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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