Zeppelin stories, double standards … and Andrew Marr


  By G.A.Ponsonby
BBC Scotland bosses answered questions this week, an unusual event from a broadcaster whose standard response to queries from licence payers in Scotland is usually to tell the complainant to bugger off.
These questions though were posed, not by members of the public, but by MSPs from Holyrood’s Culture and Education Committee.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
BBC Scotland bosses answered questions this week, an unusual event from a broadcaster whose standard response to queries from licence payers in Scotland is usually to tell the complainant to bugger off.
These questions though were posed, not by members of the public, but by MSPs from Holyrood’s Culture and Education Committee.

Ken MacQuarrie and John Boothman – head of BBC Scotland and its Head of News respectively, stonewalled for most of the proceedings, but a question right at the end of the exchanges was revealing.

For those who missed it, the BBC Scotland delegation were asked why they had not reported, in news output, a statement from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s in which the global firm had said that an independent Scotland would qualify for its “highest economic assessment” even without north sea oil.

In an official analysis released on 27th February, the company said: “Even excluding North Sea output and calculating per capita GDP only by looking at onshore income, Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment.”

The question threw the BBC Scotland delegation as each looked to the other to provide some kind of explanation.  It ended with one, John Mullin, at first claiming the statement had been reported then seemingly unsure, promising to check.

Mullin joined BBC Scotland on 9th September last year after a career in journalism.  Commenting at the time of the announcement of his appointment, Mullin said: “This is going to be a historic year for Scotland and I’m delighted to be taking up this new role at the BBC.

“I’m really looking forward to working with some of the best journalists in the business and I can’t wait to get cracking.”

One of the journalists Mr Mullin was referring to was BBC Scotland Business and Economy Editor Douglas Fraser.  In asking the question about BBC Scotland non-coverage of Standard & Poor’s, Mr Fraser’s name had been specifically mentioned by committee chair Stewart Maxwell who said the BBC reporter had “did a good job” in his coverage of the issue.

Mr Fraser had indeed covered the Standard & Poor’s analysis, but had the BBC Scotland reporter given any prominence to the key statement as quoted by Mr Maxwell?

Double Standards

A look at the video clip below and the audio clip which follows provides a flavour of both Mr Fraser’s, and indeed the whole of BBC Scotland’s, news coverage of the credit agency’s analysis of the fiscal credibility of an independent Scotland.

Days after the announcements from Standard & Poor’s and Standard Life, both were discussed on BBC Radio Scotland

As you can see there is no mention of the very specific paragraph that Mr Maxwell mentions.  Indeed Newsnet Scotland monitored that days news closely and there was one small part of the S&P report that Fraser focussed on and referred to again and again.

The phrase he repeated over and over was – “The challenges facing an independent Scotland would be significant but not unsurpassable”.  This appeared on his radio, TV and online analysis of the S&P report, but never referenced or quoted was the credit worthiness of a newly independent Scotland.

The BBC Scotland delegation was unable, not just to acknowledge the omission but to explain it.  The reason of course is that it cannot be explained without asking the reporter whose responsibility it surely was to report it, why he didn’t.

Few independence supporters trust the BBC these days.  It has destroyed a decades old reputation for excellence in its pursuit of an anti-independence agenda. 

That agenda reared its head again this weekend when Andrew Marr abused the privilege afforded him by the UK public by using the platform of the BBC in order to promote his own anti-independence views.

Marr’s ridiculous airing of his own personal view that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU and would find it difficult to get back in was an insult to the intelligence of viewers of his Sunday politics show.  The Lampooning he has received on sites like BBC Scotlandshire is deserved.

It brings me to the reference to Zeppelins in the headline.

Did you know that these airships can stay airborne for days even if riddled with bullets?  These huge gas-filled behemoths will hang around despite being repeatedly holed.

It’s actually a wonderfully apt metaphor for the strategy being adopted by the BBC as it seeks to prevent the Yes campaign from succeeding in September’s referendum.  It is a very clear strategy if one looks at how the referendum issues are being presented.

The Standard Life story is a case in point.  The official statement from the company contained little by way of real news – it merely pointed out that some relatively inexpensive measures had been put in place just in case things didn’t work out in the event of a Yes vote.

The BBC though took the contingency plans and inflated them into a huge Zeppelin sized story that hung around for days.  As I have already noted, Douglas Fraser used almost every opportunity to repeat the BBC’s interpretation of the announcement.  Indeed in one example, he even went as far to exaggerate the plans by telling viewers that the whole company was planning to move from Scotland if it was felt necessary.

The Standard Life story, or to be more accurate the way the BBC is trying to present it and other similar announcements, are less about the hard reality of independence and more about creating perceptions.  The aim is to convince viewers that a Yes vote will result in thousands of job losses.

These though are the trimmings on the bigger cake of currency, which is what these news stories – based on very innocuous but well time statements from a handful of companies – are all about and the issue of currency is, with the EU membership, fast becoming the last defence in an increasingly desperate No campaign.

It doesn’t matter how many common sense ripostes are fired at these two Zeppelin stories (they are continually holed by facts).  The BBC will keep both airborne, right up until the referendum vote.  Real breaking stories like Standard & Poor’s will be marginalised and left to wither, if they are covered at all.

BBC presenters will repeat ad-nauseam the line being promoted by the No campaign.  That line will be framed by coverage of statements from companies like Standard Life or politicians like Jose Manuel Barroso.

Last November, when the Scottish Government published its White Paper on independence a well-known figure appeared on the BBC and, commenting on a proposed currency-union and UK debt, said

“Sterling is not an asset.  You can’t split it up.  It’s not something you get an eight point four per cent population share.”

The individual added: “If the first thing you do even before you get independence is to repudiate your debt because you are having a spat with your neighbour, the bond markets may take a very dim view of it.”

It’s straight out of the anti-independence campaign handbook and a line that is used by pretty much every pro-Union commentator when arguing against a currency-union.

It wasn’t said by David Cameron, George Osborne or Alistair Darling.  It wasn’t said by any member of Better Together.  See the video clip below to find out whose views on currency and debt are in line with those of the No campaign.

Of course the Scottish Government is not advocating sterling or the Bank of England be split up, just that Scotland’s status as a constituent part of the Union, and its contribution to creating all of its assets and institutions, be recognised and that post-independence, our stake in such institutions does not vanish.  It isn’t threatening to “repudiate” debt either, just asking that assets and liabilities – including the debt – be negotiated in an equitable fashion.

The ‘split up’ term used by Unionists fails to acknowledge that not all assets need be split up, but some, like Embassies and the Bank of England, can remain intact and continue to be used by the parties that jointly created them.

Marr’s attacks and Zeppelins … keep a good lookout for them.  They’ll be back.  It’s all they’ve got.

[This article can be freely reproduced but must not be edited.  There is no requirement to acknowledge Newsnet Scotland as the original source.]