Wednesday, 28 January 2009

BBC's DEC Controversy Just the Latest in a Long Line

According to Dr Suzanne Franks* in a letter to the Graun today,

The BBC did not in fact broadcast an appeal for Palestinian refugees in 1967 and incidentally nor did it broadcast one for Biafran victims the following year.

It seems that the Beeb has a long precedent for ignoring human suffering around the globe - although it's noticeable that the Palestinians keep getting the shitty end of the stick, but that if pressure is kept up long enough, the decision can be changed:

in 1982 ... the BBC turned down and then came under weeks of pressure and finally agreed to a DEC appeal for fighting in El Salvador and then later that year in the Lebanon war

This appears to be a rare event, however. Which only makes it more important to keep up the pressure on the BBC now. As Dr Franks says,

One can hardly make a parallel with Rwanda - since in 1994 it is unimaginable that anyone was concerned to argue the case for editorial balance on behalf of the Hutu militias! Similarly in the appeal for Kurdish victims in 1990 - there was no concern about balancing arguments in favour of a murdering Saddam Hussein.

So if there is a situation with a clear aggressor and total asymmetry between them and their victims the BBC usually changes it's mind or allows the appeal. Clearly then the Gaza appeal should have been broadcast (and given the miserableness of Mark Thompson's defence, I'm assuming he knows it too).

*Director of research, Centre for Journalism, University of Kent, it says.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Rare Foray Into Public Service Broadcasting

Partly I wanted to put up the DEC's film, which makes me a better news source than the BBC:

But also, I wanted to show you the lovely, lovely Tony Benn continuing to be his brilliant self:

By the way - for some sense of grim satisfaction you can check out the pasting Mark Thompson's been getting on his blog here. Really restores your faith in humanity.

Protest the BBC's DEC Decision

5.30 outside BBC North, Barack Road, Newcastle.

Called by Tyneside Stop The War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

I know I'll be there even if all I can do is cough at them. Please join us.

Monday, 26 January 2009

A Sea Change on the BBC?

Having just heard a roundtable on Newsnight in which Jeremy Paxman got a load of Journos together and asked them to give the Beeb a good kicking, I thought it might be worth my spelling out my views on the Beeb at the moment.

Yes, I'm deeply unhappy about the decision not to air the DEC campaign. The decision has been given such ludicrous justifications by the D-G that it is a transparently political decision.

I have also had reservations about the way that the BBC has framed the reporting of the Gaza invasion, not making it clear frequently enough what the wider context of the conflict is or that the Hamas government did not break the ceasefire or any of the other myriad details that spell out just how indefensible Israel's position is.

I also do not like the way that the BBC's reporting of demonstrations, particularly anti-war ones, are consistently underplayed, both in terms of numbers and in terms of portraying protesters in a negative light.

I also think that workers get a raw deal from the Beeb. In situations where there is a strike or imminent job losses, the opinions of workers are either not mentioned or are placed in the context of an inevitable process that they have no power or authority to change.


I also think that the role of the BBC is essential. Reading the Media Guardian section on Mondays is always depressing, because their key correspondents are all in favour of greater market inroads into the Beeb's public service remit - recently calling for privatisation of Radio 1 and 2. Too many sections of the media are, like the rest of the capitalist class, clinging to the monetarist logic of the market even as it collapses all around them. Why? Well one reason is the continuing collapse of old formats like newspapers - as Charlie Brooker pointed out recently, because people are more and more turning elsewhere for their actual news, papers are becoming repositories for comment and opinion.

But this doesn't explain why the BBC is so frequently attacked. The reason for that is good old-fashioned competition. The Beeb provides a public service and is still seen as a largely respectable source of information by the public. But more importantly, it delivers news in areas that the traditional dead-tree press are still trying to get into or have been struggling with: freeview, freesat, DAB, radio and t'interwebs. The Graun's attempts to pitch the marketisation of the Beeb, for example, are probably not unrelated to its ownership of Smooth Radio, Real Radio, Century Radio and Rock Radio. Much of it's coverage in recent months and years has been on the inability of commercial radio to outstrip the Beeb.

Of course, this is only a problem if you think that competition is inherently a good thing. I don't. The only important issue is whether or not a good public service is on offer. Whilst I would ideally [in my socialist utopia full of flowers and bunnies and liquid happiness] see a more bottom-up approach to the Beeb, decentralised and democratic especially for local affairs, for example, commercial radio suffers from the same problem that all private media have: their audience is not who they have to appeal to. Their paymasters are advertisers and audiences are the goods they sell. Consequently they do not operate in the public interest.

