Is the BBC biased against independence? It’s a straightforward question isn’t it? And it’s a question that causes angst within some quarters of the independence movement.
This week a heated debate ensued over plans by a grass-roots Yes group to run a billboard campaign that highlighted ‘misreporting’ by BBC Scotland. The ‘Misreporting Scotland’ billboards direct people to a website on which is posted articles that support the theory that the BBC operates a pro-Union agenda.
The group behind the campaign launched a crowdfunding appeal that raised almost £9000 within a week – easily beating the £8500 target. The success of the campaign prompted a few sneering attacks from a handful of pro-independence commentators.
One prominent figure claimed that the billboards were the Yes campaign equivalent of the Orange Order [Seriously].
Others agreed with the remark and the grass-roots group were pilloried as being stupid.
Some questioned why Yessers would fund such a venture rather than giving money to The National or the radical-left outlet Common Space.
It apparently escaped the attention of those promoting such an idea that people making donations to the billboard campaign did so because they wanted to highlight BBC misreporting. Something neither The National nor Common Space has any track record of.
I described the sneerers as ‘snobs’ and asked what they had done to address the anti-independence agenda prevalent within the BBC. It prompted a rather curious reply which suggested the Common Space might have something to do with the ‘debate’ I was seeing on social media. I later discovered the site had posted an article critical of the billboards.
I was dismayed at some of the responses. Here was a group of grass-roots activists who were being pro-active and trying to do something about a malaise most Yessers acknowledge exists. Yet they were being dismissed as unsophisticated conspiracy-crazies, too dim to appreciate the damage they were causing the Yes movement.
There were those who were voicing justifiable concerns about the billboards. Was it a good idea to ‘target’ the trusted BBC in this way? Was the BBC as bad as the billboards were implying? But the sneerers were adopting an altogether different tone. It was aloof. They were looking down on the very people without whom there would be no Yes movement.
Were the billboards that bad? They accused the BBC of misreporting but give no clue as to the nature of the misreporting. Unionists have made similar claims about BBC Scotland.
Some No voters actually believe that the broadcaster favours the SNP as the headline from the Scotsman claimed in 2013. Would the public automatically assume the billboards were being funded by a pro-independence group?
They direct people to a web site that, as well as containing well researched articles, contain links to a whole raft of media content. [I have to declare an interest of course. Some of the articles are mine.]
Having reached the site, would No voters be persuaded to move to Yes? Well no, because that’s not the purpose of the site. Its purpose is to persuade visitors not to take at face value everything they consume via traditional media. It’s an attempt at bringing to the attention of those unaware that the traditional media isn’t as honest and as balanced as they perhaps have been led to believe.
Will it succeed? I don’t know. Nobody does. The point though is that ordinary people are getting off their backsides and doing something. Why is that? They are being forced to do something because those Yes leaning commentators who are privileged enough to be offered platforms on the likes of the BBC and other outlets, steadfastly refuse to confront or call-out an institutionalised corruption that they know exists.
It’s a corruption that allows discussions like the one below to be broadcast on Radio Scotland just this Saturday.
Some of the sneerers have suggested complaints about the BBC’s coverage of Scottish politics are based on claims of a conspiracy. They say those of us questioning political output believe there are regular clandestine meetings at high-level within BBC Scotland in an attempt at manipulating the news.
This is a grotesque mischaracterisation of the criticism of the BBC. It is a straw-man argument that allows those of us who question BBC output to be portrayed as loons and nutters.
There are people at BBC Scotland whom critics of the BBC admire. For me there is no more professional broadcaster than Isabel Fraser. I have time for Ken MacDonald. Nick Eardley hasn’t given cause for concern nor has Jamie McIvor. Johnny Beattie had an excellent independence referendum and I think the Pacific Quay team was lessened when David Millar left. There are many others in news and current affairs who do not cause me to reach for the off switch.
But there are those who do. Below is one of the presenters that I believe did little to enhance the reputation of the BBC during the independence referendum. Watch the continual interruptions from Glenn Campbell in this interview from 2010.
Other presenters who give cause for concern include Kaye Adams who falsely claimed during the indyref that attacks on English people had increased in Scotland, despite the opposite being true. Adams’ show is a conduit for political bigots who are regularly allowed to twist any issue into an attack on the SNP.
Phone-in topics prompted by Unionist attacks are also regularly featured.
You could write a book on the corrupt practices at BBC Scotland when covering political issues. Indeed I already have. You can buy ‘London calling’ for less than two quid here. There is, as many of you will know, a seventy minute documentary that is currently touring local areas and that is receiving a quite extraordinary reception wherever it is screened. Look out for it. Below is a wee teaser in the form of a trailer.
The BBC continues to live down to expectations when it comes to Scottish news and current affairs. I can reveal that a complaint submitted in February is finally to come before the BBC Trust in November. Yes that’s correct, fully nine months after the broadcast aired, the Trust will hear the complaint.
The complaint should be an open and closed case. The background can be read here. However, being the BBC, I expect the ruling to find in favour of the broadcaster.
On Sunday Common Space editor Angela Haggerty used the billboards debate as the subject of her weekly social media article in the Sunday Herald. Angela challenged what she described as “claims of media mind control” and said the billboard idea “makes me squirm a little”.
Below is a snippet from her column.
“I assume that the purpose of this billboard campaign is to speak to No voters, and if that’s the case I’m worried. It’s deeply insulting to suggest to people that they’ve made a bad decision because they weren’t able to work an answer out for themselves. Put yourselves in their shoes: how might it make you feel?
Would you suddenly think you’d seen the light, or would you just think it was a bit mad that someone would put that on a billboard?”
The billboards don’t actually contain anything that might suggest No voters ‘weren’t able to work an answer out for themselves’. The billboards inform those who pass it that the BBC is ‘misreporting Scotland’. They direct people to a website. The small number of people who might curiously visit the site are presented with a mix of content from a variety of sources, including traditional and alternative media.
Angela later casually insults those behind the campaign with the laziest of canards:
“There’s a real risk of projecting an image of tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories to people who might otherwise be prepared to listen to the case for independence.”
Here’s what I think Angela might be failing to appreciate. The problem is that the ‘case for independence’ is being contorted by traditional media coverage of the issue. It’s this caricature of the Yes case that persuadable No voters were fed by the BBC and most newspapers during Indyref1. Some of the Yes arguments were sound, but they were presented as though risky and not viable by a corrupt media.
Somehow though I don’t think my arguments will persuade Angela to see things a tad differently. Her views on me were clear this week when she posted a tweet comparing me to Donald Trump.
Perhaps like another Common Space colleague, she mistakenly believed I was the billboard mastermind.
I wish the grass-roots activists well in the billboard campaign. The BBC is no friend to independence and it played a crucial role in turning what appeared to be momentum for Yes, into a win for No in the final weeks of Indyref1.
There were three polls in the final weeks that gave Yes a slender lead. The British establishment threw everything at us in those last few days. Its main weapon was the British state broadcaster.
Oh, and finally. In researching this article I came across something I had long since forgotten about. Just after the referendum, an initiative was launched that urged people to stop paying their TV licence and stop buying newspapers due to the anti-indy bias from the traditional media.
The initiative didn’t attract vitriol from anyone as far as I can recall. Nobody described those behind it as conspiracy nuts or suggested it would damage the independence movement. Who was the mastermind I hear you ask? It was none other than Mike Small of Bella Caledonia.
Mike seemed to think the billboards were a terrible idea. Not as bad as though as announcing a ‘buycott’ of the TV licence on the BBC itself during a debate on the BBC’s independence referendum coverage.
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