Not Saussure

June 10, 2007

Kirsty Wark and Alex Salmond on Newsnight

Filed under: BBC — notsaussure @ 10:09 pm

Crikey! I’d read that there’d been some contention about the way the BBC’s Kirsty Wark treated Scotland’s new First Minister, Alex Salmond, in a recent interview about his objections to a memorandum of understanding Mr Blair has recently signed with the Libyans about an exchange of each country’s nationals held in the other country’s prisons — of some relevance to the Scots, since the only Libyan national held in a Scots prison is Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. But now I’ve seen the interview, I’m not surprised people are a bit upset with the Beeb.

Apparently, while Mr Blair says the negotiations were nothing to do with Mr al Megrahi, the Libyans are saying, on the contrary, his case was the whole point of the agreement, at least as far as they’re concerned; and, as Mr Eugenides says, this raises the difficult question of whether we believe the British or the Libyan government — a question that shouldn’t be difficult to answer, but, unfortunately, is rather problematic after recent years.

Anyway, whatever the rights and wrongs of this, the BBC has apologised, rather half-heartedly, in my view, for the way Mr Salmond was treated by Ms Wark. I’m no great fan of most politicians, and certainly no great fan of Scottish Nationalism (unless they promise to take Mssrs Blair, Brown and Reid back home with them and never let them south of the border again, in which case by all means they can have their independence tomorrow, as far as I’m concerned). But this seems no way for a supposedly independent interviewer to behave, even though she is, apparently, in her private life a close friend of the outgoing Labour First Minister, Jack McConnell, and his wife. Take a look at the interview, via Beau Bo D’Or, and see what you make of it.

As Beau Bo D’Or suggests, while her colleague Jeremy Paxman gives politicians a hard time when he feels they’re not answering his questions, the problem here seemed to be that Mr Salmond was answering Ms Wark’s questions but she just didn’t like the answers she was getting. And as for her editor’s comment, in his sort-of-apology, that

the encounter was indeed intense and at times tetchy – Mr Salmond is always a robust and challenging interviewee,

all I can say is that only one person in that interview came over as ‘tetchy,’ and it wasn’t Mr Salmond.


March 24, 2007

Looking forward to The Trap

Filed under: BBC, Iraq, Politics, Russia/USSR, UK — notsaussure @ 10:20 pm

Perhaps I should wait until I’ve seen tomorrow night’s programme, but I’ve been puzzling all week about this quote from the Blairwatch interview with Adam Curtis about The Trap.    In it he says, of tomorrow’s film,

The only problem, which is what the last film says, is that when they then try and do that, the only thing they can offer, whether it be the Russian people or the Afghani people or Iraqi people, is a narrow economic idea of freedom which has no meaning or purpose if you are a complicated society divided along nationalist religious and political religious lines.

The thing that I find fascinating about the whole Iraq venture, which is really what I look at in the last film, is the way that they went into Baghdad with an economic plan which basically said that you get rid of all the elitist institutions that have ruled this society and spontaneously then people will rise up as these individuals in the marketplace. That was the idea, they had no other idea, and that’s a very narrow idea of freedom. I see Blair’s tragedy as a man who wanted to try and change the world but the sort of freedom he then tried to bring with him was too narrow and limited to cope with the complexities.

If that’s all he’s saying, it seems to leave a great deal out of the account. Russia, of which I saw something first-hand during the late ’80s and early ’90s, never actually got rid of the ‘elite institutions,’ as he calls them; there wasn’t a sudden change, and it’s hard to see how there could have been. By and large, the old elites managed the privatisation process (so-called; looting might be a better term); there was hardly much market competition for the more desirable assets. Those were merely transferred from the ministries that used to run them to companies, owned and run by the same people who’d been running the companies and ministries, who were now raking in the profits for themselves.

Furthermore, the country completely lacked the fundamentals of an open, free market such as the rule of law and a banking system anyone could understand, and the notional state regulation was so impossible that everyone paid bribes to avoid it as a matter of course. You do not have a free market, in any normal meaning of the word, when contract disputes are settled not in the courts but with firearms.

