CARRYING A TORCH FOR BIAS

Further to DB’s post and looking back through his tweets, there’s another campaign that Stuart Hughes seems single-handedly to have got started and then used the BBC News website to publicise.

https://twitter.com/?tw_e=screenname&tw_i=193078816724365312&tw_p=tweetembed#!/stuartdhughes

The story begins back in March:

19/3/12 Delighted to finally be able to announce that I’ll be taking part in the Olympic #torchrelay on Jul 24th

The following day though he gets some unwelcome news…

20/3/12 Ah, the spirit of the Games. I’ve just been told I can buy my Olympic torch – for just £200. Can I claim it on expenses?…

Later that same day on Twitter….

20/3/12 Pls get in touch if you’re part of the #torchrelay & unhappy with the £200 cost for the torch – I’m interested in doing a story on it.

20/3/12 Thanks to all #torchbearer s who sent me quotes on cost of buying torch. I’ve just filed this story… (cont) http://tl.gd/ghdlun

20/3/12 @jackieleonard01 I’m going to sell photos with the torch outside TVC for a fiver a pop.

20/3/12 My story on Olympic #torchbearer s being charged £200 to keep their souvenir from then #torchrelay http://ow.ly/9MCFR

22/3/12 @damiendavis My colleagues at BBC London are following this up with other councils after my story & seeing if others will follow suit.

From this Twitter trail, it looks as if Stuart Hughes was told he was going to be an Olympic torch-bearer and was delighted. The following day he was told he would be charged if he wanted to keep the torch and was far from delighted. So he immediately decides he’ll use the BBC News website to run a story getting other people to protest about it and starts tweeting for help. He gets some replies and publishes a story (with a second BBC journalist) on the BBC website. Then his pals at BBC London start digging after to see if the story goes beyond one council. Or that’s what it looks like.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17444857

I would describe the BBC Online piece as loaded against the particular company SH is unhappy with. His article also fails to disclose that he, the joint-author of the article, has a personal interest in the story.

The first guy expressing outrage in the report, “Thomas Read”, must be the “Thomas” a certain Emma Gilliam tweets SH about. From her Twitter feed it looks as if she picks up on SH’s request, knows somebody in her class who’s also going to be an Olympics torch-bearer and tells him about the £200 charge, thus making him “outraged!”:

@stuartdhughes i’ve got a student who’s doing the torch relay. where’s the info about the £200?
@stuartdhughes student just seen the email about it all. he’s outraged!
https://twitter.com/#!/EmmaGilliam

SH replies:
@emmagilliam Ask him to email me.
@emmagilliam Thomas has emailed me. Thanks.

(Emma Gilliam, incidentally, is BBC through and through:
http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/contactsandpeople/profiles/gilliam-emma.html)

This seems to be revealing about how certain news stories make their way onto the BBC New website and some might argue that this is just a reporter finding an interesting story and reporting it – except that Stuart Hughes surely isn’t a disinterested reporter here. He wrote that story, didn’t he, because he is personally involved in it, was “outraged” that he was going to be charged to keep his Olympic torch, fished on Twitter for other people to back him up by saying they were outraged too & then published an article on the BBC News website about the row he seems personally to have stirred up?

Is this what an impartial BBC reporter should be doing?

Continental Drift

As deegee has been pointing out, if Barack Obama got it wrong by saying that Hawaii is in Asia, then the BBC News website has gone one better than the president on the ‘gaffe’ front. It now seems to think that both Australia and New Zealand are in Asia:

The BBC’s World menu changed recently. The old Australasia/Pacific section has gone:
Do they need some geographers at the BBC? What’s going on here?

BBC VIEWERS "HOODWINKED BY ‘SERIOUS’ CONFLICTS OF INTEREST", SAYS THE ‘INDIE’

Many thanks to Clarence in the comments for steering us towards this fascinating article from Ian Burrell, media editor of the ‘Independent’:
“The BBC has owned up to a “nominal fee” programming scandal in which viewers of 15 editorial programmes were hoodwinked by “serious” conflicts of interest of programme makers and a failure to declare that documentaries had outside sponsors.

The programmes were made for “low or nominal cost” but many were heavyweight documentaries on controversial environmental issues and the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, said today it was “deeply concerned” by the findings.”
Undeclared corporate sponsorship, serious breaches of the BBC guidelines, etc. Mark Thompson is aghast, the BBC Trust’s Richard Ayre is no less aghast, deals have been ‘terminated’ and Ofcom is investigating.
Well worth a read.

NOT THE BBC’S CUP OF TEA

A search on the BBC website for ‘Occupy Wall Street‘ brings up pages of articles within the last month (the first appearing on 23rd September). There are now well over thirty articles just about the U.S. protests from that period.

Compare that to an equivalent search for the ‘Tea Party‘. The movement took off in a big way during the first three months of 2009 and by April some half a million people were taking part in Tea Party protests across the United States. How did the BBC cover it? Very differently.

Somewhat belatedly, the first article to appear was a full-length one by Kevin Connolly, entering the world on 15/4/09 (the one with the “tea-baggers” reference).

This was followed on 20/4/09 by a very brief, ironic aside (in the BBC’s Obama Diary) from Kevin Connolly (“the modern versions [of the Tea Party] do not quite have that regime-shaking intensity about them”).

On 27/4/09 there was a personal ‘voter’s view‘ from a Tea Party supporter as part of a series of voter reflections on Obama’s first hundred days.

