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The Centre for Policy Studies and their bizarre report on BBC bias

by Tim Fenton     August 16, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Earlier this week, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) gave a heads-up that it was about to release a study that would show, by means of rigorous statistical analysis, that the BBC was just as biased to the left as the CPS and its supporters had always said.

This was good news for the organisation: it would have been most unfortunate had it come out the other way. Presumably, they want to see it cut down to size because the way it serves up news is not in accordance with right-leaning ideological standards.

But, as I pointed out at the time, the use of the Guardian and Telegraph as equivalent left-of-centre and right-of-centre comparators effectively invalidates the whole exercise on the spot. No evidence is offered in support of this contention, and I doubt that any ever will.

Just because the Guardian, or any other publication, is not right-wing does not make it left-wing, and excusing the characterisation bysaying “yeah, but everybody knows that” does not cut it. Nor does the simplistic categorisation of the Telegraph as right-wing sufficiently explain its highly selective journalism, which in any case often attacks those on the right, as well as the left (pace Nadine Dorries).

Then we get to the list of think tanks, which the CPS report has ranked in an order which, it is alleged, goes from Left-leaning to Right-leaning. This, too, is fatally flawed: how otherwise can the Global Warming Policy Foundation be found to the left of the Fabian Society? And how does the IEA get to be more left leaning than the Social Market Foundation and Centre Forum?

It gets worse: the ASI and Henry Jackson Society are shown as being less right-leaning than IPPR, which, the last time I looked, was centre-left in orientation. In fact, in their preview of the report, the CPS calls IPPR left leaning.

So forget all the number crunching, I think this analysis is built on sand.

No matter, though, the pundits at places like the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs love it, typical of the responses being that from Janet Daley, scoffing “The BBC says anyone who accuses it of bias – is biased”.

She calls the CPS report “impeccably researched”, and then includes the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) in the list of think tanks covered by it. The CPS report does not include the TPA in its list of think tanks, and nor does it so much as mention it in passing. Good of Ms Daley to let us know that she didn’t bother reading the report half as thoroughly as she’d like her readers to think.

A longer version is here.

Andrew Neil pretends he has ‘no view’ on climate change denial

by Tim Fenton     July 24, 2013 at 8:55 am

In an expertly constructed apologia, Daily and Sunday Politics frontman Andrew Neil has sought to justify his approach to climate change and rebut criticism, following his recent interview of Ed Davey.

But a little examination of the piece shows not only that it can be easily picked apart, but also that Neil makes one fatally wrong assumption about the whole business.

There is, at the outset, a deliberate attempt to establish impartiality and propriety: “the Sunday Politics does not have a position on any of the subjects on which it interrogates people … it is the job of the interviewer to assemble evidence from authoritative sources which best challenge the position of the interviewee”. If only Neil had left it there, but he does not.

Readers are then told that one critic who has forensically dismantled Neil’s approach, Dana Nuccitelli, “works for a multi-billion dollar US environmental business”, and later that he is one of those taking “strongly partisan positions”. Thus he is, by inference, less trustworthy. Neil tries to link Nuccitelli to “deniers” (note use of quotation marks) but his critique does not contain one instance of the word.

Having marginalised his critics, and used his characterisations to justify dismissing the assertion that “97% of climate scientists are part of the global warming consensus”, Neil then makes a serious mistake. He talks of the science being “settled” (note the further use of quotation marks). But the science is never settled: this is a favourite attack line of climate sceptics.

Neil then moves to insert his own chosen sources in place of those he has dismissed as “strongly partisan” and allegedly in the pocket of business. And what a gallery he presents: Richard Tol, who has asserted that “The impact of climate change is relatively small”, and cited by US Senate Republicans wanting to debunk the scientific consensus, is prominent among them.

Neil also cites Hans von Storch, who believes that climate change has been “oversold”, and talks of “alarmists”, and Roy Spencer, a signatory to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.

There is a world of difference between journalism such as Neil’s apologia – expertly crafted though it is, with its lofty pretence of disinterest and detachment – and the quality of scientific research that makes it into the 97% that constitutes the consensus on climate change. Neil’s fatal mistake is continuing with the pretence that there is some kind of equivalence between the two.

