Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Your letters...

Impartiality and the BBC

Sir, — In 1986 Allen & Unwin published a book by Michael Leapman entitled The Last Days of the Beeb.

Predictably, reports of the BBC’s untimely demise had been greatly exaggerated.

A quotation from a former Henley resident (and if Lord Hall will forgive me, more famous than the outgoing director-general) may provide the clue.

Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, wrote: “BBC censorship seems to have the same subtly reactionary colour that it always had. The BBC claims, of course, to be both independent and non-political.”

This was a deadly put-down and an extremely perspicacious comment considering that the evidence vindicating it wouldn’t surface until many decades later.

For instance, the Foreign Office’s information research department, which also engaged in “black propaganda”, maintained a strong relationship with the BBC and this clearly undermined the corporation’s claim of complete objectivity and independence.

One of the most egregious examples of BBC involvement was its collaboration in the August 1953 coup against the democratically elected government of Iran.

It was arranged that the BBC Persian language news broadcast would not begin with the usual “It is now midnight in London” but instead “It is now exactly midnight”.

Or take Frederick Forsyth’s experiences with “Auntie” in the Sixties, described in his 2015 autobiography The Outsider — My Life In Intrigue.

He writes that the BBC was and remains at the every core of the establishment, saying: “The calling of a true news and current affairs organisation is to hold the establishment to account but never to join it.”

Reporting from Nigeria as a BBC foreign correspondent on the Biafran War, he says: “All I had was a story that deserved to be told and the opposition of the British establishment that seemed determined no one should hear about it.”

Incidentally, colonialist Britain’s duplicitous hand in that war to achieve its own ends is explored in a Nigerian version of Chekov’s Three Sisters, performed at the National Theatre in London in December.

In January 2016, newly released files from the Fifties showed the extent to which the Government was monitoring the BBC for communist and Soviet sympathisers.

In 1947, Conservative MP Sir Waldron Smithers had called for the setting up a Commons committee on un-British activities on the lines of the notorious committee of un-American activities.

Jean Seaton’s book Pinkoes and Traitors (2015) explores the “troubling closeness” between the BBC, the Government and MI5.

The Thirties saw the start of BBC-embedded MI5 officers like Brig Ronnie Stonham, known as the Christmas Tree Man.

This had nothing to do with him being a munificent to staff at Christmas. Operating from a small, closely guarded office in room 105 on the first floor of Broadcasting House, he looked out for subversives whose personal files would be stamped with a Christmas tree symbol.

The office was discreetly labelled “Special Duties Management”.

As his activities inspired Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is ironic but also true to form that a larger-than-life-size statue of the man who satirised the BBC as “The Ministry of Truth” should be erected at New Broadcasting House in November 2017 courtesy of Lord Hall, who was quoted at the time as follows: “I shall look forward to saluting him every morning and evening as I arrive and leave from work, reminding us all of why we do what we do.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence, Lord Hall has insisted in a blitzkrieg of addresses that the BBC is not a state broadcaster but a national broadcaster.

As Britain is a nation-state, this is at best disingenuous and at worst typical BBC sophistry.

According to the Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, the Establishment is a conservative, partly hereditary, secretive, self-perpetuating ruling class and includes the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the director-general of the BBC.

In the latter, the roles merge. In J B Priestley’s The Prince Regent and his Era, we read the following: “The monarch’s duty was to encourage religion and safeguard morality.”

Move forward 200 years and we find that the BBC has assumed the monarch’s mantle. We can see this in the use of the royal “we” by Today presenters (“thank you for talking to us”), reminiscent of a former PM’s “We have become a grandmother”, the plethora of church services and religious programmes and the hysterical obsession with sexual infractions.

It all goes back to John Reith, the first general manager of the BBC in 1922, the son of a preacher, who was determined to manage the BBC and, by means of it, in some measure to manage the nation.

He stood with the Government against the General Strike of 1926, insisted on Christianity and morality, excluded from the airwaves points of view like Communism and became increasingly authoritarian, so it was a joke of the times that every day the Prince of Wales got more democratic and Sir John Reith more regal.