There were a couple of ‘Newsnight’ blog-posts on 29th April, one from Peter Marshall (“the Tea Party people are almost exclusively white”), the other by Paul Mason.

There was then nothing for four months (May-August 2009), while the Tea Party continued going from strength to strength. The BBC looked away.

Finally, on 14 September 2009 Mark Mardell almost woke up, with a sneering aside in a blog-post about Congressman Joe ‘You lie!’ Wilson (“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.”)

A day later there was the briefest mention of the Tea Party movement in another blog-post by Paul Mason.

On the same day, Mark Mardell posted a piece called “Is race a factor in Obama protests?” Having put that question out there, tied it to the Tea Party protests and added that “the allegation is that many of those who are calling their president “un-American” mean he is not white,” he then blithely added that he’s was merely “describing and inviting debate, not passing comment”. You lie, Mark!
Finally, on 26/9/09 there was a dismissive aside in an article by Max Deveson saying, like their ideological opposites, that the Tea Party has “a shopping-list of grievances that did not necessarily gel very well together”.

Nothing more appeared on the BBC News website about the Tea Party movement during the closing three months of 2009, even though the Tea Party continued to go from strength to strength, enough to make every BBC reporter sit up and take notice in 2010 – whether they wanted to or not.

So, in contrast to the dozens of generally full-length articles in under a month about OWS that are already littering the BBC News website, the growth of a major political movement, the Tea Party movement, that shook the American political system in 2010 and continues to shake it in 2011, passed with just five full-length pieces and four other fleeting mentions in the course of an entire year.
At best that’s extremely poor journalism, at worst it’s ideologically-driven selective reporting. It’s almost certainly both.

GRIMLEY FIENDISH

There’s a report on the BBC News website from reporter Naomi Grimley. As it stands there is only a little bit of bias:

“This party conference must almost feel like a vacation for David Cameron after the last few months of frantic activity which saw not just one but two of his summer holidays interrupted by events. He’d been enjoying the Italian sunshine when rioting broke out in London, Birmingham and Manchester…Just a couple of weeks later Mr Cameron was breaking off a holiday again, this time to deal with the fall of Tripoli.”

Note that she neglects to say where he went for his second holiday. Cornwall wouldn’t make him quite sound so ‘out of touch’, would it Naomi?

This, however, isn’t the original version of the report shown on the News Channel on 5th October. It’s a doctored version, with a new bit on Libya and a much longer bit from the PM’s riot speech. That original report appeared at 8.37am on Wednesday and then vanished, never to be seen again.

The reason, I think, is that she went on, “Critics say David Cameron’s own priveleged upbringing makes him look out of touch with those households currently feeling the pinch.

This was followed by her ‘talking head’, Jonathan Freedland of the ‘Guardian’, saying “his class have governed Britain for centuries.”

“Nevertheless,” Naomi concluded, “when he speaks to the conference goers later the prime minister is bound to repeat the mantra that he feels the pain of ordinary voters.”

Not too subtle, that one! No wonder they removed it sharpish. Did someone complain? Or did a BBC editor panic after watching it being broadcast? Sadly, but for obvious reasons, there’s no link for the original report!

‘Today’ – A Tale of Two Cities

The BBC’s contrasting coverage of the party conferences seems to have been at its sharpest with ‘Today’. Here’s why I think that’s the case (at somewhat exhausting length!), concentrating on the Labour Party conference in Liverpool and the Conservative Party conference in Manchester:

Setting the agenda
The introductions to each edition of the programme were revealing:
The Labour conference editions
Monday 26/9: Opened with James Naughtie saying “The shadow chancellor Ed Balls will commit Labour to new spending rules in an attempt to bolster the party’s economic credentials. We’ll be talking to Mr Balls live in Liverpool.”
Tuesday 27/9: Opened with James Naughtie saying “Ed Miliband is going to tell the Labour Party at its conference that it’s time to reward people who contribute to society and stop the get-rich-quick culture”.
Wednesday 28/9: James Naughtie says “I’ll be talking to Ed Miliband about his break with the Blair/Brown years, producers and predators and the role of the state in our lives.”
The Conservative conference editions
Monday 3/10: Begins with Sarah Montague saying, “Plans to extend the freeze on council tax in England are to be announced by the chancellor. We’ll be speaking to George Osborne later in the programme and we’ll be asking whether Europe could yet again divide the Tories.”
Tuesday 4/10: After headlines about Amanda Knox, “senior doctors in England are warning that the government’s overhaul of the NHS in England will cause irreparable harm to patients’ services” and “how much control do we have over the world’s financial markets and how much of it is done by computers and fear?”, Sarah Montague says, “here at the Conservative Party conference, we’ll be asking whether the Conservatives hate the police and at ten past eight I’ll be speaking to the prime minister David Cameron.”
Wednesday 5/10: Begins with Sarah Montague saying, “David Cameron will close the Conservative Party conference with a call for people to pay off their credit card debts. Also this morning we’ll be speaking to the foreign secretary William Hague about how Britain should react to the Eurozone crisis and asking whether the North can ever be persuaded to vote Tory.”
So, nothing negative for the Labour Party in any of those James Naughtie introductions but a deeply negative question posed in every one of Sarah Montague’s introductions.
Suggestive of bias surely?

