Save the best bits

Wise words from Michael Russell in The National today. Wise and brave. As I have oft times discovered, one does not make oneself popular with the general public in Scotland by praising or defending the BBC. Not that I ever find much to praise. But I have constantly defended the BBC in very much the same way that Mr Russell does. And for similar reasons. I am firmly persuaded that it is not possible to destroy the BBC without destroying public service broadcasting. And it would not be possible to recreate public service broadcasting should it be destroyed. If we aspire to having a genuine public service broadcaster once Scotland’s independence is restored then it must ‘evolve’ from the existing BBC Scotland.

I find it easy to defend the BBC because I make a clear distinction between the institution and the organisation. It is the institution I defend and seek to preserve as the basis for Scotland’s public service broadcaster. To whatever extent is compatible with preserving the institution the organisation could be burned to the ground tomorrow for all I care and the ashes scattered to the four winds. All the many problems with the BBC are problems with the BBC as an organisation. Blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the organisation’s management.

The prerequisites for a public service broadcaster are a charter protected by the constitution with the principle of universalism at its core and having the kind of oversight Michael Russell envisages; a funding model independent of both political and commercial interests; and effective management with a clear understanding that their primary function is to run the organisation in the service of the institution, its charter and the principle of universalism.

The BBC is widely detested among those who cherish Scotland’s distinctiveness because it is the means by which the British establishment insinuates and imposes the values and imperatives and ambitions of the British state. The function of a national broadcaster is to reflect and project a national identity. It should reflect that identity inwards to its home audience and project it outwards to the world. The BBC as it stands is part of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which constitute the British state. A British state which increasingly regards Scotland’s distinctiveness as a threat which must be neutralised. It is hardly surprising that people who care about our nation respond by urging the destruction of the BBC.

We would be well-advised to resist that urge. If the political will is there then BBC Scotland can be transformed into the national broadcaster Scotland needs. Lose the institution and no amount of political will could be sufficient to recreate it.

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7 thoughts on “Save the best bits

  1. The BBC: ‘The Institution AND the Organisation’…

    I like your Pragmatic Practical Politics about the ‘BBC’, it’s logical and hopeful! Furthermore, it’s important in recognising both of the different elements, rather than being unquestioningly against the ‘British’ part of the “BBC”; and logical to recognise what may happen in our near future!
    Perhaps Scotland could have something like in the United States, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS); ‘SBC’ has a nice ring to it, I think!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure about having something like PBS. I’d have to do some research, but my understanding is that its funding is not secure or fully independent. Nor is it particularly generous. A public service broadcaster has to do everything for everybody. It has to be a full-range service. In fact, I’ve recently been toying with the idea that what we need is a public service media corporation covering online activities as well as broadcast and print media.

      One of the functions of the BBC was until relatively recently to act as a soft-touch regulator. It set the standards that other broadcasters had to match or exceed in order to compete. The BBC abandoned this role in order to operate as a player in the media market. BBC management pretended behaved as if they were running a private commercial concern but absent many of the things that affect such entities. Basically, the funding model left them unaccountable in a way other operators could only dream of. It was a recipe for the worst kind of management making the worst kind of errors. and so it has transpired.

      Imagine a public service corporation such as the BBC is supposed to be running not just TV and radio but newspapers, magazines and social media platforms as well. A publicly owned version of Twitter not beholden to commercial interests. It could set the standard for openness, honesty and constructive debate that other micro-blogs would be under pressure to emulate.

      The matter requires more thought, obviously. How to tie it in with newspaper subsidies, for example. Worth considering, I think.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi, thanks for your interesting remarks, and I’m loving your “idea about a public service media corporation covering online activities as well as broadcast and print media”… Well, what’s not to like about that proposal?!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Its not just the BBC, STV carries no Scottish content, unless you want to watch Taggart or Take The High road on its player, which I find shocking.

    STV is ran, controlled, by ITV, which also decides its content, I know this because I sent them an e-mail recently complaining about the lack of Scottish content its a supposedly “Scottish” channel, and after two lower league English football matches were aired back to back on a Sunday afternoon on the channel. I’d had enough.

    But back to the BBC, the excellent video London Calling exposed it for what it is, a propaganda machine, this includes BBC Scotland, you might be able to separate the institution from the organisation but the average person on the street only sees it as one.


  3. Wings over Scotland was a public service broadcaster that furthered the interests of the Scottish people much more than any politician ever would. We’d be well advised to look at the lessons of government control of mass media and come up with something more robust and less craven to those that dish out the cash.


    1. Independent funding is crucial. Which is why I won’t join any campaign against the licence fee. It may not be perfect. But I’ll guarantee it’s better than whatever the Tories would replace it with. A good rule of thumb is that if the Tories are against it, I’m for it. The only alternative funding model I would find acceptable is a grant from general taxation guaranteed by the constitution and set by an algorithm also enshrined in a written constitution.


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