Do we believe this? I don’t.
This page entitled “Should ‘anti-Islam’ cartoons have been published?” is an edited roundup of opinions sent in by readers of the BBC website. This is the style that the BBC used to have for all its Have Your Say pages until the organisation rather creditably changed to a lightly moderated forum style last year, in which posts can either be read in the order of most to least recent, or, crucially, in the order of most to least recommended.
So why is this page not an open forum? Well, it says “We are running this style of debate due to technical problems. We apologise to all our readers and contributors and will return to normal service as soon as possible.” The Pedant-General, he of Infinitives Unsplit, emailed me to say, “you must post something about this.” As it happens I had taken a hurried look at the page myself earlier and I confess that like the Pedant-General, I had thought cynical thoughts. But almost certainly it is true; there is immense public interest in this issue and so one would expect many people to be attempting to use the board, which might well cause technical problems.
So while I’ll accept the BBC’s explanation that there were technical troubles I am frankly sceptical when it says it “reflects the balance of opinion we have received so far.” It sure didn’t look like that on the open forum – which seems to be open again now.
As the Pedant-General says,
In the “recommended” section, not one of the first five PAGES of comments was anything other than wholly supportive of need to publish. The vast majority of the supportive comments were coherent and rational, where the vast majority of the Muslim complainants demonstrated that they had no concept of free speech. Many were of the form “Free speech does not mean freedom to offend or insult”. To which the answer is “Yes it is. That is exactly what it is”.
The current top comment has 1121 recommendations. For most of these debates the top comment has about a hundred.
In this post the Pedant-General points out that the Have Your Say homepage (NB: link will change) currently takes you to the edited roundup, not the open forum. I just checked. As of 6.21pm, he’s right. On the BBC news front page, too, the link that says, “Heated Debate – readers from Europe and the middle east react…”) again takes you to the edited roundup.
You can get to the forum if you go to the Have Your Say homepage then go via the quotes in the grey box on the top left – but there’s no indication to users who don’t already know that those quotes will take you to a forum. You know what I think? I think that the technical problems were real, but they came in very handy for the BBC. They’d rather unsophisticated, non-regular readers went to the edited discussion rather than the free-for-all.
The Pedant-General has more here (“Where is OUR spine, damnit?”) In this post he talks about the failure to report the context of the original publication. It has not been well reported – arguably it should reappear in pretty much every report – but to be fair it is mentioned in this Q & A.
Pity. The BBC showed half a spine in showing the cartoons on TV, albeit with a ridiculous dramatic reconstruction of an artist drawing them. (What was this, Crimewatch?) Half a spine is more than the British press showed.