The idea to boycott BBC Scotland comes from the social website, ‘Wings Over Scotland,’ a highly informative daily look at Scotland’s written and spoken politics, the site led by a robust journalist, Stuart Campbell, a man with forensic skills for sniffing out subtle and blunt propaganda in press and media, as well as cant and rank hypocrisy dispensed by our elected representatives.
Campbell has his work cut-out. Insults and ignorance rain down on Scotland.
Declaring an interest
I must declare an interest. I am a regular Wings reader. The site, like many another, has its small coterie of ‘in-house’ members who blether on to each other in their own pleasant way, but beyond that is some of the most intelligent off-the cuff and well-considered posts you can read about Scotland’s hopes and aspirations.
A proposal to freeze out BBC Scotland’s source material is a natural reaction to its well-documented piss-poor record of promoting Scotland’s problems and remedies. The ‘outpost’ of BBC London – for that is what it is – is a purveyor of the UK government line as the standard conventional wisdom. 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.
Rodney’s poor cousin
I can see how easily some freelance journalists, intellectuals, and academics might shy away from a modest appearance fee on (say) the Sarah Smith Superficial Show, otherwise known as Scotland 2014, a poverty stricken mini version of London’s Newsnight but with limp humour and an insipid theme tune. It is, however, almost impossible for Scottish or Scottish-based actors and entertainers to join in a boycott.
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.
Hence, I can’t see how the appeal to punish BBC Scotland for its blatant antagonism towards the independence movement will make any serious headway.
I’d really like to see their political programmes, north and south, bereft of Scottish contributions – would anybody notice the absence? – but even there journalists such as the always readable Ian Macwhirter, and the humdrum, banal mutterings of David Torrance that rely heavily on television appearances to boost reader levels for their newspaper columns, or buy their books, or recognise their well-groomed mugs as political pundits.
I’d love to see Joe Public refuse vox pop interviews in the street. They give the BBC the excuse to claim they take our views into account. Remarks made on camera as your mum or granny go shopping – microphone stuck under their nose with barely a hello – always go unexplained, and are edited to meaningless three-second sound-bites.
I have the same resistance to panel-based audience interaction programmes – all of 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, to boost tension, ya boo politics seen as better to increase ratings than civil discourse, the gladiatorial preferred to consultation and conciliation.
Audience members are invited to put questions, but those tend to be steered or edited, if not fully written, by the producer to ensure topically and brevity. Audience questions add little to open debate that an informed chairman could not ask. (Why not a panel of well-prepared journalists against a panel of politicians, or a group of well-informed members of the public?) Patronising shows like Question Time reinforce there exists a power elite untouchable, our elders and betters. We are the lumpen Proletariat. All-female versions are aimed at stay-at-home mums, just as patronising. How many politicians supporting independence, or Scottish celebrities of a like mind will refuse an invitation to take part in those sort of them-and-us programmes is another matter.
The other aspect of political debating shows to consider is how false is the democracy supposedly inherent. 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? Do they arrive back in their office to instruct secretary and civil servants to provide them with data on the issues expressed the evening before, and then prepare a question for Parliament? Do they care? Or are they more concerned with how best to sell a rise in their salary to the public laid low by austerity and wage freezes?
And the rest of us
The rest of us who take part in debate programmes or watch them are left with the false impression we took part in the democratic process. The politician, on the other hand, goes home breathing a sigh of relief he or she mustered through without too many faux pas or blunders. They count the times they parrot the party political line.
It’s the equivalent of Hapless Gordon discussing immigration with a woman on the canvass hustings, and then overheard dismissing her comments as ‘bigotry.’
Will a call to boycott BBC Scotland be successful?
I doubt it. A few notable Yes supporters have already told BBC Scotland staff where to shove their invitations. 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.
A paucity of intellectual contributions will allow mediocrity to flourish, such as the self-styled political pundit, David Torrance, almost certainly doubling appearances, convincing him he’s an academic of considerable cultural learning, and a gifted wordsmith.
Finally, who will know if you turned down an invitation, and why, to talk on television or radio unless you announce it? Where do you do that if you eschew all participation?
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 from Scotland and commissions remains an intolerable injustice. Like Scotland and the ‘allowance’ awarded it by the UK Treasury, BBC London gives its Scottish ‘outpost’ a modest budget, a stipend.
The best protest, in my opinion, is to stop paying your BBC licence fee that inflates BBC London’s coffers to the detriment of Scottish output, and watch programmes on iPad instead, if you have one, or read a good book. Maybe talking to you family and friends will enrich your life a lot more than watching BBC’s Scotland’s well-filtered transmissions.