The BBC? Stick it up your Juncker!

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Jean-Claude Juncker is a name that few in Scotland will have heard of prior to the start of this week.  Previously, any mention of ‘Jean-Claude’ would have elicited the response ‘Van Damme?’ from most people… well some.

This week though that changed when BBC Scotland got tangled up in a web of its own making as it sought to make a cheap bit of political capital from an innocuous speech from the man who replaced Jose Manuel Barroso.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Jean-Claude Juncker is a name that few in Scotland will have heard of prior to the start of this week.  Previously, any mention of ‘Jean-Claude’ would have elicited the response ‘Van Damme?’ from most people… well some.

This week though that changed when BBC Scotland got tangled up in a web of its own making as it sought to make a cheap bit of political capital from an innocuous speech from the man who replaced Jose Manuel Barroso.

Oh how must BBC Scotland Chiefs yearn for the days when Barroso would feed them a ready-made anti-independence line.

For those still unaware of what happened this week, Jean-Claude Juncker officially began his tenure as the President of the European Commission.  The politician from Luxembourg is now one of the most powerful and influential men in the whole of Europe.

Juncker gave a speech on Tuesday in which he called for the suspension of what is termed ‘the enlargement’ of the EU.  The EC President very specifically made clear he was referring to ‘candidate countries’ – specifically states from the Balkans who have already applied to join the EU.

In his speech he said:

“There will be no new enlargement in the next five years,”

Juncker added: “It’s hard to imagine that one of the candidate states with whom we are negotiating will have, in time, met all the accession criteria…

“The EU needs to mark a pause in its enlargement process so that we can consolidate what has been done with 28,

“Under my leadership, ongoing negotiations will continue, notably with the western Balkans countries, which need a European perspective,”

For anyone listening to, or reading Juncker’s statement there was little doubt what he meant.  Enlargement is accepted as adding to the territory of the European Union.

It can mean a new member state, as happened last June when Croatia became the 28th EU member, or it can mean the expansion of a new state, as happened when West Germany – already an EU member – absorbed East Germany.

What it very clearly didn’t mean was that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU and made to wait five years before trying to re-enter.

However that’s precisely what BBC Scotland told the nation in its flagship evening news programme Reporting Scotland.

Within hours of Juncker’s speech, the anti-independence campaign Better Together had cobbled together a press statement claiming his words were proof that a Yes vote in September would leave Scotland in the EU wilderness.

It was par for the course for the No campaign, and was as unsurprising as it was untrue.  It resulted in a few predictable headlines from newspapers who relish such things as it fuels their own anti-independence agenda, and that’s where it should have remained.

However, for some inexplicable reason, somebody at BBC Scotland decided this contrived claim from Better Together was a major story.

It soon appeared on the BBC Scotland online news – ‘Scottish independence: No new EU member states before 2019, says Juncker’, was the initial headline.

Within half an hour this changed to an even more bizarre – ‘Scottish independence: Referendum campaigners seize on Juncker comments’.

The article began with the claim from Better Together: ‘The Better Together campaign said the comments confirmed that leaving the UK would mean leaving the EU.’ the BBC told readers.

Reading further it was clear that the so-called ‘Referendum campaigners’ who had ‘seized’ on Juncker’s comments was the anti-independence campaigners from Better Together.

But why had BBC Scotland promoted this claim from Better Together?  In their own article they listed the so-called candidate countries.

‘Albania, Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Macedonia are candidate countries for EU membership.’ said the article.

The candidate countries listed and the word ‘expansion’ made it clear that Better Together was at it. 

Expansion can no more include Scotland than it can include any EU member whose territory is already firmly established within the EU.  Scotland can acquire its own membership after a Yes vote and the EU will not expand one inch.

It got worse when on that evening’s Reporting Scotland, presenter Jackie Bird relayed Better Together’s attack pretty much word for word. 

Compounding this astonishing lapse in journalistic standards was the appearance of a UK Government junior minister in the shape of Tory MP David Mundell who readily accepted the platform offered him by the BBC and repeated the claims, whilst facing no questions whatsoever.

So, in the space of a few hours, the anti-independence movement had been granted the apparatus of the BBC in order to promote a quite egregious piece of political chicanery.

From Better Together HQ into every household in Scotland in a matter of hours, courtesy of the BBC.