The commentators
Each of the Labour Party Conference editions of the programme ended with a discussion about the conference featuring the following:
26/9: David Blunkett, Labour, & Mehdi Hasan, Labour supporting editor of the ‘New Statesman’ (link)
27/9: Blair speechwriter and Labour Party member Phil Collins of the ‘Times’ & Labour supporter Polly Toynbee of the ‘Guardian’ (link)
28/9: Steve Richards, pro-Labour ‘Independent’ journalist & George Parker of the ‘FT’, the only non-Labour supporter out of six (though he’s no Conservative supporter either from what I’ve heard) (link)

Only one of the Conservative Party conference editions (3/10) ended with such a discussion and this featured pro-Conservative Benedict Brogan of the ‘Telegraph’ and non-Tory supporter Allegra Stratton of the ‘Guardian’ (link). The other discussion (5/10) was given over to an assessment of all three party conferences, but was heavy with criticism of the Conservatives and praise for Ed Miliband. The guests were Iain Martin of the ‘Daily Mail’ from the Right, Mary Ann Sieghart of the ‘Independent’ from the Centre (though she’s frequently described as a Blairite) and Kevin Maguire of the ‘Mirror’ from the Left (link).

So the tally would be (by my reckoning) 7 from the pro-Labour Left, 2 from the Centre and 2 from the pro-Conservative Right.

More strong evidence of bias surely?

Tone
Last week, James Naughtie conducted the programme from the Labour Party conference as if it were a seminar, partly cosy and partly earnest. It felt like an insider’s perspective. Justin Webb’s coverage of the Lib Dem conference and Sarah Montague’s coverage of the Conservative conference, however, were relatively lightweight, often breezy and occasionally snide, and both felt like outsiders’ perspectives (as they should).

James Naughtie
Questions of tone can be dismissed as being in the ear of the beholder, but Naughtie’s interviews with several Labour figures (from Tom Harris to David Miliband) were generally friendly, and his interview with Ed Balls contained such comments as “Indeed, that’s a very interesting answer” and “Well, again, that’s a very interesting answer” (link). Indeed, “interesting” and “intriguing” cropped up again and again in Naughtie’s commentaries, his questions to his colleagues and his interviews. For example, in a discussion with Nick Robinson, he described what he called Ed Miliband’s “straightforwardness” on the issue of the state as “intriguing” (link).

While Sarah Montague asked nothing but pointed questions to the Tories, Naughtie, throughout his Labour conference coverage, kept asking such questions as “What will be the nature of the argument?” or “What will be the character of the conference?” and “How’s the party going to define itself?” (all in the first hour of the 26/9 edition). “Where’s Labour heading?”, he asked Mehdi Hasan. “What direction should Labour take?” and “What culture should Labour seek to create?” he asked David Blunkett (also 26/9 edition). On Tuesday, he was specifically wondering (vaguely) where Ed Miliband wanted to take his party. On and on he went in this vein.

During the discussion with Phil Collins and Polly Toynbee, listen to how many times Jim agrees with Polly and Phil or Polly and Phil agree with Jim (all those ‘That’s true’s) (link). Note also Naughtie wondering aloud about whether Ed Miliband’s moral argument takes things “to a higher plane”. You will hear left-leaning pundits and presenter in full agreement throughout. Very cosy.

On Tuesday’s Labour Conference programme, Naughtie interviewed Labour MP Tom Harris (link). Again, it’s all very friendly. Tom goes “absolutely” to something Jim says. Jim goes “yes, yeah” to something Tom says. Tom goes “Yep absolutely” to something more Jim says, and “I think that’s absolutely spot on” to something else Jim says. Just as cosy.

Sarah Montague
In contrast, Sarah Montague was prone to inappropriate laughter (inappropriate, that is, for an impartial presenter). During a discussion about Osborne’s council freeze plan (first hour, 3/10) with chief political correspondent Gary O’Donoghue, for example, when GO’D said that it would only save families in England £1.50 a week, she burst out laughing. This inescapably gave the impression that she thought it was a piddling amount, a point GO’D picked up on. Then (and showing a very different tone to that between James Naughtie and Labour’s Tom Harris) during an interview with Conservative MP Sir Peter Bone, also on Monday’s edition (3/10), he was making some strongly conservative proposals for boosting the economy when, having earlier contradicted him, Sarah started laughing and told him (through her laughter) that there’s no chance of any of those things happening. (This interview, bizarrely, is not available to listen again on the ‘Today’ website. Why not? Because the tone was wrong?) Finally, on Wednesday morning’s edition (5/10), when Gary O’Donoghue listed some of the adjectives David Cameron was going to use in his speech today to (in his words) “flatter” the British character – “hard-working, pioneering, independent, creative, adaptable, optimistic, can-do spirit” – Sarah Montague burst out laughing again. GO’D got the giggles too as a result. This showed what they thought of Mr Cameron’s choice of words – and it’s unlikely the prime minister would have felt flattered had he heard them!

But…
There were some striking exceptions to this general rule – oddly enough when you’d least expect them. The biggest interviews – the ones with Ed Miliband (link) and David Cameron (link)- were conducted by both James Naughtie and Sarah Montague in a fairly hands-off manner – especially Sarah Montague, who gave David Cameron a surprising amount of leeway. Naughtie wasn’t much tougher on Ed Miliband, though the ‘weird’ question was quite a shock (especially to Miliband). That was as good as it got for both presenters. [Intriguingly, as James Naughtie might say, Sarah Montague used the word ‘weird’ in her interview with George Osborne to mock a Tory standpoint.]

