By Mark McNaught
I have never lived for a long period of time in the UK, so I hadn’t appreciated the current depth of BBC mendacity.  Living much of my life in the US, I became addicted to Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, my parents watched Masterpiece Theater, and assumed all of the BBC was that good.  We didn’t get Jimmy Savile.
Living in France and following the Scottish independence referendum, I am often blocked from viewing BBC videos because I am not a fee payer.  Those which I can view are mostly snippets of speeches with biased commentary.

For example, I just went to the BBC to view the entirety of George Osborne’s speech on the currency.  The only article available was a 1 minute video excerpt from the speech with an article.  Given the resources of the BBC, why can’t they post the entire speech?

I have come to realise the extent to which the BBC is an organ of the state, rather than an observer of it.  The BBC in the UK much more resembles Fox News in the US, but is arguably worse because it is legally bound to be impartial.  Fox proclaims itself to be ‘fair and balanced’, but most Americans laugh at that characterisation and they can do what they want in a free press. 

In the US, we do have the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) which is partially government funded but also relies on corporate and individual contributions to continue.  Stations have fundraising drives during which they politely ask for money to keep the lights on.

In the UK however, I was stunned to learn that not paying the BBC license fee was a criminal offence.  In the US, if you don’t pay your cable TV bill, they cut it off.  Prosecution for not paying your TV bill would be considered tyrannical and despotic.  I had never realised UK residents have to live under that.

In the US, we have Fox News on cable TV.  Anyone with a pulse realises that it is biased towards conservatism; that’s why conservatives watch it.  Roger Ailes, who once groomed Richard Nixon to have a media presence, runs the network as an adjunct to the corporate-conservative plutocracy.  The website has methodically obliterated any pretense that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox is ‘fair and balanced’.

In the UK, the BBC has never faced such withering scrutiny of their journalistic practices, though NNS has made an admirable start.  Being the state broadcaster, they know where their bread is buttered.  While I believe Derek Bateman when he says that BBC producers don’t sit around plotting how to skew coverage against independence, I see several characteristics of their referendum coverage which are tactically indistinguishable from Fox news.

Perhaps the most crude tactic is to ‘play the man not the ball’.  This is manifest in they way the BBC vilifies Alex Salmond as the embodiment of the ‘yes’ campaign, as if he is the only Scot who wants independence, and he is trying to foist ill-conceived plans on Scots who are forever loyal to Westminster.  They simply refuse to address the vast potential of an independent Scotland, and prefer to attack Alex Salmond as a proxy for independence.

The second Foxian characteristic is that opinion is construed as fact, even though it is farcical speculation.  The recent interview between Andrew Marr and Alex Salmond over Scottish accession to the EU is a prime example.  Marr effectively states that all Scots would be deprived of EU citizenship if they voted ‘yes’ through a democratic process, because Jose Manuel Barrosso told him so off camera.   Since when does off-camera banter count as official EU policy?

The BBC is also loathe to interview anyone who could contradict their anti-independence narrative.  I have my own personal experience with this.

Last year, I was contacted by BBC Scotland to do a radio interview about Scottish EU accession, because the producer had seen an article I had written on the subject in NNS.  I read the E-mail too late to be interviewed, but contacted the producer and made it clear I would be happy to be interviewed at a later date.

On November 29 of 2013, I engaged with the following E-mail exchange with a producer at the BBC, with redactions.

Envoyé le : Vendredi 29 novembre 2013 11h18
Hi Mark,
I contacted you some time ago with regards to contributing to a BBC Radio Scotland current affairs programme.
Just tried to get you on your number – X  – but it appears not to be working?
Anyway, I wondered if you might be interested in appearing on our programme tomorrow morning, Saturday 8-10am, to talk about the recent debates here about the status of an independent Scotland in the EU – what the constitutional position is, whether Spain would be likely to exercise a veto, to what extent Britain might have to give up its various exemptions etc.
Don’t know if that’s your bag or not, but let me know and hopefully we can arrange something.


Sent: 29 November 2013 12:48
Dear Producer,

I’d be delighted to, if I can do it by phone or skype.  I’m in Paris, but am coming to Scotland next week.  I’m holding a debate in Edinburgh on Monday, but will be free much of the rest of the week until I go back to France Friday morning.

Give me a number and I’ll try to call you later today.



Envoyé le : Vendredi 29 novembre 2013 14h10
Hi Mark,
The interview is for tomorrow morning – not next week.
Would you be available on Skype tomorrow morning do you think?
My number is X

Sent: 29 November 2013 14:11
Hi Producer,

I’ll call you about 5PM your time later today.


Thanks Mark.
Actually, might you be in a position to do a pre-recorded Skype interview with us around about that time?  It would just take a few minutes?

It turns out we’re just about full up for our programme tomorrow.
Sorry about that, but we’ll certainly give you a shout in the future again.


I arrived back where I was staying and gave him a call, not having received the last E-mail.  I was astounded when he told me that they were ‘full up’, and would not be interviewing me.  I asked, not even a pre-phone recorded interview?  No, he explained after muffling the phone several times while talking to his superior.

I did give him my views on EU accession, and we had an interesting exchange.  He was unable to give me an explanation as to why the BBC invited me to be interviewed, I had immediately accepted, and then they dropped me.  I had thought the BBC was professional, and that they would not treat someone with such discourtesy.  I felt for the guy, because he had asked me before, clearly thought that I could contribute to the debate, but his superior squashed the idea like a bug.

Maybe they looked on the net at some of my NNS articles and found that it is not what they wanted to hear.  Maybe it was because NNS has not exactly offered odes to the BBC.  Whatever the reason, it disabused me of any notion that they are legitimate journalists seeking a balance of opinion.

The BBC is a forcibly-funded state propaganda machine.  It does produce some good entertainment, but ‘BBC News’ is crafted to suit the Westminster agenda.  It could not be otherwise.

Vote ‘yes’ and set up a Scottish equivalent of US c-span, which simply films parliamentary debate and political events, uninterrupted, with very neutral commentary if at all.  Scots don’t need to have a propagandised filter for their state broadcaster.


2014-03-30 23:08

Ah hiv tae admit, Ah watch thon Fox News because it’s the best comedy channel to come out of the the U.S.
2014-03-31 01:29

Indeed, Mark – I think it was just over a year ago when I started referring to BBC Scotland as ‘McFox News’ on WoS. The similarities with some of the coverage by Fox of Obama (as noted on sites like ‘We Survived Bush…’) was startling, with the one-way filter of news: anything that happens means the Scottish Government did something bad – if it is a good news story, report it as negative with spin, otherwise avoid reporting it…if you cannot avoid reporting it because the story is too big, then report it, but credit the opposition parties with the success. I remember first realising this with the local council results show, and how the BBC count was interestingly varied from other news sources, particularly with how they interpreted ‘Labour Gains since last council elections’ for Glasgow. The refusal to engage with any balance for both propositions – Yes and No – particularly by Pacific Quay – has been a shocking lapse of responsibility over this key period of political history.
Early Ball
2014-03-31 05:46

For all the lack of balance on the BBC they do not have a Sean Hannity character. (yet!)
2014-03-31 13:09

Another good article Mark, the BBC ARE an arm of the State. We cannot expect fairness nor courtesy from them, well, ever really.
A good example of this is when comments are accepted on line, yet many times the are closed to Scots.

This ensures their assessments are not challenged.When they do allow, they are well filtered.
Democracy, it ain’t.

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