Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

No, We Don’t Need Patriotic Media!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th June, 2017

IMG_2519A UK government Minister, Andrea Leadsom, has urged British broadcasters to be more patriotic in their coverage of Brexit. US President Donald Trump would doubtless approve, but her intervention deserves to be greeted with a giant raspberry. The right wing of the Conservative Party loathes the BBC, in particular, and would like to force it to go commercial by threatening to abolish the licence fee that funds it. Actually, the BBC has leant over backwards to be as even-handed as possible over Brexit since last year’s EU Referendum, infuriating Remainers by giving particular prominence to Nigel Farage and the rump of UKIP. But what Ms Leadsom apparently wants is what the government already enjoys with the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, etc, namely out-and-out champions of Theresa May’s “red, white and blue” Brexit, involving leaving the European single market and Customs Union and other bodies and instruments that have bound us to our EU partners for the past four decades. Hard Brexiteers, of whom Andrea Leadsom is by no means alone in the Cabinet, believe we need a Britain Stands Alone (from Europe) type of Brexit. The centenarian Vera Lynn will probably be brought out of retirement to sing again of the White Cliffs of Dover. But the plain fact is that opting for Hard Brexit is actually unpatriotic, as it will hit the UK economy, and therefore the living standards of ordinary Brits, hard. But don’t let’s get into an argument about true patriotism. I rather side with Dr Johnson, who declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And, yes, that includes you, Ms Leadsom.

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Why Is the BBC Normalising Extemism?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th November, 2016

Today, Remembrance Sunday, the BBC screened an interview with France’s far right leader, Marine Le Pen. Doubtless Andrew Marr and his producer are feeling proud of themselves with this journalistic “coup” that has caused such a storm on twitter, but they should be ashamed of themselves. Not only did this choice of interviewee dishonour the memory of people who died in the last century as victims of fascism and Hitler’s, Mussolini’s and Franco’s wars but it also gave a powerful platform to extremism. This came on top of the blanket coverage given to Nigel Farage and UKIP (which Le Pen’s Front National recognises as a sister party) over the past few years, especially in the run-up to the EU Referendum. BBC boffins would doubtless justify Farage’s being their most frequent Question Time guest on the grounds that he is entertaining, but there is nothing entertaining about the core values of Farage or Le Pen or Donald Trump, who also got massive coverage on the BBC. Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave. Farage and Le Pen are both part of the Trump-Putin axis that is speedily developing — an alliance that holds liberal European values in contempt. In case anyone doubts this in the British context, just watch when Farage leads what he hopes will be 100,000 UKIP, BNP and EDL Brexiteers to intimidate the Supreme Court when it convenes to review the recent High Court ruling on Article 50. Britain is heading into dangerous waters and instead of sounding the warning bells the BBC is becoming the extremists’ megaphone..

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We Chose to Speak of War and Strife

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th October, 2016

we-chose-to-speak-of-war-and-strifeFew people would call John Simpson, the septuagenarian BBC World Affairs Editor, a shrinking violet. For several years there was even a BBC programme called Simpson’s World and fellow broadcasters like to rib him about the time he “liberated” Kabul in front of the camera. But the ribbing comes mainly from admiration for the solid body of work that Simpson has carried out, not least in dangerous war situations, such as in Baghdad or Sarajevo. He is very much the go-to face to explain conflicts to the viewer, in a way that Kate Adie used to be. His exploits and associated reflections have moreover been covered in a series of books recounting what it is like on the frontline of international news. However, his latest volume (We Chose to Speak of War and Strife, Bloomsbury, £25) is somewhat different, as it is essentially a celebration of the world of foreign correspondents past and present, from Henry Crabb Robinson onwards. Scores of names — many who will be familiar to avid TV viewers and newspaper readers — fill the book’s pages, moving not so much chronologically or geographically but thematically. Chapters have such headings as Journeys, Scoops, Taking Risks and Getting Involved. Some foreign correspondents, such as Martha Gelhorn and Marie Colvin, showed incredible ingenuity as well as bravery, the latter paying for it with her life.

