McCoist apology: What does this tell us about the BBC?


by G.A.Ponsonby 

It’s a common refrain from BBC presenters; so, what does this tell us about the state of the economy in never-never land?  The question is a feed of course and the BBC reporter then presents the listener/viewer with their subjective ‘analysis’ on the subject in question.

So, what does the BBC’s very public and humiliating apology to the manager of a football team tell us?  I’d argue a lot and pretty damning at that.

The Rangers manager was the victim of a quite brazen manipulation of video footage that left the viewer with the impression that McCoist had a flippant attitude to the very real and very serious problem of bigotry.

Footage from an answer to one question was deliberately positioned to make it appear the answer was given to another different question.  Viewers were presented with images of a smirking Ally McCoist apparently not taking the issue of sectarianism seriously.

Last season of course Mr McCoist was involved in a touchline altercation with Celtic manager Neil Lennon that sparked a major investigation by authorities into the problems of bigotry in Scottish football and wider society.  The result was an announcement that new legislation will soon be introduced to combat the malaise.  The weekend just passed was the opening weekend for the SPL and excitement was high.

It’s against this backdrop that the BBC’s actions ought to be placed.  Sectarianism is not a Scotland wide phenomenon, it is centred mainly in the West of Scotland.  However its tentacles spread far and wide and there are smaller pockets of bigotry and examples of sectarianism in many communities in the East and North.

The manifestations of this problem has witnessed young men murdered and others maimed.  On Old Firm match days the casualty wards are at breaking point as the collateral damage is carried, dragged and wheeled in.

So, for the BBC to manipulate a news item on this subject in the way it did was not just folly, it was downright reckless.  The question is though why this was done?

The speed at which the BBC apologised has probably more to do with the banning of its reporters from Ibrox than anything else, on Saturday McCoist refused give any pre and post-match interviews to BBC personnel.  BBC Scotland relies heavily on football for much of its output and the loss of one half of the Old Firm was disastrous.

The longer the stand-off continued the bigger the story would become.  BBC Scotland faced a double whammy of losing football input from Rangers and losing credibility amongst Rangers fans who would view the state broadcaster with suspicion.

The apology therefore was proffered by an organisation who found itself between a rock and a hard place of its own making.

That explains the apology, but what of the video manipulation itself?  Could it be that there was something much more sinister going on here than just a clumsy bit of editing?

It’s well known that Scotland is on the cusp of some major constitutional changes.  The SNP election win has guaranteed a referendum on Scottish independence and both camps – Unionists and Nationalists – have fired opening salvos.

It has long been one of the great ‘tools’ of the British state whenever faced with the loss of some foreign ‘asset’ to, shall we say, create fertile ground where seeds of discontent may flourish.  If indigenous peoples can be set against one another then the likelihood of them joining together against Westminster rule lessens.

Of course one news item isn’t by itself going to lead to such a scenario, but the fact that it was allowed to pass through the checks and balances that must surely be in place to prevent such journalistic fraud indicates that there must surely have been intent to cause mischief.

Ally McCoist and Rangers deserve to be applauded for taking a stand against the BBC.  Their refusal to be bullied by this London controlled organisation has served notice to those at Pacific Quay and beyond that there are some Scottish institutions that will not be cowed.

This also sends a message to the Scottish government, long the victims of some shocking presentation of news on the part of BBC Scotland.  Only yesterday saw more of the dreadful misrepresentation of the Al Megrahi release we thought we had seen the back of.

Yesterday’s original BBC online account of this dying (and clearly frail) man’s wheelchair bound appearance at a Tripoli rally contained a sentence stating that he had been “judged” to have had three months to live by the Scottish government.  Such a blatant falsehood is indefensible and demonstrates that Ally McCoist is not alone when it comes to misrepresentation.

There is another parallel of course with the McCoist scandal – and it is a scandal.  This manipulation of video by the BBC is not the first time Scots have been deceived in this way.  Regular readers of Newsnet Scotland will remember a similar stunt carried out at the time of the ‘tartan tax’ debate.

For those who might not be aware, on 24th November last year BBC Scotland’s Reporting Scotland ran a news item that evening in which they showed the First Minister apparently shaking his head in mocking fashion following a parliamentary statement by John Swinney.  The item gave the impression that Swinney’s words were being made fun of by Mr Salmond.

Only by viewing the actual footage supplied by Holyrood cameras was the chicanery of the BBC exposed and a quite blatant example of video manipulation was laid bare.

Here is the clip as it appeared on Reporting Scotland:

Now take a look at the clip below which is an unedited recording of the actual moments leading up to Alex Salmond’s shaking of the head:

Salmond wasn’t mocking John Swinney at all, he was in fact mocking Tavish Scott.  If you look back at the BBC clip you can just about hear Tavish Scott speaking at the moment Salmond shakes his head, it is drowned out by the BBC voice-over.

BBC Scotland had presented a wholly different interpretation of events to the one that had actually occurred.  The BBC never apologised.

What does it tell us?

At the start of this article I posed the question; what does this tell us about the BBC?  Well nothing really, the BBC is a worldwide institution that is afforded tremendous respect.  The real question is what does it tell us about BBC Scotland?

My view is that BBC Scotland is hamstrung by the straitjacket within which it is forced to operate.  There’s no doubt that there exists a strand of what can best described as a fundamental unionism within the corporation’s Scottish arm and that this beast occasionally breaks through the self-imposed barriers designed to ensure impartiality.

The London imposed restrictions placed on some very talented reporters and presenters has led to an organisation that tries to satisfy a national appetite within a regional template.  This in turn has created a parochial and tabloidesque organisation starved of reporting world events, one that compensates for this lack of real news with a sensationalised diet of football and crime.

When significant events do happen, as in the case of the Megrahi release, the inherent unionism of the organisation and the lack of maturity can lead to the appallingly one sided journalistic travesty we eventually witnessed – and sadly are still witnessing as evidence by yesterday’s repeat attack on Scots law by William Hague.

The BBC in Scotland are behaving in much the same way as they have always behaved and appear reluctant to modify their behaviour or structure in order to reflect the changing Scotland that is slowly emerging.  Their coverage of news and current affairs seems rooted in a Unionism that has long since disappeared from main stream Scotland and they appear intent on fighting the tide of change with ‘quack’ journalism and ‘charlatan’ reporting.  Unfortunately we have seen the tricks so many times that even the most gullible aren’t falling for them any more.

So, well done Ally McCoist and let’s hope that his and Rangers stance serves as notice to the BBC in Scotland and indeed other Scottish institutions and organisations, that this public service broadcaster exists to serve us, not to mislead us and certainly not to intimidate us.  More of us need to challenge this institution.

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