Tuesday, June 19, 2007

BBC bias admitted -- some of it, anyway

THE BBC is institutionally biased, an official report will conclude this week. The year-long investigation, commissioned by the BBC, has found the corporation particularly partial in its treatment of single-issue politics such as climate change, poverty, race and religion. It concludes that the bias has extended across drama, comedy and entertainment, with the corporation pandering to politically motivated celebrities and trendy causes.

Singled out is the coverage of Bob Geldof's Live 8 concert and the Make Poverty History campaign. The report says there was no rounded debate of the issues. The report also raises serious concerns about accompanying programmes, including a drama by the writer Richard Curtis and the finale of his Vicar of Dibley where Dawn French shows a minute-long clip of the Make Poverty History video.

The report points to the danger of BBC programmes being undermined by the liberal culture of its staff, who need to challenge their own assumptions more. "There is a tendency to `group think' with too many staff inhabiting a shared space and comfort zone," says the report. It goes on to highlight a "Roneo mentality" where staff ape each other's common liberal values.

The report has been approved by a steering group led by Richard Tait, a BBC trustee and former editor-in-chief at ITN. Its members also include Mark Byford, the BBC's deputy director-general, Helen Boaden, head of BBC News, and Alan Yentob, the creative director.

Although its coverage of conventional politics is judged to be fair and impartial, the inquiry says the BBC allowed itself to be hijacked by Geldof, the U2 singer Bono, and Curtis, who urged Tony Blair to pressure world leaders to alleviate poverty in developing countries. Even before the BBC cleared its schedules to cover the Live 8 concert from Hyde Park - which coincided with the G8 Gleneagles summit in 2005 - the report points out that it broadcast a related drama by Curtis called The Girl in the Cafe. It featured Bill Nighy as a shy civil servant who falls in love with an antipoverty campaigner and takes her to a summit in Iceland where she makes an impassioned plea to world leaders. Gordon Brown, the chancellor, saw the film before it was shown on BBC1.

After the BBC broadcast a week of programmes to highlight poverty in Africa and a day celebrating the National Health Service, Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News, told a House of Lords select committee the BBC's coverage came dangerously close to peddling government propaganda. The programmes came at a time when the BBC was negotiating a new royal charter with ministers.

The document, jointly commissioned by BBC managers and the board of governors, now replaced by the BBC Trust, includes details of a staff impartiality seminar at which senior figures criticised the corporation for being antiAmerican and pandering to Islam.

Criticisms highlighted from the seminar include: A senior BBC reporter attacking the corporation for giving "no moral weight" to America. Executives admitting they would broadcast images of a Bible being thrown away - but not the Koran for fear of offending Muslims. The BBC deliberately championing multiculturalism and ethnic minorities, while betraying an anticountryside bias.

Mary Fitzpatrick, the BBC's "diversity czar", told the seminar Muslim women newsreaders should be allowed to wear the hijab, or headscarf, on screen. Fitzpatrick spoke out after criticism over Fiona Bruce's decision to wear a necklace with a cross while reading the news.

The report's findings come in the wake of a separate independent review of the BBC's business coverage which two weeks ago accused the broadcaster of lapses in impartiality because of its desire to popularise corporate stories. It singled out an interview with Bill Gates on the 10 O'Clock News as "sycophantic".


Global warming obsession to create noise pollution

Targets for reducing aircraft noise will have to be sacrificed to halve the climate change emissions of a new generation of airliners, easyJet said yesterday. The budget airline unveiled a model of what it described as an "eco-jet", which would use open rotor engines invented in response to the oil crisis of the 1970s. It hopes that these engines will generate 50 per cent less CO2 than those used on its current aircraft.

Manufacturers abandoned the design in the 1980s because the oil price fell and fuel efficiency became less important. The engines would be much more efficient than existing ones, but also noisier because they would have no outer shell around the rotating blades. Rolls-Royce is among several manufacturers working on open rotor engines, which are double the diameter of existing engines and produce the same amount of thrust with half the fuel. The eco-jet would also be designed to fly more slowly to save fuel, adding five to ten minutes to most journeys within Europe.

Andy Harrison, chief executive of easyJet, said: "There is a trade-off between noise and carbon dioxide emissions. We think reducing CO2 should be the priority." The aviation industry has agreed a target with the European Commission to reduce noise from new aircraft by 50 per cent by 2020. Mr Harrison said that the new jet would not be able to meet this target, but could achieve a 25 per cent reduction in the noise perceived on the ground by attaching the engines at the rear of the aircraft and using the tailfin to direct the noise upwards.

