BBC needs to change format of referendum debates says Riddoch


  By a Newsnet reporter
BBC referendum debates are not helpful to the public and “don’t shed light” according to one of Scotland’s most respected commentators.
Writer and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch has called for a change in format from the BBC after she appeared in the broadcaster’s most recent televised debate.

In her weekly podcast, Riddoch has criticised what she described as the programme’s “aggressive” and “Punch and Judy” dynamic, she said was more suited to the House of Commons.

Ms Riddoch, who is also a former BBC presenter, was commenting after she appeared in BBC Scotland’s special referendum debate filmed in Orkney.  The writer was a guest panellist alongside Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, former Labour MP Brian Wilson and SNP MSP Angela Constance.

The programme was marred by shouting and interruptions with Ms Riddoch and Mr Carmichael involved in a spat which led to the Lib Dem MP being accused of patronising the writer.

Explaining her concerns that the BBC believed the style of programme acceptable, the journalist revealed how she almost left the stage in despair at the lack of mature debate.

“I felt, first of all, like just leaving at one point because unless you were going to just jump in on each other, cutting people short, using small words or tiny mistakes they’d made to make some petty point, you were basically not going to speak.

“And then when I thought, well you are hear so you’d better try and do something, you couldn’t get a  kind of answer if you tried to push for something.”

Calling for the BBC to re-think the format of its referendum debates, she added: “I really think the beeb […] should rethink the structure of what they’re doing here,”

The comments from the journalist echo similar criticisms of both BBC Scotland and STV by political commentator Gerry Hassan. 

Writing in the Scottish Review in March, Mr Hassan said: “The BBC and STV are failing the people of Scotland in their coverage of the independence referendum, despite the best attempts of some of the many talented journalists still in these organisations.”

Blaming management at both broadcasters for the failure to present imaginative referendum programming, Hassan added: “It is BBC and STV management who are responsible for the calamitous choice of formats on the referendum, consistently opting for unimaginative, adversarial, rhetorically empty exchanges which put politicians and partisanship first and foremost.

“This is a product of the absence of a culture and practice of programmes which put the public first, in the studio, and which takes risks with formats and styles.”

BBC Scotland is coming under increased pressure over its handling of the independence referendum.

At the start of the year, the broadcaster was found guilty of breaking its own guidelines over accuracy over its reporting of a key referendum issue.
Pledges made last year to improve coverage have failed to materialise and some presenters have faced claims that they are openly favouring the No campaign in interviews.

Recently appearing before Holyrood’s Culture Committee BBC Scotland Chiefs were unable to explain why they had not reported a key statement from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s after the firm said a newly independent Scotland, even without oil revenue, would qualify for their highest rating.

Yesterday the BBC came under more pressure after it emerged the corporation was still a member of the CBI, despite the lobbying group having announced a week ago it had officially joined the No campaign.  Responding to pressure from Yes supporting group Business for Scotland, BBC Chiefs in London refused to resign and instead announced they would wait until May 30th March before suspending the organisation’s membership which will be reactivated after the independence referendum.