Boycotting BBC Scotland


‘Reporting Scotland’ newsreader Sally Magnusson’s reaction to a glitch-strewn broadcast from BBC Scotland’s news cupboard

Acknowledging the source

The idea to boycott BBC Scotland comes from the social website, ‘Wings Over Scotland,’ a highly informative daily tear down of Scotland’s right-wing anti-Scots newspapers, the site led by a robust journalist, Stuart Campbell, a man with forensic skills for sniffing out cant and rank hypocrisy dispensed by our elected representatives.

BBC Scotland, the Hudson’s Bay hut in the Arctic

Freezing out BBC Scotland from its listeners and viewers is a natural reaction to how out of step it is with modern Scotland, and how most of our licence fee is spent down south.

The ‘outpost’ of BBC London – for that is what it is – is a purveyor of the UK government line. BBC deals in conventional wisdom. BBC Scotland sees Scotland’s elected government as something suspect or worse, alien, a disagreeable attitude evident in its disrespect for that institution and anyone with the tag ‘SNP’ affixed to their lapel.

Not the principle, it’s the fee

I can see how some freelance journalists, intellectuals, and academics of conscience might shy away from an appearance on a news show, however, for Scottish or Scottish-based actors and entertainers to join in a boycott and lose income is another matter.

For many entertainers their entire income is derived from BBC contract, be it soap series such River City, or a role in a UK produced drama. I include writers and musicians and technical crew. Their chosen vocation relies on BBC or STV offers of work.

For documentary makers, or series producers, such as the Beechgrove Garden, loss of opportunity means going south. South is where dog eats dog. (Mind you, I’ve had kudos stolen from me a few times in bonny Scotland’s media world.)

I can’t see how an appeal to punish BBC Scotland for its blatant hostility and lack of neutrality towards the independence movement will make any serious headway, unless made in the form of a refusal to pay the licence fee.

As it is, BBC is under attack from the wealth of Amazon and Netflix, both multi-nationals rallying their cash into making programme series and films. I think those two enterprises will do more damage to BBC arrogance than any Scot waving a Saltire.

Panel beating

I have an in-built resistance to panel-based audience interaction programmes – those currently in existence produced by English-based production companies. Question Time is a good example of the breed. Audiences are invited into studio set-ups to add drama and boost tension, ya boo politics seen as better to increase ratings than civil discourse, the gladiatorial preferred to consultation and conciliation.

Filled with English nationalists, shows like Question Time reinforce the perception we have elders and betters, we the lumpen Proletariat. Politicians taking part may well get an impression of the public mood but do they do anything about it afterwards? Do they try to alleviate public disquiet or anger?

Their appearance on political programmes is to put across party line and nothing more. They won’t boycott the BBC just because it treats Scotland as a province. They count the times they parrot the party political line as success, relieved that they managed without too many faux pas or blunders.

A call to boycott

Declining paid work and media exposure might be too much for the majority to sacrifice. The corollary is we deny ourselves the chance to state the opposing political opinion and the public to hear it. Who will know if you turned down an invitation, and why to talk on television or radio unless you announce it?

Meanwhile, the gross unfairness that is the vast amount of licence fees paid by Scotland in comparison to what BBC London gives back in productions and commissions remains an intolerable situation. Like Scotland and the ‘allowance’ awarded it by the UK Treasury, BBC London gives its Scottish ‘outpost’ a modest budget, a stipend.

Stop paying the licence fee

The best protest, as I suggest earlier, is to stop paying the BBC licence fee that inflates BBC London’s coffers to the detriment of Scottish output. At the time of writing over 20,000 have done the same, but probably watching selected BBC programmes on their iPad. The mandatory licence fee in many ways is akin to paying for British propaganda broadcast at you. It’s almost a Tory election expense.

Talking to family and friends about Scotland’s political ambitions and how to attain them will enrich your life a lot more than watching BBC Scotland’s well-filtered transmissions.



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9 Responses to Boycotting BBC Scotland

  1. K1 says:

    Hi Grouse,

    The thing is surely a boycott is exactly what principled people do, when overwhelming evidence shows the BBC in Scotland chose not to take the Independence question seriously? As the public broadcaster it was bound by its remit to present information in a non biased way to the public. Instead it acted as the rUK goverenment’s mouthpiece on the issue. By doing so it did not present any of the arguments from the Yes side in any kind of fair, balalnced and impartial way.