Speaking at a conference in London, he said: "This is not Star Trek. This is the future. "We at easyJet think that global warming is a near certainty and that this generation need to take action now. "Aircraft technology is an important component to achieving improvements and efficiency, and particularly environmental efficiency." He said that the new jet could enter service by 2015 but airlines would first have to persuade the leading manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, to develop it. "We are currently spending 4 billion on aircraft - they are listening to us," he said. Mr Harrison added: "The aircraft example we have unveiled today represents the next major step forward in airframe and engine technology."

The lightweight structure and open-rotor engines are based on technologies that are being developed by manufacturers. The wings of the eco-jet are swept forward rather than back in order to reduce drag. "This is realistic and it is achievable. If it were to be made available today, we would order hundreds of them for fleet replacement and to achieve the green growth that our industry has committed to." Airbus promised yesterday to increase its research budget by 25 per cent from next year and said that by 2020, all of its new aircraft would produce 50 per cent less CO2.

Budget airlines have been under fire recently from environmental groups and politicians for their contribution to global warming. According to figures from the Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Change, airlines contribute only 2 per cent of global carbon emissions. But aviation is the fastest growing source of emissions and has no credible alternative source of fuel.

Mr Harrison said that low-cost airlines were generally more environmentally efficient than other carriers, pointing to the low average age of easyJet aircraft and a higher number of passengers per flight. He also announced that easyJet would shortly introduce a carbon offsetting scheme and had already called for 600 of Europe's oldest aircraft to be banned from the skies. He said that easyJet's contract with Airbus ran to around 2014, and would be in the market for its next generation of aircraft from 2015. "The environmental performance will be a crucial consideration in the design that we select," he said.

Richard Dyer, Friends of the Earth's aviation campaigner, said: "It is important that the aviation industry looks at ways to significantly reduce its impact on climate change. "But unless this includes massive cuts in the anticipated growth in air travel, it is unlikely to be achieved


MRSA endemic in NHS

See also here

A WOMAN who confronted Tony Blair on television over the failings of the National Health Service has lost her father to MRSA, the hospital superbug. During the 2001 election campaign Carol Maddocks described on the BBC’s Question Time programme, where Blair was a panellist, how the health service was letting down her daughter Alice, who had a rare blood condition. Blair later met Maddocks at Downing Street and pledged NHS funding to improve registries of bone marrow donors to help to save Alice’s life.

Now, however, Maddocks has described how Harry Lister, her 74-year-old father, died an agonising death after contracting MRSA following “awful” care in their local hospital. “My father was let down by the NHS and we, as a family, are really angry about it. Society now accepts that when we go into hospital we could contract MRSA, but this should not be a risk we run,” Maddocks said.

Maddocks, a former nurse, had seen many patients die, but she said her father’s death last June was the most horrific she had ever seen. “MRSA had got into my father’s bloodstream and it had taken hold of his whole body, his heart and his other organs,” she said. “I have never witnessed anyone die in so much pain and that will stay with me for ever.”

Lister died of MRSA at Dewsbury and District hospital in June 2006 after going in for examination of a bowel problem. The family say that he contracted the superbug from an endoscope, an instrument used to examine the bowel. Maddocks says that, while in hospital, her father was left to become dehydrated, lay in dirty sheets and the family had to battle with nurses to get him a bath. He told his family that other elderly patients were left unable to eat meals and that nurses congregated round a desk while patients were left without care.

“Although what Tony Blair did for bone marrow registries was extremely positive, that has not been reflected in our experience of the NHS,” said Maddocks. “We feel the care our father received in our local hospital was awful.”

By contrast, Maddocks is happy with the way Alice was treated at the same hospital where Lister died. She did not approach the media to discuss her father’s treatment but the nature of his death emerged while she was being interviewed about Blair’s time in power. Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Dewsbury and District hospital, said that it could not comment on Lister’s death as his medical notes were in transit.


A poke in the eye for Muslims: "Salman Rushdie, who went into hiding under threat of death after an Iranian fatwa, has been knighted by the Queen. His book The Satanic Verses offended Muslims worldwide and a bounty was placed on his head in 1989."

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