‘You are not winning this particular argument.’ ‘You still don’t get it.’ You’re right! Time to come clean and stop lying to you about BBC bias. Of course it’s deliberate and orchestrated, everybody knows that. I’ve just been protecting my mates and a British institution that pays my pension. So here’s how it works.
The Home Secretary meets with the Director General and reminds him of his duty to the British nation at a critical time. The DG meets with the executive board and tells them what they have to do. Departmental heads across the corporation are quietly informed that the editorial line to be taken is to favour the Union and make sure Yes items are cleverly edited or read with a curling lip or missed out altogether.
In Scotland John Boothman tells programme producers to pass all output past him before broadcast so he can approve it based on secret guidelines provided by London. Journalists put aside a lifetime’s training and professional instinct and distort the news to suit one side.
I myself sat in programme meetings and was told by the producer: ‘Bateman, we know you’re a Nat but I’m telling you to make sure tonight’s item favours the No side. OK?’
In order to protect my job, I quietly agreed…the humiliation! Throughout this time upwards of 20,000 staff kept quiet in the national interest. No one spoke of the bias at home or in the pub and thousands of journalists whose stock-in-trade is gossip and information kept totally silent and didn’t tell their newspaper friends, even ones who’d love an anti-BBC story. The National Union of Journalists was never given any hint of a national conspiracy to defeat Scottish independence, even though it’s shop floor officials are the same journalists making up pro-Union stories. And people like, say Derek Bateman, disgusted and appalled at the behaviour, didn’t once whisper the truth to an SNP official or MSP.
Even now, with all links to the BBC severed and while offering withering criticism of BBC bosses and campaigning for a Yes vote, Bateman still pretends, until today, that this national conspiracy is nothing more than lazy journalism, budget cuts and a British cultural mindset. There it is, at last, the truth.
And if that’s the truth, I’ll be replacing Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.
You can make up any version of the above for yourself and make it fit the theory. Perhaps it’s not at DG level, just something within the news department in which all 8000 journalists are complicit. It includes freelance staff who move from one employer to another – none of them, as in not one – has leaked the news that would ruin what’s left of the BBC’s reputation, not just here at home but globally. And not one disgruntled staff member – and hundreds have left in the last couple of years – has taken their revenge by telling the truth. In fact, if I had the information proving a corporate plan to defeat the democratic process, I could go to the Murdoch Press or the Mail and negotiate a bumper payday for a story that would shake the corporation- again – to its roots, lose it – again – a DG, and cause uproar in Parliament.
Whatever is going on in the BBC, a conspiracy to defeat the Yes side in the referendum isn’t it.
If we ask different questions, we begin to see the shape of what may be going wrong but there is now no doubt in may mind that we have passed a point where simply saying as I do that there is no deliberate bias is good enough. Orchestrated or not, the effect of some of the examples we have totally undermines the credibility of the BBC news operation, and the list lengthens by the week. If you ask how that can be and yet not be deliberate, the answers are unconvincing and barely credible against the weight of evidence. But I never underestimate the depths to which the BBC has fallen as it tries to implement market principles and make cuts.
I also made clear at the outset last year that I believed there was institutional bias in the BBC in the sense that this is a British organization built on a British model – so that London retains all the real power and everybody works with that mind. It is undeniable that this influences news coverage of an event that could split asunder that same Britain.
But, as I pointed out with John Boothman, not once in all the years did he tell me what line to take on an item. In fact, if it’s anti SNP conspiracies we’re after, here are two examples, one known, the other not.
The CBI fiasco is presented as a sign of bias. The trouble is that the journalists didn’t know anything about it. Far from being a conspiracy, it’s exactly the opposite. They can’t conspire in ignorance. Just what the BBC is doing in membership is a pertinent question but it can’t impact on programme output since the programme-makers didn’t know about it. In fact, they’re demanding the BBC’s immediate resignation.
