC.
    3) Complains to the police.
    4) Phones up The Guardian and says “The PCC are investigating The Spectator!! Story!! Police too!!

    5) The Guardian duly writes it all up, on its website.
    6) The Independent follows up The Guardian.
    7) An inverted pyramid of piffle is thus constructed.

    You have to watch what you say these days.”

    Back to CoJo. At least Horsley realises how easily the-hot-and-bothered strand of UK popular opinion is encouraged to believe in conspiracies and suchlike. So he must be aware that CoJo needs to accept responsibility for the influence it wields on this volatile, easily inflamed body of lesser beings. It applies to all sorts of topics, not only Strasbourg. Know what I mean?


  7. J J says:

    That article is pretty disgusting and what’s more pretty ignorant. We Brits, or at least we English, have had our basic rights secured for centuries. These were our real, historically grounded rights as Englishmen and not the nonsense and ideology of ‘human rights’.

    According to the British constitution Strasbourg has no authority over Britain, to try and enforce their ‘authority’ is treason. The British constitution group is a bit simplistic but they are essentially correct about the British, or at least the English, constitution.

    The BBC will of course say this piece is but opinion but how often do they have strident eurosceptical, or any rightwing, opinion pieces?


  8. J J says:

    By the way, the line which Horsley repeats that the ECHR and the EU are separate is one of those points which is true in the de jure or technical sense but wrong in the practical or de facto sense.

    Yes, they’re technically different institutions but it is the same interests, the same values and viewpoint, the same ideology and in many cases no doubt(though I can’t say from personal knowledge at this point.) the same individuals.

    Horsley also states this:

    “There was no ambush. The protestations of British ministers ring hollow in Strasbourg where UK judges and lawyers are proud of the country’s leading role in developing the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, and where British ministers chastise other states which flout the court’s rulings.”

    He is largely correct about British lawyers and judges but this is because they don’t respect our history or constitution, not because they are correct. The times of the conservative, Tory judiciary is gone, socially liberal and judicially activist ideology rules the bench today. We even had the extraordinary example recently of the so called Supreme Court(which should be abolished.) declaring that England, where the Church of England is a branch of gov’t higher than parliament headed by the monarch who these judges swear an oath to by God, is a secular nation! This is what the nonsense of Strasbourg and Brussells leads to.

    That article repeatedly talks of the rule of law. Personally I find it hard to understand what that term means when divorced from the historical laws, institutions, customs and rights of a people. This court is at best only tangential to the notion of the rule of law in Britain, being a foreign, distant and peripheral entity. It is in fact more likely, from what I know of it, to decrease the genuine, historical rule of law in Britain as it is to help it seeing as it takes little account of the historically grounded national character and institutions of Britain and is also painfully ideological and judicially activist(this latter quality being directly opposed to the rule of law.).

    Related to this above complaint are two others. Firstly that this court takes little notice of the common and fundamental laws of England and is grounded in principles, like those of the human rights ideology, which are opposed in many points to these laws. I don’t know about others but I’d rather rely on the historically grounded protections of the common and fundamental laws of England over the abstract, universalising and ideological ‘human rights’ of the Europhiles. Secondly this court, as noted, is activist and operates under the principle of widespread judicial review. Now I like the yanks as much as anyone but I do not want their system of judicial review and an overly independent and powerful judiciary. This has crept into the British system in recent decades(another example of poor status of our lawyers and judiciary.) but it is opposed to the historical position of the British judiciary.


  9. It's all too much says:

    “issues where political or popular opinion had seemed implacably opposed to change.”

    I guess William is happy with judgements that he considers ‘right’.  How would he feel if the court enforced laws and judgements that were ‘wrong’ (non BBC!).  In 1846 the US Supreme Court (i.e. extra-state) court in the united States enforced continued slavery on Dred Scot, despite the broad based population being implacably opposed to slavery…

    My point being that in a democracy we should be making the laws, not the judiciary, and that these laws should reflect the soverign will of the british people and not that of the entire EU. 

    The real scandal here is that the mechanisms of ‘democracy’ in the EU are non existant (The ‘parliament’ has no power, laws are proposed by the commission or invented by the court) and this ‘journalist’ patronises the British population.  Perhaps he could analyse the mandate of the Court and ask if it is right that a few dozen juro-crats can outweigh millions of hated and despised Daily Mail readers.


  10. Sres says:

    Surely the ECHR was setup before the two last points and as such why did it not stop control orders or stop and search powers, I hazard that it didn’t stop them because they need a criminal to actually tell them it is against their human rights and as such this proves that the politicians and the media are right to whip up a storm…