“The Sunday Politics has no views on such matters” he asserts. But he does.

What about the deaths caused by the industry Lynton Crosby works for?

by Tim Fenton     July 22, 2013 at 9:23 am

You have to hand it to Lynton Crosby. He initiates the press briefing that Labour are somehow responsible for 13,000 avoidable and unnecessary deaths in NHS hospitals, despite the review he’s referring to taking place years after they left power, yet dodges the heat over rather larger numbers of avoidable deaths perpetrated by an industry on whose behalf he has been intervening.

Copyright Steve Bell 2013

Yes, Lynton shills not only for Cameron, but also for Big Oil, and for Big Tobacco. And, as I pointed out yesterday, last week’s briefings about the Keogh Review had his fingerprints all over them: crude, dog-whistle stuff, flagrantly dishonest, and of a standard that guarantees a leap from gutter directly into sewer.

But, when it comes to avoidable deaths, numbers like 13,000 over several years pale into insignificance when compared to the malign effects of Big Tobacco. Cancer Research UK estimated that smoking-related diseases, including cancers and heart disease, resulted in a whopping 102,000 premature deaths in 2009 alone. Many of those involved treatment in one or more NHS facilities.

So it might be thought that any responsible Government would want to make inroads into that number, not only to prevent deaths, but also reduce the cost to the NHS, and therefore the taxpayer. But that thought would be misplaced, as with Crosby present behind the scenes at 10 Downing Street, the Government has ducked its responsibilities and caved in to industry pressure.

Lynton Crosby also works for Philip Morris, the company that brings the world Marlboro (among other brands). And despite the stonewalling of Cameron’s spokesman this week, plus the usual – and utterly ineffective – attempts at deflection from Grant “Spiv” Shapps, the conflict of interest is only less than obvious to someone who would rather not see it.

Moreover, as The Australian has pointed out, recent research shows that smokers using plain packets perceive the content to be of lower quality, and as a result are more likely to look to quit the habit. Even a marginal impact – given that figure of over 100,000 smoking related deaths in 2009 – would mean thousands of lives saved.

A YouGov poll found that 58% of the population back plain packaging, and a mere 18% think it OK that Crosby should be able to represent both the tobacco industry and the Tory Party. On top of all that, Cameron again ducked the question of Crosby’s involvement when questioned directly on it by Andrew Marr yesterday morning.

A longer version of this post is here.

So what if the unions fund and support Labour MPs?

by Tim Fenton     July 9, 2013 at 10:20 am

You may not have heard of Bearwood Corporate Services Limited. After all, they don’t empty your bins, mend the roads, run the trains or maintain your car. But they have bunged an awful lot of dosh to a number of MPs. Tory MPs. Bearwood is controlled by Michael Ashcroft, who is not domiciled in the UK for tax purposes, but in Belize, where the tax regime is rather less onerous.

So, when you read that Bearwood gave over £5.1 million to a number of Tory MPs and hopefuls, you might expect to see as much prominence given to Ashcroft as is now being given to the Unite union, whose members’ political levies go to fund the Labour Party, those members having the choice of not making that donation, should they choose. There is no authority at work with Bearwood, bar Ashcroft.

Yet Young Dave and his jolly good chaps are howling the place down about Unite, all because in one selection for a Parliamentary candidate – the Scottish seat of Falkirk, to succeed Eric Joyce, who is standing down at the next General Election – there appear to have been irregularities in the way that a sudden rush of new members were signed up via Unite just before the selection process took place.

This has meant that any Labour MP or prospective Parliamentary candidate who enjoys the backing of a Trades Union, or the Co-Operative movement, becomes fair game for a good smearing, as calls of “another Falkirk” are liberally bandied about. Perhaps Labour should fund their MPs from magic dust. That the Tories have no room to crow does not appear to enter.

Undue influence? Consider the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, whose donations include substantial sums from property developers and owners. Will he recuse himself from any decision regarding planning laws and regulations concerning landlords? Will he heck. Yet we are expected to “look over there” and not even consider this to be as much as irregular.

