Derek Bateman offers a realistic analysis that comes as a welcome glimmer of light in a discussion that commonly generates rather more heat than is helpful. I confess to having,myself, contributed a share of that heat. A lifelong champion of the BBC, I have lately been provoked by its behaviour to join the growing number of vocal critics.
Having said that, I am not to be counted among those demanding the complete eradication of the BBC. I will not promote or participate in any campaign to withhold the licence fee. Like Derek Bateman, I recognise the exceptional nature of the BBC and realise that it cannot be replicated. Nor can it be revived or reinvented should those who seek its demise get their way. If it goes, it is gone irrevocably and forever. And that would be something that we, as a society, would surely come to regret.
Destroying the BBC would be an act of social and cultural vandalism which would earn us the bitter condemnation of future generations; just as would the sacrifice of our public health service on the altar of glorified commercialism.
I make a clear distinction between the BBC as an institution and the BBC as an organisation. As an institution, the BBC represents the ultimate bastion of public service broadcasting. It is as an organisation that the BBC has gone so very seriously – some would say disastrously – astray. And this is where I part company with Derek; at least to the extent that he appears to agree that there should be no “wholesale clear-outs of staff”. While I totally concur with his conclusion that, “The way to eliminate bias is to hire professional staff with effective editorial oversight”, I am convinced this will require a considerably more drastic operation than he seems to envisage.
Back in August, I wrote the following,
When assessing the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics and the now undeniable bias in favour of the British establishment it would be a mistake to think in terms of a formal conspiracy. If you’re imagining a cabal of managers, producers, directors, journalists and presenters secretly conniving together to do down the SNP and the independence movement, you are entertaining a fantasy. There is no organised plot. Nor is there any need for such a thing. What, with hindsight, has all the appearance of having been carefully contrived is, in fact, no more than the incidental outcome of an ‘organic’ process with no purpose or direction.
Just as ‘misreporting’ may be indistinguishable from deliberate dishonesty, so what looks like a conspiracy may be only a mirage. It may be no more than the impression left on history by lots of unconnected, or only loosely connected, events. It may be a pattern without a plan. It may be conspiracy as an emergent property of an organisation which, not being effectively managed towards its true purpose, tends towards the dominant agenda within its own structures.
All that is required for the appearance of conspiracy to emerge is that there should be a sufficient number of people; with a sufficient amount of influence; and a sufficient commonality of interest.
This is what has happened in the BBC. And most particularly in BBC Scotland. It is not wholly accurate to say that either is institutionally biased; although the BBC is undoubtedly the broadcasting arm of the British establishment and can be expected to behave accordingly. It would be more apt to describe BBC Scotland as organisationally, or structurally, biased. Over time, a self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing process has led to the organisation being populated with people drawn from, or with intimate connections to, a Scottish political establishment that was, for a formative period of decades, the almost exclusive province of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). BBC Scotland is stuffed with people who still regard what they like to call “Scottish Labour” as rightfully the dominant force in Scottish politics. Many are inclined to treat it as if it still is. They genuinely see nothing wrong in packing every studio panel with BLiS worthies because they cannot accept how irrelevant the pretendy wee party has become.
It may be that the altered environment of independent will bring about evolutionary change in the ‘deep’ organisation of the BBC. But it is not realistic to suppose that this might happen quickly enough or visibly enough to satisfy the corporation’s most embittered critics. We see ample evidence of the inertia that afflicts such massive organisations in the fact that BBC Scotland has so abysmally failed to adapt to a new political reality in Scotland that is getting on for a decade old.
I opened by applauding Derek Bateman’s realism. But he is not entirely dispassionate. His attitude to the BBC is tinged with a certain sentimentality. Which is wholly understandable and easily forgivable, given his personal connection with the organisation. Not being affected by such sentiment, I am more inclined to acknowledge that overcoming the evident organisational inertia in a timely manner will almost certainly require the kicking of a multitude of arses. That some of those arses might belong to former colleagues and friends of Mr Bateman is unfortunate. But the alternative may be an even more regrettable fate for the BBC and public service broadcasting in Scotland.Views: 5560
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