Wednesday 2 August 2017

Is BBC online Pravda ? Or the Sunday Times Style Magazine

Related image

My real issue with the very extensive and incredibly wide ranging BBC Online, Your BBC website of news and sport, is that it isn't very good at informing.
Its pretty good at reporting the news. But just reporting it. Not explaining it. Or contextualizing it. Or investigating it.

Sure, its a supremely slick web page. The latest news is analytically promoted to appear as the top item in search browsers. There is news. Weather. Sport. Politics. Human Interest. Charity. A bit of Religion. A lot of Royal.
World news. Arts. Business. Science. Popular culture. Newspaper headlines. Tech stories. Schools, education and children's news. 

{which is a very good service. Costly for the Beeb to produce. But kids do have a grasp of news they would not otherwise have because of Newsbeat and Newsround.}

Plenty of minority content. UK regional content picked up at great expense and available to view. 
Individual, devolved home nation news, produced  in languages people don't even speak. 
Endless BBC self promotion stories and plugs and the whole webpage, links together BBC television, radio and iplayer content.

But, my complaint has long been, although the BBC has the width of a lake, it has the depth of a puddle.

  That is not say BBCOnline isn't quality. A visit to CNN or Fox or Russia Today shows a much inferior content and  navigation web page.
But they don't have the licence fee cash cow. Not the £-billions that the BBC pours into its online and worldwide content. So the BBC should be the best.

The BBc is a great stater page. But it isn't a newspaper. Its not even an informed blog. Its more a colour magazine. Flip through and look at the pictures. A taster for news and issues. A news precis. A guide to whether its worth seeking out further information.

An example would be the current EU airport security checks: Holidaymakers 'face long delays'
Reading the story informs the reader about long delays. Explains that it is new passport readers adding to the time to check. Tells the tale of EU increasing regualtion at borders, to combat terrorism.
Has plenty of comment from airline chiefs and the tourist board. And delayed passengers.
And concludes at the very end that the delays seem to have vanished. So its already a non-story.
A perfect, quick and simple, modern newspaper clickbait online type story. Snips and quote cuts and a modicum of redrafting. With a banner headline and a sad picture. 
Its only lacking
'10 incredible things holiday makers packed in their suitcases. You won't believe number 6 !"

There is no mention of why the process takes longer. Of the fact the hugely expensive new scanning machines don't tell the passenger which way up to place the passport. So failing to work. 
No mention of perhaps the customs should have had more staff for a new process at the start of the holiday season. Or why the EU, with its no compromise ever - no way- no deals on no-borders, or freedom of movement, suddenly felt the need to strengthen border controls.

Its just a collection of statements from interested parties. And that is fine. The BBC prides itself on holding no opinions. And its why if you want to know more, you have to go elsewhere.
Image result for tomorrow's world

It reminds me of watching Tomorrow's World with my best friend's dad. He was a nuclear physicist. 

He once told us kids, sat on the floor in front of the small, fat, telly, that if you had no idea of the subject it all seemed plausible and informative. But if the Tomorrow team strayed into his field, it was clear their discussion and explanations were laughably simple.

"Its quite easy to forget they are just actors. If you don't have any knowledge of what they are talking about."


K said...

It's very noticeable in the last 1-2 years how much entertainment news is now on the front page. Also Newsbeat has totally turned into a version of Buzzfeed.

One thing that has forever bugged me is the BBC making a big deal out of news around their own staff. Yesterday some no name actress' husband died and it was top news on the BBC website. Who cares? The same thing happens every time some regional BBC DJ from the 70s dies.

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Peripheral to your main point, but I have a thought on automatic passport control channels. I had it first in the queue for the UK's automatic passport control, quite a while ago.

Why does not the scanning software flip the 2-page image the right way up - automatically?

Best regards

Thud said...

Like many I avoid all and any contact with the Beeb.

Anonymous said...

@NS (and BQ),

The passport control e-gates are far from automatic.

Only the two lines of numbers and letters at the bottom of the photo page (the Machine-Readable Zone) are read by the machine. If you insert your passport the wrong way round, the machine won't see the MRZ at all.

After your passport is recognised, the machine retrieves the digital image of your face from the passport database, and a human officer compares it to the image captured by the camera. If they take too long to do this (perhaps because they got distracted from a Buzzfeed page on their phone), the gate rejects you.

The people building these machines should really get 70-year-olds who travel once a year to do the quality assurance.

Unknown said...

That nuclear physicist has it right. I remember a conversation with a Royal Navy submariner who said that every time, without fail, that submarines are discussed in the news, the media always get it wrong. I've been interested in guns & shooting all my life, and it's the same: practically no-one in the news media knows anything about the subject, so they just appear to make it up, plus an admixture of daft prejudice. Worst thing is, they don't care, and if anything, they flaunt their ignorance as a badge of pride.

Electro-Kevin said...

I cannot abide the BBC. I used to look at Ceefax just to see what they were up to but I can't stand that anymore.

I particularly loathe their PC dramas and the recent China Girl has to be worst of the lot. (Just earwigging whilst my wife watches.)

Anonymous said...

I;m not a nuclear physicist but I can tell when the bbc are spieling bollox even on abour nuclear physics.

