In the Herald today but absolutely nowhere on the BBC:
‘Outgoing BBC Director-General Lord Tony Hall has criticised the corporation for contributing to a toxic discourse with political journalism aimed at trying to “catch out” politicians.Lord Hall, who will move into a top role at the National Gallery after leaving the broadcaster, said the BBC had to more carefully consider its role.’
If he ever looked up at BBC Scotland interviewing and reporting on SNP politicians he must surely have shivered at the sight and sound of those such as Hayley Millar and others, shouting at and constantly interrupting members of the Scottish Government. As an experienced observer he must have noticed that only BBC Scotland politicises the NHS to the extent of parroting Tory calls for resignations, illustrated with photos of the Health Secretary looking stressed, while BBC England, N Ireland and Wales never do.
Only a year ago at the launch of the BBC Scotland Channel, he seemed to be somewhat aware of our existence:
‘This new channel is going to enable Scotland to express its creativity. It’s going to celebrate all the nation stands for – in the arts; in comedy; in science; and in thought. It’s going to allow audiences here to interrogate the things that matter to them. It’s going to reflect the diversity of Scotland today.’
He didn’t mention the news mind you, but he had seemed to be interested in that back in 2013:
‘The BBC has announced a new £5m investment package to help boost its coverage of the Scottish independence referendum.The money will go towards creating a wide range of content, including specially commissioned documentaries, ahead of the vote in September 2014.’
This comment was to be of particular significance for me only months later:
‘Over the course of 2014, a range of temporary roles, likely to be around 50, will work on referendum-related output.’
In January 2014, after I had published research demonstrating the anti-Independence bias in BBC coverage of the run-up to the Referendum, BBC Scotland set many of those new graduate recruits on my report in an effort to find flaws. A retired senior BBC staffer (DB) told me. There were some erros. Sometimes I had the wrong date for a statement or said that the wrong person had said something but, in essence the research was valid and reliable. Mostly, however, they disputed my coding of broadcast elements as biased against the Yes movement and/or the SNP and/or Scotland generally. This kind of research is unavoidably subjective, but many agreed with my coding.
BBC Scotland then wrote to my boss to report me for having brought the university and the BBC into disrepute. After a period of nervous uncertainty, I survived.
You’ll get the whole story here:
Returning to Hall’s anxiety about ‘toxic’ journalism and catching politicians out, he is of course referring to the coverage of Brexit but he should have noticed it in 2013/14, when the demonising of Alex Salmond was clear to all. Even in 2011, Iain Macwhirter had noted in the Herald:
The demonisation of Alex Salmond. In the past week the First Minister has been compared to the Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe. He has been cast as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character whose true “bullying” tendencies have come to the fore since the May election. He has governed, some say, with a “sinister centralism”.
In my own research, the evidence in BBC reporting was common.
Personalisation of political issues is long-established strategy to weaken arguments, shifting focus from collective reasoning or shared values to supposed personal desires and personality traits. Historically, this tendency or strategy has been used to demonise and to undermine numerous political figures in the UK including Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. In the above data, the repeated association of the Yes/pro-independence campaign with the personal desires of Alex Salmond was regular and frequent. No such equation between No/anti-independence figures’ personal drives and the No campaign was made. Likewise the broadcasting of personally insulting comments by anti-independence representatives (especially Johann Lamont) aimed at Alex Salmond, almost entirely, was predominant though a few counter-jibes by Salmond against Lamont and the Labour Party did also occur. Notably the use of insults aimed at Salmond declined and had become less common in the second six months of the survey. The tendency by opposition politicians to attempt to undermine the Yes campaign by labelling its ambitions as Alex Salmond’s desires is, in part, beyond the editorial role, however, it was common for reporters and presenters to adopt the same style:
- On 23/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, ‘Alex Salmond under pressure!’
- On 23/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, Willie Rennie (Lib Dem) ‘challenged Alex Salmond’s policy’.
- On 12/9/12, in STV at 6, ‘Alex Salmond would say that the Westminster…’
- On 3/9/13, in STV at 6, ‘Alex’s agenda!
- On 25/10/12, in Reporting Scotland, Salmond is described by Johann Lamont (Labour) as ‘straight as a corkscrew’ and then compared by Willie Rennie (Lib Dem) to bent salesman ‘Delboy’.
None of this will matter of course when George Osborne takes over simply to asset strip and then shut down the BBC.