We’ll decide!

Huw Edwards, host of the BBC’s election night coverage, brands criticism of journalists “toxic”. What is truly toxic is the notion that journalists are immune from scrutiny. That they are above criticism. That they act with impunity. Edwards was referring to criticism by political parties and their supporters. So, pretty much anybody who is politically engaged enough to be able to ask awkward questions of journalists who cover politics. How convenient!

If this vaulting sense of entitlement seems familiar that could be because we have grown accustomed seeing it among British politicians. Particularly those of the Tory persuasion. Perhaps it is common to politicians the world over. But throw a bit of British exceptionalism into the mix and you have arrogance and presumption that fairly takes your breath away.

The journalists who scavenge the British political plain – and occasionally prey on the wounded or weakened in the political herd – are no better than their hosts. Indeed, they tend to come from similar backgrounds.

If politicians are accountable to voters then journalists are accountable to the public. They are no different from any other provider of goods and services. The ultimate arbiters of the quality of their product are the consumers of that product. Either journalists attend to the criticism levelled at them by readers and listeners, or those consumers will surely take their custom elsewhere. As they are perfectly entitled to do, no matter what Huw Edwards says.

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Little lies

The BBC press office response on Twitter (see below) to criticism of the way in which a video clip shown on it’s lunchtime news bulletin was edited is interesting. They claim that the sound of audience laughter and jeers in reaction to Boris Johnson’s answer to a question about honesty was cut to save time. And they point out that the full clip, including the laughter and jeers, was broadcast in full on a later news bulletin. The latter is undeniably true. The former is at least superficially plausible. Taken as a whole, the response nicely typifies the way the BBC deflects criticism.

Time is always a critical constraint in broadcasting and rarely more so than in news broadcasts. Shaving seconds – and even fractions of seconds – from video clips is normal practice. And audience noise is one of the things that can generally be thought superfluous. What is missing in this instance is the crucial consideration of the effect on the story of the editing. As Ian Fraser notes, in this case “the laughter was the story”.

That is why the explanation is neither credible or satisfactory. The people responsible for producing these news bulletins are supposedly some of the best in the world. We may reasonably assume that the BBC itself would claim that they ARE the best in the world. Which is what makes it so difficult to believe that they would not take due account of the way any editing might alter the sense or meaning of the video clip. For broadcast journalists and technicians working in news this is fundamental. In every instance, if the first question concerns the amount of time that can be saved, the second question which follows automatically and inevitably is about whether and how the edit impacts the accuracy and veracity of the report. The only exception to this is when considerations of accuracy and veracity come first.

We are being asked to believe that nobody in the production team realised that the laughter and jeering was the most significant part of that video clip.

The attempt to bolster this spurious excuse by reference to the fact that the unedited video clip was broadcast on a later news bulletin also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. We are meant to suppose that the second somehow cancels out the first. But it doesn’t. It can’t. The edited clip cannot be ‘unbroadcast’. Viewers cannot ‘unsee’ it. Showing the edited clip has had an effect. It has altered the audience’s understanding of what happened. It has distorted their perception of the incident. And it has done so in a way which looks purposeful.

It may well be true that the BBC has “fully covered Boris Johnson’s appearance on the BBC QT special, and the reaction to it, across our outlets”. But how many instances of manipulation must there be before it matters?

I suspect this pattern of a glib excuse coupled with a generalised assertion of probity will be found in a large proportion of BBC responses to complaints of a failure to be duly impartial. There will always be an ‘innocent’ explanation. Often of a technical nature that the public are condescending not expected to understand. And the BBC will always be able to demonstrate due impartiality ‘across its outlets’. If the explanation isn’t ‘innocent’ enough, it can borrow some of the innocence from elsewhere on the BBC’s programming.

The BBC can, and does, claim that there is no evidence of systemic bias in its news reporting. That is only true if one doesn’t regard episodes such as the one under discussion as constituting evidence. They may be portrayed as isolated instances. On-off examples of only apparent bias which can easily be explained. Unconnected flaws in the otherwise perfect gem that is BBC news and current affairs coverage. But there are few more insidious forms of propaganda than the small and subtle lie which is afforded credibility by being embedded in a seam of almost pure truth.

