The BBC’s credibility, the big loser in the independence debate

Andrew Marr is supposed to be one of the BBC’s leading interviewers.  It’s true that he is recovering from a stroke, and his mind may not be as sharp as it once was, but that’s no excuse for bringing his personal views into an interview.  That is directly in contravention of BBC guidelines which state that the viewer should not be able to discern the personal opinions of the interviewer when a politician is interviewed.  Yet we see this sort of behaviour time and time again when the BBC’s London Scots contingent present programmes dealing with the referendum.

I met a lot of London Scots when I lived in the city for a decade.  Many of them had left Scotland because there were few opportunities in their chosen careers.  They remain of the opinion that Scotland is a bit of a basket case, and want Scotland to remain a basket case as it validates their decision to leave.  Andrew Marr displays many of the same symptoms.

During his interview with Alex Salmond on Sunday’s Politics Show, Marr asserted that it would be very difficult for Scotland to gain EU membership, saying: “I think it will be quite hard to get back in, I have to say.”

Challenged by Alex Salmond, Marr tried to backtrack, saying this wasn’t his opinion or the BBC’s.  But it was clearly a personal opinion coming from the same man who sat quietly and nodded when José Manuel Barroso made his controversial statement that Scotland would be out on its ear.  The statement was roundly condemned by a diverse range of European politicians from both the left and the right, and dismissed by real experts in EU law, none of whom thought Barroso even had the right to express his opinion in such a way, never mind agreeing with his dubious assertion.

Yet Marr did not even raise a quizzical eyebrow.  Which can only mean that either Marr hadn’t done his research, or that Barroso’s comments chimed with Marr’s own beliefs.  Or indeed both, since these are not mutually exclusive scenarios.  In either event, Scotland was shortchanged and the independence debate was distorted.  And we pay this guy’s wages with our licence fees.

This is also the man, let us not forget, who came to Edinburgh and asserted that anti-English racism underlies much of the demand for Scottish self-determination.  Again Marr distorted the independence debate.  At least on that occasion he did not make the remark in his capacity as a BBC interviewer, but his status as one of the BBC’s leading on-screen presenters ensured that his views got wide coverage in a UK media which is eager to depict independence supporters as swivel eyed racists.

A BBC staff member expressing his or her support for independence during an interview with a Unionist politician would be equally objectionable.  This is not a partisan point here.  However it’s obvious to one and all that the bias expressed by the BBC’s staff is entirely in one direction.  And I don’t mean Harry Stiles.  I don’t think the boyband has ever given its views on the Scottish debate, although if they were against independence you can be sure it would rate a mention on the main news at 6.

The bias on the BBC has now got beyond parody.  It is so bad that when the excellent BBC Scotlandshire site was launched, some people thought it was the real BBC.  Derek Bateman, in his thoughtful and unfailingly informative blog posts, says that there is no conspiracy amongst BBC staff to campaign against independence, and I believe him.  However what there certainly is is an ethos of British nationalism which runs throughout the BBC, and it is written into its DNA.

When that is combined with the fawning nature of BBC Scotland’s management towards its London bosses, and organisation’s clear hierarchy in which London based reporters are considered a cut above mere provincials, you get a toxic mess where those who do have Unionist bias are free to express it.   Especially if you’re a star performer called Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil, James Naughtie or Kirsty Wark.

We are after all talking about a broadcaster that can describe a sewing programme as “Great British”.  If an organisation is prepared to lay claim to needlework for British nationalism, it will have a tendency towards British nationalism in other respects as well.  And when we’re dealing with the Scottish independence debate, British nationalism is pretty much all we see on the BBC.

There are some things which happen above Derek Bateman’s paygrade.  It was reported last year that the Foreign Office had been contacting English language publications in Spain, requesting that they publish items favourable to the stance of the UK Government in the independence debate.  If the UK Government has being doing this with publications in foreign countries, then what exactly has gone on in private communications between – say – the former Tory cabinet minister Chris Patten, currently chair of the BBC Trust, and the UK Government which is the BBC’s sole shareholder?  That’s not something we’re likely to be told for 30 years.  And that’s without getting into the question of whether a former Conservative cabinet minister can ever be an unbiased arbitrer in a highly politicised debate.

Have the top levels of BBC management decided to foster British nationalism and a sense of Britishness as it became apparent that Scotland was going to hold a referendum on independence? There’s certainly been a plague of Great British this and Great British that on the BBC of late.  In the context of an independence referendum, even the title of a sewing competition looks like it is being politicised by the Unionists.  We should be told. we pay the BBC’s bills.  But we won’t be told.

So what to do?  I’m not going to call on people not to pay their licence fee.  Due to my partner’s age and health condition, we get an exemption and don’t have to pay.  It would be hypocritical for me to call on others to take the legal and financial risks involved with non-payment.  That’s a decision that individuals must make for themselves.

