Of “Pig Ignorance” and BBC Scotland

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The process of the independence referendum has been agreed.  Both London and Edinburgh have put their differences aside and have a agreed a mechanism that will see a legally binding ballot held in the autumn of 2014.

The debate, which started in May 2011, has been dominated by process but now things can move onto more substantive issues.  However any hopes that this debate will be ‘great’ are premature going by the offerings of the BBC.

By a Newsnet reporter

The process of the independence referendum has been agreed.  Both London and Edinburgh have put their differences aside and have a agreed a mechanism that will see a legally binding ballot held in the autumn of 2014.

The debate, which started in May 2011, has been dominated by process but now things can move onto more substantive issues.  However any hopes that this debate will be ‘great’ are premature going by the offerings of the BBC.

Monday morning, the day of the historic signing of a memorandum of understanding, witnessed the latest example of the BBC’s inability, or unwillingness, to provide a balanced and informative discussion on the issues surrounding the independence referendum.  The culprit was a daily talk show on BBC Radio Scotland called ‘Call Kaye’.

For those who have never heard of this programme, it is broadcast at 08:50 every weekday and is hosted by someone called Kaye Adams.  Ms Adams is a well-known Scottish media personality and has extensive experience of hosting chat shows and other light entertainment programmes for both ITV and the BBC.

Her ‘Call Kaye’ Radio show allows members of the public to phone up and debate or discuss topics of the day.  On Monday 15th October the main subject was the independence referendum – specifically the plan to hold the referendum in 2014.

Despite the fact that the timetable has now been agreed, Kaye Adams was asking whether we needed to wait two years before holding the referendum.  The two year ‘delay’ is a criticism often levelled by Unionists against the Scottish government.  Unionists have been demanding an immediate referendum ever since the SNP won a majority in the 2011 Scottish elections.  In that sense we can say, without fear of contradiction, that the subject of Kaye Adams phone in was inspired by the anti-independence camp.

The show was blatantly one sided and saw Ms Adams herself resort to a quite appalling piece of misrepresentation and insult at the close of the discussion by labelling Scots who may benefit from a two year process of informed debate as “the pig ignorant amongst us”.

So bad was this piece of broadcasting that Newsnet Scotland has decided to dissect the programme and demonstrate just why questions remain over the ability of BBC Scotland to provide a balanced, all inclusive and informed debate in the run-up to autumn 2014.

We have tried to deal with each individual call to the discussion, and have broken our recording up into sections, including removing the news and travel segments.  At the end is a completely unedited recording of the whole programme for those who wish to listen to the whole debate.

We believe it will give pause for thought to those who insist that the BBC is a safe, and impartial, pair of hands.

Part one – The Conservative supporting business woman.

The first thing to note about this call is the way the businesswoman is allowed to speak uninterrupted.  The other is the lack of challenge by Ms Adams who simply allows the points to stand without scrutiny and ends by paraphrasing the pro-Unionist caller.

Part two – The Yes Scotland business man.

Rather than be allowed to make his own points, Mr Peter De Wink is immediately asked to address the challenges of the pro-Union caller.  Whilst answering he is then interrupted before he can conclude.  Within a few seconds Mr De Wink is interrupted again, this time by the pro-Union businesswomen who is allowed to make yet another uninterrupted series of claims and attacks.

As Mr De Wink tries to answer the lady he is interrupted for a third time by host Kaye Adams who then makes a mocking reference to Mr De Wink’s term ‘ducks in a row’.  This elicits a laugh from the pro-Union caller.

Mr De Wink then tries to continue his point, only to be interrupted again – for the fourth time, seconds later he is again stopped with another interruption.  Mr De Wink has been unable to finish any of his points and has been continually forced to respond to the interrupted challenges, five in total, from the pro-Union businesswoman and show host Kaye Adams.

Five interruptions and challenges for the pro-independence guest and no interruptions for the pro-Union guest.  Note, that the pro-Union guest has not been challenged on what a No vote might mean for Scots – something that makes an immediate referendum potentially difficult and something that a two year debate might actually lead to being defined by the Unionist camp.

We now move to part three, which features the first call from a member of the public.

The caller is posed a leading question that again mocks Mr De Wink, for whom English is a second language.   “Getting the ducks in a line” is a perfectly acceptable term for what Mr De Wink was trying to explain.  Kaye Adams’ attempt at mocking it has the effect of ridiculing Mr De Wink’s input.

The lady attacks what she terms “Alex Salmond’s referendum”, the cost and also attacks the decision to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate.  The lady is very clearly in the No camp, something that is confirmed by Kaye Adams who again simply allows the caller’s attacks to stand unchallenged.

Thus far we have had two pro-Union callers, neither has been challenged and neither has faced any interruption.

Part four – After a couple of text message are read out, one which again attacks Alex Salmond, we hear from BBC Scotland’s voting and polling expert, Professor John Curtice.  The news and weather has been edited out of this clip.

In his analysis, professor Curtice claims that the Yes campaign faces “a big question” persuading Scots to support independence.  Kaye Adams uses the Professor’s analysis to challenge the earlier, and interrupted, contributions from Peter De Wink.  Bizarrely, the question of where the Devo-Max people might go is ignored completely by Kaye Adams who also noticeably fails to acknowledge any difficulty on the part of the No campaign.

The No campaign has escaped any form of scrutiny, whereas the pro-independence camp have been subject to challenge, interruption and ridicule.

