Proving BBC Bias in Scotland


By Sean Adams

I remember reading about comedian Steve Martin being depressed and cancelling a number of planned interviews after being ambushed by Paul Kaye’s alter ego, Dennis Pennis at some red carpet event.

You might think that the single question Pennis asked, “Steve, how come you’re not funny anymore?” should have been brushed off by Martin.   However, the Hollywood star was supposedly badly shaken by the incident believing that if the BBC could ask such a question, how many others were thinking the same thing.

That’s because the BBC and its supporters have long promoted the Corporation as a bastion of fair play, unbiased reporting and rigorous journalistic standards.  We are often told how it is respected throughout the world for these very qualities.  The organisation’s reputation as one of the world’s top broadcasters rests on this claim.

So why, then, are the BBC destroying that hard-won reputation right here at home – in the backyard of their founder, Lord Reith?

BBC Scotland have long been accused of showing bias against the Scottish National Party.  This alleged editorial slant had become increasingly apparent, we are told, since 2007 when the SNP formed the Scottish Government: first in a minority administration and then with an absolute majority in 2011 – something not meant to be possible under the Holyrood voting system.

Many dismissed these concerns as paranoia on the part of the Nationalists and gave little credence to the claims of unfair treatment.  This was, after all, the British Broadcasting Corporation.

However, since May 2011 when the SNP clearly replaced Labour as Scotland’s dominant political force ensuring that an Independence Referendum would take place in the latter half of the Parliament, the BBC have  intensified their efforts until even the most level-headed of us are beginning to see the cracks.

Every stick, however spindly, that can be used to beat the SNP Government is enthusiastically grabbed by the Beeb while the transgressions of the anti-Independence parties (particularly, it seems, the Labour Party) are deemed un-newsworthy.

For a recent example, we need look no further than the infamous Bain Principle – Willie Bain, MP for Glasgow North East, tweeting confirmation that it is ‘a long standing convention of the PLP that we do not support SNP motions’.  Translation: Labour will not support any SNP suggestion/motion/policy on any subject, regardless of merit, whether it helps the electorate or not purely because it comes from the SNP. Something we all kinda knew but ham-fistedly (and publicly) confirmed by the Bain.  The BBC, however, were unexcited by this development.

Obviously, much of this is open to interpretation.  It is nuanced.  The BBC and its employees are not stupid.  They choose their words carefully. Though sometimes not carefully enough and they were recently forced to change a headline regarding a Nicola Sturgeon interview that even they admitted was ‘misleading’.  Even then BBC Scotland employed subterfuge, falsely inserting a time stamp that suggested the revised headline had been altered much earlier than it actually had.

Some may not be too surprised by this.  The BBC is, after all, an organ of the State regardless of how they might dispute that.  They are dependent on Government for their funding.  Dependent, that is, on Westminster governments – of all political hues.  And we all know about biting the hand that feeds…

One political party the Beeb never have to be beholden to, though, is the SNP who will never form a Westminster government.  Safe in that knowledge, the State broadcaster can curry favour with those parties with whom they might have to be on good terms, ie. the Unionist or anti-Independence parties.

This, as stated above, could be dismissed as conjecture. Unless you had prima facie evidence.

Earlier this year, the British Broadcasting Corporation stopped members of the public (the people who pay their licence fee), in Scotland from posting comments on the online blogs of their two BBC Scotland political experts – Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser.

This was done, presumably, because the comments posted were predominantly supportive of the SNP, Independence and the Scottish Government. Hardly surprising, given the result of the last Scottish election.  The BBC, however, did not like the electorate voicing their opinions via the state’s public broadcaster.

Daniel Maxwell, BBC Scotland’s news online editor was given the task of defending the indefensible.

“We believe that by determining which particular issues might best be explored by the inclusion of public comment online, we will allow a more flexible and adaptable approach to be taken to how we cover the main issues in Scotland.”

Translation: We believe that the Scottish people should only be allowed to comment on anodyne, safe subjects selected by us.  This allows us to push our news agenda, ie.  The State’s, without the public becoming better informed through reading a variety of opinions.  Especially if those opinions support a Constitutional settlement not to our liking or that of our sponsors.

Not convinced?  Then let’s compare with the rest of the BBC’s political blogs throughout the UK.

  • BBC Wales: Political Editor – Betsan Powys: Comments allowed.
  • BBC Wales: Parliamentary Correspondent – David Cornock: Comments allowed.
  • BBC Northern Ireland: Political Editor – Mark Devenport: Comments allowed.

In England:

  • BBC North East & Cumbria: Political Editor – Richard Moss: Comments allowed.
  • BBC Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Political Editor – Tim Iredale: Comments allowed.
  • BBC Midlands: Political Editor – Patrick Burns: Comments allowed.
  • BBC East Midlands: Political Editor – John Hess: Comments allowed.
  • BBC West of England: Political Editor – Paul Barltrop: Comments allowed.
  • BBC East of England: Political Editor – Deborah McGurran: Comments allowed.
  • BBC South East: Political Editor – Louise Stewart: Comments allowed.
  • BBC South of England: Political Editor – Peter Henley: Comments allowed.

In the last case, Peter Henley, people in the South of England are allowed to comment on his blog entry of March 12th, “Should the Royal Navy order ships from Scottish yards?”

Is it that Brian Taylor and Douglas Fraser don’t make contributions that are worthy of public interest and comment?  Or have BBC Scotland yet to come across an issue which ‘might best be explored by the inclusion of public comment online’?

Or is there something murkier at work?  In democracies we call it censorship.  At BBC Scotland it’s a ‘a more flexible and adaptable approach’.

The prosecution rests.