As to Iraq, I would have said that the plan Mr Curtis describes — going in, telling the people they’re free and expecting everything to work — sounds too bizarre to possibly be true, but since going in without any coherent plan for the occupation was pretty bizarre, too, I suppose nothing should surprise me. But how a market is supposed to operate without any production, without laws, without courts for quite a while… obviously you’d have chaos.

And in a chaotic situation like that, people will naturally group round others who look as if they can protect their interests; these people will naturally be the chaps with the best guns and who’re prepared to be the most ruthless, and also the chaps who you feel you can trust to extent, because they’re from your clan or your area, or you feel you have some connection, even if it’s that you served in the army together and got on.

You cannot expect to have any sort of free society without the institutions to run it, and without people’s consent to those institutions — which will only come, if it comes at all, over time as people learn whether or not they can trust them.

I’d always assumed that the nonsense about the Coalition being greeted as liberators and Iraq becoming a free society almost overnight was just guff to feed the American public and that no one actually believed it. If Curtis is telling us that it was meant to be serious and makes out a convincing case that President Bush and Mr Blair actually believed their lies, then things are far worse than I thought.

I look forward to tomorrow night’s programme with great interest.

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March 23, 2007

So that’s all right, then.

Filed under: BBC, press — notsaussure @ 8:18 pm

Jerry Timmins, head of Africa and Middle East, World Service, BBC Editors blog:

Professor Frank Stewart attacked BBC Arabic in the New York Times on 15 March (“British Biased Corporation”). He says BBC Arabic is “as anti-western as anything that comes out of the Gulf if not more so.”I wonder in which direction Mr Stewart’s receiver is pointing. Possibly his agenda interferes with reception. Professor Stewart has written to the BBC at great length about his views. Recently he wrote a nine page critique of the BBC Arabic Service’s coverage of the conflict in Lebanon, claiming among other things that we were anti-Israeli. We were able to respond in great detail showing that his highly selective and misleading account of our coverage was unfair and showed no knowledge of the brave and comprehensive coverage that had in fact been broadcast and which included clear and impartial accounts of Israeli views and experiences during the war. Having failed to substantiate his detailed criticism he now resorts to a generalised attack in the New York Times.

To be fair, Mr Timmins then goes on to address specific criticisms that the New York Times article made of specific programmes and to mount a general defence of the World Service’s Arabic coverage, again with examples (and since, not understanding Arabic, I’ve never listened to the station, so I can’t comment) but it struck me as a bit rum to say, ‘He sent us a detailed critique but it was all unjustified’ and leave it at that.

Don’t we get to find out what the criticisms were and how they were rebutted? I’m fully prepared to believe that Professor Stewart’s criticisms were unjustified, but I rather hope that the Africa and Middle East Service’s standards of journalism are a bit more critical than ‘However, the criticisms can safely be dismissed because an official spokesman told us there was no substance to them’.

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March 3, 2007

Conspiracy corner

Filed under: 9/11, BBC — notsaussure @ 9:23 pm

Earlier in the week, the Flying Rodent, in an article with one of his better headlines ever, drew my attention to a carnival of the conspiraloons going on at the BBC Editors’ Blog after the Beeb’s Conspiracy Files programme about 9/11.

It’s now spilled over to a second blog post there.

Given the two possibilities that either a BBC correspondent, doing a piece live to camera in New York during the mayhem of 9/11, garbled the story that the fire department said the collapse of one of the buildings was thought to be imminent and, in consequence, reported that it had, in fact, collapsed about half-an-hour before it actually did collapse; or that the whole thing was a massive conspiracy which some bozo promptly went and fouled up by giving the BBC reporter the wrong script to read, on the balance of probabilities it’s pretty obviously a conspiracy, isn’t it?

I mean, the alternative — that the press and broadcast media sometimes get things wrong by garbling stories — is just too horrifying and too absurd to contemplate.

