The wrong sort of diversity

The BBC has made an effort in recent years to portray characters in contemporary drama who just happen to be black, Muslim, homosexual or disabled. How often do you see a character in a drama who just happens to be Christian? Those Christians you do get in BBC drama come in two types. Both can be illustrated by examples from EastEnders: we have long had the slightly mad old dear, but some sort of diversity audit must have thrown up concerns that Christians were too often portrayed as elderly white Anglicans with comedy hypochondria. Ever-attentive to these issues, the BBC brought in a handsome young Pentecostalist minister who leaves his ex-wife to die, murders his wife’s ex-husband, drowns his son’s dog, strangles his wife, kills another woman who looks like his new wife, writes mad religious ravings on his cell wall in his own blood but is black. Ethnic minority: tick one, Britain’s thriving black inner city churches represented on screen: tick two.

Complaints of under-representation from the General Immoderator of the Church of Generalised Christian Fanatics have been dismissed by the BBC Trust after a spokesman pointed out that, in addition to Lucas Johnson cited above, we have in the last few years had the Christian fanatic from ‘Bonekickers’, the Christian pro-life terrorists in the opening episode of Spooks, and the pro-life fanatics in ‘Hunter’ who kidnap children and inject them with lethal drugs – of whom BBC Controller Kate Harward said that the show was based on “the day to day detail of the real world”. Really? I am not aware that there has ever been any anti-abortion terrorism in Britain ever. Aha, but what about America? BBC writers all believe that murders of people who carry out abortions occur every month or so in the US; in fact there have been two in the last thirteen years.

What set off this post, my first in a while for Biased BBC, was an email from a correspondent and Beeb-watcher going way back. (Please say if you want your name cited.) He wrote, “I just saw this from Barnabas Fund, a charitable organization that raises awareness, support and helps care for Christians undergoing persecution worldwide” and sends this link: The BBC is anti-Christian according to its own survey.

They noticed! Briefly.

Here it is. It has a boring title, “Development of a BBC Diversity Strategy: Summary of Responses to Public and Staff Consultations”. Perhaps that is why the BBC appear to have taken one look, yawned, and forgotten it. It does not exactly admit the BBC bias but the authors have gone out of their way to mention the portrayal of Christians as a recurring concern. It was leaked to the Daily Mail, and according to Harry Phibbs of that journal, the leak prompted a zinger of a response from a spokesman. He said the BBC had “strict editorial guidelines”. The existence of guidelines is not in itself considered sufficient to dismiss accusations of other types of offence against diversity.

(Apologies if this has been mentioned before – I do not recall seeing it on the main blog, but might have missed it. A Google search shows that it did come up on a Biased BBC message board, but I haven’t mastered message boards.)

There is much else of interest in the leaked document. And some things that are just strange. One female member of staff says that she has heard that a “senior member of staff in Development only employs ‘good looking people’”

Hate speech here and there

Kenya launches text service to stop hate speech” reports the BBC – utterly uncritically. The report assumes that this move is intended solely to reduce violence. No mention is made of the threat to free speech in Kenya, indeed no mention is made of any criticism of the hotline at all. It’s against “hate speech”, what more do you need to know? The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is quoted as having told the BBC “If hate speech is reported, we will be able to respond within 12 hours,” – but apparently the BBC did not see fit to ask him what that response would be. The BBC does not ask who defines “hate speech” or bring up the potential for abuse of this system by political leaders wishing to crush rivals or members of the public with a grudge against their neighbours.

Contrast this with how the BBC covers schemes in Britain in which the public are encouraged to report potential terrorism. In this story, University heads tackle extremism, the entire focus is on the clash between security and academic freedom. In this one, Anti-terror police seek help from internet cafes, a spokesman is quoted as fearing that an initiative “potentially criminalises people for accessing material that is legal but which expresses religious and political opinions that police officers find unacceptable.” That fear, it seems, is worth covering in Britain, but not in Kenya.

I have also posted about this over at Samizdata.

