Friday, 13 June 2014

Keeping us in the dark

We've all been going on about media bias towards the Tories, particularly in the BBC, for ages now.  So it was no surprise that when Iain Duncan Smith appeared on Question Time last night there were no questions chosen about any of the "welfare" issues in the news - despite the fact that they also had the shadow minister for "welfare reform".  The internet was buzzing with excitement.  But no.  Iraq, Islam in schools ..... and we waited in vain.  The Salma Yaqoob, with whom I had disagreed on everything else, decided to have a go at IDS.  He hated it.  Chris Bryant joined in, refusing to be shouted down.  A middle-aged man in the audience (I can't remember whether this was before or after the spat) told IDS exactly what he thought of him and was cheered.  Dimbleby hastened to move on.  The cynics among us decided that assurances had been given to IDS that there would no no hard questions for him.  But his face, when he found himself under attack, was a sight to behold.  He really doesn't like it.
But there has been a small chink in the BBC's protective wall.  The appalling delays in processing PIP assessments have been well known for months.  Suddenly the media decided it was a story.  Mike Penning was on the Daily Politics yesterday, apologising and being very lightly grilled by Andrew Neil.  This morning the Today programme took it up.  A good journalistic report was aired and then a Labour MP (I'm sorry, I've forgotten her name) commented clearly and ably.  No DWP spokesman was available, apparently.  But what we didn't get was the background to this debacle; no discussion of the wider implications of outsourcing.
Another issue we wouldn't know about but for the internet is the report that the Trussell Trust had been threatened that the government might try to shut them down because the DWP wanted to discredit them.  It was an obscure website, civilsociety, which first reported this.  Strangely, I can't now get at the article.  But Channel 4 News took it up the following day (see Jackie Long's blog) and today the Independent weighs in, having done some digging.  Citing "sources" they say that the man who did the threatening was "Conservative MP Andrew Selous, parliamentary private secretary to Mr Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary."  He denies it vehemently, but the Indy is confident enough to do a profile of him.  It's an excellent article.  But where is it in the rest of the media?
And there's the row about the Oxfam cod film poster.  The Daily Mail got outraged about it; but there's been no debate on the BBC, and other papers have ignored it.
Until the mainstream media do their job properly the Tories will continue to get away with murder.


  1. Because of sanctions I don't have a TV but I don't really miss it. Eighteen months ago I came to the conclusion that the BBC was just a media outlet for rich to impose their welfare scapegoating narrative and avoid paying taxes.

  2. As an ESA claimant, I’m sightly alarmed by the media’s sudden (but belated) interest that IDS’ bungling of ESA and PIP have caused. It is inevitable that both benefits are bungled lash-ups - IDS is behind them and his DWP Perm Sec, Devereux, hasn’t a clue about benefits, period.

    The sudden media attention is not good for the Tories, Mike Penning has been forced to concede that his Tory-led govt has been treating sick/disabled people abominably badly.

    For all that Peniing apologises and blames Atos, the central question remains: David Cameron has the closest possible personal experience of sickness/disability because his father was disabled and his son, Ivan, was very sick and disabled.

    Therefore WHY has Cameron, of all people, allowed IDS to create such a shambles?

  3. The coalition changed the "descriptors" used to assess eligibility for ESA. They also decided to assess those previously assessed using these new rules.

  4. His second in command Esther is on the politics show this Sunday. North West region.

    1. PIP reassessments for those currently in receipt of DLA will commence from October 2015 and take just short of 3 years to do so. Not all of these claimants will be assessed though - seems like some kind of lottery.

  5. I am running out of adjectives to describe Smith, Mcvey, the DWP and JCP. To put pressure on the BBC is despicable. To do the same with a charity AND threaten it with closure is lower than a slugs nether regions (if they indeed posses them)!

    This along with the way he tackles his critics shows Smith is a pathetic coward. He is scared of being challenged. So what does he do? He bullies and now threatens to shut down his critics. Shame on the BBC for being such supplicants.

    Possible evidence of the BBC's timidity was a phone in on MWA (Mandatory Work Activity) I took part in earlier this year. I mentioned the dreaded W word - Workfare and was strongly urged by the scared sounding BBC researcher not to use that word.

    Of course the ever so independent BBC and investigative tabloid press can keep the plebeian masses happily entertained with celebrating a monarchs birthday and the World Cup!!!

  6. Dimbleby has a long history of biassed reporting. Anyone old enough to remember the controversy surrounding "Yesterdays Men"?
    "According to Anthony Smith, the editor of 24 Hours at the time, the film led to "the biggest and most furious row that a television programme in the English language has ever provoked"'s_Men_(documentary)

    It was a hatchet job on the Labour Party and Harold Wilson.

    Recall John Humphrey's hatchet job on the "welfare state" a couple of years ago? "A BBC documentary on the welfare state breached impartiality and accuracy guidelines, the BBC Trust has found".

    How can the BBC be expected to report impartially on the self-employed work scams of the Work Program providors when it was directly involved in similar scams itself?

    Why does the telling question never get asked like "Why are we spending so much money on work programs when there is far more less jobs available than unemployed people. Why blame the unemployed when the problem is lack of jobs?"

    1. I'd agree to an extent, although there's a risk of invoking the lump of labour fallacy - that there is a finite number of jobs that exists more or less independently of external factors. A form of this is used (and I'm not for a second saying you are doing or would do this) as part of the argument against immigration, which overlooks the fact that the unemployed (or, in the case of immigration, immigrants) will, if employed or (gainfully) self-employed generate demand of their own.