john-simpson Rather a lot of Simpson’s subjects perish in the later chapters, which is partly a reflection of the way that attitudes to correspondents have changed. When I was a cub reporter stringing for the Manchester Evening News during the Vietnam War it never entered my head to wear camouflage or a flak-jacket. Both sides in the conflict wanted their story told and were eager to help. But these days, all too often journalists are themselves targets, either for hostage-taking or gruesome execution, not least by fanatical Islamist groups, if not just ending up as collateral damage on the battlefield. Simpson being Simpson, of course he interjects his own experiences into that of others, sometimes as colleagues, but often in a more editorial fashion. He betrays a certain competitiveness which has indeed characterises much of the relationship between foreign correspondents working for different organisations, but there is also compassion. He has his favourites among colleagues, including Lyse Doucet and Frank Gardner, as well as some by whom he has been less impressed. He rightly laments the fact that even as news outlets and platforms have multiplied in the digital age the resources that are devoted to employing and dispatching foreign correspondents has shrunk substantially. So in a sense one is left with a feeling at the end of this book that it something of a swan-song, not just for John Simpson but also for the profession. That would be a shame, to put it mildly, as there is so much out there in the big bad world that we need to know about. .

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Finding My Family

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th June, 2015

Jonathan, Denise, JillAs someone who is on TV often as interviewer or commentator (mainly for Middle Eastern channels these days) it was an odd experience to be the subject of a television documentary this morning, “Family Finders” on BBC1. I was impressed with the professionalism and sensitivity of the crew from Ricochet Productions who did the filming over two days in Manchester earlier this Spring and I was more than happy with the end product. It has been quite an emotional roller coaster these past nine months, since my elder sister Denise wrote to me, thereby re-establishing contact for the first time since our mother gave me up for adoption, which was completed when I was nearly 18 months old. It was a great surprise (to both of us!) to discover that I had a half-sister Jillian as well, and it was wonderful that she flew over from her home in Spain to meet meet last Autumn. Quite apart from the physical resemblance (especially with Denise), it was extraordinary how close we have felt despite six decades of separation. Blood is indeed thicker than water. Sadly, I had a very unsatisfactory adoption. somewhat alleviated by a lovely older adoptive sister, who unfortunately went off to boarding school when I was of an age to really understand what was going on in the house. That is the subject of a book I am currently trying to finish. In the meantime, if you missed the TV programme on BBC1 today, it is being rebroadcast on BBC2 tomorrow morning at 0730 BST, and is available on BBS iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05ztps6/family-finders-episode-6

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Egypt: Please Release the AJ3 NOW!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2014

imageIt’s now one year since three Al Jazeera journalists have been in prison in Egypt, for the simple “crime” of doing their job. One of them is a former colleague of mine at the BBC, Peter Greste, from Australia, from where his family and friends have organised a formidable lobbying campaign for his release. The other two — equally worthy of sympathy and support — are Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. President Sisi’s government disapproved strlngly of the way that the Doha-based Al Jazeera covered the coup against ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as the grotesque human rights abuses that have taken place against Muslim Brotherhood supporters and pro-democracy activists. The farcical trial and subsequent imprisonment of the Al Jazeera 3 is one of the most egregious attempts to stifle press freedom anywhere in the Middle East — a region that is not short of bad examples. Sadly, Western governments, including in Washington and London, have been fairly muted in their criticism of Sisi and his henchmen. While this may be partly an attempt to woo Cairo into releasing the AJ3, I fear it is more a case of Realpolitik, in which the major Western powers see Egypt as an important ally, as well as a friend to Israel. In my view, this is extremely short-sighted, and further undermines the West’s claim to moral authority. It is important that people around the world, as well as governments and media organisations, stand up and protest about human rights abuses and the suppression of the media. And for my part, on this sad first anniversary of the AJ3’s incarceration, I ask General Sisi and his colleagues politely, both for the sake of the three individuals concerned and for the sake of Egypt’s dignity and reputation abroad, please release Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baker Mohamed immediately!

