Category: Media

How Andrew Marr introduces guests

Mark Doran on how Andrew Marr introduced his guests:

Reviewing the news, the Corbyn-supporting ‘Guardian’ columnist Owen Jones and the author and commentator Isabel Oakeshott — all of that coming up after the news, here read by [etc].

For, as you will have seen, there was no parity at all between the way Marr framed Jones (‘Corbyn-supporting Guardian columnist’) and the way he framed Oakeshott (‘author and commentator’). The difference between the two introductions — and the reason behind it — will take a little while to elucidate; let’s start with our ‘author and commentator’.

He books Isabel Oakeshott — who, you may be aware, has never appeared on this show before, regularly though she features on the Sunday Politics a couple of hours later. Why her? Because, 18 months ago, she went into print to tell the nation that behaviour which you and I would consider inappropriate at the very least is something of no real significance and can easily be brushed aside: Oakeshott can, therefore, be relied upon to talk down today’s breaking story as just some storm-in-a-teacup triviality that is being exploited by eggshell personalities and people who wish to harm the Conservatives. Obviously, though, this defensive tactic will not work properly if the audience knows that she herself is actually a rabid Tory — so Marr comes up with an introduction which, by presenting her as simply ‘author and commentator’, prevents her looking like the Conservative damage-limitation tool she really is.

And Jones? Well, you can see now why it was that Marr chose him: what other columnist could have been introduced with such obtrusive highlighting of both a pro-Corbyn stance and a Guardian contract? And by emphatically framing Jones not merely as the sort of stereotypical ‘Guardian leftist’ who would be bound to go overboard on ‘the whole feminist, sexual politics, womens’ rights thing’, but also as someone with a specific Labour Party allegiance that would undoubtedly see him ‘milking to death’ anything that could be used to damage the Tories, Marr had practically guaranteed that nothing at all that could inconvenience elite power would emerge during that discussion: before it even started, the audience was being immunised against it.


Brexit and the BBC

Mainly Macro:

Simon Jenkins is completely wrong when he says that the Brexit “campaign was ironically [the BBC’s] finest hour”. The exact opposite is true. The BBC treated the referendum like a general election, with a rule book which said focus on the two campaigns and ensure any coverage is even handed. It mattered not that this produced a blue on blue campaign where opposition politicians were hardly heard. It mattered not that this allowed the Leave campaign to state facts that were simply untrue: by and large journalists kept their head down. It mattered not that their viewers wanted more information about the EU and the BBC has a duty to inform. The BBC had a good campaign only in the sense that they played by rules they designed to keep them out of trouble.
The area where this BBC failure mattered most was the economy. The Remain campaign, for better or worse, focused on the economic costs of leaving. They were on strong ground, with a near unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term. A view that was backed up by international institutions like the OECD or IMF. Yet the BBC’s rules meant that this view had to be treated as just one side’s opinion, to be always and everywhere offset by an opposing opinion from the other side.
In essence the BBC’s key mistake was to not treat the consensus among economists as knowledge. Knowledge that their viewers should be informed about and the reasoning behind it explained. The view that Brexit would reduce average incomes was no more of an opinion than man made climate change is an opinion. They are both almost certain facts. That the BBC did not treat it that way meant that Leave won the vote.
That this lost the referendum is unquestionable. Many surveys pointed to a belief among Leave voters that they would not be worse off after Brexit. Surveys also showed that most Leave voters were not willing to pay anything, in terms of loss of personal income, to reduce immigration. That is not because immigration does not matter to them, but because for many Leave voters it mattered because they believed reducing immigration would improve their access to public services. In that they were completely wrong, but the BBC failed to tell them why they were wrong.
I mention climate change because almost the same fate befell this science. The non-partisan media’s default mode is to treat anything that is politically contentious as a clash of opinions, and with some politicians adopting a climate change denial view, the BBC began to treat climate change as a clash of opinions. But the BBC is open to reason and pressure from scientists. So when scientists complained about the BBC treating climate change as a controversial opinion rather than knowledge, the BBC changed their policy. Debates between climate change scientists and climate change skeptics were largely dropped. When man made climate change was in the news, it was to be treated as a fact: as knowledge.
I have heard no good reason why the consensus views of economists about trade should be treated differently from climate change science. What the BBC’s policy in effect says is this. Forget that society spends large sums of money on research in economics: at the end of the day this research has less worth than a politician’s opinion. Forget we teach large numbers of students about economics in our universities. What is good enough for university students is not good enough for BBC viewers. It is an untenable position for the BBC to have, yet they will continue to hold it until it is challenged, and the only people who can challenge it are economists
The key difference between climate change and economics is that scientists have more institutional clout than economists. The Royal Society in the UK has a staff of over 150. I fear economists have a hopelessly naive and individualistic view about how public policy works. That naive view is that the better ideas will win out. Policy makers will come to economists and choose the policies that most economists think are best. They often don’t. The BBC will represent the consensus view of economists as knowledge: it didn’t.
As Prof Wren-Lewis says, “this is not about individual economists learning media skills. It is about having a collective voice that can, at the very least, speak up for the consensus when it exists”.
A few angry letters from the Royal Economic Society to the BBC are not enough. We need to force the BBC to defend what they did publicly. If they say they fairly represented academic opinion, we should challenge that by looking at the data. We need to start defending economics, because I do not think anyone else will do it for us.

