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Discussion > Is the BBC approaching a tipping point?

Dung, you are defaming me because you have confidently asserted that I am saying something that I actually abhor. I am being totally precise in what I say and I am perfectly prepared to carry the can for it. But I take your wrong statement very seriously, because, if people believe it, it gravely affects my reputation and my ability to be friends with them, be they names or nyms.


You are inconsistent; today in the Tony Newbury thread you praised Andrew Montford and friends for the job they were doing and believed at some point that they would get recognition. On the same day in this thread you accuse a large part of the "friends" of being a mob hiding behind anonymity.
You make these accusations without any knowledge as to whether any or all these people would be willing to reveal their true identities if asked. At the moment you are, on a daily basis insulting the majority of people who post on BH.

There is no inconsistency at all.

First of all, I wrote carefully when I said Andrew and friends. That deliberately left it up to him to say whom. No doubt he would include some that contribute here. But I wasn't saying and I didn't mean everyone here. I doubt he'd include BitBucket and, who knows, mydog might also miss the cut. I was also implying that he may well have received help from others who do not normally contribute here. That's why I used the expression I did. I was thinking of the books as much as his posts over many years here. Did you assume you are a friend just because you comment here? I didn't assume that about you or about myself.

When I talked about the mob I meant the mob on Twitter and various blogs that named McAlpine and indicated he was the violent, murderous paedophile described by Steve Messham on Newsnight the Friday before last. The context is totally clear, and extremely serious, which is precisely why I asked Shub the question I did. The much-vaunted 'social web' has in the last twelve days shown us all how dreadful such an anonymous mob can be powered by this very-new technology. Lord McAlpine has I assume considerable resources to put into libel proceedings. Even then some of the rancid, blood-smeared dirt sticks. What about those who could easily be defamed without this man's resources?

If this makes people who use a pseudonym in other places think, and think hard, good. But I wasn't saying what you assert I was saying. I'd ask for an apology but what's the point? My assumption is that you don't care, that you're happy to throw such assertions around and damage someone else you've taken a dislike to, because that's what people do on the Web, innit. Not good enough - and that is my point.

Nov 12, 2012 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Back to real people in the real world and how the BBC is going to move forward, if it is. I have been helped by three very different perspectives on whether Chris Patten's the man to take things forward.

Simon Heffer in the Mail frames the latest debacle as part of a 40-year grudge match between Lords McAlpine and Patten. He say there's no way Patten, who helped plot the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, can possibly be of use now, because he's never been of use anywhere. Even if one disagrees with that, the history Heffer takes one through is extremely interesting.

Bruce Anderson at Conservative Home on the other hand praises "one of the finest feline political intelligences of our time, as he has demonstrated over the past 72 hours. His eye is now in: the stroke-play is back to the old form." Anderson's recipe for BBC transformation is Patten paired with Paxman. I heard of crazier things working, though I'd love Quentin Letts in the mix as well.

But the most important and balanced witness for me is Lord Tebbit of Chingford. Clearly, for him, the jury's out on Lord Patten turning the Beeb around. What he says about Alistair McAlpine - and about doing the best he could to keep scandal away from Number 10 in his days as party chairman - carries weight for me, as an empiricist. Another believer in the concept of public service broadcasting. I'm not sure I am, in the days of Web2.0 and beyond - but well worth taking in.

Nov 12, 2012 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

With the the names of the 28 now revealed by a determined blogger, I concede that the BBC has indeed reached a Tipping Point - tip baby, tip!!

Nov 12, 2012 at 11:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

I saw your comment about "mobs on the Internet" and the same thought as Dung's crossed my mind too. Though I agree with you that you were clear about whom you were referring to in that passage, given that were talking about anonymous people on blogs, especially on this blog and then your comment glided over to other sets of anonymous people making unfounded cries of 'pedophile', it is hard not take your comment in the broader context what we were discussing. And thereby come away with an impression that you were using the McAlpine case as yet another illustration of the problems with anonymity.

Anyway, what I meant by the emperor has no clothes remark was simply that, sometimes, a faceless, anonymous voice may shout something out in a crowd that may have the grain of truth to it. Or even be the plain, unvarnished, whole truth at other times. Truth is socially and structurally very corrosive, and our fragile human niceties and conventions cannot withstand it at times. Convention, solidified by orthodoxy and backed by power can look dangerously similar to truth itself - if the boy had shouted that the emperor had no clothes at a more inopportune moment, say, for example, he might have indeed landed in prison, and with the sanction of the same crowd that opened its eyes because of him. In the story, the nude emperor's situation had ripened to the point of absurdity that a small innocent boy could then simply pop the bubble.

The McAlpine Twitter Mob perceived a similar ripening of circumstances had occurred and succumbed to their basest fantasies. But they only betrayed themselves. Such ejaculatory commentary is a result of conversation dynamics. It is a reflection of the mob's, or the individual's perception of the crescendo of revelatory momentum.

