“The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far”

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.

On form again …

Stephen Pollard takes issue with a Michael Buchanan piece – which has since been stealth-edited.

As for the idea that, All the Danes can do now is hope the repeated apologies for the offence caused, by both the government and the newspaper, will end this unseemly row, has a sentence more indicative of the BBC world view ever been written? Take a running jump, Mr Buchanan. So much for the BBC as a stout defender of free speech.

There one minute, gone the next.

A reader writes:

Just wanted to point out how quickly the story of the storming of the EU offices was taken down from the Beeb’s Middle East section on the News website. It was first merely squeezed into the other stories list and then in the blink of an eye removed from the page altogether. In contrast, a story such as ‘One killed in Israeli air strike’ was first entered as a headline with a picture and was then left on the page in the ‘More from Middle East’ list for several days if not a week. The tactics and strategies of the BBC’s news website’s editors are truly fascinating and they have perfected the art of getting their readers to focus only on the stories they want them to. Thought it was worth pointing out.

It is.

The BBC seem happy to repeat false stories about the Danish cartoons,

but they are chary of showing even a picture of the cartoons in a newspaper.

At Harry’s Place a commenter notes that BBC television news

showed the cover and inside pages of France Soir newspaper (where various cartoons of Mohammed are reproduced) but did so in a ludicrous, semi-blacked out style thereby preventing viewers seeing what the fuss is about. Treating satirical cartoons as if they were pornography is disgraceful. The BBC (rightly) wouldn’t hesitate to show clips from Jerry Springer: the Opera – indeed they broadcast the whole thing. Tonight BBC News demonstrated cowardly, one-eyed pandering to an aggressive lobby group.

Of Sidebars and Bullshit

Mike Jericho has put together a valuable post on the subject (he was a little upset some of his efforts had been overlooked, but I am rectifying that somewhat now. It points out the value of pointing out matters in the comments section). For every article on the BBC website that reveals some hard information, there will be several soft-wad padding articles, usually with a strong politically correct dimension, linked to it. Mike’s post is an examination of that padding concerning Islam and Christianity.