Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

An extraordinary letter from Peter Mandelson to Michael Grade (Chairman of the BBC), obtained by The Times:

PETER MANDELSON, the European Trade Commissioner, has mounted an attack on John Humphrys, the Today programme journalist, complaining to the BBC of his “virulently anti-European” views and claiming that the “anti-European bias” of some BBC presenters is a “problem”.

In a stinging letter, obtained by The Times, to Michael Grade, the BBC Chairman, Mr Mandelson accused the BBC of failing in its charter obligation to promote “understanding” of European affairs and declared: “I do not think the present BBC coverage is good enough.”

He said the BBC gave too much coverage to moderate Eurosceptics and should instead give more coverage to extreme Eurosceptics such as UKIP, who wanted to take Britain out of the EU altogether.

Mr Humphrys last night dismissed the criticism as political opportunism. “It’s delightful for once to be accused of being Eurosceptic when we’re usually accused at the Today programme of being Europhiles,” he said. “It’s interesting that Peter Mandelson has any idea of what my views on the subject are.

Read the rest here, including this:

His comments that “UKIP views are, if anything, under-represented” was seen by one leading moderate Eurosceptic yesterday as a cynical ploy. “It just shows how cynical the Government is, wanting to make all Eurosceptics seem like loonies,” he said.

If Mandelson – who is employed by the EC, let us not forget – is right about one thing, it is that the BBC has mostly ignored the EU issue, giving it sketchy, superficial and inadequate coverage. But Mandelson’s grasp on reality, always shaky, appears weaker than ever if thinks that the BBC is anti-EU and Humphreys “virulently anti-EU”.

The timing of the public release of this letter, which was supposed to be confidential (why? Was he worried that people would laugh at his views?) is particularly embarrassing for Mandelson, coming as it did after a recent inquiry into the BBC found that the culture at BBC News led to a “reluctance to question pro-EU assumptions”, and the day after the BBC ran a negative documentary on Kilroy in his UKIP days.

But of course this letter is just the filip the pro-Europeans at the BBC need. Now they can push for even more pro-EU coverage, on the basis that Mandelson has decreed that they’re not pro-EU enough.

P.S. Richard North has also seen this story:

This is undoubtedly a “spoiler” by Mandelson, who undoubtedly correctly assesses that if he can engineer a complaint against the BBC, its corporate tendency is to suggest that, if it is getting complaints from both sides, then its coverage must be about right – even though the review panel rejected this suggestion… Mandelson, with his known tactical skills, is obviously making an early attempt to tilt the coverage in favour of the “yes” campaign.

P.P.S. Reader Bill Collins informs me that “back in June the BBC dug up and publicized a claim that the BBC was biased in favor of Israel. The article doesn’t mention that the BBC has been accused of bias in the other direction”.

Cross-posted at Blithering Bunny.

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Criticism of the BBC’s activities in Nepal from Indian paper The Statesman:

BBC’s coverage of Nepal raises questions

Sudeshna Sarkar in Kathmandu

Feb. 6. — British Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage of the recent developments in Nepal raises questions about ethics.

On 1 February, Nepal’s King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Cabinet, announced a new council of ministers under his chairmanship and imposed a state of emergency suspending fundamental rights. Communication lines were cut and flights stopped from Kathmandu. Following the royal action, BBC Radio’s World Service broadcast an interview with Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Speaking from an undisclosed location, the rebel leader, who carries a price on his head, said the King had closed all doors for negotiations with his action. The programme, aired around 11 p.m. in Nepal, was heard by numerous people, including government and army officials.

The anchor mentioned its Nepal stringer, Netra KC, by name. He also mentioned the fact that since telephone lines were disconnected in Nepal, KC was nipping across the border into India and making calls from there. Soon after that, there were unconfirmed reports that Netra KC had either gone into hiding or was missing.

Today, an official intimation came from the International Federation of Journalists who issued a statement saying the president and general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists had been arrested. It further added that BBC representative Netra KC had also “disappeared” after being called to the army barracks in Nepalgunj. “The IFJ is calling for the international community to support our courageous Nepalese colleagues,” the statement said.

But if the report about KC is true, it raises questions about the BBC’s ethics in disclosing the name and mode of operation of its representative in a country where emergency has been imposed and press freedom curtailed.

Netra KC was earlier reportedly roughed up by the Maoists when he had gone to an outer district. At a time the media should show responsibility in its reportage of a crisis, several foreign correspondents have been relying on hearsay and rumour.

Another BBC correspondent visited the National Human Rights Commission office in Kathmandu to ask about reports that the army had raided a hostel and arrested students.