    Blinded as you say from it’s position regarding the SNP: “BBC Scotland still sees Scotland’s elected government as something suspect or worse, alien, a disagreeable attitude evident in its disrespect for that institution and anyone with the tag ‘SNP’ hanging from their lapel.” The BBC in Scotland was already in a state of imbalance leading up to the referendum, because its skewed approach toward our current elected government had already renderred it myopic, imbalanced and in no position to be regarded in any way ‘impartial’.

    This I understand: “For many, their entire income is derived from BBC contract, be it soap series such River City, or a role in a UK produced drama. I include writers. Their chosen vocation relies on BBC or STV offers of work. For documentary makers, or series producers, such as the Beechgrove Garden, life will become intolerable.” And this too is part of the problem. For the glaringly obvious reason that we are now still part of the exisiting constitutional arrangement that has tied the hands of many, at whatever levels of societal engagement we are part of.

    Can those that voted yes amongst these professionals not detach themselves from the ‘teat’ of thier own security and consider joining forces with the up and coming newly forming broadcasting initiatives that are currently taking shape? Can they not now consider that the organisation of which they are allieged to for thier bread and butter, is the same organisation that was instrumental in maintaining the very system that will cause even more difficulty to those poorer and less well off than them?

    It’s almost, Grouse, as if you then go on to say; look there’s every point in withdrawing pundits, cause they don’t get thier message across anyway. There’s every point in not being a member of the audience in the political debates, because they are just a circus. There’s every point to not indulge in being interviewed in the street, cause you’re just being used for a ‘skewed’ piece of vox pop. There’s every point in withdrawing your license fee…which ironically reduces the numbers of viewers and thereby reduces the exposure of the very people you say whose ‘life’s will become intolerable” as they are so dependent on this for thier income. You seem to be advocating a partial boycott. But how can they be seperated out, when they are intrinsically linked?

    You then round up a bit at the end with this: “Meanwhile, the gross unfairness of the vast amount of licence fee paid by Scotland in comparison to what BBC London gives back remains anintolerable injustice, leaving BBC Scotland as pathetically irrelevant to our culture and endeavours as ever.” So why the heck would we not want to boycott them and squeeze them out as they are ‘irrelevant to our future’. Surely you can see that there is a ‘price to pay’ if you stick to your principles?

    Jeez Grouse, people have been losing thier houses because they have an extra bedroom that the UK government has decided is surplus and therefore they must pay extra for it or move. Most of the most vulnerable people in our society have been affected by this. Our, much hated by the BBC, Scottish government went to great lengths to mitigate this. They had no other ‘voice’ to speak out for them. The creative talent that you say will suffer if we boycott this…they have other options. Use them. FInd a different route.

    Personally I don’t have a license. I haven’t for many years. It’s not a boycott for me. It’s a principled stance.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    I enjoyed your response, K1. Difficult to find anything I am at odds with.

    On artistes boycotting BBC Scotland: its near impossible for contract musicians. (I omit them from my essay for music is a minefield.) Others have families to feed. Some chose regular BBC work in order to have a family life rather than take the unsettled, unsure freelance road. Stand up comic, Fred MacAulay, is one example. I am sure he must miss the cut and thrust of live audience gigs but he’s compensated with a reasonable family life denied the peripatetic, nomadic entertainer.

    I’m unsure if Wings advocates a complete ban on BBC involvement – somebody will put me right, but …

    For the reasons I enumerate an outright, comprehensive ban is almost impossible, but I can see how political journalists, and others asked to contribute to political shows, could and should say no. My only caveat is there ought to be a way of making their protest public. How else can the general public be made aware of justified antipathy to BBC’s meagre and skewed output?

  3. K1 says:

    Perhaps regarding the ‘caveat’ those who feel they wish to make a prinicpled stance by non contribution could write an open letter to the the BBC, STV and of course the newspapers. They at once declare thier position and by doing so indicate to the public at large that they are on the side of open and honest discourse. They may well find by doing so, a much brighter future awaits them, because at least they have shown some courage in the face of such powerful organisations.

    They of course, depending on how ‘entrenched’ would have to abandon thier loyalties, and for some this may seem too big a price, nonetheless, they would have the support of a vast grassroots movement who are eager for those in positions within the establishment to come forward and more importantly articulate and reflect the true state of affairs currently unfolding in Scotland.

