Ambush marketing and BBC Scotland


It hit the headlines recently after two Dutch models were arrested in South Africa for taking part in an informal advertising stunt in a world cup stadium for a German brewery.  Ex Wimbledon footballer Robbie Earl was sacked from his role as a football pundit after his world cup match tickets were used for a similar stunt….

It hit the headlines recently after two Dutch models were arrested in South Africa for taking part in an informal advertising stunt in a world cup stadium for a German brewery.  Ex Wimbledon footballer Robbie Earl was sacked from his role as a football pundit after his world cup match tickets were used for a similar stunt.

Ambush marketing is in the news. An advertising stunt that takes place around an event but does not involve payment of a sponsorship fee to the event – in other words it is entirely free.

So what you might say, what of it?

Well last Sunday (13 June) on The Politics Show Scotland we witnessed something quite similar as a large chunk of the show was given over to what can only be described as free advertising for a political party.

The BBC in Scotland decided that the Glasgow hustings for the Labour leadership contest should be afforded completely uncritical coverage on the show and assorted Labour politicians, activists and supporters be allowed to air their views on national TV.  Whilst many of those views did indeed relate to the internal machinations of the Labour party and the direction each felt the new leader should be taking, a substantial portion contained what can only be described as a de-facto party political broadcast.

The definition of a hustings is usually assumed to be debates and speeches that form part of an election campaign.  The contenders will present their case, debate with opponents and thereafter present themselves to questioning from voters.  It may just have been justified had BBC Scotland actually covered the question and answer session from inside the hall, but they didn’t.  Instead what we were presented with was a mixture of platitudes, attacks on political opponents and unchallenged claims.

David Miliband explained how he looked forward to Iain Gray leading the Scottish parliament, Ed Miliband told us how marvelous Scottish Labour were and how honest their values.  Ed Balls launched a gratuitous attack on the Conservatives and Lib Dems and informed us that ‘Scottish Labour’ had fought a “brilliant” campaign and Andy Burnham helpfully explained that the Nats and the Tories had no leader people could relate to.{/youtube}

There was no attempt whatsoever by BBC Scotland to scrutinise any of the claims nor any opportunity for political opponents to respond to the attacks.  The Labour politicians faced not one question – well not one that was broadcast, they seemed to have fielded ‘feeder’ questions.  This was ‘ambush marketing’ BBC style, only this time the host wasn’t being duped, on the contrary the host cooperated fully.

BBC Scotland also pitched in and the ‘respecful’ presenter on location told viewers how packed the hall was, how popular the event was and how important Glasgow was to the Labour party.  The final minutes of the programme were given over to a welcome speech by the host of this Labour circus as the contenders for the leadership took their seats.  Viewers were again told that Labour’s Scottish branch had ‘won’ the general election and how the party had “learned from the defeat in 2007”, that that ‘success’ needed to be replicated across the UK.{/youtube}

The message was clear; and it was Labour’s message.  Scotland was important to Labour, Scotland belonged to Labour and Labour were a success in Scotland.

What were BBC Scotland thinking of?  Did they not think to edit the attacks on opponents from the carefully pre-packaged presentations to camera by each of the candidates?  Did they not think to challenge the debatable claims regarding the relative success of Scottish Labour and this hitherto unknown ‘Scottish campaign’, a ‘Scottish’ campaign that was devoid of Iain Gray?  Had BBC Scotland prepared even one hard question for any of these Labour politicians?

The general election result in Scotland was indeed successful for Labour given that they held every seat and increased their vote.  However the SNP also held every seat and increased their own vote share by almost as much as Labour, and this with barely a tenth of Labour’s media coverage.

A mature analysis of the ‘Scottish Election’ result would be welcome indeed but this wasn’t it.  Instead Scottish viewers were simply presented with a Labour view of Scottish politics; a party political broadcast in all but name.

We were even treated to a Prestonpan’s Labour party member who proclaimed that the Labour party needed to recognise that the Scottish and Welsh people were proud to be part of the UK and were not “separatists”.  Quite how such inappropriate language  could be broadcast beggared belief.  Leaving that aside though, what is it that qualifies this gentleman to speak for the whole of Scotland and Wales?{/youtube}

This is what happens though when the national broadcaster provides a platform for one political party and its supporters and doesn’t scrutinise what is being said.  Clearly, the politicians and one or two of the party members and activists saw an opportunity in order to promote their party whilst attacking opponents and grabbed it with both hands.

This sort of stuff could be excused if it was a one off, but a quick rewind brings us to The Politics Show Scotland from May 16th:{/youtube}

As you can see Labour MSP Jackie Baillie and Labour MP David Hamilton, when asked about the Labour leadership contest, did exactly the same thing and used the air time in order to ‘put the proverbial boot’ into the SNP.  In keeping with ‘tradition’ BBC Scotland had no replies from the SNP.  Many viewers will have heard Mr Hamilton’s claim that the SNP voted with the Tories 65% of the time at Westminster but they will have been unaware that at Holyrood Labour voted with the Tories even more.

However, let’s digress for a moment, for when reviewing this particular programme Newsnet Scotland were re-acquainted with Jackie Baillie’s original ‘NHS cuts’ claim.  For those who suffer from ‘Scottish media short memory’ syndrome here it is again:{/youtube}

Note that Jackie Baillie hadn’t claimed any old jobs, but had emphasised 5000 FRONT LINE  jobs – not only that but Ms Baillie confidently claimed there could possibly be more!!  The actual proposed number of job reductions turned out to be 3790, and even then less than half are front line jobs.

As far as we are aware, Ms Baillie has yet to be taken to task over the apparent anomaly between her claimed figure and the actual figure.

But we haven’t ended yet, for the same programme turned up this gem from Mr Hamilton:{/youtube}

Had no-one told Mr Hamilton that Labour are not in power at Holyrood, that the SNP have been attacked by Labour MSPs for doing precisely what Mr Hamilton thinks Labour are doing; namely giving more autonomy to councils?  Unfortunately the interviewer, Glenn Campbell, missed the opportunity to enlighten both Mr Hamilton and the viewers to the actual situation.

Again, the folly of allowing Labour politicians a platform to say what they want without fear of challenge from opponents is clear.

So there we have it for now.  We could have included more here – much, much more – but we felt that this was enough to make our point.  The point is that BBC Scotland are letting themselves and their viewers down.

Last week we witnessed headlines suggesting that the UK Labour party should try to emulate their party’s election campaign in Scotland in order to defeat the Tories.  Well, on this evidence UK Labour clearly need to do two things in England.

First off they need to have the BBC marginalise their main Southern rivals (the Tories) – excluding them from any election debates would also be a huge bonus.  Secondly, they need to persuade those newspapers that currently support the Conservatives to drop that support.  Only then will UK Labour be able to replicate their Scottish general election campaign and achieve ‘success’ similar to that which they experienced in Scotland.

These recent snippets from The Politics Show Scotland are an indication of what the state broadcaster has become North of the border.  It adheres to a set of internal rules that appear out of date and not fit for purpose.  Rules that allow the broadcasting of party political propaganda disguised as news items, rules that allow the omission of the party of government from election debates and rules that see small independent news sites like this one the subject of online discrimination.

Are BBC Scotland really so institutionalised in their behaviour that they see nothing wrong in having broadcasts of this nature, or do they suspect that their behaviour is indeed partisan ….. but simply don’t care?