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Crossed Signals at Westminster
October 21, 2010 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Nick Robinson, the BBC's main political correspondent in London shows what he thinks of free speech. While taping a stand-up in the yard in front of Westminster Palace, Nick Robinson loses it with an anti-poverty protester. Robinson, an admired writer and broadcaster, was a leader of the Conservatives at university but has been largely non-partisan. His own blog about the experience in the video.
posted by parmanparman (43 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
What horseshit framing. How about this:

Anti-poverty protesters outside Westminster show what they think about freedom of the press.

Doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? Whoever was holding that sign was deliberately interfering with the reporter's shot. The reporter got annoyed overreacted. It says precisely nothing about his view of free speech.

This post is about as "largely non-partisan" as Nick Robinson's university experience.
posted by Dasein at 7:33 PM on October 21, 2010 [20 favorites]


It does, however, say a great deal about what the continuing reliance on spell check software hath wrought. What a bunch of loosers.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:36 PM on October 21, 2010


When you shoot stand-ups in a public place (and I have shot hundreds), you have no right to demand people not wave signs. They have just as much right to be there as you do. You ask them nicely to stop, and if they don't, you go somewhere else.
posted by unSane at 7:37 PM on October 21, 2010 [10 favorites]


When you shoot stand-ups in a public place (and I have shot hundreds), you have no right to demand people not wave signs.

That's true. But getting irrationally annoyed about that says nothing about his view of free speech. People are human, reporters included.
posted by Dasein at 7:40 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know, he seemed pretty reasonable. He didn't scream, shout or hurl abuse. He destroyed the sign, yes, but they were deliberately annoying and obstructing him in the course of his work.

His angry response was also not 'while taping', it was after they went off air. While he was broadcasting he was completely professional.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:42 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am a great believer in free speech

See also: Williams, J., on racism, lack of.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:50 PM on October 21, 2010


But free speech isn't about waving signs in public. It's about keeping your jobs at both NPR and Fox. Or so I've recently been told.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:52 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


they were deliberately annoying and obstructing him in the course of his work.

I ask this as a professional reporter: In what way were they obstructing him?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:22 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel sorry for the sound guy, desperately trying to get his best microphone back from the jackass.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:45 PM on October 21, 2010


Well, it could have been worse.


oh god i am so sorry.
posted by biddeford at 9:04 PM on October 21, 2010


Astro Zombie: 'Obstructive' in the sense of interference, rather than prevention.

I understand that people waving signs in the background while you do stand ups is par for the course. But, if I were in Robinson's shoes, doing a stand-up, and some boor was distracting me with by waving a sign and detracting from the quality of my work, I would consider that to be obstructive and annoying.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to wave signs. As unSane points out, it was a public place, they are entitled to express their opinions through sign-waving, and Robinson is by no means entitled to a clear background. But I can understand why he reacted the way he did.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:19 PM on October 21, 2010


I am a great believer in free speech but I also care passionately about being able to do my job reporting and analysing one of the most important political stories for years.

It's not immediately clear what he was reporting, or why he had to be there, from watching and reading his blog. Was Westminster Palace on fire? Did he really need to be doing his analysis in that exact place at that exact time, or was it just a colourful cliche for the purposes of the camera? Try "watching" the TV news, on any network, with the sound off some time, and take notice of how much the pictures they're showing actually rarely matter at all. His job was to "report and analyse one of the most important policial stories" for years, sure, but did that really involve doing it standing there and getting a nice backdrop, or was it just for show? If it was just for show, he should get off his fucking high horse.
posted by Jimbob at 9:54 PM on October 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hmm. I mean listen with your eyes closed, not watch with the sound off. But either way will probably reveal the banality of television news production techniques.
posted by Jimbob at 10:03 PM on October 21, 2010


Worst Eric Morecambe impression ever.
posted by the cuban at 10:05 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Try "watching" listening to the TV news, on any network, with the sound off with your eyes closed some time, and take notice of how much the pictures they're showing actually rarely matter at all.

I did this. With my eyes closed, I couldn't tell whether the pictures mattered or not.

Try "watching" the TV news, on any network, with the sound off some time, and take notice of how much the pictures they're showing actually rarely matter at all.

I did this too. With the sound off, I couldn't tell if the pictures mattered or not.

Jimbob, you've got me really confused now. One thing I could see though: the ticker tapes make no sense at all, and are sometimes funny if you read the stock price movement in the light of the story scrolling right then.
posted by vidur at 10:17 PM on October 21, 2010


Did he really need to be doing his analysis in that exact place at that exact time, or was it just a colourful cliche for the purposes of the camera?

