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.

* registration required – see for login info.

BBC ignorance, incompetence or bias by omission, yet again?

The parliamentary human rights committee today announced various conclusions they’ve reached on the detention without trial of foreign terror suspects in the UK.

The crucial point to remember about the twelve foreign nationals currently detained under this legislation is that they are free to leave the UK at any time. They are people the UK government would ordinarily deport, but in these cases cannot, because, under our human rights legislation, we cannot forcibly return them to their home countries because of their home countries human rights records.

I’ve watched BBC coverage of this story today on the One O’Clock News, the Ten O’Clock News and on BBC News Online in a story headlined Terror detention law ‘must go’.

All three of these treatments of the story are fairly lengthy – but only one of them – Mark Mardell’s report on the Ten O’Clock News, mentioned the crucial point about the freedom of these suspects to leave the UK whenever they wish, and even then with emphasis on the torture (surely he meant ‘alleged torture’!) in their home countries.

So why was this? Why wasn’t this point mentioned on News Online or on the One O’Clock News report? Is it because it puts an entirely different slant on the rationale for the legislation? Or is it just the usual amateur-hour performance of these two BBC news outlets?

Or maybe Mark Mardell read Rob’s comment here earlier in the day and decided that such an egregious omission would be indefensible even by the BBC!

Do two swallows a summer make?

Further to Natalie’s post on this subject, yesterday’s (Tuesday 20JUL04) BBC One O’Clock was the usual lightweight, right-on stuff. Stephen Sackur reported on the new session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It was mostly filler – mention of the new Spanish something or other, the translation service, new member states, 480 language combinations, Tower of Babel (not a), etc., with the report closing as follows:

“But not everyone finds the new bigger European Parliament refreshing. UKIP now has eleven MEPs and already they’re stirring controversy. This their man on the women’s committee”

This was voiced over a clip of Robert Kilroy-Silk swallowing a sip of water, then we cut to ‘Godfrey Bloom MEP UKIP’:

“No self-respecting small-businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age. That isn’t politically correct, is it? But it’s a fact of life, I know, because I run a business”

Sackur then wraps up the report with the banal:

“That isn’t going to go down well here. The temperature inside this parliament could rise quickly.”

And that was it – back to Anna Ford. Bloom didn’t look like he was being formally interviewed – he looked more like he was inadvisedly ad-libbing at large with an apparently friendly journo, as if waiting for something else, while the camera just happened to be rolling. Whatever, even if he was aware he was being filmed for broadcast, no other information or context was given for the point he was trying to make, right or wrong in this case, that excessive regulation can have unintended consequences.

Lies, damned lies, and the sleazy, dishonest, BBC stealth editors who cover them up.

On Thursday I saw an article on BBC News Online headlined Diplomats mind their language, timestamped Thursday, 15JUL04, 15:03BST. It’s an amusing article about diplomatic faux pas’. One thing that caught my attention was this blatant lie:

Margaret Thatcher, again a woman unafraid of speaking her mind, was reported to have told Jane Byrne, mayor in 1960s Chicago, that “the Irish, they’re pigs”, before remembering her host’s family background and adding: “oh-oh, you’re Irish”.

I made a note and decided to do some fact-checking later. Now, after a chunk of fruitless Googling (save for this quiz page), I went back to the original BBC page to check it again. This time the offending paragraph read:

Princess Margaret, again a woman unafraid of speaking her mind, was reported to have told Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne in 1979, that, “the Irish, they’re pigs”, before remembering her host’s family background and adding: “oh-oh, you’re Irish”.

I knew the article definitely referred to Margaret Thatcher when I first read it. I checked the timestamp. Unbelievably, after such a major correction, it still read Thursday, 15JUL04, 15:03BST.

While the world went to sleep, shocked at this BBC revelation about Baroness Thatcher, the BBC’s gang of sleazy, dishonest, stealth editors crept in, Watergate style, switched the names around, and crept back out again, remembering to leave the timestamp well alone, covering up the evidence of their nasty slander.

You can verify this for yourself via Google’s cache (until it is updated with the doctored version), and compare it to the version now on BBC News Online (I’ve saved copies of both of these, just in case).