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Farewell to Bush House

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th July, 2012

This week, the BBC World Service completed its move out of Bush House in the Aldwych to the state-of-the-art new news and current affairs HQ attached to Broadcasting House in Portland Place. As I drove past Bush House yesterday afternoon, a lump stuck in my throat. This was not just nostalgia for an iconic building, whose name and role as the voice of Britain were known throughout the world but also because of fears that I — and many others who worked there — have for the future of the World Service. During the 20-odd years I was based there, the whittling away of European language services began and staff cuts became ever more severe. There was a certain logic to the argument that previously Communist states of central and eastern Europe no longer needed Auntie to tell them what was going on in the world (including inside their own country) once they had their own free media, but the arguments for cutting some of the more exotic services were far less evident. Moreover, from the time John Birt took over as Director General of the BBC it became clear that the Corporation’s top brass did not value the World Service as much as its listeners or those who worked there did. That trend has alas continued, whatever Mark Thompson said in his valedicory broadcast. Moreover, as the World Service is now no longer funded by the Foreign Office, but instead by the general BBC licence fee, its “value” to those paying for it is bound to be further questioned. Worst of all, instead of having World Service radio, with all its different language services and regional departments, all under one roof in a building that was almost like an Oxbridge college in atmosphere and range of expertise, instead now World Service employees will hot-desk with other BBC staff, I understand, and technical resources will be pooled. This doubtlkess makes a lot of sense to accountants, but very little to those of us who treasured what had become during and after the Second World War, one of Britain’s greatest assets.

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Tim Farron’s Licence to Roam

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th June, 2012

There was a moment on the BBC’s Question Time this week when someone asked Liberal Democrat Party President Tim Farron whether he agrees with any of the Coalition government’s policies. It was a forgivable jibe and actually quite useful, as it gave Tim an opportunity to “differentiate”. I wager that is going to be the buzzword at the LibDem Conference in Brighton this September, as people stake out clearly the differences between Liberal Democrat policy and government policy. Of course, often the two do coincide. Considering how much the LibDems are the junior partner in the Coalition in terms of seats (thanks to our antideluvian voting system), it’s remarkable how many “wins” the party has had in getting through such things as raising the tax threshold and a reasonably positive attitude to the European Union (most of the time!) — often to the fury of backbench Tory MPs, who seem to believe that because they are the bigger party in the Coalition they should get their own way all the time. David Cameron, to his credit, understands the nature of Coalition government better than they do. But much of the public is still a bit baffled. The situation is not helped by the Labour opposition muddying the water by carrying out a full-frontal assault on the LibDems almost from Day 1. But this means that the LibDems need to keep saying over and over again — in the media, in Focuses, and most importantly on the doorstep — what these LibDem policy “wins” are, and moreover what the Party’s policy is and remains. As President, with no Government job, Tim Farron is in a ideal position to lead that effort. And maybe that is why he often gives the impression, on Question Time and elsewhere, that he has been given a Licence to Roam.

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No Woman’s Land

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th March, 2012

To celebrate International Women’s Day and highlight the dangers faced by female journalists, Thomson Reuters hosted a panel discussion at its Canary Wharf headquarters this (Thursday) evening, chaired by my former BBC colleague Lyse Doucet, on behalf of the International News Safety Institute (INSI).The event also served as a book launch for No Woman’s Land, an illustrated collection of essays by women correspondents who have served on the frontline (including Lyse), with a foreword by Lara Logan, the American journalist who was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square during last year’s tumultuous uprising in Egypt. Before the discussion — which was televised and streamed online — we participants stood in silence as the rollcall of women journalists who had been killed over the past decade was displayed on the screen. Many perished in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, but other fatal zones included Russia, Mexico and the Philippines. In all, over 1,000 journalists — male and female — have been killed since 2001, 174 last year alone. These days, journalists are often specifically targetted — as happened in Homs in Syria recently, the veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin being one of the casualties. Moreover, as several members of the panel and audience testified, women reporters increasingly find themselves the subject of sexual harrassment as well as intimidation. Yet this evening was by no means one of total gloom, as several female correspondents argued that their sex had not usually been any impediment to being given challenging assignments. And as Lyse Doucet said, while we must remember the fallen, today was also a celebration of the way women have established themselves more forcefully within the labour force and life in general, even if there is still a long way to go in some areas.