Despite the ‘but’…
James Naughtie’s approach is surely a gift to the Labour Party.

Gary O’Donoghue’s previews with ‘Today’ presenters
Gary O’Donoghue has taken over from Norman Smith as Radio 4’s chief political correspondent and, while he can’t touch Smith for sheer naked bias, he’s not entirely beyond criticism over the last couple of weeks. His discussions with James Naughtie at the Labour Party Conference Labour’s were fine, with little editorialising, either one way or the other. His discussions with Sarah Montague at the Conservative Party conference, however, were less praiseworthy. On 3/10, his anticipation of the council tax freeze announcement was almost entirely negative, emphasising the criticism from the Labour Party. (Sarah Montague plugged away here at Andrew Tyrie’s criticisms like a dog with a bone). On 4/10, Theresa May’s proposed tightening of the immigration rules (due to the abuse of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act) was described by Sarah as “crowd-pleasing” and, later, as “the kind of thing the conference here will love” and GO’D dismissed it as “a pretty standard route for a conference like this”. On 5/10 there was the previously-mentioned talk from GO’D of “flattery of the British character” by David Cameron and the laughter at Cameron’s expense. Worse was the editorialising from GO’D over Cameron’s call for those in debt to pay off their credit card and store bills: “I must say when I saw that it stood out a little and jarred a little because there’s a danger with that sort of thing that you can hear David Cameron saying ‘pay off your credit card and store bills’ and people yelling back at the television ‘With what?'” Is that something an impartial BBC reporter should say?

Still, Norman Smith would have been far, far worse.

The Reports

Labour conference
(a) Presenter reports
(i) 26/9 James Naughtie goes to a Progress Rally to bat about ideas for Labour’s way forward with a few Blairites, chats to David Miliband, and then interviews GMB union leader Paul Kenny, who is still supportive of Ed Miliband (link). Little to trouble the Labour leadership here and no party outsiders.

(ii) 27/9 Naughtie goes to Toxteth ” to assess how the [Labour] party is viewed there”, according to the blurb on the ‘Today’ website, though – beyond the introduction – that is not an accurate description of the report (link). “The Labour Party feels quite at home here in Liverpool…”, he begins, but there are challenges arising from “its legacy in power.” Naughtie seems to credit it with the regeneration of the waterfront (wasn’t the Lib Dem council mostly responsible for that???) but there are still “deep social problems”. That said, Labour’s responsibility soon drops completely out of sight after he mentions the problems caused by Polish immigration. (Any beyond Eastern Europe, Jim?) Labour MP Louise Ellman praises diversity, but talks of local jobs. “Louise Ellman’s right”, says Naughtie, before recalling the Toxteth riots of the 1980s. Thereafter it was the usual Naughtie bid for an award, talking to a couple of locals, and looking for hope, hope and more hope – and finding signs of it in the community’s reaction to the Autumn riots.” The challenge for local and national leaders”, he says, is to harness this, showing that this report wasn’t really much to do with the Labour Party. Little to trouble the Labour leadership here.

(b) BBC reporters’ reports
(i) 26/9 Gary O’Donoghue garners advice for the Labour Party from influential Labour figures (link): Lord Prescott, Liam Byrne, Mark Steers of the IPPR, Andrew Harrop of the Fabian Society, Margaret Beckett and Lord Prescott again. Nothing to trouble the Labour leadership here and no outsiders.

Conservative Conference
(a) Presenter reports
(i) 3/10 Sarah Montague goes ‘Tory Split’-hunting over Europe (link). Europe not on the official agenda “but away from the conference floor many seem desperate to talk about it.” “It was the issue which tore them apart” when they were last in govt. The eurosceptics are “becoming bolder though”. Heather Wheeler MP wants out of Europe and says the country agrees. Sarah counters her point by saying, “As ever though what the public say they want depends on what they’re asked.” Cue Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov, says people “want to be less in Europe but not quite out”, “they want Europe but much less of it,” he continues, “they want to go as far back as you can go without actually leaving the EU”. SM says lots of Conservatives want renegotiation but many are “nervous about reopening old wounds.” George Eustace says “lots of scars from the past”. Sarah says “many of the delegates here sound desperate for a referendum” [that word again]. Some delegates (well two of them) are then heard from, sounding desperate for a referendum. Eustace says times have changed, we need to stay in EU but get powers back, including those over health & safety, employment law, social policy. ConservativeHome found nearly 1/2 of 144 candidates before last election wanted to repatriate powers from Europe, and more than a 1/3 want renegotiation – including rising star Saveej Navid thinks, who we here from…. “So is there a danger that if MPs say they want to overrule European laws on things like maternity and paternity leave they won’t look compassionate? It’s a point I put to George Eustace.” So some agenda-pushing, a bit of negative language about eurosceptics, an outsider countering the eurosceptic point of view and a few things to trouble the Conservative leadership here.