Utter bastards. They are so unprofessional – if a newspaper or a broadcast programme made such an egregious slur they’d print a correction or broadcast an apology. But not in the unprofessional Toytown world of BBC News Online – nope, they just slip right in and change it, hope no one noticed and pretend it never happened. No harm done, eh, just one of Britain’s leading elder statesmen slandered, move along now please.

This sort of awful behaviour is just not good enough. If the BBC wish to clean up News Online’s act and encourage responsibility, professionalism and accountability, they must modify their content management system so that each News Online page has attached to it (perhaps as a link) a log of i) who it was created by and when; ii) who has amended it and when. This list should include initials or an identifier specific to each author/amender. It needn’t have a description of every amendment, but major amendments, such as new paragraphs, fact corrections and so on should be recorded. The log should be recorded automatically free from tampering by authors/amenders. And in the case of major errors, such as the vicious slander documented here, News Online ought to publish an apology – and apologies ought to remain in the News Online archive, in exactly the same way they would in a newspaper archive.

So, BBC lurkers, you know what to do – publish an apology to Baroness Thatcher, and then get to it implementing the above changes to your CMS to make your people transparently accountable to us poor damn telly-taxpayers.

Update: After a bit more fact-checking (it’s not that difficult you News Online cub-journos – you should try it sometime) I found an acidic obituary of Princess Margaret, on, er, News Online, including this:

In 1979, the year Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, Princess Margaret caused a stir when the Mayor of Chicago alleged that she had described the Irish as “pigs”

This at least places the Princess’ alleged gaffe in context – in the same year that a senior member of her family was murdered by the IRA. There’s a somewhat partisan account of the murder at An Phoblacht/Republican News. Just in passing, where else do we see terrorist murders described as ‘executions’? Sickening. Still, at least we aren’t compelled by law to buy An Phoblacht. For the record, Mountbatten was a 78-year old murdered along with two relatives and a 14-year old local lad while daytripping on his small boat on holiday in Ireland. Eighteen soldiers were also murdered that day in a vicious roadside double-bomb ambush at Warrenpoint. Some terrorist tactics never change it seems (and yet the US has never, not even once, extradited IRA terrorists to face justice, but I digress).

Even then though, the BBC’s quote is still not well founded – according to this obituary of Irv Kupcinet, the journalist who claimed to overhear the alleged remark:

…it was in a 1979 column that he quoted Princess Margaret of Britain as saying that “the Irish are pigs.” Mr. Kupcinet said he personally heard the princess say that to Chicago’s Mayor Jane M. Byrne at a dinner party. Mayor Byrne, ever the diplomat, explained that the princess was not referring to all the Irish, only those who engaged in terrorism.

It seems, therefore, that there are grounds for demanding another BBC News Online apology, this time for Princess Margaret, or at the very least the addition of a bit of context and a little more doubt into the BBC’s allegation against her.

Radio Five Live space filler expands sensationally.

On Monday 12JUL04, much of the BBC’s UK news featured parts of a story headlined on BBC News Online as ‘Shocking’ racism in jobs market.

Five Live’s Ian Shoesmith was interviewed on BBC1’s lightweight Breakfast programme. The story was also on BBC News Online, BBC One O’Clock News, and as a lead item on the BBC London news at lunchtime, 6.30pm and 10.30pm.

Watching and reading the various takes, it boils down to:

1) six fictitious candidates, three male, three female, two with traditional British names (Jenny Hughes and John Andrews), two with African names (Abu Olasemi and Yinka Olatunde) and two with Asian names (Fatima Khan and Nasser Hanif).

2) applications from each of the six in response to adverts for a job at each of fifty companies (“Many… well known… jobs covered a range of fields”), thirty-one of them based in London.

3) the CVs were of “the same standard of qualifications and experience but… were presented differently”.

4) of all the applications (100 for each pair of names), the traditional British named pair were offered 23 interviews, the African named pair 13 interviews and the Asian named pair 9 interviews.

5) Shoesmith followed up with five of the fifty employers, three of whom responded in an unspecified way, one of whom “disputed the findings”, claiming to have offered interviews to “one or two” of the non-traditional British named candidates, but this was disregarded because “we had to go on what we received”.