The new dispensation in Nepal’s gagging the Nepalese media has fuelled exaggerated reports by the foreign media. Dubbed “parachute journalists,” they have been Nepal’s bane last year too when they covered a Maoist blockade of Kathmandu and a period of unrest triggered by the killing of 12 Nepalese workers in Iraq in a sensational, exaggerated and often inaccurate manner.

(via Dissecting Leftism)

Not a very clear report, it has to be said, but worth passing on nonetheless.

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Watching BBC 2’s Kilroy: Behind the Tan. In an act of questionable judgement, Kilroy, it seems, has been letting a camera crew follow him around for a long time. The producer, who was constantly asking him questions, clearly sounded unsympathetic. So why did Kilroy do it? Surely he knew that it was a hatchet job in the making?

And hatchet job it was, although everyone involved did their best to look like an idiot.

Kilroy said that Afghans were Arabs, in public. The producer or commentator said “It’s not the sort of mistake a politican can afford to make”. But of course they can, if they’re a BBC-approved Labour politican. It wouldn’t even be reported. It’s just the sort of mistake someone on the right cannot make.

The producer also seemed to think there was something hypocritical in Kilroy claiming that he wanted more openness in politics because he prevented the camera crew from filming some UKIP strategy meetings. Maybe, but it’s not internal strategy meetings that the public want access to, is it?

It seems to be another example of the BBC trying to discredit Euroskepticism by focusing on the silly personalities of some Euroskeptics. I don’t deny that it’s legitimate for the BBC to run shows that focus on political personalities – it’s good to see these people up close, and it’s partly their fault if they look foolish (for whatever sins go on in the editing room, they provided the material). But how about a serious look at the EU for a change?

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Some praise for the Beeb for a change. The show Dragon’s Den is one of the best TV shows in years. If you haven’t seen it, people who have ideas for businesses get 5-10 minutes to pitch their idea to five very rich business people, to try to convince them to invest in their ideas, which range from new inventions to disposable carboard furniture to couches that hang from ceilings to machines that sell umbrellas.

What’s so good about this? Well, it provides riveting reality TV without involving a situation that is too artifical. Moreover, it really gets across some of the realities of business. Not the day-to-day mechanics of running a business, but the realities of what’s required for an investment to be rational, and how to persuade people with money to invest in your business.

Some people have nice ideas but no idea of how they’re going to make money from it, yet they expect other people to pour a lot of money into their company (if they even have a company, which often they don’t) for a tiny percentage of it in return. Some people have already been successful in convincing the “dragons” (as they’re called) to part with some loot.

This is all good, because it gives those viewers who’ve never had much to do with business and investment a more realistic view of it, and humanizes the whole thing. I expect a few stereotypes to be gradually adjusted as a result of this show.

Actually, the BBC has been pretty good on this front recently, running a number of shows which look behind the scenes of real businesses. Sometimes these shows involve having a discreet laugh at the mad posh people who run country homes, but at least we’re seeing some real, actual companies at work, instead of disgruntled left-wing beardy writers’ fantasies about business.

P.S. Seeing as we’re going easy on the Beeb today, let’s bash Channel 4 instead. They just had a show on entitled “What Tony Blair Can Learn from the Iron Lady”, presented by Iron Lady’s daughter Carol Thatcher. I couldn’t believe Ch 4 were giving anyone half an hour to praise Maggie. But, as it turned out, the second half of the show was all about how Blair was wrong to invade Iraq, and ended up being just an excuse for various old Tories to criticize Blair over this, so business as usual for Ch 4 really.

One old Tory was quoted as saying what a disaster Iraq was, and how Blair would be judged badly by history. No doubt he was filmed saying this before last weekend’s elections. He looks pretty silly now – but then so does most of Ch 4.

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Last night Newsnight interviewed José Manuel Barroso. I was out and missed it – but it can be seen on the BBC2 Newsnight website. (The streaming video worked fine on my 1Mbit connection – a bit jerky and fuzzy, but really, this spells the end of conventional TV).

The first segment, presented by reporter Paul Mason, was actually not too bad. It was very shallow, of course, given its too-short time slot, and it had a ridiculous re-construction of what an EU “President” might say in his inauguration speech. But it was reasonably objective. And then Paxman interviewed Barroso. And it was astonishing. Barroso was being attacked by Paxman from the right.

Paxman claimed that the EU was failing to meet its ambitious growth targets because there was too much regulation. Barroso wouldn’t commit to cutting much regulation. In fact, he was very vague in general. There was too much red tape, he conceded, but what was needed was “better regulation”, not less. Barroso’s claim to be more pro-enterprise was falling apart. As Richard North argued yesterday, the supposed “unashamed economic liberal” is no such thing. So, well-done Paxman.