We now move to part 5 and another call from a member of the public

Note how the caller is allowed to attack Alex Salmond and make several insulting references to Bannockburn, he concludes his first point by highlighting the British patriotism of the Olympic games.  The caller is not interrupted nor is he challenged on his claims, which are simply allowed to stand.  He is though invited to comment on the economic area of the debate.  This elicits several personal attacks on Alex Salmond including a derogatory term well known amongst many east coast Scots.

Kaye Adams’ response to the use of the term is to snigger into the microphone but allows the personal attack to continue.

It’s worth recapping that up until now the show has had three pro-Union callers, neither has been challenged or interrupted.  It has had one expert in the shape of Professor John Curtice and one pro-independence caller who was challenged and interrupted five times.

We now move to part 6 and the second pro-independence caller

Note that within 20 seconds of speaking the caller is, not surprisingly, interrupted and challenged by Kaye Adams who asserts that the tax surplus from Scotland to the UK Treasury is “not a huge gap”.  This is a tax gap that equates to billions of pounds.  ‘Huge’ is a perfectly accurate term to describe this surplus.

Kaye Adams is corrected by the caller who has had to adjust his point in order to address the BBC presenter’s interruption.

There then follows yet another interruption, the seventh, when Adams completely misunderstands a point being made by the caller, who is arguing that Unionist misinformation is not being challenged by BBC Scotland presenters.  This is key to this and indeed any debate.  If one side is allowed to peddle myths and falsehoods without them being challenged then these falsehoods sink into the psyche of the electorate.

However, the caller’s reward for daring to challenge the effectiveness of BBC Scotland’s scrutiny is to be interrupted by Kaye Adams who promptly cuts him off and returns to the first pro-Union caller.  The pro-independence English sounding gent does not return.

The interruptions of pro-independence callers is now running at eight, with no such interruptions and challenges for anti-independence callers.

Part 7 back to the original pro-Union caller

Note that the previous pattern of behaviour continues and this caller, the Conservative supporting businesswomen, is allowed to launch an attack on independence making unsubstantiated claims – some quite incredible.  A half-hearted attempt at interrupting by Kaye Adams is abandoned as more traditional Unionist smear stories are wheeled out.

The personal attacks on Alex Salmond continue.

Part 8 – And more from studio guest Professor John Curtice.

Part 9 – It’s back to the calls from members of the public and a pro-independence caller.

At the first hint of a pause in the caller’s point, Kaye interrupts with a question – a relatively benign question but an interruption nonetheless, the ninth faced by pro-independence callers against none whatsoever to pro-Unionists.

Part 10 – More from Professor John Curtice

This time a poor contribution from the academic who tries to compare the euro monetary union with a Sterling zone union.  This is where Kaye Adams fails, not because of any partisan feelings but from a poor grasp of the subject.

The differences between a monetary union that includes two areas with almost identical outputs (Scotland and the remainder of the UK) and one which has nation’s like Greece and Germany whose output is vastly different, have already been made clear.  Professor John Curtice probably knows this so lets himself down here and allows his own partisan views to colour this contribution.

Part 11 – Another pro-Union caller

Note that yet again, personal attacks on Alex Salmond continue, however for the first time there is a mini-interruption – the first on a pro-Union caller.

Part 12 – Finally, at the end of the discussion, Mr Peter De Wink is given another opportunity to speak.  He was interrupted five times the first time he tried to make his point.  Will he fare any better this time?

Mr De Wink is allowed to speak uninterrupted this time and ends by pointing out that “pig ignorance” needs to be addressed if the Yes campaign is to prevail.

Kaye Adams’ sign off paraphrases Mr De Wink in a clear mocking tone using “pig ignorant amongst us” instead of what she thought was “pig ignorance”, but which was probably “big ignorance”.

This programme is but one small example of the type of broadcast that will destroy debate in Scotland and fire up resentment.  Few of the callers added anything of worth to the referendum debate, some were so partisan and objectionable that one has to question just how they were deemed acceptable.

A very clear pattern emerged throughout the show that saw pro-independence contributors interrupted and repeatedly challenged whilst their pro-Union counterparts were allowed free rein.  The programme was appallingly one sided and wasn’t helped by a host who appeared completely incapable or unwilling to challenge all callers equally.  That this type of low-brow programme is considered acceptable at BBC Scotland as part of the ‘Great Debate’ suggests that there is something very wrong within the corporation.

For those who may argue that professional journalists would never operate in such a culture that allowed a pro-Union agenda to dominate, I would point to the revelations currently engulfing the BBC over the Jimmy Savile sex scandal where some of the UK’s most powerful and articulate men and women kept quiet for years despite rumours of Savile’s sexual behaviour being rife.

Indeed some people at the BBC even witnessed the late BBC presenter in the act of abusing young teenage girls.

No one at BBC Scotland will jeopardise their livelihood by exposing anything that might suggest journalistic impropriety on the part of senior producers or managers.  The newspaper industry in Scotland is in dire straits and few would be prepared to run with any criticism of the most powerful media outlet in Scotland – particularly given that their own editorial line compliments the BBC’s pro-Union leanings.

The 2014 independence referendum is far too important an event for people to just complacently hope that the BBC will behave in a non-partisan manner.  Like all of us, the people who control the BBC are human beings.  Just like the memorandum of understanding that now exists between the Westminser and Holyrood administrations, a similar agreement must be drawn up between the Yes and No campaigns and the broadcasters.

Without such an agreement, then we will be powerless to act in the event that the London controlled BBC decides to take sides.  Some would argue that it already has.

For those who wish to hear it, here is the full unedited discussion