By Mark Piggott
I was down in England last week where the Thatcher funeral dominated the media. I’m told in Scotland it was much the same with BBC Radio Scotland going in for wall to wall coverage on the hallowed day, they sent a team down especially.
Another story failed to register with the BBC, a little known web site called National Collective had been taken offline. National Collective is an organisation of Scottish artists and creative people who have come together in order to use art in the quest for Scottish independence.
The site is different, it’s vibrant and the young people who have injected this exciting pulse into the referendum debate deserve congratulations.
It’s also fearless, and this was demonstrated in a very public refusal to bow to what its director called ‘corporate bullying’. The legal threats from a donor to the No campaign signalled an uncomfortable shift in the referendum debate from robust challenge to attempts to silence.
The episode should serve as a warning to each and every one of us that our democracy is indeed a fragile and precious thing. The threats made against National Collective followed similar attempts at silencing opponents by the Better Together campaign who tried to block a satirical video that lampooned some of the arguments put forward by those who would oppose independence.
A similar, and equally disconcerting censorship, happened in the days before the funeral of Margaret Thatcher when a song was effectively banned because it was deemed to be in poor taste.
Ding dong the witch is dead was a public reaction to a media and establishment both of which had lost all sense of perspective. In a time of great austerity, the UK government deemed it acceptable to lavish over £10 million on a woman who died leaving £66 million to her family.
In Scotland, a BBC currently sacking journalists and backend staff managed to send a crew down to London in order to report on this event.
Meanwhile the quality and output at BBC Scotland continues to deteriorate and shrill bulletins boom out almost hourly. What little debate we are presented with often results in mature analysis and counter claim being drowned out as lop sided panels ensure one side dominates.
In February a little publicised rally took place in Glasgow. On a freezing cold Saturday morning, almost 200 people braved the elements and marched in order to draw attention to the democratic deficit currently endured by Scots as a result of the poor coverage of the referendum debate.
BARD2014 is a non-political campaign which is calling on our broadcasters to provide a balanced and all inclusive referendum debate.
The campaign, which is targeted at Scotland's two main broadcasters, calls for equal representation for both sides in all debate and discussion programmes. Our campaign also calls on more representation from women and minority groups and more investment in Scotland – especially from the BBC.
A main theme of the campaign is that it should be ‘all inclusive’ and that’s why the legal attempt to silence the National Collective is relevant. It’s also why I am today seeking support from those sites which have voiced their own support for freedom of speech and openly challenged this attempt by a powerful elite to control debate.
There are very serious problems at BBC Scotland. When management can openly defy a democratically elected government and its parliament then things really are bad. That’s what happened earlier this year when management at Pacific Quay refused a request to appear before Holyrood’s Culture Committee – only deigning to appear after being told to do so by London.
These people do as they please and to hell with us, the little people … the Scots licence payers.
On May 18th the BARD campaign will again march through Glasgow calling for an open, honest, all inclusive and balanced debate on Scotland’s future. Equal representation at all sides in all debates, more representation from women and minority groups and an improvement in quality.
There are elements at BBC Scotland who are pushing their own agenda – we know that, and we also know they will continue to push this agenda all the way until the referendum. However there are top quality and impartial journalists at BBC Scotland who are currently marginalised and who, with more investment, would have a greater profile.
It is important to draw the public’s attention to the shortcomings in our broadcast media and to increase pressure on broadcasters like the BBC who benefit from £350 million of Scottish licence payer’s money whilst all but ignoring the needs of its customers.
We need help, we need people who are willing to speak out – but most of all we need people to get to Glasgow and walk with us.
We do not seek advantage for any side in the independence debate, we seek balance and fairness.
Please get to Glasgow on May 18th - not because you support one side or the other, but because you cherish freedom of expression, honest debate and most of all … an inclusive debate.
Glasgow, Saturday May 18th - 12:30pm, Strathclyde University
If we seek nothing … we'll get nothing