The emperor has no clothes – and doesn’t care


by A Reader

The UK’s unwritten constitution has many flaws; however one of the most insidious failings lies in the enormous complacency about its faults. The tendency is to use a few successes to obscure major drawbacks.  As an organ of the state, the role of the BBC is perhaps a typical example.  For all its achievements the BBC is an instance of a corrupt system that persists unchanged because so few care about its defects.

A word or two of explanation may be helpful to underscore the full extent its problems with the democratic process.  While the BBC is ostensibly funded by a licence fee suggesting some autonomy, that fee is set by a government minister.  Indeed the same government minister appoints its chairman, together with all the members of its governing board.  Moreover the BBC’s next chairman, Lord Patten, is a member of the Conservative party and insists he will remain so after his appointment. His predecessor was a member of the Labour party.  It is nonsense therefore to suggest the BBC is free of political interference.

When such arrangements are uncovered in say Tunisia or Libya, the BBC fulminates about government control of the media and how news is being manipulated.  And they are right to do so.  It follows, therefore, that we should declaim when our local media emperor has no clothes.

Most of the time the fictional dressing of political independence is maintained by apportioning broadcast time amongst the parties that might change the BBC’s budget or its governance, with a nod towards others deemed to have no such control.  This strategy fails when it deals with Scotland.  Here its approach varies between benign neglect of contemporary journalistic ethical standards – witness the revolving door between Labour party press officers and BBC Scotland – and a deep-seated, almost colonialist view of what is best for the politics of this country.

This latter approach is orchestrated by a shadowy body called the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group. Never heard of it? That’s a pity, because they are very pleased with what they do on your behalf.  For instance, they are inordinately proud of the so-called Leaders’ Debates (featuring messrs Cameron, Clegg and Brown) that took place at the last UK election.  This smugness was undiminished even when the largest party in Scotland took the BBC to court over broadcasting decisions.

The truth of the matter is clear.  Even if the entire population of Scotland wanted the BBC to respect its wishes, it is under no obligation to do so.  Its political coverage is largely beyond democratic control in Scotland.  The answer is less about arranging for additional channels but perhaps more about asserting Scottish governance over an institution funded by Scots.  In short it is not so much about sticking a kilt on the naked emperor but rather creating a new entity free of all imperial trappings and under the aegis of the Scottish people.