Well, I'd had quite a number of replies to my e-mails from senior (and not so senior) Conservatives in recent days (trust me not to have gone into my e-mail for about four days!). Some fall into the 'thank you, that's very interesting, regards' category but others suggest that the Conservatives are at last really 'getting it' and, more than that, doing something about it. (The recent behaviour of Kirsty Wark is one of the issues that is rightly exercising their attention at the moment.) The angrier they get about BBC bias the better, and I think I'm helping to raise their blood pressure a little over the issue. (Then again just switching on the radio or the TV should make that happen already on a daily basis). The Biased BBC blogsite's new weekly digests (e-mailed far and wide) will help spread the message and, hopefully, spur more direct action from the Conservatives..
And talking of complaints, I've at last had a reply from the BBC about one of my lesser complaints. I'd half forgotten about this one. (I haven't heard about my big complaint for a while now.) This was prompted by one of James Naughtie 's rude interviews with George Osborne - the one where Naughtie lied about what he'd said earlier in the interview when GO challenged him over it (15th Feb).
This was my complaint:
I wish to complain about James Naughtie's behaviour towards George Osborne during this morning's edition of 'Today'.
After badgering Mr Osborne over the Conservatives' Co-operative scheme, Mr Naughtie moved onto the issue of the deficit.
The Labour Party has been bandying about the phrase 'swingeing cuts' in connection with the Conservatives and James Naughtie began this section of the interview by bandying it about too.
He is what he said:
"Just let me turn to what happens to public spending after the election. We've had David Cameron talking about 'swingeing cuts' and then that was slightly watered down. There won't be swingeing cuts, it was said, but there will be very strong efforts to control public spending."
He later pursued the point, saying, "I don't doubt that anyone reading it (the letter from the economists) can doubt that it's an interesting and important letter but surely what it means is that there needs to be, in the view of those economists, 'swingeing cuts', which is precisely what David Cameron, presumably to avoid scaring people, said there wouldn't be. Who's right, the economists or your leader?"
Mr Osborne begin his answer but within 4 seconds (!) Jim Naughtie barged in again with "they want 'swingeing cuts!'
This, understandably, was too much for Mr Osborne.
This is how the exchange went on from that point:
Osborne: "You keep using this word 'swingeing', which you first attributed to David Cameron and he never used, now attribute it to the economists, and I've got the letter in front on me and..."
Naughtie (interrupting:) "I'm sorry, if I'm wrong about that I apologize, but I thought he said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts'?
Osborne: "Exactly. He said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts', he...
Naughtie (interrupting angrily): "So he did say used the word 'swingeing'. Sorry, let's be clear about this. You said I said he used the word 'swingeing' and he didn't. He did!"
Osborne: "Jim, er, this is a semantic point but earlier you were saying David Cameron had said there would be 'swingeing cuts', then you said that the economists were saying there will be 'swingeing cuts', let's get to the key..."
Naughtie (interrupting angrily): "No. Let's be clear about this. David Cameron had said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts' and I was suggesting to you that the economists' letter and you own approach suggested that there would be such cuts, because they were necessary and because Ken Clarke had said we would have to have a deeper attack on public spending than under Margaret Thatcher, that's the argument..."
Osborne: "Let's move on from the semantic point and concentrate on the central point here..."
As you can very clearly see, every single word of what George Osborne said here was 100% correct:
- Mr Naughtie had kept using the word 'swingeing'
- Mr Naughtie had "first attributed" the word to David Cameron ("We've had David Cameron talking about 'swingeing cuts' and then that was slightly watered down.")
- Mr Naughtie had, therefore, not just used it earlier in the interview (as he claimed) in connection with Cameron's 'after' policy (i.e. when "David Cameron had said there wouldn't be 'swingeing cuts'") but with his 'before' policy too.
George Osborne had caught James Naughtie out. Mr Naughtie lied and blustered in response. This is absolutely shameful behaviour. I hope he has the guts to apologize to Mr Osborne.
The interview lasted 7 minutes, and contained 11 interruptions.
Later in the same hour came an interview with Mr Osborne's opposite number, Alistair Darling. It was a strikingly less aggressive affair. Though this interview lasted 2 minutes more than the interview with Mr Osborne it contained 5 fewer interruptions.
This pattern is far from unusual with this interviewer (for which I can supply plenty of evidence should you need it).
It's clear that Mr Naughtie is not fit to conduct political interviews during a general election campaign. He is simply too partisan. As soon as the election is called he should (a) be removed from the 'Today' programme for the duration or (b) not allowed to conduct any political interviews, sticking (say) to arts or science stories. For an organisation that is constitutionally pledged to impartiality to allow Naughtie free range to bully Conservative and UKIP spokesmen during the general election would be bonkers.
It's a typical BBC reply, but there's a tiny, tiny concession contained in it:
Thanks for your e-mail regarding 'Today' broadcast on 15 February.
Please accept our apologies for the long delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we're sorry you've had to wait on this occasion.
I understand you objected to what you viewed as James Naughtie's inappropriate behaviour towards George Osborne.
We forwarded your complaint to Dominic Groves, one of the output editors for the 'Today' programme who explained in response that:
"Broadly speaking the point Jim Naughtie was trying to raise was that the Conservatives had appeared to backtrack on their original commitment to sharp cuts in public spending but that sharp (or swingeing) cuts was exactly what the economists in the Sunday Times letter were calling for. I think Jim could have phrased the question more exactly but the general
point was clearly understood and was an important one on which to press George Osborne. As to the general tone of the interview it was tough but fair - nothing a politician of Mr Osborne's rank would not have expected and in keeping with many other interviews we've done with politicians of all parties."
In addition to the programme having seen and acknowledged your concerns, I'd like to take this opportunity to assure you that I've recorded your comments onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and channel controllers.
The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.
Thanks again for contacting us with your thoughts.
Well, conceding that Naughtie 'could have phrased the question more exactly' doesn't answer my point that he lied, was caught out lying and blustered about it in response. And as regards the toughness of the interview, and Dominic's comment that it was "in keeping with many other interviews we've done with politicians of all parties" skirts the issue of the significantly drop in toughness that occurred during James Naughtie's other interview - the one with Alistair Darling. I should have forwarded my list of figures on Naughtie to scupper that one, but I'd already used them in my big complaint (the one that uses the interruption coefficients) and didn't want to overegg the pudding!
I've drawn a few conclusions from my experiences, which you may have drawn too if you've ever complained to the Beeb about bias.
Complaints to the BBC rarely get the likes of me anywhere, but - if only for sheer nuisance value - they are always worth making. All complaints should be copy and pasted onto e-mails and forwarded on to interested parties (eg. the Conservatives or UKIP). You could just save time and send all your complaints straight to the interested parties and encourage them to complain. They have direct means of access to the BBC. We don't. The BBC will also be more worried, of course, if it comes from people who might have the power to do 'bad things' to them.