The book No Woman’s Land is available through www.newssafety.org priced £20. Proceeds will fund INSI’s safety training for women working in the media

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BBC World Service at 80

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2012

The courtyard at Bush House in London was transformed tonight thanks to a very high-tech marquee and a full-on operation by an Events Management team, complete with atmospheric coloured lighting, bars with chilled cabinets full of beers and white wine, and a modern pop music band playing well, but too loud for an event which should all have been about networking. The excuse for a party was the BBC World Service’s 80th anniversary, but this was also a funeral reception, as this month sees the beginning of the physical move of the iconic BBC World Service brand out of Bush House into “state-of-the-art” facilities in the new expanded Broadcasting House off Portland Place. Mark Thompson, BBC Director General, was predictably upbeat about the change, eulogising the integration of news and current affairs output, though as someone who worked at Bush House for almost 20 years, I was as sanguine as many of my former colleagues present about this (and also wondered how someone could have reached the pinnacle of a broadcasting career while uttering so many umms and errs when he speaks). Actually, this evening was the first of two parties: tonight targetted the great, the good and the has-beens. Current World Service staff were, by-and-large, channeled towards a ballot for tickets for a second event, to be held in the marquee tomorrow. (Former World Service head an all-round good egg, John Tusa, boycotted this evening’s reception in protest at this segregation, and the failure to invite all staff.) Yet it was still an impressive crowd tonight. Apart from diplomats and members of the House of Lords, who were there in profusion, we were graced by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who has truly found his niche, having previously bombed so tragically as Conservative Party Leader. He praised the work that the World Service has done over the past 80 years, and pointed out that just the other day London hosted a major international conference on Somalia, which is one country where disparate groups tune in religiously to the BBC to find out what is going on in their own country. Lord Williams of Baglan (my former BBC colleague and later UN official, Michael Williams, standing in for Chris Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust, who had to be at a House of Lords debate on BBC funding) was reassuring as he presented himself as the man on the BBC Trust who has a particular brief regarding international services. Moreover, there were some living legends present at the party, such as Hugh Lunghi, interpreter for Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Yet this evening’s bash did feel like the curtain call for a wonderful institution and the people who worked in it. A goody-bag for guests contained a brochure which boasted that the BBC broadcasts in 27 languages; when I first started working in Bush House in 1983, this was over 40. Yes, there has been a welcome boost to the Arabic and Persian services in particular in recent years, not least in TV output. But much else has been lost. Not least of the losses is the unique Bush House ethos: that wonderful combination of expertise and truth-seeking. And as we guests were chased out of the marquee at 8.40, after the bars stopped serving drink (how different from the bacchinalean 70th event in 2002!), I couldn’t help thinking that I had been at not so much a celebration as a wake.

Link: www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice

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The Voice of the Brain of Britain: Radio 4

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th August, 2011

Though BBC Radio 4 has never been my major client, I’ve enjoyed working for that station perhaps more than for any other media outlet. For a dozen years, I contributed regularly to ‘Thought for the Day’ on the ‘Today’ programme and more recently have filed pieces for ‘From Our Own Correspondent’. But my satisfaction is also because I am a Radio 4 sort of person, I guess, as I realised when reading Kevin D’Arcy’s entertaining book, The Voice of the Brain of Britain: A Portrait of Radio 4 (Rajah Books, 2007, £12.99). Kevin kindly gave me a copy when the book came out, but shamefully I’ve only just got round to reading it, but I can thoroughly recommend it as an informal but well informed analysis of what makes Radio 4 so special, in content and in concept. The ‘Today’ programme of course sets the political and news agenda for much of the thinking nation (especially those of us who live in London), but as Kevin rightly points out, it is so much more than just news and current affairs, embracing educative and entertaining material, including cutting edge comedy. Lord Reith might turn over in his grave because of some of the things that go out on the airwaves these days, but in general Radio 4 sets a standard that is unparalleled, as home or abroad.

 

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