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Showing posts with label bias in Scottish media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bias in Scottish media. Show all posts

Monday, 30 April 2012


My views on the BBC are well-know by now, and it is clear that a number of nationalists don’t like my defence of the BBC. Since I have an aversion to repeating myself endlessly, here are a few links which say more or less all I have to say about the BBC and its relationship to the independence movement and the SNP.

BBC – Role and future
BBC - political coverage
BBC - hard to defend
BBC- Marr and Purcell
BBC - Call Kaye
BBC - Unionist bias

As can be seen, I have been critical of specific instances that I perceived as bias, inadvertent or conscious, and I will continue to highlight these. Occasionally I have been exasperated by the BBC and sometimes furious at it. So has every other political party, which is evidence to me that it is doing its job as a public service broadcaster.

Over the last five years I have watched thousands of hours of political coverage of news and Scottish affairs, and I have clipped, YouTube posted and commented on over 740 videos. (Most of these I have taken down – but still have on file – because of the workload in managing comments.)

A summary of my position on the BBC -

1. The BBC performs a vital role as a public service broadcaster and has done so since early in the last century. It is widely regarded internationally as the best public service broadcaster in the world.

2. Without BBC coverage of the SNP and the independence movement on news bulletins, political programmes such as Newsnight, Newsnight Scotland, the Daily Politics, the Sunday Politics, the Sunday Politics Scotland, the regular broadcasting of FMQs at Holyrood, The Parliament channel, Good Morning Scotland and radio news broadcasts and discussion programmes, its online sites and by specials devoted to elections and other matters of interest, the SNP would have not achieved the high profile and electoral success it has and Alex Salmond would not have become the towering figure he now rightly is in Scottish, UK, European and international politics.

3. Without all of the above BBC programmes, services, and the dedicated work of its highly professional producers, researchers, technical staff, presenters and commentators, I would have had no blog and no YouTube channel, and other bloggers and online nationalist newspapers would have had a gaping hole in their content. A vital platform for the nationalist case and the nationalist voice would have been absent, and an actively hostile press and indifferent commercial channels would have compounded that.

4. The vast majority of the criticisms I hear of the BBC result from an apparent ignorance of the processes of television journalism, television production and editing, news values, and the role of presenters, commentators and interviewers. They are also characterised by gross stereotyping, highly selective analysis and frankly, naivety.

5. There is also an ugly thread of what I can only describe as McCarthyism among some critics, in their constant references to the backgrounds, partners, spouses and general contacts of BBC presenters and commentators.

I do not think the background of commentators is entirely irrelevant, and I comment when I feel it is appropriate, but I do not expect BBC staff to have had no existence, life, political involvement or career prior to entering the Corporation, nor do I expect them to have taken monastic vows to have no personal views or political allegiances. I also think there should be a statute of limitations on how long they have to have their past roles and affiliations raked up every time they appear on television.

As far as the reference to spouse, partners, etc. is concerned, I think it is offensive and contemptible. BBC staff are not politicians, they are not legislators – they are not bound to make disclosures of interest as MPs or legal professionals are.


I will continue to comment on aspect of BBC coverage and editorial policy that I feel relevant, and to be trenchant in criticism when I think it is warranted. I don’t need any help with this.

I think the present pattern of criticism of the BBC by some nationalists is profoundly damaging to the independence cause in the crucial lead-up period to the referendum.

I have said all I have say on the BBC in general terms. Please do not offer me an endless stream of comments and emails on what you imagine to be examples of bias. Go to someone who will give you a sympathetic hearing, because I won’t.

Better still, start your own blog and YouTube channel and have your say in that way. Or write to the BBC, or do whatever you feel necessary. Leave me out of it – please ..

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Big Wait - two days till the result is known …


Today is the last day of campaigning, and exhausted volunteers from all parties will be making the last big push, some dispirited by the polls but still determined to make whatever difference they can and confound the pollsters if possible, some borne up by the good news in the polls for their party, but not complacent, cultivating a mood of finely-judged pessimism so that the prize does not elude them.

In this media age, with old and new media competing for the eyes and ears of the electorate, what still matters fundamentally is the effort of the ground troops - the canvassers, the door-knockers, the envelope stuffers, the leaflet posters. This is still the heart of campaigning, and one day on the stump matters more than one hundred days at a keyboard.

