The Sunday Times and the BBC

February 3, 2013

Last week the Sunday Times published a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe that showed a grotesque image of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu building a wall using a bloodied trowel and mortar and with agonised Palestinians trapped between the bricks. I took one look at it and thought I had picked up a 1930’s edition of Der Sturmer by mistake.

The cartoon was as vile a piece of anti-Semitism as I have seen drawing as it did on the old trope of the blood libel. That it was published on Holocaust Memorial Day mad it immeasurably worse. After my initial shock, I at once took to Twitter to announce that I was going to cancel my subscription.

But then two things happened. First of all, Rupert Murdoch the owner of the Sunday Times stepped in immediately to apologise on Twitter for what he described as ” a grotesque, offensive cartoon.” This was followed by a further apology from the acting editor of the paper, Martin Ivens. Now in today’s leading articles there is a further, fulsome apology.

The Sunday Times made a mistake. It has owned up and has apologised. I am happy to forgive and am very glad that I can continue to read it.

And that is the point I want to make in this post. Had there been no apology I was free to cancel my subscription. I believe that I and indeed everyone should have the same freedom of choice when it comes to all media, print or broadcast. I am thinking particularly of the BBC which offends me almost daily with its left-wing political viewpoint and even more so with its anti- Israel bias that sometimes itself comes very close to anti-Semitism.

I find it absurd that in this day and age, we are forced by law to fund an organisation that all too often causes as much offense as did the Scarfe cartoon.

The BBC has become a huge, unmanageable organisation that considers itself to be beyond reproach. The time has come to level the playing field and to make it subject to the same commercial realities as all other media organisations. The time has come too, to give the public the right to choose to subscribe to it or not.

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Pride and Prejudice

January 28, 2013

Jane Austen’s literary classic was first published 200 years ago today. It became an instant best seller and has never been out of print. It is a book I have read several times and each time I do so, I find myself loving it even more. “But hang on a minute” I hear you say. “You are a bloke. You like football and golf. You watch Top Gear. You can’t read Jane Austen. She’s for girls!”

Well sorry chaps, but that is a misconception that needs to be changed, and changed quickly. After all, what is not to like?

Elizabeth Bennet is without doubt the most gorgeous girl ever created in fiction. She may not be quite as pretty as her sister Jane, but with her quick wit, her lively and playful disposition and her very fine pair of eyes, she makes me fall madly in love with her, every time I meet her. The girls can swoon all they want to at Mr. Darcy but I would climb mountains, swim seas and fight dragons for Elizabeth Bennet.

Then there is the writing. I love the English language, its poetry, its rich vocabulary, its expressiveness. All of those qualities are in abundance in Pride and Prejudice. I cannot pretend to have read all of the great works of English literature; that is an ongoing project. I can say however that I have yet to read one that for me better demonstrates why English is the greatest language on the planet.

So on this historic anniversary, I say to all the ladies out there, Pride and Prejudice is not just for you, it is a book that should be enjoyed universally. So share it with your husband or boyfriend. And guys – get out there and meet Lizzie Bennet. I guarantee you too will fall in love with her. Just remember however, I saw her first.


The Inevitability of David Ward

January 26, 2013

The deeply distasteful comments made on his blog by Liberal MP David Ward are the inevitable consequence of the never-ending anti Israel narrative promoted by significant sections of the UK Media.

And not just the media. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement singles out Israel, the Jewish state alone as the one evil country in the world worthy of its attention.

Hate preachers regularly visit our universities meaning Jewish students frequently have to endure a climate of antiSemitism. So bad has this situation become that last year at Edinburgh University, Daniel Taub the Israeli ambassador was shouted down and prevented from speaking amid cries of “From the river(Jordan) to the sea, Palestine will be free” and describing the ambassador as “a propagandist for an apartheid state.” Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. Other pro-Israel speakers have had talks interrupted or cancelled, always with cries describing Israel as a racist and/or apartheid state.