As one of the comments to the second piece, giving the BBC’s account of how they reckon they and all the other news services were picking things up from each other, with a sort of Chinese Whispers effect, says

Nice try Richard, but this doesn’t add up…..So now your ”news” are based on other news channels, without daring to verify the validity of the said news….very professionnal, sir. This is a pathetic dammage control lie, and you shpuld be ashamed of yourself. I wonder how can you sleep at night, I really do…..

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January 8, 2007

‘Pity the land that has no heroes…

Filed under: BBC, Politics — notsaussure @ 9:45 am

…No, pity the land that needs them’

It’s been drawn to my attention by Johnny Void that The BBC’s Politics Show is running an online poll to determine viewers’ greatest living political hero; the shortlist — containing some surprising, to my mind at least, nominations — comprises

  • Tony Benn
  • Neil Kinnock
  • Alex Salmond
  • Clare Short
  • Norman Tebbit
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Shirley Williams

with, somewhat less surprisingly, Baroness Thatcher and The Second Viscount Stansgate (as was) running neck-and-neck as they come to the final straight, with only a fraction of a percentage point between them when I voted as they come to the final 201.168 metres.

Voting closes 12:00 on Thursday 11 January. If the Left Only Has One Success This Year … Stop Thatcher!, Mr Void implores us (or, as it might be, vote for the EU’s implacable opponent vs the woman who signed the Single European Act).

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January 1, 2007

Radio 4 Today Programme Christmas Repeal results

Filed under: BBC, civil liberties, Politics — notsaussure @ 1:54 pm
  • The Hunting Act with 52.8%

  • European Communities Act : 29.7%

  • Serious Organised Crime and Police Act : 6.2%

  • Human Rights Act: 6.1%

  • The Act of Settlement: 3.6%

  • The Dangerous Dogs Act: 1.6%

Source: BBC – Radio 4 – Today – 2006 Vote

Hardly an unexpected result, though I don’t quite see why the fact a lot of people feel strongly enough about an issue to get up a campaign about it means their views should be discounted. For what it’s worth, I voted for repealing the Hunting Act not because I particularly want to hunt and certainly not because I was induced so to do by the Countryside Alliance or anyone else (though possibly my late wife would have come back and haunted me if I hadn’t) but because I think it’s an illiberal law that has nothing to do with animal welfare and a great deal to do with poltical spite and with Tony giving his backbenchers something to distract them so they could feel they were doing something progressive and radical.

Under proportional representation, by the way, I’d probably have voted to scrap SOCPA, but it was obvious that the contest was between the Hunting Act and the European Communities Act and, of the two, I wanted to see the Hunting Act go rather than the ECA.

There’s an interview on the site with Anne Widdecombe and Baroness Mallalieu about whether the vote was rigged and another, rather more interesting one, with the Hansard Society’s Lord Holme of Cheltenham about the difficulties in getting laws repealed as compared with getting them passed; I think James Naughtie [Ed Stourton, apparently; shows how closely I was listening]  is unduly pessimistic when he says in the interview something to the effect that people wouldn’t vote for a party that said it didn’t plan to do anything particularly dramatic if elected but would, rather, spend its time tidying up legislation and getting rid of some. I’d certainly vote for them.

Difficult to disagree, certainly, with Lord Holme’s wish that (if I jotted it down correctly) governments would be

less promiscuous in their desire to legislate for every possible eventuality.

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November 25, 2006


Filed under: BBC, press — notsaussure @ 6:07 pm

“What makes her stand out as a journalist is not only her strong views,” he [Andrew Marr] says, “but also her ferocious appetite for research. In a media world in which too many media columnists simply voice their top-of-the-head opinions, Polly always arrives heavily armed with hard facts.

Source: BBC NEWS | Magazine | Faces of the week

October 27, 2006

Talking to the Taleban

Filed under: Afghanistan, BBC — notsaussure @ 4:21 pm

Newsnight recently showed an interview between David Loyn and, somewhat extraordinarily, the Taleban’s official spokesman in Helmand Province.