The BBC's paymasters however, are you and me, the great comrades that are the British public. That's why everyone who dribbles onto Have Your Say seems to think they own the BBC: we do. This is why I despair when people complain that the BBC puts on a show they don't like - the logical corollary of the following propositions:
(1) The BBC is there to deliver to the whole population of the UK
(2) It'd be a dull world if we all thought the same wouldn't it?*

(3) Not everyone is going to like everything that the BBC makes.

So I have no truck with the deeply suspect 'moral'** hysteria that occasionally sweeps through the dead-tree media and is reflected on our tellies. I have very specific objections to certain aspects of the Beeb's coverage of current affairs because it reflects the way that everyone thinks and feels about the world around them. But I don't want Songs of Praise taken off just because I'm an atheist. I know, it's an obvious line of reasoning, but when you're surrounded by this latest maelstrom and you hear newsreaders conflating the recent mercenary 'moral' panics with this issue I think it bears pointing out. And I'm sure I'm not alone in holding this or similar opinions, and I don't think it does anyone any favours to reduce this specific piece of poor decision making on the DEC issue to 'why can't the BBC do anything right?'

The BBC frequently does things right. Most of the time, in fact. It's science coverage, for example, is rarely anything like as ropey as the Sunday Times' or the Mail's. It produces a variety of programmes that appeal to lots of different people. Sometimes they even produce programmes that appeal to almost everyone except determined miserabilists who need to get out more (you know the show I mean). Sometimes it works better than others (Two Pints, for example). I really don't think there's some kind of breakdown occurring at the Beeb, rather that it is being put under pressure for all the reasons mentioned above. The DEC issue is to my mind a very specific case where it has made a seriously wrong decision and I have absolutely no problem with going to them tomorrow in person and with as many comrades as can be rounded up to tell them so.

But to conflate this with the I'm-Now-So-Old-My-Pussy-Is-Haunted-Gate Scandals is just ludicrous.

Ooh I feel better for that.

*Thanks Nan, I knew your wisdom would come in handy one of these days.
**If swearing is a moral issue at all. Which it clearly fucking isn't.

Mark Thompson Contracts Incomprehensibility, Absurdity

Just listening to Mark's flannelling and flailing on Today (that makes this liveblogging doesn't it? Oh, I'm so Web 2.0).

Highlight so far: the bit where he claims that the Beeb is helping the DEC campaign by covering the controversy. Would you like a helping of condescension with your hypocrisy sir?

Although that is being rapidly overtaken by his desperate attempts to avoid calling his audience too stupid to understand the difference between the news and an appeal.

Coming third is probably the bit where he says that the appeal will 'inevitably promote one perspective on the conflict' even though he has admitted that 'there is a great deal of suffering in Gaza'. What other perspective can he possibly be talking about?

All of the above easily outclass the bit where he says the Beeb can't be seen to endorse an appeal to help in a situation which is 'political with humanitarian consequences'. I guess the Beeb would never have broadcast an appeal over Darfur or the DRC then.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Advertising Schmucks Get the Better of Me

... turns out Compare the actually exists, and is quite amusing.


Absolutely Brilliant

Stop the War have occupied the Beeb's Scottish HQ.

Bravo! Just, bravo. Direct action we can all be proud of.

Over 150 supporters of Scottish Stop the War Coalition and Palestinian groups have occupied the BBC headquarters in Glasgow. They say they will not end their occupation until the BBC has reversed its decision not to broadcast an emergency aid appeal for Gaza. The protesters are demanding to meet with a senior representative of the BBC.

In an unforgivable breach of blogiquette, I did not give a hat-tip to Lenin. Sorry.

Intriguingly the Beeb isn't covering this, and nor is the Graun, but Sky is. Wonder why? After all, Sky aren't showing the DEC's campaign either...

Update Updated:
Switching to Sky News to see what's what, I saw Samantha Morton make a very strong and unexpected statement. Apparently, during Children in Need, Lenny Henry made a funny joke. This is pretty unprecedented, as anyone who's seen his Premier Travel Inn adverts will know. Or of course, anyone who's seen him in anything ever. Chef, anyone?

Samantha also said something about not working for the Beeb ever again unless they changed their minds, but I wasn't really paying attention after that bombshell, as you can imagine.

Updated Update Updated:
I take it all back - it was mentioned in passing at 6:35 am on the Today show...