In one of his speeches last year, Lord Hall was apoplectic with rage over the London-based Russian TV station RT laughing at the BBC.

But is it any wonder when Andrew Marr, in his regular Monday slot Start the Week, announced to his two million listeners that Stalin was a paedophile?

It turned out that this bombastic revelation delivered in Marr’s booming voice was another example of BBC claptrap.

Talking about facts — as opposed to fake news — the BBC’s executive complaints unit adjudicated that a Panorama programme on the Government’s handling of covid-19 had breached the BBC’s own impartiality rules. This came in the wake of another impartiality breach over the Emily Maitlis v Dominic Cummings Newsnight report.

Commenting on both, barrister Rebecca Butler said that the BBC had shot itself in the foot, especially in light of political debate over the TV licence.

She stressed that we are not interested in the BBC’s views, only in objective, factual reporting.

But I suppose as she was being interviewed by RT’s Bill Dod, she can only be Putin’s puppet.

It reminded me of one morning not long ago when I was shocked to hear during an interview on Today that all Russian state-run media were Putin’s propaganda platforms.

I wasn’t shocked to hear this viewpoint on a BBC channel: If I had a shilling every time I heard this line I would be on my super-yacht cruising in the Aegean.

No, I was shocked because the interviewee was a member of BBC Monitoring, by definition a service providing raw information and factual data.

It so happened that I came across the then Monitoring chief at a reception a few days later and asked him if that had been monitoring’s opinion or the individual monitor’s.

His reply was telling: “It’s not an opinion, it’s fact.”

My conclusion is that as long as there is an establishment there will be a BBC and as long as there is a BBC there will be an establishment.

The BBC could never be impartial because its origins go back to the time the authorities were terrified that the public discontent might lead to a Russian-type Communist revolution in this country — the BBC was founded as bulwark of change. — Yours faithfully,

Alexis Alexander

Gosbrook Road, Caversham

This was not rubbish

Sir, — Having read Sue Ryder’s response to Deborah Williams’s letter regarding the charity’s clearance of stock in Nettlebed (Standard, August 7), I beg to differ.

In the last three weeks at least six very large skips have been filled with mostly saleable stock and this has been sent to landfill. Admittedly, the fixtures and fittings in the sale huts had to be removed and disposed of.

However, even after the retail team had “painstakingly sorted” stock, there was still a vast amount that could have raised further funds or gone to other local organisations in need.

I have been one of the 300-plus volunteers for 22 years. We worked very hard indeed and certainly in the last two years raised more than £500,000 per year.

We have all found it very upsetting to see the fruits of our labour being disposed of in this way.

While some paid staff were allowed to purchase goods after the hospice closure, we were not given that opportunity.

The current need for social distancing could easily have been organised, enabling us to do so. — Yours faithfully,

Zelda Kent-Lemon

Christmas Common

Tip working as normal

Sir, — A huge thank-you to Oxfordshire County Council for re-opening the Oakley Wood recycling centre a few weeks ago after several months’ closure during the flourishing garden-growing season.

(My kind neighbour had let me put a considerable amount of garden waste into her garden wheelie bin on one occasion but obviously I couldn’t do that every time.)

Oakley Wood is a very well-organised and efficient facility, with about 20 bays in use in normal times so currently has about 10 bays in use as each alternate bay is coned off, giving plenty of space for everyone.

With reference to the various grumbles raised in Michael Cotton’s letter (Standard, August 7):

• Cars have only ever been admitted one at a time. As soon as a bay is free, the next car drives in. There is nothing new here.

• On the two post-covid occasions I have visited, late on a Sunday morning with a car full of garden waste and at 7.55am on a Monday (the skip opens at 8am on the dot) with a car full of a variety of rubbish for each container, there was just a handful of cars in front of me and a wait time of merely a few minutes.

Both of my visits proceeded as speedily as I was able to carry the rubbish as under pre-covid conditions and my visits certainly did not take me any longer.

