Friday, March 16, 2007

The truth is biased

Gerard Baker's column in Friday's Times (UK) is very strange. It begins in praise of London as a world city. It then diverts to a rant about a supposed metropolitan elite that lords their superiority over everyone else in that city. It then turns out that elite is the BBC. From there it's on to a few paragraphs that he could have cut and paste from a thousand right-wing blogs --

This [BBC] is the mindset that sees the effortless superiority, at every turn, of benign collectivism over selfish individualism, exploited worker over unscrupulous capitalist, enlightened European over brutish American, thoughtful atheist over dumb believer, persecuted Arab over callous Israeli; and that believes the West is the perpetrator of just about every ill that has ever befallen the world — from colonialism to global warming.

And that's just the news programs, he says. It's amazing that they can fit all that stuff into 30 minutes and still report the actual news. But seriously -- for one thing, the US could benefit from an interview style a little bit more John Humphrys and a little bit less Tim "Control Message" Russert.

But Baker veers into outright hackery at the end --

Fortunately, in the US this week, I was struck by an article on the oped pages of The New York Times, the very citadel of leftish political correctness. Written by an apparently completely sane professor at a prestigious US university and entitled “Biased Broadcasting Corporation”, it assailed the BBC’s Middle Eastern services for their consistently antiWestern tone and content.

When the editorial pages of The New York Times accuse the BBC of anti-Western bias it is worth taking notice. It is a little like Osama bin Laden accusing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of being a bit harsh on the Jews. It suggests that in other, even pretty unlikely, parts of the world, people are waking up to the menace to our values represented by the BBC. The British sadly, seem curiously content to remain in thrall to it.

Since he provides no specifics on the article or author, here it is, and Baker is playing fast and loose with its positioning, since it's an opinion piece, not an editorial, and therefore does not represent any official view of the co-plotter New York Times in that Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. Furthermore, the article only deals with the BBC's Arabic service, and is therefore irrelevant to those secret "Hate the West" messages allegedly coming from Radio 4 every morning.

The most likely explanation is that Baker had the earlier stuff written but needed a few extra paragraphs before deadline, when like manna from heaven, Thursday's New York Times landed on his doorstep and he had the close -- relationship to previous material be damned. Finally, neither he or Frank Stewart (the NYT writer) bothered to pursue one germane point mentioned in the Stewart piece -- that the American-backed al Hurra (for everything) has flopped in the Middle East, while the BBC Arabic service has millions of listeners. If everything that Stewart says about the bias of the Arabic language BBC is true, the worst they can be accused of is knowing their audience.

UPDATE: Related material from Mr Power (who also, unlike the first draft of this post, knows how to spell Baker's first name).

FINAL UPDATE: The complaints about BBC's Arabic service relative to al-Hurra now seem dated as a similar controversy is in fact whirling around the latter; here's a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Joel Mowbray (subs. req'd, alt. free link), with substantial excerpts here from Powerline. The problem is, as our post's title indicates, is the main accusation against the channels is their accurate reflection of Arab sentiment about the war in Iraq and the unresolved Israel-Palestine question.

ABSOLUTE FINAl UPDATE: The controversy generates a couple of letters to the WSJ editor (Friday 23 March); one from the Broadcasting Board of Governors defending al-Hurra's coverage and noting its increased attention to US policy towards the Middle East, but then a bizarre accompanying letter --

I respectfully dissent from the letter my BBG colleagues sent to The Wall Street Journal because they fail to deal with the charges raised in Joel Mowbray's commentary on Al-Hurra television broadcasts to the Middle East. I believe there should be a thorough investigation of these issues.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson
Chairman, Broadcasting Board of Governors

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