Jeremy Corbyn’s £3million state-funded salary and pension revealed


Jeremy Corbyn has made more than £3million from the state in the past 30 years, according to official records.

The Labour leader has made more than £1.5million in salary as an MP and will benefit from a generous £1.6million pension when he retires.

That was the headline and first two paragraphs in the Telegraph today.  “In the past 30 years”; I don’t think I’ve ever read anything more ludicrous or biased.


Highlighting Western Victims While Ignoring Victims of Western Violence

The Intercept:

You’ll almost never hear any of those victims’ names on CNN, NPR, or most other large U.S. media outlets. No famous American TV correspondents will be sent to the places where those people have their lives ended by the bombs of the U.S. and its allies. At most, you’ll hear small, clinical news stories briefly and coldly describing what happened — usually accompanied by a justifying claim from U.S. officials, uncritically conveyed, about why the bombing was noble — but, even in those rare cases where such attacks are covered at all, everything will be avoided that would cause you to have any visceral or emotional connection to the victims. You’ll never know anything about them — not even their names, let alone hear about their extinguished life aspirations or hear from their grieving survivors — and will therefore have no ability to feel anything for them. As a result, their existence will barely register.

That’s by design. It’s because U.S. media outlets love to dramatize and endlessly highlight Western victims of violence, while rendering almost completely invisible the victims of their own side’s violence.

Perhaps you think there are good — or at least understandable — reasons to explain this discrepancy in coverage. Maybe you believe humans naturally pay more attention to, and empathize more with, the suffering of those they regard as more similar to them. Or you may want to argue that victims in cities commonly visited by American elites (Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid) are somehow more newsworthy than those in places rarely visited (Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah). Or perhaps you’re sympathetic to the claim that it’s easier for CNN or NBC News to send on-air correspondents to glittery Western European capitals than to Waziristan or Kunduz. Undoubtedly, many believe that the West’s violence is morally superior because it only kills civilians by accident and not on purpose.

But regardless of the rationale for this media discrepancy, the distortive impact is the same: By endlessly focusing on and dramatizing Western victims of violence while ignoring the victims of the West’s own violence, the impression is continually bolstered that only They, but not We, engage in violence that kills innocent people. We are always the victims and never the perpetrators (and thus Good and Blameless); They are only the perpetrators and never the victims (and thus Villainous and Culpable).


Phone hacking: Met had the evidence. How will it explain five years of failure?

The Guardian:

Over the two-year timeframe, Yates repeated his misleading version of events to two Commons select committees and visited the Guardian to complain to the editor, Alan Rusbridger, about the paper’s coverage. Later, he threatened to sue the Guardian for publishing claims that he had misled parliament. Yates and Hayman specifically denied that Prescott had been a victim even though Caryatid in August 2006 had found evidence Mulcaire had been intercepting his voicemail from the phone of his special adviser, Joan Hammell.

The home affairs select committee criticised Hayman for his “cavalier attitude” towards his social contact with News International staff being investigated by his detectives and suggested this had “risked seriously undermining confidence in the impartiality of the police”. They also accused him of “deliberate prevarication in order to mislead the committee”.

