The following article centres on three broadcasts that appeared on BBC Scotland this weekend. It includes an interview, a newspaper review and a news bulletin.
The article briefly analyses each broadcast, or segment thereof, and invites the reader to consider whether the broadcast fits with the stated aim of the BBC to be politically neutral. See what you think.
On Saturday morning, BBC Scotland presenter Gordon Brewer was conducting an interview with Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole Hamilton. Midway through the interview Brewer asked the following question:
“I’m slightly confused by the views of the Liberal Democrats on the timing of a possible referendum. Nick Clegg said yesterday there should be no fatwah as he put it against independence which appeared to be saying that the UK government ought to authorise the SNP government in Scotland to have a referendum whenever it likes …”
Did you notice what Brewer did? He referred not to the Scottish government, but the ‘SNP government’. The UK government however was not similarly described as the ‘Tory government’.
This is a regular occurrence on BBC Scotland. If we look back to Jackie Bird’s interview with Theresa May that took place on March 2nd we see a similar practice. Bird and May continually refer, not to the Scottish government, but to the ‘SNP government’.
By continually describing the Scottish government as the ‘SNP government’ when discussing a possible second referendum, BBC Scotland promotes the myth that it is only the SNP that backs such a proposal. The truth of course is that the proposal is also backed by the Scottish Greens.
The question is why so many BBC Scotland presenters use the term ‘SNP government’ in this context but never adopt a similar practice when referring to the UK government?
It’s long been a bugbear of mine, the free advertising for newspapers that masquerades as the newspaper review on Radio Scotland. Most headlines are of course politically partisan. Most newspapers are pro-Union. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that presenters will read out far more pro-Union [or anti-Indy/SNP] headlines than pro-independence.
I’ve long argued that the practice of using TV licence cash to promote privately owned politically motivated newspapers should be stopped.
My opinion was reinforced on Saturday morning when the newspaper review section aired. Below is the segment in question. Dr Eamonn O’Neill is the reviewer.
The first issue I have is the promotion of an anti-SNP story on Radio Scotland. The Scotsman is a pro-Union newspaper with a history of publishing anti-SNP articles. If people want to read such stories then they need only buy The Scotsman.
The second issue I have is the analysis by Eamonn O’Neill of the story. The academic takes the newspaper at face value then makes some quite ridiculous extrapolations.
He tells listeners that the story is “something the SNP had though it had put to bed”, that “It couldn’t have come at a worst time” because of the imminent indyref, because “the west of Scotland Catholic vote always went to Labour”. The implication is that those voters may well vote No as a result of Tommy Sheppard’s comments.
O’Neill’s analysis is nonsense of course. This is a barely read pro-Union newspaper indulging in political mischief. Tommy Sheppard’s views on faith schools and secularism are his own, just as John Mason’s views are his own. Neither politician sets party policy on faith schools.
Indeed Tommy Sheppard has since hit back at the Scotsman newspaper and questioned the quality of its journalism.
Why Eamonn O’Neill highlighted this particular piece of nonsense from The Scotsman we’ll never know. It’s not a one-off either as the clip below demonstrates.
Now I’m not saying that newspapers shouldn’t report such stories. I’m not saying that Eamonn O’Neill shouldn’t voice his opinion on them. I’m not saying that Eamonn O’Neill is anti-SNP. What I am saying is that Radio Scotland should not be used to promote either his views or articles published by a politically partisan newspaper.
Most political anoraks will know that Jeremy Corbyn ignited a near civil war within his party’s Scottish branch on Saturday after telling journalists that he was ‘absolutely fine’ with a second referendum on independence. The UK Labour leader also insisted it was not the job of the Labour party to try to block such a ballot if sanctioned by Holyrood.
Scottish Labour politicians went into meltdown when news of the comments reached them. Many publicly attacked their own leader, abusively so. The story was absolutely massive.
However when it aired on that evening’s Reporting Scotland it was downplayed to the point it was almost obscured. Take a look at how it was presented.
It starts promisingly with the newsreader saying “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn …”, then just as you are expecting the intro to be about Corbyn’s indyref2 comments, the newsreader adds “… has indicated that the party is prepared to fight to keep Scotland in the UK for a second time.”
Eh? What? That wasn’t the big story. What about his sensational Indyref2 comments? What about Scottish Labour politicians and their expletive ridden attacks on their own leader? What about responses from senior SNP figures including Nicola Srurgeon?
The fallout has been ignored. His comments have been mentioned in a manner that suggested little or no controversy. The story has been downplayed. Scottish Labour has been protected.
Three items broadcast in one day in one weekend. That’s BBC Scotland.
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