The thrust of the former BBC reporter’s argument is that there are indeed problems with the way Pacific Quay handles political news and current affairs.
However he argues that there is no deliberate attempt to skew news in order to undermine the SNP and/or independence. Bateman also, rather eloquently, hits back at critics who accuse him of defending his former employer.
I read both his blog entries and the responses to each. All made for worthwhile reading. But it got me thinking. Why does the Yes community debate the reasons for what we all know exists?
Does it matter if one person believes the skewed output is deliberate but another doesn’t? Surely the point is that they both agree it is skewed?
Does questionable, erroneous or biased output from BBC Scotland have to be deliberate before we are allowed to complain about it? If the BBC breaks its Charter must it have been premeditated and on purpose before the corporation is called to account?
For what it’s worth I believe BBC Scotland’s atrocious political output is a product of three reasons; inept research, institutionalised corruption and personal agenda. The last one is the most controversial, but it’s worth pointing out that personal agenda can also mean the furthering of one’s own career and not necessarily one’s political leanings – I include both.
But let’s take a look at all three. Below are three relatively recent news bulletins from BBC Scotland. They cover 2014 indyref pledges, a motorway tragedy and Brexit.
All three have two things in common. The first is that they were all used directly or indirectly against the SNP or independence. The second is that all three contained key claims that were absolutely false.
The UK government never pledged eight Type 26 frigates but thirteen. There was never any emergency 999 call in the M9 tragedy but a non-emergency 101 call and the Spanish Minister Alfonso Dastis never issued any warning about the length of time for an EU membership to be processed, the warning came from Jose Manuel Barroso three years earlier.
An argument can be made for all three having been the result of inept research. Indeed the ’emergency call’ news reports, both online and broadcast, were amended hours later after someone at the BBC picked up criticisms from myself and others on social media.
The frigates story is interesting in that the BBC responded to a complaint by admitting its eight frigate claim was indeed wrong. However the corporation, instead of accepting thirteen frigates had been pledged, claimed that no specific indyref pledge had been given by the UK Government to build Type 26 frigates on the Clyde. As a result it concluded that no public correction or apology need be issued.
This takes us from inept research to the area institutionalised corruption. The BBC, rather than admit publicly to having broadcast fake news that formed a key part of the Scottish independence campaign, simply re-wrote history.
What of the Dastis warning that never was? This ‘warning’ was used as a spoiler after the Spanish Foreign Minister confirmed his government would not seek to block an independent Scotland’s EU membership. Despite a complaint having been submitted back in April when BBC Scotland reports initially appeared, there has been no acceptance of any error. Indeed only days ago the BBC sent the following message to the complainant.
I write to apologise for a delay in the management of your complaint. I had hoped to be able to give you the results of our investigation before next week, (when I am on annual leave) and I am sorry to say this has not proven possible.
My experience of the BBC tells me that they are looking for a way out on this one.
The three examples above raise obvious questions. How did each get through what must be a rigorous quality assurance process at BBC Scotland? These weren’t insignificant claims. On the contrary each had huge political impact. Why weren’t they checked for accuracy?
There is another aspect to consider. Each of the false claims wasn’t a story in and of itself, each was in fact an appendage to a bigger news story that day.
- In the case of the frigates claim it accompanied news of a UK government statement regarding shipbuilding on the Clyde. [It portrayed the UK Govt as having honoured an indy pledge]
- In the case of the emergency 999 claim it accompanied a BBC Scotland Freedom of Information based story on emergency call handling. [The SNP was under pressure over call handling]
- In the case of the Dastis ‘warning’ it accompanied a breaking story confirming Spain’s stance on Scotland’s EU membership. [It served as a spoiler to a story helpful to independence]
Each of the false claims broadcast by BBC Scotland was in fact introduced into a larger story by the broadcaster. This suggests someone saw an opportunity to introduce each false claim in order to spice up the core story it accompanied. The Dastis ‘warning’ was actually gleaned from the misreading of a single sentence in an obscure article published by the Guardian newspaper.
The obvious conclusion is that no serious checks were applied because an agenda was at work. In other words, inept research accompanied by endemic institutionalised corruption.
What about deliberate bias? That’s the most contentious of all claims leveled at BBC Scotland, it’s producers, editors and reporters. It’s also almost impossible to prove.
In September 2007 just after the SNP won its first Holyrood election, BBC Scotland reporter Glenn Campbell theatrically ripped up the party’s manifesto live on TV. The act was grossly inappropriate and prompted fury amongst SNP supporters.
Campbell has never been taken to task for the pre-meditated act.
During the independence referendum campaign James Naughtie was parachuted in from London to anchor the Good Morning Scotland programme. Naughtie’s leanings vis-a-vis the constitution were transparent during his tenure at the helm of BBC Scotland’s flagship morning news programme.
Below is a short clip of him carrying out an interview on the subject of shipbuilding during the indyref. At the end of the interview Naughtie asserts that in the event of a Yes vote “…it would be unlikely that the Royal Navy would place contracts outside the rest of the UK.”
Naughtie was presenting his own partisan opinion as fact. A small example of course, but anyone who listened to the Scots born, London based veteran presenter couldn’t fail to notice his tendency to favour the No campaign.
Below, if you can stomach it, is Naughtie in discussion with two academics during the indyref. The academics are Better Together member Professor Jim Gallagher and Jo Armstrong, who has an equally partisan background.
