Why the BBC let us all down this week

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By a Newsnet reporter

Watching and listening to the arguments over Alex Salmond’s interview with Andrew Neil and whether Salmond did or didn’t admit to seeking advice on Scotland’s status within the EU following independence, I was struck at the ease with which the Labour party had hi-jacked the news agenda.

On Tuesday, like most others interested in the referendum debate, I listened out for the news on the publication on the Scottish government’s referendum consultation.

26,000 people had given their views on the timing, question and voting franchise.  For me though the big question was the one that would not now be included on the ballot paper, Devo max.

All indications were that an overwhelming majority of those who submitted their views to the consultation were in favour of a second question.  This the one area where Unionists are weak, questions would surely be asked as a result of publication of the document now that the independent analysis had been complete.

Sadly that opportunity has passed due to an intemperate outburst by a Labour MSP.  When Paul Martin stood up and called Alex Salmond a “bare faced liar” it looked like just another example of the steady stream of abuse levelled against the First Minister by opposition politicians.

Name calling has infected the Holyrood debating chamber and it is now commonplace to hear Labour, Tory and occasionally Lib Dem politicians resort to such petty and personal abuse.

Martin’s apparent evidence was a seventh month old interview conducted by BBC presenter Andrew Neil in which the First Minister confirms advice has been sought from law officers on the matter of an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU.

To say the interview was inconclusive is probably the best description.  Andrew Neil commits the cardinal sin of getting a half answer to a question – interrupting and then assuming his own prejudices have been confirmed.

Mr Neil is probably one the most partisan political interviewers at the BBC when it comes to Scottish politics.  His fundamental Unionist views are no secret as a recently uncovered video from the seventies makes clear.  His interviews with nationalist politicians are peppered with thinly disguised verbal digs that seek to provoke a reaction rather than elicit clarity or information.

The ‘liar’ interview didn’t quite fall into this category, but viewing it you can clearly see Neil’s partisan desires hampering his attempt at a professional interview.  Even as the First Minister speaks, Andrew Neil is poised to interrupt, and in doing so he is unable to appreciate exactly what he is being told and thus fails to seek absolute confirmation of what he believes Salmond has said before he continues with his agenda.

That this was the ‘evidence’ that warranted wall to wall ‘LIAR’ coverage by BBC Scotland, who in doing so effectively disenfranchised those of us who had submitted their views to the consultation, makes a mockery of the whole democratic process in Scotland.  Even BBC Scotland’s own Raymond Buchanan couldn’t bring himself to condemn the First Minister on the evidence presented.

Twenty six thousand people, most – if not all – licence fee payers, have been treated shabbily by the BBC who have pandered to the most outrageous childish name calling.  What message that will send to Mr Martin and his Scottish Labour colleague Jackie Baillie, who then repeated the liar slur on both STV and BBC, is anyone’s guess.

My own guess is that their behaviour will get worse, which is what appears to have happened when yesterday at First Ministers Questions, both Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon were, amongst other insults, compared to crooks.

The SNP, and indeed this very publication, have pointed to the interruptions that pepper interviews – not exclusively, but rather more frequently endured by nationalist interviewees.

In conclusion, the episode leaves a bad taste in the mouth and a degree of concern.  What is to prevent the BBC from digging up any number of interviews with SNP politicians, that are open to mis-interpretation through repeated interruptions, and presenting them as proof of a lack of probity?

Meanwhile my own, and the views of 26,000 other people who took the time to contribute to the referendum consultation have been forgotten.

BBC Scotland’s Gordon Brewer asks ‘is brand SNP damaged?’ – Who knows, but one thing is sure, BBC Scotland’s reputation has not been enhanced by this episode.