There was an interesting exchange of views on Derek Bateman’s blog towards the end of last week.
The former BBC man, who is now firmly in the Yes camp and arguing passionately for a Yes vote, had what is best described as a healthy exchange of views with those who post comments beneath his online offerings.
Mr Bateman had, as ever, given his honest view on one of the most contentious areas of the independence debate – the performance of the BBC in Scotland. I paraphrase, but according to the former BBC reporter the lamentable coverage and questionable neutrality of the broadcaster was more to do with poor quality and bad judgement than any deliberate attempt to manipulate.
His detractors begged to differ. Bateman was ignoring the evidence in front of his face, some said. Worse, he was protecting his former employer and was very clearly ‘one of them’ opined others.
I rarely read online comments. I don’t object to them, it’s just that finding anything of real value can mean wading through scores of dross in search if the diamond. However reading Bateman’s latest blogs on the BBC, one could sense his frustration at the refusal of his detractors to accept his point of view.
For me though the debate was academic. Both sides clearly accepted there was a serious problem in the way BBC Scotland had been handling the debate.
Whether deliberate and orchestrated news manipulation or the result of cutbacks and resultant falling standards, no-one can be sure for certain.
My own view for what it is worth is that there are people in key positions who are working to their own agenda. They work within parameters that have not altered since before devolution and use the latitude and out-dated template in order to work news output to suit.
The people were already employed to these key positions well before 2011 and their reaction to the SNP landslide was predictable. Do they dislike the SNP? Are they afraid a Yes vote will alter the structure of BBC Scotland and affect their careers? Are they pro-Union? Is it all three?
Who knows, but the circumstantial evidence suggests that key positions at BBC Scotland are occupied by a people who fit one or more of the descriptions above.
Think about it. BBC Scotland is controlled from London where the likelihood of any pro-Yes management is almost non-existent. The head of BBC Scotland knows what is expected of him and those immediately below him know what MacQuarrie expects of them.
It’s an unspoken peer pressure that those hoping to advance their career will be all too aware of. Like organisations in Scotland’s dark past that operated sectarian recruitment policies, there is never any need for anything to be written down. Like a football crowd breaking into spontaneous song, there is no need to conspire beforehand for everyone to behave in the same manner.
Thus, agendas are set but all can proclaim they have not been explicitly instructed.
This same environment will result in reporters liable to resist the resultant pro-Union agenda, either through a desire to employ the highest journalistic standards or even a leaning towards independence (they do exist) themselves would simply be moved to areas where they would have minimal impact on the referendum.
But what about claims the lack of balance we are seeing is down to cutbacks?
BBC Scotland were given £5 million to increase their referendum output. They recruited trainees with no journalistic experience who produced what looked like a recruitment video for the No campaign. We already have James Naughtie and we’re soon to have former Labour leader, the late John Smith’s daughter Sarah Smith heading the replacement for Newsnight Scotland.
Sarah Smith and James Naughtie, who have developed their careers outwith Scotland for years, are to project the debate to those of us who have lived here for years.
Neither myself or Derek Bateman can say with absolute certainty either is correct, but we do agree that BBC Scotland is not presenting the referendum in a mature, non-partisan manner.
If the corporation was a door-to-door salesman it would have been run out of town a long time ago.
Look at what they hawked around last week for goodness sake:
On Saturday morning former Northern Ireland First Minister, Lord David Trimble, was lined up to sink the boot in to a Yes vote. The BBC Ulster had reported that Trimble believed a Yes vote could see an end to the peace process and a return to violence.
Radio Scotland, in its now familiar routine, invited the politician onto Good Morning Scotland to broadcast his views. It backfired spectacularly when the peer confronted Bill Whiteford and denounced the BBC report as contrived crap … or words to that effect.
Not only that, but Trimble explained that his views were in fact the polar opposite from what the BBC were claiming.
He said: “Actually, a Yes vote in Scotland would reinforce the argument against violence because it’s a demonstration of how you can achieve major change through the political democratic process.”
As far as I am aware, the BBC has issued no retraction of their initial claims or any correction. Indeed one day later, Gary Robertson repeated the misinformation in a live broadcast and but for the intervention of blogger Kate Higgins, viewers would have been subjected to another ‘Creighton’ episode.
This cannot be explained by lack of funding. Robertson is the poster boy for Good Morning Scotland, that he was unaware that Trimble had denounced the BBC’s claim over 24 hours earlier on the programme would have been known to Good Morning Scotland’s weekday anchor.
A senior figure at BBC Scotland recently told someone close to Newsnet Scotland that Gary Robertson had no agenda but was merely parroting what he heard in his earpiece. If that is the case then somebody is feeding BBC Scotland presenters anti-independence bullets and these people are firing them.
Last week we witnessed BBC Scotland pour over the Salmond/Putin smear in unseemly fashion. With the Euro elections looming it had all the hallmarks of the co-ordinated smear campaign that preceded the local council elections in 2012 when Salmond was targeted after supposedly being too close to Rupert Murdoch.
What sealed BBC Scotland’s fate last week was a blundering decision by someone to remove from news broadcasts footage of Salmond highlighting Labour party hypocrisy over Putin when he read out a statement from Ukrainians angry at Labour peer George Robertson’s call for the Russian leader to be invited to join NATO.
That was on Thursday and one could only sigh when BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor told listeners that Lord George Robertson hadn’t in fact asked Putin to be invited to join NATO, but had merely called for “closer links”.
How is it that BBC Scotland’s chief political editor can be so hopelessly misinformed, especially when Newsnet Scotland sent him a link to George Robertson very clearly calling for Putin to be invited to join NATO?
Either Taylor had confused Robertson with Tony Blair, who had indeed called for closer ties between NATO and a Putin led Russia in 2001 (13 years ago) or he was deliberately misleading licence payers. This weekend Blair also called for Britain to forge closer ties with Putin, is that what Taylor meant?
Taylor is one thing, and that is informed. He knows fine well what George Robertson said. Newsnet Scotland sent him the video clip.
But if you want to see just how low some BBC Scotland presenters will stoop in order to smear Alex Salmond then have a listen to this clip from Morning Call, the weekday phone-in programme.
Kaye Adams, after hectoring her way through a conversation with someone who described the pride the hated Nazis installed in 1930s Germany, sees her chance to introduce Godwin’s Law into a programme designed specifically to promote the Salmond/Putin smear. Who might the ‘modern politician’ be that Adams is inviting listeners to imagine?
Adams herself may of course view this clip as an attempt to smear her. If so, she now knows how it feels.
BBC Scotland is institutionally corrupt and those who are employed within will be tainted. It’s up to the good guys to do something.