Those crazy Republicans explained: a BBC bias masterclass

I felt the following article on the BBC website, “Why do people often vote against their own interests?”, based on the first of two radio programmes collectively called Turkeys voting for Christmas, offered an instructive example for the young writer or broadcaster who aspires to produce material for the BBC. I hope that a few selected quotes will provide some useful tips.

Political scientist Dr David Runciman looks at why is there often such deep opposition to reforms that appear to be of obvious benefit to voters.

Focus now, on that “appears to be”, for it is masterful. It – er – appears to be a marker of impartiality. But what it actually does is get that impartiality tick-box done and out the way with a quick, grey, forgettable phrase. The question of whether the appearance of obvious benefit is correct is not subsequently addressed; it is simply assumed.

Last year, in a series of “town-hall meetings” across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms.

What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence.

At this point the radio programme has some people shouting. (Note for the style guide: people never shout at left wing demonstrations because of barely suppressed violence; they are just passionate.) The great thing about the phrase “barely suppressed violence” is that it suggests violence but you don’t have to provide any evidence for it. No one accused of being full of “barely suppressed violence” can disprove it.

But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help.

The inclusion of the word “godless” here is exquisite. Godliness or the lack of it has not greatly featured as part of advocacy for or against Obama’s plans for healthcare. (In fact my personal impression is that most of those bringing religion into the issue are liberal Christians saying that Obamacare is what Jesus would do. Such rightwingers who have opposed Obamacare on religious grounds have mostly done so in the belief that it would mean more abortions.) The word “godless” functions merely as a probe to twitch the right neurons when mentally picturing those who oppose. Note that the two phrases on either side of “godless”, the two concepts that have indeed featured in the debate to a significant digree, are never analysed.

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

A lesser article might actually try looking at some potential answers to this question. For example, could it be because they suspect that the insurance companies are happy enough to take a bit of public abuse from Obama in exchange for a whole new pool of captive customers? However the author here knows better than to take that path. Note also that this sentence frames opposition to Obamacare as being a defence of insurance companies.

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

Admire the ju-jitsu with which the author gives us a pleasing whiff of paranoia by warning about that scary toxic stew of right wing paranoia which has been bubbling poisonously in the background for decades.

All that we have seen so far was merely the appetiser to this superb bit of technique:

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

It sounds so good, doesn’t it? It appeals to the disquiet that even the most liberal reader might have felt in reading the patronising BBC coverage of the tea parties. You think you are going to get a bracing defence of the tea partiers as being independent adults. This defence could be along the lines that even right wingers sometimes vote for what they believe is the wider good against their selfish interests, or it could be along the lines that they do not believe that what is claimed to be in their interest really is in their interest, and here’s why.

Of course no such argument is actually put forward. That might involve talking to these ghastly people and even worse, listening to them. Instead we have a portrait of the Republican voter as an overgrown teenager in a sulk against the grown-ups:

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

And then the rest of the article explains that they are idiots.

UPDATE: There are some very good comments to this post. Please take a look in particular at the comment from Martin. You know the anecdote in the article about how Bush responded to Gore’s sober figures with nothing better than a silly little crowd-pleasing quip? It turns out, if you go to the source (as I should have thought of doing myself), that Bush went straight on to give some figures of his own.

Today’s Nazi words of wisdom from the BBC

You may think that headline is overwrought, but it’s literally true. Today’s BBC front page currently has up, effectively as quote of the day, without any comment, and indeed with a slight implication of approval, the words of a prominent Nazi.

I don’t know how to record it for posterity, but the quote is towards the bottom left of the front page (as seen from Britain, anyway; the international version of the site may be different).

It comes as part of a “QI FACT OF THE DAY”, just after the information that Arthur Conan Doyle and WB Yeats believed in fairies. Placed thus, it reads to me as a kind of riposte to them:

“Unfortunately this earth is not a fairy-land, but a struggle for life, perfectly natural and therefore extremely harsh. MARTIN BORMANN”

Which is all very well, but the job of saying the stern words of sense in response to credulity could have been given to someone more savoury. Martin Bormann was Hitler’s Private Secretary and head of the Party Chancellery. He was condemned to death in absentia at Nuremberg.