(b) BBC reporters’ reports
(i) 4/10 Gary O’Donoghue wonders whether David Cameron is “a right-wing Tory of the old school or a compassionate Conservative” and goes ‘Tory split’-hunting (link): “Below the surface there’s not always harmony about the party’s direction or indeed about what sort of Conservative David Cameron really is”. Lord Tebbitt thinks one thing but Tim Montgomerie thinks another. “Some elements on the Tory backbenches are becoming a little more restless”. David Davis wants a low tax agenda. This isn’t the only area “where the troops are getting a little uneasy. Europe is always an issue…” Mark Pritchard wants DC to show his true blue colours over it. Some ‘modernisers’, however, are urging DC to resist “ideological enthusiasms”, including Nick Boles. “Most in the party accept”, said GO’D, that in the early days David Cameron had to present a socially liberal, softer kind of conservatism to detoxify the brand, but having failed to win an election on that ground the modernisers are likely to be fighting a rearguard action in the coming years as traditional elements seek to impose a more conventionally conservative agenda on the party.” So more agenda-pushing and quite a few things to trouble the Conservative leadership.

(ii) 4/10 “Home Affairs correspondent Danny Shaw investigates whether the Conservative Party hates the police”, says the ‘Today’ website. Sarah Montague’s introduction began “Now here’s what may seem like an odd question, ‘Do the Conservatives hate the police?'”
Shaw’s report was astonishingly biased (link).
It opened with a voice saying “This government, to put it bluntly, hate the Police Service.” “Sgt John Gibbley summing up the mood of discontent at the Police Federation Conference this year. One senior officer told me that a considerable body of policing agrees with his view. Others say it’s not hatred that’s driving police reform but revenge for what happened almost 20 years ago.” Paul McKeevor of the Police Federation says it’s a backlash for the police’s opposition to the Sheehy Report of the early 1990s. “But other evidence doesn’t support the ‘Payback for Sheehy’ theory, in particular David Cameron’s role in 1993. The prime minister was at that time a special adviser to the then home secretary Michael Howard who dumped most of the plans. In the 1990s Mr Cameron helped build bridges with the police. He didn’t knock them down.” So, Danny Shaw knocks down one conspiracy theory about revenge only to build up his own: “By 2006, however, that had all changed.” [Clip of Cameron speech calling for fundamental shakeup of policing.] “David Cameron, by then Conservative Party leader, took the view that the police were the last great unreformed public service. He called for directly elected politicians to run forces and modern employment contracts to make it easier to sack bad officers. The arrest of the Conservative MP Damien Green simply strengthened the Tories’ conviction that police wings needed clipping. But in a candid assessment of how relations between the police and the Tories worsened, the shadow police minister between 2007 and 2010, David Ruffley, says some of the problems were self-inflicted.” [Mr Ruffley sharply criticises Chris Grayling for comparing our inner cities to ‘The Wire’ and says his comments were “extremely unbalanced and frankly wrong”. I wonder how long the interview with Mr Ruffley was from which this snippet of sustained criticism of the Conservative leadership was taken. Did he say anything nice about his own party, or criticise the police’s role, or Labour’s? We’ll never know]. [Clip of Theresa May talking of the urgent need for radical reform.] “It was inevitable that Theresa May’s programme of cuts and reforms would widen the rift between ministers and the police but the public affairs expert Peter Bingle, who advised the Police Federation during the Sheehy reforms and has been re-hired now, says something more fundamental has happened. The MacPherson Report, raids on MPs’ offices and phone hacking, says Mr Bingle, have caused the relationship between police, politicians and the public to fracture. The Tories are not hateful of the police but more questioning and less trustful.” You cannot be a Conservative if you hate the Police Service, says Mr Bingle. “But there is a perception among police, certainly,” replies Shaw, “that they do.” Lack of communication at the moment between the Police Service and the government is the reason Mr Bingle gives for that. Shaw’s report ends with his words, “I believe that needs to be addressed very quickly because to have a position where any government is seen to be hating the police service is great news for rioters and anarchists.”
Where were the voices defending the Conservatives? Where were the voices arguing that Labour politicised the police? Where were the arguments that the police themselves might bear some responsibility for their current problems? With the Conservative Party conference going on, why wasn’t a Conservative minister interviewed on this?
An axe-grinding report, suspiciously stitched together, by a typical BBC home affairs correspondent.

Case closed?

Interviews with party figures

Labour conference
26/9 – David Miliband & Paul Kenny (link)
26/9 – Ed Balls (link)
26/9 – David Blunkett (link)
27/9 – Tom Harris (link)
27/9 – Yvette Cooper (link)
28/9 – Len McClusky (with Dr Mike Lynch, an outsider) (link)
28/9 – Lord Kinnock (link)
28/9 – Ed Miliband (link)

Conservative Conference
3/10 – Sir Peter Bone (unavailable to ‘listen again’)
3/10 – George Osborne (link)
4/10 – Graeme Archer, blogger (with lobbyist Peter Bingle) (link)
4/10 – David Cameron (link)
5/10 – Cllr David Meikle (Glasgow) & Cllr Ian Lindley (Salford) (link)
5/10 – William Hague (link)

How an interview is framed is a key indicator of bias.

The Labour interviews would all have sat well with Labour Party listeners, except perhaps for parts of James Naughtie’s interview with Ed Miliband (the ‘weird’ question being emphasised by the ‘Today’ website) and the interview with Dr Mike Lynch, who liked the idealism in Ed Milibands ‘predators and producers’ speech but thought it impractical, wondering how you could fashion policy out of the distinction and saying it’s “motherhood and apple pie”. (The ‘Today’ website characterises it as one voicing his support for Mr Miliband and the other merely “considering” whether the distinction holds water). Though the David Miliband/Paul Kenny was predicated on the assumption that Labour had lost credibibity with the voters, the Yvette Cooper interview was merely introduced with by James Naughtie with words about new thinking, the Balls interview with talk of what Balls would call for, the Tom Harris interview with the news that Scottish Labour is seeking more autonomy, the Kinnock interview just as a Labour elder statesman’s reaction to Miliband’s speech. (He loved it!)