P.S. You had to laugh… The first segment introduced the British economist behind an EC report into how the EU could better achieve what is called the Lisbon Target (ie. matching the US), and it was Will Hutton. Yes, Mr Third Way himself, who conceded that the EU was not doing too well on the economic front. He seemed to be saying that the EC needed more power to enforce its targets. Well, he’s recently conceded that he got a lot wrong in his earlier work, and he said “I won’t make the same mistakes next time – just some new ones”. He’s already started on them by the looks of this.

And then Hutton’s killer line: “This could be the first serious failure the European Union has had since its foundation”. So there’s never been a serious failure in the EU before? Not the common fisheries policy? Not the common agricultural policy? Not the thousands of small businesses crushed by absurd regulations? Not the hiring of Will Hutton? If it wasn’t for the BBC and The Guardian continuing to take him seriously, Hutton would already be on the scrapheap of history.

(Thanks to reader David Burbage for the tip-off about last night’s show).

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

BBC News 24 covered Kilroy’s launch of his new party Veritas today (which blogger Jonathan Lockhart seems to be involved in). Some people have suggested previously that the BBC would give Kilroy a lot of publicity in order to split the hard right/anti-EU vote (and also so that Kilroy would make himself look foolish with his extreme comments).

But it may have backfired. Kilroy raised a lot of “populist” concerns about immigration while managing not to put his foot in his mouth for a change. I suppose few BBC News 24 viewers will be attracted, but perhaps Kilroy’s comments may open up the debate. Then again, the BBC is probably right in thinking this will split the anti-EU vote.

(I don’t mean this to be an endorsement of Kilroy. Whether he says things that I agree with or disagree with, I still think he’s a massive egotist. His website address, I note, is “voteforkilroy“. Perhaps this is not his idea, but it maintains the impression that it’s the Kilroy party).

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

Earlier tonight there was a new Aussie sketch show on Paramount called “Skithouse”. One sketch featured a man who was interested in buying a car from another man. The buyer’s method was to fire questions at the seller about his life until he slipped up – without thinking, he revealed that the car was a lemon that was costing him a fortune to keep on the road.

This came back to me later on as I watched Kirsty Wark on Newsnight. She was firing questions at Hazel Blears on the fact that the government has suddenly released one of the terrorist detainees, an Egyptian man named “C”. Blears played a straight bat. Wark, as arrogant as ever, just kept firing in the same question in slightly different ways, and calling it all a shambles. Blears just kept giving the same answer.

It seemed to me that Wark was simply hoping that if she asked enough questions fast enough, Blears would slip up. That’s all there was to it. Sooner or later, Blears would accidentally say “and of course the whole thing is a bloody shambles, but…” and the Skithouse technique would prove triumphant.

Or else that Blears would lose her rag. This seemed entirely possible. How could anyone have refrained from saying “I’ve answered the question, you freakin’ hag. What part of it don’t you understand?” Guess that’s the hardest part of being a polly. Not saying “How do you feel about the cost of the Scottish Parliament, Krusty?”

The whole Wark performance was extremely hypocritical. Wark was now taking the “How do we know this man isn’t dangerous?” line, like the BBC have ever cared about that, but really, all she was concerned with was making the government look bad. Fine. Probably the whole thing is a shambles. A few such questions were fair enough, but the arrogance of Wark was breathtaking. Why don’t all politicans just refuse to have anything to do with Newsnight? Freeze the bastards out, and leave them with just Galloway to talk to.

Wark was firing in so many questions in such a shambolic way that she ended up asking whether C had a right to know whether he was under surveillance or not. I don’t think she had any idea how ridiculous this question was. I’m no cheerleader for the security state, but expecting MI5 to inform targets that they’re under surveillance is, er, not really going to work, is it?

And now there’s yet another global warming scare story on. Ho hum. Which will come first? The day global warming causes some terrible disaster, or the day the BBC actually informs us about the workings of the EU?

Scott Campbell

(from Blithering Bunny)

The Campaign for a Euroskeptic TV Series

It’s time Euroskeptics united to demand that the BBC provide them with a series – or at least a one-hour show – where they can put forward their view with sufficient time. And I don’t mean on BBC News 24, I mean on BBC1 or at least BBC2.

It can’t be denied that this is a hugely important issue, and as the BBC is the national broadcaster, it only seems fair that it gives this issue a fair and detailed hearing – the usual two-minute debates are simply inadequate.

Of course, in the interests of balance, Europhiles should also get their own series, or show. (Maybe we’ll finally get an attempt at an argument for why the EU is a good thing, although I’m not holding my breath).

We also need to demand that we don’t get palmed off with some dubious official spokesman. What is required is people like Richard North and Christopher Booker, who know the issues well and have gathered much grass-roots support over the years.

Let me know in comments whether you support this demand.

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).