BBC Scotland – dead and dying


By G.A.Ponsonby
It’s been an interesting week in Scottish politics; The Unionists continued with the ‘investment uncertainty’ line whilst Amazon and Michelin opted for investment certainty.
Amazon’s new facility in Fife is the size of fourteen football pitches.  In a first for BBC Scotland the broadcaster paid scant attention to a Scottish story with a football angle.

By G.A.Ponsonby
It’s been an interesting week in Scottish politics; The Unionists continued with the ‘investment uncertainty’ line whilst Amazon and Michelin opted for investment certainty.
Amazon’s new facility in Fife is the size of fourteen football pitches.  In a first for BBC Scotland the broadcaster paid scant attention to a Scottish story with a football angle.

Meanwhile, Michael Moore, the man who wanted the post of Scottish Secretary abolished to save money, spent even more money creating a Scottish business group.

Why? Well your guess is as good as mine.  Moore seems to have spent the last fortnight telling anyone who will listen that nobody will invest in Scotland until the independence referendum is out of the way.

Perhaps Moore’s business group are going to issue regular monthly press statements confirming that they are certain about being uncertain.  Then Moore can cite them as proof of the uncertainty he is certain about.

One thing is certain though, as sure as night follows day the constitutional debate will receive the usual coverage from BBC Scotland as we have come to expect.  The tabloidisation of the BBC in Scotland continues unabated.

As I sit here writing this piece late Saturday I had a look at BBC Scotland’s online news site and here is how it looks:

The top five stories involve death.  Of the 10 top stories, seven involve someone dying and one other is a story about a violent knife attack.  Is this really the Scotland I woke up to on Saturday morning?  Are the tragic deaths of five unfortunate souls really the top news items in our nation?

There are two other stories in the online page that are treated as sidebar items when they should be big talking points; energy prices and the problem posed by the UK’s ageing nuclear submarine fleet.  But hey, if you miss the real stories then you don’t have to analyse them.  This is selective tabloid news at its worst and something we pay the BBC to avoid. 

Here at Newsnet Scotland we do go on about BBC Scotland’s political coverage, and for good reason.  As the independence debate gets going the BBC seem to have employed a one way filter that deems certain stories off limits.

That’s why when Alex Salmond revealed this week that a senior Tory in the north east of England had been lobbying against investment in Scotland, we noticed that BBC Scotland didn’t give it the coverage it deserved – if any at all.

Linda Arkley, Tory mayor of North Tyneside, wrote to the UK coalition complaining about the success of the Scottish government in attracting inward investment (no uncertainty there), the Mayor urged the UK Government to do more to help north-east England to “compete against its near neighbour”. 

Ms Arkley – revealed the First Minister on Thursday – had also attended the Conservative party conference on October 5th where she lobbied the UK Chancellor George Osborne regarding the success of Scotland in attracting inward investment.

Afterwards, Ms Arkley said: “Ministers have agreed to look at this” – a statement described by Mr Salmond as “dangerous”.

The concerns raised by the Tory Mayor were followed by claims by George Osborne that global companies were expressing concern about investing in Scotland.

Osborne was joined by someone called Willie Bain, a Scottish Labour MP who claimed he had held talks in the boardrooms of respected financial institutions, the heads of which had also expressed concern.

Now, call me naïve but this revelation by Scotland’s First Minister of lobbying by a senior English Tory demanding the UK government address Scotland’s business ‘advantage’ just before Osborne ‘attacks’ Scotland’s investment credibility was surely worthy of significant coverage.

But no, this timely and topical revelation from Scotland’s First Minister was – how shall we put it … pretty much ignored by the BBC in Scotland.  It’s not as though Mayor Arkley’s lobbying of UK Ministers was a secret.

It’s bizarre but not unexpected.  Attack Scotland’s economic credibility and one can be assured of uncritical wall to wall coverage, reveal evidence (albeit circumstantial) that the attacks might be politically motivated and nothing.

On the day of Mr Salmond’s ‘revelation’ BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor thought it better to highlight the Scottish Labour leadership contest on his taxpayer funded online blog.  Blogging is an area that BBC Scotland presenters inhabit along with their ‘regional’ colleagues from other parts of the UK.

Which brings me to a rather insidious development in this particular area of cyberspace.

The blog (web log) allows BBC presenters and journalists to publish their opinions and views on topics of the day.  Those views are commented upon, and occasionally challenged, by members of the public – it’s 21st century democracy in action.

There are blogs on sport, music and of course politics and all have a moderated forum that invites comment and debate from us, the licence payer.  Or rather they did until very recently.

You see there is one section of the BBC’s blogosphere that, henceforth, public comment is to be disallowed.  BBC Scotland has introduced a new policy that prevents public comment on opinion pieces authored by Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser.

A virtual war of words has now erupted around this cyber-censorship amid claims of discrimination.  It has elicited interest from Scottish politicians of all hues and looks certain to cause Pacific Quay not a little discomfort.

At a time when Scotland looks to its constitutional future and the clamour for debate begins to grow, it is highly suspect for our state broadcaster to adopt a backward step and eschew the benefits of modern technology.

The reason given, that comment will be opened up on selected (selected!!) news items is spurious – and begs the question, which stories and who will decide?

It’s a story that Scotland’s traditional news outlets won’t cover and it tells you all you need to know about the role of Scotland’s media.  It’s not the act itself that is most disturbing, it’s the complete lack of interest from those employed to protect the right of free speech – licence fee notwithstanding.

In this age of apparent uncertainty, it looks increasingly certain that the opportunities of ordinary Scots to voice their opinions and concerns will continue to diminish as the referendum approaches.

On this morning’s [Sunday] Business show on BBC Radio Scotland we were treated to two media commentators discussing the ‘uncertainty’ caused by the prospect of independence.  One of them was Peter Jones a journalist from the Scotsman newspaper, the other was Alf Young a former Labour party senior advisor.

Jones came across as objective and fair.  Young was predictably critical of the SNP, repeating or referring to much of the Unionist arguments we have heard this last two weeks.

If the BBC continue to rely on commentary from former Labour party advisors then they should not be surprised when the views expressed are pro-Union.  They should also not be surprised when members of the public complain about this kind of ‘loaded’ debate.