The second case concerns the disgraced MSP Bill Walker. My understanding is that this story first came to Newsnight Scotland. One of Walker’s former wives contacted the programme offering in effect to spill the beans on him and his abuse. This was a powerful story with serious ramifications and the woman would speak on camera. The news was taken to the Head of News, John Boothman for a decision. What an opportunity to blow an SNP figure out of the water and embarrass the party. His decision, it seems, was that it was a personal matter and not the kind of journalism that belonged in the BBC. As a result, it ended up at the Herald who broke it and the BBC followed the story thereafter but the chance to stick it to the SNP was declined. That would be a strange way to run an anti SNP scam.
I am not in a position to answer for every edit or omission on air or online and the truth is that some of these are unbelievably damaging. But it just doesn’t fit the reality of a busy newsroom that someone instructs changes for political reasons.It’s true an individual could do that sneakily if so motivated but some blanket instruction or whispered suggestion isn’t how it works. Journalists would be out front on a picket line if that happened.
Some of you seem to imagine I’m holding a line here for the corporation and imply I’m deliberately misleading you. That’s rich in the circumstances.
If I have to point it out, I will remind readers that I have been assiduously pinpointing failings at PQ since last September.
I not only understand the fury at some BBC coverage, I share it with bells on, because, unlike many of you, I do believe in the principles of the BBC and have seen from both inside and out, how great it can be and feel aggrieved and embarrassed at some of what I see and hear.
I see on twitter calls for an inquiry. I said the same thing months ago.
I have identified the BBC as a legacy issue to be tackled and, if it were possible would like that to be addressed now, before the vote. I said the should invite Professor John Robertson in to monitor.
I have suggested that the Yes movement begin a campaign of non-payment.
I have called for the management to be replaced.
I want broadcasting to be devolved if there’s a No.
Ask yourself who it was who revealed the behaviour of the Head of News at BBC Scotland and the relationship with Johann Lamont’s office?
Who described a personal example of how an MP could get journalism removed from our screens with a phone call while a member of the public had to wait a year and was lied to in the process?
Whose blog site did most to expose the BBC reaction to Professor Robertson’s accusations of bias, exposure which led to a Holyrood inquiry and BBC bosses being challenged in public?
Who has named presenters for not doing their job properly and impartially, and suffered abuse in the mainstream for doing so?
Who is possibly the only journalist left in Scotland with a broadcasting/political background not to be used as a commentator by the BBC?
I have many friends at PQ but I have also lost some by telling the truth and don’t tell me attacking BBC management doesn’t blight a future career.
Can you name another ex BBC person who has spoken out among all those who have left? Before me the nearest critic would be Iain Mcwhirter from years ago.
We all have an opinion and mine isn’t worth a penny more than yours. But to me, mine is priceless. It matters to me what I say and what impression I convey because this is a national cause, one I surrendered a living to pursue. I said at the start of my blog that I would be outspoken and tell the truth as I saw it and I have, sometimes at a cost to me.
But that also means I don’t bow when pushed. I don’t ‘change my mind’, I don’t suddenly ‘get it’ because there are howls of protest at my views. I stick to what I believe to be the case and to suggest otherwise is pretty insulting, as if I should own up or see the light just because someone else has a different view. I will not align my opinions because someone demands it, when I know that would be untrue. How could you ever trust someone who did that?
I would have thought the way to look at it is that some of you disagree and that’s your right but that you tolerate my view as I tolerate yours. I don’t see the need to ridicule me as naïve or stupid because I refuse to confirm your opinion.
One day, someone else may walk out of the BBC and declare that they were part of a conspiracy to defeat the Yes vote and explain how it worked, but until then I’ll stick to what I know from personal experience and back myself against all comers.
If you want someone who trims and bends, there are plenty of blogs to choose from. I just don’t believe that turning on your own side is helpful to the cause. Surely the point of agreement is that the BBC ‘s coverage is unacceptable and a block on democracy. And the best chance of dealing with it is to vote Yes.
‘One might expect that someone senior would be stepping in to say “This really isn’t good enough. We need to shape up here.” We see absolutely no sign of that. I think what is making people really angry is that BBC management appears to feel no sense of accountability to Scottish licence payers at this crucial time. There is not the slightest hint that they acknowledge that the concerns being so widely expressed have any legitimacy.’ This from Graeme is exactly right and is why so many are angry and disappointed. This is a brain dead management found wanting at crucial time and will be the judgement of history.by