Unless we are going to see state sponsorship of political parties, these bodies must find their funding where they can. For Labour, the party set up to defend ordinary working people, to be funded by donations from, er, ordinary working people, is at least logical and transparent, whether or not you like Len McCluskey. If only that transparency were present with all the dosh going to the Tories.

Union donations I can be relaxed about. I’m not so sure about Ashcroft.

The press is finally waking up the Boris bus disaster

by Tim Fenton     July 8, 2013 at 9:15 am

At long last, after more than a year of being told that the much-vaunted New Bus For London (NB4L), a.k.a. the New Routemaster, was unable to keep its occupants warm in winter or cool in summer, the press has woken up to the fact that this obscenely expensive vanity project has not even produced a usable end product for its additional full life cost of well over half a billion pounds.

And the problem the NB4L has is as obvious as it is insoluble: you cannot reliably heat (in winter) or air condition (in summer) a vehicle that has a thwacking great hole in the back of its bodywork. Last winter, there were complaints about how cold the buses were, especially downstairs. There will be more next winter, for the problem remains unsolved, because there is no solution to be had.

Some pundits, like self-appointed engineer Harry Mount, have convinced themselves that this is all about “The terrible design fault with modern windows – they don’t open”, which is total crap. It is because the bodywork is all too open. “When the air con breaks down, as it has this week, there’s no refuge from the heat”. It is working, Harry.

Had the BozzaMaster been designed only with conventional automatic doors which only open when required for passengers to board or alight – like the twin-staircase three-doorway double deckers operated by the BVG in Berlin – all would be well. The wilful insistence on both air-conditioning and an open platform at the rear was a guarantee of failure.

So now the Standard has picked up on the sauna that is the upper deck of the NB4L, and moreover its editorial had demanded that something be done. The story has been deemed sufficiently important for the Mail to lift it, suggesting that other papers will pile in later. But nothing can be done while that rear platform is open. Were it to be closed all day, the travelling environment might improve.

But that would merely underscore what a colossal waste of money the NB4L has already become. And, as Boris Watch has noted, there are questions to be answered as to how Heatherwick got the contract to design this vehicle. They had no previous experience in the field, had not gone through any process of competitive tender, and have produced a bus that is too heavy, as well as too hot.

And it’s hot around that cramped area into which the engine, electric traction pack and exhaust system have been shoehorned in order to accommodate an open rear platform and all that oh-so-stylish sweeping glass exterior.

How long will it be before a journey on the 24 up to Hampstead Heath is cut short by overheating, or, worse, fire? What was that about bendy buses being hot and hazardous?

Andrew Gilligan tries and fails to discredit Islamophobic attacks after Woolwich

by Tim Fenton     June 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

And today he has been at it again, twisting the available facts to fit the Sunday Telegraph’s narrative, that the “Islamophobia Industry” is getting above itself.

The truth about the ‘wave of attacks on Muslims’ after Woolwich murder” proclaims the headline, which should immediately put readers on their guard: Gilligan proclaiming “the truth” is rather like the same claim coming out of the Daily Mail, and for the same reason.

What he has concluded – probably even before writing the piece – is that it’s all been exaggerated.

So Fiyaz Mughal of the Tell Mama project, which, as it says at the top of the page, is all about Measuring Anti Muslim Attacks, should not have been surprised to have been contacted by Gilligan, only to find that, after answering his questions, what appeared in the Tel had been selectively edited to fit Gilligan’s narrative, with a great deal of information deliberately left out.

For instance, Mughal admits that a small number of reported attacks originate from outside the UK (2% to 3% of the total), but that these are filtered out when exporting the data for further analysis. Gilligan reinvents that into “Not all the offending tweets and postings, it turns out, even originated in Britain”, the inference being that the data used by Tell Mama is unreliable.

And the Tel’s man with the cycling hotline to Bozza is not impressed with the inclusion of online attacks: “They were offensive postings on Twitter or Facebook, or comments on blogs: nasty and undesirable, certainly, but some way from violence or physical harm”.

