Monday, November 05, 2012

BBC Promotes the Tablet: Statistics

There is very interesting article here, I tend to be saying my prayers during the BBC's Sunday Programme, on the occassions when I have listened to it is evident that Ed Stourton and the programme has its own particular vision of Catholicism that is odds with mine, but more importantly with that of the Successor of St Peter. Ed Stourton and his programme seem to want to redefine Catholicism according to their own particular views.

Why should public money, licence payer money be used to subsidise the Tablet?

Edward Stourton is indeed a trustee of The Tablet, along with the likes of Lord Chris Patten, Baroness Shirley Williams and Baroness Helena Kennedy (as fine a collection of the liberal 'great and the good' as you could hope to gather together on a board). The Tablet is a liberal Catholic magazine, broadly centre-left politically, liable to be critical of conservative trends within the Church - and of Pope Benedict XVI's Vatican in particular. I'm painting in fairly broad strokes but not, I think, inaccurately, by comparing it to the Guardiannewspaper. Its rival is The Catholic Herald, rather more conservative, somewhat more right-leaning politically, less regularly critical of the Vatican, more akin to the Daily Telegraph. A read of Damian Thompson's blog, with its occasional digs at 'Tabletistas' (think 'Sandinistas' and 'Guardianistas'), shows that there's a fair gulf of attitude between them.
Here's the first evidence of bias. I think it is quite revealing that, throughout the 22 months of my survey (Jan 2011-now), Sunday has not featured Damian Thompson, former editor ofThe Catholic Herald, or Luke Coppen, its present editorNor has it interviewed any of the other regulars at The Catholic Herald. Indeed, and this might strike you as remarkable, I have not heard a single mention of The Catholic Herald on the programme throughout that time - and I have listened very closely to every episode.What though of The Tablet? How has it fared on the show whose main presenter is one of its trustees? Have their been any guests from The Tablet appearing on Sunday? 

Its editor, Catherine Pepinster, has appeared on three editions during the time-frame of my survey (25/3/2012, 15/1/2012, 28/8/2011). You may know her from her frequent appearances on Today's Thought For The Day. [She is the second most regular of the Catholic speakers on TFTD, behind fellow Tabletista Clifford Longley]. Fans (like me) of thePlatitude Of The Day website will know that she is the holder of the prestigious Platitude Of The Year award 2011
Even more conspicuous has been Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent of The Tablet. Robert is immediately recognisable by the ironic tone he uses to dish the dirt on the Vatican. He has appeared on six edition of the programme during my survey period (16/9/2012, 9/9/2012, 3/6/2012, 12/2/2012, 5/2/2012, 1/5/2011). As I shall expand upon later, the irony-tinted Mr. Mickens was treated as if he were a friendly BBC colleague on the occasions Ed Stourton chatted with him (supporting Damian Thompson's characterisation of Sunday as quoted above).
On these occasions, whichever presenter was hosting Sunday [usually Edward] made sure to mention The Tablet. Sometimes this was not the case. To introduce my next Tabletista, here's the former editor of The Catholic Herald again (see earlier link):
"Stourton was chatting with one of the Sunday programme's favourite Catholic commentators, Dr Tina Beattie, a straight-from-central-casting 1970s feminist (and director of the Tablet, according to the website of Roehampton University)."
Tina Beattie is, indeed, a regular Tablet columnist. She's been invited on four times over the period in question (14/10/2012, 9/9/2012, 1/5/2011, 30/1/2011).
And on it goes...The man who, as editor, steered The Tablet leftwards, John Wilkins, has also been invited onto Sunday over this period. He was there for two of the big Sundayspecials - those (alongside Tina Beattie) for the 50th anniversary of Vatican II (14/10/2012) and (also alongside Tina Beattie and Robert Mickens) for the beatification of Pope John Paul II (1/5/2011).

The article goes on...

Why not ask the Sunday Programme about these statistics about Mr Stourton's involvement in choosing contributors and why a public broadcaster has this bias?


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, imho. Many thanks for your survey and for the statistics which make for very worrying reading.

Such bias as shown on Sunday should have no place in a National, publicly funded organisation.

Et Expecto said...

To be fair to Edward Stourton,as presenter, he might not be all that influencial in the selection of interviewees. The programme always has two editors who are more likely to do this.

That being said, the analysis is sound and perhaps there should be some letters to the BBC.

It might be helpful if anyone writing included some suggestions for suitable alternative people to comment. William Oddie might be an alternative to Clifford Longley and the editor of Inside the Vatican an alternative to Mickins. Any more suggestions.

Frederick Jones said...

Why do they not invite Dr Edward Norman?


An on-line complaint of bias to the BBC complain site only took a couple of minutes. I hope others will do the same.

Sadie Vacantist said...

The beeb has bigger fish to fry at the moment. Judging by last Friday night's edition of Newsnight, they are looking to take on Cameron's entire government. It's straight out of "The Godfather" where rival crime families start a war. I suspect the policy has worked and Cameron is already running scared. Give it six months and they will be back attacking us and Savile will be forgotten.

AndrewWS said...

Nice to know there's another blog highlighting the bias of the Beeb.

Is that Tablet cover for real or just an all-too-accurate caricature?

Amfortas said...

Thanks for confirming what I think every time I listen to the Sunday Programme. A groups of friends giving each other work. Rtaher like all those former leaders of the pro-Serbian Revolutionary Communist Party who give each other work (Clare Fox, Frank Furedi, Ann Furedi, Brendan O'Neill). By all means complain to the BBC. They won't listen. You might be lucky to get some bland reply thanking you for your concern.