Example conclusions drawn from the above are:

– Shoesmith was “‘surprised by the sheer extent’ of religious and racial discrimination it uncovered”;

– Brendan Barber of the TUC said “Statistics as shocking as these suggest that many people recruiting for the private sector firms are harbouring inherently racist views. Public sector bodies have to prove they are doing all they can to eliminate race discrimination”;

– Professor Muhammad Anwar of Warwick University said “the survey was proof of a recent rise in anti-Muslim feeling”.

From the information provided (the above summary really is all of the detail that can be discerned), there are a number of flaws with, and omissions from, the survey, the accompanying news reports and the rentaquote conclusions drawn from it, including:

– the survey sample was very small – just fifty jobs, with six applications for each, meaning that small errors (e.g. missing post) one way or the other have a large effect on the apparent outcome;

– the success rate of all the applications is poor – it would be much more significant if, say, one pair had a 60-70% hit rate in contrast to the other groups – it doesn’t say much for the standard of the fictional applications in general;

– the CVs were of “the same standard of qualifications and experience but… were presented differently” – no examples are provided. When sifting job applications presentation is often the first consideration – poorly written, poorly spelled and poorly laid out CVs can be quickly rejected, so unless the survey applications were genuinely alike in every respect, it is likely this will have affected the outcome;

– beyond the details above, nothing is said about the nature of the jobs, the types of companies, their sizes or locations;

– we don’t know the backgrounds of the people processing the applications or the methods used to decide between one application or another. Maybe they read them. Maybe they cut the pile in two. Maybe they picked the first twenty for interview. Who knows? Certainly not the BBC with their lack of rigorous follow-ups (and why limit follow ups to just five employers anyway?);

– the BBC ascribes attributes to the three pairs of names – White, Black-African and Muslim. Leaving aside that there are many Black and Asian Britons with traditional British names, I cannot, in spite of being well read and living in Greater London, distinguish people’s religious backgrounds from their names, except in a few obvious cases (e.g. a Mohammed is almost certainly a Muslim, a Patrick O’Flaherty is most likely Catholic etc.), so it seems a big stretch to conclude that these employers rejected someone on the grounds of religion (e.g. Muslim) rather than simply ethnicity (e.g. Asian), if indeed racism played a part;

This is all very troubling. Racism does exist in the UK, in (but not throughout) all groups and communities, white, black, Asian, etc. But this ‘survey’ (some reports even called it an ‘undercover investigation’) does not merit the conclusions drawn from it. At best it suggests there is a case for a proper study of such issues, perhaps a Panorama style investigation. But not the shock, horror headlines that have been used so glibly already.

A proper investigation should include:

– a much larger sample with a wider variety of candidate names (i.e. names with obvious religious connections, names from different parts of the UK, continental names, names from different classes (e.g. how does Wayne Smith fare compared with Tarquin Fortescue for different types of jobs), etc.;

– proper follow-ups with all employers to ascertain their backgrounds, selection methods and reasoning;

– distinction between employers – to ascertain the extent of racism among white/black/Asian/Muslim/etc. employers when it comes to employing people apparently from other groups – racism isn’t limited to white people;

– analysis of the differences between the private-sector and the public-sector (given that the former are often very small businesses, the latter much larger more bureaucratic organisations, where stats would be more meaningful);

Until then it’s wrong for a small item on a small radio station to become the inspiration for a great deal of “employers are racist” headlines across a wide variety of major BBC broadcasts.

Addendum (for B-BBC scare-quote aficionados):

The first News Online version, timestamped 11.22BST, began:

A BBC survey showing applicants from ethnic minorities still face widespread discrimination in the job market has prompted calls for tougher regulation.

CVs from six fictitious candidates – who were given “white”, black African or Muslim names – were sent to 50 employers in the BBC Radio Five Live survey.

White candidates were much more likely to be given an interview than similarly qualified black or Asian people.

The second version, timestamped 14:46BST, begins:

A union boss is calling for tougher regulation after a BBC survey showed ethnic minority applicants still face major discrimination in the jobs market

CVs from six fictitious candidates – who were given traditionally white, black African or Muslim names – were sent to 50 firms by Radio Five Live.

White “candidates” were far more likely to be given an interview than similarly qualified black or Asian “names”.

