Where’s the benign dictator when you need him?

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  By Lindsay Scott
 
A quarter of a century ago I resigned my post as a producer/presenter with the English language radio service of the South West African Broadcasting Corporation, a nominally independent subsidiary of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, in Windhoek, the soon-to-be capital of the independent republic of Namibia.

I had become increasingly disenchanted with the content of news bulletins and current affairs programmes I had to present, in that they were so blatantly one-sided that they seriously jeopardised the once-in-a-lifetime decision facing the people of South West Africa

  By Lindsay Scott
 
A quarter of a century ago I resigned my post as a producer/presenter with the English language radio service of the South West African Broadcasting Corporation, a nominally independent subsidiary of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, in Windhoek, the soon-to-be capital of the independent republic of Namibia.

I had become increasingly disenchanted with the content of news bulletins and current affairs programmes I had to present, in that they were so blatantly one-sided that they seriously jeopardised the once-in-a-lifetime decision facing the people of South West Africa – making an informed choice and either voting for change and becoming the world’s next independent country or staying with the status quo as a vassal state of South Africa.

I should explain that both the Director General and the Controller of News & Current Affairs at the SWABC were members of the Afrikaner Broederbond, a secret, exclusively male South African organisation dedicated to the advancement of Afrikaner interests.  These interests did not include meekly surrendering a huge area of land rich in diamonds, uranium and other precious metals and gems as well as a massive coastline teaming with fish, despite this being the will of the international community as expressed in United Nations’ Resolution 435.

Fortunately for me, my period of unemployment did not last long, and I was hired by an American NGO to monitor SWABC news and current affairs output for evidence of bias and compile a report with evidence for possible presentation to the United Nations’ Special Representative for Namibia and later President of Finland and Nobel laureate, Martti Ahtisaari.

This I duly did, with some zeal as you may well imagine, and found that my report was received by the SWABC with the same enthusiasm that BBC Scotland recently afforded a similar one by Dr John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland. The similarity ends there – in my case there was someone who could punish the outlet, and severely.

Mr Ahtisaari acted promptly, calling in broadcast professionals from UN headquarters in New York, placing them in the newsroom and studios and instructing the South African nationalist government and its local proxy, the Administrator General, Louis Pienaar, to ensure impartiality and fairness until the vote by suspending both the daily press review and identified news personnel across the ranks.

Most of the suspended news staff did not return after the vote and on March 21st 1990, Namibia became the forty-seventh African colony to gain its independence.

In my two decades of operating across the continent, literally, from covering South African budgets in Cape Town to the 30th OAU summit in Cairo, the manner in which the BBC World Service did its job through programmes such as “Focus on Africa” and “Network Africa” saw it generally viewed as a force for good.

Back then the corporation had a worldwide reputation for objectivity, impartiality and fairness, in time allocated, treating differing viewpoints with equity, the civilised interrogation of issues, providing an immediate right of reply and not gleefully manufacturing consent by regurgitating a daily diet of disinformation fed by nameless sources on behalf of vested interests.

It is a great pity that given the enormity of what’s at stake, the blatant pro-union stance of most of the mainstream ‘Scottish’ media and BBC Scotland’s ‘special’ position as a national, public broadcaster – catering to everyone, funded by you and me for you and me regardless of our political viewpoints, there is no Martti Ahtisaari at hand to help it change its ways and provide badly-needed neutrality at this crucial juncture in our history.

Lindsay Scott is a former broadcast journalist and trainer who has worked in television and radio for a variety of outlets, including the BBC World Service, on four continents.  He returned to Scotland 13 years ago and now works in communications and public affairs.