Archive for September, 2014

BBC’s Tricky Nick Robinson’s Misreporting of Alex Salmond on Scottish Independence

September 24, 2014

Mike over at his blog has frequently discussed the repeated misreporting and, indeed, deliberate censorship of left-wing demonstrations against the government by the BBC and the other mainstream broadcasters. Apart from the usual tactic of deliberately giving the number of protestors as smaller than there were in reality, the BBC has also totally omitted several major demonstrations against the government from its television news. Instead, some minimal coverage was grudgingly given to them on the radio and on-line. Several of Mike’s readers and commenters, including Mike himself, have complained about this. They’ve been brushed off with a standard reply about the limited amount of space available, and the necessity of skipping or omitting some items in favour of more important news. The Beeb has then smugly declared that it’s duly investigated the case, and found that everything was done properly and appropriately.

So that’s alright then, as Private Eye says when an organisation or authority guilty of misconduct similarly exonerates itself by giving the exact same reply.

The debates over Scottish independence, leading up to the referendum last Thursday, threw the BBC’s pro-government bias into sharp relief. The Corporation’s reporter, Nick Robinson, selectively edited and then completely falsified his report on a question he asked Scotland’s then First Minister about the possible damage independence might have to the nation’s finances. This was then edited by the Beeb to claim that the First Minister had attacked the treasury. Robinson stated that several of the banks and insurance companies, like the Royal Bank of Scotland, had stated that in the event of Scotland gaining its independence, they would move their headquarters from Edinburgh to London. This would, suggested Robinson, lead to a massive loss of corporation tax for the Scottish government.

Salmond disagreed. He gave the opinion of other leading financiers north of the border that there would be no significant loss of tax revenue, as corporation tax was paid in the country where there a corporation had most of its economic activity, not where it had its headquarters. The banks and other financial institutions may move south to London, but they would still end up paying the same amount of corporation tax. I noticed that the I newspaper made a similar claim. I also wondered how the Royal Bank of Scotland could possibly continue under its name, if it very unpatriotically pulled out of its home country.

This, however, was not the answer Robinson wanted. When Salmond moved on to answer questions from the other reporters present, Robinson heckled and continued to demand an answer from Salmond. Salmond returned to the point, gave a full answer, and pointedly stated that he knew the BBC would report it in its scrupulously unbiased reporting. He then tried to move on to questions from the foreign press. This wasn’t good enough for Robinson, who asked the same question, and got the same answer.

When the BBC reported Robinson’s question and Salmond’s reply, they selectively edited the footage so that it looked like Salmond was attacking the British treasury, and praising the BBC. In fact, as the original footage makes clear, Salmond had been making a veiled criticism of the quality of the BBC’s reporting. Later still, on Newsnight, Robinson claimed that Salmond had not answered his question at all: a bare-faced lie.

As you might expect, Scottish Nationalists are massively unimpressed with this blatant falsification by the BBC, and there are several videos about it on Youtube. Here are two I found that make the case particularly well.

This video, The BBC Is Killing Democracy, gives footage of what really happened when Robinson asked his question. It then gives Robinson’s own highly selective report, pointing out how it has been altered and edited to present the answer Robinson wanted, rather than the one he got. It then moves on to Robinson’s final report, where he lies and states that Salmond didn’t answer the question. It then concludes with a brief resume of Robinson’s and Salmond’s careers, pointing out that Robinson was first head of the Young Conservatives in Macclesfield, and then national head of the organisation.

This video, Dodgy reporting from BBC News Editor – Nick Robinson 11/09/2014 goes further, and gives the relevant passages in the BBC’s charter that demand impartiality, and which the BBC’s reporting of Robinson’s question to Salmond broke.

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There were protests against the BBC’s biased reporting of the independence campaign outside the BBC’s headquarters in Scotland on the 1st and 29th June 2014. This video below, Protest Against BBC Scotland Referendum Bias shows pro-independence Scots discussing the Beeb’s bias, and their disillusionment with the Corporation.

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One of the women speaking is actually an English person living in Scotland. She states that she is voting for independence for Scotland because she is worried about the Westminster establishment’s destruction of the NHS and tuition fees. She states her daughter will not be able to afford to go to uni, and the only people that will, will be the elite.

Robinson’s deliberate falsification of Salmond’s answer is important far beyond the immediate debate about Scots independence. Regardless of one’s personal opinion of that particular issue, it should concern everyone worried about the Beeb’s pro-establishment bias. It’s clear and undeniable evidence that the Corporation has blatantly lied in order to serve the interests of the Tory Westminster elite. It also shows how Tricky Nick Robinson really is little more than a Corporation apparatchik spouting propaganda, and that the BBC is now well and truly the establishment’s equivalent of Pravda and TASS, the state news agency in the Soviet Union or the various state-controlled newspapers and broadcasters in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

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Resign, Tyrant, Said the Type-Type Man

September 23, 2014

Harlan Ellison on being spied on by Big Brother in Reagan’s 1984 America

Okay, so I’ve been away from blogging for a few months now. I’ve been working on a book. It’s my doctoral thesis on the origins and growth of the town of Bridgwater in Somerset from prehistory to 1700. It’s now with the publishers, and hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before it comes out. I’ve also been taken up and somewhat distracted by a few other projects. Nevertheless, I hope to get back to blogging regularly.