But the media, the commentator, the pundits, the leader articles, the blogs, the tweets, the Facebook exchanges have their place for three reasons -

One, many voters will never be approached by a canvasser, never read a political leaflet, and never attend a political meeting, but still have a vote and do watch television, read newspapers and do utilise alternative media.

Two, the media old and new create the climate within which the debate takes place, and they influence voters both directly and subliminally, albeit not always in the way the media people intended. They promote engagement with ideas and personalities, and awareness of the issues. They contribute to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, even though they often misread it.

Three, the volunteers need the moral uplift that supportive media offers them in their often lonely and dispiriting task, and they need the anger and resolve that hostile media comment produces to sustain their flagging energies.


The news anchors, the chat show hosts, the political pundits, the political reporters and the press commentators have all made their contributions now, and are moving into an inquest mode even before the result is known, because of the polls. Since the vast bulk of the commentators are of a unionist persuasion, their words over the last couple of days lie along a spectrum ranging from millenarian prophecies of imminent doom to rueful, “How did we get it so wrong?” self-analysis, coming predictably to the wrong answers.

And of course there are the metropolitan, Westminster Village obsessed pundits who are suddenly jolted into an awareness that, while their focus has been either events in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and other middle-eastern countries attempting to throw off oppressive regimes, or the squabbling of the ConLib Coalition over the AV referendum,  there is an ancient country just a little north of them that is yet again showing disturbing signs of not sharing their blinkered view of UK, European and world events, with an irritating tendency to upset their unionist apple carts, spilling the carefully-arranged, polished fruit on the ground.

Ay, weel, don’t say we didnae warn ye!

Both Votes SNP -

vote for your ain folk

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

My thanks to the Labour teams who are helping the SNP to victory on May 5th

Gratitude is one of the most pleasant of the emotions and I wish to express mine to the Labour team who have not only given the SNP a commanding lead in the polls, but have consolidated it in the last couple of days. If an SNP administration is returned to Holyrood after May 5th, not only I, but the Scottish people will be in your debt for the service you have rendered to the nation.


Colin Smyth - Scottish General Secretary

Rami Okasha - Head of strategy, policy and communications

Simon Pia - Special adviser to Rami Okasha at Holyrood

John Park - Campaign director


Andy Kerr - finance spokesperson

Jackie Baillie - health spokesperson

Richard Baker - justice  spokesperson


Ed Miliband - Leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

David Cameron - Prime Minister of the UK.

Peter Hain, Chris Huhne and Michael Howard, for their expert highlighting on Question Time why Alex Salmond was the right First Minister for Scotland and for the NHS, creating during the debate the real possibility of his being given the freedom of the City of Liverpool, a great heartland of the working class and one of the great cities of the UK.


The Herald, The Scotsman, The Scottish Daily Mail, The Scottish Express, The Scottish Daily Record

(N.B. The Scottish Sun has played a significant role in the campaign to re-elect the SNP, but since they were not part of the Labour Team, I regret that I cannot mention them in this panegyric.)


Eddie Izzard - English comedian, film actor and would-be politician.

Lord George Foulkes - politician and media personality, with an instinctive but largely unconscious gift for comedy.


Prudence prevents me from listing the Labour MPs and Lords who have been sentenced to jail terms for criminal offences. I must also refrain from naming the near-criminal team - rather larger - who were guilty of stealing from the taxpayer through fraudulent expenses claims but who were not prosecuted. Nonetheless, I am grateful to them, anonymous though they must remain.


A special mention must go to the controlling Labour Group in Glasgow City Council, who - from Steven Purcell through the ALEOs, to the public-spirited clearance of working class Glaswegians in Dalmarnock who were impeding the Commonwealth Games development and the astronomical profits of rich developers by misguidedly trying to get a fair price for their homes - showed what half a century of Labour control of Glasgow was really all about.


Special thanks to most  of the trades union leaders, who in brave defiance of a mountain of facts showing that the Labour Party has been consistently bad for Scotland, and the rising chorus of dissent from a large number of their members, demonstrated that the career paths of full-time officials and dogged loyalty to the Labour Party and Westminster were infinitely more important to them than the jobs and living standards of the people of Scotland

Thanks in advance to Ed 'the Ballsup' Balls, Westminster English MP who has just arrived in Scotland to offer additional help to the Scottish National Party. Don't think we're not grateful, Ed - you might just secure the SNP an overall majority. But we won't count our chickens ...

