Your masters’ voice

When will people realise that the BBC is a British institution and that it can only behave accordingly. The BBC is the British state broadcasting to Scotland. It doesn’t matter where its operations are located, it can never be Scottish. It can only be British and therefore it can only treat Scotland with disdain and contempt. Anything that is British must take precedence over everything that is Scottish.

Read the statement made by a BBC spokesperson. They genuinely cannot conceive of how it can possibly be wrong to give what is happening in England-as-Britain priority over what is relevant to Scotland. The fact that doing so risked causing confusion which might even lead to people dying is of absolutely no consequence. The only criterion is the degree of Britishness involved.

Even if you strip away all of the politics, what the BBC did was wrong in terms of basic good news broadcasting practice. But that too counts for nothing when the BBC assigns values to news. The content isn’t even considered. The assessment never gets past the fact that one is British and one is Scottish. Some primal instinct set unreachably deep in the lizard-brain of the organisation compels the BBC’s Britishness. It cannot be other than it is.

Which is not to say that the BBC as an institution cannot or should not be a model for public service broadcasting that is Scottish. Appending the word ‘Scotland’ to ‘BBC’ does not make the BBC Scottish any more than appending the word ‘Mars’ would make it Martian. Public service broadcasting that is truly Scottish is Scotland holding up a mirror to itself and telling the world how we would like to be seen. It is us talking among ourselves about ourselves and our perspectives on Scotland and the rest of the world. And it is us talking to the rest of the world from our perspective.

BBC Scotland is the British state transmitting TO Scotland. It is the British establishment talking AT Scotland. And it has but one message. Its purpose is to constantly remind us that British is best. That we are not important. That we are not respected because those who accept that they are less cannot be due respect.

However refined the delivery may be, the BBC is the voice of an imperial force addressing annexed territory.

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No trust! No redemption!

Keith Brown expresses concern that “viewers will lose trust in the BBC if this deception continues“. This seems strangely naive on at least two levels.

It is folly to suppose that, in Scotland at least, public trust in the BBC has not already been seriously eroded. Just as trust in other British media and political journalists in general has suffered because of a common stance which I cannot now describe as anything other than anti-Scottish.

If the BBC were doing no more than defending the constitutional status quo then it would be difficult to criticise or condemn the corporation. But it has moved beyond mere portrayal of the Union as the established situation and/or presentation of what the BBC’s management may consider the advantages and benefits of the Union to Scotland.

The BBC no longer merely promotes the Union, as its charter commands. The BBC has now adopted – or allowed to develop – an editorial stance which actively opposes a lawful democratic campaign for constitutional reform which is supported or condoned by the majority of Scotland’s people. And the BBC pursues this editorial policy by means which are, at best, questionable and, at worst, a breach of its charter and an affront to the codes and conventions of professional journalism.

In the context of Scotland’s constitutional debate (I leave it to others to identify further contexts), BBC news and current affairs broadcasting in/to/at Scotland has come to emulate the worst of British newspapers’ excesses in denigrating and maligning Scotland’s democratic institutions, public services and economic capacities using disinformation, deceit, distortion and downright dishonesty.

Indeed, the BBC is seen to colluded with the openly British Nationalist press in various ways. The corporation’s news and current affairs operations have developed a symbiotic – or mutually parasitic – relationship with the establishment press evident in those all too common situations where BBC news does not report, but reports that it is being reported, so placing itself at some remove from the brazen anti-Scottish propaganda being peddled by British newspapers. Those newspapers, in turn, seek to borrow authority and credibility from the BBC; having already squandered whatever they may once have possessed.

The question long since ceased to be whether the the public in Scotland trusts the BBC. The question now is, why would we trust the BBC?

It is folly, too, to suppose that the BBC might abandon the editorial stance referred to. Keith Brown implies that he believes this possible when he says “if this deception continues”. As if there were any doubt that it would. There is no retreat from the BBC’s support for British Nationalist ideology which does not simultaneously undermine the British establishment and strengthen the independence cause. As other factors, such as Brexit, have this effect the BBC will be under pressure to increase its efforts to promote an ever more extreme British Nationalist denial of Scotland’s democratic rights. And to broadcast ever more more virulent anti-Scottish propaganda.

In short; BBC coverage of Scotland’s politics will get very much worse before it never gets better. It will increasingly be seen as a ‘foreign’ broadcaster carpet-bombing Scotland with tales of our inadequacy and unworthiness. Sowing doubt and uncertainty and fear in the minds of Scotland’s people. Sapping confidence and instilling self-contempt. Suffocating the will to act and persuading people of their powerlessness.

As the broadcasting arm of the British establishment, the BBC’s task is to have the people of Scotland believe that we are less than we might be and never can be more because what we are is all we are capable of being and all we deserve to be.

We can trust the BBC to pursue that task with efficiency and enthusiasm.

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The SNP needs a jolt of Yes energy

nicolaThat was all going swimmingly… until the final paragraph. Lesley Riddoch’s analysis of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland” is, as we would expect, accurate and insightful. Although I would suggest that, given the corporation’s remit to preserve the integrity of the UK, the question is, not so much whether senior BBC managers can personally accept the possibility of Scottish independence, but whether they can allow this possibility to be publicly acknowledged.

