BBC Platform for anti-independence campaign chief questioned

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The BBC has come under fire for apparently breaking with convention by allowing a senior figure from the anti-independence campaign Better Together to attack the SNP on air in the middle of the party’s Perth conference.

Yesterday BBC News broadcast an apparent ‘interview’ with Blair McDougall, who is the campaign director for Better Together in which the No campaigner launched a series of unchallenged attacks on the SNP and Alex Salmond.

In the broadcast, on the BBC’s national UK wide news, the No campaigner made a series of assertions, some erroneous, regarding the Scottish Government’s post-independence stance on areas affecting welfare and businesses.

However Mr McDougall’s appearance was immediately criticised amid claims that offering a platform to one side of the referendum campaign during a party conference was not in keeping with previous convention.  Some highlighted the lack of a similar platform to Mr McDougall’s counterpart in Yes Scotland when pro-Union parties held their own conferences that contained high profile attacks on independence.

Editor of Holyrood Magazine Mandy Rhodes tweeted: “When did @BBCNews start interviewing party opponents when it’s covering party conferences? @blairmcdougall comments post @AlexSalmond speech”

Another to voice concern was STV political correspondent Harry Smith who said that giving political opponents airtime during a party conference was unusual.

Responding to Ms Rhodes concerns, Harry Smith tweeted: “@holyroodmandy I always thought the convention was that you did not unless there was a direct challenge to other Party policy .”

Another to openly criticise the apparent favouritism shown to the No campaign was influential online site Wings over Scotland.  In an article published yesterday the site’s editor Stuart Campbell wrote:

“For some reason, the BBC’s coverage of the SNP conference in Perth was newsbombed by Blair McDougall once more, who got almost two minutes to rubbish the Nats onscreen with next to nothing in the way of challenge from the presenter.

“This wasn’t a Yes Scotland event, and Blair McDougall holds no elected political position anywhere in the country that we’re aware of, so he has no mandate whatsoever to comment on the SNP’s gathering.”

Mr Campbell highlighted the party conferences held by Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems which had all contained high profile attacks on the SNP, Salmond and independence but for which no platform for rebuttal was afforded the Yes campaign.

The appearance of Blair McDougall on the BBC followed criticism of the broadcaster’s coverage of the SNP conference much of which was unreported and not broadcast.  Some speeches were hit by ‘technical problems’ denying viewers the opportunity to hear what was said.

There has also been an over representation of pro-Union commentaors and guests on BBC political programmes, with a three to one in favour of pro-Union representation on the special Brian Taylor’s Big Debate from Perth on Friday and Newsnight Scotland also allowing Unionist commentators to dominate in its Thursday edition which covered the conference.

There have also been concerns raised following the publication by the BBC of what some have termed racist anti-Scottish comments beneath an online article on Alex Salmnd’s conference speech.

TV news coverage and interviews also witnessed an unusual obsession with independence opinion polls with several BBC correspondents conflating support for the SNP with support for a Yes vote.

In one BBC broadcast it was also suggested that support for independence was only 25% and that the extra powers to follow a No vote had already been spelled out with only independence yet to be defined.  The broadcast however failed to make clear the powers coming in 2016 were based on a previous Unionist dominated Calman Commission, and were now out of date.

Previous SNP conferences have faced similar accusations levelled at the BBC.  Last year one particularly notorious episode witness the BBC deliberately misrepresent comments given by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon when interviewed by Brian Taylor on the issue of the banking crisis.

The concerns over the political coverage and special treatment given to the No campaign by the BBC follows revelations by former BBC Presenter Derek Bateman who claimed that BBC Scotland’s head of news and current affairs, John Boothman, had attempted to influence the content of political programmes after having been contacted by a senior Scottish Labour official.

Mr Boothman was once reprimanded, along with another BBC Scotland editor Tom Connor, for offering media training to Labour candidates.

Last month it also emerged that BBC Scotland is to be investigated by the BBC Trust over claims it misled viewers over the views of a senior foreign official regarding the EU status of an independent Scotland.

The Trust will also look into claims that BBC Scotland Chiefs employed a news blackout when Ireland’s former European Minister challenged reports of an interview she gave to the BBC in which she was portrayed as agreeing with the UK Government on the issue of EU membership following a Yes vote.

Lucinda Creighton claimed her interview had been “misconstrued”, “spun” and “manipulated” and made it clear that her views were in fact in line with those of the SNP and Scottish Government.

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