OK, you don’t have to explain it to me. Whoever put this up has no idea who Bormann was but there were lots of those German philosopher blokes weren’t there? The BBC are not Nazis but numpties.

Update: Hat tip to Happysnapper who kindly provided this screenshot. I would also like to pass on Millie Tant’s comment:

It’s extremely crass of the BBC to quote a Nazi – and doubly crass: a murderer talking about the struggle for life. Yeah.

The Bormann quote is still there on the main page at 18.48 GMT.

Here’s one terrorist whose motives are not a mystery to the BBC

Following on from Laban’s post below concerning the BBC’s claim that the motives of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are a mystery, it is only fair to point out that for some religiously-motivated terrorists the BBC does feel able to pass on the statements of the perpetrators as to their own motives:

Murder charges for Jewish settler

A Jewish settler has been charged in Israel with murdering two Palestinians and attacking left-wing Israeli, gay and messianic Jewish targets.

Yaakov Teitel, an American immigrant who lives in the West Bank, faces 14 charges, including two counts of murder and three of attempted murder.

“God is proud of what I have done,” Mr Teitel said in court.

Police called him a “Jewish terrorist” when he was arrested in October. His lawyer says he is mentally disturbed.

(For bonus points, the BBC even managed to mention that Mr Teitel was an immigrant and told us where he emigrated from! Compare this.)

Have you suffered from disability discrimination?

If you have, then the BBC wants to know. We all know the sort of things that happen and how upsetting they can be – when the lack of a wheelchair ramp means you cannot get to an art gallery, when the selection committee looks askance at your application because of your health problems, when persecution by feral youths drives you to burn yourself and your daughter to death…

North-Northwester of They’re Joking. Aren’t They? writes:

…it does lead us quite nicely to the BBC’s political class mantra. They’re actually going to allow comments on this story and so must think that they’re onto a winner.

Have you suffered from disability discrimination? Do you live in Barwell? Have you been affected by the issues raised in this story? Tell us your experiences using the form below.

A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

They can only think – if that’s not too strong an expression – and confront this problem (which certainly is too strong an expression) in terms of a clash of competing victimhoods.

You see, Francecca Hardwick wasn’t burned by her distraught and desperate mother as the result of 10 years of barbarians persecuting them in their home and the utter abdication of the authorities from their paid and, in the police’s case, sworn duties – far from it.

She died because some individuals still don’t understand people with ‘learning difficulties.’

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me

Following on from David’s post earlier today, I am struck by the contrast between the BBC’s pursed lips at Joe Wilson’s saying the words “you lie” to the current US president when he is giving a speech and its indulgent chuckles when Muntadar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at the previous president when he was giving a speech. Mr Zaidi has claimed he was tortured in prison, so it is perhaps right that there should be a story. (I deplore the torture, if the claim is true. I do not know whether or not it is true.) But why, exactly, if the story is about the alleged torture, do we have this jolly piece: In pictures: how shoe throwing became fashionable. For most of this morning this and other shoe-throwing retrospectives held pride of place on the BBC front page, all in the tone of someone discussing the latest internet meme.

The BBC had a rather different series of pictures the other day showing reactions from various Americans to Obama’s address to Congress, but I’ve lost the link. This is what I think I remember about it: there were around six people interviewed, and all but one of them basically approved of the speech. I thought this ratio was odd, when about half of Americans oppose Obama’s proposals. About three of them remarked disapprovingly at the heckling. If anyone can give me the link we’ll see if my memory is off.

We also had Lawmaker sorry for heckling Obama, and Obama woos Congress on healthcare. The latter story included this:

At this, the Republican ranks grew restive – even mutinous. One Republican shouted out “It’s a lie!” while the president was in mid-flow.

