Friday, 18 December 2009

Weekly (ish) links

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Can the BBC be trusted with a web page?


[trigger warning]

(via Liberal Conspiracy) The BBC Have Your Say forums currently have as a question:

Should Uganda debate gay execution?

Should homosexuals face execution? Yes, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind an Anti-Homosexuality Bill being debated on Friday by the Ugandan parliament which would see some homosexual offences punishable by death.

There are many legitimate questions to ask about the current situation in Uganda. This is not, no matter how many disclaimers are added, one of them.

You can complain to the BBC about this. My complaint letter is:

I can not understand how you can think this is a legitimate question to be asking. There are plenty of reasonable questions that could be asked about the proposed legislation in Uganda, but "should homosexuals face execution?" is not one of them.

There is no way to ask that question that does not imply that "yes" is a legitimate answer. Your "house rules" for Have Your Say contain "Do not post messages that are unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, homophobic or racially offensive." - when the question itself meets several of those, it sets an unacceptable example.

I expect a full and sincere apology from the BBC for this, and details of what steps are being taken to ensure that similar questions are not asked in future.

Update, 18 December

The BBC claims it has done nothing wrong, and then after that fails to stop complaints, issues a non-apology. I'm aware that the BBC considers non-apologies completely adequate. The National Union of Journalists has also come in on the "mass murder is unacceptable" side of the debate.

I got a reply to my complaint pointing me to those posts, claiming to "understand the concerns I have raised". My reply to that was:

[Neither post] acknowledges at all that:

  • it was not an appropriate question to ask
  • the problem was not merely with the original headline but with the entire concept for the question

Nor does it provide an apology beyond the "we're sorry if anyone might possibly have been offended, but we're still right", or describe what steps will be taken to prevent a recurrence of this sort of question.

I find it an utterly unsatisfactory response to the complaint that does not make me believe that you "understand the concerns [I] have raised".

Expand post

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Reply from MP

My MP got back to me on the attempts to get the Pope to visit. The reply was (trimming out header and footer)

I support the invitation to the Pope. While I do not agree with many of the Pope's views, we should focus on entering into dialogue, not censor what he has to say. I believe a Papal visit to the North East would help also to raise the region's profile.

The point about raising the region's profile is fair enough - the region is not doing well economically, and more tourism and investment would help with some the severe social problems this is causing. However, there are plenty of other well-known public figures with less problematic views who could also be invited. If they have been, there's been no public announcement of this.

As far as censoring goes... he's the Pope. He's the head of the largest branch of the world's most popular religion, and is unlikely to have trouble getting his opinions out (the over-emphasis on his opinions is a large part of the problem). I find it very difficult to believe that any dialogue will be entered into on these subjects if he does come up to Durham: I suspect a condition of his visit might be that there are security arrangements in place to avoid such questions.

There's quite a large difference between censoring someone and not explicitly inviting them to say it here. I know my MP knows this, of course.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

This makes it clear

Here's an obscure (and now archaic) definition of a word, from the Oxford English Dictionary (asterisks mine):

10. (U.S.) A fault, a defect. Obs. rare.

In quot. 1886 used of a flaw in the insulating covering of an electrical conductor.

1886 Sci. Amer. 15 May 308 The consequence of neglect might be that what the workmen call ‘a n****r’ would get into the armature, and burn it so as to destroy its service.

It's similar to the modern "gremlins" as a term for mechanical failures. It's also got nothing obvious to do with the colour black. It was clearly in use reasonably commonly back then - even if it's unknown now - to get into Scientific American and thence into the OED.

I imagine, if language hadn't already changed in the last century, there would be people using that word instead of "gremlins" and claiming with a straight face not to be meaning it "in a racist way". It's not possible to use a term associated with a particular race (whether or not that term is in itself insulting or negative) as a negative description for something else and do it in anything other than a racist way (and the same goes for other types of prejudice).

It's not the only definition that's clearly intended to evoke that "this [thing] is bad like a black person".