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Comebacks, Real and Imaginary

This week has seen a few situations where I had the opportunity to come out with some good one liners. In most of these situations I held my tongue, but a couple still got out. Here's a summary:

In a role-playing exercise in a seminar we were all given characters and fictional 'comedy' names. Mine was Doctor Pfeffer-Stephens-Feffer-Stevens. The following exchange occured when the course leader wanted to address me:
Course Leader: "Did you want to say something, Doctor ... sorry I've forgotten your name -"
Me: "Just The Doctor"

Later on we were doing a series of exercises themed around Holocaust Memorial Day. The idea was that we were all members of a development committee at Channel 4. The course leader played the role of the head of C4 and gave us all a brief to develop a landmark piece of TV based around the holocaust that would fit with the station's ethos. When she threw the it open for discussion my suggestion wasn't well received, unfortunately.

"How about Justin Lee Collins in Let's Bring Back ... Birkenau" fell on stony ground. Honestly, some people wouldn't get satire if it was tied to a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick and used to beat them unconscious.*

Out on a demo to make David Miliband and John Hutton feel the full humiliation they deserve, I found myself trying to get a posh family from a nearby mansion to sign a petition called 'End the Siege of Gaza'. They claimed to be opposed to the Israeli bombardment but wouldn't sign the petition on the basis that they didn't know what they were signing. Apparently the clear, short sentence at the top of the form and my patient explanation wasn't information. Eventually it transpired that they wouldn't sign because I was from a socialist organisation and they were, to use their own term, 'righties'.

What I said in my head:
"Great, well why don't you just wait until the Tories give a fuck about it then? I'm sure they'll be organising demos of their own momentarily."

And finally, a letter from today's Weekend Magazine:
My girlfriend reckons the Guardian is a "Trotsky paper" and has it in the house under sufferance. But when I give her the magazine to read Lucy Mangan's column, I don't get it back for at least half an hour. Is there hope for Torygirl yet?
Jon Berryman
Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire

No Jon, because she's clearly a fucking idiot.**

*Look, it's not holocaust humour. I don't believe that jokes about mass-extermination are funny. It's a joke about the way that Channel 4 markets its documentaries (you know, The Boy With A Goat for his Testicles) and the insanity of their promotion of Lee Collins as a 'face of the channel' (i.e. distinctive brand for this multi-channel multi-platform age) which will inevitably result in his taking part in some doc that is completely inappropriate at some point in the near future.

**Leaving aside the "Trotsky paper" cretinousness, if it takes her half an hour to read Lucy Mangan's column there's a good chance she's technically in a coma.

Just in Case Anyone's Missed This - Beeb and DEC

I know I'm well behind the curve here, as you can get the story from any of these excellent news nodes:
Socialist Unity
Enemies of Reason
Lenin's Tomb
Beau Bo d'Or
Stop the War
Tony Benn
and of course weirdly, the BBC.

Anyway, for anyone who did miss - this apart from wondering where you've been living, in a chinese pipe? - here's roughly what's happened:

Palestinians who've had their hospitals, schools, universities and UN aid buildings reduced to rubble, who've suffered the loss of 1,400 of their fellow countrymen, women and children and trying to treat 5,400 wounded. People who've seen their medical workers attacked. People who in their hundreds of thousands have no access to drinking water and food, and most of whom do not have a stable electricity supply, apparently don't constitute 'humans' enough to have their situation called a 'humanitarian crisis'.

The Disasters and Emergency Committee wanted the Beeb to carry adverts launching an appeal for Gaza, and the Beeb said that it wouldn't because it might be seen as biased. The other networks promptly used this as an excuse not to carry it either.

Presumably, in order for the Beeb to carry the ads, Hamas will need to inflict a comparable level of damage on Israel. (Note, comparing population figures for Israel to those in Gaza, I estimate that Hamas would have to kill around 6,500 Israelis and injure 25,000. Current civilian casualties in Israel from Hamas stand at 3. Time to get busy with the rockets I'm afraid, if you want any money for reconstruction!).

It is interesting to note that even the government, who have actually supplied some of the weaponry that made this disaster possible, have criticised the Beeb on this one.

Anyway, please protest to the Beeb about this. 03700 100 222.
Update: or here

Update updated:
Here's my polite, almost wheedling complaint...

