Thursday, October 11, 2007

The BBC at its best

I was going to write up responses to the various people who have addressed my post on Inheritance Tax but I've been distracted by an absolutely marvelous evening on BBC2. First Newsnight and then a programme for the Storyville "Why Democracy?" series about a Chinese primary school class democratically electing its class monitor. I've had my fair share of disagreements with the BBC over the years but tonight it has been superb.

Newsnight was at its ferocious best. Three interesting stories covered incredibly effectively:

Gordon Brown is in trouble and the new politics both leaders promised is nowhere to be seen. This section was notable for a brilliant moment from Michael Howard. Discussing the Prime Minister's fortunes with Roy Hattersley he suggests, in the most calm and lawyerly manner imaginable, that the problem for Brown is that he's too much like Roy Hattersley. Magnificent.

Al Gore's documentary got a deserved roasting. A Friends of the Earth speaker defending the documentary looked like an absolute fool trying to excuse Gore's alarmism. The Times has the nine errors that the judge found. These aren't minor, marginal errors but huge flaws in key parts of Gore's evidence. A couple of examples:

"Error one

Al Gore: A sea-level rise of up to 20 feet would be caused by melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland “in the near future”.

The judge’s finding: “This is distinctly alarmist and part of Mr Gore’s ”wake-up call“. It was common ground that if Greenland melted it would release this amount of water - “but only after, and over, millennia.”

Error six

Gore: The drying up of Lake Chad was used in the film as a prime example of a catastrophic result of global warming, said the judge.

Judge: “It is generally accepted that the evidence remains insufficient to establish such an attribution. It is apparently considered to be far more likely to result from other factors, such as population increase and over-grazing, and regional climate variability.”

This is a massive blow to the credibility of climate change alarmists.

After Dispatches exposed extremism in Britain's mosques the police decided to investigate the programme rather than the mosques. They accussed the makers of distorting the words of the speakers at the mosque. Newsnight explained that all programmes are edited, particularly undercover programmes, and played the clips with their context.

The expanded clips make it pretty clear that Dispatches wasn't distorting at all. Corin Taylor, for the TaxPayers' Alliance, revealed how the police spent thousands investigating despite having received no complaints. This is essential viewing and shows the danger the multi-cultural desire to accomodate with radical Islam can pose to principles like free speech if it is not tempered by a commitment to Western values we should absolutely not be prepared to compromise on.

Next, came an absolute corker of a programme from the "Why Democracy?" series. It featured a primary school class in China electing their class monitor. They had an election with three candidates (a nervous but talented girl and two boys) advisers and speechwriters (their parents), activists (hand picked friends) and a pool of floating voters to chase. At one point one of the candidates had his supporters shout a rival down but they quickly felt bad, tearfully apologised and she was encouraged to have another go. At the end the winner shook the losers' hands and gave his closest competitor a hug. Despite that good spirit the election was fiercely competitive. There was even a clear divide of principle between a relatively democratic and a relatively authoritarian candidate - the two boys.

There was a pessimistic touch to the programme's conclusion as the more authoritarian candidate triumphed by buying his classmates a colourful card for an upcoming holiday but I didn't come away feeling pessimistic. The democracy that the children formed was rough, ready and imperfect. The school itself was clearly exceptional. But the children had demonstrated what has been clear to me for some time: the Chinese can be democrats. Even after decades of Communism the people of the world's most populous nation can show the spirit required for rule by popular mandate to work. Inspiring stuff.


James Higham said...

As someone who can't just switch on the tube and get BBC, that was a semi-nostalgic trip and thank you, Matt.

By the way, my little take on your Inheritance Tax view is coming up this morning, late as usual.

Gracchi said...

Interesting and accurate Matt- Newsnight is one of the jewels in the BBC crown. If only everything else that they did was as good.