BBC Bias Update

A quick word about where we are on the BBC Bias row. Your emails to the main players in this little BBC drama have all been received with interesting results. Stewart Maxwell MSP who chairs the culture committee, the nearest thing we have to a broadcast monitor, got dozens of messages, according to his office and he is conscientiously answering them individually. Good for him, although I suspect he hates my guts now. But here is a man focussed on meeting public aspiration – needing votes, if you will – and working his socks off.

Contrast that with another public servant, Mr Ian Small, public policy chief of BBC Scotland, who is, in the absence of a Director or a Deputy Director able and willing to front up for a great institution, the nearest thing there is to a public face and voice of BBC Scotland. He has sent round an automated response, according to those of you who have contacted me. That tells you they are already in their bunker at PQ on the management floor, desperately deflecting and unable to find the words to defend their over-the-top reaction to a piece of critical research. When they don’t have an answer, they throw the automated response button which is the BBC corporate equivalent of saying F**k Off.

Yet again, they have misjudged the licence-fee paying public and opted to treat them with contempt. They have observed, rightly, that this is a piece of campaigning and decided to dismiss each and every one of you as worthless. But why is a campaigning individual worthless?  Isn’t commitment to engage exactly what the BBC is constantly urging everyone to do… “Do text in and tell us what you think…here’s our email address…contact the programme…” To which they should add…”unless you’re complaining about something in which case, you’re a worthless loser.”

Small didn’t even deign to answer a single point, just put people off with an address where they can complain.  And of course, we know what happens then…they take a year to respond, as they did over the Science Tower row, lie to the complainant and lose the case when the Trust find them guilty. But no one is reprimanded, no one loses their job and no one takes the blame. Brilliant! Why would they respond with grace and alacrity like Stewart Maxwell when there is no sanction, no penalty except a generalised embarrassment which bounces off the rhino skins at PQ.

It reminds me of a listener-led campaign to save Newsweek, a programme  I presented. It was the third highest audience for any programme on Radio Scotland, after weekly GMS and seasonal football which trumps them all and through which the BBC buys an audience because they pay the SPFL for the rights. The Head of Radio Jeff Zycinski forced through the Saturday morning changes against public and internal opposition and later issued a message that “real listeners” backed the changes. In other words, all those hundreds of people, many of whom had been loyal listeners for decades who took the trouble to support the programme by writing in, were dismissed as what? Trouble-makers? Non-listeners? Just contemptible individuals not worthy of concern, obviously.

The BBC gets this so wrong. There must be PR and marketing people out there who immediately spot the glaring mistakes they keep making, notably the utter inability to communicate…and this is the world’s biggest communications organisation.

They erred in writing an intemperate letter to the researcher, shouldn’t  have ostentatiously copied in his boss and should have taken care to reply to each complaint individually. If Stewart Maxwell can do it with one assistant, why can’t the BBC with hundreds of admin staff?

I don’t know what the truth is about this research – if it’s accurate or robust – but I do know the BBC has blundered badly in its response and has already lost any high ground it could have claimed. Thank God there is still some journalistic guts among my old mates at PQ. I hear Dr Robertson will appear on GMS in the morning explaining his work and it will be intriguing to hear what the BBC management response is. At least they haven’t been able to bully Radio Scotland into avoiding what has become a very tricky and unedifying episode for the BBC, thanks to all your efforts.

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39 thoughts on “BBC Bias Update

  1. I received the automated response from Mr. Small. It advises me to send my complaint to a BBC address in Darlington!

    What a Kafkaesque organisation BBC Scotland has become! I never encountered anything like this in my 23 years in the civil service (I hope that’s not a breach of the Official Secrets Act!).

    I will now submit a FoI request using their astonishingly centralised formal procedures.

  2. Shameful from the state broadcaster, but no surprise.

    GMS will be interesting! Thanks for the update.

  3. Tom Morton was moved as well. Now afternoon programme is rubbish. Never listen or watch McAuley, after the snidey, anti SNP comments.

    • McAuley’s anti-SNP comments aside, I wouldn’t listen to or watch him because he is the most unfunny ‘funnyman’ around.

      Why he has a radio show I cannot imagine.

      Maybe old, blue-rinsed women like him.