Note the aimless scare-quote merry-go-round and how the level of journo-spin ratchets up from cub-journo to junior-journo as the day progressed!

No Auntie, you’ve had enough. It’s time to go Dear.

Seeing the headline href=””>BBC Iraq war coverage criticised on BBC News Online’s UK page was puzzling – had the penny dropped at last? Or are they reporting someone else’s criticism of their lamentably biased coverage last year?

No fear! The story, appropriately enough in the Entertainment section of News Online, reveals that:

“BBC coverage of the Iraq war did not treat military sources with enough scepticism, the corporation’s annual report has said.” and “there was “much to be proud of” in the BBC’s coverage of the war. It included a good range of Arab and Muslim opinion, the governors said, while “outstanding analysis” came from Newsnight and The World at One. BBC news reporting in general was praised.”

Turning to the News

section of the href=””>annual report

reveals this gem:

The main international story of the year was the war in Iraq and its aftermath. The conspicuous lack of national consensus here meant that, once again, the BBC’s impartiality came under intense scrutiny. BBC News passed the test. An ICM poll in April 2003 indicated that it had sustained its position as the best and most trusted provider of news.

Presumably the ICM poll in question was conducted in Wood Lane, W12 and Farringdon Road, EC1, outside BBC Television Centre and the office’s of The Guardian, results compiled by Mr. G. Dyke and Ms. P. Toynbee.

Could this be the same organisation that was described in href=”,7493,922206,00.html”>The

(Jason Deans, 26MAR03) thus:

The BBC’s coverage of the war has come under fire from one of its own correspondents in the Gulf who has fired off a furious memo claiming the corporation is misleading viewers about the conflict in Iraq.

Paul Adams, the BBC’s defence correspondent who is based at the coalition command centre in Qatar, complained that the corporation was conveying a untruthful picture of how the war was progressing.

Adams accused the BBC’s coverage of exaggerating the military impact of casualties suffered by UK forces and downplaying their achievements on the battlefield during the first few days of the conflict.

“I was gobsmacked to hear, in a set of headlines today, that the coalition was suffering ‘significant casualties’. This is simply not true,” Adams said in the memo.

“Nor is it true to say – as the same intro stated – that coalition forces are fighting ‘guerrillas’. It may be guerrilla warfare, but they are not guerrillas,” he stormed.

“Who dreamed up the line that the coalition are achieving ‘small victories at a very high price?’ The truth is exactly the opposite. The gains are huge and costs still relatively low. This is real warfare, however one-sided, and losses are to be expected,” Adams continued.

Or this one, from The

(Tim Hames, 07JUL03):

For this affair has left the BBC dangerously exposed. It has served as a catalyst, allowing diverse complaints about its news coverage to resurface simultaneously. The Beeb has been accused of, among other matters, fanatical suspicion of the motives of

those in power and unrelenting hostility towards the Conservative Party. It has been

attacked for a wholesale scepticism about capitalism, combined with a weakness for quack environmentalism and health-scare speculation over hard science.

Reporting the Middle East, it sometimes seems so remorselessly anti-Israeli that Mr Dyke might as well be open about it and allow his reporters to appear speaking Arabic, riding a camel, stopping occasionally to suck from a long pipe in a crowded souk.

Put bluntly, the BBC, a public sector bureaucracy funded by a poll tax, with a privileged status that looks starkly anomalous in an age of hundreds of television channels and thousands of radio stations, needs more friends. It is already detested by other broadcasters, derided by the print press for squandering its vast resources and damned by publishing houses for its increasingly aggressive marketing activities in their domain.

Could be. And what can we conclude from these contradictions?

Little has changed, other than the names on the doors of the DG and the Chairman of the Governors. Smug old Auntie’s grand party continues – at least until we benefactors realise that Auntie’s not the slim, sober, reliable soul she once was.

It’s time to find her a nice home to while away her dotage, on a much reduced allowance, of course.

Genesis of a non-story.

Yesterday, Mon 12JUL04, BBC News Online published a story headed History spurs anti-English tirade.

The first version of the story, online for five and a half hours, was simply about a moronic tirade by a moronic councillor, thrown out of a Scottish pub for being obnoxious to English patrons during the recent England/Portugal football match.