      For example, large numbers of people finding work or starting viable, profitable businesses in a particular locality would make them more economically active and have a demand-side effect - they'd become bigger purchasers and consumers, and local businesses would grow or start up in order to meet their needs. They'd also make increased tax payments, would place a lower demand on social security and so on. In short, everyone potentially wins.

      That's a very long way of saying that one of the questions that key current and future interventions designed like the Work Programme must be able to provide an answer to is whether or not it's the most effective use of the money spent. The Work Programme has employed the people delivering it and probably resulted in a very modest increase in job outcomes, at least for some groups, so it meets some of the criteria for usefulness, although its overall ineffectiveness, the potential for money to be sucked out to shareholders (although I suspect limited profits have been made so far) and the unplanned approach to it mean that any potential benefit will have been reduced.

      As for the BBC, it's a Tory nostrum that it's infested with pinkos and muesli-knitting liberals, but it doesn't completely stand up to scrutiny. While many of the employees of the might be culturally and also politically liberal, it's also an inherently pro-Establishment organisation, and one that is, at the moment, fearful for its own future. Given a government hostile to free speech, objectivity and investigative journalism, that fear isn't unjustified. Personally, I think a world with no BBC would be almost infinitely worse than one with a cowed but reformable one.

      Interesting article about BBC bias here, if it's of interest - probably been seen before:

    2. The study of bias is interesting, but it misses what you can't measure - the attitudes displayed by the presenters. There's an interesting article here:
      A quote from it: "In the case of the BBC, there is evidence that political impartiality has been compromised since 2010, when the Coalition took office. Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC met the Prime Minister’s head of strategy Steve Hilton, to discuss how government cuts would be presented, and Helen Boaden, Head of BBC News, met Andy Coulson, then the Prime Minister’s communications director, allegedly to reassure him that coverage would not be too negative."

    3. While noting that the coverage of the meeting and the blog about it are both pretty conjectural and that the Telegraph in particular has no reason to spin it to the BBC's benefit, there's probably a case to be made that many of the senior staff of BBC's Current Affairs department and those above them don't posses the qualities one would hope for in a quasi-independent broadcaster.

      As above, they may be balancing personal self-interest, pro-Establishment inclinations and survival of the organisation when engaging with central government. While the first two may be disagreeable, I'm less sure about the last in the face of a government that would shut the BBC down tomorrow if it could - although of course assuming de facto editorial control would be little better in the short to medium term.

      The other problem of the BBC is that it feels, for reasons beyond me, the need to present the 'other experts believe the world is flat' line by way of 'journalistic balance'. This weird attitude infects much of their output, usually to its detriment.

  7. The Conservative bias of the BBC goes back to its origins in the 1920's. It was set up to control wireless broadcasting and prevent it from getting into the hands of left-wing activists. In the inter-war period it ignored the Depression and refused to report on unemployment and the attached social and economic problems. Instead it focused on creating a 'National Identity' through 'highbrow' programming which focused on religion, art, literature and classical music (think, Radio 3) and iconic sporting events like The Derby, Wimbledon, The Boat Race and The Varsity Match. Later, it created the 'Light' Programme to cater for the popularity of dance/jazz music - note the emphasis on the word 'light', meaning inferior to classical music.

    It did diversify a bit in the 1960's and 1970's to reflect growing economic and cultural change and interest in social problems. For example, the creation of Radio 1 and more interesting screenwriting e.g. Steptoe And Son, Reginald Perrin, The Good Life and, of course, in the early 1980's, the iconic 'Boys From The Blackstuff' which examined the effects of the industrial decline of Britain and long-term unemployment.

    During the current Depression the BBC has ignored the concurrent social and economic problems e.g. the rise in long-term unemployment, zero-hour contracts, food banks and cost of living. I cannot think of a single drama or documentary even which has examined the current economic depression in depth. The BBC's current output tends to be what I call 'ambient viewing', programmes which are mildly pleasant but do not fully stimulate the senses e.g. 'Tigers About The House'.

    In this way, and judged on the 'political' content of the BBC's programming it has retreated back to its 1920's origins.

    A bit like the economy.

  8. Former A4e Client19 June 2014 at 02:39

    Hi Historian.

    Just a quick word to inform you that during a visit to my Jobcentre Plus Advisor yesterday he told me that 'Help To Work' - specifically the 26 week work experience part of the programme - had begun in Leeds.

    I am a former Work programme customer so enquired as to why I wasn't being forwarded to this. Only people who leave the Work Programme after 24 April 2014 are being considered for this punishment, I was reliably informed.

    I finished the Work Programme in June 1013 so am exempt. I wonder why?

  9. Note that the BBC took as the PR head a DWP man. Have a good look at his photograph.

    Note also that the DWP then replaced him with a Murdoch press man. Have a good look at his photograph.

    A BBC article suggests there may be some scientific basis to the popular view that how we look does in some ways reflect out character. Any takers for reading the character of the above two faces?

    @Badger. My opinion is that many economists live in a land of utter fantasy and they consistently get things wrong because they are dealing with human being and not robots. It is immoral to force people to work for no wages in profitable companies who can now reduce the amount of paid employees and boast their profits further. This includes so called "charity" executives who can now increase their salaries and bonuses. I don’t know how people like Emma Harrison spend their incomes but I suspect a poor multiplier effect as much of it will circulate in secondary markets boosting existing asset prices and not creating anywhere near as many jobs for the poorer sectors of society as would happen if they were paid wages.

    The unemployed has been scapegoated without mercy for the economic ills brought on by the rich. The Work Program is little more than a scam.


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