I don't know if you should sue people for that. The twitter crowd have made fools of themselves, have they not?

McAlpine should sue the BBC - the originators of the debacle. No one persecutes a mob. The mob is self-destructive. These tweeters didn't just wake up one fine day and decide to bespoil the name of McAlpine, did they?

Nov 13, 2012 at 5:55 AM | Registered Commentershub

And thereby come away with an impression that you were using the McAlpine case as yet another illustration of the problems with anonymity.

You mean you admit there are other problems with anonymity? Blow me down with a feather.

This is an terrible instance of internet culture gone wrong, closely related to the latest missteps of BBC News. It's not one I had imagined before. I am the little boy in your fable, stating the obvious. I never read the bit where he refused to give his name and disappeared into thin air so that nobody could follow him, either to disagree or to salute his courage.

You should have begun a separate Discussion if you disagreed with something on the Nic Lewis one, rather than interrupting this one. I won't discuss it further here. Apologies to Martin for not drawing that line before.

Nov 13, 2012 at 7:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

You disrupted the Nic L thread with the BBC stuff. At least this thread was about the BBC.

I don't admit to 'problems with anonymity.' You were making as if you had established a few already, and 'there it was, another one'.

You might imagine Twitter to be an 'Internet' thing. It is not exactly that. It is people out in the world, away from their desks ... doing a kind of thing ('express yourself in 140 char') that at least I don't simply associate with any 'Internet culture' at all. In some ways, it is the antithesis of an Internet culture.

'Here, pull out your mobile phone and vomit a sentence about something you probably know nothing about but, would definitely like to say something about. We know you have won't much to say and you can't anyway.' - sounds more like it was meant for Internet-challenged people.

And the boy's name is not important.

Nov 13, 2012 at 11:04 AM | Registered Commentershub

"No first world country with a free, vibrant press and with the increasing use of the internet for the viewing of television should tolerate summonsing citizens to court in order to pay their TV licenses"


Barrister's opinion in The Commentator

Nov 13, 2012 at 3:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I would like to remind Richard Drake that there is a Discussion thread on pseudonyms and ask him to post further opinions in that discussion.
His Grace has already asked for discussions about Anonymity to be ended in another current thread.

Nov 13, 2012 at 6:16 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Boris Johnston is a real and, if the news is to be believed, a not unimportant person in the UK. As I've been mulling over this thread, a thread that I think is an important one, I think it may be helpful to return to the piece he wrote in the Telegraph on the BBC this week and my critique of it. It's only a suggestion. There are also the three articles on Chris Patten by Mssrs Heffer, Anderson and Tebbit.

Nov 14, 2012 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard, Maybe you could give URL's for the B.Johnson/Telegraph article and your critique of it?

Nov 14, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Richard, Maybe you could give URL's for the B.Johnson/Telegraph article and your critique of it?

Nov 14, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Martin A>>>>>

I'd be interested in that too. Perhaps we won't have to wait for it much longer.

Nov 14, 2012 at 6:55 PM | Registered CommenterRKS

Yep, got the spelling of my mayor's surname wrong. On Monday he produced BBC investigation: Smearing an innocent man’s name is the real tragedy here. I felt it hit some targets but was somehow uneasy about it. It was only as I wrote about it here that I realised what was bothering me. My words were taken as a criticism of Bishop Hill contributors but that was quite wrong. It was a criticism of Boris as political opportunist and those he refused to criticise. I was struck by the contrast with Lord Tebbit last month, taking up the BBC situation but ranging much wider:

I am also a defender of a freely elected, democratic House of Commons having exclusive power to tax and spend. What is wrong with our Parliament is that the electors have put there rather a lot of poor quality people. That is above all a criticism of the electorate. Democracy is hard work and it cannot be left solely to an establishment of professional politicians.

How to strike the balance between criticism of a key, elitist institution and of the general public or electorate, of ourselves? Tebbit has the advantage of no longer needing to seek votes. I don't know the answer. But I remain very grateful for this thread.

Nov 14, 2012 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Tebbit was in the Telegraph on 24th October. Suggestions only.

Nov 14, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Anon: thank you for providing those links, only one of which I'd seen before.

Which BBC scandal are you saying is a side show and in what way? That's too sweeping a statement and negative a viewpoint for me at the moment. But this kind of material is hard to assess without having access to much more evidence. I was pleased to hear the other day that the government had resisted pressure to can the inquiry into Waterhouse, as your third link confirms:

Justice minister Lord McNally said the government would not abandon the Macur inquiry.

Was the YouTube interview with 'Michael' made by and shown on Sky News? Which night was that? Let's hope and pray that such testimony is now fully investigated, as it always should have been. What do you make of Steve Messham's apology to Lord McAlpine last week? (Don't know is always a good answer if that's the nearest.)

Lastly, do you have a direct interest in any of this? Do you know anyone who suffered child abuse, especially through the care home system? Is there any other reason that you wish to be anonymous in bringing these things to our attention?