On the other hand, of the Conservative interviews, the one with Sir Peter Bone was introduced as being with a Tory backbencher who shared Andrew Tyrie’s concerns (Tory splits). Unfortunately (for the ‘Today’ team), Sir Peter refused to play ball and attack the government and stuck to expounding a free-marketeer’s answer to economic growth. The interview with Mr Archer and Mr Bingle was framed, unfavourably, as “Out of more than 10,000 people attending the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, just 4000 are party members.” An only partly good-natured debate on lobbying ensued. The debate between the councillors was framed by the question, “Is the Conservative brand doomed in Scotland or could they learn from colleagues here in the north of England?” The councillors disagreed. (Tory split!). So, interviews which start from the premise (a) that the Tories are split over the economy, (b) that the Conservative Party is under the unhealthy influence of lobbyists and (c) that the Tories might be doomed in Scotland. How many of these premises would have displeased the Conservative leadership? (The interview with William Hague, incidentally, was framed with reference to “Europe being a divisive issue for the Conservative Party”.)

How can this be considered even-handed?

Other ‘unhelpful news’/items
Of course, not being in government Labour will not be on the end of attacks from interested parties anywhere near so much as a party of government like the Conservatives. That said, during the party conference season the BBC should seek to be careful not to be seen as attacking one party far more than another.

There were no such unhelpful items for Labour. Indeed quite the reverse, for on the final day of the Labour Party conference James Naughtie introduced an item on Yvette Cooper’s new policing review. Remarkably, he only interviewed Dr Tim Brain – one of those who will be undertaking Labour’s policing review (link). Given this, Naughtie’s first question, “Do you think this is a good idea, first of all?”, was positively bizarre. Of course Dr Brain was going to reply, “It’s a very good idea.” No opposing voice was heard from.

In contrast, on the final day of the Tory Party conference, Sarah Montague’s introduction to ‘Yesterday in Parliament’ read “A Labour peer and economist has blamed the dire state of the economy on what he called the government’s own stupid policies. Lord Peston was speaking in the Lords as peers debated how to get Britain growing” and a YouGov poll was quoted suggesting that 42% of people would never vote for the party. The day before – the day of Danny Shaw’s ‘Do the Tories hate the police?’ report – focused on an open letter calling for the government’s new Health Bill to be scrapped from “400 public health experts” (people BBC health reporter Adam Brimelow called “senior”, “serious”, “pedigree”, “international renowned”, “respected” and “people who can’t simply be dismissed”). One of them was invited on to attack the government (link). He was put against the government’s studiously impartial health reviewer, who was deeply unwilling to come off the fence due to his role as a non-partisan figure. Why wasn’t a Conservative health minister asked about the issue? There were doubtless a few at the party conference.

On that same day, BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris gave a couple of Tory ministers (Hague and Osborne) a telling off that better suited a Labour spokesman. Anticipating an EU foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss the Euro crisis, the ‘impartial’ reporter brought up the anti-euro rhetoric at the Tory party conference and told John Humphrys that some European foreign ministers “won’t appreciate” some of Osborne & Hague’s comments. “I think they need to be a bit careful of their tone frankly”, opined Chris Morris. I think Chris Morris needs to be a bit careful about his!

Surely there’s some evidence of bias here?

Other things that can be said in the programme’s favour
Of course, bias is rarely all-pervasive in so many hours of coverage and, in addition to the comparable gentleness of the interviews with the party leaders (even edged in favour of David Cameron), I can find nothing much wrong with (a) the contributions of Nick Robinson and (b) the paper reviews, which offered plenty of contrasting views of the party conferences from a wide range of papers. Even James Naughtie wasn’t his usual ‘Guardian’-and-‘Independent’-orientated self. I also credit Naughtie with bringing up the Independent/Comres poll showing the Tories one point ahead of Labour and, though repeatedly stressing that the margin of error needed to be borne in mind and that not too much should be made of it, he did also repeatedly suggest that it would ruin Ed Miliband’s breakfast! A rare appearance by political correspondent Robin Brandt (on the Saturday edition before the Labour conference) was also creditable. From what little I’ve heard of Robin Brandt in recent months, it confirm my earlier feeling that he might just be a BBC reporter who values careful, balanced reporting. He’s not on very often though, and only a closer inspection will see whether that’s really the case.

Conclusions
A comparison of the ‘Today’ programme’s coverage of the Labour Party and Conservative Party conferences reveals a significant degree of pro-Labour bias. Though only a few items, such as the Danny Shaw report, screamed ‘bias!’, the cumulative effect of the different moods established by the two respective presenters, the severe skewing of the commentariat towards the Labour Party, the unhelpfulness of the reports towards one party in particular, the presence of other unhelpful items towards that party (in contrast to a helpful one towards the other party), the framing of interviews, and the programme’s initial agenda-setting (always followed through), all adds up to coverage that is much more favourable to one party than to another. I have tried to be as fair as fair can be towards the programme here but there is always the possibility that my own biases are blinding me to flaws in my own study. So, though I think I’m correct in all my judgements, please check the links (to whatever is still accessible on the ‘Today’ website) and see if you think I really am!