• As regards being able to park opposite the container you need to use, again, this is no different from pre-covid conditions because users can only park where there is a space which may well not be opposite “your” container.

The council operates working practices at the recycling centre which it deems to be safe for users and the staff who work there.

I very much hope that the current arrangements remain in place at least until the end of this year.

Safety must come first and if visitors don’t like queuing (who does?), it would be advisable to visit “off peak” — as with anything, if you go at the most popular times, there will be crowds. — Yours faithfully

Nicola Robinson

Sonning Common

Unpleasant memories

Sir, — Tomorrow (Saturday) is the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Little is made of it nowadays, yet it is memorable and was momentous.

And thank goodness for the atomic bomb — nothing else would ever have moved Emperor Hirohito into
surrender.

I was a schoolgirl at the time, when those who had survived as prisoners of the Japanese returned home.

My contact with those shattered and traumatised men was limited but the father of one of my classmates, who had worked on the Burma railway, committed suicide a few years later.

The murder of a seven-year-old girl, taken from her hospital bed not far from my home and killed by being held by her feet and having her head banged against a wall, was committed by a young man who had just returned from Changi Gaol.

He had witnessed a similar thing while a prisoner there. Memories of such events never leave you. — Yours faithfully,

Enid Light

Wargrave Road, Henley

HGVs ban supporter

Sir, — I support Amanda Chumas, as do many other residents in Bell Street, New Street, River Terrace and Station Road, regarding the heavy goods vehicles, some unmarked, that come through Henley.

These lorries are causing so much damage to properties and roads and also affecting the mental health of those of us who have to tolerate the vibration and noise that they make.

I have lived on the corner of Wharfe Lane for 33 years and in recent years there has been an increase in lorries using Henley as a short-cut, causing hold-ups when going over the bridge to London or Wargrave and otherwise to Reading along River Terrace and Station Road.

Henley Town Council must surely be able to prevent these lorries using this route as a short cut to their destination, maybe to save fuel? There must be a solution to this problem.

I would also like to mention the Station Road traffic lights, which hold up drivers so that queues often go back up New Street and on to the bridge and also along Reading Road.

Why not have a mini-roundabout and let drivers use their common sense? I am sure this would be a great relief to many. — Yours faithfully,

Jill Adams

Wharfe Lane, Henley

Why singing is special

Sir, — In the absence (as yet) of any scientific evidence that singing is more likely to spread viruses than does talking, I would like to thank your correspondent Richard Govett (Standard, August 7) for his assertion that saliva is, in fact, less likely to be expelled from the mouth during singing, as opposed to during speech.

It is certainly true to say that singers — and the act of singing — use(s) much more controlled breathing and exhalation than does speech.

In fact, singers undertake breathing exercises in order to sustain and control their out-breath in a very different manner from when they speak.

A second point that Mr Govett makes is, in my opinion, equally valid.

He quotes a highly spiritual person as saying that “sung prayer is prayer twice”. I would assert that anything which is sung adds an indefinable spiritual or emotional element that the spoken word alone cannot express.

My original question (Standard, July 17) asked about the possible reason why singing has been targeted as a “no-no”.

I think it may well be because, in any setting where it is undertaken, it brings people together in a unified expression of something beyond words.

Anyone who loves music, performs, plays an instrument or sings in a choir, will, I trust, recognise what I refer to.

Members of Nottakwire are expressing their desire to return to their singing sessions because they greatly miss the opportunity to share songs with others for pleasure, support and friendship.

There is something very unique and special about the act of singing in a group, whether it be in worship or in a non-religious setting.

Surely, in these strange and challenging times, activities which offer this kind of support (generally recognised to be vital for both physical and mental health) should be considered of paramount importance.

Singing must be brought back as soon as possible or we need to be given the opportunity to examine real, trustworthy, scientific reasons why not. — Yours faithfully,

Margaret Moola

Co-founder/director, Nottakwire, Birch Close, Sonning Common

Rules must be followed

Sir, — As I am (a clue to my age), classed as “at risk of contracting covid-19”, I have been self-isolating since March.