Kaye Adams was another who attracted criticism and claims she was deliberately biased in favour of the Union. In one notorious programme broadcast in December 2012, the presenter invited callers to phone in to her programme to discuss what she claimed was an increase in anti-English sentiment.
What listeners to the show would have been unaware of is that official figures showed that, over the previous twelve months, anti-English attacks in Scotland had actually decreased by 17%.
Below is another brief example of what I argued at the time was a BBC Scotland reporter presenting his own pro-Union opinion as fact. During the independence campaign Douglas Fraser tells viewers that the pound is not an asset.
If you watch the clip above you’ll see two senior BBC Scotland figures basically pushing Better Together campaign lines without batting an eyelid. Fraser and Gordon Brewer could be reading from pro-Union campaign leaflets so partisan is the line of discussion. It’s quite incredible to watch as they re-inforce one another’s prejudice.
Fraser’s claim that the pound is not an asset is deliberate bias. There’s no question about it. The discussion as a whole though says more about the prevailing culture at BBC Scotland. That it’s one-sided and biased against independence isn’t in question. But are both participants conscious of this? I’d argue not. They are just reflecting the culture within which they operate.
Earlier in this article I suggested what might appear as personal bias may in fact be an attempt by the reporter to curry favour by including in his or her report a reference to an issue thought to ‘fit’ with the agenda at BBC Scotland. One of the most blatant, and current, of these is the reference to the fishing sector when reporting on Brexit.
Watch any BBC Scotland report on Brexit and it almost always includes a reference to fishing. This, as I have stated in previous articles, is used as a proxy to shoehorn anti-EU sentiment or arguments into the Brexit item. No other sector enjoys such coverage. The NHS, so reliant on EU migrants, doesn’t nor does the university sector, food and drink, farming or tourism.
Conspicuous through its absence is the reason why Scotland’s fishing sector is so anti-EU, namely because it has been treated as dispensable by successive UK governments when negotiating with the EU. The irony of course is that the very body [Westminster] responsible for harming Scotland’s fishing industry is the one benefiting from the resultant anger.
Institutionalised bias appears almost every day on BBC Scotland. Observe any report on independence and/or a second indyref and pro-Union statements will always outnumber pro-Independence statements. This is due to the habit of treating the constitutional issue as though it were a party political issue. There are three pro-Union parties so they will always outnumber the two pro-Independence parties – even though they are outnumbered in terms of Holyrood MSPs.
What BBC Scotland should do of course, but refuses to do, is ensure parity in any and all independence related news items and discussions. This is institutionalised bias. Indeed in its most recent independence related article the SNP was outnumbered three to one. There was no statement from the Scottish Greens. The Scottish Conservatives were allowed not one, but two statements attacking the idea of a second indyref.
It also exists in the form of the so-called newspaper review. The ‘review’ is often nothing of the sort. Weekdays witness presenters summarising a selection of front page stories. Weekends witnesses two so-called ‘respected commentators’ review the newspapers. They use the platform to air their own personal views as the recent clip below shows.
During the first independence referendum there were no daily newspapers that backed the Yes campaign. The headlines promoted by the BBC reflected this. Below are two examples of what the state broadcaster used to broadcast throughout the indyref campaign.
The first was broadcast exactly one week before the referendum itself. The second was broadcast around November 2013.
Nothing much has changed since the first referendum. BBC Scotland still promotes newspapers in this way, and of course given most are anti-independence in stance, the broadcaster helps push a pro-Union message. Below is a short clip that was broadcast during the recent general election campaign.
If anything, things have gotten worse. BBC Scotland now also provides free advertising on its main news page for newspapers. ‘Scotland’s front pages’ appears every day as the third ‘news’ item on the website. It is an abuse of TV licence cash.
But back to the clip immediately above. Listen again and note towards the end of the clip the use of the word ‘Nationalists’ to describe the SNP.
The SNP is regularly described as ‘Nationalists’ by BBC Scotland presenters and reporters. The word is of course regularly hijacked’ by Unionists who provide their own pejorative definition in order to ‘prove’ the party of government in Scotland is intolerant, inward looking and racist.
BBC Scotland reporters rarely if ever describe Unionist parties the same way. We never hear that ‘Unionists’ have attacked the Scottish government. Similarly the term ‘British Nationalists’ is never applied to the any of the Unionist bloc. They are almost always benignly described as ‘pro-UK’ or ‘pro-Union’.
The recent veneration of Ruth Davidson is a result of this institutionalised bias. Take a look at the clips from Reporting Scotland broadcast immediately after the general election … an election that Ruth Davidson did better than expected but still lost heavily.
Ruth Davidson, according to BBC Scotland, “wields more power than ever at Westminster.” She has thirteen MPs who will argue Scotland’s corner.
Ruth, by her own admission, regularly attends UK cabinet meetings and has an open invitation to do so.
So it seems odd that the powerful and very influential leader of the Scottish Conservatives with direct access to the Prime Minister has not faced one solitary question from any BBC Scotland reporter since the Brexit talks began on Monday.
Especially given that Ruth has argued that the UK Government should be prepared to walk away from talks, even it if means no deal.
Bias is widespread within BBC Scotland. It’s endemic. The broadcaster has a fixed template that ensures the bias won’t ever be eradicated. Reporters and presenters can’t but be biased. It’s their job. Some of them of course relish it. Most do what they are told because their job depends on it.
The BBC is after all the glue that binds the UK together. It’s in its Charter.
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