These days, I am told, announcers
on British radio are no longer required to wear a dinner
jacket when reading the news. Jolly bad show,
say I! There was a time when formal evening dress was
de rigeur on the wireless. According to the BBC’s history
of itself: “Since January 1926, announcers
had been under orders to wear dinner-jackets in the evening,
as a mark of respect to performers also obliged to dress
days, I strongly suspect, the BBC radio newsreaders are
more likely to be wearing a tee-shirt and jeans than
a bow tie and tuxedo.
While I cannot say with any certainty whether or not
the wearing of a dinner jacket improves the quality of
the news, I must reluctantly admit that my respect for
the quality of BBC news reporting has declined in recent
years. The low point for the BBC was the culmination of
the Hutton Enquiry which looked into the events following
some shoddy reporting by the BBC which, through a convoluted
series of events, became entangled with the suicide of
weapons expert, Dr David Kelly, and, eventually, led to
the resignation of both the Chairman and the Director General
of the BBC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutton_Inquiry).
However, that’s not my only, or indeed my major,
gripe. My real problem with the BBC is that its news reporting
is habitually ‘seasoned’ with opinion (to make
up your own mind, listen online to BBC Radio 4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/).
For someone who feels even more strongly than
I do about the inadequacies of the BBC’s reporting
see the Biased BBC Blog (http://biased-bbc.blogspot.com/).
There has long been a polite fantasy in the UK that BBC
reporting is impartial. To be honest, I am not sure whether
real impartiality is either possible or desirable. Do we
really want the BBC to hover uncertainly, unwilling to
make a judgement on the rights and wrongs of terrorist
bombings in London? Probably not (though in recent times
the BBC showed itself surprisingly reluctant to describe
the London bombers as ‘terrorists’ - see The
Telegraph and Harry’s
However, what I do want are news reports which
report news and opinion pieces which give opinions. What
I all too frequently get from the BBC are news reports
which silently insert the opinions of the reporter: “This
is a worrying day for the government.” - yeah,
says who (apart from the reporter, I mean)? “This
is yet another dent to public confidence…” - uhuh?
And you measure ‘public confidence’ how, exactly?
The worst crime of all is what I call the “mood
on the street” report. This is when the presenter
in the studio talks to the reporter at the scene of the
crime, bombing or murder and, asks “What is the mood
on the street?” to which the reporter rather rarely
replies “Unbounded joy, laughter and merrymaking….”
|OK, so let me put this in perspective. The BBC isn’t
all bad. News presenters such as Nick Clarke and Eddie
Mair are among the best in their profession. And BBC
TV can still produce excellent and thought provoking
documentaries such as Peter Taylor’s recent ‘The
New Al-Qaeda’. So credit where it’s due….
Fortunately, the Internet frees me from a dependency
on the BBC. In fact, it frees me from a dependency on the
British media in general. When a major news story breaks
in Britain, I now make a habit of viewing it from an International
perspective. Having checked the BBC’s version http://news.bbc.co.uk/ I
take a look at CNN http://www.cnn.com/,
The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/ and
The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/.
If I feel up to practising my French, I may throw Le
Monde into the mix too http://www.lemonde.fr/.
Then, back to Britain to trawl through the ‘quality’ newspapers
of varying political complexions: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/,
http://www.telegraph.co.uk. It’s often surprising
how differently the same news story may be reported on
these various sites. It’s
equally surprising that many ‘breaking’ UK
stories appear on American sites before they make it to
can read all varieties of opinion on the Internet.
For example, Islamic
Party of Great Britain http://www.mustaqim.co.uk/ipb-archive/commonsense/london.htm seems
to think that the recent London bombings may
have been suspiciously ‘convenient’ for
the British Prime Minister: “Hitherto
the British government had thought that scaring
people of an inevitable terrorist attack was
good enough, but received ridicule and accusations
of fear-mongering in return….. London
needed a real terror attack in order to numb
people sufficiently for the government to push
through legislation that they had not been
able to push through even before their electoral
Eric Lee, http://www.ericlee.me.uk/archive/000126.html thinks
they are wrong.
In the wake of various atrocities around the world in
recent years, many of us who had previously been largely
unaware of (or unconcerned by) the phenomenon of Islamic
terrorism have been left asking the question ‘Why?’.
In the years since 9/11. I’ve read and heard many
attempts at explanation in the British press, on the
radio and TV and, frankly, have found most of them to
be unconvincing. It seemed as though a journalistic consensus
had emerged, with many UK journalists asking more or
less the same questions and providing more or less the
same answers: poverty, injustice, Israel and Palestine,
Afghanistan and Iraq. I always felt that these explanations
might form part of the story but as a whole they were
far from satisfying. But, in the absence of any other
explanation, what else was there...?