What we have here is a hack who has demonstrated an ability to be hostile and selective in his reporting of anything to do with followers of The Prophet (see Gilligan’s attack on Engage.

The response by Tell MAMA to Gilligan is worth reading in full.

a longer version of this post is here.

Lucy Meadows: what the coroner said about how the media treated her

by Tim Fenton     May 29, 2013 at 8:59 am

Regular readers will need no introduction to the tragic story of Lucy Meadows.

She was the trans-gender teacher monstered by the press following the leaking of a letter from her school telling parents that one of their staff would be transitioning to live as a woman. Ms Meadows was then subjected to a characteristically crude hatchet job by Richard Littlejohn.

Since Ms Meadows took her own life, Dacre has been gradually rowing back on the hostility towards trans people, notably publishing an article by trans author Jane Fae about her experiences, which was at least a step in the right direction.

And Littlejohn has been silent on the whole business, which is a further bonus. But, as ever with the Mail, no heads rolled after Lucy Meadows died.

Perhaps Dacre thought that if he threw a few scraps to the trans community and otherwise got his hacks to keep their heads down, all would be well and the protestors would melt away.

But he reckoned without Michael Singleton, the coroner who has been charged with investigating Lucy Meadows’ death, whose message to the press was as unequivocal as it was hostil, yesterday.

To the members of the press, I say shame. Shame on all of you.

Lucy Meadows was not somebody who had thrust herself into the public limelight. She was not a celebrity. She had done nothing wrong. Her only crime was to be different. Not by choice but by some trick of nature. And yet the press saw fit to treat her in the way that they did.

He was particularly harsh on the Mail, concluding the paper had “sought to humiliate and ridicule” Ms Meadows.

“It seems to be that nothing has been learned from the Leveson inquiry,” he went on, adding that he would write to the Culture Secretary urging implementation of the Leveson recommendations (the Mail only removed the Littlejohn column from its website after Ms Meadows’ death had been announced).

But the Mail has a get-out clause: the teacher made no reference to media intrusion in one of the suicide notes she left in her house.

So Dacre and his doggies will be able to claim victim status once more, sickening though that might be. That, though, is how the tabloid mindset works. There will also be talk of the Mail only repeating what had already been published locally.

And so the whole nasty business will go on to the next victim.

How Boris fleeced London with his buses

by Tim Fenton     May 13, 2013 at 11:35 am

Transport for London (TfL) last week owned up and made public the actual purchase price of the New Bus For London (NBfL), aka Boris Bus.

And that price, at £354,500 per vehicle, makes the NBfL around £50,000 more expensive than a comparable off-the-shelf hybrid double decker. So, despite Bozza’s promises, the NBfL will not be price competitive with alternatives.

As there are to be 600 production examples of the NBfL, this gives a premium of £30 million. Added to this is the cost of the eight prototypes, which, at £11.77 million, gives a premium over eight comparable hybrids of £9.37 million.

We cannot validate the claims for superior fuel consumption, as TfL have thus far declined to release the figures. So that’s a running premium total of £39.37 million.

For that money, Londoners could have had another 131 hybrid double deckers. And it gets worse: far from being the “greenest ever” bus, the NBfL will have to be retro-fitted with the means to enable it to meet 2014 emissions standards. So that means a further extra cost.

However, TfL would benefit if the design were to be sold to any other potential customers. What are the prospects of this? Sadly, they are precisely zero. This can be gleaned from the unwillingness of operators to take the vehicles on: uniquely for London, TfL is having to purchase them outright and then impose them on operators.

But it is in running costs that the truly scandalous scale of waste can be seen. Each NBfL requires a second crew member when its rear platform is in operation, and this has been estimated to add a cost of £62,000 per vehicle per year.

Do the math, as they say: over the 14-year lifetime of the 608-strong fleet, this will land Londoners with a whopping £527.74 million bill in total.

That’s an awfully large premium payment for Bozza’s vanity legacy.

