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BBC responds to viewer’s complaint about Paxman and Dawkin’s two-man hatefest

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Here’s the interview. Here’s the complaint. And here’s the response:

[If there a polite Brit way of saying “sod off,” the BBC has certainly developed it as a high art, as is the way with a government broadcaster.]

Reference CAS-990281-2PJ87W

Thanks for contacting us about ‘Newsnight’ on 13 September.

We understand you were unhappy with Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Professor Richard Dawkins. We note you felt it was biased against people with religious beliefs and you found a number of comments offensive. [I am and I do, but that is not the reason behind my complaint.]

We acknowledge some viewers were unhappy with the programme’s discussion with Professor Richard Dawkins. We also appreciate some viewers found presenter Jeremy Paxman’s comments offensive. However, we don’t agree that it showed anti-Christian bias. [I agree, it was biased against all religious belief, not just Christianity. If referring to the content of religious belief as ‘hogwash’ by Mr Paxman, and religious believers as ‘stupid’ by Mr Paxman and Prof Dawkins is not biased, then what ever might be considered biased by the BBC?

This discussion centred on Professor Dawkins’ new book, [Yes, it was a book promotion- a commercial event.]  which seeks to counter myths, legends and religious teachings commonly taught to children by replacing them with strict scientific rebuttals. [Did it really? Can the BBC point to any strict scientific rebuttal offered in the course of the interview? Here is a question Mr Paxman might have posed about the so-called strict science and its extension into belief and philosophy: Bertrand Russell writes, ‘It is this conceiving according to the dictate of reason’ that I find lacking in the philosophy which is based on evolution.’ How would you (Dawkins) answer Lord Russell’s charge as it applies to the centre piece of your extension of science/scientism into the realm of the metaphysical?]  The interview wasn’t about the merits of religion or science as a whole; instead it sought to explore the methods of disseminating knowledge to children, with particular reference to complex subject matter which can be difficult to understand even for the most mature readers. [This claim seems to contradict the claim made in the previous sentence. Once again what exploration of the methods used to disseminate complex information was explored? Professor Dawkins revealed that with the help of a teacher an 8 year old can understand his book, and that he is considering writing a book targeting even younger children. These comments really don’t shed much light on his pedagogical method. Is this really newsworthy?]

Jeremy countered Professor Dawkins’ assertions on a number of occasions, stressing that stories and myths are often more interesting than bare scientific explanation. Jeremy added that such stories and religious interpretations offer comfort and inspire imagination. Jeremy then asked Professor Dawkins why he was concerned that such teachings take place. His comments didn’t intend to cause offence and instead sought to initiate a variety of responses from the interviewee. [Mr Paxman made a rather vague unacknowledged reference to Blake on Milton. In Paxman’s version claiming the mythmakers have all the best lines. Dawkins said he disagreed. The matter was dropped. This was hardly a Michael Howard moment for Prof Dawkins.]

Jeremy’s interviewing style is well known. He was being provocative by playing devil’s advocate. [In this interview it was advocate without the devil.]  It’s a really important element of what makes ‘Newsnight’ what it is. [I agree, and that is one reason I find this blatantly commercial promotion of Dawkins so disturbing.]  The matter in question was not the validity of Genesis, but the reasoning behind Professor Dawkins’ vehement opposition to such teachings. Neither ‘Newsnight’ nor the BBC holds opinion on either matter. [Then Mr Paxman does not represent the BBC?]  We believe the interview was conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner. [Is describing any belief, religious, political, economic, or other, as ‘hogwash’ an example of impartiality? Does the author of this statement believe seven impossible things most mornings?

Nevertheless, we’re grateful to you for taking the time to contact us with your concerns. We’d like to assure you that your comments were raised with the programme and have been registered on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

 

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

10 Replies to “BBC responds to viewer’s complaint about Paxman and Dawkin’s two-man hatefest

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    News

    I recently spent a full year trying to get someone in the BBC hierarchy and complaints system, all the way up to the BBC Trust, to seriously listen to a complaint about outrageous smearing.

    It was plain (whatever the wonderful mechanisms in place) they were only going through the motions, and had no intention whatsoever of seriously responding to what they MUST have known from the outset was an outrage — they would never have tolerated doing the same to any of their favoured groups.

    (My complaint on smearing of Christians in their Bonekickers series, turned out to be fairly similar to another case involving the Catholic church where the Dan Brown style accusations were made into another similar case. Let’s just say that the script for what was intended to happen over Breivik, was written years ago and was passed off as “entertainment” and a “right” — and no mere verbal corrective or complaint could make any impression whatsoever; it was the overwhelming force of facts and independent news sources that stopped the Breivik train in its tracks. I have therefore written BBC off as hopelessly biased and outright bigoted, sometimes only a shade off from sneeringly hateful. The Paxman-Dawkins programme is sadly typical of what I now — in deep disappointment — expect of that once great news organisation.)