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Barbara from Wiltshire says!

I’m not sure what is newsworthy about a caller on a BBC programme being abysmally ignorant about and offensively condescending towards Scotland. The broadcasting arm of the British state does precisely what one would expect of it. Barbara from Wiltshire thinks and speaks exactly as one would expect of somebody whose opinions are informed entirely by the British media. And Nicky Campbell is just as shallow and vacuous as he needs to be in order to serve as the voice of the British establishment – and keep his job.

It would be great if Campbell were more like James O’Brien (LBC). His conversation with Barbara from Wiltshire might then have gone rather differently. He might, for example, have pointed out to the woefully ill-informed – or wilfully misinformed? – that it is not just Nicola Sturgeon “spouting she wants Scotland to be independent” but around half the people of Scotland. He might have pointed out that Nicola Sturgeon was only doing what she was elected to do. He might have pointed out that what her father fought for was democracy; and that denying the people of Scotland the right of self-determination is hardly in keeping with democratic principles.

It would be gratifying if Barbara from Wiltshire were better informed. It would be great if she were aware of a world other than that presented to her by the mainstream British media. It would be wonderful if she retained that precious spark of human intellect that inspires us to question dominant narratives; and a glimmer of that human spirit which provokes us to challenge established power.

But none of this is going to happen. Because the broadcasting arm of the British state does precisely what it is supposed to do. Because the British media are the voice of the British establishment. Because the narratives which serve established power are, not just dominant, but overwhelming.

The media should be the community of communities which constitute the nation talking amongst themselves. We just don’t have that in Scotland. With few exceptions – The National being the most prominent – we do not have newspapers which report and present and analyse and explain and discuss current affairs and major issues from a Scottish perspective. We have newspapers which are little more than propaganda sheets for an increasingly shrill and aggressive British Nationalist ideology.

We don’t have broadcasting in Scotland by Scotland for Scotland; we have broadcasting at Scotland by the British establishment for the established power of the British state.

Scotland is not as it should be as much because of the cultural anomaly of the media as due to the constitutional anomaly of the Union. Scotland is less than it might be, not only because we are denied the political powers that we need in order to pursue our aspirations, but also because we lack the means to create and communicate and criticise and recast an idea of ourselves.

Both these anomalies must be rectified as a matter of urgency.

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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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Someone else’s auntie

If the SNP really did “hope that by highlighting BBC activity now, the next independence referendum will see fairer coverage of the Yes case” then they would be guilty of grievously misapprehending the nature of the BBC. But, of course, the party leadership harbours no such forlorn hope. They realise full well that the BBC is the voice of the British establishment. And, more importantly, that it can never be anything else.

The SNP has been ramping up its criticism of the BBC, in part, because the corporation has become ever more brazen in its efforts to give prominence to the British establishment while sidelining what it regards as the periphery. But mainly as a way of undermining the credibility and authority of the BBC in Scotland.

That credibility and authority has already been seriously weakened as the BBC has been kept under constant scrutiny by people such as Professor John Robertson and G A Ponsonby and David Hooks. So effective has this scrutiny been that the SNP now feels able to put its weight behind the effort to expose how badly the BBC is failing Scotland.

The BBC can never serve Scotland. A national public service broadcaster should be the communities of the nation talking among themselves. The BBC can never be other than the British establishment talking AT Scotland. We can tolerate British broadcasting TO Scotland. But only if we also have Scottish broadcasting IN Scotland.

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The BBC won’t change

Good to see the SNP taking a more robust position on the British media. It won’t make any difference, of course. The BBC is part of the British establishment. It is the voice of the ruling elite. It would be folly to imagine that voice might serve anything other than the interests of the ruling elite.

Even if there is an Ofcom investigation, and even if the BBC is found to have breached any law, regulation or code of conduct, it will not change. Even if it is ruled that the BBC has been wilfully dishonest, it will not change. It will not change because it cannot change. It cannot change because it is part of the British establishment. The BBC can change only if and to the extent that the British establishment changes.