I don't often look in on the beeb 'home page' but the few times I do, usually it is searching for references to news past, they're quick and easy to find. However, apart from a bare outline there is almost exclusively fuck all else - no in depth analysis and any opinion based stuff is just left wing 'verbal' Kaka.

Sen. C.R.O'Blene said...

Much easier to avoid the BBC altogether these days.

The Biased BBC site covers the worst excesses of course, but at The Turrets we've just given up on the news now, and go online for the headlines and leave it at that.

I often 'wonder' who would tender for the rights (rites), when they eventually get disbanded and the TV tax is removed, but then I get tired of 'wondering', and go off and do something useful...

Nigel Sedgwick said...

Thanks to Anonymous of 2 Aug at 6:49 pm: "The passport control e-gates are far from automatic."

I assume from Anonymous's comment that the scan of the main passport page is only a partial scan, of around 20% of the page height.

If that is a constraint on the scanner hardware, it strikes me as a very poor technical decision. The downside is that upside-down pages must be physically re-presented the right way up. This seems to more than double the passport presentation time, for a not inconsiderable proportion of users.

If there is no hardware constraint, there would be a bit of extra computation (surely no problem of significance in this modern age) to detect the physical inversion and rotate the image 180 degrees before continuing with processing.

If there is a hardware constraint, this strikes me as similar to the poor technical decision taken on one of the iris biometric systems trialled by the UK government a few years ago. They decided not to scan the passport to determine the single claimed identity, but to check the person's iris(es) for a match against each of the irises of all registered people. This increases the false alarm rate (approximately) by the number of enrolled persons; the acceptance threshold was automatically corrected to give sufficient security on false acceptances - but (as the number of registered persons increased) that markedly increased the false reject rate: eventually to a level that was not practical in operational circumstances. [There were some other problems too, with user familiarity, that would be at a level not dependent on the number of enrolled persons]. Once the number of enrolled persons had increased (I think to between 50,000 and 100,000), identification performance (the trade-off between false rejections and false acceptances) moved outside the practically usable and secure range.

In both cases, if my suspicions are correct, the problems were easily predictable in advance - and could be overcome with more suitable hardware. For e-gates, scanning the whole page image and automatic 180 degree rotation when appropriate. For iris biometrics, scanning or otherwise interrogating the passport to determine the claimed identity - and only matching against the registered iris(es) appropriate for that claim.

Best regards

James Higham said...

"It's pretty good at reporting the news. But just reporting it."

Exactly. I use it for football and weather, as well as general outline of anything new but never to go in and read, more to go to Twitter and see how it's reported there.

Bill Quango MP said...

I went through the scanner a few weeks ago.

On the information signs and accompanying video screens it just said insert passport.

The failure rate, taking people for manual checking seemed to be on the third failure to scan.

The only way it was apparent passports were being read only one way was if a couple had got one partner successfully across the gate they could instruct the other to try the other way around. Then they were getting through.

dearieme said...

Should we be glad that an organisation whose ambition is to gain complete despotic powers is so incompetent?

Or is it deliberate, intended to remind us that we are their serfs?

K said...

I've done quite a bit of work on barcodes and automation over the last couple years and giving the passport system a quick read up I can't believe it's still in use.

1) It's an optical character recognition (OCR) system. OCR should always be considered a last resort and should only be used when you don't control the input data (and governments DO control passports).

2) There is no reason for an OCR system to rely on a specific orientation. Just rotate the image four times until you find a match. The null character on passports is a "<" which I imagine was chosen exactly for detecting orientation.

3) Probably the reason they went with OCR is that the data (2x 44 characters) is too long for barcodes but would fit well within a data matrix (e.g. a QR code).

4) OCR isn't totally useless these days but would have been terrible in the 80s when this system was introduced. It would look ugly but work more reliably have chained multiple Code 39 or Code 128 barcodes.

5) I've been ragging on OCR it is possible to do it well. Royal Mail use it a lot and can recognise any orientation as long as you use the correct font settings.

6) Finally, WTF is the RFID chip on biometric passports for if not exactly this use case? Okay the machine-readable zone still needs to be on the passport for third world countries but why isn't the EU reading the RFID?

Bill Quango MP said...

Passport is a strange issue.
It may not be the orientation.
But something is making the failure rate pretty high.
I would guess one in ten taken to manual checks in my queue whilst I was waiting.
Maybe its set up that way?

Anyway - on to more media.

K said...

@BQ It's probably not orientation. More that OCR is the wrong technology for this use case. There wouldn't have been much choice in the 80s but it should have been abandoned in the early 90s.

Bill Quango MP said...

But these scanners are brand new. Only just been fitted.
I realise brand new doesn't mean the technology is brand new. But the EU only took this decision to have any checks at all, quite recently. came with the rise in terror so 2010 or 2011 I would guess.

K said...

@BQ Apparently only version 2 e-passports contain all the data in the RFID chip:

So what you might be seeing is 2006-2010 passport holders being taken for manual checks.

Anomalous Cowshed said...

One thing on the breadth vs depth of the BBC news site:

There's no pagination.

Try and find a news story from a few days ago. It's the search function or nothing. Now have a look at how that works and how it presents the results.

Very odd. And that has to have been an active design decision, at some point.