When this independence campaign kicked off, we all knew that the independence cause would find precious little support in the mainstream media.  That opinion was however the preserve of those who already supported independence.  Now that opinion has gone mainstream.  Scots are becoming increasingly aware of the bias in our media, and especially the shocking disservice provided by BBC Scotland.  That awareness helps the independence campaign, and we must do all we can to ensure that the awareness grows and spreads.

Whatever the outcome of the vote in September,  Andrew Marr and the BBC are going to be the big losers.  Their credibility is in tatters.   There will be a reckoning with Scottish licence fee payers, one way or another.

27 comments on “The BBC’s credibility, the big loser in the independence debate

  1. Colin Lawrie says:

    I have suggested group funding a legal action against the BBC to force them to abide by their own charter and guidelines. Maybe I’m being naive but I am also becoming increasingly angry at being charged for the privilege of being traduced on a daily basis. What do you think.

    • weegingerdug says:

      I think we should keep pressuring the BBC in every possible way. I have no idea whether such a legal action could get off the ground, but it’s a good idea to explore. If you fancy writing something up about it, I’d be happy to publish it on this blog for you – and I am sure some of the other pro-indy sites would also be supportive.

    • hektorsmum says:

      I would certainly be happy to give you some funds, we wish we had cancelled the licence when we moved but it certainly is not going to be renewed in, strangely, September when it is due. Like you we are fed up with being traduced, not that I give them the chance much these days.

  2. Well, I’ve already cancelled my licence DD and taken my TV to the dump.
    It was a liberating experience, I can readily confirm.
    Just waiting for the man to come and check.
    He’s welcome to see for himself and I’ll tell him why!

    • hektorsmum says:

      Oh my TV is going nowhere, I am just not paying. Husband promises to visit with Dug so Cornton Vale I may be coming. I will go to court and argue my case, will look good for them, a wee pensioner Lady against the BBC and they will all hear the reason why.

      • Oli Chadwick says:

        Yeah, that’s the nationalist spirit right there: refuse to pay but keep the service and then plead that you’re simply “a wee pensioner Lady”. Pathetic.

  3. Talorgan says:

    “He’s welcome to see for himself and I’ll tell him why!”

    Not having a television is a far more sophisticated and stealthy game.

    Have no contact with them, even if you are “legally licence free”.

    TVL is to the BBC as the Waffen SS were to the Nazi Party. TVL are de-facto Unionist agents.

    So he is NOT welcome to see for himself and you will NOT tell him why.

  4. Marian says:

    When you meet lifelong Tory and Labour unionist voters who agree with you that the BBC is biased against independence as I have done recently, you know that the game is up for the BBC.

    • Eilean says:

      I know several of these Tory and Labour unionist voters that agree that the BBC is biased against independence. I can confirm that they are absolutely delighted!

  5. Morag Frame says:

    One of the things I’m really hoping for when independence comes, is a radical shakeup of our
    television networks and put the ‘warks’ of this world, out to graze and the ‘marrs’ back to the planet they came from!

  6. Juteman says:

    The really sad thing for me, is that I now question the BBC coverage of world events. If I see what they are doing in Scotland, how can I possibly trust their view of world events?
    They are finished as a serious source of news in Scotland,

    • Never mind world events, Juteman. I question their weather forecast, especially over “North Britain”, which has been said on more than one occasion, by more than one presenter, over their skewed map showing a “wee” Scotland, just make us feel even more inferior. Derek Bateman says today that Marr and Naughtie are fine journalists. Well, if that was once the case, they, and many others employed by the B.B.C have now besmirched their reputations for all time, at least as far as Scotland are concerned. Even although we get a Yes vote in September, I don’t know how the new S.B.S is going to build a reputation for honest and accurate journalism given the fact that most of the same staff will still be in place.

      • Dare we hope that in a future SBS, progression will be determined through merit and not Labour Party connections?

      • hektorsmum says:

        I doubt if anyone can just listen to the Weather Forecast, if you are not looking, and you sometimes need a magnifying glass to see where. You have no idea what or where they are talking about, and may I say Juteman the feeling in our house is the same as you, we no longer trust any of the British so called broadcasters, we trawl all of the others to check.

    • JGedd says:

      I realize that I am older than most posters, but I actually came to distrust of the BBC and other media decades ago through watching them lie, or be “economical with the truth”, about world events, from Afghanistan through to the present day.

      I remember Sandy Gall of ITV charging about on jeeps with Afghani rebels talking about “freedom fighters.” Some of said freedom fighters later became supporters of Al Quaeda and one of them – Osama bin Laden was actually trained in the UK in methods which he later used against the West. He and his supporters were no longer called freedom fighters. It later transpired that Sandy Gall was regularly debriefed by MI5. The Afghan situation has always been a very complex and difficult one full of complicated motivations and loyalties, but it suited the West to choose sides to engineer a trap for the Soviet Union. That was the politics of the Great Game but our media were easily recruited to make it a simple and saleable message for those at home.