Leveson found that Yates had adopted an “inappropriately dismissive and close-minded attitude” to the scandal and had been dogmatic and defensive in his comments.

Neither the select committee nor Leveson concluded Hayman, Yates or anybody else at Scotland Yard had let their judgment be influenced by contact with or fear of News International. Leveson concluded that although there had been “a series of poor decisions, poorly executed”, there was no evidence to challenge the integrity of the senior police officers concerned.

On the specific questions raised by the new information from the Old Bailey trial, there is no evidence at all – no phone records, no diaries, no internal memos, no expenses records, no interviews with the key players – because Scotland Yard has failed to commission the inquiry which might have found it. The questions hang there, looking for an answer.


Is the BBC becoming the UK version of Fox News on global warming?

The Guardian:

False balance in media reporting on climate change is a big problem for one overarching reason: there is a huge gap between the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and the public perception that scientists are evenly divided on the subject.

This can undoubtedly be traced in large part to the media giving disproportionate coverage to the opposing fringe climate contrarian views. Research has shown that people who are unaware of the expert consensus are less likely to accept the science and less likely to support taking action to address the problem, so media false balance can be linked directly to our inability to solve the climate problem.

The BBC is one such culprit, having repeatedly given climate contrarians disproportionate air time on its programs. Frequent recent BBC guests include blogger Andrew Montford and politician and founder of the anti-climate policy think tank Global Warming Policy Foundation, Nigel Lawson. The former was recently interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show, together with climate scientist Paul Williams from the University of Reading. The latter was invited onto the BBC Radio 4 Today program alongside climate scientist Brian Hoskins from the Imperial College London and Royal Society.

As climate experts, Williams and Hoskins were excellent choices to discuss the subjects at hand – climate science, models, and the link between climate change and the extreme weather causing flooding in the UK. On the other hand, Montford and Lawson are not climate scientists, nor even scientists of any sort. Williams and Hoskins are entirely capable of discussing the knowns and uncertainties in their areas of expertise, which calls into question the BBC’s motives for inviting non-scientist climate contrarians onto the shows alongside these experts.

Whatever the reason, as could have been expected, both Montford and Lawson repeated several falsehoods on these shows. For example, Montford incorrectly claimed “we haven’t had any warming at all for the last two decades,” and Lawson made the same assertion for “the past 15, 16, 17 years.”

As well as the specific concern about climate change, there are some interesting observations about the types of commentator the BBC uses.

‘Carry On policing’

The Guardian:

A detective investigating phone hacking has been asked in court if police had conducted a “Carry On”-style search of Rebekah Brooks’s office on the day she resigned as News International chief executive.

Officers from the Metropolitan police’s Operation Weeting seized computers and other IT material from her office but did not search the cabinets in the area outside it where her secretaries kept her business and personal records.

Detective Constable Alan Pritchard told the court that officers had been confined in their search because of a prior arrangement with News International executive Simon Greenberg, a former head of communications and one of the members of the management standards committee.

“Mrs Brooks is removed, almost marched out of the building. This stuff is there when you arrive later that evening and not a bit of it recovered by the police?” Laidlaw said to Pritchard.

Pritchard replied that he was had no instruction to search the PAs’ files. “The area we had consent to search was her office and that was what the search was confined to.”  He said he was not included in the arrangements made prior to the search and the correct person to question would be the head of Operation Weeting, Detective Superintendent Mark Ponting.

Asked by the prosecution who had made this arrangement with police, Pritchard replied: “Simon Greenberg”.

News International  restricted the search area and, as a result, nothing was found.

The BBC’s Saville whistleblowers

As Nick Cohen in the Observer notes, it is how the BBC has treated the key whistleblowers and promoted the others involved that is so contemptible.

Everyone knows the story of how Liz MacKean, a reporter for BBC Newsnight and her producer, Meirion Jones, found the evidence that Savile was a voracious paedophile and how the BBC stopped them broadcasting.

Not many know what happened next. George Entwistle, the director general at the time the scandal broke, said the BBC “must make sure that nothing like this can happen again”. People in power always say that when they are in a corner, whether they are running the banks, the Murdoch press, the BBC or the Vatican.

The best test of their sincerity is how they treat whistleblowers. If they mean what they say, they will make good on their promise of “never again” by showing by their deeds that no one suffers for delivering urgent but awkward news.