Is the BBC getting too big for its boots?

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By a Newsnet reporter

Threats of court action from Glasgow Rangers new owner and demands for apologies from the European Commission, the BBC it seems doesn’t have to look for its troubles these days.

The demands for an apology from the EC follow a quite unbelievable display of arrogance and indeed rudeness on the part of Jeremy Paxman and a studio guest (Peter Oborne) who both decided it would be good fun to lampoon and generally insult an EC representative on Newsnight.

By a Newsnet reporter

Threats of court action from Glasgow Rangers new owner and demands for apologies from the European Commission, the BBC it seems doesn’t have to look for its troubles these days.

The demands for an apology from the EC follow a quite unbelievable display of arrogance and indeed rudeness on the part of Jeremy Paxman and a studio guest (Peter Oborne) who both decided it would be good fun to lampoon and generally insult an EC representative on Newsnight.

The gentleman on the end of the gratuitous slights, Amadeu Altafaj Tardio, was in a Brussels studio in order to give UK viewers a European viewpoint on the debt crisis currently engulfing the Eurozone.

“Mr Idiot” was the term adopted by Paxman and Oborne in order to address the European gentleman who sat through the proceedings with admirable restraint until he could take no more of the repeated insults and promptly walked out.

European Commissioner Olli Rehn has now written a letter to BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten, himself a former commissioner, demanding an “unqualified apology” for the disgraceful treatment of Mr Tardio.

It’s Paxo’s trademark apparently, being rude and dismissive to guests.  However on this occasion it went beyond rudeness and has to be said verged on xenophobic.

Demanding apologies is one thing, the threat of litigation is quite another and that’s what the BBC’s northern outpost, BBC Scotland, is facing after someone decided to run a hatchet job on Sir David Murray’s Rangers replacement Craig Whyte.

The Ibrox club had already announced that it would no longer cooperate with the BBC prior to last Thursday’s documentary detailing the business history of the club’s new owner.  Radio Scotland has an over reliance on football to fill its increasingly low brow schedules, so it will be interesting to see how the station will cope with losing fifty per cent of its required old firm soundbites

But what of the Rangers ‘documentary’?

The programme was heavily trailed under the guise of ‘news’ on various BBC Scotland TV and radio news programmes, it was clear that BBC Scotland felt that they had a big story.

As a result of this I, and probably many others not steeped in matters Old Firm, watched the broadcast.  My thoughts after watching the documentary were that it amounted to no more than a hatchet job on Mr Whyte.

I’m still trying to work out exactly how some disgruntled ex-Rangers board members managed to persuade the publicly owned broadcaster to use scarce resources in order to smear the club’s new owner.

The clip of one ex-director uttering the phrase “no surrender” when describing his response to being asked to step down was bizarre and, it has to be said, did nothing for the image of either him or the old board.

But it was the subject matter that had me scratching my head; questionable business dealings.  If the BBC really wanted to pursue questionable corporate practices and possible institutionalised corruption then surely the place to look would have been the local authority formerly headed by one Steven Purcell.

It isn’t as though Mr Whyte was a former cocaine user with a drink problem who fled the country after being visited by police in council chambers and who set up arms-length companies using public cash and staffed them with party colleagues paying them generous salaries.

The BBC could have investigated dear old Glasgow Council where contracts were awarded to Labour party donors and public funds were used in order to promote Labour and attack the SNP.

But no, BBC Scotland decided to spend public cash ‘investigating’ Craig Whyte for the sole reason that he has, what can best be described as, an up-and-down corporate C.V. and now controls one half of the Old Firm.

The broadcast came only weeks after the corporation was forced to issue a grovelling apology to Rangers after a quite disgraceful attempt to portray the club’s manager Ally McCoist as having a flippant attitude to sectarianism.  One would have thought that a period of silent humility ought to have followed such a dangerously reckless manipulation of video.

But what is it about the BBC that leads it to believe that everything it does is beyond reproach, that smear campaigns and gratuitous insults are what we, the public, pay our licence fee for?  We have tabloid newspapers and commercial TV stations to satisfy those societal cravings.

One answer lies in the fact that the BBC is a law unto itself.  Complain about a broadcast and if you are fortunate enough to have the complaint acknowledged then more often than not you will receive a generic conveyor belt statement that patronisingly dismisses your concerns.

Approach Ofcom and they will politely inform you that the BBC is none of their business, and by extension none of yours.  In short there is nobody that will listen – the BBC behaves with impunity.

And please don’t suggest that the Audience Council have any real inclination to hold the BBC to account.  A body that believes Scottish traffic reports should be included when quantifying current affairs output deserves to be ignored.

Thus, the corporation doesn’t have to worry how many viewers it angers or alienates; funding – notwithstanding the freeze to the licence fee – is guaranteed.  This unaccountability married to a guarantee of income is why the BBC is fast losing credibility amongst many viewers the length of the UK.

It’s worse in Scotland where we have a setup that is very clearly not equipped to deal with and reflect the rapidly changing Scottish political and cultural landscape.  The SNP conference should have been a major political event for BBC Scotland, who instead provided an insulting tokenistic glimpse of the Inverness proceedings.

The BBC needs to be shaken up, lest the dissatisfaction manifests itself into something other than angry complaints.  It needs a body with teeth, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, to ensure that the arrogance that very clearly pervades the corporation doesn’t erode what’s left of its good name.

Until then Paxman will continue to ridicule and berate people from beyond England’s borders.  Question Time host David Dimbleby will continue to treat ‘regional’ guests from those same areas with contempt and BBC Scotland will continue to act as a broadcast equivalent of the Daily Record and keep the Old Firm ‘troubles’ as prominent in the public consciousness as it can.