      I have seen them do the same kind of reporting in other campaigns through the Balkan campaign, the Gulf War and on to the Iraq war, helping to manufacture consent for their government’s position. On the way, at home, there was the reportage of the miners’ strike in which it was mainly the media which managed to turn public opinion against the miners – the miners having for many decades previously held a special place in the regard of the general public.

      That was all turned around, just as film of a mass picket at Orgreave was actually turned round when shown on TV to make it appear that the miners had charged the police lines prompting a counter charge by mounted police causing many injuries and arrests. I remember quite clearly, seeing Jon Snow, some two or three years later. solemnly inform us that the film had been edited and reversed. Well, that was too late for the miners who had lost the strike and Thatcher had triumphed. You see, what’s so wrong with our so-called democracy is that they can even admit their chicanery later and still get away with it.

      So, I am afraid, that having lived long enough to have become a veteran armchair observer of the media and its customary methods of reporting both at home and abroad, I was not in the least surprised to watch the well-practiced media machine swing into action when it came to the referendum campaign. This is the way they do things and if, heaven forbid, there is a no vote, then some time afterwards, it might even be comfortably admitted that there was reporting deliberately intended to manipulate opinion. The establishment will shrug cynically and move on to the next item of business.

  7. One of the final nails in the coffin of my TV was just that thought, Juteman.
    I trust none of the Britmerican news sources these days and haven’t done so ever since I saw how they treated the democratically elected leader of my country.
    It’s like we have become everything we used to criticise about the erstwhile USSR.
    I find UK news reporting infantile and patronising. John Craven’s Newsround had more gravitas in 1973 than the average UK news programme today.

  8. Papadox says:

    What credibility? After a NO vote EBC will announce a major make over of PQ.

    McQuarry, Bothman and Mullin will be given North West transfers.

    Then it will be carry on London

  9. I wonder if the fact that Andrew Marr went to the same posh private school in Edinburgh as Alistair Darling might just have something to do with it?… both educated at Loretto School. Also they had the whole of Scottish media buffs to trawl through to recruit the person to oversee referendum coverage at the BBC, and the they picked someone who moved to London to go mainstream in the UK media and was educated at Hutcheson’s (John Mullin). Seems like if you can’t get someone English to stick up for the Union, the next best thing is a Scot who has gone native in the public school system and mainstream median. Just sayin’.

  10. Macart says:

    Only caught up with this stooshie this morning on iplayer (incommunicado yesterday). Before I’d even had a look online at my usual brekkie reading, watching the Marr show and jaw simply dropped like a stone when I heard him utter the gaff (so was totally unprepared for the shit storm online). I mean we all knew he was a company man and definitely no fan of independence, but to let your personal slip show on live telly? Jeez.

    Between that and the Barroso car crash a few weeks back they’re not exactly hiding it now are they? It takes an institutionalised mindset to even consider breeching the charter on air, never mind actually doing it. I don’t think they’ve left any of us in any doubt.

    Not to be trusted under any circumstance for the foreseeable future.

  11. ian gray says:

    Kisty Wark, Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr. neutral? Don’t make me laugh. We have known it for years and their personal views come through every time they talk about Scotland. Second rate Scots.

    • Oli Chadwick says:

      Sorry, why are they “second rate”? Because they have a view with which you disagree? Your concept of first/second rate Scots shows only your propensity for bigotry.

      • They are second rate because they consider their own people to be inferior to those they serve.
        It’s probable their masters consider them second rate themselves due to their Norman superiority complex.

        • Oli Chadwick says:

          Not sure what you mean by “own people” here. But then again, logic or any form of empirical support doesn’t seem to underpin your comments so much as brash, sweeping generalisations. Again, the idea that you can categorise people (presumably “your own people”) as “first/second rate” tells me everything I need to know about the weight to be attributed to your views…

          • I mean their cheerful disdain for the people who live in Scotland, who these State Broadcast apparatchiks somehow seem to consider in some way mentally deficient because they seek a normal democratic settlement and way of life for Scotland. They are ashamed of Scotland and its people for reasons best known to themselves but probably connected to their own self-perceived status and their misguided attachment to the Red Conservative Party.

      • ian gray says:

        Perhaps I have given them too high a classification as they talk down their own country at every opportunity and have done so for years as they cosied in with their friends in the London Establishment. Facts have never got in the way of their arguments ( I have watched Mr Neil since our days at university). I would say ‘Veritas’ is my perfect defence against any charge of bigotry involving these three.

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