It is slightly curious, too, that Ms Riddoch neglects to mention the extent to which British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is embedded in BBC Scotland. Perhaps she thought that, since her focus was the constitutional issue, it was acceptable and appropriate to gloss over the party political aspects of the BBC’s “problem of properly representing Scotland”. Or maybe she just considered it redundant to remind us of BBC Scotland’s tendency to look and sound like the broadcasting arm of BLiS.

These quibbles aside , Lesley Riddoch has it about right with regard to what I have referred to as the “jarring disconnect” between the BBC and Scotland’s politics.

In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?

She’s not far off the mark in her criticism of the SNP either. Even someone like myself, who is often accused of ‘blind partisan loyalty’, can readily agree with Ms Riddoch’s conclusion that the party is failing to provide the leadership that the independence movement requires – and requires rather urgently.

Two things need further explanation hear. Firstly, the concept of leadership has to be understood in this context, not as the movement being led by the SNP, but as the movement taking its lead from the SNP. This is very much in keeping with what Lesley Riddoch sees as a “miss by the SNP”.

At the start of 2018, Nicola Sturgeon famously called for “a new spirit of Scottish assertiveness“. It has to be said that, while the “emboldened, more confident and more assertive nation” that she envisaged emerging in the course of this year has been increasingly evident on the streets and on the web, it has been noticeably less evident in the SNP’s rhetoric on the constitutional issue.

There is no doubt that the SNP could have done a great deal more to reflect the growing assertiveness of the grassroots independence campaign and help convey to a wider public the sense of anger and urgency which is now as much part of the spirit of the Yes movement as hope and determination.

Whether this would have influenced the output of BBC Scotland in any way is questionable. But the effort should be made – and be seen to be made.

The second thing that needs to be expanded upon is the facile accusation of ‘blind partisan loyalty’ levelled against those who are willing to run the gauntlet of such vacuous vilification in order to emphasise the crucial role that the SNP plays – as a party and as an administration – in providing the focus for the coming referendum campaign and the effective political power which that campaign requires. Stating that the SNP is essential to the independence cause is not evidence of blinkered loyalty to the party, but of commitment to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence combined with a pragmatic appreciation of how this will be achieved.

Which brings us to where Lesley Riddoch goes wrong. The suggestion that even a “properly organised and funded Scottish Independence Convention” might be some kind of alternative to the SNP is fallacious. I wrote the following a year ago, and have found no reason to change my view since then.

I have great difficulty seeing how SIC can credibly speak for the grass-roots Yes movement when it is so predominantly given over to a relatively small but inordinately assertive faction founded on a simplistic belief that ‘radical’ is synonymous with ‘righteous’.

Most of all, I worry that SIC has no popular mandate; nor any means of acquiring one. I worry, too, that the SIC – and thereby the aforementioned faction of ‘righteous radicals’ – intends to ‘piggy-back’ on the electoral mandate of the SNP in a way that will be found unacceptable by the party’s membership and considered inappropriate by the general public.

In order to succeed, the independence movement needs effective political power. In order to be effective, that political power must have democratic legitimacy. It is not obvious how SIC might achieve this. It’s not even clear that the importance of democratic legitimacy is recognised by those in charge of SIC.

All of this remains true no matter how much the SNP is seen as failing – or inadequately serving – the cause of independence at any given moment. The party may occasionally disappoint. But that cannot be a justification for giving up on it and directing our energies elsewhere. Rather, when we feel that the SNP is flagging, we should be motivated to redouble our efforts to get it back on track.

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Seize the ‘Scottish Six’!

I entirely agree with Richard Walker. We have to beware the inertia born of despair. We have to resist the urge to be dismissive of the possibility of incremental change. We must not succumb to a tendency to resist change simply because it is deemed to be inadequate. So long as the steps we take are in the right direction, it is always better to be moving rather than standing still. Because inaction breeds inertia.

Our only criteria when considering new developments in Scotland’s media should be concerned with whether they tend to lessen the grip of those who are ideologically or instinctively bound to the old order and the old ways. So long as doors to further progress are kept open, any move towards a media which better reflects and represents Scotland’s distinctive political culture has to be welcomed.

There is a tendency to think of the BBC as an unshakeable bastion of the British establishment. But it is not as powerfully impenetrable as people suppose. I cast my mind back to the campaign to save BBC Radio 6 Music. The smug complacency of the corporation was severely shaken on that occasion. It demonstrated that there are chinks in the BBC’s armour of self-righteous authority. It can be challenged.

My sense is that people outside the bubble of British nationalism are not so much opposed to a Scottish Six as massively – and understandably – sceptical about the ability of BBC Scotland to deliver the kind of programme that is wanted. I would say to them that they are correct to be doubtful. But, while they are justifiably dubious about the BBC, they should not doubt their own power. They should have confidence in their ability to seize upon the opening offered by the creation of a Scottish Six and, by the sheer force of public demand, turn it into the thing that they want it to be.

The BBC earmarked Radio 6 Music for failure. It tried to drive the digital radio station off the air. It failed. The station now thrives because it is serving a committed and demanding audience. I am convinced that we can do something similar with the Scottish Six. I am firmly persuaded that, once it is brought into existence, the Scottish Six can become a creature of its audience, rather than the colourless, pointless sop to public opinion intended by the quality-sucking grey army of BBC management.

Let’s take what the BBC is offering us. Then let’s make them regret it.

Beeb, baby, bathwater

Spot the deliberate “mistakes”
The ongoing furore over the BBC’s now all but explicit anti-SNP bias reached something of a crescendo in the aftermath of the Scottish local elections. The editorial decision to manipulate the figures so as to allow Labour holds to be represented as gains was met with howls of understandably indignant protest. More details of this can be found over at Newsnet Scotland – Questions over BBC Scotland’s election figure claims
The anger was further stoked as BBC coverage of the results on Friday night and into Saturday persisted in portraying a Labour “victory” in blind denial of all the evidence which clearly showed that, in terms of any metric not distorted by the BBC, it was the SNP which had advanced. On some fronts, to a very significant degree.
The brazenly partial behaviour of what is, after all, Scotland’s public service broadcaster, has led to renewed calls for the corporation – and particularly its operation in Scotland – to be held to account. There is now added impetus behind the campaign to tackle the explicit pro-union bias of the BBC. But this campaign is not without dangers.
Perhaps the greatest of these dangers is that the campaign will be hijacked by those who are, wittingly or otherwise, the enemies of the very public service ethos which the effort is intended to restore. I refer, of course, to the various individuals and groups who call for the dismantling of the BBC or the abolition of its independent funding – which amounts to the same thing. This includes those who simply don’t like paying the licence fee as well as those in the broadcasting industry who see the BBC as an impediment to the quest for ever-increasing private profit. When it comes to the BBC there are a lot of agendas.

Whatever else one may think of the BBC it has to be recognised that it is, if not the last, then certainly the most powerful bastion of public service broadcasting in the UK and, it might be argued, the world. This remains true whatever the faults that unquestionably plague the BBC as an organisation and however regrettable its failings as an institution. Let there be no misunderstanding about the fact that the destruction of the BBC would signal the end of public service broadcasting as we have known it; and that this would have serious implications for all of broadcasting in the UK as well as significant repercussions for the core functions of news gathering, reporting, commentary and analysis across all media.

We should not be taken in by those who assure us that the market will provide. Who but the most mindless devotees of free market dogma could be so blind to the lessons of the last few years. Having participated in the arguments for many decades, I know that the proponents of a commercial alternative to the BBC are totally unable to meet the challenge which I, as a consumer, put to them. The challenge for the market is to provide me with the same range and quality of services currently available from the BBC at the same cost or less. Nothing short of this is a true alternative.

Let there be no mistake either about the need for independent funding if the aim is to maintain a public service broadcasting service. For those who claim to want to preserve the BBC but change its funding the challenge is to find a way of raising money that is a true alternative to market-dependent revenue streams such as advertising and sponsorship. A method which must guarantee funding for niche services that cannot be supported by subscription because otherwise it fails the test of a true public service which demands that it must be universal.

The other danger is that, even accepting the need to preserve the BBC and its independent funding, we resort to heavy-handed political measures to address what is, essentially, a management problem. In our enthusiasm to restore the public service ethos to the BBC we may be tempted to impose forms of state regulation that are just as inimical to our purpose as the dismemberment of the BBC in favour of some market “solution”. What is needed is not new layers of bureaucratic micro-management but a measured approach to restoring the culture of an organisation which has seriously lost its way. There is a tendency for all organisations, particularly very large ones, to come to serve themselves rather than the purpose for which they were founded, unless they are managed in such a way as to prevent this. The failure at the BBC is a failure of management.

But while avoiding draconian measures we should not shy away from effective action. For obvious reasons I am particularly concerned with BBC Scotland. And nothing short of a massive clear-out of personnel at BBC Scotland will suffice. The little internal empires must be brought down. The cosy alliances with the political establishment must be broken. This is an organisation that desperately needs a fresh start under new management. If it was an “ordinary” business, nobody would even question this.

Even more pressing, however, is the need to set BBC Scotland free of the stifling, distorting effects of a massively London-centric leviathan. The nation’s public service broadcaster must be ultimately accountable to the nation’s democratically elected government. There has always been a strong case for devolved authority over broadcasting founded in part on a certain cultural distinctiveness. That case grows stronger as Scotland’s always distinctive political environment diverges increasingly, and at an accelerating pace, from the politics of England.

BBC Scotland can be saved to become what we surely all wish it to be – a truly Scottish institution serving the people of Scotland as part of an inclusive, progressive democratic society. This should be the sole aim of any campaign to address the undoubted problems that exist within BBC Scotland. Let us not allow the Philistines to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

This article has also been published by Newsnet Scotland Lets be careful not to throw the BBC baby out with the bathwater