As a young girl my sister used to believe that if she closed here eyes then she became invisible to others, her reasoning was that if she could not see anything then no-one could, the theory was dispelled after a few games of hide and seek.
Recent behaviour from the BBC would appear to suggest that a similar theory has gained credence within the organisation; there is surely no other explanation for some of the questionable news items produced by the state broadcaster in the last few days.
Newsnet Scotland will focus on just a handful of items that caught our attention, there may have been others but given the scant coverage the SNP conference received from the BBC the number we have identified are enough to give cause for concern.
We begin with an item on the Daily Politics show, a London based programme hosted by Anita Anand and Andrew Neil. The show was broadcast in the midst of the SNP conference at Inverness and featured an item filmed by a London production team in Glasgow, the item included Pat Kane explaining his views on independence followed by a stunt on a Glasgow underground train where the occupants of a single carriage were asked to raise their hands if they supported independence or not and ended with what appeared to be a typical businessman castigating independence and claiming that Scotland was subsidised by England, a claim that is demonstrably untrue.
The item was followed by an interview between Anand who was in a London studio and Alex Salmond in Inverness. The interview was a shambles with a link to Inverness so bad that it led to a delay of around three seconds before Salmond actually heard what Anand had said, this meant that Salmond constantly had to adjust as both the delay and Anand’s interruptions made flow of conversation almost impossible.
The tone of Anand’s ‘questions’ was less than civil, almost condescending as the carriage stunt and views of the businessman were presented as proof that somehow there was “a tidal wave of malaise” with regards to Scottish independence and a referendum.
So bad was the content of the piece from Glasgow that Salmond actually referred to the BBC as the “British Brainwashing Corporation”.
Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident as further examples of the drop in journalistic standards at the BBC, especially where the SNP are concerned, became evident.
That Sunday’s politics show provided yet more examples as both Catriona Renton and Glenn Campbell exhibited what was, in Newsnet Scotland’s view, deliberately partisan journalism.
We will deal with Glenn Campbell first:
In recent weeks on the Politics Show, Campbell has introduced a small section where [at the end of an interview] he holds aloft a copy of a newspaper with a headline and basically asks the politician being interviewed to make a comment.
On Sunday Campbell did this to Alex Salmond by presenting a series of headlines that lampooned Salmond over his references to the values of Ghandi in his conference speech.
This was fair enough and when he did the same to David Mundell later in the show over claims that senior Conservatives were against him becoming Secretary of State it confirmed it as standard practice on the show.
Now, the ‘Ghandi’ and ‘Mundell’ stories were newsworthy, however the biggest news story that day was neither of these but was instead the announcement by the Orange Order that they would be campaigning for Labour in the forthcoming General Election and that they had already campaigned for Labour in the Glenrothes by-election. This story was front page news in the Scotland on Sunday and also a major article in The Sunday Herald.
Why then did Glenn Campbell deviate from his usual ‘Newspaper headline’ practice when interviewing Labour MP John McFall? Instead of being confronted with the ‘Orange Order’ headline when his interview finished, McFall was kindly offered a platform with which to attack the SNP – which he duly took. Could it be that the Orange Order headline was not drawn attention to because it was potentially very damaging to Labour and might not play well in the forthcoming by-election?
However, earlier in the same programme saw an arguably more serious breach of acceptable journalistic standards by the BBC’s Catriona Renton.
Miss Renton, a former Labour councilor, had been dispatched to Inverness by the BBC in order to provide some coverage of the event. This particular piece saw Miss Renton ask the same question of a number of people around the conference venue. The question, which incidentally had been asked ad-nauseam of every SNP interviewee by Brian Taylor, Gordon Brewer and Glenn Campbell was simple enough “What party, Labour or Conservatives, would the SNP prefer to see form the next Westminster Government? The answer, unanimously, was “we don’t care, they are as bad as one another”.
Miss Renton appeared unconvinced by this apparent uniform opinion, the SNP are perhaps very disciplined she opines – perhaps these people express a different view behind closed doors.
This was simply speculation on Miss Renton’s part with no evidence to back up the suggestion. However, Renton then decided to go a step further and not content with speculation she resorted to downright fabrication.
What follows is a transcript of the remainder of the item where Catriona Renton interviews Professor James Mitchell of the University of Strathclyde. Professor Mitchell gave his professional opinion on both Gordon Brown’s handling of the new SNP Government together with his views on a likely Tory Government and what the SNP might feel about such an outcome.
At the end of his interview Professor Mitchell says:
"I think that the SNP would want to see David Cameron in power. I think it will be very difficult for anyone here at the SNP conference to say that."
To which Catriona Renton immediately responds:
"Step forward the Scottish Government Minister prepared to do just that."
Note “prepared to do just that”, Catriona Renton is telling the viewer that a Scottish Minister is about to confirm that the SNP would want to see David Cameron in power.
The SNP’s Alex Neil then appears in close up and begins talking - here is what he says:
“Well, if there's a Tory Government after the next election in London, I think what's going to happen is that the Labour voters in Scotland those who had voted Labour and ended up with a Tory Government again are going to come into the independence camp and realise that the only way forward for Scotland is by voting for independence because that frees us up from the decisions of the people South of the border.
If they want a Tory Government they're entitled to a Tory Government but the Scottish people and particularly Labour voters I think will be very disillusioned and I think more and more of them will come over to our way of thinking that it's high time Scotland had a sovereign parliament independent of London capable of taking decisions for ourselves."
Alex Neil was asked [although it wasn't broadcast] what would happen if there was to be a Tory Government, Alex Neil answered honestly that it might mean Labour voters moving to the independence camp but he did not say at any point that he or the SNP wanted a Tory Government.
Catriona Renton is guilty of completely misrepresenting an interviewee - she has attributed a view to Alex Neil that he has not expressed.
This sort of ‘journalism’ is completely unacceptable from the state broadcaster, a broadcaster that operates under a charter aimed at ensuring balance and accuracy. Moreover, such blatant misrepresentation and inaccuracy can very often lead to headlines in the national press as happened at the previous SNP conference when the BBC’s Brian Taylor erroneously implied that Alex Salmond did not know what the result of dividing by zero was.
This questionable approach to the BBC was further exemplified when a list of candidates for the Glasgow North East by-election appeared on the BBC Scotland website on Oct 19th. The list featured a picture of each of the candidates together with their names and some information relevant to the by-election.
Nothing controversial until you read the information on the SNP candidate David Kerr, for the helpful information supplied by the BBC contained the following paragraph:
“On his links to Catholic organisation Opus Dei, Mr Kerr has argued his religious beliefs should not be a factor in the forthcoming poll.”
After receiving complaints regarding this completely inappropriate reference to religious smears aimed at David Kerr the BBC removed the offending paragraph, they also issued an acknowledgement that it was indeed inappropriate:
The BBC said:
"The reference to Mr Kerr's faith was not meant to be derogatory, but would agree that it was not appropriate in the context of this particular article and it has been removed"
“Not meant to be derogatory” is not the point, the point is that the BBC should know full well that printing a reference to religious smears in this manner is totally unacceptable. If it is now acknowledged to have been inappropriate then who made the original decision to publish it …. and why?
The BBC may well believe that if it closes it’s eyes to less than balanced journalism then, like my sister believed all those years ago, no-one else can see it.
Well, in this latter day equivalent of political hide and seek - ready or not …… here we come.
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