BBC Scotland denies closing down online comments as questions mount over its political coverage


By G.A.Ponsonby
BBC Scotland has denied it has closed down comments on its online blogs and has insisted that its main Political Editor, Brian Taylor did not ‘attack’ independence in a recent BBC training video.
The corporation was responding to a recent demonstration that saw around 150 people gather outside its headquarters in Glasgow to highlight what they claim is a lack of balance in BBC Scotland’s political coverage.

The protest on Saturday 26th May was covered by Newsnet Scotland was the subject of a short film by Equinox TV, which can be seen below.

Protestors interviewed by the Equinox TV crew highlighted the closing down of comments on BBC Scotland political and business blogs as evidence of what they claim was an attempt by the BBC to curtail debate and discussion.

Equinox producers also highlighted a recent BBC video that showed two prominent presenters, Andrew Neil and Brian Taylor, apparently attacking the SNP’s stance on the forthcoming referendum.

The videos of official BBC in house presentations to its staff, showed Mr Neil being highly critical of the SNP’s position on the EU.  It also showed BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor claiming that Alex Salmond wanted to include Devo-Max as an option on the ballot paper as a “parachute” in case voters did not want independence.

BBC Scotland responded to the points raised by protestors by denying any of its staff were politically partisan and claiming comments were still open.

A spokesman told Equinox: “As a public service broadcaster the BBC has a duty to report fairly and accurately and that’s a duty we take very seriously.

“We reject completely any suggestion of bias or any suggestion that our staff favour one side over the other in the referendum debate.”

The spokesman claimed that trust in the BBC has “never been higher” and said that audiences would tell them if reporting wasn’t scrupulously fair.

Responding to claims that online blogs had been closed down for comment in Scotland, but not in England, Wales or Northern Ireland the spokesman said: “…it isn’t true we have closed down comments.”

However the spokesman appeared to concede the protestors criticisms of online blog censorship by admitting that comments were not in fact opened up on online blogs but were only selectively allowed on stories.

“Our online correspondent pages are opened up for comment when we believe this enhances the story e.g. last week we had over 2,000 responses to the Yes Campaign launch story.

“It is part of a flexible and adaptable approach on how we cover the main news issues in Scotland” he said.

The spokesman also denied that Brian Taylor had been critical of the SNP’s referendum stance when he claimed in a BBC training video that Alex Salmond wanted Devo-Max as a “parachute” and added: “It is also not true that Brian Taylor attacked independence during the training videos.”

BBC Scotland’s response to the protest follows growing unease amongst many viewers in Scotland over what many perceive to be a lack of balance in reporting of the referendum and a general dumbing down of news and current affairs in Scotland.

Many observers are unhappy at the overrepresentation of Unionist leaning commentators in BBC Scotland discussion programmes and an apparent willingness to promote news stories that are deemed critical to the independence movement, whilst simultaneously failing to provide equal prominence to stories unhelpful to the anti-independence campaign.

They cite as examples of an institutionalised culture at BBC Scotland:

  • Videos of the First Minister edited to make it appear he is mocking his finance secretary
  • Erroneous headlines on online articles not corrected for days
  • Broadcasts of claims by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie despite the BBC knowing the claims were false
  • One sided coverage of the Megrahi release
  • News blackout of a diplomatic row caused by former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray
  • News blackout of a fabricated rape case used by Gray’s replacement Johann Lamont to attack the Scottish government
  • Refusal to report on the relationship between the Orange Order and Glasgow Labour
  • Alleged links to Unionist parties of several BBC Scotland reporters

A recent appearance by UK BBC Head Mark Thompson and BBC Scotland Head Ken MacQuarrie in front of a Holyrood Culture Committee saw a repeated refusal to provide figures to support many of their claims regarding the BBC’s Scottish operation.

Mr Thompson claimed that the BBC were prepared to answer questions from anybody and said: “If people have got questions of fact they want to ask us then of course we can answer them, be they politicians, be they journalists, be they members of the public”

However the performance by the two men was criticised by the Committee’s head who said he was disappointed by their defensive attitude and their refusal to engage.

Chair, Stewart Maxwell MSP said: “I thought the director-general and the head of the BBC in Scotland were both rather defensive.

“What I found most annoying was the lack of willingness to engage with committee questions.  Clearly, the BBC receives an enormous amount of public money to carry out its operations and we are happy that it does so.

“But at the same time there has to be some transparency and accountability and yet they were unwilling to answer very basic questions about the budgets of programmes and why decisions have been taken to cut certain programmes, but not other programmes.”

Other critics of BBC Scotland have pointed to their high profile coverage of the Megrahi release when attacks on the Scottish Government were regular.  However since Megrahi’s death, BBC Scotland seems to have become reluctant to draw attention to growing evidence of the Libyan’s innocence and to UK Government involvement in secret talks with Libya.

Only yesterday it emerged that successive Tory and Labour UK Governments have for twenty years, kept secret a document that suggested the bombing of Pan Am 103 had been carried out by a Palestinian terror group.


Some related stories files and stories:

Former BBC Governess Baroness Ruth Deech and Douglas Murray speaking on BBC Radio 4

BBC coverage of the Megrahi release

Fabricated rape case