    Fair comment: such bigotry as you have highlighted is deeply entrenched and will only be blown out if they lose a major libel or slander action and find themselves on the receiving end of serious censure, fines and forced resignations. And, judging by some recent UK court decisions, that is unlikely.

    If you go through their complaints system, expect to spend a year going from one level to the next, with no significant outcome other than the already obvious blowing off.

    I think a far more profitable approach would be to expose them for the world to see them as what they have now sadly become.

    Sad.

    GEM of TKI

  2. 2
    Grunty says:

    The complaint was misplaced (and who made the complaint anyway?). They called adherents of old earth creationism stupid – not religious believers in general.

  3. 3
    Alan says:

    Here’s the reply I received:

    “Thanks for contacting us about ‘Newsnight’ on 13 September.

    We understand you were unhappy with Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Professor Richard Dawkins. We note you felt it was biased towards Professor Dawkins and you found a number of Jeremy’s comments about religion offensive.

    This discussion centred on Professor Dawkins’ new book, which seeks to counter myths, legends and religious teachings commonly taught to children by replacing them with strict scientific rebuttals. The interview wasn’t about the merits of religion or science as a whole; instead it sought to explore the methods of disseminating knowledge to children, with particular reference to complex subject matter which can be difficult to understand even for the most mature readers.

    Jeremy countered Professor Dawkins’ assertions on a number of occasions, stressing that stories and myths are often more interesting than bare scientific explanation. Jeremy added that such stories and religious interpretations offer comfort and inspire imagination. Jeremy then asked Professor Dawkins why he was concerned that such teachings take place. His comments didn’t intend to cause offence and instead sought to initiate a variety of responses from the interviewee.

    Jeremy’s interviewing style is well known. He was being provocative by playing devil’s advocate. It’s a really important element of what makes ‘Newsnight’ what it is. The matter in question was not the validity of Genesis, but the reasoning behind Professor Dawkins’ vehement opposition to such teachings. Neither ‘Newsnight’ nor the BBC holds opinion on either matter. We believe the interview was conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.

    Nevertheless, we’re grateful to you for taking the time to contact us with your concerns. We’d like to assure you that your comments were raised with the programme and have been registered on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

    The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

    Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

    Kind Regards

    Leanne Bennett

    BBC Complaints

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

    It looks like a well trained monkey could fire off a responses to complaints to the BBC. Here’s my reply to their standard, one size fit’s all reply:

    “I have taken your reply, which I found to be as ill researched and patronising as the original Newsnight article, point by point. You stated:

    “We understand you were unhappy with Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Professor Richard Dawkins. We note you felt it was biased towards Professor Dawkins and you found a number of Jeremy’s comments about religion offensive.”

    The interview clearly was biassed, as Dawkins was given a free reign to contrast a stupid caricature of religious belief, in which all manner of myths and fables were conflated, with his true target i.e. Belief in God and the Abrahamic religions. I would also say that implying that a large percentage of BBC viewers are “stupid”, is offensive, even by Paxman’s standards.

    “This discussion centred on Professor Dawkins’ new book, which seeks to counter myths, legends and religious teachings commonly taught to children by replacing them with strict scientific rebuttals.”

    The problem with this answer is that it begs the question, by assuming that traditional religious accounts are indeed myths on par with Santa Clause. It also presumes that the Darwinian evolutionary speculation upon which Dawkins entire case rests, is settled science. It isn’t. The notion of “strict scientific rebuttals” is also a fallacy. Science is forever replacing myths, such as the notion that the blind and purposeless process of random mutation and natural selection has the capacity to evolve living cells and then turn them into human beings capable of doing interviews. If myths are to be confronted, then why not broaden the discussion to recounting how Darwinian theory came to be raised from tentative hypothesis to secular creation myth for the religions of humanism and atheism?

    “The interview wasn’t about the merits of religion or science as a whole; instead it sought to explore the methods of disseminating knowledge to children, with particular reference to complex subject matter which can be difficult to understand even for the most mature readers.”

    No discussion was made of the potential damage caused by Dawkins one-sided aggressive approach, or of Dawkins actual qualifications in this area of education. Trained educatiors realise that disseminating knowledge to children is best achieved when an enquiry based approach is used, in which the strengths and weaknesses of a theory are discussed. Children need to be listened to and reasoned with, rather than stigmatised and alienated. Children ought to be able to see both sides of an argument and to come to their own conclusions through weighing the evidence on both sides. Textbooks such as “Explore Evolution” by Stephen C. Meyer and Paul Nelson, provide evidence for and against Darwinian theory. A cursory glance of this evidence masks a nonsense of the claim that Darwinian theory is in any way capable of providing “strict scientific rebuttals” of anything. None of this questioning came across in Paxmans unusually sloppy und uncritical interview. Failure to present both sides of an argument, as happened in the Dawkins interview, is brainwashing.