Edward Snowden’s revelations of the sheer size and scale of the American intelligence agencies’ surveillance of their citizens, and British complicity with it, has raised questions about the gradual diminution of personal freedom and the transformation of our societies into Orwellian surveillance states. This is just part of process that has been going on for a very long time, since the 1980s. Alan Moore, the veteran comics writer and co-creator of the V for Vendetta comic strip with the artist David Lloyd, stated has stated in interviews how amazed he is by the complete acceptance of CCTV cameras on Britain’s streets. When he included them in the strip as a visible sign of the totalitarian Fascist state in which the strip was set, he was absolutely sure it would terrify everyone to the point where they simply wouldn’t accept them. Now, as he remarked, they’re everywhere. Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, has also made the same point. He remarked in an interview on how he first noticed them after he came back from a visit to China. He too felt that they were a threat to individual liberty, and could not understand why no-one else was alarmed by them or saw them this way.

This concerns have become more acute with the Tory and Lib Dem decision to establish secret courts, functioning as a Kafkaesque travesty of justice. In these courts, people will be able to be tried without knowing the evidence against them, nor who their accuser is. All for reasons of ‘national security’. It’s frighteningly like the corrupt and murderous judicial system of the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s legal code. In addition to the laws, which were made known to the Iraqi public, there were also six pieces of legislation which were kept secret. Very secret. They were so secret that even knowledge of these laws was a crime that could land you in prison or worse. For all their claims to be the defenders of personal freedom, with the establishment of these secret courts the Coalition is laying the foundations of the kind of totalitarian state described by Kafka and Moore, only in 21st century Britain. And the surveillance of citizens by the Western intelligence agencies, for merely having political views the authorities considered dangerous or subversive, goes back even further.

Looking through Youtube, I found this interview with Harlan Ellison, the veteran SF author and screenwriter, from 1984. It’s part of a discussion about the relevance of Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name in contemporary America. When asked about this, Ellison states that he thinks it’s extremely relevant, because he’s lived through it in Reagan’s America. He described how, shortly after Reagan became governor of California, he began to hear clicks and noises on his telephone, suggesting that it was being tapped. He dismissed the idea, until he went out to empty his wastepaper basket in the trash one morning, and discovered an engineer for the telephone company outside, connected to the wire leading into his house. Checking with people he knew, who were in a position to know, he found out that it was indeed true, and his phone was indeed being tapped.

Ellison made sure, however, he had his revenge. Knowing that whatever he said on the phone would be written down and filed, he made sure that his phone conversations included some interesting and highly derogatory comments about the then leader of the free world and star of Bedtime for Bonzo, whose title character was a chimpanzee, and arguably the better actor. For example, the great author would remark that Reagan beat his mother and did not confine his romantic interests to those with the two legs, but also those with four, a wagging tail and wet nose. Here’s the interview:

It’s not hard to see why Reagan and his cohorts should view Ellison as a potential subversive. He’s an outspoken atheist and a card-carrying liberal. This was in sharp contrast to Reagan’s administration, which was strongly based on the American religious Right. Ellison had been a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement. On one of his own videos on Youtube, he discusses his participation on the Civil Rights March on Selma with Martin Luther King. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was hostile and deeply suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement, which they suspected was a Communist initiative. So Ellison’s participation in that would have been enough to arouse the authorities’ interest and suspicions in him. In addition to writing some of the most outstanding episodes of the original Star Trek series, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, Ellison was one of the major figures in the SF New Wave, whose other leading writers included Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds in Britain. This was markedly countercultural, and attacked contemporary literary and social conventions. In one of Ellison’s best known short stories, Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man, for example, the hero is a lone, vigilante prankster. The story is set in a dystopian society in which time is rigidly controlled, the Tick-Tock Men of the title making sure that everyone perform their allotted tasks rigorously according to the time table. The hero, Harlequin, tries to subvert this by performing practical jokes deliberately intended to upset the time table, and the rigid social order that it supports. These include releasing a torrent of jelly beans all over people as they go to work in the morning. Ellison himself declared of the SF writers in the New Wave that ‘these guys is blasphemous!’ In Britain too the movement caused outcry, and questions were raised in the Houses of Parliament about Moorcock’s New Worlds. There was concern about the allegedly obscene nature of Norman Spinrad’s story, ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’, which was then being serialised in the magazine.

Eventually, Ellison says, the clicking noises simply faded away and the authorities presumably lost interest. This was probably when they realised that, no matter how objectionable they found his politics, one of SF’s greatest writers was not actually planning to overthrow the government of the US, invade Guatemala, or even deluge the sidewalk with a tide of jelly beans. They may even have agreed with his comments about Ronald Reagan. It does, however, show that under Reagan, prominent intellectuals that didn’t share the president’s highly reactionary and paranoid views could be spied upon, simply for having those views, regardless of whether they were innocent of any crime. And as Snowden’s revelations showed, the surveillance state has expanded massively since then.

We do need the security and intelligence services. According to today’s I, Isis, the Islamist terrorist organisation Iraq and Syria, has called on its supporters to attack and kill citizens of the US, Britain, France and the other coalition countries. The work of the various intelligence agencies and their surveillance is necessary to stop ISIS and other terrorist organisations from carrying out their threats. But individual freedom – freedom of conscience, speech and publication also needs to be preserved. These are also under threat from the Right, though legislation like the Coalition’s secret courts. They need to be strongly rejected, and proper safeguards against further encroachment on our civil liberties put in place. The answer to the old question ‘Who watches the watchers’ has always been: ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.