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Herald hits a new low in political reporting - the Politics Show Leader’s debate

As I begin to write this, I ask myself two questions -

Why do I still buy the Herald?

Does anything the Herald says about Scottish life still matter?

The answer to the first question is residual loyalty to what was once a great Scottish newspaper - one that I have read for over fifty years - and for occasional superb contributions from  Ian Bell, Harry Reid and Iain Macwhirter.

The answer to the second is almost certainly no, given its declining circulation, its almost complete abandonment of basic journalistic standards, especially in news reporting, and the exponentially growing of television and the new media.

But, with the nagging feeling that I am wasting time that could be more productively used elsewhere, I feel that I must comment on today’s page 7 report on yesterday’s Politics Show Scotland leaders debate, chaired by Isabel Fraser.

In yesterday’s blog, I offered clips from this debate and my commentary, which are opinion, from the perspective and allegiance of a committed Scottish nationalist and SNP supporter. But the televised debate itself is a matter of visual and audio record, available to anyone who wishes to view it and draw a conclusion.

The Herald offers two pieces on page 7, one by Robin Dinwoodie, which is presented as news by the Herald’s chief political correspondent, and an opinion piece - Comment by Brian Currie.

The headline for the Dinwoodie piece was typical of the Herald’s style of bias by headline - selective and unrepresentative of the debate - Salmond under attack for fighting anti-secrecy law.

In an objective news report, it might have been Holyrood Party Leader’s in vigorous debate on The Politics Show, but if I adopt the Herald’s style, it also might have been Opposition Party Leader’s under attack for their opposition to minimum pricing for alcohol, or even Iain Gray under attack for blocking minimum pricing, or perhaps Salmond and Scott attack Goldie and Gray’s proposals for minimum sentencing for knife crime.

My preferred headline, adopting the Herald’s modus operandi, might have been Holyrood Opposition Leaders fight like ferrets in a sack while First Minister remains calm and objective.

Dinwoodie devoted the first 450 words or so of a 750 word article to the freedom of information question referred to in the headline, which essentially involved the Government trying to protect the principle of civil servants offering advice in confidence to ministers, something supported and defended by every government of whatever political colour. As the FM pointed out, the actual costs of an LIT, far from being a secret, had been announced to Parliament by John Swinney. In spite of the opposition parties and the Herald’s desperate attempts to make a story out of this, we may be reasonably be certain that the voters won’t give a damn about such arcane points of government.

What they do manifestly care about is the blight of alcohol and violence in their communities and what their government is doing to protect them, the issues that were in fact central to Sunday’s debate, but which Dinwoodie and the Herald glided smoothly over, as well they might, since they showed the poverty and expediency of the opposition to the SNP’s minimum pricing proposal, and the Labour and Tory simplistic and unworkable proposals for minimum sentencing for knife crime.

And then we have Brian Currie’s little opinion piece. His general theme was that much of the debate was an unedifying squabble, and I agree wholeheartedly with that.

But in his third paragraph, he says -

Regrettably, Tavish Scott, Iain Gray and to a slightly lesser extent Alex Salmond and Annabel Goldie continually tried so hard to drown each other out during the BBC Politics show yesterday that many of their exchanges had all the merits of a bar-room rammy.

The inclusion of Alex Salmond in this bad behaviour is, quite simply, untrue, and a blatant distortion of the facts, as anyone watching this programme would testify. He was an oasis of calm and courtesy throughout, and despite being continually interrupted by the others, refrained almost entirely from joining in, although he could not resist a couple of pertinent and amused comments as Goldie and Gray fought like ferrets in a sack. Iain Gray, repeating his lamentable performance on the STV Leaders Debate, continually interrupted the First Minister.

But Currie, forced to comment on the embarrassing and at times chaotic behaviour of the three opposition leaders, - which was there for Scottish viewers to see - felt he had to tar the First Minister with the same brush, because the quiet dignity, courtesy and objectivity of Alex Salmond throughout doesn’t sit well with the caricature of him that the Herald wants to present.

What Scottish viewers saw - and can see again - was a microcosm of what has gone on in Holyrood for four years - an expedient, policy-bereft opposition, ill-informed by their masters in Westminster, engaging in blind, opportunistic opposition to almost anything the SNP government tried to do, only held together by Alex Salmond’s mastery of the politics of minority government and his statesmanlike recognition of where the real interests of the Scottish people lie.

