Another bad week for BBC Scotland. The four-day wringer which the ludicrous Salmond/Putin ‘story’ was forced through was followed by the silly overplaying of the Vote No Borders Tory-supporting, millionaire-backed, non-Scottish mini-campaign. And rather that following what many will see as a pro-Union narrative –that is undoubtedly now the commonly-held opinion– they were in fact manipulated by PR hogwash more than conspiring in bias.
The real embarrassment for BBC standards here is that PR marketing people based in London sold them a line and the BBC journalists picked them up without challenge and turned them into ‘news’. They did the PRs’ job for them.
The Putin spin wasn’t down to Alistair Campbell although he would be delighted to create such controversy so early in his GQ career. The marketing people simply poured over the copy to see what they could highlight in advance to generate publicity for the magazine, punted it to the Scottish media, let them give it oxygen and watch the sales go up as soon as the mag actually hits the shelves days later. Somewhere in London there will be an office table with a happy team, feet on desk, chortling at the success of their circulation offensive.
The same goes for VNB, a shell organisation which sold the London newsroom a line about invigorating the No campaign with a grassroots programme to match Yes. Evidence? None. Rudimentary checks, some reporter’s nous and a pinch of cynicism and/or comprehension of reality on the ground in Scotland would have warned them to be careful.
Two points. They are gasping for anything that sounds like a break in the referendum story, something new, and I suspect, if it slaps Salmond round the chops it would suit the English audience just fine (remember the glee when the pound was ‘denied’ to Scotland?) Also, when you have cut so many staff that decent stories are thin on the ground, there is no time for resistance to an item which sounds like news especially when it’s laid on a plate for you with a recording studio set up with singers and band, the main player can be in Glasgow when the camera is there and, hey, so can an ‘ordinary’ Glasgow woman who is voting No. Get on that plane!
Journalistic standards have declined at the BBC as the budgets have reduced. There used to be editors whose function was to monitor output, assess if too much airtime was going to a story, or not enough, which voices might be good to hear, what to take seriously, what not. Almost all of that layer has been cut out and on programme teams it’s every man for himself. There is no coordination.
Now, you can’t ignore the Putin issue but the starting point is to ask who wants us to follow this agenda? If you do so, you immediately have perspective and realise it is being sold to you as commercial publicity. The next question is what did he really say – in the context of the whole interview and when did he say it. Again, it gives perspective. And then, what did he mean? If we’re saying Salmond was praising Putin, why would he do that? Is Salmond anti-gay? Does he manipulate the courts and jail opponents? Has he an army at his disposal? Has he invaded another country?
Assuming no, then it becomes potentially a gaffe of wording on which it’s fair to question him. It happens all the time. When Johann Lamont talked about Scots not being genetically programmed to make decisions, it wasn’t meant as an insult. She was, I think, trying to say you don’t have to have all your decisions made by Scots in Scotland to get them right. We don’t make the right decisions just because we’re Scots. She was unfairly derided because her phrasing was wrong.
BBC Scotland was still rehearsing this questionable Putin stuff on the phone-in this morning when it sounded stale and derivative. The programme never creates an issue, does it? It doesn’t imagine what might be and then produce a packaged report and interviews to set it up and let the public respond. (That needs staff and costs money). It’s just the easy, cheap ‘story of the week’ they go for before the Where are you are you going on your holidays type question.
The wilful ignoring by the BBC of the grassroots transformation of Scotland which may in time push them out of PQ, has been petty and lamentable. It now stands in sharp contrast with its speedy and ingratiating treatment of a fly-by-night No campaign neither based nor funded in Scotland. There is no excuse for this and saying, as they will, that it doesn’t mean they are against Yes, is irrelevant now. Their actions speak louder than their PR department. They deserve the contempt of the nation…hoodwinked and hung out to dry by London marketing spivs – the new motto to replace Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation.by