      • No. As a granny but not blue rinsed I can say that his mocking of my aspiration to have a normal country definitely detracts from any comedy he attempts to purvey. We don’t need that from a “Scottish” comic.

      • To be fair, I once heard him say something funny about 15 years ago. It related to the American tv comedy series “Bewitched” starring Elizabeth Montgomery, which gives an indication of how fresh his material is.

      • I agree, I love comedy, really understand the mechanics of it, but find him about as funny as Ricky Gervais, i.e. not at all.

  4. Inexplicably my two emails to Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust have gone unanswered. I can’t think why.

  5. Aye I got the Small automated email.

    What a little coward.

  6. Yes, Stewart Maxwell answered my email – and Small didn’t. I’ve already emailed complaints to the BBC on various occasions and Small’s put-off redirection is the first reply ever I’ve had….. which ofcourse was not really a reply. I take it Dr Robertson will be on GMS tomorrow rather than Monday?

  7. I notice that CallKaye has been cut back. Is that because she has admitted on air a couple of times that the majority of calls, e-mails, and texts have been pro-indy or pro-SNP. We all know now that is a big no-no at BBC Scotland.

  8. Thanks Derek, I’ll record GMS tomorrow. A bit early for me. Keep up the good work.

  9. PS Never did like Fred MacAuley and can’t for the life of me why anyone would find him funny.

  10. PPS. So fed up having to trawl through rubbish Radio stations on my digital TV before I get to Radio Scotland.

    • Agree totally Anne, but it’s like anything Scottish, we’ll find it way down somewhere at the back e.g. Little Cotswold on Rye 7 Accrington Stanley 2 and so ends the Vauxhaul Pub league. Now, Scottish Premier League

  11. I cannot for the life of me understand why the BBC make such heavy weather of things like this. Even if they have nothing to hide they manage to make it look like a grassy knoll conspiracy. It is not public relations it is public incompetence. I haven’t written to Small yet but I shall listen to GMS tomorrow and see what transpires. I may put claw to keyboard yet.

  12. I got one of these bullshit automated responses from the bbc! unaccountable, lying egotistical bastards, just like their westminster masters

  13. Got the ‘F’ off E-mail from Small but clearly he will have problems explaining it away to Stewart Maxwell if Small is forced before the committee.

    BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor debate did not go that smoothly for the Better Together side today between Patrick Harvey and the Dumfries audience there were left looking fooliish – even Brian must be coming round to the idea he is now backing a loser.

    Tuesday night’s Sawar car crash on BBC Scotland and last night’s Question Time left the BBC Scotland’s line looking seriously damaged. Jim Murphy is squealing to the Daily Mail that its ‘no fair’ them cybernats have all the best lines while Labour for Independence was wall to wall last night at the STUC (no mention of this from BBC Scotland – quelle surprise!)

    Today BAE told the future English Parliament, in effect, they would build the type 26 Frigates where they decided and that was going to be on the Clyde.

    Matt Carney at the Bank of England is holding discussions with John Swinney on Sterling after a yes vote. While all Better Together’s heavy hitter, the Secretary of State for Portsmouth, can come up with is a rehash of the ‘Border Guards’ story which was rubbished pretty comprehensively last time they spun it.

    Both the ‘Manchester Record’ and the ‘Scottish Sun’ are starting to shift with the wind. BBC Scotland is successfully cutting its own throat to the bone with its continuation of the kittens, murderrrr and fitba news output – following the Scotsman down the media pan. Meanwhile the Glasgow Herald scrabbles desperately to understand what has gone so wrong with its pro-Union propaganda and stutters to shift its output to reflect what is actually happening in Scotland with Bell and McWhirter providing their current life line to potential safety – in spite of Marcus Gardham’s best efforts.

    The Scottish ‘Establishment’ has lost the plot and is reduced to running around like headless chickens as their fiefdoms and hegemony come under ever increasing threat from democratic purview.

  14. I have to say Derek – never saw you ever on the TV and didn’t know who you were (still don’t really) but I am rather enjoying your pieces in the sea of ScotNat online writing. There is tbh only a few who I look forward to reading: WOS is enjoyable too but different and NN is okay, Bella, NC and 1000 Flowers are okay too. But I am glad you’re on the pro-indy side. Anyway, good stuff.