Such casual misuse of language, particularly when it is repeated often enough, soon adds legitimacy to the lie, as the Nazis themselves well knew.

It matters not that across the Middle east, muslims kill each other almost on a daily basis. More than 60,000 have been killed in Syria in the last few months alone – more than have died in the entire Israel/Palestine conflict since 1948 – and the world barely bats an eyelid. But, should a single Palestinian die when Israel takes action to defend itself, then the world condemns, and Israel stands accused of using disproportionate force and countless other crimes.

It is hardly surprising therefore that in this frenzy of anti Israel hatred, anti-Semitism should flourish. Not that I believe there is any distinction between the two. Of course it is perfectly legitimate to criticize Israeli government policy and I often do so myself. But what is happening today goes way beyond that. No sane person would deny that there are far, far worse regimes around than Israel, regimes with histories of violence and human rights abuse that greatly exceed what is alleged to happen in Israel. Yet these regimes receive but a fraction of the criticism that Israel does. There are no BDS movements for them. Their representatives can visit our universities without fear of protest and their artists can perform in our theatres without interruption. There is no attempt to delegitimize these states or calls for them to be abolished. Only Israel is singled out for this treatment. So why the distinction? It can only be because Israel is the Jewish State.

And because of this poisonous atmosphere where Israel is concerned, newspapers feel free to publish tasteless cartoons that would not have been out-of-place in Der Sturmer; Otherwise respectable middle class English people feel free to disrupt concerts or theatre performances whenever Israelis come here to perform. References to the “Jewish Lobby” one of the oldest of anti-Semitic tropes, are common place. And MPs like David Ward, conscious of his large Muslim constituency see nothing wrong in equating the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz with Israeli actions taken to defend itself against enemies who deny its right to exist. To say such moral equivalence is vile is to understate the case by a mile.

But make no mistake. Ward’s comments are nothing new. The only reason they have attracted such wide attention is because of the timing, coinciding as they do, with Holocaust Memorial Day. Otherwise, in the current climate, they probably would have passed un-noticed or indeed would have attracted silent nods of agreement from those who subscribe to the distorted view of Israel so prevalent today.


Why The Press Must Remain Free

December 3, 2012

Like everyone I have every sympathy with those private people such as the McCanns and the Dowlings whose lives were made still more intolerable by unscrupulous reporters. I totally understand their desire to see the recommendations contained in the Report by Lord Justice Leveson enacted in full. Where “celebrities” and politicians are concerned my sympathy is less easily given and their desire to see a “statutory underpinning” to press regulation I view with a healthy dose of scepticism.

I read newspapers; I view television; I use Twitter and read blogs. I can honestly say that scarcely a day goes by without my coming across an article or news report with which I profoundly disagree. Oftentimes those articles arouse in me a deep fury because I know them to be based upon falsehoods or half-truths; they can be horribly biased, they can be hurtful and even racist. But the right of an individual to express his views, no matter how much I or anyone else might oppose them is fundamental. Free speech is the oxygen that gives life to democracy and we tamper with it at our peril. A free press of course is an essential manifestation of free speech.

That does not mean that Leveson should be ignored. Improvements in the way the press is regulated can and should be made. Legislation, however is not the way to proceed and I offer one simple reason why I say that.

A couple of weeks ago we heard about the case of the foster parents in Rotherham who had three sibling children removed from their care for no other reason than the fact that they were members of UKIP, a political party that favours British withdrawal from Europe, a view shared by a majority of the population. The three children sadly, have now been placed in separate foster homes. The decision to remove them from a home where they were very happy was a political one, made by employees of a Labour run council who find UKIP’s policies distasteful. This is what happens when politically motivated people in positions of authority take it upon themselves to interpret the law according to their political beliefs.

