The BBC and UKIP: the best of friends

The BBC might claim its news coverage is fair and balanced, but what exactly is fair and balanced about this headline on its front page?

ukip

The headline – UKIP’s Farage back on campaign trail – is almost propaganda. Of course Farage is campaigning for the up-coming by-election in Rochester and Strood. But then so are all the other political parties.

The other associated stories develop this uncritical pro-UKIP perspective:

The first gives Farage free rein to say that he could be in government next May. This is preposterous given that UKIP has only one MP. But the claim is made less preposterous by this blanket coverage.

The second, a piece by political editor Nick Robinson, is typically nuanced, but ends essentially confirming the pro-UKIP stance:

“Maybe but maybe the seemingly ever onward rise of Mr Farage will, as he’s long predicted, continue ever onward.”

The third is a long profile of the rise of UKIP, again reiterating how they “defy the odds.” It is complete with the standard and necessary picture of Farage in the boozer. (Message: do you drink beer? Here’s a politician who also drinks beer. See how much you two have in common?!)

farage beer

To my dismay, they print a picture of the UKIP billboard advert which uses Winston Churchill to push its anti-immigration message. Having read Roy Jenkins’ 900-page biography of Churchill, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been appalled by the small-minded, insular attitude of UKIP.

Churchill UKIP

The fourth article is Ed Miliband’s response to UKIP. The FOURTH article in this UKIP bonanza, and the first in which the Labour leader – the party which has won three of the last four General Elections, is quoted at any length. Miliband says that a party which wants to cut the taxes of rich people (such as Carswell and Farage) could not genuinely represent the interests of the working class. Which makes sense, and exposes the contradiction of UKIP’s public face and private ideology.

Having let Red Ed and his band of radical left-wingers have their say in the previous article, the BBC leaves any semblance of criticism of UKIP to one side in its fifth story, “By-elections leave biggest parties with plenty to ponder.” Again, the rise of this extremist party is talked of in excitable terms. While UKIP has had “hype, attention and victories of recent years” it has “never had a night like it.”

It goes on to quote the new, and old, Clacton MP, Douglas Carswell: “We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other.” This is plainly untrue. No political party can be for all Britons, particularly not UKIP, which is directly offensive to a large proportion of the country.  This minor quibble is not addressed by the BBC.

Let us imagine that in, let’s say, a northern mill town, a militant Islamist party rose up and gained enough popular support to get an MP into Parliament. Would the BBC be talking in upbeat terms about such a party, and quote its leader extensively and uncritically? More likely, it would talk of the troubling rise of Islamism, and would ask Farage, in the pub over a pint of Spitfire, about his concerns.

Finally, there is a glowing profile of Douglas Carswell MP, in which he is described – not in quotes, but as stated fact – as a “free thinker” a “maverick” and a “moderniser.” These adjectives don’t tally even remotely with the reality: an ex-City worker who has dedicated his life to keeping himself in Parliament and immigrants out of the UK.

To add to the cosy image of Mr Carswell, it is noted that he likes swimming, gardening and making quince jelly.

The profile ends with a quote from Carswell’s victory speech: “If we always speak with passion, let it be tempered by compassion.” The reader is not asked whether a politician whose leader does not want people with HIV entering the country could be considered to be compassionate.

This bumper batch of stories from the Beeb would lead any reader without detailed political awareness to make several conclusions:

1. UKIP is a major political force
2. UKIP is a mainstream political party, which does not hold extreme views
3. UKIP has a good chance of being in Government at the next General Election
4. Douglas Carswell is a brave and noble politician, and a family man, standing up for what he believes
5. Immigration is the major issue facing the UK, not housing, jobs or inequality
6. The Green Party, and the Lib Dems, are irrelevant.

There is no doubt that the coverage from some of the national newspapers, and Sky News, has been even more triumphalist. However, the newspapers are explicitly partisan. The BBC, known as being fair and balanced, is at present covering UKIP as if it was the party of government rather than one with a single MP.

We should remember that David Cameron described UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.” Michael Heseltine said that UKIP is racist.

If these two right-wing politicians regard UKIP with such horror, why does the BBC give them so much publicity and uncritical commentary? I do not think that the BBC is managed by UKIP supporters. It is, like all news organisations, enamoured by a good narrative, which UKIP provides: the rise of the underdog, triumphing against the odds; the man with charisma who likes a beer; the fight against the existential threat to our cosy, nostalgic way of life.

It is this narrative that gets UKIP its extensive coverage. But if the BBC doesn’t try harder to provide balance, then it won’t be only the Tories or Labour who are under threat. It will be the BBC’s reputation as a trustworthy news organisation.

Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.
Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.
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Michael Beard: a poem

Michael Beard
Mike Beard
Michael Beard
Mike Beard
Michael Beard
Mike Beard
Michael Beard
Mick Beard
Don’t call him that

Mike Beard
wears cuff-links and tie-clips
Mike Beard
runs the tightest of tight ships
Mike Beard
is not having any
‘this story can’t be written the way that I imagined it’
bullshit

Michael Beard
a local newspaper editor as he lives and breathes
if you sliced Mike Beard open
he would bleed the finest newsprint ink
the kind reserved only for front page leads

Mike Beard
newspaper executives are impressed by his boundless
enthusiasm for sacking staff and driving down expenses
just as hairdressers are by his insistence
that he still has need of their services

Mike Beard
hates the needless use of long words and phrases.
Why, he asks, with an uncomprehending shake of the head,
would a reporter use the word dictatorial,
when they could use decisive
multicultural, when they could use foreign
or person affected by Down’s Syndrome
when they could simply say mong?

Like a particularly excitable pyromaniac
Mike Beard is delighted every time he hears
reports of arson. He marches into the heart
of the newsroom and demands to know who
will be covering. The reporters, all of a sudden,
become obsessed with the carpet; apart,
on this occasion, from me. Without the slightest
awareness of personal space he gets up in my face
and demands to know the questions I’ll be asking.

Before I have a chance to answer, he’s reeling
off questions like an insane hostage-taker
makes demands. He wants to know the precise
height of the flames, the top temperature of the blaze,
the true nature and scale of the victim family’s pain.
While I frantically make notes I know
his main interest is not in me accurately
reporting this petty tragedy, but in ensuring
every success I have looks like I have failed.
And I wish, instead of smiling compliantly,
I had the guts to say

Mike

Mike

Mike

I can feel the great, frightening vacuity
of your existence. In every blundering
assertion of your authority, lies a desperate,
haunted fear of redundancy. That day which you
picture so clearly,  when you are forced out
of your high-backed black leather editor’s chair,
pack up your framed motivational quote
by Steve Redgrave, hand back the keys to your
executive saloon, so you have to take a cab back
to your four-bedroom home in Cooden
in which you will live out your days, on your own,
sitting on your leather recliner, incandescent
with rage at the shoddy quality of TV journalism,
which you would never, have never put up with
before switching off, to take solace in Bruce
Springsteen’s tales of hardbitten working men,
blubbing like a child as you listen to Born To Run’s
saxophone solo, wishing that you’d had, just once,
a pretty young secretary you could fuck.

michael Beard

“Death is different.” Katie Price’s Sunday sermon

Britain's leading writer Katie Price

She is already the UK’s leading writer, with her novels, memoirs and style books a fixture on the bestseller lists.

But for a polymath such as Katie Price, whose only remaining literary rival is eighteenth century lexicographer Samuel Johnson, that was never going to be enough. Today, in the first-ever edition of the Sun on Sunday, she adds another string to an increasingly packed bow.

Yes, Katie Price has become a columnist. Combining razor-sharp political analysis with the common-sense wisdom of an ordinary mum, the column, entitled Katie Price, has it all.

The main piece is a hymn to family values, suggesting that it is bad parents who are to blame for Broken Britain, not bad schools. She outlines her theory thus:

“It doesn’t matter what school you go to – it’s family that really makes you who you are. I went to a state school – and look how well I’ve done. That’s because I had a sense of family.”

Anyone who saw Katie Price in her orange-skinned, multiple boob-jobbed heyday, slinging champagne down her neck whilst wearing little more than fake eyelashes and one of Alex Reid’s skirts couldn’t help but draw the conclusion that here was a woman who was achieving success through good, solid family values.

While Price’s longer works of penmanship are without doubt hard-hitting and thought-provoking, she has the ability to ‘get it said’ in remarkably concise fashion.

In a small piece on the left-hand column, just below an image of the correspondent in a demure below-the-knee blue dress, are words as wise as they are heartfelt. For it is here that she turns her felicitous pen to the tragic demise of pop star Whitney Houston, 48.

Katie is, like many of us, a huge Whitney fan. She had Houston’s music played at both her weddings, which shows a stubborn spirit which Churchill would admire.

Here I should let Katie take up the story:

“I felt so sad watching her funeral on TV because there should have been more dignity. I know I’ve lived a lot of my life in front of TV cameras – but death is different. Whitney’s funeral should have been a private affair, not a circus.”

It is Katie Price’s ability to get to the nub of the matter that separates her from lesser writers, such as William Hazlitt.

She rightly makes the not oft-made point that death, when compared with life, is different. There is simply no arguing with that kind of logic. It is inescapable, just like death itself.

