We don’t have to be balanced in Referendum Debate says BBC


  By a Newsnet reporter
The BBC has claimed that it doesn’t have to present viewers and listeners with a balanced view of the independence debate.
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that in an extraordinary email, a licence payer who had complained about imbalance in a recent radio debate was told “…we are not in an official referendum campaign and therefore do not have to balance it out between yes and no.”

The complaint followed a broadcast of the Brian Taylor’s Big Debate Radio programme that saw three pro-Union panellists debate the referendum with one SNP MSP.

Labour MP Mike Connarty, Conservative businessman Iain McGill and journalist Hamish Macdonell were pitched against SNP MSP Angela Constance as they debated topics that included the independence referendum.

The complaint resulted in the BBC insisting that the official referendum campaign had not yet started and therefore they were not obliged to ensure an equal representation of pro-independence guests to pro-Union guests whenever independence was discussed.

In the official response, a BBC official wrote: “Brian’s debate is a general programme which discusses a number of subjects every week and the programme brings a range of voices to those subjects.  In addition, we are not in an official referendum campaign and therefore do not have to balance it out between yes and no.”

On Saturday, Newsnet Scotland contacted BBC Scotland press office asking for a response to the claim, but as yet we have received no reply. 

The extraordinary statement follows concerns over the quality of debate being provided by broadcasters, with the BBC coming in for significant criticism.

A recent appearance in front of Holyrood’s Culture Committee saw BBC Scotland Chiefs defend the broadcaster’s output in Scotland amid fears that job cuts would hit the referendum coverage.  The BBC is facing widespread industrial action if management insist on going ahead with compulsory redundancies in Scotland.

The committee members have since put further questions to BBC Scotland bosses relating to staff morale, staff cuts, quality and Commonwealth Games funding.

MEANWHILE, organisers of a public rally calling for balance from broadcasters in their coverage of the referendum debate have announced the official location and schedule for the event.

Entitled ‘Illuminate The Debate’ the event will see participants assemble on Saturday Feb 23rd at Strathclyde University at 10:00am in readiness for a 10:30am march which will take a route past George Square to the destination at St Enoch’s Square.

An organiser told Newsnet Scotland that the rally was not intended to promote any side in the independence debate but was a simple call for balanced and honest coverage from the BBC and STV.

The spokesman said: “We have probably less than 20 months to go before the nation makes the biggest decision in over 300 years.

“Sadly, aside from STV’s Scotland Tonight programme there has been little sign that our broadcasters are interested in using this historic moment in order to illuminate what has been tagged ‘the great debate’.

“Those programmes that are broadcast are dominated by the same political parties and mostly male pundits, with little regard for balance.”

Commenting on the BBC’s claim that debates do not have to be balanced because the campaign has yet to officially begin, the spokesman added:

“This statement highlights the need for the public to start demanding that the BBC live up to its reputation.  Scotland pays £325 million in licence fees and only £100 million is spent here.”

Calling for people to come along to the rally, he added: “If we don’t highlight this broadcasting deficit then we may well find we have missed the chance to educate the electorate – something that future generations will find unforgiveable.”