Tag Archives: BBC

Hacked Off: Unwitting support for self-censorship?

There was some controversy last month surrounding free speech group Index on Censorship.  They’ve appointed Steve Coogan as a patron, but he is famously a part of the Hacked Off campaign which supports press regulation policies that Index does not.  Both Nick Cohen in the Spectator and Richard Pendlebury in the Daily Mail have written angry responses to the manoevre.

I’ve heard a couple of people express dismay that Hacked Off are being described in such reports as a “pro-censorship lobby”.  Through my work at English PEN 1, I’ve met three of the people who run the group—Brian Cathcart, Martin Moore, and Dr Evan Harris.  If you have read their countless articles, heard any their speeches, or read their tweets on the issue, I do not think one can seriously suggest that they are in favour of “censorship” as the word is commonly understood.  They are at pains to point out that they do not endorse any kind of pre-publication curbs on the press.

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jorge-luis-borges-iggle-pig

Jorge Luis Borges In The Night Garden

A battered side street in the old part of Buenos Aires. The tarmac seems pockmarked. Parts of the curb are missing, and the serrated edge of the paving slabs are exposed, like the diseased gums of an old Gaucho.

A modest cafe. It seems rooted to the sidewalk, like the weeds. Other shops have long since shuttered, and their proprietors have escaped to the suburbs. But this establishment persists.

I scrape back one of the metal chairs.

“Un cafe, por favor?” The young waiter rolls his eyes. Is he annoyed that I have not ordered more, or is he casting judgement on my formal, European Spanish? Whatever: He clearly understands, and he slopes inside.

To my left, a croak. “English?”

I turn my head. A man sits alone, his mouth drawn down on one side. A stroke, perhaps?

“Yes,” I reply. “London.”

“Where else!” he replies. And now a smile. So no, not a stroke, just a crooked face. But he does not look straight at me. He cannot see very well. Continue reading

Was John Sargeant right to use the ‘N-word’ on the BBC?

John Sargeant’s performance on the BBC Newsnight Review show yesterday was bizarre. He managed to say the n-word twice during a discussion of Django Unchained, and later described parts of a TV programme as “American bullshit”.

Among those watching the show, some wondered whether the BBC would receive complaints. Others applauded Sargeant’s no-nonsense approach. I found his language tiresome.

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Discussing Social Media Censorship on BBC Hereford & Worcester

The lastest person to be prosecuted forgiving offence on social media is eighteen year old Sam Busby, from Worcester.  Like Matthew Woods, he posted jokes about missing schoolgirl April Jones on Facebook.

Last week I went on the BBC Radio Worcester Breakfast show to make the case that while abhorrent, the prosecution was a step too far.  You can listen to my contribution via the embedded player below, or listen on the PodoMatic website. Continue reading

We Need To Scrutinise Executives' Contracts Before They Resign In Shame

http://twitter.com/MaxWindCowie/status/267730759798898688

The BBC’s Director General has resigned after only 54 days in post. Now there is concern that his £450,000 ‘Golden Handshake’ is disproportionate.

These controversies are not new. The payouts to bankers like Sir Fred Goodwin are well known, as is the money paid to Amnesty International’s outgoing Secretary General Irene Khan. Continue reading

Neck and Neck in the Polls?

This week, the BBC reports on the US Presidential this week have been consistently reporting the race “neck-and-neck”. This assertion is grounded on opinion polls: the latest BBC report trumpets an ABC News poll which places both candidates on 48% of the vote.

The problem is, one poll does not tell the whole story. Each polling outlet has a slightly different methodology which skews the results. For example, some poll only ‘likely voters’ and some ask everyone; some pollsters call cell-phones, while others use only landlines.

As a foreign media outlet, the BBC is not covering the race with the granularity of the domestic US media.

Rather than report the result of one poll, The corporation would do better to report on the polling averages between polling outfits, and the trend-lines of generated by each pollster over a given period. Both these macro views look better for President Barack Obama, whose polling in the last fortnight has been improving. More importantly, State Level polling shows the President ahead in battleground states like Ohio. Poll analysis site Five Thirty Eight (hosted by the New York Times) models the election on this basis, and is currently putting the chances of an Obama win at 85%.