Seven months after the demise of the News of the World left the millions people who read it every week without sustenance on a Sunday, it is heartening that Murdoch’s ready-made replacement contains such words of wisdom. While the Sun on Sunday inevitably lacks some of that vigour which only phone hacking can bring, with the advent of Katie’s (doric) column, one imagines that the readers will flock to News International’s newest newspaper in their droves.

Family values: Katie Price / Jordan

Riot roots and riot branches

One

I was slouched outside Hastings Magistrates’ Court, reporter’s notebook in hand, when I saw a kid I knew. He was a foster child who lived with the family of one of my friends. He was 16, but looked younger. Last time I’d seen him we’d been fooling about at a party, enjoying the traditional manly pleasures of the belly-slap and rough-and-tumble.

‘Hello, Rich!’ he said brightly.
‘Alright, mate!’ I rejoined.
‘What you here for?’
‘Reporting. Nothing special. You?’
‘I smashed this bloke’s window.’
‘Why did you do that?’
‘I was walking past and he was looking at my girlfriend. So I smashed his window.’
He showed me the cuts he had on his wrist from the incident.
‘Oh, mate,’ I said with a sigh. ‘You shouldn’t’ve done that. You know that, don’t you?’
‘I know, Rich. But I just don’t give a fuck.’

Two

I’m on a team away day at Recipease, Jamie Oliver’s horribly punning shop/eatery/cookery establishment in Clapham Junction. We are there to be taught how to make spinach and ricotta tortellini by a Jamie-approved cheeky-chappy Irishman. He suggests that before we start cooking, we have a look at some of the great food and cookery items on sale, some at a discount.

Wine is brought and we sit and have a glass at rustic tables, where Jamie’s books are casually placed.

‘This is nice,’ says someone.
‘This is nice,’ says another.
‘This is nice,’ says a manager.
‘This is revolting,’ I think.

I wander around this suffocatingly-branded heaven and stroll to the front of the shop, where I look out and see a Starbucks and a Waitrose. A familiar feeling of hate and self-loathing rises up inside.

Did Jamie Oliver's Recipease eatery inspire the disenfranchised youth of Clapham Junction to riot?

Three

Hastings Magistrates’ Court. I’ve been in a session, hearing a 14-year-old boy get sentenced after breaking the terms of his Asbo. He’d stolen a car, gone for a ride and crashed into a wall, seriously injuring himself and two of his mates.

In normal youth court you are not allowed to name the youth involved in order to protect the child’s identity. But for Asbos, publicity is part of the deal, even for kids. Name and shame. Teach them a lesson. A nice front page lead for Purnell.

I strolled out of the court, and get stopped by a small kid with a lot of gel in his manky hair.

‘Were you in court?’
‘Yes.’
‘What did Jake get?’
’22 weeks.’
’22 weeks.’ he paused for thought. ‘What’s that? Five months. He’ll do half, be out in two-and-a-half. Not bad.’
We shake hands and he gets on his mobile to excitably tell his mates the verdict.

Four

I’m at a friend’s party in Battersea. We used to be reporters together in Hastings. Now we are in London and it feels good to have that connection with my recent past.

However, we are on slightly different social strata. I went to comprehensive school; she went to public school. I went to Leicester University; she went to Bristol. I’m living with a journalist who works at the Daily Express; she’s living with a journalist who works at the Daily Telegraph.

As soon as I arrive the necessary and sufficient questions are asked by smirking, chino-wearing men.

‘Where do you work?’
‘What university did you go to?’

They know, instinctively, that I did not go to Oxford or Cambridge or Bristol. They know I am not earning as much as them. Still, they like to have the point underlined, just to be sure, just for fun.

Once they’ve established I am not worth talking to, they ignore me. I’m left on my own, telling myself not to do something bad, so I don’t embarrass my friend. I drink punch and pretend to be interested in the DVD collection, wondering when it would be polite to leave.

Eventually another girl from Hastings arrives. We spend the rest of the evening on our own, out on the balcony, happy in our lower-middle-class ghetto.

Five

Monday 8 August 2011. I am walking through Brixton. Police are everywhere. The town centre is blocked, the tube station closed, so I get on a bus. When I see the devastation, I think: good.

A suit on my bus, shocked to the core, takes a picture of a smashed-up bus stop on his iPhone. I think: prick.

Tuesday night, 8pm. I catch a bus from Brixton. Everything is shut, even the fried chicken shops. On the bus I see men outside blocks of flats, having a beer, having a smoke, making sure.

Wednesday. Laura from the Ritzy emails, saying they are back open and can I host the open mic tonight? I tell her it is folly – none of my nice audience will show up so soon after the riots.
‘Let’s do it anyway,’ she says.

