Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Matt Wardman accuses the BBC of stirring

Matt Wardman accuses the BBC, in fairly strident terms, of encouraging an unnecessary storm over the Archbishop of Canterbury's words.

His evidence for this is pretty weak. Essentially, he has two points. First, that by publishing the story on their website before the interview they pre-empted his interview and thereby prevented people getting the balanced and nuanced account of his opinions that the interview provided. Second, that the website article was distorting.

I don't know Wardman's background. If he hasn't worked in journalism or politics his mistake in assuming that an article published before the actual interview runs is exceptional is quite understandable. It is quite common to trail an interview a little. A couple of examples off the top of my head that were definitely trailed by news stories in the media before the actual speech: Patricia Hewitt's speech on the next ten years of the NHS and the Dispatches programme investigating the Olympics. In fact, the process is so common that if I read an account of the contents of a speech in the newspapers I will usually expect that it is still possible to go and see it.

What has happened here isn't so different. The Archbishop made the statements cited in the BBC article in a pre-recorded interview. They will probably have put the website story up first on the assumption that people hearing the interview would go to look it up on the website and, if the story weren't in place, it would leave them dissapointed. That is the same reason TPA research reports generally go online late the night before they hit the papers, shortly after the first editions have hit central London. There's nothing sinister about it - just good planning.

So, is the website article itself misleading? I don't think so. Wardman's main accusation is this one (which he repeats endlessly):

"The story was trailed at the top of the news programme with the headline: The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the adoption of Sharia Law in some parts of Britain is inevitable. (No he didn’t, or not in the way that your headline was inevitably going to make people think.)"

The Archbishop did say "it seems unavoidable". The website's account of that, crucial, statement isn't in any way misleading. It was followed, very near the top of the article, with: "For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court." I don't see anything that is missed here. I don't see anything misleading in the website's account of the interview at all. Wardman is being completely disingenuous and I get the impression he is only able to convince himself because he is working from the assumption that people must have been misled, must be behaving irrationally.

There is a real arrogance to Wardman's unstated assumption that the public are just useful idiots for the media - charging at a red flag. He doesn't take the time to understand why people are angry. He should.


Dave Cole said...


I fear that we're never going to agree on this one, but in the meantime, let's have Grammar 101.

The indicative is 'this is going to happen'. The conditional is 'this is going to happen if the other is going to happen'. What the BBC and you said is

"The Archbishop did say "it seems unavoidable"."

That implies an indicative. This is going to happen. What the Archbishop actually said was

"the application of Sharia in certain circumstances if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples’ religion seems unavoidable"

Which is a conditional; if cohesion is going to happen then the applicaton of Sharia in certain circumstances is going to happen.

Those are two different ideas; the first is that it makes no difference what we do; the second is that it can happen or not happen but there are consequences to either one.

As Dr Williams might say... here endeth the lesson.


Matthew Sinclair said...

Fair enough. Do you think that was at all significant in creating the furore over the Archbishop's remarks?

Matthew Sinclair said...

Actually, I think we're quoting from different sources. My quote is from the radio interview, see the transcript here:

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Interesting debate - wondered what Dave would say on it.

Anonymous said...

"the application of Sharia in certain circumstances if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples’ religion seems unavoidable"

Whatever I knew of English grammar, I would take that statement to mean the speaker believes Sharia will be unavoidable.

Who can be against ".. cohesion and take seriously peoples’ religion"?

Not much of a condition if you ask me!