Nov 14, 2012 at 11:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I expect that Elias Canetti's 'Crowds and Power' is probably relevant to much of the above discussion. I confess that I have not read it, but have always wanted to since I read, many years ago, his very powerful novel 'Auto da Fe' (Die Blendung), which made a lasting impression upon me. Truly one of the literary masters of the 20th century, and without doubt one of the most intelligent.

This is a tantalising excerpt from 'Crowds and Power' in Wikipedia:

On asking questions: "On the questioner the effect is a feeling of enhanced power. He enjoys this and consequentially asks more and more questions; every answer he receives is an act of submission. Personal freedom consists largely in having a defence against questions. The most blatant tyranny is the one which asks the most blatant questions." [1]

I imagine that the German version of Wikipedia would have a much fuller treatment, although I haven't looked; my German is a little rusty these days.

Nov 15, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

May I politely suggest starting a different discussion thread for discussions on the nature of power, the psychology of mobs and so on?

Nov 15, 2012 at 11:28 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Martin, you have just, possibly without realizing it, provided a perfect illustration of Canetti's insightful statement. Nonetheless, since it is your thread, I shall graciously accede to your demand (I would not say request) and withdraw. The question of power and its potential abuse is I believe highly relevant to the behemoth that is the BBC, and am happy to discuss such matters elsewhere if anyone is interested.

Nov 15, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

Agree with Martin that that's way too general. One alternative is to wait for the next piece of news vis-a-vis the BBC. There are bound to be some big ones: appointment of the new DG, possible sackings, radical reorganisations, results of the various inquiries, people arguing for abolition of the license free in 2015, etc. A bit of a pause until the next chunk is probably better than wandering well off topic.

Nov 15, 2012 at 2:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

That didn't take long. Here's a really interesting quote from a BBC report on Lord McAlpine after he was interviewed on World at One today:

Mr Reid [McAlpine's lawyer] confirmed several prominent people had already apologised, including Monbiot who said: "I'm feeling worse about this than about anything else I have ever done - though I realise that is as nothing by comparison to what you have gone through with the help of my stupidity and thoughtlessness."

Good on George Monbiot for saying that. It reminds me of the loss on confidence I suggested warming alarmists within the BBC - and those that they tend to listen to and interview - were likely to suffer as a result of botches in other areas. I genuinely respect Monbiot for this response. But if he was so wrong in one series of tweets, perhaps he is in others? That radical thought will sink in as time goes on I feel certain.

Nov 15, 2012 at 6:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I would respect Monbiot more, if I he hadn't let his hatred of 'tories' or his enemies' make him say it in the first place..

No doubt, was terrified of a lawsuit when he made his apology (private tweets, no Guardian to get him out of the fire) give him credit for being brighter than Bercow in doing it (who no doubt thinks still, nasty tory, doesn't matter, there all evil anyway, false but accurate, that sort of rubbish thinking)

Nov 15, 2012 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Richard Drake: Since our host decided to delete my previous post with no reason (at least that I can fathom) there seems little point answering your questions as it is unlikely you will see this post.

There should be an in depth public inquiry into all the outstanding allegations, not just the shenanigans at the BBC, which looks like a side show distraction to limit the scope of any inquiry, in the context of the much bigger allegations.

deleting posts with links to those allegations seems, on the face of it, to be part of the bigger problem and in now way part of the solution. Choosing not to look is one thing, choosing to sweep it under the carpet and prevent other seeing is quite another IMHO.

Nov 15, 2012 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnon

Good on George Monbiot for saying that. (...) I genuinely respect Monbiot for this response. (...)
Nov 15, 2012 at 6:05 PM Richard Drake

I think we have seen something previously that may have parallels. After CG1 Monbiot (I can't remember the details of what he said) expressed dismay at what had been revealed. I remember that he seemed genuinely shocked. But a few weeks later he was back on form, on message, as if CG1 had never happened.

Monbiot was clearly caught up in the "tories bugger children" frenzy initiated by the BBC. I think that the parallels between this microcosm and the great CAGW mass-delusion will go entirely unnoticed.

[If anyone can put their finger on what Monbiot said after CG1, it would be interesting to compare it with his current meal of crow pie.]

Nov 15, 2012 at 9:53 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

"Since our host decided to delete my previous post with no reason (at least that I can fathom) "

I had taken a quick look and it seemed to me that you linked to a very serious libel. Can you really not fathom why the post was deleted?

Nov 15, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBig Oil

Nice of the BBC to hand over £185,000 of 'our' money - I don't recall slandering McAlpine, why should *I* be paying?

Nov 15, 2012 at 11:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterDave_G

Martin A, I think the Monbiot post you remember is the one entitled "the knights carbonic":
As you can see, by the second half of the post Monbiot's need to look down on others had overcome his scientific curiosity (all probably very reassuring to those who feel the same need).

Nov 15, 2012 at 11:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSJF