Opinion: Nationalists want to monitor the BBC!

BBC - Some rights reserved by Tim LoudonA group of MSPs have declared that they’re going to start monitoring BBC Scotland because they don’t think they can deliver on their obligations! That should ring alarm bells!

The SNP controlled Scottish Parliament Education & Culture Committee has published a report, critical of cuts at BBC Scotland, with the implication that the Scottish arm of the Corporation would be unable to produce adequate coverage of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the independence referendum.

The Committee forgets that BBC Scotland is one part of a much bigger organisation. Indeed, the shiny new HQ at Pacific Quay isn’t just home to BBC Scotland, it’s full of production staff for ‘UK’ based programmes such as Question Time, The One Show, News, as well as BBC Alba. It’s part of a global brand, catering not just for Scottish viewers, but those in Scotland, England and beyond! Waterloo Road, Case Histories and Wallander are a few of BBC Scotland’s productions.

The Committee has ignored assurances from senior BBC management regarding their own monitoring procedure to ensure maintenance of the quality of outputs post-cuts. Of course cuts are a concern, especially when we see the resources that are being poured into other parts of the organisation such as at Media City in Salford. But I’m left wondering if there isn’t an ulterior motive behind the Committee’s decision.

The SNP has continually criticised the BBC and their independence debate coverage, so it’s not a surprise that the Committee has failed to focus on other broadcasters in Scotland, particularly the other public broadcaster, Channel 4. Nor has there been an equivalent examination into the available resources of ITV licence holder, STV, but then what would be the merit in asking about the resources of a Scottish broadcaster £45m in debt!

These developments are a grave concern; that a group of 9 MSPs (5 SNP, 2 Lab, 1 LD, 1 Con) believe they have the right to ‘monitor’ the BBC, something which goes beyond the remit of elected politicians in the UK. Would it not be more productive for them to examine the potential implications of independence on Scottish broadcasting and how the BBC in Scotland would then be able to cover such events as the Games with a lack of UK resources to draw on?

Oppressive regimes around the world ‘monitor’ media at the behest of governments and politicians. When Churchill wanted the BBC to put out wartime propaganda, Lord Reith (then head of the BBC) refused, pointing out that the BBC is, and must remain, impartial. Today it remains separate from the government and independent. Would this Committee seek to overturn this and have the BBC in Scotland become a puppet of the state?

* Andrew Tibbs is the Vice-Convener of Edinburgh North East and Leith Liberal Democrats

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6 Comments

  • Shouting down political opponents, parliament “monitoring” broadcasting organisations…. signs of things to come in an independent Scotland under the SNP, perhaps?

  • mike cobley 21st May '13 - 1:32pm

    First off, this quote – “Oppressive regimes around the world ‘monitor’ media at the behest of governments and politicians.” This is what is known as a negative association, implying that any monitoring of the media at the behest of government and/or politicians is or could be oppressive. Now, I hold absolutely no brief for nationalism, but honestly this smear attempt does us no favours and is just plain irrational.

    Then there’s this – “When Churchill wanted the BBC to put out wartime propaganda, Lord Reith (then head of the BBC) refused, pointing out that the BBC is, and must remain, impartial. Today it remains separate from the government and independent.”

    Sorry, but since the Gilligan debacle the BBC’s news reporting has displayed an appalling lack of spine when it comes to reporting on government policy, coupled with imbalance whenever opposing/dissenting voices are allowed to make their case (which isn’t that often). More than once I’ve seen presenters turn into relentless attack dogs when such critics appear on BBC news programs. In the wider context, the questions that need asking are rarely heard from the mouths of BBC journos, while at the same time you still get Tory big beasts whipping the BBC for a supposed bias that is no longer there. What the BBC needs is essentially a reestablishment of its remit, with a charter of independence for the news division, backed by legislative powers.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st May '13 - 1:32pm

    You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment….

    Seriously, though, they aren’t doing themselves any favours with stunts like that.

  • Andrew Tibbs 21st May '13 - 1:50pm

    Mike

    Just to clarify a couple of your points;

    When I said “Oppressive regimes around the world monitor media..”, it was an observation. The Chinese government have a number of bureaus which monitor the media. I would strongly argue that the Chinese regime (as oppose to just the government) is oppressive.