Any statutory body that is established to “underpin” press regulation will be filled with political appointees and that single fact should be sufficient reason for anyone who cares about free speech to run a mile from any suggestion of statutory control. For if a council can decide that membership of a mainstream political party is grounds for being considered unsuitable to be a foster parent, just imagine what havoc politicians might wreak if they controlled our press.


BBC

November 18, 2012

The crisis at the BBC has been a long time coming and it will take far more than the resignation of George Entwistle to resolve it. That is because there is much more wrong at the BBC than just the problems highlighted by the Newsnight failings.

Those failings have caused many people to wonder if they can trust the BBC, an organisation that once was a byword for integrity and honest reporting. The reality is however that for a long time now, its integrity and truthfulness have been in doubt.

Throughout the 1980s it became apparent that the BBC was not just reporting the news in the impartial manner that its Charter required; rather it had begun “spinning” stories, slanting them to reflect the leftist viewpoint that was becoming the dominant force throughout the organisation. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the BBC was becoming the broadcasting wing of the Guardian, the left of centre newspaper that is now virtually required reading if you wanted to get ahead.

For me, the moment that proved that the BBC had lost all moral authority, was the infamous Question Time programme broadcast on 13th September 2001, two days after the 9/11 attacks.
For an hour, a former US ambassador had to endure an astonishing outpouring of vitriol from an audience that insisted that America had it coming and had got its just desserts. I know I was not alone in being reduced to tears of shame at what I was witnessing on my television screen that night.

One might have thought that after that debacle, the BBC would have taken a long, cold, hard look at itself to assess where it went wrong. But that would have been expecting too much. Such is the arrogance of the organisation and so in thrall to the leftist world view had it become, that no-one working there could see any need for change. Indeed, in the years since, that view has become even more entrenched along with the assumption that it is too big and too important for any outside body to interfere with how it is run.

But with an annual income, forcibly extracted from every household in the land of £3.6 billion, the need for greater accountability has never been clearer. The new Charter, which came into force in 2007 and which created the BBC Trust to replace the former Board of Governors, was supposed to have provided that, but so far, with little visible success. The obsession with political correctness, the left of centre viewpoint still dominate the Corporation’s output; and not just the news but can be seen in drama and entertainment programmes too.

And as time goes by, the BBC becomes ever bolder in the way it pushes its agenda. At times I feel it does not even try to pretend any more that it is even-handed. Some BBC people even admit it. Thus, Andrew Marr. “The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.” What Marr does not say of course, is that as the Corporation has grown, the staffing profile he has highlighted becomes self-perpetuating, as not unnaturally, newcomers reflect the preferences of those employing them. Walk into a job interview carrying a copy of the Daily Telegraph and you will be out of the door in 5 minutes. If on the other hand you are carrying the Guardian, sign here please.

Today, the BBC’s position can be summed up as follows. It is pro Labour, Pro Europe, pro Green and obsessively politically correct. It is Anti Tory, Anti America, (except Obama of course,) anti Markets and above all, anti Israel. Indeed such is its hostility to Israel that to date it has spent in excess of £300,000 of licence fee income to prevent the publication of the Balen report which looked into its anti-Israel bias in the reporting of the Middle East conflict. If they had nothing to hide, why go to such extremes to keep the report under wraps? Even as I am writing this blog, I can see numerous examples of that bias in its reporting of the current crisis in Israel/Gaza.

There is a unique opportunity now, as several new enquiries get underway following the Newsnight disasters, for a complete overhaul of the organisation. If these enquiries concentrate just on those programmes’ failings, that would be a tragic waste. What needs to happen is that no aspect of the way the BBC is run should fail to be put under the microscope. Its funding. Is there a place in the 21st century for a broadcaster funded by a mandatory levy on the public? Its vastly overblown management structure. How is that going to be reduced as it must be when budgets everywhere are being cut. The services it provides – is there for instance still a need for Radio 1 when commercial broadcasters provide exactly the same service? Should it concentrate mainly on providing the cultural, educational programming as envisioned in its Charter? How is it to deal with the impartiality issue so essential to regaining the public’s trust? These, and no doubt there are others I have left out, are the issues that have to be considered.