Frederick Jones said...

"Honest Reporting" website has been complaining about BBC bias on the Middle East for years. The BBC appears to be impervious to criticism, they even refused to publish their own internal investigation on the matter. Perhaps they might respond better to a problem nearer home.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Inde, the issue is simple, it appears Stourton, or someone, is getting his narrow set of Tablet friends round to chat and to form opinion.
The problem on the face of it is Stourton's croneyism.

Wynn said...

AndrewWS: The Tablet cover is real enough, they just haven't got round to running it yet.

Genty said...

Slightly tangential but tonight I caught the last few minutes of Radio 4's Analysis: Left Turn to Catholic Social Teaching?
I heard a snippet from ++VN who sounded rather defeatist but may be mistaken so will listen to the whole programme on iPlayer.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who does intend to write to the BBC either directly or via their MP (given that the former is a Public and hence publically-funded Corporation), and who may wish to use some additional contextual data to quantify the level of bias in their choice of commentator, the latest ABC data for 'The Tablet' (published 31 October 2012) shows that it has declined to 19,779 (a YoY change of -5.7%). (We must also bear in mind that recent historical data has suggested that a not-inconsiderable proportion of their sales have been as overseas gift subscriptions, and so beyond the natural broadcasting jurisdiction of Radio 4). While I don't have access to any data for the Catholic Herald, their Wiki page puts their circulation at 21,000, and suggests that 20,000 are home-based. Nor do I have access to the Herald's multi-media stats, but I suspect that their website is also the leading Catholic web-based news medium in the UK. Perhaps someone could kindly clarify this.
I don't have the any recent statistics for the Catholic Times, or the Universe either, but can make a credible assumption that their circulations are both smaller and declining more rapidly. From my part of the Home Counties, (and I regularly visit a fair few Catholic churches across several counties), the Catholic Herald appears to be the only pile of papers that sells, and sells fairly well - the former two ominously appear to remain largely untouched. Please correct me if I am wrong. It is also very important that potential advertisers remain aware of the latest trends in circulation, and don't simply base their choices on either historical reputation of perceptions of influence, both of which may be widely off the mark.
And why nominate members of the laity? For instance, the clearest and most convincing Catholic voice on our airwaves in at least the past decade (other than the Holy Father's) was that of Mgr Patrick Burke on Newsnight. The hit-counters or web traffic of several of the more obvious UK Catholic blogs, including your own, could usefully be displayed or declared, so as to be brought to the attention of the wider media/BBC - it is important to weigh up and to assert in a more media-savvy manner who the main sources of news, commentary, and influence really are within the UK's Catholic Community. (The BBC seems to be quite happy to interview Tim Montgomery of ConservativeHome for comment on developments in the Tory party/Coalition etc, so why not Catholic bloggers on developments relating to the Church). For instance, the Hermeneutic of Continuity has had over 4 million hits in the past 6 years, averaging three-quarters of a million per year, and knowledge of the number of these which actually originated from individual IP addresses could be a powerfully persuasive argument for the media to consult someone like Fr Finigan when a Catholic commentator is required.

Amfortas said...

I don't know about the circulation figures for the four Catholic weeklies based in England but it strikes me that the market is over saturated. The Catholic Times has one or two good columnists - and one or two heretical ones as well! - but tries to occupy the same end of the market as the Catholic Herald. The Tablet is loathsome but if I hadn't picked up a copy this week I would have missed an article by George Weigel. I might also have missed the recent controversy about Eamonn Duffy's latest book if I hadn't picked up a copy a few weeks ago. I'm a fan of the Herald and read it each week. If only it would improve its book coverage and international news (which often consists of reporting on what the Holy Father said on a given day) I would be able to stop taking the Bitter Pill.

Physiocrat said...

The Guardian is another that always picks dissident Catholics to make its comments. But they still get hundreds of responses referring to sky pixies and paedophile priests. Now at least there is a willingness to acknowledge that the latter problem was more widespread than that.

Sadie Vacantist said...


Don't forget James Preece on the "Big Questions". He was outstanding.

GOR said...

It would appear that the attitude of much of the mainstream media in Britain parallels that of the US.

Here, when matters Catholic are being addressed, the media regularly turn to those who are likely to be – or well-known to be – critical of the Church and Her teaching. Thus, Fr. Richard McBrien, Sr. Joan Chittister et al. are more likely to be called upon than Fr. Robert Barron, Fr. George Rutler or Bill O’Donohue.

Should we be surprised that ‘the world’ doesn’t want to hear sound teaching?

I suspect that were the Jerusalem Times around circa 33 A.D. it would have favored a comment by Judas rather than St. John.

BJC said...

The BBC Complaints department has been specifically designed to reject complaints and make sure you won't make other complaints either by making the whole process laborious, tedious and time-consuming. That's my experience of it anyway. Its only on your third letter (this will take 3-4 months to get to) an editorial review will take place and at this stage you'll realise the editorial guidelines have been written in such a way that even the most biased journalist in the world could never be accused of bias at the Beeb.

I know someone who worked there for a long time who told me it was basically a cult. After my experience I'm inclined to believe him. My complaint by the way was concerning 3 gay marriage debates back in March. Something they particularly didn't want to know about.

Gladiatrix said...

Assuming that Ed Stourton is a member of the NUJ why not report him to the union for journalistic misconduct, and bringing the trade of journalism into disrepute?

You might also try checking the credits of the Sunday programme, 'our editor was .... ' and so forth and reporting each of them individually to the Director of Radio 4.

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