    This is why I suggest joining forces with the newly forming broadcasting enterprises that, I feel, will become an increasingly potent force within the political context in Scotland, and will utlmately alter and transform the narrative and the way we perceive our ‘place’ within the UK constitutional context.

    I think you get where I’m coming from with this.

    WIth regard the ‘musicians’, yes this is a minefield. Many from the ‘classical’ side are contracted to various (BBC included) orchestras and have to travel and work many unpaid hours and other jobs to maintain thier llivelihoods. People often think, mistakenly that they are well paid for thier pains, They I think were very ‘turned off’ independence as I think they felt thier contracts would be under threat, not the least because of all the ‘threats’ from on high regarding programming and BBC services being wiped out if we voted Yes. (sigh…)

    And yes again, a minefield, regarding those who are tied in and have ‘comfortable’ family lives to consider.

    I don’t know how if it’s possible to pick and choose what to ‘boycott’.

    I would say if the general aim, is to ‘starve’ them of revenue, by means of withdrawal of the license fee. Then as I said in my first response, that actually in practice does entail diminishing returns for those whose careers are dependent on working for the BBC is those capacities. So maybe my contention still stands…they are talented individuals, still in more fortunate positions than the vast majority, they have to find other options if they principally wish to see Scotland thrive for the many, not just the few.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    I don’t know how if it’s possible to pick and choose what to ‘boycott’.

    Fair point. Staying clear of political punditary isolates the BBC, stopping them from claiming they present a ‘balanced’ view, but it does not stop them presenting a one-sided view. In that instance, they are free to say and do as they please without contradiction, adding the expected, “We asked a representative of the SNP to take part but they declined.’

    That in turn has Mr Joe Public complain he elected his representative to represent him but instead he refuses to take part in debates.

  5. K1 says:

    Thought you might enjoy this article from Bellacaledonia today. Author Richard Lewis making his case for broadcasting being devolved via Smith commission.

    “Let’s all hope Lord Smith seizes this opportunity, takes seriously the case for repatriation of broadcasting powers and helps bring about the change in the sector which both Scotland and it’s artists so urgently require.”

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    I read that submission, K1. Interesting. Thoughtful.

    My family and I have been lucky in the arts – our reputations were made outside Scotland though our work originated here and has left its mark. Had we not been noticed elsewhere we would never have been invited outside Scotland – the fate of many a talent, sad to say.

    On restructuring BBC Scotland …

    My issue with subsuming an existing organisation by giving it a new brief and title is loyalty displaced or disaffected.

    It is better to create a new institution and then invite application to it, in the case of creating a truly Scottish-orientated broadcasting service, selecting those who exhibit enthusiasm and a dedication to open and truthful journalism. You have to create a healthy ethos from the start.

  7. hektorsmum says:

    We have been divided on this matter in my house most of the way through the Referendum. Husband would rather that the YES politicians did not go onto programmes where, lets face it they never and I do mean never got a fair shake. My argument was that they should attend but at the first sign that they were not going to be allowed to speak they simply do what has been done before get up, unclip the mike and leave, protesting of course.
    As for others, I am not sure that boycotting what may be the only work you can get is a good idea. Enough people in Britain are suffering due to lack of work or lack of pay without making matters worse for them.
    One thing we do need though is a proper broadcasting system, not sure I want a BBC style organisation, the trouble is and it can be seen very clearly since Andrew Gilligan and Kelly, and Levenson is that Government have got control over both these organisations, the BBC and I am sure through threats the MSM.

  8. bjsalba says:

    I have not paid a licence fee since I returned to Scotland in 2005. I thought that the cost exceeded the value of the product by a long way. I don’t miss it.

    I do listen to a ilttle of what is on radio, but I am now so suspicious of everything the BBC puts out that I need another trusted source before I give it any credence.

    Currently the BBC is banging on about how poorly the German economy is doing. I have not been able to confirm that from another source, SO I GIVE IT NO CREDENCE WHATSOEVER.

  9. Grouse Beater says:

    I have a couple of German friends, very successful business people, who visit Edinburgh each year to see old friends and the city the like. I trust their opinion more than any three minute news bulletin.

    I feel as you do, BBC Scotland is a lost cause, That said, they must be haemorrhaging staff. When morale is low good staff tend to look elsewhere for job satisfaction. There are rumblings from within, the unions, for example, but then, the unions were forever at odds with BBC management, yet year after year, BBC did what it wanted to do, and squandered our money on empire building projects later scrapped, vast salaries and golden handshakes.

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