There is no case to answer over issues of 'balance' - this is about the alleviation of human suffering, pure and simple. Indeed the logical corollary of your alleged concern for balance here would be to encourage a proportionate crisis in Israel, given that you are unwilling to support attempts to help the men, women and children who are suffering in Gaza. The deprivation and kiling of Israelis would be the only way to restore 'balance' here, and as I can't believe that is the BBC's policy, I equally can't believe that the BBC will not throw its weight behind the judgement of 13 humanitarian agencies but stand by whilst people die. Please rectify this situation immediately and reverse your decision.

There are other harmful consequences of this decision. Your reluctance to follow the only honourable course of action in this has given other networks pause and further reduced exposure of the DEC's campaign. This is a wrong decision and I refuse to believe that the BBC's management are not aware of it, especially given Mark Thompson's flannelly response to criticism.

I never thought I would see the day when I sided with the Daily Mail and the other private sector rivals who would see the BBC castrated, but this is ludicrous decision with potentially catastrophic consequences for the Palestinian people and I must repeat: please reconsider your decision.

I want to complain regarding the BBC's refusal to carry the DEC's Gaza campaign. Given the suffering of the people in Gaza (84% of the population have no access to a secure supply of food, for example) and the dire state that the recent Israeli onslaught has left the already fragile infrastructure in the Gaza strip, it is clear that this constitutes a humanitarian crisis of the gravest kind.

Updated Update Updated:
I have now received a meaningless boilerplate from the Beeb. Cheers the Beeb. Oh wait, actually, fuck you.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Redundancies Must Be Hitting Hard at Maccy D's

Overheard an ad whilst doing something more valuable to society [disgusting punchline]like giving adorable puppies Bad AIDS[/disgusting punchline]:

'... that means if you've got a pound you can get [nameless meat patty] and some change. Not much change, but some. And that's what McDonald's is all about.'

What, are they down to the work experience kid in the advertising department now?

Labradoodle puppies. Labradoodle puppies with one ear turned humourously inside out. Labradoodle puppies with one ear turned humourously inside out that keep going up to a toy with a bell in it, prodding it with their nose then running away when it makes a noise, looking confused.

But wait, that means... nooo. Wait. Can it? Yes!

If Palestinians try and feed themselves,

'Israel has warned of renewed military strikes on Gaza if tunnels used for
smuggling in goods from Egypt are reopened by Palestinians.'

But uh-oh,

'some of the tunnels are already back in operation, with fuel being
smuggled in.'

But hang on, I thought

'the three week campaign had achieved all of its objectives. '

But how do we really know? How do we know that Israel has failed?

'TV images on Wednesday showed a truck being filled with petrol, apparently
smuggled in through a tunnel.'

That's right. We know that Israel has not achieved it's objectives because Palestinians are able to get trucks moving in their own country.


By way of a postscript, remember: if an elected Palestinian government buys arms, that's smuggling. If the Israeli government buys arms, that's a valuable contribution to the British economy.

Update to PS: what Mark said. Hey, I never said it was an original point or anything...

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Hopefully This Won't Be Relevant Much Longer...

In the wake of Obama's ascension yesterday, anyway.

I was browsing through a book on Catholicism, as you do, and was struck by this description of one of the Spanish Inquisition's many interesting habits:

'Prisoners' hands would be tied behind their backs and their bodies then hoisted off the ground. They would be left suspended for hours or days until they were ready to 'confess' their sins. In another [torture method], the accused would be strapped to a trestle table, with their feet higher than their heads, while the priestly inquisitors would pour water down their throats.'

Go and see Moazzam Begg speak next week, I urge you.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Effects of IDF Atrocities, But Were Too Grossed Out to Ask.

One of the IDF's less endearing tactics in the recent slaughter has been the targetting of hospitals, medical workers and ambulance crews.

Tomorrow night, which is to say Bush's Leaving Day, at 7 pm, there is a talk in the David Shaw lecture theatre at the University Medical School about the impact of the attacks on the hospitals, staff and healthcare infrastructure. According to my info, this is 'NOT suitable for children' so take that how you will.

Monday, 19 January 2009

A Few More Bits and Pieces...

SWP public meeting,
Wednesday 21st Jan 7 pm
Salsa Club Cafe, Westgate Road Newcastle

A discussion with Rhona Smith, professor of Human Rights at Northumbria University and other speakers.
Wednesday 21st Jan 1 pm
Room 110 Ellison Building, Northumbria University.