This does not mean that Obama is coasting towards a second term. Governor Mitt Romney could still win. But given the totality of the polls, President Obama can be said to have the advantage. The situation does not really warrant the metaphor “neck-and-neck” which suggests either horse is equally likely to win. In the betting markets, Barack Obama is the clear favourite. He hasn’t won, but he is ahead.

So why does the BBC cherry-pick a single poll as its headline? Simples: “neck-and-neck” is a more sensational headline than “Obama ahead”. And the more sensational headline will deliver more viewers on Election Night.

The Tale of Two September 11s

The Free Word Centre has a couple of big bookcases at one end of its central space.  Last week, I was surprised to discover on the shelves a copy of the The Blog Digest 2007, which was edited by Justin Mckeating and features a couple of contributions by me.  It naturally drags to the surface those old thoughts about the nature of blogging and why someone does it.  Back in 2006, when we put together that book, ‘meta-blogging’ (i.e. philosophising about the nature of this new activity) was all the rage.  Nowadays? Not-so-much.   Back then, it felt as of blogging was its own thing, a distinct community with its own round-up.  Now, it is simply another way to take part in a global conversation.  Long-form Twitter.  Before, bloggers and journalists were considered different creatures.  Now, blogging is how journalists do their thing, and it’s never clear whether any given piece you might read online has also made its way into the printed edition of the paper or magazine.

I know why I started blogging: catharsis.  I was spending far too much of 2005 writing angry letters to newspapers, and submitting contributions to the BBC Have Your Say website.  The comments I made were on pretty much the same topics as the things I discuss on this blog even now: free expression, human rights, belief, foreign policy, the nature of democracy, gay rights, and the evolving internet technology.  It was a natural wish to be able publish without waiting for some editorial intern to deem my contribution as relevant!

I think my motivation for maintaining the blog has subtly changed since I began, seven years ago this month.  There is much less anger and frustration, less need to blurt out a rebuttal of some hideous, shoddy political argument. There are two reasons for this change.  The first is that politics has moved on: the insidious, divisive ideology pushed by President George W. Bush (and shockingly enabled by Tony Blair) has thankfully waned.  The second is that now I actually work in human rights campaigning, well within the London political ‘mix’ and with a tangible route to make a difference on the issues I care about.  The personal blog is no longer the only way I participate in the political process.  As a result, it becomes less urgent.

I am grateful that anyone stops by to read these pages, as I know many of my friends and a few strangers sometimes do.  But I know I have no right to expect anyone to continue reading.  With that in mind, I perceive a tendency to write as if I am taking notes, diarising (weblogging in other words) as a personal project.  I write as much for the future me as for the present you, the present them.  I often see the writing as a sort of insurance for the future, a partial brain-backup or a resource that an aged, dementia-addled version of myself can use to pass the time when I no longer go outside.

That, and a record for the progeny.  For the past few years, as I’ve mellowed, I have often thought of myself as writing for hypothetical children!  I am grateful to those among my own ancestors who wrote something for me, and it is not unreasonable to expect my descendants to read through the blog!  I hope they get a feel for this point in human history, and a sense of my ideals.   And if I seek to persuade anyone with my writing, it is them.

In a certain sense, therefore, this blog can be seen as shaped by two events, which took place exactly a decade apart.  The first is the infamous terror attack of September 11th 2001, which was the spark that ignited two wars and provoked the policies that so angered me.

The second event was the birth of my daughter on 11th September 2011 – one year ago today.  She cannot read yet, but now, at last, I know who I am writing for.

How the BBC Could Help Increase Participation in Sports

Fleet Half Marathon
Fleet Half Marathon 2010. Photo by yrstrly on Flickr.

One thing that should be analysed when thinking about success of the Olympics is the broadcast. We should remember that for most people, the entire Olympic experience was mediated by the BBC. I think there is general agreement that they did excellent job – at least, a much better performance than during the Jubilee celebrations! This is obviously because it plays to the BBC’s strengths, reporting breaking news as it happened. Listening to the Olympic coverage on Radio 5 Live was not that different from listening to their usual Saturday afternoon coverage of Football League matches – and I mean that as a conpliment. That broadcast team in particular are already very experienced at juggling several outside broadcast units and reporters on location.

The corporation also did a good job at explaining the rules of many of the obscure sports to novice viewers.

