Monday, 22 September 2014

Here is the news

Thursday, 18 September. The polling stations in Scotland close and the BBC's 10 o'clock news gets underway. Before we head off to hear "the news where you are", we are treated to a montage of clips summing up the referendum campaign. Alex Salmond features twice for a few seconds, the first clip being from what appeared to be an SNP conference with the Scottish First Minister saying "delegates". The second clip was even less memorable.

Moments later we were shown a longer excerpt from Gordon Brown's much-hyped speech from earlier in the week.

And then it was all over.

Even Alex Salmond's harshest critics would concede that he is a formidable and exciting speaker. There is no shortage of good material to choose from, and the most obvious clip in this context would have been the passionate summing up he gave at the end of the second televised debate against Alistair Darling. Instead the BBC contrived to make him look dull. Even though the polls had closed, the Corporation's bosses were determined to show that they were toeing the line right to the sour and slanted end.

Brown, it should be remembered, entered the fray at the last minute having left the leg work to lesser beings. After a short and spectacularly unsuccessful stint as Prime Minister, Brown is now a backbench MP. The BBC says he is loved in Kirkcaldy, but it seems to be a bit of a one-way love affair because although the people of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath elected him to be their MP, he rarely shows up to represent them in Westminster.

According to They Work for You he has taken part in just 12.78% of votes in parliament and has spoken on just 5 occasions in the last year. Alistair Darling is not much better than his old boss. He too has taken part in just 5 debates in the last year, "well below average among MPs", notes They Work for You. Even Dai Havard, Labour's comatose MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, managed to say something in 13 debates, and he has one of the worst parliamentary records of the lot. 

The BBC has come in for an enormous amount of criticism for its coverage of the referendum, and at one point thousands of people gathered outside its headquarters in Glasgow to protest. Alistair Darling was outraged. People power criticising the BBC? Whatever next?

Darling was a minister in a government which ripped the guts out of the BBC in the wake of the row over the "Dodgy Dossier" and the death of David Kelly. Never again would the BBC be allowed to go off script. Heads rolled, and Blair said the findings of the Hutton Inquiry had completely exonerated him.

Now, the BBC is a big place with some of the best journalists you will find anywhere. James Cook, its Scottish correspondent, has emerged well from the referendum campaign with objective and balanced reporting - on Twitter. Cook it was who disclosed that it was the Treasury which had sent an e-mail to the BBC saying that RBS would up sticks and move its brass plate to London in the event of a victory for the Yes campaign.

The one question which nobody asked was why Scots should be anything but joyful at seeing the back of a financial sewer which nearly dragged the whole of the UK over the precipice. Sir Fred Goodwin, the disgraced former boss of the bank, was one of Gordon Brown's favourite advisers, it will be remembered.

The problem with the BBC, especially post-Hutton, is that whenever there is consensus between the main unionist parties on an issue, particularly one involving wars or matters of state, editorial policy will be determined in Whitehall.

Some years ago I had the pleasure of working under a veteran editor called Manfred. Manfred was a stickler for quality and accuracy, and woe betide anyone who fell short of his standards. One night during the Falklands War Manfred was the duty editor when a very irate rear admiral phoned from the Ministry of Defence.

Our crime as an international news agency was to have reported things the MoD would rather not have had reported. "Where is your patriotism man?" asked the rear admiral who clearly believed that the media's job is to be flag wavers.

"I am German", replied Manfred.

And so it was during the Iraq war that we were told British troops were wildly popular in Basra. They may have been welcomed for a short while, but things changed rapidly. The rapport between "our boys" and the locals resulted in the murder of Baha Mousa, an innocent hotel worker and father of two young children. Baha Mousa died in custody with at least 93 separate injuries inflicted by a large number of soldiers after what amounted to torture. One soldier was convicted and jailed for a year.

A few years later and listeners to the BBC's Today Programme on Radio 4 could have heard public school educated senior army officers telling the public how we were winning the war in Afghanistan.

Or have you ever heard a peep of criticism of the royals on the BBC? William and Kate, memorably described by David Jones MP as "an Angelsey couple", recently spent some £4.5 million on doing up a 21 room apartment in Kensington Palace before deciding that they would rather live in a mansion in the grounds of Sandringham House in Norfolk. Anmer Hall is now being renovated at an estimated cost of £1.5 million, although we should remember that the original cost estimate for the work at Kensington Palace was a paltry £1 million. Even the Daily Mail was upset.

Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Lord Hutton made sure that the BBC would have to think twice before daring to question matters such as these, and you won't have heard a dicky bird out of the BBC about Kate's kitchens, gawd bless 'er.