    Secondly, the independence of the BBC is already enshrined in legislation through the Charter and the Agreement, but of course this applies to the whole organisation, not just News and Current Affairs. But like any organisation, there are individuals who sometimes forget themselves or are rather more partisan than the organisaiton would like. What’s more of more concern, to me, is the bits in the Agreement which let Ministers take over the BBC in times of emergency. A little know, but fairly important piece of legislation. I’m not sure what the state of affairs was during the war, but I’m guessing such legislation didn’t exist, hence why Churchill was unable to get his way over the propaganda broadcasts.

  • Al McIntosh 21st May '13 - 2:16pm

    Section K1 of Schedule 5 part 2 of the 1998 Scotland Act clearly makes the BBC a reserved matter under the present constitutional settlement. “Monitoring the BBC” can’t mean anything more than watching it and taking notes. Trying to trump the activity of an all-party committee up into something authoritarian that it clearly isn’t and doing so for blatantly tribal ends is one of the reasons the party is on 5% support and showing no sign of recovery.

    I am off to monitor last weekend’s episode of Dr Who.. no spoilers please!

  • Robin Bennett 22nd May '13 - 11:26am

    Scotland has been in large measure deprived of the opportunity to develop its own broadcasting and television identity from, I reckon, the 1950s when the BBC in London began to dominate our entertainment and information. This has led, for example, to almost all aspiring thespians congregating in London, to hardly any network commissioning from Scotland to Britain as a whole. Scottish creativity in music, current affairs, drama, and light entertainment has been stifled by the BBC’s metropolitan bias.

    a. It used to be that 2% of the BBC’s expenditure was in Scotland, but attempts to “devolve” some of it has not meant devolving control (e.g. London-commissioned Radio 2 programmes, and TV such as Question Time, Waterloo Road, etc). Network music and drama are commissioned solely from London. Scotland-based TV producers must follow directions from the commissioning officers in London. There should be devolution of control of some BBC network programming to Scotland, so that any Scottish contribution to the network is not always a reflection of metropolitan taste and perceptions.

    b. Much, perhaps too much, money is being spent on the Gaelic TV channel, but the Scots language, spoken by far more people, has, with the exception of River City, been largely ignored. There are no regular programmes in Scots on Radio Scotland, despite so much of the population speaking it in their everyday lives. A channel which Gaelic and Scots shared would be infinitely more popular than the present solely Gaelic one and would do no harm to the Gaelic cause.

    c. The Scottish accent is not understood in the south, whereas the BBC ensure that Scottish viewers become accustomed to the accents of programmes such as East Enders. Researchers have noted there are elements of Cockney creeping into the accents of younger Scots in Glasgow and elsewhere.

    d. The map for BBC weather forecasts shows a smaller Scotland, making it difficult to discern the forecast for particular points on the map north of the border compared to, for example, Wales or the West of England. .

    e. The BBC has failed to secure adequate coverage of Scottish Premier League football, while English football is given star billing every Saturday night on BBC1 Scotland.

    f. The demand for a “Scottish Six” (BBC1 News at Six) should be conceded. The occasional item which compares government policies (and not just with England) is worthwhile, but we have no need to hear detail on English education and health issues any more than residents of England want to hear about the detail of Scottish policy. (The same applies to e-mailshots to Lib Dem members in Scotland about party policy and campaigns south of the border, by the way )

    g. Radio Scotland used to have programmes on farming, health and law. These cannot have been an expensive part of the BBC’s budget and it is to be deplored if they were dropped for cost reasons.

    h. A Radio Scotland news programme will have one quarter of the staff that a Radio 4 programme will have. It has to be accepted that there is going to be a bigger cost to have network programme standards and quality for purely Scottish consumption. We should be prepared to accept that this will mean paying an extra licence fee – perhaps £25 per year – to boost programming in Scotland. This is one of the acceptable costs of being a small country.

    i. An indication of the extent to which the BBC does not suit even middle class Scotland can be gauged from the lack of engagement by Scots in good quality phone-in programmes on Radio 4 such as Any Answers? Money Box Live and programmes which may have some feedback such as Thinking Aloud. On the rare occasions when a caller is from Scotland he or she often has an English accent.

    j. Radio Scotland is falling down on the job, so it is no wonder so many Scots actually prefer Radio 4. The only good Radio Scotland political programmes at present are the Derek Bateman programmes on Saturday and Sunday morning , when the independence issues are explored in depth and without bias. On the Saturday programme we also hear the gentle Highland voice of Isobel Fraser, who seems to have been demoted since her spat on TV with a Westminster MP who alleged BBC bias in favour of independence, for which she had the temerity to ask for an apology.

    k. STV’s in-depth discussion programme nightly at 10:30 is far, far better than Newsnight Scotland on the BBC2.

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