  15. Can anyone help me with this? I found myself listening to Brian Taylor’s big debate at lunchtime today. At the end of the show, as far as I could make out (I was driving at the time) BT (no relation) asked the audience how many were Yes supporters, and then for the Nos to raise their hands. “Oh my goodness,” seemed to be his response, and then without a beat, “Toodle-oo-the-noo.” No indication of what had evidently surprised him. Maybe he’d dropped his pie, but I had the impression it had something to do with the show of hands.

    But then, maybe I’d misheard the whole thing. Any thoughts? I can’t find the programme online.

  16. What can I write about BBC Scotland that has not already been written, probably not much.

    From the early days of Blether with Brain it was very clear to me they had an agenda. I felt compelled, almost a duty to challenge articles that were clearly skewed. As much as I knew my input alone would have little effect, you could almost feel the ground swell of hundreds if not thousands of people pulling in the same direction.

    It felt like we had a voice, a way to stand up for what was right, and then they pulled up the draw bridge becoming accountable to no one, a law unto themselves.

    I believe that BBC Scotland is little more than a tool used to control and condition the masses; they fail the people of Scotland.

  17. Some Years ago I gave up going through the Labyrinthine process of ‘Complaining’ to the BBC, due to the fact of having to sneeze through my Rear End when the smoke of their eventual replies was blown up it. It is a London Centric Organization and the ‘Outposts’ are nothing but an irritation to those who run the ‘Real BBC.’ The only worry for the Local Consuls, is that they irritate the ‘Panjandrum’s to the point where they become aware of their existence and have ‘to do something’ about them.

    The only way this can be achieved is by a strong complaint from the Scottish Government about Institutional Bias in a Publicly Funded Organization. It would seem we now have well researched proof of this, yet it has not even been mentioned publicly by the SNP or any of the other Parties. As we see from your Contributors, individual Citizens are simply ignored. I’m nonplussed that the SG has not pounced on this, and very disappointed.

  18. Yesnaby you heard it right ‘oh my God’ but why I don’t know. I did feel he was in the ‘I’ll have to explain that question’ mode today to make sure the pro UK view was emphasised but I thought Harvie and Whitehouse did well.

  19. First off, apologies Derek, for my contribution on the last thread. As you say there is something more important to fight for ( not literally) but rightly say, that should be the focus.
    Regarding the response from Mr Small
    1.2.7.BBC Guidelines
    Our output will be based on fairness,openness,honesty and straight dealings. Contributors and audiences will be treated with respect…

  20. Thanks Derek. As a listener I never suspected you were a supporter. .. what more can i say in recognition of your professionalism and respect for the institution we all used to regard most highly. Never fear the Scottish spring is coming and it will melt the ice that is currently throttling the public spirit that once defined us and our place in the world.

  21. Just listened to the interview with Dr Robertson of UWS on GMS. The average listener who was unaware or uninformed before would have left thinking after that, what was it all about. I think he was ”handled” well and very telling that at the end he had to state that he was not a nationalist. Was he not just an academic doing his job? no.

    • It’s important to me as socialist, pacifist and republican who wants independece in the hope of achieving the first three states.

      John Robertspn

  22. PQsCPRteam, I’m sorry, I don’t believe you! I don’t believe anything you say now, or in the future. such is my faith in the BBC. .

  23. I also listened to this morning’s program and thought that he did rather well. Thinking back on it the points I remember are: the research used a robust methodology and was peer reviewed, bias was found, and the bbc / stv have been doing their best not to discuss it.

    I’d wager that seeds of doubt have been sown in the minds of a few more of the bbc faithful which is a good result. The referendum is all about pressure and time.

  24. ……. and we have this.

    Derek your profession are operating from the sewer. From BBC Scotland to the Daily Mail, from the STV to the Scotsman we have journalists and editors poisoning the news well. Who now will accept the result of the referendum when Scottish voters are simply being brainwashed into rejecting their own country?

    Only dark days ahead for Scotland.

    • @mac – I was attending a funeral yesterday and the closing song was from Carousel – with the line ‘ at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky’ and it’s highly prophetic in Scotland’s YES case.

      Every indicator from albeit YES minded analysts, but those who also carry a degree of objectivity in their arguments, points toward a growing support for YES and a declining NO side, which is a positive trend with 8 months to go.