Within an hour, the whole charade came tumbling down.

A tweet from BBC reporter James Cook revealed a spokeswoman for the EC President had confirmed that he wasn’t in fact talking about Scotland.

The BBC quickly altered the headline on the online article and amended the body in order to correct the misinformation they themselves had promoted. 

The Scottish Government issued statements demanding Better Together retract their claims and issue an apology.

None was forthcoming.

However what of BBC Scotland?  Hundreds of thousands of viewers had been hopelessly misled.

And that’s where questions and suspicions arise over how these claims from Better Together came to be included on Reporting Scotland in the first place.

Why did James Cook seek clarification from the EC President only after the item had been broadcast?  The claim from Better Together had surfaced just before 3pm – ample time for someone at BBC Scotland to phone Juncker’s office.

By around 4pm BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor is already compiling his own analysis of the episode.  Had Taylor sought any comment from the office of the EC President on the claims from Better Together?

In fact no clarification was required.  It was already obvious that Juncker’s comments did not relate to Scotland.  A second year student journalist would have been able to establish this without having cause to contact the EC President.

The more one looks at this episode the more one is forced to conclude that the Better Together claim was fast-tracked by BBC Scotland in order to provide maximum benefit to the No campaign.

But what of the presenters and reporters who, very seriously and very professionally, relayed the Better Together attacks to the unwitting viewer?

Had they no knowledge of Juncker’s actual words?  Did they know they were reading out pro-Union propaganda but just not care?

And why did Brian Taylor provide ‘analysis’ of the manufactured nonsense in a manner that suggested Juncker’s words had relevance to Scotland. 

Newsreaders like Bird can be excused by claiming they only read what is put in front of them, but Taylor writes his own material. 

Does Brian Taylor now believe that suspending expansion equates to throwing Scotland out of the EU?  What’s the point of analysing if you are going to ignore the evidence on which you are supposed to be basing your analysis?

And where was Brian Taylor’s analysis when Juncker blew the gaff on the whole thing?

There was more nonsense when the issue was covered on the dreadful Sarah Smith vehicle, Scotland 2014.  Smith barked back at SNP MEP Alan Smyth when he dared to suggest her programme was doing itself a disservice by giving credence to the Better Together claims – hours after they had been destroyed by Juncker’s office.

The MEP had responded after the BBC presenter had wilfully misrepresented Juncker when she said, “He [Juncker] did make it clear that he thought that 28 was the right number for the EU for now, he wasn’t talking about increasing it to twenty nine members.”

It was an appalling piece of broadcasting trolling from someone who is paid a six figure salary to provide us with intelligent analysis and neutral interrogation.

That Smith went on to compound her blunder by misrepresenting Juncker AGAIN over the issue of the letter showed a breath-taking ignorance on matters EU. 

Juncker, as Newsnet Scotland has already revealed, was talking about Catalonia when he referenced the letter in a Q/A session with MEPs last week.  The letter had been written by Catalan President Artur Mas to EU leaders who he was lobbying for support.  Juncker was replying to a Catalonian MEP.

The exchange between Sarah Smith and Alan Smyth was typical of BBC Scotland interviews when the BBC presenter’s interpretation of reality is challenged.

BBC Scotland appears to operate a well-oiled conveyor belt for these anti-independence stories.  Like Diplomatic suitcases, they avoid the usual scrutiny applied to other news items and are casually waved through.

Yesterday saw another make it onto headlines when a London based organisation called Capital Economics claimed the referendum was holding back the economy.  Predictably the Better Together campaign’s statement was prominent in the BBC article.

This organisation, believe it or not, appeared on our radar back in 2013 when a series of anti-independence articles appeared in the Times. 

The reports from the organisation featured many of the notorious scares from the No campaign over businesses, currency and North Sea Oil.

We held onto them at the time waiting for the predictable headlines to appear.

Like the claims made in relation to the Juncker statement, the latest claim by Capital Economics falls apart when confronted with the evidence.

BBC Scotland headlined this latest guff, despite a report this week showing Scotland’s economic growth had surpassed that of pre-recession levels.

It’s why more and more people are refusing to fund the institution in Scotland and why hundreds, if not thousands will attend a peaceful protest outside BBC Scotland’s Glasgow HQ next week.