Moazzam Begg, another former Gitmo detainee Sami al-Haj, and a former guard, Christopher Arendt, will talk about their experiences. Having seen Moazzam before, I can recommend him as a very powerful and eloquent speaker. This promises to be a really good event.
Thursday 29th Jan 6 pm
Herschel Building, Newcastle University (opp. Haymarket Metro).

Update: here's something a bit more eye-catching...


Sunday, 18 January 2009

Upcoming Events

This Friday will be a demo in South Shields at a dinner being attended by David Miliband to protest against the British Government's refusal to take action or condemn Israel's aggression and murder in Palestine, and refusal to halt arms sales* to Israel. Meet outside South Tyneside College at 6.30 pm.

There will be a march and demo in Newcastle on Saturday at 12. Start at Civic Centre and move down to Monument.

Update: here's a pretty poster all about it!

This Week's Protests

On Wednesday evening there was one outside the local BBC studios about biased coverage - not a bad crowd (although my reliance on the mobile for pictures is a problem in the dark):

Then there was one at Monument yesterday. A sit-down protest was held that was quite good. There was also music - it was quite lively, really.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

I Have the Technolust. Widget-Gods, Slake My Thirst With Baubles

A 3-D webcam in the guise of a cute red robot? Well, colour me #c339!

The Graun reckons it'll be used to headfuck people who webchat. Me, I hope for a 3-D version of Star Destroyer Potemkin PDQ!

In other news, bringing up daleks can be problematic (hat tip to the Graun):

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Landmark of Sorts...

Just a quick one today, as real life is impinging on me once more.

'More than 1,000 killed in Gaza'

What we need now is some kind of distraction. If only the taxpayer kept some kind of secret force of clowns who can be called upon to do something stupid and headline-grabbing when our betters are suppporting something palpably evil.

If only.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Well now, that's interesting

At the PSC meeting tonight there was a fair bit of criticism about the Beeb's coverage of Gaza.

However, it appears that the Graun's recent desperate handwringing about nothing has actually had an editorial effect. I've just been leafing through my dead-tree copy of today's leftie paper of record, and here's something interesting: there is no mention whatsoever of the Saturday protest. There is a column on the Zionist rally on Sunday (which uncritically uses the organisers' figures of 15,000 attendees.

Oh no, hang on: here it is

'The rally followed a large protest against the military action in Gaza in London on Saturday, during which violent clashes broke out.'

I missed it for a moment there, because it was right at the bottom of a piece full of comments from Zionists keen to justify the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians.

Well, that's fair and balanced, isn't it?

Well done Stephen Pollard, you seem to have successfully scared the Graun from it's position of 'cautious criticism' into full-scale 'nothing to see here, move along' mode.

One for Those of a Certain Age

Anyone in less than their mid-20s will probably not realise why this is so good, but Adam & Joe's show this week saw the return of Baaaadaaad!

Podcast here.

Nigel turns up about 35 min. in, reminiscing about meeting Coolio. I tell you what, he's still got it!

'he drove like Toad of Toad Hall'

It's a really good pod this week actually, I'd highly recommend it.

Main Local Protest

The other event, the big one, is a march that's being planned for this Saturday. We'll be having a bit rally at noon at the Civic Centre, then marching down to the Monument for a mass die-in and closing rally. There should be music, speeches, chanting, the works.

Anyone who can make this, please make the effort to do so. After London last week it's really important to try and keep up the momentum.

[guilt trip]I know it seems like the Israelis are winding down - there were only 12 airstrikes last night, after all, instead of the more usual 40-60 but for some reason the death toll keeps edging upwards.

'910 people have been killed in Gaza so far, of whom 292 were children and 75 were women.'
[/guilt trip]

I'll follow up with details later as things are confirmed.

Local Protest - BBC

Continuing my new blogging theme of all Gaza, all the time, there's a couple of local protests in addition to the one a week Friday against Miliband.

First up, there's a protest against the pro-Israel bias in the Beeb's coverage this Thursday, the 15th. There's been a fair bit of interest from some Newcastle Uni students so it's hoped that we can have a march starting from the campus at 5.00. The main demo will be at 5.30 outside the Beeb's offices.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Moving House

I've been getting a bit fed up with the decidedly unpretty livejournal recently, so I've decided to have move into Blogger's loving embrace. If it turns out to be better than LJ I may even move permanently, but for the moment I'll cross-post and see how that works.

It's a bit like having a life, but, you know, cheaper.

I like a few of the features - you can have a blogroll, for a start. I'm hoping I can get a tag cloud going and some other bits and bobs as I go along. See how it goes.