      As is also explained in other blogs, the Cowdenbeath by-election must be regarded as a very poor Labour showing because a low 38% turnout saw Labour’s 2011 return dropping and their 5000+ majority over the SNP, in what is a very solid Labour seat, only being enabled by a huge postal vote.

      Make of that what you will, but it is a favoured tactic of Labour to encourage PVs, which more than suggests the PVs carried the day for them. and it’s also very clear that SNP voters didn’t bother turning up to vote.

      This theory is further bolstered by the SNP’s door to door canvassing of over 11,000 in Cowdenbeath which showed a majority intention to vote YES at the referendum – above NO – so it’s all going the right way.

    • I’ll accept the result.
      60/40 yes.

      Keep the faith mac. The British State was always going to use every trick in the book.

  25. @ Achnababen Was just saying to a neighbour at the Burns supper last night, the same thing ie how impartial Derek sounded ( but perhaps that was only to people who thought like us ??!! )

  26. Bit of a hiatus on GMS this morning (re Dr Robertson’s interview). I was left wondering, “Is that all then?” They could and ought to have dug a lot deeper. But I suppose it’s a start in the right – no preferred! – direction.

  27. The BBC will continue to treat us like morons as long as we let them. The more campaigns like this one the more careful they will become, especially with Derek now outside the tent pissing in, most uncomfortable don’t ye know?

  28. It is to say the least very frustrating watching this media bias, first imagined then confirmed (thanks to the UWS and their efforts in confirming this) and realising the weight and influence these people have over an entire nation and its ability to see properly. I did not appreciate the influence the media had on everyday life until I started to promote a Yes vote. This issue is simply the single most important aspect of this debate and something needs done. It will be a perfectly valid argument to claim, in the event of a No vote that the outcome was corrupted by a media bias which isn’t some paranoid delusion but an evidence based reality. The politicians are all saying we need a decisive outcome, how can the outcome be decisive (in this case a No vote) if it is based on a biased media output? This is in no-ones interests. Those seeking a Yes vote must re-double their efforts and then re-double them again to counter this perverse state of affairs. I have had the auto response from Mr Small (in name and no doubt other areas) and a reply from Mr Maxwell and will press the later to ensure a fuss is made about this, something needs done because the issue is too important for this to pass unchecked.

  29. The substantive response to my detailed complaint made to the BBC on 19th January arrived tonight – an email with the flag ‘this email has no content’. And indeed it doesn’t! Looks like I may have to submit the complaint again!

  30. ‘I don’t know what the truth is about this research – if it’s accurate or robust’

    Here’s my answer to the above

    This is an interim report. The full report will emerge after September 2014. As an interim report, full attention to background and methodology was not included. The methodology adopted is of the most robust form and compares very favourably with that employed in reports commonly presented on TV. Here are the reasons:
    1. This research is independent of sponsorship or commissioning by any group whatsoever. Much research is sponsored and thus complicit. Reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies or from the Office for Budget Responsibility could hardly be less complicit in UK government policy yet they are presented as having ultimate authority. The author is a socialist, pacifist and republican therefore not a nationalist. The author has not been a member of any political or campaigning group since a period in the 1990s as an Amnesty International member and activist.
    2. Although the report was rejected by the journal Scottish Affairs (U of Edinburgh, Department of Politics) in January 2014, after three months of deliberation, no critique of the methodology was suggested but rather they wished me to wait until after the referendum before publishing. Regarding impartiality, indeed, the editor noted: ‘It does seem detached, which is admirable’. Wishing to play a part in the public sphere at this time, the author then distributed the report widely. The mainstream media are silent.
    3. The research is not based on a small sample, as is common in surveys often reported on TV without critique but is based on one whole year and every evening from 6-7 pm on two channels.
    4. The coding which led to the evidence of bias emerged from a grounded theory/ phenomenological approach which allows the data to speak. The final coding is the product of two phases, through all the data, of coding by the lead researcher and subsequent moderation by three others (recently retired staff and PhD students). The first phase resulted in evidence of bias more damaging to the BBC and STV. In the second phase, the lead researcher allocated statements with more subtle or nuanced undermining of the Yes campaign to the general or descriptive category. Coding of human language cannot be utterly objective but the team has done more than most in an effort to be as objective as can be. The lead researcher has carried out similar studies, in terms of methodology, over many years, and takes pride their publication in the best international journals.

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