I have been severely critical of the BBC for a number of years, primarily because of its blatant bias. However, at the same time, I recognise that there is much that it is quite superb at doing. Its coverage of the recent Olympics springs immediately to mind. I want to see it continuing to do those good things, but at the same time, I want to see it stop doing the very bad things. That will only happen if we fully grasp the opportunity that is now upon us.


Spurs and the Y-word

November 10, 2012

Fact one. I am a lifelong Spurs fan. My father took me to my first game as a fourth birthday treat and I have been going ever since. I had my first season ticket in time for the glorious 1960-61 double.

Fact two. I am one of Spurs’ many Jewish fans.

A few years ago my synagogue organised a two-day trip visit to Poland. About fifty of us made the trip. We were to visit first the town of Lublin, which pre war was the major seat of Jewish learning in Europe, and then the Nazi extermination camp of Majdanek situated just on the outskirts of the city.

On the morning of our second day, before visiting the camp, we were walking through the town when we were suddenly confronted by a group of locals. We could sense instantly their hostility and then as they brushed past us became aware of them hissing the word “yids, yids, yids.” Visiting Majdanek was always going to be an emotional experience but after that encounter, it became even more so.

Fact three. No matter how you dress it up “yid” can never be anything other than a vile, abusive, hate filled word. Spurs, you have got this wrong. No matter how good the intentions of our supporters, they can not take ownership of the word; they can not change its meaning.

It is time to accept that there is no longer any place for the Y-word at White Hart Lane or anywhere else.


Hotels and the Disabled

October 14, 2012

The recent Paralympic Games opened many eyes to just what magnificent feats can be achieved by people living with severe disabilities. Hopefully, as the Prime Minister said in his speech on Wednesday, from now on people will see the person in the wheelchair and not just the wheelchair. However, just a few weeks after the Games, I have discovered that there still exist some areas where lessons have yet to be learned.

In 2004, as a result of an accident, my wife developed a severe form of cellulitis which all but destroyed the muscles in one leg since which her mobility has been significantly compromised. Then, in 2009 she contracted cancer with which she has been battling ever since. The illness, and two lengthy courses of chemotherapy have reduced her mobility still further.

Having just finished the latest course of chemotherapy, we decided it would be nice to get away for a few days. My wife wanted to get some bracing sea air and we wanted to travel no more than two or three hours away from our west London home. She also wanted to go somewhere we had not been before and so we settled on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. Our hope was to find a nice country-style hotel where if the weather was not good, a distinct possibility in November, there would be a warming log fire in comfortable public rooms, a pleasant bar, a decent restaurant and a friendly personal service. Of course, because of her mobility issues, she would need the hotel to have either a lift or rooms on the ground floor and the room would need en suite facilities including a walk in shower.

Easy, you might think. There must be dozens of such places. Well you would be wrong. Time and again when I called to make enquiries I was told that because the building was old or listed, it was not possible to install a lift. Now I believe that this is simply not true. A quick internet search reveals that there are companies that specialise in installing lifts in very old and in listed buildings.

Some hotels have converted outbuildings into bedrooms with suitable facilities but do I really want to be pushing a wheelchair across a courtyard in the pouring rain every time we want to go to the main building? Should I have to? What I found in Dorset is I am sure repeated all over the country, which means that there are hundreds of wonderful “character” hotels that are off-limits to anyone in a wheelchair, a class of people, who unless things change, are forever condemned to cold, soulless, modern chain hotels.

If planning regulations really are part of the problem then those regulations need to be changed. People are more important than buildings. If cost is an issue, as it may well be for some smaller hotels, than the government needs to help with grants or cheap loans.

The Paralympics have changed people’s perception of the disabled. The hospitality industry must sign up to this new reality and not marginalize them any longer.