Tuesday, 28 January 2003

An Hour with the BBC World Service

One of the perks of having XM Satellite Radio is that there's a live feed of the BBC World Service (Channel 131, 10 on my preset). As an uncontrolled, non-scientific in any way experiment, I listened to the 0000 GMT broadcast of The World Today, er, today, and came to the following fascinating conclusions:

  • Likud is a "right-wing" political party. The Shinui Party is "centrist." The political leanings of Labour are mysterious, although the WS does helpfully say their platform "called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories" (without mentioning the platform's "separation" plank which would wall much of the territories off from Israel proper). Likud was referred to as "right-wing" four times by BBC announcers; Shinui was "centrist" twice; the Labour platform plank was also described twice.

  • The "third-party" commentators that were interviewed were a PR flak for Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat (name not recalled) and someone from an outfit referred to only as the "Carnegie Endowment" (presumably the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). A Likud strategist was also interviewed (who spoke in English), and a brief segment of Ariel Sharon's victory speech was confusingly translated (I didn't make any sense of it, perhaps because it featured Hebrew idiom that the translator was taking literally).

  • They repeatedly said that Gerhard Schröder had some anti-war position, but weren't particularly clear what that position was: at some points, it was a statement that "a vast majority of the UNSC thinks there needs to be a second resolution" while at others it was "Germany would oppose a second resolution." This was contrasted with the position of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who took the position that Russia might support a U.S.-led attack on Iraq if the regime continued to obstruct UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors.

  • Someone from some Russia-watching think-tank was interviewed (I didn't take notes) and said that Putin's highest foreign policy priority was to maintain good relations with the United States, and he wouldn't let Saddam Hussein or Iraq cause a rift in those relations. He also said that Russia had basically written-off its oil contracts with the Hussein regime and debts owed from the 1970s and 1980s.

  • They interviewed IAEA head Mohammed Al-Faradhi, who contrasted his report with Blix's basically by saying that looking for nukes was a lot easier than looking for biological, chemical, and missile systems and that he was fairly sure that things were mostly accounted for when inspectors left in 1998 (again, unlike the UNMOVIC/UNSCOM situation). While the interview was plugged as stating that Al-Faradhi was calling for "more cooperation from not only Baghdad, but also London and Washington," Al-Faradhi didn't really talk about the U.S. at all and really wouldn't be drawn on any specifics on Britain's cooperation (or lack thereof) in substantiating their claims that Iraq had imported unrefined uranium from Africa. No interview with Blix.

  • The State of the Union address was previewed, with two interviews with people (neither of whom was Megan McArdle, who said earlier today at Assymetrical Information that she was interviewed by the WS but dropped that from the blog at some point).

  • Various other topics were discussed, including business and sports news (concentrating on football and cricket; nary a mention of Yao Ming making the NBA All-Stars, for example) none of which I can recall clearly.

So, in sum, I can't make a strong argument that the BBC World Service is biased from just this one program. The closest would be the discussion of Likud, where the interviewee from Carnegie was highly pessimistic about Ariel Sharon's ability to pursue peace, and with the descriptive "right-wing" being continually attached to it. On the other hand, "Likud" means nothing in English, while "Labour" has a left-wing implication in Anglospheric and European politics, so the "right-wing" appelation may have been appropriate. However, a clearer explanation the differences between the Likud, Labour and Shinui policies toward the occupied territories would have been helpful to the listener (particularly in the case of Shinui, about which I have heard little except at Jacob T. Levy's blog and MyDD).

Perhaps my main quibble would be with their selection of interviewees; a disproportionate number of those given a platform who were not newsmakers themselves were critics of the right (notably, both "outside" Israeli election observers were anti-Sharon), although admittedly from a small sample on a day when most news was made by the right.