Well worth watching, at the link above. There’s a fair old ding-dong going on in The Editors about this (to which I contributed a couple of ecus’ worth).

There are plenty of (somewhat predictable) accusations of showing ‘Taleban propaganda’, but I genuinely couldn’t see it. It’s clearly a fact, albeit a somewhat alarming one, that the Taleban can apparently move around the area far more freely than we’ve been led to believe, but surely that’s worth knowing — not least because it appears they enjoy this comparative freedom of movement because the Afghan Army are too busy taking bribes at illegal checkpoints to do much about them.

There were some predictable claims and counterclaims about the circumstances in which some villages had been bombed, but you expect those (well, I do) and I have to say that I rather expect that, when you’re fighting a war, you’re going to hit civilians by mistake now and again. There were also references to how fed up the Afghans are with being invaded and how unhappy they are with some elements in the Northern Alliance, but comes as no particular surprise. Be rather odd if they weren’t.

Certainly there was one clear attempt at propaganda by the Taleban chap, who heated denied allegations that his blokes were deliberately trying to sabotage our attempts at helping with reconstruction by burning down schools; never dream of such a thing, strict orders against it, all the fault of the Northern Alliance and the Afghan Army. Then the very next sequence was a Taleban area commander explaining to David Loyn that they only burned schools that taught secularism and girls to wear uniforms that showed their legs, so that was alright really. I hope for his sake his superiors don’t catch that bit of the programme.

Interestingly the posts from serving or recent soldiers are pretty sympathetic to the programme — for example, this (from an American soldier), this, this and this. ‘Know your enemy,’ seems to be the idea, plus this from someone whose recently left the Royal Marines:

In my opinion, he wasn’t getting the story of the Taliban Central Command but that of the young men, sons, brothers and fathers that are on the ground doing the fighting. These are uneducated and easily influenced men who know only what they have been told by their own propaganda machine.

For some of you to call it ‘treason’ to get these young men’s story is ridiculous. It was an important and insightful look at how the other side thinks from the perspective of the lowly foot soldier.

I do feel that it would be prudent of the BBC to perhaps run a similar story about our own lads. How often is their point of view heard? How often does our government listen to their gripes and groans and get their side of the story? Take it from me, almost never!! Give it 3 months for the guys to start hating the place and for friends bodies’ to start arriving back at Brize Norton and then ask the question; ‘So how do you like it here?’

A lot of people have made comparisons with World War II, asking whether the BBC would have shown an interview with Hitler in the middle of the war (which left me rather wondering how they’d have got one, but there you go); someone commented

Picture if you will a BBC journalist “embedded” with Waffen SS soldiers during WWII, or with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge forces in the 1970s. Sheer asininity on the part of your news organization. How can you explain such activity to the families of British soldiers killed by the Taliban? Very poor judgement in my book

to which someone else replies

Fine. Let us indeed picture a BBC journalist embedded with Hitler’s SS. Had there been some, we would have learned about Nazi death camps and slave labour several years before we actually did. We would also have understood the enemy better than we sometimes did. All this seems like a good thing, no?

There’s also a lengthy post from an Afghan living in Britain, giving his take on the situation there with particular reference to what some of our Northern Alliance allies are like — generally held about the same low regard as are the Taleban, apparently, so some people who have to live there seem to think there’s little to choose between the two sides.

In some ways, I’m a bit puzzled about the thinking behind some of the complaints. I take it as axiomatic that the Taleban are shooting at British soldiers and our allies so they’re ipso facto the enemy. Even if I felt sympathetic to them, that would still be the case. Doesn’t matter what I thought of the invasion of Afghanistan at the time or what I think about our presence there at the moment; I’m British, the soldiers are British and I hope they win whatever war they’re involved in — whatever I might think of the rights and wrongs of the war. The idea that we have to be the Hollywood good guys and the enemy have to be the Hollywood bad guys — and that anything that might detract from that image is dangerous propaganda — seems completely to miss the point.

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