BBC in cahoots with SNP? – You cannot be serious

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
On Saturday the Scotsman newspaper printed what at first glance was a hysterically funny piece of satire in the shape of an article entitled: Scottish – independence: ‘BBC in cahoots with SNP’.
 
However anyone reading the article would have discovered not satire, but what was apparently a serious attempt by the author – David Maddox – to suggest that the BBC was indeed biased in favour of independence and was colluding with the SNP.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
On Saturday the Scotsman newspaper printed what at first glance was a hysterically funny piece of satire in the shape of an article entitled: Scottish – independence: ‘BBC in cahoots with SNP’.
 
However anyone reading the article would have discovered not satire, but what was apparently a serious attempt by the author – David Maddox – to suggest that the BBC was indeed biased in favour of independence and was colluding with the SNP.

The headline was based on a claim by the special adviser to Scottish Labour party leader Johann Lamont.  The basis of the claim by Paul Sinclair was a guest on a radio programme who had been presented as an undecided voter, but who was, according to Sinclair, a Yes supporter.

The Labour party also complained that their Shadow Scottish Secretary MP Margaret Curran had been refused permission to appear on a TV debate on Scottish independence. 

On the issue of the radio guest.  Ken Cairnduff, did not claim to be an undecided voter but was presented as such.  If, as is being claimed, the BBC wrongly presented this person as undecided then the broadcaster should be taken to task.

On the issue of Margaret Curran, Labour has less of a case.  If Curran had been allowed to participate in the debate then this would have given the anti-independence parties who took part in the debate a three against two advantage.  It would have led to imbalance.

A Yes voter presented as undecided does not prove what Labour is claiming, that the broadcaster is pro-independence and is colluding with the SNP.

Indeed the BBC regularly presents guests on radio and TV programmes as impartial but who are in fact anything but.  These guests, from the world of academia, business and the print media, are more often than not pro-Union.

One such episode occurred back in October 2009, when the BBC’s Daily Politics Show – broadcast from London – took a trip north to cover the SNP conference.  The show featured what appeared to be a businessman castigating independence and claiming that Scotland was subsidised by England.

Viewers were left with the impression that this businessman was typical of Scottish firms and the man was merely voicing non-partisan concerns.

What the BBC didn’t tell viewers was that the man was one Andrew Smillie, owner of A&S Scaffolding.  Smillie had two years earlier, weeks before the 2007 Scottish election, signed a statement along with 149 other business people that said: “We believe Scotland’s best future for investment, jobs and prosperity is being part of Britain and we believe that the break up of Britain would damage Scotland.”  Smillie was also a Labour party donor.

That same weekend saw a BBC Scotland reporter who was also a former Labour party councillor attribute views to SNP Minister Alex Neil that Mr Neil had not made.  When Catriona Renton turned up at the SNP conference in Inverness she was after anyone who was prepared to say they wanted the Conservatives to win the 2010 UK general election.  In fact Renton could not find one single person who held this view.

What the BBC reporter did was to simply falsify the views of MSP Alex Neil instead.  You can still read about the episode in the original Newsnet Scotland blog written at the time.

It wasn’t that long ago that pro-Union director of CBI Scotland Iain McMillan was regularly presented by BBC Scotland as the voice of business in Scotland.  McMillan’s appearances on BBC Scotland eventually dried up after he was found to have issued a false statement suggesting that CBI member businesses had unanimously backed an early referendum.

The claims by Scottish Labour that the BBC are biased are not new, there have been several such claims made.

One of the more notorious episodes occurred last August when Labour MP Ian Davidson launched a tirade against the courteous and extremely professional political reporter Isabel Fraser, accusing the presenter of bias.

That show of misogynist bullying was followed by the removal of Ms Fraser from BBC Scotland’s high profile political TV programmes.  Not exactly the behaviour of a broadcaster ‘colluding’ with the SNP.

Indeed, Isabel Fraser now languishes in the weekend dead zone of morning radio.  Her role as presenter of high profile political TV shows having been handed to Andrew Kerr.

The claims by Scottish Labour that BBC Scotland is somehow biased in favour of independence are as credible as claiming that the BNP is in favour of more immigration.  BBC Scotland’s head of News and Current Affairs is one John Boothman.

