By Derek Bateman
Wow! What a reaction…dozens of conversations and observations and some truly enlightening contributions full of fact and analysis. This is the place to be, I think. Even with all the assortment of emphasis and approach, it is clear we are all agreed that we are not being well served by BBC Scotland. That’s putting it mildly.
I know some responders are suggesting I am defending the BBC against claims of bias. I am not. I said at the outset that there was a general thrust in news and current affairs which doesn’t challenge enough and is too happy to accept a script which has Made in Britain stamped on it.
I did try to move critics away from the idea that there is an organised conspiracy to stop independence. There isn’t. There are individuals who I agree sound as if they have a Unionist mindset and there is weak or poor journalism, mostly the result of ineffective leadership and remorseless budget pruning.
In a way, as some of you point out, it matters not. What does matter is the perception of the BBC’s coverage and it is undoubtedly clear that a large number of Scots have lost faith and trust in the BBC. The corporation’s own polling shows us that and I think it is getting worse as this campaign goes on and will leave a residue of resentment afterwards.
This is deeply worrying for the BBC. Put it this way, there is in reality no such thing as complete impartiality. It is an aspiration and the BBC’s declared intention is to create a public perception of impartiality. That’s why for example they reprimanded Kirsty Wark for holidaying with McConnell. Of itself it means nothing but the perception has been damaging. The BBC is failing on the public perception front…which is one reason why they are appointing a parliamentary adviser.
This is the week when the management are asked at Holyrood about Professor Robertson’s report on Fairness in the First Year and I would like to see MSPs urging him to carry on his research throughout the year, asking the BBC to extend full access to the news decision-making process to him and promising they will return to review this matter after September.
In other words the BBC should submit to a comprehensive external analysis of its output and approach so the public can see after September how it performed and if it met its obligations under the Royal Charter. This can’t be left to the BBC itself as it has proved itself pretty inept at defending its record so far.
The research should extend beyond early evening news to encompass all broadcast news on radio and television, excluding perhaps online as that would mushroom the work to overwhelming levels. It can use Professor Robertson’s template for judging bias and apply it to interviews and programme treatments so see if one side is favoured over another as in last week’s Danny Alexander episode.
The BBC should fund the work as an act of faith in itself to demonstrate its belief of impartiality and as a sign that it is genuinely committed to allaying public concerns about its role in this campaign. If it did so, it would provide the organisation with something of a PR coup to undo the bad impression given by its truculent and unworthy response to Professor Robertson’s work. It might be an idea to send such a plan to your MSP or any member of the Culture and Sport committee chaired by Stewart Maxwell who is probably sick of me by now.
By giving him access to speak to the decision-makers in the news department and allowing them to justify their decisions, they would allow him to make more precise and detailed analysis which is one of the criticisms they made of his work. It would also oblige everyone in the BBC to think very clearly why judgements were being made if they had to be accounted for – which is really management’s job but which doesn’t happen. What do you think?
Courtesy of Derek Bateman