Balanced Debate Rally – An interview with organiser Mark Piggott

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Next Saturday will see hundreds of people gather in Glasgow City centre ready to march from Strathclyde University to St Enoch Square. 
 
The rally is part of a campaign calling for balance from broadcasters and better quality coverage of the referendum campaign.

The rally is the second to be held in Glasgow by the BARD2014 campaign and follows a similar event that took place in February.

Newsnet Scotland spoke to one of the organisers, Mark Piggott to find out more.

How did the campaign come about?

It was down to frustration at the poor quality coverage coming from our broadcasters, especially BBC Scotland.  There are few real debates on the referendum and what there has been is dominated by the same people.  There is very little mature analysis of claim and counterclaim.

One of the major concerns is the very clear lack of balance that exists across the broadcasting spectrum with pro-Union guests often outnumbering their pro-Independence counterparts.  It isn’t unusual to see Unionists with a three to one advantage which usually results in the lone independence guest being drowned out.

Would you feel as strongly if it were independence guests who were the majority?

I think any situation that saw one side given preferential treatment should be condemned, regardless of whether it is the Yes campaign or the No campaign benefitting.  If people vote Yes or No in 2014 then they should have done so after having been presented with fair, mature and informative coverage of the issues.

Many people have expressed concern that you are calling for extra investment for the BBC.  They argue that the BBC will simply use the money to provide more of the coverage you are unhappy with.

The BBC in Scotland is ours, we pay for it and we own it.  If there are some within Pacific Quay who are actively pursuing an agenda, and I believe the evidence suggests that there are, then this campaign will bring it to the attention of the public. 

The announcement by Holyrood’s Education and Culture Committee that they will now be monitoring BBC Scotland output means that MacQuarrie and Boothman will be under scrutiny like never before.

The bigger this campaign becomes then the more ordinary people will scrutinise BBC Scotland output.  It would be suicidal for BBC Scotland producers and management to use extra funding to promote one side over the other.

The NUJ is well aware of the issues at the BBC in Scotland and we are very pleased to have the head of the Scottish NUJ speaking at our rally.  The Scottish people can only benefit from more funding and the electorate will be better informed as a result.

You are calling for more women to be invited to take part in TV and radio debates but your rally has only one and four men.  How do you respond to critics who claim this is hypocritical?

Let me take this opportunity to invite any women speakers who wish to speak at the rally to please get in touch.  Lynda Williamson who is Newsnet Scotland communication’s head is already confirmed as a speaker and there is the possibility of one other, yet to be confirmed.

We will be operating an open invite for women on the day of the rally, so if someone wants to speak then we will be more than happy to accept their offer.

Is there anything you would like to say to those people who are concerned about news output and not just debates and programme quality?

If you have an issue with the way the referendum is being reported by our broadcasters then come along and make your presence felt.  This is the only game in town and we need to build on the last rally which attracted almost 200 people.

We know that people are angry at BBC Scotland in particular and are aware of the anger over the one sided news coverage.  We know that BBC Scotland covered the Susan Calman story but refused to report on the racist tweet by Labour blogger Ian Smart.

All I would say to people who are angry is that by staying away from the rally you are effectively denying yourself a voice.  Complaining from behind a keyboard will have no effect – the only voice that is heard by huge organisations is a collective voice and the more people who join this campaign then the louder this voice becomes.

You seem to be more critical of the BBC than STV, why is that?

STV must ensure balance and quality also.  We acknowledge the investment made by STV in the excellent Scotland Tonight and we are also very pleased to see the station will broadcast a head to head debate between Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Moore.

STV have less money than BBC Scotland and have the added pressure of having to generate a profit, as any business has to.

BBC Scotland on the other hand has no such concerns over their revenue stream given that all of us who own a TV set are forced to pay £145.50 per year for a licence.  That guaranteed income means that we have a right to expect more from BBC Scotland.

The corporation’s charter means that we also have a right to demand, not simply expect, balance and impartiality from BBC Scotland.  They are providing neither.

This campaign will continue and will grow if BBC Scotland maintains the defiant stance that we have witnessed from them thus far.  BBC Scotland has never faced this kind of anger.  They have to realise that no organisation is beyond scrutiny and no organisation acts with impunity.

We will gather in Glasgow next Saturday May 18th and march to St Enoch Square.  Come and join us and make this a rally they cannot ignore.

 
Those wishing to attend the rally should arrive at Strathclyde University Students Union in John Street at 12 noon, in preparation for the march which will leave at 12:30.  Anyone not able to attend can make a donation to the campaign fund by clicking visiting http://bard2014.com.