One man’s protest is another’s Putinesque intimidation programme

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Derek Bateman responds to the Nick Robinson furore, as the BBC’s outgoing political editor chose his appearance at Edinburgh Book Festival to condemn the angry protests at Pacific Quay by Yes campaigners at Pacific Quay

I do not share doubts about the journalistic integrity of a former student Conservative who became political editor of the BBC. You’re unlikely to get any job in journalism unless you have strong views and ideas and it is inevitable that opinion leads to preference, Tory or otherwise.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

(I got my own first job at least in part by arguing furiously against Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood immigration speech in an assessment interview and then branding MPs puppets for taking the whip when their priority was to represent the constituents who voted them in. End the party whip, I fulminated.)

The trick with opinions is to check and moderate them when in broadcast mode. I like Nick Robinson’s presentation and suspect it chimes very well with the overwhelming majority of viewers and voters. When I met him in the BBC Edinburgh office maybe five years ago, he was not the nose-in-the-air metropolitan Hooray some Broadcasting types are. He was genuinely interested in someone else’s interpretation of events and readily agreed to an interview – an event strangely missing from his new book!

I depart from him though on the over-egged histrionics he is injecting into the campaign to sell his book. His remarks at the Book Festival sound petulant and self-serving and reveal a lack of awareness typical of the upper reaches of the BBC. I’ve been scanning Roger Mosey’s book mainly about his time as editor of the Today programme – the new destination for Nick – and his self-congratulatory tone radiates from the pages.

Nick has decided that nationalists have no right to protest against what he says on air. That is, I’m sure he’s perfectly at ease with social media questions of his emphasis in a report for example, but how dare 4000 Nats descend on Pacific Quay with banners and chant their disapproval…anyone would think the buggers paid for the BBC.

He has effectively admitted making an arse of his report of Salmond’s news conference and regretting his use of the words ‘didn’t answer my question’ while correctly pointing out that Salmond was playing politics with his answer.

“I didn’t think my offence was sufficient to justify 4,000 people marching on the BBC’s headquarters. Young men and women who are new to journalism had – like they do in Putin’s Russia – to fight their way through crowds of protesters, frightened as to how they do their jobs.”

Nick Robinson outside Number 10: Telling us what Downing Street wants us to hear?
Nick Robinson outside Number 10: Telling us what Downing Street wants us to hear?

This is just silly. How many would it justify? Or does he mean this was an effective demo because it got to him? He couldn’t just patronise a handful of placard-waving nutters with a smile – he really felt their wrath. And that’s something he couldn’t understand. But why not? We were by that time heading for the end of a two-year campaign and a head of anger had been building over the BBC’s coverage much of which was lamentable if not outright biased (as documented in academic study). Was he unaware of the seething discontent with the national broadcaster?

The reference to Putin is another indication of his propensity for petulance and suggests his understanding of politics is not matched with knowledge of international affairs. Try actually demonstrating in Russia, Nick, then tell us it’s the same as standing outside Pacific Quay. And, frankly if young journalists are intimidated by a non-violent, if hostile mob, they’re in the wrong job.

And how about this section…The broadcaster also slammed the ‘coded’ language used to attack English journalists during the independence campaign by Nationalists, arguing that phrases like ‘metropolitan’ were a reference to their nationality.

This isn’t just silly. It’s offensive. The political editor of the national broadcaster deprecates normal and accurate use of language and ascribes to it racial undertones.

Nick and his colleagues – some of whom are Scots by the way – are correctly described as metropolitan because they come from London. Duh! It doesn’t matter where you were born, it matters what attitude you bring. And one very specific complaint, backed up the BBC’s own Audience Council, was the failure of reporters from London to get to grips with the nuance of an emotional debate.

images-1In the corporation’s annual review, the Audience Council Scotland said some network programmes had appeared to adopt what was described as an Anglified perspective during the independence debate and focused too much on the official campaigns at the expense of the wider civic and community engagement.

This is a very English journalist betraying the constant theme of those unable to grasp what Scottish autonomy is really about. Nick, like JK Rowling, can’t see beyond Anglophobia, so restricted is his worldview and incipient contempt for Scots. If it’s pro-Scotland, it must be anti-England.

Remember Scot Gavin Esler scurrying north for an on-the-spot report on a pro Union ‘grassroots campaign by ordinary Scots’? Vote No Borders was a sham set up by a millionaire in England and exposed on social media within hours but in the London newsroom (that’s metropolitan, Nick) it was a huge Get-Up-There-Fast story.

Nick is cynical about the social media which dominated the political debate because he found it not to have been balanced enough for him and was an echo chamber for the already converted. Well there’s truth in there but he avoids the clear question – why did a vibrant social media start up at all? It was of course in protest at the failure of the BBC to capture anything of the sentiments and engagement of the people it is paid to serve. It was also to counteract the disgraceful anti Scottish outpourings of what is still laughably called the media. We in turn regard the BBC as an echo chamber, endlessly relaying Establishment messages mostly uncritically.

What do you imagine Nick himself does standing outside Number 10? He is telling you what the Prime Minister’s spokesman has just told him. He is their mouthpiece. He echoes their message. Only a delusional zoomer would imagine that day-to-day BBC political broadcasting is anything other than a conduit for institutional propaganda. Look how outraged the media/political establishment is at the prospect of Corbyn winning and overturning their cosy assumptions.

Flogging a book makes certain demands and public meetings can catch anyone off-guard. I have the odd slip of the tongue myself. But Nick Robinson, entertained by the First Minister this week, has displayed what many Nationalists suspected – an inherent bias struggling to be contained. Maybe try harder on Today, Nick.