It's a standard and very hackneyed location for stand-ups by political correspondents. So much so that I always avoided it.
posted by unSane at 10:29 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Complaining about protesters interrupting your broadcast when you're filming next to a protest is like complaining that the water is making your camera wet while filming in the middle of a swimming pool.
posted by Edwahd at 11:09 PM on October 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't think that's "losing it". I do think it's the protesters trying to make mountains out of molehills to create "controversy" and get more views of their message. Not a lot of sympathy for them frankly, they were trying to illicit a response and they got one.
posted by Long Way To Go at 11:44 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I couldn't agree more with Jimbob's comment. I would love for this incident to spark some discussion in the media about presentational cliches in TV news and whether it might be time to retire some devices or at least stop following them so slavishly.
posted by tomcooke at 12:09 AM on October 22, 2010


Much as I dislike Nick Robinson, this does seem like a bit of an overreaction to his overreaction. I would disagree with the assertion that his reporting is non-partisan too. He was an obviously Tory dick during the reporting of the last election.
posted by seanyboy at 12:09 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm torn between memories of sometimes finding the BBC news almost insufferably smug and cliche while I lived there, and the reality that that my local TV news in San Francisco makes Martin Bashir look like Jeremy Paxman. Dumb move on Nick Robinson's part, but it is irritating to be making some attempt at an objective news summary and have that sign hitching a ride one it. I could just as easily see it being some stupid 'Engerland for the Engerlish' sign if he were reporting from outside Leicester or multiple other examples; I don't think that it had to do with the subject matter of the sign especially, but then I no longer see BBC news regularly so maybe I'm wrong there.

I admit to being biased by a general dislike of sign-waving, slogans, and that sort of thing. I think the guy shooting the video had a good chance to ask Robinson why he ripped the sign up and then ask him on why the BBC doesn't take a more inclusive approach to reporting their concerns (which I assume the protesters feel to be the case). Who knows, they might have actually got a useful tip out of it. As it is, they think he's a toff, the Daily Mail will refer to the protesters as guttersnipes, the Sun will call them thugs, and Private Eye will print an embarrassing anecdote about it. Oh how I miss you Private Eye.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:53 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would love for this incident to spark some discussion in the media about presentational cliches in TV news and whether it might be time to retire some devices or at least stop following them so slavishly.

Charlie Brooker on how to report the news.
posted by djgh at 1:11 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


So much a believer in free speech that during the oil refinery wildcats he edited a striker's words to make it sound like he was being racist, the opposite of the man's actual comment. Once a slimy Tory water-carrier, always a slimy Tory water carrier.
posted by Abiezer at 1:21 AM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I do think it's the protesters trying to make mountains out of molehills to create "controversy" and get more views of their message.

Yep. They got their sign on the news as intended and then they got a free "OMG look what the bad man did to us!" indignation-porn video for YouTube, all for the cost of one stick and a bit of cardboard.
posted by pracowity at 3:26 AM on October 22, 2010


Instead of a "good reporter / bad reporter" argument, can someone from East of the Pond explain why Robinson didn't simply take advantage of the protestor as part of the news?

This seems like not so much a faux pas (as red thoughts mentioned, he kept his composure while on-air) as a missed opportunity - He actually got annoyed by real news happening right in front of him for the sake of getting a live shot of what amounts to stock footage?

"Damnit, Mr. Cheney, how do we report on who got the biggest duck today if you insist on shooting your fellow hunters?"
posted by pla at 3:39 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we can all agree that the second sign meekly popping up seconds after Robinson smashed the first was comedy genius.

Instead of a "good reporter / bad reporter" argument, can someone from East of the Pond explain why Robinson didn't simply take advantage of the protestor as part of the news?

Reporters very often do live broadcasts from College Green, where Robinson was standing; protesters know this, and regularly do this kind of thing there to make a point/get their face on the TV. If journalists stopped to interview every idiot with a sign that popped up behind them when they were broadcasting in front of Westminster, they'd never have any time to do any actual reporting.
posted by dudekiller at 3:53 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we can all agree that the second sign meekly popping up seconds after Robinson smashed the first was comedy genius.

I picture a Simpsons-esque pan back across the crowd to a machine at the back, popping out sign after sign, being fed from a conveyor belt an assortment of wooden planks, whole trees, and Ralph.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:08 AM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


One thing I don't think people understand is that it's possible to have a conflict where neither side is in the wrong. The reporter waited until after the broadcast was down to take out the sign, so he didn't interfere with the protester's free speech. And of course the protester had the right to wave the sign.