I was recently contacted by Imperial College, London, requesting that I became a volunteer to take a home covid-19 test.

This I did willingly to aid their important research.

I have, over the last few weeks, nervously ventured out to my local shop for essentials, wearing government regulation protection i.e face masks and gloves.

I was appalled on one recent morning to witness three people (all much younger but adult) bravely enter the shop oblivious to regulations.

On questioning the staff member, I was told some people are exempt. They cannot question customers. Until store managers tighten control, the Government is fighting a losing battle.

The disregard of so many, in all areas of the country, is truly shocking. — Yours faithfully,

Name and address supplied

Well done to college

Sir, — I would like to give a shout out to The Henley College, which has shown an unflappable approach to welcoming new students in September.

My daughter secured her place at the college to study A-levels back in November and was over the moon.

The moment covid-19 caused all exams to be cancelled, my daughter was worried that her place at the college would be jeopardised. Cue the college with a reassuring email that her place still stood.

This was swiftly followed by a general newsletter for new students and a wellbeing newsletter with tips for coping during the lockdown and a list of college staff’s contact details, if required.

Crucially, a webinar providing reassurance and further details on September’s enrolment and alternative provision really put her mind at ease.

The final webinar, hosted by her subject teachers, gave her the chance to ask questions and interact with other new students.

Meanwhile, the substantial transition work is stopping her getting bored and is preparing her for study after four months of inaction.

As a result of The Henley College’s careful planning and clear foresight, we are now prepared for September — bring it on! — Yours faithfully,

Shona Parker

Denby Way, Tilehurst, Reading

Magnificent work (or not)

Sir, — Maybe the residents of Elizabeth Road, Nicholas Road and Valley Road, Henley, and Valley Road School parents would like to congratulate Oxfordshire County Council for the magnificent re-surfacing of the car and van parking area at the entrance to Elizabeth Road from Greys Road — or maybe not! — Yours faithfully,

Ian Forster

Elizabeth Road, Henleys

Question of belief

Sir, — Pastor Steve Palmer’s Thought for the Week (Standard, August 7) contrasts our limited control of affairs with the reassuring “limitless power” of God, who has “all things under his control”, has “almighty strength” and should be known as “Father”.

The pastor is to be commended on asserting his Christian beliefs in a clear, uncompromising way, in contrast to the uncontroversial blandness of the contributions from most others. He at least gives sceptics such as myself something to which it is worthwhile responding.

Taking a single issue as an example, I have no doubt about what we would all think of a human father who had the power to prevent his child being born with incurable, severe allodynia (touching the skin causes intense pain) but decides not to.

The usual response from some Christians is either that we cannot know God the Father’s mind, and unquestioning acceptance is required, or simply to assert “the Bible says”. Hardly satisfactory.

There seem to be only three options:

1. God the Father has the power but chooses not to use it because He wants the child’s condition to be part of His grand plan, a monstrous God by any decent standard.

2. God’s power is so limited that what should be done cannot be done.

3. There is no God.

It would be most interesting to hear Pastor Palmer’s views on all of this. — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

The joy of flying...

To fly is fun… not for the faint-hearted... or poor.

What pleasure it gives to those of us with our feet on the ground in these covid-19/Orwellian times.

If it’s noise, what about non-stop barking dogs?

Up up and away. — Yours faithfully,

Aelethea Hill

High Street, Whitchurch

Growing friendship

Sir, — I’m growing organic vegetables, plums, kale, potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, leeks, various kinds of lettuce, gherkins and many herbs, to be used by the head chef at the local pub-restaurant in Binfield Heath, the Bottle & Glass.

The business is making a regular contribution to my daughter’s charity, www.ufulu.org

This is providing moon cups for women on the island of Likoma in Lake Malawi, based on the value of the vegetables they can use so everyone wins.

The chef and his colleague are even assisting me on their day off. — Yours faithfully,

Peter Woolsey

Binfield Heath

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