Right now, the entire British state is in full defensive mode. Other, perhaps, than in time of war, the British establishment has never been more resistant to change. At such times, the tendency is to look backwards. To cling to the past. To hold to a standard based on a mythical golden age. Any more realistic standard is just too much of a challenge. The British establishment is not going to change. So the British media are not going to change.

In truth, the fundamental nature of the British state has not changed in more than three centuries. There has been no revolution such as is required to destroy and replace the ruling elite. All that has changed are the methods by which that ruling elite maintains its structures of power, privilege and patronage. And even that boils down to the one thing – manipulation. The British establishment has grown more efficient at manipulating people. It has improved the apparatus by which public perceptions are managed. The British propaganda machine is second to none. And better than most because it has had such a long period of uninterrupted development serving the same purpose. Serving the same ruling elite.

This machinery of manipulation is now so deeply entrenched and woven into British society as to have become all but invisible and undetectable. The disinformation, distortion and dishonesty of the British media tend not to be seen as such by those who identify as British because it is so much part of the culture in which they have been embedded all their lives and generation after generation.

Even those who operate this machinery of manipulation are not necessarily fully aware that what they are doing is propaganda. It is entirely possible that the people responsible for BBC Question Time genuinely believe they are doing an excellent job. They believe they are presenting the truth because they have never questioned the truth they are presenting. They have never learned to question it. Their capacity for questioning has been excised. The manipulators are effective because they themselves are products of the machinery of manipulation.

The BBC will not change. The British media will not change. Only we can change. People can recover the capacity to question. They can become aware of the machinery of manipulation and its methods. And, being aware, they can be resistant to its effects. They may even break the machinery.

So, it’s good that Keith Brown is publicly denouncing the BBC. Not because it will bring about change in the corporation, but because it may prompt a few more people to question the version of the truth that is being fed to them.

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The British media are lying to you!

Question Time does not bar people from its audience because they have held elected office or are political activists.

There is a selection process to ensure a range of views are heard and last night’s QT audience included supporters of different political parties, including the SNP.

BBC spokesperson

The truth. The partial truth. And anything but the truth.

The British establishment long since mastered the art of prevarication, obfuscation, equivocation and falsification. Its broadcasting arm deploys these as casually as you and I blink. and almost as frequently. The BBC’s response to those protesting the blatant padding of the Question Time audience stands as an object lesson in how to tell a lie without actually saying anything that is untrue.

It is almost certainly true that the makers of the programme do not deliberately exclude from the audience people who have “held elected office or are political activists”. But this is not the substance of the complaint. The purpose of the denial is to create the impression of wild allegations having been made.

Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has accused the BBC or its agents of barring people on the grounds of their political activism or past political office. The charge is, rather that people seem to have been selected on the basis of their known British Nationalist affiliation. How else to explain the extraordinary number of prominent hard-line Unionists who find their way into the studio?

While the claim that there is no process actively barring people of a certain political persuasion, it is rather noticeable that precious few former or serving SNP politicians are selected.

It is undoubtedly true that there is a “selection process”. And that this process serves to “ensure a range of views are heard”. Again, the denials and assurances divert from the complaint. Yes, it is possible for pro-Independence views to be heard. But they rarely are. Just as it possible for pro-independence politicians and activists to be selected. But they rarely are.

It is not a matter of absolutes, but of balance. The BBC (or its agents) can disprove accusations of exclusion simply by pointing to a lone SNP Councillor in the audience – regardless of whether that individual has been allowed to speak. They can refute allegations that a range of views are not being aired by referring to a solitary pro-independence comment. The question is, how accurately does the programme as a whole reflect the political reality? And the answer has to be, not well. In fact, not at all.

BBC Question Time is propaganda. What it presents to the viewing audience is, not a reflection of the way things actually are, but a contrived impression of the way the British establishment thinks things should be. The way British Nationalists desperately want things to be. And the way an uber-parochial, curiosity deficient, intellectually indolent London-centric media elite suppose things to be.

This grotesque fairground-mirror portrayal of politics is particularly, painfully evident when Question Time ventures into Scotland precisely because the political reality here departs so markedly from the British standard. A contrast that the people of Scotland have much cause to celebrate, even as they deplore the BBC’s evident inability to be honest with them.

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