Democrats looked thunderous – this was not the kind of polite hearing a president usually gets when he addresses both houses of congress.

In fact it does not even happen in the British House of Commons. And it may backfire on the Republican concerned.

I gather it didn’t.

The BBC’s Mark Mardell saw Representative Joe Wilson’s behaviour as part of a pattern of American political vituperativeness, discussed in this piece: Mark Mardell’s America: Unparliamentary or un-American. Mr Mardell writes:

Listening to the “tax-payers’ tea party” in Washington on the radio over the weekend, it struck me that if I were reading a transcript blind of context, I would assume I was listening to a demonstration of a growing resistance to a brutal and undemocratic regime.

Indeed, in the four or five speeches I heard on the radio, details of tax rises and healthcare were hardly mentioned: the theme was “recapturing America” from “tyranny” and regaining “freedom”. It sounded as though they were protesting against a coup, probably a violent one, rather than the natural consequence of losing an election less than a year ago.

But I am too new to this place to know if the debate is getting harsher, more strident, even uglier, or whether this is just the vigorous terms of debate that are normal. I’d like to know what you think. But it is why many see Congress as the last refuge of grown-up debate, and want to keep it that way.

He might be new to America, but given the internet and all it’s hard to see how he managed to miss the one-a-minute Bush = Hitler allusions over the last eight years. Even harder to see how he missed the Bush=Hitler poster in one of the BBC’s own newsrooms, as pointed out by commenter Duhbuh. He linked to a video clip where Robin Aitken, formerly of the BBC and author of Can We Trust the BBC?, discusses that poster.

For what it’s worth I too disapproved of Wilson making his outburst at that time and place. Too much unparliamentary behaviour coarsens debate. Physical attacks coarsen it rather more but so long as the victim is Bush rather than Obama do not elicit quite so much high-minded concern from the BBC. One last thing: I thought at the time that given the fairly high risk of assassination that Bush ran in speaking in Iraq, Zaidi would have had only himself to blame if he had been shot there and then. Throwing things at political leaders makes it more likely either that a thrower will end up dead – because someone thinks a shoe is a grenade and reacts too fast – or a politician will end up dead – because someone thinks a grenade is a shoe and reacts too slowly. If either happens the BBC will be the first to ask, “how could this happen?”

Dead man at the controls.

I cannot justly call this bias, but this headline from the British Broadcasting Corporation is a tad strange:

Obama tackles UK PM on Lockerbie

The BBC obviously thinks that there is a substantial audience out there that knows who Obama is, that knows what Lockerbie refers to, but that would not recognise the name of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Come to think of it, who am I to argue?

Not for the likes of us to question

The Times reports: Jana Bennett, BBC TV chief, says stars’ pay is too complex to understand

The BBC will not disclose the salaries of its top stars because the public would not understand why they are so high, according to one of the corporation’s top executives.


She said: “The BBC is in a market; in the broader sense it’s part of the creative industries. It performs a fundamentally different role than that performed by, for example, policemen or teachers. It is a category error to suggest that the public would actually be able to contribute to working out what we do about it. It’s like me talking about Tom Cruise’s movie deals. I’m not of that sector.”

Ed Vaizey, the Shadow Culture Secretary, said that if a politician made similar comments there would be outrage. “A politician caught on camera saying the public don’t understand why we need to be paid £120,000 gets a front page and outrage. What Jana is saying is that the public don’t have the right to know talent and executives’ pay at the BBC because they wouldn’t understand why they’re paid that money,” he said. “ I think you’d find the public is far more sophisticated than your remarks suggest.”

Sing the right tune

House of Dumb quotes Jeremy Vine:

The Patients Association has uncovered “appalling” cases of poor hospital care. But did you want to sing the praises of the NHS after your operation?

As Dumbjon comments,

Now for Stage 2: counting up all those times when the BBC has reported on cases of alleged police brutality by asking people to ‘sing the praises’ of their local police.

This link to Jeremy Vine’s webpage will change soon. But for now, yes, that’s exactly what it says.