Kicking arse at the BBC

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.

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25 thoughts on “Kicking arse at the BBC

  1. Dan Huil

    An informative and well-balanced post – again from Peter. I admire your measured opinion, Peter, when discussing the bbc. I have to admit to being less than cool when thinking about that organization.

    I too read Derek’s latest post and he does seem frustratingly willing to give the bbc in Scotland one more chance – again. It’s too late for that.

  2. Clydebuilt

    Instead of kicking a multitude of arses. A more efficient approach would be to kick one humongous arse. Then only one big kick would be required.

    Has anyone got any suggestions for a humongous arse in Scottish political / media circles.

    Btw Ken MacDonald is not up for consideration here…… He is a top bloke!

  3. millie

    Thanks for an interesting article.

    I’m Inclined to agree with Dan and Clydebuilt. I do not have an ounce of respect left for the BBC, I’d be happy if every penny was withdrawn from the organisation.

    The manipulation, false headlines, misleading reporting and the snide downright lies coming out of the news department at Pacific Quay is out of control. We are being ‘forced’ to pay for this.

    I watched Sarah Smith on the ‘UK’ BBC News at 6pm tonight . I was aghast by her report.

  4. Dan Huil

    If anyone seriously believes the bbc is not biased about Scottish politics they should hear Sarah Smith’s comment at the end of her wee whine on Thurs. Radio4 6pm news.

  5. tartanfever

    I think there are holes in our discussions about the BBC – our perspective is far too insular.

    For decades BBC news has been and is recognised as an organ of the state. It supports ‘Britain’ – regardless of whichever flavour of government is currently in power. When I say Britain – I mean the powerful, elite and business classes. That is the real bias of BBC news. Even the first DG, Lord Reith, made public his comment that the Government could rely on the news to be impartial.

    There are numerous books, groups, discussions that have been produced for decades now on the role of the BBC and they all support claims of institutional bias, most recently Tom Mills ‘BBC, the myth of a public service’. These don’t come from Scotland, they come from England. Why haven’t we tapped into these discussions and arguments on a broader level ? They could be very useful. Why do I never see Media Lens re-tweeted by the Scottish Indy crowd ? When Glenn Greenwald tweets about BBC bias, why isn’t that shared throughout our community ?

    It may be time that we finally start arguing on a wider basis – not on Reporting Scotland vs the SNP but the wider role of BBC news output through the decades. The current situation in Aleppo is a very pertinent example of BBC bias at present, yet no-one up here is even discussing it or sharing the videos of journalists like Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley which are clear demonstrations of the misinformation we are receiving.

    As for Peter’s idea about the BBC not being wholly sunk, I can perfectly understand that – it doesn’t need to be. But why do the BBC have to do news ? They could easily just stop their news output and carry on producing the other types of programming we all enjoy ?

    If you can’t persuade people to look critically at BBC news in Scotland because it always boils down to an argument about Independence and the hard wired defence mechanisms kick in, then it only seems sensible that you would try to widen your argument and flank the wall of intransigence to persuade others. In that scenario, there are many discussions happening out there right now that are not specifically about Scotland, but are concerns over wider BBC news coverage that we could utilise.

    1. tartanfever

      Sorry, got this the wrong way round.

      ‘Even the first DG, Lord Reith, made public his comment that the Government could rely on the news to be impartial.’

      It should read,

      ‘the Government could rely on the news not to be impartial’

      Apologies

  6. Ian Brotherhood

    Peter,
    I’ve just posted a link to this on the current WOS thread.
    Your position confuses me a little – when Scotland becomes independent, what happens to PQ? Do you envisage the BBC staying post-indy? If so, how would that work?
    I’m one of those who, as you know, have lost all faith with Auntie. What happened in the run-up to indyref was bad enough, but the sheer chutzpah they’ve demonstrated (esp on GMS) since then has really slammed the tin lid on it. The recent example you highlighted (Swinney’s Hitler tache etc) is just one of many. And Sarah Smith’s performance earlier tonight is another to add to a very long list. I’m afraid that, for many of us, the proverbial boats have long-since been reduced to ashes. I don’t want to see the ‘BBC’ in an independent Scotland. It can have an office, like RT or any other broadcaster, but a garrison on the Clyde? Nah.
    I’d love to hear you talking about this with Derek Bateman, and maybe someone else like Lesley Riddoch, or Stuart Cosgrove. It would be grand if Indylive could do something, get a few of you together to have a proper chinwag that we could all hear.
    Bestest, as ever.

