BBC Scotland’s Graham Stewart owes me an apology, but I won’t be getting one if it’s up to him. I think it’s worthwhile addressing why I am blogging about this since any apology I do get will be insincere. Where do I begin?
For some time now, I’ve been calling on the left to be careful how we engage with mainstream media broadcasters on social media. Many of my fellow lefties dismiss every MSM employee as equally bad. Either that or they have a bee in their bonnet about one particular network: typically either the BBC or Rupert Murdoch’s SKY News for, allegedly, only employing right-wing clones. These are very crude and totally indefensible assertions.
It is true that there are few political broadcasters across all networks who do a good job. What qualifies as ‘doing a good job’ in this context? I would like to think we can agree on the basics. Either way, my detailed answer can be found in several of my blog posts: here, for example. But the fact that even today there are still some broadcasters worth watching/listening to means we should single them out for praise, as negative feedback won’t work in a vacuum. We should even give credit where it’s due when typically less good broadcasters pleasantly surprise us. Is there any point praising people for doing their job? Is that not what they get paid for? That is the ‘logic’ justifying the ultra-left sectarian dismissal of all the MSM/bourgeoise media. But it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, not if the left wants to win hegemony throughout society, rather than settle for being generations of angry spectators heckling pointlessly as we’re escorted off the stage of history.
Politics broadcasters who are fair deserve praise, as do those capable of making politics entertaining. Being on top of their brief, and capable of thinking on their feet during interviews is crucial for a broadcaster to be taken seriously. Most broadcasters on every channel fails on every ground, especially at the BBC. The handful who qualify as good broadcasters (and, controversially on the left, I’d include Andrew Neil on my personal list of exceptions to the rule) set an excellent example to colleagues, thereby piling up pressure on employers who have to respond to some extent to their audience, and the audiences of their competitors. But the latter depends entirely on how the left-wing part of the audience responds.
If fair journalism (of the kind we have come to expect from, say, Eddie Mair, Chris Mason, Faisal Islam, Samira Ahmed, Mark Mardell and others) is not rewarded with praise when justified, then it will be infinitely easier for right wing editors and proprietors to sack them, or to so rarely let them have access to the airwaves that it amounts to the same thing.
Unless good broadcasters elicit positive feedback on social media (and that is in our hands), their bosses will punish them as an implicit warning to colleagues: “Don’t you dare step out of line, or you too can expect similar treatment.”
Praising good journalism can do more than rein in Tory editors imposing straightjackets on decent journalists: when the good ones are warmly praised on social media, their less confident, or possibly merely careerist, colleagues may want a piece of the action. Few humans are entirely immune to negative feedback in any forum if that is all they ever receive. If broadcasters know how to stop the worst abuse they receive on Twitter, or get a better balance, possibly even earn plenty of praise, then why would they turn their back on that?
Good broadcasters are congenitally incapable (as are the bad ones) of being politically neutral. There’s no point demanding that as we can scour through histories and find enough ‘dirt’ to make everyone unfit to be a broadcaster either for being too left-wing or too right-wing while a student or whatever.
Every last one of us has an agenda, on big and small matters. We all have to deal with inhabiting a planet where others challenge the way we see things. What distinguishes the good from the bad broadcaster is their successful suppression of opinions, allowing others to have their say.
Many on the left dismiss the MSM because what they demand is blind obedience to whatever own particular hobby horse happens to be. And the left is not without divisions of our own. And we even, as individuals, change our minds. It is not in our interests to suppress other views. We are not helped by soft interviews. We can’t expect to get them. And soft interviews wouldn’t be any good for us even if we could get them.
The good interviewer isn’t distinguished from the bad by the former parroting our views. The left has to demand that we are allowed access to the media to make our case if a valid one, especially an already hugely popular one. When we do get interviews we can’t complain when our views are challenged, not if everyone faces similar treatment by the interviewer in question. And that is why I disagree with almost everyone on the left about Andrew Neil.
I disagree with him about a lot of things. But his general election interview of Theresa May was hardly designed to help her secure any kind of mandate. So, when he blocks people on Twitter for saying he was openly biased towards Theresa May in the General Election, I can’t blame him. Not just that interview sets him apart from almost every broadcaster at the BBC and across all five networks: in general, he doesn’t make things easier for Tory politicians. Our criticism of him should relate more to the absence of our voice on the telly. We, Jeremy Corbyn’s voters that is, are censored almost entirely out of the picture. We deserve a right to reply. The question is how we accelerate our visibility on the mainstream media.
And that brings me back to Graham Stewart. When he responded to my criticism of him on twitter, I was genuinely surprise: few broadcasters try to defend themselves. I hadn’t framed my tweets in a manner designed to open up dialogue, but if Comrade Stewart tried to address my concerns, then he could, possibly, have earned a degree of respect. But his responses were poor, so I have even less respect for him than I already had. I wouldn’t have minded if he blocked me as that’s how MSM Tories tend to behave, dishing out abuse, but unwilling to stomache a taste of their own medicine. Having received feedback, I decided to engage with him to see where this got us.
Graham Stewart defended racial profiling. At any rate, that’s the only conclusion I could draw from his defence of treating a Muslim reading a book about Syria as a potential terrorist. Only racists can justify such racial profiling. Since Graham Stewart disagrees, I draw my own conclusion. I’m reading a book about Syria at the moment, and have read others in the past. Why would I be unlikely to face intimidation from the authorities if I was seen doing this on an plane? Possibly because I don’t fit the racial profile? There is nothing suspicious about reading books on Syria, regardless of clothing or skin colour, or the food you eat on a plane or anywhere else.
Listen to Graham Stewart’s apologetics for the scum who removed a Muslim woman’s human rights for daring to reading a book, and listen to his incredulity that she wanted an apology for. And then judge for yourself if you think he was even handed. If you side with him, then words fail me. Anyway, you can find this interview with Faizah Shaheen about twenty minutes into this program: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08x9tx6
I don’t think Graham Stewart has a leg to stand on. He thinks Faizah was treated fairly, she doesn’t. But maybe I’m wrong. I don’t accept that, but others might. As Faizah explained there’s a link between official Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims. By refusing to challenge establishment racism, Graham Stewart makes society a more dangerous place for vulnerable people, by helping the violent Islamophobes feel safe in their hate fueled fury. This is how I see things, and I don’t see why I should be insulted for making my opinion known on social media. Graham Stewart went on to tell me that I was alleging only my views should be aired on his show. This is him descending into the gutter, and he knows it.
On Twitter and a variety of blogs I’ve called for respectful debate, listening to those who disagree with us, defending those who voted both ways in Scotland’s independence referendum, both ways on the Brexit vote, and for voting several different ways in Holyrood and Westminster elections. I frequently praise good broadcasters at the BBC – and others networks -, cutting them slack when they either have a bad day or deploy devil’s advocacy or simply disagree with what we think, as is their right and inevitable from time to time.
No one who reads what I’ve written on Twitter, this blog or anywhere else could fall for Graham Stewart’s bizarre caricature of my criticism of him. If he wants to block me, I can’t stop him. Since I have zero respect for him, I’ll shed no tears if he blocks me, and it won’t do him much good.
Graham Stewart is an unapologetic clueless, reactionary who isn’t worth one penny of our license fee. Sack him and award Samira Ahmed a pay rise from the money saved.