Let us not forget that the BBC did have help from the Olympic Broadcast Service. This is a group of international broadcasters who together deliver the actual Olympic coverage (i.e. making sure we see people cross the line, not making sure Clare Balding interviews them afterwards).  Apparently the BBC was directly responsible for the rowing coverage, but the athletics was actually project managed by the Finnish broadcasters!

All this coverage was enhanced by some fantastic advances in digital technology. There were under water cameras in the swimming pool, boom cameras sweeping over action in the stadia, and cameras on wires tracking the action from above. There were ultra slow motion replays too, all of which led to an immersive experience.

So, what should we learn from all this? Well, obviously we can hope that TV sports coverage will improve across the board. Many of the clever techniques used during the Olympics should be deployed in other, domestic coverage.

But that is not what interests me. I am more interested in how the BBC (as by far the biggest broadcaster in the UK) can help to facilitate grassroots sport. If we accept the premise that much of the enthusiasm for previously obscure sports has come due to increase broadcast exposure, then the BBC could give those same sports a permanent structural boost by simply devoting more coverage to them all year round.

They can do this in two ways: first they can simply send cameras and reporters to cover major sporting events (they may need to do this anyway, to fill the airtime gaps left in the schedules as Premiership football and other highly popular sporting events are snapped up by Sky, Setanta, and ESPN).

Second, they can also do this by improving their online presence, to allow greater crowd sourcing and audience reporting of sporting events. This would enable them to provide coverage of regional and local sports – not just athletics and gymnastics, but non-league football and youth football as well. This will link the broadcaster’s output with communities and the localities that BBC is meant to serve, and should also inspire greater participation, and more people coming out to spectate. In this way, the Olympic spirit that the BBC generated over the past two weeks may be bottled and disseminated to local sports fields and even schools. Continue reading

Baby Jake

The Colour Palette of Children's Programmes

The colour palette for children’s TV is very green, isn’t it?

There are two reasons for this.  One, many of the shows are set outside, which encourages kids to play outside too.  It is a shame that this is not a given, but there we go.

Second, many of the programmes mix live action with animation.  The easiest way to insert a person into a make-believe world, or bring an imaginary character into the real-world, is to use green-screen technology.  If there is lots of grass in the set (imaginary or otherwise) it makes the job of the CGI teams easier, and it makes the resulting product better.  It’s interesting that this technical requirement should mean that more programmes for kids are set outside.

In The Night Garden
In The Night Garden

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Religious Activism and the Language of Political Correctness

Veronica Connolly says she is being “persecuted for being a Christian” after refusing to pay her TV licence in protest at the BBC’s decision to show Jerry Springer The Opera.

Rubbish. Mrs Connolly is using the language of political correctness to claim victimisation, when she is actually engaging in a deliberate act of civil disobedience. She is being prosecuted for the act of not paying for her licence. The authorities are not deliberately going after her because of the underlying beliefs.

Stewart Lee’s show is challenging and satirical and surely not for everyone, but the BBC’s public service remit means it should be showing controversial programmes and films. If the corporation sought to avoid offending anyone its output would become stale and anodyne.

If you don’t like a particular show then don’t watch it.

This issue does raise questions about the license fee, which is really a form of tax. If you don’t agree with the behaviour or the programming of, say, BSkyB (linked as it is to Rupert Murdoch) you can always choose the Virgin TV package instead. And if you can’t stand Richard Branson then you can withdraw from taking that service and just take the FreeView Channels, or pay for LoveFiLM and Netflix, or go and look at YouTube. But there is no way to ‘opt out’ of funding the BBC because anyone with a TV must pay the licence fee.

Of course – There’s no way of ‘opting out’ of British war-mongering or ill-advised spending decisions either. That’s the point of the system of taxes and democracy – you change the spending decisions indirectly, by participating in the political process.

The issue of the licence fee is that, in the 21st century, we tend to think that we have some kind of choice over the media we consume. We can get films, TV series and and music via the Internet, and can ‘unbundle’ the articles in a newspaper so we can read the sports sections without buying the political sections (or vice versa). The bundled, all or nothing approach of the licence fee – which is a special sort of tax, whatever the nomenclature – seems a little at odds with the rest of the media ecosystem. As a fan of the BBC, this vexes me.

I do also have some sympathy with the argument put forward by Mrs Connolly’s lawyer, who says that a TV set is no longer a luxury but a “primary organ of communication”. Indeed. Might our right to receive and impart information include the right to access a TV and the Internet?