    1. Peter A Bell Post author

      I am mostly in agreement with Derek Bateman. I regard the BBC as institutionally sound, but organisationally corrupt. Where Derek and I differ is only in the matter of how that organisational corruption can/should be addressed. He seems to think that an evolutionary process will suffice. I am convinced that there will have to be a ‘pogrom’ to root out the rot.

      I’d be more than happy to take part in the kind of discussion you suggest. It is certainly an important topic that must be debated.

      1. Ian Brotherhood

        Cheers for the reply, and I note all you say – perhaps there will be an opportunity to arrange such a discussion. It would be helpful for a lot of folk, like me, who have huge respect for you, Derek, and other prominent Yessers, and are keen to hear intelligent discourse which isn’t mediated by ‘the usual suspects’.
        We can have these debates outwith mainstream control, and that, in itself, is probably one of the main reasons we should!

  7. Andy McKirdy

    The moment BBC Scotland exited the last chance saloon was George Square the night after Indyref, I’m watching a Brit Nat riot live on Aljazeera and the BBC say “move along, nothing to see here”
    No more chances, their drama’s good and so is natural history stuff, the rest is crap and for sport it’s now almost non existent, what exactly are we paying for on top of my Sky subs!!!!
    They are dead to me, never to be forgiven.
    Sorry!!!!

  8. Fairliered

    British people didn’t get their news from German media during WW2. Ukrainians don’t get their news from Russian media. Why should Scots get their news from the BBC?

  9. Sam

    tartanfever@ 15 Dec 20.12

    “but why do the BBC have to do news ? They could easily just stop their news output and carry on producing the other types of programmes we all enjoy”

    The BBC hook their audiences with Strictly come dancing etc so that audience are there watching when The Message gets delivered”

    If it was just propaganda there wouldn’t be an audience.

  10. Sandy

    Plenty of posts above and on Derek’s blog to demonstrate dissent with his view, so I won’t add too much here. The BBC are not responsible for the entire No vote. However, the lies they promulgated to pensioners and the 200k EU nationals were enough to make the difference. They denied us our independence, worked to undermine democracy and that makes them lower than a snakes belly in my book.

    What I don’t think anyone’s picked up on though is that the ‘unconscious/cultural bias’ thesis is not an excuse. With the power and responsibility (not to mention the quantity of our cash funding them) that the BBC has, they are not permitted to fall into that condition. They should have enough self-awareness, self-review and self-analysis to ensure that they don’t. They should have independent review, fresh personnel and business processes to stop any unconscious bias creeping in. They should respond and react to complaints, criticism and public opinion. That they do none of these things suggests that they are happy with the status quo and that what they do is more deliberate than you believe (and maybe was the case in the past).

    Yes, a SBS, or whatever its called, could collaborate and co-commission programmes, as many other national broadcasters already do, and buy in some of the quality programmes the BBC produce. But it must be totally editorially independent and the BBC, including ex-BBC Scotland personnel, must be kept well away from and SBS news and current affairs – they have demonstrated they are not worthy of that trust.

  11. Kevin

    “If it goes, it is gone irrevocably and forever. And that would be something that we, as a society, would surely come to regret.”…

    On Sept 19th 2014, I made a (simple) decision never again to watch any of their output. I can assure you, I’ve never missed it. The only prog I was concerned that I’d miss was the Wimbledon coverage, I enjoy tennis, particularly during Andy Murray’s brilliant career. However I’ve grown very accustomed to not seeing any more tennis and that was my personal acid test. Hell, I can read about Andy’s victories.

    In a nutshell, fuck the BBC and all they produce, for in my opinion it’s a sorry day when Scots continue to take-in – and PAY FOR – continued insults, bias, rank bad behaviour and vitriol when there are other alternatives to their output.

    Stop patronising this toxicity, stop viewing – you won’t miss it

    1. MorvenM

      Kevin, you can still watch catch up sports on the BBC sports app without a licence. I actually prefer watching Andy Murray on catch up as watching him live is too nerve wracking! I watched the ATP World Tour Final after the fact and enjoyed it very much. Just hope the service is still available next June.