I get down there after work, heavy of heart, angry at everything and nothing. I stick Dexy’s Midnight Runners on. If it’s the early ’80s all over again, may as well do the job properly.

Laura greets me on arrival, says two Brazilian dancing girls have been in touch. Is it okay if they perform?

Well…all right.

A soul singer arrives and we get chatting about the early years of Mariah Carey, a subject on which I speak very impressively. A couple of kooks arrive to play blues, a shabby spoken word artist arrives, a comedian, an Asian singer whose been before.

We get going. I do a poem about Hastings, about those early days when I was happy getting paid £10,000 a year to report on the lower echelons of our finely stratified society. People are listening, small smiles of recognition on some of the faces.

Our soul singer opens. Turns out she’s good, really good. Everyone is performing well, everyone is happy, and those layers of hate and loathing start to peel off of me.

We take a break and I clear the stage for the dancing girls. I get everyone – even those cool people in fine clothes looking thoughtful over laptops – upstairs to watch.

Then, when the place is full, and buzzing, I get the soca rhythms on, make the introductions and the dancing girls, wearing full carnival costume, by which I mean virtually nothing except a lot of make-up and enormous, brilliant head-dresses, and the clapping and dancing begins as they shake and dance with visceral energy, shaking and bouncing, head-dresses brushing the ceiling, men drinking beers quickly to hide their feelings, and it is a party, a party, reminiscent of Rio, reminiscent of Brixton on any particular evening. Seventy-two hours after the riots, everything is forgotten.

We’ve all been screwed

Yeah, great news today. Really great news. Amazing news.

The UK’s biggest-selling newspaper has been shut down. 200 journalists are out of work. A dying industry is shoved nearer to the grave.

So, great news.

You know things are going badly wrong when Max Mosley is all over the TV, crowing. And Hugh Grant. Even Ed Milliband had the confidence to come out and say something vaguely approaching an opinion. (He thinks someone did something wrong. Possibly.)

The News of the World did some bad stuff. Okay. If Andy Coulson needs to get dragged through the streets of London tied to the back of Hackney cab, then hung, drawn and quartered, his head put on spike as a warning to hacks, I’m cool with that.

But the killing off of a newspaper, a don’t give a fuck, punk rock, let’s have a go at the bastards newspaper that skewered the reputations of, off the top of my head, Max Mosley, Boris Johnson, John Higgins, Fergie, Sven, Pakistan cricket and Paul Burrell. I am not cool with that.

The Screws brought you this stuff, with gusto, on a Sunday, when you’ve got a hangover and are loading up on carbs and fats at the breakfast table.

All the folk reading the broadsheets got the story a day later, rehashed from the original with a few literary allusions thrown in to shine the shit their readers could not bear to read from the original source.

What the Screws delivered was what the British public, minus the hacking into dead children’s phones, wants. And how do I know? Because over one in ten people in this country read the thing. How many read the Observer? No one, apart from a few in Stoke Newington, and some old lefties in nursing homes.

I can’t help feeling all of those who are really happy about the demise of the News of the World fit into one of three categories:

1. Those who have genuinely suffered at the hands of the Coulson / Wade axis.
2. Those who still hold a grudge against Murdoch for what happened with the printers’ unions back in the 1980s.
3. Ignoramuses who understand nothing about the value of a free Press pursuing a story in the public interest (or just because it is a bloody good story).

I don’t think Nick Davies, the fabulous journalist who has pursued this story for years in the Guardian, can be happy about the Screws being closed down. He wants good journalism, campaigning journalism. Coulson’s head on a stick, for sure.

But if genuinely terrible people like Max Mosley and Hugh Grant get their way, this could lead to a shackled Press, fearful of pursuing stories because of the possible comeback. That no journalist would want.

I used to be a journalist, on a local paper. I’ve found that anyone who has been a journo for any length of time is essentially of the same breed. Nosey, gossipy, sweary, interested in asking questions for the sake of it, interested in stories for the love of it. Totally unable to work unless there is a looming deadline, a malevolent editor hoving into view.

I always knew, as a reporter, that people did not trust you. They thought you cynical and dirty. Then, much more often than not, told you everything you needed to write a good page lead. And loved that little bit of publicity for themselves.

The first principle of journalism is that bad news is good news. If there is a murder, let it be a crazed swordsman slaying a blonde virgin. If there is a road crash, let it be at high-speed with students, gifted and talented students, out of their minds on meth. If there is a scandal, the more intricate, the more high profile, the more you are able to milk it, the better.

The bitter irony for all journalists, and anyone interested in a free Press, is that the closing of the News of the World is a really, really good story. Perhaps the best story we will have for a long, long time.