    “Jeremy countered Professor Dawkins’ assertions on a number of occasions, stressing that stories and myths are often more interesting than bare scientific explanation.”

    This “counter” was merely a patronising way of restating the clame that religious beliefs are equivalent to myths, such as believing in Santa Clause, while the “rock solid” scientific facts (according to the Gospel of Dawkins) can be a little boring by comparison. This is what I meant when referring Paxmans “half-hearted” attempts to portray the other side. Please don’t take me for being stupid as well. A serious attempt would have included the glaringly obvious fact that many trained professionals have radically criticised Dawkins interpretation of the scientific evidence.

    “Jeremy added that such stories and religious interpretations offer comfort and inspire imagination.”

    This is more patronising coded language, rather than a serious attempt to counter Dawkins position. The clear implication is that religious “myths” deriving from the Abrahamic tradition can indeed be comforting, interesting and exiting, in the same way that Greek mythology is.

    “Jeremy’s interviewing style is well known. He was being provocative by playing devil’s advocate.”

    You have clearly missed the entire point of my complaint. Jeremy was not playing “devil’s advocate” in this situation. If he had been, I would not have complained. Instead, Paxman seemed to willingly capitulate to Dawkins own presumptions, and the pair were clearly singing from the same hymn sheet.

    “The matter in question was not the validity of Genesis, but the reasoning behind Professor Dawkins’ vehement opposition to such teachings.”

    Clearly the reason for this is Dawkins rabid atheism. This (clear biass)was never mentioned.

    “Neither ‘Newsnight’ nor the BBC holds opinion on either matter. We believe the interview was conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.”

    Is it appropriate for Jeremy Paxman to ask Dawkins if he cares whether or not their are a lot of stupid people out there?

    “Nevertheless, we’re grateful to you for taking the time to contact us with your concerns.”

    The shallowness of your reply makes clear that my complaint did not register and that you were not at all grateful for my comments. You don’t seem to share my desire to see Richard Dawkins having to defend his position in a serious debate. I would be grateful if you could look at my complaint once again.

  4. 4
    Blue_Savannah says:

    This discussion centred on Professor Dawkins’ new book, which seeks to counter myths, legends and religious teachings commonly taught to children by replacing them with strict scientific rebuttals.

    Oh, in other words, replace one set of faiths with another..faith in materialism and it’s ability to do anything. Here’s a question for Dawkins to explain to children:

    What could be the first cause of ‘the natural/nature’ since it obviously couldn’t have been natural? Wouldn’t we HAVE to look to the supernatural as a logical deduction?

    Also, how does Dawkins know Christ’s resurrection was not true? Is Dawkins omniscient? I know he likes to think of himself as God, but he’s vastly underqualified for the position.

  5. 5
    tjguy says:

    I think that even most Brits realize the BBC has a strong liberal bias – anti-christian for sure. Programs such as Newsnight with Paxman and anwsers to complaints such as we see above make that clear to all.

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Sounds a LOT like the reply to my initial complaint on Bonekickers (the episode on how some imaginary fundy group with some piece of the true cross or the like founds a new knights templar type group and ends up murdering an innocent asian man — they were impervious to correction).

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    BBC is publicly funded, and has an additional obligation of fairness and objectivity. Cf my remarks on spin — sent to them as part of my complaint process.

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    Request an appeal, there is a defined process. Expect to spend a year, and expect that it will only further document what you already know.

  9. 9
    Alan says:

    It would have been interesting to follow the BBC replies at UD, in order to scrutinise how they deal with complaints from licence payers. It’s easy for them to dismiss complaints when they think they are dealing with some lone voice ion the wilderness, but not so easy when they know others are watching. Whatever the case, the excercise would not be aimed at convincing the BBC of the errors of their ways. It would be to:

    “expose them for the world to see them as what they have now sadly become.”

  10. 10
    Axel says:

    Sometimes they can wreak their secular-fundamentalist shenanigens to hilarious effect.

    They – I think it was the BBC – used to have a programme, in which viewers were invited to criticise, or maybe simply critique, their programmes. But listening to one of the shows from the beginning one evening, I noticed that the introductory musical track that they used was quirky in the extreme, as if to say, “Hey oop! Here come the nut-jobs!”

    So, I phoned them up about it, albeit in a light-hearted way, since their gall tickled me to death, and it seems the track was by a group called The Stranglers!

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