The question begs itself as to how he has been allowed to get away with it: spraying £567 million up the wall merely for something that is “different”, “iconic”, or which may impress a few tourists.

The press regulation poll the media deliberately ignored

by Tim Fenton     March 26, 2013 at 8:55 am

The Fourth Estate has found itself in a state of total agreement over one subject: the lack of inclination to report the latest Sunday Times YouGov poll, which in addition to the usual popularity questions, also asked about last week’s Budget.

It also asked about press regulation.

And the responses obtained showed that the public were not just supportive of the moves last week to establish a new independent regulator underpinned by statute, but were supportive by a larger margin than previously.

That suggests all the abuse and other personal attacks by those same papers has not turned their beloved readership against the new regime the editors don’t want.

So they just decide not to report it – not even the paper that commissioned it. And when you look at the numbers, that is no surprise. Here’s the first four questions.

Do you support or oppose the proposed new press regulation system? Support 52%, Oppose 23%. By a 5 to 2 majority.

Do you think the proposed new regulation system is or is not a threat to press freedom? Is a threat 27%, is not a threat 53%. By a 2 to 1 majority.

Do you think it is right or wrong that newspapers who choose not to join the new regulator should face larger damages if they are taken to court over libel, privacy or other civil matters? Right 55%, wrong 23%. By a 5 to 2 majority.

Do you think the new system will or will not give politicians too much influence in what news the papers report? Will give too much 31%, will not 41%. By a 4 to 3 majority.

One group which has reported the poll results is Hacked Off, carrying analysis from the Media Standards Trust’s Gordon Ramsay, who wasted no time in pointing out that support for the new system of regulation has increased over the past week from 43% to 52%, and that the percentage responding that the new setup would not threaten press freedom had gone from 38 to 53 – both now commanding a majority.

Yet still the ranting continues, with swivel-eyed ranter in chief Peter Hitchens going off the end of the pier in style in the Mail On Sunday yesterday, followed by the lame blethering of Trevor Kavanagh in today’s Sun. Both keep pushing the meme that press freedom is being either threatened, or that its termination is imminent. But it’s not having the desired effect.

The public is probably getting less reliable information on this subject than any other being reported right now. But it can clearly see through the fog of falsehood and misinformation, which would suggest, once more, that the game may be up.

Lucy Meadows, and the tabloids that harassed her

by Tim Fenton     March 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Last December, the Mail’s talentless churnalist Richard Littlejohn observed: “Twitter is a playground for vicious trolls and cowardly cyber-bullies who can ruin people’s lives with the most vile threats and smears” – the inference being that he and his fellow pundits are people of the purest and noblest motives who would never sink to such levels.

What you will no longer see in that column, as it has been hastily removed, is The Great Man’s comments on teacher Lucy Meadows. This is because she has just taken her own life. Ms Meadows had previously been Mr Upton, and had transitioned to live as a woman. There was no public interest whatever in this, save the prurience of our wonderful free press. And the subsequent hate mail.

Hence the papers gleefully that reported this as news. Daily Mail Shock at CofE school where Mr Upton will return after Christmas as Miss Meadows. Perhaps the Anglican church is supposed to cast such people out into eternal darkness. But they did find one parent who objected.

The Sun: Sir becomes Miss” was the typically imaginative headline from Rupe’s downmarket troops. At least they talked to a grandparent who was supportive and said it was a very brave thing to do. Sadly, the attempt by local Government staff and councillors to emphasise that this was a personal and private matter went unheeded.

Littlejohn, who as I recently observed takes his prurient interest in transsexual people as far as asking how they take a pee, went on the offensive. “He’s not only in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job … The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.”

And there was more.

It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats. These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake … he isn’t entitled to project his personal problems on to impressionable young children.

Now, Lucy Meadows is dead, and those impressionable young children are having to deal with one of their teachers no longer being there, as the actions of another fearless pundit cause them to have another of those challenging realities of adult life forced down their throats.

Meanwhile, Littlejohn continues to trouser a million a year.

In the Trans Media Watch (TMW) submission to the Leveson Inquiry, there was concern about the portrayal of Trans people by parts of the media.