Again, a poor, poor show by the Herald.

But this newspaper matters less and less to the people of Scotland, as demonstrated by its inexorably declining circulation, and the people have found their own channels to the truth, something rarely present in the Scottish print media today.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Political reporting, Herald-style …

The debate on whether to reduce the present eight police forces in Scotland, or at least reduce the number to three or four, an idea driven by the urgent need to reduce costs, raises complex issues of major significance to law and order and the relationship between Government and the police.

It demands the fullest consultation with all interested parties over what would be a very radical measure with wide reaching implications. That is exactly what the Scottish Government is doing, but that is not enough for Labour in Holyrood, ever anxious to make life difficult for the SNP government, especially when it plans to address issues fundamental to Scottish society.

Iain Gray’s attack on the First Minister at yesterday’s FMQs was therefore depressingly predictable, especially with an election looming. This exchange could have been approached in two ways by a responsible Scottish newspaper. The first would have been a quick summary, along the lines of “Labour criticises the SNP Government of delay in reaching a decision on the rationalisation of Scottish police forces. First Minister responds by emphasising the need for in-depth consultation before reaching a decision.”.

The second would have been a balanced report of Ian Gray’s criticisms and the First Minister’s rebuttal, followed by a detailed examination of the issues involved. The Herald did neither, and Brian Currie’s ‘report’, together with Ian Bell’s sketch piece, illustrate all too clearly what has become of objective political reporting in the Herald, a sad thing to contemplate as we enter the Holyrood election run-up.

The headline and the sub-header set the Herald, i.e. the Labour agenda -

Salmond accused of dodging single police force issue

Labour leader Gray asks: When are you going to make a decision?

This kind of header tries to beg the question, in the clear hope that many readers engaged in a superficial scan of topics may never get beyond it, and are left with the idea of a First Minister dodging a crucial issue and avoiding a decision.

But just in case the reader goes further, the Herald hedges its bets, by presenting a virtually verbatim report of Iain Gray’s attack. 56 lines of Gray in a kind of one-sided Hansard. followed by 17 lines of Alex Salmond’s rebuttal, a more than three-to-one skewing of the argument.

In time terms, here is how the exchange went. Iain Gray’s opening questions took 35 secs. Alex Salmond’s response lasted 49 seconds. Iain Gray follow-through lasted 1m 6 seconds. Alex Salmond’s initial response pointed up the contradictions in Gray’s posture by citing Iain Gray’s equivocation on council tax. This lasted 1m 21 seconds. Iain Gray returned to his attack, and this lasted for 53 seconds. Alex Salmond’s reply lasted for 1m 30 seconds. Gray’s response lasted for 49 seconds, and drifted into a general attack on the Government’s record, but since the FM’s response, lasting 1m 13 seconds, addressed that aspect, I’ll leave both of them in.

Totting up, I get Iain Gray’s total contribution as 3m 23 seconds and Alex Salmond’s total response time as 4m 53 seconds: the FM spoke for 59% of the time and Iain Gray for 41%, although I must say, it seemed a helluva lot longer, as verbal turgid tedium always does. Contrast this with Brian Currie’s report, which in lines of text gave Iain Gray almost 77% and the FM 23%.

Taken together with the header and sub-header, this is blatant political bias, not objective reporting. It was not justified by considerations of relevance, of condensation, or the interests of objective political reporting. It was Fox-style, Murdoch-style, Palin style tabloid journalism.

However, the Herald’s idea of balance was partially served by Ian Bell’s piece, which did provide some insight into the reality of the exchange, but in the context of a sketch piece, heavy with humour and some sarcasm, one that could safely be ignored as peripheral and lightweight by its labelling, although in fact it wasn’t, and came closer to the truth.

How many voters watch Politics Scotland and how many read the political ‘report’ in the Herald I don’t know. What I do know is that it is vital for Scottish democracy, in the lead-up to what will be a pivotal election for the future of the people of Scotland, that the political arguments are presented fully and objectively in the news reporting of the media, and that only the opinion pieces reflect the partisanship.

The Herald, and the Scottish media in general breach these fundamental principles with depressing regularity, and the Herald is a serial offender.