      Even if it isn’t, I won’t be going back to paying the licence. They crossed a line for me during the referendum and I’ll never trust them again.

  12. millie

    Re; BBC licence. there is a new UK wide survey out- I think if done Scotland wide it would have been far more negative.

    http://tbivision.com/news/2016/12/uk-public-backs-bbc-licence-fee/692831/

    “Asked about funding the BBC, 41% said the licence fee is the best option, 28% preferred an ad-funded model and 15% subscription. Overall 29% want the licence fee scrapped.”

    The graph in the article detailing ‘the fee’ viewers would be willing to pay is interesting.

    And for anyone interested, Derek Mackay was more than able for Andrew Neil’s scrutiny today on BBC-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY0E1Ui45XI

  13. Dave Oh What

    I am guilty of rationalising that I will keep my BBC licence over the festive period in case youngsters & grandparents are desperate to see……whatever. But I shall now stop my licence Monday. Any advice on how to stop the BBC pestering/intimidation letters on cancellation? BTW, I am also of the camp of……BBC Scot 6?…..don’t even bother. Not on my behalf.
    However, strange to recall, but ‘losing the BBC’ seemed to be one of the worst fears in many quarters before IR1, was it not?

    1. MorvenM

      The best info on cancelling your TV licence is here:

      http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/utilities/tv-licence

      If you fill in the online declaration, you shouldn’t be pestered by threatening letters. I filled in one when I cancelled more than two years ago. I got a reminder when the two years were up and just filled in another declaration. No one has been near me. There are lots of alternative sources of entertainment also mentioned in the article. I’ve never regretted cancelling.

  14. Alasdair Macdonald

    The BBC is a huge, diverse, multi faceted organisation/institution and, over my nearly seven decades, there has been a great deal I have enjoyed and been educated by and continue to enjoy and learn from. So, the destruction and/or wholesale rejection of the BBC could deprive us of a lot.

    Like most of those commenting I have felt angered, patronised, been lied to, treated with contempt by much of the news and current affairs output, which has been set out well in ‘London Calling’. I can well understand the similarly visceral responses of many.

    However, there is the problem of ‘reification’; the BBC is a human construct and does not have senses and emotions like humans. It comprises many thousands of people, the majority of them very talented people. Amongst them they have many skills and competences, which, if scattered, might not be as effective as they are collectively.

    Change there needs to be and, possibly, bahookies kicked (although, as a senior manager in a different occupational sector, such pedal violence was something I did not do, because it was counterproductive, but, I am not saying failure and incompetence does not have to be addressed.) What I think might be helpful is for Peter Bell’s distinction between ‘institution’ and ‘organisation’ to be analysed further, so that we can keep what is good for the common weal and can set up organisations which are more transparent and can be shifted from their inevitable inertia.

  15. chris mcgowan

    The BBC has and always will be a state sponsored mouth piece for the government.The government decide on funding,appoint ex ministers to the board appoint or influence who sits on any so called independent bodies,this has been going on for years.It is only because of the internet more people have become aware of this.i for one will not pay for the BBC,your opinion is your own but not mine. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

  16. davidb

    I gave up two years ago too. I havent regretted it at all. Last night I was staying at an hotel. We tried to watch it. We did actually watch a single program – but we have the box set for that series, so maybe we are biased.

    In the modern world of multichannel media there is no need at all for a licence fee funded television service. The market provides such a plethora of choices that the model in the UK has passed its sell by. It can hardly be fair that people who subscribe to Sky or BT and who never watch the content of the state broadcaster should be compelled to pay a hypothecated tax to feather bed that organisation.

    If the BBC is so loved and so valuable it will be subscribed to by willing viewers. Amazon Prime, Netflix and Sky all attest to that.

    As to fearless risk taking? American cable operators do that nowadays. If there is a demand then the market will provide it.

    What I saw last night – after a 2 year absence – was basically beige animated.

    We are in the internet age. We don’t need to be spoon fed propaganda any more. Leave broadcasting to the market. You can buy a lot of entertainment for 145 quid a year.

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