Of course, the Scottish referendum was not a war, but it was about the survival of the British state. No surprise then that Paul Mason, the former BBC Newsnight journalist now working for Channel 4, should comment that "Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I am out of there."

If it is balanced and objective reporting you are after these days, Channel 4 is the place to go. Here is Jon Snow on the resignation of Alex Salmond - a rather different Alex Salmond to the bully boy character we usually see portrayed.

And while the BBC found some restaurant staff excited about earning £8 an hour (by 2020, terms and conditions apply), here is Ciaran Jenkins, another former BBC journalist now with Channel 4, neatly summing up Labour's much-hyped initiatives announced at its party conference over the weekend:


Jonty said...

Boo hoo! Sour grapes, Cneifiwr, sour grapes.

Anonymous said...

it was clear towards the end of the campaign that Salmond was priming the BBC to be the fall guy in the event of a no vote.

and you have fallen for it hook line and sinker.

it was a no vote - get over it.

Cneifiwr said...

As for getting over it, this is just the beginning.

The media bias in the Scottish campaign was not the product of Alex Salmond's imagination.

What I tried to show in my post - obviously unsuccessfully in the case of the two comments so far - was to show that the bias was not an exception but the norm.

Like many other people, I want to know the truth, no matter how bleak or uncomfortable that may be. If you think it's OK to be fed a load of fairy stories and propaganda, take out a subscription to the Daily Express and retire to Lala Land.

Anonymous said...

Oh come off it.

That is the retort of the nationalists. Blame everything on people who read the Mail or the Express.

I don't read either and I can think for myself. Mind you the Mail is the best selling paper in the country I think, so not all ail readers can be rabid Tories .

The fact is the Scottish. nationalists lost and now they are trying to blame everybody and everything .

Get a grip mun !

Sian Caiach said...

Yes it was a no vote but not the end of it. Yes the media was biased but after PR Sir Gar we're used to that sort of thing.
For the Scots the realization that the BBC was biased was quite shocking. Full marks to Gordon Brown for saving day and maybe the Union by an excellent speech promising Devo Max to Scotland. [Basically all state powers including tax and oil revenues minus defense and foreign policy].Most of the benefits of independence and less of the risk. But a real risk to Scottish Labour if Gordon fails to deliver, reducing the chances of their Scottish Yes voters returning to them for the Westminster Election.
The unintended consequence of the media bias is the growth of the crowd funded online Scottish news and opinion sites, all still functioning and an example to us all of real political engagement.

The future is rich with opportunity for Scotland. If Gordon delivers, the chance of a prosperous future and almost full autonomy and if he doesn't we may be back to the independence issue very soon in the General Election next year.

The SNP has doubled its membership in the last 4 days [that's according to the BBC!] to 50,000 and the other pro independence political parties are also recruiting well. The Queen apparently purred on hearing the successful "No" result and the old UK chestnut of "when in difficulty volunteer for a war and distract everyone" seems disturbingly likely.

Pertinent to us in Wales is the promise of more devolution, more powers but is it real power or just an excuse to fund us even less so we should have to put up taxes to cover any shortfall?

In the meantime we look forward to more cuts, a very fragile and weak Welsh economy, an NHS said to be on the point of collapse, poor infrastructure and no sign of real improvement in living standards anytime soon.

Having visited Scotland many times since leaving 20 years ago my impression is that despite their obvious greater wealth nationally, the gross inequality within the population led to a left wing civic nationalist party engineering a chance of a referendum and the wide, grassroots, informal YES coalition almost snatched independence from the UK.
My enduring memory will be the 16 and 17 year old pupils, fresh off the school bus, in their neat uniforms ties and blazers trooping into the local polling station. [where the overall turnout was over 90%]

Despite the warnings from the No Campaign that if Scotland were independent, English Students would insist on coming up to Scotland where under EU regultions they could take up most or even all of the free university places places, over 70% of these youngsters seem to have voted YES.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you will have needed to be in Scotland to make a proper assessment about bias etc but every time I heard the BBC news it seemed very fair and balanced. On occasions it was mentioned that because of the balance rules the contrary view must be put etc.

Cyneifwr seems to think that because I disagree with him about the bias I must be swivel eyed right wing Express reading idiot. Nothing could be further from the truth and its lazy of him to assert this.

We have got to accept that the desire for separation will ebb away and when devo max is linked to English votes for English matters it will ebb away even quicker I think.

There is a report out today that onbly 3% of Welsh People support separation - must be very disappointing for the likes of Cyneifwr but there we have it - democracy at work.

As regards the volunteering for a war - I think the leaders of IS would love everybody to have this view but someone somewhere has to stand up to these people and it should include us !