Of course, the question ‘Does any of this really matter?’ arises, especially when the Conservative Party itself shows little or no concern about biased BBC reporting. The related question ‘Who cares?’ may also cross your mind. (It crossed mine several times while writing this!) Still, the BBC has an obligation to impartiality and boasts that it is impartial. It it fails on that score, it must be called out.

Kevin Connolly’s lazy narrative

A guest post by Israelinurse:

“In the Middle East once you have chosen between the irreconcilable narratives on offer, everything confirms the narrative you have chosen, and nothing confounds it.”

After barely a year in the Middle East, the BBC’s correspondent Kevin Connolly appears to have reached the conclusion that facts and objective analysis of events are not what he came here to look for. Like many a Western journalist, crippled by preconceptions based on historical inaccuracies and hampered by an inability to speak any of the local languages fluently, he has succumbed to the temptations of ‘narrative’.

Connolly’s report of June 9th from Majdal Shams indicates very clearly the category of narrative he has chosen to adopt and promote. Whilst the acceptance of ‘narratives’ as legitimate versions of events has evolved from the prevailing mores of a politically correct climate in the United Kingdom which recoils from any kind of judgement- based assertions, its application in far flung corners of the world does not necessarily serve the interests of the BBC audiences. The airbrushing of facts, the subjective impressions of a reporter trapped within his own culture and the ‘dumbing-down’of news into pastiches of black and white contribute nothing to the listeners’ understanding of events.

And so Kevin Connolly begins his piece by referring to the 1967 Six Day War, during which Israel captured the Golan Heights. He provides no background to the outbreak of hostilities: no mention of the Syrian attempts at diversion of the water sources which feed Israel’s only fresh water supply – the Sea of Galilee, no reference to the years of shelling and sniper attacks on the Israeli villages situated below the Golan Heights and of course no reminder to his listeners of the attempt by Arab armies to annihilate the 19 year old Jewish state. As far as Connolly’s audience is concerned,Israel just decided one fine morning to conquer the Golan.

Next, Connolly informs his audience that the border fence stormed by Palestinians from Syria is not technically a border but a line of disengagement “since there is no peace deal to make it permanent”. Significantly though, he fails to mention that just over a week after the Six Day War ended, Israel – via America – proposed a return of the captured land in the Golan Heights and the Sinai in exchange for signed peace treaties with Syria and Egypt. This offer was of course met with the famous ‘Three Nos’ of Khartoum; the Arab states chose the option of “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel”.

That decision resulted in Israel’s holding of the Golan from 1967 until the Syrians tried to re-conquer it in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Once again Syria lost the war it had started and the ceasefire lines eventually drawn up in May 1974 under the Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria included the return of portions of the conquered territory to Syria. That ceasefire agreement was intended to be part of UN SC resolution 338 which stated that”immediately and concurrently with the ceasefire, negotiations shall start between the parties concernedunder appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just anddurable peace in the Middle East”.No peace agreement was of course reached, despite Israel having returned some of the territory as stipulated in UN SC resolution 242 which calls for “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” in return for “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency andrespect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State inthe area and their right to live in peace within secure andrecognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

Connolly also fails to mention the two rounds of failed negotiations between Israel and Syria in the mid- 1990s and 2000, as well as subsequent efforts by the Olmert government. His listeners remain ignorant of the fact that if there is no peace agreement between Israel and Syria, it is certainly not due to lack of Israeli effort.

Having established in the minds of his audience that the border is not a border and that the land in question is held ‘in sin’, Connolly then goes on to subtly inform listeners where their sympathies should lie. The Syrian protesters are “unarmed”. They find themselves “pinned down by gunfire” with limited cover from an earth bank. Only two paragraphs later does Connolly bother to point out that the infiltrators had actually been warned – in Arabic – by means of megaphone not to approach the fence and that when they proceeded despite this, warning shots had been fired into the air. In his subsequent bizarre comparison of the situation with soldiers caught in razor wire inWorld War 1, Connolly once more indicates where his audience’s sympathies should lie by using the words “vulnerability and pathos” to describe a group of political protesters trying to illegally cross a highly volatile border between two countries at war.

Again he reminds listeners that his heroes “carried no firearms” and that they “risked their lives”. Whilst acknowledging that Syrian reports of the death toll cannot be taken as necessarily accurate, Connolly also purports that “the Israelis have no idea if the live ammunition they claim to have aimed at the feet and legs of the protesters, left people bleeding to death as they waited for treatment”. For some reason he completely fails to mention that the Israeli army responded positively three times to the request for a cease fire in order to permit the Red Cross to evacuate the wounded, but that on each occasion the protesters, rather than respecting the cease fire, took advantage of it to continue in their efforts to breach the fence.

Descending rapidly into ever more ridiculous analogies, Connolly then informs his audience that “the Israel of Majdal Shams hardly seems like the Jewish David ranged against the collective Goliath of the Arab world”. In other words, Connolly is making sure that readers know that Israel actually has nothing to fear from these ‘unarmed’ and heroic protesters to whom he has taken such a shine. Clearly to him, this is just another case of Israelis over-reacting; a function of “the Israeli national nightmare of Palestinians massing on their borders demanding the right of return”.Nightmares are of course illogical; rooted in unfounded fears and something to be got over. In fact, having established throughout his report that Israel is guilty of almost hysterical over-reaction, Connolly then goes on to declare that “Israel sees the protesters as extremists or followers of extremists”, obviously implying that sensible people should appraise the situation very differently. One cannot but wonder exactly what the appropriate term is in the BBC lexicon for groups of people who seek to resolve an ongoing conflict by force rather than by negotiation and compromise.