Boothman is a former Labour party activist whose partner is former Labour MSP Susan Deacon.  Boothman, along with another BBC Scotland editor Tom Connor, was once censured for offering media training to Labour candidates.

The suggestion that Boothman, with his links to Labour, would collude with the SNP is laughable.

The claims by Scottish Labour are of course designed to deflect from the BBC’s well documented agenda which is anti-independence. 

Evidence of this pro-Union agenda turns up week after week if one looks carefully at BBC Scotland’s political output.  Even its coverage of economic matters is carried out by a former political editor at theHerald newspaper.  Douglas Fraser’s views on pro-indy supporters, who he once labelled “vermin” and independence in general were well known when he wrote for the Herald.

The BBC bends over backwards to accomodate each and every anti-independence report published by every think tank, lobbying group or Westminster based committee that appears.

This week saw yet another report from a House of Commons Committee given saturation coverage by BBC Scotland.  The BBC provided a platform for the committee’s head, MP James Arbuthnot, to make wild claims regarding the defence capabilities of an independent Scotland.

Despite hugely inflating the UK’s defence spend in Scotland, Arbuthnot was not challenged or corrected.

He experienced kid glove ‘soft’ interviews from James Naughtie on Radio 4 and then from Gary Robertson on Good Morning Scotland.

Robertson, when interviewing SNP Minister Keith Brown replaced the kid gloves with boxing gloves.  Robertson’s style changed and within seconds of Brown speaking, the BBC man began hectoring and interrupting, bizarrely challenging Brown’s view that the committee, which contained MPs from only pro-Union parties, was not impartial.

Robertson’s comparison with Holyrood Committees which include MSPs from pro-Union parties was ridiculous.  Indeed one doesn’t have to prompt BBC reporters to highlight any SNP majority on committees or in the Scottish Parliament itself.  And Holyrood doesn’t contain any committees made up solely with pro-independence members.

What Robertson was trying to do was defend BBC Scotland’s decision to push this report across its entire news network, despite it clearly being a Unionist stunt designed to attack independence.

Thus, we had a partisan report given the top spot in that day’s news, when it was simply a rehash of similar reports.  The real news, which was the official letter from the Department for Work and Pensions confirming those in receipt of the state pension would continue to receive it after independence, was all but ignored.

It wasn’t just Radio Scotland that saw two different styles of interviewing adopted.  On Wednesday on Newsnight Scotland presenter Gordon Brewer’s style when interviewing Labour MP Tom Greatrex was soft and gently probing – it was basically an anodyne chat about the Labour party in Scotland with absolutely no probing of any policy areas at all.

However on Thursday when interviewing the SNP’s Mike Weir on energy, Brewer’s tone altered markedly, adopting a more dismissive and at times hostile stance.

Four interviews, two saw the Unionist politicians treated to gentle questioning and rarely interrupted whilst the other two saw their independence supporting counterparts aggressively grilled.

BBC Scotland has form as long as my arm when it comes to selective reporting, hectoring interviewees, manipulating video, embellishing stories and suppressing others in an attempt at influencing the licence payer.  Almost without exception, the broadcaster’s handling of news and interviews will favour Unionism.

In 2011 after Labour launched its manifesto for the Scottish election, BBC Scotland commissioned a poll to find out what policy area voters considered the most important.  A Labour pledge on cancer treatment and NHS waiting times ‘won’ the poll.  Not surprising really given that the SNP had yet to launch its own manifesto and was thus denied the widespread media coverage enjoyed by Labour.

Things haven’t improved much since this interview carried out in 2010 by BBC Scotland’s Glenn Campbell.

There was also the strange and very deliberate muting of Nicola Sturgeon’s microphone in another interview on Newsnight Scotland.

These are hardly the actions of a broadcaster seeking to ‘collude’ with the SNP.

[Newsnet Scotland is currently working two special articles that take a closer look at how the BBC has covered Scottish politics.  Our first, we expect to publish some time next month will be entitled ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and will highlight what we feel are the twelve worst examples of partisan reporting by BBC Scotland.

The second ‘How BBC Scotland manipulates political news’ will demonstrate the tactics used by the state broadcaster as it seeks to influence the debate over Scotland’s future.]