On reading it, I wondered why such a moron was being given coverage on the BBC. What was the point of the story? It was simply “Obnoxious man behaves obnoxiously. Ends”. Embarrassing for those of us who hail from Scotland, but hardly a major news item, either in Scotland or across the UK.

Indeed, were he, say, a visiting Islamic cleric with a penchant for supporting suicide terrorism, wife-beating, gay-bashing and the murder of apostates, I expect his views would have been downplayed a bit – “Mr. Leggatt, a respected peace-loving community leader, expressed his enthusiasm for football as the English team struggled against the better armed Portuguese team, with their, according to an insider, superior American-backed* ability to kick the ball straight”. (* their coach is Brazilian after all!).

Then last night, the story was heavily amended, doubling in length to its current size. The original story ended at the “Their fans are a disgrace… Motson should be put up against the wall and shot” paragraph, followed by the paragraph about the Battle of Culloden, that now sits rather oddly further down among the newly added paragraphs.

The new paragraphs are all the stuff that should have been in the original story for it to even have qualified as a potential story – Fife Council’s reaction, codes of conduct, Commission for Racial Equality (Scotland) etc.

For good measure, although the URL shows the story is part of the BBC’s Scottish coverage, for a chunk of yesterday morning, it was listed in the England section of the UK home page, before later being moved to the Scotland section.

I wonder why the original non-story was published? What prompted it to be modified so heavily? (i.e. was the original story half-finished, or did the CRE get in on the act later?). Is any of it news (beyond the weekly free-sheet variety) anyway? How did it come to be listed under England rather than Scotland for a time yesterday?

P.S. Lest we forget that we’re really all Brits together, I








More on Michael Moore-on, beloved darling of our beloved BBC.

Last Sunday’s Sunday Times’ News Review section had a revealing article by Richard Brooks, entitled Me and Michael, the stupid fat man (possibly requires free registration).

If you don’t have time to read the full article, here are a couple of paragraphs to give a flavour of it: “Moore’s world — like America — is divided. For him there are the good guys and the bad guys. But which one is he? There is the good Moore, who says he gives away a sizeable chunk of his income to worthy causes, and whose movies often side with the little man and the underprivileged.

And then there is the bad Moore, who can be a bully and a hypocrite. He uses private jets, demands the best hotels and sends his daughter to a fee-paying school in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Yet he also claims to be the ordinary working-class guy from the downtrodden town of Flint, Michigan, where he set his first and best documentary, Roger & Me, which looked at how General Motors treated its workforce. In fact his father was a well-paid manager who was able to retire in his early fifties to play golf.”

Especially pleasing is the news that Moore is subject to a more rigourous critical analysis than the BBC has managed, in a new book, Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man by David T. Hardy and Jason Clarke, as well as a forthcoming documentary about Moore by Mike Wilson, Michael Moore Hates America. I won’t hold my breath waiting for the BBC to show it!

As Ed Thomas mentions in his blog, he & I corresponded a few weeks back about the BBC’s uncritical obsession with Michael Moore. I did a write up about it back then, but didn’t get round to posting it. If there is sufficient interest I’ll dust it off and post it this time – let me know.

Spare us the details BBC!

On Today’s BBC One O’Clock News bulletin Anna Ford reported the following: “The three Italian hostages kidnapped in Iraq have returned home to a hero’s welcome. They were met by their families and friends at Rome Airport and will now be questioned by government and military officials about their two month ordeal”.

And that was it – cue jaw dropping in our household. What about the fourth hostage who was cruelly murdered? Isn’t he worth a mention? What about the fact that the hostages were rescued by a special forces operation, rather than by, say, the benevolence of their captors?

A similar item running on Sky News just now mentions all of this – yet the BBC One O’Clock news didn’t. It’s also covered properly on BBC News Online. This was amongst the usual One O’Clock news mush – some real news, some filler (e.g. ‘Titanic treasures under hammer’), so it’s not as if time or space was the reason for missing out these facts.

Again we must ask, especially since the BBC is paid for by the compulsory BBC Tax, is their penchant for this sort of editorial omission conspiracy, cock-up or just lazy incompetence?