Connolly then tries to claim that the information regarding the possibility that protesters in this and the previous event were paid to storm Israel’s borders is an Israeli fabrication which shows “weakness”. In fact, as Just Journalism has pointed out, this information came from non-Israeli sources such as the Reform Party of Syria and the Guardian. He also seems to doubt the involvement of the Syrian regime in the organization – either passive or active – of these recurring demonstrations: “And above all, Israel sees Syrian government manipulation in all this”.

Had Connolly any experience or knowledge of value about the area he would know that for over four decades now, levels of activity on the border between Israel and Syria have been dictated by the mood in Damascus. When Assad – either father or son – wanted the border to be quiet for reasons known to them, it was so. When they did not – it was not. There exists a well-entrenched myth that this border has been perfectly calm since the ceasefire in 1974. Whilst it is certainly true that when compared to some of Israel’s other borders, levels of activity by infiltrators has been low, it is not true to say that there have been no attempted terrorist infiltrations over the years. The fact is that on the day following the June 5th demonstrations, the Syrian security forces prevented the protesters from again reaching the border. They could have acted similarly the day before, but chose not to.

Unfortunately for his listeners, Connolly appears to be content with parroting the jaded narratives repeated by so many Western journalists rather than learning from the local people who actually live in the area or making the effort to equip himself with the background information necessary to comprehend this complex region. His report, therefore, is indeed no more than unchallenging narrative; undemanding of both his listener and himself and confirming all his and their preconceived prejudices. News it is not.

WELL THERE’S A SURPRISE!

Regular readers of this blog will know that David Preiser, DB and myself (in the comments) have had our purely metaphorical cross hairs trained on Katie Connolly – the lead reporter at BBC Online’s Washington bureau – for quite some time now.

She was headhunted from Newsweek in the Spring of 2010 to head a new team that (we discovered) also included an enthusiastic Obama 2008 campaigner called Matt Danzico (remember ‘Llamas Heart Obama’?). We noticed that the new online unit began pumping out a lot of heavily-biased reports, generally favouring Democrat positions and undermining Republican ones. Katie Connolly was responsible for quite a few of those articles.

The unit seems to have gone oddly quiet in recent weeks and it now transpires that Katie Connolly has a new job. According to her updated strap line on Twitter she is now a Senior Project Director at the Benenson Strategy Group. They are usually described as Democratic Party pollsters but also help devise campaign strategies for a large number of Democrat politicians and trades unions, playing a major role in the 2008 Obama Campaign and even helping Gordon Brown during the 2010 UK general election. (That went well, didn’t it?) .

So a BBC reporter we’ve long suspected of being biased towards the Democrats leaves to join a firm of Democrat Party strategists.

Who’d have thunk it?

READ AND WEEP

A guest post by Hippiepooter.

This is overdue but I think you’ll agree very worthwile covering. H/T to ‘Buggy’ for bringing this up in the Open Thread a couple of weeks ago.

Here is a BBC Online report 7th April that they headline thus:-

Blackpool children ‘safer than ever from grooming gangs’

When you compare it to the Blackpool Gazette story below, you may agree with me that it touches levels of Orwellian depravity that belong in a surreal horror movie. This is the Blackpool Gazette headline for the story:-

‘We hid nothing’ say sex case cops

Both stories stem from a paywalled report in The Times. Below is how both reports address the The Times as the source of the story.

BBC

A report in The Times said more than 60 girls in the resort were groomed for sex by a group of men.

The Times reported that an unpublished report by Blackpool Council recorded that more than 60 girls in the resort had been groomed for sex by a group of men connected with a cluster of town centre takeway restaurants.

Blackpool Gazette

Lancashire Police came under fire in a report by The Times which accused the force of ‘hiding a sex grooming scandal’ in Blackpool and ‘inhibiting’ further research by political correctness.

The Times article also connects to another missing Blackpool girl, Paige Chivers. […] Paige was just 15 when she disappeared in 2007. The report claims the teenager was also a “victim of sexual exploitation” but police say her disappearance remains a missing person inquiry and they are “keeping an open mind”.

You will be wearily unsurprised that the BBC report mentions nothing about Paige Chivers, nor the comments below by a retired senior detective featured in the Blackpool Gazette:-

Former Lancashire Det Supt Mick Gradwell, said police should, however, have a “more open debate”.

He said: “There is a lot of work going on with these operations (such as Awaken) but there is a reluctance to talk openly about the full facts.

I would suggest that all the BBC report was interested in was whitewashing how Lancashire Police had been whipped into submission by 25 odd years of BBC thought policing and the disaster that their ‘nationcidal’ promotion of multiculturalism has wrought upon us.

The mailonline also published a report on this the same day as the BBC, although they didn’t mention it had been prompted by what The Times ran. It carries more extensive comment from former Det Supt Mick Bradwell and draws yet more stark and chilling contrast to the take of the BBC.

While trying to find the Times report I found there’s plenty on this on BNP and EDL sites, but the views of racist neanderthals don’t interest me.

The Gramscian BBC and the BNP are twin sides of evil. They couldn’t live without each other.

From one of the areas of the BBC untainted by its Gramscian subversives, here is information on how to assist the Police with their inquiries over the missing Paige Chivers.