After the broadcast the immediate value of the sign was pretty low, and anyway they had a backup.
posted by delmoi at 4:13 AM on October 22, 2010


To be honest, I think calling the sign waver "anti-poverty" is missing his point. These protesters are really just like the guys at the students' union meetings who used to interrupt discussions on whether we should allow Nestle on campus by asking how that would end the war in Iraq - monomaniacs who'll jump on any opportunity to make their point.
posted by featherboa at 4:36 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


As an unapologetic lefty who has been no stranger to protests and demos I have to say I find this a very small deal indeed. Pushing your protest sign into a news report is a bit of a dick move, really. The guy's trying to do his job. I think the only thing he did that made no sense was leaving it until after he finished the report before removing the sign. And okay, he should have asked nicely first, too.
posted by Decani at 4:50 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I picture a Simpsons-esque pan back across the crowd to a machine at the back, popping out sign after sign, being fed from a conveyor belt an assortment of wooden planks, whole trees, and Ralph.

And about thirty seconds of Robinson repeatedly getting hit in the face by signs and going "Guhuhuhhhhh".
posted by dudekiller at 4:58 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


the students' union meetings who used to interrupt discussions on whether we should allow Nestle on campus by asking how that would end the war in Iraq - monomaniacs who'll jump on any opportunity to make their point.

Quoted for the clanging of the irony bells.
posted by Leon at 5:30 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't see how anyone would interpret this as an overreaction. It's a completely mild reaction. The reporter calmly takes the sign with no resistance, and the proceeds to perform the least passionate sign destruction I have ever witnessed. Then when he is later harangued by (presumably) the signs owner, he remains unaffected, and any response to the issue is disappointingly edited out.

But this is him Loosing it and going ape? Please, this isn't even tickling my lefty kneejerk.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 6:01 AM on October 22, 2010


Real people with their own opinions and agendas are damned inconvenient for political reporters.

I love that when the sign was taken away and stomped on another one instantly popped up. More of that please.
posted by srboisvert at 6:29 AM on October 22, 2010


I am a great believer in free speech but

If you believe in free speech, there's no but.

That being said, this whole thing was SO fucking British. :)
posted by Scoo at 6:37 AM on October 22, 2010


The right of free speech doesn't require the right to be able to insert yourself or your point of view into the middle of other people's work.

You might as well claim that it's vitally important for democracy that people be allowed to walk into shot with placards while Doctor Who is filming on the streets.
posted by philipy at 10:12 AM on October 22, 2010


The right of free speech doesn't require the right to be able to insert yourself or your point of view into the middle of other people's work.

Says who?
posted by unSane at 10:22 AM on October 22, 2010


The right of free speech doesn't require the right to be able to insert yourself or your point of view into the middle of other people's work.

Says who?
posted by unSane at 6:22 PM on October 22


Says the right of common decency, good manners and consideration for others who aren't interfering with you.
posted by Decani at 10:30 AM on October 22, 2010


You don't have the faintest idea what 'rights' are, do you?
posted by unSane at 10:59 AM on October 22, 2010


hint: they're enshrined in law, as opposed to pulled out of your ass
posted by unSane at 11:05 AM on October 22, 2010


was a leader of the Conservatives at university

Once a slimy Tory water-carrier, always a slimy Tory water carrier

Robinson's spent most of his BBC career being slandered by right wing wingnuts for being biased, lefty etc etc. As did Andrew Marr. And a host of other big name BBC presenters.

With perhaps the exception of presenters on Radio 4's Today programme, Robinson's job is scrutinised for bias more than any other in British TV.

The guy's got 20 years of pretty solid non-partisan broadcasting credentials and, frankly, this juvenile sub-student politics crap where NICK ROBINSON IS A CARD CARRYING TORY or ANDREW MARR IS A COMMUNIST is misinformed horseshit that is part of the problem, where every person in the media either has to "us" or "them" to blackandwhitists.

Also: Nick Robinson is always being interrupted/disrupted. It's barely protest. It's more like a sport. I imagine he just had a human moment. Good for him.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:03 PM on October 22, 2010


I've got to agree with Scoo: this was so fucking British. I was expecting a lot more passion or possibly violence based on the framing of the FPP, and yet, there was none.

The Beeb annoys the hell out of me sometimes, but even at moments like this, it's still better than most American (particularly cable) news outlets. They'd probably have dealt with the bad sign problem more civilly by the simple expedient of photoshop.
posted by immlass at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2010


Fuck the signs, he should've been sacked for what Abiezer linked to above.

Anyway, I thought that since the ConLibs got in power it was supposed to be a chance for Thompson and his Amazing Bean Counting Tory Youth to fuck off and get jobs in government. Give me back my socialist BBC damn it.
posted by fullerine at 5:45 PM on October 22, 2010


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