The Blog Alternative...
The web sites I mentioned earlier - from the BBC to Le
Monde - are all outgrowths from conventional publishing
and broadcasting organisations. In fact, some of the
most interesting web sites are those run by individuals
- usually Blogs of some sort. Blogs are often scorned by
professional journalists. “How can you be sure that what you read
is true?” they ask, rashly assuming that we can
be sure that what we read in newspapers is true.
In my experience, some of the best independent journalism
(unfettered by the demands of a publisher or the subtle
prejudices of an ‘editorial policy’) is to
be found in Blogs. Yes, it’s true that Blogs are
often biased but their bias is generally self-evident,
not hidden away in the silent sophistication of news with
I certainly would not claim that Robert
Jihad Watch http://www.jihadwatch.org/ is unbiased. But,
whether you agree with Spencer or not (and if you don’t
you can say so by leaving a comment), I think you would
have to agree that Jihad Watch provides an interesting
and provocative perspective on the news which you are unlikely
to find in your daily newspaper.
Of course, concentrating as it does on jihadists, Spencer’s
site does tend to present rather a negative view of Islam.
Well, fine. There are plenty of other sites that explore
more a positive view of the religion. For non-Muslims the
online book, ‘A Brief Illustrated
Guide to Understanding Islam’, provides
a fairly user friendly introduction to the religion. In
the present climate, Chapter 3’s
explanation that “Islam, a religion of mercy, does
not permit terrorism” makes for interesting reading.
And, while on this subject, you may want to browse around
the site of The Institute of Islamic
Information and Education http://www.iiie.net/ which is “dedicated to the cause
of Islam in North America through striving to elevate the
image of Islam and Muslims by providing the correct information
about Islamic beliefs, history and civilization from the
authentic sources.” This site explains that “Muslims
follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness. If an
individual Muslim were to commit an act of terrorism, this
person would be guilty of violating the basic tenants of
|While I may characterise the Internet as a force
for the good in this column, it’s worth bearing
in mind that the Internet has no moral stance and can
equally well be used for less desirable aims than the
dissemination of informed opinion. Indeed, in Peter
Taylor’s ‘The New Al-Qaeda’, the
Internet is described as one of the most powerful tools
of international terrorism, providing “ a secret
and safe means of communication, as well as an inexhaustible
online library of training manuals and information
on how to carry out terrorist attacks.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/4683403.stm
The trouble with having such a diversity of informed
opinion just a mouse click away is that after a bit of
browsing you can soon find yourself more confused than
when you started out. Is Islam a religion of peace or violence?
Is Islamic terrorism caused by injustice, hatred, brainwashing
or a determination to bring about worldwide Islamic state?
Who is telling the truth - Mr Blair? Mr Bush? The BBC?
Or Jane Fonda (see the Washington
and activist Jane Fonda says she intends to take a cross-country
bus tour to call for an end to U.S. military operations
in Iraq.” Fonda will tour on a bus running on vegetable
oil. "I can't go into any detail except to say that
it's going to be pretty exciting," she said.)?
At which point it is nice to be able to read an intelligent
and lucid commentary to pull together the diverse threads.
One of the best commentaries on world affairs is provided
by Normblog http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog (a
typical pithy comment on
Jane Fonda’s anti-war tour
: “Good to know she'll be excited, and running on
vegetable oil, while campaigning for the people of Iraq
to be left to the benign attentions of the 'insurgents').
Written by Norman Geras, Professor in the Department of
Government at the University of Manchester, Normblog is
blogging at its best. An intelligent and incisive writer,
Professor Geras is a Marxist who confounds expectations
by expounding arguments (particularly in support of the
war in Iraq) which many people had assumed were the preserve
of the right wing. Or, as the Sunday
Times once pithily put it: “Stormin’ Marxist is toast
of the neocons”.
Whatever your politics, Normblog is a terrific read.
With online writers of this calibre, who needs the BBC?
Right-wing, left-wing, the best ‘amateur’ bloggers
of political persuasions are now providing more
incisive and well-argued commentary on current affairs
than some professional journalists who are paid a
decent salary for the efforts. I also recommend Scott
The Daily Ablution http://dailyablution.blogs.com and
I’ve seen some bizarre error messages in my time,
but this one from Amazon had me really stumped. So far
my attempts at achieving a negative number of DVDs have
met with little success. Perhaps if I rotate them through
a fourth dimension…?